Wargame Thoughts and Commentary

The Soul of a Game

The last 10 days has been a blur of writing on my new ruleset-Die Fighting! The words have literally jumped unto the page, and though they will undoubtedly be adjusted, tweaked, and modified by the play tests, it has surprised me more than anyone at how quickly this has come together. The core ideas for Piquet were very quickly captured on paper, but not as fast as Die Fighting! has leapt to mind.

Why are some rules months or years in their creation, and others just “happen?”

As with many things, I have a theory.

It all is driven by the key central concept of a set of rules. If that concept is clever, is a good game mechanic, and delivers a new game experience-great! But if that concept also, unifies, integrates, and forms a basis for all the other peripheral rules-it becomes a creative force and its own editor.

It edits the rest of the rule structure because the many ideas that occur to the designer either fit, or don’t fit the central concept. It makes decisions on where to take a set of rules easy!

The whole development of Piquet in terms of supplements, how adjustments were made by period, even down to the titles of every supplement were laid out from the very beginning as anyone can see by simply looking at the fly page. That concept of transferring the game sequence to the random fall of cards, and powering it with widely variable impetus, immediately allowed the complete rule structure to be fleshed out very quickly. Some of the supplements, such as Cartouche and Band of Brothers were written in their basic forms over a holiday vacation.

Surely, other people could come along and tweak, as well as adding new creative ideas and directions to those core rules, but the rules had a central idea and internal consistency-with all the game mechanics very integrated with each other.

Zouave, which I am very proud of, is very different. It was more of an aggregated rule set. There was a central idea of splitting the command and Action, but making them dependent on each other, that drove the rule writing, but Zouave was more like designing two games that played simultaneously on the same table! This was a VERY demanding design to make work. It is a very demanding design to play well.

Many people, without the prompting of a fixed sequence, or cards that literally tell you, as Piquet does, “This is what you’re going to Move now!” may find themselves not setting priorities, or seeing the big picture-especially when new to the game. Zouave uses many of the ideas of Piquet but takes away the organizing structure provided by the unit delimited cards. Just as Piquet took away the surety of the fixed turn, so Zouave takes away the decision-making crutch that demands that the gamer consider his infantry, or cavalry to the exclusion of all else.

Getting the correct interaction in Zouave was very difficult. I also think Zouave gets better, like a good wine, with time and play. It is also very focused on the mid-19th century, and is not intended to expand much further that the period 1840-1895. Both designs are about decision making-more than just combat resolution where most rules tend to concentrate most of their action.

Die Fighting! brings back a more structured phased turn-with a twist. It also puts immediate pressure on the gamer to achieve his goals since his ability to take actions and command his troops diminishes as the battle goes on. It uses NO cards-none. I guess you could say it is a “Dice Driven” game design. It is incredibly simple to play-all you have to do is count to 4 and add dice totals. But it is wicked mean.

It is also a design that could very easily be adapted to Tournaments and (Heaven Forbid!) WAGERING (Among friends, of course)! Actual firm, comparative scores may be kept! It is historical, covering the period 1700-1900, but the mechanisms could easily be adapted to SF or fantasy. It can be learned in 10 minutes, but will demand some really astute decision making and prioritizing.

It is very much in the tradition of Charge! and Featherstone, but is a very demanding game to play and has a sure winner. No arguing later at the pub or bar about who “would have” won, or quibbling about the degree of victory. It will have a score as firm as baseball. In fact, stats may be kept!

But best of all, it is almost writing itself! I suspect the ghosts of Stevenson and Wells are lurking about, and maybe the Cincinnati Kid!

The Soul of Die Fighting!