Friday, 27 August 2021

Game Design #84: Making Wargames (Eric Farrington)

As a break from pure theory, I'd like to introduce Eric Farrington - author of Osprey's Men of Bronze and the upcoming Wars of the Republic. His interests and games are very random (from post apocalyptic cars and wild west with "flick" mechanics, gangster wars to gladiators. I know him as one the friendliest, most prolific and thoughtful inventors of random games in the Delta Vector google group. His work can be seen on the Blood & Spectacles blog, website and wargamesvault page.

I think you'll enjoy (and many will identify with) his responses. It's very self-aware, practical and realistic for a budding game designer:

Q1:Tell us a bit about yourself; personal background, gaming history etc

Well, you can see some of the gory details in my Osprey Bio on the Wars of the Republic or Men of Bronze page.  The main thing is, I have followed the trajectory of many wargamers in my region.  I started D&D in the mid-80s, got sucked into Rogue Trader and Warhammer Fantasy Battle from an advert in Dragon magazine, and then eventually got off the GW carousel and started exploring around in other game systems and styles.  This was during the dawn of the internet, so things like Wargame Vault did not exist yet!  You had to go to the local game store, and some games seemed more intimidating and impenetrable than others at the time. 

Eventually, I was so broke I was barely hanging onto the hobby and started to learn how to do things for myself, like sculpt minis, build paper templates, and even create my own rules.  I became a DIY gamer!  Eventually, this phase in my life ended but I still kept the skills I learned.  I am still mostly a DIY gamer today.        

In addition to wargaming, I also get to play a few board games and a few role-playing games.  However, I have managed to keep my wallet safe from CCG games so far!

 Q2: What are some of your key influences/what is your overall design philosophy?

I have had a couple of key influences when it comes to game design.  A big one is actually the wargame design discussions on Delta Vector!  They really helped shape much of my thinking on what makes a good game, and in turn I try to pay it forward by recommending the series when people ask me about Game Design!

Some other games that were really influential to my style are, of course various GW systems.  I still think Necromunda and Mordheim are the building blocks for a great skirmish campaign system.  Who actually wrote those rules is unclear, and it looks like a bit of a group effort from the old GW design team on that one.  However, there is something about the way Rick writes a rulebook that I really enjoy as it captures that gentlemanly feel a good gaming group should have in my opinion. 

The Ambush Alley team and their Force-on-Force rules were also really influential in my development as a game designer.  You can see it in some of my early work much more than you can see it now.  The way they handled activation was pretty exciting to me.  

Paul Ward from Matakishi’s Tea House was also a big influence on me.  I really enjoyed his Crom rules.  These were also a big eye-opener to me about what could be done with dice pools, and I still love a good dice pool!

Warwick Kinrade’s Aeronautica Imperialis from Forgeworld is also a big inspiration to me.  The mechanics were about 10 pages long, but in play they led to some of the best and most interesting games I had played.  You were always trying to guess what your opponent was going to do and trying to stay ahead of them and gain the right firing position.  Again, it was teaching me a lot about the relationship between movement, restricted fire, and other lessons I still feel are critical to good, tactical gameplay.      

Finally, Daniel Mersey and his series of games for Osprey is also a big influence on me.  I directly attribute him and his books in the Men of Bronze designer notes.  Something about his games Lion Rampant, Dragon Rampant, and Dux Bellorum really drove my creativity.  I think it was the simplified approach to units, terrain, and even combat.  I of course have added my own spins, but you can clearly see Mersey’s influence in much of what I do.  Some would probably just call me a “Mersey Hack”!  They are not necessarily wrong!     

All of these various inspirations swirled together and helped make the following design philosophy for myself:

  1. Meaningful Choice = Fun
  2. Innovation in game design is over-rated, pick the best tool for the job and use it
  3. Rebasing sucks and I want to use what I have! Always make your games scale and model agnostic.
  4. Design games only for yourself and no one else
  5. If you want to be a game designer, you have to have games people can play; so finish the darn game

Now, what goes into creating Meaningful Choice?  That is a book or article all on its own!

Q3: How did you get into designing games?

There is a bit of a common joke in the indie design world, we all started trying to build a better Warhammer.  I kind of fall into that category as well.  Although, to be honest I was just trying to hack and expand on existing Specialist Game ranges. 

My first time being published was a set of Jungle Fight rules in the old Warseer E-zine called Firebase.  I believe it was issue #7.  The Jungle Fight rules were basically just a hack of the old Catachan rules and newer (at the time) City Fight codex.  It was really exciting not just to see my rules in print, but that they were featured in a battle report in the magazine!  That was really exciting! 

My imagination was also captured by the Eye of Terror and Medusa V Global Campaigns by GW.  The content and storylines the fans were creating, coupled with the creative output in armies and the like was really exciting.  Plus, the idea that GW released a whole army book for Eye of Terror was pretty neat.  Lost and the Damned forever!  On multiple occasions I tried to re-create this energy in smaller online campaigns on various message boards.  Each of these campaigns typically had a setting that would naturally lend itself to some special rules.  These usually took the form of how to incorporate the GW Specialist game ranges into the campaign.  I was a huge Specialist Games range fan and loved those games way more than the main 40K game.

One of these campaigns, the Battle for Ammoriss on The Ammobunker forum led me to build my first game from scratch.  That game was all about wet-navies in the 40K universe.  The idea was that all worlds in the Imperium of Man needed to defend themselves from domestic and external threats.  Ammoriss was mostly water, so what would that look like?  Therefore, Aquanautica Imperialis was born.  It took me two years or more to get all the rules and fleets made, plus I added paper templates I made in MS Paint for all the fleets.  It was an entirely self-contained game. 

The game got a surprising amount of online press for an unofficial fan publication on a niche message board.  This was just before the dawn of Social Media, so Facebook and their ilk had not destroyed all the Message Boards yet.  This “success” was enough to propel me forward to continue making games.  I also had success with some fan made Aeronautica Imperialis campaigns around the same timeframe as well.  These included all sorts of new aircraft to round out what was available from 3rd parties and to fill in missing gaps in the range.           

It was around this point, the Kirby era at GW; that I pretty much got off the GW band wagon.  Specialist games got officially axed and the core games were the focus.  There was an edition change…. Again…. And I just did not want to stay on that carousel any more.  Plus, other game systems like Spartan, Warlord, and the new Osprey Wargaming Series were far more interesting.  To me, the Osprey Wargaming Series was the best thing to happen to wargaming in a long time.  I am so proud to be part of it. 

From there, combined with my budget battles; it was clear to me that designing games was the way forward.  I enjoyed it, it was cheap, and I knew every time I took a game I made to the table I would enjoy it.  Plus, it really cut down on rules disputes!     

Q4: Where did the ideas for your originate (I.e. Rampant series, Men of Bronze, some of the “flick” games?)

In reality, the process of creation does not happen in a vacuum.  It is an amalgamation of ideas and thoughts that are influenced by outside forces.  I may see the kernel of an idea from one source, I then see something from another source, and then a third bit. I combine all these sources and that creates a new concept.  Nothing begins from nothing, it is always inspired or influencer by something I am exposed to. 

For example, I will be publishing a game via Osprey in 2022 called Castles in the Sky.  You and some of the Google Group folks are intimately familiar with this one.  This game was inspired by a simple blog post from you on Delta Vector about how you did not like existing Aeronef games on the market, why you did not like them, and what are some ways you would approach them differently.

In college, I had taken a few Naval History courses through the Navy ROTC, even though I was not in the ROTC program.  A long story.  I had also done a lot of work on Pre-World War I history and the naval arms race in college as well.  Therefore, your discussion triggered me and this pent up knowledge I had on the subject.  I started thinking, well….. how would I do it? Then I wrote it down, over, and over, and over again.   

Another example from Delta Vector, was you started posting various posts that added Dinosaurs to existing genres of games.  I had also been watching several battle reports about Arena Rex and Bushido, both of which were small-model count boutique, model vs model skirmish games.  I thought, “Hey, there is room for a small model vs model dinosaur fighting game!”.  I got started on jotting down ideas right away and eventually Only The Strong Survive came to the Wargame Vault.  The process took about two years from start to finish.  Big assist from my Nephews for helping me get this one across the finish line.  They wanted to play it!    

The third way is I look at models I want to use and decides how I want to use them.  For example, Men of Bronze was inspired because I saw the cool models from Victrix and thought to myself, “I want to use those models.  How am I going to do it?” In essence, Men of Bronze was a huge exercise in justifying a purchase to myself! Some thing similar applies to Rampant Stars/Sun.  I looked at my collection of 40K and thought…. I really want to use these BUT I do not want to play 40K again.  What should I do?  I will make a game I can use them with.    

Honestly, to me the “Concept Stage” is the easiest part of the creative process.  I have whole notebooks with scribbles and beginning stages of games.  Some are simply concepts, while others have designer goals, some have units, a few have mechanics jotted down to go with the game.  To me the hard part is not the concept, it is finishing the darn game.          

Q5: Describe the design stages

The question makes it sound like there is a methodical process.  On the Blood and Spectacles blog I have a series of blog posts about creating your game from Concept to reality.  It uses the analogy of the human body and how various parts of the design process build on each other and become a finished whole.  On the blog it recommends starting with the concept and then fleshing out the design goals, then moving to the 4Ms of Movement, Melee, Missiles, and Morale, then activation, chrome, profiles, etc.  Very workman like and efficient. 

That is not how I actually design game though.  True confession time!  I almost always start by making some basic lists of units I want to see in the game and what a “finished” army might look like.  Then, to motivate me, I make a draft cover.  Yeah, seriously!  Then, I go backwards and create the 4Ms and retroactively apply them to the units.  Then, I build how the 4Ms will interact, and then I flesh out the rest. 

Typically, when I am on a roll I can bust out the core mechanics of a game in about 16- 32 hours.  That is the 4Ms, the activation system, the “hook”, and the force creation process.  I can actually write games really quickly.  It is not uncommon for me to write 3-6 new games in a year.  They are everything you need to hit the table, but not a complete game.   

Then, I am typically spent on that project for a period of time.  The hardest part of writing games for me is adding all the things you need to play BEYOND the core rules and forces.  Things like fleshing out the campaign system, the scenarios, how you set up a board, complications, deployment, etc.  These elements are half of a game!  Therefore, I have a lot of half-finished games sitting around!  Seriously, I can have a game sit at this half-finished stage for months and even years! 

The other step that takes a great deal of time is I want to get the game to the table and playtest the resolution mechanics before I go on.  That means making templates (or buying and painting minis), setting up test games, getting my fellow gamers on board with trying it, getting a decent table space, etc.  Sure, I run simulations on paper but there is nothing like playing it on the table against someone else.  Plus, there are multiple iterations of this process.  

The final hurdle to getting a game “released” is the lay-out, artwork, and pictures.  I typically just use PowerPoint as my lay-out tool.  It is easy to use and I have decades of experience using it to make all sorts of things.  I am pretty good with it.  However, finding copyright free artwork that is appropriate, getting art from artists, and taking photos of minis and games….. that is a huge time commitment.  Plus, new artwork can be expensive and hard to source.  Pictures of models on table are expensive to buy and take time to build and paint.  Making vignette’s and set-pieces of terrain are not cheap either and take time.  This step is even harder than getting past all the playtesting and non-core mechanical work because it costs money AND time!     

Most of my games take 2 to 3 years to get completed, and then if a pitch is accepted it can take another 2 years to hit the shelves.  So, the design life of any given game is about 2-5 years.  Therefore, the games I am working on now can look pretty different to the ones hitting the shelves for sale. 

That is why one of the core tenants of my design philosophy are:

  1. To be a game designer you need games for people to play
  2. To do that you need to finish the darn game!  

Q6: How did you go about publishing your work? Can you recommend the PDF route? What about Osprey publishing? Any plans for working with mini companies?

 I was talking to an author friend of mine and he gave me some insightful advice that I take to heart, “You aren’t going to make much money publishing 1 book.  It’s when you have 50 books that it all adds up.”  I took that to heart, and I have seen it in practice as well.  I could make more money recycling cans from ditches, rummaging through the couch for change, or getting a second job at a gas station.  Therefore, the goal is not to make money, but to avoid losing money!  Maybe when I have 50 books under my belt, things might be different.   

That is why a key part of my design philosophy is to design games only for yourself, and no one else.  You must design games because you HAVE TO design games.  You have to want to do it more than you want to do anything else at that moment.  Trust me, there are lots of other things you could be doing with your time.  You can not do it to make money, because you won’t.  You can not do it to be famous, because you won’t be.  You can not do it for players, because there is a good chance they will not like what you make.  I spend a lot of time reading, playing, and talking to gamers and I have NO IDEA what people want to play.  I DO know what I want to play.  The ONLY person you can design for is yourself. 

Wargame Vault and Lulu are game changers for us as Indie designers.  Like many things, the internet has allowed creators to bypass gatekeepers and go directly to their market.  This is a blessing, but there is a flood of other game designers out there.  You are not in competition per se, but realize that there is only so much fan money going around in such a small niche market.  I still highly recommend PDF sales as they create a small stream of incoming you can use to finance future efforts.  Plus, the more games you have out there, the greater this stream of income is.  It won’t be enough to feed your kids, keep a roof over your head, or even keep a car running; but it will be enough to self-fund the next game and the purchases that go along with it. 

As for working with Osprey, it has been great!  I love having professional editors and other people to help get pictures, artwork, etc.  The main thing is to be able to work to their word count needs and their deadlines.  They have VERY long lead times, so a game like Wars of the Republic has been two+ years in the making to get published.  Keep in mind, the game was essentially done when they booked it, 2 years ago.  They also have a lot of industry connections for artwork, photos, and even promotional publications via wargame magazines.   

In addition to Osprey, there are a couple of wargame magazines that will also pay for articles and submissions.  This is a good way to get name recognition for PDF sales, and for one-time jolts of income.  I was able to get articles and books published simply by using the Standard submission process and putting together a strong pitch!  It also helped that my rules/articles were ready to go in a complete format when they asked to see more, which indicated I was not a deadline risk for them. 

My wargame design philosophy is to build scale and model agnostic games.  Therefore, I have no plans to work with any miniature companies.  At best, I might try to teach myself how to 3D print and do some Thingiverse style designs that might go along with some of my games BUT that is just mostly for my own entertainment.  However, there is no need to work with miniature companies when most of my work is either historical or generic in nature.

There is also no chance for me to try and get hired on at a company like Fantasy Flight Games, Games Workshop, etc.  I am too busy with my own very rewarding corporate job for that.  I have no plans to ever go “Full Time Game Designer”.      

Q7: If you had your time over again, what would you do differently?

Looking back on it, I have been extremely slow and reluctant to move to a more pay oriented model.  If I had to do it over again, I would probably have used PDFs and different pricing structures earlier.  However, it took me a bit of time to get “over the hump” to understand that what I was doing was worth something. 

I also would have started into my own projects sooner instead of piggy-backing off existing IP.   

I also really, really, really wish I could go to more conventions.  Another true confession, I have never been to a game convention.  I have never really been to any convention that was for fun. 

Finally, I would have embraced and gotten better with Social Media a lot faster.  I mostly just use Instagram, message boards, blogs, and have a feeble Facebook presence.  If I was smart, I would have ramped it up sooner with Twitch and YouTube and been an earlier adopter to other Social Media channels.  I tend to lag in this regard for a lot of reasons so miss out on building some of the audience and sales I should have been working on earlier. 

Q8: Any plans for the future? What genres would you like to explore?

I have several plans upcoming including continuing to expand my Historical selections based on the Men of Bronze engine.  These are relatively quick and easy to make since the “grind” of game making is done.  Instead, I get to focus on updated Lines of Battle, the historical details, relevant period flavour, and updated scenarios.  The hardest part of these rule sets is the historical research and the post-production work.  I do not think I will be partnering with Osprey in this (unless Wars of the Republic has HUGE sales), and will mostly be working on it for my Wargame Vault page as the genres are getting more and more Niche.  I mean, how many other people want an Aztec Flower Wars themed game?  The closest to completion are some Viking Age and Assyrian Bronze Age themed games.  I have a Late Roman and Aztec Flower War game a bit further down the pike.    

I am also continuing to explore how to make Melee combat themed games less about Yahtzee and more about decision making.  I am looking at this closer in a game I call Homer’s Heroes, that was inspired after reading the rules for Dracula’s America, but is very different.  This idea about making compelling melee combats has infused many of my games all the way from the start.  You can see it evolving in games like The Games: Blood and Spectacles (a Gladiator game on the Vault) through Only the Strong Survive (A Dinosaur game on the Vault).  Both handle melee combat very differently but are exploring how to add more choice into melee combat.  I am also always interested in aerial games, and have been working hard on a game to showcase air combat in Korea called White Star/Red Star.  This game is explicitly trying to remove the clunkiness of air combat while maintaining its unique feel, and tactics of this transitional period.  This game was also inspired by musings on Delta Vector.       

I am also delving into different genres all the time.  Part of this is further exploring the RPG-Lite genre of wargaming with more Co-op/solo/versus capable games.  The line between RPG and Wargame has always been of interest to me.  How do you create “character” in a model or unit on the table?  What are the choices beyond the 4Ms that a wargame can accommodate?  How do you customize your “model” or Unit to reflect its character?  I have a couple of skirmish games that work in this space mostly done, but still need tweaking and post-production.  One set in the aftermath of the successful Orson Welles Martian Invasion of 1938, and the other a more generic Monster Hunter style game.  Both intentional use different mechanics than I typically use to avoid getting into a design rut and to make sure I am applying the right tools for the job. 

On the flip side, I want to expand my game creation output into some more RPG themed design for existing IPs and also to create my own Role-playing Games.  This I am taking on very slowly since RPGs need a different level of detail than a Wargame for a variety of reasons.  However, the core ideas of good design are essentially the same.  I have been working on some stuff for a Space Mecha Theatre type RPG and Wargame, and doing some work on Highlander/immortal themed ideas, and a Broken Legion style alt-Roman RPG.  Some are farther along than others.     

I am planning on launching a Patreon before the end of the year.  This will be a BIG shift for how I have approached the business side of things.  I think it will actually allow me to get games into people’s hands faster, and help me focus my output a bit more.  I should have more than enough content in the form of Lines of Battle, Rules Mods, Complications, etc to keep backers happy.  Plus, it will give me a way to expand my playtesting group outside of my usual play testing base, which is a great thing!  You can keep and eye out for Blood and Spectacles publishing on that platform. 

Finally, locally I want to create a larger player base in my rural area.  I have run into tons of people who are interested in RPGs and wargaming, but just do not have a good way to start.  For example, at my weekly RPG game, we attract an audience of 3-5 people almost every time.  I am also going to have a local “Launch Party” for my book at a local venue, and am in the preliminary stages of starting a micro-Con in the area.  These steps are all intended to grow the player base for gaming in my local area.  The reasons are selfish, but I want a lively gaming community to be part of my legacy locally.  

As you can tell, I have a lot of big plans and have a lot of content on the work desk.  Much of it is ready for Post-production, but that is also MY biggest challenge when it comes to being a Game Designer.    


I could probably spend another post dissecting points Eric has brought up. I manfully resisted the urge to bold bits of interest and interject (Terry Pratchett style) with brackets etc. Oh well, there's always the comments...

Sunday, 15 August 2021

Playtest: Delta Tango (Tank Skirmish)

Pardon the photos but I thought I'd share the results of my homebrew tank rules. I've always wanted a campaign game with a few tanks (yes, I realise there is "What a Tanker" but that's $50AUD not including postage to Australia).

My original rules with 15mm have split into a simplified "Tankmunda" in 1:300 (1930s Dieselpunk with landships) and a mode "in depth" detailed set "Delta Tango" using 15mm FoW minis (but of course it's a pulp WW2 with the Teutonic Empire vs Bretonnia and the United Federation of States - mostly so I can paint the tanks without reference to historical accuracy)

Basically the 1:300 rule have been stripped back and simplified (and owe a lot to FoW/FFT3) but the newer rules have more complicated activation mechanics and "detail."

My design brief is:
1.Crew are the most important factor

2.While tanks should feel 'tanklike', gameplay trumps rivet counting

3. Fast play - can handle 4-12 tanks in an hour

4. Campaign rules (Tankmunda/Tankheim) with crews gaining skills and tank upgrades

While the mechanics are pretty much GW with some hit locations thrown in, activation is 3d6 against crew skill, with each success gaining orders.  Basically I want it so in the chaos of battle, good crews can do more. Basically I'm focussing on activation/initiative and orders and keeping my old pretty barebones mechanics, while also streamlining damage resolution.

The battle: 2x regular PzIII short 75s + 2x elite StuGs vs 2x regular Churchills and 2x regular 75mm Shermans.

Right off the bat, a StuG knocks out a Churchill from across the table. A bit unlucky with the rolls, but maybe toughen the Churchills up more with +1 more frontal armour?

A Churchill retaliates and knocks out a PzIII. I've realised there's no point in having a +1 Aim action vs merely firing an extra shot. So far tanks seem to want to pull up and pump shots into enemies at their best RoF. But this is probably fairly realistic?

A Sherman spanks another PzIII. There's been a lot of 5s and 6s thrown for damage rolls giving instant knockouts - I'm a bit sad as I want to see how my "damaged" mechanics works and I can't if they keep dying all the time! Maybe I need to buff frontal armour as a whole.

I also realise I forgot to activate a StuG. Oops.

A StuG pumps two shots into a Churchill and both hit the crew compartment. While one hit would inflict penalties to dice rolls etc, the second hit kills all the crew.  The tank would be relatively intact to salvage in a campaign game, once you cleaned up the mess inside.

Next turn the same elite Stug hits a Sherman in the turret and jams it. The shock of the concussion disorientates (temporarily penalises) the crew. Unfortunately it is finished off by the other Stug anyway so I don't get to see how Shock impacts things.

The single remaining Sherman exchanges fire with the two StuGs. There's bad dice rolling all round - few activations, lots of misses and some bounces.  Both sides do resist being "shocked" by the ricochetting rounds, however.

In a surprising twist, the lone Sherman guns down both the better crewed StuGs, knocking one out with a single shot, then repeatedly tracking the other. The shocked crew fails a test from the repeated hits and bails out, giving the underdog a surprising victory.

Thoughts:

My method of determining overall initiative at the start of the turn (roll d6 vs Crew for each tank, and compare total successes) was a tad clunky. 

If a tank failed its roll it could be reactivated later, so there was a bit of "back and forth" rolling as both sides failed activation rolls. Not sure if this is good or bad.

"Aim" order was worthless as it was always better to fire twice instead. Amend this.

I never bothered to use overwatch. Possibly this is because activating last is usually bad (i.e. if you have extra units "left over" after your opponent acts with all of his, you only get 2 activations max, not 3.)

I forgot that commanders could share orders.

The tanks slow movement (5" move, 10" sprint-but-not-fire) and long range encouraged tanks to park and open fire as soon as they made contact. (Perhaps realistic, but do I want this?) I have lots of built-in flanking bonuses but they were never used as it was too tricky to get into position to use them. (Need more cover? Need a wider board? Or maybe increase tank speed or allow a Sprint-and-Shoot action - but at a penalty to accuracy.)

On the plus side: it was fairly cinematic and I handled 4 tanks per side in half an hour so my aim for ~8 per side in an hour seems very achievable.

Friday, 13 August 2021

Game Design Index: 2021 Update

My original "I hate current spaceship games" rant has kinda turned into a long-running saga as I explored different aspects of wargame design in a (somewhat biased) manner. An abiding interest in activation mechanics, a dislike of unnecessary recording*, complexity* and special extra rules are common themes. Player agency (aka decision points) linked to a clear design philosophy is important. Increasingly, I have a preference for simple, consistent dice mechanics as I am of the opinion they are less important than they first appear.

(*I can show you on the doll where Starfleet Battles touched me)

Reminder: This is usually kept updated in a "Game Design Index" tab on the right. 

Question: Would anyone be interested if I sorted/grouped or colour coded them in this post by topic or theme? (the original numbered sequence will remain in the tab).  

EDIT: I have roughly sorted them - the 'better' ones (imo) are in bold.


COMPLEXITY, DEPTH & DECISIONS


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

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

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

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


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

#78. Complexity Creep, Reference and Baseline Games

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


DICE & CORE MECHANICS

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

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

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

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

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

#77. The Dice Mechanics Aren't Important. 

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

DESIGN PHILOSOPHY

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

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

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

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


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

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

STATS & SPECIAL RULES


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

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

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


SCALE, SPACING, RANGE, PERCENTAGES & RATIOS


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

ACTIVATION, INITIATIVE & REACTIONS

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

REALISM


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


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

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

CAMPAIGNS & SETUP

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

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


FLUFF & BACKGROUND


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

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

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

GAME BALANCE

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

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

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

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

 

POPULARITY & EASE OF PLAY


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

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


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

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

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

RANDOMNESS, RANTS & PET IDEAS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

INTERVIEW AN AUTHOR

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


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

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

SOLO WARGAMING


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

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


RECENTish 2021 UPDATES

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

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

#80. Heroic Heroes and Leaders Who Lead

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

#81. Overhead or The Cost of Entry

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

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

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

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

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

 

Sheesh, that's quite a bit. So nerdy - luckily I am already married! I'd appreciate folk pointing me towards similar blogs as I only started to write about it because I couldn't find much on the topic that was in detail. However, my google-powers are weak and I'm pretty bad at networking...