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"Would You Buy a Rulebook Without Art?" Topic

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Personal logo Editor in Chief Bill The Editor of TMP Fezian16 Dec 2017 11:08 p.m. PST

It was Northern Monkey who once said: TMP link

Good luck selling large numbers of a rule set without decent art work and illustrations.

Would you buy a wargaming rulebook that lacked interior art? (Not including necessary charts and examples.)

Personal logo FingerandToeGlenn Sponsoring Member of TMP16 Dec 2017 11:17 p.m. PST

I'll go first with the good bureaucratic answer: it depends. For sci-fi and fantasy tabletop games, I like artowrk as I use it for painting guides. For a straight board game, not really necessary--I've got dozens of SPI games with no artwork at all. That said, more than anything else, rules clarity (and editing) count more than pretty pictures. If I get more art than text, I start to wonder why.

Personal logo Nashville Supporting Member of TMP16 Dec 2017 11:26 p.m. PST

it is not a
but these rules have done
well with no art

PDF link

Space Ghost17 Dec 2017 12:10 a.m. PST

I have and would again.

Winston Smith17 Dec 2017 12:13 a.m. PST

I bought plenty like that back in the 70s and 80s, so it's not necessary.
However, I would certainly NOT call "lack of art" a virtue. For Exhibit A, your Honour, may I present Newbury "Fast Play" Ancients. (Dear Lord, did those people ever play their rules?)

I would certainly prefer "no art" to bad or inaccurate art. Some of those vaunted rules from the 80s had horrible fan art illustrations that would have failed 3rd Grade art class.
And how can I trust the knowledge of the American Revolution to a publication featuring illustrations of Napoleonic Dragoons fencing, whose sole virtue is being in the public domain?

Personal logo x42brown Supporting Member of TMP17 Dec 2017 2:08 a.m. PST



Green Tiger17 Dec 2017 2:10 a.m. PST

Totally – in fact I'd rather pay less for a less 'finished' product.

Yellow Admiral17 Dec 2017 2:20 a.m. PST

I would even prefer rules without art if it meant I could buy them for $10 USD-15 instead of $40 USD-50.

I actually prefer rules that limit the interior illustrations to diagrams and examples of play. I find paintings and photos to be more of a hinderance than an inspiration. Padding the page count with artwork needlessly creates more pages to search for answers during play. A wargame author should strive to keep the rules terse, concise and compact, and save the inspirational images for the covers and appendices.

- Ix

David Manley17 Dec 2017 2:38 a.m. PST

Yes, artwork and glossy photos of pro painted troops are of no interest to me. Those and excessive page margins are, to me, a good excuse to bulk a 10 page set of rules out to 80+ pages

Gunfreak Supporting Member of TMP17 Dec 2017 2:57 a.m. PST

Have and would again, though I prefer those over the one top glossy gory miniatures porn rules

ZULUPAUL Supporting Member of TMP17 Dec 2017 3:00 a.m. PST


UshCha17 Dec 2017 3:11 a.m. PST

In my experience "Art" is a replacement for sound rules and thought. That is expensive and time consumeing "Art" is relatively cheep. In my experience the quality of the rules is inversly proportional to the quality of the rules. If I do buy rules, that is what I want, not painting guides or "inspiration" but actual well thought out rules not padded out by uneccessary items so it attracts the fools and inexperienced to pay for rubbish (not that |I am biased or anything ;- ).

Yellow Admiral17 Dec 2017 3:13 a.m. PST

"Miniatures porn"

A category is born.

warwell17 Dec 2017 3:17 a.m. PST

Absolutely. I do it all the time.
One of my favorite rules purchases was DBA – no art
Recently I picked up Machinas from THW – very little art, and mostly examples of play.

I'd rather have less art and lower price

GildasFacit Sponsoring Member of TMP17 Dec 2017 3:39 a.m. PST

Like most here, I prefer it that way.

I'm mostly an historical wargamer so 'inspirational' art is irrelevant and pictures of other people's figures of no interest. Spend the time and effort on good diagrams and decent proof-reading.

One of the main things that is putting me off buying Rommel (at the moment) is the huge overhead of information attached to the rules that I don't need. I think of artwork in much the same way – wasted money.

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP17 Dec 2017 4:51 a.m. PST

I too, would prefer a set of rules without art. And note "set of rules" rather than "rulebook." Along with the art, I can do without the campaign system, the terrain generation system, the potted history and the author's philosophical musings. The urge to fill 24 to 32 pages should be resisted.

redbanner414517 Dec 2017 4:56 a.m. PST


Personal logo etotheipi Sponsoring Member of TMP17 Dec 2017 5:47 a.m. PST

Yes, I would buy rules without artwork.

I don't agree that "padding" with artwork is as vapid as described in some of the above posts. In a longer set of rules, keeping cognitively similar content on the same one or two pages, and not splitting a critical rule discussion across two pages (especially if you have to turn the page) is beneficial. That doesn't mean I think every "fluff" illustration in a wargame rules book considers how the pagination affects the reader experience. But it could. And should.

23rdFusilier17 Dec 2017 6:19 a.m. PST


whitphoto Supporting Member of TMP17 Dec 2017 6:21 a.m. PST

Already have

Dynaman878917 Dec 2017 6:23 a.m. PST

Yes, fireball forward and fistful of tows fit in this category and are two of my favorites.

FusilierDan17 Dec 2017 6:41 a.m. PST


Timmo uk17 Dec 2017 7:01 a.m. PST

Yes. I much prefer this type of approach.

I'd love to see really well designed rules where the layout is resolved by playing the game over and over to work out exactly how the information design process should flow on the printed page. I hate having to find rules buried in amongst images which often add nothing to the rules they juxtapose.

What always make me smile is the rules that have tinted pseudo antique pages back in the day paper makers went to an awful lot of effort to try to get really white stock they would probably think making good quality white paper look old and tatty hysterical. My own view, and YMMV, is that such treatment adds nothing to ease of using the rule book.

I also wish rules were wiro or Canadian bound so they would lie flat on the tabletop. I'd also go with A5 or US equivalent page size so the size of the rule book was smaller, again for the table-top. With more smaller pages it would mean fewer rules per page resulting in better navigation and more precise indexing.

I've yet to see a set that I thought were really well designed from a functionality point of view some superficially look beautiful but are harder to read than they should be and a pig to flick through when learning the game or looking for a specific reference. Some just cram the information onto the pages with little or no thought for the poor user.

I would consider adding a separate image section which showed what the game looks like being played in various scales.

DisasterWargamer Supporting Member of TMP17 Dec 2017 7:15 a.m. PST

Well written over art and pictures everytime

Legion 417 Dec 2017 7:24 a.m. PST

Depends on the rules …

Ed Mohrmann Supporting Member of TMP17 Dec 2017 7:34 a.m. PST

I've purchased many many 'art-free' sets of rules.

The only thing needed by way of illo's might be
diagrams of examples of tactical situations (e.g.,
what does a flank attack look like under the rules,

Northern Monkey17 Dec 2017 7:34 a.m. PST

Interesting. Let's have a look at the rules without colour being quoted here.

Monpoloy, invented in 1933 when no games had colour and not a wargame.
SPI Games. Stopped publishing in the early 1980s
DBA published in 1990

Really? Do these represent the state of the art? You will note that I said, as quoted by Bill, that the issue was not selling SOME sets of rules, but LARGE NUMBERS, in other words making a successful game that sells all over the world and makes a profit.

So, to counter the antique rule sets named above, I would submit the following list of rule sets that are successful, get talked about in the wargaming press and win awards at conventions and shows.

Flames of War
Bolt Action
Chain of Command
Black Powder
Hail Caesar
Sharp Practice
Pike & Shotte
Anything from Warhammer
Anything from Osprey
Force on Force
Rapid Fire
Republic to Empire
General d'Armee
Pickett's Charge
General de Brigade
Field of Glory
The Battlegroup series
Skirmish Sangin
Dead Man's Hand
Iron Cross

Really, look at the evidence. I'm not saying that good rules can't exist in black and white, just that all the successful rules of the last ten years are in colour. The one exception I can think of being Muskets and Tomahawks and that had colour sections.

Pictors Studio17 Dec 2017 8:14 a.m. PST

Not normally.

If I did it is unlikely that I would read them unless they were really funny or had good stories in them.

Before I buy a set of rules and invest my time in reading it, which is the biggest part of the cost BY FAR, I want to know that the producer has put some time and thought and money into making it.

What is the difference between $50 USD and $10 USD for a set of rules. I'm going to spend a few hours reading them and then a lot of time playing the first few games, time with friends that I value, learning the rules.

The cost of the actual rules compared to all of that is negligible.

"I would even prefer rules without art if it meant I could buy them for $10 USD USD-15 instead of $40 USD USD-50."

Statements like this strike me as being a false economy. A case of being penny wise and pound foolish.

If a producer makes a glossy 150 page rule book with lots of pretty pictures in hard back they have put some serious money into the production. Hopefully they will have put some time into the play testing and so forth.

This isn't necessarily the case of course. But I feel like if I'm going to put my time and effort into reading and learning a set of rules I'd rather bet on the person who is putting a good bit of capital up front rather than the one who is not.

Shagnasty Supporting Member of TMP17 Dec 2017 8:52 a.m. PST

Yes, especially as they might be more affordable.

Northern Monkey17 Dec 2017 9:08 a.m. PST

There seems to be a bit of a mean-spirited aspect to this thread, as well as the issue of colour. The assumption that black and white rules would be cheaper.

When you consider that the rules are what really determines how much fun we have, should the same set of rules in black and white be that much cheaper than if produced in colour? $10 USD as opposed to $40 USD? Surely it's the same game, that has taken the same amount of effort to design and test? i think that the value of a set of rules is valued in the amount of time I enjoy playing it, not in how many pictures there are. I would not want to use the presence of, or lack of pictures as a bench mark for what the rules are worth.

Maybe expecting to pay $10 USD for a set of rules is a bit unrealistic in view of how limited a circulation rule sets have? If we want good game designers to keep making good games, maybe we should be happy to pay a decent sum for their efforts rather than be trying to save cash by being cheapskates?

Mick the Metalsmith17 Dec 2017 9:11 a.m. PST

Yes, I prefer the non illustrated PDFs since the ink cost is less. Unless the graphic is necessary, I save my slick art viewing for figs on my table.

Personal logo McKinstry Supporting Member of TMP Fezian17 Dec 2017 9:29 a.m. PST


robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP17 Dec 2017 9:32 a.m. PST

Monkey, Bill did not ask "what is state of the art in wargames rules?" He asked whether we would buy a set without interior illustrations. Evidently many of us would, or say we would.

"State of the art" seems to be a core rule book, possibly a theater or campaign book, and a separate book for each army, with the core rules subject to revision so that the four books are never all on the same edition. I can't say I care much for it.

"If a producer makes a glossy 150 page rule book with lots of pretty pictures in hard back they have put some serious money into the production. Hopefully they will have put some time into the play testing and so forth." "Hopefully." Monkey are you taking anything for all that optimism? If you think rules can be expected to be better because someone wants more money for them, I've got some real estate I'd like to sell you.

EVERYTHING which takes the author's and the editor's attention away from the rules themselves makes the rules less than they might be. Watch how rapidly plot, characterization and dialogue fall off as movie producers focus their attention on special effects. Casablanca came in at under a million dollars. Any idea how much they paid for a JJ Abrams TREK?

You're right on one thing: the rules are a serious determinant in how much fun we have--which is why mine are more likely to have been culled from an old MWAN or WARGAMER'S NEWSLETTER than to be this week's multi-volume, all color paper, all glossy extravaganza.

Northern Monkey17 Dec 2017 10:02 a.m. PST


You just quoted someone else, not me. Pictures Studio made the statement you referred to, not me.

Okay, we'll bear this in mind, as you pull your rules from old copies of MWAN and Wargamers Newsletter. There was a time twenty years ago when the best looking rule sets, like They Died for Glory were being published in the US. Now almost no big name rules are written or published over there. The one exception is Sam and his Honour range and he states openly that historical wargaming is dying in the US. And I believe him. If you are all so penny pinching that you fail to invest in the hobby infrastructure, and that means rules writers and figure makers, then the hobby will die with you. As indeed it is showing every signs of doing.

Meanwhile in Europe we expect to pay fair money for good products, we expect people in the hobby to earn a decent salary and we are flourishing. You get out of anything only what you are prepared to put into it.

Oberlindes Sol LIC Supporting Member of TMP17 Dec 2017 10:16 a.m. PST

Yes. I have in the past and would in the future.

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP17 Dec 2017 10:47 a.m. PST

My apologies, Monkey. That was indeed Pictors.

But let me be even more offensive. You keep explaining that we have to have big expensive rule books with many illustrations because this is the only way producing rule books can be commercially viable. I think commercially viable rules are a mistake.

Not, figures, mind you, or terrain or reference books. But rules. It's a laundry list of perverse incentives.

First, it's a wargaming version of planned obsolescence. If you told a commercial rules writer that his single volume covered the subject completely and would be in use unmodified for generations, he'd be horrified. His whole "business model" involves selling supplementary sets and new editions. Nothing that gets it right the first time is going to be a commercial success--or at least not for very long.

Second, it's closely connected with Franchise Syndrome. If the idea is to make money off the rules, then it's much better to link them to a TV or movie series. (How many rules or casting lines gone now because they lost the rights?) And it's better yet to have your own line. (Rules designed specifically to sell castings? Bonus points if the castings are only designed to work with a copyrighted rules set.)

Third, it fosters gigantism. Many of us might prefer to play a two or four page set of rules. None of us is going to pay $75 USD for one. The commercial rules writer doesn't want clear simple, easily-learned rules: he wants rules which will fill a minimum of 32 pages.

Do I care whether anyone continues to get new rules talked about in the wargaming press, or given awards by manufacturers? Not really. Chess hasn't had a new set of rules in 500 years. Model railroading never had any. Historical miniatures gaming is going through a rough patch in the US, but I fail to see how replacing BLACK POWDER (UK) with ALMOST BLACK POWDER (US) would improve that. We're not being broken by import duties, because we didn't need the rules in the first place.

And you will have noted that when historical miniatures gaming was at its peak here and in the UK, there were very few commercial rules, and none profusely illustrated. If you had a good idea, you typed it up and ran off a few copies. If you thought you had a very good idea, you submitted it to a magazine.

It may not get you written up in the wargaming press, but it resulted in a lot of good wargames. Please tell me which of those two is more likely to bring in fresh blood.

grahambeyrout17 Dec 2017 11:49 a.m. PST

For me, lavish illustrations are a turn off. Yes, I like them but knowing that all too often a) they are being used as an excuse to over inflate the price or b) are being used to divert attention away from the lack of depth in the rules really puts me off.
All mink coat and no knickers as my mother used to say

Andy ONeill17 Dec 2017 11:51 a.m. PST

You could put a load of pictures and diagrams on a web site.

kustenjaeger17 Dec 2017 12:00 p.m. PST


Some people will clearly buy rules that are just text and diagrams. I've been known to myself once or twice. In the main the quality of the old text rules was in fact pretty poor as I go back to some of them from time to time.

Having rules that both illustrate the game and show how tables may look in colour can also draw the gamer and, I suspect, those coming from the SF/F side may well find this more approachable.



Northern Monkey17 Dec 2017 12:01 p.m. PST

So, are we to assume that all successful rule writers are simply rip-off merchants who chuck un-tested, under-developed games at the market, thinly masking their failings with a whole pile of pretty pictures?

I refer to the lengthy list of very popular full colour rules I named earlier. If you think the future of the hobby is black and white rules and a xerox machine you are sadly out of touch.

UshCha17 Dec 2017 12:04 p.m. PST

Northern Monkey,
I agree with your list but not for the same reasons. My statement stansds in full ;-).

Like artm critical aclaim and commecial success are not the same thing. My personal apinion is you list has neither and misses most of the tuley great games like the DB"X" series.

GildasFacit Sponsoring Member of TMP17 Dec 2017 12:23 p.m. PST

NM; you clearly don't think about the rules that you play in the same way that many of the respondents so far do.

We don't care if rules are commercially successful. We can actually write our own rules quite happily (though we don't always do so in all the periods we play) but recognise quality when we see it in what others have written. We probably have a wide range of what we believe to be 'quality' and would argue heatedly our own corner but we do know what WE like.

We've probably been reading wargames rules (and even playing some of them) for a fair number of years. That enables us to know rubbish when we see it – paint it whatever colour you like, many current rules are just games with a military theme.

I'm not saying that is a bad thing for those that want that, just that there are a significant number of people who don't.

Think about it for a very limited time and you will see why photos of painted figures do not contribute anything to how well the rules are understood, how quickly a particular rule can be found or anything to do with playing games with them. Good grammar, effective organisation, adequate explanation and careful proof-reading all DO contribute to those things.

In no way was the use of colour excluded from rules without illustrations nor was it required that they be produced by an antiquated technology.

Northern Monkey17 Dec 2017 12:37 p.m. PST

gildas. Your comments completely ignores the starting point of this discussion where I inferred that you'd be hard pressed to make a commercial success out of a black and white rule set today. As to how I think of rules, you have no idea. You are assuming that I want colour pictures in rule sets. Personally I don't care. I do not confuse colour pictures with good quality rules. However, nor am I so utterly stupid as to suggest that by including colour pictures you must, somehow, be trying to sell me inferior rules. That said, can you name one rule set in the last ten years which has been a commercial success without colour pictures? I can't, and that has been my only point throughout this thread.

rmaker17 Dec 2017 12:54 p.m. PST

Yes. If Art wants a copy, he can buy his own.

skinkmasterreturns17 Dec 2017 1:06 p.m. PST

How many rule sets are bought,flipped through a number of times and then exiled to a bookshelf? A fair number of times from what Ive read over the years. Art work doesnt matter in those cases.

RudyNelson17 Dec 2017 1:23 p.m. PST


Dynaman878917 Dec 2017 2:17 p.m. PST

Northern Monkey, Depends on what you mean by commercial success, I've listed two sets that qualify in my definition. Spearhead and Modern Spearhead should both qualify as well but are more than ten years old.

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP17 Dec 2017 2:56 p.m. PST

I'm still waiting for someone to explain why I should care whether rules are a commercial success or not. I really want particular lines of castings or well-researched books in certain periods to succeed, because they will get me more of what I want. Rules in the abstract not so much.

But I would like to note--and I've mentioned it elsewhere on TMP--that every now and then someone uses the illustrations to make a point about rules and game play. Lion Rampant does a decent job, On To Richmond, and as I recall the Fire and Fury books. This should be encouraged. For that matter, the line illustrations in Little Wars and CLS II were at least amusing.

The photos in Black Powder, though, are just padding. I'm not trying to pick on BP: it's just that of the Boreal Primate's list of hot successful rules sets, that's the only one listed by title which I have in my house. (There's a copy of Sharp Practice 1 out in the garage, but it's been superseded. One of the problems with hot new rules, is that you don't buy them, but rent.)

GildasFacit Sponsoring Member of TMP17 Dec 2017 3:08 p.m. PST

NM : The starting point was a question. The comment about commercial feasibility may have prompted the question but it wasn't what OP was specifically asking about.

Obviously others have also taken that view and you seem to be in a minority in attempting to steer the discussion to another (admittedly related) topic.

I've already made it clear that I'm not in the tiniest bit interested in whether or not a set of rules is a commercial success or whether or not it is popular.

In the list given earlier I only own some of the Osprey rules, none of the others – even those were bought because some of the group I play with experimented with them. My opinion of virtually all of them isn't that high; badly written and poorly structured with gaping holes in their logic in some cases and an obvious lack of period knowledge in some.

Similarly I don't care whether or not wargaming continues after I'm gone. It doesn't owe me anything and vice-versa. I've done plenty in my time to put time, effort and ideas into one or other part of the wargaming 'community' but what actually happens and how others decide to play wargames is up to them.

I gave my personal opinion as requested, it is worth no more (or less) than anyone else's.

andysyk17 Dec 2017 3:26 p.m. PST

I have just been looking through some old WW2 rulesets from the early 80's. The sheer amount of detail and equipment lists shames most modern rulesets. They might not be attractive in terms of actual gameplay to the modern audience but I would argue that the research and information is far superior especially as there was no internet to aid research then. They were successful in their day.
All in one cheap little booklet. No need for a big expensive rulebook and lots of expensive supplements. I have played most of the rulesets listed above and reviewed several of them for the wargames press in the past. I don't play a lot of them they are no more appealing than older systems just generally faster. In fact I too think that a lot of the gloss is just padding and Ive retained those older sets for the info whilst the more modern ones generally end up on ebay.

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