Friday 27 February 2015

Game Design Series (Round Up)

What started out as half a dozen posts dissecting common rules issues has grown into a surprisingly large, comprehensive series, often driven by reader responses.  Here's the break-down of the articles so far:

#1. "Decision Points" 
This is about "decision points"(tm) - the amount of times during a game or turn that the player can make a choice to influence the outcome of a game. "Resolution"" is how long it takes to resolve these decisions.  Lots of decisions + simple/fast resolution = good game.

#2.  The Fifth Element
Most wargames have the four Ms - Morale, Melee, Missile & Movement. But games need something more.  What is the X factor that sets a game apart from its peers?

#3. Special Rules, Stat Lines, and False Economy
In which I posit the modern trend to move away from stat lines is actually complicating matters as well as losing differentiation.

#4. Keep it Consistent
Keeping mechanics consistent vs using 20 different dice rolling methods.

#5. What happened to Time Scale and Ground Scale in Wargames?
They still exist, even if we ignore them.  It's the game designer sacrificing realism for the ability to play 100 genres with the same rule set.

#6.  "Realism"in Wargames
In which the realism-v-fun myth is debunked; it's actually realism vs unrealistic, and simple vs complicated.  Realism is possible, and it's a good thing.

#7.  Design Philosophy
The importance of designers "nailing their colours to the mast" and setting a clear success criteria.

#8. Scenarios for Wargames
The old chestnut. Points systems vs scenarios. Can they co-exist?

#9. Fluff n'Stuff.
A few ground rules for good fluff.

#10.  Pre-measuring vs Guessing
Always a contentious topic.  Do we favour estimation skills or geometry? Or neither?

#11. The Balanced Points System
In which I contend a balanced point system is impossible on many levels - but still worth including.

#12. Commercialism - Supplements, Rules and Miniature Sales
The rise of the "cookie-cutter" one-size-its-all rulebook, and how miniature sales (not fun, playability or realism are driving game design.  The codex arms race. 

#13.  Is Originality Possible?
There are only a finite amount of ways to represent wargame mechanics - and do we really need more anyway?

#14. The "Forgotten" - Terrain, Victory Conditions, & Balance
The often-neglected impact of terrain and alternate victory conditions on game balance. 

#15. Philosophy in Wargames
Game designers need to decide how they want their game to play; then reward/punish using modifiers and game mechanics to "encourage" players to play that way.  For example, 40K rewards good list building and deployment; Infinity emphasizes the good use of cover and positioning of fire lanes. 

#16. Record Keeping, Counters & Bookkeeping
Considering the tradeoffs of "enhancing gameplay" vs ""time/fiddliness." Is it worth it?

#17. Playtesting - is it a fair test?
Using the scientific method of a "fair test" I point out how it's almost impossible to playtest a game properly.

#18. The decline of MMOs, and how it applies to wargames
Drawing parallels between the stagnation of MMO design and trends in wargame design.

#19. "Early Access" ""Pay to Win" and "Wargaming DLC" 
Some less-than-desirable trends from the PC industry that seem to be transferring to wargame companies.

#20. Realism Revisited
I revisit the "realism vs fun" myth and attempt to define it more accurately, in terms such as "process vs results" and "detailed vs abstract."

#21. RPG Resources 
Musing about magic systems, and concepts wargames could borrow from RPGs.

#22. Best Selling Wargames
Analyzing the bestselling games, and trying to quantify what makes a rule set commercially successful.

#23. Enjoyable or Innovative Mechanics 1 - Setup/Activation
Sharing fun and interesting game mechanics.

#24. Favourite Mechanics 2  - Movement
Sharing more favourite game mechanics. 

#25. Mordhiem, Competitive Campaigns, & Balance
No game has filled the Necromunda/Mordhiem niche.  A look at balancing campaigns for the competitive sphere.

#26.  The out-of-game experience
Most successful games seem to have lots to do when you aren't actually playing. 

#27. True Line of Sight
It's increasingly popular, and almost the de-facto for vision rules. But is true-line-of-site really the best choice?

#28.  Morale Rules & Combat Stress
Musing on morale systems.  Is there a "best"method, or can we ignore morale altogether?

#29. Vietnam in Space
Hard sci-fi is everywhere - it's the new "platoon-level WW2" - where has the imagination gone?

#30.  Coherency & Leadership Range
I start to explore command and control, by looking at the ubiquitous 2" coherency rule.

#31. Readable Rulebooks
Writing rulebooks that are user-friendly.

#32. Making Wargames - Ivan Sorenson
Ivan Sorenson (author of FAD, NSiS, 5Core) talks about game design and PDF publishing.

#33. Influences on Wargames
Wargames designers can fall into different categories - from unreformed RPG players, to "British" style rules, to the rivet counters.  

#34. Making Wargames - Brent Spivey
Brent Spivey (author of Havoc, Mayhem, Rogue Planet) talks about game design.

#35.  Game Design & Playtesting - Brent Spivey
Brent Spivey takes a very thorough look at the steps of designing and playtesting games.

#36.  Accessibility, or Why Bad Games get Played More
Popular games aren't always the best. The key? Accessibility.

#37.  The Better the Hit, the Better the Damage: Managed Probability & Modifiers
Randomness is good - or we end up with chess.  However probabilities must be predictable and manageable to promote tactics.

#38. Reactions in Medieval & Fantasy
Can we use the now-trendy reaction in fantasy? What might it look like?

#39. Reaction Moves, Reaction Fire
Defining types/genres of reactions in wargames.

#40. Avoiding the Scrum in the Middle - Manuever & Spacing Units
How do we avoid our games degenerating into a mess of pushing everything into the middle and chugging dice?

#41.  Reactions Again - Types of Reaction
We further explore the reaction move, and classify reactions as they impact gameplay.

#42.  Fluff & Stuff II
We revist the topic of in-game "fluff", with some commonsense ideas regulating its use.

#43. Skirmish Wargaming Means so Many Things
Skirmish wargaming is a bit of a catch all term.  What is a true "skirmish" game?

#44. Random Roundup
A few musings on simplicity, dice and absolute values.

#45. "Original" Sci Fi Wargames
Why are all sci fi games re-badged fantasy or WW2?  They need to focus on a particular new technology and build the game around it.

#46.  Skirmish - Basing, Group & Individual Moves
Many skirmish games tend to be binary - either everyone moves in units or everyone moves and acts individually.  But is there a middle ground?

#47. In Praise of Area of Effect Weapons
"Blast Template" or "AoE" weapons are not as popular as they should be.

#48. Wargames & "Setup":A Neglected Topic?
The setup phase of a game is a opportunity for depth and tactics: Chain of Command shows us how

#49. Musings About Activation Pools & Resource Management
A quick look at how activation and resource management can be merged to add gameplay depth

#50. Focussed Fluff vs Generic Fluff - and the Shiny Factor
 Detailed, rich fluff beats generic bog-standard fluff, but should not be "prescriptive." Production values matter.

#51. Intellectual Theft
Designers miss out on valuable playtesting, feedback and publicity through paranoia someone will steal their idea.  News flash: Get real.

#52. Casual vs Competitive Game Design
What makes a game "competitive" or "casual?"  Is bad competitive experiences the result of bad game design?

#53. The Future of Wargaming
Extrapolating a few trends to guess where the hobby could go in the future....

#54. Special Rules Best Practice: Infinity vs Savage Worlds
A current trend is to avoid a "stat line" in favour of a zillion special rules. Special rules have their place - but what is the best way to implement them?

#55.Solitaire Wargaming. Designing NPC "AI"
Exploring solo wargaming mechanisms, and "AI" flowcharts to direct opposing troops.

#56. Solitaire Wargaming. Part 2
Defines the difference between tactical (easy to implement) and stategic (not so easy) AI.

#57. Asymetry
Wargames are always trying to be "balanced."  But is balance always desirable?

#58. Reaction Mechanics - a Waste of Time?
Reaction mechanics are trendy for adding decisions and player involvement - but are not without their issues.

#59. Unit Count - is there a Perfect Number
In which I attempt to prove there is an "ideal" number of units in a tabletop game.

#60. Movement:Shooting Rations and Scale
How does shooting range relate to movement and game balance?  ...and how it links to ground scale.

#61. Lethality & Modifiers
How likely are units to be destroyed each turn? How this links with modifiers, and how it effects gameplay.

#63. Detection, Blinds and Vision Range - an Unwanted Mechanic?
Despite being vital to warfare, detection and vision rules are out of favour.

#64. Influences on Game Design
Lists of some influential rulesets and those I've found "educational."

#65. Abstraction, Tables & "Negative Design"
When to abstract?  Good riddance to tables - or not? Negative skills - when skills and special abilities stop you and your opponent having fun.

#66. I can't count....

#67. Character Skill vs Player Skill
Is it your decisions as a tabletop commander that win it for you, or the wtfbbqpwn combo army you built that won the game before you started?

#68. LOTR, Alternate Activation and Actions Per Turn
I look at "how much" a unit can do when it is activated, and how we can "break up" turns into small chunks to avoid clunky reaction mechanics.

#69. Momentum
Follows on from #68, looking at the ability to respond to enemy actions and maintaining initiative.

#70. Wielding the Axe - Why your best idea is not always best for your game
Sometimes an awesome concept or mechanic is not the best for the game. Sometimes awesome ideas are in the wrong place or genre.

#71. Zone of Influence - Facing, Focal Figures, Arcs and Flanking Fire
Thoughts about facing/positioning, and the importance of flanking fire. 

#72. Power Creep + Special Rules vs Stats
Units which render others obsolete; and I revisit the old "stat line vs special rules" debate, and "incomparables" in game balancing.

#73. Willpower & Morale as a Resource
Morale rules are often tacked on as an afterthought; often at ridiculous (50% casualties) to trigger tests. But science suggests willpower is a finite resource to be managed...

#74. Possession, AI and the "Resource Pool"
I discuss a few pet gaming ideas.

#74 II (man, I can't count!) Why Aerial Wargames Suck
Why are we remaking the same 1970s aerial games? We should be pew-pewing not book-keeping like 1970s Napoleonics. A look at some issues and ideas about a tough-to-design genre.

#75. Weapon Range vs Terrain Density
Weapon ranges are often compressed for tabletop wargames. But do we consider the terrain?

#76. Uncertainty in Activation
Another exploration of one of my favourite topics - activation mechanics. 

#77. The Dice Mechanics Aren't Important. 

Dice mechanics have little influence on the game compared to a host of other factors. So keep them simple, stupid.

#78. Complexity Creep, Reference and Baseline Games

It's easier to add rules than to simplify, but there's a limit to how simple something can be. Clean simple "baseline" games are good to build upon.

#79. Alternate (Unfair) Activation - Bigger Armies Get Better Tactics

Years after my 2014 rants, we have moved on from IGOUGO. But is alternate activation worthy of being the new "standard?"

#80. Heroic Heroes and Leaders Who Lead

Wargaming "leaders" often wear too many hats. Are they a support, a tank or a killing machine?

#81. Overhead or The Cost of Entry

Discussing the concept of "overhead" in rules - a mix of mental strain (new/complex rules), financial and time cost. What do you need to do to start playing?

#82. The Token, Low-Effort, Bolt-On, "Lite" Campaign

I'm sick of every skirmish game advertising it's disappointingly low effort 3-page campaign as a "feature." Why has no one recaptured the Necromunda/Mordhiem magic?

#83. Generic Settings & Backgrounds (bad) vs Familiar Mechanics (good)

A unique setting/theme and narrow focus is far more important than unique dice mechanics to avoid your rules being bland and generic.


  1. What about some miniatures gaming history lessons? I've seen similar things for RPG's about when certain mechanics were introduced into the hobby, where particular innovations and trends show up etc.
    Always thought it'd be interesting for mini's.

    1. I simply don't date back far enough - my teen years were in the 90s so I missed the boat. I have considered doing "influential rules" that seem to have impacted others and created trends, but again, I can't go back far enough to the "root" i.e. what I assume spawned the trend might actually be influenced by an older ruleset. E.g. I've never played Chainmail which apparently spawned a lot of Warhammer-related stuff.

  2. Holy cow. I've been following the whole series, but didn't realize that it was so in depth. It's really something when you step back and put it all together like that. Well done.

  3. These have all been a great read. I've certainly enjoyed them. Made me feel like I'm not the only one who wants to play games 'my way'.

  4. Great series... I've been following it avidly and reading each article several times and learned lots: both on what's out there I didn't know but also on myself: I went "so THAT is why I like this or that game!" quite a few time! Sorry I didn't contribute much...

  5. Thanks for the kind words - its very encouraging. Especially as I am pretty self-conscious about the wall-of-text nature of the posts. I'm interested in "why" wargames are the way they are - I don't care if other agree with my opinions or not - but rather I hope the posts helps others question "why" as well, rather than simply following tradition.

    1. Asking the questions is important, regardless of whether someone agrees with a particular answer.
      The same critical analysis that happens in RPG's, card games and video games never really happened for miniatures. It needs to.

  6. Would you mind this index post reposted on Dropship Horizon?

    Altough quite a few DH followers are probably regulars here too, I think the guys that haven't seen it yet would appreciate this series too!

    1. Sure. It helps my crusade to have people question why they do things!
      (In fact, I shifted my Vietnam in Space post to Game Design simply because it is relevant to the 15mm crowd in particular)

  7. Done, and thanks!

  8. My friend Mr Pawn Cocktail linked me to this list - all the posts I've read so far have been interesting and sensible, and I'm working my way through adding my dubiously-informed comments.

  9. Wow. This is a very good compilation you have made. I really like all the views you have shown even if they are not your favourite you still present there importance. Because of this blog I'm typing up how I built clans in video games. Finally jumping into the hobby a lot of the issues gaming online are similar to table top yet appear completely different. So here is the basic of why I'm trying to convert my core online clan rules to table club. Online it's players vs the evil developer. So I thought hmmm must be player vs the developer here as well but it's not. Online I couldn't argue this as overall the developer controlled the server and could/have unplugged. Table top only has player servers like when the interweb started. So in terms of table top games I see four key issues.

    Who to Play
    Where to play
    How to play
    What to play with

  10. So in table top players have all the control less the interweb luxury of thousand gamers playing niche games in your living room when you log on.

    Where to play is simple as making a club. I would honestly setup my game club with the same rules as any clan I made online. Then you need the location, realistic goals as in good multi game clans are the same. Strangers in your house is an issue but I think it is the cheapest way to start. I do know how much I've invested in this hobby and to think it's a stretch to find/rent/borrow a public area to house a club a few nights a week isn't really that much effort alas it is effort and requires management. So I think the big company only allowing their product and game played in theyre building is pretty arrogant. That would be like another big wow giving you their source codes complete and saying now don't start your own server.

    How to play would go with the club rules. Small goal would be good like play the game you want to play and only get members who want to play that. I'm sure one of them would like to play another but that's for them to setup. If it gets big enough sure have a 40k Monday saga Tuesday. Here's where the club comes in though. Instead of just having one army maybe you can have two so anyone can play the game even if they don't have the models. Terrain is another one that everyone could pitch in on even if it's not their game. Next step could possibly be having designated tables for specific games always available. Key is have rules with a plan or triggers that allow the club to expand games played by your club.

    What to play with according to gw concept only helps them. I know they say it saves the hobby by giving them a market for the models. I told you so you time. When 3d is mainstream the only thing that's gonna matter is a good set of rules to follow telling us how many models to use. I think the models is the key. Physical objects you can touch and swat others hands cause you painted them so nice. Again I'd say have two armies so the new guy can play with you. I think model size is key as well. New club members should be able to entry level into your club game circus with a nice balance of purchase that shows im commited but I'm not a plasticrack yet. I know hobby train guys I looked at joining ( real long crazy story) entry was 100 trees and even then you where not in in. That was modeling and the focus here is playing game or games. Models is only a little issue for a club focused on playing. Last example "hey let's play monopoly but bring your own cash, houses and player piece ok". I do like the rules of having to paint models though it's kinda part of the hobby.

  11. Players is big. It requires a core of like minded players based on best case one game, modeling and painting. These people then can 100% bring in new people to the game primary and hopefully get them into the hobby propper. As numbers grow so will the wants. Following and sticking to your rules will be hard but will ensure manageable healthy growth even though good people will leave. False advertising you can do everything will ensure you do nothing. Triggers with rules will guarantee succesful players in your club. An easy trigger eg would be three players want to try a new game that's fine but will the club put any effort into helping? Rules state trigger is five people req for two person game. Logic of rule is that you have 150% more players than 1 game. That way you have the most important resource players. But why shouldn't the club support this? If you only have ten people in your club you just lost three to the shiny new club game. Now the club just doubled their work into a system the core members and people who joined after didn't setup or plan to put effort into. A better option would be for a new game to be demonstrated and soley efforted by the rogue members to sell on the others and setup a core of their own. If the trigger was met though the group regardless have to help set it up. The reason this occurs is to speed up the clubs expert playability capability for new members in order for them to stay. It will also allow gamers free access to see your clans first games and any others your club can so expertly host to any new players.

    So to sum up with a last reality. Stuff costs money. Money has different issues at different times in our lives. Even online stuff cost money. Do be upfront about any costs to support a club and don't bend the rules cause of nice guy stuff the bills still need to be paid (so try and have no bills lol) but even models cost money, so eventualy a member has to have their own? Or at least be compensating the use of the clubs or others. Money isn't everything and barter is always boss but it should be explicitly based on cash and what it gets. Cause I'd hate to lose a crazy terrain person because they can't buy models but can turn trash into gold. It's all perspective and having these rules written down before the event occurs. Some trophies with your clubs name on it from the painting wiz who is 14 on mcdees salary might just be worth the time to write some. My view is table gamers hold all the cards compared to video gamers and just need to be empowered to game their way.

    Please move this to a proper spot or delete. I just wanted to vent off my thoughts.