12 October 2010

Tuesday Q&A: Mike Benninghof, PhD

This week's interview is with the boss over at Avalanche Press, Dr Mike Benninghof.

If my plaque was to go in the Wargaming Hall of Fame next week, the 2-sentence bio on it would say this about me:

That's not going to happen, but if it did, I'd have to go with: "Actually made his living designing wargames," since "bestrode the hobby like a colossus" was already taken.
You would know me from my work in this corner of the wargaming world:

Panzer Grenadier, Great War at Sea, Second World War at Sea. Since I don't like to post on message boards, there might not be many who recognize my name. I've never quite understood the "game designer" label; I want to make stuff that people like and will give them enjoyment.

I'm currently working on:

Army of Lappland. It's a pretty traditional wargame, unusual for us these days, and that makes it fun to work on. Well, as fun as the pressure to produce and sell will allow.

What are your three favorite types/genres of wargames?

I don't think I have three. I like to play multi-player games because I like the social interaction and, should I win, there are witnesses to my genius. Should I lose, there are scapegoats to blame. I like to design games on quirky subjects no one else has ever touched, mostly to show off the research involved. But I take little interest in similar games done by others, since having a game on the topic isn't really my goal. I like to research the topic and use the game format to construct a model of what I think happened, and try it out. I'm not particularly interested in discovering new and innovative game design techniques, other than those that help build that model. So other people's models don't really do much for me, though I look them over in hopes of stealing their ideas.
What wargame made you want to be a designer?

Panzerblitz. So much unrealized potential.
What was your first game convention as an exhibitor?

Origins 1986, in Baltimore. Roomed with Jon Southard. I have few memories of the convention itself, but many of the after-hours parties on Kevin Zucker's patio with John Prados, Ed Wimble, Mark Herman, Jack Radey and many others.
When you're not wargaming, what are some other games you enjoy playing?

I rarely play wargames. I enjoy Monopoly and Risk with my wife and children.
Are there any wargaming magazines you read regularly? Military-focused magazines? History magazines?

Nope. I think the day of the magazine has passed, at least for specialty subjects like wargames. Game reviews in magazines by necessity are many months old by the time they appear, and we have had game reviews appear for products that were already sold out when the magazine arrived - I'm sure that's not unique to Avalanche Press. And then the quality is, to be charitable, uneven.
What's on your car stereo right now?

Better than Ezra, "Deluxe." It's actually jammed in the CD player and nothing else will play now. Since I make my living making wargames, I can't afford to fix the damned thing.
People would describe my fashion sense as…

1980's. Not retro. I wear the same clothes now that I did then. And they fit.
You can invite any 3 historical figures to dinner, who do you pick?

I met a number of historical figures (or they will be when they kick off) in my journalist and academic days. History anoints those with the arrogance to seize the moment, and that makes for an unpleasant dinner companion. I'd prefer to dine with three people I actually like. I'll be dead someday, even if the crazies don't catch up with me, and have no wish to waste my time with nasty people.
Ginger or Mary Ann?  Or, if you prefer, Madonna or Lady Gaga?
 I dated a lot of Gingers, but I married Mary Ann. I just attended my high school reunion, and it was one of the finest evenings of my life: filled with healing and redemption, and all from unexpected quarters. My ex-girlfriend and I won the "Bad Romance" dance-off for couples who'd had, well, bad high school romances, and it was as though a couple decades of hurt and shame were melted away. So Lady Gaga will always have to be part of my life's soundtrack. Martin Luther King said that you should "never succumb to the temptation of becoming bitter," and I've tried to live by that the past few years and saw actual results last week. So Lady Gaga will always remind me, personally, of that better way to live. I don't blame others for having a gag reflex instead though.
What's the last good military book you read?
 A Soldier of the Great War, by Mark Helprin. Beautiful prose, fantastic story, memorable characters. The vignette of the prisoner who "abuses" the horses in the Imperial stables is one of the funniest scenes in all of literature, I guess because I knew "that guy." It is one of the very few books I will read more than once.
My parents thought my future in designing games was… 
They still don't understand just what it is that I do for a living, and are disappointed that I did not stick as a history professor. I pretty much have to agree. I've done a lot of very good work of which I'm very proud, but I've managed to balance most of that with poor business decisions.

By: Brant


Anonymous said...

Nice q and a. you don't normally see much from mike, so this was pretty neat.

Anonymous said...

The Gaga bit is cute and memorable.