Monday, January 13, 2020

Of Form and Function

"Form follows Function" and "Function follows Form", two duelling design maxims and like most such bitter fights, both sides of the debate are right to some degree. This weekend I belatedly realized that this debate was at the heart of my seesaw problems without it having been consciously considered in that light.   Worse than that, solving the issues was going to require deciding on priorities, making careful, informed, choices and sticking with them. Oh NO!
"Sawmill Village" is an encounter scenario with victory resting on control of the crossroads town. Blue won the race to the town but wasn't aggressive enough to  take the whole thing before Red grabbed a foothold.
One of the advantages of writing a blog is that I have a decade of posts not only recounting games and showing pictures but snatches of design discussions of varying merit. Somethings come and go, some things get invented and reinvented and too often forgotten, and somethings just keep coming back if one looks.  One thing I seem to periodically take a run at is designing a game which has it all, large armies of big figures in big units which has all the detail of the most complex games but which fits easily on a small table and can be played in an hour or two even when tired or all day with a crowd of players.

I blame my Old School introduction and fondness for reading low level memoirs when I can find them but if I were ever to achieve that contrary goal, turning lead to gold should be easy as my next trick.
The armies are both up and battle plans have been decided on.
When I played the game I was going to write up on Saturday, I enjoyed it but something niggled so I played it again then again focusing more on how the game played rather than on enjoying the story that was unfolding on the table. I like the look of the slightly larger units in the 6" squares but when paying careful attention I soon realized that the table wasn't big enough (functionally) to give sufficient manoeuvre  room to make an interesting game and that while units were wide enough to fill a square, they were thin enough in line that several times I discovered that I had moved a unit adjacent to an enemy unit without seeing it and that the units that should have been resolving close combat were either ignoring each other or planning to open fire at range 2 when they were already at 1.

The use of multi-stand figures and large squares also gave me an irresistible urge to play with formations and other of the things that were supposed to be below the level of the game and as a result I was not really focusing on my intended role as "General" but rather on being Brigadier and Colonel focused on the various details more than on the over all battle. The practice belied the stated intent that the player was General not every officer on the table.

That was  when I decided to go back and review more than a hundred Square Brigadier posts and as expected I found certain themes, issues and debates cropping up again and again with every major deviation from the original game eventually failing and forcing a  reboot or a turn to Old School rules for a simple but lengthy, tiring, game of tactics which I soon tire of.

Blue has stuck to their plan in a passive sort of way, but Red has flip flopped with the usual result.
At least I understand now that my urge to mount units on a single base is not really driven by aesthetics or  convenience but as a way to remove the urge to fiddle with formations which despite my best intentions, always leads me to increased attention to all of those tactical details that the rules are supposed to "factor in" so that player must focus on being the general.  `

I also stumbled on a post from late 2017 when I was working on my Great War centennial game that expresses my conclusion that the six inch grid was a failure because the squares there were too few squares for manoeuvre, even after expanding my table enough to hamper movement through my room and for all the same reasons I mentioned above as well as a few others and that I needed to go back to smaller grid squares when I got back from Huzzah! Oops.

Thus it was that I got out my 5" grid cloth and laid out this game and with my Oerburg games in mind, reorganized my 54's to simulate old Square Brigadier style units with 4 infantry or 3 cavalry on a single base.

Having repulsed all of Red's attacks, Blue sits back contentedly as the sun sets and contemplates his report on how he boldly seized the important crossroad, throwing the Red forces back until an aide reminds him that actually, Red still holds a corner of the town. The Blue army had been too busy repelling attacks to ever launch one of their own. Oh........oh dear.
The 5" grid that Sunday's game was played on worked better and the troops gamely pretended to be fixed to a single base per unit with rules adjusted back to something very like the old Square Brigadier.  The corner markers for the four inch grid on the main table have mysteriously reappeared though and I plan to give them a go today, a tight fit for 54's and some terrain items but an expansive field with than twice as many squares as the six inch grid and room for more units as well as more manoeuvre. 

21 comments:

  1. The number of ‘cells’ available is critically important to gridded games, but our biggest drawbacks are 1) the fitting of terrain and units in the smaller cell and 2) the fact that while the cell width does help with the relationship of the unit in that cell, it does not help visually with the unit that is behind and forced to sit a full cell back, that can look visually quite wrong. So while mechanically one can draw support from a unit in a rear cell, visually, it does not look close enough to the lead unit to make that intuitive.

    At one time I was 100% locked into grid based games, but now am far less wedded.

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    1. I play both styles and they each have their own pros and cons. I find with the gridded games that even when things like formation snd unit size don't affect play, they affect my perception. Luckily the search is part of the fun.

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  2. That one about units in adjoining cells not fighting because you didn't notice it - easily solved, each cell represents an area and it may be that the opposing sides happened to be at the furthest edges of their area and either ran out of time to reach each other or just didn't want to. Just needs a rule to say that units in adjoining cells only fight if one side initiates combat.

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    1. I have tried that but the premise, older than the grid, is that you can't walk past an enemy and ignore it. Whether or not you are forced to fight is another question. If neither side in a solo game notices an enemy moving through a unit containing an enemy let alone not stopping when moving adjacent, it can cause some odd problems.

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  3. It's the process, not the resolution ;)

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  4. The games look wonderful anyway Ross!

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  5. I enjoy watching your iterative design process at work - it's a great example to draw inspiration from.

    Also always love the look of your games!

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  6. On the one hand there will never be the "perfect" game as the rules can always be tinkered with.
    On the other side the feel of the individual game is the goal.
    Each game will be "perfect" at that time if you are either enjoying the spectacle and then the accuracy/balance you are after.
    Which is pretty profound for a Monday.

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  7. The eternal trade off. Play-ability <-> Simulation

    There is a constant struggle between the two, the grid usually brings in a faster 'play-ability' with sacrifice to simulation.

    In the end only your 'fun' matters, though items like time available for the game and other players interactions will also mitigate this.

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    1. and flavour and changing tastes. Luckily chaos doesn't bother me.

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  8. I agree with the gentlemen above, especially John Y's point about enjoying watching your design thoughts/process and your pics, and MurdocK's point and fun.

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  9. Good looking game. It will be interesting to read about your progress with the rules. I find when I am dissatisfied with some rules it is less to to with the rules, but that over time I have changed my mind about the game objectives and what I want from the game. If I struggle too much I end up listing down the game objectives to help clarify my (new) ideas.

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    1. Very much a change in what I'm looking for from the games but sometimes it also takes a while for some issues to surface. I've complicated (or made more interesting) the issues by deciding that each collection should provide a different sort of gaming experience. Big change for a decade ago when I tended to lean towards having a similar rules for each period with just minor adaptations like Thomas's OHW does.

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  10. I quite agree with the notion that splitting a unit down tempts one to fiddle at a tactical level. I noticed a reduction in said tactical fiddling when I started mounting guns on their bases with integral towing units, and likewise reducing infantry bases from 3 pieces to one.

    Keep on posting!

    Regards, Chris.

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  11. Very interesting reflections on your game and rules evolutions. You have a wealth of experimental data from which to draw. Single base BMUs are a good approach to remove the temptation to fiddle with formation changes that are below the level of command of the player. Perhaps that is one reason rules such as “To the Strongest!” and “Impetvs” are popular?

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