Wednesday, 29 April 2009

The philosophy, practice, and practicality of wargames design

One thing that I have never understood is why the creators of wargames rules do not – as a rule – write designer’s notes to go with their rules. Some do (e.g. Frank Chadwick) but others do not, and I find that it is the latter group whose rules I find more difficult to understand. Often you need to ‘get inside the designer’s head’ to understand what they are trying to achieve with a particular game mechanism, and if there are no explanatory notes, this is more guesswork than anything else.

Perhaps it is because I moved from teaching History to teaching Information Communication Technology that I learned to always try to put down on paper some sort of ‘specification’ before beginning the ‘design’ process. It becomes the skeleton onto which I ‘build’ my rules. I also try to make my rule mechanisms self-contained (e.g. a card driven activation system that is suitable for both solo and face-to-face games) so that if it does not work after ‘testing’, I can pull it out and replace it with something that does work.

Finally I always apply what was once termed ‘Cordery’s Rule’ by another member of Wargame Developments; this states that ‘if, after a few game turns, a player does not remember to use a particular rule or game mechanism during a game, and the game has functioned without that rule or game mechanism, then think seriously about removing it’.

I think that wargame design should be a process of reduction NOT expansion; the latter does not lead to better design or more realism … it just leads to confusion!


  1. Hear, hear

    I don't generally "spec" a rule set by writing anything down, but do go through the process mentally. I take a reverse-engineered process by starting with what I want the game to look like and what level I want to command at and then I find mechanisms that lead to this. I tend to have a modular approach (as I think you describe) that allows particular mechanisms to be lifted out and an alternative dropped in.

    I like your thoughts about reduction and have been through similar processes myself. I often forget the bits of "chrome" when playing, only to realise that they actually would have had a minimal outcome on the game anyway - and dropped them.

    Rules are there to support the gameplay and not the other way round. it sounds obvious, but it seems to get missed sometimes!

    Kind regards

  2. I was once told: "The Designer knows he has achieved perfection not when he has run out of things to add, but when there is nothing more he can take away." I thought it was good advice, but it turns out it's a quote from the French writer who wrote the children's book The Little Prince.

    Pretty damn close to Cordery's Rule, so great minds think alike!


  3. Steve and CWT,

    Thanks for your comments.

    It is nice to know that people are reading my blog and are interested enough to make constructive and instructive comments.

    I think there is often far too much 'chrome' added to rules; as Steve says, the rules are there to support not to dominate the game.

    I had never heard of the comment that CWT mentions before, but would love to find the actual quote so that I can include it in my design notes section, along with what I always say is the Primary Rule of Wargaming, ‘Nothing can be done contrary or what could or would be done in actual war’ (F T Jane).

    All the best


  4. Hi Bob,

    I had a check and dug out the quote source. It's by Antoine de Saint Exupery, in a book called 'Wind, Sand and Stars'. Wikiquote gives it as "Perfection is attained, not when no more can be added, but when no more can be removed."

    Hope that helps,

  5. CWT,

    Wow! Many thanks for both the full quote and the name of the writer.

    Antoine de Saint Exupery! Now there was a man with an interesting life!

    All the best,