History and Games

A lot of my game design processes and cycles flow along the rhythm on attending conventions. The Sprawl was conceived on the drive home from the first Big Bad Con in 2011 and much of my design and playtesting for the game took place at and around the Los Angeles Strategicon conventions, Origins and Gen Con in the Midwest, and local conventions in Los Angeles, San Diego, the Pacific Northwest, Wellington and Christchurch. I could trace a similar pattern around my development of Dinosaur Princesses, Kratophagia, and Another Day to Love at local conventions in Maine and at Metatopia. I like the concentrated sense of a game’s mechanics that I get when I run 4 or more sessions of a game over a few days. This rhythm also helped refine my thoughts on how to run The Sprawl as a one shot, much of which appeared in various ways in The Downtown Dataheist and The Mission Files. The role of this rhythm has become especially clear over the last couple of years as Covid has dampened the convention scene and international travel. I mention the international aspect because in 2019 I moved back to New Zealand from the US where I had been based since the mid-2000s. That move and the international situation has seen my thinking about games refocused in an academic direction.

I had already begun to think about the relationship between games and ancient history in my previous academic job and it has only increased since taking up my current position. The rest of this post contains a few examples of my thinking along these lines.

First, a recording of a talk I gave remotely for the Chau Chak Wing Museum in Sydney, Glory on the Plastic Battlefield, which considered how the ancient Greek world is represented in board games.

Glory on the Plastic Battlefield (Chau Chak Wing Museum, 2021)

Next is a recording of a panel I participated in at Big Bad Online 2021 alongside Liam Stevens of Toa Tabletop, Tof Eklund of AUT and moderated by streamer Josh Arthur. The panel focused on the relationship between history and games, especially in the colonial context of Aotearoa New Zealand.

History, Colonialism and Games (Big Bad Online, 2021)

The organising conversations around that panel and the other Aotearoa panel at Big Bad Online resulted in a number of rich collaborations. Liam and I, joined by anthropologist and historian Shawn Rowlands, continued our conversation about history and games on his podcast, Toa Tabletop. In the first episode we discussed how history has influenced us as designers and GMs.In the second, we gave advice about how you could use history at your table in thoughtful and intentional ways.

The other collaboration that arose from that Big Bad panel will be the subject of my next post. Stay tuned!

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