Operational Design in Wargaming Part II - setting the stage.

Disclaimer:  The following are my own views and ideas about wargaming garnered from nearly forty years in the hobby combined with a non-zero amount of experience in planning and conducting military operations.  This series of articles is my attempt to process my own attitudes and opinions about the hobby in such a way as to distill out my own personal goals in developing my games.  It is a hobby "dear-diary" kind of thing much like this entire blog.  Any enjoyment you receive from reading this is well intended, any enlightenment is purely coincidental.

I own too many rule sets.  I know that is not a profound statement, as I am sure many of you could claim a larger collection.  I do however, believe it is an excellent jumping off point as it points to crux of the problem:  We all want something different from our games.  There is the unique balance of simulation, game play, command level, technology, morale, movement, and basing which appeals to each gamer.  This results in not just an abundance of rule systems, but also the tendency to apply house rules to customize any given set for what "feels right."

I listen to a wide variety of game and history related podcasts, and this idea is repeated most often.  We wargamers just can't be happy with the rules as written, we always want to 'fix' them.  It was a recent topic from the Meeple and Miniatures podcast that initial prompted this closer consideration of my rules selections. Apparently a review of Tabletop Wargames struck a chord with one of the authors that lead to rampant disagreements over the Internets! (What are the chances?)  Essentially the debate over the quality of the book boiled down to one question:  Are the most financially successful rules the best because they are the best written or because they are tied to a gaming system?  (That is to say rule sets written to sell a specific line of miniatures and/or support competitive play between strangers.)

Looking at my own trajectory over the years I see, that I started out with an affinity for game systems.   However, my interests have diverged significantly over the last two decades.  Currently all of my favorite rule sets do not support any specific manufacturer or even scale.

What does it mean to have a simulation?
What are the decisions I want to model?
How do I want to model friction?
What do I consider fun?

Well, what's past is prologue, so here is a quick run-down of the games that have informed my hobby over the years.  I have cherry picked the ones that most resonated with me.

Engage and Destroy

This was my first wargame, and thus it heavily influenced what  I though a game should look like.  We played on a ping pong table covered in foam mountains and moss forests.  Are forces were comprised of whatever GHQ or CinC models we had purchased from Merlyn's plus an array of tiny pieces of paper with the name of a tank or IFV written on it.  There was a heavy AFV focus, with little to no thought to infantry.  In one game I even used a Backfire bomber, because I had picked it up for 50% off on sale.
Era:  Modern (Cold War)
Scale:  1/285 Microarmor, 1 Model = 1 tank
Pros:  Exhaustive details to include terrain, weather, and even special weapons.
Cons:  Charts for everything.  You rolled to hit, location, penetration and then effect.  Line of sight was significant even though you were fighting at a reduced scale.

Era:  Science Fiction
Scale:  1/285, 1 Model = 1 Vehicle
Pros:  Customization, easy rule system, lots of players
Cons:  Essentially two blind folded robots fighting with shotguns.  Games can be arduously long.  Customization can result in excessively broken designs.

Warhammer 40,000 Rogue Trader
Era:  Science Fiction
Scale:  28mm, 1 Model = 1 Vehicle
Pros:  Simple rule system.
Cons:   GW's need to reinvent the rules.  The endless power curve

Warhammer Fantasy Battle 3rd & 4th Edition
Man O' War
Fire and Fury
Johnny Reb III
Shipbase III
Battleground WWII
Warmaster Ancients
Anatomy of Glory

Preferred Games today

Richard Borg's C& C engine
Lion Rampant
Regimental Fire and Fury
Risorgemento 1859  -Jon's custom rules
Chain of Command

So from all of this, what do I want from a rule set?

  • No point systems
  • Scenario based play
  • Unit bases
  • Fluid movement system
  • Allow me to make the decisions that matter
  • Limit the ability to act on a whim
  • Staying out of the weeds
  • Streamlined
  • Linear probabilities

I was listening to one podcast about Flames of War where they were discussing tournament play versus casual play.  One of the presented could not perceive a difference and went so far as to say: "I think people who don't not like tournaments are just scared."  That was enough for me to unsubscribe actually.

This hits at the crux of my issue with many rules.  Team Yankee is a competitive board game that uses playing pieces shaped like modern military equipment.  The point lists and scale are meant to give a fun, nice looking game on a relatively small table.  The focus of the rules them is to present a balanced fight between relatively equal forces, and they are fun.

So what are my top rule sets (I have organized them by collection)

6mm Ancient, Medieval, Crusaders, Renaissance and Fantasy collections
1.  Commands and Colors family. (ancients, samurai battles, napoleonics)
2.  Impetus

6mm WWII and Modern
1.  Spearhead/Modern Spearhead
2.  Brigade Combat Team (Homebrew rules)

10mm ACW and 15mm War of 1812
1. Regimental Fire and Fury
2. Commands and Colors family. (ancients, samurai battles, napoleonics)

28mm Renaissance, Qin Chinese and Reconquista Collection
1.  Impetus

28mm Pre-Modern Skirmish (Samurai, Imjin War, Medievals, Fantasy)
1.  Lion Rampant
2.  Saga

28mm SAW, WWII and Modern Skirmish
1.  Battleground WWII
2. Chain of Command

1/6000 Naval
1. Shipbase III

None of these are produced by a company that also produces miniatures (or paints, brushes and other accessories)


  1. Your "wants" list sounds exactly like mine. It also reads like a laundry list of what I was aiming for in my StarDust: Ground sci-fi rules when I put them together. It's funny how after X years in the hobby people start to end up in the same place. Of course, many of our background games synch up as well so that would explain some of it.

    Good luck with the never-ending quest for a perfect set of wargame rules! Honestly though, I think Spearhead/Modern Spearhead is as close as we're ever going to get.


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