Sunday, February 18, 2018

MOW CID, 1-point, that is the question


                            The armored corps CID is up and life is…interesting.  After going back and forth with some people on a couple isolated points, I am just going to put one wall of text down here.
              While I want to discuss man-O-war testing, there is a more important issue on the table.  There seems to be a significant part of our community comfortable with and/or rabidly behind the juggernaut’s one-point-increase.  I’ve had several people ask why this is such a big deal—after all, juggernauts are still good, the battle box is still net 0-points, and community consensus says our basic beet stick heavy was undervalued.  So, let’s look at why this is such an issue.
              The juggernaut is an iconic jack.  It sets the standard for what you want a heavy jack to accomplish—punchy fist for an extra initial—access to power attacks—a big main weapon to break armor—a nice critical affect—high strength for throw checks—MAT 7 to make those attacks hit as reliably as any non-character heavy—the highest armor and number of boxes of any baseline heavy—and a grid designed to take a beating and still remain fully functional.  There is not a faction in the game that would not love that stat line.  The juggernaut also sports defense 10, SPD 4, and no special rules.  The protectorate’s crusader costs 10-points while sporting an only slightly inferior profile.  In a model-to-model comparison the juggernaut is objectively better than the crusader so should cost more than 10 points.
              The question is how much more?  The next comparably situated heavy is the ironclad.  It is slightly less resilient than Khador’s finest but sports 25% more SPD and 20% more defense.  Also, it can drop a mass knockdown affect as a special attack while the juggy has no similar capacity.  In an open field grudge match between the iron clad and the juggernaut, the ironclad wins every time.  The juggy runs as far as the ironclad charges so regardless of its output, the ironclad will get the alpha.
              It is important to remember that while people look at the juggernaut’s durable stat line, there’s a reason he’s so tough.  Khadoran lists often have to rely on their durability to weather enemy alpha strikes before they can strike back.  At defense 10, few heavies have to boost their attack rolls to hit yee’old juggernaut—meaning they get their full focus worth of attacks while the reverse is not always true.  Cryx’s slayer, while considerably less durable, still requires a boosted to-hit-roll to overcome defense 13—and that’s not taking into account that the helljack sports SPD 6 base.  Raw stats are important but only in the context of how the total package performs.  I can build a god slaying gun on an invulnerable chassis but if it is SPD1 and RAT 0 its impact is diminished—see the current state of the Victor as an example.
              Models do not exist in a vacuum.  Their performance is influenced by the chosen caster, support pieces, theme lists, scenario types, terrain, and player skill with same.  So, when I say the juggernaut is roughly comparable to the ironclad, I’m speaking in general terms.  Is a slayer worth 10 points?  Probably.  How much more is it worth with unyielding and carapace?  The response I get most often is that the slayer only achieves that level of crazy with one caster in one theme list.  I’d be willing to accept that save that another reason I get for the proposed 1-point juggernaut tax is that Harkevich jack spam is “oppressive.”  Isn’t that one list with one caster too?
              The more I’ve discussed this issue the more I feel there is a double standard for Khador.  The juggernaut profile isn’t just an icon for warmachine, it’s a faction defining piece.  Khador’s shtick is big slow tough jacks that do not shoot well and hit like a ton of bricks.  The unspoken argument I hear most often comes down to the juggernaut feels too good for its points if you’re on the receiving end because it would be more expensive in—insert another person’s faction.  This is a massive double standard.  The point of having faction defining elements is that they should be largely unique to that faction.  That means that they should be competitively priced and reasonably appealing.  Khador’s identity is based around the empire’s willingness to forego arcnodes, light jacks, focus 8 casters, any jack with a base move over 4, accurate jack shooting, alchemical innovation, and crazy magic tech.  In return we are supposed to get scary medium based infantry, hard hitting durable jacks, self-sufficient troops, warcasters that get the job done without a lot of support, berserk convicts chained to cursed relic weapons, small units of specialists, lots of inaccurate AOE attacks, and a focus on the fundamentals with a pinch of winter for flavor.  Khador derives a lot of its identity from what it cannot have; so, when someone says ‘X’ model feels too strong it bugs me.  Look at all the things I do not get that_every_other_faction gets.  I pay for that _slight points efficiency by forgoing a metric ton of design space.
              The corollary to this argument is that other factions get tons of broken oppressive crap that I have to swallow because it is in-theme for them.  Ambushing bears that hit harder than some light jacks?  Really PP?  *looks at my unit of woodsman sadly*  Sloan shredding my entire army at range freeking 16 with armor piercing hunters that advance deploy and have long leash with fully boosted shots for every jack in her battle group that all have true sight???  I don’t get a focus 8 caster but Menoth gets a focus 10 caster…because reasons?  I am supposed to take that degenerate nonsense on the chin because other factions should have nice things too.  I’m fine with that.  Seriously.  If one faction getting stealthie incorporeal solos free is the cost of Santa visiting once a year then that’s cool.  I am not OK with being told that the things that define my faction are too good by factions that are granted the proverbial keys to the kingdom.  Call it faction envy if you want.  I Genuinely do not understand why everyone else gets to be pulled up to Cryx’s current status while my faction has to pay a tax for just being what it was designed to be.
              If PP is upset that juggernauts and marauders were omnipresent in Khador lists I wish they would consider why that was the case rather than trying to force a macroeconomic correction using microeconomic tools.  The reason those 2 jacks see so much time is that they are *fairly* costed given their effectiveness, faction relevance, and ability to trade in the all heavies all the time world we live in.  The berserker chassis was rendered unplayable to keep Karchev spam to a minimum.  The grolar, spriggan, demolisher, and decimator suffer from poor design and excessive cost.  That leaves 5 jacks that are reasonably effective and usefully costed—and the destroyer had to be cut 2 points to meet that standard.  Of that list, the juggernaut is the only one that can consistently one-round other heavies.  Is it any surprise that it showed up all the time?  If we’re going to see more huge bases then the marauder needs to go up in cost but the juggernaut?  I’m not saying that something didn’t need to be done.  I just do not see juggernauts going up to 13 solving the larger problem.
              My bigger question isn’t why raise the cost of the juggernaut.  Rather I want to know why the Khador all-jack-list with 7ish jacks is a step too far.  I’m not buying the “it was a negative play experience.”  Cryx can run 2 incorporeal battle engines (with tough mind you) that require me to take a 12-point mercenary package to even have a chance at defending the alpha.  I’ve seen a Sloan player cause a new player to rage quit the hobby on the spot.  Why are those negative play experiences acceptable and my faction’s defining play style elements a step too far?  I am assuming that upcoming CIDs will give the least among us more tools and corrections to current inequity.  Why is it necessary to bring this one element down when presumably everyone else is going to be brought up?
              I have asked this question in many forms in many forums.  The discussion always degenerates into a discussion of base level mechanical interactions with no substantive answer to the big question.  Why is it ok for other factions to ask questions I do not have good tools to answer when apparently the same is not true for my faction?  I’m not quitting the game.  I’m not trying to flame PP.  I just want an honest considered answer to this question.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Health stuff or confessing my sins

              I want to write something profound—something witty—something self-deprecating that speaks to a greater truth…but I cannot.  So, let’s keep it simple.  I am fat.  I am 50ish pounds down from where I was in 2013 but I am still way bigger than I would like and being brutally honest, I have not been good to myself of late.

              In the past I have been able to point to progress in other areas to justify lack of progress in matters massive.  I might have backslid a bit but look at my new job, my exercise regimen, my improved finances…as long as I did not backslide more than 20 pounds or so it seemed worth it.  Now…ah…not_so_much.  Fatness does not bother me in and of itself (that is fixable) but my lack of willpower irks.
              Fatness is a symptom of larger problems.  First, I have lost most of the reinforcing schedule structure that kept me on my best behavior.  Squish and B have put their gym membership on hold.  Twas a time when we went 2 or 3 days a week without fail.  The free transportation, social pressure of gym friends, and the buddy system insured regular gym time.  Now, with each uber trip costing $7.00+ each way, it is harder to justify the quantity and quality of activity of old.  I have purchased blind-friendly exercise routines which I genuinely enjoy but the motivation and accountability is not as high as before and my participation has suffered accordingly.
              Then there’s “work.”  I no longer take public transportation to and from work each day.  Paratransit takes me door-to-door, supplanting my daily treks around the bus stop.  My commute is 2 to 3 hours round trip—cutting down time I used to use for walks and grocery junkets.  My activity level is noticeably decreased.
              Second, work is dietarily toxic.  My previous routine left me with few disturbances.  I could not leave my desk easily because of my work flow.  So, while I was not covering much ground, I had few opportunities or reasons to stray from plan.  I was an employee in an office building of a couple thousand.  Nobody cared about my habits as long as my job got done.  Nobody was pushing me toward my health goals but there were few negative pressures; so as long as I was mildly motivated, I could stay on-plan.
              You would think that working in the library for the blind that I would find a more supportive environment.  Part of my issue is that the library employs no more than 30 employees even counting contractors and volunteers.  Everybody is in my business—commenting on what I ordered for lunch—counting how many snack wrappers are in my trash can (I am not kidding)—pushing me to order with or for them.  It’s that whole small world thing.  The contract and operational employees are as like to treat me like a special snowflake as a valued professional peer.  Most of the time I politely redirect, educate, and do the smart tolerant thing.  I try not to engage—not to give them a chance to hit my buttons.  Sometimes though I just lose my patience.  The secretarial and security staff comment on how much I order, how often I order, if I order or not, whether I included them on my order.  It does not matter that I order delivery at most twice a week and they order out every day for lunch and breakfast, the delivery people come in through that front entrance and they feel empowered to voice an opinion.  I hate being made to feel self-conscious.  My immediate reaction is to fight back in pure spite.  So even though I did not think of ordering or snacking when I started this job 9 months ago, I feel like I have to keep doing it to make a point…to prove they have no power over me.  Stress makes me hungry.  Food makes me feel better.  The more stressed I am the greater the chance I will overindulge…multiply…consume…etc.
Supplementing that issue is the fact that my schedule is 2 hours off the rest of the office.  I arrive at 6:30 in the morning, have lunch by 11:30, and am on my way home by 3:30.  Most employees work 8 to 5.  Everyone else is eating lunch hours after my meal is done.  So, my day is coming to a close and my work area smells like fried food, burgers, and pizza every-single-day—just when I am at my weakest.  Put that together with food being the proximal cause of my stress in the first place and meals are problematic.  I tried incremental fasting and failed horribly.  I was fine till 1:00ish and then olfactory suggestion destroyed my willpower.
              My schedule changed.  My activity level changed.  I let stress get the best of me.  My gout is acting up again.  My belt is starting to tighten…and I know where this spiral leads.  I feel bad so I eat more, more often, more per serving, more of the things I know I should not.  I feel worse so my motivation slips.  I stay home and do the one thing that makes me feel better—eat.  Screw that nonsense.  I am going to make better choices by finding sustainable patterns that fit my new life.  I am not falling back down that rabbit hole.  I need to proactively change to sustainable choices that I am motivated to perform.

Here are some of the better choices I am making going forward:
1.       A friend of mine going through addiction recovery and I have a call scheduled twice a week.  He talks about recovery and I talk about health stuff.  If he can fight off controlled substance addiction I can eat better.
2.       I have tested and am now using reusable 14oz plastic shake pouches by little green pouch.  I have a breakfast shake that I make in 5 shake increments, freeze, and take to work in the morning.  It is the best combination of health and efficiency I have come up with so far.  I am going to take it to work every day starting tomorrow.
3.       I am going to bring in a selection of Birdseye frozen steamed vegetables each week—whatever is on sale.  Lunch is going to be a heaping 500 calorie or less serving of random veggies.  I’ll add some low cal hot sauce to make it palatable if required.  That is a 0-effort meal that should fill me up with good things for the rest of the day.
4.       I am reading a book from bard called the gut makeover.  It is…interesting.  The author talks about how to reconfigure your digestive track over 4 weeks.  There are no portion sizes.  I need to get out of the holidays but after that…I am going to give it a try.
5.       I am publicly acknowledging that exercise or the lack there of is not my problem.  My friend Phoenix has cut over 50 pounds through moderate portion control.  If she can do it how can I do less?
6.       I have asked to have my desk moved to a less disruptive location.  It may take a couple months until the area is ready but my boss has agreed.  In the mean time I’m just going to confront bad behavior openly and honestly.  I am not doing myself or anyone else any favors by letting this crap slide.
7.       I work in a library.  I am going to take my breaks on the lowest basement floor and walk through the stacks.  I need to get out of my office periodically anyway.
8.       I am going to work on confronting the behavior that makes eating uncomfortable, guilty, stressful, and socially awkward.  I am entitled to splurge every once in a while—I need an eating plan that can handle that within reason.


I was already doing most of this stuff desultorily—I just need to commit to doing it all the time.  I do not want to get down on myself but I feel brutal honesty is the only way to deal with my health issues.  I am going to make better choices.

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.