Monday, November 10, 2008

Distraction 5: Block games

Block games – wargames that use wooden blocks for their primary playing pieces – aren’t exactly a new product on the market. Columbia Games has been producing them for over 20 years. In the last five or six years, GMT Games has also taken up the concept.

Columbia has produced some very good games over the years. Their game “East Front” remains one of my favorite titles on World War II in th East. But GMT’s entry into the niche has brought in some welcome new ideas. I think Europe Engulfed was their first block game, followed more recently by Asia Engulfed. They’ve also produced Fast Action Battles: Bulge and the very successful Command & Colors: Ancients series.

Thanks to GMT’s recent half-price sale (for P500 buyers), I now have all four of those games. FAB: Bulge and CC:A arrived last week – and I’m quite impressed by both of them.

It’s weird. Both games cover topics of interest and I enjoy block games quite a bit but I never got around to buying either one of them. They couldn’t quite manage to make it to the top of my game list. Maybe because they made a big splash when they were first released and I am by nature a contrarian? After seeing them both up close, now I feel kind of dopey.

Typically, the use of blocks makes for a game format that’s very friendly to limited intelligence rules (your opponent can’t see ‘your’ side of the block) and to easy step reduction (each edge of the block representing a different strength). CC:A is the exception – it uses blocks for units where other Richard Borg-designed games (Memoir 44 and Battlelore, for example) use plastic miniatures.

There’s a tactile ‘something’ about playing block games that scratches some indescribable gaming itch for me. Maybe it’s because I started playing block games 15 or so years before the industry started producing all of those fancy-pants plastic miniatures, but I think I prefer blocks over miniatures. Or maybe in my addled little pea-brain I equate blocks with ‘serious’ wargaming and plastic minis with ‘lite’ wargaming.

Also of note, as with the other Borg-designed games Command & Colors: Ancients is also a ‘franchise’ system with a number of expansion packs available that add new forces to the original game. The various expansions available (three to date) probably triple the number of blocks available in the system. Catchy idea.

No comments: