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Newbie with a wargame conundrum

8 replies [Last post]
Joined: 12/31/1969

Hello all, I just wanted to say that I love the forum (lots of good tips) and I need some outside opinion.

I'm currently working on a design for a wargame set in the Roman era. It's the sort of game where players ponder multiple strategies and can choose different paths in attempt at claiming the Empire. It employs lots of dice battles, card drawing, economic management, etc. etc. etc. This design is in the same vein as the MB Gamemaster series, which I enjoy when I have the time to play (Shogun being the best IMO). By the way I've seen Conquest of the Empire, but I've never played it.

Here's my dilemma. I'm currently on page 20 of the rulebook and it deals with phase D (4th phase) of the player's turn sequence which goes from phase A to phase G right now. As you can see it's incredibly detailed. I've now blown a mental gasket and I put the rulebook aside in frustration.

My question is, how much is too much detail?

There are 5 ways to win in this game:

Strategically - kill 'em all!

Diplomatically - ally with territories and exchange technologies & treaties

Economically - develop what you area you have and earn the most out of it

Technologically - research and build to your way to intellectual superiority

Politically - Rise you leaders through the ranks and claim the Empire through the Senate

So I'm looking for feedback as to what makes a good war game. Does detail and length of time it takes to win, make it any more enriching?
It seems as though I have to complete this monster rulebook in order to revise, improve and eventually complete the game.

The Jinx 13

Joined: 08/03/2008
Re: Newbie with a wargame conundrum

I'm very interested in hearing more about your game; I'm working on a Civ building game that has some similarities to the ideas you mentioned.

I would say, first off, that you need to formulate a very clear plan of what this game is supposed to be all about. If you're going for a wargame, which is heavy on simulation of reality, then a 40 page rulebook (which is what it sounds like what you're heading for) might be appropriate. If you're looking for a more "German" game (slightly more abstract, emphasis more on simplicity of gameplay) then 40 pages will be at least 5 times too long.

My personal advice would be to start by looking at ways to clean up the game system itself. For example, do all the different components and turn elements really hang together? Do you have a gazillion cards, each of which has a different power? Start off by trying to build a clean game with as few rules exceptions as possible, rather than a detailed game with lots of ingredients of "reality" but unwieldy game play. You can always add stuff later. Also, focus on making each subsystem interesting and fun in its own right. If you have a lot of elements of simulation (trade, combat, diplomacy, etc) but each subsystem is dull when taken on its own, the game as a whole will drag. And see if there are ways to connect the subsystems -- for example, maybe fighting a war gains you political power, but costs you resources, or something like that.

The main thing I look for in a game is whether it presents me with an interesting and challenging set of decisions. In each action, I want to have a plausible option to do THIS or THAT and I want to be able to have some information to go on as to which is likely to help me more depending on my strategy. A game with a 40 pg rulebook will likely take a really long time to learn, and as I play the game, I won't really feel like I'm in control of my fate, because I have so little clue about what I'm doing. So for me, a streamlined game is more likely to be fun because the amount of info I have to process and keep track of is manageable. That said, there are lots of people who love detailed simulations, and your game might go over great with them as-is.

You might also check out "republic of Rome", which doesn't sound like your game but is a politcal game set in the Roman senate which has some similar ingredients.

Good luck with your project!


Newbie with a wargame conundrum

I am also working on a game that has similar elements (it must be Toronto), but with a modern theme. I have a document that I call Raw Game Ideas which I continually add to and edit whenever ideas strike me. Later on I go through it and see the ideas that are great and the ones that are terrible.

I find that it is difficult to determine what level of abstraction you want to go for if the game is not going to be a simulation. I've got so many ideas about what I want the game to contain that I've had a hard time getting things going in terms of concrete design. I corrected this situation by focusing on three things only, around which everything else will be added. They are a combat mechanic, rules for moving, and rules for building. This may sound like a lot but it isn't in the manner in which I am going about it. Don't think Build from War in Europe, think Build from a game like Risk. I've got a combat mechanic that I really like and basic ideas about how moving will work. In order to make the game playable so that I can test the combat mechanics, I decided to base building on the Risk mechanic until I get the other stuff sorted out. So for now, a player gets to build x number of units for every territory that they hold. Once I am happy with these original elements, I'm going to add/integrate a more complex build, and then an economic element, and then a diplomatic/political element, etc. until I have it finished. It's slow going though.

I think that I got a little off topic, but I hope this helps someone.

Newbie with a wargame conundrum

Hi TheJinx13,

Firstly, I'll say that I'm not what I would call a wargamer. I had a game recently of John Prados' Third Reich and in all honesty, I thought it was too slow and boring. While I could appreciate its perfect blend of variation yet adherence to history, this did not make up for hours at a time of doing very little. So in essence, I'm most probably not your target audience anyway. However, I might still be able to offer you some suggestions.

Five ways of winning (Conquest, Diplomacy, Economically, Technologically, Politically) is quite a few. Just on the surface and without knowing too much of your game, is there anyway that you could meld Diplomacy and Politics into the same goal structure or even Economics and Technology? If you could do this, it might streamline some of the mechanics in the game. It gives the players a little bit less to master while also giving them greater depth in those areas. The other difficulty is balancing these goals. Theoretically, these approaches should be balanced if you are to have a good game. It is obviously more difficult having five things balancing compared to three. Your thoughts?

In terms of what makes a good war game, I'm most probably not the person to be asking. However, I think what would be imperative is feeling that you are there on the ground over two thousand years ago with sandals on as part of the Roman Empire. The names, the hierarchy and the feel should define the game. Logical, sensible and streamlined mechanics will add good gameplay to the game by not taking the players out of their sandals so to speak. Instead, the mechanics of the game should enforce the entire feel of the game.

As for the rulebook in its entirety being required, I disagree. I'm currently working on a pretty big, but very different sort of game. The thing I have been focusing mainly upon is the framework of the game. By this, I mean very strictly (in as few words as possible) writing:
- The Aim of the Game
- How the Game is played - phase by phase and repeating until a winner is declared
I now have the framework as streamlined as possible and the aim of the game as crystal. Now what is left is filling in the details of the different phases and actions that can be taken. After this will be a theoretical balancing of these elements and then I go to playtesting. The advantage of doing it this way is that you are only ever working on small chunks at any one time. The advantage is that you end up having everything focused and honed to a knife's edge. Is there any way that I can help you do this?

Newbie with a wargame conundrum

IMHO Jinx...

That's too complex for mass market these days.

However, there are an awful lot of hardcore gamers out there who love games as complex as the one you are describing. If your game is good there is no reason whatsoever that it could not become a "cult classic" game that is played at virtually all gaming conventions...

So is it too complex? Depends what you want.

If you want to make a good game, it's not too complex.
If you want to get rich, it's too complex.

A Good GameMaster game or wargame?

A wargame could be any game which primarily revolves around conflict, which would mean lots of different things to different people. Then you mention GameMaster Series which I would then equate to a light wargame, thus knocking out hard core simultations like Advanced Squad Leader, etc.

As far as a good light game goes, the biggest problem is downtime. While players A and B exchange in a die rolling firefight, players C and up sit idle and often wander off. You need a battle royale mechanic, or something fresh to keep the players interested in the fight. Like Players C & D could offer support, affect battle conditions, act as spies, something, anything to keep them immersed in the game. In a game with a lot of phases, there should be a good reason for each phase, and something "Oh-Ah" that makes players look forward to the change, nothing should be like "Oh Gee- the extra place your guy in case of fire phase" and nothing that diverges too far from the theme of the game. If it's a naval game, we don't need land resouce depletion phase. In the deciding how many phases less is more. Consolidate.

Oh, and as waywardclam says " Don't even think about publisher if it's more complicated than say... Risk 2210 " Even then you'd be fishing for quite sometime. Been there, done that. Big games with more than a few pieces and a page or two of rules are just not picked up anymore. Or they are made by designers who've proved their worth by making smaller games first.

Joined: 12/31/1969
To all who replied:

Thanks for the input...more on this game to follow, I'm just taking in what's been written and reassessing my objectives.

My biggest problem is that I have lots of neat ideas floating around in my head, and I'm reluctant to eliminate any of them. Although I have started to eliminate some non-combat pieces in the game that would require too much 'pieces management.'

The object of the game is to choose one or two victory conditions and follow through to conclusion. The toughest part from a designer's standpoint is cross-examination... 'if one thing happens, how does it affect every other rule', or cooking up rule exceptions.

It looks as though I may just have to eliminate 2 of the 5 victory conditions, in order to streamline it and pick up the pace which is more important thatn recreating in exact detail the famous battles of the Roman Empire.

more to come, for those who are interested...

The Jinx 13

IngredientX's picture
Joined: 07/26/2008
Re: To all who replied:

TheJinx13 wrote:
My biggest problem is that I have lots of neat ideas floating around in my head, and I'm reluctant to eliminate any of them. Although I have started to eliminate some non-combat pieces in the game that would require too much 'pieces management.'

I've found that one thing that helps in this case is to work on more than one game at a time. This way, you're not trying to cram all your ideas into a single game.

It also helps if you get a block with one game, you start working on the second. Very frequently, I find that the solution to the block will present itself while I'm working on the other game, even if its mechanics are completely different.

Finally, don't forget that you should have no loyalty to the original game idea in your head. If the design seems to want to go in a different direction that will play better, do it. Don't hold fast to your original idea because "it's the spirit of the game." The game is the spirit of the game, and that's all that matters.

Hope this helps...

Joined: 12/31/1969
Newbie with a wargame conundrum

The challenge of gamedesign is not to cram as much ideas as possible into a single design, but to use only a few ideas and mold those into a cohesive whole.

I think you have to decide whether you want to make a game or a simulation. I can't help you with the latter, but if making a nice game is your goal I think it is important to simplify, simplify and simplify. Remove all mechanics and components until you only have the barest collection of mechanics and components left. Do you really need 20 different kind of units or will the game also work when you only make a distinction between infantry and cavalry (for example)? Do you really need 5 different decks of 100 cards or would 1 deck of 60 work just as well if you compress some mechanics and information. You will be surprised how much game you can get out of some colored wooden blocks and numbered cards!

Yes, it will hurt to remove all those beloved ideas, but those ideas are not wasted. Like IngredientX said, you can always use them in another game. I also hate cleaning my house, but always feel very good afterwards.

When you have nailed down the basic mechanisms of the game you can start adding stuff to make the game richer. This is much easier than the other way round, trust me I have been there as well :wink:

- Rene Wiersma

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