One of the awesome things about working at TSR and WotC as long as I did was that I got to play a lot of games. Several times a year we’d set up some game or another as a lunchtime game, leaving them “in play” for a week or two or three of lunch-hour play. As long as you kept up on your deadlines and didn’t stretch the lunch hour too long, it was generally not a problem. David Eckleberry once referred to me as “Julie, your cruise director” because I was one of the principal ringleaders in starting the next lunchtime game, whatever it was. If you ever get the chance to work someplace where you can play your favorite game with good friends every day at your lunch hour, I highly recommend the experience!
Working out of my house these days, I don’t get the chance to indulge the way I used to be able to. But here’s a little look at the top 5 lunchtime games I played across my TSR/WotC career.
5. Blue Max. I was introduced to this excellent little WW1 dogfighting game by GDW back in Lake Geneva. We only played about three or four times, but it was always a ton of fun because we’d get 8 or 10 people at the table at the same time, puttering around and shooting each other down. It’s a plotted movement game, so the fun was figuring out where your opponent would expect you to go, how they would move to clobber you in that spot, and where you could *really* go in order to get them instead. I was fiendishly good at that.
4. Axis and Allies. We played various iterations of A&A about once or twice a year. Back at TSR it was the classic edition, of course, but at WotC we also played Revised, Europe, Pacific, and the Anniversary Edition. I always liked A&A as a “light” strategy game—perhaps a little cut-and-dried once you learn what the right opening moves are. Over the years I managed to capture every capital from every position, except I’ve never captured England while playing Japan. It’s a long ways!
3. Pursue the Pennant. We had a crew of truly dedicated baseball fans back at TSR, and my friend Bill Connors introduced me to PtP almost as soon as I walked in the door. Thomas Reid, Dale Donovan, Stan Brown, Bill Slavicsek, Dave Wise, Bill Connors, and myself played a *lot* of PtP (and its successor, Dynasty League Baseball) back in the day. The best baseball boardgame ever, in my opinion, and a tight sim that only takes about 40-60 minutes to play. I still remember Dave Wise calling a Jim Gantner homer on me, a 1-in-500 shot. Good grief.
2. Third Reich. When Peter Adkison visited Lake Geneva in the spring of ’97 during WotC’s purchase of TSR, he asked me whether anyone at TSR was a Third Reich fan. As it turned out, I was. So during my first few years at WotC, I wound up playing Third Reich a couple of times a year with guys like Peter, Skaff Elias, William Jockusch, Chris Galvin, Gordon Culp, Mons Johnson, Scott Larabee, Frank Gilson, and Rob Watkins. We started off with Advanced Third Reich, and moved on to GMT’s A World at War. A Third Reich game might take three or four months of lunches! I never had the patience to be really meticulous about attrition on the Eastern front, but I was pretty good at attacking.
1. Empires of the Middle Ages. Our all-time favorite at TSR and WotC. We played the old SPI version a couple of times a year. EotMA is a fascinating exercise in crushed expectations and cascading failure. Things start off poorly, and soon spiral into decades of unrelieved misery. It’s sort of a collective schadenfreude, where the real entertainment is watching castles burn down and sink into the swamp, even when it’s your own castle. I played dozens of times with Steve Winter, Dale Donovan, Jeremy Crawford, Scott Larabee, Jennifer Clarke-Wilkes, Rob Watkins, Jon Pickens, Steve Miller, and many other longtime veterans of TSR and WotC. Empires of the Middle Ages teaches some interesting lessons about playing with what the game gives you—hitting the ball where it’s pitched, so to speak. And because it was so often each individual player against the crushing hopelessness of the game system, it was a cooperative game (of sorts) before cooperative games really became a big thing. There’s nothing quite so disheartening as beginning a game of Empires, drawing your position, and discovering that you have once again drawn Poland. Have a happy century!