Monday, June 6, 2011

It's All Fun & Games

So, today is the It’s all Fun and Games blog hop, which focuses on a subject dear to my heart... well, two subjects, really... fun and games. Since this blog focuses on my current favorite games, I decided that I would take a slightly different approach to the blog hop and post about three favorite games from my past.

Warning: This is a long one!

1. The Board Game - HeroQuest

This is the game responsible for starting my interest in RPGs. Produced by Milton Bradley, HeroQuest ran on a super-simplified D&D-style rule set. Players could select from 4 character types, a barbarian, a wizard, a dwarf (fighter) and an elf (archer). The game included plastic minis for each of the characters, as well as the various baddies that would occupy the dungeon. The bad guy options included orcs, goblins, skeletons and zombies, with two BBEGs, an undead wizard called the “chaos sorcerer” and a wicked looking gargoyle. The game also included trap tiles, plastic furniture and some excellent door standees that I wish I still had for use in my D&D campaign today.

The thing that really grabbed me about this game was the way it encouraged the user to make up his/her own adventures after playing through the provided material. I spent quite a bit of free time dreaming up new dungeons, many of which would have been certain death to anyone foolish enough to play with me--game balance comes with age, I suppose. This infinitely morphic quality is a major draw for me, and is why I continue to enjoy games like D&D today. Every time you play a game like HeroQuest or D&D feels like the first time.

2. The Video Game - Age of Empires/Kings

I first got into Age of Empires (AoE) during the early boom of real-time strategy games that happened in the 1990s. There were a couple of things that I greatly enjoyed about Age of Empires, and especially its sequel, Age of Kings (AoK), over other games of its type. First was the historical aspect. Games like WarCraft, StarCraft, Command and Conquer, all set their games in highly fictionalized universes, whereas AoE gamified history.

I loved playing as civilizations that don’t get a whole lot of attention in the standard history curricula, like the Hittites, the Minoans or the Saracens. Furthermore, each of these civilizations played differently from the others. If you played as the French in Age of Kings, your path to success lay in heavy cavalry backed by bombards, crossbowmen and strong fortifications. These tactics would not work, however, with the Mongols, which fared much better with an effective application of horse archers and light cavalry.

I also really liked trying to outsmart the AI in the AoE games. In the single-player campaign, certain events would trigger the next step in the AI’s programming. By learning to identify those triggers, I could often exploit or circumvent them entirely. For example, in one mission of the French campaign, the player is tasked with occupying an enemy town in preparation for an assault on the enemy army. The trouble is, destroying the town square triggered the game to start sending increasing waves of enemy troops to harass the player while he/she was trying to prepare. I found that by destroying the whole town, except the town hall and then moving my starting force against one of the enemy forts, I could instead set up my base behind the enemy’s own walls and return to trigger the enemy AI when I was ready. As a bonus, the AI would not attack the walls of my alternate base of operations as it still recognized them as belonging to an allied civilization.

3. The Physical Game - Capture the Flag

Capture the flag was one of the standard summertime diversions of my group of friends until well past the age when it would be considered socially acceptable?...expected? Most people associate this game with summer camp or grade school field days. My friends and I took it well into high school, playing with various accoutrements from Supersoakers to paint ball and laser tag guns. However, the most memorable capture the flag event of my youth was one late night game which my friends and I have dubbed the greatest game of capture the flag ever played.

  • Location: Lynndale Park and Elementary School
  • The Players: A group of friends from my high school theater program
  • The Field: One team occupied the park’s picnic and play area and tennis courts. The other occupied the adjacent elementary school and baseball fields. The dividing line was a path running between them.
  • The Flags: A pair of foam pool floaty noodles.
The game took place well after dark when the park was closed and unlit. I played for Team Play Field and, being the sort who loves sneaky missions, decided to push deep into Team Elementary’s territory in search of the flag.

The elementary school, like most suburban schools in the area, consisted of a number of single-storey classroom blocks connected by partially covered breezeways, which makes for a labyrinthine environment with plenty of places to hide. By the time I reached the far line of enemy territory, several of my less-careful teammates had gotten themselves captured, so I decided a jailbreak would be the first order of business. Team Elementary was holding their captives along the wall of a breezeway in the center of the complex which could be accessed from either end. Of course, the captives were guarded.

I crept along the side of one of the intersecting walkways, crawling on all fours. At one point, a Team Elementary guard passed within plain sight and inches, but did not notice me through my veil of ninja stealth. When I reached the corner leading to the holding area, I paused and waited. Team Elementary had made one major mistake in their captive management plan -they let their prisoners pace. When one of my fellow Play Fielders strolled past the edge of the holding area, I put a finger to my lips and tagged them to freedom before evading back into the shadows.

I used the chaos of the ensuing jailbreak as an opportunity to get up onto the roof of the school. I’m not sure that I really had a plan, other than to observe Team Elementary’s movements and hang out on the roof, which was cool. I once again crept up to the edge of the prisoner holding area and peered down.

Suddenly, one of the more observant sentries spotted me and sounded the alarm. With my cover blown, I ceased trying to be sneaky and stood up bold against the night as Team Elementary began surrounding the building to cut off my escape.

Then I heard the telltale scrape of someone climbing onto the roof after me. This began a rooftop chase which exists in my mind on par with any found in an action movie. I dashed up rooftop inclines and slid down the far sides, making my way across the complex to what I hoped was an unobserved edge. Sliding to the edge of the roof behind a chimney, I peered down to see a closed dumpster below me. I could easily make the leap without hurting myself, but the noise would signal my whereabouts.

I could hear my pursuers drawing closer. I had no choice. I leaped from the roof.

“He’s on the ground!”

I jumped from the dumpster and hit the parking lot running, sprinting around the corner of the school only to have my legs clipped out from under me by a chain strung across the parking lot to prevent vehicle access after hours. I don’t know how, but I managed to roll with the fall and popped up uninjured only to see a rather large kid from Team Elementary barreling towards me. Earlier in the night, this guy had shown his ability to build up quite a head of steam, but I rightly suspected that he was limited to straight-line performance. I charged towards him and cut to the side at the last second, causing him to overshoot and miss the tag. I then took off at full speed for the safety of the play field, making the friendly lines ahead of my pack of pursuers.

After my venture into enemy territory, I decided to play defense for a while. My team had hidden our flag along the net line of one of the tennis courts. The light colored pool noodle blended perfectly with the base of the net. Furthermore, the fence around the court restricted access to a single entryway or over a noisy fence.

I’m not sure how he got in, but a member of Team Elementary managed to get into the tennis court and found the flag. However, one of our guards spotted him and sounded the alarm. The guard was waiting at the courts entrance when I arrived.

“He’s going over the fence!”

Our team scrambled around to the parking-lot side where we thought the suspect would make his escape, leaving a guard at the entrance to the court just in case. Later, it would turn out that the clang we heard was actually the kid running face-first into the chain-link fence. He bore a waffle mark on his cheek for some time after. Though our team was now combing the parking lot side of the courts, the intruder managed to scale the fence with unexpected stealth and was not spotted until he was already going full speed towards his line across the parking lot.

The intruder from Team Elementary made the safety of his line, and the game was a loss for us, but in execution, I still believe it was the greatest game of capture the flag ever played.


  1. I've heard of HeroQuest, but never played it.
    Thanks for participating in the blogfest! Several others said you tipped them off and I appreciate it.

  2. was heroQuest the one that took up the entire living room floor? because if it was, my brother got it for christmas one year and we loved it. It took like 6hrs or some other large misremember, expanded by memory amount of time to play.

  3. Whoa, I knew you took your games seriously, but jumping off roofs?

    I've played the paint ball version of Capture the Flag. Fun but exhausting -- we played in the mountains on rough and rocky terrain.

    I've not played the other two games, but Age of Empires does sound cool. I love history.

  4. I really should have played HeroQuest. But it was one of those games that I "looked my nose down on" as a "near" or "not really" D&D. Stupid on my part really.

    Great list. Here is mine.

  5. @Budd HeroQuest fit very nicely on the dining room table, but I know exactly which game you are talking about, though the title escapes me.

    @Tim Fortunately I was too young to really get D&D when HeroQuest came out, so it made for the perfect gateway. I feel like the new Castle Ravenloft and Wrath of Ashardalon games that WOTC just released fill much of the same roll today. Though they are a bit more complex than HQ.

  6. Love Capture the flag! Very interesting choices!

  7. Love Capture the flag! Nice to meet you. I'm a new follower.

  8. HeroQuest looks and sounds awesome!!

  9. Yay for Capture the flag and heroic losses! Thanks for sharing your favorites.

  10. Wow! bunch of new commenters! Welcome everyone!

    @Nicole, if you are interested in a contemporary game that has a very similar feel to HeroQuest, I recommend you check out Castle Ravenloft, or Wrath of Ashardalon. I've only played Ravenloft, but it's a blast. The biggest downside, however, is that I don't think it has the same "create your own adventure" aspect found in HQ.

  11. I've played AoE and AoE2 so much, and still love them. I still have AoE2 installed on my PC, but it's been over a year now since I've even looked at it.

    Capture the Flag is great as well, in its different versions (Unreal Tournament, anyone?). I played HeroQuest once or twice, but that's been ages as well.

    Great choices, and thanks for bringing back memories.

  12. capture the flag is the only one I know...

  13. Capture the Flag. That was a fun read!

    Ummm...I smell a novel in there somewhere.

    Thanks for sharing!!

  14. Nice job on your mini-story there about Capture the Flag!


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