Sunday, March 30, 2008

Hunt For Red October -- mainstreaming attempted

Wargamers sometime fantasize about their hobby gaining widespread acceptance. At the very least it would make opponents easier to find! It might also save a lot of explanation. Golfers, hunters, snowboarders, crocheters and birdwatchers don't have to explain their hobbies, after all.

If only the game companies would try, the thought goes, the great unwashed would discover this great hobby. Of course, the reality is that gaming is a fairly niche hobby and wargaming a very small niche within that niche. And the reality is that there have been some mainstreaming efforts.

20 years ago, for example, TSR, which had succeeded in mainstreaming role-playing games, took advantage of its marketing clout to provide wargaming for the masses. And here I mean "real" wargaming, not just war themed, but something rigorous enough in simulation authenticity to pass muster with grognards.

So Hunt For Red October appeared. While not burdened with esoteric wargame concepts and terms such as ZOCs, CRTs and Hexes, it clearly was a real attempt at simulating modern naval warfare.

But it also had a lot of features meant to appeal to folks who would never have been tempted by SPI fare. First off, even though TSR still held the SPI rights at this point, it was not styled an "SPI" game but was under the "TSR" name, much more widely known because of D&D.
The game was based on a blockbuster best-selling novel, Tom Clancy's The Hunt For Red October. While the game includes a scenario based on the novel, its scope was much wider than just a presentation of the book in game form or mere theming.
The featured a huge, flat box with the same art as the novel. It had a large mounted board and colorful units while not selling for a high price.
The game took advantage of TSRs extensive D&D-based distribution to appear in retail outlets. I bought my copy in the bookstore of my local mall.
And it was a pretty good game, too. It had a lavishly illustrated rulebook that explained the game well-enough for new players to pick up without difficulty.
The game was a success, by wargame standards. TSR followed up with at several other similar games, so sales seem to have been acceptable.
But the game didn't result in any particular mainstreaming. Wargaming is still, and seems destined to be, a hobby of very limited appeal, no matter how well-presented.

1 comment:

  1. I bought this game when it came out, and still own it -- it's really a nice game. Oddly enough, the one genuinely poor scenario in the game is the book scenario. Red October always lost.

    But this was a fun, approachable wargame (especially inasmuch as I was pretty young at the time, and had already been turned off by my first encounters with more conventional historical wargames).