Saturday, 1 October 2011
The Roundwood Report: TooFatLardies and "I Ain't Been Shot Mum"
There can be few sets of rules that survive nearly ten years at the top, but I Ain’t Been Shot Mum seems to be a hardy perrenial. A recent poll on TMP rated the old black and white edition as the ruleset that gamer like the most (see this TMP Poll for more details). So, if you’ve got it right, why change it?
As readers of this Blog will know, I’m a huge fan of TooFatLardies rules. Both Richard Clarke and Nick Skinner (THE two fat lardies) are great mates of mine and are both members of my local wargames club in St Albans, England. However, before I shell out the cash for any set of rules, I want to think about them critically, and see if they match up with what I’m looking for.
With that in mind, today the Roundwood Report looks at the movers behind the changes and asks the questions that gamers want the answers to. As always, the Roundwood Report asks the tough questions and pulls no punches. Join me, Sidney Roundwood, as I talk to Nick Skinner and Richard Clarke, the two TooFatLardies.
Sidney: So, the new edition of I Ain’t Been Shot Mum is at the printers and there is a palpable air of anticipation around their arrival. I’d like to ask you what’s new but first how about you tell us a few basics for anyone who isn’t familiar with the rules. What size game is this aimed at?
Nick: The rules are designed for company level games. What we mean by that is where the player is commanding a force roughly company size, but in fairness that can easily creep up to a couple of companies when you add in support weapons as well.
Rich: Yes, what Nick said basically. Traditionally IABSM was infantry-centric, with the player taking control of a company of infantry with some attached support. So you might have a couple of troops of tanks, platoons of tanks if you’re in the US, or maybe a mortar platoon or machine gun platoon. That type of size. These additional units tended to be bolted onto the infantry company. With the new edition you can actually flip that round and have the tank squadron (or Company) as your basic command and bolt on a few platoon of infantry.
Sidney: Right, so going head to head with, what shall we call them, “the market leader”. Are you trying to steal a slice of their pie?
Rich: Highly amusing Sid. I don’t think we’re attempting to steal anything, it’s not an area of the hobby we’re just moving into, IABSM has been around for nearly ten years and has always been aimed at that size of game.
Nick: I think it’s true to say that we are probably aimed at a different target audience. No sane person is ever going to set up an IABSM tournament, we are very much focussed on scenario driven gaming rather than points based armies. There is nothing wrong with points based game, it’s just that we see more enjoyment to be had by taking a more historical view of things.
Sidney: Okay, so what would be a typical game. Give us an idea of forces involved and how you’d put that together to make it “historical”.
Rich: Well, typical is a big ask as the permutations are almost infinite, but let’s take the game we played last week. A Company of British infantry with two troops of Shermans attacking a Company of German defenders with one AT gun and a pile of panzerfausts in close Normandy terrain that favoured the defenders. That’s a classic example of why points systems don’t do it for me, how many points is a hedge?! How many points is a network of small fields or a stone farmhouse well build and designed to be a haven against mediaeval brigands, but that is now an ideal strongpoint? I can’t see it being possible to really balance that out with any prescriptive point system, so we don’t even bother to try.
Nick: True. I am firmly convinced that we all know what kind of balance is needed to make a game fun for both sides and, if we want to use the word, “fair”. History doesn’t use points. Throughout history one of the prime aims of the military commander has been to concentrate his forces in such a way so as to achieve local superiority. This normally means that one side does have an advantage – and not by chance. War isn’t fair.
Rich: Indeed. In this case the terrain clearly favours the defenders, so we need to beef up the British. Put two supposedly equal forces in real Normandy terrain and you’ll only get one winner, that’s the defender. That isn’t “fair”. What I will say is that whilst we have no point system the rules do include a scenario generation system for those evenings when you haven’t had time to prepare a scenario. Five minutes is all it takes to roll a few dice and get a unique tabletop that varies every time and a scenario that allows you to choose your force, add some support units of your choice and then get fighting. Personally I reckon that’s a better option than points, but that’s just my spin on it. If people like points and tournaments then that’s great; different strokes for different folks.
Nick: We have also added a section that I have never seen done before in a set of rules, and that’s a guide to how we put together historical scenarios. It’s a few pages giving a basic guide on how we make this work, and for people who want to refight historical battles. That is what I really enjoy about gaming, the chance to explore and better understand historical actions by gaming them. That’s where we feel IABSM really stands out.
Rich: One hundred percent agree. I know a lot of people can be daunted by this, but the return on time invested in this type of game is tremendous. It’s where IABSM really excels. Time and again we have seen games where what occurs on the tabletop mirrors so closely the real events, and that’s normally with players who have never read anything about the action.
Sidney: Right, so we have a company plus sized game with an emphasis on scenarios. What scale and range of figures are the rules written for?
Nick: Any scale, any range. This is about aesthetics; you can choose whatever range and whatever size figures you’re happy with. On Lard Island we have traditionally played with 15mm scale toys ...
Rich: Much of the early play-testing was done with 10mm.
Nick: …but some chaps play it with 6mm very effectively. The rules are based on a ground scale of 12” on the table is about 80 yards, so 6mm is pretty close to true scale. I seem to recall that our original plan was to make them ideal for 15mm and 20mm figures, and wargamers being wargamers they have deviated from that slightly. To my mind I am not convinced that 28mm is the right size for a company sized game, but if you’ve got the room and for a huge table and you are happy with the visual effect then why not?
Sidney: So we’ve seen IABSM being played for the past ten years by a dedicated and wide spread audience. Why change it?
Nick: Because we wanted to introduce some of the new ideas and mechanisms that we felt took the rules on to the next level. I think our writing style has changed in the intervening years. We were rather more free and loose in our style of both writing and gaming then. The big quote about IABSM in its original format was that it was only 80% complete. Now we would disagree with that, in reality that “missing” 20% was about leaving room for the gamer to make his own judgements. We were very much inspired by the free-thinking behind the 19th century approach to kriegsspiel, and wanted to replicate that in the rules. For some people it worked brilliantly, for others it left a gap that they didn’t feel comfortable filling. Well, now we have filled that gap.
Rich: That’s very true. We have undoubtedly recognised the fact that gamers can create their own “wriggle room” within any set of rules to add their own interpretation of history to a game. We have been rather more careful to explain our interpretation of mechanisms and systems. One of the advantages of producing the rules in full colour is that we’ve been able to add plenty of illustrations and diagrams to explain mechanisms. On top of that we have vastly more examples where we walk through the rules at each step. This is much more a pick-up-and-play set of rules than anything we have ever produced before.
If you look at how well our Vietnam rules Charlie Don’t Surf were received, and then consider we have taken a huge leap forward from that in terms of readability then you’ll get an idea of how clear these rules are.
Nick: I should add that on the design side we’ve been lucky enough over the past ten years to research the experience of combat decision making with men who have first hand experience of combat. Their experiences influenced our thinking and we are really pleased that TooFatLardies rules are very popular with combat veterans – there’s something about our rules that accurately represent the lived experience of combat and battlefield friction.
Sidney: I suppose the big questions must be whether you feel you have avoided those classic pit-falls of new editions of rules. How many times have we seen gamers moan about new editions just being re-runs of the old rules with pretty pictures or, on the other hand, complete re-writes that fix things that weren’t broken. Which one have you stumbled into?
Rich: I am bound to say “neither”, aren’t I! This is certainly not a tart-up job, with a bit of metaphorical mascara applied to an ageing visage. There are aspects of the rules where we have completely rebuilt them. Command, control and communications is much better now than the original. The Big Men are still there, but their roles are more clearly differentiated. A Captain or Major commanding a company is now doing just that, he isn’t just a better version of a Corporal. The Lieutenant needs to consider his platoon as a whole. The rating system has changed so that he can spend a number of Command Initiatives in each turn. This makes good Big Men much more effective and able to reduce friction more than in the original rules.
Nick: Yes, and they have to consider where they are located much more than before, they can’t just rely on the Rally card to get their men motivated, they need to display a bit of leadership as we have shifted that mechanism to really put more emphasis on the commanders. This is a really good addition. Commanders tend to now have more initiative, but they also have more decisions to make in “spending” that. It makes for much more dynamic game play. The new tank and AFV command rules, combined with tank Shock really enhance that aspect of the game as well. I feel it has made it into a truly combined-arms game and more historically representative as a result.
Sidney: Any other changes?
Nick: Yes, summed up neatly in “effect not cause”.
Rich: Wise words mate. There are a few bits in the original rules that focussed too much on the cause rather than just considering the effect. The artillery rules were based on the correct procedure for calling in artillery fire, but there was no doubt about it, they were a bit clunky. The new ones are much more streamlined and as a result are easier to play through and get the correct result without micro-managing the process.
Nick: That’s also true with the AFV damage effects. You can really break that down into three distinct possibilities. It should either affect the gunnery or the movement capability of the AFV or the morale of the crew inside it. You really don’t need to know exactly what the specific damage, is, it’s a bit like when you’re driving a car and the engine goes wrong. You might hazard a guess that it’s the fan belt or the fuel pump, but ultimately what you really have to deal with is the effect this is having on your ability to drive the vehicle. That’s very much the approach we’ve taken here. It simplifies the process, it removes all those sub-tests like “does your engine catch fire, roll a D6” and replaces them with restricting movement and a possibility of breaking down. The same with gunnery. Your gun is either firing properly, or with reduced effectiveness or not firing at all. As the player you have to make decisions based on the limited information you have. Let the bloke in the workshop worry about just what damage has been done.
Rich: Absolutely. The set of tokens we are producing to go with the rules will allow you to track that easily on a traffic-light code system. If you have a red spanner next to your tank then it’s immobile. If you have a green spanner then it can still go but its movement is reduced by 1” per dice rolled. That can be cumulative, so you could end up with multiple green spanners and then you are likely to break down completely. The “red for stop, green for go” system is entirely intuitive and works brilliantly. The tokens are suitably discrete because you don’t need any text on them so they can be quite small, but they tell you all you need to know without checking charts and tables. The same with the gunsight marker for gunnery. Looks the part but is really simple. Just like you Sid.
Sidney: Hmm. Thanks. So, what about the change for changes sake trap?
Rich: Certainly not that. There is much in the rules that simply wasn’t broken, so it hasn’t been changed. The Fire Table is in there not altered at all ...
Nick: Didn’t you say you changed one number on the whole table?
Rich: I really can’t recall. I may have done, but if I did it’s still 99% there. Movement is the same, and the card system is entirely intact, albeit with one or two very minor tweaks, such as the Rally card being linked to any Big Men with a unit, or indeed not with a unit. We have, of course, added a printed card deck to the range. In fact we’ve already got them in from the printers.
Nick: We’ve gone for a double deck of 104 cards so that you can field a couple of companies a side plus a load of support as well without running out of cards. We thought it best to go large on this and hopefully that means you’ll have enough for any game you’re likely to play. We’re not interested in producing endless bits and pieces to try to squeeze another few quid, or bucks in many cases, out of gamers. We’d prefer to give them everything they need up front then they are sorted.
Sidney: Does this extend to supplements as well. Will we now see a constant stream of supplements, each with a new codex and some apparent game winning wonder-platoon each time?
Nick: Your wit truly knows no bounds Sid.
Rich: Apparently he’s here all week folks! No Sidney, we shan’t be going down that route. At the end of the day we’re rule writers, we’re not peddling a range of models so we have no need to hype the new “product of the month”. There are four existing supplements to go with IABSM, Blitzkrieg, Gotterdammerung, Rising Sun and Legions, they will work fine with the new rules with a few minor tweaks. We’ll be producing the “conversion kit” here on Lard Island News.
Sidney: How much will that cost?
Rich: Nothing. It will only be a page or so, just a free download. We will be re-doing all four supplements pretty much straight away so they dovetail neatly with the new rules, but clearly there is a pile of work involved in that so it won’t happen next week. My plan is to have them all done by sometime around Christmas, maybe one a month which would take us to January or February. There is, however, a mini-handbook in the rules which covers British, US and Germans in Normandy, so that should give people a feel for how the new Handbooks will look.
Sidney: Handbooks now rather than supplements then?
Nick: Yes, we produce a lot of scenario supplements, so we thought it would be clearer to call the “big four” something different to avoid confusion. Handbooks seemed like a sensible name. These will have force options for a whole range of unit types, all the stats for AFVs and AT weapons and a few other bits as well. Gotterdammerung will have the rules for sewer and tunnel fighting for use in Stalingrad or Berlin, stuff like that.
Sidney: Okay, so it’s all we liked about the original but better. When can we get our hands on this?
Rich: Well, I should be approving the printer’s proofs early next week. As soon as I do that we’ll be taking advanced orders. We’ll be doing some great bundle deals in month one so you can pick up what you want at a discount price. There’s also a limited edition 28mm figure of long-time Lard hero Hugh Jarce which will go with the first 500 hard copy sets of the rules sold, so lots of reasons to buy early and get the best deal plus a couple of freebies. We’ll be providing a free PDF copy with all advanced orders for hard copies, so watch out for that. Also we’ll be producing an i-Pad friendly version of the rules as well. That will allow you to navigate your way around the rules using the touch screen and should be a boon for the growing number of gamers who have been clamouring for this. We’re pleased to be at the front-end of that shift in technology.
Sidney: So what about price? In the last edition of the Roundwood Report (in the TooFatLardies Christmas 2010 Special) you said that you’d never produce a £30 colour set of rules. Have you sold us down the river?
Rich: Well, going full colour has certainly added to the price, as has the fact that this is now 104 pages long with lots of additional material such as the scenario generator, the historical scenario design section and four complete scenarios, two tutorials and two historical refights, makes this a much larger book than the original. But I stand by what I said. Publishing rules is not about grabbing what cash you can. I have gone full colour as it is pretty much unavoidable in the present time - people do seem to want it - but I have certainly avoided the heft price tag, The rules will be retailing for £20 with the PDF or i-Pad versions £12.00. The card deck is 104 cards and that will retail for £12.00 as will the 66 piece token set.
That said, for advanced orders you will be able to get the hard copy rules with a pdf copy, the cards and the token set for just £40. That’s nearly 30% off, and if you’re one of the first 500 you’ll get the limited edition figure as well. Once the rules are released the hard copy, the cards and the tokens will be £40 for the bundle, or you can get a PDF/i-Pad bundle for £34 which is the PDF rules, plus tokens, plus cards.
Sidney: Okay, so ordering early is the best bet?
Rich: It certainly is.
Sidney: And when can we do that?
Rich: Within the week we’ll be ready to take advanced order. Fear not Sidney, I shall be letting Lard Island News know first.
Sidney: Thanks to Rich and Nick for joining me on the old leather sofa at Lard Island News, I am sure you’ll agree that it was an informative look at what seem to be a new set of old rules.
As a postscript I can tell you that I had a look at the card decks that are already at Lard Island waiting and they are really very nice indeed, some great original artwork make them look the business. The PDF version of the rules I saw is quite unlike any previous Lardy product, Rich is right that the adding of colour has really allowed some good diagrams to be included in the rules which help clarify many points very simply. I know that lots of people are really looking forward to these. I’ve been fortunate enough to have been involved in the play-testing and I am sure you won’t be disappointed.
Here's a photo of Hugh Jarce his green state here:
And some samples of the pages from the new rules:
Well there is it, chaps. I tried to be as impartial as I could be. I'm sure you'll be hearing a fair bit about the new rules on the internet over the next few weeks, so remember - you heard it here first!