BREAD AND BUTTER (by Tom Russell)

Mary Russell

Sometimes you want to explore how logistical concerns dictated the ebb and flow of campaigning in the American Revolution. Sometimes you want a game that weaves together political, diplomatic, military, and propaganda into a complex simulation of recent world events. Or perhaps you want a quick filler game that reduces set-piece battles to a contest of wills dominated by feints and counterfeints. Maybe "unusual multiplayer dynamics, set in China" ticks off all your boxes, in which case, I've got news for you, as we have two of those in our catalogue! 

There's certainly a market for all manner of unusual takes on unusual topics, and it's those games that have been Hollandspiele's strongest sellers. More than that, they're primarily responsible for our growth and notoriety as a company and, when my name's on the box, my growth and notoriety as a designer. Part of our story as a company is how Mary and I thought that there might be more people than just us who would be interested in these sorts of games, and how delighted and surprised we were to discover that it was more people than we could have possibly imagined. 

But sometimes… 

Sometimes I just want to add up this side's combat factors and compare them to that side's combat factors. I want to express it as an odds ratio and round fractions off in favor of the defender. I want to apply shifts until I arrive at a final, modified odds column on my Combat Results Table. Then I want to roll the die, and apply one of the canonical eight combat results: AE, AL, AR, NE, EX, DR, DL, DE.

For all my blathering on about unusual and ambitious game design topics, sometimes I hear the siren call of ordinary, everyday panzer-pushing. It's a simple pleasure: a staple of the hobby, unpretentious and traditional: it's bread-and-butter. And I don't say that to imply blandness, or to denigrate traditional wargame designs in any way. Because the best of them can reveal delightful subtleties once you move past the framework.

The appeal of traditional games - that siren call - is simple: you already know how to play them all. You know how to expend movement points, nudging the counter hex-by-hex, and you're well aware that units never share, transfer, or save up movement points. Without even thinking about it, you know seven attacking four is one-to-one but four attacking seven is one-to-two. There is more to it than that - there is always more to it than that: this game has an exploitation phase, and that game has a stacking limit of four. In one game EZOC is sticky and in another, fluid and free and full of possibilities; attacks are mandatory here, with rules limiting "soak-offs", while over there both sides can stand eyeball-to-eyeball without batting an eyelash or rolling a die.

These particulars don't really matter, as the essential experience, the substance, the muscle memory, remains the same. The foundations are the sacred text of wargaming, the Gospel According to Saint Charles S. Roberts, while the details are just this designer's translation. Except in another and very real sense, the particulars are all that matter; the translation is everything. There's a world of difference between the King James Version and the Good News Bible, for example - the Song of Songs is sublime and swoony in the former, and becomes rather mundane and silly in the latter. Similarly, two traditional games on the same subject, using the same common framework, can be vastly different experiences. Even when someone colors inside the lines, those colors can be dazzling in the hands of a talented artist.

And that's why, in addition to our "weirdgames", we've put out, and continue to put out, very fine examples of traditional hex-and-counter wargame design. That said, we don't necessarily seek out traditional designs, and most of the submissions that we turn down hew too closely to traditional formulae. When we look at a design, we always look for that special something, that spark, that personality, and that goes double for "normal" games.

Leave a Comment