Tuesday, July 17, 2012

More on Digital

There was another wargaming development over the weekend.

In the beginning there was Wargames Research Group (WRG). WRG controlled historical wargaming particularly Ancient and Medieval. From the mid-60s to the early 90s there were seven editions of their Ancient rules and 95%+ of all wargamers playing Ancients used them. In the early 90s they shelved the rules and produced DBM. Some people kept playing the original rules (rebranded “Warrior” in the USA) but again a total of less than 5%.

DBM were great rules. Horribly presented, walls of text, few diagrams but the most subtle set of rules that you can imagine. These were the set through two editions until 2008. I played Ancients using these rules from 1998-2002 and along with WHFB 8th and 40k 4th they are my favourite rules. However in the modern world presentation is paramount and the DBM set were a total turn-off. The original author, Phil Barker, refused to lift his production values out of the 60s and so a schism was born.

Phil had written a new set, DBMM which as a rulebook had all the visual appeal of an accounting textbook. His co-author Richard Bodley-Scott joined with others and Osprey and produced Field of Glory. These rules were full colour, included illustrations and written in plain English – in look they were very similar to Battlefront’s FOW offering.

And the Ancient world schismed. You now had DBMM, DBM, FOG, Warrior, plus other sets such as Amarti and Impetus. By my reckoning no set could command a majority of players and so the great advantage of Ancients – a single worldwide ruleset – was gone.

Fast forward four years and FOG v2 is on the verge of release. On Friday the authors, Slitherine drop a bombshell – the rules will only be offered in digital format (via iPad, Mac,PC) with no capacity for physical printout.

Now you have to remember for most Ancient wargamers that tablets are something Moses brought down from Mt. Sinai or that their GP prescribes for incontinence not some whiz-bang handheld computer thingie. Most would struggle using their mobile phone (I expect take up of this fad is less than 20% btw). So you get some idea of the magnitude of the fear and loathing that greeted this announcement.

Apparently this production/distribution models is the only means by which the ruleswriters can make money. The first edition with 12-14 list books has sold but not well enough to not leave rooms full of physical books. This stockpile is sufficient that updated re-writes of the rules/lists are likely to occur. So the only way forward is as a digital product – electronic rules and lists – downloadable from App store with regular electronic updates as necessary for errata and FAQs.

The Slitherine forums are awash with both angst and bile – some see it as the future others as the end times. It is interesting watching cultures clash. For mine, I think that the delivery model has to make sense to the originators – or they won’t originate. However it must also make sense to the target market and here there is a major disconnect. There will always be a transition from one technology to another. GW have the benefit of economies of scale on their side which allows dual delivery. However that luxury is not always available to niche players.

If there was still a single set of Ancient Rules the market might be able to bear dual delivery or be large enough to withstand the fallout. Here we are seeing the payback for schism that occurred in Ancients over the past decade.


  1. I had a good giggle at all the fallout from this announcement by slitherine too.Haven't heard much from the old boys at my club yet about it,but i'm sure i will

  2. For the ones who want a physical copy, what is stoping them downloading and then printing out one? Even further to this, could they not even take the digital copy to a printer and get it printed/bound professionally? Under NZ law atleast, it is perfectly legal to make a single copy for your own personal use, as long as they purchased the digital copy origional/was made free for download by the publisher.

    Its one of the reasons why GW has made the Digital codexes different to the physical ones.

    1. What if some people do not own computers or any digital devices that are capable of holding the file? When it comes to wargaming and their rulebooks, they should always be in some sort of book form, for convenience value and they do look nicer.

      But out of the all the Ancient rule systems I do think DBMM is quite a good one, very easy to play, but like you said before Pete, they are very badly written and some people like me do suffer from cases of eye bleed while reading the rules.

    2. @Jossy - Understand that to do that you would have to take a screenshot of each page which is pretty tedious.

      @Simon - You've been listening to Vince too much.

      The problem with FOG - IMO - is that it is a pretty boring set of rules, in that it does reward negative play. However that charge could have been levelled at DBM as well. In both it is possible to build armies that it is difficult to lose big with unless you are a muppett.

    3. Probably, but after looking at a lot of the rules in the ancients period, DBMM does it good.

      But Vince is all knowing, he even said it himself!

  3. if it's like the original FOG you can probably get by pretty well with just the summary sheets anyway.
    The main book would be for reading at home, you wouldn't necessarily have to bring a tablet or laptop to the club with you.
    The rules summaries would be available for download online (either officially or unofficially).

    The main problem with FoG is that it really isn't that much fun. There is a lot of minutiae, and the rules seem to reward a points denial style of play.