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How I write Skirmish games: Bloat, Creep and Grognard Capture


That’s an appealing collection of words for a title, right? For those unaware, those unpleasant sounding terms are all things that can happen to game systems over time, I’ll take a second to explain what they mean, or at least what I mean by them. Bloat is when more and more content is added to a game with additional releases, usually additional forces, over time. The result tends to end up being either forces that are significantly generic because the necessity for new units being able to do something new in a limited design space results in every side being able to do everything, or systems with so much content that keeping up feels like a full time job, and not a very pleasant one. Creep is the tendency of some systems to introduce more and more powerful troops as time goes on, either to keep pushing the excitement envelope or to sell more books and models, ending up with entire forces that are practically useless and a badly unbalanced system. Grognard Capture is a process that takes place when a system comes to a second edition and turns to its loyal fans to ask what it should include. When people start playing a game some people are bad at it, and find themselves consistently thrashed in when playing it, they stop playing, and the people who previously lost most of their games now lose all of them, and stop playing, and so on until a relatively elite group of ‘Grognards’ remain. It’s often around that time that the game’s creators come to their active fans and ask what to put into the second edition, and are told in no uncertain terms and end up with a game that totally fails to appeal to anyone other than those loyal fans who then demand in all future editions a game that will only ever appeal to them, locking both creator and fan into a mutually dependent cycle that’s increasingly unsuccessful and uninteresting to everyone else.


Clearly these are questions that only really come up if you’re producing second editions, or at least extra content for your game, so they are questions that mean you’re in a privileged position. However, they remain interesting I think, and they’re questions that we’ve been working out some ideas in relation to the second edition of Gaslands and the ongoing content of Time Extended, so I thought I’d go into a little (at least my position) on these questions in relation to Gaslands and design generally.


Little Gassy