It proved to be very interesting and I wanted to look further into it.
With it came the loss of comparative systems of old like WS vs WS and Strength vs Toughness, and in rolled set to hit and wound rolls. I was not a big Fantasy player as I was awful at it - didn't hate it, just was not the system for me, so the news of a more skirmish system sounded great. But I am a fan of comparative mechanics in games as I feel it takes a lot of the tactics out of the game otherwise - a unit is always going to be good or bad, the situational element and careful choice of who to run them at is reduced.
There was concern over whether 40k would go the same way...
Fast forward a year and a bit and GW release a new range aimed at getting 40K in to mainstream toy retailers, and so Battle for Vedros was borne. Some of the rules pages were leaked and it appeared that the games had been stripped down in a short rule booklet and again many got very defensive, more so than previously in fact, at the thought of their beloved 40k getting the Sigmar treatment.
In that same vein, one of our members posted up saying that didn't want to see 40K lose any of its "complexity", and a very good discussion began on this matter.
As expected for such a diverse group, there were proponents for both sides of the discussion, but to it started to come clear both sides were not really talking about the games "complexity" directly so much as its "depth" and "clarity".
Those wanting to preserve the game's complexity were in reality rallying to keep the depth brought about by the wealth of special rules and equipment that give the factions and game its identity.
On the other side of the discussion, those saying the wanted the level complexity toned down were, for the most part as we will see later, in fact asking for greater clarity in the game with tighter rules, quicker errata and better balance.
So ironically, despite being on opposite sides of the discussion, we in fact both agreed with each others point - we want the depth of flavour and variety, but with greater clarity for easier play.
Then an interesting comparison that came up during this discussion was that of Bolt Action to 40k and I wanted to expand on it a bit.
Being a game set solidly in World War 2, its factions would inherently have a reduced tech pool - all forces were working with the same shared pool of training and tech at that time - its more how they apply it and combo it together that the forces gain their identity. So there would be less variety in the factions.
In which case that's not depth or clarity being discussed but a new 3 factor.
I've not tried Bolt Action, so I can't comment personally, but I have seen that many like it because there's less to it than 40k, meaning the focus is more on your tactics than crazy rules and equipment. That to me says its a good clear system but has tactical depth.
So to me, a systems complexity is a combined factor of its variety of special rules/factions, clarity of rules and depth of mechanics.
Judging 40K by that measure puts 40K in a bad way - its got greatest variety of special rules and factions. It may not have the deepest set of mechanics, but there is a lot there to work with and master with each of the now 6 phases (Deployment, Movement, Flyer, Psyker, Shooting, Combat). though mainly due to the wealth of special rules than the mechanics themselves I feel. It also has the worst clarity of any tabletop game, with even the erratas managing to generating more issues whilst failing to address other long standing issues all together.
Looking at other test subjects, I thought of Infinity, a game considered by many as complex.
It boasts a sizeable pool of abilities and equipment, but its a mostly common pool that all races draw from, which helps make things a bit easier. And its through this mostly common pool, coupled with points costs, that system provides its variety of factions which still maintain their identity and specialisms without such a plethora of factional specific rules.
In terms of depth of mechanics, Infinity is one of the deepest that I have played. The wealth of clearly defined warrior roles and the resulting ways they can interact with each other (hacking in is a prime example of this - shutting down armour, weapons, mechs or equipment - even hacking guided missiles mid flight) both during activation and through the reaction system, means there is amazing depth to the game.
And as for clarity - its better than it was! The first Spanish to English translations were not great, though the community ones were an improvement. Second Edition came around and that matter was addressed and the now its much clearer. They make great use of diagrams to explain many of the more advanced rules, making it easier to get into the system. But this game lives and dies on its advanced rules, so is still a game that's more difficult to pick up and even more so to master.
So that makes it a complex game overall.
They have a huge variety of factions - between the two sibling I'd say they are on par with 40K. Add in to the mix a HUGE array of common pool and unique special rules and there is a lot to be aware of and pick up. Id go as far as more so than 40k.
There is depth to their rules, though I think it fair to say the depth is more form the variety of special rules that the core mechanics - in that way its quite akin to 40K (I can almost here the rage from both camps of die hards).
With MkIII SO close now, this may change as its no secret that Privateer Press have been looking to streamline the system further - there will be no psychology based rules now - not terror / abomination / breaking from combat any more for starters. Whether they have cut too deeply whilst trimming perceived fat from the system is yet to be seen - its didn't seem bloated as it was, just stagnant - the meta had settled into a rutt and was not shifting - that seemed the main concerned with many players in the community, but I am going off topic.
I feel the key with Warmachine & Hordes is the clarity of their rules. They write a far tighter rule set than GW, and are more active in updating their errata and FAQs, as well as putting "Tactical Tips" in the big rulebooks to aid with some possible rules questions there and then. I'm not saying the system is perfect, and there are still the odd interactions that you need to talk through, but far less often. Add in the Press Ganger system for rules support at tournament and they offer much higher clarity across the board.
As a result its less complex than 40K, but mainly thanks to its clarity.
I could go on - Batman, X-Wing, Frostgrave... But you know your feelings on these games and what else you play. After all, as with most things blogged about wargaming, this is but my opinion. I am not looking to change anyone else's nor anything. My aim was just to get you thinking about YOU mean when you talk about a games complexity - how you determine it, and how much weight you give to each contributing factor.
If you have a other criteria you use, then let us know - be interesting to see how else you can size up a game's complexity.