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Author Topic: My problem with rules for skirmish games  (Read 1498 times)

Offline Antonio J Carrasco

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My problem with rules for skirmish games
« on: March 01, 2021, 07:47:19 AM »
As many people, I have not the time, nor the space for playing big battles in the tabletop, that is why the bonanza of skirmish rulesets has been a godsend: new projects are measured in dozens of miniatures instead of hundreds; I can make a nice set up with my terrain collection; and it doesn't take two weeks to finish a game!

However, I have started to get somewhat bored lately. It is like all the rulesets propose a model so generic that any historical flavour is lost after a few games. I mean, even if you have "battleboards" or "card decks" that, in theory, should give you the peculiarities of your force of choice, in the end all of them function similarly... Perhaps the only exception are the rules by the Lardies, but those hardly qualify as "skirmish-y", when the model count easily reach 100 models per side.
 

Offline has.been

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Re: My problem with rules for skirmish games
« Reply #1 on: March 01, 2021, 08:36:02 AM »
Have you considered writing your own set, for a favorite period?
Many years ago I had to write a set for a club campaign.
Big club at the time, so many 'popular' rulesets. Photocopying was
new & therefore expensive. This all meant rules had to be simple,
i.e. little more than a QRS.
We were doing Ancients & I reasoned it all came down to:-
The unit does what the owner wants, or it doesn't.
It would do what was 'normal' for its type, e.g. Skirmishing slingers
would a) Skirmish (closing or retiring as needed) or b) Get the hell out of there.
They would NOT launch a suicidal charge on a heavy Cav. unit)
Simple test & simple options list and we were away.
Rules do not have to be long & involved. That too can lead to weird results.
I once heard an umpire tell the player, 'I know that result is stupid, but that is what
the rules say!'
What ever you try has to be better than you not being happy.

Offline v_lazy_dragon

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Re: My problem with rules for skirmish games
« Reply #2 on: March 01, 2021, 09:43:07 AM »
I agree... although I guess it depends how much you expect forces to vary on such a fine level? At a guess, 30 Viking raiders probably wouldn't have much difference to 30 Anglo-Saxon warriors? Perhaps the Vikings would have a couple of Dane axes, maybe a berserker.
A lot of the 'period flavor' only seems to come in at bigger scales? 12 man shield walls or pike blocks aren't really a pike block or a shield wall, just a group of guys clumping into close formation. Skirmish troops vs close-order 'line' rank and file makes little difference when you're in handful sized groups trying to steal chickens or capture a wagon or two.

As long as a game can cater for irregular vs regular (or professional vs amateur if you prefer), some sort of distinction between raw/trained/veteran, and a smattering of period appropriate weapon types, I am honestly not sure what else can be done?

(All that said, I still found it offputting that in legends of the old west the best way to put down your opponent was to give up on shooting at just get into melee...)
Xander
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Offline Antonio J Carrasco

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Re: My problem with rules for skirmish games
« Reply #3 on: March 01, 2021, 10:16:38 AM »
I agree... although I guess it depends how much you expect forces to vary on such a fine level? At a guess, 30 Viking raiders probably wouldn't have much difference to 30 Anglo-Saxon warriors? Perhaps the Vikings would have a couple of Dane axes, maybe a berserker.
A lot of the 'period flavor' only seems to come in at bigger scales? 12 man shield walls or pike blocks aren't really a pike block or a shield wall, just a group of guys clumping into close formation. Skirmish troops vs close-order 'line' rank and file makes little difference when you're in handful sized groups trying to steal chickens or capture a wagon or two.

As long as a game can cater for irregular vs regular (or professional vs amateur if you prefer), some sort of distinction between raw/trained/veteran, and a smattering of period appropriate weapon types, I am honestly not sure what else can be done?

(All that said, I still found it offputting that in legends of the old west the best way to put down your opponent was to give up on shooting at just get into melee...)

Yep. Perhaps that is the problem: we do not know enough about how they fought -at the small level, I mean- for certain periods, thus we trend to bump together all the lads that whose panoply and imagined warrior ethos were similar. To be honest, I think that many design decisions come down to what the designers believe the players want. Thus even if we know that it is improbable that Danish huscarls with double-handed axes and with mailcoats covering them from head to toe were involved in  a raid to plunder a dozen of pigs from a farm, as players expect them in any Anglo-Danish "army list", the designer needs to figure it out a way to include them in the game, although it wouldn't be particularly historical.

But what about those wars for we do have a lot of information? I mean, we have manuals for how to deploy light troops, outposts, foraging parties, ecc that date back the middle of 17th Century. Many of them, I agree, were "unofficial", so we are not totally sure up to what point their recommendations were followed or not, and if the reality had any actual resemblance to them!. However, despite that kind of info, which allows us to follow the evolution of small warfare from the last 200 years of history, we still go with generalities that after a few games -to me, at least- become just the same lads but with different uniforms. I don't know if it is a conscious decision by the designer: I know it is not really historical, but it works as a game (which is a completely legitimate approach); or it is that nobody has bothered to read the manuals and tried to figure it out a mechanic to represent the actions described in them in the table, as a game.

Mind that this is not a rant. I appreciate the new life that games like Saga, Muskets & Tomahawks or Dan Mersey' skirmish rulesets have instilled in the hobby. Mine to start! I also understand that those rules focus on the gaming side of the hobby, rather than in the historical, and there is nothing wrong -quite the opposite- with that approach. I wonder, however, if it would be feasable to combine both, i.e. game and simulation, or is it a hopeless endeavour?

Online Silent Invader

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Re: My problem with rules for skirmish games
« Reply #4 on: March 01, 2021, 11:24:18 AM »
I agree with most of what has been written but I still seem to be able to enjoy a period-specific game.

For up to about 10 figures a side I use FFOL, and for anything larger up to about 100 figures a side I use Rampant. Though both systems have period/genre specific iterations, there are of course similarities that ease the mechanistic process. Obviously, I play games rather than simulations, but the level of rules detail  necessary to create a realistic simulation is no longer for me..... enjoyment of the figures, of the terrain, of the rules are all important to me (like-minded good company helps too  ;) :D).

I do tend to use a single rules iteration for a single project. If I didnít I can see that it could easily Ďfeelí like I was playing the same games in notionally different periods albeit with different figures. For this reason I have rationalised my projects. For example, as I had Barons War and WotR collections that could be played with Lion Rampant, I sold off the WotR to focus on just the Barons War.

By way of examples, my main interests and their relevant rules are now:

Dragons Rampant = LotR (Osgiliath)
Lions Rampant = 13thC Medievals (Barons War)
The Pikemans Lament = English Civil War
Rebels & Patriots = Franco Prussian War / Battle of Dorking (VSF-ish)
The Men Who Would Be Kings = Low-tech post apoc  (Wasteland Warriors)

Iím looking forward to the Rampant Sci-Fi rules coming out, at which point I will decide whether to go with my Star Wars project or sell it and start afresh.  My WW2 Airborne Sicily project is also somewhat surplus as I imagined using a variation of TMWWBK with it, and I often ponder letting it go. Which also reminds me that Iíve assembled plastic Arthurian and Saxon armies that I no longer need as Iíve got Baron Wars for Ďthat sort of thingí, so I suppose I should sell them as theyíre now surplus .....

Iíve also got Old West, Victorian Gothic Horror, Feudal Japanese (Seven Samurai) and 17th/18thC Pirate projects but they are more suited to FFOL variants, and though there is some period cross-over with the above the different rules make for a different type of game.

In short, one ruleset from each stable, combined with absorbing relevant movies/books, keeps me in period/genre.

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Offline Harry Faversham

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Re: My problem with rules for skirmish games
« Reply #5 on: March 01, 2021, 12:08:00 PM »
Maybe two bloke's with jammed SA80s banging each other over the melon with 'em, is not all that different from a couple of Vikings doing the same thing with axes?
The first bloke, from either era, dropping a bollock, is going to have a right bad day... in my 'umble opinion?

:'(
"Wot did you do in the war Grandad?"

"I was with Harry... At The Bridge!"

Offline mcfonz

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Re: My problem with rules for skirmish games
« Reply #6 on: March 01, 2021, 12:33:43 PM »
Not sure I agree. It very much does depend upon the rule set in question.

I really enjoy games of Saga (both Age of Vikings and Age of Magic), whilst for the most part there are very limited types of units you can take and equipment, I love how the battleboards make them play differently. And how the winds of fate are reflected in the dice you roll. Will those Anglo-Saxons roll that pesky helmet? Will they be able to roll it when the need it the most?

The difficulty is that there are two variables with skirmish games typically. Is it to create a faster paced game you can easily complete one or two of in a night at your local club or is the length of time not so important.

Lets face it, skirmishes in most periods of history were far more common than big battles. As folks have said, reflecting fighting styles in skirmish games can be difficult if you are talking about smaller scale engagements. A tortoise for Romans is going to be harder to achieve with a total of 12 chaps running about, especially if some are missile armed auxiliaries. However, their approach to battle will be no different I suspect. Stick together, use the pilums first, perhaps throw some, then make use of a tight group and shields to get close and work as a team to pick the enemy off.

I have just discovered Achtung Cthulhu - perhaps very late it would seem. But that too seems to have plenty of flavour. Unfortunately, there don't seem to be vast numbers of unit types as the Combat version of the game reads like it would work quite nicely as a straight WW2 game if so desired. I'm going to take a look at the Skirmish version later and that seems to have even more character and skills thrown in.

Then there is Slow Death Games with the likes of Star Breach, their new Super Hero game and a WW2 game. All manage to pack in nice amounts of difference to quite a number of factions.

More often than not, I feel it is the scenarios that you can create as players that can offer up a lot of different ideas and challenges. At my club we tried to mimic something along the lines of the Battle of Hastings using Saga. It is clearly doable, we were tinkering and never quite got there but we were coming up with a system where an Anglo-Saxon victory could lead to them following up fleeing Normans to the bottom of the slope they were defending, rather than just the 'S' you normally got. To represent the impulsiveness that led to the Normans winning the day in history.

Saga is perhaps not a great example as an all Levy Saxon army of 6pts still has 70+ models.

The rule sets are out there, I think it just takes people sharing them more so people can see how they work. For example, I have struggled to find a playthrough vid of Achtung Cthulhu Skirmish or Combat.

Offline Inkpaduta

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Re: My problem with rules for skirmish games
« Reply #7 on: March 01, 2021, 06:13:08 PM »
Depending on what you are calling a skirmish game, some "skirmish" games can still have hundreds of figures. The Song of... series is really good for skirmish with just a dozen or so figures per side. You can add personalized traits to the individual or type of figure. This can make the game different.

Offline Mammoth miniatures

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Re: My problem with rules for skirmish games
« Reply #8 on: March 01, 2021, 06:31:51 PM »
This is why i prefer my skirmish games to have individual characters, each with their own profile that you have to make yourself - It might not be perfect for historical simulation, But I'd far rather fight a pseudo historical battle where my dudes are all unique than one where I have x number of nameless warriors.

as others have said tho, the definition of what counts as skirmish is very blurry. Personally I think SOBAH and inquisitor are skirmish games - games with warbands in the single figure. Once you start grouping characters together into squads or units it all feels a bit...battle-y to me.

Offline FramFramson

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Re: My problem with rules for skirmish games
« Reply #9 on: March 01, 2021, 08:46:01 PM »
This is why i prefer my skirmish games to have individual characters, each with their own profile that you have to make yourself - It might not be perfect for historical simulation, But I'd far rather fight a pseudo historical battle where my dudes are all unique than one where I have x number of nameless warriors.

as others have said tho, the definition of what counts as skirmish is very blurry. Personally I think SOBAH and inquisitor are skirmish games - games with warbands in the single figure. Once you start grouping characters together into squads or units it all feels a bit...battle-y to me.

This is why my skirmish set of choice is Pulp Alley. If you're playing with small numbers of more figures which have more care and individualization in their modelling, they should have correspondingly individualized characteristics, no? I feel it's quite relevant as those will matter far more in a skirmish battle than in a mass battle.

For the viking example, if the Danes are lightly armed inexperienced raiders, but they're mainly tall, healthy young bucks looking to impress the local women, while the Anglo-Saxons are a mix of worn out elderly veterans, undersized youngsters, and angry farmer's wives (perhaps some of whom the Danes want to impress!), scraped together after the alarm is raised, there's going to be some very interesting interactions - and the capabilities of the specific individuals involved (perhaps the foolhardy courage of a particular Dane, or the wily experience of the one-eyed, one-armed Saxon granddad) will have far more impact on the battle than the "unit types".
« Last Edit: March 01, 2021, 08:50:22 PM by FramFramson »

Offline Golgotha

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Re: My problem with rules for skirmish games
« Reply #10 on: March 01, 2021, 09:39:06 PM »
Agree with your criticism here, and feel your pain...

One way to get the character and flavour in is of course with scenarios.

Take the simple ruleset Ravenfeast by Little Wars TV as an example see:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=macRgkAACBQ&t=1s&ab_channel=LittleWarsTV

- Adding the scenario aspects deepens the enjoyment.

Another way is with narrative and roleplaying elements, which skirmish games lend themselves to rather well. Getting into character as it were can help making pushing tin around a table and throwing dice that much more immersive. Finding new people to play against could also help generate more interest here...

Linked games in a campaign approach can become more immersive too.

Adding traits and playing armies distinct in some way are two other methods perhaps, as alluded to in other comments above.

Take a break and or try something new could be other suggestions...
« Last Edit: March 01, 2021, 09:40:48 PM by Golgotha »

Offline Robosmith

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Re: My problem with rules for skirmish games
« Reply #11 on: March 02, 2021, 03:47:36 AM »
As many people, I have not the time, nor the space for playing big battles in the tabletop, that is why the bonanza of skirmish rulesets has been a godsend: new projects are measured in dozens of miniatures instead of hundreds; I can make a nice set up with my terrain collection; and it doesn't take two weeks to finish a game!

However, I have started to get somewhat bored lately. It is like all the rulesets propose a model so generic that any historical flavour is lost after a few games. I mean, even if you have "battleboards" or "card decks" that, in theory, should give you the peculiarities of your force of choice, in the end all of them function similarly... Perhaps the only exception are the rules by the Lardies, but those hardly qualify as "skirmish-y", when the model count easily reach 100 models per side.
This is a problem plaguing the hobby more and more lately. We have hundreds of generic rule sets all trying to appeal to people with standing collectors or kickstarters on the way. Having an actual universe and uniqueness to it has gone out the window sadly.

Offline Blackwolf

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Re: My problem with rules for skirmish games
« Reply #12 on: March 02, 2021, 07:10:40 AM »
I agree with Steve,itís the combination that makes a game,I find the story is the most important,which in my case can lead to a rabbit hole of complex scenery to create that story,however thatís what I enjoy; pictures in my mind if you like. Creating oneís own worlds is a boon, I tend to do this rather than use known sources in my fantasy and sci-fi ,however inspired they may be,for instance Starwars (but never Tolkien   lol).
As for historical games; those Viking fellows have been mentioned,look to the sagas,or the vast amount of books written about them,all useful for inspiration and storytelling. A war game is nothing without the ahem,narrative.
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Online Dr. Zombie

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Re: My problem with rules for skirmish games
« Reply #13 on: March 02, 2021, 07:28:09 AM »
Obviously, I play games rather than simulations, but the level of rules detail  necessary to create a realistic simulation is no longer for me..... enjoyment of the figures, of the terrain, of the rules are all important to me (like-minded good company helps too  ;) :D).

I think this is the main point. You have to figure out if you want a game or a simulation.
And perhaps the boring fact is that as far as simulations go a guy with a sword and a shield will perform more or less the same no matter if he was born i Surrey, Hamburg or Timbuktu.

I find most of the period flavour comes from the miniatures themselves, the scenery and the scenario. A simple thing like naming some characters/units and places is often enough to get a story going.

Offline Duncan McDane

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Re: My problem with rules for skirmish games
« Reply #14 on: March 02, 2021, 10:10:11 AM »
Why not create an individual character ( or even his second in command ) for each game you play and then use the usual Bobs as his retinue? You can easily come back to him is you want to see wherever his next mischievous expedition will lead him to?
And yes, play scenario's, that's m.i. the main strenght of skirmish games. Assemble your warband and then roll for a scenario. An extra challenge for your character and it will force you ( and your opponent ) to get a pretty much allround warband or you will find yourself hopelessly underequipped for most of the missions...
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