Tuesday 20 February 2024

Reasons to Avoid Games/When to Abandon a Project

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Minis

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Lore/Background

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Initial Impressions

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

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

The Rules

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

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

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

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

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

Cost (Time/$$$)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When do you know when to cut your losses?

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

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