Time to return to this theme. The first set of rules I discussed have been about for a long time and whilst selling well have never really grabbed the wargaming public's imagination, which in my view is a great shame.
The next set of rules I'd like to write about do inspire a considerable amount of fanaticism and strongly held views. In fact I come to this blog following observing a fairly ill-tempered discussion on a yahoo rules group about them.
The rules concerned are RFCM's "AK47 Republic". In particular the original set published in 1997. They are intended for post-war conflict in a post-colonial Africa. They have spawned as many variants as any set I can think of, and still, when I play them, I get as much fun as when I played them first time round. Alas I no longer have my original set, - they were battered when I lent them to someone and didn't survive the loan. I have the later updated version, published in 2006 and they have to serve now. A picture of the cover adorns this blog.
They have a naive simplicity and a freshness that is rare in rules these days. In that respect they also have an energy like Slim Mumford's Medieval Rules, where the writer just seems to feel that anything is possible if you put your mind to it. They feel like they are written just for the fun of it. Whilst they are clearly intended to give a balanced game there is a wonderfully uninhibited feel to the design. They're full of loop holes, but the designer's belief that wargamers are jolly good chaps who wouldn't stoop to exploiting them seems to shine through.
The core mechanisms aren't necessarily anything clever, - however they have a minimalist elegance that solves the game design problems with a minimum of fuss.
So why do they work so well?
First up they have buckets of character and feeling of place. There's all the stuff that enables you to create a fictional "movement" with randomly generated country and description "Worker's Revolution Movement of Zambola" for example, together with the flag generator and the instructions to get your crayons out and draw it properly. You may only use these sections once or twice but you know exactly where you are and what is expected of you.
Then the army lists. Normally these irritate me as I'd rather produce my own force lists and balance a game that way. But these work in the game's character as they link into the pre-game sequence, the "Political Charts" which through a series of die rolls tell you what happened to your movement prior to the battle and the effect it has had on the force composition. When I first saw these being playtested at CoW - it must have been in 1996 - I couldn't believe how simply brilliant the idea was. This is still my favourite RFCM pre-game mechanism; it is simple, quick and manageable. It gets the maximum of effect for the minimum of effort.
Next the rules have very simple army deployment rules, - not all units start at once and those that do deploy are driven by the morale rules to huddle together for security if they are militia or spread out to cover more ground if professional.
The combat mechanism is just dice rolled with modifiers but the number of dice is restricted and the modifiers focus on what is important and so are easily remembered. There's no rivet counting for different type of tanks, for example. In this game what is important is that the tank turns up, not whether it is a T34 or an Olifant.
The morale system works on a catastrophe basis. Units hold together until they suddenly drop to pieces but it can't happen all in one turn, so if a player sees a unit wobbling he can pull it out of the way of trouble.
Finally the game length system and victory conditions are all nicely balanced to keep both players guessing.
The game has its faults - it is possible for one side not to turn up at all, and it can be prone to bizarre results from a few odd die rolls. But then again that's just about right for what the game is about.
When you break it apart most of the elements of the game are so simple it's easy to say "I could have thought of that", but the fact is that no one else did. I suspect that the designer doesn't know how he got this mix so perfect in every way, but so what, - we have the game to treasure forever, along with all the various spin offs.
I can't remember why I first came across it. I was a dyed in the wool pre-WW2 wargamer. I must have wandered into the CoW session by accident, but I remember being captivated by it and at the earliest opportunity buying as much kit from Peter Pig as I could. This lead to my on-going interest in modern African warfare and the continuing trials of President Jog-Jog.
Thank you RFCM.