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"The Natural Lifespan of Rules?" Topic

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robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP05 Jul 2024 11:24 a.m. PST

hi EEE ya, asking for "very, very, very old" rules to match his Minifigs "S" Range (1968-1975) figures, got me to thinking. I've played and still play 60+ year old rules if they're suitable to troops and period, and I don't have any problem with them. But I've seen wargamers reject 10-15 years old rules as hopelessly old fashioned.

Do rules have a "natural" or "normal" lifespan? Is there a period after which they become "vintage" instead of just "tested?" And does this vary with type of combat (land, sea, air) or type of play (tournament, club small circle of friends)?

Personal logo etotheipi Sponsoring Member of TMP05 Jul 2024 11:34 a.m. PST

Wargame rules? What about this "wheel" thing? It's been aroung, like, forever. I hate people who are just hanging on to the idea due to their stupid nostalgia.


So … no. No natural lifespan.

I deal with this all the time in technology. People want something new, independent of any actual assessment of whether that something new is better for their use case. Often times, something older is more useful.

Similarly, wargame rules are either fit for a purpose, or they aren't. It's perfectly ok for anyone to change their purpose over time or their definition of fitness. Regardless, there is no arrow pointing toward improvement.

UshCha05 Jul 2024 12:19 p.m. PST

At work we had standatds back to when I was boprn nearly 70 years ago at work. They are still valid. Just because computers were not invented does not mean standards could still be other than thet best available for an exsisting application.
Similarly while some folk seem to fall for Wargames rules fashions, Rules do not have a lifetine outside ther applicability. There have been some rule improvements but many games differ little form those of the 1960's.

Our own rules are 15 years old. We expected them to be impoved on, so far that has not happened and the dumming down of mainstream rules means our's may still be the best in their class for at least another decade.

Whirlwind05 Jul 2024 1:40 p.m. PST

They seem to, yes. I definitely notice a dropping off of interest after a period. Not to say that some rules can't survive in some form or other for a very long time, but there is always a dropping off – feels like the rate might be a function of initial popularity?

Your question has inspired one of my own though: has there ever been such a thing as a 'slow burn' successful wargames set?

Personal logo ochoin Supporting Member of TMP05 Jul 2024 2:00 p.m. PST

I think wargames' rules are like relationships.

Some start with a flurry of strong emotions, great attraction & unconditional love. You will love them forever.

Then, as time the great deadener sets in, you notice the flaws. A tendency to verbosity. Inconsistency. They just don't meet your needs.You say, "It's not you, it's me" but it's them.

So, you frantically look around & Hello! there's a newer, "sportier" model. Younger, sure, but oh so attractive, glossy & put together in a new, interesting way. & they understand you!

So a relationship with one set ends. Those rules are on the dust heap. Finis. Over. Done.

BTW I've been happily married for 39 years & aim to continue this way. just in case you're wondering.

TimePortal05 Jul 2024 2:14 p.m. PST

Actually a topic often discussed by game designers, staff and the competition. I remember having such conversations at Origins and Historicon back even in the 1980-90s. Another discussion was about revisions. Timely manner or time to change names.
If you count revisions then there is no natural lifespan for rules. IMHO.

Valmy9205 Jul 2024 2:26 p.m. PST

I suspect that availability has something to do with it. While some above have poetically described the cycle of adoption, fading, and abandonment that some will inevitably go through with a rule set, or simply find changed purposes so the set (still just as good for its purpose) no longer fits, unless it is available off the rack it won't be anyone's new darling. It will continue to be played by those who love it but as those fade away it disappears from discussion. As TimePortal mentions, a new edition can change that.
In theory, I'd love to play Empire again (all editions since III but I'll probably never find anyone interested enough to invest enough effort to learn it, or enough time to play it myself anyway).
Rambling now,

pfmodel05 Jul 2024 3:33 p.m. PST

This is a good question. I suspect its not so much lifespan but what causes a set of rules to die. The most common reason is a new game system which is objectively superior, thus all prior rules becomes obsolete. A good example is reaction testing in Ancients or Napoleonic's rules. Back in the old days these rules were filled with almost endless reaction testing. Today this is mostly gone, mainly replaced with command control systems.
As for WW2 and Cold War the situation is different as very old rules can be just a fresh as recent rules. I suspect the main difference between old and new rules is scale. Back in the old days most rules were single vehicle and squad/section per element scale. Today an element can go up to battalion size, or in some rare cases regiment. However this does not make old rules obsolete.
The final death of any rules is a lack of new supporting material, either created by the public or the author. Eventually entropy causes a set of rules to slow down and finally die.

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP05 Jul 2024 3:43 p.m. PST

All good thoughts. Thank you.

My own suspicion--and I hate to say this--is that (1) length (2) use in highly competitive play--meaning mostly tournaments--and (3) good communication between players all work to "age" rules more rapidly. Intense competitive use means that every possible misinterpretation or inconsistency in the rules, however "cheesy", will be searched out and taken advantage of. Length ensures there will be such, and modern communications means that any such vulnerability in a set, exploited in a convention in the UK on Friday, will be in use in California on Saturday--if not, in fact, by Friday evening.

The irritating thing is that this means GW, Battlefront and such may really be stuck with their revisions. Doesn't excuse the shifting army lists, of course.

Worth noting perhaps that TSATF, which has been one of the most enduring, is relatively simple, seldom used in tournaments and--answering Valmy's point--almost continuously in print?

mildbill05 Jul 2024 6:17 p.m. PST

Sometimes tastes change between generations and a rules set that is great for big battles no longer is played because the 'young whippersnappers' play skirmish.

79thPA Supporting Member of TMP05 Jul 2024 7:14 p.m. PST

If I had to guess, I'd say 3 to 7 years. Then you have rules with almost cult like followings, such as TSATF and ASL.

From my observations, sometimes rules get played so much that people get burned out on them. Some rules are driven by one or two local gamers. If they drop out of the local gaming scene for whatever reason, the rules go with them.

It would be interesting to know what percentage of rules never take off, which ones develop a long standing and loyal following, and which ones last for a handful of years before being replaced.

Martin Rapier05 Jul 2024 11:20 p.m. PST

There certainly seems to be some sort of cycle, I suspect many gamers just get bored and like to move on to something else. It isn't really a question of whether new rules are 'better'. Rules come and go but figures last forever. I would hate to put an average life cycle time on it though, as wargaming is a hobby, not a job. Even within our club, there are some people who will always want to try the shiny new thing, and others who are content to play stuff published decades ago.

pfmodel06 Jul 2024 1:48 a.m. PST

The effort in learning new rules must be considered. If a player know a set of rules it takes a real differentiator to get them to change. Look at DBMM in the ancients world, the core DBMM player prefer DBMM. New players are more likely to try something different. Simpler rules are getting more traction today because its easier to teach new players. In order to attract new gamers I have had to move to very simple rules. It gets me a game which is all I am interested in.

Andrew Walters06 Jul 2024 9:43 a.m. PST

I think the question may need reframing. People want different things from rules.

I used to be puzzled by people who say that rules or games were "dead" because the publisher stopped "supporting" them. They want a game that has expansions and new figures coming out, and when that stops the game is no longer interesting. I would have thought that if the game experience needed that then it was never interesting, but that's just me. But some gamers like "supported" games, so when the audience dwindles and the company moves on that game "dies". Those games definitely have a natural lifespan.

There was a thread recently on TMP about a desert island game, and the TSATF and DBA were the winners. Those people just want a good game, and those are rules that will provide a good game. So those games are going to be immortal, because they will always provide a good game to the people who want that. They do not need "support".

Warhammer and 40K are, perhaps, like the Emperor himself, kept alive perpetually through horrible sacrifice. GW has removed the word "Natural" from the question, those games are unnaturally preserved forever. Perhaps there was a natural lifespan, but nature has been violated. (Please hear this in a tone of having a joke, not bitterness).

Then there are the home brew or magazine-published or small press rules that never get support, of course, but may be hot for a couple years. A lot of times these rules get some life because of a novel setting or some such, but as a general rule they're not innovative on the game play side. These definitely fade after a bit.

Personally, I'm as likely to read a book from the 19th century as the the 21st, and I don't care whether a game is "alive" or not. I think I have figured out what I want from rules, and what I don't like. I am still figuring out how other people think about an interact with rules. It's not perfectly clear to me what people want…

So as far as the question goes, I don't think rules are "fungible". Setting aside their setting and game play style, different rules fit into people's lives differently and thus some do have a "natural lifespan" and others do not. Come back in a hundred years and people will still be reading Sherlock Holmes and Harry Potter while Twighlight will be forgotten. I suspect TSATF and DBA or an obvious descendent will be around, while publisher-dependent games other than Warhammer/40K will be long gone. GW games will probably fade if GW fails, but it's doing pretty well…

Personal logo miniMo Supporting Member of TMP06 Jul 2024 11:43 a.m. PST

OGRE/GEV which has had some very minor polishing of some units is still going strong since 1977.

The more complex the rules, the more they can benefit from newer rules over time. Many rules were good in their day, but have better options now.

Although if the story-telling is good, the rules can still soldier on. Classic Battletech is relatively unchanged with a strong following, some tweakings and new gear and mechs for folks who follow the advancing timeline of the story. Still stands strong alongside other more recent offerings in the giant mech battle games.

Despite recent polling here, I'm with Board Game Geek that Chess is not a wargame. In their great database of game geekery, Chess is classified only as an 'Abstract Strategy' game. Many games fall into multiple categories on BGG and can be both 'Abstract Stretegy' and 'Wargame', but Chess is not one of them.

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP07 Jul 2024 7:11 a.m. PST

We can't assume all game rules are equal.

Game rules have lifespans which are natural, if only because humans play them. Games are puzzles to be solved. Once the optimum tactics have been discovered, players move on. Most game designers know this. Raph Koster in his A Theory of Fun in Game Design" discusses this at length.

Some games are easily solved or pose no challenge like Tic-Tac-Toe, or are so hard that interest is lost. Other games, because of the mechanics, the multiple avenues to success, and/or the elements of chance have staying power.

I've played Herman's For The People, for a couple of decades now. I have maybe 100 games under my belt. Still playing it. GMT just released the 25th anniversary version of FTP because it remains popular. The 1965 centennial game of the Civil War put out by Life Magazine, I played once. Simpler games are obviously, more often 'solved' than complex games, but that may also be because they are played more often.

Regardless, games have a lifespan. The design determines how readily the puzzles of successful play are solved.

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP07 Jul 2024 7:16 a.m. PST

Despite recent polling here, I'm with Board Game Geek that Chess is not a wargame.

Maybe not now, but originally and for centuries after it was regarded as a game of war and seen as training players in war. So, does the original intent of the game count? Certainly, the aspects of war it originally portrayed have little similarity to war now.

Elenderil07 Jul 2024 10:21 a.m. PST

I have always felt that it was more fashion than anything else which determined the life of a set of rules. When I started out in this hobby my first rules were Fairly simple and as much a toolkit explaining why they were written the way they were. The next wave of rules were more complex and had little in the way of designers notes or other explanations of the underlying concepts. The pendulum has swung back to simpler mechanisms because players want to have rules they can grasp quickly and play in an evening. It doesn't mean older rules have died because they were not interesting but because players wants have changed.

TimePortal07 Jul 2024 12:40 p.m. PST

Yes I too use Risk as an example instead of Chess.

forrester08 Jul 2024 2:38 p.m. PST

Fashions and preferences change.
I can remember 1980's rules with lots of tables and modifiers. WW2 rules got particulary unwieldy in my view, prior to the likes of Rapid Fire.
The sheer number of rule sets for popular periods in itself reduces "traction" and after a much heralded start I suspect a lot of rule sets implode and are only used by the author and a limited number of supporters.At least they don't seem to get mentioned in reports of games.
You just dont seem to get the ACW or Napoleonic set that "everyone" plays [in the way that WRG once ruled Ancients] With so many rival sets some will just fizzle out.

pfmodel09 Jul 2024 2:25 a.m. PST

You just don't seem to get the ACW or Napoleonic set that "everyone" plays [in the way that WRG once ruled Ancients] With so many rival sets some will just fizzle out.

This is true. There were some rules which had reasonable traction, such as the WRG Modern rules and flames of war, perhaps bolt action as well, but its not in the same league as DBMM or DBA. Napoleonic's is reasonably fractured as well, but at least you have WRG Musket and Pike, Empire, Napoleonic Battles and a few other commonly used rules. Spearhead is about as close as you can get these days and its nowhere as prevalent as The Age of Eagles.

Personal logo miniMo Supporting Member of TMP09 Jul 2024 8:05 a.m. PST

The notion of rules that "everyone played" is a good example of survivor bias. There are those of us that just didn't play at all because the limited options were horrible. Overall for my tastes, board games were were much more entertaining choices.

I played one game of WRG 6th Edition Ancients, and that was more than enough for this lifetime thank you. I stuck with PRESTAGS board games for my Anc/Med gaming until DBA came out in 1990.

Didn't play any commercial WW2 games til Command Decision, and have happily moved on as other rules have become more and more streamlined. Panzer Leader filled the gap.

Played a bit of Empire III, for Napoleonics, but with half the rules crossed out, and have happily moved on there too. SPI's Napoleon at War quad was the best gap-filler.

Mark J Wilson09 Jul 2024 9:17 a.m. PST

The more commercial rules sets get them ore they will be aged, by their own owners, to allow new revisions, i.e. more sales. Then there is the 'new period' cycle. Once we all played Napoleonic and ACW, then ECW stuck it's head in, then there was the era of WRG ancients smothering everything else and so it went on. It's like figure sizes, 30mm > 20mm > 25mm > 15mm >28mm. At some point as anyone in the fashion industry will tell you, you realise you have to go back for a second lap because you've used up all the practical options.

UshCha10 Jul 2024 10:29 p.m. PST

Reading this thread this morning early, I am struggling to stay asleep, I feel really sad.

Soon afterI started I realised that what I wanted and have been struggling to find till I wrote my own set, was a set of rules that reliabley reflected the history books I read.

In this whole thread it depresses me that the terms fashion seem to be the buzz words, not the way a set of rules reflects the reality of history.

Equally the "new periof" issue implies that it's not really the rules that count, but that it gives folk something new to paint, Thats mot wargaming thats modelling. Model railway guys do the same period for decades if not lifetimess so the new period bit seems pointless to me.

Has wargaming really degenerated to a crowd of "Followers of fashion", that to me would be truly depressing, indicating wargaming is doomed in the long term to becomeing just a fad, fanned like the fashion industry to feed crass commecialism. In some ways indicating wargamings golden era has long since past, more figuers but no soul now.

Now I realise my rules are not what everybody wants, but the point is, If you find a set that reflects reality as you see it, why would you ever change unless there was a coinvinceing argument that some new set genuinely reflected far better the reality you which to protray.

Who cares about new figures its about the way the games portrayal of the history, that should/could be vlid for the rest of your wargaming life.

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