Local game creator describes new project as "unplugged video game"

'Banners and Billhooks' offers old school gaming experience

Mike Easterling
Farmington Daily Times

FARMINGTON — Over the past few decades, digital gaming has become a multibillion-dollar industry around the world while employing the latest advances in technology and graphics. But two local men have taken a decidedly old school approach to the gaming experience with a new book.

Ian McAlexander, a Farmington resident, and Craig Gjedde, a Durango resident who owns the business Game Changers at 217 W. Main St. in Farmington, have written the book "Banners and Billhooks," which is essentially an instruction manual for an elaborate medieval war game they have invented. They'll be selling the book and offering demonstrations of the game during an event at the store this weekend.

If the concept sounds a little confusing, Gjedde's description reduces it to its simplest elements.

"It's an unplugged video game," he said, describing the project as a mix of time-honored gaming elements and modern technology.

The game "Banners and Billhooks" includes a strong build-your-own-army component.

"Banners and Billhooks" is played with dice on a table with miniature plastic figures and sets ranging from structures to landscapes that also can be purchased at Game Changers. Gamers are encouraged to paint the pieces themselves, and, indeed, that is much of the fun, Gjedde said.

"That's a big part of the attraction," he said. "I enjoy the modeling more than I do actually playing the game. If I get to play with it when I'm done, that's a bonus for me."

Game Changers owner Craig Gjedde displays a copy of "Banners and Billhooks," a new book he wrote with Farmington resident Ian McAlexander that includes instructions for playing a new medieval war game.

"Banners and Billhooks" runs 30 pages and includes dozens of full-color images. Gjedde acknowledged the visual experience of playing the new game is a lot different from the digital games that younger people have grown accustomed to. But he said the tactile experience more than makes up for it.

"You can spend thousands of hours playing video games, but when it's over, you have nothing to show for it," he said.

"Banners and Billhooks," on the other hand, leaves the gamer with a physical representation of the battle — and the satisfaction, and freedom, of having designed his or her own army.

Gjedde, a history buff, chose to base his figures on his family's Scandinavian heritage, painting them to resemble a medieval Danish army. In addition to cavalrymen, archers, infantrymen and other figures, gamers can deploy equipment such as catapults, ramrods or cauldrons filled with boiling oil — anything that might be used to lay siege to a castle.

From cauldrons of boiling oil to knights mounted on horseback, "Banners and Billhooks" is designed to stoke the imagination of its players.

Part of the reason McAlexander and Gjedde created the game, Gjedde said, was to provide players with options that other forms of gaming don't have.

"I think what happens is, when you play a war game, it's fun, but you find yourself saying, 'I wish it would do this,'" he said, explaining that "Banners and Billhooks" is designed to encourage and indulge the imagination of its players.

"It's like finding the Holy Grail," he said.

The book features activation and movement rules, descriptions of the types of units and the types of weapons the armies can use, and six scenarios under which the game can be played. Those who explore all six scenarios eventually will use every rule in the book, he said.

A siege tower is just one of the medieval war-making devices that can be deployed in "Banners and Billhooks."

The book's final few pages include charts that allow each player to keep track of his or her army. Each player is allotted 200 points and may add different types of personnel and equipment with an assigned point value until reaching those 200 points.

"What you do within those 200 points is entirely up to you," Gjedde said, adding that a player who wants to devote his points mostly to cavalrymen or archers can do so.

Hand-painted figures are used in "Banners and Billhooks."

Gjedde smiled when he was told the game seems to offer a contemporary take on the plastic army men many children grew up playing with in the 1950s and 1960s.

"That's exactly what it is," he said. "We've just added in a little more elaborate rules. And we're not just blowing them up with firecrackers."

Copies of "Banners and Billhooks" will be sold from 3 to 6 p.m. Sept. 14 at Game Changers. The game will be set up, and McAlexander and Gjedde will be conducting demonstrations and answering questions about it. The game also can be ordered online at wargamevault.com. Call 505-330-8479.

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Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610.