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.