Thursday, 29 November 2012

Dazed and Confused

Rules. One of the main driving forces of the hobby. The rules serve to animate your lovingly prepared figures: using a good set of rules which play easily and have an authentic feel is one of the great pleasures of miniatures wargaming.

I've been looking out for some new rules recently. Now, I'm proud to say I'm definitely not a wargames butterfly. I have my 2 periods, which I intend to stick with, and for me the pleasure is in knowing those 2 periods thoroughly, as well as bringing together a collection of figures and vehicles over time to which I have become quite attached. But that doesn't stop me looking out for new rules which might enhance my wargaming.

However, these days I'm finding the new rules thing a bit problematic. Not that there's any problem with choice. Indeed, I have seen some comments that the number of new rule sets is a bit bewildering, but this isn't my problem. Nor is there a problem with the rules themselves: it seems rules writers are brimming with ideas, and reviews of the new sets seem to indicate that plenty of fresh concepts are out there. My problem is finding a set of rules that are just that - a set of rules.

For example, I Ain't Been Shot Mum! version 3 has recently been released. Being a well known cheapskate I took the opportunity to pick up an old copy of version 2 (2005), for a couple of quid at my local show (Reveille II in Bristol). The book featured interesting and original ideas from those Lardie boys, although overall they were maybe not for me. But I find that, to use the rules, I need (yes, actually need) to buy a period specific supplement for important stuff like stats and card deck composition. So the IABSM rulebook isn't a set of rules, it's part of a set of rules. It's volume 1. I presume v.3 is the same.

I have also been looking at the new Battlegroup Kursk set. For an outstanding review, see here. As you'll see, it's 237 pages long, it's a modelling and painting guide, it's a 25 page history of the Kursk campaign, but... the rules only cover one year of one theatre of WW2. Want to play Poland 1939? You'll have to wait for (and pay for) the supplement. Might be out in a year or two.

Yes, I am a bit bewildered. We all know that more playable and generally simpler rules have been a notable development in wargaming for quite a while. 'Fast Play' is all over the cover of most recent sets. But paradoxically the rule books containing these simpler, fast play rules just keep getting bigger and bigger. A4 size, full colour, quite likely over 200 pages, but somehow incomplete. There's apparently just not enough room to include all you need for your period in these grand books. You'll just have to buy the supplement(s). Not to mention that using that encyclopedia-like tome at the wargames table might be bit inconvenient as well, especially if you're juggling the rulebook and the supplement whilst referring between them.

So there you are. Rules that are too much and yet not enough, at the same time. Marketing concepts seem to be getting in the way of a satisfactory product - getting in the way of utility, if you will. Maybe there are customers out there for someone who just wants to produce a rule set: minimum size, minimum fluff, maximum coverage. Customers for a rules author or a wargames company that can spell concise. But perhaps the profit margin just wouldn't be high enough. In fairness, I should add that my trawls around the interweb would indicate I'm in a minority on this. Most wargamers seem very happy with these recent rulebooks and intend to snap them up.

Funnily enough, if I ever did a third gaming period it would pobably be DBA, with a view to progressing to the 'Big Battle' variant. Ah, DBA... probably counts as Old School by now. A5 format, 52 closely typed pages covering 3500 years of history including army lists... Hmm. Perhaps that's going too far in the other direction. But make that an A4 format, a few more examples of play, and you're there. Fortunately for my bank account, I don't think I have the time to support 3 wargames periods.

And whilst I'm on the subject...
Battlegames continues to be the magazine for the thinking wargamer. On the subject of rules, columnist Neil Shuck suggested in issue 30 that maybe the way into a new period was to choose a set of rules that attracted you, and go from there. Let the rules decide. An interesting idea, I thought, but I wasn't sure I agreed. In issue 32, Mike Siggins helped me clarify my doubts by writing that he thought Saga was a good rule set, and the figures available were excellent, but having played a few games he had decided the Dark Ages was tactically a bit boring. Yes - to avoid disapointment, it's surely best to put the period first.

I believe that the way into a new period is by research - investigate the new period, get to know and understand it. That should be a pleasure in itself. Then check out the rules and figures afterwards.

Even if you're a butterfly, it's better to be an informed butterfly.


Steve J. said...

Once again a very well argued piece from you Keith, one that I fully concur with. After being 'tempted' by different rulesets whilst at Portbury Knights, in the end I settled upon BKC and CWC as my games of choice, as well as the WMA stable.

For me they tick all the boxes, simple but elegant rules, good examples of game play and lists at the end. A rarity these days in that I don't need (or want) endless supplements to be able to play a game.

A recent addition to my stable has been Maurice, that for me produces a fun game, which is what it's all about at the end of the day.

I too have been tempted by Dark Age skirmish games, but in reality they offer little in the way of a challenge for me. A shame really as the Pendraken Late Romans are perfect for this, maybe I will dig out my LoTR game and see how it works.

I have heard a lot about the recent Musket and Tomahawk game from the same stable as SAGA, but I want to try the game before I commit to it. It might not be my cup of tea and once again more money thrown away on the bring'n'buy table!

A shamelss wargames butterfly I applaud your ability to focus on two periods, one that I may be adopting in my dotage!

The Ferrymen said...

Hi Keith,
You may be in the minority, but you are not alone. I haven't bought a new set of WWII rules since Command Decision (2 I think), but I have downloaded several from freewargamesrules, and will definitely be trying both Ross MacFarlane's and Bob Cordery's rules (Hats of Steel and Portable Wargame).

I just want to play fun games that suit me, I don't need an encyclopedia.


Fitz-Badger said...

One appeal of the big color books is all the "fluff", pictures of miniatures and terrain, "potted" history, uniform and painting guides, etc. Occasionally I am tempted, but rarely buy them.
I do agree with you about the marketing ploys, the supplements, having to deal with a big fat book for a relatively small (and often incomplete) set of rules. Sometimes they include charts and/or "quick reference" sheets, but often those are incomplete or only help once you've really got the rules down.
That said, there are plenty of free rules sets on the web.
Of course, solo players like me can play any way we want.

Keith Flint said...

Fitz-Badger - agree with you on the potential appeal of these big rule books. I don't mind a bit of colourful inspiration. Black Powder, for example, is an enjoyable book to own. But I expect a big rulebook to be comprehensive. Needing supplements is like having to buy the rules twice.

Laffe said...

I have to defend IABSM a little bit here; It started as a set of club rules in the first edition. 2nd edition was basically a lightly tidied up re-release of the first edition.

3rd edition is more of a complete game, with "army lists" and scenarios to get you started. But your point still stands as the army lists only cater for Western Europe in 1944. Theatre specific additions will be released for 3rd edition as well although you could use the the 2nd edition supplements (a conversion guide is available as a free download).

Steve-the-Wargamer said...

A well argued and thought provoking post... well done..

Have to agree with you with regard to the ever increasing size of rule books - it seems to be part and parcel of the general modern day tendency towards "more is less"..... pile them high and they won't know they're missing something...

For me - filling a rule book up with pictures of soldiers, and potted history, is an alarm bell... On Masterchef last night one of the food critics when confronted with a plate that had been sprayed with edible gold paint (!) said "what is this chef trying to hide"... it's the same issue.... "smoke and mirrors"...!

I would go for a well written, interesting, elegant (Steve J has it!), set of rules every time.. and they have to work right out of the box - either I get all the information I need for other periods/theatres there and then (like BKC or DBA), or they have to be easily applicable so I can do the changes...

Keith Flint said...

'More is less' - definitely sums it up. This seems to be the way things are going.

Beccas said...

You will be happy to know that DBA3 will be a hardback release with a lot of sginny pictures. True story.

Doug said...

Beccas is actually incorrect. DBA3 will be a 'similar' format to the existing rules, but Sue Barker is apparently also writing a hardback 'start wargaming' book using DBA.

Mad Padre said...

A great post Keith. I enjoy your thougtful and slightly acerbic writing.
First off, I thought Mike Siggins' piece in Battlegames was a very brave contrarian statement. Our hobby seems to be driven by trends and hype of late, and the Dark Ages is a good recent example. For Mike to try it and then say, "it's not that interesting, really", is as you say about putting the period ahead of the marketing and the latest rules set.
In one of the periods I enjoy, WW2, I[ve been tempted to buy the Kursk rules set as well as the new Bolt Action rules, but really, at this point, I have a set that I like and I frankly don't have the time or the spare cash to experiment with different rules sets. This attitude was vindicated a bit when the first reviews of the Bolt Action rules came in and weren't really that warm. I was willing to splash out for the IASBM 3 bundle because I like the TFL approach to wargaming, and I wanted something a bit more definitive than version 2, which seemed at heart to be a club rules set that still showed signs of being a bit half baked, but moving in a direction I agreed with. I want a degree of chaos and friction in my gaming, it fits with my sense of the period, and so for WW2 I think I've found what works for me.
As for the trend of rule books in general, harbacked, heavy, and full of pictures, my rule now is that I don't want a rule book that (a) causes me carpal tunnel syndrome when holding it while standing over a gaming table, and (b) will damage figures and scenery if dropped onto the wargaming table. I find myself longing for the 1980s paperback, half size rulespublished by WRG and the like, which did minimal damage when dropped on the table, and which didn't hurt one's hands.

Keith Flint said...

Mad Padre, thanks for a thoughtful comment. Your conclusions on IABSM v.2 were similar to mine. I continue to be attracted to v.3, for the reasons you mention. Maybe they'll win me over one day.

Steve J. said...

Having just received my first Wargames Illustrated magazine subscription that I won at MADfest, I thought I'd update the latest set of supplements released for two en vogue rulesets.

SAGA has already brought out a supplement called "Northern Fury", with "Raven's Shadow", another one, now out which "introduces new rules, new factions and new heroes". Could this not have been done in just one book?

Bolt Action not to be outdone has just released the army book (shades of GW?) "Armies of Germany", with more army books to follow in the form of "Armies of the USA, Great Britain, Soviet Union, Imperial Japan, France and the Allies and Italy and the Axis" next year. This to me is somewhat excessive, but infortunately seems to be the way of things these days.

I'll just stick with my BKCII rulebook complete with army lists for the bargain price of £20. What's not to like?

Keith Flint said...

Ah yes. The world of corporate wargaming marches on...