Sunday, May 20, 2012

Flying Around in Ointment

Wondering about the title?  Well, go ahead and wonder for awhile while I wander around with my thoughts in a slightly public environment.

Rules?  Why do we have them and what are they good for?  And are they of paramount importance or do they live in a somewhat less exalted stature?  And is this the right place to start the question?

Actually, no, to that last.  And the simplest answer is no, we don't need rules.  For those of you composing arguments in your head against this, some vociferous and others well beyond, just recall those early childhood endeavors - you didn't need rules to have a good time, you just played and enjoyed.  Right up until you had an opponent with a bruised ego or, if you hung out with a rougher crowd, a bloody nose (or was it your nose?).  Only then, if you were in the right environment to do so, did you seek out rules.  Otherwise, you stumbled back into the hobby many years after "growing up" and found rules to be a hard and fast "requirement" of the hobby.  Thus, no, we don't need rules but we might want them; bloody noses are not beneficial to an enjoyable game.

So, if this isn't the right place to start the question about rules what is this the right place to start?


Yes, the table we play on is the place to start.  And, of course I am right, it's my blog and I always get to be right about everything.  Oh, the arrogance, you say?  Wrong again.  These are opinions and you can't really have a wrong opinion.  Wrong headed, maybe, but not wrong.

So, for me a game begins by having the best possible terrain within the constraints of time and budget and available storage space.  If you are recreating an historical battle of any stripe, the closer you recreate the terrain to the reality the closer you come to making the game work like the battle.  Despite the "flat earth gaming society" (the FEGS), terrain determines how a battle flows.  Now, go sit in a quiet corner and absorb this bit of wisdom before you continue.

Okay, you're back.  You didn't cheat, did you, because if you did a horrible curse just descended upon your miniatures collection, all of it.  Oh, good, you didn't cheat.

Now, back on point (I have a point!?), terrain really does make a game flow better and, perhaps more important, it just makes a game look better.  That is part of the point, having a visually appealing game. No, I didn't say anything about museum quality anywhere.  If you have the resources or the skill to get to that level, great.  I don't and am quite content with my mediocre level of skills, works for me and those I game with.  Sometimes I get better and sometimes I get a little lazy.  But I'm never so lazy as to play on a bare table with masking tape roads and book hills and unpainted miniatures.  Yes, you can play a perfectly good game that way, of course, but it is like eating a flavorless meal - it might be nutritious but not worth a second helping.

Still a ways to go yet.  After the setting, you need the right figures - or at least close figures.  We all know having the right figures is impossible if we want variety in our gaming.  Yes, you can create a perfect match of having the specific figures for a specific engagement (with some compromises on the model figures based on what is and what is not available) but then you need a different set of figures for the next engagement, either additions or subtractions as the case may be.  Won't go over this any more since it is such well trodden ground.

Next comes a well developed scenario.  And those in the know, know that the best scenarios get the action going early, get all players involved from the start and keep them in the action until the game is over whether called early or played through to the end.  One of the major considerations for a scenario to be considered successful is that both sides - or all if more than two  - feel they have a real shot at winning through most of the game.  We best gamers understand we can't always win, though we always want to; if our opponents don't win from time to time they move on, either from the hobby or us.

Now, you might think of buildings as terrain and, certainly, in a way they are.  But.  You can have a game with correct terrain but without any buildings.  So, buildings get relegated further down the scale. Again, however, in a historical scenario, the right buildings help make the game recognizable and just might define the games objectives - the goals for the little metal men (and women?) to fight over or for. This is another place where compromise will often be felt by many a gamer unless said gamer is a skilled scratch builder and prolific if many games are desired over time.

Well, have we got to rules now, then?  Not quite.  Opponents come next.  Shouldn't opponents be first?  Nah.  Sometimes we play solo, at least some of us (and the rest of us just don't admit to it, right?).  For me, an opponent has a few requirements and they are pretty straight forward.  First and foremost, a sense of humor to lighten the mood.  Real war is ugly, the ugliest of ugly.  We want pretty soldiers on pretty terrain with pretty - oh, wait, we don't care what our opponent looks like as long as he takes regular baths.  After a sense of humor the best opponents are easy going.  No, they don't let us win every game, that would get boring, neither do they win every game, that would be disheartening.  They never gloat (long) in victory and are magnanimous in defeat giving us due credit for a brilliant strategy for beating them silly.  Ideally, at least in my case, my opponents don't have or want to own any figures but love painting them and will take considerable delight and feel deeply privileged in being allowed to paint some of my figures to match my standard of quality.  When I find such an opponent, keep your bloody hands off; he's mine, I say, all mine.  And preferably more than one.  It is good to have friends.

Now, to keep those friends, we get to the idea of rules.  I like rules that follow one simple overriding quality.  They are short and simple.  Even for modern, technological war.  I like KISSable rules; Keep It Short and Simple.  Yes, that is the real usage to match the abbreviation.  Since I don't get into the 20th century (well, maybe German East Africa but that hardly counts), I like my rules to start from a simple premise: a man is a man is a man throughout history, a horse is a horse (different saddles and stirrups that make a difference), etc.  Some of the most enjoyable games I've ever played were with rules written on two sides of a 3x5 index card with minimal writing on it.  Kept our focus on the game on the table because there was no rule book to distract us.  That's what I want from my rules, they provide a structure to the game and help to make it flow but don't distract from the "pretty picture" effect.

Well, now, it's late and I think I've waxed my philosophy to a decent shine.  Time to get some of that title ointment to wash the wax from my imagination and go get some rest.

But not before I digress a bit further.  After doodling with some full size boards, I've come to two conclusions:  In 15 mm a 4' wide table is plenty big enough and has two really good advantages; we can see the figures and other detailing bits better and the other is that we can reach most of the table from a sitting position.  The other conclusion is that I need to greatly reduce my massive number of figures to a more manageable size.  That 4' wide table will be limited to 12' in length.  So, that is a new wrinkle in my gaming life, having to "reverse" engineer my hard collected figures from over 32,000 figures to no more than half that number.  I will try to keep all of the periods I'm collecting figures for to no more than 1,200 figures total.  Except for a few exceptions - the French and Indian War, the American Revolution, and the Wild West.  Sorry, guys and gals, I just might keep the surplus figures for some time before relinquishing them.  The underlying reason for reduction is to have a reasonable chance of playing games in all periods owned and time in life to do it many times per period.  Those 32,000 plus figures are just too intimidating.

Uh oh, the fly just landed in the ointment and now it's stuck.  Good night!