More on Simple Games

Writing and releasing Insurgent Earth Operation String Bet took the lion’s share of my time and energy the last month-plus, which meant a return to simple games for weekly sessions and a Thanksgiving battle with my grand kids. And a perfect reminder of why ‘beer-n-pretzel’ games are more necessary than ever these days.

WHEN FRIENDS DROP IN UNEXPECTED

A CCWC founding member who moved off Cape a few years back was in town recently and surprised us on game night. Fortunately, Advanced Song of Blades and Heroes was on the schedule. Already familiar with the system, he grabbed a stat sheet and jumped right in.

Even if he wasn’t acquainted, it takes all of five minutes to explain ASOBH mechanics. They’re simple, elegant, and versatile. Stat out your favorite cool mini and start rolling dice with your friends. No, the game isn’t a realistic tactical simulation. It doesn’t offer a comprehensive campaign system. It’s fast and fun, but even better – it’s robust enough to handle extra layers of narrative and crunch if the players want it. In the past, I used it as the combat system for a tactical RPG-style campaign that incorporated the Band of Blades RPG setting. Worked like a charm. Years later, the guys still talk about it and people contact me online, referencing old battle reports, wanting more information. I think immersion and narrative complexity is on the players; the game system’s job is to support that and not interrupt.

SMORKS

Or ‘Space Marines versus Orks‘. SMORKS is the nickname for a 14-page game (in large font. with pictures) I wrote for my grandsons years ago so we could get cartoony Games-Workshop figs on the table and make ‘pew-pew. boom! arrgh!‘ sounds. An ultra-simplified Shadow War Armageddon, I kept the refinery setting with its fuel cache objectives, the D6s, and tweaked the rules for alternating activation and streamlined combat resolution.

Thanks to SMORKS, Thanksgiving day saw an epic brawl among the smokestacks and machinery of Dolos-V as my grandsons, plus a friend and his son, battled over vital supplies. Again, simple is key: my grandsons remembered how to play – it took minutes to show my friend and his son how things worked – and the next thing you know, the air was filled with bolter fire and trash talk. A good day, in my book.

TO PLAY WITH STUFF? OR TO SELL MORE STUFF?

That’s the question I ask myself when I encounter a new game or set of rules; was this made to help me have fun with friends, get toys on the table – or is it to rope me in to give someone else a steady paycheck?

I get that a business needs to make money. And creators should be paid for a quality product or content. I want to get paid for my efforts too. But too many times, games/rule books feel like a cash grab, a marketing tool to insure an income stream, only to be discarded as soon as they need to shift next season’s product. I used to be insulted when I encountered the cash-grab. Now I won’t waste the time or energy. Or my money.

(even worse is when rule books feel like an after-thought; a thin, unplaytested rationalization for a box of minis)

MORK BORG AND OTHER RULES-LIGHT SYSTEMS

John S has taken the GM stool in our weekly sessions, herding the lot of us to the edge of the apocalypse with the deliciously disturbed MORK BORG. It’s dark, funny, and twisted. Looks grim but in reality, doesn’t take itself seriously. (YMMV. depends on how seriously your game group takes itself and the game’s theme. That’s another conversation)

It’s also rules-light and very easy to run and to play. In fact, I’ve heard the rule book described as ‘an art book with some RPG rules sprinkled in.’ Seems accurate to me. I’m pleased to say I now own the cyberpunk iteration of the game, CY BORG, and am looking forward running sessions in its weird, fictional dystopia.

AVAILABLE BANDWIDTH

Said it once, said it a thousand times… it’s a matter of available bandwidth. Work, school, family, community, bills, kids, car repairs, medical concerns… life is busy and too often, hobbies and social events drop to the bottom of the list. More often, it’s not a matter of money, but time; even the slim margins of modern life are crammed with activities and obligations.

In the same way interest in Solo/ Cooperative games skyrocketed during the Covid lock down, I suspect low-investment, beer-n-pretzel games are on the rise. (and narrative rather than competitive games. again, another conversation)

That doesn’t have to mean designers have to dumb down their work. Elegant simplicity and tactical depth aren’t exclusive to huge, detailed, multi-volume systems. However, it does require creators be aware of the landscape – if they want to offer something with longevity that players actually enjoy and tell their friends about.

If they’re just here for the cash-grab, well… I’ve got a Brown Scimitar of Galgenbeck waiting for them.

Have an excellent day. Til next time.

3 thoughts on “More on Simple Games

  1. Hear hear, I don’t mind a deep game to dive into but there has to be all sorts to keep things fresh in your gaming group.

    We’ve been trying one page rules to get more use from our 40k stuff.

    Cheers,

    Pete.

    1. Hi Pete.
      I’ve heard lots of good things about One Page Rules. It seems like people are also excited for Xenos Rampant for the same reason. One of the guys who’s been coming to Tuesday nights just bought it and we’re slated to take it for a test drive.

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