Saturday 29 July 2023

Game Design #96: Minimalist Indie Rules: Style over Substance

I've noticed a trend towards stylishly presented games with a strong mood and evocative imagery - but not much game behind it. No, this is not GW or the big companies. These are indie games. 

Usually the world is grimdark or whimsical (or a mix of the two) and it is well served by excellent photos or art (often with kitbashed minis). They tend to advertise minimal rules as a bonus.

A new age of style over substance - for indie rules designers?

I wonder if the 'draw' is just the excuse to be artistic?  For example the weirdly compelling world of Turnip28: Napoleonic-Medieval W12-trench warfare with tubers! I am struck with the urge to kitbash some of my plastic kits - but I can't see myself actually playing the game more than once or twice. My initial fiddle with the rules was - "it's OK"....  but  there simply wasn't much to 'hold' me to keep playing. It was just minimal d6 (roll to hit, roll to save) homebrew rules with 'stress' tokens that build up, and a phase where leaders can move units first. 

I'd also include "Forbidden Psalm" - 1980s metal/horror vibe (I don't know how to describe it but I recognize it) but it's another very minimalist game where rules (stat+d20 vs 12 to do everything) are very much an afterthought to the quirky setting - helping a mad wizard find forbidden tomes - and lost socks.

Flicking through Osprey's catalogue I see an upcoming title "The Doomed - Apocalyptic Monster Hunting." Monster Hunter Necromunda? Bands of hunters fighting each other and giant monsters in an abandoned, fallen world? Sign me up! My imagination is already running wild with possible warbands and scenery. But hang on a minute. The author seems familiar - he once did a ruleset called "Grimlite?" I find an article on the Osprey blog that confirms it's a similar game.

Now the final product may be a lot shinier. But the rules are basically you roll above 3+ (hero), 4+ (average dude), 5+ (rookie) to do everything. Roll hit hit? Roll to save? Sprint? Climb a wall? Everything is this one stat. Like Song of Blades - but with even less going on. Special skills tend to just allow you to re-roll failures in certain situations (i.e. 'agile' = re-roll a failed climb roll). I'm pretty sure the game is similar to Grimlite as I recognize the "No measuring, No Stacking, No Tracking." Now I love a good game design philosophy, so I'm going to quickly look at these even if it is slightly off-topic:

No measuring. This means unlimited movement and firing. However it necessitates a LOT of terrain. If you don't have it already, that's a huge commitment to an indie game - and such a barebones one at that. 

No stacking. This basically means no stacking modifiers. There's only four in the whole game: -1 if the target is in cover, melee attacks get +1 if the target is knocked down, extra movement gets +1 if you can see your leader, and recovering from being knocked down gets +1 if you have an ally next to you.. It's good to keep modifiers to a minimum - agreed - but most players can remember more than four. Has the game lost too much in ability to differentiate situations?

No tracking. This is a topic I have often wrestled with. Do you allow counters to mess up your table? Do you have a unit card on the side of the table to track stuff? Regular blog followers will know my hatred for hitpoints. The author says I can’t abide seeing a beautifully landscaped table, adorned with lovingly painted miniatures, despoiled by cardboard tokens saying things like “pinned” or “poisoned” and the dreaded red die acting as wound counter. I wanted to make a game that just didn’t require tracking at all.... I agree with the sentiments, but ackshully the game does require a way to show which units activated so this isn't "no tracking."

I do remember one cool thing - a "2d6 Shock Table" where when a wound gives a range of cinematic effects i.e. you may die, be able to crawl off, have a friend return fire - a bit like an injury table in Blood Bowl; but it is applied as it happens which was quite cinematic. Again I'm just going off my test run of Grimlite but from the blog it sounds pretty much the same.

Now my intent is not to assassinate a yet-to-be-released game (I want indie authors and Osprey to do well!) and hopefully many readers will go "this game sounds right up my alley!". I just want to use it to illustrate the rules-lite ruleset. There's not much actual rules for a $50+ hardback which is self-proclaimed rules-lite. Are you paying mostly for a nice book with a cool concept and atmospheric, evocative minis and art?

I presume the new published book has a much more fleshed out campaign and scenarios so I'm not going to comment on them but...  ...even if it ended up with a Mordhiem-esque deep campaign, I wonder how much I'd actually play the game?  No measurement = lots of terrain to make and store. That's a commitment. There is very basic mechanics (beat 3+ 4+ or 5+ on everything) with no modifiers as such (less tactics needed to manipulate %).  I quickly tired of Song of Blades and it was a mechanically deeper and more involved game. It was also a $5 pdf at the time - not a $50 hardback.

I guess this has prompted a few questions in my head:

When does a ruleset become too minimalist?

Is there a link between replayability and depth (is there a point where a wargame becomes too basic (or complex) for prolonged play)

I loved Infinity. But I no longer play it. But there was a point when the rules bloat became so crazy (5+ rules for stealth, 5+ rules of advanced deployment) I just gave up. I couldn't be bothered memorizing the possible combinations. There was so much depth and interplay between rules but they may as well not exist if you can't remember them. Also, the high-stakes nature (insta-death for a misplay) meant I found it mentally draining to play.

I loved Song of Blades. But I no longer play it. Well, I loved building wacky thematic warbands from Confrontation minis. But I quickly lost interest in actually playing the game which revolved around a single do-everything "stat".

I continue to play ME:SBG. While I think every aspect of its mechanics could be improved on, and there is nothing revolutionary in it (compared to the two rules above which in their time were quite progressive) it is a mix of familiar mechanics, and 'just enough' depth in all areas to be simple enough, yet hold my interest. 

The Doomed feels a bit like my Quar rulebooks - a very cool coffee-table talking point and a brief piece of painting/terrain artistic inspiration - but will it get long-term play? I probably wouldn't be concerned if it was a $5 pdf. But if it was a $5 pdf without the 'style' and 'art' - would I be as interested and inspired to play?  It's a bit "Catch-22."

 Are STL files and 3D printers influencing rules?

It seems weird for indie rules to actually make the minis (kitbashed or home-grown) and art their selling point with the rules themselves being an afterthought (it seems a tad ironic as that is what moved many away from GW into indie games in the first place!)

I feel that 3D printers and also the proliferation of cheap plastic kitbash kits (Warlord, Mantic, Perry, Victrix etc) might be enabling creative folk to make their own minis/world. Perry plastics are my go-to but I saw some Victrix in the flesh the other day and I was very impressed - they seem on a par with GW offerings and you get a huge bag of toys. If matching toys are cheap and readily available, the focus can be more on the setting.

Is this a new dawn of "Setting Driven" Games?

Ages back I think I discussed the importance of having a focussed thematic setting which does not restrict your minis - I think the Doomed and similar games do this well. The game is focussed - hunting monsters in a post apoc world - but allows a range of warbands to allow you to use your existing (say 40K) models as factions in the setting. If you have a generic setting and generic rules - there's nothing to differentiate them from the 101 similar rulesets that exist already.

All the examples I've given are very much theme/setting as the main draw, with rules tacked on as an afterthought. Basically the rules merely exist to allow you to participate in the setting rather than a deep tactical system of their own. (I've thought for years this is how GW has always viewed their own rules - and they are confused by competitive players/serious players expecting deep gameplay).

I enjoy games with a strong setting or 'hook' - like Turnip28 - but The Doomed seems to allow you to use your own minis within that strong setting which is a major plus. It reduces the initial investment in a system but retains the 'pull' of an interesting world/narrative. For example, the Five Parsecs rules allow you to use any sci fi minis but the generic setting doesn't have the (more specific) lure of hunting monsters in a post-apocalyptic wasteland.


There seems to be a increase in indie games which are all about an inspiring creative 'setting' and not gameplay. The rules are minimalist - more to allow you to participate in the setting. 

They are inspiring and artistic but is there enough depth and replayability? Is there a point where a game is too simple to be replayable - or a 'sweet spot' of simplicity vs crunch and depth? 

Is the advent of cheap plastic kits and 3D printing enabling this trend, by allowing designers to more easily recreate/display their game world?


  1. I feel a lot of these rules would make a good basis for an interesting game, if only they would have included some extra layers to offer some rules based tactics. Not necessarily the things you refer to. Measureless movement & shooting works fine and you can write it in such a way you don't need tons of terrain, and stacking & tracking soon result in administrative grind. Maybe some resource management, a better variety of combat outcomes (forced movement as an alternative to damage?),... My hunch is creators should shop around a bit on the wider board or card gaming world for ideas that can be used in miniature rules, instead of just producing cleaned up versions of the standard miniature wargame.

    As they are, the games can still be fun, but you'll need good scenarios to make them pop

    1. "I feel a lot of these rules would make a good basis for an interesting game, if only they would have included some extra layers to offer some rules based tactics"

      ^^^^Agreed. They usually have one cool idea (in the case of say The Doomed, it's the cinematic injury table) but are just missing that extra layer as you say.

      Stripped back rules initially appeals to say 40K or Warmachine refugees - but at what point does it become so barebones it loses interest?

      No measurement/modifiers/tracking is fine - but it shouldn't be the main selling point.

      I'm always wary of relying on scenarios and campaigns to 'carry' indie games as it's extremely unlikely they've been playtested properly.


    2. "I'm always wary of relying on scenarios and campaigns to 'carry' indie games as it's extremely unlikely they've been playtested properly."

      *** I'm pretty sure they have been playtested in the sense of having been played multiple times by people other than the designer and having received feedback which was taken into account. These are not wildly dysfunctional unplayable games. They're just, in rules terms, a bit "meh" and not very interesting or deep. What is missing is any serious or roiginal thinking in the design stage. Typically designers have in mind an uncluttered version of a classic mainstream game concept that is adapted to a specific setting and glammed up with some storytelling rule of cool extras. Like the cinematic injury table, which is not about game tactics but about story & roleplay.

      And are they wrong? I don't know. I prefer original stuff but it seems many people prefer the familiar with just one or two new mechanisms. And nothing too major please. Compared to board gamers, miniature gamers seem an unadventurous lot :-)


    3. "I'm pretty sure they have been playtested in the sense of having been played multiple times by people other than the designer and having received feedback which was taken into account."

      ^^^I'm talking about scenarios and campaigns not being well tested and robust, not the game mechanics themselves (i.e. campaign/scenarios/extras can't be trusted to 'carry' an otherwise meh/minimal system). The game itself is usually workable.

      I just doubt an indie designer who has 12 scenarios, 60 special skills and a campaign system has tested all of them thoroughly enough to raise them above the level of house rules/your mate's suggestions.

      I think wargames which deal with a narrow topic are by nature more repetitive than boardgames whose objective could range between co operatively curing a pandemic or creating a mosaic.


    4. Probably hardly any scenarios are thoroughly playtested :-) Same for the supersized special powers and exception-based abilities catalogs many miniature games have. Sometimes it's not realistically possible anyways. All you can do is crunch the numbers and rely on past experience. Indie designers seem to do no worse than big brand professionals here.

      I wouldn't consider miniature wargames as having a narrow topic but I do believe many miniature gamers are strongly attached to a certain narrow idea of "realism" that makes them averse to very gamey rules mechanisms. Rules should ideally represent (in game) real stuff and not just be abstract game concepts. Boardgamers are more comfortable with the game as game.


  2. These indie games are not about the rules. they're about enjoying the setting and creatively kitbashing & painting miniatures for those settings. Like WH40K is about list building and studying army abilities and special powers, not about actual tabletop play. So the rules don't matter that much to the audience. I bet almost nobody who buys/reads them & even builds an actual army will ever play the game with other people. Because it's very difficult to find players for anthing other than the big brand games anyway.

    1. "These indie games are not about the rules. they're about enjoying the setting and creatively kitbashing & painting miniatures for those settings. I bet almost nobody who buys/reads them & even builds an actual army will ever play the game with other people"

      ^^^I think you are spot on. The 'style over substance' rules have parallels with 40K - instead of min-maxing lists it's about being creative.


    2. The solo/coop indie games do have the advantage of doing away with the need to find other people to play them. In my case, there's next to zero chance of finding someone to play fringe games, and I find the standard advice of "see what other people in your area are playing" a nonstarter, because life is too short to waste on games I don't like just because other people play them. Therefore solo games are a boon to me.

    3. I think these special games need to be presented as a complete game in a box, giving a full 2-player experience in a single gaming session. This is similar to a Warhammer starter set, where there's enough to play, and hopefully whet an appetite for more.

  3. I get all of your objections and noticed the same trend, but I don't mind it. This seems to be a sort of backlash against the old school inspired and needlessly clunky or uninspired games like 40K, Necromunda, etc. They capture the "mood" (which is what most players actually remember with fondness about Mordheim, Necromunda, et al, and not the actual rules which were bad). And yes, this comes from an artistic crowd which loves kitbashing and thinking about the setting; the game seems to be just an excuse to drive the creative juices.

    Would I like a bit more depth? Maybe. I used to think it was more important than it actually is, though. Playing with young kids you realize what works is some way of doing stuff, no bookkeeping *at all* and pushing toy soldiers around. It may seem silly but I find such simplistic gameplay resonates with me too.

    The one thing I'm concerned about. These games thrive on community of like minded people, and there's simply too many of them. A true "cottage industry". I'm overwhelmed by the games on offer, find the same familiar faces in almost every fb groups. And after a while, precisely because all these games are so simple, they all become so alike everything is blurred. I start confusing games. I get why authors feel compelled to publish their own take, but often the differentiating factors are so weak one has to wonder "does the world really need another minimalistic inside skirmish game?".

    1. I don't think this is GW's take, by the way. Their models come first, *doubtless*. But their rules are way too complex and convoluted to be either minimalistic or casual. Playing game of GW "well" takes a lot of effort, be it in actual play or (more often) list building.

      These new indie games understand that casual gameplay needs simpler rules. They may be taking it too far, though.

    2. It's not really simple versus complex rules. Complex isn't automatically better. As you point out, many fondly remembered classics had pretty bad rules. Modern indie minimalists stripped some of that away, mostly the administrative grind and the the endless minor variations in special rules and exceptions that complexify the game by increasing the amount of rules that needs to be remembered. Or more likely, looked up again & again in rulebooks. But this has also exposed that the core of those classics is often rather boring. There's a seqcuence of actions to go through but little to disrupt the cycle, it's hard to suprise your opponent because movement is fairly slow and plans soon become obvious, there's no resource management, there are too few hard choices during the game...

      This does show through even in casual play, at least if casual play means more than meeting your mates for beer & chat, with the miniature game just being a backdrop for what is essentially having a social. We play mostly casually and regularly do non-major brand games, and what I see is that these don't stick, there's just not enough replay value.

      Indie designers could do better. None of it requires complexity, a lot could be achieved by just using different rules mechanisms and thinking a bit more deepyly about synergies and trade offs. Why are, say, Planet28 or Forbidden Psalm so ho-hum as games compared to, say, Unmatched (a miniature battle boardgame labelled as 10+)? It's not because of the complexity, but because of the different rules approaches.

      - RB

    3. RB, I somewhat agree with you. I categorize what you describe as "having nothing new to say", which is essentially what I complain about at the end of my post.

      You wouldn't fault one or two indie skirmishers for being variations/simplifications of existing ideas; the problem is that there are now dozens of them! Few with something really novel to say. It gets frustrating once you see the trend.

      Other than that, like I said, I've found these simplistic mechanics are all that's needed to have fun (for me, anyway, especially playing with kids). It's just that I don't need the umpteenth attempt by author #42 at this. Song of Blades and Heroes really nailed it back then.

      But at some point I really do want to read and try fresh ideas.

      (In another post in this blog I complained about players who like Lion/Xenos/Something Rampant or Something-grave, but it seems that's yet another hurdle: disappointingly, gamers want to play the same games again and again, and are driven to buying iterations of the games they already own. )

    4. GW makes "lifestyle" games that demand intense investment in time and money. They're not something that can be played casual. And it's not like most large battle games aren't 40k-like. If the indies mechanically coalesce around a sort of standard, nothing wrong with that. Does everyone need to reinvent the wheel every single time?

    5. Anonymous: we're mostly in agreement. Though, after the 10th indie skirmisher I bought and played, I start paying attention to what innovation they bring to the table, and very often they don't. In that case, I'd rather tack on a theme on top of the Song of Blades & Heroes and play that.

      I wish indies experimented more, precisely because they are not constrained by GW's profits and player base requirements.

    6. I get that, but new mechanics is more about introducing novel gameplay, which is a different design direction than theme. A Warhammer core with well-themed game elements (e.g. background, artwork, special rules, scenarios, campaign) is more than sufficient if theme is the overriding factor. Even game balance can be "off" as long as it conforms to theme.

      The trick is having a strong enough theme that any shortcomings can be papered over.

  4. Well, simple dice mechanics and unlimited movement/stacking is fine. However, I am curious what these games do to create meaningful decisions or tactical decisions? Do they have limited fire arcs, the ability to choose outcomes, resource management, Limited actions, good end game criteria, an interesting activation system? If it is alternate activation with two actions per turn and 360 degrees arcs of fire; than the streamlined dice mechanics, lack of stacking, and no tracking means no meaningful choices. A game without meaningful choices is simply not engaging and has no replayability.

    1. "If it is alternate activation with two actions per turn and 360 degrees arcs of fire; than the streamlined dice mechanics, lack of stacking, and no tracking...."

      ^^^Actually it's 3 actions per turn, not 2 - but you have otherwise described the earlier version of The Doomed.

    2. Eric, these are mostly hobbyist games, a lightweight excuse to kitbash some minis and design terrain. The see play in some clubs and in private homes, they are not for tournaments or competitive play
      The enthusiasm in the communities that form around games like Space Station Zero or Zona Alfa is palpable! And these are very simple games.

      I used to think like you (and to an exempt, I still do) but after playing some games with my young nephews I realized simple (even simplistic) wins the day every time.

      It's counterintuitive, but no less true!

    3. Curse not being able to edit my comments and correct typos and the damned autocomplete :(

    4. I agree that simple is best. That is different than having not tactical level of play and no decision making. Pretty sure Evil has talked about that at length.

      I also agree these games are designed to lean into creatives first. The game is a secondary concern. However, I still think that is short changing the life of the universe they are trying to create.

    5. I grew up playing Battlemasters and my kids and I play it now. There are almost no real decisions made in the game yet it is an enjoyable way to pass an hour and has created a host of tense moments that have been enjoyed for years in the retelling.

      Those moments weren't the result of a cunning strategy nor did the winners have much to do with earning their win, but it's a game that many many players have enjoyed.

  5. I am not trying to be elitist. People like what they like. I mean, I have designed games where the main mechanic is flicking coins and ones where you shoot Nerf Guns at targets. They produce fun games.

    That said, there is a number of gamer types, the exact number doesn't matter. The more you can appeal to broad categories of gamers the longer your game "can last" in the marketplace. There is no gamer niche big enough to keep a game going long term on its own. Not Competitive players, not Modelling players, not Simulationists, not RPG Lite, not Campaigners, etc.

    By ultra-focusing on the Creative gamers you will find an audience. However, that audience can not sustain a game for a long period of time. There has to be more to the "game" side to keep people coming in.

    Likewise, you can not keep a game going by only focusing on Competitive. I am looking at you War Machine, X-wing, and Guild Ball.

    For a game to last, it needs to appeal to a larger, broader base. Battlemasters is a great example because I can't buy a new, in-the-box version of it today. It did not have a wide enough appeal.

    1. Hey Eric, I don't disagree and don't worry, you don't sound elitist at all. I've also read your recent post about simulationist vs gamist vs narrative, and it's insightful. (Balagan has a similar entry with maybe different conclusions in his blog).

      I do want meaningful decisions and fun in the games I play. Otherwise you have the two extremes of just playing with Barbies or GI Joe's (child's play, not a tabletop game) or neckbeard hex and counter Advance Squad Leader dreadfully boring affairs.

      I'm not sure whether commercial success or staying power matter all that much, especially with cheap games available in PDF. These are not "big box" games and will potentially be available forever. And if it's good fun that lasts for a year or two, and then the players base moves on -- what's the harm in that? Haven't the games fulfilled their mission?

      For how long will a sizeable number of players will continue to play Castles in the Sky, anyway? (This reminds me: your design goals intrigued me, I keep forgetting to buy your game!).

    2. "I'm not sure whether commercial success or staying power matter all that much, especially with cheap games available in PDF."

      ^^ But The Doomed is a big glossy hardback, not a cheap pdf - which is why I'm a bit bemused. Niche arty games as a $5pdf, fine. But a $65AUD tome for a very simplistic niche game is not exactly an impulse buy to kitbash - it infers commitment.

      The other oddity is 'mass battle' niche games. I mean, I get kitbashing a 10 man warband out of random bits. But some (SLUDGE) might have 50+ minis per side. That's no small commitment in painting or cost especially if you are (likely) providing both sides.... You'd want to play a decent amount of games...


    3. Yes, to be clear: I agree the high model count makes little sense. I don't own neither The Doomer nor SLUDGE. I was more thinking of niche 10 models per side at most kind of games.


      Halfway through the video (35 mins in total), and it is interesting to hear some of design philosophy behind the rule choices, but there does appear to be at least some special rules, and I feel the list of weapons would make my head ache if I were to look through it fully. Will persevere with the video, but thought it might add something to the discussion here.

  6. I'm amused. This is not the topic that I would have expected 20+ comments on. I love the community you've made on your blog eM!

  7. "For how long will a sizeable number of players will continue to play Castles in the Sky, anyway?"

    I think this is an interesting one - as there is already a sizeable (Brigade) amount of minis without decent rules - the original Aeronef is more akin to Yahtzee.

    This, I would suggest, is different. I view it as a game filling an existing ecological niche to which there are few rivals. (I just bought it myself btw)

    I'd say similarly, good spaceship (especially starfighter) games have fertile ground, especially with the demise of X-Wing. There's lots of indie model makers with generic space minis without a dominant ruleset.

    Full Thrust has outlasted many others such as Firestorm Armada. Dropfleet Commander never really took off. Even BFG still soldiers on in absence of something better. SIlent Death and then X-Wing have kinda died off in turn.


    1. I expect Castles in the Sky to never really "take-off' in any meaningful way. However, I did TRY to design it so that people could play a full campaign of 7-13 games and not get bored by it all. Was I successful? I have no idea because there is not that much chatter about it online, leading me to the conclusion that it did not "succeed" in a commercial sense.
      Just dust in the wind. :)

  8. I, for one, think this is a welcome and long overdue development. Why should a wargame built around theme require hugely unnecessary GW / Infinity levels of complexity? Do you conflate rules complexity with "strategy and tactics"? How does this viewpoint square with pure strategy games like Chess and Go? Do you declare Go to be lacking in strategy due to it only having a single unit type, no measuring or range, and strict Igo-Ugo turn structure?

    1. Wargames do NOT need to be built around complexity. However I do expect some longevity (if I am investing $$ or time), either through engaging meaningful gameplay I can 'master' over time or something similar. Even 40K's awful list building adds some degree of 'mastery' and thus longevity, unpleasant as I find it.

      Of course complexity does not begat strategy and tactics. However, the minimalist rules I discuss don't have much in the way of strategy or tactics - aka "meaningful choices" as per the discussion in comments above.

      Go and Chess have many meaningful choices. Chess in its unusual victory conditions and interplay between differing pieces and their limited movesets. Go units have no movement at all - the single move they get (initial placement) is thus very meaningful. There is plenty of decision making and mastery to engage interest long term - and the initial investment is low. Kinda the opposite of boutique games I discuss, which are usually stripped down versions of 40K; hardly a revolutionary starting point.

      An example: I'm going to sell you a game. Here are the rules:
      There is no measuring or range. Everything succeeds on a 4+. Shooting, melee, morale, etc. All weapons are the same so you can use any mini you own. You can do 2 things each turn (move, shoot, melee etc). Of course, I'll include this with awesome art of my gritty kitbashed trenchpunk minis to sweeten the deal....

      ....How long before you realise the 'game' is just an exercise in rolling 4+ and you have no meaningful decisions to make/there is no proper gameplay to master? How long before you get bored? And would you be willing to pay me for these rules?


    2. Oh? Is your strawman actually like any of the games you're complaining about?

      GW "longevity" is a red herring, because GW sunsets their games with new editions and new codices every few years, keeping players on a neverending treadmill of the new. You pay an awful lot for that "freshness", and it's not something I'm willing to do.

      If I'm allowed to constantly tweak balance and bloat the game like GW, then "tactics" will change as a reaction. Is that what you think is desirable?

      Otherwise, why even worry about longevity in a well-themed game?

    3. Anonymous: agreed. Longevity is overrated. If a game succeeds at triggering the players kitbashing/lore mood, provides them with a dozen of enjoyable gaming sessions, and sparks a community of like minded individuals, it's done it's job. It's not that important if they are still playing the same game 1 or 2 years later.

      There are *some* games that are such classic gems they stand the test of time, and go back on the tabletop once in a while, years or decades after release. These are the best games. But it's not necessary that every game is like this.

    4. "Oh? Is your strawman actually like any of the games you're complaining about?"

      It's literally an example* of the original questions I ask in the OP:
      "When does a ruleset become too minimalist?"
      "Is there a link between replayability and depth (is there a point where a wargame becomes too basic (or complex) for prolonged play)"
      ....I'm not the one introducing boardgames like Go and Chess into the conversation.

      *Yes, my random example is suspiciously similar to Grimlite/The Doomed. ;-)

      "Longevity is overrated. If a game succeeds at triggering the players kitbashing/lore mood, provides them with a dozen of enjoyable gaming sessions, and sparks a community of like minded individuals, it's done it's job."

      Yeah, but are we actually talking a DOZEN game sessions - or just one or two at best, which you play against yourself?

      'Value' is obviously subjective so the question is probably akin to 'how long is a ball of string' but if we are merely being sold 'project inspiration' I find it amusing that indie games are now doing what say GW does - cool setting, poor rules - just in a more arty, 'hip' way.


    5. eM: first let me state this is a fruitful conversation. I cannot speak for the Anonymous, but this has sparked many replies from me because I've been thinking about this a lot lately. My experiences -- given my fatherhood and limited time -- have been slowly migrating to simple (even simplistic) games and I found, to my surprise, that they "spark joy" to borrow Marie Kondo's words ;)

      It's not intuitive. I used to think otherwise. But experience shows me it's hard to beat games like Songs of... I even had to trim down Rangers of Shadow Deep to play with my nephews after I realized that abilities+skills is simply too much; just some abilities (not even all!) will give a decent game.

      As for 1 or 2 vs dozens: I believe they are played dozens of times but talked about way more (so they generate more "buzz" than actual play).

      I'm sympathetic about your want for meaningful choices; I think without this you don't have a game. Dice chucking alone won't cut it; that's the Game of Life. But I do believe this simple skirmishers provide choices, they are not auto-play.

    6. "I find it amusing that indie games are now doing what say GW does - cool setting, poor rules - just in a more arty, 'hip' way."

      Haha, I'm with you on this. I want a bit more innovation instead of cookie cutter copies. And GW is even producing some decent rules lately (just not 40K).

    7. @em - thanks for clarifying that your strawman was made up. Chess and Go are merely classic examples of replayable war games with minimal rules, showing that the amount of abstraction can be very high.

      WRT "longevity" I agree a dozen sessions is easily enough to declare a game "good".

    8. I'm sorry you were confused, but if you're not sure what a 'straw man' is may I suggest you don't use the word, as it suggests a bad faith argument.

    9. No worries, because I was pretty sure that your example was in bad faith. :D

      To me, such "Warhammer lite" games are perfectly well suited to theme heavy gaming, where the player already knows how to play from prior experiences with other Warhammer-esque games. Stripping Warhammer down to it's very core, then tacking in a bare minimum of themed kit makes for a great game that ensures mechanics don't steal focus from theme. This is *exactly* how skirmish games should be designed and played. If it hits the tabletop more than a handful of times over as many months, that's enough "longevity" to call it a success.

      If you look at all of the kit you own, how much of it has hit the tabletop a half-dozen times or more? I'm a little ashamed to admit not all of my collection has, despite an effort to clear the deadwood. Considering that I own stuff that hasn't ever been played, I'm thinking the actual bar for "longevity" or "success" is closer to THREE than a dozen.

      Even if the standard is "at least a dozen" plays, a short campaign and/or variety of scenarios is enough to cover. So there still isn't an actual need for bloat over a Warhammer lite core.

  9. You can make a tactically interesting game AND be simple.

    For example, here are some quick ways to add Tactical gameplay that does not involve any extra "complexity" and still meets the Game Design requirements of No Stacking, Tracking, or Measuring.

    1. 180 degree fire arc from the models face.
    2. Alternate Activation, side with more models activates first.
    3. Unlimited range for shooting
    4. Models can choose 1 action per activation; Move, shoot, charge into melee, do nothing, or perform an action
    5. Unlimited straight line movement. Turning/rotating counts as movement.
    6. Shooting results either turn the target 180 degrees, push them back into the closest terrain, loss of activation, or cause damage as normal.
    7. Melee results in pushing the model back in a straight line until they touch terrain or another model, loss of activation or causing damage as normal
    6. Terrain must = 50% board coverage with no LOS from 1 side of the board to the other in a straight line. All Terrain blocks LOS through it.
    7. LOS is full base only
    8. Game has no set game length, it ends after all units have activate once, both players roll a d6. If both players roll a 5 or better the game ends.
    9. Game is objective based with various objectives, not killing foes.
    10. When activated, shoot/melee/actions succeed on a 4+ on a d6 or any dice you wish)

    There. No stacking, tracking, or measuring and now tactically challenging. You have to decide how you use your 1 action, you choose results of key melee/shoot actions, LOS and maneuver is critical, you have objectives, and the game is time bound.

    1. Nice list, except the 1 AP per model (which I understand you chose to force the player into a choice, but I find too limiting).

      Not speaking for The Doomed, which I don't own, but don't most of the new batch of indie skirmishers implement many of these already?

    2. This is fine, in the sense that every collection of rules constitutes a game. I have the feeling that the various rules features won't form a unified concept of battle. IMO, the "design" is backwards, having decided rules features and mechanics in a vacuum, rather than with intent.

  10. Doomed is literally the same game as a Grimlite.

  11. This discussion did help get me thinking differently about a few different projects, so that is great!

    That is why I keep coming here. It almost always gets me writing something. Too bad it then takes another 2-5 years to finish it! :)

    1. Speaking of hitting the table, I just got Castles in the Sky.

      I think you are actually a great inspiration for actually getting things completed!

      I think you must have changed a bit along the way because I think I playtested an early version and it was quite different? (I've only skimmed through it so far).