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Author Topic: My problem with rules for skirmish games  (Read 1497 times)

Offline Antonio J Carrasco

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Re: My problem with rules for skirmish games
« Reply #15 on: March 02, 2021, 10:44:44 AM »
Good points here, although my question was more in the line if there is any chance of combining simulation with storytelling and competitive playing, in skirmish games (it could be said of any game, but I focus in skirmish or, to be more precise, small action, games). In fact, it was thinking in the line of roleplaying or problem-solving situations -scenarios, if you prefer-. For games set in earlier periods -i.e. before black powder weapons- it is almost irrelevant that you field Vikings or Late Empire Egyptians: they all fight the same in most rules. An Egyptian lad with a shield behaves on the table just the same that a Roman lad with a shield. I get it is almost impossible to do otherwise; after all, we have not field manuals for Rahmses III! It is just natural that designers model the game around archetypes, i.e. on the role that you can imagine it played an Egyptian lad with a shield because that is how men with shields commonly play, as far as we know.

And yet, we know that different cultures have different battlefield behaviours, regardless if they are armed -superficially- the same. For example, we know that Shaka didn't expand his kingdom based on a big technological leap forward, but by changing how were used the tools already in place. Of course, we come back again at the problem of what we know. We have relatively good sources for Shaka's expansion -albeit shouldn't be trusted too acritically, though-, but for other periods we are almost in the dark, as sources are scarce and not very specific on details.

Again, this is not a rant but a try to pick the collective brains of wargamers, with years of experience under their belts! In other words: is it really possible to design a small action/skirmish game that is distinctive, has historical flavour and yet is eminently playable? Or is it that a pipe-dream that would lead to impossible, unplayable complex games?
 


Offline has.been

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Re: My problem with rules for skirmish games
« Reply #16 on: March 02, 2021, 11:01:09 AM »
Many years ago I umpired a campaign using 'Science versus Pluck, or too much for the Mahdi'
In the Umpire's handbook it said, 'Remind players that they are Officers in her Britannic Majesty's
Army, and NOT members of some South American Death Squad'

Play to the Role & not the Rule.
Coz Kan, Needn't Ought  (Just because a figure can do something, does not mean he ought to do it.)

Offline Antonio J Carrasco

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Re: My problem with rules for skirmish games
« Reply #17 on: March 02, 2021, 11:41:36 AM »
Many years ago I umpired a campaign using 'Science versus Pluck, or too much for the Mahdi'
In the Umpire's handbook it said, 'Remind players that they are Officers in her Britannic Majesty's
Army, and NOT members of some South American Death Squad'

Play to the Role & not the Rule.
Coz Kan, Needn't Ought  (Just because a figure can do something, does not mean he ought to do it.)

Oddly I was thinking about those rules too!! Albeit in relation with the posibility of adapting the idea -not the rules- of umpired game to the BEF in Flandres in 1914. I was re-reading Peter Hart Fire and Movement and thought that it could be interesting for a mini-campaign with the players commanding the British forces and the umpire acting on the Germans (my group have not enough Germans, so a solution could be for the umpire to use the models we have almost as tokens to represent the positions of known enemy units). Full disclosure: in part this thread was inspired for the search of a small action ruleset that could be used for that 1914 project!  lol

Offline SteveBurt

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Re: My problem with rules for skirmish games
« Reply #18 on: March 02, 2021, 11:49:51 AM »
‘Congo’ would seem to meet your criteria perfectly. Varied troops, with each having their own foibles, interesting activation mechanics, role playing elements, excellent scenarios, not too many figures needed for a game. One of the best sets of skirmish rules I’ve ever played.

Offline Pijlie

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Re: My problem with rules for skirmish games
« Reply #19 on: March 02, 2021, 12:41:52 PM »
Good points here, although my question was more in the line if there is any chance of combining simulation with storytelling and competitive playing, in skirmish games (it could be said of any game, but I focus in skirmish or, to be more precise, small action, games). In fact, it was thinking in the line of roleplaying or problem-solving situations -scenarios, if you prefer-. (............)

Again, this is not a rant but a try to pick the collective brains of wargamers, with years of experience under their belts! In other words: is it really possible to design a small action/skirmish game that is distinctive, has historical flavour and yet is eminently playable? Or is it that a pipe-dream that would lead to impossible, unplayable complex games?

I'd say "Yes", but before getting into the "How" of trying to answer your question: what rulesets did you play (except SAGA, which you mention)?
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Offline Patrice

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Re: My problem with rules for skirmish games
« Reply #20 on: March 02, 2021, 01:36:47 PM »
before black powder weapons- it is almost irrelevant that you field Vikings or Late Empire Egyptians: they all fight the same in most rules. An Egyptian lad with a shield behaves on the table just the same that a Roman lad with a shield. I get it is almost impossible to do otherwise; after all, we have not field manuals for Rahmses III! It is just natural that designers model the game around archetypes, i.e. on the role that you can imagine it played an Egyptian lad with a shield because that is how men with shields commonly play, as far as we know.

Yes... and no. Individually yes, but at least you can assume that a Roman (or other regular infantry) would be trained to testudo / shield wall and to keep this formation in movement; a Viking would be able to form a shield wall with his friends but would probablay break formation if trying to move rapidly, and would not carry any complex manoeuvres; other troops would be unable to do it at all (by lack of training, or because of smaller shields) but could still form lines of spears for a while (that's what I think of Pictish warriors). So there are interesting differences of behaviour, which can apply even in small numbers.

Offline Antonio J Carrasco

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Re: My problem with rules for skirmish games
« Reply #21 on: March 02, 2021, 02:04:41 PM »
I'd say "Yes", but before getting into the "How" of trying to answer your question: what rulesets did you play (except SAGA, which you mention)?

Saga, Muskets and Tomahawks, Clash of Spears (not half bad, actually) a couple of FFOL games (which were quite fun, to be honest), Pikeman's Lament (not my cup of tea), Rebels & Patriots (but set in the Napoleonic Wars, not in the Americas) and Sharp Practice, which is more small action rather than actual skirmish. Have read Congo and Donnybrok, but never played them.

Offline Pijlie

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Re: My problem with rules for skirmish games
« Reply #22 on: March 02, 2021, 07:35:35 PM »
Saga, Muskets and Tomahawks, Clash of Spears (not half bad, actually) a couple of FFOL games (which were quite fun, to be honest), Pikeman's Lament (not my cup of tea), Rebels & Patriots (but set in the Napoleonic Wars, not in the Americas) and Sharp Practice, which is more small action rather than actual skirmish. Have read Congo and Donnybrok, but never played them.

CoS and FFOL mean nothing to me, but I know the other ones. They did nothing for me, in any case, for various reasons. When you say you aim for "combining simulation with storytelling and competitive playing, in skirmish games" and "a small action/skirmish game that is distinctive, has historical flavour and yet is eminently playable" you seem to aim for the same Holy Grail as I do. My approach has been the following -and has, for me at least, been quite successful so far.

I start with an historical or fictional (I swing both ways in that regard  :D ) period that inspires me. I collect and paint figures that fit in this period, because that inspires me as well  and creates connection and involvement with the period.

To realize good storytelling as well as competitive play I create scenarios to play. These provide the narrative as well as the challenge. Playing a good narrative scenario is an experience lightyears beyond playing any pitched battle- or pre-generated "save-this-or-that"game. Over the years I have become quite good at writing them if I say so myself but there is also a host of examples to be found to help you with this. So now I have a chosen period as well as a challenging and narrative game scenario.

Then I decide on the rules. The rules will need to produce the feeling that fits with the period. They will need to demand complex decisions and challenging dilemmas (exit Pikemans Lament and Donnybrook) as well as being straightforward enough to be used intuitively (exit SAGA and SP) and will need to produce a well-oiled and smooth-running game (exit M&T).  That at least is my definition of "eminently playable".

Over the years I have found a few that usually fit one of my bills. Of the one you mention I liked M&T and SP the best, but both rulesets tend to provide game mechanics that shoehorn the narrative into the game. I like my rules to serve the purpose of a narrative game instead.

So they need to be flexible enough to fit around the scenario and enough of a simulation to produce that "taste" of the period.

Sticking to skirmish I have found that Spectre Operations does this for all modern and "close" SciFi games from 1916 onwards and En Garde does this for anything from the Bronze Age up to and including early firearms. For Pulp and other "cinematographic" periods I am divided between PEWPEW, something I wrote myself, A Fistful of Kung Fu and another Sfiligoi product; Rogue Stars. Congo might be good but for me as yet untried. Rangers of Shadow Deep looks promising mechanically but is a cooperative game.

These rulesets do not necessarily produce historical flavour by themselves as you can still use them to play bland pitched battles in basically any period. But for me the game becomes alive in the combination of the game scenario and the rules that fit that. The rules are actually the closing piece.

So, I don't think you will be able to find rules that are "distinctive, has historical flavour and yet is eminently playable" because no ruleset I have ever played can deliver that all on its own. It is the other way around and you have to add the most important parts yourself. And I am of course aware that "eminently playable" is largely a matter of taste.  :)

« Last Edit: March 02, 2021, 07:44:20 PM by Pijlie »

Offline Antonio J Carrasco

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Re: My problem with rules for skirmish games
« Reply #23 on: March 03, 2021, 07:12:19 AM »
Thanks, Pijlie. It is more or less along the lines I was thinking about, i.e. to move on from the rules themselves to create the tactical scenario/storyline and only then look which rules will be more appropriate to represent the action in the table.

One of the games I did enjoy most was an umpired scenario -not skirmish, but tactical, with a couple of battalions and squadrons per side-, in which we adapted the Kriegsspiel rules published by Reisswitz to our needs. It was confusing, mistifying and very, very funny. I was the Austrian player and my brief was to make a recon in force to my front, to try locate the main Prussian force, and for that I had two Hussar squadrons, one Grenzer battalion and one Grenadier battalion as support, plus two 3pdrs.

First, I managed to make a mess of negotiating the streets of the town where my forces were deployed. It took one hour to clear the chaos, which gave the Prussians time to deploy untroubled. Then, my Grenzers started to annoy the Prussians for the possesion of an insignificant woodlet that I had ordered explored, but that the colonel of the Grenzer battalion thought it was the key of the battle. The action tin the woodlet sucked troops as if it was a black hole! I was soo thinly deployed, with just one of my two Hussar squadrons on the top of the hill that covered my starting line, trying to look tough but ready to bolt as soon as attacked, that the only thing that the Prussian player needed to do to smash my line was charging the solitary squadron, as my Grenadiers were still trying to reach their position, and I would be done; but then, at that moment, the other Hussar squadron, which I had sent in a wild goose chase to the right flank, found the Prussian supply wagons and started enjoying themselves as only a Hussar knows how to... That sent my opponent into a panic and stopped him cold in his tracks, saving my command!

To make a long story short: I didn't accomplish my mission but by luck rather than design also avoided my command being wiped out, which given the fact that the Prussians had the stronger force and had got me with the proverbial pants down, I counted it as a win! All in all, it was a great gaming experience, with a lot of fun and a distinct historical flavour. Problem is that it took a lot of work for the umpire.


« Last Edit: March 03, 2021, 07:23:27 AM by Antonio J Carrasco »

Offline Pijlie

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Re: My problem with rules for skirmish games
« Reply #24 on: March 03, 2021, 01:42:04 PM »
Yes, those are magical games.

Fog of war is almost impossible to achieve without umpire of software support, I think. 

It is however possible to simulate things like looting Hussars of an officer completely fixated on a tactrical objective in a normal game. You could integrate it through attributes like SingleMindedness that require dicerolling to peel someone away from an earlier objective.

There is one ruleset (Fistful of Kung Fu) that actually has rules that enable the players to determine together what will be the effect of certain outcomes, like someone getting thrown through a fish tank or driving a car into a house. Player consensus on "cinematographic" outcomes is a great way in general to create memorable games, although it might not be suited for all kinds of competitive play. But then I am not a tournament player.   

Offline FramFramson

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Re: My problem with rules for skirmish games
« Reply #25 on: March 03, 2021, 07:27:13 PM »
I hate to pump it so naggingly, but if you're looking for built-in storytelling, Pulp Alley has that baked into the rules in spades.

The rules and character abilities can easily be adapted for tons of other periods, so don't be fooled by the name.

Offline Pijlie

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Re: My problem with rules for skirmish games
« Reply #26 on: March 03, 2021, 09:13:51 PM »
To be fair, Pulp Alley is on my shelf awaiting testing.

Offline FramFramson

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Re: My problem with rules for skirmish games
« Reply #27 on: March 03, 2021, 11:45:53 PM »
 :D

Offline blacksoilbill

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Re: My problem with rules for skirmish games
« Reply #28 on: March 04, 2021, 12:15:35 AM »
I hate to pump it so naggingly, but if you're looking for built-in storytelling, Pulp Alley has that baked into the rules in spades.

The rules and character abilities can easily be adapted for tons of other periods, so don't be fooled by the name.

Another vote for Pulp Alley! We use it to play a lot of different periods and genres. I've found one interesting thing: when I begin a new setting, I'll often find myself using character abilities that I would not have considered at all in a previous setting. It means that the characters and the games feel very different, depending on the setting.

You can see some of the stuff we've played here: https://preacherbyday.blogspot.com/search/label/Pulp%20Alley

Offline Dan55

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Re: My problem with rules for skirmish games
« Reply #29 on: March 05, 2021, 10:23:02 AM »
I have to agree with most comments here.  It's hard for the basic rules to generate the variety you're looking for, it's in the scenarios, in player choices, and in the interaction between the two.

 

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