Well, now I feel old...!
We’re living through a golden age of tabletop gaming. I’ve been aware of miniatures games since the days when Space Marines carried autoguns and shuriken catapults and I can’t recall when there was so much choice, so many great systems jockeying for prime position in the public consciousness as there are today. Most gamers have those big boxes on the shelf that they’re dying to dig into, if only they could find the time. If we abuse our credit cards enough, we could buy everything, but we could never conceivably play everything. So when we do, we need to make the most of the experience.
But we’re often so immersed in the game that we don’t see the narrative unfolding before our eyes. If, during a game of Kill Team, your opponent’s sniper weathers a whole turn of shooting only to glibly execute your favourite model, your first response might be to feel frustrated at the dice results. Looking back on the game however, it’s easier to be thrilled by the story that was being told with those dice. When we get a certain sense of distance we realise what a great slice of entertainment the game actually was.
With games being necessarily complex in order to provide us with decisions, options and increased agency, it’s easy to become focused on the rules rather than the narrative of a gaming experience. Which is why good bookkeeping is so important. Games designers agonise over the layout of their rulebooks, with many systems employing stat cards and other aids to facilitate gameplay. It doesn’t just speed things up, it frees the mind of the players to focus on the cool experience they’re having, the paint jobs on the models, the story that’s being told by their little metal (or plastic, or resin) heroes.
Don't forget he's immune to Shock Ammo. That way lies sadness.
Many of us are used to RPG bookkeeping of course, where we write down our haul of gold coins, magic rings and weird eldritch trinkets. But when it comes to tabletop, writing things down is a little old-school. Now, we have markers, cards and other aids to allow us to see, at a glance, what’s happening on the battlefield. The new X-Wing edition, much like its predecessor, has a very slick token system that shows precisely what each ship is up to, so there’s no confusion. Kill Team also benefits massively from markers showing who has advanced, who has readied, and so on. Infinity and Guild Ball require players to keep note of status effects. Even 40k, which doesn’t really make general use of markers, benefits from the use of them. Did you forget that unit advanced? Well, slap a marker on them in future. Didn’t get any in the box? Buy one, or make one.
Dropping bombs in X-Wing 2.0 wouldn't be possible without tokens.
In the end, good bookkeeping isn’t just about being precise and ensuring that things aren’t missed. With complex games systems, things will always be overlooked here and there, no matter how vigilant the players are. It’s about reducing the mental load so you can remain present, attentive to your opponent, and appreciative of the game experience. Because the less time you spend focusing on remembering who is on fire, who is retreating and who is running headlong towards the enemy with a snarl of righteous fury on his grizzled face, the more time you can spend having fun. Which, ultimately, is what the hobby is all about, right?
[In honour of Chris running the Tartary Army Corps at an Infinity tournament tomorrow, you can get 5% off orders by using the discount code 'ilovekazaks'. For the motherland!]