Wednesday, 15 January 2014

This Obcession with rules.

 When it comes to this hobby of ours with all its various facets  and myriad little companies producing  oodles of stuff for the supposed cognoscenti you do wonder- when you've been at it as long as me- how much the "mainstream" has changed over the years or perhaps how I have changed as I interact with various wargamers in various parts oft he world. - mostly I suspect its a bit of both.
 Over the years I've played a lot of different rules in different periods. I own some sets I've never yet played- and possibly never will.
 So in part to set my own thoughts in order here are all the sets I can remember owning or playing., Those I have used in the last couple of years or still do play  are in bold those I have never actually played are in italics
 Featherstone Ancient Horse and Musket and WW2  Lionel Tarr WW2  Iszwaco WW2 (spelt wrongly)   Spearhead WW2 Command Decision WW2 versions 2 and 3 London Wargames section Napoleonic  Grand Manner, Empire,  General de Brigade,WRG 1685-1845 Charles Grant 18th cent, Charge,  Age of Reason  ,Age of Discovery, Forlorn Hope , File leader  WRG Rennaissence - 1st and 2nd eds  British Grenadier. Lance, Tercio, WRG ancients 5 th 6 th eds  Tactica Ancients Tactica Medievals Fog, WHAB WhabECW  Fog R Combined Arms , Over the Top  Contemptible Little Armies  Black Powder. Beer and Pretzels Ironclads, Beer and Pretzels Skirmish, Volley and Bayonet, RevengeMedieval Fire and Fury Airfix ACW  Sons of the Desert, Warpaint, Katana Fog Napoleonic . War and Conquest(ancients set)  DBA,DBM,DBR (I don't own sets of the DBs but have played and hated them )

 This list doesn't include rules I've only played the odd time or two such as Rapid Fire(godawful) FOW (more Godawful) or the various Role playing games I tried in the 70s such as Traveller and of course D and D and many of its spin offs. Needless to say there will be some I have forgotten completely .
 This list only represents I should estimate significantly less than 10% of the rules available to us both in and out of print
 The point here is that the above is only as complete as my memory and doesn't include a couple of sets I wrote myself - A Dark Ages Set and ACW set and a set designed for 40mm  company/battalion level games.
 What it indicates to me is the deep level of dissatisfaction I have with many  with rules in general.
 Of course the level of dissatisfaction will depend upon what I'm after in any given set of rules.. There is no such thing as the perfect set of rules but equally any sets have something to teach us- even if its only how not to do stuff.
 Now over the years I've heard many opinions on what makes a decent ruleset  and often the  opinions are to me at least a  little weird- Its that circular conversation again
 "I don't like these they are rubbish"
 "Why are they rubbish"
 "Because I don't like them"
 The number  of variations of this conversation I've had is legion.
 "Why do you like these "
 Cos I  can win using them
 "But they are historical nonsense- for- list reasons"
" I don't care I win with them "
 That conversation is more rare but has happened more than once- most often when a chap is ordering a deeply unhistorical army which conforms to some loophole in an army list.
 This last is a relatively recent phenomenon. probably only coming to the fore in the last 15 years or so outside of the competition arena where it has up to a point always existed but then tended to pertain to army lists rather than the relatively small numbers of rulesets then available..
 There are other criteria I hear more these days than formerly
  These are simple
 These are FUN (there is that word again and  always in bloody capitals)
I can finish a game in under an hour ? 2 hours ? 15minutes  ?(delete as appropriate)

Very rarely indeed do I hear I like these because they are accurate (list reasons).- I can only think of a couple of times when this has happened in the last few years. Once from a FOG player and one from a Pike and Shotte player- both were able to illustrate their reasons so  it wasn't the usual case as illustrated above. .
 Its as if the gap between Wargames Rules and their Historical roots is ever widening. the idea niow seems to be to produce yet another  FUN fantasy game in  vaguely historical trousers Now for myself my criteria for any given set of rules is pretty simple
1/. "Could it have worked that way back then"
2/."Will it look nice on the table"
3/.do they fit the period they are supposed to.
(this is not quite the same as point1/. since I've often found myself using  rules for 1 period that were written for another or sets that were  "ERA" sets for only a small period of that ERA- most obviously WHAB for Feudal games - where they sort of worked but not for Classical games where IMHO they did not
These are the major points in order of importance  other criteria will include
 If I'm using the set for 25mm or larger then I want  casualty removal and unit detail
 this will not be  needed for 15mm or smaller   or for higher levels of command- such as say a Volley and Bayonet  FPW game
15mm Malburians. I don't want figure removal in this small scale- the units would be comparatively anonymous

 I hate "set unit size" rules for  battalion level games. Real battalions were different strengths at different times. All you have to do is read unit and campaign histories to work that out. So those rules which tell you that a unit is 6 "stands"   all infantry units are 12 figures  - well no not for me Especially if the gamesystem relies on those set unit sizes to function (AOR advises set unit sizes BUT(big but)  the system is figure based so any size unit  works AOR is a very flexible system.) One could wish that other systems were as flexible
 As a general rule it always seems to me that the further up the chain  of command   you go- and by implication (but not always)  down the scales the n the more anonymous the   units become. Thus in standard Fire and fury the 69NY are not a unit but are merely part of a numbered brigade with a name label and a few stats scrawled on it.
 Now this is where personal taste come in  as a general rule I'm far more interested in the doings of an individual name model of a historical regiment than those of "the 3rd game counter from the left"
Aforementioned 69th NY volunteers advancing against the 43rd NC (I think) . The picture is several years old but illustrated that in 40mm I want individual regimental detail  rather than mere game counters. 

 By and large if a set of rules fulfils my criteria I don't care if they are fashionable or not , printed in a 30 quid book full of BS or not or have shedloads of colour pics advertising the various Figure Fascists ranges or not.
 Rles after all are merely tools to be used as desired they are not Holy Writ . Exsperience tells me that- in some periods at least I have more knowledge than the rules writers. I don't want a set that puts smarmy games mechanisms before the History and further I'd opine that many many rules are only fit for hanging on that nail in the smallest room.


  1. Considering this was not a long posting, Andy, you raise some interesting and, speaking for myself as war gamer, important issues.

    As I discover my really long reply would not be accepted on account of its inordinate length, methought to copy the thing and print it on my own blog. This should appear in the next day or so...


  2. Some interesting points raised here...

    I'm curious about the fact you seem to equate historical accuracy with enjoyment, yet at the same time you refer to what you do as games and not simulations. That's fine and it is a personal thing. Yet to my mind a simulation should be more concerned with accuracy than a game. A game should be FUN (yes, in caps!).

    I don't understand, however, why you seem to consider "simple" or "finished in under 2 hours" is a bad thing. Sometimes a simple mechanism is best suited to portray it's real life equivalent, other times not. Neither is wrong. And regards to length of game, there is something to be said in reaching a conclusion, especially if you are gaming and not conducting a simulation.

    Any set of rules are necessarily abstract. They are, after all, not real life...

    1. Michael- simulation or game - yes see your point and you are right I do tend to equate historical accuracy with enjoyment- otherwise I'd do Fantasy - Dwarf- fiddling. BUT "simulation"is so bloody pretentious and I'm not sure I'd go that far- certainly not all the time Its the terminology thing again - define FUN then define fun . I know a chap who restores vintage motor bikes- he's having FUN by his lights when he's up to his elbows in oil and rust sorting out some mechanical problem that is laregly beyond me.
      It often seem to me that many wargamers definition of FUN is very very narrow. FUN as often defined by wargamers implies no intellecuat content what soever- why is this is using your brain not FUN ??
      DBA put me off "wargaming lite" as I simply couldn't see the point- you might as well have simply tossed a coin cut out the fiddling about and gone straight to the pub. it was just too abstract ther was no reason to play more than a couple of times- the dice rolling contest became tedious.
      Also there is an important difference between simple rules and mechanisms - which may or may not be apparoriate to the situation and be the most elegant solution to a problem and simple games- which implies something else entirely by making supposed simplicity the goal- rather than any other criteria.

    2. I prefer to preface the use of "simulation" as being a synonym for the war part of the term "war game" it is an unfortunate choice of words but what else is available. When describing a war game we can say on the one hand the rules are a bit too gamey for my liking but to use a bit too war-ry doesn't really makes sense. Simulation is really the only option but it does tend to make people think of trainee officers gathered around the sand table while General Cotton'Bollox briefs the eager face cadets on their mission. I know what Mike is referring to and it doesn't involve Gen. C'B OBE VC ;-)

  3. Interesting, it is very hard to pin down what any individual may or may no enjoy about a particular set of rules, we are all individuals (I'm not) with very individual tastes as to "favourite" rules as opposed to what we are willing to accept and agree on in our gaming cadre's. If I'm a good time, whether it be because of historical accuracy or alternatively feel good vibe, then I'm not having FUN.

    An intensely historical simulation in the right context is just as enjoyable as a "feel good game" based set and both provide me with that F feeling after all it is only a word and it is the one I often choose to use.

    The real problem I see with rules is an ever continuing need for the authors to spell out every tiniest detail in regards to what is or not permitted based on historical context. Why do they have to do this because of the lack of "real interest" the players have in the subject period or the increasing desire of players to find exploits, one is more often than not a result of the other although there may be some generational/attitude change driving this. Faced with a potentially dumbed down or win at all cost audience I would opt for a generic set of feel good rules too, at least I would be guaranteed of making my money back... maybe? There is room for both, I love to have a good laugh but sometimes I like my rules to be historical accurate (although that does not mean chart and cross reference heavy), the latter will only work with like minded people and there aren't so many of us old farts that have read a book or two around as there used to be.

    1. Dave- very well put and almost entirely my own view- except I have no intention of publishing my own rules- so don't much care about an audience for them .
      There is a place of course for all types from seriously sweaty simulation to "Wargaming lite "
      It simply seems that " wargaming lite " is often the only option on display
      Since when was knowing your stuff a bad idea?