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.