Beyond the rule book…

Posted: October 30, 2014 in Uncategorized

Rick Priestley’s article in this months Wargames Soldiers & Strategy ( has got me thinking about the subject of Umpires and running games outside the rule book.

It’s a subject that has been rolling around in my mind for sometime. With all ‘modern’ rules either coming with at least a  handful of scenarios, or having a ‘tournament’ style mission system built in, it has never been easier for the gamer to play the nicely balanced tournament game.

But is that such a good thing?

I’d expect that nearly every gamer has at some time been drawn into a debate over balance in games, normally on the internet and almost always over a very narrow part of any given rule set. I know I have, many times! These debates rage daily on forums and social media around the globe , with many people becoming entrenched in their views. Why? Do we as a gamers really expect people in different parts of the world will play the game exactly the way we do? And why should they? What drives this need for gamers to all play on the perfect level playing field?

I guess one reason is that we all live busier and busier lives, and when we set aside time to game we want to maximise that. The idea that you might not actually roll dice and move models, but stand to one side and guide other people through a game seems pretty mad to many I’m sure. I think we all fall into the easy option of the tournament game whenever we get toys out on the table, and we expect the rules writers to produce as clean a set of rules as they can. Does this limit us in our gaming? Does this cause games to become stagnant and less fun to play over time?

One of my best ever day’s playing EpicA saw me roll no dice, or move any models. I did have a say in setting up the terrain, and as I’d devised the scenario a pretty big say in how it would go. This was the first ever running of “A bridge to far” scenario I created for Epic, based on Operation Market Garden (link to the latest version – – typos included for free!). I spent the day wandering between the three tables, watching stories being created as the forces clashed, and making decisions on the fly as problems arose. When creating the scenario I really didn’t think about balance, I expected the allies to fall short of the goal by some way. What I wanted to create was a scenario that would take players out of the normal tournament set-up and ask different questions. I’d like to think I managed to do this.

Will the unbalanced game be for everyone? No, I’m sure many players would find it odd choosing to play a game were before you roll a single dice you have a pretty good idea you might not win. Yet just think how satisfying it would be if you could beat the odds, re-write history and end the war by Christmas?

With the number of events run all over the UK for a whole raft of systems there should be room for more than a stand up tournament, yet that is what we see weekend after weekend. Maybe as TO’s and players all we want is that level playing field. Personally, I’m finding I’m going to events less and less for the games and more for the social side, to the point where I’ve dropped out to even up numbers and just helped with umpiring.

The point of this ramble? Well I’m not sure there is one. For myself I will try and get as involved as I can in the three EpicA events in 2015 that won’t be standard tournaments. They will be a mix of big games and campaign events so plenty of scope for more mad ideas!

For others, if you’ve ever thought your game is getting stale, and the company isn’t doing enough to freshen it up I have this challenge. Do it yourself! Come up with a new way to play your game. Chances are the first time you try this it won’t go as you expected, but that’s fine. Fudge things as you go and learn and improve it for the next time.

Break out from the rule book scenario, you never know where it might take your game.

  1. docbungle says:

    Reblogged this on Miniature Musings of a Bear and commented:
    Nice little post

  2. Interesting post – couldn’t agree more. The concept of Victory might be quite different to each side. Just delaying the enemy for a few turns and withdrawing most of your forces might indeed be a big win for the defender. As long as it is possible to ‘win’ (whatever that is for your side), you have a challenge!

  3. Ninja Phil says:

    Last year I spent most of my gaming time taking a group of new gamers through the ropes via a campaign. Battles weren’t always on a level playing field and very rarely did I get a chance to play, but it was the best time I’d had with gaming for a long time. Since the campaign ended, I’ve not really back into it since, but I’ve always wanted to do a Market Garden themed event, so maybe it’s time to dust of those figures!

  4. cptshandy says:

    As someone who loves to devise scenarios, I can only agree. In our games, the story is more important than winning, and sometimes the most exciting stories are generated when the odds are not even.

  5. Deedles says:

    I have no problem playing unbalanced scenario, it makes for some interesting challenges. Also happy to umpire games as well, especially if I have devised the scenario.

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