Wednesday, 4 February 2015

When a game is obviously a game it's a problem

If you regularly have a peek at what I'm up to you'll usually see that I'm tweaking or working on rules, in fact this is probably the main way my hobby expresses itself in my day to day life. When I'm not thinking about rules I'm usually painting models and listening to podcasts, my favourite of which is Meeples and Miniatures. The reason I love this podcast so much is because, as you may have guessed already if you've ever heard the show is how in depth they go into the rules mechanics of certain games. In the Meeples and Miniatures spin-off podcast View From the Veranda the host Neil and Henry Hyde of Miniature Wargames fame were discussing the difference between 'gaming' and 'wargaming', 'gamers' and 'wargamers'. The 'wargamer' being the one more concerned with historical plausability and realism as opposed to cool mechanics, and the 'gamer' being all about the mechanics as an end in themselves rather than a means to an end. My thoughts on this distinction came to a head while watching a demo game of Bolt Action from Warlord Games on the Beasts of War youtube channel. Bolt Action has been called by many the 40k of the historical hobby, which makes a lot of sense when you consider the minds behind it, and isn't necessarily a bad thing (although I'm sure some mean it that way). Bolt Action has at it's core a mechanic to randomise unit activations. There is a central bag of dice into which is added a die per unit on both sides. When a die is drawn a unit activates the colour of the die determining which side it belongs to. I drew a grey die so the Germans activate, next I drew a green die so the Americans activated a unit, so on and so forth, with each unit only activating once each. The problem came for me when Warren noticed that since one flank on his opponents side had already activated it wasn't urgent for him to take action on that flank. I would say it provides you with a tactical choice to make, but in reality it doesn't because the correct choice is and always will be obvious, attack what hasn't yet activated to reduce its effectiveness, but that's not my main problem. My main problem is that it presents you with a 'game' scenario, not a 'historical' scenario. When has any general ever said "It's no longer pressing for me to order my men on the right flank since the enemy has already activated his units." What the mechanic does is force something to the surface that we as wargamers really shouldn't be reminded of - that model men need to be 'activated' at all. Real soldiers don't pause after they have run a certain distance, or wait their turn to shoot, and while these may be necessary evils in many cases for us as wargamers we shouldn't be reminded of such things while playing, especially when we are reminded by making a choice that was never made by a real life officer. Call it a fatal flaw in the single unit activation type game, at least one where you determine the activations to take place as opposed to randomness like in Gruntz or levels of experience like in USE ME. The goal we are striving for as rules writers or tweakers (because if you game you're one or the other) is simultaneous action, so why make a point out of being a single unit activation style game?

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