Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Game or period.?

Now following on from some earlier posts ,Here's a thought. How do you play? Do youy play to "period" or do you play "the game" . Now to me this is a no -brainer -period EVERY time. One of the more depressing changes in the hobby in recewnt years has been the rise of "game" over "period" . This manifests iteself in various ways . Perhaps the most obvious is the re-appearence of multi period rules that purport to have it all "Black powder " and "Rank and File " being the most obvious recently . Now forgetting how good the "game" may be for a moment how the hell can a set of rules purporting to be historical cover conflicts as varied and different as the Seven Years War and the Spanish American War in one set that is not phone book thick?.
Now to be fair I have not tried Black powder- at £30 a shot it can whistle since its all-encompassing style is very unlikely to give me the period feel I want in any set of rules. Rank and File are however too generic with pre-set unit sizes(now common proactice in many sets)and repetitive mechanisms these are simplistic and lack nuance. Both of them are of course full of pretty pictures of mostly bland "perry-a-like" units which seem to be their main selling point.
Of course generic rules are not really new DBA M R MM or whatever has done this for years and there has alway been a tendency towards one size fits all in pre-gunpowder sets where at least the similarity of many weapons forms something of a basis but the DBs again are so generic and abstract that they are merely chess without the chess and like many such games soar majestically to the height of mediocraty.
Now for the record I use the following sets in my games
WW2 Command Decion- have tried others but keep coming back to these as they treat you like an adult.
ECW and TYW- Forlorn Hope- nothing else I've tried comes close though I do still have a soft spot for WRG- Gush 2nd edition as it handles the wilder stuff pretty well.
WAS and 7YW Warfare in the Age of Reason- Heavily fiddled with I use larger units in most cases but the basics are simple and elegant so I stick with them .
ACW - My own mostly based on Featherstone.
General De Brigade for larger battles but my own Featherstone a like for my 40mm games.
AWI- British Grenadier lately but also Warfare in the Age of Reason- with amenrments
The point here is that according to the publishers Black powder and Rank and file should be able to handle all of the periods from the 18th century onwards alone - excepting WW2 of course.
Now mostly I tend to prefer umpire controlled games- especially if you have an "Active Umpire" to make your life hard and change the conditions and rules to suit the scenario. So for me period knowledge is key not to mention crucial but these days is often absent in the mainstream- the "knowledge gap" filled apparently by the rulebooks. Some almost do this WHAB and FOG both being better than a pretty low average. FOG having the edge here mainly because of Osprey's publishing expertise.
Of course it never helps that I find rules reading a real pain- I'd rather read Charles Dickens!! . As I've said in an earlier post NO set of rules has EVER inspired me into a period (though Charles Grant came closest) it has always been History or Art that has done that - usually history so perhaps its no surpise that"games first history nowhere" rules tend not to get my vote.


  1. Great post Big A

    Charles Grant may not have got you but he got me with The Wargame. it kicked me off as a wargamer, firmly established my favoured period, WAS SYW, which eventually lead to my keen reading of millitary history (17th,18th & 19thC). This eventually made me a keen reader, watcher and visitor of history in general. I dont believe we should sell some of these rules short they might be the catalyst for the garnering of period knowledge and more irrespective of there generic nature. Im sure Charlie Grant didnt expect his rules to have the effect on a 12 yo boy growing up in Adelaide that they did, I also suspect I wasnt the only one.


  2. I'll agree about Grant's "The War Game" . . . I got into the 18th century because of it.

    But if I had to pick a rule set that most inspired me into a period, it would have to be "The Sword and the Flame" (not sure now if it was version 1 or revision 1, but it was a very early set). It made the Colonial period sound interesting and fun to game. (I'm now using TSATF 20th and still enjoying them).

    -- Jeff

  3. Can't answer for specific rules but you've got the wrong end of the stick Andy. Human nature doesn't change, not over the short term like 200 years and while there are weapons differences, they can and should be modeled, but if your rules cover the effects of weapons, morale, discipline, command structure etc and allow the player to organize and drill his armies in an appropriate manner for the historical period, then the rest should fall out from that.

    If you have to legislate how the troops are organized and drill and what formations they use then the player is playing the rules not the period. If the player has the choice but chooses to not send out skirmishers, to form in 3 ranks and deploy according to 1740 drill manuals rather than 1860's ones, and if he doesn't have well trained staff officers or handy brigades and divisions because they "aren't right", well then he is playing the period.


  4. Andy - I find my almost in total agreement - for me period is always the feel that I look for in a set of rules.... my fascination with a specific period is almost always book/film driven....

    I also agree with Ross Mac, but only if you can choose your opponent - expecting them to play to the period is not often possible if they are not well read in that period... a period specific set of rules as Andy describes would then provide the framework to ensure they play to the period, not the game/rules....

  5. Stewve and Ross- I end up agreeing with both of you in part. Part of my objection to Rank and File specifically is the set unit sizes whatever the period and the glossing over of period differences to make the rules work within their forced framwork. To my mind there is currently too much "making the history fit my rules " rather than making the rules fit the history DBA/M/R/MM is also the same.
    And while Ross is correct in saying that human nature doesn't change too much over 2-300 years I would suspect that there are more changes than you'd think - especially in respect to attitudes to discipline.
    But Ross is right about the need to legislate or not. My point is that most newer rules DO feel the need as the assumtion now is that the player is either incapable or too lazy to work it out for himself.

  6. PP and Jeff. Grants book was/is much more than mere rules. It was his period knowledge that inspired. I went off and read as much of his bibliography as I could .
    As for TSATF I do have a copy given to me by Larry Brom back inthe day but have never played a game despite having a good selection of NW frontier figures and a mass of books on the Frontier- that was Churchills fault oh and Flashman...

  7. I'm glad to find someone else who still likes the Age of Reason Rules as I do too, being definitely a period player and in favour of making the rules fit the period. Why pay for extra guff that you won't use?

    One of my pet hates is the fixed unit size so often found which doesn't reflect real historical differences between units of different nationalities - something real commanders had to cope with, and I also don't like including command figures in the 'line'; having 12 man units including an officer, standard and musician just looks silly to me, so I usually sort out my own unit sizes and command figures to suit my prejudices.

  8. John Thats the way I've always worked. I really hate set unit sizes. Now granted aor uses them in theory but since unit size is not used as a rule mechanism you can use the size you need for the army you are modelling. I've used AOR- with modifications for lots of sub- periods as the basic rulesare simple and pretty elegant you can "bolt on" period specifics. I'm not convinced they do Marlborough well butanything from say 1730 up to the AWI and selectivly afterwards so I've used them for the War of 1812 but also - with a good bit of fiddling - for Wellington in India as well as other Indian campaign of the 18th century.