It got me thinking. Here are some factors I'd point to:
Stats. An old-school, descriptive stat line.
Gameplay. Familiar. Unimaginative, but equally, does not try to be "different" just to be trendy. Spell-centric approach gave it a bit of "x" factor.
Background. A interesting adventuring background. "Explore ruined city" appeals to nostalgia.
Detailed Progression System. Injuries and levelling up. Gain gold or new spells. Choose a base.
Lots of customization. A good selection of gear, magic items, armour, weapons. Lots of spells.
Attractively Packaged/Complementary miniatures line. Not a dealbreaker, but the professionally presented rulebook and "official" wizards from NorthStar don't hurt.
I'm planning on exploring some of these categories in more detail. What would my ideal Mordhiem-eque game look like?
Stats. When should something be a stat, and when should be a special rule?
Stats are used for things that are regularly used in the game. Common factors that need to be differentiated. Descriptive stats can remove the need for excessive special rules.
A fantasy game may have varied races, from trolls to pixies, ogres and elves. They wield a range of weapons, and melee, missile and magic may be equally commonplace. Thus we can conclude a larger stat line may be useful to describe the wide range of fantasy warriors.
Contrast this to modern combat where everyone is roughly equivalent physically, and shooting dominates. The ability to use cover may be more useful than "armour" or physical bulk. Well trained troops could use a single stat for shooting and cover - melee being so rare, that above-average melee ability could be a special rule.
Let's look at the old Mordhiem stat line:
M - WS - BS - S - T - W - I - A - Ldr
That's quite a few stats. Let's have a look at them:
Move. I never liked the tendency to make everyone move 6". A halfling and an elf won't be the same speed, and the game should reflect this without a range of special rules. I like a move stat. I vote - keep it.
WS/BS: How well you fight or shoot - pretty much a mandatory selection. Unless you want to add in special rules every time they differ, I'd keep them as individual stats. It's not like they're complicated to understand. In a modern combat game, for example, there'd be a better case to amalgamate them.
Strength. This is one I'd ignore for a modern/WW2 game, but in a setting where most weapon damage depends on the muscles that wield it, it is a relevant trait. A mace will make a difference if wielded by a puny goblin or a 7-ft orc chieftain. The question: can it be figured into fighting abililty, or is this an unnecessary abstraction? A goblin ninja may be a brilliant combatant, but his small physique may mean he cannot inflict as much damage as a clumsy troll with a warhammer. Or could Strength be lumped in with Defence as factor of bulk?
(Defence) = Armour/Wounds/Toughness. These can really be lumped together. This stat simply answer the question: how much effort does it take to put this guy down?
Inititative. We could also call this agility/nimbleness. Mordhiem uses it for climbing and to see who strikes first. In a game with lots of vertical terrain, an agility stat could be a sensible inclusion. Perhaps it could also do double duty for dodging missiles or in reaction tests, if the system used it. It could be dropped depending on your setting.
Attacks. This one could definitely be dropped as it could be factored in depending on the gear the model is equipped with i.e. dual daggers, 2H polearm - I don't think this necessarily needs to be a stat.
Ldr: Let's call this "will" but often there is a single stat that is a catch all for a character's morale and his intelligence, his level of discipline/training, and his magic casting ability. These are commonly lumped together in many rules, but should they? Those are some rather different attributes and roles. I don't think if someone is brave he will naturally be a better magician, or that discipline and raw courage are the same thing (think Roman Legions vs Norse beserkers). There's good arguments to subdivide this category I'd say. Magic could certainly be a special add-on rule or stat if you only have a few mages per army.
We're left with:
M - WS - BS - S - D - I - Ldr
In go so far as to say 6-7 stats is a reasonable "sweet spot" for a fantasy game. Also quite similar to LOTR:SBG which I've always regarded as a sensible, clean game system. Obviously, it's all relative - a modern Afghanistan game could get away with far less stats - perhaps "troop quality" and "morale."
Let's contrast this with Song of Blades and Heroes.
You have two stats:
Combat. This is your missile, magic and melee attack, and your defence against attacks.
Quality. This is your discipline, quality, intelligence, reactions, as well as activation chance, which impacts your combat results and even speed. It effects your spellcasting as well. Basically, this stat covers "everything else."
Can you see how this may be mixing too many disparate elements and lumping completely unconnected skills together? The only way to differentiate then is to create lots and lots of "special rules" aka extra rules or exceptions to the base rules, to separate these elements which never belonged together anyway.
So for the audience.... what is your ideal stat-line for a Mordhiem-esque fantasy skirmish game? Lots, or none at all? Why? What stats would you combine and what would you abstract?