Wargame Thoughts and Commentary

Serendipity in Game Design

I suppose if someone has never designed a rule set, or has done so on a very limited basis, they could easily get the idea that game design is somehow like a math problem, or writing a term paper. You do the research, form your hypothesis, and then assemble it all into a proper form with thesis, evidence, conclusion. It’s an exercise in logic, systems, and precision more like a report than anything else.

Well, no it isn’t-not by half!

At least not in my experience, it’s not. Rule smithing is far closer in nature to writing a novel or poem, or a creating a painting. It is a creative task, where, indeed, you read and study, but translating it into the final product is a work of imagination. The goal, in reality, is not to replicate warfare in a given period. Nor is it to generate data that can be tested, and then used to improve the tactical practices of an army-especially one that ceased to exist hundreds of year’s ago. It is an entertainment, and its goal, just as a novel or good movie, is to create the illusion of “real history” in the mind of the audience, in this case, wargamers. Entertainments, must, in the case of historical wargames, have a goal of giving a strong impression of historicity and the ability to teach a few of the primary considerations of warfare in any given period. If they lack this quality they are rejected for being insufficiently historical, and rightfully so. But all wargames, including historical wargames, must also entertain, be fun, and engender surprise, and even a good laugh now and then.

In the past, historical wargames got too full of themselves, and became too pedantic, too didactic, and ignored the entertainment demands in an effort to become “serious” simulations. They became so labored and such a task for gamers that it was little surprise that fantasy games (that have no such responsibility to history, and simulation becomes in every sense irrelevant) blossomed as an alternative. Even the historical wargames of the late 80s and early 90s began a rebellion against the heavy footed games of the 70s, and became simpler, faster, and with more than a little fun being an object of the designs.

By the mid-to late 90s a whole range of historical games that were historical and entertaining became the norm that we see today. Certainly designs such as Hasenauer’s, Mustafa’s, and my own Piquet opened up whole new directions in design for the historical gamer.

Now the designer has a much wider range of options for his designs, and gamers are, on the whole, much more accepting of “different” approaches than they may have once been-as long as history remains a strong element, and fun is not a casualty. It is the golden age for historical wargame design, just as many believe it is the golden age of figure design.

One example of the fun element in my latest design, Die Fighting!, is the discarding of dice that have been “used”, and another is the novel use of phasing and initiative in the game. I think they provide not just some novel approaches to modeling armies, but also some real fun and surprises.

Serendipity plays a big role in wargame design, and as I was putting the finishing touches on the Die Fighting! phase cards that are included in the set, two new ideas came to my mind, that I simply had to include in the game. They are additions to what is already an extensive toolbox that you guys will have fun tinkering with, and designing your own DF scenarios and “house rules.” The idea occurred to me after I had sent the rules to the printer and approved the print run, but I was still designing the player aids and phase cards-SO... I redesigned the phase card sheet to include two new cards-“Concede” and “X Factor.” They aren’t covered in the rules, but they will both be fully explained in the file section of the RepiqueRules Yahoo! site on the day the rules are mailed from the World-Wide Repique Rules Headquarters (AKA Chez Jones). They are additional fun game tools, and an example of how easily Die Fighting! can be tweaked and nudged.

So when the rules arrive, and you see those two “extra” cards, just look to the forum to see what serendipity can provide-and think about what you could add to Die Fighting! as well!

Go forth and be serendipitous!Happy