Monday, March 28, 2022

Wargame Design- My Design Inspirations


As I launched Wars of the Republic  I got to do a whirlwind of interviews and similar features with various folks in the community.  This led to a few common questions that came up.  

1. How do you become a Wargame Designer?

2. Who were my influences as a Wargame Designer? 

The first question, I have answered here. It is by far, the most common question I get.  Thankfully, I have a pretty simple answer for it.  

The second question, it took me a bit to figure out.  The question would vary a bit between whether they wanted particular authors, or if they were asking about particular rulesets.  When I dug down deep, many times the answers to those questions were the same.  Therefore, I decided to tackle it here on the blog.  

Influential Designers
I think first, I wanted to talk about the designers that have really influenced me as a wargamer and as a designer.  Most of you will be familiar with these names and their games.  I have talked about them many times on the blog.  I will also try to list some of their games, but I may not be 100% all encompassing.   

Rick Priestley
Games: Warhammer 40K, Warhammer Fantasy, Warmaster, Warmaster Ancients, Hail Ceasar, Pike and Shotte, Blackpowder, Gates of Antarres, Warlords of Erehwon, and a helping hand in so many more! 

Like many wargamers, I started my journey in the Games Workshop universe.  I stared with good old Rogue Trader.  Yes, I am old and I still have my soft cover copy of these rules.  Yes, the spine is in bad shape, and yes pages are falling out.  It was and is a well used tome! However, despite this start, I have also enjoyed seeing Rick's evolution as a game designer in his work for Warlord.  

I list Mr. Priestley as a big influence as he started me on my journey.  However, there is something really great about how he writes his rule books.  They are like an old chum inviting you over for Tea and a spot of gaming.  He has a very gentlemanly and collaborative approach to wargaming that I find invigorating.  As I read his rules, I can often envision myself playing the game with him and his mates.  It is a very welcoming approach to game design and one that I love and respect.  

This has influenced me with the Most Important Rule in all of my games.  The Most Important Rule is very simple.  Everyone must be having fun!  If everyone playing is not having fun, than the game is lost.  It is a failure.  

To me wargaming is not a competitive act, it is a collaborative act.  Both players are working together to create engaging game play, compelling narratives, and to determine the outcomes.  This is much more fulfilling of a process to me, and I think Rick Priestley and his wargame design/writing style has strongly encouraged this outlook.  

Warwick Kinrade
Games: Various Imperial Armor Books, Aeronautica Imperialis, Kampfegruppen: Normandy, Battlegroup (various titles), Soldiers of God, Soldiers of Rome. 

My first experience with Warwick was through the Imperial Armor campaign books that he wrote for Forgeworld.  These books helped bring the universe of the Warhammer 40K to life, and encouraged me to pick up and own corners of it myself.  This manifested itself into building my own campaigns, special units, warzone rules, and eventually into my first efforts and designing games.  He showed me that I could own wargaming myself, and didn't need to wait for someone else to spoon feed me content.  This led me down a path and along a journey that is still continuing.  

Mechanically, Warwick showed me a variety of tools that I keep handy in my tool box today as well.  Of course that includes, using cards in games, simple rules for deep tactics, fog of war mechanics through chit pulls, altitude bands, etc.  He may not have invented these techniques but he used them in ways that I found very compelling and they stuck with me.  You can see these tools in use in many of my games.  

Jon Tuffley
Games: Full Thrust, Stargrunt, Dirtside

Wow, was reading these rules an eye-opening experience.  It lifted me from the vale of Games Workshop and helped me realize this huge world of games out there.  The rules are classics of the sci-fi genre and extrapolate "modern" rules into a near future and beyond setting.  They used a variety of mechanics and ideas from the "real-world" but also ripped from the sci-fi screen when needed.  Jon Tuffley's work was like the tip of the spear for me on wargaming.  

Obviously, he also filled my tool box with ideas and concepts that I still use today.  Action/Reaction mechanics blew my mind!  The customization of forces that were scale and model agnostic was revelatory!  Dice shifting as a way to modify actions?!?  These are all still tools that I use and reference frequently.

Beyond that, Tuffley taught me that you can make games that are Scale and Model agnostic.  In addition, you can make games that model the "make-believe" worlds you want to bring to life onthe table top.  You just need to bring the right mechanical tool for the job.  

Daniel Mersey
Games: Battle Ravens, Dux Bellorum, Lion Rampant, Dragon Rampant, Pikeman's Lament, Rebels and Patriots, The Men Who Would Be King, Viking in the Sun, The Crusader States, Blam! Blam! Argh! 

Daniel Mersey is a giant figure in my development as a game designer.  Obviously, he wrote a number of break-out games for the Osprey Wargame Series when the Blue Book series was still young.  Some could argue that his rules are what continues to carry the series to this day!  In many ways, you could argue that I am only a "Daniel Mersey Hack" and I would not argue your claim at all.  I would take it as a compliment! 

In addition to being a great rules writer, he is also an inspirational driving force in making Wargaming mainstream.  The fact that he is the wargame designer in residence at University of Edinburgh highlights his contributions to wargaming.  Wargaming has been taken seriously at places like the US Naval War College, Sandhurst, West Point, and similar political/military institutions before.  However, Mr. Mersey has moved it beyond these "functional" applications and into the realm of academia as well.  This is immensely inspirational to me, and the power of what wargaming can do.           

I learned so much from Mr. Mersey's works.  He has an amazing ability to boil down a complex period into simple archetypes.  He does this with units, armies, terrain, and even scenarios.  He doesn't add rules, he strips them down to their core essence.  He taught me that less can be more.  Simple systems can be elegant and powerful in their application.  Obviously, I still try and use these learnings today when I approach a complex period or subject.    

Robey Jenkins
Games: Horizon Wars, Zero Dark, Infinite Dark, Blood and a Black Flag

I met Roby online via various hobby forums.  He was dabbling in game design around the same time I was.  Unintentionally, I have been following in his footsteps ever since!  He published Horizon Wars via Osprey publishing and that encouraged me to try my hand at it too!  Then, he started using Wargame Vault, and again I was inspired.  Next, he was on Patreon and look who followed him!  

The way Robey has been bulldogging his way along the path as a hobbyist and wargame designer is inspirational to me.  Plus, I think his games are pretty swell too!  From Robey I learned a lot about social media, the independent wargame designers world, and how to just get out there and do it!

Maybe someday, I will be as cool as Robey?   

Influential Rulesets
Not surprisingly, many of the designers listed above, will also have been involved or influential in some of the rulesets you will see below.  I won't try to re-invent the wheel, but will try to summarize what is so influential to me about them.  In no particular order: 

Force-on-Force/Tomorrow's War
You can easily see the hand of Stargrunt in these rules, but I still find the "Round of Fire" for action/reaction to be an amazing mechanic.  It is not one that I use much in my games but it really started me down the path of considering activation as a key part of any game system.  

These rules are still the bench mark when it comes to building a good campaign system.  It covers all the basics such as income generation, injury, skills, etc.  They are fun and flavorful and create their own post-game mini-game!  

Dux Bellorum
The use of Leadership Tokens to drive special rules and advantages for your units.  This was a simple and elegant way to add command and control.  I obviously love it! 

Strange Aeons
I loved the way it added a psychology element to wargaming.  I have not fully been able to onboard these concepts in many games, but they continue to be influential in my skirmish game and survival horror efforts.  

This game system revealed to me the magic of depleting dice pools!  This is still a mechanic I use a lot today.  I recommend you track it down.  Simple and elegant. 

Other Sources of Inspiration
Of course, there are a lot of sources that have driven my design ethos and helped me to create games.  I will try to list a few of them here for your edification.  Again, in no particular order:

Free Wargame Wiki
This site opened my eyes to the vast array of wargames, genres, mechanics, etc.  Stumbling upon this site really helped drive my creativity and desire to finish games.  

Delta Vector Blog
The Evil Monkeigh has a great series on wargame design, and you should really check it out.  Thought provoking and challenging in a good way.  Some of my best ideas started from reading here.  

By Brush and Sword
Something about this simple blog keeps bringing me back.  Perhaps it is the productivity of the blogger.  I look at his games played and minis painted trackers and I get envious.  It inspired me to "do better".  

Matakishi's Teahouse
A prodigious designer, painter, and all around hobby titan.  Again, very inspiring and I learned a lot from their designs.  The place I found Krom on those years ago! 

Dakka Dakka Forums
I have been a forum goer for years, starting on the old Portent.  However, I hang out here way too much now.  They also have a helpful Wargame Design section too.  It is full of wonderful and helpful posters.

Final Thoughts
Well, I hope you found that helpful.  It is amazing to think about all the different inspirations and benchmarks you find and pass on your journey through life.  Of course, the ones listed above are only the ones that are Wargame Design specific but I have had many mentors, teachers, and inspiring individuals in my life that made me who I am today.  All of you have similar people and milestones in your lives too.  It is funny to sit down, and think about what shaped you to be who you are in the moment and then try to write it all down.             

You should try it sometime.  

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