July 18, 2024

Design x Dragoons: The One Important Thing™

Each week, our #DesignXDragoons panel will offer their thoughts on a talk about game design, game development, or gameplay.
You’ll see what they have to say, and get a chance to chime in yourself, either in the comments below, or in our forums

This week’s question:
Is there One Important Thing a wargame designer must do when designing a game?  No “it depends” or “top 10 lists”….just one absolute axion of game design?

Caitlyn Leong ~  President, GUWS

Every wargame designer has to think about the balance between interesting mechanics and playability. It is too easy to let a game design run away from you and get stacked with mechanics that are individually really cool and engaging but combined together make the game tedious and difficult to play (think Campaign for North Africa). Ultimately, the game will be played by actual humans who did not write the rulebook and may not understand what your justification is for including a myriad of overlapping mechanics and points trackers, so I think a wargame designer really has to think about what the player experience will be for someone who does not have insider knowledge of the game design.


Anthony Gallela ~  Game Designer / Convention Founder

Same thing for all games: focus on the fun. What is it — at the core — about the history, the story, the mechanics, the conflict, etc. that really drives a player to be excuited about playing the game? Focus on that and remove anything that interferes with it.


David Enteness ~  Designer/Owner, The Wargaming Company

Internal design consistency driven by a specific design focal point that you adhere to. You can sum that up with some bullet points if you want: Internal consistency. Mission focus. Self-discipline.


Devin Heinle ~  The OG / Game Designer, LNLP

Honestly? Has to be fun and playable. No one actually plays Campaign for North Africa because its not a playable game. Yes I’m being hyperbolic (people play it) but they play the smaller scenarios. If it’s not fun and playable-then no one will play it, so it doesn’t matter how good your system may be


Dr. Mike Benninghof, PhD ~  Founder/Owner & Designer, Avalanche Press

Tell a compelling story.


COL Eric Walters, USMC (R) ~  DoD Wargaming Practitioner

I can’t speak for anyone other than myself, but the game has to be engaging/immersive at some level.  What that level is may vary from game to game, situation to situation. For some titles and with some opponents, it’s going to be a competitive contest of wits (my most recent experiences with that aspect are with the Battles of American Revolution series by Mick Miklos and Don Hanle for GMT).  The nail-biting uncertainties and decisions in that series—particularly trying to mitigate the impact of two moves in a row due to the initiative system, determining when to expend or hold a momentum chit, what cards to play in tactical battles—all make for an engrossing experience.

I’ve long been an Advanced Squad Leader fan and a Squad Leader player even before that; despite the oodles of color and detail, it’s still a Hollywood movie-style narrative when playing and I can’t help but relate to my cardboard leaders and heroes when I play, cheering them on when they overcome improbable odds and becoming crestfallen when they become victims of supremely bad luck.  But I also enjoy coming to intellectual grips with wargame modeling of the clash of technology and tactics, whether it was Hal Hock’s old Tobruk game (AH, 1974), J.D. Webster’s Fighting Wings series, or the Larry Bond/Chris Carlson Admiralty Trilogy naval miniatures rules (Clash of Arms Games). They bring out the inner nerd who swims in the fine technical details of the machines portrayed and their violent interaction

The bottom line is that the game has to draw you in.  Deeply.  There are many ways to do it, but it simply has to be there.


Jeff Horger ~  Game Designer / Owner, Laboratory H

Every game depending on the era, should make the player feel like they have the same choices and options that their counterparts have. A player should never feel like they are playing a game in one era with the same restrictions felt in previous eras. Many generic games feel that way to me and I shy away from them. I may want flexibility, but I also want it to feel like I’m at least in that time frame.


Jim Webaneth ~  Game Designer / Publisher, Line of Departure

In a word, playability. Whether the game is simple or complex, big or little, if it puts too much of a burden on the players, then it’s not going to work.  Even a sophisticated rules system can be written to make sense, and not drown the player in tons of exceptions, and the most simple can be turned into a frustrating mess the same way.  Of course too, keep the need for errata to a minimum.


Peter Bogdasarian ~  Game Designer

The simplest axiom is to make a game worth playing by respecting the investment of time on the part of the player(s). We’ve all seen games that were designed simply to fill space in a publication or because the company needed a release for a summer convention deadline. They come out, they get solo’d by that one guy who plays everything, and within a release cycle are confined to the dustbin of history.


Steve Overton ~  Game & Scenario Designer

The designer must match the time and distance to each other.


Brian Train ~  Game Designer / Game Theorist

Be Prepared To Show Your Work.


Byron Collins ~  Fonder/Owner & Designer, Collins Epic Wargames



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We can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, and once the plague subsides, perhaps at a convention near you.

Brant G

Editor-in-chief at Armchair Dragoons

View all posts by Brant G →

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