04 Jan

Before I start this, a note... I dislike writing about game design, because there is a danger of...

1) Coming across as any kind of authority, and I am clearly not, and/or

2) Shouting 'poor me, look how tough my awesome life is' figuratively. With that said.....

Writing games is hard! I know, I know..... It should all awesome, all the time. And in a lot of ways, it is. But its still hard. Its hard for a few reasons. I could go into the perception of 'but you are just playing games'. I used to know a guy in the PC gaming industry, and he was a playtester for computer games. Everyone thought it was the coolest job, after all he got to play games that nobody else could even buy all day, and get paid for it. When he told them that the pay actually wasn't much because lots of people wanted to do the job so it was a 'buyers market', and that he would regularly need to get to a specific point in the game and test that the game could kill him off at that point, people re-evaluated their opinion. He would quite often need to complete the game all the way through, spending several hours on it, only to deliberately perform badly against the end of game boss to check that the main character could be killed at that point. Writing wargame rules is similar in a lot of ways. The 'cool part' is sitting down and carefully crafting your opus in text, and grinning wildly as your ideas are committed to public record.... and that's about 30% of the job done. The other 70% is testing all the rules, making changes and - hardest of all - admitting that you are either wrong, or at least in the minority, by being sure that this one awesome rule is awesome and not just confusing or slowing the game down for no reason. (The final 14% is the math!)

The truth is, there is no single great game system, and what is popular even changes over time. Everyone has their own idea of what 'works' in a game what their ideal system would include. And there are times when you simply have to decide between sticking to a mechanic or idea that you love, or listening to reasonable objection to it. Even at a broad level, this is a factor. For example, I am generally a fan of 'I-go-U-go' systems. I feel that, with the proviso that there is a good, robust 'interrupt' mechanism (overwatch), committing all of your army into a move, and then waiting to see how your enemy reacts is simply my preference. That said, I understand that more gamers prefer the 'alternating activation' mechanic, where plays take turns in activating a single unit or group and play passes back and forth. I can see the arguments for this, and they are valid - there is less 'down time' as you stand around watching your opponent manually move 150 models three inches to his left, and its a more dynamic play style, allowing greater reaction to enemy movements. In essence (in my mind) it puts more emphasis on dynamic, reactive play, while I-go-U-go emphasises more planning and forward thinking.

But even within the parameters of 'alternating activation' there are still considerations. We had a discussion here recently about the methods of dealing with 'out activation' in alternating activation games - that is, where each side alternates using a unit each and play passes back and forth, how do you deal with one player simply having more units than the other?

My mindset is rooted in Epic (Games Workshops 6mm 40K games) which simply says 'you dont deal with it'. When one player runs out of units, the other player/s just activate all their other units. I like this system, but it was accused of allowing larger forces to move some cheap units first, leaving big, tough units to all then activate at the end and be totally unopposed. The alternative (used by, for example, Dust) is to award 'passes' to make up the numbers. My opposition to this is that the 'out activating' strategy is compensation for your units all being a bit weaker (which they should be, as they should cost less on average each, because you have more of them), and that this 'out activation' was a valid strategy and a feature of 'swarm lists', and that awarding 'passes' nullifies the equaliser and then why would anyone not take a small, elite army? That elite armies have the advantage in a one-on-one fight, and swarm armies need to plan to mitigate this, but that swarm armies should have this ability to out activate and elite armies should similarly have to work to mitigate that. I may have got a little over-enthusiastic in my defence of my viewpoint.....

Who is right? Neither of us. Which should you go for if you are writing your own rules? Which ever one you like..... you are pretty much guaranteed to upset half of your audience either way! :-)

See you in 7!

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