Idiot Rules: The Mighty Endeavor

The tactical situation is dire and the course of action clear—pull back your forces to defensible terrain, shortening your supply lines and providing mutual support for your thinly-stretched units. But you can’t, because there’s an idiot rule in your way.

Wargames use idiot rules to prevent players from taking actions that are otherwise tactically sound and allowed in the rules, justifying the restrictions for historical reasons or to provide some form of play balance. After all, unless forced by the rules, very few sane gamers would throw division after division into Stalingrad or try to hold all of France in the face of a massive Allied invasion. Idiot rules attempt to enforce dictates from above the gamer’s pay grade.

Idiot rules can be subtle, offering rewards for following a particular course of action; games that use Victory Points as a means of determining the outcome of a game, for instance, can allocate a certain number of VP for control of locations that would otherwise be abandoned posthaste. Idiot rules can also be explicit, making certain sections of the map simply off-limits until a certain game turn or until certain criteria have been met.

There’s something of a debate in wargaming circles about forcing the player’s hand. Some players prefer to have complete control over every unit; others appreciate, or at least accept, varying degrees of restriction on the player’s omniscience and omnipotence. In general, though, rule systems that encourage rather than mandate certain actions feel more aesthetically pleasing to me.

The Mighty Endeavor (Multi-Man Publishing/The Gamers, Standard Combat Series, 2005) deals with the Allied invasion of occupied France in 1944, a situation ripe for an idiot rule preventing the German player from tucking tail and hiding behind the Rhine. And indeed, we have one in the specific game rules (.pdf):

If the Allies occupy (or cuts off from Trace Supply) the three hexes of Paris before Turn 8, the Allies receive an extra 18 VPs. Make this award in the German Supply Phase. This rule is negated should the Allies create a Beach Port in any northern coast hex east of the Seine River.

The designers, Tim Armstrong and Steve Newhouse, call the rule section “Goofy Wargamer Stuff Safety Valve,” noting:

Wargamers being who they are, I can expect to see them abandon France in an effort to secure only the VP hexes. This being the case, something needs to exist to “encourage” the Germans to control more of the map.

I can live with this kind of idiot rule—strong reward for sticking around, but if I really want to break for the eastern shore of the Rhine the second the Allies put boot on sand, it’s my decision to make.

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