The group of gamers I know who have been playing 40K have basically called it quits and are looking for a new game. So someone recently asked me, “What do you think of Warmachine?” Now, I haven’t played Warmachine under the most current set of rules, but I played a pretty mean Khador list under the last set of rules… And I mentioned my lack of current experience in my answer but basically said, “It’s a cool game, I think it’s great, but it’s not for me.” And of course, the follow-up question was, “Why not?” I was at work at the time so I was saved from answering on the spot – but I’ve had time to think about it, and I realized that it really comes down to differences in how wargames/minis games play. Everything from how turns are played out to how armies are built, and some other stuff in between.
First, and easiest to put out there, I’m frustrated by playing minis games/wargames where one side takes its whole turn and then the other player goes… this works well enough for me in Risk, but there’s a reason I like Diplomacy better… I mean, after all, I can’t tell you the number of games of Godstorm Risk have been decided on the final player’s final turn… but I digress. My favorite miniatures games of this style I’ve ever played are Battletech and D&D/Star Wars minis. What was so refreshing about them is that things happened in waves, or segments of a turn. For example, in Battletech, everyone moves and then everyone shoots – and all the action is happening in a continuous manner. Initiative matters a lot for critical positioning and tactical movement, but even the final impact of initiative can be mitigated with solid play. I much prefer this to the Warhammer/Warmachine experience of getting hosed by someone’s whole army and having no real response because, you know, everything on my side is dead… (which is an exaggeration, but it makes the point, and has happened a few times).
I played Mage Knight and HeroClix and D&D Minis and Star Wars minis (and do you get the impression I like these types of games?) but the experience of MK and HC was always a little tainted for me by the turn order issue – though at least these two games attempted to mitigate this type of play with limited activations. Frustrating. With D&D minis the flow was nice – I activated a few guys, then you did, then I did, then you – until we’d activated everything. The give and take made the game more tense, interesting and fair. We (as the incredibly generalized community I’m calling, Gamers) talk all the time about balance and OP stuff – but this basic tenet of game play is, for me, one of the worst offenders against quality play.
The second part of my answer is also reflected in the parallels between games.* I find myself frustrated by the “deck-building” and “arms race” mentality of a lot of these style of games. Look at 40K. The new editions, new codex books, sub-rules, etc. Honestly, I can pretty much step up to a 40K table and tell as soon as I see the other guy’s army if the game is worth playing. By which I mean – is the next 2-3 hours of my life going to be a fun experience even when I lose – or – is the next 2 hours going to be me wishing I was at home reading a book because I’m wasting my time being target practice for this other player. And that’s completely discounting play-skill… The potential imbalances in that game are that serious. I’ve had similar experiences with Warmachine, but again, I haven’t played the newest version of the rules.
Heroclix has the same problem. We had a rule in the shop where we played that you could just flat-out refuse to play someone if their team was too “twinky.” Didn’t stop people from playing twinky builds – just meant less games ended up getting played. Which is both good and bad.
Again, I prefer (and these are only my opinions) the play style of Battletech. The game is tied very closely to its fluff (something I’ll come back to in a minute) and so the “arms race” mentality doesn’t really exist. It isn’t about the hot, new rare pieces or the signature characters – I can pretty much guarantee that if two sides in a battle are balanced by BV that the game will be a tight one, no matter what’s on the field… this, of course, presumes that the players are playing with the same tech level. But again, that’s tied to the fluff and so it’s likely they will be. And any imbalances created by the universe (such as the initial appearance of the Clans) is quickly balanced and accounted for – or is built into scenarios as a handicap.
The point is, I don’t want my wargame to be Magic: the Gathering. I don’t want the battle pretty much decided before my opponent and I even take the field. I want to be sure that what we play matters – but how we play matters more.
Finally, I don’t like exceptions… Specifically what I’m pointing out here is things like 40K’s army organization charts… You have to have one HQ and two Troops – except… How many times have I played an all Terminator army? Because, you know, they all count as troops because I included so and so in my army… Really? Really? That’s only one example, but 40K is full of rules that make no sense like this – because they are exceptions to core rules – most of which were designed to make the game work a certain way. And when altered, the game doesn’t play that way anymore. And that’s a bummer.
As an aside on the fluff issue… I started playing Battletech and getting into the fluff of the universe. One of my favorite things is that the fluff and the game mesh very well. The same thing can be said of 40K, I started playing and getting into the fluff. I love the 40K fluff – but I can’t stand the game. One component of that is the fact that the game and the fluff are divorced. They don’t reflect one another and the play of the game does not, in any way, match up to what the fluff sets up. Frustrating.
As always, thanks for reading – and if you know of any games that play more like Battletech and less like 40K but have a fantasy bent, I’d love to hear about them.
*Please note – I’m not trying to make a judgment of these games – I recognize that a lot of people love 40K and Warmachine. Heck, I think Warmachine is a very clever game made by people who love what they do… it’s just not for me. And these are the reasons why. That is all.