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"What gives rules period flavour?" Topic


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749 hits since 24 Sep 2012
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Elenderil24 Sep 2012 7:46 a.m. PST

The intention of most sets of rules is to create a representation of combat in a specific period of history. As gamers we often talk about the "feel" of a set of rules being right for a period. Some things that create a feel for a period will be the obvious ones like the weapons available, their effective ranges and the relative effectiveness one against another. Others might be buried away in rules mechanisms. So my question is this; what is it about a set of rules that creates that feel? If you were to or actually have designed rules what would you/did you include to capture that feel?

I'd like to avoid debates about designers personal bias or opinion. In fact I am looking for those opinions.

6sided Inactive Member24 Sep 2012 7:51 a.m. PST

Tough question as each period is different and each person has a slightly different perception. How long is a piece of string might be a better question!

It also depends what level the rules are aimed at, is it army level realism, as in command and control, combat realism or an individual realism.

And define "realism".

Jaz
6sided.net – Our Blog Network Gets 100K Visitors Every month – Why Are You Blogging Elsewhere?

Personal logo John the OFM Supporting Member of TMP24 Sep 2012 7:55 a.m. PST

If I am reasonably knowledgeable about a period, and have read "some" history, I have some expectations or prejudices about how a game should flow.
If the game does not insult my prejudices, then it has "flavor".
Having said that, my prejudices and yours might be completely different.

Personal logo kallman Supporting Member of TMP24 Sep 2012 8:09 a.m. PST

I second what 6sided stated. How long is a piece of string is an excellent axiom for this issue. And again as stated the level of command the game is supposed to reflect is going to be a determining factor. If you are running a platoon or company level WW II game you are not too concerned with how many bullets a private has for his rifle and whether he is properly taking time to aim. You are more interested in setting of fields of fire and looking to maneuver your fire teams/squads/armor/support weapons to give you the most bang for the buck.

I remember a game design panel I once attended at a Dragoncon long ago that had Steve Jackson as one of the panelist. To this day there is one statement he made that I think rings very true, "In game design you have to balance plausibility with play-ability." Wow! Talk about a profound statement. Note he said plausibility not realism. I think Mr. Jackson understood that the word "realism" is an overly charged term when it comes to war-games and role play games. I think the best one can hope for in designing a game is to follow Mr. Jackson's statement I posted above. There will always be the curmudgeons that will state that such and such a game is not realist. I think a designer should not concern themselves with this group and push for the plausibility and play-ability factor. After all as it has oft times been said on this forum and others we are, after all playing with little toy figures and models. We cannot come close to creating all the nuance and feel of an actual battle.

Personal logo Extra Crispy Sponsoring Member of TMP24 Sep 2012 8:17 a.m. PST

It also is important to ask flavor with regards to what? For example, here are some things that may or may not be important to flavor for your game:

  • Interaction between troop types/combined arms (WW2, Napoleonics)
  • Command and control limits/methods/abilities (Ancients, SYW)
  • Supply (Colonials, ACW)
  • Fog of war (Vietnam, Afghanistan)
  • Hardware technical details/stats (WW2, Modern)
  • Morale/training (all periods)
  • Specific tactics/formations (Pike & Shotte, passage of lines, phalanx)
  • Uniforms
  • Terrain/scenics

Personal logo The Tin Dictator Supporting Member of TMP24 Sep 2012 8:57 a.m. PST

I think you guys are missing the point of the question.
Stop with the semantic requests for more parameters and better defined terms.

He didn't ask how people design rules, he asked what makes the rules give you the "feel" of the period you're supposedly gaming. Its a simple question really. It doesn't matter whether its a skirmish game or Platoon level, or Corps level. Each will have a feel. Whether or not that feel is appropriate, or what MAKES it appropriate (IN OUR FEVERED MINDS) for the period is really the question.

For me, the rules need to;
Allow for accurate (compatible) movement and shooting distances,

They need to allow for historic formations to be used, and formations should work the way they did historically,

Historic tactics should yield historic results,

Troop mix should be within the realm of what was fielded historically,

Morale rules should create a reasonable (subjective, but I know it when I see it) degradation of unit effectiveness during the battle.

Each of those criteria are present in whatever scale the game is representing. So depending on the game, each will have a different rule mechanism to create the period feel.

There's probably more that I am forgetting at the moment.
Clever Gimmick rules just annoy me and ruin the "feel".

Personal logo elsyrsyn Supporting Member of TMP24 Sep 2012 9:12 a.m. PST

I think John answered it very well, actually:

I have some expectations or prejudices about how a game should flow. If the game does not insult my prejudices, then it has "flavor".

Which is why such things are so subjective. It's also why I like designer's notes and such – they tell you what the game designers preconceptions are, which gives you a better idea of whether or not they match your own. Now the really GOOD trick is for a game to teach us something, whilst still retaining its period "flavor." Sabin's "Lost Battles" is an excellent example of a game that is can do both.

Doug

MajorB Supporting Member of TMP24 Sep 2012 9:13 a.m. PST

Its a simple question really. It doesn't matter whether its a skirmish game or Platoon level, or Corps level. Each will have a feel.

Sorry, but it really depends what you mean by "feel". As other respondents have indicated, "feel" can mean different things to different people, so the original question is moot.

For myself, I look to see that a given set of rules gives a plausible result in line with my understanding of the history. I wouldn't necessarily call that "feel".

Big Red Supporting Member of TMP24 Sep 2012 9:23 a.m. PST

The Tin Dictator answered the original question pretty well. I would also add that the level of complexity and the flow of the turn not interfere with the items listed above.

Personal logo Rrobbyrobot Supporting Member of TMP24 Sep 2012 10:08 a.m. PST

I saw something to like in all the answers so far. Another consideration is are you enjoying the resulting game? Really the most important part, in my opinion.

Woollygooseuk24 Sep 2012 11:49 a.m. PST

I'm rather with the Tin Dictator on this one, but would actually go a little further. To me flavor/flavour is almost the opposite side of the coin to realism: a wargame may be realistic (cue extensive thread on 'whatever that means') but have all the flavour of damp cardboard; a wargame may also be flavoursome without being terribly realistic. In the latter case, however, I agree with Whitemanticore that it needs to be plausible within the context of the genre.

For me, I think there are 2 key elements to the flavour of a ruleset: do they capture the essence of the command problem of the period and do they help me suspend disbelief? By command problem I mean, what did the commanders worry about/focus on. Technologically (and therefore arguably from a simulationist perspective) the C18th, the Napoleonic wars and the early ACW were broadly similar. Instinctively, however, we know that commanding an army in each period produced different concerns and 'felt' different to the commanders.

The second point is more frivolous and won't make a game for me, but might break it. A little escapism is an important element of my gaming, so for a me a little 'fluff' in a ruleset can help or hinder the suspension of disbelief. For example, DBx largely leaves me cold though I have no grounds to doubt its accuracy as a combat model. Tell me I've scored more but less than double my opponent and hence pushed his element back a base width and I see (poorly) painted figures stuck to a bit of plasticard. Tell me that following a spirited bayonet charge there has been blood and death in abundance on both sides, but the enemy has been steadily pressed back, and I will see a potential battle honour for the King's Own Foot & Mouth on the cards. The rule mechanics may be exactly the same, but an element of 'flavour' is things like a CRT that helps me compose the daft little narrative in my head, rather than throwing cold water on it every 5 minutes.

Personal logo toofatlardies Sponsoring Member of TMP24 Sep 2012 12:04 p.m. PST

Research.

Personal logo elsyrsyn Supporting Member of TMP24 Sep 2012 12:31 p.m. PST

Technologically (and therefore arguably from a simulationist perspective) the C18th, the Napoleonic wars and the early ACW were broadly similar. Instinctively, however, we know that commanding an army in each period produced different concerns and 'felt' different to the commanders.

Which basically all comes back to our own preconceived notions about what the commander of the particular period would have been concerned with, doesn't it?

The rule mechanics may be exactly the same, but an element of 'flavour' is things like a CRT that helps me compose the daft little narrative in my head, rather than throwing cold water on it every 5 minutes.

I see your point, but if it's you composing that narrative in your head anyway, I don't see why the CRT should be dashing anything (cold, hot, or lukewarm) on it. Are you making a general argument against abstraction?

Doug

Thorfin1124 Sep 2012 12:41 p.m. PST

For me, it is the decision making – am I facing the tactical/strategic challenges of the commander I am playing as and not having to think too much about specific rules.

Plenty of rules do this for me but Crossfire is probably the "purest" of them (imho) in this way.

OSchmidt24 Sep 2012 1:09 p.m. PST

Another vote for the response of the Tin Dictator. The "feel" is going to be entirely subjective, and personal.

The question is how far along this are you willing to go.

Remember when we are talking about periods over 100 years in the past, none of us were there so we have no "real feel" to match our ideas gainst.

In addition, what you might REALLY want may not be the "feel" of the period as it really was at all. Some rules might be more realistic, or mimic what went on better than others, but if you do not enjoy the points in those rules or it does things you may not care to-- then feel be deamned you won't use them.

For example, I despise long lists of modifiers. It doesn't matter if the modifiers in X rules make it entirely realistic (say for the sake of argument), I won't use them because I don't like modifiers. You always have to pitch the gamenot only to history and the period, but primarily to the players.

Elenderil24 Sep 2012 2:59 p.m. PST

OK let's make it a bit more specific. Let's say army level pike and shot or horse and musket. What I'm interested in is where in the rules you beleive it is easiest or best to inject period detail. What has worked well in your favourite game. What hasn't. And what gets an honourable mention for a good idea gone south.

Personal logo Flashman14 Supporting Member of TMP24 Sep 2012 3:49 p.m. PST

Yet too general. Period detail that would be grand in American Civil War would be ridiculous put into a Napoleonic setting. Period detail is any characteristic that typifies the era of conflict.

The rules that don't have it are ones that aim to model conflict over too large an era. Black Powder, WRG are frequently accused of having options not appropriate to all the periods they aim to cover. On the other hand, most rules targeted to a specific war/campaign/period are replete with period detail. That pike formations are in a block is a period detail of pike & shotte. Cavalry in a wedge formation is probably not.

basileus66 Supporting Member of TMP24 Sep 2012 10:30 p.m. PST

This is the reason why I've stopped playing Historicals: my formation as historian gets in the way of enjoyment every time! Damm it! Particularly, in Napoleonics. Nowadays I only game fictional games: W40K, FoW; ecc… Thus I can forget about history and focus on enjoying the game for what it is: just a game.

Elenderil25 Sep 2012 2:16 a.m. PST

So are we saying that you don't know what creates the right feel but you know it when you see it? So far the Tin Dictator and Elsyrsyn have come closest to the kind of answers I was hoping for. Flashman 14 has identified the reason I'm asking the question by noting the fact that detail is period specific.

I see it this way, some details are generic over large periods of time. For example movement rates of men and horses. The basic biology hasn't changed so the speed of movement doesn't change (much apart from the impact of tactical doctrines). Weapon ranges for muscle powered weapons remain pretty much of a constant as does climate/weather. Other details are period specific. Issues linked to technology and also to the formations and manouvers used are a good example.

So to me period detail lives in the weapon tables and formations and manouver rates. In fact to me those areas are almost no brainers, so obvious that they have to be in the mix. Yet even with those included a game may still not have the period feel as the troops don't behave correctly. So we have to focus on those mechanisms that enforce proper troop behavious and command behaviours. Still with me, or do you already disagree? These mechanisms are often found in things like fatigue rules, impact of training and experience, levels of supply, preferred style of combat, leadership and of course the real biggy willingness to continue in combat. To my mind a lot of this is subsumed into morale tests or similar mechanisms that seek to model a combat formations erosion of will to fight.

So whats your take on the above do you feel that I have identified those areas that create feel or am I wide of the mark. Can you think of any mechanisms that help support the feel (create the narrative as Elsyrsyn put it so well) that I haven't thought of?

Khusrau Supporting Member of TMP25 Sep 2012 6:39 a.m. PST

For me it is about the game having a believeable narrative and telling a story.

(I actually find the DBMM model very good for this with general quality, cunning stratagems and unexpected changes of fortune.)

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP25 Sep 2012 10:22 a.m. PST

OSchmidt wrote:

Remember when we are talking about periods over 100 years in the past, none of us were there so we have no "real feel" to match our ideas gainst.

So any 'flavor' or 'feel' is going to be based on the history we know.

I find most folks have a hard time pointing to a particular rule visa vie a particular piece of history as providing 'flavor', rather than just a subjective 'gestalt' of the game play.

So, what you have identified, Elenderil, are what you find does it for you:

Still with me, or do you already disagree? These mechanisms are often found in things like fatigue rules, impact of training and experience, levels of supply, preferred style of combat, leadership and of course the real biggy willingness to continue in combat. To my mind a lot of this is subsumed into morale tests or similar mechanisms that seek to model a combat formations erosion of will to fight.

Based on what history? I would think 'flavor' would be tied to actual historical evidence of those things.

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP25 Sep 2012 10:27 a.m. PST

This is the reason why I've stopped playing Historicals: my formation as historian gets in the way of enjoyment every time! Damm it! Particularly, in Napoleonics. Nowadays I only game fictional games: W40K, FoW; ecc… Thus I can forget about history and focus on enjoying the game for what it is: just a game.

basileus66:
I can understand that. When the fun is in that 'suspension of disbelief', those obviously ahistorical elements in a game can pop you right out again and again. Historical wargames are becoming more fictional, more fantasy, less historical. I had to laugh when you named FoW. The designers claim that you "will face the same challenged faced by the real commanders."

RudyNelson25 Sep 2012 11:12 a.m. PST

Having the rules reflect the tactical doctrine of the day. Restrictions in formations, rates of march, firing range and effectiveness. Command restrictions.

Personal logo Arteis Supporting Member of TMP25 Sep 2012 10:30 p.m. PST

Using terminology more redolent of the period in the rule mechanics, instead of modernisms. Terms like impetus points, pips, ORBATs, C&C and so on to me spoil the feel of a horse and musket game.

arthur181526 Sep 2012 4:24 a.m. PST

I'm with Arteis: anachronistic terminology, or use of terms that destroy suspension of disbelief by emphasising the abstraction offer no/destroy what there is of period flavour.
Sam Mustafa's Maurice is a great example of using period illustration and language to create atmosphere.
Detail about what the player's personal character experiences and observes, rather than long lists of modifiers &c to resolve what happens to units out of his sight/beneath his level of interest.
Personal objectives that go beyond simply defeating the enemy, personal honour, advancement, rivalry with other generals &c.
Conforming to my interpretation of the history, or portraying a contemporary view of events, even if over taken by more recent scholarship.

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP26 Sep 2012 6:54 a.m. PST

Arthur1815;

I agree. Terms and the right kind of information that allows a player to better 'envision' the dynamics of battle is important.

However, there are limits and minefields with that approach, particularly in regards to player expectations vs historical knowledge. For instance, in Maurice there is a 'bombarde' phase. Anyone who knows much about the period would also know that the term bombard was what artillery did to forts and objects. When it was infantry on the battlefield being fired at, it was a 'cannonade.' Why? Different artillery methods. If you know that, such 'incorrect' words will hamper that suspension of disbelief and the feel of play, if you don't, no problem. Among the things Sam is good at is knowing the particular gamer audience he is designing for.

thehawk26 Sep 2012 3:17 p.m. PST

I have to agree with McLaddie. One of the weaker aspects of Maurice is relatively frequent misuse of terms which led to a lot of confusion in early games I played, and which made games less enjoyable. I found I was always mentally converting the concepts described in the rules into correct military language and concepts. Rules writers need to adhere to correct terminology. They also need to use accepted definitions and meanings of everyday words if they are going to use them. This is a basic ground rule of good design.

But getting back to the original question of what gives rules period flavour, this is a topic that has been researched in academic circles for 20 years now not for tabletop games but for computer games. The findings are equally applicable to wargames.

There are also formal techniques that can be used for doing this which mostly stem from the human-computer interaction field. HCI also covers the theory of the design of control mechanisms, which again can be applied to wargames rules mechanics.

So the knowledge is out there, but someone needs to pull it all together. There have already been rules designed using formal theories (not by me) but they have slipped under the radar. They were good but not perfect.

Most rules are bought by gamers, not wargamers. Wargamers know history, gamers don't. So what constitutes the correct "feel" will also vary by individual.

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