Monday, 2 January 2017

What makes a good magazine article?

I like reading wargaming magazines. Besides the forums and blogs, I still feel they provide a useful stream of information about new products, new trends, how others approach the hobby etc. I have been subscribed to at least one wargaming magazine (in different configurations ... White Dwarf, Wargames Illustrated, Battlegames, Miniature Wargames, WSS, ... ) for almost 25 years. Sometimes I stopped a subscription because I felt the quality of content was not to my tastes, only to pick it up again a few years later. Sometimes I was really saddened by the change in tone or content in magazines over the years. Other times I felt quite happy with the course the magazine was following. But I never stopped subscribing completely. As I said, there was usually at least one issue from some title dropping in my mailbox every other month.

So, what makes, in my view a good or bad magazine article?

Good:
  • Self-written rules. It's always nice to see how other wargamers approach a given period. Chances are low I will the use rules as is, but it's always nice to pick up ideas and mechanisms. But I do prefer some designer's notes with the rules as well. What was the design process? What was the line of thinking used? Why are some rules included and others not?
  • Generic scenarios. Scenarios for a specific period are entirely fine, but they should be written in such a way that they can be used with any ruleset of your choice that fits the period and/or assumptions of the scenario.
  • Interviews with games designers or authors. This is where magazines can make a difference. However, some variation would be nice. Having to read interviews with the same usual suspects and darlings of the wargaming scene becomes a bit boring.
  • History, when coupled with strong wargaming content. Also good, and especially for little-known periods or battles., the history section can be longer. Especially illumination when the writer explains how and why the history is translated into a specific wargaming context.
Not-so-good:
  • An assumed pre-knowledge of a specific ruleset. Some articles give army lists for a specific ruleset, using the in-house jargon and abbreviations. Some articles have a very specific scenario tailored so much to rules it becomes unusable if you're not a follower. Great if you happen to play those rules. Not so great if you don;t have a clue what the article is all about.
  • Not as bad as the above, but scenarios that assume some particulars of the rules used without mentioning them. E.g. "Hold the bridge for 10 turns". Useless if it is not mentioned what the average movement rate is of the troops. "The woods incur a movement penalty" is good. "Subtract 2" for movement in woods" is bad.
  • Lately I have seen quite a few reports on club activities. Nice if you're a member, but really worthwhile for anyone else? How useful is it for me reading that the Wargaming Bunch is meeting twice a month in the local Pub&Bar and having a good time?
  • Modeling articles with too much text. Modeling articles should be photographs only, and as few text as possible. Back in the old days, it was impossible or very expensive to print many photographs, but those days are gone. Anyway, I find myself NEVER to read the text of a modeling article. But I do look at all the pictures.

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