As I’ve mentioned in previous pieces here, my first brush with wargaming came when I was in high school with West End Games’ former Star Wars Miniatures Battles line.
Now, I was no stranger to gaming at that point. I’d seen Games Workshop miniatures, assembled and painted, in the stacked plexiglass cases at my Friendly Local Comics, Gaming and Donut Shoppe. I’d played plenty of the Milton Bradley “Game Master” series of games (Samurai Swords, Axis & Allies, with the tagline “A Game of High Adventure”).
What I was a stranger to was the concept of a separate big book full of rules.
I mean, yikes. For the Star Wars game, the rules were as big and thick as a graphic novel. We could get through (mostly) and understand (mostly) the rules of the other games we loved to play on a regular basis, but this was a new idea totally for me.
I remember trying to digest some of the rules while on a family vacation, and learn how to figure out the record sheet that you used to build squads. I just didn’t have the patience for it.
To this day, despite having a bunch of the minis, both painted and unpainted, I’ve never yet played a game of Star Wars Miniatures battles (though I do finally understand the rules).
I underwent a similar problem with Warhammer 40,000. I bought, on eBay, the miniaturized version of the 40k 5th edition rulebook that came with the starter set in those days, and tried to figure out how to play. The rules for movement were so detailed and lengthy I had to stop.
I have a master’s degree. I do complex work for a living. But I was finding myself consistently beaten by rules for a game that you play with tiny painted toys.
There had to be a better way.
And increasingly, there is, at least, a different way being embraced by companies: Introducing simplified versions of the rules for their wargames.
Thing is, this has been controversial.
For example: When Games Workshop introduced new – and simplified – rules for Warhammer (now called Warhammer: Age of Sigmar) it was a revelation. The basic rules were contained in a four-page pamphlet! Everything you needed to know essentially to play a game of Warhammer was contained in a series of paragraphs.
And some folks just up and left, fed up with changes to a game they felt no longer represented them.
This past summer, when the 8th edition of Warhammer 40k came out, there was a similar simplification. The base rules were also reduced to a pamphlet of just eight pages.
Now, the previous edition of 40k had come under fire for being overly complex from some quarters, and there didn’t seem to be the same issue. I rejoiced.
But the question still remains – is simplifying rules of a game good? Can it be bad? I’ve seen people do episodes of their web series about it, seen it debated on Twitter.
The answer is, I honestly don’t know.
For me, I want to be able to play a game, or understand its rules (whether it’s a tabletop dungeon-crawler or a wargame) pretty fast. I didn’t buy the game for it just to sit there. I want it out on the table for me to roll dice. That’s a reason, for instance, that I enjoy it VERY much when gaming companies will include a set of “quick start” rules with a game, enough to get you familiar with the mechanics so you can get playing, and then digest the fuller rules when you have time.
Mercifully, gone are the days of the black and white stapled rules pamphlet. We have color now. Photographs. Diagrams. Because I’m obsessive enough that I want to play the game right, and know what I’m doing to get the full flavor of the game.
Simplifying rules does that. It helps get the game on the table faster, more often. It helps new people play and get into the hobby. That’s good for the gaming community and, of course, good for the gaming company which, after all, is a business.
But I also understand, and respect, those who aren’t big on change. They like the games the way they were. They like the challenge of the rules, they like the “crunch” of the math, they like playing within the unique constraints imposed. And taking away those features can make a game seem to be less of what they want.
I like rules that are easy to understand, that let me play a game more frequently, teach it better. But for others, a different kind of game with different rules is preferable.
And that’s fine.
About the Author;
Peter Kuebeck is a writer, gamer and award-winning mini-painter living in the Midwest. He wages a constant battle against the ever-growing tide of unpainted minis in his basement, and occasionally GMs role-playing game sessions with friends. Catch his hobby shenanigans on Twitter at @popculturecube
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