Often when I am on forums, when people ask others about a game, I see people commonly respond with: "this game is great - it's really well supported." "The designer is active on the forums" "He's a great bloke" "They have an active yahoo group" "there's three new army books/supplements/etc out already."
It's like it's the most important reason to buy the game. It tends to make me roll my eyes. I mean, aren't there more important reasons, like, is it a fun game to play?
What do they mean by "supported" anyway?
Is it there are minis for the game?
I mean, if you can't buy minis for it, you could argue it is not supported. For example, I'd like to get a Battlefleet Gothic fleet, but you can't buy the damn models (not without selling a kidney). And the universe and game is designed around very specific models which makes proxying difficult. That's a game that's not supported. Fair enough. However many rules are designed to work with generic minis.
Is it an energetic presence on forums/social media?
But do we really need the lead dev to regularly update his Facebook page? My teens at school are adept with social media but it doesn't mean they can make a good wargame.
Does an active yahoo group really mean the game has good mechanics? (Actually, I'd suggest it often means the opposite - they are often full of confused people who found the rules incomprehensible) I'd suggest it's likelier having a yahoo group shows the game company (a) is a small operation or (b) doesn't have a clue about the internet and fails to realize how uselessly 90s and unintuitive yahoo groups are.
I don't even care if the designer is a jerk or not. E.g. I don't know the Infinity designers from a bar of soap - they could be awesome guys or complete wankers, but it doesn't effect my enjoyment of their game in the slightest.
Is it a regular stream of supplements?
Do we really need 100 supplements and "DLC" (supplementary PDFs, codexes, army books, campaign books) for the game to be good? The videogame community seems to think so. Periodically being milked for money seems to make something "good" to them. And judging by the success of the TAC rules over at the Wargames Vault, there's no shortage of wargamers willing to be nickle-and-dimed. (Yes, you pay $2 for each aircraft profile. Even GW would be proud of that)
If there's a new army book out a month after the core rules were released - it suggests to me it was content which was already prepared, perhaps simply "cut" from the core rules in order to make a supplement. (This practice actually happens, by the way)
Finally: Is the game so bad/boring that everyone will stop playing it unless there is weekly new content?
Can a game die - or even be "killed off" officially?
GW pensioned off Mordhiem years ago. It is definitely not officially "supported." But I come across people all the time who still play it and enjoy it, more than newer, "supported" pretenders. There's fan sites all over the net who don't care that Epic Armageddon is not supported. As long as people play it, a game is not "dead." And in the internet age, its easy for them to connect, share and spread their enthusiasm.
"As long as the game is supported it won't die." Actually, no. What is "dead" anyway. "Official" support is not needed. If the game is good enough, it will be unofficially supported on fansites etc. I mean, if there isn't an attached miniature line, why would we care? We still have the same rules we had before. It's not like anything is taken away from us. And if the rules themselves go OOP, we have the internet to "source" copies from. Just because an official forum goes dark doesn't mean they'll come to our house and repossess our rulebooks.
Can wargames go out of date?
I'd argue wargames, unlike videogames, cannot truly go "out of date." It's not like a 1990s rulebook and minis are suddenly incompatible with your gaming table. Newer minis and rulebooks may be shinier, but not always. And the gap is not even comparable with that of PC games, I mean, compare 1980s "Pong" and the latest "Crysis 3." The difference is vast. Then compare a 90s miniature and a brand new one. Not so much.
Even game mechanics - which do "date" as new trends and certain game design theories become dominant and others fall out of fashion - do not automatically become obsolete or unplayable. Try telling Battletech fans to stop playing because their game is too old.
If you had a game you really loved, and you had a core of local gamers who loved the game to, would the fact no one else likes your game diminish your enjoyment of the game? Would you say "well, no one is playing Great Rail Wars anymore, so guess we gotta stop playing too."
Videogames suffer if they have dated graphics. Sometimes they don't run on your machine (shakes fist at Windows 7/8). I get it's important for a videogame to be supported. Although there is a certain point where a videogame (if it isn't fatally flawed) shouldn't really need to be patched/updated anymore. But I understand videogames get dated. I mean, some of the games I enjoyed back in the 90s make my eyes bleed now. But can a good wargame be truly dated?
Are we confusing "supported" with popular or well publicized?
We want to know other people will be playing our game, so we won't be left with the only Dark Age army and rulebook in our game club. But if you're an early adopter, there's no guarantee your game will be popular locally anyway. For example, locally Attack Wing, Warmachine and Infinity rule the roost. If I rocked up with my shiny new, much-hyped Age of Sigmar stuff I might be a mite disappointed.
But I'd say a nice glossy rulebook, fun rules, cool fluff and a knockout miniature line should be enough to "sell" a game to your mates. Is a constant stream of paid updates and a energetic social media presence really necessary to enjoy the game?
"Hey Marv, do you want to try The Latest New Wargame?
"Hmm. Dunno. They've got awesome rules, and the minis are epic... ...but..."
"They haven't updated their website this month. And there hasn't been a new supplement or army book this year."
"Cripes, the game must be unsupported. Good spot - I almost bought into that. Kevin, Bob and Jim were all about to order it too"
"I'll let 'em know. Hope they haven't ordered it yet!"
"Phew, that was a near miss."
I started this blog so I could review wargames for my friends and have an accessible place to store them. The reason I started doing reviews for them, was often reviews I read were sycophantic, overly gushing, and devoid of detail on the mechanics and how the game actually played. Some were thinly disguised ads. I wanted reviews that explain the mechanics and content so people can make up their own minds. I think the best compliment I get is when someone says "Your review was negative, but I got the game anyway, because you explained the mechanic and why you didn't like it and I decided I would like that aspect of the game." So when I see on forums people repeatedly recommending games simply "because it's well supported" it irritates me. What does it mean? Am I missing something vital? Perhaps I'm misunderstanding what they mean by "supported?"
My Burning Questions
When is a game "well supported"?
What does "well supported" mean to you?
What does it mean if a game is not supported?
Does it matter to you? Why?