Archive for the 'rants' Category

On Games Workshop’s Rules Designs

I made a comment on Twitter this week about how the main rules mechanics for GW’s Warhammer Fantasy Battle and Warhammer 40K games are ‘stuck in the 70’s.’  I was asked what I meant by this, and 140 characters simply isn’t enough space to even start talking about what I was getting at.

First, a little background for people coming here via Twitter who don’t know me.  I’ve been playing miniatures games since the early 1980’s.  I’ve played several versions of WHFB & 40K, along with many of the GW specialist games.  I’ve also played plenty of other games, including many historical miniatures rules sets over the years.  This has given me a fairly broad perspective when it comes to looking at rules systems as well as an “outsider’s” viewpoint on the GW games.  On the whole I would state that there have been many more rules design innovations on the historical miniatures side of the house in the last few decades.

Second, while the “Stuck in the ’70’s” comment is snarky (it’s Twitter after all), I’m not a hater when it comes to GW’s rules.  I’m starting to play 40K again and have enjoyed the games I’ve played.  The core rules are pretty simple, but so are the rules for chess.  Complexity does not automatically make a game ‘better.’  My point with this article is to talk about some other options when it comes core rules mechanics, and hopefully give gamers who are used to GW games some food for thought.   I’m just getting back into the GW games so if I get something wrong here, I’m happy to be corrected.

Let’s go over some of the core mechanics in GW’s games (I’ll use 40K as I’m more familiar with it, but the basics are pretty much the same for WHFB).

  • It uses an IGO/UGO turn sequence.  I move, I shoot, I charge, then you do the same thing in the same order & we continue trading off like this for the rest of the game.
  • Once initiative is set in the first turn, it stays that way for the rest of the game.
  • Short, concrete movement rates for most units.  For the most part, you know how far your units can move every turn.
  • You can do something with every unit, every turn.
  • You use basic D6 rolls to hit, wound and attempt to save.  There’s a lot of die rolling every turn.  Some gamers love this, others hate it.  I personally am fine with this approach.

There is more to the rules than those items, but that’s pretty much the guts of it.  If you go back and look at some of the ‘classic’ or ‘old school’ wargaming rules from back in the 1960’s or 1970’s (Charles Grant, Peter Young, Donald Featherstone, Peter Gilder, etc.) you would see rules with very similar, simple mechanics.  Plenty of historical miniatures gamers still enjoy playing games with similar rules sets today.

In GW’s case, I believe that they have focused on these rules sets for the following reasons:

  • Simplicity.  Let’s be honest:  GW makes a lot of money off of getting new gamers (especially younger gamers) into the hobby with the cool miniatures designs and the background.   Giving them a simple, easy-to-digest rules set helps get them into the hobby and spending money.  A more complex set of rules would raise the entry bar into the hobby which is good neither for the new gamer nor GW’s bottom line.  
  • Continuity.  Somone who hasn’t played 40K since the Rouge Trader days (raises hand) should be able to get a feel for the game after a few turns.  
  • Competition.  The competition scene for both 40K & WHFB (the latter more than the former IMO) is an important consideration.  The game structure is designed to come to a decisive conclusion in a handful of turns taking no more than three hours or so.  This also means that the game as it comes out of the box, is all about equality.  Players build armies with the same number of points and play a series of preset game scenarios.  This, along with GW’s long refresh cycle for codexes, seems to lead to more discussion about ‘meta’ and killer army list designs more than it does in-game tactics from what I can tell.  There are a group of favored armies that competetive/Win-at-all-costs players prefer, with a handful of army designs around them.  (The High Elf “Teclis” or “Non-Teclis” lists are ones that come to mind right now).  Also, “Death Stars” and “Buses” are part of the Warhammer lingo I’m trying to pick up.  I could go into the competition angle more, but that’s a separate article most likely.

There are other reasons I’m sure, but those are the ones that stand out to me. It’s definitely not because the rules authors think the GW core rules can’t be improved upon.  Rick Priestly’s Warmaster (and follow-on variants Black Powder & Hail Caesar), or Alessio Cavatore’s “Kings of War”,  or “Bolt Action” show that these gentlemen keep thinking of new mechanics to use in tabletop gaming.

While there are clubs and groups that will do more of what GW calls ‘forming a narrative’ with custom scenarios & perhaps unequal points values, I’m willing to bet that a majority of games played will be of the ‘standard’ variety.  Creating scenarios that work takes time, and many gamers aren’t interested in taking that time.  Also, creating scenarios that lead to fun games is a skill, and one that takes time to develop in my opinion.   With GW”s focus on new gamers, that skill is often not present.

Right.  Now that I’ve laid out my view on the rules and why they exist, what areas do I think are old fashioned?

  • Unit Activation/Command Control – I’m a big fan of ‘friction’ (as described by Clausewitz in Vom Krieg).  In a very oversimplified nutshell, war is a mesy sy business; no plan survives contact with the enemy; and things never go totally according to plan.  Many rules (especially ones oriented towards competitive gaming IMO), allow gamers to have way to much control over their forces on the tabletop.  In the GW rules, every unit can act every turn.  There are a few rules to limit this (Animosity, stupidity come to mind), but for the most part, you can do what you want when you want to.  In other rules, your ability to get your troops to do anything other than just stand around or find someplace good to hide may depend on their training, their current condition, and how far away they are from their general.  This can lead to a more chaotic game where your best laid plans may not always turn out, and the keen general needs to be ready to improvise.  The Too Fat Lardies series of rules, as an example, are all about friction.
  • Turn Sequencing – The IGO/UGO style of rules, especially when combined with simple or non-existent C3 rules, can lead to a very stylized game, similar to chess where certain armies have ‘gambits’ that they run over & over again. A number of other rules sets feature a turn structure where units activate at random ( a card draw system is common) & they can take their turn (moving and/or shooting depending on the rules set), and then you draw for the next unit.  This can lead to runs of initiative where two, three or more friendly units can do something before the other side can react.  Another common structure in wargames is a more interactive turn sequence, where your opponent is able to react to certain actions your unit takes.  A common one in modern or SF games is the ability to reaction fire at enemy movement, while a common one in ancients/fantasy games would be to allow a unit to opportunity charge or counter-charge enemy units that pass close to them.  This runs counter to the GW turn sequence where you can move up and shoot your opponent with impunity.  Advancing on the enemy becomes a riskier operation.
  • Initiative – In games that don’t feature random activation, there are often mechanisms to allow initiative to pass back and forth between sides.  This can lead to situations where one side may get to take two turns in a row (which can alter the course of a game dramatically), or give them the option to move and/or shoot first, which can be tactically significant.
  • Movement.  Some other rules use more random movement rates to throw a wrench in your plans.  This can either be by rolling dice to determine movement rates or, like Rick Priestly does in Warmaster/Black Powder/Hail Caesar, by rolling against a command value and, based on the roll, being able to do a single, double, or triple move, or possbily no movement at all.
  • Shooting – The GW games place a lot of emphasis on the individual weaponry each model is equipped with.  Some modern/SF rules sets place more emphasis on the quality of the firer of a weapon versus the weapon itself.  The Ambush Alley rules sets (Force on Force for moderns, Tomorrow’s War for SF) are an example of this.  The weapons a unit carries are abstracted, and fire combat is based more on the firer’s ability to use his or her weapon to its greatest effect.

There are a number of alternate rules sets for SF gaming that people are using for their Warhammer 40K games.  The reasons for doing so include being bored with the 40K rules, or perhaps boycotting GW’s regular rules refresh cycles but still wanting to use their models in a game.  A few examples that I’ve seen are:

Interestingly, I’ve been following the Kickstarter for Rick Priestly’s new “Gates of Antares” rules set that is in development, and a blog post this morning describing the proposed rules mechanisms reminds me a lot of “Bolt Action”, which actually makes me more more interested in contributing to the Kickstarter for this project.  Even if the new figures or fluff is lackluster, you could still get some interesting new games using your 40K models that flow differently that what you’d be used to.

Hmm.  What started off as a fairly simple tweet on my part has bloomed into a full-blown ramble.  I guess this is as good a place as any to cut it off.  Anyway, for gamers who wanted to know more about why I said what I said about GW’s rules designs, I hope this provides some context.  I’ll be happy to discuss this more in the comments or on twitter if you like.

Happy Gaming!


A Long Overdue Update & Plans for 2013

Happy New Year everyone!

It’s been a long time since I updated this blog.  As usual, there are a couple of reasons for this:

  1. Life has been busy.  My work got very busy in the second half of 2012 and I spent a lot of time working out of town.  Naturally this had a negative effect on my hobby time.  I also had some family health issues to deal with as well.
  2. What hobby time I have had has mostly been spent working on non-historical projects.  I picked up a copy of Warhammer 40K last summer and found a new (to me) local game store that had a healthy GW gaming crowd that had a vibe I liked.  As a result, I’ve spent most of my hobby time painting up a Tau army for Warhammer 40K.  I’ve started a separate blog covering my GW-related activities.  If you’re interested, you can check it out here.
  3. When I’ve had hobby time, I’ve been spending it on painting versus writing.  I joined Twitter last year and spend more time writing short updates there.  I find the short-form micro-blogging that Twitter allows for is something I can keep up with much easier.  If you’re curious, my Twitter handle is @GreatRedoubt.  I talk about both GW & historical gaming there.  I haven’t found too man historical miniatures gamers on Twitter so my content & timeline skews towards the GW crowd.

I’ve enjoyed the break from painting Napoleonics figures.  While I would still love to build armies and play games with large blocks of 28mm Napoleonics, it’s not a short-term project for me, especially without at least one other committed partner.  In the meantime, I’m looking at starting at least one short-term, smaller project to break up the painting production line.

The main project I’m starting is 28mm WWII.  I recently bought some figures during some end-of-year closeout sales and am looking at a doing some low-level skirmishing.  I know, 28mm probably isn’t the preferred scale for this period, but I like the character and dynamism that figures from companies like Artizan, Crusader & Warlord (among others) bring, and I’m already committed to doing some 28mm terrain to play on, so the thought of having to duplicate a lot of it in 10/15/20mm scale is not appealing to me.

I’m starting with 1939 in Poland.  I have a few squads of Polish infantry and early German infantry on order, and eventually I’ll add some smaller tanks and supporting vehicles.   While the Polish campaign was over relatively quickly, the Poles put up as much of a fight as they could, and the combat at the tactical level was not as lopsided as some gamers may think.  The Germans had yet to perfect their tactics, so at a tactical level the two armies were probably closer in skill level than, say, the Germans and Russians were in 1941.  Both armies used the Mauser rifle as their main squad weapon, with the Germans having a distinct advantage in squad MG (the MG34, with it’s high rate of fire) versus the Polish BAR.

I’m looking at games with maybe around a platoon per side.  This keeps things small which means I can get game-able forces painted up faster as well as provide both sides without breaking the bank.  I think a number of the Warhammer 40K players may be interested in trying something like this, along with some of the historical miniature players in two.

The nice thing about skirmish gaming is that basing & organizations are the same across rules sets, so I will be able to try out and potentially play a number of different rules sets.

Current candidates include:

  • Bolt Action – This is the new ‘it-rules’ for WWII put out by Warlord Games & Osprey publishing.  I have yet to pick up a set but plan to do so soon.  I suspect this rules set may be one of the easier crossover games for GW players to pick up.
  • Disposable Heroes – I’ve played this before and it can put out a fun, if sometimes bloody, game.
  • Rate of Fire – These rules from Crusader Publishing look relatively simple while still being fairly ‘historical’.
  • Force on Force – These rules from Ambush Alley Games would probably put out the most ‘realistic’ game, but it’s a bit complex for novices.  I’d love to try it but it might be a harder sell among the local crowd.  I have the pre-Osprey edition of FoF that still had the WWII rules included.  A new, updated WWII version of FoF will come out eventually, but not until Bolt Action (another Osprey product) will have had a good head start from what I’ve read.

Over time if I keep on enjoying myself, the project will move into later periods of the war.  I just don’t want to have games that are wall-to-wall panzers, so early war seems like a smarter place to start.

Beyond WWII I’d be interested in other 28mm projects, whether it’s ancients (WAB or similar), Dark Ages (Saga) or horse & musket. We’ll have to see how things progress as the year goes on, and who I find to game with.

Well, that’s enough blathering for now.  I hope that 2013 is a good year for you and your gaming projects, and I hope to keep this blog more up-to-date as well.


Update (Sorta)

Nothing new to report, work is very, very busy right now and the kids are always busier during the school year.  Haven’t touched a paintbrush in a few months now and my plans to host another game at my place this fall were foiled by a mandatory weekend at work.

I’m still working through Boycott-Brown’s Road to Rivoli slowly, and I have some forced vacation time coming up in December… I hope to spend at least a little of that time painting.  We’ll see how that goes.

The blog isn’t dead… it’s just a little dormant while real life intrudes more than usual.

Which is Worse?

I’m not sure which is worse when it comes to painting 15mm figures:  painting shako cords for Napoleonics or tricorn tape for 18th Century periods.    For now at least, I’m going with the tricorn tape.  Trying to paint relatively straight lines on curvy surfaces sucks!  

Ah well… I’m well on the way to having IR#26 done for this coming Saturday.   Just  a few highlighting steps left and then basing/terrain work.

Painting Update

I’m quite surprised at the amount of painting I’ve managed to crank through since last August or so.  Here’s a quick tally on what I’ve completed since then:

  • 50 18mm AB French Napoleonics (now sold on)
  • 32 15mm Old Glory Russian Cossacks
  • 8 Battle Honors Russian Napoleonic Generals
  • 24 15mm Old Glory SYW Prussian Musketeers + mounted Brigadier
  • 130 15mm Old Glory ACW infantry + 3 Mounted Generals  (commission)

I managed to accomplish this while taking several long breaks (over a month in one case) from painting, and when I did paint, it was never for more than 1-2 hours at a crack, mostly after 8:30PM on weeknights after putting the kids to bed.   Not too shabby… it’s the most I’ve painted since putting together a short-lived Clan War army in the late 1990’s, and it’s probably the most historical miniatures I’ve fully painted since the early ’90s.   I’m not the fastest painter in the world, but overall I’m happy with my output.  Bodes well for the future, hopefully.

I had big plans for buying a bunch of new miniatures in the next month or two, but they were scuttled when the ‘check engine’ light flipped on in my car last week.  That resulted in a large enough repair bill to put the kaibosh on any new lead purchases for the near future.   I have some Flames of War rulebooks and painted infantry I’m considering trying to sell or trade for unpainted lead, but for now, I’ve made the decision to crank through more of what I’ve got on hand.  

The first two things I’ll work on will be the remaining 50 15mm ACW figures for that commission I’ve been working on along with another 24 15mm SYW Prussians.  I will try to get the Prussians done in time for the big Koenig Krieg game happening on June 6th.  Not insurmountable… just need to hop to it and get things rolling.  I got the figures cleaned up and mounted on painting bases last night… they’ll get primed tonight and I’ll start working through them on the weekend.  Two weeks should be enough time to crank out IR#26 to compliment IR#13 that I’ve already finished.   

After those figures are done, I’ll start working on some 28mm Russian Napoleonic figures and probably my 15mm Field of Glory Mid-Republican Roman starter army.  The Romans should be fairly quick to churn out… no facings, turnbacks, minimal straps, etc. 

Once those are done, I’ll move on to the Perry Napoleonic French infantry I have… assuming I haven’t bought more lead in the meantime.

New Thinking on Artillery in Wargames

Why is it that so many horse & musket rules allow units to freely interpenetrate deployed artillery units without penalty?   I’ve read several articles recently discussing artillery, specifically on their deployment and use in the Napoleonic era, and the points being made by the authors are good ones that contradict several long-standing conventions for wargame rules covering this period of history.

The specific articles or notes I’ve read are as follows:

  • An extract from the upcoming “Republic to Empire” rules being written by Barry Hilton of the League of Augsburg.
  • The “Talking Wargames” article by Chris Scott in Battlegames #17.  (NB:  Battlegames is an excellent magazine… highly recommended for historical miniatures gamers)

Both articles cover the issue of space taken up by a battery of artillery, and how it is woefully under-represented in most wargame rules.  The frontage taken up by an average battery can often be pretty accurate, but the depth is way too shallow in almost all cases.   Mr. Scott argues that when you take into account all of the limbers, caissons, extra draft horses, field forges and other accouterments, an 8-gun field battery of the period would occupy a space roughly 100 yards wide by 250(!) yards deep.     The depth being described is much deeper than anything I’ve seen in any other tactical set of rules out there.  I suspect the basing depth for Napoleon’s Battles is probably closer to being correct due the ground scale versus the actual size of a 15mm artillery piece.

Continue reading ‘New Thinking on Artillery in Wargames’

More Fun With Old Glory

I had a chance to do some more work on those 15mm Old Glory ACW figures.   I’m working on a bag of Confederate command and one of Confederate infantry in march attack.     As is usual with Old Glory (especially their older ranges like this one), there are good and bad things.

The good points are that they’re dirt cheap.  15’s are pretty damn cheap as it is, and Old Glory is definitely on the less expensive end of the spectrum.  There’s also a wide variety of poses and some nice individual sculpts.

The bad points are that some of the sculpts are poor, with awkard poses, pinched or pulled faces, and freakish hands.   These figures are in the minority, so if you wanted to, you could simply ignore those figures, give them to your friends, or paint them up as separate units and dedicate those figures to be the ones doled out to those gamers that always show up but never paint anything.   

The larger problem is that these figures should have been re-molded some time ago.   I’m not sure when these figures were cast, but many of these specimens are suffering from bad flashing, bad shifting and some bad mudding.  For those that may not know, ‘mudding’ refers to the excess metal on a figure that results over time from hunks of the rubber mould being torn out as the figure is removed.  The affected areas are usually places where there would be overhangs in the mould, so common spots are around the figure’s neck, under hat brims, crooks of the arm, etc.  There were several poses in this bag of march attack infantry where the faces were obscured or even partially missing due to this problem, and others where extended hands had extra growths poking out of them.     Mudding is a normal problem when working with metal casting and the rubber moulds that most figure manufacturers use.   It can be held off longer by taking good care of the moulds, but sooner or later it will happen.  The proper step at this point is to create a new mould, but sometimes this doesn’t happen… either because the manufacturers crush the original green in the first pressing, or because the companies can’t or won’t replace the moulds due to cost issues.

In the past, one of the main pieces of advice I got about Old Glory 15s was that when they released new figure packs, you’d better get them early, because eventually they’d rip their moulds up and wouldn’t replace them when they ought to.  With these packs of figures, at least, that still appears to be the case.  

So, while I’m working on painting these figures, I’m doing my best to work around and/or minimize some of these problems.

On the Painting Table

What I’m Reading


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