I call this "40K" syndrome. Everything they do is reflection of 40K. Even when they are trying to do the opposite of 40K, they are still thinking about 40K. It's a constant benchmark and reference in everything they do. Quite often you get the feeling they haven't played any other games besides 40K
(or have, and dismissed it instantly without assimilating any ideas.) Unsurprisingly, many ex-GW designers fall into this category. (Alessio Cavatore, Rick Priestley) It's a popular niche, as many mass market games have aimed to emulate 40K's success (Flames of War, Bolt Action). This emulation can extend to other popular games (Gruntz borrows heavily from Warmachine, for example).
I've noticed I subconsciously classify rule authors into such categories. I've attempted to articulate a few:
There are the unreformed RPGers, who are influenced by RPGs played in their teens. They're all about story, and the mechanics/balance can be a bit ropey as that's not their priority. Expect fluffy campaigns and many, many special rules. Despite the unusual mechanics, I'd almost put Infinity in this category (I'm almost certain the designers were ex-RPGers).
The Tolkien. This is often an offshoot of the unreformed RPGer. J.R.R. Tolkien was a great world builder, but only an average author. The "Tolkien-esque" game designer is in love with his universe and the world he has created. His wargame is only incidental - just a way of sharing his creations with the world. Sometimes it is hard to find the game amongst the enthusiastic sharing of "fluff." The Quar series (This Quar's War, Song of Our Ancestors) are good examples of this genre.
15mm hard sci fi is very "Stargrunt" - troops tend to have a quality level, no stats, and an emphasis on morale/suppression. That's why games like Tomorrow's War translate badly to space fantasy (and skirmish, for that matter) - because it's based off a platoon-company level rules. Aliens act just like humans in rubber suits. Weapons tend to act just like modern weapons, with added chrome/fluff. Remember, when I say "based off" I don't always mean slavishly copied, but that the designer subconsciously had the game at the back of their mind when making their own game.
Space naval games are all about WW2 in space. Big ships move slow, as if through water. Fighters move fast, like modern jets. I presume this is because of Star Wars. They ignore the fact they are both in the same frictionless medium, which dictates other tactics. The few that buck this trend are too simple/random/rolling of handfuls of d6s (Firestorm Armada and many free rules) or they are super complex 3D sims that are better off on computer. Space naval games tend to share many traits with WW2 naval, including dozens of hitboxes and an emphasis on the resolution of the players decisions rather than offering many meaningful decisions themselves. Recording the damage and resolving fire is usually the most complex and "deep" part of the game.
The pet system approach. This is usually in conjunction with one of the other methods. This is often when an indie designer stumbles upon a cool or interesting mechanic. The designer then re-uses it ad nauseam, for every genre under the sun (even ones for which it is not inherently suited). Two Hour Wargames and Ganesha Games are prime examples of this, though most smaller PDF published authors like to "play it safe" in this manner.
The amateur historian. They are usually deeply obsessed about historical accuracy and tend to have a big bibliography of books they researched in the appendices. Expect lots of little text boxes with historical information/tactics dotting the pages. General Quarters and Too Fat Lardies games are familiar examples. They can often be confused with:
The wild-eyed philosopher. These are usually wildly creative individuals who are deeply interested in the "philosophy" of their game. Often contains many offbeat/original mechanics crammed into a game. Crossfire falls into this category, as does anything by Brent Spivey.
The rivet counter. These are designers who focus on the resolution of the action, often to a very complex or involved extent. Every bullet is accounted for, and there are a 100 modifiers to every action from the wind direction to the curry the sniper ate the night before. Usually found in historic games. Naval wargames seem to collect more than their fair share of these.
Yahtzee! These designers are mostly interested in allowing you to push lots of models around on the table - and often say as much. They often have taken this philosophy from a bad encounter with a set of rivet counter rules. The problem is that in the pursuit of speed and simplicity, often too much tactical depth is sacrificed.
Stats are Evil/Charts are Evil. These designers boast about how they simplify their games and eschew all charts and stat lines. This is usually because of a bad experience in their youth (Wargames Research Group and D&D respectively, in most cases). They simply replace the stats with 100+ special rules exceptions that actually complicate the game even more; and replace the charts with buckets of dice which take even more time to resolve.
Results-Orientated. These players are willing to abstract the rules in unusual ways, but unlike the Yahtzee! authors they have a goal in mind besides simply "fast play." They often abstract things to simulate a particular aspect of warfare. Sometimes the focus on results can make gameplay a bit jarring. For example, the Bag the Hun rules allows aces to have a double move in order to show how effective they are at getting on the tail of enemies - effectively doubling the move speed of the aircraft that turn (which some players may find odd), but having a result that shows an ace's superior positioning skills.
Rule 1.2.4 or "I play a lot of historical games". These designers tend to be a bit anal-retentive (due to being scarred by arguments over unit facing/formations/wheeling and prolonged exposure to grumpy Napoleonics players). Besides numbering their rules (Rule 1.2.5), they are scale agnostic and tend to use "Measure Units" (MU) or some similar euphemism instead of cm or inches like ordinary people. Obvious in games like Fields of Glory or similar, but even Koncordia (sci fi skirmish) obviously has a historical-minded designer.
The British method. This is usually a simple set of rules, with a wide, eccentric range of mechanics. It's very inconsistent and not at all "elegant." The designer has an end goal in mind and just randomly uses whatever mechanics that work. They have the feel of a set of "house rules" and are often written for a wargaming club/group of buddies and published later. Too Fat Lardies rules fall into this category.
So what's the purpose of this post?It's to remind us we can fall into a "mindset." A particular way of doing things/looking at the world.
Each of the approaches has merit, and also its own drawbacks. I'm sure there's more categories - heck, feel free to suggest more in the comments - but the point is, there are certain patterns a designer can get locked into. And not every approach works for every situation.
If you can look at the categories and go guiltily "heh, that's me!" - think, what are the drawbacks of that approach? Do I count every rivet and bog my game down - or do I abstract so much the game seems odd/jarring to the players? Am I very "British" - perhaps I should restrict myself to only 1-2 types of dice roll? Have I got carried away writing the fluff?
People are creatures of habit. Rules writers are no different. But it would be great if we can examine those habits from time to time and see if they are all beneficial.