Saturday, December 22, 2018

Greatest Hits #22 - "Unplayable" RPG's

An opinion piece but still relevant as I still hear this today ...

I've been listening to a podcast that talks about old RPG's and it's been pretty entertaining both with games I know well and games I passed by. I'll talk more about them later but one thing that comes up in some of the conversations is "unplayable". I'm not going to pick on them specifically because I hear it all over the place. The recent listening just brought it to top of mind and I decided to discuss it in a post.

A strong "get off my lawn rant" advisory is now in effect. 

First, let's talk about what people mean when they describe a game this way. To me it really breaks down into two categories:

  • Literally, mechanically unplayable - I mostly hear this from younger gamers describing older games. I suspect it's more "I looked at it and looked too complicated for me to enjoy so I went no further with it" or "I've heard stories about it". I personally have yet to find a game that is literally "unplayable".
  • Complicated to the point that it's not worth playing, especially when there are alternative games available that cover a similar niche - this is far more common and it's how I feel about quite a few games out there. Really, it's more "not as enjoyable" rather than "unplayable". 
I make this distinction because every so often I hear a game dispatched as "unplayable", sometimes with a bonus of sneering attitude to go with it, which happens to be a game I've played or run for an extended period of time. This of course immediately puts the lie to the "unplayable" description. 

Somewhere along the internet's lifespan theoryhammer/theorycrafting became in some people's minds as valid a set of thoughts about a game as actual experience. Someone looks at the math of the game and declares it unworkable. Someone finds a rule with some kind of logic flaw in it and declares the entire game invalid as a result. 

It's bullshit.

RPG's have never been "here's a book - do everything exactly as it is written here." Never. Different people have interpreted things differently, modified rules into something they liked better, and added new rules to cover something they felt was missing or underrepresented. 

A typical response to this from the non-players is something like "well sure if you start changing the rules it works" - no! It probably "worked" just fine before! I'm changing the rules because I think it works better!

Another common cry: "Why should I pay for it if I have to modify the rules to make them work". If that's your attitude you probably shouldn't! In fact if that's your attitude I'm not sure you should be playing RPG's at all! I don't say that to be some kind of snob - I say it because it's a just part of what people do with  these kinds of games!

Let's get into some specifics:

  • Rifts - I regularly hear when the game comes up about how it's "unplayable". I ran a game for over a year, pretty much by the book. Core book plus whatever add-ons struck our fancy. yes, the rules are clunky and sometimes inconsistent. Yes I think the new Savage Worlds version is going to be a much better experience for most people. By no means though is it "unplayable".
  • Shadowrun: one of the things 4th edition SR touted was the new "better" task resolution system that made it much easier to figure the odds of success compared to the older editions where it was "almost unplayable". Seriously? One of the most popular RPG's of the 90's was "almost unplayable". I played in and ran multiple campaigns through 1st, 2nd, and 3rd editions and we typically thought the system was damned innovative at the time. 
  • Twilight 2000: I was surprised when I ran across "unplayable" applied to this game online last year. When games like Aftermath exist? T2K 1st and 2nd are fairly simple games really. 1E is a percentile skills system not unlike BRP games and 2E simplifies it down from ratings of 1-100 to 1-10. Sure, you'd better like playing with military hardware as that's one of the attractions of the game, but there's nothing particularly complex about either one. Again I have played and run multiple campaigns in both versions so it's completely playable if you're interested.
  • Champions: "Combat takes so long, characters are so complicated, it's just unplayable" - one of the pillars of superhero gaming, something we played a bunch when we were 13 years old and  somehow figured out even though we didn't have the internet to explain things to us is now described by people at times as "unplayable". Please. 
  • GURPS: I actually saw GURPS described as "unplayable" online in the last month. It's not my favorite game anymore but "unplayable"? Sure you have a lot of choices when making a character but once your character is finished the game mechanics are pretty simple. It's 3d6 roll low! For almost everything! I assume this is mostly because it has a bunch of thick hardbacks for rules, despite the fact that you won't be using more than a few of them in most campaigns. 
  • Aftermath: Exhibit A for the classic over-complicated games of the 80's. I own it  - it's playable, it just not much fun IMO. Heck, it has a flowchart to show you how the mechanics work! Actually it has several of them. "Not something I want to play" is not "unplayable.
Even AD&D gets this nowdays - "This game is a mess, how did anyone play this?" - well, we read it, used our brains, and figured it out. 

"Weapon speeds?" - not in first edition.

"Grappling?" - not usually. We used some replacement system form an issue of Dragon.

"Level limits" - sure. Multiclassing was cool.

"AH-HA! So you just ignored the parts of the game that didn't work!" - Pretty much. We still do. There are parts of ICONS that I mostly ignore, and that's a pretty simple very modern system. That doesn't make it a bad game or, god forbid, "unplayable". It means we modify something we already like to make it better in our eyes. Like people do with clothes. Like people do with cars.  Why is this so shocking to some people? Are they under the impression there's a trophy for following the book as written? Have you seen the errata documents for most big RPG books?

Does this really look all that complicated?
Boring, sure, but complicated?

This usually happens though after we have played the game as written a few times.  Not before we ever play a game. Not after we play it once. After 3 or 4 sessions though you have a fair idea of how your group works with a game and what might be better for your group. The games I discuss on this blog are almost always a game I am running, a game I have run in the past, or a game I am about to run - there's a reason for that. I'm not terribly interested in opinions about a game from someone that's never played or run it so I try not to do that. I'm much more interested in practical experiences. 

As one example Savage Worlds suffers from the "let's change stuff after reading the rules once" problem quite a bit.  It mainly seems to happen with people whose only other experience is with some form of D&D, but that's not a strict rule. Someone comes into a forum or a Facebook group and announces how much they like the game and they have a couple of genius changes that they're going to use. Inevitably they've played once and something fluky happened or they haven't actually played at all yet. SW players tend to be a friendly lot but the usual response is "OK, but you may want to try it by the book rule a little longer before you change it." You want to know why? because the game has been around with only minor changes for 15 years now and it works. It works very well for fast playing pulpy RPG campaigns. There may  be a genre-specific thing someone is trying to do and that's cool but there isn't much that needs to be tweaked in the core rules. A more common problem is people not understanding the rules and trying to make changes based on a misunderstanding but there are parts that are tricky to explain purely on a page so that's not always the reader's fault.  Someday Pinnacle will find the perfect way to explain the Shaken rule and we will enter a new golden age I am sure, but until then a little conversation helps explain it much easier. 

Maybe it's the guns that make all of these "unplayable"?

My closing take: no game is "unplayable". Some are harder, some are easier, some will be less fun for your group than others, and that's how it's all supposed to work! I don't have any interest in playing or running Rolemaster but I know groups that have played it for years - clearly it's not unplayable. There was a Kickstarter last year for an updated rulebook for original Deadlands and it blew my mind - why would anyone play that when Reloaded is available? Apparently quite a few people because it funded quickly and went way over the goal. 

Oops! - Nope, that's not it!

I suppose I could re-title this "a word I don't like" because that's what it boils down to. I think we can do better. 

Friday, December 21, 2018

Greatest Hits #21 - Trek Tuesday - Decipher Trek

The most recent Trek RPG - until recently

Getting back to the big glossy editions of Trek RPG's, it's time to talk about the Decipher years. The genesis of this one is a little strange. Last Unicorn had been publishing their edition of the game for a couple of years when in 2000 the announcement came out that they had been purchased by WOTC. Within a few months WOTC/LUG lost the Trek license, supposedly because there was a clause against the same company having both the Star Trek and Star Wars licenses which WOTC now had.

Regardless of the details a new Trek game appeared in 2002 (roughly a one-year gap) from Decipher of all companies. Decipher had been known only for card games up to this point, so it was a surprise. Considering they already had the Trek license for card games, it did make some sense. One interesting thing was that quite a bit of the design team from Last Unicorn made the jump to the new edition - take a look at the credit pages below:

Last Unicorn credits page
Decipher credits page
There is a lot of overlap there. So you might think "lots of continuity there" right? Well, not so much. Despite having invented a whole new system and written multiple books on Trek just within the last 5 years, the design appears to have looked more at a different system that was popular at the time.

The stats shift to six familiar-looking basic attributes plus some others. Task resolution also looks familiar (and I don;t mean Traveller) being 2d6 + modifiers (lots and lots of modifiers) to beat a target number set by the difficulty of the task. It's shifted down about 5 points from the d20 difficulty numbers but it looks very familiar. This was during the height of the d20 boom and the system for stats, skills, and task resolution is very similar to d20.

Characters have a Species which modifies attributes and grants some special abilities. They also choose a Profession which designates some skills as professional skills and grants some special abilities. There are also Elite Professions which can be taken after meeting certain criteria.

Action Rounds are 6 seconds long and characters can take movement actions, combat actions, free actions, and full-round actions - not really trying to hide it at this point were they?

There is a some chrome here. There are Traits which are like Advantages/Disadvantages, there is a hero point mechanic and a reputation mechanic, combat uses a damage track as well as simple hit point type damage to introduce some damage effects,  and of course there is star ship combat as well.

So it's very much a d20-styled Trek game. You might think that would have taken off bigtime in that particular time. Well it didn't. They produced very nice full-color hardback books, six of them and a narrator's screen from 2002-2003 and then it got quiet. Considering the ready availability of these books in bargain bins and overstock deals circa 2005 I think it's safe to say this did not do well. It's not hard to see why:

  • First, despite having the same design team this is a very different game, mechanically, and having spent significant money to acquire the previous rules, there was not a huge incentive to turn around and spend money all over again a few years later.
  • Second, I don't think fans of LUG Trek felt that the system had run its course and so there was no great outcry for a revision or new mechanics and Decipher's version didn't cover any new ground that the prior version had not.
  • Thirdly, while it was like d20 it was not actually d20. This closed it off from the exploding ecosystem of d20 games that were cross-compatible to a degree, and from gamers who were extremely d20-focused.
  • Finally, there is timing - when this was released Voyager had just ended, Enterprise had just started, and Nemesis released and was not particularly well received. Trek was petering out in a lot of ways. I suspect that among casual players and fans there was not a lot of interest in starting up a new game and the die-hard fans already had FASA or LUG Trek (or one of the many, many homebrews) and were not terribly interested in something new. Contrast this with Star Wars which was in the middle of the new trilogy after a long gap and was all over the place.
Looking back I think if the design team had taken this as a chance to refine the ICON system, or if they had gone full-on d20 system, then it probably would have sold better as at least there would have been some built-in audience for the new game. Given the timing of its release I'm not sure it would have mattered but I can't help but think it would have helped in some way.

Personally I've never run a game of it. I tried - twice. We never got past character generation in either one. I tried selling it to my group once many years ago and it never took off. I tried it a bit later online and that never got off the ground either. I don't blame the system for those but that is the extent of my experience with it. Hey, I tried ...

If I was going to start up a campaign now I suspect Decipher's game would be several notches down the list even though I have the complete pile of stuff. It's fine and has plenty of material in the books to support a campaign, but so do most other Trek RPG's (official and unofficial). I see stuff in the other versions that I like better. I don't see much support for it online and I suspect it's just not as popular even now as the other options.

That's about all I have to say on Decipher Trek. Next week we will see what else is out there.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Greatest Hits #20 - Trek Tuesday - Where No Man Has Gone Before

Another fun trek game - and it's free!

In contrast to the big glossy production I revisited last week, there are other approaches that are worthy as well. Where No Man Has Gone Before looks to me to be an ICONS type take on a Trek RPG - not in mechanics but in staying light and loose. Here's the introductory quote from the game:

This is a game about a five year mission, a world where
special effects never progressed beyond painted
Styrofoam blocks and cheap double-exposures. The 70's
were still The Future and Klingons had smooth
foreheads. The idea of a Star Trek movie was a
laughable proposition and nobody thought twice about
planets full of Nazis and space hippies.

I'm thinking you either read that and think it sounds cool or you laugh and close the browser.

Assuming you're still reading the game can be found here. It uses the Microlite d20 system so it is broadly compatible with d20 stuff that is already out there. Significant differences:

  • You only have 4 stats: Strength, Dex, Int, and Charisma
  • There are only 3 classes: Blue Shirt, Red Shirt, and Yellow Shirt Classes are mainly a silo for Talents. There is a set of general Talents and then a list for each class. 
  • There are only 6 skills: Communication, Engineering, Knowledge, Medicine, Physical, and Subterfuge. Each character is trained in one skill.
  • Task resolution is the same as any d20 game - stat bonus + skill bonus + 1d20 vs. a DC
The Talents are great and capture the spirit of the original show perfectly and are thematically appropriate to each class. There are chapters for personal combat and starship combat that look like they would work well. There is an equipment chapter as well. Some stock NPC's and aliens, common ship designs, and lots and lots of random charts to help a DM run things on the fly. 

Notable fun-ness: The "God" section in the Enemies and Allies chapter: 
  • God, Almighty
  • God, Irritant
  • God, Metal
  • God, Petty
Plus a list of godly powers.

There is also an appendix on figuring the ratings for your series which can lead to unexpected complications like the dreaded "Monkey Sidekick". 

All of this is packed into just 45 pages! It's certainly enough to run a few one-off sessions and likely enough to run a mini-campaign. I think the limited list of enemies and ships might become restrictive over a long campaign but there is an expansion, "Controlled Implosion" which adds more goodness - and more random charts - in another 18 pages. There are also paper mini's (shown above), multiple character sheets, and a lifepath generator. It's an amazing little package.

All in all it's a very different approach to Trek than the Last Unicorn version. Where LUG Trek takes it straight and serious this is completely tongue in cheek but does have some ways to reward good setting-appropriate roleplay with Action Points and the expansion has more advice on running it straight as well. If you're at all interested it is definitely worth a look.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Greatest Hits #19 - Trek Tuesday: The Last Unicorn Star Trek RPG

I used to own this book, in fact I bought it the month it came out back in 1998. My main impression was visual - this was the first full-color, full-of-photos RPG book that I had seen and it blew me away when I flipped through it in the store. Plus, it was Trek! We hadn't had an in-print Star Trek game in about 10 years when the FASA RPG petered out with the Next Generation Officer's Guide. Now there was a new Trek game, from a company I'd never heard of, using a system I had never seen before - and it looked amazing!

To continue with the visuals I had a lot of experience with FASA products, from Trek and Traveller in the early days on into Battletech and Shadowrun where they entered their "art is everything" phase, and even they did not publish full-color rulebooks. Even their Trek game was not overstuffed with photos - the main rulebook was, but the supporting material mostly used line art. TSR had gone sort-of full color with the 1995 AD&D 2E revisions (the black cover PHB-DMG-MM) but even then it was mostly black text on white pages with some red headers and some art here and there. This new Trek book was way past that, with full color photos from the show all over the place and LCARS borders in different colors. The closest comparison I can make is with Underground and it's use of color to mark different sections and full color art throughout the main rulebook, but even it didn't have photos to draw on like this. LUG's Trek stood above all others in look and presentation.

The next impression was (not coincidentally) the price - it was $35! This was by far the most I had ever paid for a single rulebook and it was a shock, but the presentation - and the subject matter of course - won me over and I picked it up as soon as I could. Remember the D&D 3E books that came out in 2000 were $19.95 full-color hardbacks, and later jumped up but only to $30. This was a couple of years before that. Even sticker shock and general stinginess can be overcome with the right content and presentation.
I think I may still like it better than the new one ...

Mechanics-wise I was somewhat disappointed. My standard of comparison was FASA's Trek game and it was a percentile roll game with a large skill list, an action point personal combat system, a fairly detailed ship combat system, a Traveller-esque character generation system, and in general a lot of simulationist crunch, to use the popular phrasing. I played it for years and I loved it. LUG's Trek worked on a 1-5 scale for stats & skills which seemed incredibly narrow and limiting at the time. It also had a much shorter skill list which also seemed limiting. On the plus side it did keep a sort of lifepath/background generation system and it added in Hero/GURPS style advantages and disadvantages which could add some flavor to a character beyond their stats, skills, and service record.

I also was not impressed with the die mechanics. That 1-5 stat is how many dice you roll for a skill check, then you take the highest die and add it to your skill rating (also 1-5) and that's your total. So the entire range of possibilities is defined by a d6+5. That certainly makes every point count but that is a huge amount of variability. One die in the pool is the drama die and on a 6 you get to add another die to the total, on a 1 there are increased consequences for failure. The recommended difficulty numbers are 4 (Routine) - 7 (Moderate) -10 (Challenging) - 13 (Difficult). Those seemed really high considering you're going to average around a 4 + skill level).

Starships were also less detailed and starship combat was far less gripping than FASA's game.

I was disappointed enough with the whole thing that I only tried to run it a few times and only played it a few times before the book hit the shelf. So much potential wasted. I eventually sold it or traded it for something else.

Recently though I've been digging into Trek after a long phase of not really caring so much. I stll have my FASA Trek stuff and a complete set of the later Decipher Trek RPG but I wanted to take a second look at LUG.  I picked up a copy of the book again (less sticker shock this time) and at first glance it's still very pretty.

Rules-wise I like it better than I did then, probably because I've played a lot more rules-light games and get this idea more now than I did then. It definitely leans towards the rules-light end of the spectrum, though it gets oddly detailed in some areas like starships, which ironically enough now seem almost too detailed to me in relation to the rest of the game system.

The game also is clearly and proudly in the narrative structure camp of gaming. Adventures are built around scenes and acts and there are really no random encounters and that kind of thing found in the book. That's fine, I can work with that when I know it up front. There are still some elements of a "Trek Universe Simulator" there but it's mostly a "Trek Series Simulator" rather than a physics engine like the FASA game was.

I am still not sure about the main resolution mechanic - relying on a handful of d6's still seems very swingy. I play enough 40K to know how unpredictable a few of them can be (saving throws for a terminator squad come to mind). I think to make this game work I would have to be very very strict about limiting tests to "only when there is truly a chance of failure" which is something I am not always good at doing. It would also need to follow the narrative convention of "one stealth check gets you from the shuttlecraft landing site to the hidden klingon base" rather than the more traditional "one stealth check per 100 feet" approach used in most of the games I have played. I'd be willing to give it a try, but it's definitely something I would have to watch.

So, yes - I like the game better now than I did and I might be up for giving it a try sometime. Only one of the Apprentices is really interested in Star Trek so I'd have to talk one of my other friends into it and that's going to be a tough sell. It's definitely going on the list as a secondary/try-out game though.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Greatest Hits #18 - A Reminder to All Captains - Count Those Drones!

Pretty sure we've played since this fight but it definitely left me scarred for a while

So we played a little Federation Commander over the weekend ...


I took the CC Yorktown and the old CL Arizona out on a "keeping the cats out of the yard" mission against Apprentice Blaster's Kzinti BC and CM.

End of Turn 1
My idea was to have the CL stay in close and play wingman to help keep the drone wave off of the CC. Things went well until Turn 2.

Middle of Turn 2
Each of my ships had launched a drone on Turn 1. The Kzinti launched on Turn 1 and early on Turn 2. As we closed in we lit each each other up with phaser, photon, and disruptor fire. After some close-in maneuvering, I realized all four Kzinti drones were going to hit the CC on the same impulse. I managed to turn off so that two were hitting the #2 shield and two were hitting #3. "It's only four drones, I can handle that". This was a tremendous error and shows just how rusty I was.

So the drones hit, I line them up for defensive fire and say "OK, four drones - " and Blaster says, no, that's four drones. "What, I have four drones out there-" No, there are eight drones he says. "OK, eight drones-" no, eight drones on this shield, eight drones on that shield he says. "Wait, those are four drones PER COUNTER?!" - yes, he says, "I wondered why you weren't shooting at them before."


Apparently at some point a few weeks ago I told Blaster to use one counter for all the drones he launched the same turn at the same target. He remembered this, I did not. I was so wrapped up in my own thoughts I didn't notice that his pair of ships with 8 launchers had only lunched 4 drones over 2 turns - at least going by the number of counters on the board. The outcome was pretty bad. I did manage to stop 7 of the 16 drones. I stopped two more with tractor beams though, and when I lost the tractors those two hit the ship as well. Been a long time since that's happened to me.

At the end of Turn 2 the CC is in pretty bad shape but still has some teeth. It's not going to outrun anyone but with a fresh shield towards the enemy and some charged phasers I should be able to stop drones long enough to get some more shots off.

(I did manage to rip up the Kzinti Battlecruiser before this happened - overloaded photons are still nasty up close (even with only 2 left) - but not as badly as the CC was hit)

Turn 3 was pretty much the game. We were still in close but I was reloading photons and the Kzin had disruptors and drones ready to go. The poor Yorktown did manage to turn a new shield but did not have enough phasers to stop the incoming drones. After a final volley of phaser fire the CC went down hard.

On Turn 4 the CL disengaged with no internal damage other than armor, ending the encounter.

It's been a long time since I marked off that many boxes on a Fed CC and an even longer time since I've actually had one blown out from under me. It was largely stupidity on my part with the whole counter-counting thing. All I can say is I won't forget that anytime soon.

One tricky thing with drones vs. old-school SFB thinking is that given the turn structure a drone can move 3 hexes before you will ever have a chance to fire at the thing. This makes the job of an "escort" quite a bit tougher as once the drones close to zero range only the target can shoot at them. That 0-3 hex range is where phaser-3's are most effective, and it can be tricky to make that work, especially on slow moving ships. I'll be puzzling that out more, especially since Blaster seems pretty attached to his missile boat Kzinti ships.

A dislike: Federation drone racks in Fed Commander are terrible. Most ships only carry one, and it's the hybrid-loadout type, i.e. the G-racks from SFB. Now in SFB they are fine  - against the Klingons I could load up with all anti-drones, giving me an 8-shot defensive system. On the Romulan border I could load all drones, giving me an extra offensive system. In Fed Commander the Feds go halfway - 2 drones, 4 ADDs. Against drone-heavy opponents I can burn through the ADD ammo in half a turn and against non-drone opponents I only have two shots and then have to reload. It's inadequate either way. Beyond that, with only one drone on the ship, any halfway decent penetrating volley will kill it anyway. I've played a few battles with them recently and I'm not loving them at all.

Not my lights, but a nice set.

One big like: The Federation Old Light Cruiser - It's not terribly expensive, it has a lot of power, a solid phaser suite, and it can take at least one good volley from any direction thanks to the armor. I've always had a soft spot for these ships and so far they've worked pretty well. Sure, I expect to lose both torpedoes and the drone rack on any significant amount of internal damage but with 8 phasers and 30 power I should have enough energy left to move and take some shots afterward.

Monday, December 17, 2018

Greatest Hits #17 - 40K Friday Special Edition - Year of the Eldar: Finale

I've added a few units but 2 years later this is still the core of my Eldar army

Finally! I finished up the wraithknight yesterday and managed to get the stretch goal of the dark reapers (all 3 squads) finished too. I had finished the spiritseer and the cannon battery the day before. Extra extra bonus achievements were getting the second gun painted and put on the metal wraithlord and getting some snow on the bases for one of the dire avenger squads.

Overall it was an incredibly productive 4-day run. I painted up to the point of completion 26 models and touched up or added to another 12 for 38 models finished to a standard I think is table-ready to good. It's been a long time since I knocked out that many mini's. If you go back and in the rest of the wraith host I built and painted from scratch 42 Eldar models this year, along with 30+ Iron Warriors. That's a pretty good year. I do tend to paint in bursts like this around holidays and time off so one of my goals for 2017 is to even that out and make some progress every week.

Effectively the painted part of this army is some combination of wraith host, aspect host, dire avenger shrine, and a combined arms detachment - depending on points available and how I want to play it. There's more than enough stuff here to play with at over 3000 points so I am very happy with the current state of things.

All that said it's not yet finished. There are 30+ guardians sitting on the table along with the associated heavy weapons and warlocks, a wraithlord, 3 war walkers, 3 vypers, and another farseer - enough to build the big guardian host formation and really put this over the top. I have two unpainted wave serpents too. There are two squads of swooping hawks in the queue as well. Those may be at the top of the list before I dive into another massive batch of yellow.

Things it doesn't have:

  • Jetbikes! I might add one small 3-man squad just to have some cheap speed for objective grabbing, backing down on my anti-bike stance. They've been an eldar "thing" since the earliest days of the game and it seems wrong to have zero of them in an army this size. I won't go full scatter laser on them regardless. 
  • Banshees! Not that great under the current edition, especially with no assault vehicles to jump out of into a fight. I'll pick up a squad someday to complete the set of aspect warriors but it's not urgent by any measure.
  • Warp Spiders! I'd like some but I just haven't seen any of them cheap enough to make me want to get them. They're tricky to find new and ever since that guy won a tournament with30 of them they've been pricier used as well. One of these days. Towards the top of the list. 
  • Wave Serpents! I do have two on the shelf as I mentioned but I am not really feeling the need for them as much. The eldar battle focus rule, especially when it applies to the entire army, eliminates a lot of the need for transports. They are fast, but with no firing ports you can;t use them as bolter shelter like marines do while still being able to fire out the top of a Rhino.  I'd kind of like to have 3 of them for the dire avengers to sweep in en masse and blast something but it's really low on the priority list.
  • Fire Prism! I'd kind of like to have one of these available but this isn't a tank army so it would be a big shiny target for anti-armor weapons - even more so than they tend to be already. 
  • Avatar! I love the background and the model but he's just not that great these days and he's not cheap either. Maybe once I finish the guardians I'll cap it off with an avatar, though I don;t expect him to see much table time. 
  • Crimson Hunter! The one thing I do not have in the army that I think would be useful. I'm low on anti air and it's very effective AA and anti-vehicle once that's handled.
So for 2017 I expect to be playing them more and painting them less. The goal of the focus last year was to get a painted, playable army together and I have pulled that off. Now I can add a unit here and a unit there as time allows while having fun playing it more. It's been a long time since I've had a "finished" eldar army and I am really looking forward to using it. Here's to 2017!

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Greatest Hits #16 - 40K Friday: A Personal Look Back at Past Editions

A nice trip back down memory lane - appropriate for the end of the year I think.

On the literal eve of a new edition, I thought I would meander back through some of the older editions since I was there when they came out too. It's funny how I can tie each one to a certain period of my life.

Rogue Trader came out in 1987. Leading up to it was a series of ads in Dragon that had a look unlike anything else at the time:

Now I already had Warhammer Fantasy, and played it some using the counters from Battlesystem, so I knew what Warhammer was and who Citadel/Games Workshop was, but the biggest sci-fi game at the time was the newly exploding Battletech. This looked completely different, and the background was the complete opposite of genre-defining things like Star Trek and Star Wars. Orks! In space! With guns! Power armor! Plus it was a full-on miniatures game, not an RPG or a boardgame that happened to use miniatures - there was no hexmap in sight!

This hit me, and a lot of other people, in exactly the right spot. I was interested but it was a few months before I got into it so it was 1988 before my Eldar took the field for the first time, followed closely by some space marines. By late 1988 it was showing up at most local cons

Another big win: having a job (a high school/college job) I found the miniatures were not terribly expensive. We used to get around 5 metal guys in a blister for $5.99, or a box of 30+ plastic guys for around $20. Dreadnoughts were metal and about ten bucks. It was sort of like magic is now - I could afford to buy a couple of packs when I got paid, or wait and get a big box. The game also took fewer miniatures then than it does now. A squad or two, a dreadnought, a couple of characters, maybe a support gun or a speeder or a bike, and you had plenty.

There were constant updates in White Dwarf adding things like Terminators, Chaplains, Ogryn, Rough Riders, and Harlequins. After a couple of years those started to get complied into supplements.

Over the next few years most of the foundations of the game were laid - Eldar and their Aspect Warriors, the Chaos gods, the Ork clans, squats, the different marine chapters, and the components of the imperial guard. I was running Eldar and marines all through this, including a Harlequin army. Yes, it was once possible to have an "army" of about 20 figures, and they were pretty nasty. This was my college game and I have a lot of fond memories of it.

This stuff started to get a little clunky with all of the different books (some of them pretty bulky) and so in 1993 we got the Second Edition with the first big box o' stuff. It was time for an update and consolidation but we lost some of the more random elements of the game. I don't remember anyone in our group not liking it. In fact I remember a lot of new people joining in, including friends who had passed on the prior edition, maybe because it had too many books.

This, along with Space Marine - the epic scale game in the same setting - was my post-college game. I had a real job, my own place, a couple of good FLGS that had playing areas - we played it a lot. I stayed with the Eldar, expanded my Howling Griffon marines, and added in some Orks and Chaos for good measure. Those Orks and Gretchin from this box (and with about 4 more boxes worth of boyz) still form a part of my Ork army today. My Griffs are mostly RT models, my Eldar were a mix of RT and 2nd, but the bulk of my Orks are from this era.

This was still a fun time. The first codexes came out, White Dwarf was still going strong supporting the game with new units and experimental rules, and even though it was a lot more "corporate" there was still a ton of the do-it-yourself spirit there when it came to conversions, units without official models, and terrain. Other than the occasional card building everything we played on, from ruins to forests, was home made. This was my biggest period of playing-with-strangers-at-the-game-store and we all had a lot of fun. There were some crazy situations back then and I wish we had all had camera phones so I would have some pictures to share with you.

Towards the end of the 90's the game wasn't as over-expanded as the prior edition but it was somewhat chaotic and favored big powerful heroes over rank and file and the mechanics had piled up in a way that was sort of like the second edition of D&D - even though you cleaned it up there are still a lot of underlying assumptions that mean it plays a certain way. So in 1998 we got 3rd edition.

This was a total revamp of the game. I remember getting the box and sitting down with the rules and being almost shocked - I know the people I played with had been hoping for a change but this was massive. Fortunately it came with army lists built right in to the main rulebook so we didn't have to wait for codex revamps as the old ones were just completely not compatible with these rules. As much flak as GW takes sometimes they did this one right. This is the game I was playing when I started having kids, so game time and paint time dropped precipitously during this edition.

With a sense of renewal a lot of us jumped back in. Late in 2nd edition I had started building a new marine army with a simpler paint scheme to get things done faster. For the new edition they became a major force in my games and my 3rd edition box marines are still the core of my Crimson Fist tactical squads. I never liked the Dark Eldar (introduced here) very much but my old figures are sitting in my wife's DE battalion box awaiting assembly.

As we played quite a bit early on in 3rd edition I decided to consolidate my armies. My chaos force, much of my eldar, and my budding imperial guard army were traded away for Orks. I built up a pretty nasty Ork force, though it was still mostly 2E era models, and I've been playing them ever since. I experimented with "dipping" my orks, again going for speed-to-tabletop.

White Dwarf was still good during this time putting out a lot of articles on terrain and a lot of special units and experimental rules. It was a total revamp so there was a lot to discuss. These generated an annual "rules update" that was pretty much required to keep up, on top of the new wave of codexes.

Also notable for me was that right before this edition a completely new version of Epic came out that killed the game for me, then Battlefleet Gothic came out a few years later which I really liked but could never get anyone else to get into. This meant that 40K was "the" game for a few years.

This is also the edition that was current while I was busy getting a divorce, which meant I was not doing much with it by the end. Late 3rd edition was not nearly as much fun as the beginning.

The next edition was the "lost edition" for me. I was not very active with 40K when it started, epic was gone (as far as I was concerned) BFG was not a big thing anymore, and I just was not that interested in anything GW was putting out. I played all of two or three games of this one. I never bought the boxed set, and only bought the rulebook late and on the cheap when I was thinking about getting back in. I was busy with other things.

Fifth edition was the renewal - within the first year of its release I was married and had picked up a couple of new apprentices and decided the time was right to introduce all of the boys to the game. To make up for missing 4th I bought two of these sets (for the older Apprentices) and fortunately it was a really good starter set. They swapped halves and the parts from each form the core of Blaster's Space Wolves and Red's Evil Sunz. This was their introduction to the game and piqued my interest enough to dive back in full-force, rebuilding old armies and building up new ones.

During this I dusted off the Griffons once again, reforged the Fists into a more normal marine army than the cutting-edge-of-3rd-edition they had been, acquired an entire Deathwing army in a confluence of interest and finances, added vehicles to my previously foot-slogging ork horde, and in general liked playing the game again. I was still having a lot of fun with 5th when word came that we were getting 6th ...

In the two years since it came out we've played as much or more 6th then we did 5th, which is pretty good. This time I only picked up one boxed set since it didn't really fit with the armies the Apprentices were running. They did get the big hardback rulebooks for this one though and they have been well-read. We've mostly ignored flyers and allies, the two biggest additions to this edition, but they've cropped up a few times. I put together enough mini's to field a Chaos Marine army and decided 3 loyalist marine forces weren't enough so I built up a Dark Angels force too - not the smartest move but why not have a marine army from (almost) every edition?

Red was in a local store league for a while and got to play against more than just family and learned a lot. He added a Necron army during this time while Blaster added Eldar. I think two armies is enough for them to manage so we're not in a hurry to add any more, and having them does make Christmas and birthdays a little easier to shop for in a pinch. Watching the kid open a well-painted Logan Grimnar feels pretty good - it's fun to make them lose their mind over something you know they're really going to like.

Apprentice Red will be done with high school in a little more than a week, so presumably this will be his "college edition". For Blaster it will be his main "high school" edition, and for Who it will be the first one he really digs into as he got his first starter mini's for Christmas a few months ago. I think it is a little ridiculous to be doing a new edition this quickly, but I'm going to roll with it. I'll be going to pick up a copy tomorrow so amid all of our end of year proms, banquets, concerts, and graduations I'll be reading up for the next round. It should make for a fun summer.