I’ve been reading through a series of ‘reviews’ of war-games rules recently and I find it actually difficult to actually establish whether the review actually helps me or not. If I regularly listen to a film critic I establish a relative position to that reviewer which enables me to understand how the film will be for me. If they hate romcoms but I love them, then I can always take their negative reviews about the latest romcom with a pinch of salt. Unfortunately for rules reviews I haven’t been able to find a person who reviews regularly and consistently applies a coherent review.
This isn’t to say that there are not well written reviews or overviews out there, but that I’m not able to understand the personal prejudices that the reviewer is bringing to their review. Since most people seem to only write a few reviews, and those are so infrequent it isn’t really possible to establish a comparative position.
Another gripe is that quite often reviews are book reviews as opposed to actual rule reviews. I’m happy for a book review but I wish people would reserve actual judgement to write it as a rules review until they have a few games under their belts. If there are rules issues or confusions please get resolution before putting the comments to print, as sometimes it’s just the reader who’s being a plank, and not the rules writer.
So what are my preferences and personal dislikes. I might as well try and identify what I like and look for within a set of rules as well as what rules frustrate the hell out of me.
I like dice. I’m quite happy to throw a lot of dice. I like the tactile feel of them and enjoy the sound of dice being rolled. I enjoy the variability which they bring to a game to remove the absolutes. I’ve worked for much of my adult life in statistics and prefer throwing more dice than seeking to simmer it down to less dice thrown less often.
I like big units. Even that I appreciate is subjective. I would love to get as close to a 1:1 realisation as possible but have lots of units on the table as possible to achieve large scale actions. I acknowledge that these are two arguments which are contrary to each other. So I seek a compromise. At present I’m happy to work between 1:10 and 1:20 figure ratios, so that I can get Napoleonic battalions to around 32 to 48 figures and possibly achieve a Divisional level game. The alternative is to go down the DBA/Black Powder/Sword and Spear/Armarti non-defined unit sizes and stuff as many figures as I like to a base. I do get disappointed by the 12 figure battalions in 1:50 Napoleonic games since the Old Guard just looks wrong.
I like some friction. By this I want there to be turns when I can’t get to move everything in my army. I’m always interested in seeing new mechanisms to attempt to introduce this into the game. This can be introduced through a variety of means such as in the form of cards (Commands and Colors, Maurice, Longstreet), or through dice activation (Republic to Empire, Chain of Command, Sword and Spear, Black Powder and its derivatives). I find it odd that there is an expectation that everything in an army will move every turn, even if it is the most inept, poorly trained, poorly motivated force known to man (even more so if I’m the one leading it).
I like at least a passing nod to history in the mechanics and lists. I’m happy with a certain level of abstraction to keep the game moving but when the game becomes more about playing the mechanics as opposed to using mechanics to drive a battle I think that we’ve left the war-game bit behind. Unfortunately it’s often the odd micro rules which get abused which destroy any sympathy I have for the rules since I know that as soon as I step outside my warm comfortable zone of players I’ll meet some of those who play the rules and not the game and use every mechanism without any consideration or sympathy to the history which it is attempting to represent. These players exist in every wargaming group I’ve had the pleasure to be a member of but their tendencies are better contained by some rule systems compared to others.
I like appendices and indexes. After I’ve read the rules and started playing I want to be able to find the appropriate rules again without having to hunt through the book. I consider this a complete waste of time and leads to lots of frustration by myself (and I’ve witnessed in others) especially when we’re trying to learn a new set of rules. Given todays technology creating indexes is so easy that there cannot be any excuse for not including them. Their need is all the more critical in those poorly structured rulebooks where rules for given circumstances are distributed in a seemingly random manner throughout the book.
If I ever hear a games designer (posh name for rules writer) again telling me to Read the Bloody Rules (RTBR) after I’ve sent a question through to one of their forums when their rules don’t contain an index I’d like to stuff their rules somewhere indecent. Rules writers and their publishers owe it to the players to try and make the learning of their rules as painless as possible.
I also like quick reference sheets for many of the same reasons. For the facilitation they bring to a game why not include them except out of complacency? To suggest that players won’t need them can only suggest that the rules are so ridiculously simple that we probably don’t even need the rules to start with, or that we’re unlikely to ever play the game again after the first catastrophic attempt to play them.
I like good illustrated examples. Where a rule is likely to cause confusion I like to see a clear and well illustrated example. I’m happy to pay extra for the page count if it removes confusion and ambiguity. If possible why not include the premise behind the rule to illustrate what it is attempting to achieve? This would help in those moments of ambiguity where the rule doesn’t cover the players can attempt to interpret the intent to resolve their confusion. (This can always be followed up with other players or the writer on the appropriate forums later).
I like good ‘after care’ support. Some writers are fantastic at supporting their rules where as others seem to need the aid of an ouija board to communicate with them. The Too Fat Lardies provide excellent support and quickly respond to questions posted on their forums. Sam Mustafa has an excellent website providing support to all of his Honour rules in the form of extra lists, scenarios, calculators etc. Great Escape are always quick to respond via their forums. We are fortunate that where there is a gap enthusiastic players often step into the void but this is a dangerous path as it is entirely dependant upon the good endeavours which can quickly fall apart when those individuals head off to pursue other interests.