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Why do all our wargames rules have to cost the bomb?

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This topic contains 42 replies, has 23 voices, and was last updated by  limburger 1 month, 1 week ago.

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  • #1655276

    phaidknott
    5270xp
    Cult of Games Member

    Was replying to another thread/article and was remembering the days of Tabletop Games and their stable of card bound A5 wargame rules/booklets.

     

    When you sprang for those, it wasn’t a major investment (so perhaps you were more willing to take a gamble in a purchase). Granted they were black and while, featured perhaps a black and white sketch or two and many, many tables. HOWEVER the full rules were usually there, perhaps a scenario or two. There was sometimes an “Armies” book to purchase and that was it.

     

    But nowadays the rules are usually hardbound A4, full of eyecandy and printed on glossy paper. But personally I find once I’m at the gaming table I’d much rather have an abridged copy of the rules to reference at the time. Indeed some modern wargame rule publishers sell you a “gamer edition” of the rules (as an additional purchase) that’s an A5 format (Flames of War, Bolt Action, 40K). At worst some rule systems/books can have you spending more on the rules than you do on the figures.

     

    Are rules these days perhaps judged on the production values than the actual “meat and potatoes” of the rules themselves?

     

    Sometimes I long to see things go back to those A5 booklets (or even the black and white A4 spiral bound), where I could find the rule in the book with less pages (modern rulebooks can have up to 50% of the content as photos of figures). If I wanted a source of “How to paint”, or “Uniforms of the…” then I would just go out and buy the book required (rather than seeing similar content printed again and again in every rulebook printed of late).

     

    It’s just seems that perhaps many rulebooks these days are full of “spam”, and it isn’t the cheap kind of spam either. To be able to buy a set of rules for under a tenner has gone the way of the dodo (even allowing for inflation). Pony Wars is being re-printed, the original card bound A5 booklet cost me £6 in the mid 90s new. However the new version (with no rule changes just “modern production values”) is going to cost between £25-£30.

     

    So “when” did we Wargamers decide that we wanted/needed these fancy rulebooks, and why can’t we see something that in black and white as “non viable” and not even worth a glance?

    #1655284

    crazyredcoat
    Participant
    9014xp

    It’s an interesting question there, mate, and I think the simple answer is that there wasn’t a single moment where it switched. Which is an annoyingly complicated simple answer. I deff agree that some what we tend call ‘mini rulebooks’ are very nice tools, particularly for grabbing off the shelf on your way to the gaming club. I’d even say that if they contain all the rules I’d rather have that than the big books in terms of rules; much more practical for the actual gaming.

    I suppose the increase in app-based gaming aids has changed the situation a little bit, but I’d argue that it came at the tail end of the change or after. I’d say that there’s two ways of looking at how this came about. Firstly, the addition of ‘spam’, as you describe it was born from the desire for a ‘complete package’. For example with 40k if you add in a bit of the universe to the main rules then you have at least an intro to the setting in one book. Bolt Action is similar; you get the rules to play and also the brief overview of the historic context. Over time that extra stuff grows as newer editions are published as in-universe lore changes with time or new research brings about better historical understanding, ect. More pages means more printing costs and so prices rise, but to an understandable level. I’d say that there’s a bit of a divide between people who want the extra fluff and those who don’t, but it’s nice to have it all together.

    Then there’s the side of the marketing where companies want to present the nicest looking product as a way of selling a luxury. 40k, for example, when I started a little under 20 years ago was not too bad in price and the colour pages were the mini ‘showcase’ pages but the rest tended to be black and white. It made sense, the minis were something they wanted to advertise in colour but the rest didn’t have to be. Then when they up the cost a small bit but add in more colour art here and there it looks like a nice change and that incrementally grows before you reach a point where you suddenly look back and think ‘this is getting bloody expensive now’ and start to question if you needed it.

    It sort of just happened that way, I’d say, but on the flip-side companies have now got it into their heads that you can’t go back, only forwards. A lot of people now expect that level of work into a book because at prices like that it damn well better look pretty and reverting to cheaper printing methods like black and white are now seen as outdated and if you were to revert to that they may think they will lose their share of the market to someone who puts out the flashy stuff. If I’m honest, I don’t think that would happen. If companies offered both kinds of rulebooks I imagine the number of copies sold would increase due to the easier access to the game even if you charged less for a black and white book. If we take GW again as an example, I’d even argue that they might do well to offer 40k rules in their basic level for free in the same manner as AoS does. Still offer the fancy books for those who want them and sure, maybe make some particular rules (like the Warscroll Battalions) available only in those books to encourage sales. At this point I think it’s safe to say that GW is more of a miniatures company than a war gaming company, after all; the minis are their main focus and they are pretty good at making them.

    At the end of the day I think it comes down to perception vs. reality. The new styles of books look very nice. I enjoy the artwork in a lot of them (though I wish artist recognition was a little better with some companies) and I’m actually one of those people that likes a bit of fluff in my rulesets, but the reality is that I would happily buy a fancy book (like one of the Battletomes for AoS) for all the extra little bits if I could just get the main rules cheap or even free. I don’t care about the presentation so long as they are understandable, well written, and well explained.

    #1655296

    pagan8th
    Participant
    4467xp

    The cheapest way in to most war-games is the starter sets. Whether it be the one player battle group (Warmachine & Hordes for example) or two player starters (Warmachine & Hordes, the GW mini campaigns like Shadow and Pain, Sisters vs Drukhari etc.)

    The above have cut down rules with the basics to get you started playing and some lore if needed.

    Wild West Exodus also do a ‘gubbins box’ which has the essentials to get you going. I’m sure there are others too.

    All of these are the ‘cheap’ way to get people into the hobby. Tempt them with plastic (often push fit to get the minis on the table quickly) and a few scenarios that they quickly get bored of and crave new experiences… resulting in more purchases.

    Those full colour rules are not really needed and the a ‘special edition’ cover is just a ploy to get you to spend more.

    My biggest gripe with war-games is the cost of miniatures. Why does a leader model cost as much as a unit of troops when there’s a fraction of the plastic (I’m talking normal sized leaders… not the monsters, dragon riders etc) in the box? Just because something cost more points to field in battle does not affect the cost of production.

    I was going to buy the new Dominion box set for AoS… despite not having chance to play Soul Wars yet. I realised that I have too much stuff that I haven’t used and don’t need more to assemble and leave unpainted for years.

    Could be a little bit of depression affecting my decision making, but for the time being I’m stepping back from buying and going to focus on using what I have…. which means painting… and ideally gaming with the stuff.

    Sorry… wandered slightly off topic… but yes… books are too expensive and the constant release of new ‘fluff content’ with new units and army books that have only minor changes is just another financial burden…

    Those minor changes are caused by bad design (get the stats right before you release them) that makes units over powered (or underpowered).

    And the tournament circuit cause lots of trouble. If you’re playing a friend… it doesn’t matter that your rules are a bit out of whack… but in a tournament they have to be up to date.

    Do you really need to be winning to have fun? Isn’t the point of gaming to have fun? To enjoy the wins and losses? You’re playing a person, not a computer. Winning is less important than fun.

    And I’m off topic again… sorry. Rant ends.

    #1655300

    elessar2590
    16444xp
    Cult of Games Member

    I remember when people would buy starter sets just for the tiny rulebooks. I was pretty surprised that the last few Age of Sigmar and 40K Starters come with the full rulebook for that reason.

    I don’t think colour pictures of minis should be thrown out entirely, it’s very handy to have a few pages of colour pictures that you can use for inspiration especially for smaller games without a big online presence.

    #1655305

    limburger
    17053xp
    Cult of Games Member

    I think the short answer is three simple facts :

    1. eye candy sells
    2. they are businesses not amateurs … businesses don’t do things that cost money
    3. perceived value matters

    It should be noted that with easier access to high end publishing even amateurs can produce better looking books (lulu.com being one such example).

    And do not underestimate the amount of work that goes into a (good) rules set (or a mini for that matter).
    You can’t charge 50$ for a set of 5 handcopied black and white A5 pages, because no one would believe that it required months/years of tinkering to get those rules to that point.
    You can charge 60$ for a 200 page full colour A4 glossy hardcover even if it is filled with errors … because the perceived value is higher.

    I love the full colour ‘gimme all the info’ books, because when I am new to a system I need as much info as possible.
    How do I paint the minis ? What are they supposed to look like ? What’s the story ?
    I also like having a short ‘quick start’ booklet that gets me the essence of the rules and how to play the damn game, because it makes learning easier.
    As such I adore games that offer both and I’m not ashamed to admit that I am willing to pay for that privilege.

    The one thing I don’t like is how some companies have carved up the game into so many additional ‘essential’ books & gimmicks that it becomes a chore just to get everything in one place. That’s like selling me a hamburger and charging me extra for all the bits that make it more than a bit of meat in a bun.

    As I’ve said on these forums before when I first saw Battlegroup I was not a fan. It looked too much like a boring studybook that I’d grown to hate at school. The Flames of War books were (and still are) dead sexy.
    Battlegroup has grown on me … but it needed time.

    So yeah .. sexy pics do sell and are essential to this hobby if we want it to grow.
    I don’t mind, because I love my collection of ‘useless’ books as much as I love playing games.

    • This reply was modified 1 month, 3 weeks ago by  limburger.
    #1655306

    noyjatat
    14346xp
    Cult of Games Member

    I take it this post is about rule books specifically rather than just rules based on the first post and responses. Some companies do PDF now at a cheaper price allowing you to print at home or get a company to bind it for you. One of my friends recently went through the process of having another company make him a rulebook from a pdf at a much lower cost and he is happy with the results.

    Battlespace rules are I think still only available as a PDF and only cost $9, allowing you some money left in your wallet if you want to get them bound to a physical copy.

    #1655307

    grabnutz
    703xp
    Cult of Games Member

    Maybe I can answer this from the point of view of a small independent.
    The simple answer is that we do this to be able to compete in a market where all the big companies invest heavily in presentation.
    I think that it began in the RPG market, and with Games Workshop, where people were buying the setting as well as the rules.
    For us wargamers it started with rules like Fire & Fury which was, for the time, jam packed with beautiful photos and a full colour layout. Those of us of a certain age can remember seeing these for the first time at shows, sitting next to drab WRG books and going ‘wow!’.
    If we look at most wargames publications today, many are still packed from cover to cover with actual useful content, but the standard of presentation has improved immeasurably.
    As for those booklets, the entire Osprey Wargames series is small format, 64 page ‘booklets’, with a low entry point of around £15. Other companies also publish their rules digitally at about half the printed cost.
    Finally, we need these glossy publications to keep the hobby alive. B&W card cover rules may still attract old beggars like myself, but younger players are not attracted to them as they look amateurish in comparison to what the rest of the market is producing.

    #1655310

    grabnutz
    703xp
    Cult of Games Member

    OK, I thought of one or two more things.

    You seem to be saying that £30 is too much for a set of rules. So let’s put that £30 in context:

    • How much do you spend on one three-hour trip to the cinema?
    • How many Big Mac meals can you get for £30?
    • How many figures can you realistically buy for £30?

    A good set of rules might last you years, providing satisfying games week after week.

    As a professional rules writer I spend 1-2 years writing and play testing a set of rules.

    After you add art, photo, layout and printing costs – which I have to pay upfront, I then have to give the distributor between 40-60% retailer discount so that they and their retail customers can cover their costs and make a small margin.

    Note that those distributors and retailers don’t want to put a shabby B&W rule set on their shelves, next to the big companies’ shiny offerings.

    At the end of the day I might make £5 per copy if I am lucky, and as I am a minnow in the marketplace, sell only one or two thousand of them.

    Yes, I could sell the books myself and cut out the distributors and retailers, but that means spending most of my time processing orders, packing and dispatching product, buying packing materials, renting business space, paying business rates and buying software to handle this and the VAT/Sales Taxes in all the customer’s countries, and dealing personally with world wide customer inquiries 24/7.

    This does not take into account the endless hours marketing my product online, begging big review sites and magazines to feature it, attending shows, putting on games, and then watching some big miniatures company give their rules away for free.

    Conclusion: £30 is cheap.

    #1655311

    torros
    20120xp
    Cult of Games Member

    Yeah Fire and Fury was a real eye opener when I first saw it especially if you compared it with say Johnny Reb 2. Even the paper quality was lovely

    #1655337

    phaidknott
    5270xp
    Cult of Games Member

    Look it’s not an argument about “if” rules cost too much, more a question of when, how, why did rules become bloated with non rules stuff (making navigating them at the table a pain to a point where some Authors have realised this and started a “retrograde” move to bringing out small A5 booklets to better form a set of pure rules (and losing all the bumf).

     

    I just grabbed an old copy of a Tabletop Games Renaissance Skirmish Rules (Sword and Pistol). It’s an A5 booklet (Card Bound) with a Card Quick Reference sheet. The rules are just 17 pages long, with another 11 pages of army lists and two scenarios. And there is little or no wasted space for things like photos, painting guides etc. The Ancient set (Sword and Shield) being slightly longer with 21 pages of rules and 17 pages of army lists and 7 scenarios. These rules give a perfectly good game (as long as you know what a percentile dice is) and have stood the test of time better than many rules released later on (SPQR I’m looking at you kid). In fact I’d dare to say at 21 pages a modern set of rules would probably be just past the rules for movement and getting into how to declare a charge stage 😀 )

     

    These rules come from an era where rules weren’t meant to be a “all in one” resource for the period. Instead gamers would buy different books for different task (like we all went out to buy the Osprey “Men at Arms” books for uniform details etc). But now it seems the market demands big chunky rulebooks (in fact we seem to find value in the fact the MOAR pages we get, then the better the rulebook perhaps?). But I’m starting to feel that modern rulebooks these days are just becoming TOO large for their own good.

     

    I’ve also noticed recently that we are starting to get a few “Primer” books starting to appear (at least on the historical side of things). One very good example is Barry Hilton’s “Every Bullet Has Its Billet” (A guide to late 17th Century Wargaming). Now Mr Hilton has written a few sets of rules prior to this book, but in this book he basically stripped all the “bumf” you see in modern rulebooks and released this separately as a rules agnostic resource (there’s a link to a quick review below). Now this I see as an ideal solution, keep the rules separate (and abridged) to allow gamers to quickly navigate the rules at the table and then release rule agnostic books that gives the gamer the useful other stuff.

    Every Bullet Has Its Billet

     

    Personally I’m starting to loath the “all in one” approach that modern rulebook seem to cater to (perhaps this is due to most of the popular rules being published by miniature manufacturers following the GW model (for example Warlord Games) rather than companies that just produce the rules by themselves (although Osprey seem to be moving up in the rankings by doing this very thing, although I’d say a rulebook like Frostgrave has probably 50% of the pages dedicated to non rule stuff). Back in the 80s and 90s wargamers were quite happy to go out and buy multiple books on the period they were gaming (and this was seen as the norm). I think the first “all in one” rulebook to appear on the historical side of things was probably the first edition of Flames of War (along with the various “codex” books that followed). But I suppose if anyone was going to bring out a set of rules that WAS cut back to the style of things we had back in the 80’s and 90s we would perhaps see them as “dry” or very hard going without the pictures.

     

    People say we are in an Golden Age for the hobby. Now on the miniature side of things I’d whole heartedly agree, but on the rules side of things I’m starting to believe this isn’t the case (with rules basically removing all mental arithmetic in favour of custom dice or cards and tables/charts being VERBOTEN 😀 ).

    • This reply was modified 1 month, 3 weeks ago by  phaidknott.
    #1655362

    poosh
    3907xp
    Cult of Games Member

    You’re also paying for the work and time invested in creating the rules, not just the physical book.

    But part of the reason they have so much “gloss” is to inspire readers and give them ideas about the directions they could take?

    #1655439

    limburger
    17053xp
    Cult of Games Member

    @phaidknott

    “… Instead gamers would buy different books for different task …”

    which effectively turns those ‘cheap’ 15 pound rules into 60+ monstrosities that you were ‘complaining’ about.
    Yes, you can mix and match all of the books until you get your perfect combination of fluff and rules, but cheap it’s not.

    To be honest … I do agree that those gigantic books with ‘everything’ aren’t as useful as they could be.
    A few more options that would allow folks to buy the pure rules and fluff as separate books would be cool and could offer the best of both worlds.

    However … we still need to remember that these guys aren’t in it to promote a specific hobby.
    They want to make money … all of the money … and with as little effort as possible.
    Creating various SKUs to cover all types of players sounds cool, but it is risky … and companies don’t like risks.

    Yes … some went back to ‘small format’ rules, but I’d argue that was out of necessity and not by design.
    Osprey sells tiny A5 booklets. It is their default format for most things. So as a result they’ll find writers that can work with that format and they won’t hire ones that don’t

    And as @grabnutz said … companies can’t afford to be different from the mainstream, because they’d have to work twice as hard for very little potential extra profit. You’d need someone with serious passion and a ton of money to burn to do that.

    Looking at that Osprey catalog tells me one thing : you’d be lucky if one of them makes it big …
    I didn’t get into historicals … until Flames of war and Bolt-action did their thing.

    Yes, I could have done the research and bought the same ol’ boring as fuck expensive hard to find real history books.
    Or I could buy the one thing that could get me playing within minutes of opening the box (and that’s ignoring all the other plug&play hobbies out there like videogames … ).

    My time is a precious resource. I can’t afford to waste it on reinventing the wheel and waste money on books that I’ll only be using a few pages or chapters of. I’ve had too much of that at school where we barely one chapter out of an entire book if we were lucky.

    #1655440

    piers
    Participant
    21225xp

    Those £5 A5 rulebooks from the 1980s were generally awful… and in todays money… thats £14? Most made by brain hurt.

    At least with the crap ones today, I still have pretty pictures to look. The change for me was seeing the Rapid Fire books and Wargames Illustrated in 1987 with colour pics of Wargames stuff. It suddenly became a colourful and vibrant hobby.

    I for one do not want to go back to this…

    20210612_213351

     

    #1655496

    grabnutz
    703xp
    Cult of Games Member

    The title of your thread is “Why do all our wargames rules have to cost the bomb?“. I did understand that your argument went off on a different track, which is why I posted two replies – one on the reality of modern publishing, and the other on costing.

    Honestly, if you do want to go back to short B&W rulesets, there are thousands of sets out there. I suggest you visit my friend Pete’s site: https://freewargamesrules.fandom.com/wiki/Freewargamesrules_Wiki
    You will even find some of my early rule sets there.

    Or you could trot over to a minimalist rules site like One Page Rules: https://onepagerules.com/

    #1655497

    grabnutz
    703xp
    Cult of Games Member

    I don’t know why, but I cannot leave this alone.

    In defence of my comrade-in-arms Joe McCullough, I must object to your statement “...a rulebook like Frostgrave has probably 50% of the pages dedicated to non rule stuff“.

    I have copies of both Frostgrave and his new work Stargrave, so I just checked both and there is almost no wasted text whatsoever. Every single page contains rules for the game or advice on how to use those rules. It is a masterclass in creating a toolkit for players to use as they see fit.

    I suggest you read someone’s work before you criticize it.

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