Thursday, August 13, 2015

So many options, so many vendors, all for Flames of War

So I decided to try Flames of War.

When I say I decided to "try" it, don't misunderstand me and think that by that I mean I decided to find a demo game or two, play them, think about it, look at some books, examine some models, sleep on it, and maybe in the future start putting money into it.

No, I mean I already chose a faction (Soviets) and have started buying books and models.

At first, it might seems like that's a stupid way to proceed.  What if I hate it?  What if I'm no good at it?  What if I can't find anyone to play with?

Well none of that really maters, because I've realized that 95% of my enjoyment of wargames comes from building the armies.  I love to build models, I love to paint minis, and I love the feeling of working toward building something cool.  I may never play Flames of War, but I'm gonna have an awesome Soviet force for it anyway.

That said, I don't want to rip the bank down doing it.  I make a comfortable living but that's not enough to let me spend money stupidly.

I started off with some inspiration, my first tank.  I picked up the resin/metal T-34 obr 1942 at my FLGS (Friendly Local Gaming Store).  It ran about $13 and is absolutely horrible.  The resin is so brittle I broke the fenders twice (in 2 separate places) on the resin hull.  Both times were before I had glued any other parts to it.  The first time, I dropped it from a height of about 3" onto my wooden dining room table, and I have no idea how the second happened.  I was able to glue the broken bits back on, but sheesh.  After gluing and painting the model it looks decent, but man... $13 per tank would kill me even if the quality was decent.

So I started to explore other options.  I know Battlefront sells all plastic tanks in various box sets and come in at around $9 per tanks.  That's still steep.  If I wanted to build a full size tank company I'm looking at $90.  I could break that up into two small companies and add an HQ command tank and have the minimum size Tank battalion with that, but what fun would that be?

So I bought a box of 5 tanks from Plastic Soldier, at a price that comes in around $5 per tank.  That's more like it.  I just received the box yesterday so I haven't started building them, but already I'm pleased to see I can build the tanks as 1942 T-34s or 1943 T-34/85s.  I haven't decided yet which way to go with that, but effectively I have a complete small tank company for half price.  I also ordered a box of 2 T-34s made by Battlefront in plastic, so I can compare the kits, but I have a feeling it won't matter much.  The Plastic Soldier kits are great and have plenty of detail for wargaming.

Once I have both boxes in hand, I'm thinking of doing an unboxing write-up on them.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Warhammer 40,000 Taxes Due

So it's only been 2 years, and there's a new Codex: Space Marines now available for pre-order.

A lot of people are griping about it.  A lot of people are happy.  I'm going to try and say something different, though I admit I probably won't.

I don't know what's in the new Codex.  It might be totally amazeballs.  It might be the greatest Codex the Space Marines have ever seen.  Not sure when I'll know, because at this point, I don't have a lot of desire to buy it when it drops.

The problem is, more and more I feel like I'm paying to play.  With my other wargames I can stop spending money at any time and still be able to continue to play the game in any venue, at any event.  Not so with Warhammer.  With new codexes/army books/main rulebooks hitting every so often, it's like a gaming tax imposed by Games Workshop.  Want to keep playing?  That'll be $58.00 plus tax, please.  Otherwise you won't be participating in any tournaments or other organized events.

It hurts a little more than usual this time because it's been only 2 years since the last Codex: Space Marines was released.  Presumably this is because it was also only a 2 year gap between the release of the 6th edition main rulebook and the 7th edition.

Is it a huge expense, even stretched over 2 years?  I guess it isn't, but for that same money I could buy units or other models that DON'T come with an expiration date.

Yes, other games do sometimes introduce updated editions of their games.  Infinity is on 3rd Edition, Warmachine, Malifaux and Firestorm Armada are all on 2nd Edition.  I guess my gripe with GW is that their books are MUCH more expensive than the other games, and seem to come out a LOT more frequently.  This is one of the reasons I shrunk my Warhammer collection.  For a time, I had 3 Warhammer Fantasy Armies and 3 40K armies, but that's just too many books to keep up with.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Randomness is Killing Warhammer

In a wargame, some randomness is needed.  Battles are immensely chaotic things and a certain amount of abstraction has to happen to simulate all the millions of factors that go into whether a sword thrust hits armor or flesh, or whether an arrow hits the target or the side of a tree.

Too much randomness is a problem.  Both versions of Games Workshop's Warhammer game have introduced growing levels of randomness in their last few editions.  Things like spell selection, the amount of dice available for casting spells, even the distance a charging unit can go during an attack are all randomly generated now.

That's excessive.  When an infantry unit can outrun a cavalry unit in a charge, or a cavalry unit can fail to charge far enough to reach an enemy when that same unit could easily have moved an even greater distance in another phase of the game, that doesn't add anything of value to the game and actually makes it less enjoyable to play.  Few things are more frustrating than making a very well planned series of maneuvers to get your cavalry in perfect position to charge into an enemy unit's flank, only to have the charge fail because you rolled low.

To illustrate:

In Warhammer Fantasy, a unit of Bretonnian Knights can move 8" base.  If they march during the movement phase, they can double that to 16".  On the other hand, when they charge, they move the base 8" plus 2d6.  (It's really 3d6, ignoring the lowest number rolled.)  That means on a charge, it's possible for such a unit to only move 10".  If that 10" isn't enough to reach the target unit, it only moves 1".  (The lowest number rolled.)

This is idiotic.  The book explains this as a way to simulate factors that would cause a unit to stall its charge, but I can't imagine what can stall a charge but not prevent that same unit from moving double speed over the very same ground if there's NOT an enemy on the other side.  And yes, shooting attacks from the target unit are already factored in elsewhere.  (The Stand & Shoot or Overwatch rule, depending on whether you're playing Fantasy or 40K.)

So what we're seeing here is randomness introduced for its own sake.  An argument can be made that, since pre-measuring distances is also now allowed, it's the trade-off.  I call B.S. on that as well.  There are plenty of other game systems that have pre-measuring AND constant charge distances and are perfectly playable.

Spells (Or psychic powers if you're playing 40K) are also randomly generated.  I can't comprehend how this benefits gameplay.  Being unable to plan for what utilities and/or weapons are at your disposal makes it nigh impossible to factor them into your decisions when building your army, or what strategy you'll use.  You literally have to wait until you're setting up the game to find out what spells you'll have access to.  If you're lucky, you'll get spells that are actually useful.  For a faction like Bretonnia, who has a relatively weak magic phase, this can be mitigated by simply not investing many points in wizards.  For other factions, like Lizardmen or Dark Elves, this can be problematic since those armies are designed to make heavy use of magic.

Of course, it may not matter.  The number of dice available for casting spells might be very high or very low, because that's randomly generated now too, in both systems.  Low dice isn't just bad because it laves one with very limited power for their spells, but it also means fewer dice to try to roll the target casting value.  That means, because of all this randomness, the spell might not even successfully go off.

Expansions to Warhammer make it even worse.  Storm of Magic is nigh unplayable with Cataclysmic spells requiring so many dice to cast, there's a strong likelihood of a miscast, for which one would have to roll on not one, but two separate tables to learn the fate of the poor wizard.  Either of those tables can easily kill the wizard outright.  So someone please explain to me why I should invest a significant portion of my army's points allocation to a wizard who's very likely to get himself destroyed for trying to play the game as indended.

Here's a hint, Games Workshop:  That might be why Storm of Magic wasn't a super seller.  People want to feel like they have some modicum of control over the performance of their army.  We spend many hours building, painting and planning with our armies, we'd like to feel like, for better or worse, the performance of our army on the tabletop is a function of our own skill at the game, and not the luck of the dice.

Now, I understand that maybe this is Games Workshop's way of leveling the playing field...  A tournament champion and a novice player are more evenly matched when much of the game's outcome is a result of random factors.  This is not a strength in the system.  Yes, player skill mitigates some of the randomness.  I can make my knights charge when closer to the target so that I'm either inside my minimum charge range, or at least in a distance that's statistically likely to succeed.  I can use lots of dice to get my spells off (assuming I don't miscast in doing so.)  Even so, it doesn't take much to take a winning strategy and burn it to ashes when a die roll or two comes up unusually bad. 

So I don't know what to expect from 9th Edition but I do have a wish list item:  Games Workshop: Please, please please roll back some of these random rules.  Please.  

At least when I'm playing Warmachine I know exactly what spells I'll have access to, I know exactly how far a Warjack can charge, and I know exactly how much focus I have available to spend on magic which, by the way, always works.     

I know this post sounds like the rantings of a person who's jaded from having had too many unlucky rolls, but it's really not.  This was inspired by something I heard on a podcast this morning where a guy rolled several consecutive 1s on a 40K game and just couldn't kill one of his opponent's models.  It was a funny story, yes... but it highlights the problem with these systems.  I've been playing a lot of different game systems lately and I can tell you that Warhammer is beginning to really suffer from this.

Warhammer Fantasy Battles 9th Edition Rumors

Are just rumors, folks.  No need to start wetting our pants.

Seriously.  We go through this every time a new edition or army book comes out, and that's also true of 40k.  About half of what we hear is even close to being true, and the other half is true but looks different in its proper context.  Want to have some fun?  Google rumors from when 8th Edition was about to drop, or any of the 40k editions.  See how accurate they were.

Remember, End Times is supposed to be 100% compatible with 9th Edition, so they can't change it too much since it's also fully compatible with 8th.  Are Lizardmen getting removed?  Doubtful.  I'm sure that even in a worst case scenario Lizardmen will still be playable using their current book.

And as a Bretonnian player, I'll offer ZERO sympathy to anyone who complains about how their book hasn't been updated recently.  My Bretonnia book was printed in 2003, Jack.  Don't come here looking for pity.

So everyone relax, settle down, just wait and see.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Warhammer 40,000 7th Edition

In every gaming club there's at least one person who will run out and buy the newest release as quickly as they can.  In my gaming group, I'm that guy.

So on Saturday I went out and picked up my copy of the 7th Edition box set.

I was excited.  I didn't really mind 6th Edition so much but there were a couple of things I wanted to see fixed.  I play Black Templars, primarily, with a Thousand Sons army for when I'm feeling chaotic.

Well the set comes as 3 books (hardcover) in a box.  The first book is called Dark Millenium, which is basically all the fluff that you'd normally find in the older style 40K rulebooks.  This book is probably the highlight of the set, especially if you're really into the 40K fluff, as I am.  The cover, like all 3 of the books in the set, is a recycled piece of artwork from some other book.  Not much to say about it really.  It's fluff.  You either like that sort of thing or you don't.  That's a book that will probably spend most of its life on the shelf.

But you can't buy the rulebook without it.

The second book is called A Galaxy of War.  It's not much more than a catalog.  Lots of photos of painted Citadel miniatures showcased here.  Not a lot of substance.  That one's going to gather dust too.

But you can't buy the rulebook without that either.  Long ago I'd canceled my White Dwarf subscription because I was tired of paying for Games Workshop catalogs masquerading as content.  It seems they've found a way to force people to buy a catalog again.

The third book is the Rules, which is a reasonably small tome compared to older 40K rulebooks.  Most of it is a word for word copy/paste from 6th Edition.  Some of the text has been edited a bit for clarity and so on, but if you sit with your 6th Edition book open on one side and the 7th Edition book on the other, the similarity is uncomfortable.  From what I've seen so far even the photos are the same, with some color adjustments so that they could be printed in fewer colors, with the savings not passed along to the customer. The Psychic rules are radically different, which is a good thing overall, in my opinion, but the only other difference I could spot so far is the vehicles rules have been adjusted a bit (but not enough, it's still possible to glance a Land Raider to death.)

So essentially we've been given what could have been no more than a simple update, but packaged with a bunch of the same old fluff with yet another catalog, and charge $85.00 U.S. for it.  Less quality, higher price.  And this, after only 2 years since the last edition change.

My gripe is that this book simply doesn't strike me as representing a level of effort and investment that justifies the considerably higher price.  It's almost as if GW is running out of ways to boost profits and this is a sort of big final push before... what?  9th Edition Fantasy is coming out this year too.  What will they do next year to improve sales beyond all this and keep the shareholders happy?  Maybe they can't and they know it.  I wonder if the big shareholders are about to dump their stock and leave the company to the wolves.

I added a few more remarks on the blog on the homepage of my gaming club website.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Why It's Hard to Get Into Historical Wargaming

There was a time, years ago, when historical wargaming was the ONLY option.  If you had an itch to go out and push miniatures around on a tabletop, you had to find a group, and hope you liked the type of battles they were running.  While the options are no longer so limited, historical wargaming is still popular and there are many groups around.

I recently became interested in getting into the whole historical wargaming thing, after having played Warhammer 40,000 for over 20 years, as well as a few other games along the way like Battletech, Warmachine, Warhammer Fantasy, Malifaux, Infinity, etc...  What I've learned is that it's HARD to get into historical gaming.  Seriously.

Ok, well sort of.  For every problem there are solutions, and in an effort to be positive about this I will list them.

The Problem: Rule Sets.  

Oh, rule sets.  Oh my lord, rule sets.  It isn't that historical gaming rule sets are bad.  It's that there are a million of them.  I had decided I wanted to build an army to represent Alexander of Macedonia's force in the early stages of his campaign.  Options for rule sets... Hail Caesar, WRG\Warrior, DBA, DBM, Field of Glory(Ancients), Warhammer Ancients... just to name a few.  Most of these cover history from the beginning of humanity up to about the Renaissance.

Normally, options are a good thing to have.  You can pick the rule set that most fits your level of comfort and play style.  Simple, right?  Well, not really.  Because suppose you look at them all and you enjoy a very simple system that doesn't require too many models.  You settle on DBA.  Oops, what's that?  The people at your friendly local gaming store only play Hail Caesar?  I guess you need to learn Hail Caesar then.  Going to a tournament where they only play Warrior?  Good luck finding a copy of that book.  Better luck learning that system.  (Warrior is an immensely complex system.)

The point is that there are a lot of different rule sets out there to govern historical battles.  That means the community of historical wargamers is divided not only by the historical era they like, but by the set of rules they're currently running.

The Solution:  If you like a particular rule set and the folks in your area play something different, then you really only have two options; either learn their rules, or recruit people to play yours.  Not very encouraging, but at least this is the only really hard part.

The Problem: Scale.

Historical Wargamers differ in their preferred scale.  From what I've seen, the most popular scales out there are 15mm and 25/28mm.  Many rule sets accommodate both scales, but very few allow for BOTH to be used at once.  So if your Persian army is 15mm and you have a prospective opponent whose Macedonian army is 28mm...  You'd better be playing something like Hail Caesar where the model size doesn't matter.

The Solution:  Before buying models, find out what the people in your area are mostly playing.  Many veteran historical players can handle either, and have multiple armies (!) so they can be flexible.

The Problem: Detail Snobs.

I once had a historical gamer apologize to me that his Macedonian Hoplites were wearing the wrong type of headgear for the time period we were playing.

I'm not joking.

He had apparently had a couple of run-ins with the Detail Snobs... People who get picky about details to such an extreme that they become critical of opponents who are playing an army using models that don't precisely match the historical setting for the game.  He was apparently afraid I was going to have a problem.

Guys, I don't know about you, but when I'm looking across the table at my opponent's army I can't be bothered with worrying over whether his hoplites are wearing the bronze cuirass with the 6' dory, or whether they're wearing the linen body armor with an 8' dory.... As long as it's clear to me that it's a unit of hoplites I don't freaking care, and I don't know why anyone should.  Wargaming is not a cheap hobby to engage in.  I am going to build a Macedonian army to represent Alexander's force in the early campaign, but I will *NOT* buy a second Macedonian army when I go to play a Roman opponent if we're doing a battle from Rome's Macedonian wars.  That is, except for specific unit types whose availability varied at different times.  Obviously Alexander's Companions wouldn't be present at the later wars with Rome, but I refuse to double up my hoplite units so that one set has the right headgear and armor for one era and the other matches the other.  Of course I'll play by the correct rules that govern the equipment from that period, but from across the table my opponent can't even clearly SEE what my models have on them, especially if we were playing 15mm.

Yes, I did say my army is modeled to represent Macedonian forces under Alexander and I'll endeavor to make them as accurate as I can from a hobby point of view, but that's as far as I go.

The Solution:  Either avoid the snobs, or play them with the understanding that you're there to play a game, not engage in a pissing match over the shape of your Greeks' helmets.

Most of these problems are virtually non-existent in the more well known games like Warhammer.  Because these systems are proprietary, with the publishers in complete control of the rules, the scenarios and the models, things stay consistent.  Warhammer is a 28mm game.  Period.  There's only one set of rules governing every Warmachine game.  There's only one timeframe for gaming in the universe of Infinity.  This is because these games take place in fictional places or fictional times/events.  Historical wargaming is about simulating history, which is something nobody can claim a copyright on.

I don't know that there will be a solution that unites the historical wargaming crowd.  I don't think I'd want there to be.  Some guys really love the detail level of Warrior.  Some guys (like me) like the speed and simplicity of Hail Caesar.  Others prefer the smaller model counts and simplicity of DBA.  It does create some barriers to new players, but they are easily overcome with a little advance planning.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Sexism in Wargaming: A Real Problem or an Imaginary One?

This post is in response to a blog post I read recently that, while well written, is not one whose message I agree with.

I posted my response in the comments but they have to be moderated, and I don't know whether the original author will get around to approving it since it was posted a while ago (April of 2012).

Assuming dissenting opinions get approved.  Hopefully they do.

At any rate, my response here will be a bit more detailed.  The author of the blog I linked to is making the case that games like Infinity are "sexist as hell" and that Corvus Belli is wrong to publish them in that way.  I'd like to address some specific points.

First of all, we really need to be more judicious in how we apply the term "sexist."  Refusing women the right to vote or paying women less than what a man would be paid at the same job are examples of sexism.  Is it inherently sexist to make female miniatures look sexy and not male ones?  Well, I suppose you can argue that it is, but is that really a useful application of the term?  Does it really tell us anything of value?  Are we honestly using the same term to describe institutionalized unfair treatment of women to a gaming medium that plays to its male audience?

See, I just don't think it's useful to go screaming "SEXISM SEXISM SEXISM" over this.  If you don't like the way the models are done, don't buy them.  Simple.  If you want to be mad because miniatures like that are made in the first place, then you should really realize that you aren't mad at Corvus Belli (or whatever company makes such minis) you're mad at the consumers who buy them and keep it going.  Wargame miniature companies will sell the minis people want to buy.  That's how they stay in business.  Simple economics, that.

From the original blog:

"For clarity's sake, I'm going to break it down to the most simple and important of ideas, equality."

What's unequal?  If the game stats for female characters differed from those of male characters, you'd have a leg to stand on.   They don't.  Yes, I get that what's being referenced here is that female models are sculpted wearing much less or much tighter clothing than the equivalent male models.  So what?  You do understand, don't you, that a miniature for a wargame is just a representative counter?  It doesn't need to be realistic in order to do its job, which is to show the position (and maybe equipment) of the character or unit represented by the model.  If it does that, then the rest is irrelevant.  I have a few squads of Space Marines.  Most have helmets.  Some don't.  Anybody want to complain about how unfair it is that some of my Black Templars go bare headed?

Yes, I'm sure the counter-argument is that the bare headed Space Marines are still men.  Again, irrelevant.  I have a unit of Bretonnian Pegasus Knights that I modeled to be female because I like the Valkyrie theme.  Their stat lines are not changed.  And yes, they're all bare headed. 

Again, from the blog:

"I'm going to ... giving examples of - standard, mixed-gender units that display this kind of baffling sexist crap."

What's baffling?  It's MARKETING.  You might not like it, and that's fine, but let's not pretend to be bewildered by the obvious - that these miniatures are marketed primarily to the male demographic.  Here's a newsflash to anyone who's been living under a rock: Men usually prefer women who look like women and not men.  (I suppose that's sexism too.  Perhaps only bisexuals are truly non-sexist, amirite?)  Therefore, in a unit of mixed male and female models, the females are going to be modeled to look VERY female and that means curves, skin and poses.  Men are just boring to look at for mist of us guys, so it makes less sense to embellish them.  Again, you may not like that, but it's the reality, and there's nothing baffling about it.

From the blog:
"Even with those exemptions, there are plenty of examples to show that the men are sculpted in more sensible combat gear and in aggressive, combat-ready poses, while the women get heels, crop-tops, and a pose that suggests they're posing for a men's magazine, not in the middle of a fire-fight."

Yep.  Another newsflash:  The overwhelming majority of soldiers in the world are male.  Female warriors are a rare thing and always have been.  That means the default soldier in a wargame is male.  Modeling female miniatures in aggressive, combat-ready poses make them look MASCULINE.  That's human psychology for you, like it or not.  If a miniature represents a female, then gamers want her to look FEMININE.  Simple.  There's no mystery here.  From the tone of that blog, you'd think the female models in Infinity were modeled with aprons and standing in front of the sink.

"The female Volunteer is wearing the smallest of miniskirts (that's riding up so high that they sculpted her panties), an open, waist-length jacket, and what appears to be a wet singlet.  Let me point out that there is snow on the ground."

I agree that this is silly.  If the characters represent people in a cold, wintry environment then no, it doesn't make sense for one of them to be wearing a mini-skirt.  Having said that, I see no reason to assume that the sculptor goes home from work everyday to smack his wife around for wearing shoes.


Well I wouldn't go that far.  Silly yes... But these are toy soldiers marketed to adult males.  At this point getting hung up on the silly is kind of.... well, silly.

"All the male figures are posed in the act of wild shooting and daredevil riding, waving their weapons around, their asses planted firmly on the seat.  The lone female figure doesn't have a rifle, is braking hard in such a way to put her on all fours, face down to accentuate her cleavage, ass up in an obviously sexual position.  The men are posed to imply reckless power and freedom, the woman is posed to imply... sex."

Probably so.  So what?  Again, consider the target audience.  Consider the points I've made above.  Prettymuch anything other than the aggressive combat-ready pose we're apparently supposed to see is arguably about sex.  But then, sex is the reason there is a male and a female half to humanity. 

("Gender," by the way, is a grammatical term that describes nouns.  Living things to not have a gender.  They have a sex.  Why are we so squeamish about that word?)

"Once more, the male figures are sensibly kitted out and posed, while the female figures are wearing crop-top uniforms and posed like they're modelling the latest in DPM fashion.  These aren't as bad as the other examples, but it's depressing how ubiquitous this kind of disparity is."

Why is it depressing?   You know, if you don't want the character to show so much skin, then paint it so it isn't showing skin.  Here's what I mean.  I have  Bretonnian Damsel mini that showed deep cleavage.  I felt that a Damsel of the Lady should be a bit more virtuous than that, so when I painted her, I painted her so that her chest was more covered by a layer of clothing.  Simple.  Nobody even got hurt. 

I get that part of the issue here is the pose, and there's not much you can do about that without getting out the dremel and some green stuff, but there's always the option of building your army so it doesn't include the objectionable poses.

"Yeah, I'm getting pretty sick of repeating myself."

I know the feeling.

"I don't think it's too much that we, as fans, consumers and players, ask that sculptors to try and avoid this kind of obvious objectification."

You can ask, but the only thing that will make any difference is if the pool of consumers changes their collective minds.  Good luck on that.

And by the way, "objectification" is another of those over-used words whose meaning is somewhat blunted when it gets tossed around in this way.  Objectifying women is a problem, but I'm pretty sure wargame miniatures aren't a threat to human freedom.

"No, I don't care that part of your audience is horny 13-year-old boys. They can get their kicks from the internet like everyone else."

This part is flat ignorant.  The demographic for these games is generally in the 20s and 30s with the specifics varying from game system to game system.  (For example, the average Warhammer 40,000 player is in the early 20s, while the average Warhammer Fantasy player is into their 30s.)  I'm not sure what the target demographic is for Infinity but the system is fairly sophisticated and the materials aren't cheap, so no, horny 13 year olds aren't the main audience.

And yes, if they just wanted to get their kicks, they could get them from the Internet.  They're not looking to expensive pewter miniatures for that.

Now, everybody's entitled to their opinion, and the author of that blog certainly is.  What I have a problem with is the idea of labeling "SEXIST" anyone who either likes or defends these miniatures.  That's neither constructive nor does it give the accuser any credibility.