Monday, 8 August 2011

Campaign 2011 - month 6

After the previous few months of activity it was nice to have a break from hardcore GM duties. While there were no special events this month, there were a few changes I wanted to make to the rules.

A digression
There are different aspects of the GW hobby that people are drawn to. I'm drawn to the hobby element - (collecting, modelling, painting) and also engaging creatively with the warhammer universe (through rules development, roleplay and narrative elements, artwork etc).

Some people's favourite aspect of the hobby is the challenge of "how does one win a game of warhammer"; to beat the game as much as beat your opponent. I can't say this side of things has ever really appealed, not even as a young teenager - I've always been more interested in having an imaginative, fun and cool experience than the result of the game itself. I would much rather have a game that was in the balance (no matter who won), than a walkover (even if it was my boots doing the walking).

But I can see how competition is an important aspect of the gaming community, and there are tons of players who find this the most challenging and rewarding part. I'm honestly not getting on any sort of holier-than-thou high horse - the community thrives on competition and benefits from it. It's just that for me personally, it's never really been my bag. And in any case, I'm very competitive in other ways: I want to have the best painted models, and the coolest terrain, and the best campaign rules etc, so I don't escape the finger-pointing.

I would say our gaming group leans more on the competitive side, while I'm the only one in the group who's more interested in how cool the terrain looks or what colour trousers your general's wearing.

Spies everywhere
What's your point, I hear you ask. Well, the rules development for this campaign has been particularly challenging because of the competitive element. When I wrote the campaign rules, I included things to add colour or character or interest. Predicting how well all these things would play out and how balanced they would all be was much harder. As so it was that some rules were mercilessly ignored because they offered the player no advantage, while some of the more game-tipping rules were unscrupulously used again and again and again.

One such example was the event card called "Spies". This allows your opponent to view your army list before the game. Now, I have absolutely no interest in playing this card. Firstly I don't have enough models to tailor a range of different armies to suit a range of opponents. And secondly there's a kind a nail-biting thrill when you watch your opponent put down his army on the table and see for the first time exactly what you're up against.

However, the rest of the gang take these things very seriously indeed. It is usual form in our gaming group to analyse your opponent's army book in detail, and trawl through discussion forums for tactical advice on how to exploit your opponents weaknesses and blast him off the table. And for this reason Spies is an extremely important event card and highly sought after.

So too are the special characters. Again, personally they're not my bag. I simply don't believe that Archaon would even be aware of a 2500pt skirmish on the edge of some forest in the back of beyond, let alone grace the army with his earth-sundering, unholy presence. But if you're a competitive gamer, special characters are game-winners, and therefore extremely important.

And the competitiveness doesn't just effect event cards and army lists. It effects terrain placement and set up too. Why would you go through a forest and risk a dangerous terrain test? You might lose models! Why would you place a mystical monument that might hurt your own troops as well as your opponents? Terrain, though more interesting and interactive than ever before in the game, was still being forced to the edges of the board and avoided at all costs.

Checks and balances
And so the big event this month, was not so much to do with the battles, which went ahead relatively smoothly, it was the extensive changes I made to the rules - a whole series of checks and balances aimed at making the game fairer for all. Check out the changes (in red) here:

campaign rules v7

Remember, the current campaign rules are here:

campaign rules 2011

A summary of the changes was also included in the omens for the month:

Month 6 - The Omens

The fiction was fun to write. I've tried to write about each of the armies equally, so that everyone gets represented. The Teclis vs Cetlis battle was perfect subject matter to write about. Plus it was my gentle way of saying "Teclis is ridiculously powerful, folks!"

Have the measures worked? Well, so far so good. Sure, Spies gets played these days, but with the ability to spend gold on a second card, it's fairly easy to root them out and lynch them before they can divulge all your secrets.

At the end of the month, the map looked like this:

map month 6

As you can see the map was virtually full and the age of expansion was over. Since this game marked the end of the first half of the campaign, I thought to myself what direction it should take in the second half. And with Tzeentch rising in the night sky, a cunning plan was beginning to form....

Campaign 2011 - month 5

Without the guiding hand of their gods, the organized battalions of orcs descend into squabbling tribes once more, and the green menace dissipates as quickly as it appeared. As the dust settles over Mortendorf Valley, there is no time to rest as the forces of destruction march to war once again.

Hi hooooo!
Month 5 saw the arrival of the Dwarves to Morten Valley. Tunnelling up through the mountains, they popped up in a recently stomped territory. Gary had originally said that he wasn't sure how many months he'd be able to make it, so I only set him up with a single territory - if he dropped out later the map wouldn't be left too scarred.

He was a new player to the game, though being a keen roleplayer he was familiar with the Warhammer universe. Being a newbie, I teamed him up with Nick (Skaven) with whom he roleplays, so his first game would be with a familiar face. Also Nick isn't a power-gamer, and I didn't want Gary's first game to be an exercise in humiliation. I must admit I was also thinking that Nick might get an easy win and gain some territory - which he desperately needed. So since there was a free territory sitting between the dwarf and skaven capitals, I told them both that in an exception to the normal rules, they would be fighting for that particular territory. They would both be exempt from challenges and event cards. Finally, I gave Nick a 100pt handicap a) to give Gary a leg-up, but b) because I wasn't sure how many points of troops Gary had managed to muster.

As it turned out, Gary is pretty darned competitive and flattened Nick, securing the territory and earning enough EPs to claim two more, which has made the Dwarven empire a pretty solid-looking addition to the map.

Slaves to pleasure
Dwarves aside, anyone looking to the heavens would notice that in month 5, Slaanesh was in ascendancy. I always knew I wanted to do something with in-game missions or special character-faults for individual heroes, so this seemed like the perfect month for trying it out. It fit with the Slaaneshi theme: everyone suddenly becoming selfish and irresponsible for a month, and it gave me scope to try a bunch of ideas out.

First of all, I had to send round the omens. I kept to the same formula, including a bit of fiction at the beginning to set the scene. I decided not to write about the Slaaneshi thing, since the missions themselves would paint the picture perfectly well. So I wrote two pieces to establish the dwarves in the campaign.

Month 5 - The Omens

Secret missions
I decided I'd make the special missions secret and randomly share them out. Some of my ideas seemed more fun to apply to whole armies, rather than individuals, so I did both: every army would have one army-wide mission and three missions given to their heroes. In retrospect, this was too much - one or two would have been fine, and some of the army-wide ones had some pretty heavy consequences for those unlucky enough to draw them .

With eight players, that was a lot of missions I had to dream up, and it was a bit of a brain-ache coming up with them all. But I managed it, and even put them all onto nice little cards too.

Month 5 Gaming aids

I was really chuffed with them. I think they're characterful and fun, and on the whole they didn't screw up anybody's game enough to worry about. At least I don't think they did - my own game was fine and the other tables didn't seem to kick up too much fuss.

With all these experimental rules, there's no opportunity to play-test them, so inevitably there are going to be some ugly imbalances. There were two such cases which came close to

1. Wizards "showing off". I liked the "Show off" card in principle, but I should have toned down the rule for wizards. My own opponent had a show off wizard and it was a real pain in his side. The show-off wizard had to go first and had to upgrade his spells if he could. But in practice that meant the show-off wizard would expend all the power dice from his pool and any other wizards in his army didn't get to cast anything. By turn three, my opponent was willing a miscast just to shut down his own attention-seeking magician. He didn't oblige and his level 2 alchemist sat there like a pudding throughout the game with no power dice to use. My opponent took it in fairly good spirits, but it did nobble his magic phase, and my intention wasn't to make the cards have that much effect on the game.

2. The drunken army. Oh boy, this one went badly. When I wrote the rules for it (basically, there's a chance that some of your army will arrive a bit late) I thought it sounded pretty balanced. When we all drew the cards, Gaz (Wood elves) took it in good spirits and seemed to really like the idea of commanding a drunken bunch of hungover elves - funny right?. But as the game went on, and half his army was still off the table in turn 3, that smile had been turned upside down. You see, Gaz had rolled very badly at the start of the game (meaning half his army were still in bed), and continued to roll badly at the start of each turn (meaning they kept pressing the snooze button on their alarms). With the benefit of hindsight, I should have made sure there was a cap, so that everyone turned up, drunk or not, by turn 3 (or even 2). But as it turned out, some members of Gaz's army were still enjoying a duvet day by turn 5. Not good. Surprisingly, I don't think it massively hobbled his game, but he did have a uniquely hard time, considering the other army-wide cards had only minor effects for the other players.

And the rest?
Well, I didn't hear too much noise from the other tables regarding the missions. Possibly because some of them really did have next to no effect or were inapplicable throughout the game. But hopefully because the cards weren't meant to be obtrusive, merely to add some character and flavour to the games. In my game, with the exception of the show-off wizard, the cards did exactly what they were supposed to do.

I guess the only problem was that the amount of effort that went into thinking up all the cards and writing the missions was totally disproportionate to the enjoyment everyone got from them. The whole thing was met with a collective shrug of the shoulders. I know for a fact that at least one person thought I'd just copied it all from the internet and it didn't realise any of it was my own original material. Harrumph.

So perhaps a pyrrhic victory, but one I could feel proud about nonetheless.For years I've wanted to play a game with these sorts of extra rules and I finally got to act it out. So for my sake, if not for anyone else's I'd say it was all worth it.

By the way...
I couldn't write about month 5 without mentioning the ridiculous head-to-head that happened in one of the games. I've said before how the group are pretty competitive players and Andrew (High elves) was finding to his delight that Teclis was pretty unstoppable. So the greatest wizard that ever lived started turning up to every single battle the High elves fought. In month 5, Andrew was up against Pete ("Beastmen") who is a very good player and who happens to be allowed to take an army from any race he likes. So we ended up with the unusual situation of Teclis leading a high elf army, fighting against another high elf army led by.. er... Teclis (maybe we should call him Cetlis to make the distinction).

It says something about how powerful Teclis is that he didn't bat an eyelid - he simply wiped Cetlis off the face of the planet in the first couple of turns and went on to destroy the rest of the army. Not even Teclis can beat Teclis!

Spoils of war
By the end of the month, the map looked like this:


There were no special rules planned for month 6, so a well-earned rest was in order.