Shut Up And Read Understand The Damn Rules

Sometimes, as people who enjoy games, one of our first reactions is to go “Hey! That rule doesn’t sit well with me. Let’s remove or change it!” In many cases, this will be a considered opinion based on actual play and a thorough understanding of the interplay of different components. In many other cases, it will be a kneejerk reaction based on no play at all and a complete failure to understand how different rules elements interlock.

It’s especially irritating when people demand (I use the word advisedly) rule changes based on not having played the game. What? Mechaton/Mobile Frame Zero has been around for a long time. The rules have been rigorously tested, gone through thousands of hours of play in the hands of a wide spectrum of different people. I’m going to take a wild stab in the dark here and suggest that your reaction on skim reading the rules is probably so cockeyed as to be looking in two different directions at once. I should make clear at this point that I’m not talking about the back and forth feedback on the draft rules to clarify certain points. That’s all good. But I just know someone will have a failure of reading comprehension, take umbridge, and think that’s what I’m talking about.

There’s an interesting conjunction here. If you’re into MFZ, it’s pretty likely that you’re also into LEGO (that’s just a wild stab in the dark there.) That means you like messing with bricks, fiddling with designs, modifying stuff to suit your needs. It’s also pretty likely that – in addition to liking LEGO – you also like games. I know from personal experience that the desire to fiddle with components is a prominent attribute of the games community(ies.) Bring the two together and you have the almost guaranteed chance that someone, somewhere will want to make radical changes.

However, it’s often useful not just to look at the rules as they sit on the surface, but look at the connections that lie beneath the skin. Even more importantly, think about the thought processes, decisions, and goals that led to this rule working like this in conjunction with these other rules.

Dice are a classic example. I’ve seen many calls for bigger dice, larger numbers of dice, and so forth. But why do you want to roll a D8 or D10 for damage? Just because you think the Hypermega shockwave assaultcannon busterrifle should do something like that? But take a moment to think about how such a change impacts the entire game. A D6 will let you do damage a third of the time. A D8 will let you do damage half of the time. A D10 will let you do damage three fifths of the time. That is a huge step change in the capabilities of attack versus defence and ripples through every decision that’s made in the game.*

Essentially this is a plea for a little more understanding. More understanding of the rules, how they work together, why they work together, what the goals of the game are. This is not Warhammer 40K or Warmachine with zillions of little rules, add-ons, piece-specific mechanics and all that nonsense. That kind of stuff is exactly the reason I despise those games.** MFZ rewards creativity and tactical intelligence, not simply rules mastery and passive-aggressive “Hah! Gotcha with my unexpected combo of obscure rules from Book A3, Pamphlet X9, and something the designer wrote on a napkin when I verbally harassed him at WankCon XII! You lose!”

Simplicity and elegance do not equal a lack of complexity and depth.

*And please, I do not want to have a discussion about dice probabilities.

**Before you start, I played Warhammer Fantasy Battle when it was in first edition, and Warhammer 40K when it was Rogue Trader. I’ve seen those games become deluged under a weight of bullshit that makes them utterly, utterly boring. I no longer have any interest in that stuff. 


2 thoughts on “Shut Up And Read Understand The Damn Rules

  1. Mantisking

    I ran across a message board post recently while looking for new MFZ sources. You know the type, 10 to 20 posts talking about the game and that’s all there is. Someone was prattling on about what he’d change about the rules and he hadn’t even played yet.

  2. Matthew

    I dunno man. I’ve played Warhammer 40k since the 3rd Edition and I think the 5th and 6th editions of the rules made vast improvements to the game. Of course I’ve never played Rogue Trader so maybe back then it was a spry young sexy beast of a game.

    Rules lawyers are always gonna be a problem with systems that are not 100% water tight. (And I don’t know if it’s possible to make a system like that.) I’ve noticed MFZ tries to mitigate this by explicitly stating in the rules that if an action is in doubt you should just let your opponent take it.


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