Friday 4 September 2015

Game Design #53: The Future of Wargaming

In my job (education), I'm always being told "we need to look to the future - kids today won't have the same skills/interests/jobs as we do now." 

So looking into the crystal ball, what are your predictions for the future of wargaming?  Here's some of mine....

Increase in skirmish/low figure count games - simply as people are time poor; and the average kid has a lesser attention span (i.e. how many kids do you know who assemble 1:48 model kits anymore...)

Decrease in mass battle games - again, it's prep time.  There will always be your Napoleonics with regimental ranks, but it will become an increasingly niche part of the hobby
Both of these require less room (4x4 is a big difference from 6x4+)
I'm going to take a punt and say there could be a rise in strategic-level wargames where abstracting movement is acceptable and you can change victory conditions with other factors  - more the "Civilization" level game.  This ties in with my thoughts on quasi-boardgame wargames.  There can be a "tech race" or "economic race" metagame and resource management can add depth. 
I guess what I'm saying that both ends of spectrum (skirmish and strategic) are likely to prosper at the expense of company-regiment scale games.

Smartphone integration
- this will both be for rules (video examples of play) and things like recording  (i.e Mordhiem warband progression done on phone, and sent to everyone).  I think there's huge potential here, but it's simply not considered.   If I said there was a device everyone had that could do all your recording, resolve complex actions quickly, and allow fast and easy understanding of rules, and track campaigns, resource management etc...  ... wouldn't you use it?

Shorter games.  When a "two hour" game was once a short one; wargames will move to become 45-60 minute affairs.  This ties in with our time-poor, buys lives and also gives more "instant gratification" to future gamers raised on videogames with 10-30 minutes "rounds."  
Advancement & Campaign Games.  I actually think Mordhiem-style progression is going to boom, given the videogame obsession with "unlocks" and "ranking up."  In fact, sometimes the ranking up and unlock is more important than the gameplay.  I think the proliferation of smartphones offer a way to circumvent this.

Videogame emphasis - playing with the 10 year olds at school, everything is linked to videogames.  Unlocks, power-ups, respawning - they "get" a game that plays like a videogame. I think the older generation of game designers fail to get this, but its a link that needs to be made to engage younger gamers.

Co-op/Soloplay mechanisms - for those who can't find regular opponents, a solo play feature is handy, and allows co-op as well.  

Multiplayer games - if you are one of four players, you are expected to be a loser, most of the time.  It's less confronting than a 1v1 game.   With the rather sheltered "you succeeded for participating" generation on the way, this will be increasingly popular.   Link this with the videogame emphasis (i.e respawning etc meaning  no one is eliminated and thus no one can truly "lose") and I think it taps into modern kids psyche quite well.

Boardgame/hybrids - in an increasingly time poor instant-gratification culture, boardgames or "hybrids" with small space requirements and self-contained nature have a role to play.  I'd say once upon a time it was boardgamers converting to tabletop.  Now it's like the flow goes the other way.  I think Star Wars space series has shown (besides the fact there was a criminal gap in non-gluggy good spaceship games) that players sometimes just want to plunk down models and play and not spend 1000 hours painting minis/making terrain. 

On the other hand, I'm not entirely sure that 3D printing will render mini makers obsolete or usher in a golden age of independent rulesets etc.

Videogames are a looming factor - you don't need to read any rules, they are vastly cheaper, easier to store, and you can play with and without opponents.  Furthermore, you can play with opponents in different continents.    That said, true "wargames" aren't really huge sellers given the effort they generally take to produce.  And they're not toys you can push around and touch, or involve hands-on stuff you can make. It's not tactile - it's not the same.  They can thus never truly replace tabletop games, but they can attract people away from it to further turn tabletop gaming into an obscure niche. 
A little cynically, I think games need to be interesting or varied rather than deep.  There will always be a desire for games with lots of decision points, but I think videogames (who have well and truly overtaken tabletop gaming and are now the "big brother" of the two) have shown a trend for shallower gameplay.  To be rewarded for participating (a la MMOs and unlocks in FPS) rather than winning or good teamwork .  The lifespan of the average videogame is rather short (2-3 years tops)  and given the prevalence amongst tomorrow's potential tabletop gamers this attitude will transfer across.   I'm not saying I'm keen on this trend, but I do expect it to be the popular way of thinking.  Games that are easy to pick up and play while socialising will be more popular than games requiring concentration to make good decisions.   

"Apparent" simplicity is another factor. There has been a clear revolt against the charts-tables-modifiers of the 80s and 90s (exempified by the WRG moderns school of rules); even when it seems counter intuitive (i.e. 2 common stats and 100 special rules exceptions vs 5 stats and 25 special rules exceptions).  I don't see this changing back.    I'm talking apparent simplicity/complexity.  Anything involving a shred of math or the perception of complexity will be an anathema.  For example, the PC game World of Tanks uses the WASD keys and two buttons.  I call it a "Dad" game as you can easily talk your dad into playing it. It has an apparent simplicity.  However it's quite complex to play well (and most people don't)


Anyway, I'm sure there's more depths to plumb but my family is demanding a weekend jaunt to the library.  Over to the readers....


  1. I think the Smartphone integration will not come as quickly as you would like. The skills needed for it are very different than what you need to make a game.

    This is especially true for amateur efforts. I can write a game, then I need to do the layout, editing, artwork, etc. That is daunting for 1 amateur or even a small team. Now imagine adding highly technical skills like App creation or Interactive Web Design skills. More daunting.

    1. At our very small country school, seniors do enough basic programming to make apps (which aren't the high end of programming); a interactive ruleset is, I suspect the easy end of apps (compared to games.)

      I think (in the future) these skills are going to be more widespread than you think.

    2. I hope so, meaning it'll be easier (more programs available for making apps and tutorials). I really like the idea of integrated apps with board games, like the X-Com board game.

    3. You are probably right. I'm just too old. ;)

  2. Good write-up of trends, and I like all these trends. I've already seen some of these come in to play with the rise of the popularity of X-wing (which covers points 1,2,4 and 9).

    I've had the idea of a minis game that plays somewhat like TF2 where you have a small squad of units that when they die they re-spawn after a set time (maybe miss one turn) and it'd be scenario based with stuff like CTF, king of the kill and are capture. Not sure how interesting this would be or if something like this has already been done.

  3. I played Golem Arcana a while ago, and while it's certainly more on the boardgame side of things, I found that having a lot of the fiddly bits handled by software was actually REALLY nice. Handling line of sight, movement, and all the fiddly modifiers makes the game flow nicely.

    Although, one could argue that by gutting fiddly bits from a system in the first place, there'd be no need for a program to handle all that.

    1. There are some periods that people seem to desire what I might term "overcomplication" - naval rules (age of sail, WW1/2, and space) tend to want to count ever rivet and hit point. They often become an accounting exercise.

      I wouldn't mind an app if the rules are going to be so detailed so to tell me if the ship's cat took a critical...

    2. Do you know of a (free; I'm a cheapskate) ruleset that suffers from this problem? I've been thinking of learning HTML5 for a while, and this might make an interesting test subject.

      The ideal system for such an app would be one where there isn't a lot of complex input (a ship designer where you need to add 30 different systems per-ship is difficult to use on a phone sized device), but where there's really complex damage tables (things like crits on the cat). Age of Sail would probably be pretty well suited, because there's a limited number of different ship classes, and the app can just know them all, there's only a handful of weapon types (left-broadside, right-broadside, bow- and stern- guns, two or three types of ammo/target), and the output can be summarised relatively simply (with a drop-down to see the full details).

    3. I'll get back to you on that.

      Have you joined the google group yet?!forum/delta-vector7

      That sort of question (and project) would fit right in

    4. I have a deep and abiding dislike of signing up for things. ;-) So not yet; I might consider signing up though.

    5. You wouldn't have to, only I have a deep and abiding dislike of spam, penis enlargement ads and Nigerian banking schemes, and thus the group is not a public one. :-)

    6. Actually, I think a Golem Arcana style app would be ideal for WW naval combat. Handle 'hidden' information like submarines, track all those rivets, let you fiddle with things like firing arcs if you want or just give some pre-set 'hit this area' effects.

  4. You're probably right about video gamification, and it will be the final nail in the coffin for wargaming. Consider -- why would a 13 year old want to play a tabletop game, that has a significant time investment in setting up (even if the miniatures come prepainted) and is harder to find people to play with, if they can get essentially the same experience from something they can afford to buy themselves with spare change from a Steam sale?
    'It's tactile!' will mean almost nothing once good quality consumer level VR (like, oh, say, the Oculus Rift, which is available right now!) is commonplace. Besides, 'Ameritrash' boardgames are as tactile as any wargame, believe me; Level 7: Omega Protocol (which is a lot of fun too) has an unbelieveable amount of shit to play with in the box, including miniatures. Many specialist boardgame companies like FFG have way, way better distribution than any minis manufacturer too, with the obvious exception of Games Workshop, who have priced themselves out of the youth market anyway.
    (I do know that L7OP is a Privateer Press and not an FFG game; however, guess how many War Machine minis the shop I bought it from stocks)
    I have a sneaking suspicion this explains the success of X-Wing/Armada better than a lack of alternatives; I haven't actually played it, even though I'd like to, but ha ha ha those prices.

    Anyway blah blah doom and gloom. My prediction is that traditional wargames will go the way of model trains and pinball; mostly older guys with the occasional enthusiastic youth, all of whom enjoy the solitary aspects of the hobby (which will, increasingly, be the only unique hook) as much or more than the actual games themselves. Easily available boardgame hybrids will bite off a big chunk of those who like minis gaming as well.

    Oh, and strongly agreed about 3D printing. Did PDF self publishing kill printed rulebooks? Did RPG Drivethru/Wargames Vault put a dent in the Hasbro/GW nerd monopolies? No. No they did not. And writing rules -- and even laying out books -- are a lot less specialised and difficult than 3d modelling. My prediction on that front is that a lot of amateurish crap will be released that no-one wants, and the larger minis companies will primarily stick to traditional distribution methods; they will 3d print fiddlier components on their sculpts though.

  5. I would agree with some of your predictions, but I'm never ready to count the traditional forms of the hobby out. I do see skirmish gaming gaining in popularity, perhaps at the expense of company level games (is it just me, or is EVERYONE getting out of Flames of War) but I still think people want to put lots of minis on the table. The popularity of All Quiet on the Martian Front, which is essentially FOW with tripods and weird tanks, is proof of that, I think.
    There's a lot of technology that miniatures gamers could only dream of previously, including cheap and quality plastic figures, laser-cut MDF scenery, and Kickstarter campaigns galore to scratch any itch, from Nazis meet Cthulu to Batman to esoteric military history, so I don't see miniatures going away anything soon, despite the appeal of video gaming.
    Also, comparing more traditional kinds of gaming to model railroading (older guys with disposable income and time) may be true to a point. Lots of historical gamers I know fit the model railroad demographic, but 30 years ago they were kids building and painting Airfix kits and playing with very simplistic rules sets. Thirty years from now, I would like to know what the kids who cut their teeth with GW product will be doing, after they've gone to college, grown up, and might finally be getting their kids to move out. Who knows what they'll be doing with their gaming time?

    1. I never said video games would replace war-games. In fact, I said they wouldn't. And can't. It's a different medium. Its like saying motor racing can replace sailing. However I did say they will erode the player base further.

      Videogames are vastly cheaper, easier to set up/store, learn to play and find opponents for. Given their prevalence, I think many may not have a chance to "see past" it to wargaming.

  6. I agree with most what your saying though I actually feel the fashion for quick and simple rules has peeked and is now subsiding. Obviously this is just a gut feeling as I have no statistics backing it up, just it feels as if very simple rules sets are getting far greater backlash against them compared to six months or a year previous.

    This feeling could be wishful thinking however and I guess its also depends on your definition of simple rules because its more those that lack depth that are generating negative feedback.

    It's interesting that you use the term golden age of user created rules as I'm a lot more dubious about how sustained such a diversity of games can be for such a niche customer base and the result could well be catastrophic in the long term as companies wont be able to get a profitable portion of the community and thus be unable to continue or support new products. Also 3d printing for 28mm is still a ways off being something possible as a domestic product, as the detail is just not close to good enough in the sub £20,000 bracket. Also I don't think it will be a option for the average gamer until a huge amount of improvement is made in the ease of use of CAD software which at the moment is something the really requires several years of university level study to gain competence at utilising.

    Thanks for reading;

    1. I don't think rules will ever go back the way they were 10 years ago. Devs may try for more sophisticated, deeper games, but the mechanics I think will favour the simpler end of things.

      Whilst a slow moving, complex-to-resolve game is not necessarily fun, strategic or realistic; a realistic, strategic game can be simple and fun. It's just harder to design.

      "It's interesting that you use the term golden age of user created rules"

      Not sure if I did, actually. I find this is an article where people read into it a lot of different things. Apparently this got "Tangoed" to TMP (I feel violated) and (as expected) half of the comments have nothing to do with what I said.

    2. "On the other hand, I'm not entirely sure that 3D printing will render mini makers obsolete or usher in a golden age of independent rulesets etc."

      Not sure what TMP is or what you actually mean by Tangoed though I kinda get the drift however I was directly referencing what you said above however upon rereading it appears my dyslexic brain ignored the word not in your sentence, its actually typical for me to miss key words in a sentence especially if they contradict what's being said within the sentence (Its also really difficult to explain what I mean, so hopefully you follow) and I assume it's a pretty common issue among dyslexics.

      Anyway it felt as if my response generated some negativity on your part so if I offended I apologise as it was unintentional.

    3. Not a problem! I wasn't being negative, except with the TMP reference. I work with kids, so I tend instantly react and repeat if I think I have been misinterpreted. (Not doing so can be disastrous!)

      TMP = The Miniatures Page. It used to be an awesome resource for wargaming, but now suffers a few problems
      (a) inconsistent moderation
      (b) having 1001 (no joke) sub boards so you can never find anything
      (c) questionable behaviour of owner/editor
      (d) readers who argue for the sake of arguing/getting on their hobbyhorse or completely miss the not read the OP
      (e) "old boys" with tens of thousands of posts who are, to put it nicely, "tools" and seem more interested in the cult of personality than gaming
      (f) web design from early 90s

      Visit it sometime. Drive through with the windows up.

      There is an individual called "Tango01" who simply reposts stuff from wargaming blogs - to the tune of 100s of posts per day. (He can't have a day job) His spam can obscure useful or original posts, and it often repeats what others have posted.

      Having him repost stuff from your blog is akin to finding your phone number scrawled on a toilet door :-P

      It makes me sad as it was a great resource, albeit with a rather intense readership.

    4. Try Lead Adventure Forum if you want a sane(er) forum to talk wargames on.

  7. I think games that offer an alternative to the video-game experience will be the trend of the future. Trying to be the poor cousin of a video game is a poor way to supply a gaming experience.

  8. I think most of these observations are dead on. The one I have noted big time is the growth of 'big box' and miniature based board games that merge basic wargames principles with traditional boardgame mechanics. I think we'll see lots more of these, and this will contribute to the growth of the skirmish genre. From experience, its much easier to get players on board (how droll) with these and I can happily have 6 people playing with star wars miniatures with rules a hairs breadth from many wargames sets who would not dream of painting or collecting or playing a traditional wargame. However, what I tend to find, at least personally, is that this draws me away from traditional wargames rather than acting as a 'gateway' to widen the wargaming posse.

  9. Another astute article. Regarding "appareant simplicity" I do think it's a trend though and not a permenant move. And one that had peaked for that matter.

    Personally, I find it very dismaying how overly-simplified, and therefore shallow some games have become. Some of these simplifications are actually insulting to my intellegence e.g. 8th edition 40k removed vehicle armour facings (directional arcs) because of disputes arising over them. So basically firing a rocket up a tanks exhaust pipe is now the same as firing at its frontal armour, and all because a small number of players can't get their heads around the concept of a 90 degree arc. That single change destroyed my re-kindled interest in the game.

    Granted,few of us want a return to the dozens of pages of charts that featured in 80's wargames, but God it annoys me that designers consistently feel they have to set the complexity level to the level of their least intellegent players. There's a middle ground.