I've been thinking about simplicity, abstraction and streamlining due to my own homebrew jet rules. I guess the question I've been asking is "where do I sit" and "is abstracting this a good tradeoff? Do I lose too much depth by doing x?"
Personally, in my gaming preferences - I've decided Infinity was too complex, although it has many decisions and depth. I've decided Song of Blades was too shallow. I like ME:SBG level - while not great at anything, it is just simple enough and has just enough decisions/depth.
The Rules Complexity (Mental Load) vs Player Decisions (Tactics/Depth)
Whenever I look at rules, my question was usually 'is the complexity the extra rule/mechanic adds worth it? Does it bring enough new tactics to justify the mental effort?' but lately has been 'does the simplification remove too much depth?'
I.e where is the rulebook on the x & y axis? And which way is it moving?
The complexity ("lots of rules") equates to mental load on the player. Infinity (100s of special rules) and Warmachine (lots of interacting special rules and potential 'gotchas' have a higher mental load than average. Necromunda has a higher rules complexity than War Cry. Go is much simpler than Chess but has similar high levels of decision making and tactics (and thus serves as my 'ideal').
A good 'complexity' criteria is: do players pick it up fast OR do you need to consult the rulebook a lot?
Player decisions are how often and how important player decisions are in influencing the outcome. Are there opportunities for the player to impact the action through their decisions? (Tactics/Depth). Or is it just random dice rolling, where we could remove the terrain and miniatures altogether and get a similar, random result.
A good 'tactics' criteria is: Do good players win consistently? Do positioning of units and player choices matter? Or does luck control the game?
I personally prefer low complexity, high decisions - buuuut lots of decisions aren't always desirable either. I liked the movie Inception but I wouldn't want to watch it tired on Friday arvo after work. Sometimes high complexity seems needful or desirable - e.g. naval/age of sail gamers seem to require a certain amount of 'crunch.' So obviously personal preferences determine what we play.
No Measuring: Unlimited Movement/Shooting
I've been thinking about this lately as I work out what to abstract in my homebrew jet rules and it has popped up a few times lately on this blog, so I'd thought I'd share my musings.
I've covered "single stat" mechanics ages ago (and why they do not necessarily add simplicity, esp in genres requiring differentiation between units). I'd like to explore the concept of unlimited movement and firing ("look ma, no ruler!") and I'm going to go against the cool kids by questioning their value.
The 'no measure' ideas has been around forever: first for me was Crossfire 10-15 years back. No measuring tends to need a heavy investment in terrain to add tactical choices, and games do play differently, but there are other aspects to consider.
No ruler does simplify and speed up things (good) - but it does not completely eliminate bending over the table checking LoS etc - and it may come at a cost. It's not an automatic improvement.
Unlimited Shooting vs No Measuring
Unlimited weapon range is not automatically a bad thing. It's logical, if weapon ranges exceed the table. A 28mm (1" tall) man with a modern rifle should be able to range very effectively across a 4' table (which if viewed to scale is about 50-100m). A company of 6mm musketeers might not. So the answer is "it depends."
No measuring at all is where I see some problems.
Having unlimited range puts the onus on the importance of terrain to gain an advantage, vs say the 2' threat 'bubble' created by the generic 24" shooting range. Removing the threat bubble does remove tactical choices.
Also, if you truly go 'no ruler/measureless' it can impact other things. From personal experience, it's difficult to shoot a pistol or bow at 25m (24") let alone 50m. In both history - and even tv shows - range (measurement) has a major impact on lethality. Musketeers might be able to hit targets at 100m - but should they be as effective as they are at 25m? How do you show this without measuring?
If there is no measuring, you may lose important differentiation and tactics between weapon types. E.g. what stops a semiautomatic pistol outsniping a semiauto rifle across the table? What extra rules (complexity) will need to be put in place to prevent this?
So while 'no measuring' does speed up play, there are gameplay disadvantages.
This is usually not truly unlimited. If you could teleport anywhere on the board, you kinda remove the difference between melee and missile troops and make an argument for removing the board altogether!
Usually, 'measureless' movement means: you can move unlimited distance in a straight line until (a) you hit an obstacle/terrain (b) want to pivot (c) are interrupted by an opponent reacting - or some similar combination of the above.
The Danger of Doing too Much
When a unit takes its 'turn' every other unit on the table is frozen in place while it does its business. This is usually bad. I've discussed this in posts about actions per turn. To recap:
The more a unit does in its turn, the longer everyone else is effectively frozen and the less fluid and realistic a game is. Basically: we limit what a unit can do in its turn, otherwise it can rambo around the board killing everyone unopposed. I.e. traditionally a unit might move 6", shoot 24" and roll a single dice with 5+ to kill. If we increase what a model can do - moving 48", shooting 48" and rolling 6 dice with 5+ to kill - a model might be able to wipe out multiple enemies in a single activation, without much way for the other player to prevent it. Even if this was 'realistic' it is not fun for the inactive player. The active unit is unreasonably powerful. Unlimited movement can obviously have this effect unless it is artificially constrained.
Unlimited movement abstracts the implicit time/ground scale, potentially to the ridiculous
A unit's "turn" is a 'slice of time' - even if not explicitly stated. E.g. we can suppose a Necromunda turn is measured in a dozen seconds or less; while a Jutland-size WW1 naval battle may be measured in a dozen minutes. We can sense when a scale is "off" i.e. in Bolt Action 28mm WW2 rifles shooting only 24" where bullets cannot reach the length of a bridge. There is an implicit scale in all wargames, which is shown by what your minis can do in that timeframe and the distances involved. Removing measurement messes with this implied scale.
If a unit can move unlimited distance, we could now have a unit whizz across to the enemy baseline, getting behind all the enemies; while 30 opponents stand around doing nothing. Now typically 'unlimited' rules avoid this by making units move in a straight line, until they hit something. Or when they want to pivot and head a different direction. The implied scale is thrown out the window. It's like a man
sprinting 250m+, but in the same time another guy runs 25m until he hits
a waist high hurdle, and stops dead. Also in the same time, a second guy runs 50m, then turns
and stops dead. Simply turning 90d or vaulting a fence should not make
that much difference/take that much comparative effort. Cinematic... ....or silly?
Unlimited movement, like unlimited shooting, relies heavily on much carefully laid-out terrain to create tactics.
On a featureless board with unlimited movement, there is little difference between shooting and melee - you can either shoot or - equally easily - zoom across the board to melee them. A sword and a sniper rifle are the same. You may as well remove the board and minis altogether. A game with unlimited movement or shooting tends to rely on the players to have (or be willing to make) significant terrain.
Reaction mechanics - adding complexity to solve a self-made problem?
A common workaround to stop units zooming around unopposed are reaction mechanics. These allow non-active units to respond and 'interrupt' the active players by shooting or perhaps charging them. However reaction units adds a whole new layer of rules, slows the game and detracts from the 'simpler + faster' argument. It also feels like it is fixing a self-created problem: adding a reaction mechanic (complexity) to fix a problem created by the unlimited movement mechanic (attempted simplification).
Neither 'measureless' mechanics completely eradicate the need to stoop over tables with a ruler to check line of sight/if a move is straight - half the time all you are doing is eliminating the need to read the numbers on the ruler.
But.... measureless/unlimited range games play differently and I like it! If this is the reason (or it pushes some desired aspect of gameplay) go for it! Removing measuring or movement does not make a bad game. It just makes it different.
However, my caution is removing measurement simply to 'streamline' and 'simplify' a game (or just cos it seems cool) may be false economy: losing too much in tactical depth/realism/gameplay - i.e. unintentionally moving the game down into the Yahtzee corner of my sketch above - or countering this by adding in extra mechanics like reactions and thus ending up in the same spot...
TL:DR So... unlimited/measureless anything bad?
No. I'm not saying that at all. I've had fun playing many unlimited range/move rules. However from a game design sense I'd be wary of making them a core 'feature' of the game - although it may be a major selling point for some folk. I.e. I'd make it 'a' feature (like in Rogue Planet which had an interesting resource pool as well) not 'the' feature.
-I think unlimited range weapons make sense in modern+ settings, but it may be difficult to remove all reference to range (no measurement) without losing important depth or differentiation.
-Unlimited movement I am more ambivalent about - within a narrative RPG and similar it's fine, but in a wargame - and that's what we're discussing here - it makes a lot of tradeoffs for its benefits.
Again, it's not 'x mechanic is best' and 'only play x game, your choice in games suck' - game preference varies wildly - but rather from a design standpoint:
'What should we abstract?'... ...'is x mechanic really that good?'
Is too much 'lost' in the simplification/abstraction? Are the benefits of adding complexity 'worth it?'