DOTS (by Tom Russell)

Mary Russell

Newcomers to wargaming often struggle with the way wargame rulebooks are organized. The numbered sections with their numbered sub-sections can all seem a little "much" to the uninitiated. Once you've found your way inside though, you'll often find that it makes finding this rule or that one a heck of a lot easier, and a good rulebook will use handy-dandy cross-references in parentheticals to help you connect the dots and master the game's various concepts.

At the same time, the structure of a ruleset can sometimes make the whole thing seem a lot more complicated than it really is. I joke sometimes about impossibly convoluted rules numbering, like six point two point three point one sub-case (b), but I have actually seen rulesets organized like that, five levels deep, rules within rules within rules, like the grognard's version of Inception. And I honestly don't know how anyone can read that, let alone reference it. The strength of the wargame rules style is that it compartmentalizes complicated mechanics and procedures into distinct, easily digestible steps and concepts, but if you break it down too much, if it becomes too compartmentalized, it becomes harder and harder to see the big picture.

This is especially true of my least favorite way to organize wargame rules, which is to shove all the game rules into the section encompassing the sequence of play. The Flying Colors series is a good example of this, where section 1.0 (Introduction) is followed by section 2.0 (Components) - so far, so good - is followed by section 3.0, Core Game Rules, which cover everything from wind direction to movement to combat, spanning from 3.1 to 3.9.3, including such hits as three point six point seventeen, "Fouled/Grappled Effects" and three point seven point five point one, "Swivel/Pivot Guns". Now, I'm not trying to rag on the game, but look: section three encompasses fifty-two distinct numbered rules (I'm not even counting Step 7, sub-step c of three point seven point seven) across thirteen pages, and there's no reason why wind direction, movement, and combat couldn't all have their own point-ohs like you see in almost every other game. In fact, there are very good reasons why they should be under separate headings.

At Hollandspiele, it's very rare for our rulesets to go beyond the first dot: we have six point oh, six point one, six point two, but it's only seldom that we'll go to six point one point one, and then we do so only begrudgingly. Of course part of the reason for this is that we don't tend to go in for games that are especially complicated on a mechanical level, so there's usually no need to go to that second dot. Whatever would follow the second dot, I'd much rather fold it into the first, or make it a new rule at that first level (six point two instead of six point one-one), or even use a non-numbered, bolded subheading under the main rule rather than making it a sub-sub rule. It does happen occasionally, and we do recognize that other publishers, who specialize in more complicated wargames, will see that second dot more often. I just don't know if that third dot is usually worth the trouble, let alone the fourth or the fifth.

Heck, there are times when even the first dot isn't worth it, where rule one isn't followed by rule one point one but by rule two, or, as was the case with our Table Battles, the rules aren't numbered at all. For us generally that's going to be for simpler games that are pitched at a broader audience, for certain peculiar definitions of the word "broader": For-Ex is about as niche as it gets, but we knew that if we wrote it in "wargame-ese" it would potentially limit that audience even further.

Rulesets exist to communicate, and how the book is organized will go a long way toward shaping that communication.

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