Bowb” as a Gaming Term

These remarks Copyright 1995, 2000 by Steffan O'Sullivan
This page last updated December 4, 2000.

Bowb is an extremely useful word introduced into the English language by Harry Harrison in his entertaining science fiction novel, Bill the Galactic Hero. Those who have read Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein need to read Harrison's book as a necessary counterbalance to Heinlein's rosy vision of life in the Troopers. While Heinlein's view may have been valid for WWII-era soldiers, Harrison shows what it's been like in the army since then.

[Note: be sure to get Harrison's original book. Avoid the sequels that have been published since - they're not very good.]
Of course, life in the real Troopers, if portrayed accurately, requires an extensive vocabulary of obscenities, frequently applied. But Harrison didn't want the book to be censored (it's from the mid '60s, and in fact is also a harsh commentary on the Viet Nam war, which was raging at the time). So he made up an all-purpose cuss word which can be used for any swear word ever invented: bowb. Some examples include:
Don't give me any of your bowb!
Get over here, you stupid bowb!
What is this, "Bowb Your Buddy Week?"
Bowbity-bowb bowb!
The word is very useful for getting your meaning across without offending too many people.

Bowb as a Game Term

Well, it was the What is this, "Bowb Your Buddy Week?" phrase that started it all. My position (in a game I was losing) had just been hurt badly by my friend Mike, and the phrase just popped out of my mouth. Mike, who spent 14 years in the Troopers and also loves Bill the Galactic Hero, instantly supplied the response given in the book: "Every week is Bowb Your Buddy Week." We were hooked after that.

We use bowb in gaming mostly as an adjective or verb to describe an action or play that really hurts an opponent's position, whether it actually helps your own position or not. Actions that help your own position but don't hurt an opponent are not bowbing actions. Actions that help your position and hurt your opponent are indeed bowbing actions. And actions that simply hurt your opponent, even if they also hurt you, are definitely bowbing actions.

(However, bowbing isn't really spite or malice - it's in the spirit of the play of the game. No outside-the-game vendettas allowed at my table.)

Thus certain cards are bowb cards, for example: their sole function in the game is to hurt someone's position and not directly help anyone. Or you might hear me say, You really bowbed me with that move! [Hmmm, I seem to say it a lot - I guess it's my fate in life to be a bowbing-target ...] And of course there is the ever popular self-bowbing move we all make in a game at some time or another ...

Some games have more bowbing than others - in fact I often find it useful to assess a game by the amount of bowbing potential. This is because some of my gaming friends have to have bowbing in a game to enjoy it, but I have at least one other friend who prefers a minimum of bowbing in her games. My database of games owned does indeed include a "Bowb" field, with entries listed simply as High, Med, Low.

I believe bowb to be one of the most useful invented words introduced in a science fiction book - perhaps not as useful as Capek's robot, but miles ahead of grok, for example.

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