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.

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D-Day by e-Mail

I’m preparing to begin play of The Mighty Endeavor (Multi-Man Publishing/The Gamers, 2005), an operational level treatment of the Allied invasion of France in 1944 featuring mostly Divisional units. I’ll be playing against my opponent via e-mail, sending turn logs back and forth using VASSAL, a free Java program designed to facilitate online play of paper-based wargames.

The Mighty Endeavor is a series game, one of the more recent in the long-standing Standard Combat Series (SCS) designed by Dean Essig. According to the Designer’s Notes from the v1.7 rules (.pdf), SCS

was designed to be a basic—read FUN—game which can be played at times when the others seem like too much of a good thing. These games are made for the ‘break out the beer and pretzels, and here we go’ type of evening.

And indeed, I find myself gravitating towards SCS games less because of subject matter and more because I already know how to play the game.

Series games play an important role in contemporary wargaming, because they allow the time-pressed gamer to simulate different conflicts using the same basic rules structure. Once you’ve acclimated yourself to the series rules in SCS, which cover all the basics of wargaming in seven pages, you just familiarize yourself with the specific game rules and dive in. Learn once, play often.

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Liveblogging Winter Offensive

Keith Dalton of Multi-Man Publishing is liveblogging Winter Offensive [link dead], MMP’s annual game convention currently underway in Bowie, Maryland.

Focusing mostly on Advanced Squad Leader, which MMP publishes, WO has expanded in recent years to include gamers playing games from the Gamers’ various series as well (say that five times fast). And there are always late-night sessions of Euros and multi-player games that in recent years I came to enjoy more than the ASL itself.

WO is always a great convention, and they’re getting the traditional WO snow, so I wish them luck up there. Looking forward to live updates from the spacious Comfort Inn!

Obligatory Opening Manifesto

I am a gamer, which is not quite the same as saying that I play games.

I do play games, of course: board games, wargames, computer games, role playing games, games of chance and games of skill. But just playing games doesn’t make me a gamer.

I am a gamer because I am fascinated with the rule systems that structure games. Much of my gaming time is spent learning new rules or pouring over old ones. I find beauty in well-constructed rules that anticipate my questions about a game, that knit together possible actions without devolving into tangled prose.

Rules appeal to my sense of the universe as a disorderly place made more tidy by everyone’s voluntary adherence to an organizing structure. So I study rules by playing games and, now, discussing games and the rules that drive them here, at Movement Point.

Science fiction gets some treatment, too, as the literary form most concerned with rules, more than even Victorian manners novels or form-based poetry. Science fiction examines the effects of a rule on a system, extrapolating what happens when a variable changes (or doesn’t). A work of science fiction is interesting not because it has robots (or sentient widgets or kitchen-sized teleporting devices) but because of what changes when there are robots (or whatever). Good science fiction provides a coherent, systems-based look at a world with different rules than our own.

And, because it’s a blog, Movement Point will sometimes deal with stuff I find interesting that has nothing to do with games or science fiction. Can’t have rules without bending them…