Following on from yesterday’s post about publishing some stuff myself, I said I’d talk in a bit more detail about the first wave of products.
It’s been hard to keep myself from going a bit crazy with the freedom to produce anything. However, by applying a little bit of steely will (and adding a generous sprinkling of common sense) I’ve decided to focus on three areas to start with.
- Game Design Theory.
- Board Games.
- Skirmish Games.
Game Design Theory
I’ve written quite a lot about this and have had lots of very interesting conversations with people about it on various threads both here on Quirkworthy and elsewhere. It’s a subject that I know a fair amount about and definitely have opinions on. Sometimes I’m even right 😉
So, I thought that it would be useful to collate all of the concepts that I’ve been discussing in a disparate and somewhat scattered manner and put them together in a single volume on Game Design Theory. This is being written from scratch, although it obviously touches on topics covered here. My aim is to provide a reference so that further discussions can build on the basics and use a common set of terminology as a reference point. It won’t stop me posting and discussing things on Quirkworthy, and I hope it will allow us to collectively move things onto a new and deeper level of debate. I realise that this will set me up as a target to disagree with too, but that’s part of the intention. By defining a standard point of reference folk can agree or disagree with something without having to define a datum each time.
These are a little tricker to do as PDFs, but people manage it so why not me? “Print and Play” is a recognised subset of board gaming, and with the increasing simplicity of Print On Demand (and a couple of POD sites specialising in games) I see this as a very reasonable way to get things into print which have languished far too long unpublished.
To start with I’ll be rolling out a simple little Euro style family game. Others on the blocks include empire-building fantasy games, an abstract or two, more Euro games of various levels of complexity and much more. It’s a big list. As ever, artwork for nice boards is a large part of slowing these down. We’ll see what I can do about that.
To be more accurate, a skirmish game, singular.
For many years I’ve been tinkering with a skirmish system that would allow me to learn one set of rules and apply it to any period. It’s not my idea and has been attempted with varying degrees of success by a number of folk over the years. For me though, every attempt has failed in one regard or another. This is mainly a reflection of my very high expectations rather than a real failing of the other designs. However, if I was going to print anything of my own it was going to have to live up to a very difficult brief.
The core challenge is that the system is being asked to simultaneously be both generic and specific, and that’s obviously not easy. It has to be generic so that the game can be learned once. It has to be specific because each period needs a load of character (otherwise why bother differentiating?). I am a very theme-led designer and so capturing the essence of what makes WWII combat different from Aztec Flower Wars, ACW skirmishes, Bronze Age raids in the Aegean, Prohibition bank raids, let alone any SF or F options is very important to me.
Of course, anyone who is familiar with my designs knows that I like clean and simple mechanics that promote a great deal of choice and consideration. What I found time and again was that in order to include all the variables I wanted (for the specific part of the brief) I had to make the rules too complex to be clean and slick. Alternatively, I was almost learning a new game to do each period, which defeated the object. Other options were to try for a very minimal system and this tended to suffer from being too bland. Adding a handful of skills for each period doesn’t constitute enough character in my book (though it seems to be enough for some).
Anyway, like I said, I’ve got to be happy before it gets published, regardless of what’s “good enough”. Actually, that reminds me of a saying my grandfather had, which (translated from the broad Lancs) goes: anything that’s “good enough” isn’t. It’s a concept that I took very much to heart and to which I always try to work. If it’s “good enough” then you haven’t finished yet.
As you will have gathered by now, I think I’ve cracked it. I’ve got a simple system that models how humans work in battle and which replicates things I’ve read in first hand accounts of battle in every period. This is my reference point. Can the things I read happened actually happen in my game? For every skirmish game I can think of I can easily find a number of things that are not modelled well or at all. For specific skirmish systems set in a single environment the omissions may not matter. For a generic system to truly cover all the bases then everything matters.
So far what I’ve got seems to deal with Soviet wave assaults and the gunfight at the OK Corral; with revolts by helots, medieval peasants or downtrodden colonial lackeys; with every kind of battle across the spectrum of History to Hollywood. In short, I’m feeling rather pleased with it all 🙂
My favourite thing about skirmish games has always been an organic campaign? Will there be rules for that? Or will you start slowly?
Scenarios / missions / whatever-you-want-to-call-them are integral to the way it plays. A campaign follows fairly naturally from the way I’ve been doing that, so yes, I was intending to include a campaign system within the core rules.
Very interested in all if it even some of the board games could work. On game design some of the most useful comments for me are the people who don’t agree with you even if they are wrong as it seems to help retain focus on what is worthwhile. The skirmish game that is one of your favorite children how very interesting. I sent you an email hope you got it.
Got your mail Don. Speak soon.
Look forward to reading more about the “skirmish” game ..
Sounds good, do you have anything ready to go? On the skirmish game, just to play Devil’s Advocate, why would anyone want a set of skirmish rules you could use for any period? Is the intention that you could use them to play any cross-period game (say WW2 German vs. EIR)? Or is it the case that they would underpin individual period-specific supplements?
Ready to go? Very close. I need to relay some bits for clarity and general appearance, and I need to have the technical end sorted so I feel happy with it. I’m going to be unhappy with this if I don’t get anything out in November.
Today’s post explains the structure I’ve got in mind.
Interesting. When it came out I enjoyed the Thinking Virtually column by Shannon Appelcline:
#56 to #66 is what I was most interested in, from a Board Games perspective.
Looking forward to the skirmish game. Long distance shooting always seems to be the stumbling block. Add that to any Ancients games and it breaks.
Shannon’s column was always a good read. I really should go back and read them again. And such a great name: Appelcline!
Balancing the potency of distance vs close combat is always an issue, and not just in Ancients. I recall playing a very bizarre WWII game where close combat was so much deadlier than shooting that everyone charged into a big ruck in the middle. That was peculiar.
Part of the problem comes, I think, from looking at how weapons work in isolation rather than in context. if you look at the theoretical range and strengths of weapons you end up with Ancient machine guns. Cry Havoc had this problem with longbowmen. They could almost guarantee taking off an enemy model every turn, and that was just way too dangerous for game balance.
If you look at the social context as well as the technical aspects then you get a different picture. Most (not all) Ancient cultures saw missile weapons as low status, perhaps hunting tools and not real weapons of war. There was often a social dynamic to wanting to fight with a bow rather than a sword or spear (few people would voluntarily), so in a game of Ancient Greek combat you might have a number of reasons for limiting their numbers. A classic Greek battle was a formal thing and very much marginalised the use of missile weapons (other than thrown spears). How much would this cross over to skirmishes? I suspect that missile weapons were more important in skirmishes than major battles as they were more like hunting expeditions. Even so, if you had an experience system for models getting better, you could choose not to count missile kills (if it was culturally appropriate) and this would leave the player with an intriguing choice of immediate effectiveness or long term improvement. Just a thought.
In reality, most Ancient missile troops did not have the choice of weapons, so their decision to use them or not is a moot point. Possibly more important in terms of mechanics is how the scenario you play works (can you ambush people, etc), how much terrain do you use and how is it organised, and what are you supposed to be doing in the game anyway? If the aim is simply to charge your opponent and kill them then missile troops that can stand and shoot as their foe approaches over open ground are in their element. If they are ambushed in close country and their foe is almost immediately at spear length then they are in major trouble (and one would expect them to flee).
Also, what is the turn structure of the game like? Sequences that assume everyone can act all the time will benefit distance killers. Systems that reflect the uneven, chaotic and somewhat unpredictable nature of real combat will make them less potent.
When I look at a balance of weapon systems I always end up in WWII. So these guys will be like artillery, this guy is like a tank and this is like the infantrymen etc… Few periods seem to offer the same range of effective weapons that also have distinct limitations and it is hard to accept less. Of course in many periods generals or society did not always use the most effective weapons available which I have not been comfortable with. Do you play with an army that is historic which can be frustrating or do you allow the player to be wise and correct the errors of the past?
“Errors” assumes that what your usage is matches theirs. As I mentioned above, there are real world considerations outside the proving ground effectiveness of a weapon which often influence battlefield deployment and which the vast majority of rules ignore completely. Effectiveness can also be dictated by the willingness (or lack of it) of the troops to do what is most effective. Time and again, ACW commanders found their troops going to ground and returning fire when pressing home an attack was understood at the time to be more effective. Once the unit had stopped to return fire it was almost impossible to get it going again in the right direction and that pretty much guaranteed the failure of an assault. There were several attempts to change this, but the problem never went away. I’ve also read that the shrapnel rounds used in WWI were actually less lethal than the normal HE, but were far more widely employed because pre-war testing had wrongly shown the opposite to be true. Only after the war was this corrected. propaganda and cultural imperatives will lead some weapons to be employed more widely than is technically most effective, but the conflicts we are modelling are based in a wider context and should, I think, at least attempt to address these issues.
In reality, most people use what they believe to be the most effective method of combat they have available. Whether they believe so because they have carefully calibrated their weapons, are in a caste or social rank that can use no other weapon or have been told so by their god(s) beforehand is not really important. Often they simply have no other option and must make the best job with what they have to hand. After all, the luxury of picking what you want your force to comprise of and then finessing it over several battles is not a situation a real commander is likely to find himself in, in any conflict.
For me the challenge is not so much to see if I can improve on someone’s performance, but what I can do under the circumstances and with the restrictions they had at the time.
I think my view is colored by a game I played that was setup by someone else were the opponent’s weapons had greater range and they also had greater mobility. All I could do was march about and get shot at. This was back in the Chain Mail days. It was a silly game it is interesting that it still annoys me after all this time.
Broken rules are broken rules, regardless of the medium. Sounds like a poor game or a terrible scenario. I’ve played similarly dreadful games now and then and they can grate for a long time.