I like minimalism in design. I like Scandinavian furniture with clean lines and magazines with lots of whitespace. Sir Jonathan Ive’s philosophy of subtracting everything but the essential is wonderful.
I like minimalism in games as well. Carcassonne and Bohnanza are small masterpieces, distilled experiences boiled down to a few easily grokkable* mechanics. Adding more rules and variations simply doesn’t add more to the gaming experience (as shown by many of Carcassonne’s expansions, which are just so much chaff).
At the same time, I understand opulence. Kitsch and weirdness have a purpose. Contrast against the whitespace can create texture and something interesting for the mind to chew on, so to speak.
James and Lexington both wrote about the undeserved bad reputation of the Dark Angels codex. When it came out, I absolutely loved it. I also loved Gav Thorpe’s Eldar and Chaos codexes. All of them focused on simplicity and clean presentation. The writers were seemingly conscious of the game’s basic mechanics and what the respective books represented in the greater whole. They aimed to reduce clutter and did so very effectively. To quote Lexington from his piece:
It was a model of elegance and restrained game design that promised a 40K which relied more on maneuvering and focused application of force rather than comic book explosions and squads min-maxed for the sake of obscene firepower.
What the books lacked, however, were evocative rules. The Internet was all aflame.
40k does not aim for simulation or realism – not even within its own universe. Instead writers capture the feeling of the background history with abstracted rules. Large parts of the audience has come to expect the rules to be scenic in their own right. To exaggerate: a unit that doesn’t break at least one one basic rule is bland.
That is opulence for opulence’s own sake. It’s hard to balance and creates spectacle instead of competitive gaming. Not necesssarily a bad thing, if that’s what the audience wants – which it is.
Don’t get me wrong. I still like 40k. I think it does what it’s intended to do very well: giving us an opportunity to piddle around with model soldiers.
I’m just not sure it’s the game I want any more. I want to be competitive, in the intellectual sense. I want to be challenged. I want elegant design. When the choices presented are heaps of units and equipment, where there is almost always only a few competitive answers (within your local meta-game), that takes away from the creativity of army building.
I’m interested to see what 6:th edition brings. I’m certain that the models will keep on being wonderful, and that I’ll keep on painting them. But games-wise, I’m losing faith. I find myself dreaming of a version of 40k where the Dark Angels codex represented the future.
* Making easily grokkable games is one of the most important aspects of game design, in my opinion. It’s also why I like minimalism. If you grok grokking, you know what I mean.