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3 April 2010

 Products The Guns of Gettysburg Design Diary A Clearly Held Position

A Clearly Held Position

A New Rules Revision

I am currently in a rules proofing cycle, and enclosed is the latest iteration.

Gettysburg Rules

Click on the image above to open in its own window

Movement and Facing

The most interesting set of revisions this go-round were about movement and facing. I had done something with this last revision, but on reflection and reading people’s comments and questions, I thought I should do more.

Now, movement in The Guns of Gettysburg is different even from my previous games, and is quite different from standard wargames. Traditional wargames are of course hex-based, and a counter in play occupies a particular hexagon. Pre-20th century linear wargames also typically have an idea of facing: that within the hex, the piece has a front and rear, and sometimes flanks as well, depending on whether the game faces counters towards a hexside or towards a vertex. Both of my Napoleonic games had a kind-of facing, but it was based on the sides of polygon-shaped areas: pieces occupied areas, but could be in the center (where they had no facing) or on a side, where they did having facing, the facing being towards the opposite area. Even if what I just said seems a little murky when you read it, you can see it easily below:

Old Facing

Now, because of this the reader instinctively wants to interpret The Guns of Gettysburg in the same way, but the game doesn’t work that way: in GoG, blocks don’t occupy areas at all — not in any sense — they occupy positions (the lines between the areas). Here is the difference:

New Facing

Now the rules state this, and I think clearly enough in a purely technical sense. The problem is that when conceptualizing how the game works, people tend to slip into well-worn grooves of thinking that implicitly assume that no matter what the rules say, the two pieces in the top-left example don’t REALLY occupy the same position; that they REALLY occupy different positions. This confusion makes the game seem more complicated than it is: because force of habit, the reader is conceptualizing the game differently than the way it really works, and that makes rules that are actually pretty straightforward seem confusing.

Let's take a look at movement. Now, movement is counted in steps, and to cross an area costs one step. If there is an obstructed terrain symbol inside the area being crossed, either in the position the block is leaving or the block is entering (or both), then a +1 penalty applies. That's it. Let's look at two simple examples:

Simple Movement

There are two interesting effects of the movement rules: one of which is that movement costs between two positions are the same, regardless of the direction of the movement between them. The other is that the facing of blocks makes no difference at all. The system is really quite simple.

Simple, however, is oddly enough not always easy to learn. A problem that can come up is when people expect to find complexity that isn’t there. And that's the problem with movement in The Guns of Gettysburg. I got quite a few questions from people confused about how facing affects calculating movement costs. Now, the game has no rules explaining how facing affects movement costs because facing doesn't affect movement costs. Let's look at the following examples of moves that, in traditional wargames would be calculated differently because of facing and direction, but which in this game are actually all exactly the same:

Complex Movement

The problem here is that merely explaining what the rules are is insufficient: the reader’s expectations need to be directly challenged so that he can get past them and see the game as it is. The V50 revisions I made last go-round didn’t do this strongly enough, and so I made more extensive revisions with that in mind.

The first order of business was to move the paragraph covering how blocks change facing from the Field of Fire section to the Movement section. Now, the reason it was where it was in the first place is because facing has a really strong relationship with fields of fire, but only a weak relationship with movement. It was also not in movement because, technically, changing facing wasn’t movement: if a block changed facing in a position, it was still in the same position and so technically hadn’t moved. That, however, mattered not in the least. Even if changing facing wasn’t technically movement, people expected to find the rules for it in the movement section, and given this only the most compelling reason could justify not putting it there. (A rule does no good if the players can’t find it.) There was no compelling reason, and so the paragraph on changing facing was moved to the Movement section.

The next, and more pressing order of business was to explain the non-existent relationship between facing and movement costs. Essentially, the problem was to explain a negative. After many false starts, I revised the wording and more importantly changed the example. The old example included one illustration of movement where all the moves were forward. The new example showed two illustrations of movement, each with a mix of forward and backward moves, with each having the facing the opposite of the other. The new example is shown below:

New Movement Example

Hopefully the various measures I’ve taken will resolve the problem. It is a pretty important issue and one that players really need to be clear on if they are to play the game correctly.

Persons and Voice

Moving on, I thought I would discuss a general problem of rules writing, one in fact common to pretty much all writing: the question of person and voice. The grammatical person is a fundamental concept of linguistics. We all learned it in school, of course: first person ("I wrote this sentence"), second person ("You wrote this sentence"), and third person ("He wrote this sentence.") In rules, as with other writings, you want to have some consistency in this area. Now, as an example, if we were to write the more or less standard wargame prohibition against moving a piece more than once in a turn, we can do it in different ways:

Second Person:
Third Person:
“You may not move a piece more than once in a single turn.”
“A player may not move a piece more than once in a single turn.”

When rules are written in third person, the rules describe the player, but they don’t address the player: essentially they treat the reader and player as if they were different people. Wargame rules have a long tradition of being written in the third person, although rules written in the second person are not unknown. We can see two advantages in the second person: first, it is shorter, and second it is a clearer acknowledgment of the basic truth that the person who plays the game and the person who reads the rules are almost always the same person.

What both of the above have in common is their explicit acknowledgement of the player in the play of the game. However, there are ways of writing the above rule that do not. One is the well-know passive voice, and the other is a voice I call the fictive voice:

Passive:
Fictive:
“A piece may not be moved more than once in a single turn.”
“A piece may not move more than once in a single turn.”

The passive voice, long hated by English stylists everywhere, acknowledges the player only indirectly, as a rather ghostly presence in the rule, known only through his effects: pieces being moved about by an invisible poltergeist. What I call the fictive is when the rule is written as if the game was animate, and played itself, where the player is not acknowledged at all. If the passive voice sees the pieces being moved by a ghost, the fictive sees the piece moving under its own power, without even a ghost, much less a human being, required. What the fictive has going for it that the passive does not, is that it is short and direct, while the passive is longer and rather loopy, even if the passive is a more accurate description of what is actually going on in the game.

Now I try to aim towards concision in rules writing, so I decided to adopt a mix mostly of second person and fictive for the rules, although if you check the text, you will find some third person and no doubt even some passive in there somewhere. I use the third person mostly in cases where I’m describing the interaction between the two players, which is ambiguous in the second person. I can’t say where I’ve used the passive voice, but I’m sure it’s in there somewhere. The thing I always try to do, is to remember that the rules text exists to communicate the rules to the reader, and ultimately the best form for any rule is the one that does that job the best, even if some stylistic inconsistency is the result.