New is Better

Recently I bumped into an old gaming friend in a local hobby shop and we struck up a conversation about various subjects including a new rule system. Over the years my friend and I have played many very enjoyable games of “Volley & Bayonet” but recently he had played several games using “Black Powder”. It seems his main gaming group has adopted this new rule system.

I listened with interest to his description of the game system and his many frustrations with the new rules. He indicated he found the rules generally bland and, from what I took from his description, the games lacked manoeuvre. Clearly he was yearning for a return to Volley & Bayonet. Of course many of his friends were enjoying the new rules.


I have for a while been intrigued by the up take of “new” rule systems. Often there seems to be a ground swell of interest. Sometimes I believe as a result of the release of a particularly glossy rule book or much advertising. While Napoleonic wargaming has always been well served by rule systems other periods have far more options these days. Ancients is a case in point.

For many years DBM dominated the Ancient gaming scene. However, when “Field of Glory” hit the shelves players flocked to purchase a copy, at least locally. FOG it seemed was more enjoyable to play, it was more historic and so well designed it would not need revisions. Further it would result in even more people playing Ancients. Now, some five years on, the gloss has worn off. Ancients is more fragmented and Ancient gaming struggling to recruit players. Now fragmentation is not always bad, however it is interesting that the period that once dominated New Zealand wargames conventions now struggles to achieve enough players to run a competition with any rule system.

So what is it that drives people to try the newest rules? Is it dissatisfaction with older rules? Perhaps it is just a wish to try something new? Any or all of these things are of course fine, but wargamers are such an opinionated bunch it is hard to sort the wood from the trees. Is new really better, or is it really more about an enjoyable game with a good group of friends that makes or breaks a wargame rule set?

12 thoughts on “New is Better

  1. YES! YES! YES!
    And we really must get a few more of those games , regardless of the rules system

    Kind regards

  2. “Is it dissatisfaction with older rules?” Certainly a factor. In general (not always a true viewpoint) it seems that today’s rules tend toward simpler mechanics and games that can be completed in 2-3 hours. Some of this is good, such as not having to work through multiple charts to work out a (the same) result, while some of this is bad, i.e., rules where the only thing that defines the period being played is the figures on the table.

    “Perhaps it is just a wish to try something new?” In my experience, most gamers are always ready to try something new hoping that “this will be the one”, sort of like knights searching for the Holy Grail (which probably doesn’t exist).

    In my circle of wargaming friends – which was the New York Wargamers Association (NYWA) until we lost the lease on our dedicated space – we still play Tactica (1989), Shako (1995) and Spearhead (1995), while other rulesets have come and gone. Of course, the fact that we were instrumental in developing the aforementioned Arty Conliffe rules, and have played them so often, is probably a strong factor in their retention. It is interesting that Armati (another Conliffe set), which was not playtested by NYWA, never became a “core game”.

    “Is new really better, or is it really more about an enjoyable game with a good group of friends?” New isn’t necessarily better, but hope springs eternal. For me, and I suspect many others, I will play any set of rules (at least once or twice) as long as it involves “an enjoyable game with a good group of friends”.

    Sorry for the long-winded response, but your post seemed to hit a nerve!!

    John, Lord Hollier

    1. Interesting post John. It sounds as if your group is independent of others in New York and the US.

      Here in New Zealand player numbers are limited and often for some there is hope that a national set will be found. Personally I suspect that wargaming will become more fragmented as different groups here settle on their own sets. This isn’t all bad of course as competition games systems have in my view dominated conventions here for too long.

      1. Not sure in what context you mean “independent”, but it is my experience that many New Yorkers have the view that there is New York and then there’s the rest of the country. 😉

  3. A ruleset may lose favor when it does not model something a key player (like he owns the minis or game table) thinks is important. Losing months or years with each new system, disenchantment sets in. I think it’s better to stay with a popular system with a few flaws than to spend fruitless years trying to “write your own”. The problem is that very few people have the knowledge and leisure to do that. And from experience, those that do can waste years on a dud.

    Add the level of commitment/cost/time it takes to paint and base specific miniatures: risks low bang for high buck disappointment. Better to test with sabots and blocks before going whole hog.

    On finding a 90% ruleset, better to playtest a variant to address the perceived shortcoming–which itself may prove to be overdone. Yes, V&B is ideal in that is at the level we really want–whole battles in a day–and provides a plausible outcome with lots of excitement en route.

    1. Key players, yes they have considerable power.

      I was recently told by one visitor to my gaming room that in his town he needed to adopt 28mm gaming or his small local club would not survive. While he had invested in 15mm figures one of the key players in the local club had switched to 28mm for Ancient gaming. This scale, and the new rules had become “the only true game”. I wonder how many years will be sent painting more miniatures and if another rule system could result in more changes.

  4. In NZ while yes the gamers are fragmented put simply we dont have the population base to support mutliple issues and periods and have you seen natcon lately same old 40/50 somethings that have been doing the rounds for the last 20 years hardly any new blood.

    Along with as for new rules well most if the guys are now burdened with domestic duties of second marriages (or more in some cases :-)) high corporate jobs so lack time and money so anything as long as its short works,

    For me it doesnt but then I never stay in area long enough to forge new memberships but alas with BP preminent along with Flames and DBMM the rest are alas a small drop in the ocean.

    As nor anything new about ten years ago I ran a real time multi player at rallypoint 30 players flat out no one idle and lots of things happening a pace, the cries of horror as German panzers swept past roadblocks and troops died by umpire rolling def from flanking hots while being engage to the front at the same time. The race to Calais over in eight hours.

    Compare that to the recent Borodino and Gettysburg bores, 10+ a side lets sit at our end of the 28ft table and do nothing for 3 hours while they scrap over minatue at the other end of the table, hints of letting players play of sectors ignored, hints of realtiming it laughed at, I left in disgust and pure boredom why drive 3.5hrs to a game to sit and look at the roof and maybe play a few turns over two days nah nothing has been learnt my friend alas sad it is.

    As for VB and the smaller scale nothing can match it the pagentry, the colour, the spectacle (much like a Z scale layout at a rail show its the one that always sticks in your mind versus the HO ones), a shame the NZ Gaming community is so ignorant.

    Regards Rex

    1. Rex, it sounds as if you have experienced some multi-player frustrations. Large games can look good but care with rule mechanics and player numbers must be given careful consideration. I believe our multi-player V&B games are at the right level on both counts.

  5. Indeed true and I got off topic sorry lols. People will try new and glossy because it looks cool and all your mates are using it, is it any better than tried and proven not always. I even find myself after doing Flames for many years and more lately Maurice and spending more money and time on rules than any figures or painting yet recently i have reverted to ULB V1 because its superior to V2, Shako V1 because its simpler and easier to read than V2 and looks good for my large Marlburian games, and I miss Gush for Renaissance and Edition 6 for Ancients, goodness knows how many hundreds of dollars are on the shelf with unused and unsaleable rule books but its a bit!.

    The key I imagine is find a group of like minded friends, enjoy what you do and dont get distracted by the next not best thing with pretty pictures 🙂

  6. Hi
    I’m on this site as I have been following up on DBA 3. IMHO the holly needs an entry level product that can the be expanded. Fog is a huge investment of resources and time just to get one game in, and then maybe it’s not for you. Also the table is to big and or the rules to slow to get a result in a standard x hour game.
    I hope that Phil gets it right and gives us a game that can be played on a 2 by 2 or 3 by 5 or if we must a 6x 4 table and still get a result.

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