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.