These last few weeks since NOVA have been killer. I’ve not had the motivation, opportunity or drive to really get into a whole lot of gaming, and I think its creating an even further slump that continues to drive downward.

What I have done, I’ve not really been doing in detail, so I’m just going to rattle over some high-view stuff on what I’ve been up to, and what I am considering doing.

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I’ve been bit, and I don’t really know the cure.

I backed Warmachine: Tactics for a cool single player game and a bad ass multiplayer game that I’d probably never use. I didn’t back at the beta level because I never wanted to be, or expected to be, a tester. Instead, I got in at enough for the price of the game and then some minis.

Then, in August, we recieved the news that the single player game was being delayed for a while, and the multiplayer release was going to be delayed a short time. I was a little frustrated, but they gave all the backers their codes right then and allowed us to play the game. I loaded it up and played a time or two on the one single player mission, but I was satisfied with that experience.

But I’m not satisfied with just playing the single player anymore, and I’m not sure I’m ok with it. Just a week or so ago the bug bit me, and I played a game with an opponent who spammed Brute Thralls into my face and just blew me up. That was really demoralizing, but it got me thinking about what other things could be cool to run piles of. I created lists and banked them as thought experiments, hoping to one day get a chance to try it out. My computer was running it fairly slow, but that was OK, this was a turn based game, not some FPS.

Recently, though, they updated and the system runs buckets smoother. I had a friend who couldn’t load prior versions boot right into the game, and started playing me.

Damn it, but I shouldn’t have.

My first game was against Siege, recently introduced, with Asphyxious and a horde of Brute Thralls. Give as good as you take, right? While the game didn’t go as planned, I did learn that Asphyxious is just as deadly in the game, as on the table. Two shots with Scything Touch and Parasite ended Siege, and the game was over.

We booted up again and I thought I’d try the same thing with another faction. I pulled up Protectorate, grabbed Kreoss and filled that list with a Crusader and as many Cinerators as I possibly could grab. I was all sorts of confident. As it turns out, Cinerators are not nearly as good as Brute Thralls at smashing face. Stryker kept Earthquaking them onto their asses, and I was never able to gain advantage. Instead of letting me loose with dignity, though, the game crashed when I tried to trample, taking a critical freestrike, which imploded the game.

This was my first taste, and I just kept on going. Over the next few days I tried some different lists, almost all spam, to see what I could do. Strakov and 5 Maruaders is great, but I’ve got a terrible loosing record with them. Stryker and 4 Defenders ins’t anything close to ok, and the swarm of overlords I tried out made the game both long and terrible.

Five Marauders in a cloud

Five Marauders in a cloud

What I did find out, though, is that the game really scratches that itch to immerse yourself in the Iron Kingdoms and reignite your desire to play the tabletop game. It has the same characters, the same models, and many of the same powers. It does, however, change some and add others to make the game very different from playing on the tabletop. Disruption is the removal of a possible allocated focus, for example. The UI needs a little bit of polish, still, but that is to be expected. Spells, attacks, and special abilities are all laid out well, but the possible targets of the spells and abilities are not. I would love to see a spell-cast icon for movement much like there is a ranged attack icon.

See, the game is based on a grid, and the grid determines your LOS. When determining your possible final position on the grid, you can hover your mouse there and have icons pop up above the heads of possible targets for your ranged attacks. This does not happen with spells, making them much harder to use than a rifle, even if the character has both.

The big problem that I see with the game is the spamability of models/units in the game, and the thought that it will lead to a much less diverse model pool when playing online. This is exemplified in my playing the game with as many of the same model as I can, because I want to see how it all pans out. Brute Thralls work well, but Marauders don’t. Cinerators are terrible at it, but Defenders are gods.

This can all be a little bit depressing when you start to realize some of the crazier things, including a billionty Scarlocks and a ton of ranged jacks with Khador. This is amplified by the fact that there is nothing to do on your opponent turn except sit and watch them take their turn running 5-10 models across the field or attacking impotently. Its can all get very frustrating.

Regardless of the problems that exist, what I have now, is a great desire to play the game every time I sit down at the computer. That is a great testament to Whitemoon Dreams for making a game that’s so enjoyable that it keeps pulling a skeptic back into the fold. This desire is so great that I am considering playing right now instead of going to bed, and that could have tragic consequences.

During Lock and Load Whitemoon Dreams had a number of computers set up for people to demo up the versus mode of Warmachine: Tactics. The tables were packed until about 8 pm every night, but I was lucky enough to play the game twice, but I also got to spend a ton of time talking to Jay Koottarappallil, the CEO of the Whitemoon Dreams. He was a fantastic guy, taking feedback and suggestions all weekend, jotting them down and paying attention to what people said. It was really and amazing sight to see the top end of the company interacting with the exact target demographic like that. I work for a 20,000 employee global corporation, and I’ve never heard of the CEO talking to the professionals who use our products.

I enjoyed both experiences with the game,, but I know I am a least common denominator type of player. I like things to act reasonably well, I like the game to flow logically, and I don’t ask it to be 100% perfect. Tactics hit all those spots dead on. The effects have some small concerns, but Jay was already aware of them and is working on getting them cleaned up by launch.

Warmachine Tactic

The Demo is Cygnar v. Khador, and its a pretty fair fight. Khador is Lead by Sorcha with a Juggernaut and a Destroyer along with some 6 or so Winter Guard Infantry. Cygnar is lead by Stryker with a Lancer, Charger and Ironclad, along with an amount of Trenchers equal to the Winterguard. Deployment was minimal, but thats slated to be tweaked as well. Each turn starts with a Control Phase, fairly similar to Warmachine. You can allocate up to 3 focus to each ‘Jack, Upkeep Spells, and Shake Effects on Jacks and Casters. Your activation phase is just like you would expect if your familiar with the table top, with each model completing its action before moving onto the next. There is a small difference, though, in definition of a model. Each Winter Guard or Trencher is activated individually, and it not connected to any of the others. More importantly, spells (like Stryker’s Arcane Shield) do not flow over to all the models. I actually really like this. Especially in a video game like Tactics, putting the focus onto Warjacks will be paramount, and this one change will really make a difference. The return on investment that you normally get from unit buffs just won’t exist. Along with the change to solos, your Winter Guard and Trencher Infantry are extremely durable, potentially too much so. If I remember correctly, the Trenchers had 17 HP and the Winter Guard 16. This made the infantry survive attacks I’d not thought possible, including both attacks from assaulting Trencher Infantry, A Destroyer and a Juggernauts axe, and being shot in the face by a hand Cannon. Warjacks, too, are more Durable, with pounds of HP and, listen to this, no systems. I don’t know that I’m a fan of them not having systems, but it works well int he context of the games that I played. Effects like Disruption, Amputation, and the Shock Shield won’t be in the game in the way we remember from the tabletop. Disruption, for instance, simply prevents you from being able to allocate a single focus per instance to an affected Warjack, and can stack! Critical Amputation does a temporary (from what I remember) armor debuff, and the Shock Shield simply has the Disruption effect. I’m slightly concerned about the balance of the Cryx Bonejacks, because their DEF 15 is something that crippling the movement really helps alleviate. reducing a jacks movement to scrap, and therefore making it easier to hit, isn’t possible. This could have dire consequences.

Speaking of Stats: The game has been broken down into a star Rating for each stat, in the range of 1-5 stars. Fpr armor this roughly represents 4 points per star.  Other stats have each star vaguely representing 2 points each. When rolling dice, though,  this is translated directly, using a 2d6 system.  This can be disconcerting at first, like seeing that Sorcha under Wind Rush only has a 12 defense, but it all equals out, with winterguard only have a 2 or 3 for Melee attack.

The Warcaster plays exactly like you’d expect them too, with their entire spell list, weapons and feat available. You have your control area visible at all times on the field, and there is realistically nothing you can’t do that you’d expect to be able to do normally. Its a really interesting that they decided to translate so directly, because Warcasters are so vital to the tabletop experience, you’ve got to make them work. It feels, and I think this is the proper move from Whitemoon Dreams: Don’t fix whats not broke.

When I first sat down to play Tactics, Jay was there to walk me through the interface. I seem to remember him saying that it was a down and dirty, very simplified beta interface, which is fine because there are plenty of refinements to make to it, and I have every confidence that they will, based simply on feedback I gave then and there.

The game plays sleek and swift, and I didn’t notice any slowdown – now, its a dedicated box, so I expect that, but it still needs saying. The models looked great, but I’m not a judge of art, They looked true to their models on the tabletop, and that was fantastic. They even acted like it, with Trenchers having Bayonet Charge, the destroyers gun was horribly inaccurate, and the Charger even had Powerful Attack.

Models have indicators for where they can move, where they can run, and you even get LOS + range indicators from the spot you’d want to stop in.

Example – Your considering moving your Winter Guard, but you don’t know whether he should run or walk and attack, because you don’t know if he’d be in range. You move your mouse to the area indicated at the farthest he can move up, and thin yellow two lines appear – one to the Charger and one to a Trencher Infantry. You know that from that position, you’d be able to make an attack on either target. You move the cursor a single box to the left, and the Charger vanishes from LOS behind a ruin – and your yellow line is gone with it.

There are  differences with boosting that come off wrong at first, especially to one so used to playing the game, that just flow eventually into the game. First off, you choose your boosts before you make your attack – both to hit and to damage. Second, all damage is boosted from an attack, and that is VERY cool on the destroyer.

Each game ended exactly as I’d expect a standard Warmachine game to end, and the stories told about them will sound familiar. Game 1, Sorcha Wind Rushed and froze both Warjacks, but a shake and two lucky 10’s later, the Ironclad had pasted Sorcha. Game 2 I used my Quake Hammer to knock down both jacks shielding Sorcha, moved the now disengaged Lancer over and to her and headbutt her to the ground, and took Shots at her with two Trencher Infantry, Strykers Pistol, and an Arcane Bolt, all of which she survived. She then took a free strike after shaking the headbutt and died to the Lancers spear.

The stories are the same, but the game is different, and in the right ways given the medium that the IP is being expressed in. I don’t expect, and don’t really even want, a tabletop clone. What I want, and what they are giving me, is a new way to explore the same game.

I am not looking forward to this man.

I am not looking forward to this man.

Talking to Jay about the vision of how they want to explore the game was really inspiring as well. They have 3 casters for each of the four factions ready to go, along with a pile of characters and a release schedule that will continually add unit choices to the game. Again, he was super-receptive to feedback, jotting down things I said in passing as good ideas and further tweaks.

Closed beta starts here in just a few weeks, with open beta shortly thereafter and an on-time release of the game in August. I honestly won’t be playing a ton of Multiplayer, as I enjoy the tabletop so much, but I will definitely be playing through the campaign mode, and you can bet you’ll hear about it!