In my brief time with riding through the wild west gathering flowers, killing outlaws, and playing poker I glimpsed behind the game design curtain. Some of the valuable tenets, which make Read Dead Redemption a success translate to the table top.
Any good game should have a great story that seduces the gamer to pick the game over anything else. The background to the game needs to draw you to it like that proverbial moth to the flame. You need to crave it like a box of Swiss chocolate, a cup of Earl Grey tea, and a plate of homemade lasagna. Maybe I’ve been hanging out with fictional characters too much. But, you get the picture. The game’s world has to sustain your interest through the many weeks of assembling, researching, and painting the multitude of models necessary to war game.
Any good game should have an open-ness that allows the player to dream virtually anything and then try that in the game. Do you want to your sniper squad to climb trees when covering approaches to your village? What about fording the stream because your nose tells you the bridge is a trap? Or, how about changing formation to meet an unexpected unit? The game not only needs to allow in game activities not covered in the rules. It also must allow players to alter the rules to fit their needs.
Any good game needs a horse. Not a literal horse, although that doesn’t hurt, but it needs to provide transportation for your units. If they have to walk across the battlefield, then the blisters on their feet and lack of oxygen in their lungs will surely become problematic. Why walk to the fight when you can ride? Planes, trains, and automobiles not only get you to the fight but then do some of the fighting. It is all well and good to stand in that chariot and it is something else entirely to equip it with scythed blades. In addition to in game benefits The quicker that your units get into battle, the more fun you’re likely to have, and the quicker the game will end thereby allowing you a rematch!
Any good game needs a woman (or a man, as the case may be). Your troops need a purpose. They must have something for which to fight. Are they ridding the galaxy of xenos scum? Maybe they’re subduing rebel colonists or annexing land for the Imperator. Toy soldiers don’t fight because they love to fight, unless their Space Orks, but for some higher reason. Does the game provide that driving force or, at least, allow you to inject the motivation?
I never expected that a non-wargame would have so much to say about wargaming. It just goes to show that inspiration can be found in the strangest places. When a good idea presents itself you have to lasso it and hang on for the ride. If you’re lucky you’ll break the beast and leave your mark branded on its flank.