I started indie rule writing a few years ago in 2015, when I started to build up my 54mm 1815 collection. I found that there were no rules available for the big battle format in that scale. My wife, said, well why not write your own? That was that. I grew up as a teenager in the world of Donald Featherstone, Charles Grant, Airfix guides and WRG 5th Edition. In those days you need to know a bit about your period and did a lot of your own research. Remember those things called library’s?
There are plenty of commercially well produced rules aimed at casual and match play. I enjoy playing those types of rules, but also, I enjoy the style of game from yester-a-year, your Featherstone and Grant games with imbalanced forces etc. I specifically aim my rules at casual play and do not “spoon feed” my audience all the knowledge needed for a period. I like my audience, to re-discover the enjoyment and thrill of researching your army and period.
So, where do I start after I have decided on a period for a set of rules? Firstly, I look at what size of battle do I want to game or even decide if the rules will have a unit scale at all. Secondly, I think about what are going to the specifics I want to represent and what I am going to abstract. Do I want to focus on weapon A vs weapon B? Do I want to make it a ruleset about the move to contact?
Once those are decided we can get down to the nitty gritty. Unit foot prints on the table, movement, and range units of measurements? (centimetres, inches, or base widths). How quickly do you want a game to finish in time wise or by several set moves? A key thing that is stable in all my moves is a system of unit alternative actions. I think it is important to keep both players engaged over a whole turn. Also, in all my rules “you cannot do everything you want with all your units when you want to”. You will have made several calls/decisions in the flow of a turn. I call this Game Stress. This style of game does not appeal to everyone and that is fine, but it does generate some entertaining moments in the game.
The next stage I go through is putting down a first draft, from end to finish. Leave it for about a week and then revisit doing a read through to check things like the written word explains what I think I have said. I then look through the text trying to find ways a rule could be “cheesed” and correct. Once I am happy with all of that I then check factors in different scenarios to look for unexpected outcomes. By this time, I am usually on few versions later and at that point play testing begins. I am lucky to have a few friends of different gaming styles to play with.
The final stage is graphics, look and feel and publish. This is something as a rule writer you must be prepared for negative feedback. What you create will not be liked by everyone. Simply absorb, assess, adjust if required, move on. But always listen to your audience, some of what they say will be valid.
Rule writing is fun and rewarding and if anyone is thinking of having a go, do. The quiet reward for me will be one day to go a show or a competition to see a demo game in progress and my rules being played.
Note: The images in the post are from the play testing of Nigel's latest game "Oak Warriors" which can be found on the store. A video of the AAR can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NfFU0T1pNh8 - Andrew