Friday, August 29, 2014

Publishing Speed

Games Workshop released the Grey Knight Codex this week, only a month after the Space Wolf Codex and a Space Wolf supplement.  They are also pumping out the Sanctus Reach Campaign volumes.

These are all color hardback volumes, of a more or less standard size.

Overall, Games Workshop has been releasing books at an amazing rate for over a year now.  I'm assuming it is made possible by new digital publishing technologies. 

As readers will know, I think game companies should move to online rule and army books, but GW seems to be pursuing a vigorous strategy of many books, released frequently.  They are pretty expensive too, at 50$ each.

What does it mean for a game when even seriously devoted players cannot afford all the supplements, and thus cannot view the entire game environment?

Monday, August 18, 2014

Designing the Brutes

In Sabre and Raygun, the Brutes  desert nomads, gathered into varied tribes of different species and cultures.  The Brutes will be a horde army with weak shooting and strong melee.  I want players to build armies of Brutes from many different model ranges, with different sizes and designs of figures.  My test models have four arms and green skin, but this is by no means mandatory.

The Brute Force Book will introduce different Sizes of Brutes. The player will pick a Size category representing the majority species in their Force.  Their Core units will consist mostly of models of this Size. 

  • Small Brutes will be roughly human sized, and have no extra Toughness.
  • Brutes will be a bit larger than humans, and have Toughness 2. 
  • Large Brutes will be a lot larger than humans (think Ogre-sized) and have Toughness 3.

There may be other models mixed in here and there, representing other species in the tribe.  Support Units may be of any Size, representing allies.

The previous two force books featured Quality rankings for troops.  In the Colonies and Free Cities, units share a standard organization, but vary in their level of Skill and Leadership.  So Infantry or Cavalry may be untrained militia or elite veterans, based on the same list entry. 

The Brutes will use Quality differently than the Colonies or the Free Cities.  For the Brutes, Quality will largely be determined by the role troops play in the tribe.  Most tribes spend the majority of their time foraging or hunting.  They may have a retinue around their leader, but have no other standing army.  Most Brute combatants can be characterized as:

  • Unbloodied: The Unbloodied are young Brutes who have not yet tasted battle.  They will have Skill 1 and Leadership 4+.
  • Warrior:  Warriors are ordinary adult tribe members.  They will have Skill 2 and Leadership 3+.
  • Kinguard:  The Kinguard are a dedicated retinue of full-time fighters and nobles who accompany the leader and provide a core of leadership and striking power.  They will have Skill 3 and Leadership 3+.

Brute Units will typically have a fixed Quality rating, but a variable Size rating.  Most units will be rated as Warriors, and only a few will have the option of upgrading to Kinguard or downgrading to Unbloodied.

A typical Brute has a RoF 1/1/.5 rifle and a RoA of 3.  This means they are much deadlier in hand to hand than in shooting, and suffer little penalty for moving.  With a high average Leadership, they will be difficult to Suppress and will rally quickly.

As a Horde army, most Brute Units will be large, with a base size of 15 or 20 models, and the option to upgrade even larger, or to add Brutes of different sizes to the unit. 

Monday, August 4, 2014

Thinking about Horde Armies

Some Brutes
I'm currently working on the alien Brutes' Force Book for Sabre and Raygun.  So I'm thinking about that classic wargaming army type, the horde army, and how different games represent it on the table top.

A horde army is a big, stompy army with generally poor shooting and a massive payoff if you can bring it close to the enemy.  Horde armies feature lot of models, usually with sub-standard guns and an emphasis on hand to hand combat. A horde army tends to have lower-quality troops, either less skilled, or poorly equipped.  Not every army with lots of figures necessarily a horde -- massive shooting armies, like the Imperial Guard, Lizardman Skinks, or Saga Welsh have their own, distinct design issues.

In Warhammer 40k, the classic horde armies are Orks and Tyranids.  In historical wargames, the horde armies feature warbands of enthusiastic but poorly-disciplined fighters like the Celts or the early Germans. In Flames of War, the Soviets are often a horde army.

Horde armies challenge the game-designer to properly balance the risk vs reward inherent in the horde philosophy. 

Horde armies tend to be very good in hand to hand combat, but poor in shooting.  So in most games involving a horde army, the horde will be trying to close distance with the enemy.  The opposing force will be trying to shoot it down. If the horde is too resilient then it will always reach combat range in force, and slaughter the enemy.  If it is too flimsy, then it will never be able to close successfully, and will tend to loose.  So it needs to have just the right level of attrition and durability. Moreover, the horde needs to have some flexibility, some other factor than just running and charging, if it's not to quickly become boring. If you've ever tried to set up a D-Day beach landing scenario, you'll know that these are difficult balances to reach.

The film Zulu has inspired countless wargame scenarios of dudes with guns vs dudes with spears.
In point-based games, the cost per model of a horde's basic trooper will largely determine whether this balance succeeds or fails.  Hordes need to be big, so model prices should be cheap.  Horde armies also tend to take lots of casualties, and models that die before reaching combat are largely important only for setting a ratio of attrition.  

Many games therefore give a point break to their horde armies.  For example, in Flames of War, Soviet units are both bigger and cheaper than comparable units in other armies. Other factors, such as special rules, offset this cost reduction.  The Horus Heresy lists take a similar approach, encouraging maximally-sized units by having a relatively-high initial cost for the unit's minimum size, but giving a reduced price for further models.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Thoughts on Malifaux

The game book.
My gaming group played a small game of Malifaux this week. 

Malifaux is a 28mm skirmish fantasy game with a Wild West theme.  Each side has around 6-8 models, on average.

Malifaux features some interesting game mechanics.

First of all, Malifaux does not use any dice.

Instead, it uses cards.  Whenever a player needs to generate a random number, they draw a card from their deck, which has Ace to 13 in each of four suites, and two Jokers.  The Black Joker is bad, and counts as a super-failure.  The Red Joker is good, and counts as a super-success.  Each numbered card is also marked "Weak," " Moderate" or " Severe" (based on its numerical value) for determining damage.   Players may have positive or negative modifiers to their draw; for example, having to draw two or more cards and take the lowest or highest card. Players also have a hand of cards, and can play cards from this hand to replace or augment their normal draw.  Hands are replenished and decks reshuffled every turn.

The models are attractive and come in several ranges.  I was playing flaming undead cowboy gunslingers.  My opponent had generically-Asian martial artists.

Fate Cards
Each model comes with a small card describing its stats and abilities, rather like Warmachine.  These are a handy reference, but have no game mechanical effect.  You neither shuffle nor play them.

Game turns are based on alternating activation.  Each movement and every attack, melee or ranged, is an actions.  Each player chooses a model, performs all its actions, and then the next player chooses a model and does the same.

Whenever a model attacks another, the attacker and defender each draw a card.  The model's statistic is added to the card's value to determine whether the attack exceeds the defense.   If the attack succeeds, then the attacker draws for damage Depending on the amount by which the attacker succeeds, they may draw two cards taking the lowest, one card, or two cards taking the highest.  They then do Weak, Moderate, or Severe damage based on the card.

There are several twists, however.  Players can " cheat"  by playing a card out of their hand, replacing the value.  So if you have a good hand, you can save its cards for your key maneuver.  Players can also (a few times a game based on tokens) play a card in addition to their draw, getting an extra boost.  The suites of cards also can have effects.  For example, for my models, a Ram suite card did extra damage.

Game play proved highly enjoyable, simple on the surface but with considerable depth.  I think a good game is one where the player is presented with interesting, meaningful choices each turn.  Malifaux certainly fulfills this expectation.  Optimal play requires tactical movement and several kinds of resource management.  As a player I had to consider whether to keep or play cards in my hand, and whether to flush or keep my hand, each turn.  The alternating movement required me to anticipate and prioritize each model's actions.  (At one point I rashly charged with a model, and watched it get hit by several other models in return, based on the action sequence and movement.)  Every model had several different capabilities, each good in different situations: I had to decide which one to use, and when.

Normally, I don't like games on the skirmish scale.  (" More death!  Give me more soldiers and more death!")  But I quite liked Malifaux, and look forward to the next game.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Monday, July 7, 2014

Stepped On By An Elephant: Experiences with Hail Caesar!

http://store.warlordgames.com/collections/hail-caesarA friend of mine hosted a game of Hail Caesar! the other night.  He's really into Greek and Persian ancient history, and we recreated the Battle of Cunaxa.  The war ended when my general, representing Cyrus the Younger was crushed by an elephant, bringing the rebellion to an end. 

I've been wanting to play Hail Caesar! for several years, but never really got around to it.  Hail Caesar! and its sister games, Pike and Shotte and Black Powdershare most of their core mechanics, and have several interesting features.

All three games are descended from the old Warmaster system, which was a 10mm fantasy system for the Warhammer world.  It was never really all that popular with GW players, and languished in Specialist Games purgatory before dying the final death.  There was also a Historical offshoot.  Rick Priestly seems to have kept on adapting it for personal games, in 28mm, and he and his cadre eventually released the results as this current range of games.  Or that's as best as I can gather.

Some thoughts:

  • Hail Caesar! is largely a game of general management.  Your force has one or more general models, each of whom command a division of your army.  They have a leadership rating of 5 to 10.  To issue a movement order to any of your units, the you must roll against the relevant general's leadership. If you succeed, they can move once, twice, or even three times, depending on how well you roll.  If you fail, then the unit just sits there.  Units can only take very simple and obvious moves without a general ordering them.  So much of the strategy of the game lies in deciding what are your top priorities each turn, and in what sequence to issue your orders.  In play I found this actually pretty interesting.
  • The combat mechanics are relatively simple.  In shooting or melee, you roll a bunch of dice determined by the relevant characteristics: clash melee, extended melee, long range shooting, and short range shooting.  Clash melee is for the turn you charge or are charged.  Extended melee is for any subsequent turns.  So some troops are better when they charge, and others are better in drawn-out conflicts.  Long range shooting is pretty self-exploratory.  The short ranged value is also used when a unit supports its friends to either side or in front of it in a battle line.  All units have a morale save, and a kind of hit points, of which bigger, tougher units have more.  Between the basic mechanics and a few special rules, there seems to be a reasonable amount of depth to the combat system.  (One problem with Warmaster was that all fights quickly started to seem the same...)
  • As units take wounds, they can suffer from three different kinds of woe.  They can be shaken, having so much attrition that they fight ineffectively.  With enough hits, they can be destroyed outright.  And sometimes, they can be disordered, a temporary condition from which they recover on the next turn. There is also a chart, on which a losing unit must roll.  This provides extra effects such as being forced to withdraw.  I don't normally like charts, but this one seems a necessary part of the overall game flavor, forcing units to react in different ways to damage.
  • Hail Caesar! is a game of units, not models.  Each unit has statistics. When it takes damage, you do not need to remove dead models.  Just mark it with tokens or a die.  Bigger units have better statistics, more attacks, and more hit points.  The depth of a unit does not much matter, only its frontage.  I love, love, love this aspect of Hail Caesar!  (In other games, like WFB, I hate having to count out the right number of models, fit them onto a tray, take them off again, and so forth.)

So anyway, it was good to finally play the game.  I'll be interested to see how much depth it has on repeated games, but I think it looks fun. 

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Tanks and Infantry

A plumed enemy solider darted across Freidrich's field of vision, hazy through the thick glass of the vision block.  He reversed desperately, feeling the treats slip and spin in mud or blood or water.  A clattering roar filled the compartment as Willie, sweating, worked the loader's hull machinegun from side to side. Above him, half-seen, Jans fired the turret self-defense gun in short, measured bursts.  Muffled screaming sounded from outside, and an alarming banging resounded against the side of the tank.  Did the enemy have bombs?  Friedrich wondered desperately?  The tank's rotation brought the enemy solider into view again.  The strange Roman-looking soldier knelt, and in both hands he hefted a heavy triangular weapon Friedrich had come to fear and loathe.

" Grenade!"  he screamed, and then the compartment exploded with smoke and fire and shrapnel.

A Light Tank and its escorting infantry.
The mathematical relationship between Tanks and Infantry constitutes one of the most important balances in Sabre and Raygun.  Infantry should be rightly terrified of tanks, with their armored hides, bristling weapons, and terrifying crushing weight.  But tanks should also fear infantry, who can make great use of terrain and assault the nearly-blind flanks and tops of a vehicle if they get too close.  Mathematically, tanks should have a fearsome damage output, but suffer a significant chance of being destroyed in Assault Fire and Melee with infantry.

In Sabre and Raygun, the players have choices with their vehicles and must decide how aggressively they wish to field them.  First, they must decide whether to Button or Unbutton their tanks -- that is, whether to run them with hatches open and the crew scouting for threats, or closed, protecting the crew but reducing visibility.  Unbuttoned tanks shoot more effectively, but are vulnerable to small-arms fire.  Second, the player must decide how close to the enemy they wish to drive.  The machine guns and cannon of a Tank are most effective in Assault Fire distance, where all models suffer from reduced Cover Saves.  However, at such a close range, Tanks are more vulnerable to enemy weapons, and are in Melee distance.  Tanks do not like Melee at all, where they are liable to be rudely destroyed by enemy grenades, firebombs, or other improvised attacks. 

Let us examine the threats and advantages Tanks face at difference distances.

Shooting Distance

If the Tank is over 6" from the enemy, it will fire at the enemy with normal Shooting Phase rules. 
 At this distance, all enemy models receive their normal Base Cover Save of 3+ (or 5+ for vehicles).  This may be modified for Soft or Heavy Cover.  The Tank will tank a long time to kill enemy infantry at this distance, but it will do so pretty reliably with its main gun firing high explosive.  Doctrines may help it to target and destroy threatening enemy models, such as guns or grenade launchers.

At this distance, the Tank will be very hard to kill.  All shots will likely hit its formidable Front Armor.  If it is Buttoned, it will be invulnerable to small arms.  Even Unbuttoned, it will probably out-range most normal infantry weapons, leaving it vulnerable only to long-ranged heavy machine-guns or other weapons. If a weapon rolls a 6 to-Wound, followed by another 6, it will Stun the tank regardless of AT value.

Assault Fire Distance

A Medium tank in the Assault Fire phase.
If the Tank is within 6" of the enemy, both sides will fire simultaneously.  Both sides will suffer reduced Base Cover Saves of 5+ for infantry, and no save at all for Vehicles.  A Tank at this distance can easily slaughter enemy infantry with its machine-guns and cannon.  (For you FoW players, consider this equivalent to a FoW assault phase.)

However, the Tank is potentially more vulnerable, too. All shots will hit its weaker Other Armor.  Weaker AT guns become much more dangerous at this range, and, since both sides fire simultaneously, the Tank cannot count on destroying them before they can act.  Moreover, all small arms have a minimal chance of hurting the tank.  If a weapon rolls a 6 to-Wound, followed by another 6, it will Stun the tank regardless of AT value. 

A Tank close enough for Assault Fire is also close enough for Melee.  It had better hope that it Suppresses or destroys any enemy before they can Charge.


Squish! Bang!
Tanks do not like Melee.  Infantry may fear being crushed beneath its mighty treads, but from a tank's perspective, if it is close enough to squash someone under its treads, it is in a deadly precarious position.  Tanks in Melee can be hurt by any weapon.  Unbuttoned Tanks, or Stunned Tanks, hit in Melee are automatically destroyed.  (It is assumed that the enemy kills or captures the crew.)  Buttoned Tanks suffer from double-sixes.  If a weapon rolls a 6 to-Wound, followed by another 6, it will Destroy the tank regardless of AT value.

Tanks in Melee are reduced to trying to crush opponents -- which they may do at a low rate of Attacks.  Should they survive, they are well-advised to back away from combat, which they may do freely.