Thursday, May 31, 2012

The curse of “too much choice”

. . . and how I am learning to deal with it.*

We wargamers live in the best of times. We’ve never had so much choice, and such easy availability, when it comes to published games and figures. But all of this choice actually causes us stress. We want to play every period in every scale that tickles our fancy, and all of this choice allows us to chase each and every fancy. Next thing we know we have the figures for each period that tickles us, in 3 different scales, and are contemplating 4 different rule sets, each of which provides the vehicle for recreating our favorite armies in history or fantasy, but still lacks something crucial that causes us to keep looking for the “Holy Grail.”

Or paralysis sets in. We can’t decide on the scale, brand of miniatures, or maybe even the rules with which we want to play. And when we do decide, we’re afraid that something better will come along right after we make our hard-won commitment.

Then we come to the realization - at some point - that unless we set some priorities we won’t live long enough to complete any of the projects we started.

Or, at least I came to that realization. Perhaps this description of me doesn’t describe you. If not, the remainder of this post may be of no interest to you. If it sounds at all familiar, though, and you want to learn how I dealt with this surplus of choice, by all means, read on.

My second realization was that I needed priorities. But what criteria was I to use to set said priorities? It’s easy if you have one favorite army and one favorite set of rules. If that’s you, I envy you. But I needed direction. So I established the following premises on which to set my priorities:

1) Resources: Funds > Time

You must budget both time and money for your hobby. Said budget may be less or more formal and more or less imposed by forces beyond your control, but we must still work within a budget. Time must be considered a resource every bit as much as money. The interplay of these two resources will define the number of projects you develop, as well as the size and scope of each project. Planning is crucial; your budget will guide your plan. Well, that’s the goal, anyway. . .

Time seems to be my biggest resource challenge. If I am to play games in all of the genres I am interested in, I will have to:
  • win the lottery thereby freeing up both time and funds;
  • play some genres as skirmish games so that a limited number of painted figures are needed;
  • hire out more painting (requires the other resource - funds);
  • play games that model armies with small numbers of figures (DBA, for instance – “but where is the epic feel?” I wail); or finally;
  • Partner for more games (see #8 below).
Or of course, all of the above, or any combination of the above, even.

2) The “Holy Grail” is a myth. Deal with it.

3) Play to Paint > Paint to Play

Do you “paint to play” or “play to paint?” This is a crucial consideration as it affects the quality (and therefore price) and scale of the miniatures you choose, or even whether you choose miniatures at all. I fall squarely in the “play to paint” category and love “my little guys” as “She Who Must Be Adored” refers to them. I spend more time painting miniatures and creating terrain – and lately researching rule sets - than actually playing games; but the gaming is a fun and not extraneous component of the enjoyment I receive from my hobby. I don’t just want to create display pieces. The display pieces also have to work within the practical, physical constraints of the game.

4) Game (and Aesthetics) > Historical Simulation

This is endlessly debated on various blogs and across tabletop battlefields. In the end, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” and the amount of “simulation” provided by a game system is a matter of some subjectivity. For me, the look and feel of the game is the primary driver, and as long as the results of the game played can be justified or recognized as a “plausible” outcome, I am satisfied. What is “plausible” should be arrived at through research. . . and because history is not an exact science we are now back to subjectivity again.

5) Army scale > Skirmish scale

I like the epic quality of armies in confrontation and think this “scale” lends itself well to the wargame that features painted miniatures on modeled terrain. I’ve generally felt that skirmish level games might be better played online, but I have been toying recently with miniatures for skirmish games since reviewing my project priorities. Some of this thinking has to do with budget.

6) Intuitive/Fun Mechanics > Granularity

This doesn’t have to be an either/or proposition, but it ends up that way in a lot of game designs. I applaud detail that helps define the limiting and differentiating characteristics of soldiers and/or units, so long as it is subsumed within elegant mechanics. This is much easier written about than accomplished.

7) Random Abstraction > Determinism

I could also describe this as “Chaos Management > “Chess.” The amount of randomness necessary to produce the impression of the “fog of war” and reduce the predictability of the players’ actions is again a very subjective judgment. All of my reading about history and my participation in both team sports and the martial arts has left me comfortable with a great deal of uncertainty within an individual game. So much so I could argue that uncertainty and unpredictability are the defining characteristics of human struggle.

8) Proprietorship > Partnering

This is actually linked to several of the points above, but in the main, are considerate of 1) Resources, and 4) Aesthetics. If money were no option, I would own every important army relevant to all my favorite genres, painted and based to a very high standard by the best commercial painters. I would still paint some of my own troops; that should tell you that I place a high premium on personal workmanship. My miniature battlefields would, of course, match my armies in their practical beauty. If time were no option, I would still want all of the above, but I would be painter and builder. . . and the availability of funds would inform the level of creativity needed to meet my goals. As it is, I have neither unlimited amounts of time nor money. So, I must balance my resources against the desire to create a high level of aesthetics in the game. Can I achieve the desired result by Partnering with my opponents, each of us supplying some of the elements of the whole (armies and terrain predominately), or must I be sole Proprietor and go it alone, because I have chosen to use prohibitively expensive components, or require a scale or level of aesthetics that my partners will not support? My French and Indian War project is the supreme example of Proprietorship (“Build it and they will come”); while our Crimson Skies games are reflective of Partnership on the opposite end of the spectrum.

9) Flexibility

Games come and go, opponents do likewise, and if you are not flexible you may find yourself predominantly playing solo. There is nothing wrong with that, of course, if you are playing solo by choice. Using “popular scales” or “industry-standard” basing schemes will make it easier for you to try other rule sets or play with new opponents as needed.

10) Are ya havin’ fun?

‘Cause if it ain’t fun, why bother?

Having so considered the type of games I want to play, and using the previous premises as guide, I prioritized and defined a scope for each of my projects. In the next several posts I will provide the list of projects that I have under way, with some development background on each, prioritized in the order of my favorite historical or fantasy genres.

See ya, unless I've scared you off!

*Warmly dedicated to The Baron and Lead Addict, who have lately been ruminating over what “they want out of their gaming.”


  1. Amen, brother.
    1- I likes the purty figs, too. I hurts me deep down inside to play with crappy figs.
    2- I'm getting to where I'm happy with a couple of systems and call it quits. Skirmish may be the way to go to play all the periods I want. I'll do a couple of "big Battle" periods.
    3- Creepy Steve had a saying when it came to the whole historical wargaming thing. "Pick a movie to play". Everyone has an idea of what they think a period should feel like. In the end there really isn't a historical game. It's fantasy with guys we recognize.

  2. Thanks for the "Amen," Brother Baron. Creepy Steve is on to something with the "movie" criteria. I'm already matching movies to projects in my head!

  3. How...analytical of you sir. I offer the following:

    A. In all his glory, watching steve enhance or ruin a gaming session, dpending on the gameiness of the other individuals playing, was always a treat. Dinner and a movie. The pick your movie night was particularly rewarding after a terrible home brew WWII game.

    B. I struggle cause I care.

    C. I really would like to get to about a half dozen to a dozen things. But I can't ever get there. Its a real struggle of having too much. We should all stay so lucky.

  4. Agreed, Addict. We do live in good times : )