Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Is play testing fun? BLB Next Generation

The fact that I am asking that question (of myself) implies that play testing sends you slightly bonkers which is, on reflection, a possibility.

It all starts when you actually publish a set of rules! You think you have play tested them to death and then people begin to play them and a whole new raft of questions appear that you realize should have thought of yourself!

Having spent about 21 hours over 4 days playing 7 games of Beneath the Lily Banners with around 50 players, mostly newbies to the rules, provided an ideal opportunity to re appraise a rule set that has been on the whole extremely successful. Historicon is to wargames rules what Aberdeen Proving Grounds MD is to AFVs!

Beneath the Lily Banners 2nd Edition appeared in 2011 about three years after the 1st Edition had sold out. It was a significant advance on the original by way of improved mechanisms and enhanced descriptions of concepts.

I did an awful lot of this

I remember it not being universally well received and the usual level of trolling occurring on TMP (often this occurs before anyone has actually played a game and of course is not a phenomenon unique to BLB). Interestingly, that initial negative response has fermented over the five year period since release to an on the whole, loyal and affectionate following. BLB2 sold out in hard copy in 2014 and has been available only in pdf since then.

QRS mods lists go down when you broaden the dice scope - works well in Donnybrook

Apart from criticism of mechanics which is predictable even if in some cases illogical, other TMP critique was less fathomable. 'It looks too good' and  'Most games don't look like that' phased us both.

Aligning Artillery mechanics with other mechanics has proved a good innovation

Being punished for not adopting the black and white, printed on the company photocopier, sack cloth and ashes approach was typical of contrary, reverse snobbery which sometimes surfaces. The inference was - Please make something more shitty looking and stay in line with other home grown rules products. That seemed like part of the under achiever's charter  which neither of us signed up too.

Intuitive connections between the firing stands and number of dice

Raw versus Drilled - Quality defines dice type

Needless to say, we will not be dropping our standards anytime in the near future and that gets me round to the point of this piece.

The time has come to move the rules to the next iteration. Although that involves exciting and sexy stuff like photography, painting and artwork it also involves lots and lots of grunt work and rolling thousands of dice.

bonuses for weapon type - extra dice and improved die type for First Fire!

This we have been doing in darkened rooms both in VA and Lanarkshire. Now it's underway in various other locations including other parts of VA and even the East Midlands! The focus is on maintaining the existing game structure, simplicity and cleanliness whilst aligning several anomalous mechanisms and bringing the rules into line with other WordTwister publications which we have created or are due for release over the foreseeable future.

More dice for short range - this could hurt!

The mechanisms which have been getting most attention are Artillery, Shooting, Close Combat, Morale and FIBUA. There has been some pull through to other sections such as Movement and there has been more than a little refinement on certain troop types.

Combats are even cleaner than before and just as decisive

In addition we have created a heap of non core Supplementary rules for those who want to add a lot more flavour to the stew.

It is a balance between maths and feel. Intuition plays as important a role as probability

We are pretty far advanced in our activities as can be seen and wider play testing beyond the LoA core members is underway.

This post is really a heads up on the fact the BLB will be back soon and in a different guise.


  1. Shut up and take my money! I hope this new book will have lots of picutres of the Warfare Swedes and Russians! I also hope the "sample" armies include "enemies of Sweden"

  2. So...I can stop lurking on ebay and Abe used books looking for a used copy???

    1. well I guess so. Copies are a bit rare, I was offered £50 for one of the very few copies I have left in the house.

  3. this is a great preview. I like and appreciate your behind the scene thoughts.

  4. Ooohhh, I'm as giddy as a school boy!!!! Can't wait!

  5. I have a lot of hope some of the valid queries on the League of Augsburg are dealt with in the new set!! - I like BTLB2 - though we have had to make a lot of rulings on the rules mid game, as things came up!
    I will DEFINITELY be getting the new set! Quality dice are a feature of most of my rule sets, so I am absolutely on board with this!!!

    Thanks for revisiting BTLB Barry!

  6. Barry,
    Wow! Another version of BLB...nice! I kinda liked the original version, but really enjoyed version 2. It sounds like your play testers are knee deep into...well play testing. So I have an observation and not sure if this has been mentioned, but any chance of an alternate order/activation sequence? Namely in the form of an, "I go you go"? I'm not a BIG fan of the order markers and was curious if you have thought about another variant as mentioned as oppose to placing orders at the same time? Either way, I really enjoyed the period and BLBv2 are my go-to rules for this period, and look forward like most followers of any additions to the system and/or various periods.

  7. Barry, Sounds very good. I have always liked the look & feel of BLB - for me it captures the period extremely well. i do like the idea of different dice. I did like the original set of order & status chips (not so fond of the second version, sorry), but I wonder if there is a different order mechanism that could be used in light of recent games in other genres & periods? Perhaps order dice, activation dice or cards, a playboard in the ilk of SAGA, etc as well as "event cards" or order/event cards played from a hand each turn even. These are just some mumbling thoughts! No matter what, I have a copy of V3!! Best wishes, Rohan.

  8. This is the right time for these comments please keep them coming. Some quick answers and some longer ones -
    Events cards - already in the machine for the project and we think we have a nice elegant solution for that based on a deck of about 70 cards I created from the large weekender and home games.
    Orders - longer answer. Will seriously consider above suggestions but IGYG would slow large games down to a crawl particularly if it was something like Blenheim. We have created a largish optional rules section for variant games so we'll have a look at that. The 2nd iteration markers were we thought innovative at the time but Clarence has already produced a lower key more conservative third gen which we used at Historicon and which will be commercially available soon.
    C & I will discuss the orders thing and revert

  9. Barry, this sounds really exciting. I've loved BLB since the first edition - perhaps my favourite part being the Chance Events/ Cards - which I would very much like to be retained (and I'm sure will be). It's also such a handsome rulebook - a pleasure to play and read.

    I do like the idea of having a set of "bolt on" supplementary rules. I like the games we've played to have as much of the late-17th century flavour as possible - it's what makes the period distinctive.

    Above all, thanks so much for doing this (and everything you've done so far). The best of luck with play-testing and finalising what I'm sure will be a great Third Edition.

  10. Kind words indeed and thanks for them. We do our best to promote the period we love and it is so nice to hear from people who appreciate that. Watch this space!

  11. Want to thanks everyone for the TMP thread, contributions here and the emails regarding our new project. 5 play test groups in the UK and US now have the draft and hopefully are picking their way through anything that catches their attention. Meanwhile CH and I are filling in the detail.

  12. Any news on release date?

  13. Both Clarence and I have had 6 weeks of continuous travel (in my case) and hurricane repairs (in his). This has interrupted our output. Rules are done. We are at the book formatting stage. It will definitely beat everything else in the pipe as it is so near completion. Demo-ing it at CRISIS

    1. Wonderful, once complete and available please post where available online store in US. Be happy to buy a copy.

  14. Don't worry we will make plenty of noise! We have many players of BLB in the US and Canada so the book will be widely available there.


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