I believe it was Götz von Berlichingen (pictured above) in John Arden’s play Ironhand (an adaptation of Goethe’s original drama about the man) who uttered the memorable line “God cannot abide complexity”.
Götz is an interesting if thoroughly obnoxious character whose history merits further study. I have to say though that I agree with him about the whole complexity thing. If he ever said that – which he probably didn’t. Although he is credited with inventing the insult “lick my arse” – and that’s not to be sniffed at.
Anyhow, as far as I’m concerned, Phil Barker and Richard Bodley Scott’s ruleset Hordes of the Things was a cracking example of rules that were relatively easy to master, but which delivered a game that rewarded skill and subtlety at the highest level (it also rewarded the throwing of lots of sixes, but most rulesets do that). I’ve never really seen the need for anything more complicated when it comes to tabletop battles.
Even Hordes could perplex the newcomer though. I fought my first ever game against a near-legendary Australian wargamer called Thomo the Lost, who almost certainly let me win. In the process though he gently pointed out that I might do better if I grouped my units together in future, rather than deploy and move each one separately – I’d need a lot less ‘pips’ per turn if I did that. A genuinely nice man, Thomo, and by easing me into the game he ensured that I’d come back for more rather than run screaming from the room!
Rules are truly a minefield for the newbie with little or no experience of gaming. Obvious points can be missed. Complexities are rarely grasped at first sight. Of course there are those players – we’ve all come across them – who have minds like finely tuned clockwork mechanisms, able to compute and model and project at a mere glance. Sadly my mind doesn’t work like that. It’s more like a wheezy old Atari that’s been left in the garage during a particularly damp winter. Hence the need to avoid unnecessary complexity wherever possible.
If simplicity is the keynote in cobbling together a basic ruleset for hex wargaming – my current project – then affordability is another important goal. Having invested in some Hexon scenery recently, I’ve discovered that they have a series of hex-based rulesets available for free on their website. While these rules look pretty good, they’re clearly the finished article rather than a starter set. I may ‘mine’ them for ideas, but I doubt I’ll adopt them.
One of the reasons for that is the affordability issue. I have lots of armies consisting of around twelve to fifteen bases or ‘elements’ – a legacy of my Hordes and DBA background. I don’t want to have to invest in lots more units for each army, simply so that I can mass them in groups as per the Kallistra rules. Those rules use several bases per hex in order to (a) produce a nice ‘mass battle’ look on the tabletop, and (b) to allow for logging of casualties by removal of bases.
Now the whole casualty-logging business is a topic in itself, but after a lot of faffing around my preferred solution is to attach a small D6 to each unit and use that to register current unit strength, to log losses caused by firing and melee, and so on. When the unit takes a hit, you flip the die accordingly. When you move the unit, you move the die with it. This approach is simple, it’s cheap, and it works a treat. And – most importantly – it enables me to continue using my favourite old armies without having to rebase or expand them in any way.
Doubtless it’s not the most elegant solution, and – like the use of a hex-based battlefield – it certainly won’t appeal to every wargamer. Personally though I don’t find it too obtrusive – it does the job with the minimum of fuss. And, of course, it avoids complexity. Götz von Berlichingen would almost certainly approve!