Mary Russell

One of the things that drives me the most consistently bonkers about rulebooks - and wargame rulebooks can be particularly bad about this - is when the same gosh darn thing is explained again and again verbatim.

Let's say for example that every time a formation moves into a certain type of terrain, there's a chance it might become disordered or lose cohesion or some-such. That chance might be adjudicated by a die roll made against the unit's Morale Factor or Cohesion Value or what-not. So you might get a rule that goes something like this:

When the unit enters a muskeg hex, roll one die and compare the result to its Morale. If the roll is less than or equal to its Morale, it suffers no adverse effects. If the roll is greater than its Morale, its formation becomes Broken; affix it with a Broken marker.

Okay, that's fine and dandy, but let's move on from movement. We're in the rules for combat now, and let's say that one of the things a unit can do is Charge, but in order to Charge, they need to roll a die against their Morale again. And so we get this rule, which looks a tad bit familiar:

Before the unit can Charge, roll one die and compare the result to its Morale. If the roll is less than or equal to its Morale, it Charges. If the roll is greater than its Morale, it does not Charge and becomes Reluctant; affix it with a Reluctant marker.

Well, I guess that's fine - wait, the non-acting player can Counter-Charge? But first it needs to roll a die against their Morale?

The non-acting player rolls one die for the unit attempting Counter-Charge and compares the result to its Morale. If the roll is less than or equal to its Morale, it Counter-Charges. If the roll is greater than its Morale, I am adding some words to see if anyone is actually reading this rule for the third flipping time.

And, wait, when a unit takes hits, it can try to shake them off by rolling against their Morale? And when a unit tries to throw off the pile of status markers that have been accumulating on its four-cornered head, it does so by rolling against their Morale?

Whenever the reader encounters this roll against Morale rule in this book, roll one die and compare the result to their Morale. If the roll is less than or equal to its Morale, it keeps reading. If the roll is greater than its Morale, the reader plays something else.

There's no reason to repeat this same procedure over and over again at various points in the rules. It's redundant, it's wordy, and it makes the thing seem a lot more complicated than it actually is. Really, this kind of thing should just be explained once.

4.2 Morale Checks

During the course of the game, you will be called upon to make Morale Checks for your Units. To make a Morale Check, roll one die and compare the result to the Unit's Morale. If the total is greater than the Morale, the Morale Check is failed; otherwise, the Morale Check is passed. The consequences of failing a Morale Check will vary depending on the reason why the Check is made.

Boom! That's it, that's the whole procedure, and all we have to do now with the rest of the rules is say "when X happens, make a Morale Check. If failed, Y occurs". (I also prefer this wording because the word "otherwise" nimbly and unambiguously encompasses both "less than" and "equal to".)

This whole thing might seem like a bit of a strawman, but honestly, I've seen rules for morale checks that are written like that - every time it shows up, they explain the whole thing over again, like they assume their players to be goldfish. Or maybe they think it's being more "accessible": this way, the player who looks up the rule for entering a muskeg hex or Charging doesn't have to flip back to rule 4.2 or whatever.

But one of the core reasons why non-wargamers find wargames "inaccessible" is that the rules are dense and needlessly wordy - that they appear more complicated than they actually are.


  • It all depends on the game. If you are designing a game that can be played by 11 year olds over lunchables and goldfish crackers from noon to two thirty in the afternoon, then yes, redundancy isn’t necessary. If you are designing a air land and sea operational wargame dealing with the Malaya Theater in the Second world War at 5 miles per hex then you’ll need a differnt style of rulebook and different types of materials to support it. It all depends, right?

    Patrick Q Mullen

  • Rulebooks in general are also changing in format from informational to procedural. That throws a wrench in the zero redundancy theory. In a procedural rulebook you learn by playing, not by absorbing the ruleset as a whole first. Repetition is required as the players follow the procedure.

    Adam Wilson

  • not sure why my post…posted twice.. apologies


  • I have tried no repetition as that is the way I prefer it but it is a disaster unless the game is real simple. The number of rules questions I have gotten and games played wrong I have seen at conventions and online is increased greatly if their is no repetition. So now I try to make sure key concepts are repeated and reinforced while letting some of the smaller stuff be mentioned only once..


  • Love your games, Tom, but I have to disagree with your opinion about rules. Believe me, as a teacher, I have to explain things a LOT. Repetition and multiple explanations of the same concept in different circumstances are absolutely necessary if you want someone to learn something. An economy of words has its place, and I’ve read fantastic rulebooks that are very brief, but if you have to do a morale check in movement AND combat, then it better be under both “Movement” and “Combat..” We’re not reading a novel. Most experienced wargamers probably won’t even read the rulebook A-Z, and even if we do, we’ll be referring back to the rules to find answers to questions – and if that morale check rule for combat isn’t under combat, it’s going to make for some frustration.
    For me, it’s more about organization. Does the rulebook have distinct, logical, numbered sections that clearly outline the different elements of play? Are the rules cross-referenced? Does it have relevant examples for tricky applications of a particular rule? Are the rules indexed so I can find that pesky morale rule (this is more for longer rule sets)? And are there helpful player aides (2 copies if there are 2 players!)?
    All this is to say, I hope your morale is not flagging. Good rule sets are a must. I understand that explaining the same thing multiple times in multiple ways can be draining, but I never cease to be amazed at the way people can misinterpret, what I assume to be, a clear explanation. Keep up the good fight – the games are worth it!


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