March 2011

In yet another of my Small Table Game Days, number 2 this time, I played some 15 point fast and furious Warmachine with my girl. Sadly we didn’t take pics of the game, solely because there were some unpainted models. Still, I got a few of the table and the figures at one time.

She had the classic 15p force with Sorscha, Juggernaut, Destroyer, and Widowmakers. She likes them and knows how to use them. Now the title makes sense, because I was playing with Epic Sorscha (my new love), a Destroyer, my newly built Torch, and the Widowmaker Marksman solo.

We deployed 5 inches from the edges, and 7 inches for the advance deployment Widowmakers (both her unit and my solo). I had first turn and with eSorscha gave the Marksman a spell that basically turns his shot into a 3′ AOE if he killed something. Shot at a Widowmaker without cover and incredibly missed. Bummer. Torch advanced and threw smoke bombs, and Destroyer shot and hit the enemy Destroyer, doing nothing, but killing a Widowmaker in the blast.

She ran both her jacks, keeping Sorscha and the Widowmakers behind (some in cover but not all). They couldn’t shoot at eSorscha behind Torch’s smoke and the Marksman had a whooping +6 behind cover (I forgot he had Stealth, but later in the turn remembered).

Second turn and I managed to pull the good charges in, but with a stupid mistake as follows. Both her jacks were behind small walls, but just far enough to fit my jacks’ bases! So I gave a focus to Torch who charged the Juggernaut (he gets pathfinder on charges, so he crossed the wall) and did some damage. Marksman shoots against a fellow Widowmaker, the aforementioned spell upkept by the caster, and kills another Widowmaker with it, making the reminding one fail a command check. Then I remembered about the awesome feat Ms. eSorscha has, and decided that even though I already charged and did some damage with Torch and the Marksman, it was STILL worth to pop. Yes, it’s THAT good. So she pops her feat, gives boundless charge to the Destroyer, and a focus full jack charges 9 inches through a wall and into the enemy Destroyer. Needless to say after 3 hacks with double damage he was scrap metal.

On her second turn she kinda freaked out, Widowmaker couldn’t shoot because of the fleeing status. She didn’t even pop her feat to try and freeze Torch (eSorscha and the bonded Destroyer are both immune to cold). This was perhaps the biggest mistake in the game, because she could still try and do something with her caster and a crippled Juggernaut. The jack had his right arm (big ass ice axe) crippled so he really didn’t do much to Torch. And because he ended his activation 2 inches away from the bonded Destroyer, he got frozen.

My third turn. Torch beats the hell out of the Juggernaut, setting him on fire while frozen (Warmachine rocks!) and the bastard is left with one health box on. Yes, one. Blocking my charge lane to Sorscha. But don’t despair. Mr. Marksman takes a shot at a frozen jack (engaged by Torch, which still wasn’t enough bonus to make him sweat). Widowmakers can make one single free damage instead of rolling the dice. Which in this case was more than enough. One bullet and the Juggernaut was debris. Another boundless charge on the Destroyer and he charges Sorscha, who had a Defence bonus. He couldn’t hit her in a million years, of course.

One last turn for Sorscha and now yes, with only one Widowmaker and no jacks, it just wasn’t going to happen. Assasination was very unlikely (the thing with playing in such a tight surface) and she just tried to hurt the Destroyer which she did just a little bit. After her raging attack she was with one focus left, not enough for a wind rush spell.

On my turn I simply moved the Destroyer out of the way and took a swing at her which amazingly hit and got half her health. Then Torch charged in, I made sure the first boosted hit was with his sustained attack rip saw, but she was dead after the charge attack.

A great game with some minor mistakes (in tactics, not rules) and quite happy how it turns out in such a little play area. Every move was deadly, and the mistake my gf thinks she did was exactly that. Thinking things were going down from turn 3 onwards, as usual, while I got the charges in after a turn in which I didn’t even run.

Models we knew, some decent sinergies going on, but a whole new game with lots of cover and small playing area. And damn I like eSorscha and Torch.

This is a solitaire scenario I created and played for The Lord of the Rings SBG and my first Small Table Game Day battle.

As a refresher, I play solitaire LotR using my own rules hack called Isildur’s Bane. Click here to get them. Also, I decided I would give it a shot and design and play some scenarios for different games using a 60x60cm table. That’s roughly 2’x2′. Of course I was thinking small skirmishes with a few models a side. This was, of course, not the case!

For this scenario I decided that a dwarf warband lead by Mardin, one of my favorite models, would go into goblin infested depths of Moria to reclaim some ancient treasure. The objective was behind the center column (from the dwarves’ point of view). They had 10 turns to get the treasure and take it back to their side of the table. As well as the time factor, there were two trapdoors on opposite corners of the table. From those, each turn after the first there would come 1D3 goblin reinforcements.

The lists were roughly equal:

The dwarves

5 archers
6 iron guards
4 teams of vault wardens
Points total:  310

The goblins

Goblin captain with shield
10 goblins with shield
10 goblins with bows
2 cave trolls, one with spear and chain
Points total: 307

Here you can see the table set up, both armies deploying on the platforms 5 inches from the borders, and the starting forces. For the game I used the rulebook, my own Isildur’s Bane hack, tape measure, a few D6, a single D3 for goblin reinforcements and some tiny dice for the trolls’ wounds and Mardin’s and the goblin captain’s Might and Wound scores (no bookkeeping for me). Deck of cards because of the solitaire rules and a new zone of control marker since I misplaced the other one 😦

After deployment the armies advanced. One single change I did for the solitaire rules was that instead of creating groups every turn with figures 10cm from each other, I’d simply activate groups of similar figures. The table being so small, I could probably get away with very little groups with the original mechanism, so I simply decided all similar troops were a group for the whole battle. So I dealt one card for trolls, one for dwarf archers, one for goblins with shield, one for the goblins with spears (reinforcements), etc.

The first couple of charges were from and against the trolls. One of them was left with just one wound but amazingly finished the battle, while the other one fell after the first combat. Dwarves are very hard to scare with a simple Terror test.

After that the centre became a big Bloodbowl match, goblins going down easily, but dwarves falling here and there and hurting a lot more. For reinforcements I only rolled 2s and 3s, so there were between 4 and 6 new spearmen every turn!

After some turns Mardin managed to get to the goblin captain with a small escort, killed him and took the treasure with him. This was probably around turn 6 or 7 so time was almost up. The troll tried to catch Mardin running away with it and with his chain managed to hurt him. But the battlefield was too crowded for him to move easily around his own troops. At this time the dwarves had to start making Break tests, and they managed to pass them all being near Mardin (20cm is a lot in such a small table).

I kept drawing a red activation card for Mardin, even though he was the only character. That was because maybe, just maybe, a red Joker might come up with something bad happening to him (using the random events optional rules from IB). The iron guards had a tough time during the battle when they got the Joker and couldn’t do anything for a whole turn. Goblins needed to roll 6s and then 5s to hurt the vault warden shield-bearers. The bastards killed 2 of them! Finally Mardin kept running away with the objective, while goblins chased him from every corner and the remaining dwarves kept blocking. It was turn 9 when he finally reached his table edge with the relics. Very close call for the sons of Durin.

Overall a really fun scenario, surprisingly balanced too. In a new battle I would probably send some goblin reinforcements to block the dwarves edge instead of attacking the battle line from behind, but of course the dwarves could deploy a few vault warden teams to cover that corner as well.

Here’s the end stage and the casualties. A crowded small table with lots of LotR flavor to it and a very good scenario, by chance of course. It could have gone horribly bad and end in the second turn, but I was a bit lucky (as well as knowing dwarves and goblins pretty well, game-wise).

Small Table Game Day 1 was a complete success, even if it was a solitaire battle. Got to play with a lot of models, a game I haven’t played in a while, a pretty cool original scenario from scratch, and great tense moments on the table (as well as pretty pics!). And now that I think about it, seems appropriate to open my STGDs with small size creatures like these.

I had contact with the game Infinity a long time ago. Probably the most gorgeous sci-fi models in the world, and the rules have been free online forever. Had a look at them and they seemed so old-school and clunky.

This week’s Beasts of War spotlight on the game got me to revisit it. Yeah, it is written in an old style, if you know what I mean. But man they’re crazy. I just remember watching some Valkyria Chronicles gameplay videos in youtube (I do not have a last gen game console) and loving the orders system. It’s all Infinity. The ARO system, just amazing (and so much simpler that THW’s).

So yeah, I’m guilty of putting a game aside by the look of its cover (and with Corvus Belli it’s usually a very pretty cover). Might have to get me some ALEPH troops to make it up.

By the way, had my first Small Table Game Day game last night, some LotR solitaire action with an original scenario that worked just too well and a lot more troops than you should ever deploy on a 2’x2′ table. More on that to come.

After an awful Orcs and Goblins week full of crap, you really should not miss Infinity week at Beasts of War.

I mean it, it’s excellent material, specially the custom made Quick Start rulebook the did together. Amazing work.

Been playing some Warmachine on Vassal, as usual. And since I’m putting together my second Sorscha model (see a couple of posts below for the acquisition of said plastic model) I thought I’d use her as the epic version in coming games. But Vassal is the test drive.

In case you’re wondering, yes, this is the illo that inspired my whole army scheme.

Reading her skills and spells is just pure pleasure and fun. She’s as kick-ass as they come. And I’ve been playing lots of Winter Guard + UA + Kovnik Joe, which is something of a given in an eSorscha force.

Anyway, her feat is just amazing and pretty straightforward to use. It is not a matter of how to use, but when. When is it going to do the most damage? Which is the turn I’ll set my whole army to deliver one devastating blow and make the opponent cry? It’s as simple as doubling every point of damage that beats enemy models’ armor. Yes, anything that damages, does it twice as hard for the whole turn. So it reminded me of this song from a great band. Fits perfectly.

Yeah yeah, you heard that title a million times before in many a wargames blog. But I’m not going to talk about figure scales, or even army sizes. I’ve been interested in table sizes for some time. You know how sometimes unrelated stuff seems to align and suddenly, oh the horror, a string of thought crosses your mind.

The past few months saw me playing Warmachine, a great game with a skirmish concept to it (at least in the most basic type of play) and a strange slow rate of actual movement. Figures really don’t move that much. You measure a lot of stuff, but a lot happens with figures standing still most of the time. (I know, the strange thing would be for them to NOT stand still, but you get my meaning).

Eden, a pretty amazing little game I discovered recently, is played with even less figures than your regular Warmachine. The nominal table size is 60×60 cm, or roughly 2′ by 2′. The design philosophy is similar, as is most of the skirmish character driven games coming out now. That table size caught my attention, specially because I have a bunch of boards in that size that make up bigger tables. Playing wargames with my girlfriend and painting whatever the hell comes to mind also have something to do with this.

Finally, accepting the Song of Blades engine (mainly played with Flying Lead, but I’m going to use the good old original game soon) is way more fun with a small number of characterful and specialized models a side. Oh yeah, trying out some samurai action with Rich’s Bushi no Yume, based on the same engine, also counts.

So after many years of this, many periods, many armies, many everything, I realised the only “big army” game I can stand and not die trying is War of the Ring. Tolkien’s work and GW’s figures just inspire me to no end, and I just can’t get enough of building big, no, huge, armies, even if I rarely get to play. For the rest, you’ve seen me dwell in the aforementioned games, plus the regular LotR, plus some AT-43, plus Incursion, so there’s clearly a pattern.

Now back to the 60×60 cm table. It’s small. Almost like a boardgame. But for the kind of games I seem to enjoy lately, it isn’t that bad. Yes, I might want to play Warmachine in 120×120 cm, specially since the store I usually play at has smaller tables than that. But I’ve been thinking of using the Small Table Game Day ™ as an excuse to finish varied terrain pieces lying around as well as odd models. I’ve got a lot of Epic to paint, as well as some pirates. I won’t expand those ranges, like I won’t buy any more AT-43 or the way I buy small amounts of 40K models for Flying Lead, so might as well make something with it all.

Hence the Small Table Game Day. The objective is first and foremost to have some kind of plan. The idea is to set a game twice a month, every two weeks or so. A specific scenario, with specific figures and scenery. I will start using the stuff I already have and that gives me time to work on the rest of the things for future STGDs. After it’s set up I’ll either play it with my girlfriend or some friend, or even take it to the club nearby and let it play for the whole weekend. Hell, I’ll even play it solitaire, something I really enjoy.

I should say I must blame Eden for this. At first sight it’s another Warmachine clone. But deep within, it’s bordering roleplaying with some of the added effects for scenery and stuff like that. You can probably take a diorama base and turn it into an interesting setup for that game. I’m not saying I’m diving into it, but it has been important in identifying and eventually writing down these thoughts. And if you’re curious, it’s definitely not a Warmachine clone and the rules seem just as fun (funner than Malifaux at least). And hey, they’re free online, so make a search for Taban Miniatures and take a look.

Anyway, guess that was it. Another long random mumble with no pics. If you got here, I apologize 🙂

Warning: rather long post.

Let’s start with something simple. No tabletop miniatures wargame is perfectly balanced.

Yeah, you probably knew that already. But, you say, you have been talking about playtesting and Warmachine and all that recently. Yes, that’s true, but there’s something about playtesting that escapes most people when thinking about it, and dare I say, some game designers too.

Any game as complex as most wargames has no chance of being perfectly balanced, specially when talking about point costs. But I like point costs, and a lot of people do too. There are many reasons to like them, but there are also many reasons to get off your lazy ass and create one for your game.

Point systems give peace of mind. We know things cannot be perfectly quantified in a complex game with many, many interactions. But they provide a framework. They put the mind of the player off from some things, and into others. A player can focus on building an army, setting up the game and battling it out. Without point systems every game is a scenario design task, and even though some people love that (specially when recreating a historical battle, not necessarily balanced), some other people do not. And let’s get this out of the way early. A battle game with different strength forces, like many a historical event, still needs some balance when turning it into a game. It’s a matter of playability, or fun. Even when playing same side, the opposition needs to have a chance to do stuff.

Now, back to point systems. There are all kinds. One great publisher, THW, has a section on points in their rules. The way they are written (“The necessary evil” and other smart titles like that) basically reads like “this game doesn’t have points and you are stupid for requiring them, so here’s the page of the book that pleases stupid people like you. Now get out.” Yeah, I might be reading a bit too much there, but what the fuck, I payed for the rules as well.

There is another great publisher which wrestles with point systems in a different way. Ganesha games. They have force creators online with point costs for most everything. And yet, the Songs games are not well suited for competition, and only slightly for pickup play. They shine in scenario play, and campaigns. But you know what? They try. Yes, it’s true that stuff has point costs with numbers like 98, or 46, or 127, and making a set number list (usually very round like 600) can be a pain. If I were to advice Andrea I’d say round them up. They won’t be perfect either, but they will help during the building of your force.

That there is one of the functions of a good point system. It not only let’s two players build to a set number of points, but also helps the player put his minis together in a somehow coherent way. In War of the Ring (a notably broken and unplaytested game, as far as my experience with it goes) the different point costs among troops of the same army drive you towards a certain style. And this is great, because Middle-earth armies are supposed (for game purposes) to be “historical” affairs. So when you field Rohan, you will have a ton of riders. They are cheap, they are good, and the designer wants you to put as many as you like along your infantry. Good point systems do much more than just balance things out.

Now when I talk about playtesting, most recently about Warmachine, I not only mean point costs. It’s a matter of writing the rules, checking to see they make sense, match the game’s lexicon, make sure they are clear, and that they use the normal procedures players are used to in the game. Of course the effects are preferably kick ass, new, fun, and in Warmachine usually devastating.

Each of these new models is playtested not only to determine the point it costs. It’s also checked for synergy with the rest of the faction, the “fun” element, and also the comparison between the rest of the models in the army. It happens in some games that some units or models are universally ignored. Some models people just don’t field. Even if they are bought and painted, the model in itself might be underpowered, or not fit the theme, or the play style of the army, or simply too complex or unfun to play. If you see lots and lots of people choosing another option over your new unit all the time, then you probably did something wrong. Even in a historical game. If the unit existed and was widely used, enough to be included in your abstract battle game rules, then they must have something going for them, even if historical data shows they were “bad” in some terms. There was a reason the armies included them in spite of things. Find that and turn it into a fun mechanic.

Warmachine succeeds on this. They playtest their models. The point cost is completely secondary. If you know about the new edition of the game, you would be pleasantly surprised about models costing 1, 2, 3, or in the case of a unit, 6 points. They stripped them down to the minimum, making the math as simple as building a Magic: The Gathering deck. In playtesting they can asses the relative strengths and decide on points that are as abstract as a 225 points unit in another game, but simpler to measure, fitting a completely different game style (one without, for example, equipment options or complex upgrades). You don’t need a model to cost 100 points if you don’t have 15 or 5 points options for it. So you simply cost him 1 point and measure from that.

Now, you probably already got that I think people who don’t make a point system are lazy. Some games might not need them at all. Designs like DBA, for example. But most modern wargames do, let’s be honest. And I think they are lazy because making a points system is hard work. Throwing some random number out like THW is just waste of time, ink and paper. But the benefits are many. Like I mentioned already, it gives the player peace. It creates the illusion of fairness, something we don’t get enough in our “real lives” and it’s nice to have in our imaginary battles. We don’t have to worry about army composition regarding the whole scenario and opposing force. We just build our game the way we want. If you’re smart you know the thing is not perfectly balanced. Hell, some matchups, specially in 40K and Warmachine, are just automatic defeat for one side. That’s the nature of deep gameplay and hundreds of options. That same thing that causes bad matchups is what makes the games so much fun.

In one of the battles I played some time ago, my opponent built his list after he saw mine. That is not cool in Warmachine, so seeing I brought two Destroyers (big cannons with legs) he fielded a whole lot of models with Stealth (any shooting beyond 5 inches automatically misses them). Thing is, I won that game.

Another time, also recently while playing on Vassal, my opponent and myself got mixed up while setting up the game. I ended up playing 20 points while he had 25 on the table. Not knowing the other armies that well we never picked the error up until the end. Now let me tell you, 5 points difference in Warmachine is a big deal. And you know what? I won that game too. So I guess nothing is utterly black or white, simply because the options are so many.

And speaking of options and countless situations, let’s go back to our poor game designers. This is tangently related to the topic at hand. You know when you start reading a roleplaying game and you come across the commonly named Rule Zero? It’s that paragraph of text that tells you you can change any rule you don’t like, throw away any system, and enforce anything you, as the all knowing GM, think is more fun for the players. Whenever I read that what I read is this: Yeah, you spent 30 bucks on this book, but the rules aren’t that solid or thoroughly tested so please change anything you don’t like instead of emailing me telling I’m a lazy ass and my game sucks. In fact, you could have designed your own game system and it would be the same, but without the pretty pictures, and of course your players won’t play anything that isn’t printed in color.

I like games that tell me “these rules are all you need, don’t change anything before playing a fair number of games or the game will break, trust me and you will be rewarded with fun gameplay.” That’s the kind of game I like, and luckily there are plenty of that kind of (definitely non-mainstream) games out there. Ask players to trust you, and deliver.

In the wargames world, the equivalent is that page that tells you: we cannot foresee every possible situation that arises in gameplay. Heck, we are no lowly boardgame, this is serious shit. So when stuff comes up, well, improvise. Oh yeah, and remember “the spirit of the game” whatever the fuck that is. No, I won’t explain the spirit of the game here because it would take valuable art pages.

That’s exactly the same. That’s a line you won’t find in, let’s say, you guessed it, a Privateer Press rulebook. You cannot foresee every situation? Come on! The only interactions in a battle game are those between models, and those between models and the environment (being it scenery, special effects, or applied status). If you design every part of your models, and every part of the way the environment works and affects models, then there is no other stuff to worry about. In War of the Ring Defensible Positions are Defensible Positions. They work this way and no other way. If you put something on the table either declare it a movement affecting area or a DP. No more variables. Hell, most games go about telling you the recommended sizes for scenery. A forest is a forest, and it works differently in every game. And you can even decide this rocky outcrop will be defined as a forest. Now, if you design wacky rules without regard for the stuff you created before, not thinking about your basic procedures, and shitting over other special rules without trying them once against each other, you end up with stuff like the one that plagues War of the Ring’s special rules.

So yeah, if you don’t think before designing, you might have to ask the player to improv. Now I’ve heard many times that PP’s models and rules work better than GW’s because they design rules first, then models, while GW (and I heard this about Rackham too) goes the other way round. This doesn’t make any sense to me. Nice models are the reason we all play these games. Making bad rules is not the fault of the model.

So, designer X had this great new rule for a possible model. It’s called “Three Arm Strike” and it gives an extra attack on melee because he thought the upcoming Badass model would be an awesome 3 armed mutant. Now the mini designer comes up with a different model for Badass, because the marketing people didn’t think the original concept was sellable. So designer X receives a big human knight with a big sword. Oh no, now I have to write another rule, he thinks. But because designer X is a smart chap, he simply renames the rule “Blade of my Ancestors” which effectively does the same thing, with different fluff. So you see, there’s no logic to whether the model is designed first or the rule is. Bad design is bad design no matter what.

To finish, if you plan on writing your own game, think about point costs. Do not see them as a necessary evil, a last thing to do for stupid people like me. Get them, if needed for your game, in your main design process. And playtest. You won’t balance it perfectly, but if you had a 5 point model and after some playtesting you think it’s a 10 point model, then you’ll be glad you fiddled with it. Don’t tell your players they can do whatever they want with your rules. They will do it anyway. But in your text, keep the game focused, clear, solid but deep, even with room for expansion.

At least, keep things more focused than this whole rant 🙂

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