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Game Systems - Static or ever-changing?


kristof65
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Two of the oft-heard complaints about fantasy and sci-fi mini game systems are that they are either always changing, or that they aren't well supported.

 

I started mentally listing game systems, and as far as I can figure out, the two go pretty much hand-in-hand: Games that are well supported tend to change quite often, while the static game systems are often poorly supported or discontinued. The only ones that don't fit that mold are fairly new.

 

Is my perception wrong here?

 

Here's some games I've considered that I have personal experience with:

Warhammer and 40k - well supported, rules change every few years.

Warlord & CAV - well supported, rules have undergone quite a few changes

Battle Fleet Gothic, Necromunda, Warmaster, Space Hulk, Mordheim & Inquisitor - no major rules changes since release, but not well supported by GW either.

Epic 40k - has had several incarnations and rule changes, not well supported, either.

Full Thrust - no major rule changes in years, but hasn't had anything new besides minis released in years.

Striker (Traveller minis system) - at least 3 rule versions, not well supported (virtually no minis)

Battle Tech - several rule versions, not much new coming out for it lately

 

 

Games I've heard about, but have no personal experience with:

Warmachine/Hordes - no idea if there have been rule changes, well supported, but relatively new on the scene (5 years?)

LotR - No major rule changes I've heard about, fairly well supported by GW, but again, new on the scene

Starship Troopers - at least one major rule change, heard complaints about lack of minis.

D&D/Star Wars Miniatures - as a collectible games, I've heard they've had at least minor rule revisions with each new release.

Mage Knight - I've not heard of rule revisions, but then it appears to be discontinued as well.

Hero Clix/Horror Clix - ???

Chronopia - no rules changes, but nothing new, either.

 

Over all, it seems to be that in order for a game to get into the game stores and stay there, the company has to continually have new releases, as well as the game has to be fun. GW manages this by not only constantly churning out minis, but by revising their rule set every few years. I am really getting the impression that a company could invent the perfect game system, release all the rules and army books the first year with the plan of just producing minis from that point on, and the system would die in a few years from lack of "new material."

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I think you have hit the nail on the head. For all the bad things said about Games Workshops approach to their rules the fact that there is always something new comming out helps keep their players interested. One of Games Workshops problems however is that their line is so large and they have a lot of armies so they end up with balance problems. It seems there is always one or two unsupported armies that buy the time they get their rules updated it's time the re-hash the entire system. I'm not sure if this is by design or just a fact of life when your trying to balance so many army list against each other. Whatever it is they are doing it's keeping them in buisness and keeping their games running where so many other companies have flat out failed.

Personally I think they should scrap their army books for the most part and instead publish things like the Generals compendium. New ways to play the game rather than a whole new book every time they want the tweek the stats on a unit or two. People do complain a lot about GW and I think some companies think they can do them one better but you have to admit what they are doing is working for them.

 

A few companies provide their army list and rules on-line. That makes their rules cheaper but not free. Ink and paper cost have to be factored in unless you want to lug a computer of some kind everwhere you play. I think this also appears amaturish to some gamers and other gamers don't have regular internet though they are probably in the minority these days. Also a lot of gamers seem to be bibliophiles. I've got books for games I have never played and will likely never play, Confrontation, Celtos..... just because the books were really nice books. You can talk all day long about the "Digital Revolution" but people still buy books because you can take a book just about anywhere. Sure you can print out rules and make your own "books" but they usually arn't as nice as a professionally bound book.

 

As far as not changing the system ever I think thats a bit of a pipe dream unless you really nail it the first time out and balance every army perfectly. There are always going to be complaints and people asking for changes. Game designers seem to be pretty weak willed about sticking to their guns when a lot of people claim to not like them or claim they aren't balanced. In my experience most "balance" issues that gamers complain about are not really there. They are usually a matter of some one they are playing against doing something they totally did not expect with their army. This is especially likely to happen if there is always a "new" army list out there to contend with which is the chief complaint among GW players. They get spanked by a new army or new list they are not use to then they go on various forums complaining about the "broken" list that beat them. In fact the armies are usually pretty balanced although some may take a little more thinking than others to play well. Almost every game I have played has a little of this. Warmachine probably handels it best though since when they come out with new units for the armies they publish every army update in the same book so every army gets new units and rules at the same time. They still get complaints about balance but not nearly as many as GW who are the kings of the "new" army list. It's not always what is the problem as what customers percieve as they problem. Gamers are often their worst enemy that way.

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I would agree with what your saying for the most part. Companies that don't continually do something with their games tend to fade away. The exception to that seems to be historical rules.

 

I would say that Warlord has not gone through major "Rules" changes. It has certainly gone through some revisions in terms of play balance with the SAs and the data cards, but overall 95% of the main rulebook is still accurate.

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I would agree with what your saying for the most part. Companies that don't continually do something with their games tend to fade away. The exception to that seems to be historical rules.

I had noted that with historicals - it's only us sci-fi and fantasy gamers who appear to be fickle. But then, with historicals, only the scale and time period really has to be supported by miniatures - they can pretty much be anyones minis - a 1/285th M1 is still an M1 tank, regardless of the manufacturer - no worries of IP rights, really.

 

I would say that Warlord has not gone through major "Rules" changes. It has certainly gone through some revisions in terms of play balance with the SAs and the data cards, but overall 95% of the main rulebook is still accurate.

For that matter, the core portion of WFB and 40k combat system is still the same charts as it was in the early 90s. The big changes that GW always makes are to the armies, special abilities, vehicles and magic/psionics rules.

 

I often wonder if a system could flourish and make enough money for it's creators to keep going on it if they "open sourced" it - or portions of it. For example, if GW were to suddenly say - "Hey, we're going to openly license the image of the Space Marine, and let any mini company that meet certain standards sell space marine figures", you know that almost overnight the choice of space marine figures available to consumers would double or triple. But would GW still make money on Space Marines if they did so? I contend yes, as long as they controlled the actual rules and all the other armies.

 

And even if it could make GW money, would it work for other manufacturers? Could Reaper take, say the CAV rules, and just let anyone create models (not data cards, just models) for the system and still make money? Hard to say if it would work or not. The OGL worked wonders for sealing the supremacy of the d20 system - but could it work for minis games as well?

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Agreed. To a certain extent, game companies are in a no win situation. A game cannot remain unchanging - the result of this is self limited sales which deteriorate to nothing. But, this rate of growth can get too fast, leaving players behind in terms of rules updates and nice minis to buy.

 

Historic rules sets suffer a related problem, but this is more tied to tournament play. Historical games rise and fall in popularity over the tournament circuit, which filters down to the average player.

 

The problem with GW is that their background and setup is monolithic. Epic is a good example. With the last edition, we got half way through Chaos before it all dies out. Now, with the next edition, we have had to start again, and that leads to a number of force which are again left behind in terms of models and associated material.

 

Would people still be playing Rogue Trader, if GW had stuck with it for 20 years?

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Coming from a historical players viewpoints - Many of the games that my group plays are actually older than I am. We use a set of Conan Rules that is definately older than I am, as well as Fletcher Pratt (which came out before WWII) and Star Guard (Published in 74). I'm also willing to bet that Warhammer and 40k are older than most of the people who pop in here as well (first appearing in 83 and 87, respectively)

 

DBA (de Bellis Antiquitatis) which is a big tourny game was published in 90. So there is something to be said about static game systems. Granted each of these have had tweaks to them over the yers, but the core is the same. We also still pull out Rogue Trader, because if you play in the spirit of the game (and not to powergame or min/max - it is a *ton* of fun)

 

Flames of War is relatively new and popular, and has also gone through many incarnations since its inception.

 

I think of the the big thing that powers change in a game system is how much is that system used for tournys? From my observation, the more a system is used for tourny play, the more it seems to get tweaked and massaged to help create more of a sense of balance and to fix its "broken" elements. Games played more for fun (beer and pretzels) tend to be more static as people, I think, are more forgiving of the rules and play more in the spirit of the game, rather than to compete. If you take a look at your list, the games that are played in big competitions are the ones that get the most changes.

 

Looking at Warlord, when it first came out - I fell in love with it as a skirmish game. We'd grab fists full of models, figure out the points and go to town slaughtering one another with reckless abandon. Easily the best way to kill a few hours. I noticed once people got into a competition mind set, the game tended to bog down and the fun slowly crept out of the room (except for those who dig that type of gaming). Then came a whole bunch of rule changes and the whole system was in flux for a while, which - personally - really turned me off to it. I'm not a huge fan of change. If you are going to make changes, fine - just release them in a nice clear and concise manor. I'm thrilled with the Rage Chronicles type releases - get everything out there at once, see how it shakes out and then make adjustments for the next year. Anyways - now that things are finally settling into place, I think I may once again pick up Warlord to see how I like the new system.

 

But again, my prefered games aren't of the "competative" nature - sure army v army is competative - but it isn't about win or lose, but how you play and having fun. That is why right now I'm looking for various skirmish and army games that are fast, easy and not horribly serious. For me it's cowboys, zombies, pulp and lawn gnomes (GnomeWars freaking rocks, BTW). When it comes to historicals I love to have two huge ancient armies just pushing one around around the table with pikes and cavalry, or giant lines of napoleonic soldiers about to get blow away by cannons.

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I had noted that with historicals - it's only us sci-fi and fantasy gamers who appear to be fickle. But then, with historicals, only the scale and time period really has to be supported by miniatures - they can pretty much be anyones minis - a 1/285th M1 is still an M1 tank, regardless of the manufacturer - no worries of IP rights, really.

 

I think it is largely fantasy gamers who are fickle, really. I love helping fantasy gamers try to find a figure to match their character - but it is a long and involved process (I posted at length about this a while back - it's pretty funny)

 

I find that many sci-fi gamers tend to take what they can get, because for the longest time we were pretty limited as to what is available. There is a ton of fantasy available - if you wanted a mage or a barbarian, you could be very picky about the type of figure you wanted.

 

If you wanted a space trooper, you pretty much had to be open minded. I think a lot of sci-fi gamers tend to look at figures and think "Hey, this is cool - I could probably use it as such-or-such" I bought a bunch of cadian shock troops (the metal ones) because I wanted something that looked like the marines from Aliens, and they were pretty close.

 

There is truth in the fact that historical gamers will mix their figures - but even within a scale there is discrepency. For example, someone who gets Battlefront's 15mm WWII stuff might not want to mix it with Quality Castings because they are smaller - so a QC tiger might look really weird next to a BF one. Historical gamers also typically don't like to spend a ton of money on their figures. Old Glory is popular because they tended to be about $1 or less per figure. People griped because Foundry worked out to $4-5 a figure which is pretty standard pricing for fantasy (they are a bit more now, which makes foundry detracters even more rabid). Then you get into "premium" figures like Rackham which can be $8-15 a figure and historical gamers would FLIP.

 

But yeah, mixing figures is cool - I'd mix my Artizan cowboys with Black Hat cowboys or foundry cowboys any day. On the other hand, I'd not mix Artizan WWII GI's with Old Glory or Battle Honors because they look so different - so while there isn't an IP issue - there is definately a scale and quality issue.

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Battle Tech - several rule versions, not much new coming out for it lately

 

Well, in the past several months CBT came out with a TOTALLY revamped ruleset (Total Warfare). WHich while largely the same as the 2nd edition, introduces a number of tweaks and probably has the most changes of any edition. They just came out with the Tech manual (equipment and building rules) and IIRC tournament rules are in the timeline.

 

I also just picked up Handbook: House Davion (rewrites of the BEST GAMING SBs OF ALL TIME, the House Books...and they're excellent). While the scale of releases may not be as they were, and with the changeover in leadership causing some delays, I'd still say they're pretty well supported...

 

Damon.

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Battle Tech - several rule versions, not much new coming out for it lately

 

Well, in the past several months CBT came out with a TOTALLY revamped ruleset (Total Warfare). <SNIP> While the scale of releases may not be as they were, and with the changeover in leadership causing some delays, I'd still say they're pretty well supported...

Ok, so my specific knowledge of BT was wrong (haven't seen much if anything for it in my FLGS's), but it still supports my original perception - Rules changes do go hand in hand with good support.

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While well supported games may get more changes, too much change is very bad. Take warlord for example. It has gone through tons of changes in a short period of time. Sure, the core mechanics are still the same. You have a target number, I roll a d10+modifier, I hope I meet or beat the target number. But the armies have completely changed. They don't even use the same philosophy when building cards anymore. At least in my locale the rapid machinegun fire of change has successfully murdered the game. There used to be a game every weekend. Now you can hardly pay any one to play. The local crew has moved on.

 

The core book is pretty much useless. Pages 68-112 are completely invalid, as well as the 4 build your own army pages. I don't know about the campaign rules, I never used them. Pages 47-67 contain the core rules and are some what OK. That leaves 46 pages of fluff and painting guide that are still ok. A 144 page book that has 46 valid pages in it? That's pretty hard to sell to a new player, especially once you explain that those first 40 pages are a story book. As for the painting guide, it is nice, but has nothing that can't be gotten for free off the interwebs. There are also the half dozen army books that are also useless now too.

 

Hopefully now, on our the third or fourth set of official data cards, with the dust settled, warlord will grow into the all shadowing behemoth of fantasy that it deserves to be. But that doesn't change the fact that a lot of its early players have gotten chased away.

 

Supporting a game by making new material is good. It keeps play interesting and gives players something to look forward to. Flip Flopping on everything is bad, it chases people off.

 

 

Edit: please excuse me if I have an even higher than normal amount of bad grammar and spelling in this post. I just noticed I was tired. Silly me trying to argue while I'm tired. sillyjoe is gonna go to bed now.

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I think there's tension between successful retailing and a good game system. Every time a broken ruleset is "about to get fixed, with this super value boxed set plus rulebook at low low prices!" it creates this buzz and people get into it. I think GW is all about- and ONLY about- the retail and very successful at that. But other companies are or have been successful with different approaches, too. Most companies don't WANT to be "as successful" as GW because GW are really mainly a consumer/ retail outfit now.

 

So, what's a successful ruleset? Depends on the writer's and the publisher's goals.

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I never worked for GW like some people... but let me just say this:

There are two cycles at GW 18 months and 36 months.

 

The 18 month cycle games are the ones you have to worry about... They are supported for the time period and then they drop (minimal support at best) at least for some time. Sometimes they come back sometimes they don't but always with new figs.. Necromunda was like this. I am guessing it went away because profit margin was not very high... You are dealing with 12 miniatures or less per side per game. That fact, I am sure did not sit well with the mukity mucks... nd so the game disappeared.

 

The 36 month cycle is kinda creepy too.. First these are thier bread and butter games.. 40k and fantasy... these are evolution games... They have a base rule system that constantly changes as new armies are released. The latest and greatest usually having an advantage (rules) over the previous releases. This causes gameplay to "evolve" so the game as it was initially played is nearly nothing like the game finishes up...

 

They change minis up with each release and drop some of the more unique models each time so as to "inspire" people to buy more miniatures. GW makes fabulous use of its IP, but I think it is all going to catch up with them in the end. They have a so-so product... Certainly there are better ones out there.. Warlord is a better game than Confrontation, Hordes, Warmachine, and WHFB. 40K is hard to compete with but there are better rules sets than 40k.. Infinity come immediately to mind. But the entertainment dollar is rapidly shrinking. Players will buy subpar games if it is a game they can find opponents too regularly...

 

My recommendation... Play all the Warlord you can... Eventually you will build a player base and it only grows from there.. We are in the it's a lotta legwork phase. Remember people have XXX$$$ tied up in the games the play once they get started they'll stay as long as they can find games.

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<snip>

Well, in the past several months CBT came out with a TOTALLY revamped ruleset (Total Warfare). WHich while largely the same as the 2nd edition, introduces a number of tweaks and probably has the most changes of any edition. They just came out with the Tech manual (equipment and building rules) and IIRC tournament rules are in the timeline.

<snipage>

Damon.

 

Total War is the Tournament ruleset.

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While well supported games may get more changes, too much change is very bad. Take warlord for example. It has gone through tons of changes in a short period of time. Sure, the core mechanics are still the same. You have a target number, I roll a d10+modifier, I hope I meet or beat the target number. But the armies have completely changed. They don't even use the same philosophy when building cards anymore. At least in my locale the rapid machinegun fire of change has successfully murdered the game. There used to be a game every weekend. Now you can hardly pay any one to play. The local crew has moved on.

 

The core book is pretty much useless. Pages 68-112 are completely invalid, as well as the 4 build your own army pages. I don't know about the campaign rules, I never used them. Pages 47-67 contain the core rules and are some what OK. That leaves 46 pages of fluff and painting guide that are still ok. A 144 page book that has 46 valid pages in it? That's pretty hard to sell to a new player, especially once you explain that those first 40 pages are a story book. As for the painting guide, it is nice, but has nothing that can't be gotten for free off the interwebs. There are also the half dozen army books that are also useless now too.

 

Hopefully now, on our the third or fourth set of official data cards, with the dust settled, warlord will grow into the all shadowing behemoth of fantasy that it deserves to be. But that doesn't change the fact that a lot of its early players have gotten chased away.

 

Supporting a game by making new material is good. It keeps play interesting and gives players something to look forward to. Flip Flopping on everything is bad, it chases people off.

 

 

Edit: please excuse me if I have an even higher than normal amount of bad grammar and spelling in this post. I just noticed I was tired. Silly me trying to argue while I'm tired. sillyjoe is gonna go to bed now.

 

For a game system that's only been out for a short time, that's pretty bad to have that many changes.

 

 

An idea game system, would evolve through add-ons. Additional rules that would expand upon the core rule systems not change it. Battletech is a good example of this. Through 4 different editions the core rules haven't changed much yet a lot has been added allowing the game to evolve.

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