Writing your own miniatures war-game can be hugely satisfying from a lot of perspectives. First off, you don’t have to put up with a lot of stupid, awkward rules dictated by somebody else. Secondly, the game becomes wholly yours–a gem you can share with others for hours of fun.
So let’s get started.
I’ve been doing this for a while. I began by rewriting other people’s rules. I’d buy a set and get to that one paragraph that just didn’t make any sense to me and cry, “screw it,” then I’d tape my own rules over the page. There’s nothing wrong with this approach. As long as your friends understand the “house rules” before play begins no one feels cheated.
Still, modifying a set of professionally written rules is a Band-Aid approach to a problem that may require major surgery. Sometimes, the more you tinker the more awkward things become, and you finally decide you just need a clean slate after all. So how do you get started? Well, I like lists. They help organize my thoughts and keep me form forgetting important steps. So here it is, my check list for writing your own miniatures game.
1. DECIDE ON YOUR STORY CONCEPT
Whether you’re envisioning a historical game or something out of fantasy, every game has a story to tell. Who are the opposing forces and why are they fighting? Is there magic or special abilities at play or is this a reality based game? Does one side have an advantage the other does not, and if so what balances the scales?
2. DECIDE ON YOUR RULES CONCEPT
Do you want your rules to reflect every nitty-gritty possibility on the battlefield? If so, prepare to have one slow moving game. However, if your rules include too few details that will leave your players without a lot of options, and the game can get pretty boring fast. There is no right answer for this question. You simply need to understand that you are making a decision to include, or exclude, certain aspects of war. For instance; in my games weapons have range limitations, but there is no penalty for shooting a target at the far edge of your range, nor is there an advantage for shooting at point blank range. I made this decision to keep the game moving at a brisk pace, but I acknowledge this is not how real weapons work.
3. CREATE YOUR TURN SEQUENCE
I’ve never encountered a miniatures game that didn’t rely on “the turn” as a core concept of it’s rules. The turn is a sequence of events that happen on the game table over and over again until somebody wins. In chess it’s as simple as “you move then I move,” but miniatures war-games tend to be a bit more involved. Your turn sequence must answer certain basic questions for your players such as: Who moves first? Who attacks first? When are the dead removed from play? Do my forces run away if they get clobbered, and if so when? It’s important to have this established at the start of the game so players know how to conduct themselves and what to expect in the course of play.
4. RULES FOR INITIATIVE
Okay, so who dose go first? Do players decide this by rolling dice, drawing a card or flipping a coin? Perhaps in your game’s story, the Imperial Space Troopers are so elite that they will always go first against the pitiful rebel bands. Which helps, because the rebels always outnumber the troopers by six to one (sound like something you draw from your game’s story concept? Darn right).
5. RULES FOR MOVEMENT
Naturally, your movement rules spring off your initiative rules. Who moves first matters when trying to reach a critical objective in battle. The question then becomes, “how far can my troops move?” This is often expressed in inches per turn; walking = 6″, running = 8′ or whatever. Of course a man on horseback will be able to move farther in a turn than a man on foot, and a tank may move faster still. Once you’ve got that all figured out, you may want to consider movement penalties for things such as running through bushes or crossing a river. You can do this through a simple table showing the standard movement rates of different models and their penalties. Conversely, you could add a bit of randomness by allowing for a lot of dice rolls. If troops move a number of inches determined by a roll on a six sided dice players will have to constantly adapt to a very chaotic battlefield.
6. RULES FOR INFLICTING CASUALTIES
So, since we are simulating a war, you’ll need to figure out how your going to kill people. What’s the range of a rifle and what dice roll do I need to hit an opponent? And if I do hit, is my opponent automatically dead, or can he roll a given number on some dice and end up wounded? For a small scale, skirmish game (with only a few troops per side) you may want to have wounded soldiers stay in the fight. However, if your trying to simulate a massive battle of thousands, a single roll to hit might remove hundreds of dead troops form the battlefield. I’ve played a lot of games where each player has to roll for every attack several times in a turn. But I’ve also played a few where all the weapons of a side are added together into one roll to determine how many casualties are inflicted on an enemy.
7. RULES FOR MORALE
Morale refers to your troops ability to stay in a fight. Most games have a rule such as; “When 50% of your troops become casualties the survivors must make one full distance run away from the enemy.” Sometimes, a game states that troops have to roll dice after each causality to see if the group runs away. Conversely, the rules may state that troops have to roll a certain number before they can return to the fight. You can, of course, ignore moral all together and just let both clans of samurai fight to the death. What the hell it’s your game.
Well, that’s about it. Once you’ve written your rules the next step is to play-test ‘em. Get some friends together and invite them play each other while you watch. This will give you an objective perspective of what works and what doesn’t. Perhaps you forgot to add a rule for troops taking cover behind a stone wall and your friends run into just that situation in the first game. Don’t fret, just make up a rule on the spot and see if it works. If it dose, add it to your game. No game system relay works out until it’s been play-tested a couple of times. But once it’s done you’ll have a game of your own creation, a point of pride and a source of fun for evening after evening’s enjoyment.
Go for it.