By Ivan Sorensen
Welcome to the first of a series of essays discussing the how and the why of Five Parsecs From Home. The aim of this series is to help shed more light into the design decisions that went into the game, both so people will understand them better but also to make it easier to make your own adjustments, house rules and hacks.
In this first installment, I am going to talk about the basic design principles of the game and complexity in particular.
One of the things people comment on almost immediately is that the core combat rules are simple, even very simple. Go ahead and look at your book and see how little of the page count they actually take up.
While simple or complex rules are not inherently good or bad, let’s look at the rationale:
First and foremost, Five Parsecs is of course a solo game. This means that a single player has to keep track of everything, unlike a conventional game where another player is on hand to help remember things. I strongly believe that a solo game needs to be slightly simpler than a two player game for exactly this reason.
With a very simple game, it is easier to keep everything straight as early as possible.
Second, the AI needs to be able to “make decisions” as simply as possible.
I opted for an AI system that is non-random to make the gameplay move pretty quickly. Once you are used to a particular AI type, you can go through the enemy decision process very quickly. Every option that allows a combatant to do something needs to be accounted for in AI terms as well, which can add up quickly.
Third, the on-table battle is only part of the game. With a bit of practice, you can usually blow through the battle in 20 minutes or so and have time for tea.
Whereas in many campaign games, the battle is the focus and the campaign is an add-on, Five Parsecs is meant as a campaign experience. The entire sequence from figuring out what you do in town to fighting a battle to generating the post-game rolls are all part of the game and are equally important.
The goal is that you can comfortably play through an entire campaign turn in one evening and should be able to squeeze in a second.
Lastly, simpler mechanics are easier to adapt. This serves both for future expansion material as well as for players creating their own mechanics, items and ideas. Long-term fans will know I certainly appreciate clever mechanics and intricate systems, but the more non-standard, the harder it can get to fold more things into it.
Likewise, a more complex game can be difficult to remove things from. A seemingly innocent rule can have all manner of knock-on effects when you attempt to remove it. As the game is also intended in part to be an entry-point for players new to the miniatures gaming hobby, a game that can be easily expanded is preferable to one that has to be stripped down, in my opinion.
So there you have it. Agree? Disagree? What sort of additions would you like to see in the future? Let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org