Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Close down Consimworld before it ruins wargaming!

I decided to read through the rules to This Accursed Civil War again, only this time I printed off the latest version from the GMT Games website just to be up-to-date. I was dismayed to find that v4 of the ruleset has bloated to an intimidating 26 pages, from the friendly 16 pages of the original out-of-the-box ruleset.

Even worse, the out-of-the-box rules were gracefully written and easy to understand, but v4 has many passages of almost impenetrable legalese - useful perhaps for a regular player who wants every last exception tied down, but very difficult for the first-time player.

I blame Consimworld.

This is the way it works. The new designer, keen to promote his new game to "the community", spends every spare moment day or night online (nearly losing his job and his marriage in the process), fielding questions from the grognards on the Consimworld forum dedicated to his new baby. He is quickly overwhelmed by a tide of queries, criticisms and suggestions from a small but vocal minority of "fans", who are usually only interested in competitive, tournament play, and who specialize in rules-lawyering and loophole-finding. Invisible to the designer is the silent majority of gamers who are happy to play the game as a friendly, sociable contest with a like-minded friend, and who have no interest in bending the rules or maintaining weird readings of ambiguous wordings in the face of all common-sense. The inexperienced designer, anxious to please, starts to make on-the-fly rulings, rewording rules, adding new rules, or even redrafting whole sections to meet the loadly articulated requirements of the tiny but vocal minority. And before you know it an elegant, beginner-friendly 16-page ruleset has mutated into a 26-page legal document.

The answer: close down Consimworld. It's damaging our hobby. Deny the grognards a platform. Now, before it's too late.

6 comments:

Coldfoot said...

My guess is that ConSim represents the majority of people who actually buy the games in question. The wargame market is surprisingly small.

The avid wargamer who is not a rules lawyer is a rare bird.

Alfred said...

I've seen plenty of Eurogamers get a case of the vapors whenever a ruleset has a hole or ambiguity in it; the main difference is that wargames (by nature of their complexity) generally have more holes to plug.

As chance would have it, I was planning on doing a Musket & Pike game next week as a serial.

Chris Farrell said...

I admit I basically agree with you, but I think the answer is that budding designers need to have a thicker skin when it comes to the real wingnuts (of which there are a pretty small number). Endless "clarifications" really are not required for rules that only the most insane rules-lawyer would find unclear. Despite what you may have heard, the customer is not always right, and most customers are not on ConsimWorld and will throw up their hands in despair if they find a huge list of eratta/clarifications/"clarifications".

That, and rules need to do a better job of managing complexity. How much eratta does your average pretty complex Vance von Borries Mark Simonitch game have? Very little to none. Same for Downtown and The Burning Blue. But the very process-heavy games like M&P or GBOH, or the highly technical games like For the People and Empire of the Sun, are rules nightmares waiting to happen as complex processes start to interact. And, of course, any under-developed game is going to be a high risk.

I like M&P sort of, but "clean game system" is not a descriptor you'll see attached to it. I think the rules bloat in later editions is not due to any kind of ConsimWorld effect, but due to the fact that many rules in the first edition were genuinely incomplete. Check out the retreat rules in v.1 and tell me if you think they're adequate :)

Peter said...

Yeah, I didn't mention the retreat rules because they undermine my case slightly. They are pretty relaxed ;-)

Anonymous said...

I think the solution is to do what Richard Borg has done with Memoir '44: publish an FAQ. The DoW rules are excellent but ambiguities are enivitable.

Ray Freeman said...

Good development and thorough playtesting can resolve most (but never all) of these ills. Unfortunately, everyone wants the latest game about 30 seconds after it's first announced which doesn't help matters. In addition, there's the small matter of pay for developer's and playtesters, which is non-existent. Although it's not like designer's make a living wage off their efforts either. At least not in the board wargame market.