Games for the Holidays

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GrogHeads Writing Staff, 23 December 2014

We asked our writing crew to recount their favorite holiday game gift memories.  See if you can guess who they are, and discuss your favorite holiday game gift hauls here >>

My first PC was a clone 486 DX-33 in a full tower, steel ATX case. I loved that 35 pound beast – it was my first PC gaming platform. After I played the obligatory Wolfenstein 3D, I wanted to try something different, like a flight sim. As luck would have it, Christmas was right around the corner and Santa was prepared to rock my world. On Christmas morning, I opened my gifts, which included a game called Comanche Maximum Overkill by Novalogic. By today’s standards, the game was very pixelated and had a laughable flight model, but I must have played that game from start to finish at least four times.  The joy of pounding T-72’s and SAM sites with Hellfire missiles and Hydra rockets while the snow gently fell outside my computer room window was perfection. Comanche made great use of my 4 MBs of RAM and kick-ass, 1MB Trident video card. As the years began to roll by, I started playing study sims with better graphics and more realistic flight models, but it all started with that Christmas back in 1992 and a copy of Comanche Maximum Overkill.

For Christmas 1984 I received a Nintendo NES. You’d think a 14-year-old kid would be beside himself for such a present, and I was, but my biggest ‘score’ wasn’t that game system. Instead, it was my copy of Axis & Allies that my mother bought for me. I broke it out right then and there on the floor and proceeded to play it by myself, while listening to the KISS cassette tape (another Christmas gift for that year) – Animalize. Don’t judge, it was 1984, man. Anyway, that was my first ‘cool bits’ game that didn’t have hexagons or cardboard counters to push around. A part of me, the anal grog part, might have railed against such a travesty (the side of me that loved Third Reich was not happy at that moment), but you can’t beat a classic game like A&A. Well…actually, you CAN beat that, because that very same Christmas, my grandmother bought me a late Christmas gift…a copy of Axis & Allies. By then I’d learned to not like stacks of chips and preferred masses of units stuffed into provinces…and two copies satisfied my OCD need to do just that! When my mother told me we needed to return that second copy, I insisted that there was little chance of that happening!

I was 12 and the only thing on my list that year was the Axis and Allies boardgame; the classic version as they had yet to come out with the theatre specific versions.  I had been brielfy exposed to the game at a friend’s house earlier in the year and since then that was all I had talked about.  I clearly remember people asking me what A&A was, and I would reply, “its like Risk but on steriods and in WWII!”  Needless to say, tucked in amongst the gifts surrounding the Christmas tree that year was a giant box with my name on it.  For two weeks it sat there under that tree calling to me, mocking me, tempting me.  Finally Christmas morning arrived and true to form my dad, with a chuckle in his voice, informed me that the big box was the last present to be opened after everyone had opened all the others.  I couldn’t tell you what anyone else got that year much less what other presents I recieved, all I knew was that A&A would finally be mine.  Sure enough the time came and I ripped into the giant present with reckless abandoned.  There it was, nice and shiny in the shrink wrap, my first “wargame.”  As you can imagine I did not move from that spot the rest of the day, save for dinner.  I read straight through the rule book, set the board up and then since no one would play with me, began my first solo wargaming experience until I was forced to go to bed that evening.  While admittedly I have recieved bigger and better wargame related gifts since then this memory has to be one of my favorites.

Christmas of 1982 was a games-overload Christmas for me.  We were in the midst of moving from Ft Ord, CA to the Armed Forces Staff College in Norfolk, VA, so there was a limit to how much “stuff” my parents wanted to haul around for us kids for Christmas gifts.  While we were living in California, I had discovered RPGs with some classmates, and I already had a handful of different D&D books, but my Christmas wish list was full of them.  There were also a handful of wargames on there, but that was mostly to fill up the list in the hopes that no one would buy me more socks that year.  We spent Christmas with grandparents in Louisiana on our trip across the country, and between the two different places, that year I unwrapped the AD&D Dungeon Master’s Guide, the AD&D Dieties and Demigods book, and a few of the old candy-stripe modules (I got several, but U1 is the only one I specifically remember from that Christmas).  Oh yeah, and there were wargames, too!  I got the old generic “Battle!” from Yaquinto, and Avalon HIll’s “War and Peace”.  Not a bad haul for a 5th-grader!  Several years later I scored module B10, the Dragonlance Campaign hardcover, a Battletech boxed set, and Star Frontiers Knight Hawks all in one Christmas, but by then the bar had been set pretty high with the “Haul of ’82”.

As I look back over an ever-increasing number of Christmases I’ve celebrated and reflect upon the games I’ve received as gifts I can’t point to a single “greatest” game that I’ve received. Instead, my favorite part is the a process, but let’s call it something less dry – the spirit of giving. Many years ago my best friend and I agreed to exchange games for Christmas. Not tools. Not sports paraphernalia. Games. I’m not particularly knowledgeable about fine art, but some time back I ran across a story where an interviewer asked Picasso what his favorite painting was. His reply: “The next one.” So it is with me. I’ve gotten some great gifts over the years (and given some great ones, too). But for me the best gift is knowing that we have a tradition where we know that next year, we’ll get at least one game from someone who knows games and can even play them.

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