Had a recent FB messenger session with a guy that I highly respect in the game blogging industry. We were talking about wash, rinse and repeat game "systems". You know the ones I'm talking about. How far can a designer take a system and keep it original, or just cash in on it. My friend said something that made total sense and really changed my outlook a bit as one of my favorite systems falls into this category. But not all the way.
What makes a game system unique? Is it the rules? The mechanics? I'm talking about a "system" here, not components and bits, but the heart of it. What makes a system great?
Lets take one of my favorite systems as an example. The Standard Combat Series. This series uses the same core rules with some twists with each game situation release. The special rules for each situation add historical chrome and modify the base rules to fit the situation. It all makes sense and works for me personally. Now, the key is the "Situation". I will quote my friend, "The situation has to warrant the attention". Wow. So with that one sentence I validated all my doubts about what I will call cash cows for a developer.
If you have a successful system, but are not covering down on interesting situations then what's the point except to cash in. SCS has covered down on predominantly WW2, covering all the standards: Bastogne, Ardennes, Normandy, East Front, West Front, Desert, etc. However, one of the systems most followed and has the largest fan base covers the Yom Kippur conflict. Other theaters and periods covered are WWI. What's great about SCS is that it not only covers HUGE situations, it also deep dives into smaller battles or situations that are interesting to adherents to the system and it's big brother, the Operational Combat Series (OCS).
This is getting longer than I wanted so I'm going to try and wrap this thing up. I've seen the release of some real wash, rinse, repeat games in the last couple of years. I'm not going to name drop as that's not what this is about. What I will say as it pertains to situations that are interesting. I think there may be a limit to how far a designer should try and stretch a good idea. At some point it's obviously about money, especially when you release a game every year based on the same system but with less and less interesting situations. Just my opinion as usual, however, I will certainly be looking at not only the situation of a game as well as the system. Situational System Awareness...