Sandbox Gaming is Great

I like tabletop games, both RPGs and wargaming. I don’t do much wargaming nowadays, but I’d like to share one of my last big projects I did with a friend many many many years ago (it was 2012). We used a philosophy that I call Sandbox Wargaming to make a narrative campaign.

I believe that wargaming is best when it is enjoyed and shared as a collaborative project between friends. I’ve been to lots of tournaments but I’ve never enjoyed the tournament scene in any game. Something that I found particularly inspiring is the pre-Chainmail wargaming of Gary Gygax and his associated gamers in the 70s.

The group, and others like it, would happily invent or modify rules as needed in order to produce fun games and stories. It was an age of experimentation with little set in stone. People were brought together to try out each other’s games. They bonded from their shared love of fantasy stories, military history, and writing games. There was no arguing over points and no list tailoring. The rules were vague, and players made up new rules on the spot when they encountered something unexpected.

This mentality is what I call ‘sandbox’ play. Players have a set of rules (home written or bought) that forms an agreed core framework which they can build on. It turns war gaming into a collaborative project, with players working together to create cool set-pieces (although a competitive element can still be present to varying degrees).

My friend and I had our 2012 project using Tomorrow’s War. This is a science fiction rule set based upon that kind of ‘sandbox’ approach. You have the rules and example army lists but you’re encouraged to play whatever you want to play.

We designed our own army lists and played without points costs. It was an “Imaginations” game (the players create fictional nations / factions) that was VERY tongue in cheek. We also discussed each game and agreed on how the campaign unfolded based on the results of the battles. Sometimes one of us wanted to do stuff not in the rules or do something technically unfair but convenient for both of us – so we talked about it and played fairly liberally when it benefited us both.

It was freewheeling and very fun. Sandbox gaming requires everyone to be good sports and focus on enjoying time with friends. It’s anathema to the hardcore tournament mentality but in my opinion, it’s the best way to play. Toxic players simply don’t play sandbox games. The only drawback is that few people play sandbox games at all, but I highly recommend that you try it with a trusted gaming friend.

Check out my next post for some pictures.

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