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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Here's the Ruckus!


Here’s the Ruckus, the medieval skirmish game, has been published! I am now a published author! Something I never expected to be and I could hardly be happier! How did that happen?  How did this come to pass?

Ruckus was actually inspired by playing Andy Callan’s excellent Never Mind the Billhooks Battle game, indeed, Ruckus actually evolved from using exactly the same rules, but with individual figures instead of units. Since then, Ruckus has developed into a distinctly different entity, for although Ruckus retains the use of cards for random activation and events, as well as the same dice rolls for hitting and saving throws, in every other way it is a completely different game. 

However, the origins of Ruckus lie far back through the swirling mists of time to the late 1960’s and a small boy playing Robin Hood on the carpet with his Airfix plastic 20mm figures, painted crudely in garish bright colours with no respect for the rules of heraldry, a scrap of paper with a few rudimentary homemade rules and a green wooden d6 purloined from the monopoly board game. I think throughout my adult gaming life I have always been trying to recreate the fun of those early games.

Rule writing mostly consists of having a single inspiration, (usually at 3 am), a sudden bright thought, a golden idea followed by hours of trying to make that idea work in a practical sense and then, the tricky bit, finding a way to convey that idea, in words, on a page, to other people that they may translate and absorb the information and use it to play a game. 

The principles of game writing

I thought that Ruckus should

·       use simple mechanisms with complex outcomes

·       be easy to learn

·       offer a mix of chance and strategy where luck is as much a factor as tactics

·       be narrative building-every game should tell a story

·       have in built friction-achievement in adversity brings real joy and satisfaction

·       have Flavour- Historical Accuracy is a subjective view point however the game should feel like what it is and the rules should reflect the era it is set in

·       have Fun rule over Realism

Growing the game, I find that game design is mostly an organic process, the game just grows as you play. You find a mechanism that works and you try to break it, refine it, polish its edges and sometimes it works, sometimes it breaks and produces an unexpected bonus and sometimes it just breaks. It is surprising how often a rule just works itself out as you play, particularly as you introduce more people to the game and benefit from their thoughts. I am fortunate to have an excellent team of play-testers and their help has been invaluable in honing Ruckus into its present form, I suspect between us all we have probably played more than one hundred games and as a result Ruckus has changed and evolved into its present form.

Chopping it up Ruckus has existed as a full set of rules of 60 pages for over a year and condensing those pages down to just 32 pages without losing the essence and flavour of the game has been a challenging process, particularly as the rules are written with no pictures, no examples, and no explanations. When you add the pictures, examples, and explanations to sixty pages of close written text you end up with a 140-page book!

This is where the Editor steps in. This was a whole new world to me. I was fascinated by the process and what could have been a traumatic and painful time was actually three very pleasant days spent in the company of James Griffiths Project Manager at Wargames Illustrated as we stripped my beautiful creation to its bare skeleton and rebuilt a slim, streamlined more orderly version. We changed the whole structure of the rules without altering any of the essence of the game and rewrote it so that the various processes followed a natural progression and were easier to understand. Simpler but not worser. James even invented a new Movement Gambit the Dramatic Entry!

There was no way we could include all of the scenarios, but deciding which ones to use and which to leave out was a real head scratcher, as it happened, we could only include one scenario in the freebie, there simply was not space for any more. The decision to omit the steeds and mounted combat rules was a no brainer as the initial game is set in England at the time of the Wars of the Roses and so most warriors could be expected to be on foot. Leaving out the campaign rules was a wrench as they are very much at the heart of the game but they will be published at a later date.

Fun First.

Is it possible to attain realism in our wargames? Is it something that we really want? The reality of war is misery and I think most of us are looking for fun. I do not believe you can achieve realism in wargames even if you marched for three weeks to get to your game wearing somebody else’s shoes and slept in a wet field in the rain the night before and only ate half a slice of stale bread the whole day, and then, before you started the game, set fire to the curtains, and stabbed each other in the leg with a bread knife! I think we play games to escape from reality and games should be fun. 

History or Yourstory? I like a game to have a feel of where and when it is set but I think that like realism, Historical Accuracy is something of an unachievable goal. You can avoid obvious anachronisms such as Vikings riding Quad bikes or Uzi toting Zulus but otherwise accurate according to who? Which history written by whom? Ask any two gamers about the history of a campaign or battle or any aspect of historical warfare and you will get at least two different answers. We all build knowledge of a period through exposure to various sources and we develop our own understanding of what really happened so that each of us has a different take. I hope Ruckus conveys a feel of the period but I hope to expand Ruckus to become a period agnostic game and so I do not want to get hung up on historically accurate terminology or even the games anachronistic title!  Ruckus is a game of Heroes and is unashamedly more Hollywood than History!

Pointless endeavour. Ruckus avoids the use of points values for creating Retinues partly because I had not thought it necessary for play testing the game, and when I did think of it, we had played so many successful, well-balanced games that we found it was not needed.

I think where points values are applied in games they are done so rather arbitrarily, there are always profiles that seem Over Powered and others that just do not get used because they are not worth the points cost. There are so many subtle differences between profiles in Ruckus you would need a points system similar to the three figure systems that you find in RPG like D and D, and I would not know where to start rating the various different skills!

At its heart, Ruckus is a simple game, the Retinues are written to be balanced, where there are strong Characters such as gendarmes, their strengths are tempered by having very poor militia crossbowmen and some negative traits such as Proud.

Players should feel free to try various combinations of Retainers in their Retinues however be warned, too much tampering will certainly unbalance the game.

Mishaps and Calamities. It is not possible within the confines of a small introductory rule set to cover all the Heroic deeds that Players may wish to perform during a game therefore Players should feel free to be creative with the Gambit rules.  You want your hero to leap from a moving wagon onto the back of a horse but it is not in the rules?  Agree a Mishap and a Calamity event for each Gambit you wish to try. In the above example roll for a Mishap when leaping from the wagon 1=Mishap, the Wagon hits a pothole and the Hero has to cling on and misses the opportunity to jump, he remains stationary for this turn. Calamity, he falls from the wagon, roll for injuries.

You can increase the Risk factor for Movement Gambits to perform particularly risky acts of heroism. In the above example you may feel that this very risky deed is a High-Risk Gambit and so roll 2 d6 for Mishap any 1’s resulting in a Mishap occurring. You could include a rule for Very High-Risk Gambits and roll 3 d6 but this should be used only for the most ridiculous and potentially disastrous stunts you can imagine, crossing a burning tight rope with both hands and one leg tied behind your back for example

Remember, that the risk of Calamity increases as the game progresses and that Heroes add their Prowess to the Calamity roll.

Individual Combat- Initially, Ruckus used multiple combats and the three rounds of melee occurred over three consecutive turns. This produced some very interesting situations, particularly at objectives and choke points, and provided an opportunity to try different tactics, however, we could never really resolve the challenge of new combatants joining an existing melee and keeping track of which participants were at which round of melee proved to be a brain fog inducing logistical nightmare, far from the concept of the simple game that I wanted Ruckus to be. The decision to go for single combats fought to conclusion one at a time, proved to be the right one for this game, and created the need for other tactical decisions, such as in which order to charge, when to Fend, whether to follow up or push away. 

Heroes and their Weapons. Ruckus is a game of Heroes and it is the fighting skill of the Heroes that is important rather than the weapons that they carry which is why we have focused on Heroic skills rather than weapon choices. Historically, Medieval warriors of the knight class and Men at Arms practiced their Martial Arts in full armour. One French knight, Jean le Meingre, Marshall of France, and leader of the vanguard at Agincourt, known as Boucicaut, (the Mercenary) is said to have run miles in full harness and could do gymnastics, even somersaults in his armour. He could leap onto his horse without using the stirrups! “Fully armed in a coat of mail, he could climb right to the top of the underside of a scaling ladder leaning against a wall, simply swinging from rung to rung by his two hands – or without the coat of mail, by one hand only.”

   Although Boucicault was evidently an exceptional warrior, all knights were taught to fight from an early age. Such men practiced with all manner of weapons and could as easily kill with a dagger as with a pol axe. For this reason, Heroes in Ruckus may be armed with any weapon, it is their fighting skills that distinguish them, not what they carry in their hands. Picture from Osprey website 

Retainers. Retainers are more defined by their weapon type and have generic profiles with Traits that are specific to their role, there is no reason why they should not attempt Heroic feats, however they are far more likely to suffer a Calamity as result of failure.

The One Rule to Rule them All is there as a final arbitrator and although it is possible that some players may try to abuse this rule by using it to attempt impossible or highly improbable actions it is my experience that such players will try to abuse the system regardless of how we write the rules. This game is not written for those people but for the majority of wargamers who wish to escape to a different world and have fun with their friends.  

Play your own game Ruckus as an introductory game is set in the England of the fifteenth century, a world dominated by men, and as such is written for male characters for the most part. However, I would invite players to make the game their own. Use whatever figures you have to hand, whatever their gender, give them an appropriate profile, name them whatever way you wish and just have fun writing your own Ruckus story. My daughter will certainly use her Arwen Evenstar figure when she plays and quite probably her Rincewind and the Librarian too!

Above-Rangers of Ruckus?

Where is Ruckus headed? There will be cards, counters, and figures to accompany the game. 

There are 25 figures that are being planned, they will be released as stl’s and then as metal casts. The first ones should be ready for release in the very near future.Its been a privilege to be part of the design of these. These are all being sculpted by the Giants in Miniature Sculptor

The artwork for the back of the Divers Alarums cards. I love this, it reminds me of Brian Bolland’s work. He really does look alarmed! There is similar art for the Cunning Plan cards, a very Baldrick looking fellow resides there and a Suitable Hero in a similar style, dons the back of the Herocard 

The Ruckus Campaign will be published in the magazine probably in the June’s edition. It’s a very simple form of campaign, it’s primarily about character development and gives Ruckus more flavour.

There are at least twenty scenarios written for Ruckus and they will all get published in one form or another

Then, I go back to my childhood with the Outlaws of Shirewood campaign. This has three of its six scenarios written and is looking good.

We have written a Hundred Years War Supplement and Landsknecht/Swiss one. These introduce five new Hero profiles and a stack of new Retainers, Rules, Scenarios and Divers Alarums. It’s not certain yet how these will be released, they may appear as online content or as articles in the magazine or they may be released each with their own figures rule and cards and as complete physical supplements

Ruckus has a bright future at Wargames Illustrated… 

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