What is Wargame Complexity?

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What Is Wargame Complexity? by Len Krol

They promise that it will be a simple game. I run screaming “No, no, not another simple game!”

Wargames are noted for their complexity. Yet it is hard to define what complexity is. In my younger days there was Advanced Squad Leader. My friends and I gave up after the third scenario. Other wargamers marveled that I and my friends could play SPI’s Air War. I have to admit that Air War required a lot of work. However you usually commanded from two to four aircraft, so for us it seems doable, while Squad Leader had so many units, it overwhelmed us.

Complexity is the number of actions and decisions that can be made during a game. If you move and attack with 20 units, should that count as 40 actions? If you have 20 turns, does that count as 800 actions for a game? You may have others actions as a command and control roll or morale checks or rally rolls that are added to this.

A good example of this is two games I played about the battle of Bastogne. These games were of the same time scale and distance scale. The first game is by Decision games. It takes only an hour and a half to play. The other is by MMP games. After playing for two hours I was still on turn three, with five more to go. In the MMP game you had artillery units. You had to move these units and calculate their range. The Decision Games version of Bastogne, you just place the artillery strike markers on the target. You do not move any units or calculate the range. You presume that your artillery officer knows where to place his guns. The result is a quicker game.

Maybe complexity can be rated. We will call any action an A. Each time you move a unit or roll the dice or make a decision will be called an A. The problem is where is the benchmark? Can any game be called simple if it has less than 2000 A’s? At what level is it a complex game? 10,000 A’s?

A game can be too simple. Everyone knows a few games that are dueling dice rolls. You wonder why they bothered to make the board and counters. There is little decision making in these games and they quickly become boring.

On the other hand complex games need not be feared. I come from a time where you felt cheated if you didn’t have a 30 page rule book. I often find that the “complicated” games are well balanced and more enjoyable to play. You just need to take the time to read the rule book. Often times when you develop a new interest in a period you start with a simple game. Then as you learn more about the period, you want more detailed games. If you understand that logistics were important for the campaign, you will not mind counting the supply points or if unexpected events occurred in the campaign, you don’t mind the random events table.

The lesson is that complexity is in the eye of the beholder. Simplicity may not be a virtue while complexity may not need to be feared.


  1. Nice write up. I really enjoyed what you had to say on game complexity. Now if more people would agree to read and meet up to work through the rules, if need, with a little team work.

  2. The best games have an “elegant simplicity” that gives a taste of reality without burdensome layers of rules. A good designer does the real work of inventing an innovative system, rather than the players having to slog through dozens of steps and modifiers each time they attempt to do something constructive. Even highly successful, solid, and simple systems such as Flames of War or Bolt Action eventually find ways of making themselves overly complex by introducing more and more details and exceptions to exceptions as they crank out more and more revisions and expansion packets.

  3. Nice write up. The trick is balance. And remembering that there are different types of gamers with different levels of tolerance. But combat should never be a chore, which I have encountered. However it is resolved it should beva high light.

    I Would love to have you review my game, Tank Brawl, once I have it ready to send out. I already have received great feedback including a review by Guildmaster Gaming of the prototype was playtesting at SaltCon.

  4. Hi Dave. We would love to review your Tank Brawl game. Please let us know when you ready for us to do so. Thanks!

  5. awesome content thanks for sharing


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