Oy, Reisswitz, Where’s My Spanner?

We had an interesting discussion on the TooFatLardies Yahoo Group in the last day or so where the concept of wargames rules as a “tool box” was the subject of debate.  Two sets of our rules take what is, I think, quite a different approach to most tabletop gaming rules in that they draw on the original Kriegsspiel rules for inspiration.  In I Ain’t Been Shot Mum and Troops Weapons & Tactics Nick and I took the clear decision when writing them to avoid lengthy lists of factors for things like spotting and firing and to return to the same system used in the very first true wargames rules; to allow the person running the game to make the decision whether the shot fell into the category of Great, Okay or Poor.
My reasoning here can probably best be described by using the results of a recent study of golfers and their putting.  After careful analysis a scientific panel came to the conclusion that golfers are better off not crawling about on their hands and knees trying to size up exactly how and where to hit the ball because, believe it or not, their brain has already done the calculation for them as soon as they walked up and looked at the ball and its lie.
In wargaming terms this can best be described by saying that almost every tabletop situation can be lumped into the three pretty instantly recognisable  categories, Great, Okay or Poor, without obliging the gamer to trawl through a list of plus and minus factors in order to come to the same conclusion.  What is more, to attempt to attach a numerical value to each one of a countless list of external factors that can influence an outcome is in itself something of a futile mission.  How much smoke has been fired?  How badly is the firer’s vision impeded by the fact that it is approaching dusk and the sun is low on the horizon?  How much cover is created by the dozen thinly spaces trees that are between the firer and the target?  How many absurd plus and minus factors can a sane person want on the potentially voluminous list in the interest of attempting to pre-judge every potential situation?
TW&T smallBy reverting to the absurdly simple von Reisswitz system we potentially liberate ourselves from the drudgery of tables, and, possibly just as importantly, we create the tool box mentioned at the top of this piece, which allows each individual gamer to create his own version of WWII according to his perception of conflict.  By this I mean that a dozen different people are free to apply the rules in their own way, using their judgement so that the resulting game then provides them with a game that conforms to their understanding of the conflict, rather than forcing them to accept our interpretation of it.
Does it work?  Well, as always beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  For some the system is liberating, it encourages them to think about the real tactical situation rather than simply apply a preconceived list of modifiers that may, or may not, be relevant to the specific situation.  Indeed this is where our strap line, “Playing the period, not the rules” comes from.  To others the system is abhorrent; only “80% complete” as one gamer quite famously said.  Of course the answer is that the system suits many, but not all.  But how different is that to any set of rules?
It is undoubtedly true that the rules do depend on the gamer having the balls to make decisions based on having an opinion on WWII conflict.  To my mind expecting a gamer to have at least some knowledge of a period is not an earth-shattering position for a rule writer to assume.  Indeed in many of our rule sets I have intentionally included large sections describing how troops actually operated and fought in order to provide that basis of knowledge that even for the uninitiated will suffice to get them playing.  However, unlike shoving Pixies and Faires around a table, IABSM and TW&T are unashamedly historical games written for historical gamers who want to gain an appreciation of warfare whilst enjoying a game that is fun to play but also being historically plausible in not just the end result, but throughout the game as it plays out.
I should say that not all of our games use this Kriegsspiel approach; gamers of Through the Mud and the Blood, for example, will not recognise any of what I have written above as that game uses far more traditional mechanisms in order, one hopes, to achieve the same end, but it is my hope that I Ain’t Been Shot Mum and Troops Weapons & Tactics do go some way towards pushing the boundaries of wargames design and showing gamers that there are alternatives to prescriptive, dry systems that dictate how the gamer sees the subject.


11 thoughts on “Oy, Reisswitz, Where’s My Spanner?”

  1. Looking good Rich.
    I must say that the “production” quality of the rules etc is now matched by the web site and the new blog. Add to that the enjoyable rules and … well you are probably more responsible for my interest in “new” periods than any other factor. As such my wife would like a word with you.
    Well done,

  2. Rich,
    Congrats for the new website and the blog.
    On the other side, I can tell you that the more I play IABSM the more I like it. First time I test it, I really hate it. What is that of no turns? Why I cannot move that troop in danger? Why the hell those MG open fire to the enemy? But I realize that you were right. We, as gamers, use to be as god-like beings controlling everything on the tabletop, deciding who makes what, at what time and reacting to the opposite manoeuvers. Far from reality, indeed. The battlefield is a chaos, and what saves the day most of the times is planning, training and experience, luck is out of the question most of the times, it is just a factor, but not the most important one.
    The system is not perfect, but it can be rounded up with a small job on them. The problem always is the same with this: putting the gamers in agree. When the rules say something or stating something clearly, end of discussion: it is in the rules; but when there are several points of view and the rules do not mention that or slightly, then is when problems are served.
    I wish that sometimes you give some “recommendations” to that problems in the rules.
    Otherwise, the discussion group is of great help and solve many problems.
    What I like of it most are the booklet sceneries you have, this is something few games have, and this is what they need most.
    Please, go on with it, you are making it great.

  3. Thanks to everyone for their comments, we hope that the Blog will be a great place to deal with some really meaty articles about our thoughts and ideas.
    Thanks Manuel, good to see we converted you! I take on board the comments about getting a few more examples in the rules; IABSM is nearly six years old now and the our latest sets have far more in the way of illustrations and examples to help the gamer. For IABSM the Yahoo Group will always be happy to assist you with any queries where the rules may not be sufficiently illuminating.

  4. Following your thread Rich, I was talking to a guy who was fairly new to IABSM, and we were discussing the total lack of charts in IABSM, with only the 3 cover types. I described to him, that you can apply +/- as you see fit, something with slightly more or less cover from the base. I told him think of playing IABSM as telling a story, make the players think what their situation is, and it all becomes clear. You don’t have to follow long charts by rote, reason can lead a game. Weirdly enough, I really like your descriptors for to hit, the adjective that best describes the shot applies. Players can actually understand that, better than a long line of charts. Of course, there are some who want to know everything, but whats the fun in that?

  5. I will enjoy this blog much more than the yahoo group. Gets to the meat of your games better, with more from the horses mouth and alot less from the horses other end;^)

  6. I say! There are some awfully penetrating thoughts in that missive, old fellow. Keep it up!
    Major Derrick Deepwood, Royal Armoured Corps, on temporary assignment aboard the HMS Cockchafer, somewhere on the Tigris

  7. Tom’s ‘story’ concept is a good one. Thinking of times when I have been umpiring games at Lard Island games days it is often the best way to place an action into context and to help initiate newbies into the IABSM mindset.

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