Star Wars: Age of Rebellion – A Deep Dive on Dice Probabilities

A little while ago, I gave Star Wars: Edge of the Empire a reasonably positive review. After another year of playing the game, it’s time to check in again see how it’s faring, and to try to pass along some playing tips for dealing with some of the game’s quirks. If you haven’t played Star Wars: Edge of the Empire or Age of Rebellion (they’re exactly the same game system), you might want to catch up by reading that review – this will go pretty deep into the game’s probabilities and what they mean for actual play.

The dice in Star Wars: Edge of the Empire, image courtesy FFG. Click for product page.

The central, most intriguing, and most opaque idea in the game is the set of customized dice that are used to form dice pools for task resolution. At their most basic, they are simple and elegant: just add positive ability (green 8-sided) and proficiency (yellow 12-sided) dice for your level of skill, negative purple 8-sided difficulty dice for the difficulty level negative red 12-siders for reasons, and then even some more dice (positive blue boosts and negative black  setbacks, both 6-siders) for situational modifiers (cover, time pressure, assistance from an ally), grab them all, and roll them. Net out success and failure icons, and advantage and threat icons. What you’ve got left is the result. If you end up with at least one success, you succeed. Remaining threat or advantage may give an additional bonus or penalty. It’s a pretty cool idea and rolling lots of dice is fun. However, as I played more, I kept noticing unexpected quirks in the results.

The big thing was that critical hits (which generally require a successful combat check with three advantages) seemed exceptionally rare, and even weapons special powers were hard to activate (they generally require successful check with two advantages). A little bit of analysis of the dice and this made sense. The dice faces never have more than two symbols and rarely show both success and advantage. Good dice only have good faces, and bad dice only have bad faces. So canceling out all the failures and all the threats while having surplus successes and advantages is obviously rare. While there are in theory four different possible “quadrants” the result of a dice roll could fall into (success or failure with advantage or threat), in practice two of them (success with threat and failure with advantage) are predominant, with critical success and critical failure seeming quite rare unless you have a big imbalance between good and bad dice in the pool.

Another odd thing was that it seemed like having high characteristics (Agility, Perception, Brawn, etc.) was a much bigger deal than actually having ranks in skills. A skilled character with a lower characteristic (so, say, a character with Piloting 2 and Agility 2) did not seem to do as well as a character with a slightly higher characteristic (so, no Piloting skill but Agility 3).

Then finally, because nobody really had any idea what the magnitude of the effects of adding various dice were, it made it hard to know what to do with the Destiny Pool, or how to rate the importance of boost and setback dice, or how to wisely spend advantages in combat. The rules seemed to imply that a boost/setback die was a lesser effect while upgrading a die (for example, turning green ability die into a yellow proficiency die) was a bigger deal. But is this really true? It didn’t feel like it.

Now, a little bit (or even a lot) of opacity in the odds is not a bad thing. In fact, a major appeal of the Star Wars system is that dice pools are so intuitive to construct but the probability curves they produce are so complicated as to be essentially incalculable.  That said, we still need to understand some basic things to play the game well. And the only way to get there seemed to be to run some Monte Carlo simulations and see what the numbers looked like. So that’s what I did. Knowing these details definitely improved my game, but they also raised some real questions about whether the designer understood how the dice pool actually works in practice, and if there are fundamental aspects of the game system that need to be re-calibrated.

The dice pool is extremely flexible and it can generate a huge range of probability curves. So I focused on a just few questions: how common are critical successes? What are the quantitative impacts on success and critical success of adding the various different dice to the pool? How big a deal are the challenge dice? To do this, I looked primarily at a few common cases:

  • A difficulty 2 check, which is a typical ranged combat check at medium range or when shooting at a similarly-sized ship
  • A check made by a moderately-skilled entry-level character, with two yellow and one green dice
  • A highly skilled character rolling one green and 3 yellow dice

For a look at a sampling of the numbers generated, you can check out this Google sheet. I’ve focussed on positive results, because they get the most attention from the system. The SUC+2 or SUC+3 columns give the percent chance of a successful check with at least that many advantages. I didn’t go deep, running stats for 2 or 3 or more boost, setback, or challenge dice, but this should give you a feel for how they work. You could really go crazy with the data, but the visualization problems get out of hand very quickly. Also, you need to run a surprisingly large number of iterations to get the results to converge. The numbers for the very large dice pools are not exact.

First a few general observations:

  • If you’re trying to activate weapon properties or score critical hits which require a success with +2 or +3 advantages, basically forget about it unless you have a very large dice advantage. The odds of a less-experienced character with good skill (a dice pool of 1g+2y) activating her twin-linked cannons on a typical shot (difficulty 2p) are only 9%. The odds of a crit are only 2%. A ridiculously skilled gunner on that same shot (5y) still only gets +2 advantages half the time, and a crit 30% of the time (remember a crit is generally not “you’re dead”, or even double damage, but something like reducing the target’s speed by 1 or removing a defense die). Also: reducing your crit rating is a really big deal. A vibrosword with a mono-molecular, serrated edge is extremely nasty (vicious 2, crit 1). Very nearly as good as a lightsaber.
  • Quantity of dice is better than quality of dice. In virtually every case, your odds of success with N green dice are better than with N-1 yellow dice. For Piloting checks, someone with Agility 3 and skill has worse odds than someone with Agility 5 and no training until the former has trained up to 5 ranks in Piloting. There are minor exceptions when a skill level is high and characteristic ratings are only different by 1, but they are quite small. A boost die has a bigger impact than a die upgrade, and it can significantly increase your chances of success and critical success.
  • In the same vein, upgrading a purple difficulty die to a red challenge dice just isn’t that big a deal. Outside of the triumph and despair symbols (see next), the effects of the yellow and red dice on your chances of success vs failure or advantage vs threat are negligible (they help; just not a lot). In most situations a challenge die is about a 5 percentage point hit on your chances of success, with minimal impact on your chances of critical successes (again, outside of despair, which I’m getting to). Adding a setback die is significantly more impactful than upgrading a check, in that it has a somewhat greater negative impact on your chances of success, and a much nastier hit to your chances of critical success (roughly halving them in the 1g+2y vs. 2p case).
  • By far the most important impact of the proficiency (yellow) and challenge (red) dice are the 1:12 chance for a triumph or despair.  The 1g+2y shot vs. 2p has only a 3% chance of a critical, but it has a 12% chance of a success + triumph. For anything that requires three or more advantages to activate,  triumphs are the way to go. Even when you are enormously skilled and the task is easy, you are still more likely to get triumphs than 3 advantages. The overall impact of the challenge dice on the game (and so the despair symbol) is less pronounced simply because there aren’t very many of them flying around. You’ll occasionally get them through the GM spending Destiny, and a Nemesis’ Adversary talent; that’s about it.
  • The bias for failure + advantage and success + threat is very noticeable when the pool is balanced (equal green and purple dice). Due to the extra threat and missing failure symbols on the purple dice (compared to the green dice), until you have a big dice imbalance success with threat tends to dominate the nontrivial results, with failure plus advantage coming next, and then failure plus threat and success plus advantage only filling up as the dice become overwhelming in one direction or the other.

Some of this makes sense, some of it is decidedly odd.

I am definitely not a fan of how it makes levels of skill relatively unimportant. You might think 3 ranks of Piloting gives you some niche protection in that area; but it does not, someone with 4 Agility is basically as good as you. High characteristics are a big deal, and spending any of your initial XP on anything other than characteristics doesn’t make a ton of sense, from a pure min-maxing perspective. This is not great from a “making characters interesting” perspective.

The flipside of the relative weakness of skills is the imbalance in the Destiny Pool. For the GM, spending a dark side Destiny Point to upgrade the difficulty of a skill check just doesn’t do a lot – it’s usually about a 5% hit, the equivalent of a -1 in a d20-based system, with a small (8%) chance of a despair symbol. Barely worth the effort. The FATE-like “Luck and Deus Ex Machina” function of the Destiny Pool is great and I like it a lot. But spending points to upgrade checks and difficulty is fiddly and low-impact.

In fact, many of the parameters of the game seem to be built on a profound misapprehension about how powerful the challenge and proficiency dice are and the frequency of surplus advantages. There are weapons with critical ratings of 4 or 5, as if the chances of that level of surplus did not round to zero. In table 7-5, which talks about how to spend advantage and triumph in starship combat, two options for spending triumph are: “Do something vital to turning the tide of the battle, such as destroying a capital ship’s shield generator or losing a pursuing ship in an asteroid field”, and “Upgrade an allied character’s next Piloting Gunnery, Computers, or Mechanics check”. Which is deeply weird. That first use of a triumph is obviously extremely powerful – much more powerful than a simple critical hit. Yet for a character with skill, getting a triumph is much more likely than rolling a critical hit! The second effect, on the other hand, is comparatively trivial. Not only that, but it’s usually weaker than adding a boost die to the same check, which you can do with a single advantage! The proficiency dice do come with triumph symbols which boosts do not, which complicates the comparison slightly, I think the general rule holds. Boosts increase you chances of success more than proficiency dice do.

One of the interesting ways in which the dice pool works that did make sense is how armor affects defense. Armor is generally modeled through setback dice, and the interesting thing as that while it’s generally a modest reduction in your to-hit chances (on the order of 8%), it really nerfs your chances of getting surplus advantages (the impact on triumphs is less noticeable).

At the end of the day I’m not sure what to make of all this. I like the dice pool mechanic quite a bit, and if you look at it as a core system, it has lots of interesting features and it’s fun to roll lots of colorful dice. For purely narrative checks it works great, as long as you have a basic grasp of the frequency of some combinations. However, a lot of the crunchy superstructure built on top of it seems deeply suspect.

In the long term, to make a more smoothly functioning game, I think we need a serious recalibration of many of the parameters of the game system. Fortunately, it’s not too hard to figure out some tweaks to make your game run better. Here is what I’ve taken away from it for my GMing:

  1. Be very generous in handing out setback and boost dice; they are the most interesting dice to add to routine checks. Use the boosts like candy; give them to players as a reward for trying something cool cinematic, in addition to their modeling function. They are fairly strong, and in order to get surplus advantage to trigger interesting game effects (primarily in combat), characters are going to need the extra punch provided by boosts. The point of diminishing returns on the chance of success is at about 85-90%, so dice beyond that point (roughly +3 dice, although obviously the system has a lot of variability) are mainly going into generating advantage. A lot of talents also remove setback dice, so in order for that to be interesting you need to be handing them out fairly routinely. As a corollary for players, all those things you can do to gain boost dice in combat (aim, spending advantage) are worth doing.
  2. Don’t overdo the triumph symbols, either narratively or in combat. When characters are skilled, triumphs are not that uncommon (12-15% for a balanced dice pool with a couple Proficiency dice). Feel free to go nuts with multiple triumphs, but a single triumph should not be allowed to dismantle a scene or conflict.
  3. Be aware of the system’s significant bias for success with threat and failure with advantage in routine checks. This is actually mostly a feature, not a bug, and allows you to make success more complicated and (more usefully) mitigate failure. But it does get repetitive, so don’t get too worked up about it; it’s OK for the benefits of rolling an advantage or two on a failed check to be small and transitory, since it’s very common. It also argues for rolling dice only when it’s genuinely interesting to do so, but that’s good advice for any game under any circumstances.
  4. The Destiny pool doesn’t really work, because the impact of a single challenge or proficiency die just isn’t big enough. I don’t really have a solution for this. The house rule I’m considering using is to have the GM spend them for Numenera-like intrusions as the flip side of the players’ “Luck and Deus Ex Machina”, but what the system seems to really want is just a much more potent die.
  5. Find ways to get more challenge dice into the game, just so you can play with despair. As written, the system favors adding setback dice to modify difficulty, which I think generally makes sense, but we’re just not rolling enough red dice and they don’t have enough impact on the game. While excess threat is generally easier to find then excess advantage, we still want to see those despair symbols occasionally! Consider giving more opponents the Adversary talent. Minion groups especially currently really suck, and giving more imposing ones (Stormtroopers, TIE wings) some kind of levels of Adversary would help mix things up.
  6. Speaking of Minion groups, they do really suck because the extra proficiency dice they get for being in larger groups just aren’t hugely significant. I think this is fine and generally the intent of the game, but just bear it in mind. Big groups of minions are far more imposing on the page than they are in actual play. The number of groups is far more important than the numbers in each group.
  7. During character generation, I like to give players an extra 40XP to spend after spending their initial allotment (I think this number could actually be even larger). The system is so heavily biased in favor of characteristics that players are going to sensibly spend as many of of their initial points as possible on those. Making sure your character has one characteristic of 4 is a huge deal. Low characteristics, 1 or 2, can limit you because they cap the number of yellow dice you can roll, and so in the long term limit your ability to generate triumphs no matter how skilled you become. Giving players some points they must  spend on skills & talents to differentiate the characters seems wise. In an unrelated point, characters need a lot more starting money – 1500 credits instead of 500 seems closer to right. Yes, there are options for spending Obligation or Duty for more equipment, but messing with this is awkward and 500 credits is just ludicrously low.

This may all sound negative, and I do think it’s true that there is too much in the game that just doesn’t make much sense as designed. Unfortunately, there are a lot of things in the game – weapon ratings, talents, advantage spends – that clearly are at least somewhat misaligned. But, the cool thing about the system is that fundamentally it’s quite simple and elegant and has a lot of potential. Once you’ve gotten a handle on how things actually work, it’s not that hard to hammer things into some form of order. I still need to find a fix for the destiny pool, but I feel like as I play more and get more of an understanding of how the pieces fit together, and how to use them properly (even if that’s not exactly what the rules say), I’m happier with the game. While it’s always going to be a game in need of constant tinkering to keep working, that tinkering is not particularly onerous, Star Wars is fun, dice are fun, and the core system is good.

Lord of the Rings: Nazgul Autopsy

Lord of the Rings: Nazgul is Wizkids’ latest boardgame foray into licensed property, after last year’s excellent but badly produced Star Trek: Expeditions. In Lord of the Rings: Nazgul, the players play Sauron’s most notorious servants, fighting the Free Peoples and killing their heroes, all the while angling to become the Top Nazgul. The box says the game is “semi-cooperative”, but make no mistake – like Republic of Rome, there can be only one winner, whether it be one of the players or the game system. All of which sounds intriguing, but the game is an epic fail. It’s not clear what exactly the game is trying to say, it executes badly on its murky vision, it’s not faithful to its source material, it’s boring, and it’s ugly.

In games everything flows from system design, so that’s the easiest thing to look at first. The game takes the view that from the Dark Lord’s perspective, everything is a battle. So far it’s a promising premise. There are three simultaneous series of campaigns: against the Rohirrim, against Gondor, and against the Ringbearer (where the metaphor starts to break down, but never mind). In pursuit of these goals, it turns out that Ringwraiths are the striving middle managers of Middle Earth, building up their departmental fiefdoms with teams of Orcs, Trolls, Mumaks, and other various and sundry resources which they then decide how they wish to commit to the Gantt charts of conquest in service of their personal promotion opportunities.

This brings us to the one clever bit in the game, the battle cup. Once a Ringwraith has chosen which battle to commit himself to, he decides how many of his resources he wishes to risk. They throw a cube in the cup for each (red for Mumak, green for Trolls, and black for Orcs, plus a special Nazgul cube to represent themselves). The game system decides how many Free Peoples to throw in – blue for soldiers and white for heroes. Additionally, the hero cubes are assigned an identity from a deck of 60 named heroes. Sometimes you get the vaunted Aragorn or Gandalf which will mean dizzying special powers, pain, and continued undeath for your troubles; sometimes you get the decidedly less fearsome Gondorian Captain. There doesn’t seem to be much thematic rhyme or reason to how this happens, and the systems are very confusing, so let’s not dwell on it and move on. Once the forces are arrayed, the contents of the cup is settled and fixed. Each Nazgul can then in turn pick cubes (usually 2-4) from the mix based on his tactics rating. Picked cubes do damage to the other side (so if you pick a blue Gondorian foot soldier cube, the Nazgul forces suffer one point of damage; if you pick a special Nazgul cube, you do damage to the good guys equal to your current attack rating). Sometimes you can redraw if you have the right power card. Then, you throw the cubes back in and the next player repeats the process.

While there is a truly unwieldy amount of chrome welded on top of it, this is the core idea of the game, and the only real resolution mechanism it has. So what kinds of player decisions does it drive? Since Lord of the Rings: Nazgul is a “semi-cooperative” game, the game system itself is a player. At the level of each battle, the Nazgul players want to win the battle (which grants some VPs to everyone and serves to defeat the game system) and want to kill heroes (which are a more significant source of personal VPs, and your only lever against the other Nazgul present). So, you win the battle by drawing enough friendly cubes to inflict enough damage to wipe out all the defending heroes and soldiers. That damage is absorbed in strict priority order: first the walls, second the soldiers, lastly the heroes from weakest to strongest. So the only real opportunity you have is to be the person who inflicts the right damage at exactly the right time to wipe out heroes. Too early, and you kill soldier blocks, which personally gets you nothing. Too late, and there is nothing left, or only heroes too powerful to kill. Given the inherently chaotic way in which heroes appear and cubes are drawn, this is an extremely tenuous and oblique idea on which to base a game.

Still, at least it’s simple and not too hard to grasp. Throwing cubes into the cup alters the mix is a straightforward way with some subtle implications, and there are a few – not many, but a few – choices in how to go about it. The problem comes in the truly vast infrastructure that is built on top of this. Every turn there are 7 distinct secret-and-simultaneous bids in which your Nazgul fills out his department by adding troops, getting actions cards, calling on the aid of the Witch King, altering turn order, leveling himself up (this is a WizKids game, so it’s got clix figures in it whether it needs them or not – so your Nazgul’s capabilities change over the course of the game), and so on. Every turn a number of side quests pop up with various benefits and costs – often reinforcements that you have to intercept or they will add to the difficulty of a plot line. There are various mechanics for giving the players some control over committing Free Peoples Heroes to battle that are somewhat opaque. All this is far more chrome than the underlying game mechanisms can accept. At the end of the day we’re just choosing a quest to tackle, then adding cubes to a cup and drawing them out. The number of cubes and number of draws rarely gets that large – a truly gargantuan battle might see 25 cubes in the cup with 5 draws of 3 or 4 cubes, but the players have huge incentives to make sure that never happens. More normal, once the game picks up some tempo, is 8-12 cubes with 3 draws of 3. This just isn’t a very large canvas on which to paint. All the stuff on the table weighs the game down with baroque details – especially since the font sizes are again ridiculously small so you can’t actually see anything – without making it interesting or thematic. It’s just tediously repetitive.

The real killer though is that not only is the game boring, it does real violence to the story it is trying to tell, or at least the one it is theoretically based on. The Nazgul were Sauron’s executioners. They did his bidding, killing his enemies, leading his armies, even doing his diplomacy. They were slaves to his will. They didn’t try to undermine each other with inter-office petty politics. Roman senators, yes. American senators, yes. Nazgul, no. When Sauron wanted something done, he sent orcs. When he wanted it done right, he sent men. When he absolutely, positively, had to get something done, he sent his trustiest servants, the Nazgul.  You could perhaps buy that to the extent the Nazgul had free will, they strove to outdo each other – Beowulf style – in Sauron’s service. But the idea that they were constantly actively trying to sabotage each other is ludicrous.

This is just the beginning. Since this is a WizKids game, we get clicks. At the start of the game (pre-Weathertop), the Nazgul are puny, exuding no terror and unable to face down a Gondorian Captain and a couple companies of Soldiers. As the story goes on, they grown in power as they connive for favors from Sauron. I never realized Nazgul were all that interested in personal growth.

And then the details of the various game plotlines … The Nazgul in the game personally take charge of the assault on the Rohirrim, which of course they never did. They command Mumaks, which they never did.Worse than that, the game doesn’t even require them to deal with Minas Tirith at all. Even on the hardest levels, you can knock over Rohan, then hunt down the Ringbearer, and call it a day. Was not Sauron keenly focussed on Gondor, greatly fearing the One Ring might end up there? (UPDATE: it turns out we made a significant rules error. Even after you’ve re-aquired the One Ring, you need to complete all three quests – you just can’t do Mount Doom until you’ve finished off Rohan or Gondor. This still doesn’t make any sense, it just doesn’t make sense in a different way. It also makes the game a lot harder. Good luck. My recommendation: you might want to play 2-3 turns to get the feel for the game, then restart. Because of the oblique nature of the cup resolution system, it’s easy to get critically behind in beating the system in the first turn or two).

It is possible for a game to stray from the strict parameters of its source material if it can remain true to the story’s emotional content. We won’t get too worked up about quirky details if the big picture is clear. For example, we know from Tolkien’s description of Weathertop that Gandalf alone could hold off all 9 Ringwraiths, at least for a time, and that Glorfindel was terrifying enough to cause them to retreat into the flood. We would forgive the game if, in the interest of giving the players some hope to feed their desperation, it made Gandalf somewhat less fearsome. But Lord of the Rings: Nazgul can’t deliver the emotional punch, so we are left to look at this stuff.

Finally, I’ll just say a few words on presentation. The Nazgul’s sculpts are hard to distinguish (in the game’s one concession to theme that perhaps should have raised questions about the wisdom of this entire endeavor), which leads to both significant playability problems and an inability to form an emotional connection as everyone is constantly trying to figure out which piece is theirs. The clix serves to make game-critical information much to hard to see. Font sizes are too small. The cards are not of high quality and the image grabs seem oddly murky. The board is a mess, with the quest tracks hard to identify and follow in addition to being just plain physically unattractive. All it all, it’s not quite the disaster Star Trek: Expeditions was in the presentation department, but if that’s your standard, that’s bad.

As you may be able to tell, this game really bothered me. It’s complete amateur hour. It strikes me as a version of a game which might have just emerged from its first playable playtest. It’s nowhere near to being publication worthy. It needed more play testing just to figure out what it was trying to do – I don’t think it’s even ready to enter the phase of cleanup, polishing, and pruning.

On Rules

I still want to do some kind of 2008 in Review article at some point, but one thing that struck me was that it was bookended by two very promising wargames with quite possibly the worst sets of rules I have ever seen – and believe me, as one who has ranted about game rules before, that’s saying something. So I thought I’d take an opportunity to rant some more and maybe to offer some solutions.

The games in question are The Devil’s Cauldron (MMP) and Pursuit of Glory (GMT). I had every reason to like both.

In fact, maybe I do. I almost can’t tell. Because the #1 reason I threw up my hands in despair at The Devil’s Cauldron was not gameplay, but utter, blinding frustration with the rule book. I could never remember the Assault Sequence, for example, and every time we needed to confirm some small detail we needed to wade through the rules’ endless nattering before finding (hopefully – there is no index) what we were looking for. The insanely verbose and conversational style makes actually using it during a game to look stuff up an infuriating exercise.

Conversely, the Pursuit of Glory rules read more like a rough draft than actual rules. Spread over almost 50 sprawling pages, the rules are constantly re-stating themselves, presenting things out-of-order, clarifying the blindingly obvious, and getting bogged down in minor details. This game is almost certainly not be as complex as it looks, but with 50 pages of meandering and incomprehensible rules, I can virtually guarantee it will never be played around here. Nobody I game with regularly will look at that kind of page count and even bother to try, no matter how much one insists it’s very like the modest-complexity Paths of Glory and the rules volume is due mostly to clarifications and keeping the most obtuse players on ConsimWorld happy. Page count may be a crude metric, but 50 pages = no go unless you’re OCS or ASL. I take that back, even OCS has “only” 38.

Although these were by far the worst, there were plenty of bad rulebooks this year, particularly from repeat offenders GMT and Fantasy Flight. The Unhappy King Charles! rule book makes a moderately complicated game look daunting, Warriors of God uses opaque and non-standard terminology to make a simple game needlessly confusing, and Tide of Iron’s rules turn a light wargame into a major undertaking, with the Desert Fox expansion rules being even worse.

Enough ranting. On this particular occasion I’m here not just to complain, but to offer some suggestions. I’ll admit I’ve never written a rulebook. But I have spent a great deal of time explaining rules to people, and certainly have read more than my share. Some of this stuff seems very basic to me, but apparently it needs to be said.

First and foremost, I think it’s important to keep in mind what we’re trying to accomplish here. What we are trying to do is to build a model of the game in the player’s mind. The player has to have a working model of the game in his or her head in order to weigh the options and make the decisions required to play it. So the goal is to build up these mental systems in a way not unlike you would assemble anything else.

The 100% Rule: When writing rules, one must bear in mind that there is actually a big difference between explaining rules and creating a working rule book. If I explain the game rules to you, I only need to get far enough for you to have a solid enough mental model to begin playing. Things that are initially either not relevant or negligibly relevant can be explained later. As an explainer, I can also rely on the players to ask clarifying questions when their mental models seem to have gaps. But to formally describe a game in a set of rules, 90% is not good enough, you have to have 100%. The same conversational techniques you would use to teach rules in person can fail to fully and concisely convey the complete details of a complex system when read. Sometimes catastrophically, as The Devil’s Cauldron demonstrates. It has an acceptable 90% rulebook if you have access to someone who knows the game 100%. Unfortunately, such a person does not appear to be included in the box.

Short Rules Are Better: It’s a fact of life that our brains’ short-term storage buffers are small, and a rule has to pass through that buffer before it has a chance of being retained long term. Simple, straightforward rules can frequently be made vastly more difficult to retain through over-explanation. Rule 12.5 in Pursuit of Glory is a good example. This is a simple rule: All full strength regular units have to roll a die when activated for attack in certain situations, and if they roll >= the round number, they are reduced. But then when you spend 4 (short) paragraphs clarifying that means that reduced units don’t roll, irregulars don’t roll, that yes, “when activated” really is before combat, so you have to use your reduced combat strength, that rolling > 2 is more likely than rolling > 5, and that there might possibly be cards out there that alter all this, all of a sudden you’ve actually made the transition from page to memory far more difficult than if you had just bolded the word regular and been done with it. Plus you’ve completely broken the reader’s rhythm. The simple version is perfectly clear and concise. If you feel you absolutely must preempt possible misunderstanding of an otherwise perfectly clear rule, put it in a footnote, side-note, or appendix. As a corollary, write your rules for the average reader, not some nut-job on ConsimWorld who is out to willfully misinterpret your rules or question your design decisions.

The Test of Context: I’ve talked about this a little on a recent thread about explaining Race for the Galaxy on BoardGame Geek. This gets back to the whole mental model thing. When you’re trying to help someone build a mental model of the game systems, you want to build the systems in a logical order, such that a player doesn’t have to do a lot of work to hook them up once the explanation is done. In many games, the sequence-of-play order is the way to go. But there are some dramatic examples where explaining things in that order actually makes it significantly more difficult, like Race for the Galaxy or Through the Ages, because understanding things that happen in the first phases requires understanding what’s going on later – but the opposite may not be true.

For wargames, what this translates into is that you have to start with the victory conditions, because that is the overall context. Paths and Pursuit of Glory get this right; the victory conditions are up front. Unhappy King Charles! gets it wrong and puts the victory conditions right at the end, so you struggle through the rulebook with little understanding of what you’re trying to accomplish and then have to retrofit your mental model when you find out the answer. From there, you might argue for explaining rules that are critical to victory before breaking into the sequence of play; for Unhappy King Charles! and Hannibal: Rome vs Carthage, for example, one might make an argument to explain political and provincial control second rather than in sequence of play order.

The other thing this argues strongly against is up-front terminology explanations, which have become distressingly common in GMT rulebooks. Pursuit of Glory has two dense pages of terminology up front which are almost totally incomprehensible since you have no context for understanding what they’re going on about. Pursuit of Glory is actually a multiple, severe offender here. We get terrain effects on combat on page 4 before we’ve even gotten to the sequence of play. Detailed unit descriptions are on page 6 and 7 before we have any way of understanding what these unit distinctions actually mean in game terms, so the rules of course have to repeat everything again later, which itself becomes incredibly problematic. There is absolutely no reason to introduce a rule like this before the reader can possibly understand it.

You get or lose players in the first five pages or so, and almost definitely by page 10. If players can get get a running start on what the game is all about – if you get them a solid context to work with – they’ll have hope, even if your game is complicated. If they’re on page 8 and still haven’t got past the component overview, as is the case in Pursuit of Glory, you’re screwed. Put the glossary at the end.

Tell ’em Once: There is an old rule of business presentations: “Tell ’em what you’re going to tell ’em, tell ’em, and tell ’em what you’ve told ’em”. Unless you intend your rules to be read by disinterested and bored people who don’t really want to be there, this is terrible advice for rules-writers. If you’re repeating rules (like the Blockade rules, repeated several times in Pursuit of Glory), you’re re-building a part of the mental model you’ve already built. Unless it’s absolutely unavoidable, do it once and cross-reference.

The Once per Game Test: Rules need momentum and continuity. You need to build up an understanding of the core game systems before you deal with flavor rules. Any rules that applies only once per game should not be in the main body. Unhappy King Charles! is an offender here, with a couple pages of one-off rules right smack in the middle of the rulebook, breaking up the coherency the game system explanation. One-offs should be at the end, in their own categorized sections, unless there is a compelling reason otherwise.

In the same vein, one of the absolutely critical strengths of these card-driven wargames is that they can put a lot of these sorts of one-off rules – which are great for flavor but hugely problematic in terms of increasing real complexity – in the cards without burdening the player with learning them up front or having to remember them (in fact, for many folks not knowing exactly what is in the decks is a desirable feature of the first few games). One should leverage this. If a card explains its effect(s) perfectly clearly, it doesn’t need a rule. Pursuit of Glory is again a repeat offender here, including (for example) rules 7.4.1, 7.4.2, 17.2.2 & 18.2.2 which, while admittedly short, are still unnecessary.

The Less than Once per Game Test: Any rules that take effect less than once per game (on average), whether they are rules that cover oddball situations that rarely come up or are chrome, should also be removed from the main rules. If they are patching up the rules to cover rare but awkward situations they should be in footnotes or something similar. If it’s a real rule that has an application of less than once per game, you should first consider if you really need it, then put it somewhere where it isn’t going to bother anyone.

Bad Game Systems Make Bad Rules: If you’re having a hard time explaining something, it may be the fault of the game system, not the rules. If, as in Pursuit of Glory’s section 11.2.2, you find yourself apologizing that seriously, this rule is actually really simple and just hard to explain clearly, you have officially entered the swamp. Which Turkish and Bulgarian LCUs can’t do, apparently.

Designer’s and Historical Notes: I love designer’s and historical notes. I don’t love them when they break up the flow of the rules. Too often they just serve to provide historical rationalization for bad rules, and they rarely, if ever, serve to help learn, clarify, or remember things. Put them at the end as a serious piece, like Avalon Hill used to do. Alternatively, do what Columbia does and have a three-column format, two with rules, and one with historical notes, designer’s notes, optional rules, and other interesting tidbits where you can both see them (if you’re interested) without having to delve into the rules, and also delve into the rules without being distracted by them.

An Index: If you have more than 12 pages of rules, have an index. Seriously. It’s not that hard these days, and it has the added bonus that if your index is a mess, your rules are probably a mess too. It’s insane how many complicated games don’t have indices. Like Pursuit of Glory and The Devil’s Cauldron.

Write Rules: While a game may have a goal – to teach some history, to espouse a theory of mobile warfare, to explain why things happened the way they did – once you cross the threshold from light to medium-weight, the game’s rules’ only goal must be to build the player’s mental model. That’s it. The rules are not the place to defend your design decisions, put across your point of view, or explain the history. The rules must be designed to cleanly and clearly explain the game system(s), nothing more. The systems themselves are, after all, supposed to be the vehicle through which you do all that other stuff and should stand on their own. Anything else belongs in footnotes, Designer’s Notes, Developer’s Notes, Historical Notes, More Notes, Appendices, Further Reading, Historical Booklet, Further Notes, or whatever.

As I finish writing this piece, I realize my goal – of setting down some hard and fast rules for writing rules to more complicated games – is obviously bigger than I could hope to tackle. So I ask you to help me out here. What are the worst mistakes you’ve seen rules-writers make, and what would you do to correct them? What are some of the best rules styles you’ve seen? For my part, I think Ted Raicer does good job – his original rules for Paths of Glory and WWII: Barbarossa to Berlin stand as good models for card-driven wargames of this sort. Even though they’ve become a bit needlessly bloated in recent updates of the living rules, they’re still pretty good. Mark Simonitch and Vance Von Borries also do a good job. While I might sometimes quibble with the follow-through, I think Richard Berg knows how to do this stuff properly. I like Columbia’s format a lot for their higher-end games like EastFront and Rommel in the Desert. On the other hand, GMT’s line of card-driven wargames has a lot of entries with painfully bad rules.

7 Ages

Earlier this year, Milton got together a game of 7 Ages. I was of mixed minds at the time; I wasn’t that impressed with the mechanics of the game, but thought that there might be enough flavor of empire-building and whatnot in there to make the game fun. It was clear that the game had issues, some rather serious, but that maybe there was potential in there somewhere.

Having now played it again, my primary thought was, “what on earth was I thinking?”. You can see Milton’s write-up here, where I rather heartlessly lit into the game in the comments section. Part of this may have been the immediate post-game frustration, but still, I must now revise my earlier opinon: I no longer see any point in the game. It fails on virtually every level, game design to physical design.

Just because by any reasonable critical game standards, I can’t think of anything good to say about 7 Ages doesn’t mean that it is totally without merit; the fact of the matter is, it’s nice to occasionally get together for a big game with your friends. As a get-together game, 7 Ages is nice because it has a fair amount of downtime combined with an inability to do much planning, so you can chat between turns and not stress about it. If you’re playing an actual, quality game like Dune, Successors, Revolution, or Friedrich, this can really cut into your ability to socialize. Now, I can be a bit humorless when it comes to dysfunctional games, but if you’re the relaxed sort that isn’t that disturbed by these things, and can avoid getting frustrated with a level of randomness more appropriate to Chutes and Ladders than a complex 16+ hour game, by all means check it out.

I’m done, though.

Whither the International Gamers Award

The IGA nominations are out again for the German-style multi-player games. In the past I’ve refrained from commenting on them in my blog for a variety of reasons, but the list of nominations is interesting this year – not least because for the first time, it seems like they are making some effort to distinguish themselves by selecting quite a few off-mainstream games.

For those of you who may be unfamiliar with the IGA, at the end of the day it’s just a bunch of guys who vote on games they like. This is not to denigrate the contributions to the hobby that some have made; Mike Siggins particularly is a person I have great respect for. But, I searched the IGA website to try to find defining information such as a mission statement (other than a rather generic and meaningless “pick the best games”), list of criterion for game inclusion (other than just the dates of publication), goals of some kind, or rules or guidelines for how the committee was selected, but couldn’t. I’ve always been under the impression that, despite the presence of a few continental Europeans on the jury, it’s sort of a nativist answer to the Spiel des Jahre (which has become increasingly irrelevant to the “serious” gamer) or Deutcher Spiele Preis (which has not); but this is speculation on my part. In reality, in the past the IGA has added little, if anything, to the awards landscape, being essentially an English-language relay for the DSP, except neither as reliable nor as transparent, and conveying significantly less information.

This year, though, things are a bit different; not many of these games are going to make an impact on the DSP. Is this a good or a bad thing? Let’s check it out by handicapping the games. I’m going to ignore the 2-player category for two reasons: a) there is a strange dichotomy in the nominees that I can’t quite get my head around, and b) I haven’t played enough of the games.

Antiquity
Antiquity has no chance to win. It’s a $100+ game, and it’s long. Simple as that; you can’t win the IGA without broad-based support on the jury, and this won’t get it for practical reasons. While quite sympathetic to the new bias for small-press games, issues of quality aside this probably is too far off the mainstream of the IGAs traditional eurogame beat, too much of a niche game, and too expensive and generally unavailable to have been a serious nomination.

Carcassonne: The City
Being a part of the Carcassonne franchise, I don’t think this one has a realistic shot. For me, Carcassonne jumped the shark with Builders and Traders, and around here, The City just didn’t have any legs, as it tried unsuccessfully to lever the fundamentally non-threatening Carcassonne into more of a “gamer’s game” package. I’ll stick with Hunters and Gatherers.

Diamant
This is too light to win, although its chances are not zero. That this nice but featherweight (and overpriced) game was nominated while the novel and genuinely interesting Saboteur was passed over is disappointing. Not that Diamant is a bad game, which it isn’t … but it’s just not one that’s going to leave much of an imprint on the landscape. Perhaps the IGA mistakenly thought that they, like the Spiel des Jahre, might get a cut of the retail price.

Around the World in 80 Days
This is also too light to win. It has a very distant outside shot, but I would be amazed. Another game that’s a bit above average, but nothing special, and as a family game it seems out of place in this crowd.

Keythedral
This is an interesting game, but I’m not sure what it’s doing on the list, especially with Breese’s better Reef Encounter also nominated. A conflicted brain-burner. No chance; all but the most extreme Breeseophiles on the jury will go for Reef Encounter first, and Breeseophobes will avoid either (but Keythedral especially).

Louis XIV
For me personally, this is the winner, although not by a huge margin (and there are games that were not even nominated that I think are better still). Whether the game has serious replayability is an open question, but it’s interesting and unusual, and the theme is passable. But given the lack of interest the jury showed in Traders of Genoa a couple years back, that they typically go for true big-box games (last year’s Saint Petersburg being an exception), and the occasional mental block people have on the whole shields thing, a Louis XIV win is improbable I think.

Reef Encounter
Unquestionably Reef Encounter will appeal to the jury. It’s a throwback to the late 90s and so has a nostalgia appeal to long-time gamers, it’s a pretty good game, and it’s just elitest enough (only available in limited quantities and extravagant prices … but not too extravagant, and it has an impending reprint) to swing votes. All in all a very strong contender. While I certainly don’t think it’s the game of the year, if it wins it will be (given the reprint) probably the best choice the IGA has ever made in terms of doing something meaningfully different and trying to draw attention to a good but underexposed game.

Shadows Over Camelot
You probably know what I think of this game. If I had to make a bet, though, I think this has the best shot at winning, albeit not by a lot in a field that’s a bit more open than usual. Days of Wonder is trendy, the buzz hasn’t quite had a chance to fade yet, and it’s possible the jury won’t play enough to get to the seriously problematic back end. The IGA picked San Marco a couple years back, which was about the 12th-best game in the category that year, and a Shadows pick would ultimately be similar. I don’t think Shadows rises even to the level of being average, but I’d overall give it a very slight edge over Reef Encounter for two reasons. Firstly, the IGA tends to reward broad-based support, and Shadows has better market penetration than Reef Encounter. Secondly, Shadows is closer to the somewhat lighter weight class that the IGA generally prefers.

Struggle of Empires
Well, you either like Martin Wallace games or you don’t it seems. I like Age of Steam but am not generally a fan. Regardless, due to the length, and the free-for-all and wargamey nature of this game, I believe it has no chance to win. Age of Steam was mainstream enough to euro sensibilities to be a plausible contender (it didn’t win); I don’t think this one is, and you need across-the-board appeal to win the IGA.

Ticket to Ride: Europe
Maybe. TtR:E would be a better choice than a number of other games on the list, and it could get the required broad support, but would overall be a disappointing pick for a number of reasons, not least because the IGA desperately needs to distinguish itself from the other awards and one would hope that a “best of year” award might point you to a genuinely great game that you would not otherwise have tried. Most IGA consumers at this point are going to have heard of TtR:E and know whether they want to play it or not. I’d consider this a possible but dark horse candidate, and even though it’s a good game it possibly should have been excluded on the grounds of being a “system” game.

Ubongo
No chance. The nature of the game will turn off too many jurors, and at the risk of sounding repetitive, you need across-the-board support to win.

Ys
This one is probably the most plausible dark horse candidate. Greg Schlosser is a big fan I think, and that may carry some lobbying weight. It’s accessible, and while it’s a niche game it’s still generally available. Again, given the weakness of the field, Ys does OK – somewhere around 5th – but this is not a “best of year” type game, not by a far cry. I could come up with some way to spin it so that it comes out ahead of the other nominees, but even in a weak field I have to work at it. A sympathetic candidate, and really not a bad game, but it would ultimately not be a good choice.

Given the sense of weakness that the nomination list conveys, it raises the obvious question: what was missed? As it turns out, rather a lot.

Probably the most profound thing is that not even one of three very good to excellent Knizias were included – Palazzo, Tower of Babel, and Razzia!. And that’s just the really good stuff; one could make arguments for other games (like King Arthur) over some of the entries. That none were even on the nomination list raises serious questions about whether the IGA is borrowing another feature of the Spiel des Jahre, an almost pathalogical anti-Knizia bias. The omission of Razzia! is perhaps understandable given its Ra heritage, but it’s not a straight reprint and Diamant, Ticket to Ride: Europe, and Carcassone: the City are all highly derivative games. But not including Palazzo or Tower of Babel given some of the stuff that was nominated is mystifying.

Other titles that are inexplicably missing, again given the weakness of the field, are Shadow of the Emperor, Candamir, Mall World, 1825 Unit 3, Revolution, and Friedrich. The number of small-time publishers on the list is laudable, but why give spots to both Reef Encounter and Keythedral? The latter is a nice game, but nothing truly special (never mind the eligability time frame questions), and if you want another small-press game, Mall World is to me a stronger game and deserved to take its place. Candamir was not great in its original German incarnation, but the new Mayfair edition is vastly improved and easily deserved a slot over Carcassonne: The City (among others), and would have focussed on an American company beating a German company at its own game. 1825 Unit 3 is a system game, but so is Ticket to Ride: Europe, and again, 1825 Unit 3 is a very good game – although perhaps for the 2-player list. One could make a very strong case for Revolution: The Dutch Revolt and Friedrich also, especially considering the inclusion of the similarly-lengthy Antiquity and similarly-wargamey Struggle of Empires. All would also have helped tremendously in giving the nomination list some breadth, while currently it, like the Spiel des Jahre has become of late, feels to me like a victim of group-think.

And what about some of the very nice small-box stuff like Geschenkt, Saboteur, or even Garten-Zwerge e V? Perhaps there was some fear that the voting system would have essentially gaurenteed a Geschenkt win, but it would have been nice to see a few of the good small-box games recognized (esepcially since Diamant, a small-box game at a big-box price, was included).

It is a certainty that whatever wins the IGA (I’d handicap Reef Encounter or Shadows Over Camelot, with Ys as a dark horse and Ticket to Ride: Europe as a darker horse, Louis XIV the game that perhaps should win, and no other pick being at all credible), there will be a handful of fairly mainstream releases that I felt were significantly better that weren’t even nominated. While I definitely respect the list’s focus on smaller game companies, and in that sense I feel it’s a significant step towards making the IGA at least somewhat relevant, given the apparent parameters of selection (i.e., that a number of games from major publishers were included) there are simply too many games on the list that are no better than average, and too many excellent and interesting games omitted entirely.

What does all this mean for the IGA? In an industry rife with meaningless awards, the purpose or relevancy of the IGA has never been clear. Given that until now it has done little but echo (with less information) the more prestigious, useful, and reliable Deutcher Spiele Preis, the IGA has yet to find the angle that will make it of interest, at least on the euro-style end (the “historical” end is another matter, and of some interest given the CSR Award‘s recent difficulties). The new emphasis on some decent, off-mainstream games is a step in the right direction, but it’s obviously now a bit conflicted and still not there in terms of achieving both credibility and a clear audience. While giving an award to Ys or Struggle of Empires or Antiquity might set them apart from the crowd of people lining up to honor Ticket to Ride, it’s not clear who the audience for an award that recognized these games would be, or if that audience would need or pay any attention to such an award in the first place.

2014 addenda: Ticket to Ride: Europe won. Sigh.

Shadows over Camelot update

I have now played a couple more games of Shadows over Camelot, and I wonder if my review was actually far too generous. Quite simply, I realize that I find the game boring. In my last game, I noticed that I was rarely doing anything at all. A couple other Knights and I had gone on the Grail Quest; every few minutes I was just flipping a black card, reading the text, and playing a grail card. I had literally no decisions to make for probably 20 minutes. Then I moved to another quest (Picts) which also offered me zero turn-to-turn decisions. Finally I got to think a bit during the endgame as we figured out how to pull out yet another loyal Knight victory. The only thing I was doing most of the game was watching for the traitor. But since there seems little opportunity and even less motivation for the traitor to really be traitorous (at least not in any way the other players could possibly detect), and since as it turned out there was no traitor in the game anyway, even that wasn’t very exciting.

I am almost at the point of being done with the game, after only 5 plays or so. I’d play again if friends wanted to, but I’d strongly argue for smaller numbers of players (4-5) and with the more-likely-Traitor rules – I don’t think I would play with 7 players again; too tedious.

It’s been a source of some disappointment that my lukewarm review has been essentially the only one that has any reservation about the game at all; both Tom Vasel and Shannon Applecline have had unreserved praise for the game (Tom tells you flat-out to buy it, regardless of your gaming tastes). The main dispute in the boardgamegeek reviews seems to simply be about just how great a game it is. The only exception seems to me the usually incredulous Rick Heli; even he speaks in solid positive overall terms, but at least he does mention some of the issues, and his Geek rating is a modest 7. While I won’t say that the people who like it are wrong, or that there couldn’t be overall strongly positive reviews for a game I’m not that impressed with, still the fact that the reviews have been so uncritical (with the exception of Rick’s) has certainly been a disappointment to me – especially given that the actual BoardGameGeek users have been somewhat more reserved in their response, at least by the standards of major new releases with flashy bits.

If our hobby ever wants to seriously broaden the player base, we’re going to have to start acting less parochial. My theory is that there is no such thing as a non-gamer; everyone has played games. It’s just that they don’t have exposure to good, more sophisticated games, for reasons that may be part cultural, but perhaps are mainly due to the stranglehold of Hasbro, Toys R Us, and Walmart. It’s not a matter of selling people on games; it’s a matter of directing them to the good ones in our niche. There are, after all, probably hundreds of thousands of people playing Scrabble in America, which is a fairly euro-ish game, and games like Pictionary, Trivial Pursuit, and Cranium have sold a lot of copies. Generally uncritical reviews are not helping our cause. People may have time and energy for the couple best or most appealing games, and will not give our branch of the hobby a second chance if they play a few games that don’t grab them. It’s the job of the reviewer to point them, and the gamers who indirectly recruit them, towards the great games as quickly as possible. Compare to movie reviews; people in general clearly have an appetite for concise, well-written, critical reviews. Why are game reviews different?

The Greying of an Avalon Hill Gamer

Everyone else in the gaming blogosphere seems to be talking about Lewis Pulsipher’s (the designer of Britannia, apparently) recent article called “An attempt to explain why (and how) boardgaming has changed in the past twenty years“. It even made GameFest’s front page, I’m not sure why – they rarely spotlight outside articles, and when it comes to this one, what the other bloggers have rather generously failed to mention is that Mr Pulsipher is just blowing smoke.

Not one of his sweeping, stereotypical assertions as to the changes in the boardgame world is backed up by a shred of serious data. People are worse at math? You’d think that sort of claim could be made with some statistics if true. But no, it’s simply asserted without evidence, one rather implausible claim after another. Am I seriously to believe that kids are now so intellectually bankrupt that they have to add up the pips every time on the dice instead of simply recognizing the patterns as Mr. Pulsipher would have us believe? This is just the most ludicrous, unsubstantiated claim in the piece (perhaps the school district in his area is really, really bad). In short, what he’s saying here is “back when I was a kid …”, the rant of everyone who starts to realize they aren’t young anymore.

This article has been written many times before by many different people, and what it boils down to is “why won’t people play my favorite old games with me?”. Who cares? We are now, in my opinion, in the golden age of boardgaming, wargaming or otherwise. On the wargame end, GMT publishes more games in a year than Avalon Hill ever did, and games like Paths of Glory and Europe Engulfed are enjoying surprising success and longevity for their complexity, with Paths of Glory just being reprinted for the third time (let’s remember, classic Avalon Hill games were rarely very complicated). Columbia is apparently doing quite well in the low-to-medium-complexity, high-quality niche, with many titles in print – Rommel in the Desert, a classic 20-year-old game worth of today’s standards, was just reprinted. The Europeans are giving us huge numbers of games with a quality undreamt of 20 years ago, achieving more in depth and interest in 60-90 minutes and 6 pages of rule than all but the best comparable Avalon Hill games, and with amazing physical quality (if you want the reason why the boardgaming world has changed, I would suggest you start here). We are now enjoying the games of Reiner Knizia, unquestionably the most brilliant and prolific game designer ever to practice the craft. While the individual US print run numbers don’t compare with the glory days of Avalon Hill, remember that AH had a no serious competition in the “games for hobbyists” segment of the market, foreign or domestic, for several decades. Today there are quite a few serious players in the US (Rio Grande, GMT, Columbia, Mayfair, Fantasy Flight, Überplay/Eagle, Days of Wonder, even Hasbro/Wizards/AH), and dozens in Europe – the joys of internationalization – and the US boardgame market is growing strongly. You can read 20-page analyses of Puerto Rico, Goa, or War of the Ring on BoardGameGeek by twenty-somethings. Kids are playing Magic: The Gathering with opponents all over the globe in tournaments for real money (not as much as they used to, but still). Settlers of Catan, a ten-year-old game, is still a top-seller (having outsold by several factors any game Avalon Hill ever made) and still enjoys wide critical and popular acclaim. And Dungeons and Dragons in it’s new third(ish) edition still, I imagine, outsells them all. And that’s despite stunning competition from great console games like Halo.

In short, the gamer today is part of a broader, more vibrant, more interesting community than ever before, and has access to games that have made a quantum leap in quality in every respect from 20 years ago. That’s what’s changed. Even though the 70s and 80s did produce a few great games even by today’s standards (Titan, Dune, 1830, Squad Leader, and Rommel in the Desert, to pick a few), you still couldn’t pay me enough to go back. Well, you could, but I’d probably give up gaming. Regardless, you take my point.

As a parting shot, I quote from the article:

It would help if we had more short wargames. However, marketing very short wargames is also a problem. I’ve designed a number of wargames that can be played in an hour, but I’m not sure they’re marketable. They are much “smaller” than the typical wargame, and less strongly historical. When people play them they like them, but who’s going to buy them?

I guess that whole Memoir ’44 thing must be a massive shared hallucination. What’s its ranking on BGG? 7th? Days of Wonder isn’t exactly complaining about the sales, what with rumors of three expansions.

I have a couple sessions in the queue here, so we’ll be returning to our regularly scheduled program of gaming criticism momentarily.