Saturday, 22 December 2012

Dreadball Unboxed

So my copy of Dreadball turned up on Monday. I have to admit I wasn't expecting this. I did get in on the Dreadball Kickstarter, but only at the last minute and missed out on the December release pledges. Consequently, I wasn't expecting it to show up until January, making its arrival something of a pre-Christmas treat.

I don't want to go into the rules right now. For a start, I have only played one demo game. Plus they have already been available in digital form since November and much of the details were all over the Internet before that. Not to mention the designer's copious blog posts going into detail not just about the rules but also almost every design decision that went into creating them. Frankly, I don't feel I have a lot to add to that.

On the other hand, I do have some comments about the actual package.

Previous Mantic board games, Dwarf King's hold and Project Pandora, although decent enough games, were somewhat lacking in quality. Strong box and component art clashed with cheap and rather rough looking cardboard pieces, while the rules manuals were functional rather than striking. This criticism was pretty much accepted by Mantic at their open day back in September and they have taken serious steps to address it here.

Dreadball comes in a large squarish box made from thick card cardboard. Opening it up reveals the rule book, a general leaflet about Dreadball and its forth coming releases and a second leaflet to store your Mantic points, something that has been a long time coming. Mine also came with a rather nice art print of the box cover, though I suspect this won't be a standard feature. The rule book is a similarly high quality product, full colour and perfect bound on glossy paper. It has the look of a book that Mantic could sell separately in a pinch.


Hiding under the rules is the board. Mantic have offered two custom boards, but I stuck with the one in the box and have to say I'm happy. Mantic have maintained the high quality component art of their previous board games, but have mounted it on thick paper wrapped card, for a feel that is far closer to a traditional board game. There is a touch of sagging around the fold in the centre, and the print quality is not as strong as the rule book, but it is still of decent quality.



I speculated a little while back as to whether Dreadball would follow the packaging conventions of a board game or a wargame. I was surprised to find Mantic went with board game. Under the board is a moulded plastic tray with separate spaces for counters and dice, roster sheets and miniatures. I wouldn't have expected this from Games Workshop, so Mantic have done a very nice job here. The cards and roster sheets maintain the high production standards of the box, board and manual.



I think Mantic have been quite canny here. Although to my mind, Dreadball is essentially a wargame, it has been packaged such that it wouldn't look out of place alongside board games. It could sit comfortably in a shop that focuses on board games, or in Smiths or Waterstones, both of which have been expanding their board games selection recently. Dreadball could easily be Mantic's "gateway drug" for new players.


In their own sections of the tray were four bags of models. The largest was the official models included in the base set, in addition to those I also had the Forge Father team, that I had added to my pledge, another bag containing two samples each of Forge Fathers and Veer-myn and  a final bag of MVPs and limited editions. Unfortunately, it was the models that let the package down slightly.

The Human and Marauder Teams included in the box


The models are all resin-plastic (or restic or sprueless plastic or however Mantic is marketing it this week). Generally I have had a pretty good experience with this stuff. It doesn't hold detail quite as well as Games Workshop's Finecast or, for that matter, conventional resin, but it does a good job and has none of the problems of the other materials; no bubbles, air holes or nasty bits of sprue, and little flash or mould lines. It's also a lot more durable. It has shown a marked tendency to warp, but if you put it in some hot water it will soften enough to be bent back in to position.

 MVPs


The problem with the models is that they come in multiple pieces, usually with separate heads often arms and in some cases legs. Unfortunately, the box comes with no instructions on how to assemble them or even explaining that you need super glue and that conventional polystyrene cement won't work. On the plus side the pieces go together well and only minimal clean up was needed.

 Forge Father Team

The rest of the game is packaged like a board game, but having miniatures that need a considerable amount of assembly and prep works against that. It doesn't help that page 7 of the rule book actively encourages you to learn the rules by playing a game and muddling through. This isn't really practical when you have 20+ models to prep and assemble. Without this issue I could see Dreadball being opened Christmas morning and game being played by mid afternoon or at least Boxing day. Perhaps Mantic should have included some counters to represent the players so at least you could get in a game straight away.

It's a shame, because the models look very nice and I certainly have plenty of them, but, unfortunately, they work against the style of the rest of the package. So, high quality components, well packaged, addressing many of the faults with previous Mantic releases, but, sadly, not quite perfect.

Monday, 3 December 2012

The Battle of Wurtbad

The market town of Wurtbad in the Northern Empire was to receive a rude awakening when the warning bells tolled. Grown fat from the town's annual beer festival, it was all too tempting a prospect for the hastily assembled alliance of Chaos Worshippers now approaching the town.

Magraf Adolphus Von Rachoff had been dreading this. Ever since the river Wurt had burst its banks leading to flooding and the collapse of part of the town wall, Wurtbad had been all too vulnerable. Unfortunately, the town Burgers, always with an eye on short term profit, had refused the funds to make necessary repairs. They would live to regret it when their coffers were carried off by beastmen, assuming they lived of course.

There was no time for recriminations, Adolphus had to focus on the town's defence. He rallied the town guard under Captain Borgen and set about equipping a hastily arranged militia with what weapons could be found, mostly pikes and crossbows but a handful of serviceable arquebus were included. The towns ageing cannon was pressed into service and a group of Bergjaeger woodsmen offered their services and their archery skills. Most fortunately of all, the Wizard Johannes Breckner, in town for the festival, mounted his horse and agreed to offer what magic he could.

With the defenders prepared, Adolphus deployed a number to defend the town, but kept the bulk of his forces on a hill just outside the town borders in the hope of distracting the chaos worshippers attention from the town itself.

We decided that I would nominally be in command of the Fetid Alliance, while MLB would command the Defenders of Wurtbad. I say nominally because the intent was not play a strictly competitive game. For a start, I would be in command of MLBs warband. But also, we wanted to play an interesting game that would develop the narrative of our ongoing campaign. Who won or lost was secondary.

We decided that in addition to the standard victory points table, if Chaos won the champions would take 10 victory points each. This is standard for a winning side in most of the scenarios outlined in Realms of Chaos: the Lost and the Damned.

Deployment - click on any picture for a better view

The cacophonous sound of a beastmen horn signalled the Chaos advance. The warbands advanced on the left flank accompanied by the diseased flagellants and there foul altar. On the Chaos right flank, Balios the Corpulent lead his Zombies towards the hill occupied by the Magraf.

At a signal from Adolphus, the Empire missile troops opened fire. Flaggelents and Zombies fell, but the warbands were unharmed and the advanced continued largely unimpeded.

Missile attacks from the arquebus and crossbows did almost no damage. Some Zombies fell to cannon fire, but not enough to have any serious effect.

As Rolf Hurtziger's warband approached the town, the brave men of the town militia, lead by Captain Borgen advanced to meet them, halberds at the ready. Sensing blood, the Chaos worshippers quickened their pace before launching into an ill organised charge.

Rolf's warband advances on the Hellblitzen while Owesteen's warband turns their attention to the Bergjaeger

As the battle lines met, Rolf declared a challenge, accepted willingly by Captain Borgen. The two champions were evenly matched, axe and sword clashed. There was a break in the fighting and then both men collapsed.

Enraged at the loss of their leader, Rolf's followers attacked with renewed and maniacal vigour. The militia were forced back, gave ground and then turned and fled back to the town with the vile Chaos worshippers in hot pursuit.



Captain Borgen and Rolf Hurtziger were both level 5 heroes with almost identical profiles. Rolf's mark of Nurgle gave him +1 toughness, but there was nothing else in it. With nearly identical profiles, they struck simultaneously and both went down. On the other hand, humans with halberds clearly weren't a match for a Dragon Ogre, beastmen and Orcs with spears. The halberdiers failed their break test, but in 3rd edition that didn't mean instant death, just running away with the warband following and hacking at them further. The pursuit would keep the warband occupied for most of the game.

In the centre, the warband of the Dark Elf Owesteen clashed with the Bergjaeger . Owesteen had expected easy prey, but the woodsmen put up a stern resistance.

But it was on the right flank that the battle was to be decided. Balios Plague Zombies charged uphill to meet the Magraf's pikemen. Despite the hideous appearance of their opponents, the pikemen held out. Balios and the Magraf clashed, ineffectually at first, but then the Magraf slipped past the foul Champion's defences and delivered a killing blow with the sacred Warhammer. Balios fell and his remaining Zombies driven into the ground and crushed. The triumphant defenders reformed and turned to face the rest of the Chaos raiders, only to see Rolf's warband advancing into the town.

 An uphill struggle for Balios and the Zombies

Both the Magraf and Balios were level 15 heroes and about as evenly matched as Rolf and Captain Borgen. One round of combat saw both champions completely miss each other. The second round wasn't much better, but luckily for the Magraf he managed to get in two hits and made excellent use of the hammers might strike (1 strength 10 hit per game) and enchanted strike (2 wounds) to bring Balios down.

It was at this point, with both armies right flank collapsing, it became clear that we were not going to get a clear cut outcome to the game. Neither one of us was particularly keen to see our carefully nurtured warbands have to battle to the death and with the speed at which 3rd edition combat is resolved we could have been there all day in any case.

We decided that if at least half the chaos units made into the town before the end of the game, they would be able to make off with enough plunder to claim a draw and get five victory points per champion. This felt like the most narratively satisfying outcome. Quite apart from anything else, a good part of the fun of Realms of Chaos comes  from rolling on the chaos reward table and you can't do that without a few victory points.

The lesson we took from all this was to always make sure that you iron out your victory conditions properly before you start playing the game and remember to consider the possibility of a draw.

With Magraf Adolphus and his pikemen and crossbows bearing down on him, Owesteen, having lost the rest of his warband, finally managed to finish off the scouts and turned to face the rapidly advancing pikemen. Reasoning that it was better to charge and take the initiative, that be skewered by crossbow bolts and blown to pieces by cannon fire, charged the Magraf.

Back in the centre, the diseased flagellants had finally crossed the river and engaged the aqruebus. Enhanced by the power of the Chaos altar, the deranged fanatics were more than a match for the men of Wurtbad, but, although forced to give ground, the defenders stubbornly refused to flee.

 Owesteen battles the Magraf while the Diseased Flagellants finish of the Hakbutschutzen

Despite a valiant struggle, Owesteen the Dark Elf fell to the Margraf's hammer. But by now, Rolf's warband and the diseased Flagellants had made their way into Wurtbad.

With two units having made it into the town, this was the point at which we stopped the game and declared it a draw. Both champions were able to claim five victory points, but with both having been "killed" during the fighting they didn't get any extra points for having survived the battle. Fortunately, for Owesteen the five victory points were just enough, with the points accumulated from a previous battle, to tip him over the edge and give him a roll on the Chaos Reward table. This turned out to be the chaos attribute feathers. Rolf, however, didn't earn enough for another roll. Luckily for both warbands, they no-one suffered any permanent injuries.

Overall it had been an interesting game. Using the warbands as complete units had been more straight forward than expected and the rules scaled comfortably well to 1000 points. Having said that, the combats dragged out for turns and Missile fire was also almost entirely ineffective. I suspect playing at the 'official' standard 3000 points would have taken ages.

That said, as the warbands grow it would be worth bringing them back together for another large scale battle, possibly bringing in an allied warband worshipping another God.

Although some of the followers of Chaos had made it into the town, they were quickly driven out by the Magraf's troops. The town had been saved, but, secretly, the Magraf hoped the town burgers had been scared enough not to neglect its defences in future.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Miniature Games vs Board Games

So what is the difference between a board game and a table top wargame? Apart from the obvious that is. Actually, that bears some examination, because there are some games that have boards that feel very much like tabletop mini games. Bloodbowl and Dreadball are obvious examples, then there's Space Hulk, Warhammer Quest, Mantic's Dwarf King's hold and Project Pandora and of course Dust Tactics. Does Dreadfleet's battle mat count as a board? And Anima Tactics, intended as a TMG its appendix includes rules for using a board, so is it a board game when you use the board and a TMG at other times?

Going the other way, I have always thought of as medieval-themed tile game Carcassone a board game, but do its brightly coloured tiles qualify as a board?

I have to say at this point I don't spend a large a lot of time pondering this issue. I'm not one of those pedantic types who defines myself as a wargamer or a boardgamer and insists that never the twain shall meet. The question only interests me because it says something about the way we use language and the way we think about games.

With that in mind, I have got what I think is a slightly better definition. To my mind a board game is an essentially self-contained product in a way that a wargame is not. Obviously this requires a little more explanation as there is no shortage of expansions for board games. Frankly, the back catalogue of some board game expansions is enough to keep some companies afloat by themselves cough#Munchkin#cough.

What I mean, is that the intent of a board game is that a single person can buy a copy, and the optional expansions if they so choose, and have a self-contained product that can be played with a group. There is no intent for each player to bring their own copy. In contrast, in a TMG each player is expected to collect their own army/warband/gang/crew/team of models. Of course some players like to collect multiple armies so that players with no army of their own can still join in, but the clear intent is that each player brings their own models.

The funny thing about this definition is that Blood Bowl and Dreadball would be considered TMGs while Space Hulk, Dwarf King's Hold and Dreadfleet would be board games.

I have been reasonably happy with my home made definition for a while now, but this past weekend something happened that gave me a different perspective.

Last Saturday was Warfare Reading, Reading's premiere, and indeed only, Wargames event. Unusually for me my target wasn't new miniatures, but board games, specifically the Zombie apocalypse themed Last Night on Earth and Zombicide. Both games involve the killing of Zombies, but approach this theme quite differently. Last night on Earth is strongly atmospheric and tactical, while Zombicide focuses on straightforward cartoony action.

Most boardgames, particularly the more expensive ones, are packaged so that the game components can be easily be stored in the box. Usually this is some kind of plastic tray molded to hold the cards and counters specific to the game. Small World from Days of Wonder has one of the most elaborate. In addition to the specially molded tray, it also includes a separate removable tray specifically for the large collection of counters the game requires.



Not all games go quite this far, the aforementioned Carcasonne simply has a cardboard insert. Nevertheless, there is sense that the game and the box are part of a single self contained product.



Last night on Earth follows this pattern exactly.


When you open up Zombicide you get something quite different.


The two large boxes contain the plastic trays of miniatures.



There is a seperate plastic holder for the cards, dice and experience markers, but the cards bulge over the top. This is fine when they are still sealed in plastic, but they start to spread out when put in loosely.


The miniatures and board sections fit quite snuggly, but there is also a single sheet of card counters which sits on top. Unfortunately, once the counters are punched out there is nowhere for them to go.

As I rummaged around for a plastic sandwich bag to store the counters I remembered that I had had to do the same thing with my copies of Blood Bowl, Space Hulk and Warhammer Quest. Although Games Workshop have produced a number of games that are arguably board games they have never followed the board game convention of including a means of storing the components. Mantic have followed the same pattern with Dwarf King's Hold and Project Pandora. When companies focused on TMG games produce board games they tend to treat the boxes the same way as boxes of miniatures, as a mechanism of transporting the miniatures without them falling all over the floor.

This leads me to wonder if Zombicide was produced with more of a TMG sensibility than a board game sensibility. It also leads me to wonder how Dreadball will be packaged when it is ready.

But what is really strange about all this is that, until now, packaging never entered my head when considering the definition of a game and yet I come away from this feeling as though Last Night on Earth is a board game and Zombicide is a table top miniature game.

Friday, 16 November 2012

The Battle of Wurtbad - the Defenders of Wurtbad

After our brief interlude into other things, it's back to the fate of the town of Wurtbad. Having worked out an army list for our Nurgle alliance it was time to sort one out for the valiant, or foolhardy, defenders of the town.

We were already planning to use MLB's Empire army, made from a mix of Perry Miniatures War of the Roses plastics and some Games Workshop models. The army is still in its early stages, so we were pretty sure we would have to take almost all of it, but we still had to consider army lists.

Games Workshop actually published two different Empire army lists during the reign of Warhammer 3rd edition. The first was one of the lists included in the Warhammer Armies book. The units are mostly given mad cod-german names, but much of it is still pretty recognisable. We have mountetriad Knights, Halberdies, Hand gunners and even Flaggelents. But some of the more distinctive Empire elements such as detachments and Steam Tanks were still some way off.


The second list was released in White Dwarf 147 [check] and is a very different beast. It was timed to coincide with the release of a large number of new models from the Perry brothers and, in retrospect, is fairly obviously a trial run for Warhammer 4th edition which was then only six months away. It includes almost all of the elements associated with the modern Empire army and a few that were common but have since fallen by the wayside, such as Kislev horse archers. It also features a few 4th edition specific features, such as the elimination of cool, intelligence and willpower in favour of simply having leadership handle everything.



It also has a few features all of its own. Units are bought in blocks of five or ten, with command groups and champions included automatically if the unit could have them at all. Additional troops also had to be added in blocks. This particular decision proved so unpopular that White Dwarf published points for individual models a couple of months later and the idea was dropped from all fourth edition armies.

In the end we decided to go with earlier army list. Partly this was because MLB's army included a large unit of pikemen and there are no pikemen in the later army list. We could have used them as spearmen, but it seemed a shame to compromise. Secondly, the cheapest independent character in the army was an Elector Count, which felt too high ranking to take part in what was effectively a minor skirmish.

The final reason was that part of the appeal of this was the opportunity to play a larger scale game of Warhammer 3rd edition. And that wasn't very compatible with using an army list that was effectively a preview of fourth edition.

In the end we had to use almost all of MLB's Perry models. We also added a cannon and a recently acquired mounted Wizard he had picked up from the bring and buy stand at a convention. A more recent Empire character was drafted in to lead the army. With Balios set at Level 15 it seemed appropriate to match him with an equivalent hero of the Empire. And we kitted him out with a magic hammer to give him a little more punch.

 

The Defenders of Wurtbad


Adolphus Von Rachhoff – Margraf (Level 15 Hero) (80)

M
WS
BS
S
T
W
I
A
Ld
Int
Cl
WP
4
5
4
4
4
3
5
3
9+2
7
8+1
8+1

Magic Hammer (Mighty Strike (1 Strength 10 hit per game) (5), Enchanted Strike (2 wounds)) (10), Pistol (2), Heavy Armour (3)

Total 100 points

Johannes Breckner – Schwarzmantel (Level 10 Wizard) (85)

M
WS
BS
S
T
W
I
A
Ld
Int
Cl
WP
4
4
3
4
3
2
4
1
8+1
9+2
8+1
9+2

Hand Weapon, Horse (3)

Total 88 points

Captain Borgern – Graf (Level 5 Hero) (30)

M
WS
BS
S
T
W
I
A
Ld
Int
Cl
WP
4
4
4
4
3
1
4
2
7
7
7
7

Halberd (2), Light Armour (2)

Total 34 points

10 Armbrutschutzen (10 x 10)

M
WS
BS
S
T
W
I
A
Ld
Int
Cl
WP
4
3
3
3
3
1
3
1
7
7
7
7

Crossbow and Hand Weapon

Total 100 points

20 Helblitzen (9 x 20)

M
WS
BS
S
T
W
I
A
Ld
Int
Cl
WP
4
3
3
3
3
1
3
1
7
7
7
7

Halberds and Light Armour, Standard (9) and Musician (9)

Total 198 points

 

10 Hakbutschutzen (8 x 10)

M
WS
BS
S
T
W
I
A
Ld
Int
Cl
WP
4
3
3
3
3
1
3
1
7
7
7
7

Hand Weapons and Arquebus

Total 80 points

 

20 Ersatzsolder (5 x 20)

M
WS
BS
S
T
W
I
A
Ld
Int
Cl
WP
4
3
3
3
3
1
3
1
7
7
7
7

Pikes (2), Light Armour (2), Standard Bearer (9), Musician (9)

Total 198 points

 

10 Bergjaeger (13 x 10)

M
WS
BS
S
T
W
I
A
Ld
Int
Cl
WP
4
3
3
3
3
1
3
1
7
7
7
7

Long Bow and Hand Weapon. Scouts

Total 130 points

 

Reiks Canone Batrerien – 1 Cannon (60)

M
WS
BS
S
T
W
I
A
Ld
Int
Cl
WP
4
3
3
3
3
1
3
1
7
7
7
7

3 crew

Total 60 points


Grand Total 988 points

Monday, 5 November 2012

A true original?


Poor old Jake Thornton, no sooner does he announce plans to self-publish a new skirmish game then the first comment, the very first comment, assumes he will be ripping off Games Workshop. I can't say I blame him for writing a blog post on the subject. Since Dreadball a vocal part of the wargaming community seem to have decided that he is simply copies existing games.

That said, me writing a whole blog post on the subject probably doesn't help. So, before I go any further, I should say that I think his skirmish game Eternal Battles sounds very interesting. The plan is for a modular structure with the basic rules covered in one volume and multiple add on modules to cover different periods. I will be watching with interest.

I still want to talk about the "rip off" accusation though because it illustrates something quite interesting about the attitude of some gamers.

It's odd that Dreadball attracted such criticism, actually. There have been dozens of mass battle, dungeon crawl, space ship exploration and skirmish games released without anyone batting an eyelid. Maybe it's because Blood Bowl feels like one of Games Workshop's few truly original ideas. I say truly original, but even then it's a splice of two existing concepts, Warhammer Fantasy and American Football. Nevertheless, it does seem to be associated with Games Workshop more firmly than any other game concept ad has a lot of loyal fans.

Still, the attitude to Dreadball suggests that its critics believe there is only one legitimate route to design a game. That is to start with a totally original concept and then right rules to simulate it. That is certainly the route taken by some games; Malifaux and War Machine spring to mind. But this isn't the only route.

Take a look at historical gaming. There are games for all different periods and conflicts and the most popular periods are supported by multiple rules sets. Fields of Glory, Hail Caesar, Clash of Empires, War and Conquest, as well as others, all cover the ancient to medieval period, but all do so in a different way. Some rules focus in on a very particular period, such as Beneath the Lilly Banner, Killer Katanas or Saga, while others cover a much broader period, such as Pike and Shotte. When Warlord released Bolt Action recently Alessio Cavatore and Rick Priestly didn't receive any criticism for writing rules based on a period that has already been covered by other games. Not to say there wasn't any criticism, but not for that. Possibly this is because in historical gaming everything is based on actual history so no-one can be accused of ripping anyone else off based on this.

But historical gaming also illustrates a different approach to designing a game, namely looking at an existing period or concept and trying to simulate it with a different set of rules. As far as I can see, with Bolt Action the designers had a unique selling point based on the rules, the order dice, and built the game from there.

Why is this not an appropriate approach to take to Fantasy and Sci-Fi gaming. If a designer has a new way of simulating fantasy skirmish or mass battle or even sport why not build a game around it? Surely not every game has to be completely unique?

Now lets take a look at the current state of Blood Bowl. It is still formally available, but has been tucked away in the Specialist games area of the Games Workshop website, with no formal support and no new models for years. Many of the existing models haven't been updated since the mid 1990s. The game is effectively retired. So what is a designer with a good idea for a sports-based game supposed to do? Forget about it because Games Workshop have a game vaguely similar they hardly support? Whatever else you might say about Mantic they certainly have big plans for Dreadball with three supplements and twelve teams planned and no shortage of additional material.

So from the perspective of gamers Dreadball looks like good news. It's an interesting rules set and the game looks well supported. Should the whole concept have been dropped simply because it is vaguely similar to a game Games Workshop have all but abandoned? I think not.

I'm already signed up to Dreadball, I put money into the Kickstarter and will be keeping an eye on Eternal Battle and I hope that no good games are strangled at birth because tehy are judged insufficiently original.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

The numbers game

With Mantic's open day last weekend and my recent foray into Realms of Chaos I have had both Warhammer and Kings of War on the mind. One of the more distinctive features of KOW is the way in which it treats units. In Warhammer the basic element is the model and units are made of groups of them, while in Kings of War the basic element is the unit, it has its own stat line and is moved and removed as one element.

When playing a KOW style game, you tend to assume that the unit does not necessarily represent the number of individuals on the table. There might be twenty models, but your would tend to assume that that represents several hundred or even thousand individuals. The exact number is less important than the unit's abaility to project power on the field. For that reason the unit is removed all at once. The fate of individuals doesn't matter, when the unit is removed it is assumed that the unit is no longer able to fight effectively either because everyone is dead or has run off.

You wouldn't necessarily think this in Warhammer. When each model has its own stat line, it feels like an individual. But this doesn't actually make sense in practice. For a start, the units in Warhammer behave like much larger bodies. There may twenty men (or Orcs or Elves) on the table, but they move and fight like formations of several hundred. They stay in formation, can't manuevere easily and don't break formation except in route.

Looking at things on a larger scale, Warhammer-style games use maybe 100 to 200 models. Real historical armies run to thousands or even tens of thousands. Even the largest Warhammer battle represents only a skirmish in historical terms. And yet the conceit of the Warhammer game is that battles involve Emperor's, Kings and Warlords.

Both styles of game involve an abstraction. In KOW style games you assume that each unit represents more individuals than seen on the table. In Warhammer style games the abstraction happens almost in reverse. You assume that units and individuals behave like much larger formations than they actually represent. Either way, the effect is to simulate a massive battle with a much smaller number of models.

This division of model versus unit is common in historical wargaming. Warlord's Black Powder, Hail Caesar and Pike and Shotte all use the unit as the base element. Field of Glory and its successors as well as DBA and DBM use a similar system, of multiple models on a single base, even if they are not necessarily called units. In the other side, Clash of Empires follows a similar system to Warhammer, with units of individual models.

While the unit versus individual concept cuts across fantasy and historical gaming, in one area historical games usually fall on one side and fantasy on the other and that's in the handling of characters. In the Black Powder family, Clash of Empires, Field of Glory characters are essentially order givers. They enhance the fighting ability or units and/or are required to allow them to activate, but they don't fight units directly.

In contrast Warhammer treats characters as particularly capable individuals able to join and leave units and fight on the same level as other individuals. Kings of War goes even further. Characters are units in their own right and a single hero can fight on even terms with a unit of 20 or more models. This makes sense, while in the real world no individual, no matter how capable can fight more than two or three at a time successfully, in a fantasy world mighty heroes really can take on entire armies and win.

So many games use abstraction to deal with numbers, but the exact way it's managed varies from game to game and genre to genre.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

A Jolly holiday with Mantic

Bit of a digression from my previous post here, because I spent most of the last weekend in Nottingham and most of Saturday at the headquarters of Mantic games. It being the occasion of Mantic's open day. I had managed to acquire a ticket as a free bonus for having pledged some money to their Kings of War Kickstarter and so I and MLB decided to make a weekend of it.

Mantic Undead on display

Suffice it to say, Mantic's HQ is not quite on the same scale as that of another significant Nottingham-based miniature company and doesn't have any massive bronze statues outside either. It consists of a handful of semi-ventilated offices and a warehouse out back. But Mantic attempted to do as much with the space as possible. The front end of the warehouse had been cleared to provide space for Warpath and Kings of War gaming tables and a decently sized retail stand. Much of this space was dedicated to testing out Warpath 2.0 and showing off the new Enforcer models (which look more like they've escaped from Iron Man 2.5 than Space Marines). There was also space for a large scale Undead vs Dwarfs Kings of War game in which Mantic's models were supplemented with Reaper Werewolves and an Undead Elephant/Mammoth of uncertain origin. The Warehouse surroundings, if anything, added to the atmosphere as gamers shared space with still to be assembled miniature boxes and paper inlays.

Off to the side of the warehouse, Golem painting studios offered painting tutorials for Undead and Enforcers. Getting on on these required an additional £20 fee, but came bundled with a box of models. MLB spent some time learning how to paint flat surfaces and certainly got his, by which I mean my, money's worth as he was in there for two and a half hours.

Upstairs, in a short corridor of offices, sculptor Bob Naismith spent half the day holding court and showing off the early versions of the impressively huge Abyssal Golems. The major attraction of the day was opposite in the "Jake room" in which Jake Thornton's board games Dwarf King's Hold and Project Pandora played a supporting role to the four demo games of Dread Ball.

 Mantic Abyssal Golem - work in progress by Bob Naismaith

Following a highly successful Kickstarter campaign, Dread Ball is looking like Mantic's breakout hit and the demo games stayed busy throughout the day. The demo version reduced the number of players on each team and started the action two-thirds of the way through the game in order to keep things simple and maximise turnover. The game itself plays very swiftly; it is perfectly possible to score in a turn with a reasonable degree of luck. But, the fact that models are not reset after scoring, with the ball returning to the centre, means that you have to keep an eye on the position of your whole team. While there is an element of risk management, if you lose or fail to pick up the ball your turn, or rush, is over, the game is much more about resource management than Blood Bowl. You have fewer action tokens than players, which means not every player will act each rush, but you can play more than one action token on a player if you wish. This allows for faster scoring, but can leave other players out of position. With better quality game pieces than I have seen from Mantic and some very well sculpted players I could see this game becoming a major hit.

At the end of the corridor Mantic head honcho Ronnie Renton and Jake Thornton spent most of the day in seminars with whoever showed up. These took the form of surprisingly candid Q&A sessions with a fair bit of discussion of future plans.

Dread Ball was, unsurprisingly, a prominent feature. Mantic clearly have big plans, with four supplements outlined and, thanks to Kickstarter, largely funded. The intent is for the first three to introduce new teams, before the fourth "Dread Ball" extreme introduces the illegal "street" version of the game. This sounds genuinely fascinating as the teams will not have fixed rosters, but instead be recruited game to game by shadowy "backers". These backers can potentially hire any kind of player, but will get significant bonuses to certain types depending on their background, so an alien ambassador will get cheap aliens, a mad scientist cheap mutants and genetic modification. Overal, it sounds like the intent is to create a much broader game than Blood Bowl and Mantic may have the resources and enthusiasm to really run with the content.

Kings of War and Warpath also got their share of attention. Warpath has gone a bit quiet of late, but Ronnie let slip his intent to produce cheap plastic vehicle and plane kits (he thought £12 was about right for a hard plastic tank) and that he wants it to be quick and easy to play with large numbers of models. On the Kings of War front, he made it clear that there are three principal poles in the Mantica world, Good, Evil and Nature. The latter would be represented by druids and elementals. We have already seen the archetypal good army in the planned human Paladins, Battle Sisters and Angels. The plan is also to produce an army of demons which will be more Satanic and Diabolic rather than Chaotic. Though what this will entail remains to be seen. Having covered the main fantasy archetypes (plus Abyssal Dwarves which appear to be a case of trolling Games Workshop for a laugh), Mantic now appear to be moving on to some distinctive and interesting creations of their own.

So not a big day, but an enjoyable one and one plentiful access to the movers and shakers and a refreshing willingness to actually provide us with information.

Sunday, 23 September 2012

The Battle of Wurtbad - The Fetid Alliance

Having decided that our battle would be between the Empire and a Nurgle Chaos army we had to iron out the specifics of the army lists. For our Chaos army, two elements had already been decided on, namely the warbands of Rolf Hurtziger, my Nurgle Champion and Owesteen, MLB's Nurgle champion.

Under the rules outlined in Realms of Chaos - the Lost and the Damned, Chaos warbands can be included in Chaos armies as unusual mixed units of different creatures. This could get frustratingly complicated with large armies, but with only 1,000 points to play with seemed reasonably manageable. Under the rules, the points value of a warband is based entirely on the number of rewards received by its champion. This lead to the slightly crazy situation in which my Warband, lead by a level 5 human hero and consisting of three Beastmen, four Orcs, a Dragon-Ogre and a Beast of Nurgle cost exactly the same points as MLB's warband of a level 5 Dark Elf Hero, a level 5 human Wizard and four ghouls, 200 points each. Still, between the two they probably represented 400 points and balanced each other out. It does, emphasise the extent to which Realms of Chaos was based on creating weird and wacky Chaos armies, champions and creatures, rather than competitiveness and fairness.

This left us with 600 points still to spend. With both our warbands lead by only level 5 heroes (the lowest level hero in Warhammer 3rd edition, equivalent to a unit champion) neither seemed up to the job of acting as general. Independent Champions can be included in a Realms of Chaos army, but they must be randomly generated, either from a big list of pre-generated champions or from scratch. But, in our case we already had a model we wanted to use.

For a while I had felt my existing Chaos army lacked a decent centre piece model and when the opportunity came up to grab the Epidemius model cheaply from a convention, I snapped him up before Games Workshop finecast him. I had no intention of using Epidemius himself, I just wanted to get my hands on his Palanquin. Using a combination of old champions bits, Nurglings, bits box fodder and green stuff I fashioned together my Nurgle Champion Balios the Corpulent. Balios would make the ideal general for the Fetid Alliance. The only problem was that he already had a distinctive look of his own. So, rather than randomly generate him we decided to fudge things. Balios was not randomly generated, but he could have been, we simply picked the results that best reflected his look. A Palanquins could already be purchased for champions for fifty points it didn't feel like we had created anything overpowered or under-costed and got a chance to use the Balios model in third edition.

With Balios on board we had 550 points left to spend on troops. I was keen to use some of the more exotic, and thematic elements of the Nurgle army, and we were constrained by the models we had available. With that in mind, we added a unit of Plague Zombies and unit of diseased Flagellants.

The Plague Zombies are really just regular Zombies, but Nurgle is the only Chaos power able to use them and I rather liked the idea of the victims of his various diseases being compelled to follow the army around. It would certainly be intimidating for the defenders of Wurtbad.

The diseased Flagellants are also a uniquely Nurgle unit. Possibly even more demented than standard Flaggelents what they lack in fighting prowess they make up for in Fanaticism, that and the huge cloud of flies that follows them around. I had already started putting a unit of these together to use as Nurgle Marauders in Warhammer 8th edition. Given that I had been inspired by the Realms of Chaos unit in the first place it seemed appropriate to add them to our third edition army list.

Units in Realms of Chaos armies must contain a number of models divisible by the Chaos gods sacred number. In Nurgle's case this is seven so we included 14 Flaggelants and 28 plague Zombies.

This left us with just enough points to buy a Nurgle war altar. This would give a considerable Leadership and close combat bonus to any unit within 12" and, again, I had a model I wanted to use. I assigned the Flaggelants to act as Honour guards. This would cost them their usual Frenzy bonus, but would make them immune to psychology and break tests as long as the altar was still in one piece.

And so, our Chaos army was complete.

The Fetid Alliance

Balios the Corpulent

Level 15 Hero


M
WS
BS
S
T
W
I
A
Ld
Int
Cl
WP
Balios
2
5
4
4
6
3
4
4
9+2
7
8+1
8+1
Palanquin
6


3
5
3

D6





Chaos Rewards: Immensity (+1 A, -1 I), Face of Nurgle (Cause Fear), Chaos Armour (4+ Save)

Chaos Attributes: Tentacles (1 arm) (+1 FP), Limb loss (1 leg) (½ M), Horns (+1 A, +1 FP)

Palanquin

Total 150 pts

The Warband of Rolf Hurtziger

(Level 5 Human Hero, 3 Beastmen, 4 Orcs, Dragon Ogre, Beast of Nurgle)
200 points

The Warband of Owestine

(Level 5 Dark Elf Hero, 4 Ghouls, Level 5 Human Wizard)
200 points

War Altar of Nurgle

M
WS
BS
S
T
W
I
A
Ld
Int
Cl
WP
4
0
0
0
10
5
0
0
-
-
-
-

+2 Leadership Bonus to units within 12”. +1 Combat Resolution bonus to units with 12”. Cannot reserve move. If destroyed, every unit must make a panic test.

120 Points

The Wretched Brethren – 14 Diseased Flagellants

M
WS
BS
S
T
W
I
A
Ld
Int
Cl
WP
4
2
3
4
4
1
3
1
7
7
7
7

Includes Standard carrying the disease banner (Every time the units suffers a wound in close combat the enemy suffers a wound on a 4+) and Musician
Hand Weapons and Flails
Altar Guards – Immune to Psychology and Break tests while within 6” of the Altar. Otherwise subject to Frenzy and hate all enemies.
Chaos Attributes: Plague Bearer (the shakes -1 WS, -1 A)

165 points

The Devotees of Balios – 28 Plague Zombies

M
WS
BS
S
T
W
I
A
Ld
Int
Cl
WP
4
2
0
3
3
1
1
1
5
5
5
5

Hand Weapons

120 points

Sunday, 16 September 2012

The Battle of Wurtbad - Preamble

So it has been a while since I last wrote anything on the subject of my and MLB's Realms of Chaos campaign. That doesn't mean the campaign has been completely inactive. Just mostly inactive.

With two warbands a piece we had played out three of the four possible battle combinations (ignoring the two possible combinations where our own warbands fight each other). The last combination presented something of a dilemma. For a start both of our remaining warbands were  Nurgle warbands. This didn't rule out a conflict, champions of the same God often fight each other to gain the favour of their god, but it felt less natural than the previous battles we had fought. More troubling was the relative strength of the warbands. Thanks to a couple of lucky rolls, Rolf Hurtziger's warband had added a Beast of Nurgle and a Dragon-Ogre to the four Orcs and three Beastmen in already contained. MLB's warband, however, only contained four ghouls and a level five wizard. So far things were looking a little one sided.

Initially, we looked at a scenario in which the warbands ambush a Dwarven caravan. This would allow us to focus our attention on the dwarves if we wanted and allow both sides to grab some victory points. We the considered it would be more natural if the two warbands teamed up to carry out the ambush, instead of coincidentally attacking the same caravan at the same time. It was then that we hit on a more ambitious idea.

The Realms of Chaos books don't just contain the rules for Chaos Warbands, but also the rules for full sized Warhammer Armies in the 3rd edition Warhammer Fantasy Battle. In addition to the usual mix of units, characters and monsters, these armies can also contain randomly generated warbands. These can be generated specifically for the army or part of an existing campaign. What is more, these warbands can gain rewards and followers from fighting in battles as part of the army. We had our solution. Our warbands would combine and, bulked up with additional troops from my Chaos collection, we would play out a full 1000 point 3rd edition Warhammer campaign.

The next question was who to use as an opponent. The Dwarves were an obvious choice. Having been a dwarf player for around fifteen years now I have plenty of models and the dwarf army list hasn't changed dramatically since third edition. However, MLB has been slowly buying up Perry miniatures War of the Roses infantry with the intention of building a cheaper Empire army and this looked like an ideal opportunity to give them a test run. Plus, Empire vs Chaos felt like a more natural and classic lineup for our first full scale 3rd edition battle.

So with the forces decided, it was time to draw up some army lists.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Does everyone have to have a Kickstarter now?

The news is out that Wyrd games is planning a Malifaux RPG Kickstarter. This following Kickstarters from McVey studios, Soda Pops miniatures, Reaper, Mongoose and Mantic who are now on their second. It's starting to feel like Kickstarter is the thing all the cool miniature companies just have to have.

For anyone not in the know, Kickstarter is a website that allows companies (not necessarily miniature companies) to gather donations to put towards a specified project. In return for these pledges they offer contributors a reward. In most cases this will be a copy of one or more of the funded projects, though all kinds of rewards are on offer.

Given that I contributed a not insubstantial sum to the Mantic Kings of War Kickstarter (enough to get my name in the rulebook) I can't oppose the concept in principal. At it's best its a smart way for a company to crowd source its funding and to gauge whether a project is worth pursuing before committing any money. It can also be good for the customer, though its worth be careful. Its all to easy to get carried away in the momentum and fail to realise that the rewards aren't much more than exactly what the company will be selling in a few months time.

What I do wonder, however, is whether Kickstarter is strictly a good idea for every company. Most of the established companies have declared their Kickstarter goal to grow their gaming system and release models earlier than they would otherwise be able. This sounds great in principle, but I question whether it is always a good idea for the company.

I have written before about the difficulties faced by established miniature companies, like Games Workshop and Privateer Press, before. Essentially the dilemma is whether to keep growing the game in order to maintain the interest of the existing fan base at the risk of losing new players, or move in the other direction and endlessly re-release in order and rely on high player turnover. A more rapid release schedule could simply exacerbate the problem. The more you release  the harder it is for a new player to find a way into the system, Warmachine and Hordes are all but impenetrable to new players, and the more you risk losing casual players who can't keep up.

As the game grows only the truly dedicated can keep up, and these are exactly the sort of people likely to contribute to a Kickstarter campaign. This could fuel a kind of positive feedback in which the most dedicated, even fanatical, fans drive the development of the game. This could  lead to a distorted picture of the popularity of the project. What happens when the audience for a Kickstarter is the same size as the contributors?

At least Wyrd are focusing their Kickstarter on a new game, the Malifaux RPG. But I do wonder just how much Malifaux do people want? There are already three main rulebooks for the miniature game with a forth on route and a handful of new releases every month. With this rate of growth it becomes harder and harder to find an entry point. Ultimately, will Kickstarter provide a boost for these companies or just allow them to grow faster than is wise?

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

AAARGH!!!

As you may have gathered from previous entries, I have a fair bit of time for Mantic games. I'm not as enamoured as some but I think, in general, they produce decent quality miniatures and affordable prices and are providing Games Workshop with some much needed competition. In fact, I'm confident enough in them to have shelled out some money to their recent Kickstarter project and a substantial quantity of Undead should be on its way soon.

Mantic have just published the Beta rules for version 2 of Warpath. The plan for Warpath appears to be essentially the same as the plan for Kings of War; release version 1 for free online or bundled with every decent sized box of models, take on board feedback and release a revised version 2 and then, about a year later release the final version 3 in hardback while keeping the basic rules free to download. So far so good. Warpath version 2 features a significant number of changes which has also prompted a re-jig of the army lists. This was good news to me for one reason in particular.

This is the contents of the Forge Father Drakkarim boxed set.
The Drakkarim are supposed to be close assault specialists. In version 1 of the Forge Father army list they have shorter range guns with a little more punch than the standard storm guard. The boxed set features a leader, two troopers with Drakkarim rifles, which look slightly different than the Stormguard rifles, one dragon breath flamethrower and one mjolnir rocket launcher.

This is the Drakkarim entry in version 1 of the Forge Father army list.


Note the absence of a Mjolnir Rocket launcher option. Oh dear. Still, nil desperandum, the Steel Warriors can include a Mjolnir, so I swapped one of my plastic Steel Warriors out for the Rocket Launcher. The Drakkarim squad can include a heat hammer and the leader doesn't have on so I gave my plastic Drakkarim a heat hammer.

With Warpath version 2 out I assumed that this error would be corrected in some way.

This is the army list entry for a five member Drakkarim squad in Warpath version 2.


Note the continued absence of the Mjolnir Rocket launcher. Also note the requirement to include two Dragon Breaths. Note also that the boxed set includes only one Dragon Breath. Also note that the army list requires a ratio of two Dragon Breaths for every five Drakkarim and that the Dragon Breath model cannot be bought seperately (you can order a pack of five of the weapon, but as they only fit the metal bodies you may as well buy the box). Oh deary, deary me.

It isn't a disaster, the Steel Warriors can also include a Dragon Breath and, now that the Drakkarim rifles are considered to be the same as the Steel Warriors rifles, I intend to mix them in with my Steel Warriors to provide some much needed special weapon support. But, we still have a boxed set sold as a particular unit that it cannot possibly represent.

This is sloppy. It's the kind of stupid marketing I would have expected to see from Games Workshop in the early to mid 1990s (when they sold Eldar Aspect Warriors in packs of four despite the army list demanding they be used in squads of five). Mantic should be better than this and this sort of stupidity just looks unprofessional. Mantic looks like a company that needs to be closer attention to the little details.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

It's just business

A little while back the games shop from which I bought most of my Anima Tactics miniatures decided to stop selling them. This was more than a little irritating for me because it had been this shop that had got me started on the game in the first place and, with only a very small number of exceptions, I had consistently bought every model for the first two then three factions from them. It doesn't help that Anima Tactics is not well stocked in the UK; it is sold in few game shops and is absent from most shows and conventions.

Although I was genuinely irritated, I had no illusions. The shop wasn't doing this to spite me and, by myself, I didn't represent enough sales to justify them keeping the range. Ultimately this was a business decision and that wasn't anything to be gained by taking it personally.

Generally, the wargames community is pretty realistic when it comes to the behaviour of wargames businesses, be it the companies that produce the rules and miniatures or the shops and websites that sell them. For the most part people expect businesses to behave like businesses. We expect price rises, unpopular games to be dropped, more popular ones to be promoted, new editions, etc. There will always be grumbling and a few decrying certain companies lack of ethics, but mostly we accept that decisions aren't personal.

Of course that doesn't mean that business decisions can't be bad or made for the wrong reasons. In fact it can be even more galling when a company appears to be doing something spectacularly stupid for business reasons, because ultimately no-one will win, not even the company.

So we expect businesses to behave like businesses. But there is an idea held within the wargames community that, in someway, we as hobbyists should be held to some kind of mythical higher standard. It's by no means a universal belief, but it seems to have some traction.

Let's take a look at an example. I have already had some fun with Battlefront's amazingly crass announcement that they would no longer allow miniatures from other companies to be used at their tournaments. The justification being that it was necessary to support their business. This was accepted by many as Battlefront blatantly trying it on. They want people to buy their models and they are willing to try anything to get some sales. You would expect this from the company.

But there were some hobbyists who defended this statement. As though it was a reasonable expectation by Battlefront and the players were doing something wrong. The implication being that Battlefront shouldn't have to introduce such a rule because players should really be doing it anyway. As though attending a Battlefront tournament with non-Battlefront models was impolite or even unethical.

Now it should be obvious that Battlefront's tournaments are blatantly marketing. They run to promote the sale of their miniatures. They are hardly unique in this, plenty of other games companies do it. And if for some reason this isn't working as marketing opportunity it makes sense for them to revise the rules in someway or reconsider running them. But the same consideration doesn't apply to the players. If they introduce a rule saying you can't use non-Battlefront models, then you can put up with it or walk away. But there is no reason to view it as an ethical issue.

Similarly, I have seen the argument put forward that because Battlefront produces a wider range of models than most companies producing 15mm scale WW2 figures, players should buy everything from them. The argument being that if you buy the cheaper alternatives from other manufacturers you are somehow cheating Battlefront. Similarly, I have seen it put forward that Battlefront will not survive as a company if players don't pay inflated prices for their more general troops. As though by buying from Forged in Battle, the Plastic Soldier Company or Zvezda you are some how cheating Battlefront of sales.

Logically, if Battlefront is a business, making decisions for Business reasons then we, as consumers, should be able to make purchasing decisions for similar reasons. If a company produces a model I want at a price I am willing to pay I will buy it, if another company produces a better priced or better quality model I will choose them. I don't have an obligation to "support" a company by buying models I don't want or don't need on the basis that they produce others that I do. Quite apart from anything else, it won't help in the long run because no company can survive based solely on customer indulgence. They need to have a competitive product.

I expect Wargames companies to appeal to customer loyalty and support. I don't have much respect for the argument but I can see it for what it is, a marketing ploy. What makes no sense to me is players acting contrary to the best interests, or asking others to do so, because a company asked them to.