Monday, June 28, 2010

The Chess Analogy

WFB 8th Edition Commentary.

It's been a slow month for the blog, had a few setbacks, namely my basement flooding again after the biblical like rains here of late which called for a time consuming total reorganization and clean out. I haven't played a game of Fantasy Battles since the end of May. My Empire army is still in its cases and while I knocked out the that skirmish dungeon board and played a couple games of the new Warhammer Ancient Battles my mind has really been on Warhammers new edition.

I've spent a good deal of time talking and reading about it, and while my first attempt to make it into my local shop to get a game in with the book was rained out (the area floods I mentioned) I have spent some time (2 sit downs) with the rulebook, read the new White Dwarf and the games designers comments. I've also talked to seasoned players, for and against who have played the new edition. While there are things I like and definitely don't like, the big picture is clear to me now and clarity is always a good thing.

7th Edition competitive Warhammer as we knew it now is dead. Potentially still in its last throes somewhere for another few weeks but to most who have thoroughly read the new rules, its dead and buried. Occasionally GW surprises me as they often seem to blindly stumble along unaware of the troops of the ground their wants, needs and motivations unacknowledged but somehow accidentally appeased by unending stream of new toys for us all to play with. however As far as Warhammer is concerned its clear that GW did see what was going on all those miniature battlefields across the globe and didn't like what it was seeing.

Unfortunately for many, competitive miniature gaming is viewed as a sport, its all about list tailoring, number crunching, statistical analysis and game faces. GW reinforced this by pushing events like Ard'd Boyz and calling a stop to their own GT's and letting Indy RTT's take over the Tournament circuit. They gave the keys to the store to their customers to see what would happen and have realized that the thing being lost most, was the thing held dearest to them..the hobby. (yes- I know all you cynics said "money")

Here comes WFB 8th Edition, a complete antithesis to the studied, number crunching, statistical probabilities of its former wargaming pseudo sport. If you've spent years being able to discern 8 from 10 inches with the naked eye or could calculate the odds of specific combat result down to a margin of 1 in your head for every unit on the table, you will find these skills no longer required in any great degree. Because WFB 8th may be allot of thing but one thing it is in spades is random.

Random is a sports fans worst nightmare; they want hard probabilities based on skill, practice, and dedication.

They demand the likes of Michael Jordan, and recoil in horror at a Steve Bartman. 8th Ed's loose movement, random charges, random spell dice, fighting by initiative and models always being able to fight back until there are no more to fight all work against the way the game has previously been played in a new level of randomness that is sure lose as many new fans as it gains.

A 528 page rulebook packed with back story, and photo's of miniatures is there for one purpose. The celebration of the hobby in all its splendor over celebrating the rules of the game. The easing up of the army organization chart and change from pitched battles to predetermined mission/scenarios is all geared toward you putting a well themed Warhammer force on the table, with special characters abound. I'm seeing the direction of game almost being a war game in the style and context in what you find in a...dare I say it: "role playing game".

All this of course will have a serious impact on the current RTT scene, which attempts to create either through composition or lack of, a balanced playing field (depending on your poison, comp or no comp) so it can be decided in a sports-like manner who the best player of the day is. We'll have to see how it goes, of course but I don't see 8th edition meeting the demands of hard core tournament goers, as is. One view is the game will get compressed down into a cookie cutter list, dice fest that marginalizes randomness as much as possible and inevitably fall into the trap that was 40K 4th Edition. (where miasma within the tourney scene will eventually lead to people losing interest all together.)

The flip side is people will embrace the new game for what it is and 8th Edition tournaments will be more of hobby events that embrace expanded soft scores, with games of pre-designed scenarios that will enable any person of marginal skill to win the day with a bit of luck. ( I think we may need to go thru the former to get to the latter)

Again this reverts back to my old "A versus B" arguments of the past, 8th edition at face value is clearly a game for "Type B" players. "Type A" players will find themselves out in the cold inevitably whittling away those 528 pages down to a handful of units of that minimize the potential randomness, in order to maximize the odds to "win"... however it's clear to me Warhammer 8th Edition isn't too about winning, it's about putting all those painted models down on the table and having a great aesthetic experience and a good time.

You would think, as a self described "B player" I would rejoice in these changes, but the tactician and war gamer in me doesn't. Part of me longs for knowing I always have an 8 or 14 inch charge, or knowing what my magic dice are or knowing my bound spells will always go off, or knowing enough kills on the charge will break an enemy unit without it ever getting the chance to strike back. Part of me revels in the fact that I'd never see Archeaon or Mannfred Von Carstein on the table at a tournament.

Having played the new Warhammer Ancient Battles, in which designers clearly went the opposite rout of 8th Edition WFB, by diving deeper into 7th edition rules and exploring more complicated possibilities of movement and combat. I find myself deeply drawn to the possibilities by studying this game, and it's reality that ancient warfare was as complicated then, as modern warfare is today

Clearly with Warhammer 8th edition gaming at shops or at home with friends will remain fun, easier to learn, and casual. The competitive tournament scene will adapt to either one that embraces the hobby in a way that is as all encompassing as the new rulebook lies out, or be it one that tries minimizing the purposeful randomness of new rule set and attempts to capture that focal point that was middle days of 7th edition. Perhaps even both for a time, but in the end only one will dominate and that will depend on the meddle of the players, old and new and the stomach for change.

In closing, I'm excited about the possibilities 8th Warhammer edition brings, I still love the miniatures and in GW's own words that's the key focal point of their existence. I look forward to new events, and new takes on old events. I look forward to new ways of playing old armies, and playing new ones. Reading the book clearly does make the game sound fun!. But I also look forward to pursing other games that push more in-depth tactical and strategic thinking through their focus on rules, not just for competitive purposes but for the mental challenges that it brings. "If you want fair and nonrandom, play Chess!" I read somewhere earlier this week, If you want an epic contest of monsters, heroes and hordes of troops, in which anything can and will happen- play Warhammer!. True and fair enough. I'm looking forward to all of it.


Randroid said...

Hear hear!

Hess said...

Good article - I agree more or less with everything in it.

Here in Denmark, I expect the 'A'-players to do exactly as you said - to minimize the craziness by bringing stable models on the table.

And the rest of us will use lvl 4 wizards on bells, flinging magic until their surrounding unit is all but lost.

Or so the rumors say...

Ginge said...

The first thing I thought after reading the new rules?

Now my pigeon bombs can do even MORE damage!

I think that says enough about what kind of player I am ;oP Good article, a very well thought out argument.

Greg said...

I'm looking forward to the changes, honestly. The thing that has kept me from playing thus far is the fact that I don't want to spend hours on probability calculations to have a chance of beating the long-time players.

I especially like the idea that I won't have to listen to hours of commentary from guys telling me how I should have made a better list. This is probably the worst part of 7th edition for me - the old guys who (no kidding) told me that I should have drybrushed my models with three colors, and spent all that "wasted" time actually building a better list.

Akhrin said...

Ah dear, yet another post that's got me thinking I should get into WHFB. You people aren't doing my bank account any favours!

The very predictable, statistics-based type of game that you describe as the old version of Fantasy is exactly the reason I never got back into it, but this new version sounds like something I could have a lot of fun with.

Tim said...

Great post! The chess reference is made twice in the July White Dwarf article too.

In 8th Edition I look forward most to the integration of fun and interesting terrain again; in 7th edition most tables saw 2 woods and 2 hills and was rather dull. Plus, the return of Bugman's XXXXX to the gaming table can only be a good thing :)

Hudson said...

well said and I have noted it on my site

Steve said...

Nice write up! The best part of 8th is the clearly writen rules! Yes, it is more simple, but it doesn't lose the depth of tactics from 7th. Often times in 7th it was 'rules knowledge' not tactics that won games. So many of the rules we broken up between books and FAQs, then mis-interprated. Now with rules being more clear it will be up to the skill of the general. I can't even count the times I walked up to a table as a rules judge, and after issuing the ruling had people tell me 'Well now I lost the game, if I would have known that rule before hand I wouldn't have done X.'. I am VERY curious to see if rules questions will become even less common in 8th, then in 7th.

P.S. Gone are the days of avoiding your opponents army and claiming table quarters in turn 6. Yippie!!

Lord Azaghul said...

Fantastic article. I think you captured 'what is 8th ed' very well.

I have read the book, played a few games, and I find it a wonderful breath of fresh air, however part of me will miss some of the older 'skill set' and tactal airs I've aquired from older editions, but the shear, 'fun' and the excitement I feel about getting back into my armies for hobby sakes is something 7th ed had almost destroyed. So I rejoice in what 8th ed has the potential to become.

Domus said...

Interesting vantage point.

I think you are hitting the nail on the head except for one key statement.

"Here comes WFB 8th Edition, a complete antithesis to the studied, number crunching, statistical probabilities of its former wargaming pseudo sport"

8th edition will be more about number crunching, probabilities and risk analysis than 7th edition. This is due to the random charge, improved shooting, and the new style bloodbath combats.

Combat units will be about resilience and holding the line which characters / elites to come in and do the wounds. Statlines (including AS) become everything quickly.

John@Plastic Legions said...

Thanks all!


James, remember its now macro, rather than micro number crunching..stat's oriented players for the most part will not, and already arent digging it. a 2d6 charge isnt worth micro analyzing, to percentage of each inch. you get within 7 an go for it..if your feeling lucky or a 5+ initiative just go for it as soon as can, because if you end getting counter charged you still go first..old micro analysis' just doesnt apply. the game is much simpler.

Domus said...


I think the game is becoming simpler to learn but I don't see it as becoming 'tactic/skill' free. Chess was simple to learn.


John@Plastic Legions said...

Easy to learn, difficult to master.
good stuff!

Keir said...

Great article. I may pick up a copy of the rules when releaesd in a smaller format. I have WAB II and you are so right. In the meantime, and this is an aside, where can I get a copy of that chess game you posted a picture of, if you know?


Felix said...

You know me. I'll get a book, but I won't necessarily get around to playing for a good long while. It took me four to five years just to get my current Wood Elf army onto the table!

Acorn said...

Great write up!

I did worry about the lack of strategy, but I just realize (with help from your post), I play so little any way that I get so rusty that my strategy goes out of the window. So the 8ed is perfect for me I guess.

Also I agree with Steven, the chance of getting "overruled" by the rule lawyers is also lower.



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