While working with my programming partner, I overheard one of his roommates talking about Amtgard, a Battle Gaming organization that he is in. Naturally, I was interested the game considering my favorite childhood game to play with my friends was "hit each other with sticks." I decided to go to Amtgard to see if swinging around pretend swords was still fun, so I invited two of my roommates to come along and we drove off to the park.
It was the most fun I have had since the last tile I swung around, only the rules were more sophisticated and the sticks were covered in foam so I wasn't constantly being injured. In my head the park slowly transformed Despite my excitement, I still couldn't help but analyze the games I was playing.
The reasoning behind some of the rules were obvious. All weapons must meet the safety standards laid out in the handbook, and fall into various categories, such as dagger, sort, long, throwing, etc. Neck, face, and foot shots don't count. if your hit in the arm or leg, you lose use of that limb, and a torso shot is a kill.
Three different games were played, trenching, warlord and Capture the Flag Battlegame.
Trenching was the simplest game of the three. Everybody divides into two hopefully even teams and the teams fight to the last. Once one team has been eliminated, the winners give their first slain to the losing team and they line up again to fight again, and again, and again. The second game, warlord, introduced slightly more complex rules to the fighting. It begins as a free for all, anyone killed steps aside and counts to 30. they then come back as a warrior serving the person who killed them, and follow any orders. Anyone they defeat serves the warlord. If the warlord is slain, his underlings are free agents again. The game ends when one warlord stands unopposed by other warlords or free agents. The third game was the most complex. flags were placed on the opposite sides of the park and ropes were laid out to mark a river that could only be crossed at bridges, laid out in a different color rope or "waded through" on your knees. Players also have special abilities based on a class of their choosing: warrior, archer, healer, etc. players have limited lives and must try to bring the flag back to their base.
Something immediately apparent it the rules it its emphasis on enjoying yourself and making sure others do as well. The weapons can be swung at full force without injury (mostly), and it is up to the stricken person to accept be honest about their hits and not cheat. These show through even in, trenching, the simplest of the rule sets, as the game would be impossible to play without this mutual trust that your opponent will be honest and that his weapon wont bruise. I took plenty of accidental shots to the face, and my foe always stopped to ask if I was ok, to which I would respond that I was actually glad, since they didn't hurt much and I could still keep fighting since it wasn't a legal strike zone. In trenching, the rules are simple, but the play can be as complex as any actual melee. All you have to to is try to hit you opponent and not get yourself, but doing just that is such a complex task that schools are made around teaching just that. I have been thinking about my fighting style long after the game is over. The winning team handing over their first dead helps maintain balance on the teams, as the most skilled players are likely to be the last ones dead, so chances of them being on the same team are lowered. It is also nice to see the teams change slightly as it goes on, and even encourages some interesting play by the brave, or foolish. My roommate, wanting to contribute to the team, dove straight for the legs of the other teams more seasoned warriors. He was killed instantly, but he managed to take the veterans leg. he put himself at risk, being our teams first dead, and possibly breaking a record, dieing within a second of the start of the game, but, being new like me, he knew that just wounding someone else was a worthy trade-off.
Warlord felt less like simple play and more like a game, though i don't necessarily mean that it was better, but had more complex mechanics. The players spread out and slowly engage in small battles or duels. I noticed that as free agents players seemed to engage much more cautiously. Without a lord to serve, they could amass a force of their own. However, waiting too long could mean that a talented warlord might have slain a free agent or two and could surround and outnumber you with his growing army. I took a balanced approach and just stabbed people in the back. after being slain many times, I found there were many different lords. Some were tactical commanders who ordered us in the most advantageous way possible to win, introducing team tactics to the chaos of this semi- free for all game. Other lords seemed reluctant to be lords and just preferred fighting. The only orders I received from one such lord was to spread chaos. I obliged and charged the closest foe i could, who wasn't actually a foe and almost killed him, we teamed up on a real enemy who took my leg before he fell. My lord was far away so I still had to follow my last order. It was probably quite a comical to see me shuffle around on my knees trying to spread chaos with one use able leg. The last sort of warlord I served under was the fun warlord. He was obviously skilled, as he had half of the battlefield under his command. His command was to walk slowly with swagger and attack with flash and impractical spin attacks. sadly, in our first battle he was one of the first to die, so everybody immediately became free agents and chaos filled the battleground once again. The game continued for a surprisingly long time. With the main mechanic of getting more warriors as you won battles being a positive feedback loop, I expected the fight to continue much longer.
The last game was the most complex of the three but it was my favorite. Players choose from a list of classes and get abilities unique to that class. Every week a player participates in Amtgard they gain a point in their class they played that day, and get new abilities for their class. Being the sort of person that I am, I chose assassin as soon as I was told about it. Each class seemed to have its own strengths and weaknesses, with classes having hard counters, classes that have distinct advantage over others. For example, a healer or a wizard can stun a barbarian with a long incantation and he or she is stuck in place (more like chooses to to play fair and obey the rules of the game). That same barbarian or a warrior with a big shield is easily going to destroy a scout or assassin like me (unless I jump them!). That same wizard has powerful skills, but abilities granted to "lights" like assassins let them easily kill them and run. Though I normally dislike hard counter systems, I found that the depth of strategy and richness of play was not diminished. All the abilities were fun to use, but a talented fighter with no abilities and one shortsword could be even more valuable than a teleporting assassin or archer with a bow.
Amtgard was nostalgic for me, bringing back memories of my middle school friends and I sparing with whatever branches we could find, though Amtgard uses formal rules to structure that fighting from my childhood to make combat more formal, and with the introduction of rules, the fun of organized games can be combined with the sheer fun of whacking things with foam sticks.