On any given Tuesday or Saturday, Robert Watts may make a decision that will reshape the world -- whatever world he may be in that night.
Watts, 32, is president of the Glen Burnie Gaming Association (GBGA), a small group of about a dozen gaming devotees who gather twice a week to play board games, manipulate historical military miniaturesor guide colorful characters through fantastic worlds set in the distant past or far-flung future.
"Chess was originally invented to teach princes how to commit war. I started playing chess in junior high school," explains Watts, whois a computer repairman.
About 12 years ago, Watts began to applythe strategic acumen he had gained through chess to historical military miniatures. A gamer was born.
Using small, detailed figurines of soldiers, horses and military hardware and battlefield dioramas, gamers recreate historic battles in the such confrontations as the British/Zulu conflict, the American Civil War and the Napoleonic Wars.
The figurines are moved over the board, and battle is waged with the roll of dice. With the perspective of hindsight, players can try strategies different than those that failed generals in the past and turn the tables -- or meet with defeat in their own unique way.
"It's a competition thing. Instead of watching, you make things happen. The question you ask yourself is, 'Can you do better than historical?'" says Watts.
The Confederates winning the Civil War? Napoleon emperor of the world? It could happen in the recreation room of Watts' Glen Burnie home.
The society plays three types of games: militaryminiatures; board games, like Milton Bradley's "Fortress America"; and role-playing games of the "Dungeons & Dragons" variety.
The role-playing games enable participants to create their own characters with predetermined strengths and weaknesses and join them in a quest with several other players' characters. In the imaginary world of Dungeons & Dragons, players encounter monsters, perils and characters controlled by the Dungeon Master, a kind of omniscient game-god who creates the world and mediates the characters' interaction with it. Characters operate in the world by rolling dice to attempt actions, and, depending on the roll, succeed or fail.
Despite criticism by some parents and religious groups that the game promotes violence, Watts maintains that exactly the opposite is true. Players must learn to trustand work with each other to survive a hostile world. In game situations, violence is the final option. Players must use their ingenuity to escape from danger. Those who resort to the sword on every encounter are sure to meet a quick death, Watts says.
"You make the decisions, and you live and die by them," he says.
The games are intricate, and in the case of the historical games, the society consults a cadre of military advisers for information on tactics, equipment and other details concerning the different battles. Historians and retiredmilitary officers, as well as local libraries, have been invaluable resources for the association, Watts says. The group maintains its own library of history books and notes in Watts' home.
Gaming groupsare small but numerous, with pockets all over the county. Watts, whois the vice president of the East Coast branch of the Historical Miniature Gaming Society, says he encounters many players from other county groups at regional gaming competitions and conventions. The GBGA also competes with gamers from Fort Meade.
The hobby is relativelyinexpensive, the only costs being for a set of rules books and the board games themselves.
However, avid players can spend hundreds ofdollars on the tiny metal figurines and other gaming paraphernalia. Watts boasts a collection of 10,000 miniature figures from Napoleonicsoldiers to high-tech combat robots in games like "Robotech."
Watts says that people from all walks of life enjoy gaming. The group's own roster contains computer technicians, artists, students and warehouse workers, who gather to battle dragons, huntfor treasure or save the galaxy.
"I've had everyone from weight-lifters to nerds come in and say they've had a good time . . . some people become avid aboutit and play every week," says Watts, who attributes the popularity of gaming to its equalizing effects.
"There is some aspect of the (gaming) environment as a whole that would interest anyone," Watts says.
The GBGA has big plans. Watts wants to set up a computer bulletin board for area gamers to provide a clearinghouse of information for player contacts and to list game information. It's a large undertaking, considering the myriad of information and factors that go into gaming.
The group also wants to start a series of seminars for players, Dungeon Masters and figure painters, and to double the group's membership. Watts feels confident that he can pull it off.
"Anything is possible in the game," he says.
The Glen Burnie Gaming Association meets on Tuesday evenings and all day Saturday. For more information, call 761-4376.