“WOT!  NO COLOUR” I hear you cry.  It’s a funny old world at present.  It seems to me that the quality of a set of rules is now based on how colourful it is, how high the “production values” are, rather than what the rules actually do.  Indeed I am constantly amazed these days by the number of rule reviews that rave about a new set that then say at the end “I can’t wait to try these”.  Rather like Jeremy Clarkson reviewing the latest Aston Martin without driving it. 
It is very noticeable that many of the glossy publications that were being lauded a year ago are now no longer heard of; no game reports in magazines or on-line, no vibrant discussion forums, just silence, despite the perceived “high production values” that were all the mode a short time ago.  It is noticeable, but it ain’t shocking.  It is representative of the current emphasis in the hobby press on style above substance, and a year on it is proof that the wargaming public are not fooled. 
Yes, we all splash out occasionally on something that looks fantastic and promises the earth, especially when XYZ magazine foams at the mouth about it, but when it turns out to be complete tosh we do not slavishly keep gaming it; we discard it an go on to something better.  In truth what appeared to have “high production values”, that glittering, shiny object that caught the eye of the magazine editor who then reviewed “the sizzle and not the sausage”, was in fact fools gold.   
It is my belief that when producing a set of rules “Production values” should be about how well the rules are themselves produced, not the paper they are printed on.  How much time is spent on research, how much time is spent playtesting, how clearly they are set out.  This is what truly makes a quality product.  
Do I want a return to the days of the grubby A5 pamphlet?  No, of course I don’t, and if I am honest our rules are produced on high quality glossy paper, and some even have glossy covers, however I do say that the product, i.e. the rules themselves and the resultant game, should be more important than what they look like when you first flick through them.  
I am sure that there are some truly excellent rules out there that comply with the principles that I have mentioned above; yes they are brilliantly researched, yes, they have been play-tested to death, they give a great game and yes, the DO have lovely colour pictures in them.  If I am again honest I did take a look at producing our latest set of rules, Le Feu Sacre in full colour.  Napoleonics is a fantastically colourful period and we could get some great shots to tart things up no-end.  But no matter how I attempted to square the circle, the rules were just the same, and ultimately the choice for the gamer would then be to pay £12 for the rules or to pay twice as much or more for the same product plus a few jazzy snaps.  Rather like paying twice as much for your car because the salesman threw in the album of his holiday photos with his missus in a bikini.
So, you’re right, there are no colourful photos in our rules, but what there are is rules that conform to our ideas of “high production values” that do not cost an arm and a leg to buy.  So come on you magazine editors out there, why not actually play the rules before reviewing them, and then comment on the game they produce rather than on just how shiny they are.  Is that too much to ask?


21 thoughts on “WOT, NO COLOUR?”

  1. I have to agree, the number of reviews of Black Powder and Napolean that had more information on the pictures than the rules themselves is silly.
    I like eye candy, I really do, but I like my rulebooks to be straightforward and easy to use and reuse.
    And don’t get me started on the way that ‘universal’ rules eem to be rearing their ugly heads again. I mean here you go rules for any period with a musket, the fact that armies bear no resemblance to each other other than that commonality, who cares, we just want to sell them…

  2. Apparently it is Rich. There is, as you mentioned, the ratio of rules reviewed/purchased and rules actually used. Some look great, but are unplayable. Some look crap but give great games.
    From what I’ve seen, note “seen”, the larger companies are the ones with more glamour, but less playability. And playability breeds longevity.
    Bottom line is I don’t want to be spending 25 quid on something that looks good is is only useful as a shelf filler.

  3. Its frustrating that publications seem to move this way. I understand that they want to catch the eye of the bypasser and browser, or perhaps lure teenagers looking for an alternative to Warhammer, but they simply alienate me. I no longer buy the mainstream magazines as a result of the lack of substance. I am more solvent and, I think, more “target market” for their advertisers products, and yet they do all they can to put me off.
    The same goes for rules!
    Keep up your work, the editorial looks great and the content is even better.

  4. Alas, it seems we are in the grips of the ‘cult of the shiney’.
    Have I fallen foul of this cult? A little, it has to be said, and I will put my hand up and admit that I did fawn somewhat over the (very) pretty Black Powder rules when I recorded my review last week.
    However, I’m also someone who prefers a good game, so whilst Black Powder has me dribbling over pictures, I’m still struggling to come to terms with how I play these rules with anything other than the suggested 28mm scale armies on some vast expanse of table.
    I anticipate no such problems with LFS – and indeed, I intend to put them in a ‘cage match’ style review with the new Lasalle rules at the earliest opportunity in the new year.
    Knowing TFL rules, they will come out snarling, punching above their weight and generally winning by a smack-down KO…
    Did I mention that I’m really looking forward to these?

  5. Well said rich. I recently purchased a copy of some high gloss, high profile rules for Napoleonics. The piccies and layout was very nice, but after a quick read through the rules i found them very wanting. I’ve now put the 25 pound book straight on the shelf and haven’t touched it since, going straight back to GdB and Sharp Practice, two superb rulesets which, despite a lack of ‘eye candy’ i keep going back to. Looks like i’m not the only one too, they both have a huge web following. Anyone seen anything other than a few ‘they’re ok’ to outright negative reviews for the recent over hyped, over priced, over produced value rulesets?
    Thought not.

  6. Well, I’m going to go against the flow and say that I really enjoy a well-presented rule book … mainly because I don’t actually get to play that many games, so the rules and how they are presented are what inspire me and grab my imagination.
    This is proven by the fact that I am sometimes tempted to buy a ruleset for a period I’m not interested in playing, just because the book is so darn good (WECW for example).
    However, presentation is more than just nice photos. It is also an engaging writing style. There is at least one of the glossy new rule-sets out there that doesn’t grab me at all despite its great photos, because from the screen samples it seems to be written in uninspiring (albeit clear) modern legalese.
    I have to admit that engaging writing by itself can overcome not having any glossy photos. A good example of this is ‘Sharp Practice’ … I’ve still only played a couple of games, but I’ve had many, many hours of fun day-dreaming about these rules, and would list them as amongst my all-time favourites.

  7. Well written rules are played. I suspect glossy rules sell. I would guess that is why you see the big companies going for glossy; they are out to sell rules. If you get both you have a jackpot. (FOW might not be historical gaming but is well researched history with great photos and well written rules) Isn’t WI owned by Battlefront?

  8. I recently bought “Mud and Blood” and “Great War”. I’m a long time 40K player but “Great War” isn’t a real skirmish game. I don’t really want to paint two full 1000 pt armies just to demo a game. I’m making a trench table and I figured why not run an actual WW1 game on it. So I’m planning on using TMAB or whatever acronym. The store manager hadn’t heard of it where I bought Great War but he is a GW guy or really whatever is selling well, he has tonnes of FoW.
    He’s a good guy and I’d happily run a demo game in his store. I play Junta (board game) which was rerleased, but when I brought it to my friends in Vancouver they all made fun of the little card board chits and the two or four color printing. But it is such a great game. Better than Lord of the Rings Risk or some high production value game.
    I admit that on a crowded shelf coolness counts or first impression. But at cons a good demo of the game is even more important. Silent Death had great demo games in Ottawa so I learned that game there and again brought it to Vancouver, no one plays it or carries it, but once they actually play it, it is a lot of fun, Full Thrust or 3D Full Thrust might be more realistic, but for fast and fun Silent Death is a good space ship game. It doesn’t have any color pictures in the books and I think moved to a PDF only updates system.
    I printed TMAB at Office Depot. I didn’t bother with a color cover but I bound it nicely and I lamenated the turn cards. I will also make a deck and some tokens likely Litko for the game. You can turn even a simple game into a table that everyone wants to play at, at a con due to sheer effort. You don’t need tonnes of price support or matching t-shirts.
    I think a demo game of TMAB will be cool and I’ll post pics. I might get it ready in time for Trumpeter’s Salute or more likely some summer con.

  9. The Ottawa Silent Death crew made a whole bunch of custom tokens for Silent Death which really make it a better game. Check out Ottawa Red Shirts or now incorporated as Red Shirt Games. They make their own rules now too.

  10. Out of curiosity, could somebody give examples of all these high-production value rule sets that have vanished? I can think of the Foundry Napoleon set, which splashed because it was badly written. But the others seem to be very well supported online and have enthusiastic players.

  11. In answer to Ben: I have. I’d say all bar one of the most recent batch of Napoleonic wargames rooms have been enthusiastically greeted. And where there has been some criticism, it is mostly of the “these rules do not suit me” type rather than the “they’re bad rules” type.
    ‘GdB’ and ‘Sharp Practice’ have faced the first type of criticism as well, but you would not say that makes them unsuccessful sets of rules.

  12. Please don’t assume that having a lot of illustrations equalizes a lack in contents.
    Just as your rules having no illustrations is not a vouch of quality..
    Any reviewer reviewing a game without playing is unserious.

  13. Thorbjorn, I would not dream of saying that. Indeed I made the point nof saying that I was sure that some sets of pretty rules would indeed fulfil all of the other criteria that made them excellent.
    What I was saying was that when editors of magazines came to review rules it would be better if they reviewed the game system, not just the pretty pictures.
    You look at the hobby press doing great big spreads on the rules that contain lots of pretty colour and actually say nothing about the rules themselves. Whereas no matter how good a rule system produced in black an white is it won’t get the same coverage.

  14. Chicken
    You mention one set, which to quote you was “badly written”. I don’t know, I have never read them. However that is precisely the point that I am making. Lots of colour does not make rule sets good. It is what is written in them that makes them good or bad.
    As for others, I could mention a certain set of naval rules that got collosal coverage when they were released and now barely a mention. Even on the “official” discussion forum they haven’t been mentioned for seven weeks as of this morning. Hardly smacks of a great success.

  15. Big Rich :
    What I was saying was that when editors of magazines came to review rules it would be better if they reviewed the game system, not just the pretty pictures.
    You look at the hobby press doing great big spreads on the rules that contain lots of pretty colour and actually say nothing about the rules themselves. Whereas no matter how good a rule system produced in black an white is it won’t get the same coverage.

    I agree about the editors part. That’s what I meant by the “any reviewer..” part.
    I do not think that the colour-issue is just about… the colours!! I think the reason why Warhammer Historical can flick a book together about WWI or Trafalger and sell dozens of copies over night is because they have a HUGE marketing organisation. I mean – a my local Danish forum, where only Warhammer and 40.000 is discussed (save for people like me in the “basement” of the forum) they still catch the news of these Warhammer Historical things and treat it like there had never been a Trafalgar game before.
    If WH decided to do a B/W book with glossy colour cover (being the only “eye candy”) it would still get massive attention (even if it was based on a bad idea).
    The same goes for the new Black Powder set (being written by a “famous” person).

  16. Not entirely related to this debate, but then again in some way (the “judging the dog on it’s fur”) I think that the names of TFL products is also something that could have more influence than it should.
    Why I try convincing people to try IABSM, they stare at me in disbelief over the title.
    Editors that review only on account of nice pictures must surely be prone to review only based on strange titles too ;-D

  17. I fully agree with Richard’s heading blog; this publishing trend also relates to books in general and the film industry.
    I bemoan the fact that films of substance are getting marginalised by the current trend for ‘big budget eye candy fast selling’ productions. Some of these are spiffing but at a cost of limiting the scope for intelligent writing and direction.
    I guess this also applies to ‘big budget eye candy fast selling’ publications.
    Bob Bowman

  18. Pingback: The Life and Times of a Wargames Butterfly » Blog Archive » The long awaited November update – part 1

  19. I bought one of the glossy books last year as I’m was sucker for more pictures of Napoleonic ships (no guessing which book I bought then…). I have probably spent less than an hour reading it and no I didn’t think it the height of good design either although there were some great images. Of the rules therein; well there’s was one handy mechanism I’ve stored for future use someday but the book went on Fleabay before Christmas and failed to sell at 55 per cent of the MRP…
    By contrast my TFL rules that are now the only games I’ll play with one exception. Myopic? Perhaps but I’m more interested in fluid, easy to play, historically based concepts than the lure of colour images no matter how well produced. To be honest I’m actually more than a bit bored of looking at wargames eye candy…

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