Tuesday, 27 November 2012

New Edition Anxiety

When the rumblings of the approach of the new edition of a core rulebook for a major game system begin to thrum in the ether, the anxious grumblings of 'New Edition Sceptics' are sure to follow.

I tend to say very little in the lead up to a new edition (apart from encouraging people to 'wait and see'), and just watch the rumour threads go from innocent mewling new borns to titanic thrashing monstrosities, burgeoning with the power of untold fearful posts. They are like Daemons of the Warp, slurping up the emotions of gamers and threatening the destruction of all we hold dear, when in fact you scratch the surface and there is often very little substance beneath.

I must say that as the only major systems I have played over the years are Warhammer Fantasy and Warhammer 40K, I can only speak based on that experience, but I expect similar occurrences with any major system when changes are brought in. In many ways it reminds me of a General Election in reverse. With a General Election, lots of people seem to want the incumbant government out, and the devil they don't know to step in and fix everything with a snap of their greasy fingers.

With the new edition of a rulebook, it seems that the promise of a new edition, especially one with big (comparitively speaking) changes in the offing, it's as if someone has threatened the very souls of some gamers, and they begin to imagine all sorts of terrible things, that their armies, collected meticulously over many years, will become as effective as a middle east peace process.

Given that we are all playing by the same set of rules, I just don't believe that any changes will be quite that destructive. Yes, it's fair enough to say that some armies will not play quite as intended until their specific army list and rules are updated, but that isn't a failing of the new rules set is it? That's a failing of the game producer to support older armies under successive new editions of the rules. Thankfully things are getting better in Games Workshop's handling of such things. When 6th Edition 40K was released, every army had an FAQ and errata document available within days rather than months as it has been in the past.

I much prefer to sit back for a couple of months after the release of a new book, wait for the dust to settle, the inevitable FAQ's to bed in, and then ask people what they think of the new rules. If I ask that question too early, then people are too busy fixating on individual rules and not looking at the bigger picture. Take 8th edition Warhammer Fantasy for example. A while after the release, I posted a poll on the mighty Warseer, and asked the question 'Which new/changed rule to you like least?'. You can see from the results that the answer might not be as you would expect, given the changes people were complaining about the most when they were first announced.

I for one have always simply accepted whatever changes have been made to a rules set when a new book comes out. I enjoy the challenge of getting to know the new or amended rules, and like the levelling effect some changes have. Both the 8th Edition of Warhammer Fantasy and more recently the 6th Edition of Warhammer 40,000 have forced gamers to have a rethink about how they select and employ their armies, and in many areas forced us to build redundancy into our army lists and battle plans.

Many people were very unhappy about the additional random elements introduced with 8th Edition Fantasy, but I like the way this prevents a player from putting all their chicken nuggets in one basket with the confidence they could in earlier editions. Not knowing in advance what the objective of the battle will be is another great way of encouraging players to build more flexible lists that can multi task, rather than some of the majorly focussed forces we sometimes used to see. The way the rules interlock has changed the game in many ways.

I guess what I'm driving at is this: change isn't a slap in the face, it's an opportunity to step into the unknown and overcome the challenges that come with it. Comfort zones are great for airports and train stations, but wargaming is meant to be exciting and challenging, not comfortable.

Ok, so people will all have their own opinions about rules changes, and the old adage that you can't please all of the people all of the time is very apt, but people are welcome to say what they think, because we are all free thinking people. Not every new rule is going to make me want to buy the designer a drink, but I always ask the question 'Is the game better overall under this new edition?'. I think most people will answer yes most of the time, in which case it's done its job. Besides, if they made a perfect game, what would the designers do after that? World domination? Adult entertainment? It doesn't bear thinking about. Change is more often than not a good thing. Gives us something to test ourselves with.

At the end of the day, whichever rules set or game it is that you play, it's a game, enjoy it.