Tuesday, June 10, 2014

40K UnRant - The Mission Cards

One of the big issues with the tournament segment of 40K players on the new edition is with the Maelstrom mission cards. There has been a tremendous resistance to using those and a lot of exaggerations such as "unplayable" applied to using them in the game.

I've played them and the game worked just fine. There are videos online of people using them and their games seem to work as well. Even that first Frontline Gaming batrep where 7th was declared unplayable due to demonology and the mission cards being broken ended in a tie - somehow the doomed non-demon player managed to pull that off! Imagine that!

Anyway, rather than talk in generalities why not take a look at the actual cards and see which ones might be problems?

There are 36 "tactical objectives". It's based on a d66 chart (roll a d6 for tens, roll another d6 for ones) and each set of "tens" has a theme of sorts.

  • The 10's, 20's, and 30's are all "score 1 VP for having objective X at the end of your turn". These are the core of the system, the bread in the sandwich, the baseline. Half of the cards drawn will be these.
  • The 40's are more nuanced objective-related goals.
    • 41 is related to Mysterious Objectives - I know this could be a problem because I know we've never used Mysterious Objectives and I think a lot of other players ignore them as well.
    • 42 & 43 are related to having units near an opponents table edge - completely achievable by any army
    • 44, 45, & 46 give multiple points for holding multiple objectives - again, this is certainly within the realm of possibility for every army 
  • The 50's are combat-related goals
    • 51-52-53 are scored for eliminating enemy units - this seems reasonable
    • 54 is scored for issuing a challenge - not winning one, just issuing one, so if you have a character in the army, you can arrange this
    • 55 is scored when an opponent fails morale, pinning, or fear tests - there are armies that are less likely to fail one of these but it's pretty rare to fight the 100% Fearless force, I'm calling it "conceivably impossible to achieve".
    • 56 is scored for successfully manifesting a psychic power - you would need a psyker to do this so Necrons and Tau are out, though I hear there are allies in the game
  • The 60's are the kill point objectives
    • 61 is "slay the warlord II" and every army has to have one
    • 62 is kill a psyker and so without one there's no way to score this
    • 63 is kill a flyer - certainly there are armies without those
    • 64 is kill a character and that's 100% do-able
    • 65 is kill a building and there are lots of armies who do not use those, could be a problem
    • 66 is kill a vehicle or monstrous creature - while it's certainly possible to build an army without either one, every army has the option for at least one of the two and many have both. In a smaller fight, maybe, but I don't think this one is going to be "unplayable" in any battle of 1500 points or more.  
So, what's our worst-case scenario? Cards 41, 55, 56, 62, 63, 65, and 66 are specific enough that they might not be involved in a game. That's 7 out of 36 possibilities. However, at that point you are fighting a Fearless army with no Psykers, Flyers, Vehicles, or Monstrous Creatures and have no Psykers of your own. So we're talking Tau (with no vehicles or riptides) vs. Necrons (with no vehicles) and both have somehow become fearless army-wide - HA! 

I just don't see that as likely, ESPECIALLY in a tournament situation where most of the complaints are concerned. Tournament organizers could easily cut this down by one by including a building or two (or more) on their tables.

What is a more reasonable scenario? No MO's, no buildings, no flyers, and maybe a lack of psykers on one side. Call it 4 non-scoring cards. That's 1/9. If you draw 3 cards per turn for a 6-turn game you will draw 2 non-playable cards on average. The rules allow a player to discard one card per turn. This seems like a perfectly fine solution.

Note I am not counting "well the enemy is sitting on Objective 5" as making "score for holding objective 5" an unplayable card, which seems to be a part of the early complaints. It's not unplayable - that's the !$%$#%$# game! Go take that objective from the other player - it gives you points and keeps him from scoring his own! This isn't the old edition where you can just sit back on a few objectives on your own side of the table and go for first blood or slay the warlord to win at the end of the game - you have to go take them away during the game! Think of the objectives as your orders from high command - sometimes you're ahead of them (I already have Objective #5), sometimes you're behind (The enemy has Objective #5), and sometimes you get orders that make no sense at all based on the current situation and you either clarify or ignore those - that's the discard!

The missions themselves are a part of this too: 
  • The "draw 3 every turn" mission is nice and steady. 
  • The "draw one per objective you control" doubles the incentive to go grab those objectives, regardless of the cards in your hand. 
  • The hidden cards mission keeps things interesting and a little different from the others, allowing for feints and deceptions if you're so inclined. 
  • Scoring from either player's objective cards blows things wide open.  
  • The escalating draw mission keeps things really lively right up until the end.
  • The decreasing-draw mission is the one where I can see some problems. Here, if someone did draw the worst possible hand, say 4 out of their 6 cards are unplayable, then they could find themselves in a hole at the end of turn 1, assuming their opponent draws the opposite kind of hand. Turn 2 it's a max of 5 cards. Assuming they discarded one of the bad ones , they start the turn at ... 5 cards - the same 5 they ended with on turn 1. That's how they spend the game. 

I don't think that last one is likely, but it is possible. Luck is part of the game but a bad run of it on the first turn sucks, whether it's bad cards or deep strike mishaps, bad scatter rolls, or a bunch of ones on your terminator armor saves. Both players are drawing from the same pool of possibilities so the risk is equal. 

To mitigate this when it comes to the cards, here's my suggested house rule:

"After drawing objectives on the first turn a player may choose to discard their entire hand and redraw, treating the discards just as if they had been discarded during the game (i.e. they are out of the pool and cannot be scored or redrawn)."

This solves the biggest potential problem described above, mitigates bad luck in the smaller draw games, and protects against the cherry-picking discard of "well I like these 4 but these two are not good" by forcing the decision to affect the entire batch. Additionally it leaves it in the hands of the player - if you think you can manage a marginal set of objectives (say, all on the enemy side of the board) then you can do that and potentially score more points, or you can toss them and hope for the lower-hanging fruit on a redraw.