Wargame Thoughts and Commentary

Learning A New Set Of Rules (Ugh!)

Jim Getz and I used to joke about the fact that we hated learning new rules so much that we preferred to design our own! I plead guilty. Almost all miniature wargames I have played since I’ve been in wargaming-which is -OH MY GOSH!-45 years!- have been rules that I have written. The joke is that having written them doesn’t mean you remember them during the game, as I am often reminded by a well experienced gamer what the rule is that I wrote and forgot! There is also the problem of having had several versions of rules that are amended and sometimes replaced, it is very easy to forget which one you finally kept! It is almost better, I would think, to only see the finished product.

Even so, I am always greatly heartened and pleased that many gamers are willing to grind through that first tentative game, re-read that key paragraph to wrinkle out the author’s intent, and to basically learn a new language and vocabulary in order to play the “new” set of rules. Thank heavens that so many will do it, otherwise we’d all still be playing H.G. Well’s rules, though the sales of spring-loaded cannon and the fiscal resources of Wm Britain’s might have been improved .

I marvel at the dedication of many gamers that allows them to do all this hard work in the hopes that the resulting game will reward their efforts with a few hours of entertainment now and then. It makes me feel very responsible to all my customers and committed to investing an equal amount of effort to insure that they are given a treat at the end of the learning task.

Writing rules is more difficult than many gamers, who are always “going to write down my own perfect set,” are willing to admit. These people are often akin to those who are going to write their own novels, their own hit song, or win the lottery, better at the dreaming than the doing, better critics than creators. But equally difficult is discerning from a rule writer’s text what in the hell you are supposed to do! Every rule writer attempts to be clear, but just as one often does not see the flaws in one’s favorite child, so one can become blind to a confusing description or a glaring omission in a set of rules. You become so close to the mechanics of the game that what seems obvious to you can be far less so to the gamer trying to understand your creation. You strive for clarity and completeness, but a rule writer starts his task knowing that imperfect clarity,and the typo not seen until printing is done, are always going to await him.

So, in a very real sense that few rule writers or publishers will publicly admit, but ALL know is true, that first brave band of gamers that adopt a new system are the final playtesters. They are the ones that catch the little gremlins that hide in the dark corners of every rule set, and ferret out the less than perfect sentence structure. For that, every wargame designer owes them a debt of thanks and appreciation. That is one reason I always offer a small discount to those that purchase early, or wish to buy a second edition that often has benefitted by their comments on the first edition. In a very real way, the early adopters are very much a part of the wargame design team, and should be recognized as such.

This has been particularly true in another way for my designs. I have always tried to do different things, try new approaches, and introduce different ways to address the portrayal of battles in my game designs. In Le jeu de La Guerre in 1972, I tried a new interactive time sequencing with the “Denver initiative”; Rebel Yell! tried to graft the RPG game master techniques onto a miniature wargame, and Piquet, in its many manifestations, was a really different approach to illustrating time in a tabletop game. Many of these techniques were so “different” that they provoked some pretty strong responses at their introduction from those that either didn’t get it, or didn’t like the new patterns of play. This led to some spirited exchanges, for which I say great! I’d rather be hanged for being a wolf than some comfortably pedestrian sheep!

I know that I have always demanded more of the players than some designers, and that some aspects of playing my designs well requires a reframing of perception and a willingness to break with more established and accepted mechanics. For that, I am always grateful to all those gamers over the years that have been willing to try my designs. I hope that Zouave is a game that provides you with many hours of entertainment and fun. I know it will be a better game in a year because of your input and added ideas. In advance, I thank you all.