Tuesday, 16 June 2015

RTFM - Musing on rules

I've realised I have been guilty of falling into games unprepared. By that I mean over the last year or so I have been caught up in the enthusiasm of a new rules set, skimmed the rules while rushing headlong to get the toys painted, and arrived at the table with much fanfare to find the games halting and not as successful as I had hoped. 

A prime example I played a game of Dux Britanarrium last week at the Hartlepool Club. It was our first try out, and at the end I thought it went OK - but just OK. The truth was we had missed large bits of rules we skimmed over in our enthusiasm, and as a result both our enjoyment and enthusiasm suffered - what should have been a good gaming session was just OK.

That got me musing, because it is not the first time it has happened. So I decided to have another game, this time just to try out the mechanisms, and whenever there was any doubt to read the rules carefully.

So I set up a game between Dave & John with me manning the rule book - a full battle rather than a raid so we could concentrate on the rules rather than rushing around in the chaos and tempo that raiding scenarios involve, and we got stuck in. Actually before that I READ THE RULES again just to refresh my memory, and read the rules as things happened to make sure we were getting it right.

It took a while, but we learned rather a lot. One thing I learned was just how good and well thought through Dux actually is, Our skimming and fumbling had meant we had missed some of the more subtle bits in there, and at the end we also had much better understanding and dare I say it, fun. Last night wasn't an OK gaming session, it was a good gaming session. I'm sure the others felt it too.

Moral of the story RTFM!

One last rambling thought. For the last few years I had heard of the Two Fat Lardies rules but had never really tried them. They were for me pigeon holed in the same niche as some Peter Pig rules - nice mechanisms but too light hearted and tongue in cheek to be thought of as "serious" sets of rules - the Carry on Wargaming style of naming, and indeed the whole company name and pie and pint logo thing helped reinforce that. I was (and am) a fan of some of the older PeterPig rules but the layout, presentation and general impressions were always of an amateur production - one man and his photocopier (which to be fair is pretty much what they were at the time). I had subconsciously  expected the same from TFL. The other side of the coin was the WRG style written in almost legalistic precision (Barkerese). Like them or loath them you had to take them seriously and read them carefully.

Taking the plunge with Chain of Command educated me otherwise.  I think it also showed a step up in ambition for the TFLs. Here they had a product that was in their view (and mine as it happened) superior to the market leader (Bolt Action) in almost every way, but it still lagged behind BA in popularity. I don't want to get into the whole "why" one rules set is better than the other, or what drives popularity, but having looked at both, Chain should have beaten BA hands down in my opinion, and it didn't. 

Like Chain, Dux is a well put together and very nuanced set of rules (at least as far as I can say that after 3-4 games), and the resulting game is interesting and enjoyable. It deserves a bit more respect, to be treated more seriously, but I think my initial expectations that the TFL "brand" is a little frivolous had coloured my view. I wonder if the happy go lucky branding that TFL have used in the past is now starting to bite them back a little?  I hope not, because if Dux and Chain are any indication, TFL are producing some of the most interesting, thought provoking and, yes fun, rules I have seen in quite a while, with production quality to match. Long may they continue


  1. Interesting post. RTFM indeed! That should be a slogan for all gamers, especially as so many new rules sets with sexy production values come onto the market each year. When I've been responsible for introducing friends in our gaming circle to new rules sets, I've always taken ownership of them. I read the rules before hand, and fight a solo battle on my own table to get a feel for how they actually work. That doesn't mean that we don't get things wrong in our first H2H game, but it certainly minimizes the effort.
    I've been following TFL for some years, and I do think they have struggled to overcome some of the initial biases you mentioned. The choice of names and unfortunate acronyms (Troops, Weapons and Tactics, Chain of Command) don't help. Another criticism, more commonly heard, I think, is that the rules are difficult and vague, and don't have army lists baked into the main book. In fact, that's a prejudice that Richard Clarke and his contributors have towards games like Bolt Action or FoW, which have a reputation for being easier to play. I think the card driven mechanisms of previous TFL games hasn't always served them well, which may explain the dice-driven system in CoC. However, TFL seems to attract serious gamers and ex-military, which suggests they are on the right track for a certain, older and more mature gaming demographic, and hopefully there is enough profit in that sector to sustain TFL. I agree, long may they continue.

    1. Both Dux Britanniarum and CoC have army lists in the main rulebook.

    2. Not sure that is quite what Michael is saying. Both have starting forces "baked in". What they lack, deliberately I would say, is the "pick & mix" approach to army lists that allows a player if so inclined to agonise over each and every point in a fabricated system. Personally I think that is essential to the structure of both sets of rules. The Pick & Mix thing is something I like when there is a reasonable justification, but is inappropriate for Chain because it would contradict the main thrust of the rules (to play platoons "by the manual" or Dux where "army" composition is tied to the campaign system. There IS a very viable point system for Chain but it only relates in the whole to supports.

  2. I have been play TFL games over all others for close to a decade. OMG That is a long time. And I find the players well read and interested in how the games go vrs who wins. And it is very much " playing the period and other rules".

    You are right about reading, rereading and testing out the rules solo. Often I have to play through the rules 2 or 3 times to start to get the sutalities down, but they are worth it. These are all fun investments in time and effort.

  3. There was a longer post here but it was sounding too "grumpy old man" for my taste. TFL does not write tournament rules and that tends to turn off the FoW and BA based market.

    I agree with playing through a game or two solo, but there is nothing like new players to shatter your assumptions.

  4. Well said .... I need to play them more