One of the core causes for discussion, argument, and disagreement between wargamers both in person and online is the division of focus between gameplay mechanics and rules (Crunch) on one hand and focus on storytelling, lore, and roleplay elements on the other. Some players and groups prefer to almost exclusively focus on the number crunching and optimization of competitive strategy, while others bury themselves in novels and artwork and play the game as an extension of the narrative universe to better tel their own stories. Very few people fall exclusively into one camp or the other, and instead have some degree of fluff and crunch in their personal preferences, but when you and your opponent do not lie very close to one another along the continuum, conflict can arise. Respectively, people fret over game systems and rules changes, often arguing over which is the 'best' or 'right' way to play a game. Should you and your gaming group all make the switch to Warmachine because of its ruleset? Is Infinity the way forward because of the story it is set in? Should Forge World products or Lords of War be allowed at your 40K table? Was Age of Sigmar a travesty because of the change in rule complexity? What exactly is the right balance of fluff and crunch in your games?

Crunch Focused Gaming

The crunchy gamer usually wants his or her ruleset to be very tight, and cover all kinds of situations with definitive accuracy. In an ideal crunch world, the game's rules are set in such a way that the better player should almost always win, and that with enough skill and practice, you should be able to become more competitive and win more frequently. As wargames often use dice or other randomizing effects, there is still some element of chance that cannot be controlled, but across enough dice rolls there are statistical probabilities that can be counted on and factored into your strategies and tactics. The world's crunchiest games can be thought of as things like Chess, Go, or even Tic Tac Toe - the "Why" of the contest is irrelevant. You either play as the black or white pieces, as X's or O's, and you try to outwit the opponent in a contest of skill. Indeed, I have frequently tried to describe tabletop wargaming to outsiders as 'chess but with more variability, you could choose to have more knights but less bishops, for example, while your opponent could field several more pawns if they don't take rooks".

The drawbacks to an overemphasis on crunch have varying degree of merit. For some fluff focused players, a beardy crunch player might not see the point in painting his models, and doesn't seem to care that Inquisitor Coteaz would never willingly join forces with Daemons of Chaos - as long as that's the most efficient and effective list he can build, he'll take it. At its extreme, this becomes a game of 'who can find the limits of the ruleset and abuse them best', which can be interesting for some but overall takes away the point of actually playing in some circumstances. Winning at all costs is usually only fun for the winner, and if this kind of min-max powergaming is what interests you, then you're more likely to find more fulfillment in a game that is better suited for full-on competitive play. Why bother with the dice and the modeling when you could play a faster and more directly competitive video or board game for much cheaper? Additionally, heavily relying on crunch considerations when building an army list means that certain units or models are far less likely to be taken. Say you're particularly interested in playing with a new cool model kit you've picked up, but after a few games, you find that it never seems to perform well. You do a little math, and realize it is too expensive pointswise to justify its toughness or offensive abilities, so it stays on the shelf. Many players end up doing this - you'll notice that you tend to see similar lists because 'those are best', which reduces the variability in listbuilding and might actually stagnate the game. Entire armies often go unplayed in certain game systems because they are seen as 'weaker'.

Fluffy Gaming

Conversely, the fluffy gamer wants their battles to mean something in the context of a larger scene, setting, or story. To a fluffbunny, it's more important to know why a certain thing is being done, and by who, rather than determining the winner. If you can dream up a scenario where something really cool is going on and make your models and terrain match that story, being able to see the tale unfold on the tabletop is an enjoyable experience and can make for all the enjoyment of reading a book while adding the enjoyment of participating in the story and being able to influence the outcome. The ideal fluff game involves an in-depth backstory about where the two forces are, what comprises them, and what they are trying to accomplish. Both sides would be well painted, and perhaps the game would fit within a larger narrative or campaign system, and at the end you would have a good story to remember and share with friends. If you are reading about some unit that really strikes your fancy in the rulebook, you are going to want to include it in your force because of the way it looks or the fluff stories written about it, regardless of its performance on the tabletop. To a fluff focused player, the story is king and the immersion into the narrative being built is more important than the competitive aspect.

There are, or course, drawbacks to overly fluffy play as well. You may find yourself designing a scene wherein a small band of Ogres attempts to ambush a beastman convoy to steal their food stores, and the pack of ungor guarding the food must protect the caravan at all costs. This may seem a fluffy and enjoyable story to imagine and play out, but with the rules being written how they are, it's pretty unlikely that the ungor are going to have even the remotest chance of success surviving past the first round or two, which ruins the narrative since the rules don't match your expectations. In addition, A Tyranid player may be very interested in playing as a primary invasion force built mostly of genestealers and lictors, but will never win a game at the local club because those models simply aren't efficient within their rules sets. The same can be said of Dark Eldar Wych cults, and several other examples in nearly any games system. If you like your army to include a model you like but the rules are sub-par for that unit, you will suffer a competitive disadvantage if you use it. When you can't seem to make the game play fit the expected story, you could become disheartened and play less often, or grit your teeth and purchase the newest power creep unit even though it doesn't appeal to your preferences.

Play Your Own Way

As detailed above, there are great reasons to want a very crunchy or a very fluffy game, but taking either one to extremes will limit your enjoyment and the actual functioning of the game. In either situation you may actually be better suited doing something else with your time, since most miniatures wargames are not created with only one of those goals in mind. There is, however, a considerable amount of enjoyment you can get out of finding the right balance for yourself on the fluff-crunch spectrum. At its finest, wargaming gives you the ability to have competitive battles between two well painted forces that are working towards a narrative goal, and either player has the chance to win based on the luck of their dice rolls and their tactical acumen as generals. The unfortunate reality of the rulesets we operate under is that we're unlikely to get a perfect representation of this on our tabletops despite the effort we might put into it. The rules are written so that some units are weaker than we want, so nobody will take them, certain forces are more powerful than others, the randomization will prevent skill being the only deciding factor, and so on. What is important is that you and your opponent have a good time and enjoy yourselves playing the game, understanding that it isn't all going to be 'perfect' in every sense. Trying to find a nice balance between your goals and theirs can help set the tone of a game. Do you both want to make a cool story, and who cares who wins? great! Do you want to go toe to toe and slug it out to see who is the best general? Awesome! Do you want a blend of the two? Find the right amount of fluff and crunch and you'll be enjoying yourself all the more.

It's really important to remember that not everybody has fun the same way, and there is no 'right way' to enjoy this hobby. Some people will try to tell you that you're doing it wrong if you play a certain way, take certain models, etc. The thing is, they're wrong. Your responsibility is to have fun with your hobby and help your opponent have fun as well. Anything beyond that is personal preference and you should make the game your own and make it the way you like it. Some people like creamy peanut butter, others like it as thick as trail mix. Neither is better, they're just different, and how you play is up to you.