Are Computers Just Really Expensive Dice?

By Deane Barker

Here’s a high correlation: computer geeks and role-playing and war game players. If you’re a programming or hardware geek, there’s a good chance you’ve played Dungeons and Dragons, Axis and Allies, or Magic: The Gathering. There’s no scientific basis for this – it’s all empirical – but I know the relationship exists.

I played D & D, but Champions from Hero Games was my most consistent addiction. That and Car Wars from Steve Jackson Games. I played a lot of Risk, and, later, got into “true” war games like Panzer Leader. It hasn’t ended – just this week I bought Heroscape for my son for his birthday. I think I was more excited that he was.

When I was a teenager, I wouldn’t play role-playing games as much as I would read them. I’d buy new gaming systems just to study the rules. Learning the combat and campaign systems was so addictive. Once I mastered a game, I’d usually lose interest pretty quickly. A perfect example was the various flavors of GURPs from Steve Jackson Games. I read them all, but I don’t think I ever played one.

To back up my “computer geek – board gamer” claim, I’ve seen a lot of posts about boardgames at Slashdot over the years, like this, this, and this.

Of particular interest was this guy, who wanted to create his own game:

I’ve been growing interested in creating my own set of board games, and I was wondering if people knew of good resources for how to go about doing this? I’d love to know information on good places to get cards printed, manuals printed, plastic pieces manufactured, boards created, that sort of thing.

This one hits close to home, because I did that a lot too: wrote my own gaming systems. I was fascinated by it. I’d spend hours putting together combat and movement systems, but I never played any of them. I just liked the intellectual challenge of building them. I liked creating rules and having them all come together and “gel” into a system.

My buddy Joe and I (not the Joe who contributes to Gadgetopia – another Joe) were going to create a gaming company. For years we wrote gaming systems, then tossed them and wrote new ones. I’m convinced we just liked writing them. (Joe, for his part, went off and started a company that wasn’t far off what we were planning…)

I’m convinced that this passion is that exact same thing at play with software development. I love new programming tools and apps. I love to dissect them and figure out how they work, and in doing this, I get the same feeling that I did when I dove into a new role-playing game rules manual, and I’m stone-cold convinced that those years of learning new gaming systems prepared me for my current years of doing IT for a living. A lot of the same concepts are at play in both programming and gaming.

(Another benefit I reaped from my years of gaming: my uncanny ability to do math in my head. I can do mental math that most people can’t do on paper. I can total a set of numbers in a split second. Why? Because Champions used a lot of dice. It wasn’t uncommon for you to have roll and total 12 six-sided dice. Do it enough, and you unconsciously work out a system in your head. I promise you that role-playing gamers have higher math scores than non-gamers. Whether this is due to die-rolling or to the fact that they have less dates and thus more time to study, I leave to you…)

I’d been throwing around this post idea for a long time, but something happened today that prompted me to sit down and finally write it: the son of someone I know wrote his own game. I got this email today from a good friend and client:

Last Spring, our son asked to spend his allowance money on Pokemon cards. We said “No.” He said, “Ok” and proceeded to design his own card deck game. Surprisingly (or not?) the game he designed was not only playable, it was fun! So, we made him a deal – if he worked hard on fine-tuning the game, we’d front him the money to get it printed. He put his mind to it and seven months later, it’s finally here!

Though it should be apparent he retained an experienced ad agency to do his production work, please know – virtually every aspect of this game is his idea. It’s weird having a 7 year old as a client, but so far, he’s shown marketing savvy, persistence and leadership skills that would put him on a panel with Peter Drucker and Jack Welch.

Regarding the artwork, it’s truly wonderful art by one of the world’s great dinosaur artists. His name is Joe Tucciarone and was eager to help a young entrepreneur realize a dream.

Included with the email was this brochure. Yes, you read that right: This seven-year-old wrote his own card game, and his Dad (the “experienced ad agency” in the above quote) produced it for him. I’m convinced that if I had a Dad like this when I was young, I’d be atop my own gaming empire by now.

[NOTE: I originally had ordering information here for the game, but it’s been removed, 14 years down the road…]

So, with that, I’ll end this rambling diatribe. But, tell me: do you think I’m right? Is there a correlation between board, war, and role-playing gamers and computer geeks? Do gaming and programming systems trigger the same mental activity? Did you play? What games?

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