For example, take Song of Blades for an extreme example. There are two stats.
"Q" or "quality" - showing how easy it is to activate and perform actions
"C" or combat ability - combines a models' skill in melee, when firing, his magical power, and his all round defence against any attack (am I the only one who thinks this sounds a little silly just reading this?)
Ahhh, nice and simple.
But the problem is, 90% of models have a "Quality" of 2,3 or 4 or a "Combat" ability of 2, 3 or 4. That's not a lot of differentiation in a genre (fantasy) where creatures tend towards the weird and wacky extremes. So how do we make the models different? How can we clearly separate a goblin with a dagger in full plate armour from a undead werewolf in a loincloth with a poleaxe?
The magic bullet for all modern wargames - the "Special Rule."
Song of Blades is actually a pretty fun game and I'd recommend it. However it's a pretty good example of the "no stats, zillion special rules" brigade
Because Song of Blades "simplifies" itself by using only two of those evil stats which confuse us so much, it now needs to rely on special rules to describe the miniatures (more than 100 extra rules, scattered across 2 or 3 "supplements" you also have to pay for). Most models come with 2-3 special rules by default - which in effect, simply replaces the "stats" with a "special rule." Even then, it is impossible to describe a miniature with the same accuracy.
In return from reducing the perfectly manageable stats of say Lord of the Rings (Fight, Shoot, Defence, Attacks, Wounds, Courage) and its ~30 "special" rules, Song of Blades has not only lost accuracy, but also added an extra 70+ rules. Adding 70 extra rules doesn't seem like an effective way to simplify something to me. Lose accuracy, and add rules - hardly seems a sensible trade-off.
"Special Rules" are not evil in themselves
They are important as they add flavour to special units or particular factions. They go beyond "stats" and help give units a different "feel" on the battlefield. I'd go so far as to say a game without any special rules is doomed to failure. Special rules are invaluable when used sparingly.
A special rule is an exception to the norm. It is an extra rule. It is something else to remember. It adds complexity, it does not "simplify." When special rules become the core mechanic of the game, that's when something is wrong.
In all warfare, all movement is 6"
OK, pop quiz. Name a set of rules where infantry (foot) movement isn't 6."
Starting from (I think) around 40K 3rd edition, game designers decided it was too hard for gamers to remember that forces can move different distances. Despite the fact no one had ever complained about it or ever had problems remembering before. Whether you are a troll, a hobbit, a undead cyborg or a space marine, from now on everyone moves 6."
It's obvious not all minis are created equal. The speedy biotech space elves should go faster than a shambling plague zombie, right? Since we can't simply change the digit in our "move" stat, we need to make up a "special rule" or two.
We'll give the elf a new special rule - "Fast Runner" and allow him to add +3" to his movement.
We'll give the zombie a new special rule "Slow Mover" and reduce his movement by -3".
If we wanted more differentiation (so far, the only speeds available are 3", 6" and 9"), we'd have to make up even MORE special rules to describe distances like 4", 5" etc. Wouldn't it be simpler just to have a "Move" stat and change the number after it?
Sometimes, stats ARE simpler.
"fifth element." However it is a bit too balanced and subtle for the 40K/WHWB audience and thus remains the redheaded stepchild of the GW stable. I'm predicting it joins other "good" GW games like Space Hulk, BFG, Epic, Bloodbowl etc in the scrapheap as soon as the Hobbit movies conclude.
There is a trend in game designers to abandon traditional "stats"and replace them with "special rules" to "simplify" games. However this does not actually simplify games, as in effect, the "stats" are simply replaced with a range of "special rules" which aren't even as accurate as describing the character. It's false economy.
Going from, say, 5 accurate, descriptive stats to 2 very very generic, vague "catch all" stats, then adding 70 extra rules to replace those 3 stats, does not make a game simpler or easier to remember.
Yes, we don't want a RPG-type game where we have stats for everything, i.e. units don't need stats for obscure stuff like Nose Picking and Bum Scratching. However with common stuff all units use - like movement, morale, missile and melee ability - which is shared by pretty much every unit in a game - it makes sense to have a shared "stat."
In the rush to ditch stats for 101 special rules - let's not toss the baby out with the bathwater. There needs to be a balance.
Disclaimer: I have nothing against Song of Blades and Heroes and I recommend it as a great fun way to revive old fantasy miniatures (it has a strong "points builder" allowing you to make armies of random models). It's just a handy "case study" many people will be familiar with.