Saturday, 12 December 2015

Poking a toe through The Breach



As I embarked upon my Odysseyan quest to sample the delights of the various game systems on offer following the Great Schism of 2015 my first port of call in the storm of uncertainty was the peculiarly unique world of Wyrd’s Malifaux.

This is a game that I had always been intrigued by, but had little knowledge of. The sum of my knowledge, in a general sense, was an episode the fantastic podcast World’s End Radio did years ago discussing the background and fundamentals of the game. More locally I knew it as the game that current Warhammer ETC Captain #FatCraig used to play, apparently inevitably getting into and placing in the Masters, before quitting, I believe, as people do across all games, at an edition change. Even more recently, in the past 18 months or so, occasional guest author on this blog, the Panzer himself, had finally had enough of dice hating him and, leading to him throwing himself into the game full bore.

I was loosely aware of some of the models (some of which I thought was great, some of which do nothing for me) of course, and the general pseudo steampunk Western vibe. I also had a vague recollection that the background and imagery was supposed to be rather… ‘racy’
You’ll agree then, limited knowledge going in.
Which is fun really.

The below are some short thoughts following my initial exposure to this game:

So, first up, I browsed around online to see what was, as they say, what. Some cool resources on there – the PullMyFinger website has a *lot* of information, which is handy, because Wyrd’s website really doesn’t. On a related note I noticed for the first time (and I never thought I would say this) that Games Workshop’s website is really very good, allowing for easy browsing of the various models and armies on offer. With Wyrd… well, not so much. I literally have no idea what is out at all, what is only out in the old metal models, and what has been released in plastic, and end up having to resort to checking out Element Games to see what they have on sale.

[I am sure that maybe the information is all out there on Wyrd’s website… but I haven’t found it – not that I tried too hard, but then I shouldn’t have to, surely?]

One other thing I learnt from the internet is that if you go down this particular rabbit hole you have to change out the end of as many words as possible to ‘-faux’ to be taken seriously. A bizarre affectation to be sure, but is seems a small price to pay…




So, enough foreplay and into the meat of things.

The local club, South London Legion (the guys who have put on the very well received London’s Burning and London’s Calling events) is a good group of guys who play pretty much everything out there, including a small core of Malifaux addicts.

Here I managed to organise some intro games, playing three short games with a growing number of models to get a sense for the feel of the mechanics.

I liked it.

My wallet was not happy about it, but hey, that’s half the fun.

My main girl Perdita has been doing a good job of shooting things in the head so far


Cue weeks of trying to get a sense of what was out in plastic (I have no interest in metal models). Going in to a new game, I could get into things purely from a model perspective. Here I noticed the paucity of centralised information relating to the actual models around.

I did eventually find out something quite useful though. I don’t actually like most of the models out there. Other than a lot of the guild models and some of the Ten Thunders stuff, the more ‘fantastical’ stuff really doesn’t appeal to me. This meant I could more easily limit the number of models I bought, and encourage me to paint things. Win win (well perhaps less so on the last bit)!

Cue some more reading up (and listening to podcasts – there are a *lot* of them out there!) as I decided on what to get to get the ball rolling. My first purchase consisted of:
  • Lady Justice crew box
  • Perdita Ortega crew box
  • Sonia Criid crew box
  • Guild Austringers box
  • The Malifaux 2E book
  • Deck of Fate Cards

Bringing law, and traffic cones, to the dark streets of Malifaux

Not long after I added:
  • Abuela Ortega
  • Lone Marshall
  • Crossroads Expansion book
  • Scheme & Strategy Cards


The thinking was simple enough… get enough to get my teeth into things and to give me some flexibility

The next day (seriously, these deliveries are fast!).
Down the rabbit hole we go!

Nino the Ninja. Or something


So… the book is an interesting beast.
The rules are all pretty clearly laid out and make sense. All good.

The background (really the key to my enjoyment of things) is cool… but very short. After the succinct descriptions of the overall world, and the short summary of each faction in the game I noticed an interesting quirk of this game – the way they convey the background.

This is, of course, coming from historical bias. I am used to the stage being set in a pseudo encyclopaedic style (even if sometimes knowingly coloured by narrative bias). Even without realising it, it turns out I really like it, and am not a fan of this alternative way of doing things.

I get it, of course. Conveying the background in story form is a fantastic way for people to swiftly become immersed into the world. Furthermore, not all companies have the infrastructure to have an in-house publishing division providing this side of things. It comes down to, personally, a matter of weighting, and my position not being overly helped by my not being that interested in the subject of the stories published in the main book or the follow up book Crossroads (I haven't bought the third book yet).

Overall through, I enjoy the sense of a wider, complete, world that this game inhabits. I like the fluff of my chosen faction, the Guild – coming across as a very grimdark mixture of the law in a lawless land, riddled throughout with corruption and competing interests – it feels somehow ‘real’. As for the perceived ‘raciness’, I am not sure if it has been toned down since the first edition, but it’s not something that really comes across in the fluff. Some (or perhaps quite a few) of the models are overly sexualised but, despite understanding why some people do not like that, I personally have no issue with it.
Blind lady with a big sword. My favorite model in the game (pity I can't paint worth a damn) 


One thing became apparent when it came to assembling models… the guys over at Wyrd are sadistic. There is no acceptable reason for the models being *this* fiddly to assemble! It is madness. Small models with heads that are made of 3 parts just shouldn’t be a thing…

Malifaux is an interesting beast.

There is a large and passionate community out there for this game, as can be seen by the large number of podcasts on offer. Interestingly, however, the unique nature of the game makes it a tough subject to podcast about in a coherent way… not saying the podcasts aren’t fun or good (and am sure they get even more so the more you know about the game), but the options are so varied, and people seem agree with each other so rarely, that one can easily feel like a oarless dingy in the wilds of the Southern Ocean.
Cowboys with big birds are a thing, right?


All this makes entering this particular shark tank very confusing. There is no concrete source of information you can get to build on as a foundation, given the way in which the opposition, the strategies, the schemes, the deployment, the terrain and your available collection will all drastically affect the way you go about list construction, never mind further details of how to approach an actual game when you factor in the specifics of what your opponent has taken.

Add to this the main issue I have noticed with going into a new game and it gets confusing.

This issue I raise is what I shall, very imaginatively, call the “Numbers on a Page Conundrum”. Some people love this, the challenge of making the maths work to the best of our ability. Hearthstone seems to be the ultimate version of this. I, however, have less than any interest in this state of affairs. I like being restricted by other factors such as fluff etc.

Add to this the lack of some quartermaster-type app to easily design lists (whilst offline) and things were just getting hard.

Carrying your own coffin to battle saves a lot of time (especially if your head is on fire)

Then I decided to make things happen and just arrange some games. I ground my teeth, assembled some models and trusted that the madness would take care of itself.

I’ll go into details at a later date, but I shall summarise my initial thoughts as follows:
This is a brilliant game.

All my issues with it fade away when put against the fun of playing this game.
  • The tables look good
  • The pre-game list building is a great additional challenge
  • The thought process of selecting schemes to complement (or make up for) strategies is brilliant
  • The multiple ways of scoring points adds flexibility
  • The card management mechanic allows various approaches
  • The sheer diversity in how various models and crews operate explains the endless ramblings that create the online fan presence for this game
  • The fact a crew easily fits into my work bag

On paper a lot of the above annoy (or perhaps just confuse) me, but when it comes to the table, it’s fun. It helps, of course, having literally no idea what my opponent can do, so I get to just worry about myself!
Insert comment on typical imperialistic oppression of native races here



Right now I can honestly say that if I could play this game two or three times a week I would take it up and feel like I wanted more – something I haven’t been able to say about a game in years.

My enjoyment is enhanced by the fact I know I will not fall into the endless pit this game could easily become. I do not like most of the models in the range, so won’t be buying them. I have always also enjoyed imposing restrictions on myself in all games I play, so the challenge of trying to complete the various mad strategies against the legion of even madder possible opponents utilising a small pool of models fits seamlessly into that.

It also has had me doing some terrible painting, which twitter tells me is a good thing.
So there is that.

I shall report back on games and further thoughts in future posts.

But for now, I have to say, this crazy world of cards, gothic horror clich├ęs, murky options and, of course, fauxs is very impressive.

Have hat, will travel


Until next time

Raf


Thursday, 15 October 2015

Scions of Warhammer 2: Warhammer Age of Sigmar




I found myself idly musing something whilst finding myself in one of those deliciously precious moments when I had literally nothing better to do (namely, whilst trying not to inhale the armpit of the commuter next to me on the Northern Line).
Whilst I may have never made a secret of my view on this point, I have probably never expressed it fully. When considering players of that (relative) cultural colossus, Warhammer Fantasy Battles, and the things that were written and said immediately following it’s cancelation, (inarguably the most despair-inducing event since Fox killed Firefly) one thing keeps coming back to me:

Not only do I not understand people who neither have respect for, or are prepared to give the benefit of the doubt to, Games Workshop - I find their stance somehow insulting and it undeniably makes me respect them a lot less.
A reasoned viewpoint? Probably not, but the beauty of the human condition (as opposed to that of, say, a giraffe whose every act (if perhaps not its appearance) makes sense) is that we are fundamentally nuts. Heck, I am told some people actually like beetroot, have nonsensical political views, engage in physical violence somehow connected to the sporting team they support or actually enjoy the recent movies of Adam Sandler (OK, I made that last one up, no likes those). This madness is part of the never-ending fun that will probably culminate in the end of the world – what a ride!

My particular branch of madness is a deliberately old fashioned approach to a number of things – predominately those related to manners and associated human actions. I actively despise the immediacy of the modern consumer culture and the short-termism best illustrated by the 24 hour news cycle and its implications. I also don’t think easier (or cheaper) is always better, nor do I demand perfection in a product, often liking something specifically because there is something wrong with it.

Flat out Old Skool right? (Though you’ll note, being august readers of this rambling discourse that I spelt ‘School’ with a ‘k’, and am therefore edgy and down with the kids).

Why have I lead the dear reader behind the curtain to the machinations of my own particular brand of madness?

I have tried before to articulate why I was always going to give Age of Sigmar a chance, and this is fundamentally why (or as much why (or fundamentalism) as I can come up with in the morning waiting for my coffee).

 

As with all my thoughts on the various games in this series my views and impressions will be coming from an incomplete data set, and probably never more so than in this particular case.

Once the excitement of initial the leaks died out, the Great Schism of 2015 had finished destroying international friendships based on initial impressions of a set of guidelines on how to best use plastic toys and the game *finally* came out it was time to explore and reflect upon what my initial impressions of the game actually were.

There is something I only fully appreciated for the first time when I embarked on this self-imposed odyssey – there are different ways of releasing a new game. I should clarify, as this is self-evidently apparent at face value. My point is that the different approaches to releasing a game can have a fundamental impact of my appreciation and enjoyment of them on a visceral level. This gut feel will be tempered with the real world business filter I like to apply to such things, but it is no less real for that.
What am I actually talking about? Namely, how armies are presented and sold (and fluff implications there within).

My view on this topic has actually changed considerably upon contact with the real world (I know, this lack of steel in my poorly conceived convictions makes me terrible at Winning The Internet). In theory I liked the idea that you could be given a small nucleus of information on a faction and the rules for their “core” units in one place and then new units could keep coming out with rules in the box/future publications. This allows for better “living” games after all.

It shocked me to discover (SPOILER for my views on Malifaux and X-Wing) that I *HATE* this with a passion.

It is easy to say that, but really, it’s a red-filtered, enunciation-altering, fist-quivering inducement to anger that descends upon me when I pause to consider it. Either that or my triple espresso has finally kicked in.


As with most things that I hate, I do *get* it. It’s cheaper for the manufacturer, it means the cost of the entry products can be cheaper, it is easier for lil’ Timmy to get involved, it gives the company in question full flexibility on direction and makes it easier to protect their intellectual property.


It does lead me to the first of my two main problems with Age of Sigmar though.

Disclaimer (I’ll wedge this in here because why the hell not): I am pretty much ignoring the release of the PDFs with the rules allowing for backwards compatibility that GW very kindly released the week before release (directly leading to the Great Schism of 2015). Those were cool and all, and allowed us to play straight away, but have little correlation to the future shape of the game.



Problem One: (Fluff/Package/Cost related)

The hardback rulebook for Warhammer Fantasy Battles was a brilliant resource. Sure, in this modern age paying however much for just a book becomes a harder and harder sell, but the truth remains. Sure, the rules were there, but the really cool thing about it was the background on all the races.

This section worked to give you a feel for each of the armies you could one day play in the game. An idea of their driving aims, their narrative drivers. There were hooks here and you could love the idea, long before you worked out whether or not they played accordingly or if you liked the models.

This is obviously easier when updating editions of an existing game than when releasing a whole new one, but it remains annoying.

Armed with the box game and the first hard back book they released I start to get a picture for the new world they have thrown us into. And I absolutely love aspects of it. I love the way they have split the Ages, I like the cameos of some of the known and loved characters from eons past. I’m all about having gods directly interacting in the world of mortals. I enjoy that they are telling the story in a building narrative. I’m excited with the flipping of the normal conventions, introducing us to this setting as Sigmar launches his long-awaited counterattack upon the forces of Chaos.

All very cool.

The lack of information the other races infuriates me. Narratively this is all dealt with well enough – it is simply not known what has happened to the Aelfs for example. This would be fine, but it completely hampers forward-looking enthusiasm. If you don’t fall in love with the Stormcast Eternals or the forces of the Blood God (both rather one dimensional armies after all) what have you got to grasp onto? Not much unfortunately.

GW have since released some further materials (and tie-in novels), of which I hear good things, but their existence does not invalidate my annoyance on this point. Even if I were to take a two year break and come back when, one assumes, there was a lot more information out and about for the various races, how many resources would I have to buy to get a basic understanding of the players in this universe?

 


Problem Two: (Game related)

The elephant in the room, as Krylov would have noted, is a big one. It is probably the major cause of the Great Schism of 2015 (well, that and rectangles. Seriously, it turns out people love rectangles, who knew?). I refer, of course, to the lack of an army selection mechanic within the game.
I’m not going to go on about this – it’s just too obvious to bother with.

I fully understand the initial view from GW on this topic – players are forever changing the army selection criteria they create/communities will be better at devising one for their own needs/it has an impact on people playing cool scenario games/freedom is good/USA! USA! USA!/ahem…
These are all real and true (USA definitely is, I used to live there and everything). The conclusion drawn, however, is asinine.

As has been covered, the people that really suffer as a result are the casual pick up gamers, the new blood they are working to bring on board. It’s so infuriating it makes you want to scream.

Of course, personally it is less of an issue. It is a self-evident truth that a community of some amount of critical mass will always be better than any company at keeping points (or points equivalent) balanced. In every game there are units that not seen because other options are better for their cost. Sometimes, as with X Wing, the manufacturers try and retcon in something to make older stuff better, but the very fact this was needed proves a lack of balance.

A framework or high level overview of what a game should look like is quite simply something that is needed.

This is a big black mark on the game’s report card.

These two (major) issues aside, there is, it turns out, a hell of a lot to commend GW on in relation to this game.

 

Fluff

It is probably not surprising that the fluff is turning out to be good, I would argue background materials are what GW is best at in comparison to its peer group. I like the vaguely Asgardian feel to it, and the mysteries being unveiled as the story progresses. Sure, plenty of it is pretty out there, but when you compare it with the general tropes of the genre (and the Old World that preceded it) it is a welcome shift away from the “here is a continent split into x parts, the various nations are at war/neutral/in uneasy alliance with each other” that is the Tolkenian-inspired norm.

My issues with how it is being presented aside, I am actually quite impressed. Tasked with creating a new world to that was unique (and protectable), I am not sure they could have done anything cooler.

 

Game

The mechanics of this game are (obviously) very different to its predecessor. Thankfully a comparison is not our mission here today – I started on an article on that and could never quite finish it. That said – the fact that a) I struggled to come to a conclusion, and b) that I liked 8th a lot (though in all honesty I was bored with it by the end) will allow the sharp minded sleuth the ammunition to make an educated guess as to my thoughts.

Putting aside the aforementioned army composition problem (which, as I mentioned, is not *that* much of a problem for a scene – heck the whole of 9th Age is community written, army composition is incredibly simple in comparison) I think that, in many ways AoS is more fun than 8th edition, and the rules application on the table top quite often felt more natural as well.

The flow of the game is good, and things like the infamous “double turn” threat adds to the cost benefit analysis at the heart of any good game.

Crucially for me, the limitations imposed by the (much beloved) rectangles we have been used to playing with are no longer a thing. I understand that movement skill was a big thing in 8th edition, but the idea you could not attack someone because they are standing four feet to the left of you and your regimental comrades is, obviously, so ridiculous that it takes you out of the game.

I’ve touched in other places the things I have enjoyed about the mechanics of the game, so I will leave it there. For me, it seems like a very solid ruleset.

An aside: there is a particular (and in my opinion peculiar) mindset that holds that tweaks to a game are, to put it one way, a big deal. For me, something along the lines of “let’s measure from bases” is, as they would say in the film business, dealt with in a line of dialogue. No big deal.


That all said, you can’t give this game full marks in this category yet. The lack of variety of armies (and to an extent company-let army criteria) means that you don’t get that delicious day dreaming about how you can possibly get your perfect combo of 634points of characters into your 600point allowance, or sweat over how to make your “core tax” as effective as possible.

This is, of course, a by-product of the newness of the game, but it is real nonetheless.

 

Visual

I think this is the strongest category for Age of Sigmar. Not only are the models that GW produces simply aesthetically and technically brilliant, the game, in my opinion, looks great on the table.

I can’t remember who it was who said it about AoS, but I agree that the game feels like a 1:1 representation of a battle, unlike games using our (beloved) rectangles. If we look at WFB as an example, 5 or 10 models ranked up shoulder to shoulder makes no ‘real’ sense. Regimented close formations only make any sense with a degree of mass (it being, after all, the whole bloody point). Kings of War, to a large extent, could be played with blocks of wood for unit representation, in the style of military history maps (note: this is in no way a criticism, I quite like that). There is something about they look of AoS on the table, the way models interact with the terrain and the level of carnage therein somehow looks and feels right.


Cost

Well, it’s hard to say until more stuff comes out. There are some things to consider though:

The starter set is incredibly good value

Assuming a lot of things will remain backwards compatible will save a lot of time

The follow on models do seem pricy

The piecemeal releasing of the fluff definitely ramps us the cost, and I have pointed out my issue with it

In short though, this game is too young (release wise), for me to be comfortable about making proclamations on this subject. Hopefully by the time I wrap up this series there will be more clarity here and I can revisit the point.

 


Package

I’ve highlighted my significant issues with how the game is bundled for sale. It almost goes without saying that what have available for purchase is stunningly beautiful and, from what I have seen so far, absolutely industry-leading in design and quality. There are elements to micro-transaction-itis I hate, but that is the modern way.

So yeah, what there is stunning, but am not a fan of how it’s been sold.

 



Fun

So. I’ve loved the games I have played, and enjoyed the ones I have watched. That being said, I have obviously not played/observed a mathematically significant number of games.
It occurred to me when discussing this with someone that if you took notes of my last 50 games of WFB 8th edition I would be surprised if more than 5 of them could be unequivocally described as ‘fun’ (and even those would be largely down to my opponent rather than the table top action), and at least 20 would, if used to demonstrate to a complete beginner what Warhammer was, have cost the hobby a potential gamer. I bring this up because I still consider WFB to be ‘fun’ despite this.

I guess it comes down to the overall experience, and is largely a gut feel (for a change…). For me, Age of Sigmar is currently a cautious ‘yes’ on the fun quotient.

 


Scene

Well, this one is both impossible and easy. I have only been to one event thus far, and they were all people from the WFB scene in the UK, which was brilliant (we even allowed some Australians to take part).

Unfortunately for the scene in these fair isles there has been a big gap between Clash (and an event in the land of the skirt-wearing freckled Northmen) and the next established event for the system. There are a couple of reasons for this – a traditional gap in the diary twinned with the aforementioned Great Schism of 2015. I can’t imagine either of those have helped with numbers. Time will of course tell, and the success of the likes of Blood & Glory and SCGT will be key.

A large part of this will be thing underlining theme we keep coming back to – new stuff is needed to be released, or if not released (I understand you have to let the 40k gorilla have a go as well), gamers have to have a visibility of what is coming out. This current phoney war has just confused the situation. A lot.

All this said, it is obviously too early to tell fully. The fact that, one assumes (assuming stuff is safe right?) there will be a lot of shared DNA with the previous scene is a plus.

The fact that our European colleagues have turned their back on this game is not a good thing and, if not quite an elephant, is a cat in the room – it doesn’t necessarily affect most people, but to those who are, it’s a real pain. The ETC was a fantastic experience and I would love to return. If I were to get into the team again I would be forced to play as much 9th Age (at the expense of the likes of AoS) as possible, meaning I would miss out on friends still in the scene. If I am unsuccessful in my application I would probably end up missing out on friends who made it in as they focused on 9th at expense of whatever I am playing (unless that’s 9th of course)... Either way, not ideal.

For now though, a cautious positive on this count – I have heard great things from the events I recall reading/hearing about and enjoyed the one I attended. By the time this series wraps up I’ll have a better view on this.

 

 


So, there is my swift run through of initial my impressions of Warhammer: Age of Sigmar. It was rushed because I have already written and said plenty on the subject, I’d apologies, but you’re probably over it already. I have deliberately not touched on several aspects of the specifics, as they could fuel essays of their own.
I’m looking forward to exploring new games and how new (to me) manufacturers go about their business – should be fun.
When it comes to the final instalment I will review all my pluses and minuses, and allocate some weighting – but for now:


 

 
Fluff

Game (on the table)

Game (army selection)



Visual
Cost

 

Package
 


Fun
Scene
 
 

 
 
I have a broadly positive feel about this particular adventure, but a bad feeling that things could go very, very wrong. Sensibly I should have done this one last of all, but it is what I was thinking, and one has to do something with the odd hour or so of free time in a working morning (when work itself simply will not do).
 
Anyway, I am looking forward to exploring the new crazy world of other games in the coming weeks.

 

Until next time

 

 

Raf