Monday, October 23, 2017

Back to the grave

WMTG and I recently squared off for a third installment of frostgrave.  I finished my required weekend short shift at the reference desk and it was off to the frozen city after a taco bell appetizer.

This was the first game in which I feel we had truly comparable warbands.  I was betting on a superior range game with my 4 marksman dovetailing with my fortune hunters’ reach.  Most games I find one of my warband is gone by the end of turn 2.  If they pick up a treasure and have to move 6 inches (doubled to 12 due to treasure halving movement ranges) then a marksman is just as capable as a 6 or 7 inch base move model of scoring the loot.  The difference is that if I fail my reveal secrets roll, I often want the marksman’s resilient accurate range game more than I want another long distance mover like the ranger or fortune hunter.  I hedged my bets with the 2 archers but the plan was to keep WMTG playing defense while the rest of my crew worked on the objective.
We rolled up the hunted huts scenario.  We alternated placing six roofless huts on a 3x3 board.  The huts ended up in an ‘H’ formation with the ends of the arms extending toward our respective deployment zones.  There was a tall tower construct on my right with ruins forming a perimeter around the board.  Each hut got a treasure marker.  When anyone entered a hut we rolled.  If we rolled high, a wraith appeared in the hut.  Wraiths were immune to all but magical attacks.  They did double damage to living creatures and went through terrain at no penalty.
The farthest huts (the ones on the ends of the ‘H”) were as good as claimed.  Short of an all-out push, we were going to pick them up and be well on our way to scoring by turn 3.  This left the 2 central huts up for grabs.  Since the huts were open-topped, I opted to use my wizard and apprentice as elevated telekinesis bots.  Butcher climbed to the second story of a ruined building flanked by 2 marksman.  Another marksman deployed on the 6 inch mark to grab my reveal secrets treasure first turn and score in turn 2.  The apprentice Went far left on top of another ruin with the archers and war hound.  The hunters and remaining marksman spread out across my front line to pinch hit as needed.
Both of us made our reveal secrets checks.  Butcher had too empower for 6 but I was able to move the 2 closest treasures back and out of the huts with telekinesis.  My marksman picked up my bonus treasure and started trekking for my rear board edge.  The rest of my team ran forward to snag the two central treasures or fight WMTG’s guys for the gold.  I try not to go on full offense in the beginning of this kind of game.  It is easy to focus on assassination to the exclusion of mission objectives.  The catch is that if you are successful early on, it becomes a very negative play experience.  So I started out focusing on securing objectives more than fighting for territory.
By the end of turn 2, we had scored our bonus treasure and were well on our way to moving the other 2 off the board.  It was quickly apparent that WMTG was at a disadvantage since as in our last game, he had to physically pick up the treasure while I could just levitate the items out without activating monsters.  He had to get his treasure and hug the back of buildings to stay out of line of sight of my marksmen.
Turn 3 saw us fully engaged.  We pushed wraiths out of buildings, used the 1 inch victory push to get out of combat, and used supporting models to contest treasure.  The rules are clearly and elegantly written down to the finest grammatical shaving.  It is a testament to their quality that on only our fourth game, we were utilizing combat resolution as an advanced strategy.
The rest of the game deteriorated into a running battle with three wraiths while WMTG worked to overcome my ranged advantage.  I ended up with 5 treasure as WMTG ran out of resources to throw at the problem.  I lost a treasure hunter, an archer, and my war hound.  He lost a couple models including his apprentice.  After the post-game wrap up, I lost the hunter permanently.  WMTG did not lose anyone outright but did get a niggling injury on the apprentice.  I earned 350 experience, 437 gold, a grimoire of control undead, 2 scrolls, and 2 potions.  This left me firmly at level 9 with 807 gold to spend after I sold all my perishable loot.
I am never sure how to optimally advance my warband.  After I max out fight and HP, there a ton of directions available even when I have a template in mind.  Sigilists start off weak on offense but quickly amp up the resource acquisition power curve.  I bought the carrier pigeons upgrade for my base for 5gp.  I spent 277 gold replacing my downed fortune hunter and upgrading my 2 archers to rangers (saving 3gp thanks to the pigeons.)  Next I spent 500gp for a grimoire of scribe scroll.  I used my 4 level boosts to max out my fight, add one too my hp, lower the casting cost of elemental bolt down to 15, and learn scribe scroll.  That leaves me with 25GP, an optimized warband, and a decent start on a functional spell list.

Random muzings:
  1. WMTG was at a distinct strategic disadvantage in this scenario.  He is a competent player but the ability to remotely move treasure around the board let me mitigate most of the scenario risk.  Leap is a more overtly powerful spell than telekinesis but it is less flexible too.  This game re enforced how distinct the magic schools are from each other and how certain spells can dominate a particular match.
  2. Charma is a bitch.  WMTG picked up a grimoire of mind control from one of his treasures.  As seen in my game with Squish, it is right up there with leap in terms of relative power.  On the one hand, I absolutely hate that spell.  On the other hand, it is a perfectly valid way to challenge my ranged strategy.  It is a new wrinkle in an already complex framework.
  3. I love how internally balanced this game feels.  I come off a strong showing only to have to worry how WMTG will respond.  I have played a lot of wargames over the years.  Most of them hit a point where one person secures a large enough advantage that it is very difficult to meaningfully challenge them.  The constant random changes in scenario, toolbox, and warband composition mean there is no certainty of future success.
  4. One thing that has not changed is that the dice can sink you before you even get to strategy.  WMTG had absolutely terrible dice luck this time but last game he could not roll less than a 17 against my wizard.  I certainly failed rolls but not with his frequency.  I used my phone to randomly select my die results and I think it averaged out better for me.  Of Course doing so deprives me of the visceral satisfaction of shaking polyhedrons.  That being said, I am moving toward an electronic die model.  It saves a lot of time and seems to be more internally consistent than the physical versions.

I hope we’ll be able to play twice more before the end of the year.  WMTG is printing terrain like crazy.  I love planning out builds.  I love trying to work through how a scenario plays...and this is just the base rule set.  The expansion campaigns are unique themed experiences in their own right.  Here’s hoping for more soon.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Final thoughts on MKIII one year in.


              The best game lines represent a relationship between fans and the production company.  My first gencon, PP took over a local restaurant.  They renamed every item on the menu for warmachine characters and had open gaming in the back.  When hurricane Katrina devastated Louisiana, they put out a charity resculpt of Vlad I to raise funds for the victims.  When they had to raise prices or start using new materials, they explained their decision in simple language—no razzle dazzle—just the facts.

              They set the standard for quality, design, and community engagement.  I did not like every choice they made but I knew they had a plan.  I trusted that they had it under control.  If I doubted for a moment, my faith was soon restored.  Flash forward to a year after MKIII’s release and I am let’s say…concerned.  Please keep in mind that although the following is inherently critical, it comes from a love of the game.

 

              I have talked about my dislike of the ubiquity of theme forces and steamroller.  I realize those issues are design choices.  I may not like the end result but that is a matter of personal preference.  At the end of one of those posts someone commented that I sound frustrated—which is true.  That frustration started the day we heard that the old PP forums were closing.  Those forums were my warmahordes fix.  I had all my battle reports, tacticas, and game design articles there—not to mention the extensive community user reviews and introductory guides.  One day Privateer press said that the forums would be closing down shortly.  There was no explanation, no answer as to whether the old material would be available again, no idea of whether there would even be faction forums any more, no understanding of the decision process…just that they would be gone.

              To be fair, I probably would not have been happy with the forum cancelation no matter how PP handled the transition.  That being said, with a reasonable explanation I could have moved on with a modicum of fuss.  However, the announcement came at the same time as the press ganger program cancelation.  Press gangers got a personal explanation, a community thank you, and a detailed timeline.  Forum rats got a vague bulletin, a couple days to pack up their stuff, and an uncertain future.  The inconsistent approach between these two announcements left me puzzled, especially since some of the most active forum contributors were also press gangers.  The entire process felt haphazard--a term I never thought I would be using to characterize my favorite game company.

              During this process, one of PP’s talking points was the introduction of the community integrated development program.  We would get to test drive new concepts, provide feedback, and talk to developers directly.  The catch was that the CID forums were strictly controlled—only certain kinds of discussion were allowed and only people committed to a certain amount of regular gaming were encouraged to submit a CID application.  To their credit, PP said that initially they would accept anyone who applied straight out of the old forums.  They stressed that this was a step forward in game design and community engagement—which it was.  It also came after a factional do-over for Skorne and Cryx.

              I took from this that while the base mechanics were sound, Privateer Press’s internal development process was so out of touch that with three years to create the new edition, they still screwed up a quarter of the original mainstream faction design.  As with so much in MKIII, this left me feeling vaguely uneasy.  I expected their to be balance issues.  You cannot fully balance a game system with over a thousand models, multiple formats, and millions of potential competitive pairings.  There were going to be some challenges.  It was the scale of the required adjustment that surprised me.  Combine that with Privateer Press’s no-notice forum closure, the end of the press gangers, and PP’s lack of transparency and it has been hard to keep faith in their implementation.

              The preceding points are important because they set the tone for how the community views Privateer Press as a company and their ability to deliver a quality product.  They are entitled to a SNAFU or two.  Their ability to identify problems and respond relatively quickly is to their credit.  I have just seen a lot of things this edition that make me question their grasp of the larger game and player experience.  PP has historically set a high bar for professionalism, quality, and engagement—and they have usually exceeded those expectations.  If I sound overly critical it is because recent behavior is out of character.

              Moving on, let’s talk about game design, faction identity, and design choices.  Khador has always had its quirks.  We do not get arcnodes.  We cannot have a focus 8 caster.  With the exception of Behemoth, we do not get accurate jack shooting.  Until recently, I felt these were interesting design choices that added color.  Now, having played a bunch of games in MKIII, I am not so sure.  I look at other factions and I see an elegance of design—a uniformity of purpose and concept.  Sloan is a good example.  She is powerful, thematic, and accomplishes her goals.  All of the grimkin casters have that excellent fusion of versatility and power that make for fun effective play.  By contrast Zerkova 1 has a variety of options that look good on paper but make for clunky play.  Old Witch II is proof that PP can design a versatile spell slinging caster in Khador that is fun and effective.  Zerkova is proof that some ideas need some polish before going prime-time.  I feel the same way about Kozlov, the MOW kovnik, and the decimator.  You can get value from them but they do not seem to work as cleanly as you would think.

              I feel as if PP has these preconceptions about Khadoran design that trump all reason.  It is as if because we have durable jacks, we cannot have a decent ranged stat.  Why cannot Khador have a focus 8 caster?

              The more I look at certain design choices the less confident I become in PP’s vision.  Take the decimator—one of the jacks in the Khador battle box.  Here is a jack with a 2-shot gun that has less range than a hand cannon whose special affect is to push targets farther away.  If you boost to-hit on both shots you only have enough focus to boost the damage on one of the hits.  This is on a RAT 4 chassis by the way; so on average you are hitting defense 10.  Its melee weapon has sustained attack which would be great if you did not need to spend 1 focus to charge, 1 focus to boost the hit-roll, leaving one focus to buy a second attack.  What if the saw had critical shred?  How about a range 12 dozer with powerful shot?  I love the idea of the decimator but in practice it has consistently disappointed.

              Look at the vaunted gun carriage.  Before the recent CID it was a great model.  After the CID it is still a great model…but 2 heavy cannon with range 10?  A mobile artillery piece designed to trample massed infantry?  It is exactly this kind of disconnect between stated roll and actual profile that makes me think someone at PP is playing in a different world.

              All is not gloom and doom.  The recent decision to release all the beta theme forces was a refreshing bit of jiggery pokery.  Privateer Press may not be getting everything right but they have always been good at changing direction on the fly for the good of the game.  Blood and iron is not my cup of tea but hey, I’m happy they continue to innovate.  I want to see how they handle mercenaries and theme forces—the fact that this issue seemed to come as a surprise was disheartening…but they are taking steps to resolve the issue.

              In summary, I feel like Privateer Press has lost touch with the average player experience.  That might just be a function of my chosen faction though.  I am probably still salty about the obvious lack of quality internal playtesting invested on the current model range.  I do not know if that is a byproduct of PP’s factional bias or something else.  Once all the CIDs are finished for the base factions, I think the game is going to be greatly improved—it is just going to take a while to get there.  This leaves me in a weird place.  I want to continue playing but numerous MKIII related issues have killed warmahordes in my area.  I am going to focus on building my collection and wait to see where PP takes the game.  There are good things ahead—I just hope they come soon enough to rejuvenate my local community or I am going to be sitting this edition out.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Thoughts on Warmahordes MKIII PT2


Game play:

 

              I believe you should value a game for what it is—not what you want it to be.  Put differently, it is unfair to complain about how little variety there is in tick tack toe VS. Chess because they are fundamentally different games that happen to share a board design.  There is value in the comparison from an analytical point of view but not from the standpoint of personal preference.  I mention this because I am going to compare warmachine to several board games in the following article.  That comparison is not meant to say that one game is better than another—just that different systems have different strengths and weaknesses.  My opinions are just that—the preferences I have gained through 20 years pushing around tiny combatants.

 

              Warmachine is what I call a tactical game.  Tactical games are micro systems in which each element (trooper, jack, caster…etc.) has multiple ways to affect the board state.  The order of activation, the particular action chosen, and your opponent’s response create complex decision matrices.  In contrast, 40k is a strategic game.  The focus is less on the individual model and more on the macro impact of the entire force.  Many strategic games are decided at deployment—who has the weight of momentum and the benefit of terrain.  Model actions are batched into single large rolls for unit shooting, magic, and hand-to-hand.  Dice tend to be rolled by the handful.  I love strategic games for the sheer scale of the combat.  Over here a tank takes out a unit from across the board.  Over there a unit of monsters overruns a strongpoint.  The narrative is as compelling as the competition.  I love tactical games because the “skirmish” rubric lends the experience an intimate atmosphere.  When you roll for twenty models at a time there is a distancing affect.  When each roll signifies one model’s survival I am personally vested in every outcome.  The competition feels more skill-based than many larger games.

              By that definition, MKIII warmachine is one of the best tactical rule sets in distribution.  The power up mechanic makes it possible to utilize jacks without resource starving casters.  Losing the psychology rules cut a rarely used and inconvenient element.  Removing skill tests simplifies activations while making models more reliable.  Game-wide premeasurement eliminates a huge level of uncertainty.  Small changes like the use of “control range” underpin the rules with an easily intuited lexicon.  Even the recent change limiting power attacks to target enemy models was a step up.  These simplifications make game play considerably more vibrant.

              Part of that vibrancy stems from PP’s design consistency.  Unlike every-other-game-in my portfolio, warmachine has made an effort to maintain a consistent ambience throughout its iterations.  I play with the same models as in the primitive days of MKI—occasionally updated for materials and esthetics.  Sorscha still freezes her enemies with her icy gaze.  I still roll a couple d6 for my checks.  That being said, MKIII represents the first time PP has broken me out of that feeling.  At issue is the end of physical stat cards.  I know, I know, you can get them in PDF.  You can get them through war room.  Unless you do not have a smart phone that can handle the app or you do not want to have to arts-and-crafts your way into physical cards after each update.  I understand Privateer Press’s desire to simplify production.  In theory cutting the physical cards eliminates confusion.  In practice I have found the opposite.  People do not read war room as closely as they should—they just assume the stats have not changed.  People use whatever printed materials they have on hand—even if it is out of date.  I am willing to pay a couple bucks per card if it means getting useable reference materials but as of now…no dice.  Some units are just fine using the original MKIII cards.  Others like the gun carriage have been rewritten such that the original card is useless.  This is one of those small details that chafes my nether parts.  What, now I have to keep an extra battery charger for my phone or hall a bunch of binder sheets around to keep track of my models?  It just feels weird and inconsistent and generally beneath PP’s execution standards.

              My only major complaint with MKIII game play is the continued reliance on steamroller tournament rules.  I have played many tournaments using a variety of systems over the years.  I was most active back in fifth edition 40k when I took several first place trophies around the state.  Now a days, I catch a magic pre-release or FNM occasionally—nothing regular.  I appreciate a good competitive system that lends itself equally to high level and casual play.  The best competitive games in my experience are based on a rock solid mechanical foundation with a little extra clarification for the given format.  If you play in a magic tournament the basic rules, victory conditions, and restrictions apply plus some deck construction tweaks for EDH, draft, standard…etc.  The same is true of the bloodbowl living rulebook.  Your roster might change depending on league but the basic game remains the same.

              These systems have precise rule sets that set the tone regardless of how the landscape alters.  The fundamental victory conditions do not change.  I think Privateer Press intended warmachine to operate under the same model.  Unfortunately steamroller has become a balancing tool and design limiter.  Each year PP revises the tournament rules to account for new material and competitive trends.  The community spends the following year optimizing around that format until the process renews with the subsequent year’s SR update.  Outside of battle box and journeyman leagues—both of which are. Precursors to larger games—the hobby defaults to steamroller.  Take the SR 2017 rule set.  PP wanted to encourage lists with a balance of jacks, solos, and units.  They changed the rules so that only certain models could score on certain objectives.  They published theme lists that reward well rounded rosters.  If you are a regular tournament player there is no issue.  If, however, you are a casual player just getting into the game, you read the base rules.  You read the sample scenarios.  You get to your LGS and everyone is playing with the SR rules—which are objectively different than those in the main book.  You have to go back and rethink your lists because models have different value in the new format.

              Further, the game has defaulted to 75-point lists.  I know, the designers always intended that to be the case.  My challenge is that many casual players do not have the resources and time to operate at this level.  I honestly prefer playing around 50 points.  That is the level of complexity and time commitment that best fits my needs.  Unfortunately, the SR format’s gravitational pull has warped the perception such that anything other than 75-point lists is not taken seriously.

              I am not saying that steamroller is bad.  I am saying that with an already complex base rule set, model stats changing constantly due to CID, and the yearly changes of tournament rules, there is a material bar to community play for a lot of us less hardcore players.  Warmachine is dead in my area in large part because of these barriers.  I wish PP had picked three or four tested scenarios and stuck with them for competitive play save narrative campaigns.  The constantly changing landscape is harming the community even as it seeks to restore balance.

              In summary, I like playing games in MKIII.  This edition is a straight up improvement over past offerings.  However the inconsistency of the larger play experience and the need to constantly check online references is disappointing.  My impression is that even though PP had three years to put project egg roll together, the final product needed more playtesting.  My next and final article will focus on the community relations and design aspects of this edition.  Until then, stand firm my brethren.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Thoughts on Warmahordes MKIII 1 year in


 

Preface:

              I love warmahordes.  It is the longest running of my mini hobbies.  So, when I heard MKIII was inbound I had astronomically high hopes and proportionately terrible fears.  How was my pet game going to change?  Was I going to like those changes?  How was my style of gaming going to fit in the new sandbox?  It is difficult to separate my feelings about the new edition from my feelings about the associated decisions PP has made since the initial release.  The PP faction forums were a daily touchstone—the first thing I checked when I woke up and the last thing I checked at night.  Their loss, regardless of the reason, is indelibly associated with MKIII in my head.  I cannot objectively review the new edition without considering the changes to the surrounding bureaucratic architecture.  So, I am going to write a couple of rambling reviews on a variety of subjects.  Be advised that this is all personal opinion.  I am a long term casual player.  I do not get to play much.  So, errors are my own—salt to taste.

 

List building:

This edition often feels like it is just a little off—like a pair of jeans cut for someone not quite my size.  For example, in MKII standard list construction was 50 points with average war jack points of 6.  Double that for the edition change and you get 112.  In MKIII the system is balanced around 75-point lists with an average of 28 battlegroup points, totaling 103.  So, even though the relative point ranges were doubled, we are working with less wiggle room when adjusted for inflation.

              From one perspective, having all those war jack points makes it feel like you are getting a bargain on battlegroup models.  The catch is that 25 of those points used to be unencumbered.  This forces us to build lists that more closely resemble PP’s vision but it also puts us in a compositional box.  Those points are not free—

They are just a force composition requirement.

              Theme lists further complicate the matter. I prayed that theme forces would be less prone to abuse while providing for a wider range of lists.  Initially I was thrilled with the new template.  As I played a couple games and read about tournament composition though I lost that good feeling.  Theme forces do not expand list building options.  Rather, they ask the question, if you do not use a theme list, can you overcome the qualitative and strategic disadvantage posed by forfeiting 8-12 free points and associated bennies?  Too often the answer is no.  Mercenaries exist primarily as add-ons for faction lists.  How appealing is it to grab a unit of steelheads or dwarves, even with a ranking officer, if that choice puts you at an 8-12-point handicap?  What combination of mercenary solos provides such a boost that you can give up 8 free points to field it?  Further, sometimes I just want to take a unit of doomreavers with my man-o-war.  What if there is no theme force that combines both of those choices?  So even when I am not looking to get my merc on, I find myself wondering whether it is worth it to go themeless

 

Note: As I was writing this piece, PP started a CID development cycle with limited theme mercenary access.  I will go into design impressions later but suffice it to say that this gives me some hope that someone somewhere is listening.  It does not resolve the inherent imbalance in free models but progress is progress.

 

 

              These issues are not a big deal individually but collectively, they have a profound effect on list construction.  I feel as if privateer press looked at the MKII list trends and said, “We are not going to tell you how to have fun but we are going to strongly encourage you to do things our way.”  So, while I still enjoy playing the game, I also find this forcible design style concerning.   What bothers me the most about this scenario is that this sort of nonsense is exactly what I was afraid would happen.  Unlinking theme forces from specific casters provides for some list flexibility.  However, keeping the discount rate mechanic means that theme forces still break the basic point-based economy.  The ability to pick your caster just means you have more ways to capitalize on the disparity.

              I might not feel as bad about list construction if I was not playing in the only faction without light jacks.  Ever since the berserker chassis was edited into obsolescence, I keep coming back to the same jack subset.  Cutting the destroyer down to 14 points certainly helped but not to the extent I would like.  At issue seems to be the gap between the way PP wants Khadoran jacks to perform and the way they actually behave.  Granted, this is just my experience.  Others may have a different double penny.

              My impression is that Khador jacks are supposed to be the near invincible juggernaut—hitting hard and darned near untouchable without dedicated armor cracking.  While armor 20 and 34 boxes is a difficult nut to crack, it is far from invincible—lose an arm and you may be in the game but without a way to affect the board.  I judge a jack’s worth based on utility.  What job do I need 25% or more of my army to perform?  What tools do I have to make that possible?  The problem is that Khadoran jacks design philosophy is inherently defensive.  High armor, low defense, multiple boxes assumes that the way we get to battle is by weathering the storm.  This requires me to take damage to get stuck in.  Presumably our low speed and relatively poor shooting is to compensate for our toughness and melee strength.  These factors combine with a lack of cheap supplemental platforms (no light jacks) to push me toward the most efficient and effective models.  I cannot afford to dabble in the jank because all my choices are 10 or more points and I do not have cheap filler to cover all my bases.

              Put another way, I tend to shy away from melee jacks without MAT 7.  If I am going to be slower than my opponent, then I tend toward destroyers and behemoth as my ranged jacks to offset my snail-like pace.  I tend to avoid non-character jacks that cost more than 14 points.  The decimator, which used to be one of my favorite jacks, just does not get enough work done to justify its cost—thus losing out to the destroyer.  What hurts old doser hand even more is that I can take 2 destroyers and exactly expend my battlegroup points giving me

Maximum list building flexibility for my unencumbered resources.

              Infantry suffers from the same malady.  If I am going in-theme-and let’s be honest most people are, then my first choice will probably be a full unit of ‘X’ plus a unit attachment, and a free support solo.  That combination just feels boring—especially if you double up—that is almost half your army pre-selected as auto-include by virtue of the theme force.  When lists just build themselves it does not feel like there is much undiscovered territory left to delve.

              Finally, I feel as if I am missing something every time I look at the points values for most of the range.  Part of this is that the system is still not granular enough to account for certain models.  Alten Ashley might or might not have been underpriced at 5 points but at 6 he is definitely over-costed—especially since they made it so his gun cannot stop huge models from healing.  Man hunters, MOW Kovniks, and the spriggan all suffer from this disorder as well.  They have utility but not quite as much as their points would suggest.  This problem also crops up when you find you only have 1 or 2 points left…what do you do?  I feel like most solos are slightly over-costed but cutting them down a full point would be too much.  I also feel that in designing the model point matrix PP overlooked what happens when you only have a couple points left over and nothing to fill it.  For some models like bombardiers, a mere point cut would not be enough to make them generally viable again but for others like the spriggan, it would be enough to give it serious consideration if it came down to the 16 or 17-point range.  The math just pushes me toward certain choices and the spriggan and manhunters are not down that path.

              I know PP had a lot to balance with this edition—over a thousand models, 13 factions, supplemental pieces from hordes and minions, multiple formats, and a wealth of fan expectation could not have made the development process easy.  I have a lot of sympathy for the designers tasked with fulfilling this devil’s bargain.  I want this edition to be successful even if it takes a few false starts to make it.  Unfortunately, I cannot give my seal of approval to the list building component yet.  The rules are better than MKII but theme forces, high war jack point quotients, and a limited pool of high-value choices finds me unimpressed so far.  (Next up, game play.)

Monday, June 19, 2017

Frost Grave, again Still!


              Yesterday, WMTG and I gave FG a second run.  This was his Father’s Day event so I showed up with a couple six packs and miniatures in hand.  I forgot the darned mat again (profanity on the ride over.)  Whatever, pidge and Ceri went to the movies.  So, it was just WMTG, me, and the animals.

 

              We played the living museum scenario.  We placed 6 treasures in the middle of the board in a 2x3 grid as if on a museum floor.  Behind each treasure was a “statue.”  Any time one of us claimed one of the treasures, a random statue converted into a medium construct monster.  Our objective was to run off with as much treasure as possible.  Killing a construct was worth 25 experience.  WMTG did the normal +1 hp and fight from his last game advancement.  He also bought a +1 ring of protection for his wizard (he probably did other things too but that is what I remember.)

              Start of game, we deployed on our usual sides.  WMTG pulled off reveal secrets thanks to grabbing a tower for his base.  I failed my roll.  My side of the board was covered in large buildings.  I split my forces with the apprentice, my 2 archers, a thug, and a crossbowman to the left of a freestanding castle.  My wizard, a thug, an archer, a crossbowman, and my war hound went to the right of the building between its wall and a low house.  I was not sure how the game would go.  WMTG had optimized around movement.  I optimized around financial value.  We had similar but subtly different toolboxes.  Turns out Siri will pick random numbers between certain ranges; so, apple was my die roller for this game.

              I started off by casting power word from my wizard for the heal spell—yeh, I learned that lesson.  Everyone moved forward for a double move except the hound which waited for the soldier faze.  Wmtg made some movement and maximized leap.  My apprentice used telekinesis to grab a treasure out of the central box and carry it over the 1 inch retaining wall border.  All of his guys moved forward except one archer.  WMTG did some more movement shenanigans.

              Turn 2, it was on.  WMTG had his wizard cast decay on my marksman’s crossbow.  I…I did not even know he had that spell.  I pulled 2 more treasures out of the central box and grabbed all of them with my thugs and one of my crossbowman.  WMTG waited till after I committed a crossbowman to the treasure before gimping the marksman..well played.  He got his 2 treasure hunters and a thief into the box ready to nab treasures next turn.  Since I picked up treasure the robots started activating.

              After turn 3, shit got real.  Robots started charging all over the box.  Since my guys were out of the zone, WMTG’s guys took the brunt of the assault.  I sent my hound in to base with one of the treasure hunters to tie him down.  Constructs do not keep you in combat, so WMTG walked away with the other treasure hunter only to have me push an enemy into him on a sweet bank shot.  I failed a furious quill casting and lost the hound but WMTG was delayed enough that even with a thug to assist, the sheer volume of attacks started taking its toll.

              In the end, he lost both treasure hunters, killed 4 constructs, and escaped with 3 treasures.  I snagged 4 treasures, killed 2 constructs, and cast 10 successful spells.  After my apprentice got down to 1 health, he left the board.  My wizard got down to 5 health and kept having to camp and empower healing spells.  WMTG’s wizard got down to 1 health thanks to empowerment.  Both of us spent a lot of effort barraging the constructs with missiles trying to farm experience.  My crossbows were helpful but multiple bone dart castings highlighted my lack of easily cast zap magic.

 

Musing:

1.       After the end of game rolls, we did not lose any models permanently.  I ended up with 795 gold, plague of insects, and wall grimoires.  WMTG got a +1-fight staff, a couple potions, and a horn of destruction.  I got 350 experience which put me firmly on level 5—10 away from level 6.

2.       I upgraded fight, health, and lowered the casting cost of reveal secrets by 1.  I bought a kennel upgrade for my base.  I replaced my thugs with treasure hunters, dismissed my 2-remaining crossbowman, and bought 3 marksmen to fill out my warband leaving me with 95 gold.

3.       WMTG and I talked a bunch after the game.  The flavor of play changes drastically with different scenarios and wizard types.  I love how the warband is so small but the tactics are so fluid.

4.       With 4 marksmen, 2 treasure hunters, 2 archers, and a war hound, I will have some quality pieces next game.  My goal is to upgrade my archers to rangers after the next game and then just start kitting out my guys.  If I lose some, oh well.  I want to buy a couple more spells but I did not want to throw money at that goal until my base warband is up to snuff.

5.       I thought I would find a sigilist slow and clunky after playing my summoner.  Instead, my cheap utility spell approach is a lot of fun.  It is nice to have inexpensive options—especially such a wide variety of spells.

 

 

That is all for now.  WMTG and I probably will not get a game in for a bit.  In the meantime, I will finish off my existing miniature projects and he will print out some more terrain.  I love frost grave more and more the more I play.  Here’s hoping the next game is not too far off.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Frost Grave, a new beginning


              Sunday, Phoenix and I set to a classic game of frost grave.  In some ways frost grave is the minis game I have always wanted.  It is simple, internally consistent, and beautifully free of fiddly bits.  It is also a game that benefits from scenario and campaign elements over the long-hall.  The core game is a straight forward resource competition.  The campaign variant through multiple scenarios dilutes the lethality while retaining the resource acquisition race.

 

              Phoenix and I opted for a starter game with new war bands.  I went with a sigilist using my Khador models.  Butcher was my two-handed weapon wielding scholar.  Yuri was my two-handed weapon wielding apprentice.  The rest of the band comprised 2 archers, 3 crossbowmen, 2 thugs, and 1 war hound.  My spells were:

·       Elemental bolt at 16

·       Telekinesis at 10

·       Furious Quill at 10

·       Power word at 14

·       Push at 8

·       Reveal Secret at 16

·       Heal at 10

 

I wanted a utility kit with a bunch of cheap affects and a couple quality investments.  Normally I would have doubled down on campaign spells like absorb knowledge and the creation variants but I did not know how long this campaign would run.  Honestly it feels kind of cheesy going balls to the wall in a 2 person league.  So, we will go all out in-game but I am not going to sweat the little things.  This selection puts half my spells at 10 or less so I have options without having to empower everything.

       We played the mausoleum scenario on a 4x4 table.  In retrospect, I should have brought my 30x30 mat.  Distance really matters in this for engagement range and resource access.  In previous league play deployment zones were 6x6 inch blocks on larger boards where 6 players hammered it out.  We did not place treasure before choosing deployment.  With 2 people you have to place the treasure before picking deployment zones; otherwise the game degrades into a contest for who gets the best side with the treasure placed near the board edge.  It also encourages treasure distribution such that no matter where someone else sets up one has a fair shot at the money.  Doing it the other way means players tend not to interact much—they just rush the treasure off the board and try not to lose models.

       The mausoleum went in the center of the board with a treasure at each corner.  I put my discretionary marker at the top of the tallest tower.  I figured to bate Phoenix’s troops out.  Maybe I could blast them off the tower.  Phoenix put one in the upper floor of a ruined farmhouse.  Then we dropped several skeletons around the board.  I put mine in blocking positions.  Phoenix did much the same.  Phoenix won the roll and chose her board edge—I got the other—neither of us wanted to move from our arbitrarily chosen starting sides.

       The game started well.  I got my reveal secrets spell off—phoenix failed her roll—so I had one guaranteed treasure.  Phoenix sent a couple of grunts for the 2-special treasure on her side of the mausoleum and her 2 treasure hunters after the loot in the farm house.  I sent a pack of archers, crossbowman, and my war hound after the farmhouse treasure with my apprentice.  Butcher moved forward and pushed one of the archers forward enough to grab one of the special treasures.

       After this, things got “complicated.”  Butcher pushed people forward and back, getting his 2 ranged models well on their way toward removing the treasure off the board.  On the other side, my apprentice and company got tied up with a skeleton.  Phoenix, correctly noticing that my left flank was over-committed, sent her apprentice to assist.  Two scatter shots and a couple archers later and my war hound was down and my caster had been 2 shotted.  The apprentice tried to cast heal several times and just hurt himself more.  At 2 health, he retreated for the board edge.  Butcher had teleported on top of the farmhouse treasure but with 2 treasure hunters closing in and no support available, he retreated into the apprentice’s ranged strike.

       I ended the game with 3 treasure tokens of which 2 were special markers.  I successfully cast 5 spells so earned 240 experience.  Butcher lost a couple toes and .5 inches of movement.  The war hound survived in tacked.  I rolled up gloves of strength, 3 potions (healing, demon in a bottle, and elixir of life), and a ring of feather fall.  I put my two-level advancements toward fight and hp.  I sold the demon in a bottle spell netting me 310 gold.  I bought a ring of power 3 (for the danged apprentice), upgraded my apprentice and wizard to two-handed weapons, and purchased a marksman to replace one of the crossbowman.  I picked treasury for my base since the extra money could not hurt and the chance for an extra treasure is always nice (need to roll that before the next game.)  That leaves me with 0 gold and 40 experience toward the next level.

 

Thoughts:

1.       The d20 mechanic is challenging.  Phoenix owned that game.  She walked off with 4 treasures and killed my caster.  However, she never rolled less than a 17 against my wizard.  I could not even roll a 10 for heal.  I lost .5 inches of movement on my caster but gained a much better pile of loot than Phoenix.  The problem with d20 is that any one result is just as likely as any other.  Over time the average will shape up around 10.5 but the average requires hundreds of rolls to normalize.  In the meantime, the variance is high.

2.       I forgot that moving imposes a -1 to ranged attacks—outside of spells.  There is an additional -1 for every model and piece of intervening terrain.  It would not have changed the result but is worth remembering.

3.       I went with a treasury base.  The temptation was to take a tower or a laboratory but ultimately, I wanted resources.  It came down to an inn or the treasury and the inn lost on account of making the warband bigger.

4.       I get to play 1 or 2 frost grave games tomorrow.  I am looking forward to the experience as much as to test my metal as to just throw down some dice.  I got greedy last game…none of that shit this time.

5.       Frost grave has a quaint almost Indi feel.  From the stream of thought writing to the minimally sized book, it has a nice off the beaten path taste.  The production values are high enough to justify the price and low enough to match pace with the game’s aspirations.  It falls second to PP games and only because I have so much blood and tears behind that worthy.

 

That’s all for now.  Butcher, the red pen, shall stride the frozen city tomorrow.  Woe to those who would stand in his way…especially the harbingers of probability😉

Monday, June 12, 2017

Week day warmachine


              Several weeks ago, I had the pleasure of facing Cane III.  My friend Corc came in from out of town to do battle on the field of honor.  Cygnar has ever been my nemesis so I figured this would be an excellent learning opportunity.  I seared a couple steaks, had a great dinner, and faced down PP’s newest bad-boy.

 

My list or bringing the big guns:


·       Conquest

·       Man-o-War Shocktroopers (full)

 

Corcs list or I’ll prove to you that size does not matter:

·       Caine's Hellslingers

·       Charger

·       Charger

·       Hunter

·       Ace

·       Journeyman Warcaster

·       Charger

·       Thorn Gun Mages


 

 

This was a basic test run.  We just wanted to try our lists out against someone competent and get a feel for new product.  I got conquest back from my painting god a couple weeks earlier and yearned to see him on-table.  Corc does not get much chance to play and wanted to see if his concept was valid.

              The only relevant terrain was a big forest splotch in my lower right-hand quadrant and a bunker building midway up the field on the right-hand side.  I won the roll and chose first.  Against swans you have to cover that ground or you’ll be cut to ribbons by defensive fire before you get close to combat.  Victory favors a long-range gun and a strong shield wall—or so I hoped.

1.       I set up in the middle of my zone with the shock troopers in shield wall, conquest on the left, and Zerkova behind the man-o-war line.  Corc set up mostly on the right hand far line with the thorn gun mages farther left for a flanking move. The mage hunter went far right and out front.

2.       I ran my boys up and right, pushed conquest to the edge of their line, and put Zerkova behind the metal wall far enough to be out of range of black penny.  She dropped the cloud wall and I passed the turn.  Corc ran most of his list down my right flank, using the bunker as cover.  Jr. put arcane shield on the hellslingers.  The gun mages jinked left to flank my forces.

3.       I walked my shock troopers forward in shield wall, moved conquest forward with a failed scatter attempt toward the elf, and Zerkova moved up with feat popped and dropped a couple clouds in front of the iron wall.  Zerkova was up against the forest with the shock troopers to her left and conquest on the left of their shield wall.  Corc checked the wording on my feat, and moved to consolidate in anticipation of next turn.  The gun mages moved farther down the left flank.  2 chargers cut loose on the shock troopers doing a grand total of 3 damage.  Eiryss ran down to the forest edge hoping to disrupt Zerkova next turn.

4.       I checked a bunch of ranges, saw a ton of targets and promptly forgot about the plan.  After my last game against Sloan, I was so happy to actually get in range of things I neglected the larger strategy.  Also, I probably should have read Cain’s card before playing…but enough excuses.  Conquest powered up, moved back a bit, and used its main gun to one-shot the gun mages into oblivion.  I hadn’t allocated him any focus and figured what the heck, might as well use those secondary batteries.  It was not as if anyone was going to be charging into a creeping barrage.  I unloaded 4 shots into the nearest charger.  I managed to scratch it for 3 damage…until the last shot which scattered and killed JR outright—truck ya high explosive!  Zerkova activated, hit Eiryss with a fatal frost hammer, and backed up on five camp.  The MOW had no range to charge so backed up to the maximum range of their shield cannons, shield walled, and cut loose on the nearest charger—immobilizing it but otherwise leaving it fully operational.  Cain activated, moved up, popped feat, and started the math train.  The center MOW took a shadow fire shot for a couple damage after Cain and company scratched the paint on the unit.  A couple chargers shot through the MOW, darned cheaty shadow fire, and splattered zerkova.  Game—Swans.  I am going to take Cygnar down one of these days.

Mutterings:

1.       I really really should have read Cain’s card.  Mage sight only affects models covered by the AOE.  It does not dispel clouds.  So, even if the shock troopers got shadow fired, if Zerkova was not under the template, she still would have benefited from the clouds.  Also, I could have just dropped a cloud on her.  Defense 17 is nothing to sneeze at even if he hit me with the template.

2.       I am not afraid of the elf.  In MKI she was the bane of my existence.  Now she just walks up and dies.  Premeasuring spelled the end of her hold over me.  I have seen her multiple times in this and the previous edition and she has fallen without affect every time.

3.       That was probably a winnable game.  If I had known my enemy just a tad bit better, I could have bated him out and killed Cain with Conquest.  Corc said that he had nothing to deal with a gargossul.

4.       I need to give her a try with hillbillies and Hutchuk.  That flanking crap would not have flown if I had ambushing knockdown and some cheap guns available on command.

5.       I liked conquest in theory.  Now I like him in practice.   High explosive will not fix every problem but it darn sure is worth gambling on.  I am not sure he is Zerkova’s best option but he is fun.

6.       Caster kill is no-fun in general play.  It is great to show you weaknesses in general mechanics though.  I only wish I could have played a couple more games before Corc had to hit the road.

7.       Shock troopers are just solid.  Armor 21 is beastly.  If I ever get my officer painted I really want to test them at full power.

8.       I am getting close to the point where 25 points and caster kill are not enough.  It may be time to switch casters and try a couple bigger games.

9.       I am solidly improving.  Getting my teeth kicked in is the best teaching method.  Here’s to losing gracefully…freaking Swans😉

 

That’s all for now.  I have to think on Zerkova.  I have this strange affinity for her clunky design and weird interactions.  There might be something wrong with me.  I keep dropping ice into my glass of bourbon and wondering when the god of air-conditioning is going to show up (fluff joke for those not acquainted with the setting.)  More militant recounting later.