Monday, October 22, 2012

Game Design Aesthetics Part 5...

Before I continue with my game rating, I've been thinking about the oppositions and how they might be condensed into 6 single concepts, instead of opposed pairs, in the interest of simplifying the system while still retaining the basic concepts.

For example, instead of Sandboxing Vs. Railroading, which are loaded with positive and negative connotations in the gaming industry, I would use a more neutral term like 'Linearity' and instead of 'Player Skill vs. Character Skill' I might use something like 'Agency' or 'Character Detail.' I could then rate them -3 to +3.

Something I'm mulling over, and I'm open to suggestions, but until I've sussed it, I'm going to stick with the basics for our next game...

This is a table top war-game that uses miniature armies and modeled terrain to play out massive fantasy battles involving hordes of troops, magical forces and monstrous creatures. It is one of the top selling miniature war-games in the world with a three decade history and 7 previous editions.

While WFB has a very well laid out and evocative theme, the mechanics are not necessarily tied to it and have in fact changed over the years. Magic, for instance, has gone from a point based system, to a card system to three separate dice mechanics.

In addition, the basic system for WFB is derivative of any number of earlier miniature war-games and has, itself, been co-opted to create a science fantasy war-game (Warhammer 40k) and a historical game (Warhammer Ancient Battles) as well as a slew of smaller scale miniature games (Necromunda, Mordheim, Warbands, etc.)

The mechanics are only supplemental to the theme, although it can be said that, after years of association with that particular game, the two have become slightly synonymous, and the mechanical changes do occasionally follow a thematic change (as when the magic system went from individual spells to a Color Coded system) so I’d rate it +2 Mechanics.

Table top war-games are not, by their nature, inclined to simplicity. Most are focused on the simulation of a particular style of warfare with specific elements and WFB is no exception. The recent movement towards exception based design, however, has made them less archaic and easier to grasp for the new player. WFB in particular has been streamlined and simplified to a point where it is an arguably different game from its early predecessors. Complexity +1.

Wargames, as a rule, tend to favor a good mix of strategy and randomness, and, again WFB follows suit. Indeed, the game has three distinct parts: army building, the strategic application of force and assessing the probability that any particular application of force will succeed (determined by rolling dice and comparing troops).

While there are occasionally games where the dice just don’t go your way, a good WFB general will typically be able to mitigate small misfortunes with good planning and manage to win consistently against lesser players. The rules support a large number of tournaments for this very reason.

WFB rates Determinant +1.

Like Chess, it is highly difficult to play a satisfactory game of WFB by yourself. You can easily test various army builds by running both sides in a battle, but ultimately, the game is for 2 or more players. Interaction +3.

Table-top war-games excel in providing a lot of flexibility in game types, terrain setups, and the ability to tell emergent stories with multi-player campaigns. WFB has a number of supplements designed to help you create your own corner of the world and seek conquer it by pitting your overall strategic vision against multiple opponents, exploiting resources, building kingdoms and negotiating, intimidating or otherwise interacting with the other players outside of the main battle game. You can even mix other games in, playing small skirmish games with Mordheim or running a small Role-playing adventure with Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay when players send spies and adventurers out into the world for whatever purpose.

Ultimately, however, all the campaign particulars revolve around one specific thing: winning battles and being the ruler of all, so WFB scores Sandbox +2.


As mentioned earlier, there is a great deal of player skill involved in the proper application of force in WFB. On the other hand, much of that revolves around building a good force, and it is the individual skills of the soldiers and creatures you pick that will determine how weighted the rolls are for or against you in any particular situation. But on the other other hand (growing a third hand being a distinct possibility in the Warhammer World), it is knowing your army’s strength and weaknesses, as well as that of your opponent,  that allows you to meet their weakness with your strengths, and even a force of poor troops can be used to good effect by a skilled player.

So, assuming balanced army lists, WFB should score a perfect balance of 0. The varying quality of army book releases, however, tends to throw that off-kilter a bit, as newer army books tend to be overpowered when put up against older ones (this is known as ‘codex creep’ in the hobby), especially when they are designed to counter a specific older list. So I’m going to rate this Character Skill +1.

Warhammer sums up in the following manner:


At this point, I'm more confident that we're on the right track in our game analysis, but he real test comes in the next entry, when we look at not one, but two editions of D&D. Considering the fact that no subject can detonate the nuclear flame of forum rage like D&D editions, I'm sure this will put my system of aesthetic analysis through a right proper crucible...

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