Thursday, October 11, 2007

Byzantine complexity

The online dictionary I just referenced includes a definition of Byzantine thus: "...highly complex or intricate; convoluted legal language; convoluted reasoning; labyrinthine maneuvering; tortuous legal procedures".

Well after the game I played last night I have encountered the very definition of that standard in rules writing.

A chap at the Leeds club had brought his own set of rules, designed it appeared on the basis that he liked DBA/DBM but thought they could be improved upon, by adding more detail. Now in principle, DBA/DBM are simple rules, the problem is how their written. The same may well have been true of these rules but it was hard to tell as the prototype set appeared to be formed of a half dozen densely typed pages of text and hundreds of pieces of card stuffed between them.

I will not say there weren't some good ideas on display, but times have moved on, rules with complex modifiers and millions of troop classes defined only by a name that then defines which modifiers you later apply, is not the way to make things elegant. It was also the first game I've seen use average dice in almost twenty years!

Anachronistic touches aside, it used play aids that made the game harder to play than a simple tape measure and some common sense would have done. In short the kernel's of good ideas were swamped by fiddly detail.

The game itself ran in a realistic enough fashion, some of the strong points were the way skirmishers operated, and the way troop control applied internal logic so the general couldn't over influence the battle. However , it was also terribly slow; combat was either over straight away or took forever. One combat took seven turns to accumulate a single overall casualty in either unit, and this would only effect the conflict by placing a minus one modifier to the combat factors, it may not even have effect the end rolls. Ultimately one felt that the tactic was 'Ties up the enemy centre and outflank it' to win. Historical enough but too obvious and programmed.

It was a shame, there is much that was commendable; but I think the writer would benefit from reading some Arty Conliffe rules, or even playing a few games of warhammer (non competitively) . They may not be what he wants from a game but as someone whose written successful and unsuccessful rules in the past I know that all other points aside, if you are the only one who understands how and why your rules work, you'll never get anyone else to use them.

And besides, tables of numbers, that need you to cross reference data for five minutes only to work out you need a 5 or 6 to hit, simply frustrate players. It's all so eighties...

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