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There is but one Lord of the Ring…

 …and he does not share power!

I was momentarily disrupted in my quest to work through my unpainted pile, thanks to the arrival of some 3D print lads.

$10 for a 3D print sure beats $78 from Gee-Dub. I dislike resin but in a model this large it’s sturdy enough. 

$15 not $84. The mace is cool but a bit iffy – fragile. I glued the mace head to the base to strengthen it. Oh well, if it breaks I can buy 5 more and still have saved money...

I can upgrade my scratch-built goblin drum, and get a ‘non essential but cool’ dwarf unit. I must say I really hate the changes with MESBG (a ruleset which has pretty much had 2 editions in 20 years). 

Dwarves got kinda screwed when they were split up into two sub-factions and then Iron Hills (Hobbit) powercept them with more flexible/better in pretty much every way.

While MESBG is one of the few GW games I recommend, unfortunately GW doesn’t release many new models (or even base ‘core’ models) but they ARE now releasing these ‘supplements’ with ‘legendary legions’ – usually OP sub factions which you need the codex supplement to play.

A few barrow-wights… my son likes Angmar and its mix of ghosts and monsters….

He also loves wargs, so I boosted my warg pack. $4 for a warg chieftain, $1.50 per warg? That’s an easy impulse purchase… Also the relatively solid sculpts are good in resin, compared to the more obviously flimsy wights. But  the 3D company sent me double the wights for the same price so *shrugs* who cares?

I wanted a mounted Elrond (mounted heroes are always better), but at $84 for an official model that was a hard no. $12, on the other hand…

While the official GW support and pricing is pretty crap for MESBG, the mix of secondhand ebay minis for base units, and 3D printing heroes/specialists means I can collect without selling any kidneys…

One of my self-imposed rules is “before buying any new models, have to have painted double that from the existing pile” and “all new buys must be painted in a week.” Well I finished these with 5 days to spare and since my fortnight model count is 205 (now 226) I’m Ok with buying new toys as I know they will be quickly table-ready.  I also know they will get “table time.”

LotR “painted” count for the entire year is 466, as I continue to slowly build balanced forces for all the LotR factions (not the Hobbit, that movie is not canon!. Only Dunland remains though I need to paint some of my existing vikings before I buy more (I want wilder and more varied Victrix, not the sensible-but-bland Warlord ones I have already)….

Deltavector

Review: The Army Painter Wargamers Edition Wet Palette

Looking for an extra large wet palette for your hobby setup? Maybe a 2-in-1 solution that’s also suitable for paints that shouldn’t come in contact with water, such as washes, Contrast and Speedpaints? Then The Army Painter’s new XL Wargamers Edition Wet Palette might be your cup of tea. Find out more about it in our review.

The post Review: The Army Painter Wargamers Edition Wet Palette appeared first on Tale of Painters.

Tale of Painters

Game Design #101: Overload – Pushing the Rules Past Breaking Point

Wargamers like to add more toys. But the rules don’t always support that many on the table at the same time. They are trying to do too much with the rules. The rules start limp along, as they get overburdened.

However some rules are designed overloaded, out of the gate. Born with a limp, so to speak.

How do we know when the rules are overloaded? 

….Does your game drag on? Do you often forget to activate units (or can’t remember what is supposed to occur next). Do you find yourself wandering off while someone is taking their turn? Are there big pauses while actions/moves are resolved?  ….Obviously, some of these could be attributed to middle age….

How do we avoid overloading/bogging a game – and what design elements need to be considered?

Now you can’t stop players from using more miniatures than intended. That’s unsolvable.

But what we can consider is if the game is overloaded for what we intend to use it for: i.e. you can make a game that is already overloaded at a “normal” size game: by choosing the wrong mechanics and mechanisms.

How can we avoid designing a game that is overloaded by default?

Although I haven’t kept up with 40K, my original copy was a quasi-RPG (Rogue Trader) which slowly evolved into a platoon+ game. The original game was at Warmachine scale – heck it had more in common with Necromunda than modern 40K. However as the game added more and more toys, it retained many mechanics which did not fit its new role/mini count. There were various attempts to streamline it, but it really needed a more significant revision (Starship Troopers points to what it could have been). Warmachine worked well at around original box set level but the mechanics bogged as they increased the game size.

Sometimes a game is already overloaded, at it intended “troop level.” It’s already bogged down.

There are a few linked concepts – level of control (what should you the player directly micromanage) and abstraction (what to detail, what to ignore).

If you are controlling a tabletop platoon (3-4 squads, + vehicles) you are the platoon commander. You should be moving/activating squads and fire teams, not individual soldiers. Grouping minis in some sort of forced coherency (the classic “everyone in the squad must be 2” from each other etc) in fire teams or squads is logical AND keeps play moving along (not need to track if Fred from Delta squad has activated – he moves with his squad). The level of control is only 1-2 steps down. If you are a platoon commander, you should be able to command squads; or at best, fire teams/specialist squads. Not micromanaging each and every individual soldier.

If you are playing a skirmish game with ~4-8 soldiers, it is likely you may individually direct soldiers. Maneuvering each mini independently makes sense. Moving them as a single unit would restrict maneuver. Think about real life soldiers and the level of control – how many elements (be it squads, fire teams, or even battalions) is a leader expected to control?

There’s a few PC games that suffer from this. Men at War: Assault Squad has you playing as a platoon commander, yet you can (and should) set the stance for each soldier, throw individual grenades… basically you can directly control ~30+ individual guys, as they scatter around like lemmings. If the total men was capped at 8-12, it would work fine. As it is, it is micromanagement hell. 

The Total War series caps your army at ~12-16 or so units at a time. As they have a predictable and mostly static front line, in reality you are only micro-ing 4-6 units, and your attention is only in 1-2 places at a time – most of which you can see on your screen. This works. In contrast, WW2 epic Steel Division could have 30, 40, 50 units scattered all over the map. It’s much easier to forget you have that tank in the corner of the map….

So the level of command/amount of units has a historical aspect (i.e. if you are a company commander, you will not be directing the exact location of each and every grunt under your command) and a practical aspect (how many units can you the gamer effectively control) which should roughly align anyway…

It should be obvious when, for example you need to move/activate models as a squad, and when to move them individually.

Likewise, the level of abstraction should be evident: if you are a platoon commander, you don’t need to track if Private Parts had his morning coffee so is +1 to his individual “to hit” roll. Instead you might simultaneously roll a handful of firepower dice for the whole squad, adding or removing dice at various ranges. If you are playing a quasi RPG game with 4 elite operators, then individual modifiers probably should be significant.  I’d say it’s possible to abstract to oversimplification – say a fire team level skirmish game where everyone succeeds at everything on a 3+ (hero), 4+ (regular), 5+ (newb), with no measuring or no modifiers…  and lose too much tactical choice/naunce. It’s taking platoon+ level abstraction, simplifying/abstracting it even more – and applying it to a RPG…

The problem for a game designer is what mechanics handle miniatures best at that scale – and how it aligns with the level of control.

The dreaded IGOUGO technically handles large groups of units better than alternate activation. You can just activate your units left to right until you’ve done ‘em all. With alternate activation, with too many units you may forget who has already activated as you go back and forth taking turns activating dozens of units. However – too many units in IGOUGO can lead to boredom – as the non-active player will sit for ages, passively awaiting their turn. 

Obviously, tracking/recording can cap units. If each soldier has 10 hit points – then where do all the unit cards go to record these? Could you have 30 models, each with its own card?  

Detailed/unique rules can cap units. If each model has its own special rules, there will be a lot of flicking through rule books – slowing the game to a crawl. 

Many modifiers can cap a game. If you have to remember 101 modifiers of +/-1 every time a model (or group of models) shoots or melees or whatever, it can slow things down. 

Gaslands has lots of “steps” in a turn. This slows a game which is supposed to be about frantic car combat and limits the amount of cars/players/special gear (rules) you can use. My solution is to have only 3-4 players, with very simple cars. 8 players, even with one vehicle each, is already ‘overloaded’.  There’s a lot going on.

Gaslands actually prompted this post, as players said it was “fun, but just a bit much” and naturally I want to question “OK, why? What is it exactly that is the issue?” 

Even physically moving lots of models can slow things – which is why mass battle games tend to base many minis on a single base – you might have 6-12 minis which only need to be picked up/activated/attack once. Rolling lots of dice (lots of “steps” to mechanics) can slow things – roll to hit, roll to beat armour, roll to wound, roll for cover save – all this slows things down.  We could call all of this “action resolution” – once you the gamer make a decision – how long does it take (moving models, chugging dice) to carry it out/determine the results.  Even how you roll matters – take Warmachine – roll 2d6, add the together, then compare to a defence factor and note the difference – a bit clunky, a few steps – yeah fine for a RPG or small skirmish game but not so cool if you have lots of big 10-men squads against each other.

This is obviously not an exhaustive list of all factors, but gives you an idea of what you need to consider when ‘scaling’ a set of rules to the amount of minis intended to play it.

In short, you need to choose game activation/mechanics appropriate to the scale and amount of units you are intending the rules to handle.

The Hard Cap. Infinity is a pretty detailed skirmish game. It has many special rules (100+), and complex reactions where one or more minis can react to (interrupt) an active mini. It is a game that has all the traits to swiftly bog down and is hard capped at 15 miniatures – which is already probably too many. Unfortunately…. each mini brings a valuable “order” (activation) so more minis is better – a bit of a problem. Given the complexity, the game should be played with far smaller forces; and indeed the designers have made a simplified version (Code One) in recognition of this and seem to be slowly trimming rules bloat).  War Cry also has a 15-mini hard cap. It has hitpoints (boo) to track, but compensates by a much, much simpler ruleset and less special rules – so should play much easier with less “load”. Hard caps on max units show the designer recognizes when the rules “break down.” I haven’t played the new Kill Team, but given it ALSO uses hitpoints AND has more special rules AND a large hard cap (20) I am confident it is a much slower, gluggier game than War Cry – probably already overloaded “out of the gate” and would probably take ~double the time to play.

This begs the question: How long should a game last? 

This is akin to asking how long is a ball of string. I will note – I think we are seeing a shift towards shorter (45-60 minute) wargames over the traditional “all afternoon” affairs.  Some games lend themselves to short format – its wise if a campaign skirmish game lasts only 45-60min so you can squeeze in multiple games in an evening – as campaigns are notorious for petering out after only a few meet-ups.  I think this depends on the genre of game you are aiming for, but it’s a question you should ask yourself.

Middle Earth: SBG – Example

MESBG (the best rules GW has ever made) as it seems to break a key concept.  Models move and fire individually yet the game handles ~30-40 comfortably (and only starts to overload at ~50+ which is mostly due to physically positioning all those models – and positioning matters).

So why does it work this way?

The melee centric nature of the rules, and how models touching each other’s base can give bonuses in fights. This tends to create natural “shieldwalls” – lines of minis moving together.  Each army has several heroes who act as “leaders” allowing models in range of them bonuses/activation benefits which again tends to create unofficial, organic “squads.” 

Activation sequence is simple and somewhat interactive – Side A moves, Side B moves all, Side A shoots all, Side B shoots all, Both Melee. This gives the management benefit of IGOUGO with less waiting around and more interaction.

Mechanics are very simple. Shooting is 3+, 4+ or 5+ to hit (depending on who is shooting) with no modifiers. Just a “cover save” of 4+ if needed. Melee is highest dice wins, with better Fight stats breaking ties (and extra dice from each ally supporting). A potential slow down is the Wound chart (compare Strength vs Defence on a chart) but it tends to be swiftly memorized and not needed in-game. Special rules are minor or rare. The only hitpoints are 2-3 wounds owned by a few heroes or monsters each side; so there is little tracking. Most special rules or recording is thus restricted to 3-4 heroesnot the other 30 regular guys.

So you can see although having 30-40 models moving individually seems a lot (and wrong – it’s a platoon level game acting like a skirmish game) due to ticking most of the boxes for simplicity/smooth play, it is physically placing each model which is causing the most major slow down. If you placed the models on trays and moved them en-masse, you could probably handle even more (actually there is a OOP spin-off, War of the Ring, which does just that, and simplifies things even more).

TL:DR

Gamers often “overload” rules by using far more minis than the game was designed for. Unavoidable.

However, some games use the wrong mechanics, and are “overloaded” even using their intended forces.

Historical level of command can help give you an idea of what to abstract/how to activate/group miniatures – the right level of simplification/abstraction.

Choosing the right game mechanics is important – activation, grouping of minis, resolution time/complexity of movement/attacks, amount of special rules/modifiers – all need to match the scale and intended play time/speed.

Can you think of some rules that are ‘overloaded?’ for the size they are intended to be played at?

What element/s of the game is causing the overload?

Deltavector

Cruel Seas: “It’s a wrap”

 Another project bites the dust.

I’m now rummaging through my shed, updating my spreadsheet and looking for ‘low hanging fruit – tasks that can be completed relatively quickly i.e. 12 Heavy Gears get painting priority over my ~100 Warlord pike and shot…. 

I’ve painted at least ~700-800 minis this year (admittedly to merely ‘acceptable tabletop’ standard) with 205 in the last fortnight alone. About 600 yet to go in my unpainted lead mountain….

Raumsboote – a kinda minesweeper/patrol boat. I’ll come back and tidy the camo later – but the main thing is it is playable.

Fairmile D’s – my favourite WW2 naval vessel. Pity it would cost me $120+ for another pair… the pricing on Cruel Seas makes GW look like a thrift shop.

Some Higgins and Elco PT boats to co-operate with the British. I left off the masts as they are stupidly bulky but will probably replace them with a pin – later. My over-riding mantra is “is it table-ready – now?”  – I often come back and pretty up bases and add details in later on.

My 2023 focus was on making playable, self-contained projects – painted minis, suitable terrain, fun rules – and clearing the lead mountain of unpainted minis, which stood at 1200+


A few self-imposed rules:

1. No new minis until you have painted DOUBLE that in old, existing minis

2. New minis must be painted within a fortnight. If you can’t, you bought too many.

3. No new projects/genres until you have completed ALL minis from another project/genre (preferably similar). Purchases should preferably complete an existing project or a game you play a lot (MESBG etc)

4. A dozen minis per week (steady progress, but not a punishing chore)

5. Tabletop standard – basing can be basic, you can always come back to mini later if not 100% satisfied.

 “Can I play with this mini, does it look cool on the table yet?” not “Is it perfect” Is it a playable toy or a Golden Demon winner?

6. If you buy pizza, you have to build terrain with the boxes 

A suicidal ram in a recent Death Race game. Both cars exploded…. This is a game that is amazingly cinematic but kinda slow; 3-4 people with a simple car each is what I’d recommend. Go to page 3 and have a look at the “steps” a player makes in a turn. Despite my caveats, I strongly recommend the game for the cheap fun it’ll inspire collecting and kitbashing Hot Wheels.

A few things I’ve found helped in my painting marathon:

Swap painting locations – I have 3 painting ‘spots’ and a moveable paint tray

Swap paint projects (1800s Venice -> Death Race car wars -> PT boats). Try new paints and brushes.

Excel spreadsheet to monitor finished/unfinished minis (look at this BEFORE ordering any new toys)

A brief painting session each night after my kids are asleep

Cutting down on layers (i.e. why paint a leg seven times? Undercoat->wash->highlight->tidy/detail if needed.)

Watch topical DVDs (Battle of Britain prior to Blood Red Skies, etc)

Ensure you play game/s with completed projects

Recording progress

Deltavector

Revolting Peasants 1

Here we have a  mob of Wargamers converging on the home of Ridley Scott, having just watched “Napoleon”.  🙂

They are armed with a variety of pitchforks, scythes, axes and the like.

They are suitable for a wide time span, probably through about 1700. 

I gave mine a few WotR command figures and some spare WotR banners from Pete’s flags. 

I have in mind to use them as “Very Inferior Array” for some games with Test of Resolve – Wars of the Roses.

Blunders On The Danube