Wargame Thoughts and Commentary

How Rules Grow Up!

As I launch Zouave out into the world of wargaming, I have the same feelings as when I took my small daughters to their first day at Kindergarten. There is trepidation, a sense of losing total control, and, yet, the hope for a bright future. All rule sets start as a young child, full of promise, and with few blemishes, but they soon begin to grow up and mature. This process is a natural one as more and more people are exposed to the ideas in a set of rules-new ideas spring up, unseen weaknesses in the rule effects, or explanations, are exposed and corrected, and new ideas are generated that lead to amendments, house rules, and new directions within the rules set. There will be glowing praise, and, inevitably, damning criticism from some. It is a time for a game designer that is thrilling and not a little apprehensive!

But it is the course of every rule set, and must be embraced. I created the concept of the toolbox when I wrote Piquet all those years ago. The idea was that a rule set must be open to change, and to the input and desires of the wargame customers. The rules must be robust enough to be tinkered with and crafted into the set that each individual gamer wants. The customer has a role in shaping the rules he plays and is not a passive receptacle of some guru rule designer’s dictates. I think Zouave shares this ability to be experimented with as long as certain core concepts are not too roughly twisted. I encourage each of you to play the game “straight” a few times, ask questions, and feel certain that you understand some of the basic relationships between the various forms of movement and combat elements, before you do too much tinkering. But once you feel you are grounded in the rules, feel free to to do improvisational “riffs” just as a jazz musician might do with a well known musical standard.

And keep in mind , no game designer descends from the mountain with stone tablets on which are engraved the one true word. All sets of rules will be cussed and discussed as people bring separate and unique perceptions to their idea of what a wargame should be. It was often said that my previous design, Piquet, was either loved or hated with no middle ground., to which I say, “GREAT!” It is evidence that it really caught the imagination of some, and was not just one more simple-move and shoot repetition of hundreds of wargame designs that proceeded it. It must have said something unique to garner such strong, and opposite, reactions. One size does not fit all and designs that attempt to do that are like the person you know that never offends and never comes up with a new idea-not a bad person, but, well, not the most interesting person either!

I have no expectations that Zouave will be loved by all, nor do I expect to see it being a preferred convention game. It will be new, offer subtle and creative ways to address the portrayal of large battles and command and control issues. It will deliver an exciting and interesting game. It will challenge gamers to manage variables and not just calculate the optimum outcomes from fixed givens ( the all-too-common characteristic of many wargames). It will reward ( and frustrate) the gamers who play it. It requires judgement, not rote memorization of rules or using protractors to get just the “right” angle.

But I hope, as would any parent, that it is given an opportunity for a good long life, and grows up to be a mature and well respected game design. Starting next week, Zouave will begin its life’s journey!