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!