Saturday, 11 July 2015

Grimtoof Redux

My house was recently invaded by a trio of Danes keen for shooty-death-kill in space, and so for the first time in literally years, I wheeled out my army of Speed Freaks. The impending game served as ample excuse to paint up the Stormclaw warboss, so as to replace my rather low-rent nob conversion from back in the day.

Young Grimtoof looks a bit diddy next to his older, hencher self.
Older Grimtoof be gert hench.

Normally, I'd have too much pride to leave a model unconverted, particularly since combi-skorchas are clearly superior to combi-rokkitts, but you know what? Life is short, and rokkitts go fasta.

Now this model is still the same character: Grimtoof Boomshanka. He's just older and tougher, as is his ultra-loyal squig Niblit, seen perching atop the bosspole in version 1, and bounding merrily forward in version 2. The squig is actually chained to the warboss in the Stormclaw model, but the chain got snipped off as I liked the idea that Grimtoof finds it more amusing to have a free range squig that just bounces around being a nuisance, sort of like a really irresponsible yet infuriatingly proud dog owner. "E's biting me face off boss!" "I know, bless 'im, 'e loves faces."


If anything I've actually been lazier with the paint job second time around, although I prefer the less saturated green skin tone. I've never managed to get super excited about painting orks; it's very easy to make them look okay, but for some reason I really struggle to make the skin look excellent. Lack of trying, I guess, but I don't mind... for me, the main lure has and will always be kustomizing vehicles.

-Charlie

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Warhammer: (r)age (quit) of Sigmar

As every wargamer with a web connection (or, I suppose, the willingness to read White Dwarf) knows, a new version of the Warhammer Fantasy rules has just been released. It's four pages long. And it's free.


It seems only right that the Beard Bunker should join legions of commentators elsewhere and fart our collective opinion all over the intertubes, because the internet has the capacity to be one great big opinionated fart horn and it's nice to be a part of something big.

There are of course several topics to discuss. I'm going to talk about the underlying game design, and I'm going to try and be fair. Jeff is going to be talking about the dissection and discarding of the Old World setting, and he will probably not be as nice. By 'not as nice,' I suspect it's going to read like W:AOS walking innocently into a back alley and spending seven quality minutes getting thoroughly seen to by a burly man wielding an industrial sander, a hoover, a pedicure set, and some shape charges. Finally, Mark will reflect on both these areas following our initial game with WAOS today.


Part one: da roolz (Charlie)

This is hard for me to write. Not because I don't know what to say, but because I know how hard it is to write rules, and I know that the GW studio care a great deal about their work. Anyone who suggests they don't care has never tried to write a ruleset. It's really, really difficult, and I salute the studio for having the bravery to make such dramatic changes.

That said, I'm starting to suspect there is a fundamental difference between what I hold to be the foundation of a good game, and what the GW studio think is the foundation of a good game.

For me, the bedrock of gameplay is making choices. All the stuff where I roll a dice to see what happens is just seeing that choice play out. If the game reduces the player to nothing but a dice-rolling meat-bot, it's not gameplay; it's more like being some sort of weird, celestial secretary observing your wee men move around on a map and recording how well they do. How fascinating.

There is still some tactical decision making in WAOS, in that units have something akin to LoTR's control zones - you can't move within 3" of an enemy model without charging it. This means small, sacrificial units can screen more important ones, and tough shieldwall units can defend vulnerable missile units. Unfortunately, that's it. Since there are no longer any flanks, and no restrictions on movement, it's effectively impossible to outmaneuver people, which seems like a fundamental element of medieval-esque fantasy warfare.

Dude, where's my movement tray?

Now I'm all for streamlining rules. If a game throws plenty of interesting quandaries at a player with only four pages of rules then great. WAOS does an incredible job of streamlining some very complicated cause/effect relationships into four pages by repeatedly asking 8th edition Fantasy questions like "yes I know you have a comparative weapon skill chart, but since everyone just ends up rolling 3+ or 4+ anyway, why bother having the chart at all?"

Good question, that doesn't mean you have to throw out all the tactical nuance as well.

Now of course one of the big elephants in the room - even for a relatively non-competitive gamer like me - is that of game balance. There isn't any. Like, any. I appreciate that overly competitive people are seriously toxic to the hobby, but this feels like an overreaction to the problem that absolutely will not fix it. Yes, players have complete freedom to do whatever they feel like. Will that freedom cheer up lil' Jim because Affluent Timmy's parents bought him so much plastic crack that lil' Jim's ten Empire state troops have no chance against Timmy's twenty-strong mob of greater daemons? No.

Personally I want a fight to be a nail-biting, down-to-the-wire sort of affair, and if you lose game balance, you lose this possibility. WAOS makes this functionally impossible. It's like 40K's intellectually deficient cousin.

Speaking of intellectual deficiency, we come to my final point. Realism. Yes, I know, this is a game with daemons and griffons and so on, but leaving all realism behind makes it less immersive. For example:

Handgun Volley: You can add 1 to hit rolls for an Empire Handgunner when it shoots its missile weapons if its unit includes at least 20 models. 

Casting the grammatical problems with that sentence aside... they get better at aiming their guns because they've got lots of friends? HOW DOES THAT WORK? Hey, at least they're not crossbowmen. Their version of that rule means they get to shoot twice, because time is bendy.

OK that ended up being more rant-acular than I intended. Short version? I genuinely like the attempt to simplify a pretty convoluted game, but the studio overshot the mark to the extent that I'm just going to carry on playing 8th edition.

I'm curious to hear what other people make of the new rules, and will merrily respond/debate with any comments left on this post!


Part two: but it is the ende of the worlde (Jeff)

Thank you for that kind introduction Charlie, I'll try to live up to it:


Whilst Charlie and Mark are the best placed to talk about the underwhelm-ment (totally a word) that is the rules, I wanted to talk about something much more toxic to my interest in this game: The destruction of the Warhammer World. This has been much hyped as being a re-invigorating step, a means of breaking free of the same tired old thing aaaand it does. That is certain. The trouble is, in doing so it has killed, completely, any care I had for their product here.

farewell old friend, we knew you almost too well
Some context may be required. I started playing this game at 10. I was introduced to a magical, dark place where the embattled hosts of humanity fought against monsters and their own twisted kin. Where fantastic beasts aided the mortal and fallen elves duelled their own benighted brothers. It. Was. Awesome.

Fast forward 25 years (yes I am that old, shush you).  And we have a world so rich in background and depth of character that even different city states in the same nation have distinct identities. I knew the geography of that world almost better than I knew my own. No other game has that kind of continuous depth of narrative to draw on. To have inspiring stories and legend to prop it up.

After all, it's not like it inspires whole new narrative campaigns... oh wait.

Then… they blew it up, in a series of events described in the End Times. A narrative series so farcical and nihilistic as to be laughable. By the way, anyone who spent the between £120 and £200-odd quid on those books has to be feeling pretty sore right now. Fork out for that and a few months later they destroy the world those books are based on. But that is another matter.

I had always assumed that the End Times would be the new persistent story world.  GW like their nihilistic “world on the brink of collapse” thing as they think it needs that to justify constant warfare. But no, goodbye rich setting, hello to nine floaty realms (smell the Norse myth in all that) in some sort of vortex. I’ll wait and see if they bother at all to re-home the people that lived on the Warhammer World or whether every sentient creature in creation is now in a soldier.

"Eyup Dieter, how's your Pauline?"
"Dead mate, how's yours?"
"Dead too, makes you wonder why we go on."
This killed it for me. I like a setting where you are fighting for something not just against something. A world where your populace live interesting, colourful lives, where flawed diplomacy can exist (flawed to allow for constant fighting). They’ve said to me: “That series on TV you were enjoying? The 25 year (35 really) long one that got more and more involving and deep? Yeah, we’re rebooting is with the cast of Glee, keep watching though right?”.  I’m afraid I’m done. I’ll continue to live in the world I have done for so long. A world where 2/3 of the landmass remained completely unexplained and unexplored. Endless potential for expansion (I’ll talk about that another time, I’ve got tons of ideas)

If, though, we accept the premise that there was a desperate need for some kind of magic based realms out there… well, here’s the obvious solution. Do it AS WELL AS the world you have. GW slung the bathwater out and failed to notice all the babies paddling in it. Having an alternative game like AoS (all FOUR pages of it) included in Warhammer, used as the starter game even. Neat idea.

Then when people have enough models, they can start playing the big game that apparently has such a big barrier to entry (I challenge that when an assault squad now costs half of what a battalion set did five years ago) and have a different sort of challenge.  They could have EXPANDED the world and their product range… but no.  And so I am done, with regret, I have been captain optimist through every version of the game, but this is not a version of the game. This is the destruction of it. So I am done. Now I shall continue to play 8th and be very, very happy.
My happy place
I have one final thought. GW desperately needs to re-engage with its community.  In fact, I’m going to speak to them directly: Please, please, talk to us. Find out what we want. At the moment you are acting like Apple, “we’ve made a thing, now make the world love it come what may”. That can sort of work when you are selling a device. You don’t sell a device. You sell products that facilitate one of the most collaborative endeavours on earth. It needs the participation of all concerned to work, when you act as though our opinion doesn’t matter it harms you.

Now, I know what you are about to say, the internet is an absolute cesspool of nerdrage and bile. I hate it too, wrote about it too. But you have pulled up the drawbridge way too far. For weeks we’ve been told “ignore the rumours, wait for the truth”, but the truth is here now… and we do not like it, to the extent of ignoring it, we (i.e. the players you don’t talk to not just the bunker) could have warned you of this.

I sincerely hope that this works for you. I do. I hope you get all of the new players and money you are hoping for. I hope it is a stellar success with the percentage of Warhammer players who like the new thing and the people who didn’t like Warhammer. Equally, if you like this thing, play it with my enthusiastic blessing. Because it would be horrible if you had destroyed the world I loved; mutilated the game; and acted as if we were the weird ones for not falling immediately in love with it; if it were not to work commercially. Horrible.

I’m just grateful I have awesome, like minded friends forming a gaming community. I can’t imagine how upset I would be if a club enthusiastically endorsing AoS and ignoring Warhammer – every GW store for example - was my only option.

If anyone wants me I’ll be arranging my little plastic mans in neat little squares and smiling a lot.



Part Three: Kogzhammer (Mark)

I’ll try to keep this short as there is a bit of overlap in what I want to say and what the others have already said. These thoughts are what I think of the game now, having played a single game. I will be fair and play more games to see if its a grower - although I'm not entirely sure who I'll play them with. 

So I might as well come out and say it: I don’t like the Warhammer Age of Sigmar rules.

Growing up with Games Workshop, I always saw Warhammer as the game that the grown-ups played. I think that was because of some of the historical references, a lack of Space Marines and because it was a game that rewarded clever, thoughtful play.

I am a particular fan of Warhammer 8th edition. It seems so beautifully conceived, from the intelligent rules that were written with an eye forward to the coming armies to the massive set piece model making displays in the rulebook. I always got the impression that 8th edition Warhammer (from Island of Blood to the hardback rulebook) was someone’s labour of love.

Gameplay

I have sympathy for the designers of Age of Sigmar. It is obvious that they were trying very hard to streamline the rules so that the game was easier and faster to play. The process of building the rules must have been difficult, and to reference one of Jervis Johnson’s articles, they must have had to have ‘murdered their darlings’ to have got to this place.
There is precedent for what they tried – the design team rewrote Epic in the late 90s and turned it into something much more streamlined, better and easier to play. People complained about the abstraction, but an equal number of people loved that they turned a quagmire of a game into something fast, strategic and relatively simple.

In this case, the same thing hasn’t worked. In removing the complexity from the Warhammer rules, I feel that they have also taken out most of what it was that made Warhammer, well, Warhammer. There is now so much in the game that is either not worth doing (outflanking, ensuring you get the advantage of charging, redirecting units with sacrificial chaff, using terrain) or is so facile and automatic (magic, movement, equipment selection) that the player of the game doesn’t feel engaged with what is going on with their army.

Nowhere is this more apparent than with army selection. Choices that would have been agonised over during 8th edition army selection are now automatic, without drawbacks and completely free: “do I want my Rat-Ogres to have guns? (They’re free and have no disadvantages) Well, I’ll take all of them, and my rat ogres without guns are now obsolete”.
The same is true of musicians, champions, extra ranks, etc, etc.

Guns are so hot right now, why don't we have any?

Not to say that this game is actually all that simple. Whilst the core rules are four pages long, each and every warscroll comes with its own special rules, meaning that the ‘looking things up phase’ is far from over. These special rules are sometimes the equivalent of the old universal special rules, and are sometimes ridiculous (Kurt Helborg’s Moustache for example).

Background (Fluff)

Jeff has gone into the background at length so this will be brief.
The basic themes haven’t changed as much as Games Workshop might have you believe. Whilst they have stripped much of the detail out of the Warhammer world, the basic principles (an empire under siege from Chaos and other animals, humanity united and barely holding on, constant war and the occasional scuffle) have been retained.

Unfortunately, all the ‘human details’ that made the Old World compelling have been surgically removed. Imagine your favourite book rendered down into an encyclopaedia article and then re-scored as ‘My Little Pony’s Adventure in Magic Land’ – That’s what the background now feels like to me.

These changes, combined with the utter tedium of moving large numbers of models individually (up to three times a turn), the massive abstractions of the ruleset, the nonsense logic of the Warscrolls and the lack of worthwhile tactics and you have a pretty unappetising game. I will, like Jeff and Charlie, stick with 8th edition Warhammer.

Age of Sigmar feels like lowest common denominator hammer and in no way does it feel like a subtle, nuanced game for adults. It feels like it’s been put together for the wrong reasons, for a very attention deficient minority of players and without much in the way of thinking about the existing playerbase.


[Jeff: Mark makes a damn good point here, it feels "designed for the younger gamer", well, when I was 10 I didn't want to play with stuff designed for 10 year olds, I wanted what the big kids had...]

I’ve tried not to rant and I think I've succeeded. 

I’m not angry –I’m just disappointed.