Tuesday 20 February 2024

Reasons to Avoid Games/When to Abandon a Project

This blog originally started as a place to stick rules reviews as I was "the guy with all the rules" and I got tired of repeating myself explaining what they were like. I did quite a few reviews - about ~150 or so I'd say. As my aim was saving my mates money, I tended to be more critical than say youtubers who may have partners/sponsors/freebies (or just are more charitable folk). 

As I've sorted my shed (and cleared ~800 of my mini paint backlog) I've noticed a lot of games I've barely played, or minis I'm reluctant to paint, or projects I've abandoned. 

I've made an excel page with column tickboxes for minis/gaming projects:
Have I bought all the minis needed to play?  Have I painted the minis? Have I got terrain? Have I got rules I enjoy? Have I played the game? What is the cost to complete this project?

The stage I get "stuck" in various projects is quite telling. It shows where the 'barriers' are.

I've been thinking about things that instantly turn me off a game. These are preferences, which will vary. What is a turn-off to me, may be a selling point to someone else. For example, En garde was too slow for me - while recognizing it as a good game for others. My younger self would have quite enjoyed it.

So this post is about spotting projects likely to fail early, before we waste too much $ or time. Or identifying minis and half completed projects that need to be sold on.   What are my "barriers?"

The Minis

Now, the toys are probably the real reason we wargame. Some minis are tied strongly to their fluff/background/IP though; there is no rule saying you MUST use x models for y rules - though many companies would like it to be that way. However some people just feel they 'must' use the 'official' minis and it pains them to do otherwise. Or they just like the convenience - you don't even need to deliberate over a paint scheme - you're told how and there are tutorials showing you precisely how. I feel that's about as fun as doing those colouring-in books designed for adults....  

This could be the design or quality.  I love Battletech but my models look like they've been carved from a bar of soap and aren't much fun to paint or play with. I like the steampunk-with-magic aesthetic and chunky easy-to-paint models of Warmachine which I bought despite hating the rules (also due to its popularity). I like the idea of a post-apocalytic wargames, but dislike the gimp suit/bondage/grimy/spikes/leather design aesthetic that tend to be attached to many such products. 

Resin models can be very hit or miss - if a miniature line is 100% resin I will simply avoid it, both for sculpt quality and fragility as a gaming piece. If I'm scared to drybrush a model because I'll break it - it's worthless. Metal or plastic is far superior unless it's only for display. I love my Black Scorpion pirates and cowboys, and would love to add to my collections - if only they still cast in metal. I like Carnevale's sculpts but won't be buying their dodgy resin unless on a vast discount.

I find painting MESBG soothing; they are simple and realistically proportioned (no potato heads, banana fists or bulging boobs/biceps) without being as small and fiddly as Infinity - which are far better sculpts but also stressful to paint/game with. 

There is a certain size, for me, where models become meaningless, uninteresting Risk pieces. I like the idea (and cost) of 1:300 tanks but they are just too tiny.  1:600 scale is OK for a modern jet, but a WW2 fighter is too tiny (a F-15 is the same size as a B-17, btw!). I think the Cruel Seas rules are meh but the Warlord's upscaled 1:300 coastal forces are way cooler than the minute 1:1200 ones I previously owned.

Are the minis nice quality and attractive? Are they fun/easy to paint? Do you need an official line of minis? Do you like scratch building/proxying? Do you even have rules for these minis?

The Lore/Background

"Lore" ties in with miniatures as the shiny, initial attractor. The rules might be amazing (or suck) but most times you wouldn't even open the rules unless you saw cool minis or pictures.

I'm not interested in Napoleonics a la Waterloo. It's just red shirt guys in rows, shooting at identical blue or white shirt guys. The wargaming aspect tends towards mass battle games, which means I'm going to hate painting minis which are just hitpoints of a larger whole.  

French Indian Wars? Fighting skirmishes in primeval forests, with canoes, Indian ambushes and remote forts in the wilderness - I'm all for it. (OK, I did add dinosaurs to my French Indian Wars, so sue me) I like the Mordhiem gritty lore and background - but Age of Sigmar leaves me cold. 

In a recent design post, I discussed how too much lore can stifle creativity. You don't need much - I know someone who who did not read any of Carnevale's 150 pages of lore, yet is making their own Venice-with-assassins-pirates-magic based on a 30 second flick through the cover art and a quick look at some of my half-painted minis.  I'm not interested in Star Wars as I feel I "have" to paint minis and create forces/scenarios a particular way because of the exhaustively detailed background which I already know "too much" about thanks to my kids. It can kinda pigeonhole your minis. A storm trooper tends to be viewed by others as a storm trooper, even if he battles medieval knights and dinosaurs...

Basically - even if the game and minis are great, I'm just never going to paint 100 Napoleonics. It's just not 'my thing.'  That project with 1:300 interwar tanks? Should probably be bequeathed to my son who likes hordes of little vehicles. I'll probably never start Warcrow as it's just another generic fantasy elves/humans/dwarves. I also don't need too much background info. If I know all 22 Space Marine legions, how can I create my own? I would be fine with say:

"It's 1947 and WW2 has continued on. Britain has warlocks, Germany has vampires and zombies, Russia has mutants, USA has aliens and robots."   ..and a bunch of art and minis and I'd be set.

Do you need detailed lore? Is the background the sort of thing you like? Is there too much lore?

Initial Impressions

I've found in both wargames and PC games, if I don't enjoy the rules/game the first few times, I seldom suddenly change my mind. Sometimes folk say "you just need to play it 4-5 times, then the rules will 'click.' Nah. It's a sunk cost fallacy. I don't owe them more of my time. If you went on a few dates and found the person unpleasant each time, you don't 'owe' it to them to go on half a dozen more dates. It's like when you have to play 200hours to Level 75 before a MMO is 'fun.'  

Nah. I already bought the rules/minis.  I've got limited hobby time. In PC games, reinstalling a game is the press of a button. I tend to reinstall and try PC games once a year or so, to see if my initial impressions were wrong. (I think I've changed my mind about 5% of the time, and it usually because another better game was sidelining a merely good game at the time). Retrying a wargame, however, takes a bit more effort. It's OK not to like things others like. Sometimes a thing is fun for others, just not for you. And that's OK. No one needs to be offended on the designers behalf.

The Rules

Kinda a big one. Some games just seem unintuitive or unenjoyable. I remember the edition-but-last (2018?) of Kill Team having an insane amount of rolls and re-rolls to resolve combat. It just seemed clunky, and had odd inconsistent choices like alternate models moving, but an entire force shooting, then the other force shooting (or the other way round).  

Other times they trigger pet peeves. There's the western game where you place a card next to models you activate. I don't care how 'western' the playing card is, it's a bunch of cards laying about cluttering my table. Or the infamous hitpoints. Nothing like a human with 20 hitpoints who loses 19 hitpoints to a series of axe blows then dies to a 1hp rabbit bite the next turn. Unnecessary recording AND a little odd. (Any clutter and recording tends to get a sceptical look).

Ore even the gameplay not matching the 'feel' of the game - a zooming jet dogfight where you laboriously record moves and consult maneuver charts. 

If the models and terrain (cool toys) are the graphics, the rules are the interface, the mechanics, the game engine, the controls (to use PC gaming terms). A game can have poor graphics and still be fun (I mean, popular boardgames often have rather lame 'graphics' and toys.) But if the game itself (rules) are unfun.... the models will quickly become shelf queens for display only. Or - if you are lucky - they can be co opted for a better game.

Do you have to fight the rules to have fun? Do you play in spite of the rules?

Cost (Time/$$$)

I have a short attention span, and while I enjoy painting, a project that requires a complete new table of terrain (even if it's free, converted pizza boxes) is investing a few afternoons of my limited free time. Likewise, if a game requires 100 minis per side, it's more of a time investment than one that is 10 minis per side. This goes double (literally) if you are painting/supplying both sides in a newish/indie game (you are the local 'early adopter'). 

I tend to avoid rank and file games for that reason - you are painting 100 minis just to get 5 units. Basically you are paying/painting glorified hit markers that look cool. In contrast; a skirmish game you paint 5 minis and get 5 independently maneuvering units. And can be playing that afternoon, not next month. In my dotage, I'm not even so keen on 40K-ish scale games anymore (you know, 5-10 minis clumped together in a loose unit, ~30-40 models and a few vehicles). There's a few games (SLUDGE, that Weird War I one that just came out) I've recently looked at and gone 'cool theme, but I'm not painting 100 minis on the off chance I'd like it.'

Likewise terrain - if I have to spend two weekends making terrain, it's also a potential barrier to play. My lack of appealing sci fi terrain is hampering a few projects at the moment.

Then there is literal cost. I'm pretty certain I'd both like to paint (and play) GW's sadly defunct Titanicus. The rules and gameplay looked like something I'd enjoy, and the minis are epic. But I just can't shell out $150-200 for a single model. $300 for a starter box is a lot to 'test the waters.' A $90 rulebook is a lot for something I don't even know I'll like. Warhammer Total War on PC cost me $25. Dozens of armies. A campaign. Don't even need an opponent. I wonder how Old World will stack up to that?

I'd like to support smaller boutique creators but base cost+P&P is often prohibitive. A copy of the Spectre rules would cost me $50+$50 P&P, with individual resin-printed minis that make GW look benevolent. Whilst I get why they are that way, PDFs seem to be insanely overpriced as 'limited print runs' and 'economy of scale' don't seem to apply. I remember paying $35 for a Killwager PDF then discovering I needed a $25 army book to play. Wtf. It's a fricking electronic file - using GW tactics.

How much time and money to get going in the game? What is the time/$ "investment"?

Obviously this is toys we're talking about, and very subjective - but it can be compared to other wargames (maybe even boardgames, PC games) ....I ask myself: "Is Titanicus really worth $500 that could be spent trying 3 other wargames.... or 10 $50 PC games??

I'm trying to kinda 'codify' my thoughts as to how avoid getting bogged in needless projects - how to best spend my gaming time/$$$ - and when to move on.  I now even have a 'projected projects' Excel sheet with potential buy-in and time costs, and similarity to other games I like/have played, and even things like if models can be used for other projects (i.e. my recent pack of 60 Victrix vikings are used as Dunlendings and to battle ice zombies in the Second Ice Age). I don't think I've randomly bought a mini in years.

When do you know when to cut your losses?

How do you know when a game is not for you?

Do you have a 'system?' or is it just impulse buy?

Thursday 25 January 2024

Game Design #104: Start Small, Keep it Tight

I often try indie games and wonder "my goodness, how much has this been playtested?"

Logically, the answer will be "not much." 

I mean, do you really think 'part time designer dad' has playtested each of the 70 special rules in his game? How many campaigns would he have played through from start to finish? 

In fact, how many games has he played, period - with a circle outside (even inside) of his/her own group of friends who may already have a shared expectation/knowledge of the game. In some cases, I'd be surprised if it was more than half a dozen.

Keep it tight. Stay focussed. Start small, expand later.

Example: Necropolis. It's a game where undead battle in spooky locales. It has a clear size limit (1-8 models) it has a clear theme. It plays on a small board. It has only ~5? warband types - which draw from the same ~10 base archtypes. The factions share similar traits, but just have access to different ones. There are 3 schools of magic, with 5 spells each. 

There is plenty of variety available, but the rules are pretty focussed and specific. It would be possible to to playtest quite a big range of combinations, given the small scale, 8-a-side nature of games. It's available from a Discord which by its nature tends to encourage chat/communication amongst players/testers.

You could see it expanding in the future, with extra spells, warbands and character archetypes, but it can build on a small, established, well-tested base. (I have no idea if it has, but it could)

It does not attempt to be a mass battle game and a skirmish game at the same time. It does not attempt to bridge genres. It just does one thing. Small scale, undead skirmish. It does not have 101 unique special rules for each mini and faction. Instead, all factions share a limited pool of special rules; with differentiation/flavour given by denying factions access to certain magic - not inventing their own unique special rules in an appendix somewhere.

It uses archetypes with examples of the minis you could use i.e. a "Revenant" might be a dessicated knight, a barrow monarch, a spectral martyr - it uses less/shared rules to cover multiple ideas/concepts.

The rules are pretty chaotically laid out, so the actual rules - about ~10 pages of  'how to play' are scattered through the book; but the whole shebang (campaign rules, traits, spells, etc) comes to ~50 pages. So it's not too onerous to have skim through to see if you want to try it.

While Necropolis, thematic as it is, isn't my 'thing' (also ugh, hitpoints) I'd be confident that if/when it released it, at least could have been properly tested.  It seems to have started with a reasonable scope/clear focus. I'd say this is a good example of a narrow, limited focus which is eminently 'testable.'

Campaigns are hard impossible? to balance. There are so many branching variables. I've spent a few blog posts agonizing over how to prevent things 'snowballing' i.e. the inevitable increasing gap between winner and losers. But I think I've ceased to care as much, as long as it isn't egregrious. I mean, a campaign that penalizes losers and rewards winners will naturally increase the gap between the have and have nots, but excessive penalties/rewards should be obvious just by reading the rules.  I.e. I recall in MESBG's Battle Companies, hobbit warbands get a 6-point hobbit as a casualty replacement, when the army of the dead warbands get a 12-point replacement. Wow, I wonder how that will go over a long campaign, when one warband gets a stream of reinforcements twice as good as a rival?

 But I reckon 90% of issues can be solved with having a clear campaign length (5-6 games), avoiding excessive penalties/punishments for win vs loss, and just not playing with assholes. The main issue with campaigns is:

Campaigns make is more obvious who players 'are'. It magnifies their personalities.

A competitive jerk who camps all game hiding and sniping your men and not trying for the objective? He may be glossed over if it is a one-off game - but if everyone has to play him over dozens of games, as he uses campaign bonuses to min-max his army to make his camping strat even more unpleasant? Yeah. 

A player who likes fluff and background will certainly take the opportunity to lovingly individualise, kitbash and customize each of his models and give them their own backstory for the campaign. Again, may not matter as much in a one-off game (and he probably won't go to the same effort): but in a campaign, lovingly kitbashed Wizard Uhtred the One Legged can be sniped by the competitive asshole in Turn 1 and he is gone for the rest of the campaign. Ouch.

Start small, start simple

A bit like background fluff, an indie game designer may be best served keeping things minimal. Tossing every cool idea/army/special rule in at the start makes things very difficult to playtest. 

I do science with teenagers and we always start with very simple experiments and change only one variable at a time. Start simple, add minimal extras. Make sure the core works. I know there are all these cool ideas, factions, weapons you have - but do we need them all right from the start?  Make sure infantry rules work first, then add vehicles. Avoid adding 'all the things.'

Tangentially, a very dense complex 'alpha' rulebook makes it less likely a playtester will bother to meaningfully engage with the rules. Speaking personally, I'm far more willing to try a simple alpha concept of 10 pages, than a 120-page magnum opus which has never actually been tested. Why should I spend hours reading something you probably haven't even tested properly yourself? It's like a little kid handing in a story they wrote but haven't even proofread themselves to see if it makes sense.

Stay focussed

Keep the game focussed. Was the sci fi space hulk game meant to have vehicles? Was the game originally meant to have 30 per side? Or did you originally intend for it to be only 10v10? Do you need to start with all 10 factions? Or can you start with 2-3, playtest them, and gradually add the others in later when you know the game works?

Limit rules exceptions.

Avoid bloated lists of traits and special rules. Use shared special rules, archetypes and stats. Have one rule do several jobs i.e. a single "blast" rule can cover an ice blast, fire blast, lightning blast - as long as the effects are similar. Use a "one handed weapon" rather than swords vs axes vs maces. Limit the exceptions. Make 'learning' the rules easy. Detail (if needed) can be added later.  I'm not saying rules can't be complex, or have many weapons/traits/factions etc. I'm just saying they should be avoided at the start.

It's also very easy to fall down the rabbit hole of 'rivet counting' weapons, traits etc. Once when working on an aerial wargame, I spent hours researching and "statting up" missiles - when my core initiative and movement systems had not even been decided. I had this big list of weapons, traits and special rules and I hadn't even fully decided how the core game should play! Or tested the core mechanics! Was it fun to create and research? Yep. Was it a good use of my time. Nope.

Campaigns are going to be nearly impossible to playtest thoroughly. Unless you have a dedicated group, it may even be impossible. I'd suggest campaigns need to be limited to a set amount of games and check you've avoided penalizing losers/rewarding winners too much (see: widening gap between said winners and losers) but the fun of a campaign is probably more dependent on the player personalities.

Do I need this rule/trait/faction - right now?

Like a lot of background fluff - with special rules, weapon lists, traits (aka rules exceptions or extra rules) is it needed yet (if at all) or it it just the designer enjoying exercising his creativity in an undisciplined manner? 

If you are working on homebrew rules, here's a few unpleasant? questions:

1. How much complexity/factions/traits/special rules/gear have you already added? Are they needed? How much had you written before you even tried to playtest your rules?

2. When did you last playtest your rules? How much more 'stuff' will you add in before you decide to do so again? (Will you change so many variables that it's impossible to compare old vs new versions?)

3. If you handed your rules to someone, would they want to read them? I.e. 20 pages vs 120 pages. How big an effort would an outside playtester have to make to even read your rules?

4. How much time do you spend on 'creating' weapons/traits/special rules vs 'testing' core gameplay? Have you minimized the 'rules exceptions?' (see #3). 

5. Are you drifting away/expanding from your core focus? (i.e. such as adding vehicles into a space hulk dungeoncrawler). Is there anything you can prune out?

If you just want to 'create' rules and don't want to play (playtest) your own rules, why would anyone else want to playtest or play them?

Start small. Test, expand.

(Note: this was written under the influence of COVID so the logic may be foggier than usual...)

Wednesday 20 December 2023

Game Design #103: Worldbuilding

There's a lot of differing opinion on how much fluff, background and world building a wargame must do.

Few people are attracted to a game based on mechanics (the how); usually, they are attracted to the game by the background/world/miniatures (what, why). Often we play a game despite the rules - or merely put up with them. So we could argue background/world/aesthetic is more important than mechanics in attracting players.

There is a huge range of personal opinion here: some will prefer "just the rules, ma'am" and no more than a paragraph or two orientating them to the wargame world; others love deep background narrative and lore to drive their games. The most popular wargame (40K) makes it hard to suggest that innovative rule mechanics matter more than shiny toys and cool lore. 

Now we've established lore and world building will be very subjective, but are usually very important....

My shower thought I am exploring is: How much worldbuilding is too much?

I am a huge reader; my personal man cave has many thousands of books, and my kids are huge readers too. I often read them "older" books and we like to discuss elements of the text. My kids like Brandon Sanderson, and while I don't enjoy his writing style, I do admire his worldbuilding, which tends to be consistent to its own internal logic and he seems to recognise his own enthusiasm for worldbuilding and make an effort to reign himself in. In contrast to say the magic of Harry Potter (which I'm reading to my 8 year old) which has no logic to it whatsoever.

However, thinking about this question (in context of books) lead to a second question:

Is the worldbuilding for the readers (aka player's) benefit, or the writers benefit (aka game designers)?

World building seems pretty self indulgent. The minute you have your own languages, and whole pages of maps, and your own encyclopedia - that's too far.  Maybe when you're a legend like Tolkien who pretty much invented the genre and it's published after he dies due to the demands of fans... then OK.

A lot of time in books, world building is an excuse for a writer to waffle on, to create for his own enjoyment, oblivious to the eye-rolls of his readers. 

Can there be too much world building?

I find Star Wars guilty of this. Everything has a name. Everything is explained in detail. Everything has its own Wookiepedia article. The more TV shows and movies they churn out exploring every last detail or every character, the less magic there is, for me anyway. Half the shows premises "What did Obi Wan do between Clone Wars and New Hope" answered questions no one really cared about to ask. 

Background and aesthetic (cool lore, cool minis) is supposed to stimulate your wargaming. But can worldbuilding be harmful to creativity and imagination?

Googling around I found this wonderful quote by a sci fi editor:

Every moment of a science fiction story must represent the triumph of writing over worldbuilding.

Worldbuilding is dull. Worldbuilding literalises the urge to invent. Worldbuilding gives an unneccessary permission for acts of writing (indeed, for acts of reading). Worldbuilding numbs the reader’s ability to fulfil their part of the bargain, because it believes that it has to do everything around here if anything is going to get done.

Above all, worldbuilding is not technically neccessary. It is the great clomping foot of nerdism. It is the attempt to exhaustively survey a place that isn’t there. A good writer would never try to do that, even with a place that is there. It isn’t possible, & if it was the results wouldn’t be readable: they would constitute not a book but the biggest library ever built, a hallowed place of dedication & lifelong study. This gives us a clue to the psychological type of the worldbuilder & the worldbuilder’s victim, & makes us very afraid.

When I use the term “worldbuilding fiction” I refer to immersive fiction, in any medium, in which an attempt is made to rationalise the fiction by exhaustive grounding, or by making it “logical in its own terms”, so that it becomes less an act of imagination than the literalisation of one. Representational techniques are used to validate the invention, with the idea of providing a secondary creation for the reader to “inhabit”; but also, in a sense, as an excuse or alibi for the act of making things up, as if to legitimise an otherwise questionable activity. This kind of worldbuilding actually undercuts the best and most exciting aspects of fantastic fiction, subordinating the uncontrolled, the intuitive & the authentically imaginative to the explicable; and replacing psychological, poetic & emotional logic with the rationality of the fake.

~ M. John Harrison

Most wargame fluff is badly written. Usually by enthusiastic amateurs. So yeah, we don't want to give a bad writer "unecessary permission to write." Probably the only wargame-related books I've not minded were by Dan Abnett - which were fun - but only 'decent.' Harsh reality: Most wargaming background lore is just an excuse for an author to subject us to their bad writing.

Too much background removes the players ability to invent. If all 21 space marine legions have their entire history, heraldy and paint schemes - then it may constrain my creativity in making my own custom legion. It undercuts creativity. I enjoy MESBG but (because of the strong lore) I tend to feel compelled to either follow the movies or the official GW schemes - everyone knows what Gandalf and Aragon look like. It's why I'm unenthusiastic about Star Wars minis. Whereas I've never got into the Warmachine, or Confrontation much so my minis tend to be whatever the heck I think looks cool. Way more creative and fun.

Is worldbuilding technically necessary in wargames? To what degree? What is needed?

I'd say that RPGs, specifically, need world-building. In order to roleplay as an elven sorceress in Middleheim is; you need to know about elves, sorceresses and Middlehiem in general in order to properly inhabit your role. Like a method actor, the more you understand your role, the better you can play it. So players books exhaustively explaining every aspect of the RPG "world" seem quite sensible.

But a wargame is not quite the same. You are a commander, a general, a squad leader.  You may need to know why you are fighting - although "cost wargs are cool" is all the reason my son needs - and that's fine. You probably need to know what tactics work best - what actions you take (input) will get the best result (output). But how much more do you need?

If the game is about WW2 and the game mechanics accurately represent this genre (this is where mechanics matter - it's called metaphor) you may not need much "how." Cos most people (especially the average wargamer) will have a fair idea of who is fighting who in WW2, and why. And they probably have a fair idea of what tactics will work, too. You probably don't need a lot of background if the topic is familiar and the metaphor (game mechanics/results match theme) works.

For more fantastical settings, you probably need more orientation/background; but what is actually needed?  We know Cygnar and Khador are fighting. Do we need a series of maps of their countries topography? Are we 'exhaustively surveying a place that does not exist?' Do I really need a list of all engine brand-names in Battletech to have fun firing lasers at giant robots? It's indulgence on the part of the rules writer. Do they think their game universe is worth "dedication and lifelong study?" The Infinity guys (who admittedly are RPG fans first and foremost) are making a fantasy game (Warcrow). They obviously are passionate nerds but reading their design posts made me roll my eyes so hard I'm crosseyed. I really need to know the Inauguration of New Doctors for the Hegenomy of Embersig? To play a game where warbands hack each other up? This is The Great Clumping Foot of Nerdism. (Bonus irony points for them going to all this hassle, explaining their onerous worldbuilding - yet churning out mostly generic elf, dwarf, human factions)

Show Don't Tell - how do you do it for Wargames?

My daughter loves to write stories and has a great descriptive vocab and solid dialogue (for a kid.) However she loves to describe names, friends, places in exhaustive detail. When she shares her story:

"Excellent expressive words here, good dialogue here... but..." I pause.

"Show, don't tell?" she finishes.

Carnevale did a great job drawing an atmospheric, menacing Venice with Cthulhu, mad scientists and vampires, and heretic witch hunters. It did that well. It inspired me to paint many miniatures, and create custom warbands and terrain - it got me playing - success! ....But took 150 pages to do that. 

Turnip 28 (Napoleonic horror with root vegetables - yes you heard correctly) rules were found on a free patreon after reading a Goonhamer article. I visited his artstation and found some more pics on another website. I probably viewed a few dozen pics all told, and read a few pages of text.

I'd say they created comparable atmosphere. Even if Carnevale did a better job, it took 20x more effort to get a similar result. 150 pages of background reading?  Placed before the actual rules?

Show Don't tell means avoiding description (lots of exposition),  you don't tell the reader outright, but allow readers to infer. You allow them to paint a picture using their imagination.

"Did you sleep last night? You look shot." <-show, infer, appeal to senses

Fred was tired. <- tell.

So how do we do this in a wargame?

I liked this pic from Carnevale. They didn't need to tell me there's some weird, unpleasant shit in the sewers and waters of Venice.

The tell you need to avoid is obvious. Pages and pages detailing each and every last detail of each faction, technology, map, magic system. Anything more than a paragraph, that is not directly linked to playing the game (actual rules) I'd scrutinize very closely.

You can infer a lot from just the names and types of gear. "Flechette gun" vs "shotgun" I infer the game is sci fi. "Uplink node" vs "Sacred Crucible" gives you an idea of the genre without even looking at the cover. Renaming of stats into "Bashin" Shootin" "Guts" in custom way  (much as it annoy me) can transmit info of the game theme (is this an orc game?). This is an example of how little things can transmit a 'feel.' (Aside: I wonder why rulebooks don't include more comic-styling, text boxes etc (which would allow more links to visuals) vs uninterrupted walls of text *cough* En Garde! *cough*)

For authors, to "show not tell," writers recommend appealling to senses (describe what the character sees, tastes, hears, smells etc) - in wargames, it's obviously all about what you see.

In a wargame, the "show" is obviously a focus on art, minis and style.  It doesn't have to be done with elaborate artbooks (Infinity) or glossy magazines (40K) or amazing tabletop displays. Cool eye candy minis help - but are not essential.

Take "Space Weirdos" and Forbidden Psalm. I bet people have bought those books and built warbands  and played - purely on some hipster artstyle and font that gave them a 'vibe.'  I personally found neither the vibe nor gameplay of either appealed; but they are a great example of showing not telling - maximum 'feel' with minimum effort.

What are some of the tools (usually visual) that a rules writer has to engage readers in his background/world without reams of text? How do you 'show' and not 'tell?'

It's late, and I haven't really got a final conclusion here; everyone is going to have their own opinion on what is enough or too much background/lore/fluff. I guess I can do a TL:DR looking over all my current thoughts:

-World building/lore/shiny is probably the main hook into a game/reason to play; more than mechanics/rules; it's very important

-While lore/background is a main stimulus to players; too much world building can harm imagination/creativity; when the map is filled in, you can't imagine what might be in the blank spot

-World building is often self indulgent, unnecessary, and (in wargames) nearly always badly written: for the writers benefit, not the reader

-While RPGs might need detailed background info, wargames will need a lot less

-Show Don't Tell: convey the background/lore with as little text as possible (explore methods?)

-Pictures (artwork/visual elements/minis etc) do say 1000 words

Tuesday 19 December 2023

MDF Terrain - Stage 1 (Organising)

I am working on both sci fi and Japanese terrain to finish two projects. I opted against the pizza box technique for the sci fi as I thought the walkways, piping and grates etc would be too fiddly.

So I bought my first laser cut mdf terrain (TTC cos its cheap and I'm poor). This will speed things up, right?  Sweet summer child. 

An hour or so later:

Are we there yet?

I then read the box time estimate. The diagram is either "set aside an afternoon" or "you're in for the long haul." Lucky I'm on holidays or there would have been swearwords. You do get a lot of stuff for $30USD/$50AUD.

I used the bits of MDG sprue to decorate my Tohaa bases. That takes my Infinity painted minis count to 40 for the week and ticks off another faction. Mercs, Ariadna, Aleph, Yu Jing, Tohaa all finalized.  Pan O, Haqq, and Nomads still to go.  This burst of painting is sponsored by Zone Raiders as I finally have sci fi rules I can play with my kid. The game is also responsible for my terrain purchase, as my usual stuff lacks the verticality needed for the game where wall running, power jumps and grappling is commonplace.

I can pretty these bases up with washes, highlights and maybe some wire pipes, but they look serviceable with just a gunmetal basecoat. Waste not want not!

I'm also mentally preparing myself for superhero gaming as my kids, after years of being indifferent to Marvel etc, are suddenly "into" superhero stuff. Luckily I have a secret stash of rebased Heroclix so this may not be as wallet-damaging as you'd expect...

Monday 18 December 2023

En Garde! Rules Review

These rules were a purchase to encourage myself to finish my pike and shot 28mm project.  I remember testing Ronin and being fairly impressed at a game that tried to make melee a bit more interesting; adding decisions and resource management into the process. En Garde! is very similar, pretty much v2 (but less shooting than Ronin, from my recollection). But have my tastes changed?

The Shiny

It's an Osprey Blue Book with all that entails. ~60 pages long, most of it rules. Just enough art - the minis shown are a bit chubby (we can charitably call them 'characterful')- are there any good musketeer lines? and some Osprey art. I didn't have any trouble using the book. I reckon most folk who read this blog have an Osprey book by now, anyway.  It doesn't hook you in and sell you a cool game universe like Zone Raiders or Carnevale, or Gamma Wolves - but Zona Alpha did better, with a similar layout. 

Not great, not terrible.

Overhead (What you need to know/have to play)

You throw 2D6, and will need a few counters (reload, combat pool tokens, wounds etc - about a dozen or so each), Models are classed Rank 1 (wimps ) to Rank 5 (OP hero) - each with a combat pool corresponding to the rank. There is Move, Initiative, Fight, Shoot, Armour stats and some special rules.

Overhead is pretty simple - you don't need a lot of kit, and there's not a lot of stats or special rules to memorize, but games will have tokens scattered about.

Activation & Movement

Players alternate moving models until all have moved, then alternate shooting until all have shot, then come to the combat phase which is a bit trickier. 

I quite like the activation - players can skip movement in favour of reloading, or hiding, or aiming, or giving an order (leaders can do a joint move with nearby allies). Lots of decisions. They also have a facing which is a good way to add tactics (rather than the 'everyone sees 360 noscope' of many games). You can jump and climb and fall and all that skirmish-y stuff you'd need in a swashbuckling game.

There are lots of decisions here and it is simple yet interactive. I like it a lot.


The minis in the book could charitably be described as 'characterful' - are there any good musketeer/swashbuckling miniature lines?


Ok,this is where I nope out. Hitpoints? I hear you ask. No. This is a game where the mechanics (resolution) of combat is simply so convoluted and slow, my 2023 self is simply not interested.

Shooting. You roll (add) 2d6. Add your Shoot. Then add or subtract up to 13(!) modifiers, some of which rely on you tracking if you have moved or aimed this turn. Then subtract 6. If the score is 1 or more, you may have wounded them. But wait - you now need to use this number for the wound table. To do this you take the number, then add your weapon strength and subtract target armour, then consult the wound table*. *I don't mind stun/light/grievous/kill wounds, but even this is not straightforward; needing differing amounts of stuns/wounds before you go 'up a level.'

Phew. A few things to do there. But that's EASY compared to melee combat.....

Now I applaud any attempt to make melee meaningful, beyond just pushing models together and rolling dice til someone loses. Ronin and En Garde! use "combat points" a resource you can allocate to attack or defence. Better troops have more combat points. I'll do my best to explain, but the examples and explanations in the book took up several pages of dense text, so not sure if I can do this in a few paragraphs. Here goes:

The players secretly draw counters equal to the combat pool (total) of the models in melee, assigning them to attack or defence (I used black or white Go counters for Ronin). They then reveal them to each other. Each model in the combat then rolls for initiative (d6+stat+modifiers). Models can opt to attack or pass (in order of best->worse initiative), rolling off in case of draws. This is the rough combat sequence.

However there's also a fair bit involved in actually making an attack (attack resolution). Pick the attacker, remove an attack counter from the pool. Defender declares Ploys. Attacker declares Ploys. Attacker rolls 2d6 + Fight +/- any modifiers (usually to do with weapon type or wounds), then Defender rolls 1d6 + Fight +/- modifiers. Subtract the Defence total from the Attack total. Just like shooting, if you get a 1+, you may have caused a wound. You then add any weapon modifiers and deduct defence, and voila! You have resolved a single attack. In only 8-9 steps!

Ploys are things like parrys, feints, ripostes or powerful blows - which allow you to modify rolls or even regain attack/defence tokens. (Cool, but other games do similar stuff, much faster)

I love the idea of the resource management (do I go all out attack? defend? balance?), the hidden counters, picking ploys - it's just the resolution is so bloody convoluted I'm not actually interested in playing. The mechanics are getting in the way of the game. The rulebook example (between three models) goes for a whole page - hundreds of words of dense text. To call it a RPG-lite is unfair to many RPGs which do combat much more efficiently.

Morale tests are triggered if 25% of the warband suffer a wound (or the just leader) in any given turn*; then you test in a way about as complex as you'd expect (*I'm curious: if a 10-man warband loses only 1-2 guys each turn; could they all die without ever needing a morale test?) Maybe I'm reading it wrong, exhausted from the preceding pages. There's plenty of modifiers, and there's different states (Wavering and Routing) which have different effects. Removing stun tokens is different again.

The combat ideas are good, but there's so many steps - so much adding, subtracting, modifiers. I could completely resolve a fight between 3 guys in ME:SBG in the time it takes to just allocate attack counters or roll for initiative in En Garde! - and there'd still be another 7-8 steps to go. It's just not worth it. Not only are the mechanics clunky, the extra tactics and options it gives are not worth the time.  I'm sure the process could be streamlined but if I pay for rules I'd like them to work 'out of the box.' The 20-model 'cap' is very optimistic. I'm a bit sad - I wanted to like these rules.

Chrome (Gear, Special Rules, Scenarios, Campaigns)

There is a sensible weapon and armour list which covers major types used (you could probably use En Garde to play Ronin's Japanese period). The ~20 special rules are also reasonable. There are extras rules for mounted combat and cannon. There are sample warbands - from landsknechts to aztecs, conquistadors, ottomans - even the musketeers: and 5 scenarios.  Enough to get by, but not lavish (probably as expected in a limited size book). There is some 'campaign rules' but they are very very limited - a paragraph or so of how to level up - nothing like the full-fledged Mordhiemesque campaigns of Burrows and Badgers or Zone Raiders. I did like how some extra rules for magic and monsters were included - you could have a witch hunter, a mage, a werewolf, a witch etc.

The best bit is there is a point system allowing you to build a model from scratch. I do like this. It means you can fill the gaps yourself, if you think the warband or unit lists are lacking. It's great.

I'd label this "competent but unspectacular." It's does the job, but doesn't really sell me on the setting and the campaign is a token gesture. Although the 'create stats for your own mini' building system is pretty sweet. More rules should do this.

Recommended: Not for me, thanks.

En Garde! does a lot of things right. The activation and move sequences are good; interactive with lots of decisions. The special rules and gear lists are sensible and clear. I love the points system allowing you to make units from scratch - true freedom! I applaud the idea of making melee a series of decisions - something more than just deciding to push models together. But after seeing these mechanics? If that's what it takes to add depth to melee, I'm cool with just pushing models together and chucking dice, and doing it 10x faster. The mechanics get in the way of me playing. It makes a sword-fight slow.

Not sure if you will like it? Read the above section on combat. If you think it sounds cool and cinematic, like the idea of secretly assigning attack and defence points - and you aren't bothered by the processes involved - then grab this game. I recall playtesting its predecessor Ronin and finding it interesting but slow: 10 years later, I am less tolerant of multiple steps, modifiers and math. Others may disagree - I'd say the general vibe on the net about Ronin and En garde! is positive.

Admittedly this game has inspired some more game design musings (melee)/(elements of a game that are dealbreakers) and it has inspired me to rework on my own homebrew Middlehiem rules and experiment with melee stances. So I am getting some use out of the rules...

Thursday 14 December 2023

Game Design #102: Game Feel (Reloaded)

 My last post on 'game feel' was, on reading it again, a bit of a mess. I didn't orientate folk, link my points, or summarize it properly. Although the comments as usual were interesting and useful I don't think I was clear at all. So rather than add to the wall of text I'm back to attack the topic differently..

Game Feel: Intangible Feeling based on Tangible Elements

Game Feel is an intangible sensation when interacting with videogames. They use words like "immersive world" and "weighty gunplay." I'm relating this theory to tabletop wargames.

Game feel is made up of several tangible elements, such as:

input (how you control the game; i.e. moves you can make, dice, templates, measuring/movement rulers, available choices)

response (how game responds to your actions i.e. lethality of shooting)

aesthetics (visual details - like cool minis and terrain)

metaphor (how game mechanics suit the theme; i.e. Infinity has lethal sci fi shootouts, MESBG has strong focus on heroic actions)

A game should be fun and engaging even if some elements are removed. I.e. I used to play Battlefleet Gothic and Blood Bowl with tokens not minis and had fun - I felt like I was steering a slow ponderous spaceship or footy team regardless - so they had good game feel even when you remove the aesthetic element. A game should be fun if you just plonk down the minis and fight a 1-off game without a fancy narrative campaign to "carry" it.

I'd say game feel is something which can be somewhat objective "Infinity is lethal shooting, reactive and reliant on cover - about making the best of bad choices" which we can probably agree on, but is ultimately mostly opinion: "Warmaster is the only game that makes me feel like a general"

TL:DR The main point I am making is: we can have intangible feelings about a game as to how immersive, engaging and satisfying it is, but these intangibles are made up of several rather more concrete game elements. The exact categories don't interest me that much. 

Point 1: Design Elements - We have Preferences

So games are made up of several design elements which combine to give this rather intangible, vague game feel.

-They can be physical (the minis, terrain, even the dice you use - in the last post I described the feel of 'swingy d20s, sterile d10s, satisfying buckets of d6s, weird d4 non-dice)

-They can be game mechanics (aka rules) such as saving throws, or reaction mechanics.

We as gamers can have strong obvious preferences towards these. While it can be hard to define and explain your feelings towards a game (which can be a bit vague and will differ from person to person) we can usually easily explain WHY we don't like particular mechanics or physical elements;
"The minis suck"  "I hate using d20s and rolling low" "Saving throws add drama"  "IGOUGO seems silly sitting around while the enemy flawlessly executes their moves".

TL:DR While overall game feel is a bit vague and intangible, the individual physical elements (dice, minis etc) and non-physical elements aka game mechanics (be it activation, rolling high vs low, etc) are much easier to explain. We usually have clear preferences.

Point 2: Our Preferences in Game Elements are not Always Best Practice

We sometimes conflate "I like this" with "this is the best" - or worse - "this is the only way." I hate recording in games such as tracking hitpoints or writing orders. But sometimes it may be a good choice. Reaction mechanics may be cool but they don't belong in every game. Sometimes we need to use a d10, d12 or bigger, not a d6: even if we don't like the other dice. Napoleonics are boring and samey for some; others hate anything sci fi. Sometimes rolling low is the only way to guarantee a consistent dice mechanic across a game. Not every game can be made without measurements. Games don't need to reinvent the wheel with unique mechanics to be fun/tactically interesting. 

Some design elements are objective: lots of special rules/rules exceptions or modifiers are harder to remember than a few. Limiting models to 180 vision does mean more decisions than allowing models 360 vision at all times. But most are preferences.

I enjoy saving throws but usually they are kinda a repetitious, needless extra roll which can "undo" damage. Why roll for damage if you're going to roll another, extra roll to undo it? Saving throws are objectively, needless extra rolls which slow the game (and probably frustrate some!)

TL:DR We often have strong preferences in game elements - what we enjoy. However they are in most cases subjective and are not the best - or only - solution available.

 Point 3: Game Feel can be greater or less than the sum of their parts

I enjoy MESBG although I feel its game mechanics are in general, distinctly average - aka 20 year old streamlined 40K:

Strong aesthetic and lore

Average (simple) input - 6" moves, 24" shooting, roll high on d6 - vanilla as it gets

Output centres on heroic actions and melee for decisive action

Good metaphor - game emphasizes heroic combat of movies

So the game is mechanically unremarkable but has very good metaphor - matching gameplay to strong aesthetic/lore.

Infinity the Game has strong aesthetic and metaphor - with very complex input (vertical learning curve) and output that emphasizes either (a) stay in cover (b) use a cool gadget (c) die fast. 

Again, the elements don't have to follow videogame 'game-feel' convention - but I'm using them for consistency. I also really like the term 'metaphor' - how the gameplay of a game matches its theme/fluff. I've actually identified metaphor recently without having a word for it.

Sometimes a game can be very strong in one or two elements which overrides deficiencies elsewhere.

40K/Warhammer has a very strong aesthetic - visuals, lore etc.  I think 40K has pretty weak metaphor in parts - space marines are just +1 humans where in the lore they are terrifying one-man armies who can throw a grenade so hard it will cause more damage than the explosion itself, and the input/output gameplay is pretty meh in terms of tactics etc.

In fact I'd say aesthetic is VERY important (see link above) - there seems to be an increase in games that recognize this - very strong lore, a cool campaign, amazing kitbashed grimdark minis - but not much actual gameplay attached? I.e. super-simple, almost nonexistent 'rules' but strong aesthetic. I remember one post I pretty much describe the rules of The Doomed to someone in comments and they think I'm winding them up.  I think an interesting test of "is this a good game or is it just relying on the theme/aesthetic/fluff" is would you play the game with just tokens rather than minis? (i.e. if you removed the aesthetic element, would the game itself still be fun?) Is this game fun without the campaign?

Other times, a game has great game-feel (to us) while using mechanics we personally dislike. Perhaps the mechanics merely "do the job" - contributing suitably to the overall feel of the game even if we don't enjoy them/think them optimal. Or perhaps they just don't 'get in the way' of us enjoying other, stronger aspects of the game such as the aesthetics.

TL:DR Sometimes game can be more than the some of its parts - probably because a strength in one area compensating for other elements. Or while we may personally dislike a game element, it still 'does its job' in contributing to the overall 'game feel.' You can enjoy a game which is universally recognized as "clunky" or has individual mechanics you dislike. 'Game feel' can transcend individual elements.


1. Games can have a 'feel' which is fairly intangible - satisfaction, immersion can be quite subjective. "I felt like a general" "The game feels like a fast paced shootout where you watch angles" If you can remove elements and it is still good (say playing with tokens rather than minis) it has good 'game feel.'

2. This hard-to-define 'feeling' is created by several elements (input/output/aesthetic/metaphor etc*). *The individual definitions don't matter as I stole them from videogame design.

3. We have clear preferences on individual physical elements (dice, minis etc) and game mechanics

4. Sometimes these preferences are not most efficient or most tactical. Or the only option. "I like this best" is fine - "This is the best and only solution" - less fine.

5. Sometimes a game 'feels' great despite defying our preferences or even objective analysis . Perhaps it is so strong in one area (aesthetics, lore, for example) it glosses over weakness.

Identifying game feel and elements

 Where I am going next?: Some games have a strong "game feel" but dated mechanics, or maybe a poor link between lore and gameplay. There seems to be a strong nostalgic push back towards Necromunda, Mordhiem, Battlefleet Gothic etc - even in my out of the way part of the world. I reckon every game designer has started with 'making a better 40K.'  If we can identify:

a) games we like (do they have elements that we dislike? i..e games we like "in spite" of x and y)

b) what is the 'game feel' we enjoyed

c) what are the individual elements that contribute to game feel

d) are there poor mechanics/game elements we can 'swap out' with better

...then we can replicate (or even improve) the game-feel of favourite games, transfer the game-feel of one game to another, or even align game-feel more with the lore/enhance realism (aka improve metaphor).

Last post I asked "what games do you enjoy - why?" which was pretty vague. If you think about a favourite game in terms of points a) to d) it may be a bit easier....

Tuesday 12 December 2023

Game Design #102: Game Feel

 In videogames there is something called gamefeel or game juice - the intangible 'feel' when interacting with videogames. It's a mix of control response, visuals, and sound - kinda perceptual feedback. It's the sense of immersion, control, satisfaction in a game.  All pretty intangible. (Worth a google if it sounds interesting)

Note: I feel the following post is rather poorly explained without a good orientation, linking and labelling key points, or conclusion.  For a more coherent attempt on this topic, see here.

I tend to like to pry apart wargame mechanisms. I know what I like, which colours my opinions (and conclusions), but I am interested in X + Y = XY - coming to conclusions like "reaction mechanics increase engagement, but increase complexity (more "if-then") and can actually slow the pace of the game."  I may LIKE reactions (my preferences) but they are not always the best solution if you want to keep things simple and snappy. Generally, I explore things you can check, or debate.

But gaming with my 8 year old has me thinking about intangibles. Preferences. 

My wee lad likes chugging lots of dice. I tend to regard big piles of dice with suspicion - a bit of a chore. Was there a more efficient way to do this? But he says: "lots of dice - w000t - this is gonna be epic!" For him, there's something about the feel of flinging handfuls of dice.

Take dice types. For example, I dislike d20s. They seem so swingy, so tiny, so hard to read. I get WHY they can be used (lots of variables in a single roll, convenient 5% increments, good for say fantasy where stats can vary vastly) but I just don't like the feel of using them. I can acknowledge they may be the best option in many games, but I just don't like the feel of using them.

I like d10s a bit more. Easier to use, nice 10% increments, a nice middle ground. My opinion: More games should use d10s. But I find myself thinking in % in a more clinical math-y way when I use them. 

I like a nice handful of d6s. They're familiar, friendly, cube-y.  There's something when you see snake eyes (1s) or box cars (6s) that evokes a feeling of thrill/dread that a 0 or a 9 on a d10 just... doesn't. Likewise I don't enjoy games where rolling low is good. Especially on d6s. I just have a weird moment when I see the dreaded '1' and then realise "oh - that's good - I succeeded? Riiight."

d4s are just crap. Little pointy pyramids. They aren't dice but bunches of numbers painted on triangles.

These are my feelings about dice. Objectively, there are games/mechanics when using each dice may be best practice - but I'd prefer never to have to use d4s - ever.

I also dislike adding dice together (2d6). In fact any major adding or subtracting kinda pulls me out of the game while I 'math.'  

I'm not a fan of the rather common 2d6: it's worse, as it creates a bell curve of results, which if rolling to beat a target number, kinda goes 3%, 8%, 17%, 27%, 41%, 58%, 72%, 83% etc - rather than a smooth 10%, 20%, 30% etc - where modifiers can push you past a certain break point i.e. the difference between a 2 and a 4 (+2 modifier) is 15%; the same +2 gap on a 6 would make a 31% swing. A +2 bonus has a variable value. That would be fine if the game was designed around a bell curve (like Fudge dice) but sometimes 2d6 are a carry over from when d10 were not invented and it's an unwanted side effect.... (*cough* Battletech Alpha Strike *cough*)  ...at which point I'd say it is objectively bad.

But these are preferences. What I think 'feels right.' 

I'm not just talking about physical interactions and dice. This includes mechanics.  


My son tosses dice haphazardly. A dice box is $30+. So I made my own using a $3 wooden picture frame. My daughter: "Why is the blade broken?" My son: "Umm - it's Isilduir's sword, the one they reforged?"  ...I have amended my Will accordingly.

My guilty admission:
Saving throws are usually, objectively, a needless extra roll. Clunky, bad design. 

You know the pattern: #1 attacker roll to hit #2 attacker roll to see if damage; #3 defender roll to save. I'd say objectively this is clumsy design. Why do an extra step? It's like #2 and #3 are kinda duplicating each other. Why roll to do damage, when you then roll again and undo it?

I'd say extra saving throws are generally a sign there's something wrong with step #2 (doing damage) - perhaps there's not enough variables on the dice - you should be using d10s not d6s, for example.

 However I love the feel of a saving throw - it has drama. To pick up the dice and deny your opponent with a '6' and see the anguish on their face is pretty funny. The tense feeling you have when your opponent picks up the dice - DID you kill his hero or is he about to Houdini? I feel kinda gives the player being attacked a sense of agency. (Note: it would be objectively more streamlined if you could allow the opponent to roll the damage dice from #2 and skip #3 - similar effect, without an extra roll). However many players will hate saving throws, and I totally understand - logically, they're probably correct to want them gone!

With saving throws, I have the guilty feel when I read a Lee Childs novel or watch something like The Meg. I feel I'm losing brain cells when I do it - but it's kinda fun.

I hate things that drag me out the the game. If I have to stop to look up a rule, or consult a chart, or (duh duh dah) tick off hitpoints (<- you all knew this was coming) it kinda kills the flow. Chatting with opponents, commiserating over dice rolls - fine. Expected of a social game involving chance. Paging frantically through a rulebook to look up an obscure special rule? I curse the game designer. This actually links with videogame gamefeel - immersion - akin to having to pause and check a menu every few minutes, or having an obtrusive HUD or annoying cringe voice over.  I'd argue this can be objectively bad, if it was avoidable by the game designer.  

Anything that drags me away from the table, my toys, or makes me do maths/writing feels like work.

Hopefully you have an idea of what I am trying to describe. The feel of the game. 

It's not something tangible.

We're largely talking about preferences here (which we can measure) - or perhaps the conjunction of a range of preferences and mechanics that makes a game 'feel' right for you. Sometimes a game has a good feel but the mechanics run contrary to your preferences. Why is that?

There are lots of elements that contribute to the overall feel of a game. It could be anything from the dice you use (buckets), immersive mechanics that 'get' the spirit of the genre (reactive shootouts in a modern firefight, grinding Greek shieldwalls), flowing gameplay, or even a favourite mechanic (like saving throws) that you might say is objectively bad.

Q1: What is a game you enjoy - that you really 'feel' immersed in? That 'hits the spot'?

Now, because I can't resist analyzing... can we quantify why

Q2: What elements of the game make it so?

For example, blog readers will know I enjoy ME:SBG. This is a good example as it's nothing impressive. No mechanics stand out. It does nothing innovative. It's a 20-year-old, streamlined 40K-esque game with a more interactive activation, individual minis moving rather than squads, and a resource management system for heroes (might/will/fate) grafted on top.  

I like it because it is simple (I preferred the even leaner LotR:SBG) but has 'just enough' depth - there's decisions but not the relentlessness/lethality of say Infinity. It allows you to play scenes from the books and movies, emphasizing cinematic, heroic deeds which even non-gamer Tolkienites can appreciate. There are few 'gotcha' rules and you can usually guess what a mini is capable of. It has a point system so you can balance your own homebrew scenarios. It handles a wide range of 10-40 minis easily - sitting flexibly in a weird spot between true skirmish (Necromunda) and platoon-ish games (40K). As a bonus, you can use the rules to play ancients, medieval and even pike/musket with little adjustment and you actually use shieldwalls etc. Official GW support is 'barely there' but there is a vast supply of 3D printing to fill every gap; and it's probably good in a way, as we've had 2(?) editions in 20 years which means no perennial arms race.

Is it a good game? Eh. I'd say it is objectively more streamlined and balanced than say 40K, and has more strategy, decision points, balance and less 'gotcha' moments. But it isn't really an amazing game. I could say there are, objectively, better mechanics for most areas - and the methods aren't consistent. However, it has the right 'feel', it's fun and its simple old-school mechanics combine fine to do the job. For me, it's greater than the sum of its parts. Maybe it's nostalgia? 

The game-feel is good, although the individual elements do not necessarily align to my preferences.


Sometimes I think we conflate with what we like with what is most logical or best practice. Just because you hate stats doesn't mean a game with one stat and many hundred special rules is objectively simpler/better. Just because you might hate hitpoints doesn't mean there isn't a place for them. I like reactions, but not every game benefits from them (most, arguably, don't). I like new fresh mechanics but I acknowledge most folk prefer familiar ones - they are easier to learn. I think activation is one of the most important aspects of the game. Many people don't care. Some people hate having any morale rules.  What we like isn't always the most efficient/innovative/simple/tactical option etc. And that's OK.

When I dig into games, I tend to view 'best' as the smooth, consistent rules with a good balance of decisions for the player. But best is actually the most fun. So...

What are your favourite games? Why?

This is more about what you like. What has a good game feel? What games are immersive? And what elements do you think makes it that way? Also: Does it have flaws? Is the game good despite itself?