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Posted on Dec 12, 2005 in Stuff We Like

Gateway Wargames: Top 10 Ways to Recruit New Players

By Johnny L. Wilson

#8 Junta (West End Games) or Shanghai Trader (Panther Games)


These games offer the advantage of area movement (moving counters from one large territory to another or from one large location/venue space to another). Both games feature backstabbing so your gaming recruits need to briefed prior to the start of the game that "dirty tricks" and double-dealing are supposed to be funny and entertaining (nothing personal, simply gaming). Unlike most war games, both of these games, depicting conflicts in the midst of chaos, have the advantage of having monetary-based victory conditions (an analog understood by all) and allow new recruits to learn how to move units around a map to set up battles determined by a dice throw. The downside is that both games require multiple players in order to get the most out of them. Of course, if you’re one of these people who believe that playing a game causes you to emulate the game’s behavior, you’ll have to make sure your kids aren’t running gambling halls or houses of ill repute after playing Shanghai Trader and your wife doesn’t invoke a coup d’maison where you are shackled to the kitchen sink after playing Junta.


By building your network of warehouses, trading posts,
factories and rackets, you try to become the wealthiest
person to escape Shanghai prior to World War II.
Of course, you may need thugs, assassins and well-bribed
police to do your dirty work against the other players.

#7 OGRE (Steve Jackson Games) or The Creature That Ate Sheboygan (SPI/TSR)

ogre.jpgBoth of these games, though long out-of-print, have a distinctive advantage in terms of training new recruits for more advanced war game experiences. Both have small maps and limited counters. In OGRE, one player (preferably the new recruit) operates one counter against the multiple counters of the more experienced player. The OGRE is an advanced science-fiction era tank (possibly inspired by Keith Laumer’s Bolo stories) taking on a larger force of smaller, less-powerful units. The Creature That Ate Sheboygan is a hilarious romp pitting police and national guard units against the classic ’50s era monsters (huge lizards, pterodactyls, and the like). Again, the recruit gets to move one counter in the battles while the experienced player gets to move underpowered forces against it. Both are great ways to teach movement, calculate battle odds and learn about combat trade-offs. I taught my (then) four-year-old daughter to play war games using The Creature That Ate Sheboygan and it helped her past that awkward period of ripping her clothes by pretending to be the Incredible Hulk.

This cyberboard screenshot of The Creature That Ate Sheboygan
shows the minimalist graphics found in this vintage game.
Players designed their own monster from a list of powers and
faced the underpowered units of the police, fire brigades,
and National Guard. Here, the winged pterodactyl is
the single unit to be played by the recruit.

#6 Waterloo (Phalanx Games)

waterloo_box1.jpgImagine a cross between a board game and miniatures, but with a diceless mechanic. This beautiful game could seduce anyone with the remotest interest in history. The counters are large and colorful. The game mechanic is relatively simple and the rules aren’t overwritten. I’ve always been a firm believer that a game’s aesthetic is half the battle toward recruiting an opponent. If that’s true, just setting up Waterloo should prepare your spouse for the penultimate surrender. The ultimate surrender is up to you and your wine selection.

Moving large counters over the beautiful terrain of Waterloo’s map,
raw recruits get a quick feel for the tactile and aesthetic satisfaction of
wargaming. The diceless mechanic won’t work for grognards over the
long haul (not enough statistical variation), but it is a great game for
teaching basic tactics.

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