Thursday, 16 March 2017

In the "Age of the Games Designer."...

There has - it has to be said- something of a gap in my blog posts. There are a couple of reasons for this
 1/. After a slowish start March has gone mental.  The NEW Blue moon ECW range - absolutely wonderful stuff even though I'm  biased-  is selling well the new cavalry and guns are really nice.
2/. Perhaps more to the point. I couldn't think of anything to say.
 Now I hear gasps of disbelief from my Gentle readers. What Big Andy not opening his face to give forth? Has he died ?Does the Sun still move in its wonted course?
 Well yes all is well. It is simply that I'm perhaps having a small bout of wargaming boredom.
 But having said tht see my previous "The past still blasting" and go to the link for Tantobie Internet Tattler  Now on that fine blog you will find a post "Blast from the Past", at the end of the post one of the comments by "Norm"  said  of older magazines

In the first instance, the magazines were the fabric or the glue of the gaming community, especially those not involved with a club. They were the beginning of people by example showing others how to do things in a better way. They did give a strong sense that they were written by wargamers for wargamers. 

 Now I'm not sure I completely agree with that though there is no doubt that magazines were more important back then- Some of the writers were not wargamers- this especially true of articles in  Military Modelling , Airfix Magazine ,Battle and later - to an extent Practical Wargamer.
But also

 that the hobby was actually already pretty sophisticated back then and in that regard, those magazines can still have a modern feel re their content.

 That latter comment set me thinking. For a start, in my view, the hobby has lost much of it's past sophistication- at least as far as much of the "mainstream" is concerned. Of course it depends upon what you mean by sophistication.
The articles in  the magazines  of the 70's and 80's were often significantly more sophisticated and had more depth  that the frequently shorter simpler pieces that are printed today. Rules were frequently more sophisticated than many of today's simplistic offering. Try comparing the 1978 medieval skirmish set "Retinue" with the  child like simplicity of Lion Rampant. or WRG's 1685-1845 set with say "Black Powder"  or  "Firefly" with "Bolt Action" .
This of course is not to say anything about "better" or "worse"  or even Norm's holy grail of commercial success. Let's face it some 1970's rules were almost unplayable and production values were certainly less sophisticated as there were no pretty pictures. But I'm not always sure that today's market is any more sophisticated or  discerning that that of the 70 and 80s. Different yes , more fractured yes and of course the influence of Fantasy and Sci-Fi  "gaming" has been huge and not always to the good.
 If anything  the "game designers"  of this genre have a lot to answer for as Richard Clarke points out in his piece "Sigmoid Curve" in WSS 88. I find myself agreeing wholeheartedly with his premise and not simply for WW2. There is a lot of twaddle uttered by "game designers" - who seem to be a different breed from old fashioned "rules writers" . I'd put it like this a "game designer"  wants to design a playable game he can sell and all sorts of stuff will be subordinated to that end. A rules writer wants to produce a set of rules for a given historical period. that reflect warfare in that period. Now obviously there are shadings here Mr Clarke for instance calls himself a games designer but places himself firmly in the historical camp and backs this with evidence citing his set "Chain of Command" which I have not played but have heard lots of good things about from chaps whose opinions I respect.
 We are now in the "Age of the Game Designer" where it appears that the game is far far more important than anything else- except the sales figures of course. Otherwise why would so much lightweight crap even exist, often seemingly re-cycled in a prettier box at a higher price.
 Now I will take issue with Mr Clarke over one point. He blames the lack of realism in many rules on companies who wish to sell lots of toys that players can put on the table all at once and since these companies also sell the game rules .... then draw your own conclusions. Now I'm not saying he's wrong but tarring all model companies with the same brush is somewhat out of order.
 Old Glory for example do not really produce rules or games. We are a Model Soldier company. Most of the rules we sell come from other sources or are very period specific.. We view then as an adjunct to the soldiers rather than as an engine for selling soldiers. There are a good bundle of Soldier Companies in our world who do not make games at all. The "games company" is one of the unforseen circumstances of the Sci- Fant influence. The "Official Miniatures" line  and similar marketing tripe has had perhaps a pernicious influence out of all proportion in the minds of some of our brethren.
 So MARKETING is far more sophisticated than it was in the 70s and 80s so we come full circle back to the original point, But is marketing all there is to our hobby- I leave that answer to you Gentle Readers.

A little later.
 I've just seen Perry's latest- "TravelBattle"-  on TMP Good Grief! now we have 8mm plastic figures on a pre-coloured pre-everything plastic board. Why  do we need this. I can see that it will add  to God's Anointed Perry's bank balance but if you are that sad that you "need" to take something like this on your hols  for a "gaming fix" then  you may need medical help- or perhaps if you work away - as I did you can play with yourself in your hotel room (and yes all smutty puns intended.) You still may need medical help.
. This feeds directly into the ideas noted above Yet more "Wargaming Lite" at the expence of Featherstone's "intellectual pursuit".
 and no I won't be spending over 50 notes on such a box of twaddle.
 Any spare Nifties I have about the place will be spent on useful stuff such as a third leg......


  1. I found the 'Travelbattle' notion rather tempting, myself. All that was wanting were the plugs on the bottom of the figures and suitable holes in the playing board. and it really would be 'Travelbattle', like my travel chess set I had for 40 years, until an earthquake swallowed up some of the men. But I agree: the 50 smackers price tag does give one pause - especially knowing nothing of the rule set.

    My own situation has ever been limited space, though a decent amount of time. I still do much for myself, especially in the area of terrain. But I am looking for ways to fight decent=sized actions on a limited play area, yet still using 1:72 figures or bigger.

    The parameters I look for have to do with speed of play, depth, simplicity, historical feel (although I do 'imagi-nations' they are NOT fantasy worlds as such, merely fictitious), represent up to large scale battles (if not whole wars). These are often mutually contentious, but for a number of reasons I am prepared to sacrifice a lot of detail to achieve a playable system that still evokes the sense of period aimed for.

    1. Hi Ion- Yes but you are still involving yourself in the intellectual pursuit and not merely accepting what the Game designer dudes tell you you are allowed.
      As for limited space- I don't have my own table. Not sure I want one as I play at my local pub.
      It is the idea of the "gaming fix" that I find awful.Do the Game designers really see us as that thick and sad that we are merely junkies to their pushers. They can shove their "plastic crack" up their collective arse.

    2. :-D I have to admit that coming up with ideas of my own is not one of my talents. Where I do shine is taking other people's ideas and running with them and see where they lead. I developing my own war games rule sets, I steal ideas from all sorts of places. If we look at the rule sets of, say Neil Thomas or Bob Cordery, they come ready packaged, and pretty simple. What I like about them is that they can (if one chose) form the core of something more complex, and more evocative of period. I suspect the designers built in that 'personal tailoring' into their rule sets.

    3. I respect both of those chaps- know Neil slightly as i have photos in his Napoleonic book. I'd use Neil rules as a starting point for small scale larger battles if that was my thing- his Napoleonic set has a bit of style. I'm not sure if either of them are exactly "game Designers" but by my definition rather "rules writers" . These days I think the distinction is important.

    4. Understood. I have tended to conflate the two, but the distinction does make sense. I do think there is a place for the 'games designer' - if only as a source of useful ideas for rules writing!

    5. Yes there IS a place for them .... Some good stuff has come out of the Sci- fant genres especially in the realm of ideas for mechanisms. But for me ultimately a "games mechanism" is at most a tool to get a job done rather tyhan an end in itself

  2. The Sigmoid Curve article was written by Richard Clarke of TooFatLardies. I have no idea who Richard Marsh is.

    1. so it was Apologies to Mr Clarke.

    2. You could edit your post to correct the mistake.

    3. Done- but why would you care unless you are a fanboy ... or Mr Clarke in disguise - OOH perish the thought