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.
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.
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!