Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Does Balance Matter?

You hear a lot of people complaining about games.  One of the most common thing you hear is that certain units or models in a game are “Over Powered” or they are “Unbalanced”.  But does balance really matter in Wargames? Well, the real answer to this question is obviously t depends on the game and how you want to play.  A bit of a cop out, I know, but I do think there is a deeper answer though.



Games Workshop recently released Shadow War: Armageddon, a narrative skirmish game set in the Warhammer 40,000 universe based on their classic Necromunda game.  It’s been a surprise hit for the company – the initial boxed game selling out in minutes – and the online community for the game has been thriving.  The most common complaint I’ve seen online though is certain factions are “unbalanced” but I feel that these people may have missed the point of the game.  I don’t think Shadow War was ever intended to be used for a tournaments and heavy competitive play.  I think it’s a great game for creating exciting stories on the tabletop, yeah your Imperial Guard (or whatever they are called nowadays) might get butchered but it was bloody fun playing it out right?




I think the same can be said for a lot of games but not all of course.  There are games that are designed for competitive play. Games like Kings of War and Warmachine rely on balance to make the game work.  Nothing can ever be perfectly balanced of course (unless both players use the exact same models and army lists but where’s the fun in that) but I think wargamers make too much of a big deal of balance.



Just look at what happened when Warhammer: Age Of Sigmar was released.  When the Warhammer reboot came out neck beards around the world were outraged by the idea that none of the units had point values.  The game encouraged people to use what models they had in their collection and create a cool narrative.  It was fun and reminded me when I started playing wargames and would just put any old thing on the table and would have hours of fun...the LAST thing we thought about was balance!  I remember seeing on a forum online someone complaining that “people could just take an army of giants!!” My first thought was “that sounds AMAZING!”



Some people embraced it and loved the idea but it seemed most gamers couldn’t get on board.  I understand this though because army list building and the like is one of the most fun parts of wargaming for many people.  It was certainly a statement of intent for Games Workshop though.  Warhammer Fantasy Battles was always a game that had an active competitive scene and releasing the new version without points was certainly a kick up the arse for some.  After a year GW put out the Generals Handbook which had rules for “Matched Play” which used Points Values and balancing mechanics.  Some people saw it as a back tack from GW but I would be very surprised if that wasn’t planned that way.

I think GW have stuck the nail on the head with how they present Age of Sigmar – and the forthcoming 8th edition of Warhammer 40,000 – with the “Three Ways To Play” thing.  Open Play being the version where you can use whatever you like to play games, Narrative Play which is more scenario based and Matched Play which is the more balanced version.  It shows people that when you buy a new game it should be used as a frame work to do what you like with, there is no right way to play a game, as long as you are having fun then you are playing it right! It’s very refreshing for a company like Games Workshop to embrace such a thing.


 
It does seems that balance is more of a recent obsession that has snuck into other types of games as well.  I remember seeing people complaining about balance issues in Dungeons & Dragons.  Since when did we want balanced roleplaying games? For me a good RPG should be all about story.  There should be monsters in a dungeon that my first level character can’t out fight! If I can out fight everything where is the danger and drama? The fear of death should be the crux of any good dungeon dwelling adventure!! A good old school RPG should feel dangerous and scary.


As I said at the start of the post there is not really yes no answer to the question of does balance matter?  It all depends on the game and how you like to play.  I do think everyone should just have a go at playing their wargames with an eye on the style of an Old School RPG.  Just make up a story,  bend the rules to fit that story,  choose some cool miniatures and throw some dice, you know, like we used to as kids.

Monday, 8 May 2017

Thoughts on: Saga Dark Age Skirmishes

If your're under 35 years old and into miniatures wargames you probably got into it through GamesWorkshop.  Your formative wargaming years were probably spent in the world of Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000.  I know mine were.  I loved Fantasy and Sci-Fi gaming and used to go to a regular games club where there was a very clear divide,  us playing 40k or the Star Wars RPG one one side and older, bearded men playing Historical wargames on the other.



I was always fascinated by the strange WW2 and Medieval games that were on the table but they seemed so inaccessible.  I had (well have if i'm honest) a very limited knowledge of history and the rules of these games looked so in depth and complicated - and they usually came as photo copied pages in a ring bound folder.  I always wanted to dip my toe into historical gaming but was always put off by this.




In the last couple of years though there has been a big change in Historical Wargames.  Companies like Warlord Games and Osprey Publishing are producing games, miniatures and rules that are much more accessible and user friendly.  One of the best Historical games on the market in my opinion though would be Studio Tomahawk and Gripping Beasts Dark Age Skirmish rules Saga.  A game of battling Viking, Saxons, Normans and the like.

There are so many reasons why Saga is so good for Historical newbies - like myself.  Firstly the buy in point is extremely easy.  The rulebook priced at £25. and this includes the Battle boards (more on these later) to be able to field Vikings, Anglo-Danes, Welsh and Normans.  £25 may not seem cheap for a set of rules but couple this with the excellent price of Gripping Beasts Plastic box sets.  You can pick up a set of 44 Vikings or Saxons for £20.  You can make a full army to use for Saga (with a few models remaining) for £20!  Not a lot of games can boast that!



Saga is, for me, one of the best set of wargame rules I have ever played.  The basic rules are simple, easy to learn and extremely effective.  There are basically three types of model you can field in your army and this is the same for every faction excluding a few special rules (Berserk for Viking, Cavalry for Normans etc)  but what really makes Saga the exciting, tactical and fun game it is are the Battle Boards.  Each faction has a unique Battle Board with faction specific special rules on.  At the start of their turn a player rolls their Saga Dice.  These are custom dice with faction specific symbols on which you can buy, or if you are a tight arse like me you can make your own or use regular D6 and the conversion table in the book.  You then distribute these dice on your Battle Board and and spend them to activate units and activate special abilities and actions making certain units more effective.  It's the Battle Boards that make each faction play n their own style and makes each army feel totally unique. It adds a brilliant resource management element to the game and a "fog of war"randomness to activating your units.   This also makes it much easier for new players to learn as you don't have to remember myriad rules for lots of different unit types but just have to learn the basics and the Battle Board you want to use.  There is very little rules referencing while playing Saga and once you get a you Battle Boards programmed the turns really fly!



I can't recommend Saga enough for anyone that has been tempted to try some Historical games.  It has a great cinematic feel to it so you can enjoy it without worrying to much about historical accuracy and that kind of thing.  This little write up just touches the surface of how good Saga is.  There are supplements for more factions and campaign rules as well as a stand alone set of rules to play the Crusades using the same basic rules.

And I think most importantly...who doesn't like Vikings? C'mon! 

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Thoughts On: New Games Workshop Announcements

Games Workshop have been causing a bit storm at GAMA this week with a barrage of new announcements.  Here is my thoughts that will obviously include a lot of speculation.

First up...

Shadow War: Armageddon



This one is of particular interest to me as I, as you may have been in a previous blog post,  am a huge fan of Necromunda.  Shadow War: Armageddon is a stand alone "squad level" skirmish game "set in the hive cities of Armageddon, with Orks against Space Marines and the option to add almost a dozen more factions".  So far so good.  Sound pretty cool.  But the bit that really peaked my interest was "the ruleset is based off of the classic Necromunda game, including some in-between game advancements and earning experience that can see your small recon-force grow to become an elite unit of honed killers." Interesting...


What does this mean for the future of Necromunda?   Will they ever release a new official version of the game of is Shadow War the new Necromunda?  Who knows?  This release does make perfect sense though.  Rules to play skirmishes in 40k using their pre-existing miniatures meaning you can use models from your 40k army or you can just buy a single box of miniatures and already get involved in the game! I already have eyes on a Genestealer Cult gang...and a Tau Firewarrior team...and a Chaos Marine Gang...basically I am sold on the idea.



You get a squad of Space Marine Scouts, a squad of Ork Boyz,  templates, rules and the usual things in the box but the most impressive is the scenery.  Plastic modular buildings with walk ways and towers and the like.  Very much what I predicted for the new Necromunda box.  It's very elaborate and very Games Workshop (lets play count the skulls!) but looks very cool.  The one thing for me is that it seems like there isn't very much terrain in the box but this.  I wish they had made it a bit less fancy and a bit more plentiful but I assume they will release separate boxes of scenery for use with this and 40k.

And most exciting of all is that Shadow War: Armageddon is coming out in April!!


Kharadron Overloads





Yet again Warhammer: Age of Sigmar is proving to split opinions.  One of the new announcements for the game has been their new race.  the Kharadron Overlords,  a faction of Duardin (Dwarfs to you and me) sky pirates.

 



I'm not usually a fan of the whole Steampunk thing.  It's a bit over done and, frankly, a bit dated now.  but I think these guys looks pretty damn awesome! A lot of people have complained that they look "to 40k" and are like the much missed Squats from the sci-fi game.  People had the same complaints about the Stormcast Eternal when they came out when AoS was released and it's understandable.  They are certainly making AoS much more unique looking, moving away from the usual Tolken inspired fantasy of old.





In game terms they seem to be armed with a lot of ranged weapons.  Lots of really cool looking guns and cannons.  Very different to anything else we have seen in AoS so far.  Will be interesting to see so these units work in the game! 





I'm a fan of these new sky dwarfs but I understand why people might not like them.  It's pretty simple though, if you don't like them you don't have to buy them.  There are so many unique factions in AoS that all look so different you can pretty much play what you want!



Warhammer Age of Sigmar: Thunder & Blood


Another Age of Sigmar announcement was a new starter set called Thunder & Blood.

There isn't a lot of information about this yet but it seems like it is going to be a starter set in the style of the original one with Stormcast vs Khorne (a big clue in that name).  but this time with coloured plastic (red for Khorne and gold for Stormcast),  a double sided play mat and,  this is a really nice touch, the box can be used as a piece of terrain! What a great idea!! I wonder if it works as well as it should!




This seems like the perfect in for people new to AoS.  Another great move from GW making the buy in for the hibby much more accessible!  Looking forward to seeing more about this one. 

And last but not least...

Warhammer Underworlds: Shadespire



This one is particularly interesting.  It is just a very cryptic video and a small write up on the Warhammer Community page at the moment.
"This is a new game, set in the Mortal Realms during the Age of Sigmar. It has been designed specifically for competitive, organised play, to support our growing community of gamers out there."

I could be anything.  My first thought was that it might be the Aos equivalent of the 40k Shadow War game above but that doesn't quite match up with the idea of it being designed for competitive play.   Is it a return of the "rank and flank" style of old Warhammer?  Look at that awesome old school logo! Maybe?  Really interested to see what it could be.  Hopefully we won't have to wait to long!



Well it's been a pretty exciting day if you are a Games Workshop fan.  Really looking forward to all of these and I am pretty sure there is much more to come.  A few years ago I don't think I would have ever written this but....well done Games Workshop.  Well done.










Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Thoughts On: Terminator Genisys The Miniatures Game

I am a huge fan of the Terminator films (well the first two).  I am also, as you may have guessed by this blog, a huge fan of miniatures gaming.  When I first watched The Terminator and saw the post-apocalyptic battle scenes I knew that i needed to play a miniatures game in that setting.  It was perfect for it.  Armies of Endo-Skeletons blasting human resistance fighters with their Plasma Rifles looked amazing on film but would be so so so much fun to play out on the tabletop.



It wasn't until 2015 that this dream became a reality.  It was announced that Alessio Cavatores River Horse Games were designing the official miniatures game based on the last movie in the Terminator series Terminator Genisys called Terminator Genisys The Miniatures Game: The War Against The Machines.  As soon as it was announced I was excited.  I am huge fan of Alessio Cavatore.  He did excellent work on Games Workshops Lord Of The Rings Strategy Battle Game, proving that he can make an excellent cinematic game based on a huge IP.  It was being distributed by Warlord Games, the people behind the excellent WW2 game Bolt Action .  All the ingredients seemed right but the game never really seemed to take off.  It does have a fan base and an active Facebook group but it had the feeling to me that it should have been the next big thing!

The game it's self is actually great.  A really simple to learn skirmish game that uses polyhedral dice and movement templates.  The full rulebook is fantastic full of detail, examples, painting guides and terrain building tips.  It really reminds me of classic Games Workshop rulebooks.

Despite this why did it not take off?  Here are some of my thoughts...

Terminator Genisys



I think the most obvious reason why the game never really become a smash hit was because the film it was based on is, frankly, terrible.  It seemed to miss the mark entirely.  It was a flop and I think even fans of the franchise, like myself,  didn't connect with the film.  I also think that River Horse only had the licence for that film, this meant that they could only produce products based around Terminator Genisys and not the loved original James Cameron films.  I think this may have put a few people off,  I know I was less keen to get involved with the game because of this.


The Miniatures



The miniatures in the War Against The Machines starter box are good.  They are functional,  good looking, easy to build and are handily in different coloured plastic (the Terminators in shiny silver and the humans in "army man green").  They were fine but I think a lot of gamers expected more. Warlord Games plastic kits are usually excellent. Their WW2 plastics are some of my personal favourite kits around but they are multi-part kits that if you are not into model making or are new to wargaming then would be a bit intimidating.  The Terminator miniatures were obviously made to cater for more of a board game audience but they still actually a bit fiddly and the "snap fit" feature that was one of the selling points for the minis didn't quite work.  I think it would have been nice if they made the minis one piece miniatures in the style of the new Mantic Games Walking Dead game but I understand that this way of making miniatures is quite pricey.  I personally like the miniatures in the game but understand that some people wanted more.

The Price



For me this was the biggest one.  The RRP for the full starter set was £70.  That is not a cheap buy in for a starter box,  especially with the amount and style of the miniatures included in the set.  There was an option for a cheaper box with quick start rules but I think that most gamers feel a bit cheated not getting the full rulebook (and the rulebook is one of the best things about the game in my opinion).  This was the main reason I didn't buy the game staright away and waited for a deal until I actually got the set.  It was worth the bargain price of £20 but I wouldn't pay £70 for it...and I don't think a lot of people would.  I assume that selling a game with such a big IP incurs many more costs and problems so it makes sense really.

I know this article may sound negative but I don't mean it to be.  I think Terminator Genisys The Miniatures Game is a great game for fans of the films and wargamers alike.  It's easy to learn but full of tactics, just waht you would expect from Alessio Cavatore.  I really encourage people to piuck up the game and keep it alive after the disappointment of the Terminiator Genisys film.

Monday, 27 February 2017

New Necromunda? What I'm Hoping For...

Necromunda means a lot to me.  When I was thirteen I was introduced to the game by a school friend and it was my introduction to the weird and wonderful world of miniatures wargaming.  We had our first gang fight one rainy Saturday afternoon and I haven't looked back since.



For me nothing has come close to capturing my imagination like the Underhive of Necromunda.  Every game felt like you were participating in a full fleshed out, living breathing world.  It was part 2000AD part Mad Max, it's like it was made for me!  A small scale skirmish game where you control rival gangs fighting in an almost post-apocalyptic setting.  Your gang members progressed and levelled up the more games you played and you became attached to them.  They had their own personalities you it was a real gut punch when your Gangers sustained horrible life threatening injuries.



It was announced a little while a go now that Games Workshop were bringing back what they called their "Specialist Games".  This included the legendary fantasy sports board game Blood Bowl, dungeon crawler Warhammer Quest and their 6mm scale giant robot battling game Adeptus Titanicus.  But what I was most excited for was a return of Necromunda.

The new versions of Blood Bowl and Warhammer Quest are out already and they are excellent, for me that bodes well for this new Necromunda.  There is no official release date yet but I have been thinking about what I am hoping for for the new edition.  Here are my thoughts on what I'd like to see and what I'd imagine we will see...

New Rules or not?



When Games Workshop released  Blood Bowl in November they barely touched the rules for the game.  It was pretty much the same game as the third edition from 1994 with a few tweaks here and there.  At first I was a bit disappointed as I would have love to have seen if they could have updated the game and made it a bit more streamlined and modern but it actually makes sense that they would keep the rules the same.  Blood Bowl has an extremely active fan base and tournament scene and always has, even when the game was out of production.  I think if they changed the game to much there would have been up roar and, to be honest, Blood Bowl is an extremely fun game and didn't really need much changing.

Necromunda does have a very active fan base but nothing to the scale of Blood Bowl (not hat I know of any way) so maybe we will see a more streamlined version of Necromunda.  I would actual be quite happy with a big rules update for the game.  For me I think a good change would be to get away from the IGOUGO activation, maybe making it ebb and flow more with reactions and the like.  This may be asking a bit much for Games Workshop though.

Campaign Rules

The best thing about Necromunda was it's campaign system.  It was detailed but simple and as I said above made the game feel like it too part in a full leaving and breathing world.  I would be very surprised if they got rid of this element of the game.  It is what makes Necromunda Necromunda at the end of the day.  I just hope it is as exciting and engaging as the original campaign rules.

What'll be in the box?



The original Necromunda boxed game was an amazing thing.  You got two plastic gangs, dice, the rules and the usual amount of counters and rulers and the like.  I'd imagine we would get all this in the new box but the one thing from the original box that really stuck with me was the card and plastic terrain.  Whenever I see one of the old plastic bulkheads I get a huge pang of nostalgia.  The card scenery included with Necromunda as perfect.  I used it for every Sci-Fi game I used to play.

In the years since the game came out Games Workshop have produced lots of excellent plastic scenery kits so I would imagine that the starter box will have hard plastic scenery and I'm sure it'll look awesome.  Saying that though Games Workshop recently released a boxed game called Gangs of Commorragh which is a game between rival Dark Eldar gangs that included a campaign system  (sounds kinda familiar eh?) came with very basic card terrain.  Maybe a good way of keeping the cost of the box would be to have basic card terrain and then have more detailed plastic scenery an option add on to buy later (these sets could be like Mantic Games awesome Battle Zones modular sets of terrain!)  I'm all for lowering that initial buy in to make it more accessible and I'm sure even card terrain from GW will be exceptionally good quality!



This brings me to the plastic Gangers.  The ones in the original box were very basic and had limited customisation option.  You basically just had a couple of different arms with different weapons to choose from, they were pretty cutting edge for their time though. As you know the quality of what Games Workshop can produce in plastic now has come on leaps and bounds and I would love to see new, multi-part, hard plastic Necromunda gangs.  I'd imagine this is what we would get in the box.  The new Blood Bowl had two awesome snap fit plastic teams but as Necromunda is all about gang customisation I'd like to think that we will get a more customisable kit akin to the squads that you buy for Warhammer 40,000 and the like.  I'd also imagine that they will be Orlock and Goliath...but who knows?

Continued support?

Games Workhop have been releasing stand alone boxed games again recently but I feel that Necromunda is more than that.  They have been doing excellent things with Blood Bowl (yes I have been using Blood Bowl as an example a lot!) supporting it,  having rules for the extra teams for free, having the Death Zone expansion out on the day of release and slowly releasing extra teams (the Dwarfs and Skaven are out already) and Star Players in resin from Forge World.  I'd imagine they would use this model for Necromunda.  Two gangs in the box set then newer gangs released throught the year as seperate box set.  There is space for an expansion like the Outlanders set for the original game and Forge World could make some excellent special characters like the Hired Guns and Bounty Hunters in resin!  Blood Bowl is proving to be extremely popular and I can imagine that Necromunda will be just as successful!


Of course this all just my opinion and speculation.  Nothing has been officially said about the release yet but I'd imagine it will be 2018....I am hoping for much sooner though!





Friday, 24 February 2017

Thoughts On: Rogue Stars

If you're a fan of miniatures wargames I'd imagine that you probably have at least one  book published by Osprey Publishing in your collection.  They started by publishing military history books but a few years ago moved into wargaming - and even more recently board and card games.  They now boast an extremely impressive selection of wargame rules, including some of the most popular games of the genre at the moment including the excellent WWII game Bolt Action and Fantasy Skirmisher Frostgrave.

Late last year Osprey released the seventeenth addition in their Osprey Wargames Series of books Rogue Stars, a Sci-Fi skirmish rule set designed by prolific games designer Andrea Sfiligoi the creator of the extremely popular Fantasy Skirmish rules Song of Blades & Heroes amongst many others.


As soon as Rogue Stars was announced I was chomping at the bit to get my hands on it.  It looked exactly like kind of game I have been waiting years for.  A character driven miniatures neutral old school inspired miniature game.  It looked set to be Frostgrave in space.  I managed to pick up a copy as soon as it was released but what I got wasn't exactly what I was expecting.  It was, in fact, much much better than I hoped. 

Where Frostgrave is a fairly lightweight, if extremely fun, skirmish game, Rogue Stars is much more akin to a role-playing game combat system.  Much heavier and slower paced but don't let that put you off giving Rogue Stars a try.  Despite the depth of the rules it never feels overly complex and every game I have played felt massively cinematic with awesome, stand out moments happening throughout.  It really feels like a firefight in an action movie.

Each player in a game of Rogue Stars takes control of a Squad of between 3-6 miniatures. A very small figure count meaning that most people wouldn't struggle putting together a collection for the game.

The game runs off D20s.  I know there are people who dislike the D20 because of how "swingy" they can be,  but  personally I'm a fan.  I think the unpredictability of a 20 sider really adds to the cinematic feel of a game,  no roll is a given.

For me the real stand-out mechanic in the game is how initiative works.  At the start of the game players roll off to see who gets the first turn,  much like any game.  But in your turn you can activate your models as many times as you like.  But this comes at a price,  the more you activate your models the more likely your opponent will be able to react or steal the initiative from you.  This leads to a really fun and tense push your luck element to activating your characters in the game.  It also means that you never feel like you are sitting their twiddling your thumbs while your opponent take their turn,  your're always watching for the perfect moment to steal the initiative.


Another excellent aspect of Rogue Stars is it's detailed squad creation system.  It has been specifically designed so you can use whatever Sci-Fi miniatures you like.  Instead of the usual stat line you see in many games characters in your squad are defined by traits that effect them in game.  You also have the usual list of weapons and armour to chose from and an awesome selection of gadgets and gizmos to round your characters out.  These character creation rules really make each model in your squad seem feel unique with it's own personality.  There are different theme, such as Bounty Hunters, Pirates and Star Cops,  for your squad to choose from giving them access to different traits and weapons,  again give each squad a unique and thematic feel.  There is also a points system (or XP as it's known in Rogue Stars) to build your squads but I think that this isn't really game about creating a great narrative rather than balance, so I would only use XP as a rough guide.

Despite being designed as model neutral regular Osprey collaborators North Star Military Figures have created a great range of miniatures specifically for Rogue Stars including some excellent, thematic characters.  Worth a look for any Sc-Fi gamer.

As much as I love Rogue Stars there are few aspects that I struggled with at first.  The damage system feels rather clunky, incorporating hit locations and different injury effects and there is a lot of in game book keeping.  You keep track of how many many Stress tokens, Wound Tokens Pin Tokens and any situation effects that each model has.  But as daunting as that may sound at first it is actually not that hard to do in practice.  These are small gripes though for a game that always seems to play quickly and as you only have a very small model count per-side the book keeping never really becomes much of an issue. 



This little run down only really scratches the surface of what you can do with Rogue Stars.  For a rule book that is only 64 pages long it really is a deep and rewarding game experience! Full of different scenarios,  environments to play games on and other in game effects make everygame of Rogue Stars feel unique.

Many people have compared Rogue Stars to Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader (the name surely has to be a nod) but I feel it has a lot more in common with Bryan Ansells pre-40k character based miniatures RPG Laserburn.   

Rogue Stars really has an old school RPG feel and I am already planning games where I act as a GM,  adding a different element to the game.  It's not really a game for new comers to wargaming but for people looking to play out some awesome cinematic firefight on the tabletop I couldn't recommend Rogue Stars enough.