Friday, 6 July 2018

How can rules be "interesting" of themselves.

Now here is a more or less serious question. I've had various chaps tell me over the years that this or that rule set or game is "interesting" - now as to quite what they mean by that I often cannot tell. Do they mean the period is interesting or the actual rule book or  even the actual rules.
 Now I am by no means a rules junkie but even I have amassed about 30 or so set of rules (other than those contained in the various "Classic" wargames books) and hand on heart not a single  rule book is interesting of itself. Hard to read- yes certainly- try the incomprehensibility of "Firefly"  for example. Tedious- without a doubt - almost any rule book has tedious bits but some are more tedious than others. But interesting as a stand alone piece of reading? Never. Not a Chance. Rather watch grass grow. Reading rules is a necessary chore to help you achieve a goal  which, in my case, is a decent historically based game that resembles - as far as possible -the period I am trying to depict. This is the fun bit. The rules, well, they simply ain't. They are merely a means to an end. A toolbox.
 Of course these days publishers like to pretty up the deal so they can charge a higher premium. Hence all the pictures and other associated eye-candy- to make an otherwise tedious publication "interesting" enough to make the punter part with thirty notes or thereabouts. Likewise the "explanations"- some of which are very appropriate but some of which are so bloody patronising that it makes your fists itch !
 Now in the greater scheme of things tedious to read does not automatically preclude any rule set working well on the table- though it can slow things down awfully. Finding the bits you need in "Black Powder" is middling tough at best unless you have a prodigious boredom threshold- which I don't-and that was one, of several, things that put me off the set in the first place. It has resided on my shelf unused for a couple of years now. I just can't bear the chore of tunnelling through it. "Pike and Shot" from the same stable is far better but again not  stand alone interesting .
Now as I type this I wonder if the lack of interest in many of these documents  is because I'm pretty historical-have actually read actual history books (sometimes without pictures!!) and- in certain areas- know my stuff so obvious -and not so obvious- historical bloopers in rules do tend to get my back up. Not only that the hushed reverence with which some dudes go on about this or that rule set is positively nauseating especially when they mention that awful phrase "interesting mechanisms" - What ?  Rolling  a dice or two or turning a card is .. interesting - what without money on it !  Yes I'm taking the mickey  but the way some blokes go on about rules you would think any given set was actually important even unto approaching Holy Writ.
 Now if you have read this far you may have noticed that I said at the beginning- excepting the classic wargaming books- and that is largely true Featherstone, Grant Wise  Gush and Young all had interesting things to say in their various books- whose remit was significantly wider than the narrow confines of the latest sci-fant skirmish a -like but there have been some published  turkeys too- The PSL guide to wargaming by Quarrie is pretty much a waste of space- full of WRG a like rules as was the fad at the time of publishing as is his Armoured Wargaming- both of which infest my shelves. Niether are particularly interesting of themselves other than perhaps examples of the poorer side of what has gone before.
 I can see how you need the right tools to do the job - so yes a given mechanism might be useful if it makes the troops behave in an historical way- therein lies the interest - but of itself - no . This is possibly why I find Fantasy  gaming especially so unappealing- even when I like the actual figures-.A small part of me would quite like to go adventuring in Hyboria- as in Robert Howard - but only a small part and lets be honest this kind of stuff NEVER games the way it reads so it becomes merely a dice rolling exercise.

So to finish - how can rules be interesting of themselves- rather than for what they MAY enable you to do- short answer - no they can't - unless you have a different informed opinion

15 comments:

  1. Hi Big Andy,

    I tend to find reading the designers notes and understanding the whys and wherefores of their rules is usually an interesting experience - especially if it dovetails with my own perception of what the rules are trying to represent.

    Thought provoking post old chap!

    All the best,

    DC

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    1. Hi DC- see your point there- the designers notes are often the most interesting bit though I did not find that to be true of Pikemans Lament but in the case of "Black Powder" the notes were far more use than the rukes

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  2. For me, a set of rules can be interesting IF the author is presenting some new, original ideas on how to go about things in a simple, quick, yet effective way AND explains the thinking behind the rules, how they reflect his/her view of the history and so on.(Preferable in design notes)

    I don't read many rule sets these days.

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    1. It has to be daid I'm not a great rules reader either. I always found it a bit of a chore. As all the games I either run or play in are now Umpire controlled it is no longer needed so they can't get in the way of the period or the actual game

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  3. An interesting read Andy! I know that you are not discussing the relative complexity of various rulesets here, but reading this post reminded me of my experience many years ago with two sets of ACW rules, being the Newbury set and the original Fire & Fury set. The Newbury set was most definitely NOT an interesting read, but it was a major challenge, I even took the damn things on a weeks holiday on the Norfolk Broads and spent hours poring over them but arrived home non the wiser. The along came F&F, the original 'brigade' set and they changed everything for me, I can honestly say that they were interesting in themselves because the mechanics of the rules were totally new and innovative and yet simple, I even used to take them to work to read during my lunch hour!

    I don't really read rule sets these days either.

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    1. Never had any joy out of Newbury myself. were the difficult to read because they were over complex? Or difficult to read because they were badly written?
      Complexity of itself is not always a bad thing- Command Decision are a bit complex in parts- but then most of the time you don't need the rules about minefields and Air support or field engineering.
      Stripping out the competition element from rules(though not always from the game) would be a decent start BUT if there is competition there WILL be cheating- much complexity needed to be added to WRG for example to stop the kind of rules lawyering that most of us despise

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  4. Not sure if rules can be interesting in themselves, but if background or design notes are included then it takes them to another level. A good example is Neil Thomas' 19th century book. The rules themselves are pretty simple, but what makes you appreciate the intelligence behind them is the history and design notes. Couple that with the army lists and scenarios, it's one of the few rule sets that I couldn't wait to play (they don't disappoint either). Not only that, it introduced me to other wars I never thought I'd be interested in, which is why I now have 1866 Austrians when I bought it for Franco Prussian.
    Compare that to Black Powder and you find all the verbosity is actually about the rules: pointless waffle that disguises the fact that the only differential between 1776 and 1870 is the weapon ranges. Not interesting, just annoying!

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    1. Exactly Now as I have said Neil's rules are not on the whole for me BUT he knows his stuff. So if you like his gaming style. Mind you never seen a rule set yet that I "couldn't wait to play" as with me the History ALWAYS comes first and game arise from the history rather than the other way round

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    2. That was my view of the 19th century rules - they came from the history, rather than attempting to slot the history into a pre-ordained 'mechanism'.

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  5. I've been delving into old and new Ancients rules recently and your post certainly strikes a chord. I do occasionally find a rule set interesting to read, usually for the reasons others have already mentioned, and I find this is often a guide to rules I will enjoy using. If a rule set actually reads fairly well it is probably fairly simple and logical, and the author may well be on the same hymn sheet as me. But as you say, normally it's like reading a technical manual, and often a rather badly worded technical manual. Perhaps there's a market for something a bit more like the old wargaming books we all love...

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    1. Hmm Yes I see your point and agree but the old rules were mostly designed as inroductions and these days there are 2 distinct schools of thought- maybe more. The "Realistic" and the "its a game" . Now in my view the "Its a Game" is very much in the ascendant and is obcessed with "mechanisms" and at least part of that is because the "realistic" could not decide which type of realism it wanted. One of the resons I have gone back to "retro" style for some periods is because it gives me open ended figure based games that I can put in extra "realism" at need rather than be slaved to a the diktats of any given set of rules. This also why I prefer Umpire run games rather than "head to head lead" . The badly written technical manuals are a result I think of not being able to smother the baser urges of the competitivly minded games player. I perhaps should have mentioned the tedium of trying to read FOG and FOGR - I actually found WRG simple by comparison

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    2. Yes, the 'retro' style is my preferred approach at the moment, for the reasons you mention.

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  7. Fabulous post. It's almost like you are the little voice in my head. Not sure what that means for either of us.

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    1. Hmm me niether- glad you enjoyed the post though

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