Warmachine: State of the Game 2019

So, one of the things they’ve been doing at the Southern Ontario Open for the past few years was getting together all the Warmachine talking heads into one big room for a discussion on the state of the game. This year, I thought I would share my thoughts in a written format, as I’m not cool enough to have a podcast and don’t have the voice for radio anyways.

Evolving Meta or Power Creep?

They started off with a discussion about how the meta seems to be constantly evolving, and how it was great to see people constantly trying out new stuff. However, I would argue that this has less to do with a meta where people are trying interesting stuff to try to counter what other factions are playing, then other players trying to counter the new interesting stuff, then that leading to a state of flux as everyone cycles between rock, paper, scissors, lizard and Spock, trying to stay ahead of everyone else. I think it has more to do with the CID process breaking down a little and causing some power creep. I mean, when one considers all the boogeymen that have reared their head in the meta over the past year, just about all of them save perhaps Nemo3 was a direct result of some new release or rules change that may have been slightly overtuned as a result of clamouring in CID.

I feel like the competitive balance of the game is healthiest when there is no boogeyman. While I’m not necessarily the best player, I think the few months between when Una2 got taken down a notch and someone figured out that Ghost Fleet is good was a great time for Warmachine, where there weren’t really any extreme outliers dominating the tournament scene, and people were doing a lot of experimentation. Since then, the internet chatter feels like it’s been just one boogeyman list after another.

I think the proof is going to be in the pudding in the next few months. With Privateer Press taking a CID break, it will be interesting to see if the meta settles down a little and we start seeing more flux and experimentation or if people are still going to be complaining about Lord of the Feast and Iona until the next new hotness drops.

Cutting models?

A large portion of the cast was devoted to the question of whether Privateer Press should start eliminating models from their range and from the game, and the general consensus seemed to be that it is time to do it. Two rationales were discussed for this – the idea that there are just too many SKUs clogging up the supply chain and making it hard on retailers and distributors, and that the number of models is a barrier to new players.

To be honest, I’m not sold. I’m not sure that SKU bloat is that much of an issue, because I’ve only ever seen one or two stores actually attempt to stock at least one of everything, and both of those stores do online sales as well as in person. Most stores tend to stock a limited number of models and get in some of the new releases, but for the rest, they generally order on demand.

Rather than cut SKUs by eliminating models, if SKU bloat is an issue, then what PP could do is consolidate some SKUs by bundling existing products. The three Man-O-War units could be combined into one multikit with the same bodies and different arms. Units could be bundled with attachments and non-character solos instead of sold separately. And, more importantly, PP could help provide stores with a little more guidance as to what products in their back catalogue are the sort of things that are popular or are starter products and should be stocked, and what you can get away with being special order only. Perhaps just classifying all those SKUs as starter, core, and supplemental would help a retailer with the daunting task of figuring out which of these hundreds of SKUs they should stock. They’ve already made steps in that direction by changing how they did distribution and by doing direct order for new huge based models that tend to sit on shelves for a long time and not move.

Not to mention that if the goal is to help retailers and distributors who are carrying Warmachine and make them more likely to want to carry the game, rendering a portion of the stock that they currently have on the shelves completely useless is likely going to have the opposite effect.

As for the idea that the sheer number of models is hard on new players, I have to counter that with one question: are new players really being turned off from Warmachine because they keep getting their faces kicked in by Assault Kommandos and Kossite Woodsmen? Or is the real negative play experience for new players running up against Iona and Lord of the Feast and not knowing that they need to place all their models exactly 3.2 inches apart and answer a geometry final exam question with shield guards and blocking models to not instantly lose? And, of these, which of the two is a new player more likely to actually run into in the first round of his first tournament?

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Kossites OP, plz nerf

I get that the sheer scale of WMH can be overwhelming, but I don’t think the solution is simply cutting models from the game. Miniature games fundamentally aren’t card games. There is a more intense connection with game elements in a miniatures game than there is in a card game. Hobbyists spend hours lovingly crafting and customizing their models and sometimes even take models in their army based on their visual appeal more than their combat effectiveness; telling them that they can’t use them anymore is going to frustrate a lot of people. There are ways to address this such as through promoting limited formats and lower points games where there aren’t as many models on the table with rules that need remembering that aren’t as drastic as telling people they can’t play with their toys anymore.

Which brings me to Champions.

As for Champions, the main problem is that it has an identity crisis. People think that it is supposed to be a limited format to make it easier for new players, but if you actually read the document and the dev notes in the CID, that’s not what it is. It is supposed to be an alternative format for experienced players to prove their skill; one where the limited roster changes up the meta and allows these players to showcase the skill with all their faction’s casters (including the off-meta ones) as they rotate through ADR, not just stick with the few in their faction that are the most powerful and/or slightly broken.

The problem with that is that the ADR has historically been somewhat difficult to balance; there is often one or two factions that are on top because their restrictions are that they are only allowed to take the best stuff in the faction, while everyone else has to try to counter it with their B-team. Further, removing the painting requirement also took away one point of distinction between it and masters.

However, the fact that people keep saying that Masters is an introductory tournament format indicates to me that there is a recognition that there is a need for this sort of thing. In my opinion, if you want a truly limited format for new players, you need lower points and a more static, more limited roster that only includes the relatively straightforward things in each faction and fewer really obnoxious gear checks. Call it Warmachine: Core and push it as an alternative to no-restriction steamrollers. The catch is that with the current community, at least those who regularly go to events and are loud on the internet, getting them to embrace anything that isn’t standard, 75 point steamrollers is a challenge to say the least.

Bringing in new players

As is par for the course in these “state of the game” podcasts, Evan hit the nail on the head when he identified onboarding new players as the biggest issue with the growth of Warmachine. While part of it has to do with the density and steep learning curve of the game, it is also the fact that the community, while it can be very friendly once you get into it, can also be very intimidating for new players.

Another important point that was made was that people get into WMH because it is fun and because they identify with the cinematics of the game and the badass warcasters that they love. The ones that got hooked had some exciting cinematic moments that brought them to the edge of their seat; for me it was getting my ass handed to me by Haley2 until I figured out how to assassinate people with Sorscha1. From that moment on, I was on Team Sorscha and refused to play Butcher because he was the jerk who killed Sorscha’s dad.

I didn’t get into this game because someone told me that it is the most competitively balanced tournament game and that I should look forward to getting my face kicked in 50 times before I am able to git gud enough that every game isn’t a miserable experience. If I was that masochistic, I would play competitive Starcraft or some other e-sport.

However, as someone who is currently in the process of dragging a coworker into this world, I think the biggest challenge is that to an outsider, competitive Warmachine doesn’t look fun. You generally have two people crouched over a flat table with flat scenery and unpainted models, staring intently at the apps on their phones. As often as not, one of the two players is frustrated and afterwards, they engage in a loud discussion about what is OP and what needs CID and what little things they hate about the game. That’s not conducive to bringing in new players.

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At its finest, wargaming is a social affair. It requires much more agreement and back and forth between opponents as you discuss movement, measurement, terrain, etc. While one of the strengths of Warmachine is that there is a lot of clarity in the rules and it lends itself to competitive play about as well as any wargame can, pure competitive gaming can at times be a little soulless and doesn’t look fun to outsiders.

Conclusions

Perhaps this article ended up being a little more negative than intended, but that wasn’t my intention. I love Warmachine. I love the steampunk aesthetic, the bell curve probability distribution of 2d6, and the resource management and push your luck aspects of the focus/fury system. And I’m not on the doom train; I think this game is going to be around for a while and I’m excited for things like Archons and Oblivion.

But, while I disagree with a few of the points made in the cast, these conversations are important. So much of the growth and longevity of the game is down to the community these days. We can’t just rely on being the system that is the default for castaways ragequitting That Other Game.

Moreso than a lot of other games, a player’s experience in a wargame is directly related to the people they play it with. Even if we aren’t up to the task of being community leaders, it’s up to all of us to make that community and each other’s experiences the best that it can be.

Warhammer School Clubs, Part 5 – Get your paint on!

The following article was written by a friend who works as an Early Child Educator in a before and after school program. It is about his participation in the Warhammer School Clubs program, a program by Games Workshop intended to promote the hobby within schools. This article is part two; see previous parts here.

The Main Event! Basecoats, Washes, and Dry Brushing

Little introduction-by-way-of-housekeeping first: I had a great conversation with the manager of the local GW.  It sounds like the school programs are really taking off in North America, which is great to hear. He also explained why there was no primer in our kit: GW wants to send out the kits as quick as possible, so that educators get them as quick as possible. That means that a lot of being air-shipped to schools, and for that reason they don’t include aerosol cans in the package. Abaddon black was never intended as a primer, and the manager was nice enough to offer to help prime any future pieces for the program at the store. So I apologize for my griping before about the lack of primer; it was only a lack of primer because they were so quick to send us our pack and experiences may be different in other groups.

Anyway, back to the regular show…

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Basecoating

This is the most basic of the lessons the children learned, and at times the ones that needed the most reminders. That’s because this is the stage that most of the children stayed in for a while.  

First we went through how to use paint brushes properly. Although art is in all of our programming, the children have never really shown how to “properly” use a paintbrush when you’re trying to keep the paintbrushes in good working order.  So I explained that we need to just use the tip of the brush, and make sure never get paint anywhere close to the ferrule (ie, “that gold metal thing at the top of the brush bristles”).

For the most part, that lesson was taken easily.  The hardest to internalize was “thin your paints.” For kids, they’ve been trained to just dip a paint brush and splash it, so it’s going to take a while for them to unlearn those behaviors.  There were some thick paint jobs in some places, but luckily not too many details were lost.

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Children learn at different speeds, so we did base coats over quite a few weeks, not just one session.  The first time there was the most enthusiasm from the children, but that slowly waned, and some kids took a week off here and there (particularly, although not only, the boys when some other group not involved would organized more sporty games between themselves.)  

The first session one young man had a bunch of difficulty involving comparing himself to others. “It doesn’t look good, I hate it,” he kept saying. His base coat wasn’t even bad, it’s just other children felt more confident in what they were doing, using more colours and doing smaller details. He wanted to quit, and I went a little harder on him than I should, saying that if he quit he wouldn’t be welcomed to continue and his model would have to go to someone else who wanted to join the club. I admit that this was the wrong tactic, and we (the other teachers in the room and myself) talked to him afterwards to reassure him and invite him back. I gave him some extra attention the next couple of sessions and he became more comfortable in the club setting.

Washes

We did the washes in two groups –  it wasn’t really planned, but a group of boys took some Wednesdays to play, while a group of primarily girls wanted to focus on painting. This meant that we had the girls finish with their washing and dry brushing first and then we fished the group of boys second.

The first thing that I did wrong was that I tried to split up a bottle of Nuln Oil that I bought for the group into smaller containers. This would allow more than one child to have some wash at a time. Well, those smaller containers seals were not as good as they could be, and one tipped over and spilled all over the bottom of our painting box. The others started to dry out and make a weird rubbery rim around the containers. I poured what was left back into the original Nuln Oil bottle, losing a third in the process.

The second mistake that we made was using the new Nighthaunt Gloom like a wash or a glaze.  The paint wasn’t as translucent as I had thought, since although its as liquid as wash/glaze, it has a lot more pigment. This meant using it straight out of the bottle covered up more than I expected. The first couple ghosts were a little darker then we planned, but we figured that we needed to water it down a little to make it look good.

Still, the children found it pretty straightforward when it came to splashing wash all over their models. Our young man who was discouraged when it came to basecoating really took to washes. He did his Stormcast Eternal all in Leadbelcher (a dark silver) and the wash really made the details come out.

The best part was that the young ladies who volunteered to be the “Master Artificer’s” role went to help the other children after being shown how to do it. Up to that point, we really hadn’t utilized any of the child-led roles, and it was great to see the excitement of the girls in helping their peers.

Dry Brushing

The biggest thing the children had difficulty learning was that “less is more” when it comes to dry brushing.  A few didn’t work the paint off the brushes enough when it came to applying it, thus putting but brush strokes back on their figures.

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For most of the children, that was fine – especially the children who did one or two colours only for their base coat.  But one young lady got very frustrated when her dry brushing covered the shaded areas that she worked hard to finish, to the point of walking away from her figure and not coming back to finish it.  

At this point, we had run four or five weeks into just painting, and some children were getting pretty tired of it and were looking to move on to something else. It was time to put some finishing touches on our figures and start something new.

Still, I think the majority of the children really got something out of the process. The process of painting a miniature is much different then the kind of painting that they are used to. Adding a third dimension changes the equation. Allowing them to come and pick up the different techniques at their own pace helps in developing those skills in a way that is in tune to how the individual child learns.

Southern Ontario Open 2019 recap

So, I went to the Southern Ontario Open for the third year in a row this past weekend. The SOO, which takes place in Hamilton every year around the beginning of May, is undoubtedly Canada’s premiere Warmachine event. Drawing 100-plus players in their Masters tournament, having a six or seven round Masters, as well as featuring Iron Arena, IKRPG, MonPoc, and hobby content over three full days, it’s kind of a big deal.

Champions

I chose to participate in Champions this year and forgo Masters as I did the previous year. I knew that going to both tournaments would be just too much Warmachine for me, and I wanted to focus on hobby lounge and iron arena. I ended up choosing Champions because I really didn’t want to pack three lists, and I thought it would be nice to get all the hardcore gaming out of the way early on then just chill the rest of the con.

My biggest apprehension about Champions, aside from the distinct possibility that I would be getting my face kicked in by Iona all day, was the lack of a painting requirement. Since I’m not a hardcore competitive player and there is about a zero chance of me qualifying for either the WTC or the Iron Gauntlet finals, the SOO for the past few years has been my one opportunity to attend a fully painted event. As someone who appreciates the aesthetic aspect of wargaming, that made it a particular highlight for my year in Warmachine and made whichever tournament had the painting requirement a can’t-miss event.

I know a lot of people disagree with me and have a serious problem with the above opinion, so if you are one of those, please direct all your hate mail to podcast@chain-attack.com.

Anyways, that all changed this year, with PP changing their official tournament packet in such a way that if a tournament organizer wants to have an official Masters or Champions event that counts towards their Iron Gauntlet qualifiers, they can’t have a painting requirement. As those Iron Gauntlet points are a big deal for top-tier competitive players and Warmachine celebrities, that basically precluded the organizers from doing a fully painted event, whether they wanted to or not.

However, it turned out to actually be less of an issue than I was anticipating. I was worried that with no painting requirements, it would open the door to a swarm of grey hordes. But when I walked around the tables, I was pleasantly surprised to see that at least half of the armies were fully painted and a lot of the others were clearly on their way there. Three of my four games were against fully painted opponents, so that was actually a pleasant surprise.

Regarding my army lists, I knew I wanted to do Sorscha3 with plenty of Man-O-War models, and I had those painted up and ready to go. Due to the ADR restrictions, the other list had to be in Wolves of Winter, which meant a few things. First, it meant that Vlad2, which is the only model in my collection painted by my sister and not by me, would be the ideal choice. Second, it meant I had to get a lot of models painted to make a coherent list. Third, my list wouldn’t be very good because I didn’t have enough Doom Reavers painted up to really swarm my opponent with them. Finally, it meant that since I hadn’t ever actually played Wolves of Winter and trying to follow the CID made my brain hurt, my plan was to put the Vlad2 army on my tray and make a show of thinking about which list to play, but actually just play Sorscha3 every game.

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I went 1-3 in the tournament, losing to Old Witch 2, Zaal2, and Ossyan. My one victory came against someone playing Deneghra in Slaughter Fleet Raiders. He had little opportunity to take advantage of drag, as my Shocktroopers were granted Sturdy from the unit attachment and I had a shield guard in the list just in case. I ended up catching Ragman with a spray from a Suppression Tanker early on, and from there on out, I pretty much just watched his army bounce off the heavy armour of my Man-O-Wars, smacking them around with retaliatory strike as they came in. I actually started feeling a little bad for him because once Ragman was dead and his alpha strike was denied by my clouds, he just didn’t have the armour cracking to effectively deal with my army.

Now, I’m not one of those people who loses one game in a tournament and drops out because there is no point to playing unless you’re winning. I typically stay in throughout the whole thing, outside of extreme circumstances. However, I hadn’t been to a tournament in a while and after four games, my brain was hurting and I had done enough Warmachine for a weekend, never mind a day.

However, in spite of going 1-3 and dropping, I still managed to win Champions, or at least the most important part, the best painted army award.

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Painting

While the main attractions for most people are the competitive tournaments and the Iron Arena, the SOO does have some excellent hobby programming, and I feel like everyone who attends the SOO should at the very least pop into the hobby lounge for a few minutes and check out the contest entries or see what they can pick up from their fellow hobbyists.

I managed to squeeze in a couple classes. I took one on polychromatic shading with Ben at Primal Poodle, where I learned some more about colour theory. While I may have been a slightly difficult student by asking questions like “is grey a colour” when told to basecoat a part of a model in a colour that interested me, I did take a lot away from the class. I also got the chance to show off some of my work with Ben and Faust and get some valuable feedback on what I’m doing right and where I can improve.

But even outside of formal classes, you can pick up a lot from just getting the chance to talk shop with your fellow painters. There was a fellow hobbyist who was having difficulty with a resin pour, and I was able to offer up a couple pointers on doing the formwork as I had gone through that pain a little while ago. And I did have to chuckle a little when someone said that she should look up some guy who did a Swamp Siren and read up how he did it.

I ended up spending an inordinate amount of time in the hobby lounge. Part of this was because I didn’t have a huge based model completed before the event, and was inspired to finish painting my Siege Chariot conversion and get it into the contest. Which meant that I stayed up until 6 am on Friday night working on it, then got up again at 9 and got back to work, eventually getting it banged out with a few hours to spare.

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Why did I leave this until the last minute?

However, my valiant effort was all for naught when a very nicely done Sea King, which is one of the coolest models in PP’s entire range, edged me out in that particular category. That said, I came away with victories in two of the four categories – small and medium model – with Sorscha0 and my Sorscha bust, respectively. And the Sorscha bust also won the best in show award, not to mention that it was Sorscha3 running my best painted army, so… Sorscha OP, plz nerf?

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Patrick Miller’s Sea King

In some ways, this was coming full circle. My first year at the SOO, I entered into the painting competition but came away empty-handed, and to be honest, I felt a few pangs of disappointment. By the time the next year rolled around, I had improved my painting skills and had some display only models to enter, and while I did win one category, the top prize remained elusive. Now, I know it’s unhealthy to compare yourself to others as a painter and get too competitive about it, but I decided I would make it a goal to win the painting competition this year. I upped my game with the skills I picked up over the past year and the classes I attended, and focused on getting that Sorscha bust looking good, and it really paid off. And, since Sorscha was my first warcaster and is my favourite character from the Iron Kingdoms, the fact that I was able to do so with her was a little poetic.

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In the categories I didn’t win, I got some good feedback from the judges, and to be honest, I can’t really argue with what they said. For the Siege Strider, they liked the conversion and a lot of the painting, however the main issue was that I had overweathered the upper half of it, which wasn’t super realistic and worked against the highlights I put in. This probably had a little to do with the fact that instead of putting it all together and then painting it, I painted and weathered the model in sub-assemblies, starting with the legs and working up to the gun and the driver. As such, instead of following a logical weathering progression tapering the weathering off as I went up which would have been much more effective, I just did a default amount of weathering on each part. While I did add some additional dirt and mud stains on the feet afterwards, it wasn’t enough to truly get across the story behind the weathering – that of a big walker stomping around the battlefield, with its legs getting beaten up as it grinds the filthy Cygnarans to dust beneath its feet.

Also, having stayed up until 6 am the night before working on the model probably didn’t help much with my ability to pull off a coherent weathering scheme while running on three hours sleep and three cups of coffee.

As for the group category, I debated whether to enter my Man-O-Wars or my Cygnar. I went with Cygnar because it was some more recent work, but then I ended up getting too hung up on what made a tournament-legal list, and included some models which were from when I was still working out the finer details of the scheme. This meant that Maddox, who was my first Cygnar infantry model, kind of brought the entry as a whole down a little with her mediocrity, as did my first Cygnar jack or two. And since consistency is important in group categories, that knocked me down a few notches. Had I not included Maddox in my entry and perhaps thrown in a couple of my more recent stormdudes instead, I think I would have been a little more competitive.

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Group winner – Vincent Beaulieu’s Dreamer

I also want to give a big shout-out to the competition. There were some real top-shelf entries this year, and in particular, I want to recognize Vincent Beaulieu’s Captain Ahab bust from Scale75. It was pretty awesome and I feel like it really gave my Sorscha bust a run for her money; in fact, I would say there are some aspects where it outshone my entry. However the nature of winner-take-all or ranked judging systems means that sometimes, amazing models that get edged out by other amazing models don’t quite get the recognition they deserve.

The Final Word

The SOO is always a great show, and is kind of a highlight of my year in Warmachine. Even as someone who isn’t a hardcore competitive player, you have to appreciate the passion for the game we all love that is on display in that room. This year in particular, I was feeling some frustration with the game and the community and the SOO kind of reinvigorated my love for this game. If you are a Warmachine player and can possibly make it to the SOO, circle the calendar and make sure you go. And, while you’re there, pop by the hobby lounge for a few minutes and say hi.

I’ll be the one still painting at 3 am.