Monday 22 August 2011

Battle of the Sarcophagus

Drawn by a source of magical power, Saargash's warband made their way through the forest until they came to a clearing. In the centre was a ruined and crumbling mausoleum decorated with Slaanesh runes and icons. Their path had been guided by Slaanesh himself. But Saargash's elation turned, exquisitely, to anger as he saw that another warband had arrived first.

Saargash beheld the strange site of a Dark Elf warrior bearing the rune of Nurgle.

Back away,” the Champion called out. “We have no quarrel, but this find is ours.”

Slaanesh protects and rewards his own,” Saargash called back.

So be it,” was the Dark Elf's response.

A pack of ghouls crawled out from the Temple. Bellowing a challenge, Saargash's brothers charged forward, cutting down ghouls left and right. The ghouls were easily defeated and scattered, capering back into the Temple. Saargash's brothers pursued into the Temple, but before he could call them back, a goat headed sorcerer stepped out from the ruins. A ball of fire leaped from his hands, striking Saargash's brother Rahm in the chest. He fell to the ground. Skurn bellowed in anger as the Dark Elf climbed back to the ruins to face him.

Seeing his brother outnumbered and with himself and his beastmen still some distance away, Saargash used his power to call down a mystic mist, obscuring the temple. The rest of the warband rushed to the ruins, but, by the time they reached it, the Champion and Sorcerer had fled.

Saargash commanded his beastmen to open the sarcophagus and they were engulfed in a cloud of dust. Stepping out from the ruins, still clad in the tattered remains of his robes, was an undead Sorcerer of Slaanesh. It shrieked out an inhuman cry and struck at one of the beastmen, who staggered back. But they stood firm. Saargash leaped forward and struck the creature twice with his blades. It collapsed in a pile of dust and bones. As the champion collapsed, Saargash snatched up his sword, which glowed with Chaos Power.

Holding the sword aloft in triumph, Saargash smiled as Slaanesh bestowed a new reward. A musky perfume emanated from his body, binding to his will all who dared approach. Skurn and Rahm, who had not been badly hurt, were also rewarded with spears scavenged from the wreckage and new emotions: a fierce hatred of men and dwarfs.

Reward: Musk

Booty: 2 Spears, Chaos Weapon (Magic Thief and Swiftness)

Followers Reward: Chaos Attribute (Irrational hatred) for the Centaurs

New Followers: None

* * *
Saargash's warband, fully assembled and painted

This was the first test of the Realms of Chaos rules and my randomly generated warband and saw Saargash Champion of Slaanesh take on my little brother's decidedly eccentric Nurgle warband, lead by a Dark Elf Champion and consisting of a unit of Ghouls and a Chaos Sorcerer with the head of a Goat. I won't write about it in too much detail in case he decides to write about it on his own blog, but if he does I will add a link.

We had decided to play a scenario from the Lost and the Damned book which saw our two warbands contesting control of an ancient sarcophagus. MLB won the dice roll which put him in control of it at the start of the game. He sent his Ghouls out ahead, trying to use nearby swamps as cover. Unfortunately for him, he underestimated the reach of my Centaurs who charged and quickly sent the Ghouls scattering (they break automatically if defeated in combat).

At this point we hit some difficulty with the rules. In third edition Warhammer, fleeing units are not wiped out of caught, they just keep running with the enemy getting a free strike against them. However, it was less than clear whether both units kept running each turn or only in their own. Rather than pursue one remaining ghoul all the way across the table, I elected to take a leadership test and hold my centaurs back. However, this left them dangerously exposed in the middle of the ruined tower that housed the sarcophagus. MLB's Wizard immediately blasted one with a fireball taking him out of the game.

Although I was in the stronger position, I was concerned about losing both centaurs and was pretty sure that the Dark Elf Champion could do some serious damage to me even if I was confident of beating him. So I dropped a mystic mist on to the tower, blocking all line of sight for three turns. At this point MLB decided discretion was the better part of valour and we agreed his warband could slip away.

With the battlefield mine I could open the sarcophagus and roll on the random table to see what it contained. Unfortunately, I was immediately attacked by an Undead Chaos Champion. We randomly generated the champion, who turned out to be another Slaaneshi Sorcerer, and gave him one reward and one attribute, which ironically turned out to be skull face. Fortunately years of undeath had taken its toll and Saargash was able to take him out. This landed me a free magic weapon with two chaos properties - magic thief which absorbs the power of other weapons and swiftness which boosts initiative.

Saargash also got enough victory points to roll for his first Chaos Reward. I initially got Chaos Armour, but decided this was a bit mundane, so I refused it in favour of rolling on the Gifts of Slaanesh table .His first reward: Musk, which forces enemies to pass a Will Power test before they can attack him. Though its biggest bonus was that I wouldn't have to convert Saargash to use it. My centaurs also generated a new chaos attribute and irrational hatred, though the one hit by the fireball suffered a chest wound and lost a point of toughness. I will have to model a burn in someway. Sadly, I didn't get any new followers this time.

One aspect of this style of campaign gaming is how much more you worry about losing models. I have been playing one off games for so long that the thought of preserving my troops for future battles didn't occur. In retrospect, I was foolish to leave my centaurs so exposed. On the other hand, MLB was seriously lucky in that none of his Ghouls suffered any permanent injuries.

Friday 12 August 2011

Mantic, Games Workshop and Substitute miniatures

An editorial on Tabletop Gaming news has had me thinking. The article talks about the virtues of Mantic Games 'non-competitive' approach to wargaming, producing models than can easily be substituted for existing Games Workshop ones and allowing you to produce armies compatible with both companies games. Its a good article, but what I found fascinating was some of the comments below. Most notably:
Please show me one single model that they’ve produced that isn’t a direct analogue of a Games Workshop model. I don’t see Mantic making anything other than a token effort to produce a set of rules so their lawyers can point to them and say “Look – we’re not trying to horn in on Games Workshop’s IP – honest!” They’ve put no effort into producing any sort of background or context for the miniatures, and definitely haven’t come up with any new concepts of their own as far as miniature design.
From Guinny. I'm going to take a look at this, not to pick on him specifically, but because it neatly reflects and attitude I've seen before and because its an interesting point of discussion. I've seen this attitude a lot, suggesting that Mantic are attempting to rip off Games Workshop and suggesting that there is something unethical or immoral in their approach.

Firstly, its worth noting that Games Workshop are not exactly slow to send out cease and desist orders when they feel their IP is being infringed. That Mantic have been left alone suggests that Games Workshop don't feel they have any kind of case on this score.

While it is probably true that most, if not all, of Mantic's releases can be substituted for similar Games Workshop ones, its worth looking at exactly what they are producing: heavy armoured dwarfs, elves with bows, Orc warriors, skeletons, zombies, ghouls, vampires. All of these are standard fantasy types, you could just as easily accuse them of ripping off Dungeons & Dragons. If they really were stealing Games Workshop's IP you would expect to see copies of their more distinctive creations. Where are the Gyrocopters? The Varghulf? The Arachnarok? The closest they get is the Abyssal Dwarfs, and that's more filling a niche that Games Workshop set up and have largely abandoned.

The supreme irony for me, though, is that producing models of standard fantasy archetypes is exactly where Games Workshop started and I regard this as very much a good thing.

Wargaming remains a niche hobby, while Fantasy and Science Fiction are very broad genres. Only the most successful and visible properties are every likely to be licensed for official wargames, which is why we have games for Lord of the Rings, Star Wars and little else. The advantage of producing a game based on archetypes, or even cliches, is that players can bring whatever they want to the game. Warhammer is a world that takes many of the high fantasy stereotypes popularised by Tolkein and developed by his imitators, and adds in gothic horror and a concept of Chaos that owes a debt to Michael Moorcock and H P Lovecraft. If you are a high fantasy fan, its not hard to take your favourite novel, comic or film and use it as inspiration for your Warhammer army.

For the most part companies seeking to carve out a niche within the niche of Fantasy Wargaming have tended to either reinterpret the archetypes (Chronopia, Confrontaion) or actively move away from them (Malifaux, Wargods, Anima Tactics). Mantic are different, in that they have decided that they can do the archetypes as well as Games Workshop or better.

That said, Games Workshop are hardly unique. Wargames Foundry, Wargames Factory, Renegade and Black Hat miniatures all have ranges of fairly traditional fantasy models, and thats just off the top of my head. The difference is that these ranges are one among many and don't have the profile of Mantic. Consequently they avoid the charge of 'ripping off' Games Workshop. Not to mention Avatars of War, which is far more explicitly aimed at Games Workshop players than are Mantic.

There's a venerable tradition in producing miniatures and games that can 'substitute' for a wide variety of source material not lucky enough to have a licensed game of its own. I am a fan of anime and manga, and there is a not insubstantial overlap between wargamers and that particular community. However, Japan has no home grown wargames industry at all, surprising when you consider the enthusiasm for model kits and miniature figures. Consequently, there are almost no licensed wargames based on Japanese IP, Privateer Press' Voltron is the only example I can think of. This has left a gap in the market for companies 'inspired' by the manga/anime aesthetic, notably Anima Tactics and Soda Pop miniatures.

Some companies have gone much further to attract the attention of gamers seeking unlicensed products - Doctor Who is a case in point. Black Tree Design still has a range based on the 'classic series' that ran between 1963 and 1996, but the only miniatures based on the recent series were produced by Character Options, who produce the Doctor Who action figures, and were clearly aimed at children. They were small and not well detailed, though plenty of gamers have gotten good mileage out of their Daleks and Cybermen. However, the free, unofficial Doctor Who miniature game remains available to download and both Heresy and Crooked Dice have a range of figures that in no way resemble the Doctor, his allies or enemies.

But the crucial question raised by the above comment is 'would we want it any other way?' I can understand why Games Workshop might have an issue with Mantic games, though they couldn't easily criticise without being accused of hypocrisy, but why would gamers? If you don't like what Mantic has to offer fine. Games Workshop products are still widely available. But surely all gamers benefit from an industry that is able to produce unlicensed substitutes for expensive or non-existent products?

Wednesday 10 August 2011

In answer to a question...

My last post attracted a rather interesting comment from Itinerant:

"I've got a question that doesn't have much to do with your entry. But I couldn't find an email for you...and I suppose it's a reflection type of question. Anyway,

I've only played WWII mini gaming and a couple of Future War Commander. The whole fantasy side of things (and Samurai) fascinate me. However, I must say that I don't understand the appeal to the style of gaming. Moving big blocks of troops for optimal position, then moving together for melee (close combat, etc) and then withdraw or take ground. It seems some what stale...

I'm not quite sure and I must be wrong, because fantasy and ancient battles is pretty popular so there must be more to it.

Can you tell me what appeals to you about this style of gaming vs more mobile shooting style of modern/sci fi gaming?"

I hope Itinerant will forgive me, but given that it was off topic and it raises an interesting question I thought I would attempt to give it enough space to tackle properly. The question made me think more about what makes motivates me to play certain types of games, though I'm not sure the answer will be very helpful.

For me wargaming has always been about the miniatures and the concepts first and foremost. I started out as a Games Workshop player and what attracted me to their games and miniatures was a combination of their imagery and the way that was presented in the miniatures. The Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000 universes were always strikingly visual places with a kind of dark excitement that appealed to a teenage mind.

I started out as a Warhammer 40,000 player, because my friends were. My first armies were for Warhammer 40,000. I came to Warhammer somewhat later, largely because I felt I was missing out by ignoring a whole other range of miniatures. I bought the rulebook without having even tried a game, the notion of whether or not I might like it never really entered my head.

So if asked the question "what appeals to you about this style of gaming?" the answer is nothing. Which is to say, it wasn't this style of gaming that appealed to me, it was a desire to collect, paint and use a certain style of miniature.

This has always been my approach to wargaming - Fantasy, Sci-Fi or Historical. If I see a particular miniature or a particular image that appeals to me I will buy it and build an army around it. My choice of units is based more around finding a particular miniature of concept appealing, rather than any tactical consideration. I can often find myself acquiring a large number of miniatures without thinking about how they might work on the table, because that has always been a secondary concern.

Not that this is necessarily a sensible approach. I have found myself acquiring a large number of miniatures for games I hardly play because, when I finally got round to looking at them, I found I didn't like the rules.

Strangely, I also have very little interest in miniatures that don't belong to a specific game. Although, these days, I am more a collector and painter than player I still prefer to collect armies rather than individual miniatures.

None of this is terribly helpful if you want to know the appeal of formation heavy, mass battle historical and fantasy games. So, with that in mind, I have tried to consider what it is about games like Warhammer that have kept me playing while others have fallen by the way side.

There is a simple visual appeal in seeing rank upon rank of troops lined up. Even if at 28mm scale units of miniatures are far smaller than any historical one, the effect of ranking them together in blocks serves to make them look larger and more imposing. There is a sense in which a ranked up army looks more ready to take on the world. But fundamentally, this is still an aesthetic consideration.

All I can say is that I had never drawn a sharp distinction between ranked up fantasy and ancient wargaming and modern and sci-fi wargaming. All wargaming is fundamentally about maneuvering groups of troops into the most advantageous position, attempting to bring force to bear at your opponent's weak points. Nor is it necessarily the case that modern/sci-fi gaming is more mobile. While individual troops may have more freedom of position, due to the looser formation requirements, games can bogged down in protracted fire fights in which neither side attempts to approach the other.

So I don't have a simple answer to the question. All I can say is that the differences between ancient/fantasy and modern/sci-fi wargaming have never really mattered to me and that is the appeal of miniatures and concepts that bring me to a game more than the rules.