Monday, September 28, 2009

[ 06 / 17 / 05 ] Napoleon, Stunty or Titchy?

Ok, so if you're not all that familiar with the historical gaming crowd, this might not be so funny, but by way of explanation I'll say this: historical games are intentionally and pointlessly over-complicated. They also are, as a rule, notoriously inconsistent in the application of design concepts, which is why we're all here today.

But before I get directly to the point, let's skip over to the sweeping generalizations department and look at Phil's Rule #1, which says: "Phil's Rule #1 is that the game is supposed to be fun." There, that's not so odd a concept, is it? I mean, it is a game afterall, shouldn't it naturally be founded upon the notion of being fun? Well, don't answer so quickly, there mr. skippy - have you poked in down at the local store league lately?

Yes, the game is supposed to be fun, and this is, indeed, rule #1. Since I arrange my rules in order of importance, that would also make this the most important rule, more important than any other rule in fact. That being the case, then clearly my opinion is that anything in the game which can possibly get in the way of rule numero uno has got to go.

So, lets get back to the issue of consistency.

Bloodbowl isn 't. That's bad.

But how exactly does inconsistency threaten Rule #1? The reality of the situation is that the inconsistency, which occasionally makes the rules difficult to recall or learn is a minefield for over-the-table arguments. Arguments reduce playing experience, a reduced playing experience is less fun, and the alpha rule is not followed. Bad Bloodbowl, bad.

And it is a problem which only gets worse over time, not better. When third edition came out, it had its inconsistencies is application of skills, re-roll eligibility, roster valuation, etc, and given the prolonged period of disinterest toward the game shown by GW for years after release, we were able to effectively and quite broadly houserule much of what needed to be addressed immediately, or play enough to ultimately sort out amongst ourselves the rest. Things weren't perfect, hell, they never will be, but they were eventually manageable. Then, along came the BBRC.

Ok , I 'll be fair, it isn't just them, but the whole climate of liquid tinkering that Jervis has brought to the brand over the last four years or so. What started as a game that held a few oddly-applied mechanical inconsistencies has blossomed into a game with regularly redefined mechanical inconsistencies. Even if you were to be generous and state that the culture of change that has overwhelmed the game has resolved as many inconsistent rules as it has smoothed out, which would be being very generous indeed, you would still have to also accept that the regular, often needless modification of the rules has hit over-the-table civility right in the nuts with a spikey-toed boot.

Is it possible to play a match anymore without having to pull out the rulebook? Does anyone even know which rulebook to pull out? While many, if not most rules disagreements or misunderstandings can and are resolved quickly and amiably, it cannot be denied that there is a significant and rather determined minority of the community who make such situations as unpleasant as possible. Fluctuations in rules, and fluctuations in rules which are at their core applied variably are fodder for these malcontents, and the source of many unpleasant afternoons over the game. These games aren't fun, Rule #1 must be enforced, something's got to give.

Ok, so, the quick fix is obvious, quit changing the damn game every year. This has pissed me off ever since they failed to quit while they were ahead after the first BBRC review, and it continues to piss me off annually. While the grist mill appears to have it that the opportunity for actual rules modification is going to be absent for a period following the release of the anniversary edition rulebook in order to maintain the market weight of that expensive print run, there will still be conduits for "experimental" rules, which, published through official channels are as in general practice about as optional as income tax.

Of course, the fact that the boneheads steering the ship keep trying to put a fresh coat of makeup on the pig that is the 3rd edition league rules just goes to show that whether or not they stop as a courtesy to the courtesy in and around the game, they really just need to stop out of a profound sense of their own inefficiency, but that's a story for another bedtime.

But enough about changes being made, lets get to what actually needs to change.

Bloodbowl needs to stick to its design a bit better. As it stands, consistent application of concepts has suffered at the hands of simulationism, revisionism, and idealism and the net effect is that areas like skill use, re-roll use, and development have entirely too many contradictory rules. Each area could very easily have a ingle design notion applied evenly, but due to any or all of poor initial design, pointless revision, or directed revision poorly applied have strayed entirely too far from that core mechanic - when there was one to begin with.

Take re-rolls as a prime example. The essential mechanic may once have been "you can re-roll any roll you make," but now you need to remember the ten or fifty cases where you can't. And what is worse than the fact that the rules are no longer consistent is that the changes and exceptions are mostly band-aids for problems caused by other poorly-designed rules which weren't changed. When re-rolling the armor check after a block was leading to too many injuries, it wasn't the skills that increased the potency of injuries that were corrected, but the ability to try to get into the can a second time. Poorly-designed skills were left intact (at that point anyway) and exceptions were added to the game that confused play and led to a fun reduction cycle.

I suspect that the mistake which has been made over and over by those in the position to make the changes which ultimately become inconsistent and generally unsuccessful must be a lack of perspective. The whole process seems so overwhelmed with myopia that it is no wonder the big picture has been lost. Those in charge of the game don't seem to be aware of the presence of a central design concept, or if they are, they are so obsessed with applying rules in response to specific circumstances while remaining ignorant to the damage done not only to other circumstances, but to the game's integrity as a whole. They look up from one combination of player A blocking player B resolved in an undesired fashion and revise the rule without changing the perspective and seeing not only what harm is done to the holistic game by such changes, but also failed to see the flaw which was the cause of the troublesome effect in the first place.

So, Bloodbowl needs an iron-handed consistency dictator. Hell, it just needs regime change in general.

Of course, there are almost certainly going to have to be a few spots in the game that can't have black and white march step with a core concept, but if the limitation can be kept to entire segments, and have absolutely no further exception - if, for instance a "Big Idea" approach was taken to re-rolls and injuries where the try again could be used on the armor in absolutely all cases, but never on the injury in any case at all, the exception, while still unfortunate, would at least be more easily learned, remembered, and difficult to use as a flashpoint to disagreement and ultimately, reduction of fun.

Besides, who really wants to have less fun?

And who wants to remember all those damn rules anyway?