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"thoughts on the development of game design " Topic


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EJNashIII21 May 2017 10:05 p.m. PST

So, A friend pulled out the ancient game Midway by Avalon Hill and we played 2 scenarios in the Coral Sea variant. The game is now plus 50 years old. While it was obviously below par in graphics, has many flaws in the design, and I got whipped good (frankly, playing a lawyer who is no doubt far smarter than I), I have to say I really enjoyed the day. On the way home I thought about where wargaming has developed and "improved" and wondered if it really has improved at all. That game, even with the variants and all the options had less than 10 pages of widely spaced type at a design comprehension level little greater than monopoly, yet had so much depth of play and provided a reasonably accurate simulation, just like monopoly. I wonder what we really have achieved in all this time. Prettier counters/rule books, but mostly it seems we have added complexity for little real gain, even to the so called simpler games. Adding up 15 dice multipliers at any given moment, constantly checking obscure rules in a 250 page book, while referencing another 150 page scenario book and another 150 page special rules book, all with 200 full color images, each. I remember the fun I had back in the day and just thought I'm getting older and slower, it is just me. However, I also see that young people generally are not as attracted to war gaming as I was at the same age. I started at 11 or 12. I thought it was just me, but maybe the games we have now really aren't as fun to play as they were then. Add to that, the rules are so difficult to understand, much less master to the basic level required to enjoy the game, nobody has the time to try when they are starting from scratch. Your thoughts?

Mako1121 May 2017 11:24 p.m. PST

I recall playing that game as a youngster, at a friends house, many, many years ago. It was his game.

I don't recall a whole lot about it, other than I thought it was good fun at the time, even with the very basic graphics of 40+ years ago.

VVV reply22 May 2017 1:29 a.m. PST

I think you cannot go wrong with a simple set of good rules.

I remember playing Pacific carrier battles when at uni. in one game I got fed up waiting to find the Japanese, so I started forming up my strike force before even sighting the enemy. About 30 minutes after that, both sides found each others carriers. But my planes had that 30 minute advantage. I suspect that it would not be the right thing to do in real life.

UshCha22 May 2017 2:07 a.m. PST

Thre have been outstanding developments in systems. DBM was a revolution. A step away from Fearherstone and Rapid Fire. However for some the old minimal thought, lots of die and vast numbers of bits on the table is too there liking.

That why Monopoly has a thousant variations on the same game. Cleverer games need playing lots of times to get the best from them even chess which is as simple as it gets. That seems not to be a populat approach now, especially for those more interested in Minis than the game.

Personal logo Extra Crispy Sponsoring Member of TMP22 May 2017 5:54 a.m. PST

I think this is an urban myth in wargaming. Articles about "the graying of the hobby" and "nothing new under the sun" date back to the 1970s if not earlier.

One thing I do think has changed: digital printing has put 200 page color books within reach of many start ups. As a kid I published a Star Trek fan zine. We photocopied We *dreamed* of having enough money to actually print it.

So I find if your game has a 250 page rule book, 150 page scenario book and 150 page army list boo, the FIRST thing you do is make a good QRS.

My QRS these days are all a combination of QRS and roster. So in the summary of the movement rules, eahc player has right there the movement rates of his units.

In the section on Shooting, each player has the shooting stats of all his units right there. Same for melee, morale, etc. Speeds things up and really helps players learn the game, not where stuff is in the books.

Here's what amuses me: every game published now – or nearly every one – claims to be the *opposite* of what you describe. Fast play, intuitive, no endless lists of modifiers etc. Yet if you *look* for a game like that you get led to just two suspects: Empire and Tractics.

YMMV

hindsTMP22 May 2017 6:29 a.m. PST

I think progress has been made since then, although the old games can still be fun. As an example of what I consider to be progress, consider the (mostly SPI) tactical game series, from Tactical Game 3, to Panzerblitz, to (various derivative S&T issue-games), to Mech War 2. The earlier games seem much more "chess-like" to me.

WRT current state of the hobby, nowadays we have computer games competing for attention, even for me. The main problem with computer games IMHO, is that board games and minis generally involved more mental exercise and creativity, which of course keeps our brains in shape. Less so with computer games.

MH

Bill Rosser Supporting Member of TMP22 May 2017 8:23 a.m. PST

I think part of the appeal of the older AH games was that there was less demand on your game time. I recall fondly reviewing the last game played and planning for the next. Today, there is always something "new" that pulls for your attention. I recently found an old turn record sheet for Gettysburg that must have had 20+ games marked off, and I know we played Waterloo, Stalingrad and Battle of the Bulge more often than Gettysburg. Simple rules, but also more experience in playing translates into more fun I think.

Shagnasty Supporting Member of TMP22 May 2017 8:40 a.m. PST

Newer is not necessarily better.

wrgmr122 May 2017 10:29 a.m. PST

Some of the early AH games were a lot of fun. Simple enough to play in a couple of hours. We played midway so many times, the counters were almost worn out! I feel many of the newer rule sets are trying to create more reality, rather than a good game.

A good friend of mine who is a game designer, tries to find a good balance between the two. It takes a fair amount of play testing to try and simplify play but keep it interesting and somewhat real.
It's pretty impossible to create reality with a wargame because of our helicopter view, and difficulty recreating men's emotions during battle.

One particular rule set we play had a rather complicated firing table, some of our group struggled with using it. We decided to simplify it into a simple table. After a number of play tests, the firing outcome was the same.
Thus it became a house rule.

The more complicated the rule set is, the more chance I will give it a miss.

rmaker22 May 2017 12:01 p.m. PST

Thre have been outstanding developments in systems. DBM was a revolution. A step away from Fearherstone and Rapid Fire.

Please be specific. In what way is DBM a "revolution"?

As a kid I published a Star Trek fan zine. We photocopied We *dreamed* of having enough money to actually print it.

You could afford to photocopy? In MY young days, the standard was mimeograph/Ditto.

Garth in the Park22 May 2017 12:52 p.m. PST

mostly it seems we have added complexity for little real gain, even to the so called simpler games. Adding up 15 dice multipliers at any given moment, constantly checking obscure rules in a 250 page book, while referencing another 150 page scenario book and another 150 page special rules book,

That sounds like the games of 25-30 years ago. Nowadays I don't think many people go for that.

Thomas Thomas22 May 2017 1:07 p.m. PST

DBX was a revolution (starting with DBA) because in introduced top down design for effect.

Instead of representing each spearman and trying to scale up we instead said how did a body of medieval spearmen function. How did a general move them around, determine whether things were going well or badly etc. Not wit a roster sheet but with orders and then observing whether they were advancing or falling back.

DBX understood the basic concept that generals have a limited amount of time to issue orders before the enemy begins to react. You could issue one big massive battle line order or try and send out individual orders to small bodies of troops. You have to juggle individual control with the need to get masses of troops moving.

The concept system focused on the effect of different troop types and how they interacted.

It did so with simple top down mechanics that put the emphasis on manuver and match ups rather than charts and rules.

It changed forever how we looked at game design, both what could be accomplished (much more than we thought) and how it could be accomplished (much easier than we had thought). It created the whole concept of design for effect (well Command Decision had introduced this idea for WWII era games).

But it was always an incomplete revolution. We still have plenty of bottom up games larded with special rules and requiring masses of d6 rolls etc.

And DBX ideas were never well organized or well presented. This may be changing…

TomT

Mick the Metalsmith22 May 2017 3:34 p.m. PST

Not so sure I first saw the concept of friction in command control first in DBX, Iirc I saw it in some board games earlier usually in the form of a forced march success roll or movement boost and leadership initiatives. Even Spacehulk and the LT Cmd points precedes DBA but I must admit it made movement and combat equally variable as rhey should be, and got the idea in front of a lot of players. Other games also had the intercept/retreat concept requiring a roll, or balking charge rules which did much the same thing.

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP22 May 2017 8:26 p.m. PST

EJNashIII:

It's interesting that you used a boardgame as an example. I must have played AH's Waterloo a thousand times, both face-to-face and PBM. I really enjoyed it. However, when GDW came out with their version, it was much better, and no, not that much more complex. I also enjoyed the Waterloo Quad by SPI and now Decision Games as another version.

I think games have improved and the audience has changed its interests. And we have far more sources available to us than any of the designers of early AH games had. Had fun then and have fun now. But the games aren't the same.

Mick the Metalsmith23 May 2017 5:54 a.m. PST

I was looking at one of my earliest rules back from my 70's and ALL movement distance was based on dice. I think they were originally Tony Bath rules These are handwritten crib sheets as they precede photocopies we used them with Airfix figs. So I think 'revolution' is a bit overwrought.

Evolved is more the term although I concur the "IGO/UGO everyone can move" method has been knocked off as the only method seen. One reason I am not a fan of ASL, my own experience as a platoon leader showed me that command control even in peacetime often cannot always overcome the inertia of some units outside immediate voice range or LOS or even within.

UshCha23 May 2017 9:56 a.m. PST

Thomas Thomas hit the n a it on the head. Re DBM.
Mick Metalsmith the movement was not random. For regular army's there was relatively consistent limit to the orders that could be issued. And more thought than most in deplyment from coloumn of march. DBX in the uk failed due to abuse by competition playes and too wide a timescale. We used it in period abd it was superb. Only don't play it now as the friend passes away.

Mick the Metalsmith23 May 2017 10:18 a.m. PST

I would argue that the ability to move via a pip and not having it and being able to move but rolling only half the distance needed is pretty much the same thing. If anything the DBA pips are a regression as you could always find a pip to move the figure you deemed most important but you always could suffer that your troops balked and not move fast enough.

Mick the Metalsmith23 May 2017 10:42 a.m. PST

Match ups existed before DBX. AH Alexander had rules where cavalry would not be able to charge pikes and you had better get your psiloi out of hand to hand range. They just handled it with modifiers, exceptions and strength points, but the effect was much the same.

Thomas Thomas23 May 2017 12:52 p.m. PST

Mick the point is that DBX did all these things in a systmatic way with easier mechanics than "modifiers, exceptions and strength points".

The idea of PIPs (call em Command Points), is that a general can focus attention on a certain unit/line/group and get it moving. The art of war becomes knowing what area of the battle is critical and needs attention and what can wait. This is much better (and quicker) than just random rolls to see if unit X actually moves or goes half speed or what ever.

As to overbroad and too tournament oriented – both good points. A Game of Fire an Ice is a deliberate attempt to limit the period to just the High Middle Ages, improve presentation and emphasis "Big Battle" historical matchups. All of which DBX badly needed (according to me of course – the designer).

Thomas J. Thomas
Fame and Glory Games

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP23 May 2017 3:47 p.m. PST

Adding up 15 dice multipliers at any given moment, constantly checking obscure rules in a 250 page book, while referencing another 150 page scenario book and another 150 page special rules book, all with 200 full color images, each.

EJNashIII:

Not all games are like that now [either board or miniature] and there were some ages ago just like that. I think you need to have some context with the games created between Midway-period games and now.

I remember the fun I had back in the day and just thought I'm getting older and slower, it is just me. However, I also see that young people generally are not as attracted to war gaming as I was at the same age. I started at 11 or 12.

Remember how many wargames there were at that time, board or miniature? I could count them on two hands. My first miniatures were airfix ACW. Again, I got them from a variety of sources and that was all that was available to me at 12. Of course, the sand pile got all the attention before I actually found rules. And they were everywhere. Now, you only find them in specialty game stores for the most part.

I thought it was just me, but maybe the games we have now really aren't as fun to play as they were then. Add to that, the rules are so difficult to understand, much less master to the basic level required to enjoy the game, nobody has the time to try when they are starting from scratch. Your thoughts?

The competition from scads of games, both board and miniatures, not counting computer games dilutes who and how many are interested in one kind of gaming. I'm older than I want to admit, but I play a wide variety of games.
And how many 12 years olds stay with any one thing long enough to 'master' the game. In 1970, you didn't really have a choice, only a limited number of games. e.g. How many different Zombie games and rules sets are there now?

Being an educator and once high school teacher, I see lots of teenagers working to master different kinds of games. How many teenagers do you hang around with?

Mick the Metalsmith24 May 2017 4:57 a.m. PST

checking modifiers or checking the rules for whether the exception exists for this particular unit as a quick kill is much the same thing. Exceptions are just modifiers added up before roll. Familiarity of the mechanics on both makes ease of memorization equal. I still have to refer to the rules to see if quickkills apply when I run into certain units. I don't think matchups a particularly novel revolution in game mechanics. I rember an ancients game using what were probably homebrew rules back in the eighties at a con, and seeing my light cav run off by heavier with no effect, while hoping to attrition the others heavies so my own heavies in my second line would have the advantage when they met, to be told by an old pro that it was a poor matchup.

Wolfhag Supporting Member of TMP24 May 2017 8:01 p.m. PST

I attended a talk given by Gene Billingsley of GMT games. He said their business grew 40% in the last year. They claim younger people are playing their games because they present a good strategy for the players to apply to win the game.

They had a gaming weekend like a mini convention at their warehouse in Hanford, CA attended by about 75 players. The thing I noticed is that almost all of the games involved the use of cards and many had off map area to track unit status, resources, etc. I think the use of cards is an excellent way to involve the player and ensure he has all of the tools needed to win. I'm working on putting together a deck of strategy cards that enable the player to have the options available and how to execute them.

The game boards and components were all excellent and of high quality. These games were not the old SPI "stack of counters" games. They did involve playing pieces on the board but they were abstracted and had more of a "Risk" look to them.

Wolfhag

Mick the Metalsmith25 May 2017 5:22 a.m. PST

Graphics are the biggest evolution, less so rules. I think that in terms of sophistication the games of the 50's -70's had pretty much the same mechanics as you see today, there were harder games with lots of rules and troop types and then there were simpler versions. We see more varied versions but the essential forms of today can all be seen in the earliest games.

If the initial poster finds modern games less fun it had more to do with the sheer novelty of a simulation game and the role of imagination that novel invokes, now he is just too familiar with the whole experience of gaming in general for that sense of wonder to return,. Games were rarer then and that is the key difference. even the sparse graphics of those games contributed to that sense of imagination. How often has the movie not equaled the imagery you see in your head when you read the book? Today's games with all their incredible graphics, still can never equal the mind's eye.

hindsTMP25 May 2017 7:15 a.m. PST

(text removed) If the initial poster finds modern games less fun it had more to do with the sheer novelty of a simulation game and the role of imagination that novel invokes, now he is just too familiar with the whole experience of gaming in general for that sense of wonder to return,. Games were rarer then and that is the key difference. even the sparse graphics of those games contributed to that sense of imagination. How often has the movie not equaled the imagery you see in your head when you read the book? Today's games with all their incredible graphics, still can never equal the mind's eye.

I've often thought this as well.

MH

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP25 May 2017 10:59 a.m. PST

I agree with Mick here. Certainly the novelty and the 'newness' of wargames, specifically Avalon Hill designs provided a unique and limited [few available games] experience for a young crowd. We old folks are jaded compared to our younger selves.

I think that in terms of sophistication the games of the 50's -70's had pretty much the same mechanics as you see today, there were harder games with lots of rules and troop types and then there were simpler versions. We see more varied versions but the essential forms of today can all be seen in the earliest games.

This, I think is not true. Many of the same mechanics are used, but there are a number of different mechanics now. We used cards with On to Richmond and TSTF. Compare that to the cards and other methods used today for movement and more. [Think Longstreet or Polemos, for instance] We have far more access to historical sources now than in 1980 before the internet. The same mechanics are being used in far different ways too. The command radius of AH Gettysburg and Tactics II have evolved and are used in a wide variety of very different ways in just board games, let alone the translations into miniatures.

It is easy to miss much of these innovations because they have been a slow evolution rather than some startling revolution--and even those few revolutions are easily forgotten. Remember The Complete Brigadier or Piquet from the 1980s? Even the attitudes towards complexity and fun have changed over the years and games have followed.

Love them or hate them, the game systems and mechanics today aren't Avalon Hill or Featherstone.

Mick the Metalsmith25 May 2017 11:20 a.m. PST

Card use in games go back a ways. AH Kriegspiel used them for a combat resolution system and who could forget Kingmaker? It was just another way to create random events or forego a die. In some CDG games cards become a pool of semi random events in that they can be gamed in a selected sequence of resolution but that was much like having crown cards in hand to surprise an attacker. I remember Cosmic Encounter and Nuclear War introduced cards. Slow evolution indeed.

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP25 May 2017 4:33 p.m. PST

Card use in games go back a ways. AH Kriegspiel used them for a combat resolution system and who could forget Kingmaker? It was just another way to create random events or forego a die. In some CDG games cards become a pool of semi random events in that they can be gamed in a selected sequence of resolution but that was much like having crown cards in hand to surprise an attacker.

What has been done, for instance, is that all the things you note are accomplished with one card that were done by multiple cards with Kingmaker, Cosmic Encounter, Nuclear War and others: Random Events, Army/command capabilities, movement, combat modifiers and more. And that is just one example.

Slow evolution indeed.

That is why it is called evolution. grin

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