Wednesday 1 May 2024

The Power of Bluntness

I was reading through the rules for Blood Red Skies. I picked up the starter set for reasons that will become clear in a few weeks.

The game appeals to me because it feels so focused, and so many areas that are often covered by deep subsystems get treated with outright... blunt rules.

The planes each have a special base that can be tilted to advantage, neutral, or disadvantaged position. You can only attack planes in a lower state of advantage to you. No, you can't take a pot shot if you're both in neutral, you've got to find a way to improve your position or worsen theirs.

Get on their tail and you'll knock them down to disadvantage, or use the outmanoeuvre action against a lower-skilled pilot and you'll automatically disadvantage them by one step, or use the climb action to improve your own position.

Fly into the clouds to return your state to neutral, and then it's like you aren't there. No harsh modifiers to attacks against you, you're just... essentially non-existent until you come out.

Clever positioning might result in you spending a few turns hardly needing to touch the dice, finding ways to line up your targets in vulnerable positions.

This all brings a sort of clarity to things, where it's quite easy to assess large parts of the state of the game, and the dice only come out for those exciting moments of chaos when you squeeze the trigger. All the while you're still thinking like a fighter pilot, being acutely aware of your position relative to your enemies, and always planning the next manoeuvre.

Of course, it still has a few of those fiddly rules so commonly found in wargames. Turret gunners don't quite work like your standard machineguns, and there's a hand-management subsystem for applying your plane's traits. Still nothing outright complicated, but they stand out slightly against such a streamlined core.

It got me thinking about the appeal of these blunt rules.

The way I see it, individual rules or subsystems can sit along two axes.

Blunt/Deep - How much processing is involved in applying this rule?
Blunt: Simple, obvious, or outright binary.
Deep: Made up of multiple pieces to remember, requiring notable maths or reference, or involving a sort of game-outside-the-game.

Wide/Niche - How many different situations is this rule applied to?
Wide: You'll use this frequently, or at least once in every game you play.
Niche: This only comes up in specific situations, and could reasonably be unused for multiple sessions.

Of course, it's all relative. A rule might feel blunt if it's surrounded by more complex mechanics, or might feel deep if it's a somewhat crunchy part of an ultra-lite game.

These can be combined into four quadrants. Wide-Blunt, Wide-Deep, Niche-Blunt, and Niche-Deep.

Brace yourselves for some graphic design. Here's where I'd put some of the moving parts of Mythic Bastionland.

I certainly have preferences here. I think Deep-Niche rules can be kind of tricky, as you sometimes don't use them often enough to properly learn their complexities. Overall I definitely lean toward the blunt side, especially in wargames, but I think a game can succeed with all different types of rule if they're implemented with purpose.  


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  1. Quadrant chart neuron activation! Gonna be thinking about my own stuff along these axes now... thanks for this