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Subject: Learnability vs. Complexity: Not the Same things. rss

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This started as a reply on another thread, but I thought it might make an interesting discussion in its own right. I realised that the relative complexity of a game system may be disputed. Some people will think a game is more or less complex based on how easily they learned the system.

What is "complexity?" What is its relation to "weight," "meatiness," "detail" and so on?

ftarzanin wrote:

I like ASL but I would point out that the rules have to be detailed and explicit because the rules themselves are so intricate (i.e. the is alot of interplay between the various rules). Even if you where to boil the rules down to 1/4 of what the binder holds (probably well beyond what you could realistically remove), you are probably in the neighborhood of 75+ pages ... clearly this would STILL be one if not THE longest set of rules out there.


No, the core rules are 186 pages...1/4 of which is 46.5 pages...which is not a far cry from most GMT releases. Plus, man have you seen the War in the Pacific rulebook? It clocks in at 86 pages.

A lot of people look at stuff like caves and panjis or beach landings or night rules or whatever and use that as a basis to judge ASL as super-complex; however, they are ignoring the fact that these rules aren't always used and you could play ASL every week until you die and never have to read chapters E-G at all. Not all the subsystems are used in every scenario.

The complexity of ASL is scalable. It can be what you want it to be, it can adapt to your preferences and playstyles (given certain parameters and a base complexity which is, admittedly, quite high).

But a game like War in the Pacific...well, all the rules are used. If you're going to play the game, you have to master all the rules in the book.

But I think that if I continued this discussion, it would turn into one concerning, not relative complexities of systems, but the issue of complexity vs. learnability.
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James Palmer
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You definitely can't judge a game's difficulty to learn from the number of pages in the rulebook. If I recall correctly, Battlelore's rulebook is somewhere around 80 pages, and this game is considered (for good reason) to be a good INTRODUCTION to wargaming!

There are certainly other wargames with much shorter rulebooks where the rules are difficult to grasp or understand.
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p55carroll
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Rindu wrote:
I think that if I continued this discussion, it would turn into one concerning, not relative complexities of systems, but the issue of complexity vs. learnability.


And that, in turn, would likely branch out further.

Complexity of what? The rules/mechanics, or the "decision tree"? If the former, ASL is a good example; if the latter, Go would be a great example.

Learnability of what? Same question as above, and same examples.

Often it's called the difference between breadth and depth. Some games are difficult because they have so much breadth--i.e., so many rules, so many moving parts, so much to do each turn . . . sometimes even so many expansions. Other games are difficult because they have so much depth--i.e., you can play all your life and still never wrap your mind around how to optimize your moves.
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Ray
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fyi, third edition Magic Realm rules are 122 pages.
 
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marc lecours
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A lot of wargames have 30 or 40 pages of rules but they are quite learnable because most of the rules are basically the same as in the majority of the wargames that I play. There are only the minor variations that are applicable to this specific game to learn. This means that for an experienced wargamer the principles and the concepts are not complex. The rules are easy to learn and grasp. The only problem is memorizing the 100 peculiarities of the game. I find that new wargames are not complex but require memory. The same 40 page rule book for a beginner would appear immensely complex.

For example I was reading through a wargame rulebook recently. I see a section on stacking (not complex since I have played a hundred games with stacking limits, all I have to do is look up the limit with this game). Then I look up zone of control, whether a unit can intercept, retreat (evade) etc. (for a beginner this is difficult, for me all I have to do is look up which units have ZOC (zone of control),I already know from experience that things like supply, terrain (rivers), presence of friendly units might affect zone of control. Fairly easy). I can look up supply lines, Most games have similar supply line rules so it's easy. Etc etc.

When I encounter a totally different rule that is not found in other wargames then the reading of the rules slows down and understanding what is happening is difficult. For example wargames where combat is resolved with odds and a CRT, or with rolling sixes with a bunch of dice are easy since I have played tons of these games. But today I was playing Hannibal: Rome vs Carthage so the battlecard system required me slowing down and reading carefully. Or the movement system in Pelopponesian war was a bit complex to figure out since it was different from other wargames. Probably the rules that I struggled with the most were the political rules in Totaller Krieg.
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Confusion Under Fire
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A few month's ago I decided to roughly count the number of words in several of my wargame rules to "prove" a point that the longer the rules the more complex the game was. It turned out that my theory was a total myth. One point I did notice was that newer games tend to have a lower word to complexity ratio and utilise more examples of play than their older counterparts. This has a lot to do with wargaming mechanics and better rule writing. One good example is the elevation examples in Panzer Leader It uses a rather awkward hilltop and slope elevation system where a more recent and common idea is to have level 1, level 2, level 3 etc hills.
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