Wednesday, January 04, 2006

I should say something about late changes in any game, anywhere, anytime:

Experienced game designers know that *any* change in a game, whether in actual rules or in how the rules are written, can have unanticipated effects whether due to unexpected/unforeseen interaction with other rules or simple misunderstanding. Last-minute, untested, changes in rules are *poison*.

It was inevitable in the case of Brit 2 that when the rules were rewritten at the publishers in major ways (though with no intent to change the game), under a deadline, there would be glitches through misunderstanding and through sheer human error (typos and such).

This is much like making last-minute changes in a computer program. Writing rules is much like writing a computer program insofar as there will be "bugs", some of which may never actually rear their ugly heads, some that will be more often encountered. The last version you *tested* is the version that should be put into use, not one in which further changes have been made.

Yet those of you who play video games know that many are issued with so many bugs that they are not really completely playable until the first patch is issued. (Which makes for interesting problems in console games, where patches are sometimes not possible.) What happens is, companies need to get their stuff to market so that they can make money, and there is every incentive to rush a bit and get it out earlier rather than later.

In Britannia 2's case, changes were made in the rules because they were rewritten, but if they were tested in the new form, they were not tested much, and probably not in a "blind" environment (using people who had no previous experience of the new rules). An obvious example is the use of counters for scoring. I think the counters are useful insofar as they help people use "hidden" scoring, if they wish, but I'm also sure most people who use a scoresheet will then prefer it. Whatever your opinion, though, you have to recognize that little or no testing of the use of scoring counters occurred.

Now this situation, little or no testing of changes, is the norm in non-video game publishing, not the exception. And that's one reason why we have so many games with misunderstood rules or rules that simply don't work. The more complex the game, the more bugs there will be; even though Brit is usually characterized as a "light wargame", it's still fairly complex in its rules compared to many games popular today (such as "Euro" games).

To go full circle: designers know that new rules MUST be thoroughly tested; but publishers rarely test the late changes they make to a game. What designers hope for is that the new rule bugs won't mess the game up too much. In Brit 2's case I think we're in very good shape in that regard, and much better off than we were with the Avalon Hill version.

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