Looking for Loopholes…

Nothings perfect….

Well…almost…nothing…

That TV or film star you love and admire turns out to be an arrogant prick when you finally meet them, your favourite movie has a gigantic plot hole in it and your best friend is most likely having a secret affair with your boyfriend or girlfriend behind your back…

For wargamers our issues with perfection come broadly into two areas. The first is that sometimes the models are just plain awful…

I still hate this bloody thing…

…and the second is that the rules sometimes have just enough imperfections in them to allow the power-gamer to create what we’ll politely call a ‘negative gaming experience’..we’ll call it that for now because I don’t think I’m meant to use the term ‘fuckwit’ this close to the top of one of my articles after the ‘fuck, fuck, fuckity, fuck, fuck’ incident…

Lets look at some of the reasons for these rules induced ‘negative gaming experiences’ and see if they can be avoided…Before that though, lets look at something that’s about as balanced a two player gaming system as it’s possible to get.

Chess is in 99% of areas a balanced system. each side has exactly the same HQ, Master, Warcaster, etc, identical troop options, deploys identically on the board and each model has the same special rules as it’s opposing number and so on the face of it chess is a truly balanced system. Except even in chess one side has a slight advantage due to the fact that the ‘White’ player goes first…admittedly this is determined randomly but it still means that one side gets a head start. Now it’s possible to argue that knowing your opponents first move is also advantageous as it allows you gain an idea of his personal strategy or preferences but even so I think we can all agree that given chess’s lack of outflanking units, refused flank strategies or units with advanced deployment or deep strike that going first is still preferable.

In chess this decision about who goes first has been in the rules for quite some time so for the purposes of this article I’m going to have to call this an early example of one army being better than the other by virtue of the game rules…It’s not the only one though…

Imbalance in the basic game rules is rather annoyingly far more common than we’d like. Given that wargames have been around for a very long time and that literally millions of people play them on a regular basis it’s quite unforgivable for a company to release a product that can be taken apart in the first five minutes of reading it.

6th Edition 40K (to use a rather obvious target) is a good example of this. Flyers are unbalancing from a rules point of view before we even look at how this situation is exasperated by the individual codices, the special rules pages have about a hundred bloody rules on them and if you thought that making an assault army was a good idea then not only getting shot to pieces on the way, having to deal with a totally random chance of whether you can get into combat and then been shot again on your way in means your probably only looking at the assault stats of your units these days when some things gone wrong. Add in the fact that the codices give some armies more of these units than they do other ones and more ways of dealing with certain units than others we get what can only be described as a very expensive game of rock, paper, scissors. It is actually impossible to make an all comers ‘balanced’ force in 40K currently…don’t believe me….give it a go sometime…

Of course it’s not just fundamentally unbalanced rules that create issues. Quite often a theoretically reasonable fluffy and background appropriate rule will make it’s way into a rule system without the writer thinking of the consequences with any more consideration than “won’t this be cool…”

Examples of this are such things as Grey Knights getting re-rolls against Daemons despite the fact that they already had the tools to deal with them regardless, Daemon players already had to deal with the fact that they only had two viable builds available to them and both were crap and not to mention that Grey Knights were already borderline broken as it was. My favourite game system Malifaux also had a few of these I it’s 1.5 incarnation. Though I understand in principle why Hamelin the Plagued could hire Ht1 models from any faction in a nod to his ‘pied piper’ background..it would have been nice if the designer had actually looked at all those Ht1 models first and thought “maybe this isn’t a great idea after all” or perhaps he thought that nobody would hire none themed units on general principle…I’m all for giving people the benefit of the doubt but I’m not convinced it’s a good idea in a rule system for a game where to people compete against one another for victory. Of course there was also Pandora…but your probably bored with me mentioning that by now…

A sub group of the above issue is game systems that have slightly too much freedom in them even when the initial reasoning can still seem laudable. Currently my FLGS is playing a lot of Wizkids Star Trek game that uses basically the same rules system as Fantasy Flights Star Wars one. In this system for a relatively negligible points penalty you can put characters and many special upgrades on ships that were (from a background point of view) not designed to have them. From a fan point of view this means you can stick the original series Enterprise crew on a Bird of Prey or see what would happen should the Enterprise be taken over by an alien race (both of which are entirely fine from a fluff point of view) but you know full well that somewhere there’s a guy sitting with all the cards laid out in front of him happily working out how to give a ship ten attack dice and not feeling bad even for a moment that Picard is commanding a Breen ship with a crew of Romulans and Klingons equipped with Federation upgrades or whatever.

So we have poorly written rules and rules written with good intentions that are then taken advantage of by the more competitive and less background minded player but is this really an inevitable part of our gaming experience…I’d like to think that the answer to that is NO.

There is no shortage of people willing to test game systems for companies as the popularity of most Alpha and Beta tests can testify to. Both the Alpha and Beta testing of Mantic’s upcoming Deadzone game shaped a repetitively well though out and fun system at the ‘Alpha’ stage into an absolutely fantastic and well streamlined one by the time the ‘Beta’ was released and I’ve no doubt that given the handling of the transition from one to the other that the finished product will become the benchmark for all sci-fi skirmish games for the foreseeable future. Wyrd Miniatures beta testing of the Malifaux M2E system was handled brilliantly as well. Player feedback was implemented on a week by week basis for well over a month of testing during which a wide variety of loopholes, exploits and synergy issues were discovered..as well as the odd spelling mistake…

The only downside to that is that it involves giving people access to something for free and we all know that many companies (and a certain one in particular) are primarily concerned with charging the maximum amount of money possible for the minimum amount of stuff so might not like the idea. I suppose there’s also the additional issue that it does mean that people get to see what’s coming in the future but I think we all know that in our particular community that just means that we get excited about stuff early enough so that by the time the product actually arrives at our local store were all about to explode in anticipation.

A number of companies preview their products well in advance and I doubt that they’d do it if their sales suffered because of it.

My FLGS Titan Games‘s Malifaux order….

I’m sure some companies all consider the fact that people might see the unfinished product and decide it’s a pile of shit without giving it a chance but this minority will be more than countered by the vast majority of the public who are only too willing to help turn your idea into something truly amazing. My recent experiences of Beta testing both Deadzone and Malifaux M2E have both been extremely positive and I’d like to think that in my own small way I’ve been responsible for assisting in the creation of some truly outstanding game systems and I’m looking forward to doing it again at every opportunity.

As with most of the stuff I write, the above is just my own perspective on the issue. It’s possible that my own views have been clouded by my own ‘negative gaming experiences’ or that there’s some fundamental flaw in my opinion of Beta testing that I’ve missed…I don’t think so though…but then I wouldn’t, Would I?

Thoughts and comments are (as usual) most welcome.

My Facebook page also has regular posts on various things (not just Malifaux though I write about it a lot) and for more of my barely coherent rantings feel free to check out my blog here.

Or drop me an e-mail at [email protected]

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