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EDITORIAL: The Riddle of Complexity

3 Minute Read
Sep 9 2011
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We all clamor for ever more perfect rulesets for our preferred wargames.  But agreeing on exactly what that means is where things start to jump the tracks…


Today lets talk about complexity of rulesets, and take a bit of a walk down both memory lane and the present.  There is a lot of talk about what a “perfect ruleset” looks like and even within a single game we can see different designer’s takes on the same subject matter.

Lets break this subject down into the three broad categories of complexity levels, using just the last three incarnations of the Chaos Space Marines codex as (imperfect) examples.

Streamlined Rules
With these, the designer is purposely emphasising speed of play, and efficiency of design.  A certain degree of granularity and detail is purposely removed, and only differences of medium to major sizes would warrant specific rules.  Pains are taken to test out the “little fiddly bits” that add complexity for its own sake, often to the detriment of play and effect of game outcomes.  You could see this in the 3rd Edition Mini Chaos Marines Codex (as well as all the other of that set of quickly produced codices)

Middleground Rules
This concept sees the designer striking a middleground between the Streamlined and Detailed ruleset concepts.  Minor differences in equipment and units will be represented by rules, but still the desire to remove “fiddly bits” rules that have very little impact on game outcomes remains.  The general mantra is one of representing variety in the rules, but making sure it influences gameplay in a meaningful way.  This balanced approach can be seen in many of the most current 5th Edition codices, and arguably the current Chaos Marine codex (it really falls between the middleground and streamlined approaches).

Detailed Rules
This concept sees the designer moving closer to a “simulation” model.  The desire to model not only minor differences in units and equipment, but also subtle and complex interactions of equipment and actions are added in.  Abstraction is avoided, and rule mechanics that give a more “detailed” result are desired, even if they effect game outcomes in a very minor way.  This approach can be seen in the 4th Edition Chaos Marine codex (and for that matter almost every codex from 2nd edition).

Fun and Examples
In theory any of these can be designed to yield a fun game experience, and problems only arise when a set of armies for a single gamesystem has more than one of these approaches between them.  Even more interesting is that in the present of wargaming, we are seeing several high profile designers who espouse certain of these mantras, and as gamers we get to pick and choose our poisons.

Thus we see Streamlined rules being cranked out by Alessio and his rulesets for Mantic games, as well as Priestley and Jervis with Black Powder/Hail Caesar for Warlord Games.  The current codices coming out of the GW Design Studio seem to be slowly increasing the complexity level from the previous streamlined approach to a roughly Middleground Position.  If you want highly complex interactions of rules, look no further than a decent sized game of Warmachine/Hordes with Privateer Press players concocting all manner of elaborate rules interactions to achieve victory.

~So at the end of the day my question to you is simple – What do you prefer and why?  If you think anyone of these is causing the biggest trouble in your favorite game, what is it?

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