Monday, November 23, 2009

WoW at 80: Longer, not Harder

I finally hit 80 with my main last week. The last couple of levels went really quickly. I worked through a progression of quest hubs in Zul Drak and Ice Crown, got to see some cool phasing effects, and got set up for some of the main daily, rep grinds.

So, now what? The first thing I did was head over to the Argent Tournament area to do the Trial of the Champion instance. This is a really short instance, three bosses in 15 minutes. There is a small amount of trash before the first two, but its basically insignificant. When all is said and done, you get four purple drops from the three bosses. Lather, rinse, and repeat. As a whole, the group was pretty well geared, with me as the only "new" 80, but we had two random pugs with us and it was still trivially simple. After four runs, I ended up with four new items. Yay.

The rest of the game is all about the grind. You grind heriocs to get badges and gear for new 80s. You grind Wintergrasp to get honor for gems and shards for items. You grind your dailies to get rep to get gear. Of course, each faction has one piece of gear that you need, so you have to grind each one. Finally, you have to grind cooking and fishing quests to get the last of the recipes.

So far, none of these things has been difficult. I ran a couple of heroics with people that had decent gear, and they were trivially simple. I did a Wintergrasp battle, which was a lot of fun. However, this fight seemed pretty easy, which I assume is a combination of attacker usually winning and Horde usually winning. I've done a couple of the fishing and cooking dailies, which are cute the first time or two, but get old quickly. The cooking dailies allow you to get a new recipe every three days. With about 20 recipes available, you should have them all in two months.

I've been pretty underwhelmed. The graphics are great, the stories are reasonable, and some of the quests are kind of cool. I just have no desire to do the same thing over and over just to get better stuff to do the same thing over and over. I think I'm just so far behind the curve that its nearly impossible to find a group that makes anything challenging. And, to be honest, I think Blizzard wants it that way. They want everyone to feel like a bad ass. Wiping on bosses over and over to learn a fight is a thing of the past. Its much easier to put in that same amount of time killing boars, getting tokens, and then getting your gear. I guess more people would kill boars than wipe on a boss, even if means getting the same gear in about the same amount of time. Shrug.

I have a couple of low level alts that I play from time to time. I can play those toons and still get that sense of adventure that was there in the original game. You realize that it was a theme park back then, but that fact was pretty well hidden in what appeared to be a vast world. Now, the theme park thing is trumpeted as a feature, not a bug. Step right up, kill the "terrible" boss, and get an epic item as a souvenir. Shrug.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Impetus vs DBx: Basic Comparison

After my experience with Impetus at Fall In, I picked up a copy of the rules and the two "expansion" magazines. I spent most of last week reading the rules to get a better understanding of how they work. The description below is based on an email from my gaming group's mailing list. Note that I haven't had a chance to play Impetus again, but I'm going to try to set something up sometime soon.

Note: The description below assumes that you know something about DBx. I'll just comment in spots where Impetus is different.

Impetus is a unit based game. Each unit is comprised of 4 DBx stands. You could probably get away with 1 stand per unit if you adjust the scale. An average sized Impetus army seems to consist of 10-15 units, so to do it in full scale would require 40-60 stands.

Units in Impetus activate by command (think GBoH). Each side nominates a command, rolls 2d6 and adds the commander value. The highest roll activates. After the command is done with its activation, you repeat the process. That means that there is no guarantee of the order of activation, so it is possible for one side to activate all of its units before the other side.

Units activate individually, unless they are in a group (i.e., in contact with each other). This means that each unit must complete all of its actions before another unit can move. When a unit is activated, it can do things like rally, move, shoot, charge, fight in combat. That's right, combat is part of a units activation... there is not separate combat step. A unit can attempt to do multiple things, but there is usually a penalty. If it tries to move and fight, there is a penalty to its attack. If it tries to move multiple times, it must roll a Discipline check. If it fails, then it becomes Disordered. So you do have the option of pushing your troops, although there are some risks involved.

There are many ways that a unit can become Disordered. Failing a Discipline check when moving multiple times or attempting a "special" move, taking casualties, failing a charge, etc. There is a slight combat penalty for being Disordered, but there is a significant "performance" penalty, since there are a bunch of actions that a unit cannot take when Disordered. It appears that the optimum strategy is Disorder the segment of the line that you plan to attack.

Combat uses the "buckets of dice" approach. Each unit has a "VBU" rating and an "impetus" rating. If charging, you combine the values. If not, you just use the VBU rating. To give you some idea, French Knights have an 8 VBU and a 5 Impetus. Roman Legionnaires have a 6 VBU and 2 Impetus. Skirmishers have a 2 or 3 VBU and a 0 Impetus. Note that 0 Impetus units cannot charge formed units (i.e., non-skirmisher) and are instantly destroyed if contacted by them. Anyways, each side rolls the appropriate amount of dice (VBU + Impetus (if charging) + mods), scoring hits on 6s or pairs of 5s. Each side that took hits then makes a cohesion check by rolling a d6, adding the number of hits, and subtracting their VBU. If the score is 0 or lower, nothing additional happens. If the score is greater than 0, the unit takes that much damage. If a unit accumulates damage equal to or greater than its VBU, it is destroyed. If either unit suffers hits, it becomes Disordered at the end of combat. Whichever side takes the most damage (not to be confused with hits, which does make the process confusing) loses combat and is forced back. The winner can choose to pursue, and if it contacts the retreating unit, you repeat combat. Note that combat will continue until either a) there is a draw, b) the winner chooses not to pursue, or c) the winner pursues but fails to contact.

Victory is determined in a pretty standard way. IIRC a command breaks when it has suffered 1/3 losses and an army breaks when it has suffered 1/2 losses + broken commands. Note that units that route are removed from the table. I'm not sure if this applies to broken commands, but I think that it does. So once things go south, its probably going to end soon.

Overall, I think the game is pretty cool. It seems to be a bit simpler than DBx, which is both good and bad. I think the activation system causes it to be a bad multi-player game, since you have a lot of people sitting around waiting during each activation. I like the fact that combat moves units back and forth a bit, but I'm not a big fan that VBU contributes to both offense and defense. I'd have to play it a bit more to get a better feel for how things work.

IMO, its not "better" than DBx or FoG, just different. Its certainly an interesting set of rules. It definitely worth playing some more to get a better feel for how things work. I'd really like to try some games with asymmetric opponents: Romans vs Gauls, Crusaders vs Muslims, etc.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Fall In AAR

I attended the Fall In historical miniatures convention in Gettysburg this weekend. We had quite a few people from our group in attendance, including our friend Mustafa who now lives in DC.

I arrived Thursday night, grabbed dinner, then participated in the DBA Wimpy Wars event. The event involved armies comprised of a minimum of six stands of skirmishers (light horse or psiloi). I used IV/47 Golden Horde with an army list consisting of 1xCv (G), 3xCv, 6xLH, 2xBw. I went 3-1 in the event, losing in the championship match. Oh well... maybe next time. It was a lot of fun. The DBA crowd is a fantastic bunch of guys, and I always have a good time when I play with them.

Mustafa arrived Friday morning with the relatively new Fantasy Flight game Chaos in the Old World. We both wanted to play it, so we found a third person (it requires 3 or 4 players) and went to it. It was a learning experience for us, but the game moved along rather well. Sadly, the third player had to leave when we were halfway done. Still, I found the game very enjoyable. Its a multiplayer game of world domination/destruction. Its interesting in that there are a couple of ways to win and each faction has a different set of abilities and objectives. More on this later...

On Friday afternoon, we played in an Impetus learning scenario. Impetus is a set of ancient and medieval warfare miniature rules. The scenario was a typical Greek Hoplite battle pitting two armies consisting of spearmen and skirmishers against each other. Each side chooses a command to activate and rolls two dice. The winning side activates the command by moving, fighting, and/or shooting. Then the two sides repeat until all commands have acted. Combat uses the "buckets of dice" mechanic, with the number of dice rolled determined by the unit type and situational modifiers. The side that suffers the most hits loses combat and is pushed back. The winner has the option to pursue, triggering another round of combat if the pursuit is successful. Combat continues until one unit breaks or the winning unit fails to maintain contact. I thought the game worked very well. The mechanics are quite elegant, which allows the game to really flow. Players have interesting decisions to make, ranging from which command to activate to pushing units to take additional moves at the risk of disruption. I was impressed enough to purchase the rules.

After the Impetus match, we decided to grab some dinner and try Chaos in the Old World again. We had three players again this time: Mustafa playing Khorne, Roy playing Nurgle, and me playing Tzeentch. I altered my strategy a bit from the first game, focusing more on my disruptive magic instead of direct action. It worked rather well, allowing me to get an early lead. Things tightened up in the mid game, but I still hung on. When I got my second upgrade, I decided to take a chance, announcing that I might be snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. It turns out that I was right. I wasn't able to utilize my new ability and Mustafa pulled ahead. I had a chance to tie it in the end, but a string of bad luck prevented it and sealed Mustafa's victory. It was a pretty close game and was a lot of fun. I liked the game a lot. Each faction is quite different, but they all seemed pretty balanced to me. One word of warning... The game is designed with the assumption that there will be a lot of backstabbing among the players. It is definitely not for the faint of heart.

On Saturday morning, Roy, Mustafa, and I spent a couple of hours playtesting our new air combat rules. Mustafa and I used to be really into WWII air combat gaming, but ended up falling out of it. We decided to write our own rules, with the goal of getting something between the fidelity of Fighting Wings and the playability of Check Your 6. We had a pretty good session, putting the game through its paces and creating a list of comments. We are pretty close on the flight model, but we have a bit of work to do on the combat system. My goal is to have something worth playtesting by spring, hosting a demo game at either Cold Wars or Historicon. Hopefully I'll have a chance to work on the game over the holidays.

The last event that I played in was a DBM game Saturday evening. I used a borrowed Visogothic army and fought a Han Chinese army. My opponent set up defensively in a corner, forcing me to try to dig him out. On my right flank, his light horse and bows tried to disrupt my knights and cavalry. In the center, my warband were delayed by skirmishing light horse. Luckily, I had a couple of elements of cavalry on my left flank that could move unopposed. The cavalry fell upon the Chinese camp, while the knights and cavalry duked it out with the bows. I was able to cause a lot of casualties, but eventually my command broke. Luckily, my cavalry was able to make short work of the baggage, and coupled with a few additional casualties, I was able to break a command and then the army. Thanks go to Rich, my opponent, and Howard, who loaned me the army. Also thanks to the whole DBM crew, who answered all of my questions and provide a few tips along the way.

The shopping was okay, not great. The flea market was a bit disappointing. I had hoped to pick up some cheap guys, but there were few to be found. I did pick up a copy of Funcken's Age of Chivalry and Arms and Uniforms, which made me quite happy. I picked up a couple of other books as well. Overall, the shopping was a bit meh... Oh well, you can't have it all.

IMO, the convention was a great success. I enjoyed all of the games that I played and I got to hang out with friends. I have a lot going on at work and at home, and this was a fantastic way to spend a weekend.

Monday, November 02, 2009

A Change of Heart on DBM

I've had a bit of a change of heart regarding DBM vs FoG and DBMM. I've found a group that plays a lot of DBM, so I've been able to play the game a bit in a friendly environment. I have to say that I've had a lot of fun with it.

For the most part, all of the bad things that I had heard about the game are mostly untrue. Or, more correctly, they exist but are easy to counter. For example, there is a big complaint about geometric tricks and the fact that they don't work in DBMM is one of the big selling points. In a couple of games, I have yet to see anything that I couldn't easily counter. Also, the Zone of Death bit is something new to consider, but once it happens to you a couple of times, you get used to it. Basically, its turning out to be a classic case of people complaining about a new game working differently than an old game. In other words, its part of the learning experience...

So what does DBM have going for it? Well, its pretty simple especially if you already understand DBA. The concept of pips and movement and such is very similar. Also, pip conservation is one of the fundamental strategies of the game, much like that in DBM. I fell victim to that in our game last Friday. Anyways, troop interactions are much simpler than DBMM and FoG. Also, movement is much simpler than the other two systems. DBMM contains many more pip restrictions than DBM, which makes movement harder to process as well as having additional restrictions on the troop types. FoG has the concept of Complex Movement, which involves a table lookup (although, to be fair, I believe that it would be something easily memorized).

Anyways, I've been having a lot of fun with DBM. My biggest concern about the system remains, however. It is basically a "dead" system, since the authors/publisher no longer support it. Different groups are starting to use and propose different sets of house rules for use in tournaments. This can lead to nothing but trouble. Unless someone obtains the rights to the game, I think it will slowly fade away. According to some, its already happening...

As for my game play, I'm still going to try to learn FoG. Personally, I think that is the future, so I still find it worth learning. The biggest issue with FoG for me isn't the rules, but the figures required for the various armies. I finally decided to sit down and look throught the starter lists and figure out what I need to paint and/or buy. It turns out that I will be able to make most of the armies with a small amount of effort. Woo hoo! The biggest loser in all of this is DBMM. The odds of me getting a game with it are pretty small, so I feel that I'll get the least return on any time spent learning it. Its kind of too bad, but what can you do. I still have a lot of choices for gaming, which is always a good thing.