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The Vision of Rules, Part II

 
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PostPosted: Mon Apr 17, 2006 7:20 pm    Post subject: The Vision of Rules, Part II

"A hole, is a hole, is a hole." --Maj Jonathan Smith (Richard Burton's character
in 'Where Eagles Dare')

In Warrior, nay, in *every* major ancients/medieval set of rules in play in the
USofA today, the above sentence could more accurately be stated:

"A spear is a spear is a spear".

Thus, said game systems don't care if an individual (and keep that in mind since
I'll come back to it) spear is wielded by some Sumerian peasant or the Italian
Communal troops. The fact that one is tipped with something bronze, the other
with something iron-ish is immaterial in this assumption. Under this
assumption, both are poles with something pointy and sharp on the end that can
inflict harm on an opponent. And, this concept has provided *the* major design
assumption for ancients/medieval miniature wargaming since the dawn of the
hobby. Like it or not, that's the culture we play in. Anachronistic to be sure
but that's also part of the allure, yunno, the old Julius Ceasar vs Ghenghis
Khan. Well, in part. But the only way to even possibly recreate such
ahistorical encounters, we start with simulating in-period and hope that the "A
spear is a spear is a spear" assumption works outside the period.

Every historical rules set has a vision of how it wants to portray/simulate the
period it's intended to cover. I've covered this before but will paraphrase
again here. Historical miniatures is overwhelmingly a tactical game which lends
itself to being overly detail oriented. That being said, the last decade in the
hobby has seen a concerted effort to simplify games so that they are easier to
learn, play and master. However, that move to simplicity is nothing more than
the author's vision of how the period in question, at the level desired, should
be played.

Because of that vision, there are inherent assumptions built into any rules set.
And these assumptions form the mechanical underpinnings of the game design. The
vision is influenced by the extant historical record, the author(s) analysis of
the material, the developing context, both ancient and contemporary, and any
modern experience that relates to the period in question. Factor those things
together and you develop a series of assumptions about the period and then go
about developing mechanical constructs to bring that to the table. If another
author has a different vision (or chooses to focus on a different level or
aspect of the tactical spectrum of ops), you then have a different game. But
that author has gone thru the exact same mental process you have in developing
that vision for the period.

During my first tome on this subject, I talked about "inalienable rights" of
units as being one of the main assumptions built into Warrior. "A spear is a
spear is a spear" is another. But, because this hobby *can* get overly detail
and technical oriented, there's always the tendency to fall into the
"Tractics-ization" of any period in question. By that I mean some people focus
on individual characteristics of a weapon and compare it to something else in
terms of relative effectiveness. A good example of this, using good ole
Tractics as the whipping boy, is comparing a WW2 German Panther to an American
Sherman. No comparison. If I'm playing "Tank Grudge Match One On One",
obviously I want the Panther. However, such an analysis fails to take into
account everything else. Like the Panther's crappy reliability issues, fewer
produced, reduced veteran crew availability, etc. Another example is something
I read years ago, a memoir of a German soldier on the Eastern Front. He manned
an 88mm position and during one battle, as he put it "one shot=one kill". Every
time they shot at a T-34, they took it out. But he admitted "we ran out of ammo
before they ran out of tanks", thus, who "won" in the end? In that instance,
the Soviets did. Take this up a few levels and look at a strategic game, Third
Reich always comes to mind. A German armor counter with a 4-6 rating is the
same as an American armor counter with a 4-6 rating. In that case, the game's
authors didn't care that the German armor was qualitatively better than the
American. Other design assumptions and factors dictated both being 4-6.

And that's where "A spear is a spear is a spear" works in a Warrior context.
We're not interested in one-on-one comparisons but in "systems on systems"
comparisons and the basic system in question is the unit. Thus, a *unit* of
Sumerian Spearmen is considered the equal to the aforementioned Italian Communal
Infantry unit (assuming the same morale and training). That's because a design
assumption in Warrior is that the qualitative differences of individual weapons
and armor have minimal, if any, impact at the unit-on-unit tactical level that
is Warrior. Instead, we care about the "systems interaction", thus, how does a
Pike-based system interact with an HTW-based system and so on. Again, that's an
assumption on our part but that assumption helps us create the vision of how we
see ancients/medieval warfare being run on the table. Moreover, even if there
was some micro-local affect of qualitative weapons/armor differences, it's
effect is mitigated by the range of actual men represented by the one figure.
Thus, the Sumerian Spearmen unit might have 85 men per fig whereas the Italian
Communal Spearmen unit might only have 35 men per fig. Thus, numbers cancel out
whatever (if any) effects at the *unit* level a slightly better forged metal
breastplace would have in thwarting an individual thrust by a bronze-tipped
Sumerian spear. But again, a basic Warrior design assumption is that such
affects, at the unit level, are marginal in terms of determining outcome but if
they are there, there's another design assumption in the game to account for
that.

In two, and only two instances, Bill and I have walked up to that "qualitative"
line but in my mind, haven't crossed it. The two instances are knight armor in
the late Medieval period (the ability to count SHK shielded) and the Japanese
oyoroi armor (the LEHI). In both cases, these were made "better" because each
in itself was a complex weapons system and not simply a "better-forged"
breastplate. And, creating them the way we did in a Warrior context made
perfect sense from our unit-on-unit tactical model of combat. And, as Mark put
it recently, it *worked* in a historical context, *the* most important factor
when we approached this from a list standpoint.

Weapons systems do not develop in a vacuum and this "detail focus" on certain
weapons or armor tends to miss the importance of that......and how it works at
the unit level. For example, Japanese oroyoi armor developed over time so that
units had sufficient protection from copious missile fire while being able to
wield a variety of HTH weapons and not be shackled by cumbersome armor. It's
not as if some guy came up with this stuff one day. The same applies for the
medieval knight armor. Clearly the shield was bothersome to use in all that
plate. But also clearly was the very real threat posed by massed archery fire
(the shield wasn't, by that time, really required when running down infantry).
Thus, creative minds working for the equivalent of the medieval
military/industrial complext, over time, came up with sophisticated ways to
protect the knight from massed archery fire without the need for a shield.
Again, in both cases, Bill and I came up to this qualitative line but then
developed the list, and anything new mechanically, so that it made sense at the
unit level.

Thus, let's talk about the Swiss for a minute. The Swiss formations that we're
trying to duplicate here came about because the Swiss's main tactical threat was
the knight. After experiences such as Arbedo, you see the development of the
Swiss phalanx. Fear of massed archery fire, well, wasn't, since the Swiss's
main opponents in the latter half of the 15th century weren't the English:)
So right out of the chute, the shield wasn't a requirement. Why? Three
reasons, two of which I'll relate now. One, it was a good defensive weapon,
particularly vs missile fire but since susceptibility to missile fire wasn't an
issue, no need for a shield (contrast this to the development of the Macedonian
pike phalanx where the formation and shield usage were design features from the
start because Philip knew he'd be fighting Persia and what were the Persians
most known for? Massed archery fire). Two, since the pike formation didn't
depend on swordplay, the shield was an encumberance. Thus, if the Swiss were
forced to fight HTH with their swords, hmmm, well, the formation wasn't designed
for that not unlike the Classical era pike phalanxes. Thus, no need for a
shield. Furthermore, eliminating the shield most likely enabled the Swiss to
use longer pikes, again, something better to fight (or scare off) knight
charges.

The inherent weakness of the pike formation, namely it's susceptibility to
getting hacked to pieces by HTH opponents that overcame the formations reach and
impact, was a problem in an era where the Swiss could expect to face a variety
of tactical weapons systems, not just the knight. Thus, they added a wrinkle
which was a precursor to the pike and shot formations of 75-100 years later
(after the widespread and effective battlefield development of gunpowder) in
that they put halberdiers in the mix. These were there to counter opposing
infantry formations AND add just a little more oomph to handling knights (since
various flavors of the halberd were designed to dehorse opponents and kill them
on the ground). The Swiss were able to effectively do this by reason #3 for not
having shields: it opened up space in the formation for the halberdiers to
effectively operate. And by having a fairly open formation in the first place
(as opposed to the packed Classical era formations), and train vigourously, the
Swiss developed a system that was very effective in countering their main
threats.

And as Mark put it, as far as we're concerned, the most important systems
interaction accuracy occurs *exactly* where we want it to occur: in historical
matchups. What happens outside of that, while yes, it is a consideration, it's
a low consideration. And if we even wanted to delve into some huge qualitative
analysis of armor and arms, we would be taking Warrior into a whole new area
while also saying that we've changed our minds about some basic design
underpinnings of the game itself. It's not unlike the occasional List Rule
criticism in here: it's a basic part of Warrior, live with it.

All of this, when you boil right down to it, exemplifies the vision in Warrior.
We've stated this type of thing in various forms for years now and yet, here we
are *still* having this conversation. Why are Jon and I called upon to defend
basic design concepts of the game? And why after all these years, is there
still an effort by a handful of players to convince us to change Warrior into a
game that it's not? If you don't agree with the Warrior vision and assumptions
that drive this fundamental construct of the game:

Perhaps. You. Should. Play. Another. Game.

Don't get me wrong, I don't want to drive away players but if you don't share
this vision of ancient/medieval warfare (or don't care and play the game because
of the intellectual exercise and challenge of the complex system in which case
this discussion is irrelevant to you, different subject), then this game is not
for you. Nothing is to stop a player, particularly when playing a scenario game
and wanting to duplicate his *vision* of a specific battle, from tweaking the
rules to better fit that vision. Or develop your own rules. That's one reason
why other rules sets came into being. If you have a vision that isn't satisfied
by a rules set, you're certainly free to putz around with it to your heart's
content, send Jon some X-rules for consideration or go off in an entirely
different direction. But don't expect the rules set's authors to "buy into"
your vision and assumptions.

scott

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