One of the interesting aspects of Summer for myself is the opportunity to distance from the internet side of things. I tend to spend less time around the table recording gameplay and ultimately miss some good and thought provoking exchanges.
Nonetheless sometimes I come to find some themes that I take mental note of. Those make for excellent coffee break entries and one of the discussions is fairly recent and I did not want to miss the time to sit, coffee in hand, and reflect a bit on what was said and how I replied in the heat of the moment – note, there was not heated exchange but sometimes the replies do not come out as expected as with anything a moment of reflection is always needed.
The subject under discussion is unavoidable when talking about tabletop games that aim to portray History and there’s always that fine line crossing my mind that reads – this game is shallow, this game is partisan, this game has no agenda. Obviously I cannot speak for anyone else but me and how I perceive a History based tabletop game design.
Many games trying to portray history are shallow. Plain “cosplay” variants.
These should be easy to spot and while usually rendering a great visual feel of the period chosen the mechanisms ruling the actions in game are not modelled after any specific lesson of the period.
A game where the objective is to impersonate a merchant during the age of discovery is focused on the financial and entrepreneurship details of the era and another game might focus on the objective of players impersonating robbers-at-sea, pirates.
For any person that has no interest in History as a field of study the merchant game will be just a puzzle, the setting up of a method to achieve victory, while for the players that are into History of the specific period it represents much more.
Fundamental argument is, as I understand it;
The game should present the merchant as a villain that during the colonial era did take advantage of a system that explored human lives from occupied territories to the death. All players will nonetheless play villains, those vile merchants, and must at all steps in the sequence of play consider that their choices in the game had an impact on all lives lost to greed during that era.
Absolutely intrinsic thought for all those that do enjoy History in general as a field of hobby study and particularly the colonial era from the social struggle aspect but not strange to any era in History either. Any child ( at least in Europe ) learns about the colonial period without any specific colouring – raw, violent, and how nations were built upon that and others destroyed.
Although when playing the game of merchants the player is playing what the rules state – create a successful enterprise and beat your competitors. There’s no secondary motives.
Let’s take and play the Pirate game piece. Obviously the player will reflect upon itself to be as honourable and providential of ‘freedom’ as Bart Roberts, after all everyone wants to play the pop ‘hero’ in a game… a pirate… *deep breathe*
The game should present the pirate as a villain, always. The pirate did take advantage of every legal and illegal method during any era, and not only the colonial era, to feed the greed consuming it. It left a trail of death, directly inflicted by the attacks and indirectly inflicted by the famine and poverty struck on all those that lost everything at sea and also think that at every step in the sequence of play the pirate players must consider that any human lives in chains are just another commodity to be plundered and sold.
We come back to our gaming companions that do not shed a tear for History and only want a game. They will play both the merchant and the pirate without any concerns.
We all agree that, with a keen focus on History and especial interest in the sea faring colonial struggles I must be crucified while playing any game due to the fact that at every action I take I must bow my head in memory of all those human lives lost throughout the centuries. Of all origins, credos and social standings.
I must also make everyone around me know exactly that they are playing a game of exploitation, of murderous robbers at sea, of smuggling rotten slavers. I must not anyone forget any single detail of History while they move such cute little coloured pieces across the board.
imagined play dialogue when a player buccaneer exchanges a cube for coin - Are you sure you want to do that "Black Caesar" !? That's human cargo you and your best mate, captain Thatch, double crossed and are now selling to the governor. Oh you will win points for that !?...that makes it fine then... just remember those people in that little cube... ( insert a lot of triangular trade explanations )...
Everyone must be taught History with all the magnificence and decadence and how we reached the Present, and most especially discuss it but… a game is a game is a game.