The Win State

I was reading this article on Kotaku and it got me thinking. At what point do we, as wargamers, sacrifice fun for the competitive element that is a part of so many wargames? Do we even need that competitive element to have fun?

I mention this, as the big talking point that gets rehashed constantly online in the wargaming community is the nature of competitive vs non competitive play and which is ‘better’. Which I think misses the point of the argument entirely. The debate shouldn’t be about which is better or even which is more fun. I’m not even convinced there needs to be a debate (other than its the internet, so of course you have to let someone know their opinion is wrong).

Instead there should be a discussion over the different types of experiences people can have that involve tabletop gaming of all sorts. One experience I’m very interesting in exploring is that if its possible to play a tabletop game that doesn’t have an explicit ‘win state’ i.e. an objective that all the participants are reaching towards that when achieved means that game is over, such as beating your opponent in a game of 40k. Once you have beaten them (and only one person can win), there is nowhere for the game to go from there, as achieving that win state was all the game was really about. Though I think playing narrative campaigns perhaps helps mitigate this in some way, unless the campaign never ends, eventually someone has to win.

I think the closest I have come to playing a no win state game are games that, whilst they do have competitive elements, don’t allow for actual confrontation with other players in-game. Games like Carcassonne, and other so-called “German style board games”  that are not so much about eliminating an opponent to win (because you can’t), but creating empires in a thoughtful way by building on land that is randomly generated. The abstract rules mean that the game takes on a more friendly and co-operative atmosphere rather than a tooth and nail fight to claim squares and defeat your opponent.

Similarly, I’ve experienced a sort of non win state in games like Inqusitor, which ask you to not so much play to win, but to play a sort of hybrid wargame/RPG/narrative adventure (which is probably why it failed, as many people just used to to have space marine battles on a more detailed scale) that may not even have a mission goal, other than to explore the world you find yourself in and try to not die (and in one game of Inquisitor I played, not even that was the end!) In historical gaming, it can be a case or not necessarily having to ‘win’ but to merely recreate a historical battle or event. Although I’ve yet to find this experience in “pure” wargames, which are still based around the idea that your models have to duff up your opponents models so someone can win the game.

Perhaps I’m asking too much of  general wargaming as it is at the moment. After all, wargaming itself comes from the idea of creating a simulation of war to have fun and stimulate the mind and in war there can only be one winner and one loser. But I’m going to open it up to people, in the comments section and on Twitter etc. Have you ever played a wargame that doesn’t have an explicit win state in it? What was it? Have you modded existing games to let you do just that?