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"Why Are Wargames Rules Complex?" Topic


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vexillia14 Jan 2013 6:05 a.m. PST

Latest blog post:

The short answer is because they end up using complex logic not by design but by default and convention. I've been reminded of this very recently. My weekend project was working through the play sheets in the back of the Field of Glory Renaissance rules.

Depending on the rules author's approach, rules tend to tell you either what you can do or what you can't do. The complex logic arises when these approaches are mixed with rules structured like "factor W applies against X except against Y in circumstance Z".

In the body of the rules many authors take care to make the meaning clear and unambiguous. However, the space restrictions of a quick reference sheet, and when rules are tabulated in the body of the rules, places a heavy emphasis on logical consistency, brevity and clarity. These three are very hard to achieve but are crucial in assisting readers to quickly assimilate the mass of detail required to play the game.

Let's look at a few examples from the Points of Advantage (POA) table on page 123 of the Field of Glory rulebook for Renaissance warfare:

Read full article

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Martin Stephenson
blog.vexillia.me.uk
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Personal logo Extra Crispy Sponsoring Member of TMP14 Jan 2013 6:21 a.m. PST

I'm glad to see someone address the notion that complexity is sometimes a function of bad design. That chart sounds like one that should be a grid: attacker as rows, target as columns. Then "Lancers in Clear" and "Lancers in rough" are simply two rows, and targets get their own column. If I were playing I'd make that chart.

Likewise, people often mistake "pages of charts" with complex. One rule set I know suffered from that, becasue it had a trifold of charts. Mainly driven by the 6 close combat charts. But size is deceptive. The 6 charts are identical in structure and use. But you only use one at a time. One is for horse charging foot, one is for foot charging foot, one is for foot attacking works/walls and so on. More charts actually made the game simpler.

Likewise game conventions. I hate games where some times you want to roll high but at other times you want to roll low. It can make it hard to get a handle on them because leaders add pips here, but subtract them there.

Of course, some rules are complex because (a) gamers like complexity and (b) what they are trying to model may be complex. Just like many games use buckets of dice, because gamers like buckets of dice (not me though).

MichaelCollinsHimself14 Jan 2013 6:36 a.m. PST

I wish I knew…

The question remains: Can real life events be generalized and modeled in a simple fashion? And… can exceptions (modifiers) be added without the whole thing getting wobbly, evading the gamers` attention, or just falling apart?

MajorB14 Jan 2013 7:02 a.m. PST

"Why Are Wargames Rules Complex?"

But not all of them are:
link
link

The popular rules sets Hail Caesar and Black Powder reduce to a few pages of A4 if you distill out of the book the actual rules needed for play.

Billy Yank14 Jan 2013 7:10 a.m. PST

I'm convinced that a large part of the reason is that many game designers forget the law of proportionality. What I mean is that just because an event happened one time in history does not mean it must be accounted for in a rule set. For example, just because the "X" tribe used mounted barbarian bowmen in one battle in three-hundred years of history, does not mean an entire new section needs to be added to the rules for "X" Tribe Mounted Barbarian Bowmen. Especially in ancient and medieval eras, there were not a lot of differences between troop types. I'm convinced that because of their simplicity, DBA gave the best feel for the ancient battlefield. You deployed your army to take advantage of the best match-ups, pushed them forward (hopefully in some semblance of order) and hoped for some good die roles when you got into contact. Abstract, yes. But also simple and playable in an hour.

Billy Yank

Who asked this joker14 Jan 2013 7:19 a.m. PST

The popular rules sets Hail Caesar and Black Powder reduce to a few pages of A4 if you distill out of the book the actual rules needed for play.

About 10 heavily populated pages in note form. I'd bet that is 20 pages in 10pt type. HC/BP is not a simple game to the beginner. Not terribly complicated either.

Can real life events be generalized and modeled in a simple fashion?

Yes. The biggest problem with most rules sets is that they try to do too much. Volley and Bayonet allow you to control skirmishers, and yet they are an army style game!

In higher level gaming (where you are an army commander) most rules sets don't abstract the minutiae enough. In lower level gaming, too much detail is added. One does not "feel" like they are commanding more than a bunch of statistical exercises.

PB has shown that you can model a large battle with a few simple rules. Of course in his case, there is the language barrier. grin

John

Personal logo BigRedBat Sponsoring Member of TMP14 Jan 2013 7:20 a.m. PST

There is certainly a place for simple rulesets, and a place for complicated rulesets. I'm not sure that there is a place for badly written rulesets, though!

lkmjbc314 Jan 2013 7:23 a.m. PST

The best ones aren't complex.

My picks…
DBA 3.0 for ancients to 1500
DBR for Italian Wars-1600
V&B for Horse & Musket
Rapid Fire! for WW2
Spearhead Moderns for post WW2.

All of these are not particularly complex.

Joe Collins

parrskool14 Jan 2013 7:39 a.m. PST

"I'm glad to see someone address the notion that complexity is sometimes a function of bad design"


That is exactly what Neil Thomas has argued in his various rule books (and in Battlegames Mag)

Marcus Brutus14 Jan 2013 7:51 a.m. PST

I don't know about the latest version of DBA but while the rulebook is only 8 pages the supporting online document is 100. So, obviously DBA is not as simple as some are led to believe. I love the Impetus system because it achieves a level of subtlety while maintaining a very simple system to produce this result. Very clever.

John the OFM14 Jan 2013 8:10 a.m. PST

Some rules are complex because the designer and players want it that way.

They are convinced that charts leading to charts leading to charts equates to more "realism". Oh, wait. That describes Flames of War, which few would accuse of being "realistic".

Some gamers require that tables use D20s, on the grounds that D20s are "more realistic". Oh, wait. TSATF uses D20 for its firing charts…

I have played "complex", and was never sure if I got it right. I disliked having to look up everything I wanted to do and arguing.
I prefer simple, because at this time in my gaming career, I prefer simple and pleasant to confrontational.

to each his own.
"Complex" does not equal "correct", nor does it equal "wrong". Play what you want.

Keraunos14 Jan 2013 8:12 a.m. PST

the supporting online document for DBA is only relevant to one small group of wargamers in one smallpart of the semi-English speaking world.

The rest of us do just fine with the 8 pages as written, thank you.

John the OFM14 Jan 2013 8:15 a.m. PST

The question remains: Can real life events be generalized and modeled in a simple fashion?

I don't care. All I care is that when I am playing with my toy soldiers that the result not insult my intelligence. At which level of abstraction it stoops to "insult" is up to the player to decide.
MY level of abstraction is Flames of War, TSATF and Age of Reason. As far as I am concerned, these are perfectly realistic and as complex as I wish to go. Very rarely do we have to look up a rule, which may argue level of complexity or players' familiarity with the rules.

MajorB14 Jan 2013 8:22 a.m. PST

The popular rules sets Hail Caesar and Black Powder reduce to a few pages of A4 if you distill out of the book the actual rules needed for play.

About 10 heavily populated pages in note form. I'd bet that is 20 pages in 10pt type.

BP reduces to 2 sides of A4, HC to about 4, and in quite large type too.

John the OFM14 Jan 2013 8:23 a.m. PST

I might add that I HATE "critical hits" which require die rolls on a series of charts that end up in blowing up the paint locker, or the Admiral's Lounge. 5 to 10 minutes of wasted die rolling, and for what?

M C MonkeyDew14 Jan 2013 8:24 a.m. PST

A game is only as complex as those who play it wish it to be.

What makes a game popular? What makes anything popular?

People who like that sort of thing will like that sort of thing : )

Steve14 Jan 2013 8:50 a.m. PST

Also, the more modern the game, the more complexity needed IMHO. In ancients I only have hand-to-hand combat and bowfire. In modern I have hand-to-hand, small arms, artillery, guided missiles, armor etc.

Steve

Who asked this joker14 Jan 2013 8:52 a.m. PST

Also, the more modern the game, the more complexity needed IMHO. In ancients I only have hand-to-hand combat and bowfire. In modern I have hand-to-hand, small arms, artillery, guided missiles, armor etc.

More rules for stuff does not have to equal more complexity.

The Last Conformist14 Jan 2013 8:55 a.m. PST

I suspect wargame rules tend to be complex because that's what wargamers tend to want, or at least tend to pay for.

This assuming, of course, some norm of complexity which most wargame rules achieve.

Ilodic14 Jan 2013 9:11 a.m. PST

War is complex…thus wargaming is complex.

ilodic.

Martin Rapier14 Jan 2013 9:51 a.m. PST

No, everything in war is simple, but the simplest thing is difficult.

According to Clausewitz anyway.

Dave Crowell14 Jan 2013 9:56 a.m. PST

The TRUE reason Wargames rules are complex?

It makes it easier to pretend that we are not actually grown men playing with toy soldiers. ;)

Who is doing the pretending may be us or it may be our spouses.

darthfozzywig Supporting Member of TMP14 Jan 2013 9:57 a.m. PST

Complex != complicated.

A well-designed, well-written game may be complex (i.e. detailed) but not be complicated (i.e. difficult to understand/play).

The main problem lies in integrated the various elements (complexities) in a fashion that isn't easy to comprehend and utilize.

Speaking from personal/professional experience, I'd say most games don't start out complicated by design, but the inability or unwillingness to resist "wouldn't it be cool if…" and "oh, but we need a special rule for…" dooms you.

dragon614 Jan 2013 10:35 a.m. PST

I might add that I HATE "critical hits" which require die rolls on a series of charts that end up in blowing up the paint locker, or the Admiral's Lounge. 5 to 10 minutes of wasted die rolling, and for what?

For what? We enjoy blowing up the Admiral's Lounge or the paint locker.

Brian Smaller14 Jan 2013 11:03 a.m. PST

Unless one has has played WRG Ancients 7th Edition I am pretty sure that one has no idea what complex means. How so many arguments could be generated from such a small rule book is beyond me:)

Nikator14 Jan 2013 12:11 p.m. PST

I played WRG7th and LOVED 'em. Once you mastered the rules (admittedly a long and tedious process) you got a game that had the feel of ancient battle accounts, which is what I wanted. I don't mind a bit of complexity if you get the illusion of authenticity. Look, I know no rules set is anything like the real thing, but if you're not into illusions, why are you playing minis instead of boardgames or computer games?

Not that there's anything wrong with simple games. DBA is fun, too. For me, it produces a less convincing illusion.

cncbump14 Jan 2013 12:22 p.m. PST

I also enjoyed WRG7, 7.5 and Warrior.
Once mastered, they were fun rules to play and as long as I avoided those bent on winning tournament play, a source of fun.
If you were looking for complex, I am reminded of Empire and its follow ons. But if you could struggle through the hours of completing the skirmish part of the battle, it did give a good Napoleonic feel.

Great War Ace14 Jan 2013 12:49 p.m. PST

If critical adults in your life observe you playing wargames, then the desired impression is complexity.

Nothing is more impossible to deny than grown men playing a kids' game, if you can explain in a few words what you are doing and how it works….

John the Selucid14 Jan 2013 12:57 p.m. PST

Rules are complex because they are used in competitions, or in a competitive nature. When I first started wargaming, with just one friend, we used simple rules that could probably have been written on a back of an envelope and decided most things other than movement distances ranges and hits on the basis of what seemed likely. If we disagreed we threw one dice each with the winner deciding. So morale rules were something like
"I think they would run away now"
"No chance, they are guards!"
"ok lets role and see!"
Could you imagine that happening in a competition?
Rules are made complex in an attempt to make them unambiguous, only for that to produce more loopholes for the rules lawyers to exploit.
And I'm with Nikator and cncbump, I thought WRG 7th a great set of rules if played by two consenting adults. Warrior, which is still my ruleset of choice became more complex by defining situations more closely, but in my view became a bit more artificial because of that.

combatpainter Fezian14 Jan 2013 1:27 p.m. PST

It should be easy to learn yet force you to make critical thinking decisions. All this as opposed to the more complex game that needs endless pages of blah, while over covering everything and allowing you but the choice to move or fire.

basileus6614 Jan 2013 1:34 p.m. PST

That's the reason why I like rulesets like Maurice or Lasalle. I like those systems that allow me to focus on the game, not on the rules.

JJartist14 Jan 2013 2:22 p.m. PST

I think if you distill the responses you will there are two types of games.

Games that focus on similarity, which often makes them simpler.

Games that focus on diversity, which often makes them complex.

In ancients, the diversity is the issue. Caesar's legions were different a hundred years before or after him, even though they mostly all used swords and big shields. If you want to game that concept then it will be more complex.

The other issue (as noted) is that for some irrational reason gamers convince themselves that they need to have an ancient system that allows competitive games between Sumerians and Burgundians, and everybody else in-between. That is a silly notion, but that adds complexity because then the one time that the Macedonian cavalry dismounted, becomes a wanted commodity by the zealous detail oriented players, searching for that thing that can win a game for them out of their arses…

Last Hussar14 Jan 2013 3:09 p.m. PST

Rules Lawyers.

"It doesn't say my knights CAN'T jump castle walls on horseback."

Thomas Thomas14 Jan 2013 3:19 p.m. PST

Generally complexity comes from poor rule design. Full Stop.

A few speicific comments:

d6 are actually a source of complexity. The small range of variation means particularlly for post 1900 combat you need lots of tables and successive dice rolls rather than one roll to resolve the issue (this is why Warhammer, 40k and FOW require so many die rolls to do anything). Grab a copy of Command Decision I or II to see how d10 can make stuff much easier (not III & IV which caught a bad case of complexity flu).

DBA does not need a 100 page supplement (one pocket of DBA gamers seems to need it the rest of us are fine without) and shows that clever rules are often both simplier and more realistic than complex rules. DBA is a far better simulation of medieval warfare than WRG 7th edition and a vastly simplier set of rules. (And the good news is that DBA 3.0 is easier to read and an even better simulation.)

TomT

Condottiere14 Jan 2013 4:23 p.m. PST

Why Are Wargames Rules Complex?

Generally complexity comes from poor rule design…

…and poor grammar.

Ditto Tango 2 314 Jan 2013 4:50 p.m. PST

DELETED

platypus01au14 Jan 2013 6:36 p.m. PST

And of course the irregularities of the English language.

I remember a discussion where someone was firmly convinced that the words "straight ahead" meant beyond the front of a unit, but way off to the side.

Diagrams help.

Cheers,
JohnG

ScottS15 Jan 2013 12:47 p.m. PST

I might add that I HATE "critical hits" which require die rolls on a series of charts that end up in blowing up the paint locker, or the Admiral's Lounge. 5 to 10 minutes of wasted die rolling, and for what?

I think that it is reasonable for games to have a chance – but not a guarantee – of a disastrous result once in a while. I realize that this is a matter of preference, but eliminating that chance seems off.

Here, for example. You cited "the paint locker, or the Admiral's Lounge." That implies naval wargaming…

Picture a naval wargame set on May 24th, 1941. You're about to take the HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Hood against the Bismark and Prinz Eugen…

We all know how that turned out – the Hood blew up.

If random results of "critical hits" aren't possible you're stuck with one of two things happening – either (a) the Hood blows up when the Bismark shoots it (in which case you'd be a fool to bring the Hood into a battle) or (b) the Hood doesn't blow up, an inaccurate outcome.

In order to make things viable, we make it a random chance. The Hood might blow up, or it might not.

Seem reasonable?

Lion in the Stars15 Jan 2013 3:19 p.m. PST

Ambush Alley games are generally mechanically simple, but the reactions make it SEEM complex. It certainly took me several playthroughs to wrap my brain around the reaction cascade, and I decided to do it differently than written. I resolve all the cases where the reacting troops beat the acting troops, then all the reacting troops that failed to beat the acting troops.

Infinity has much the same 'problem', the reactions.

But the reactions make the game seem 'faster', and have the gamer more involved. It's not like 40k where you can go get lunch and a beer when it's your opponent's turn!

Who asked this joker15 Jan 2013 3:22 p.m. PST

In order to make things viable, we make it a random chance. The Hood might blow up, or it might not.

Most of this sort of randomization can be built right into damage without special rules. lets say the salvo causes 3D6 of damage and the hood has 3 points of armor which absorbs some of that damage. lets say the hood can take 15 points of damage. The 1 salvo probably won't sink it unless an 18 is rolled. 1 hit 1 dead ship and the smack of a critical hit.

thehawk15 Jan 2013 3:41 p.m. PST

It is just a perception thing. The typical wargamer is a bogan, so anything more difficult than opening a can of beer is going to seem complex.

So by implication, most rules writers are bogans too, and explaining things in simple terms is not part of their toolset.

The sure sign of a bogan ruleset is one where instead of using a diagram or a chart, the rules use paragraph after paragraph of written prose. The bogan rules writer believes that "a 1000 words is worth a picture".

balticbattles15 Jan 2013 4:26 p.m. PST

For the particular table in case, I'd argue it was not set up to make each individual item as easy as possible to process logic for, but to allow an 'at a glance' elimination of many lines of logic. In woods? Ignore half the table.

ScottS15 Jan 2013 6:39 p.m. PST

Most of this sort of randomization can be built right into damage without special rules. lets say the salvo causes 3D6 of damage and the hood has 3 points of armor which absorbs some of that damage. lets say the hood can take 15 points of damage. The 1 salvo probably won't sink it unless an 18 is rolled. 1 hit 1 dead ship and the smack of a critical hit.

Under that system the Hood will sink after an average of two salvos.

Average of 3d6 = 10.5. Minus "3 points of armor," 7.5. Hood can take 15 points – it sinks after, on average, two salvos.

Seems a bit iffy to me. ;)

But, yes, I get your larger point – and I'm guessing that this is John's point as well – that is, build the odd-ball results ("critical hits") into the same mechanic you normally use to resolve damage rather than move to some different method. That's fair.

Maybe something like "if you roll X, roll again, keep going until you don't roll X," where X = a max result, or "doubles," or whatever?

But I'll still stand by my point – in my opinion, the occasional oddball result is (a) historical and (be) entertaining.

Kaptain Kobold15 Jan 2013 10:21 p.m. PST

"Likewise game conventions. I hate games where some times you want to roll high but at other times you want to roll low. It can make it hard to get a handle on them because leaders add pips here, but subtract them there."

Sometimes it works logically, though. There's something instinctive about rolling high to hit, for example. But rolling under a number also makes sense for other things.

A couple of examples from my own minor rule efforts.

In my gladiator rules, rolling to hit involves rolling high – big numbers mean a big hit. Each gladiator has an armour save factor – the less armour they have, the lower the number. I used to make the save roll a high one – you had to roll a dice and add your armour factor, trying to beat a 7. Someone pointed out that you could get the same effect by just rolling a D6 and trying to get equal to or less than your armour score. It's easier to remember and quicker to work out.

In my WW1 air rules you roll a handful of dice to score hits, needing a 5 or 6. Scores of 6 count towards a possible critical – the more 6s you roll, the more chance of getting one. Again, the easiest way to assess this is rolling under the number of sixes you scored on a single D6. Easy to remember, easy to use.

So, sometimes high and low rolling works.

(I appreciate the armour save roll could be 'Roll over target armour value to avoid it', but there's something instinctive about the attacker rolling to hit and the defender rolling to save.)

Khusrau16 Jan 2013 3:55 a.m. PST

I think one key issue is that many people equate complexity with accuracy (often spuriously).

But I do tend to agree that it can be difficult to actually write a simple set of rules.

Personally, I like simple rules where I can finish a game in a reasonable amount of time (nightmares of Empire…) so for me a reasonable level of complexity is the 'Blitzkrieg Commander' series (very simple). DBMM, moderately simple. etc.

But if you want to play Tractics or calculate the angle of impact and penetration for the 1943 model Pz whatever – feel free. Just don't expect me to play.

Lewisgunner16 Jan 2013 4:40 a.m. PST

A big difficulty with rules is the apparent lack of internal logic. It is much easier to learn a set if the logic is constant. So if one has a concept of Impact troops being more effective at initial contact than others then it is really useful to have some concept such as that the guys with the longer weapon have the advantage in round one and then have longer weapon defined as
1) Heavy throwing weapon (such as plum)
2) Pike, Lance
3 Sword, spear, Musket with bayonet
4) Other weapon e.g swung musket, bowmen, artillery.
Then just have one PoA for Each grade above so charging pike are two grades above clubbed musket.
Because that has palpable logic it is easy to learn and to work out on the table.
The PoA system in FoG is quite a good idea, it is just atrociously written.

Rule writers also have to learn to omit something from the calculations so as to enhance speed of play and above all the ability of players to hold the rules in their head. FoG's morale system is not too bad at this, it has a die throw and few factors. It is moderated in its fierceness by having only one grade of drop per move and by the ability of superior troops to reroll ones and by adding a general to reroll ones, twos and threes. Its weakness is that your troops can be really high morale one throw and really crap next time for no apparent reason.
So far I have found the best way to win in FoG R is to get artillery fire from heavy guns onto several targets and make them take lots of tests. that way they will get a bad test at some point and go down a morale grade. In FoGR once you go down a grade and are in melee you appear to be doomed because the fighting factors are so badly affected by a morale downgrade.
The problem of simplicity is crude categories and major jumps from one categorisation for relatively small changes.
To get a set that is quick and easy to memorise and relatively realistic yu have to have brilliant rulewriting like Barker in DBA or Conliffe in Armati. The FoG series are OK, but pedestrian, not brilliant.

Mehoy Nehoy16 Jan 2013 7:20 a.m. PST

What is a 'bogan'?

Condottiere16 Jan 2013 8:48 a.m. PST

The FoG series are OK, but pedestrian, not brilliant.

Rules by committee?

freewargamesrules16 Jan 2013 9:44 a.m. PST

You can have nice game systems in a very short space. There are several sets of rules that cover 1 or 2 pages which are a joy to play. No they will not be used in competitions but they have a place in our hobby. Here are 3 sets that show what can be done.

link

PDF link

link

I've always thought of running a competition for people to design a specific period wargame on a piece of paper (1 or 2 sides).

arthur181516 Jan 2013 10:56 a.m. PST

I think some reasons many – not all – wargame rules are complex are (in no particular order):

Complexity creates an (a spurious one, IMHO) impression of realism/credibility as an adult, rather than childish, pastime. Some of the criticisms levelled at Game Of War on Channel Four was that the system of using opposed die rolls and reading the outcome according to the difference in scores from a chart was not a conventional set of wargame rules; that it made the hobby seem childish, and that it lacked detail /was unrealistic. In fact, though the programme failed to emphasise the point, the system was that of an American version of Kriegsspiel written in the 1880's by an officer in the US Artillery, designed to enable umpires to control a double-blind game (which GoW was) quickly and feedback outcomes back to players. Had we attempted to use coventional hobby rules, the games could not have been completed in the studio with the time available to record the programme.

Attempting to portray battle by 'bottom-up' modelling; starting with individual soldiers/weapons and working upwards, rather than looking at overall outcomes for tactical units appropriate to the players' level of command. The Quarrie rules are an example: calculate the casualties from each volley, test morale and discover the outcome. In the 1824 Kriegsspiel – the only Napoleonic wargames rules written by an officer with actual combat experience in the period – having decided the odds applicable to a situation, the umpire selected and threw the appropriate proportional die, and read both the morale outcome and casualties off its face. Simples! (as those meerkats say..)

Subsequent modification/tinkering with rules to generate the desired effect/add extra detail/realism, rather than a radical rewrite/redesign. If one attempted to incorporate all the individual rule suggestions made in Don Featherstone's books into one set, the result would be both lengthy and complex – and probably contain some contradictions, too.

Many commercial rulesets mention their page count and number of charts as selling points, so that a 200pp rulebook is regarded as better value than a 25pp one. Lengthy rules can command higher prices than short, concise ones; purchasers might baulk at paying a high price for a slim booklet, no matter how playable and realistic the rules are. That's just human nature, and the publishers have to be aware of it, so the simpler rules like Black Powder are padded out with pictures, historical background, advice on painting figures and modeling terrain.

Poor writing, poor design and an insistence on trying to model activities beneath the commanders' notice, to recreate an objective portrayal of a battle in miniature, rather than the subjective impressions of the participants.
Wargamers seem to want to know exactly why the XIXth Foot routed; generals are more concerned with what orders to give now it has fled.

Tradition – wargames have always been like this.

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