Sunday, December 25, 2016

Rules Review - Dropfleet Commander

My kickstarter for Hawk Wargames' Dropfleet Commander has arrived and I have begun to make my way through the rules while I continue to try to get back on the hobby horse and finish clearing stale projects from my hobby desk.  So I thought I would share a few impressions of the rules.

Did I really buy this much?  Oh dear.
Oh no, why did you do this?
One quick thing before the review of the rules.  The rulebook itself has not made this review very easy (see pic above) or enjoyable.  I can appreciate the "artistic license" that printing in a landscape format can offer but the practicality is awful.  It is a rulebook, not a coffee table art book, therefore functionality is key.  I can only hope that Hawk Wargames will consider printing a small rulebook in a portrait orientation (killing two birds with one stone for me:  pocket rulebook and a functional rulebook).  And hey, that would put more money in their pocket too.  Win-win-win!

Dropfleet Commander is a capitol ship (ie, battleships, cruisers, frigates) space combat game set in the Hawk Wargames Sci-Fi universe, which is also home to the sister game Dropzone Commander.  Rather than the typical space combat game though, Dropfleet focuses on the orbital combat involved in planetary conquest (or defense).  This distinction leads to some very interesting characteristics to the game, described throughout this review, that help it stand out from other space combat games (in my opinion and to my knowledge).

Scale of Game:
Dropfleet Commander is intended to be played at a points value of 500-3000.  This range is broken into 3 categories:  Skirmish (500-999), Clash (1000-1999) and Battle (2000-3000).  Ignoring most of fleet organization rules/restrictions and using pure point costs:  I would guess Skirmish at 999 pts would be a combination of 13 frigates and cruisers; Clash ~25 combined ships; Battle ~36 combined ships.  I'm pulling those numbers out of my ass but a quick look on the forums confirms the skirmish is in the ballpark.  Tournament play is suggested at 1500 pts.

List Building:
To be honest, for me, list building is a royal mess and I can't wrap my head around it.  It just makes my head hurt.  And it is hard to write about something you don't understand.  Luckily, The Hot LZ blog can provide some insights to you.  Maybe.  Good luck!

Standard Rules:
For the most part Dropfleet Commander plays as I would expect a naval warfare game to play, which seems fairly common in this genre.  It also worth noting upfront, it does not make use of complex vector mechanics, mountains of book keeping or graduate level mathematics.  Whether that is a good thing or a bad thing is matter of your perspective (for the record, it's a good thing in my eyes - why else would I have bought all that stuff up above).  Rather than rehashing every aspect of the game rules, this post will already be to long, I will instead focus on what I consider unique or interesting aspects of the rules (good or bad).  Also note, this what I pulled from my first pass through the rules and without having played, so I could have some things wrong.  Ok, probably have at least something wrong.

A unique aspect that Dropfleet Commander seems bring to the genre, at least in regards to a more "abstracted" space combat games and to my knowledge, is the concepts of energy signature, sensors and target locks.  Basically, it assumes that firing ranges are nearly infinite in exo-atmospheric flight and what drives your ability to hit another ship is achieving a proper firing solution.  As such, ships have a sensor stat which gets added to the targeted ship's energy signature to result in the max distance that a target lock can be achieved.  This seems to me to scale with ship size in what seems like a realistic and recursive manner:  Smaller ships may lack the room to carry sophisticated sensor arrays that larger ships do, thus limiting their weapon ranges;  Which also in turn represents the smaller weapons that they would be equipped with, since the ships are smaller.  The energy signature of the ship is driven by a few factors:  firing weapons increase it, certain maneuvers increase it (or decrease it in the case of silent running), using active scanning, being hit with active scanning, etc.  The energy signature of a ship is tracked via the flight stand base so hopefully this is fairly minimal bookkeeping and hopefully not fiddly.

While the game does abstract the infinite-ness of space, and that it is 3 dimensional space, by specifying that ships do not collide with each other (unless you are trying to ram, which can only be done if your ship is already badly damaged) and do not block LOS, it does offer 3 altitudes bands (high orbit, low orbit and atmospheric) and the ability to move/interact between them in reasonable ways.  While the altitude bands are nothing revolutionary to land/sea/air based combined arms games, how it's implemented and integrated into an orbital combat game seems new.  The concept of orbital combat for planetary conquests leads to the scenarios based on delivering ground assets to key locations and this all appears to work nicely together.

Dropfleet Commander also makes use of battlegroups and groups.  Within a battlegroup, identical ships form a group and solo ships forms there own groups.  Groups must maintain a certain coherency based on it's hull value, representing that larger ships have better/more communication capability to share data and work together.  Additionally, all groups within a battlegroup have to also maintain a certain coherency to represent their ability to work together.  The exact composition of the battlegroup contribute to its overall value (I forget the term), which factors into the activation system.  Again, nothing necessarily new to this but I like how it integrates into the activation system (coming up next).

Activation is handled in an interesting manner that might force key tactical decisions to be made in fleet composition, battlegroup composition and during the planning step.  The planning step takes place at the beginning of each turn and has each player stack their set of battlegroup cards face down in an order of their choice.  During activation, each player flips over their top battlegroup card.  Now, remember how I said just above each battlegroup has a value?  The player who has flipped the lower valued battlegroup gets to choose to activate that battlegroup first or force the other player to activate the one he revealed.  I want to believe this helps represent that smaller battlegroups are more "nimble" than larger ones.  Want to activate your heavily damage battleship to fire off it's weapons before it blows up?  Better hope your opponent does not flip over that small battlegroup of frigates to finish you off.

I also really like how critical hits are handled.  If your attack roll exceeds your target number by 2 or more, it is a critical.  Unless a passive defense save is allowed, critical hits bypass the armor save to cause direct hull damage.  End up with a damaged enough hull, then you start taking crippling damage which has a lot of cinematic flavor to it (reactor melt down, etc).

Lastly, if you decide to play with this option, you (and your opponent) draw activation cards at the beginning (I think) of each turn, based on your Admiral value.  These cards have special triggers and effects that add bit of surprise to the flow.  I wonder how these will be embraced by the community.  I vaguely recall that Spartan Games Uncharted Seas (and maybe other of their games) might have had something like this but I want to say it was not particularly well received.

Things I think are fairly standard/not worth a paragraph but maybe should be pointed out:
  • You have your fairly typical set of special orders:  Weapons Free, Station Keeping, Course Change (additional turn), Max Thrust, Silent Running, Active Scan
  • Movement is primarily handled in a naval combat game fashion.  Must move at least half of your movement speed and can make one 45 degree turn at the beginning of the movement, unless you issue a special order.  
  • It is not a bucket of dice game like Spartan Game's core system or others.  That being said, you do roll multiple dice to help offset a uniform distribution effect.  Its just not a bucket of them.
  • No exploding dice.
  • While there are some tables, in my opinion they provide nice cinematic flavor to the game.
As I mentioned several times before, this game is about the orbital combat of/during planetary conquests.  Therefore, scenarios often require capturing and holding ground sectors by delivering ground troops to those locations and ground combat mechanics.  The given scenarios seem to provide a nice set of variety and mostly interestingly use a wide variety of deployment types.  Not just deployment zones but also things like turn staggered deployments.

Other Things:
The rules, in my eyes, are well written.  Even the fleet organization part appears to be very clearly stated, its just they are some complex restriction interactions that I can't process right now.  The artwork is great and not a focus of this review, but I suspect the fluff is rich.  I've already harped on the landscape layout but I can tell you it has been a couple of hours with the rules between righting that point above and then here; and I am even less happy about the layout now.  lol

The miniature quality seems top notch.  I have already started assembling the Scourge ships that I got in the kickstarter.  While I got UCM x2, PHR x1 and Scourge x1, the Scourge were at the bottom of my list of desire.  So I started with them in case I screwed something up (because I wanted to try magnetizing the options), I thought they would be easy to paint and because I loose motivation for anything after the first faction if I start with my primary choice.  I will post these up later with more thoughts but overall they seem to be great miniatures.

I am also hopeful that Hawk Wargames can ride the wave generated by their kickstarter.  There have been larger miniature wargame kickstarters (in terms of money raised) that have basically been DOA/stillborn.  I suspect that a big part of this is that the momentum from the campaign has died in the 2-3 years it took before people got their product.  Additionally, I believe backers start to have a lot of ill will because of delays/lack of communication and other kickstarter BS.  Hawk Wargames is a little different in this regard, because from the day of funding until delivery (at least for me) was right at 1 year.  Yes, it was late but that overall end-to-end time of one year is still far better than most wargaming kickstarters.

Another different aspect is that most kickstarter games, after initial deliver, spend the next few years producing and delivering (if you are lucky) the expansions or wave 2/3/4 that were part of the campaign.  So lets say it took 2 years to get your base delivery and then another year (yeah right but bear with me) to get that first expansion.  So, theoretically it is now maybe 3 and a half years since you "bought" into the game, before you may see something "new."  Not so much for Dropfleet Commander.  Battleships, which were not part of the kickstarter, are hitting retail soon (if not already) and Corvettes are already being teased (maybe those will be within 6 months of the Battleships).  This is a much better business model/approach, in my opinion, than most other kickstarters.

Potential Concerns:
One concern I am left with though is the turn to turn satisfaction of playing the game.  Let me try to illustrate my point.  An opponent's UCM battleship could have a hull value of 18.  Without causing a major energy spike to my ships, I can only fire 1 weapon system at a turn.  That weapon system may only have 2-4 attack dice, has to get past the armor save and then they seem to typically only do 1 damage per hit.  Given this, it seems like it could take awhile and a lot of focused fire to take that battleship down.  Granted, this is how a battleship should be represented.  But accurate representation does not always equal compelling game play.  Only playing the game will really tell if the game feels like it gets bogged down.

Likely related to the previous concern, the rules indicate the typical tournament game (1500 pts) is expected to be 2.5-3 hours.  =(  I would much prefer if this was down into the 1.5-2 hour range.

I am put off a little bit by the combined group and battlegroup coherency rules.  Only playing will tell but coming from a mostly skirmish game background, these are things I am typically not accustomed to.  And on the occasions I have dealt with them, they have seemed to be a nuisance.  Likewise, I am a little put off by the list building complexity (at least right now).

Another concern, is simply will the game be successful?  Dropzone Commander (the sister game) does not really seem to have taken a strong hold in the hobby.  Spartan Games also offers comparable games to Dropzone and Dropfleet, and non of there offerings seem particularly relevant in the hobby space either (maybe due more to Spartan Games than to the games themselves, but I wont get into that).  Certainly in the case of Spartan Games and Dropzone Commander, there are strong pockets here and there, as certainly be the case with Dropzone Commander.  They can probably all co-exist and survive in those pockets, I just hope that Hawk Wargames can grow it bigger than that.

The cost of the game also does seem a little high.  The max skirmish list I took a guess at above would costs roughly $180 retail.  Maybe that is why the community is coverging to 1500 pt games.  The min size for a skirmish would be roughly half of that, so cost of basic entry would be about $120 ($90 for minis, $30 for rulebook and skipping the pack of activation cards).  Not sure how any of these numbers compare to similar offerings though.

Lastly, there are 4 factions and these are the factions that have been established for quiet some time via Dropzone Commander (although Dropzone actually has 5 factions now, but that 5th will never get a spacefleet).  I think this is good since I prescribed to the D6 generation's philosophy that 4 factions is the magic number for new games.  But I don't know how or if, Hawk will add another/more factions.  So the open questions is:  While 4 initial factions is almost mandatory for any new game, can the game sustain with ONLY 4 factions.  X-Wing is one exception to this, but then again X-Wing is an exception to almost everything.  Although some people do not even consider it a valid "miniatures" game.

Anyway, Dropzone Commander looks to be a good space orbital combat game, in the vein of the more abstracted space combat games that play like naval warfare games.  I love this particular genre, so I am pretty excited to try it out.  I think the distinction that it is focused on orbital combat, rather than space combat, helps breath some refreshing things into this "kind" of game.  And then the miniatures speak for themselves.  If you like them and like a simpler naval warfare type combat, then you should check it out.

And sorry, this was still very long winded.  Once I start, I have trouble stopping.  I guess.  There is also a lot to cover.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Naughty and Nice, the Kickstarter Kids

Under the illusion of "In the spirit of Christmas" I thought I would put together a naughty and nice list of kickstarters I have backed.  I think I will start with the negative (naughty list) and try to end positively (nice list).  Note, for my naughty list if they have managed to deliver to me, regardless of how late, they are getting a pass but sure as hell not getting on my nice list.  So, without further ado.

Naughty List
Robotech RPG Tactics:  What do I even say...
  • Who:  Palladium Books
  • Issue:  Where the hell is Wave 2/the rest of my stuff?
  • KS Completed:  May 2013
  • Advertised Delivery:  Dec 2013
  • Last Update to Backers:  Sept 2016
  • Last Update with Useful Information:  Who the fuck knows, maybe never?
  • Longest Span without Update: 3 months
  • Salt in the Wound:  Pretty much anytime I see their product.  Or when I try to assemble their product and have 20+ pieces to put together for a 2 inch tall mech, wtf!?
Journey, Wrath of Demons:  Wish I didn't have to do this...
  • Who:  Marrow Production
  • Issue:  Where the hell is Wave 2/the rest of my stuff?
  • KS Completed:  Nov 2013
  • Advertised Delivery:  July 2014
  • Last Update to Backers:  Dec 2016 
  • Last Update with Useful Information:  Who the fuck knows.
  • Longest Span without Update:  6 months (wow, really?)
  • Salt in the Wound:  None really
  • Who:  Flying Frog Productions
  • Issue:  Where the hell is Wave 2/the rest of my stuff?
  • KS Completed:  Nov 2013
  • Advertised Delivery:  Aug 2014
  • Last Update to Backers:  Nov 2016
  • Last Update with Useful Information:  Nov 2016
  • Longest Span without Update:  3 months
  • Salt in the Wound:  A new Kickstater, really!?
Alien vs Predator, The Miniatures Game:  Words can't describe...
  • Who:  Prodos Games
  • Issue:  Where the hell is any of my stuff!?  At least everyone else on the naughty list has gotten me something...
  • KS Completed:   Late 2013
  • Advertised Delivery:  May 2014
  • Last Update to Backers:  Oct 2016
  • Last Update with Useful Information:  Pretty much never.
  • Longest Span without Update:  Un-calculable but I would bet on at least 6 months
  • Salt in the Wound:  Sending me emails with a discount on this very product.  Seeing this very product in retail.  Seeing/hearing the name/word "Prodos."  The fact that I can't buy (their) Sci-Fi Samurai because of this BS.
As 3 of those 4 kickstarter issues are "Where the hell is Wave 2/the rest of my stuff?" it is important to be clear that I believe in all of those kickstarters above (and the case with most kickstarters) they were not clear about what is Wave 1 vs later, in their kickstarter campaigns.  In fact, I believe most companies only figure this out months (years in some cases) later and "implement" waves trying to save face.

As I mentioned, there are several others that really deserve to be on this list but have been given a pass because they did eventually complete the fulfillment.  A couple of those really deserve to be on this naughty list regardless but I will get even more negative if I expand further.

Moving on...

Nice List
Happy Seppuku:  All of their KS that I have backed have been reasonably on time or just slightly late.  All exactly as expected.  

Albino Dragon:  I've got a soft spot for themed decks of playing cards and these guys always come through in quality and delivery dates.

Roadkill:  As I recall, pretty much exactly on time and as expected.  Great job.  

End of the Line:  As mentioned in an earlier blog post, a couple of months early!  WTF!?  Great job!

Relicblade:  Again, pretty much on time as I recall.  Good job.  Hope the same for the expansion.

This Is Not a Test:  Also pretty much on time as I recall.  Good job.

Hero Realms:  Maybe premature for them to make the nice list (Wave 2 is still pending it's planned ship date) but they pretty much nailed their promised Wave 1 ship date.  So given all my pessimism, I will give them the benefit of the doubt.

The Hobby Transporter:  I only backed the leaf punches but they were on time!

And that wraps up the Nice list.  I know there is a bit of a disparity between the companies in each of those groups.  One camp are the "big boys" that had huge successful kickstarters.  In the other, more mom-and-pop type companies that weren't as huge.  I realize there is a (bit of) dis-economy of scale effect between those two categorizes.  That being said, isn't dis-economy of scale the result of poor management/planning/execution?  And even if you don't think it is, they (naughty list) stepped up to the plate saying they were going to do X by Y.  Implicitly they said they would handle this dis-economy of scale.

Part of the disparity is also just my backing behavior changing.  I've begun to lean toward the mom-and-pop kind of kickstarters.  For a number of typical reasons that are not worth rehashing, but also because their products usually don't end up in retail, and/or in retail before KS fulfillment and/or in retail for less than KS prices.  Also because most of the big ones end up being stillborn/DOA.  Either because their delay caused so much strife with the community or simply because the hobby world has moved on.  I still succumb to the big ones every now and again though.

Anyway, I thought this post would turn out a little different than it did.  I thought it would be fun and I  could put a fun twist on it.  That kind of faded as I got into it and reopened old wounds.  Oh well.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

November Recap

Late again with the November recap but there was not much activity to motivate me to get something written up.  As expected the month was again a bust hobby wise.  I miss my hobby time, so I'm hopeful I will find a way to carve out the time soon (hint, since this post is late I can tell you that I have managed to do some hobbying in December and am a bit reinvigorated).

There was a bit of hobbying by proxy (ie, acquisition), I spent way to much money on the Mythic Battles Pantheon kickstarter (ok, maybe it should be called a delayed acquisition).  Granted, I didn't spend as much as I could have/wanted to.  Speaking of kickstarter:  In a first ever for me, I received this early:

And by early, I mean a couple of months early!  The final version of End of the Line looks great and I can't wait to get it to the table.

Receiving it early has been a bit bittersweet though.  It has irritated me quite severely regarding some outrageously late kickstarters like Prodos' AvP.  Hmm, that reminds me I should update my address for the AvP kickstarter.  For the third time...  Third time since I could have bought a retail copy...  *sigh*

I did pretty much get my man cave/hobby space all sorted out, finally.  There are a few odds and ends left to deal with still, but it's done enough to show it off.

Let's not talk about what is behind that door in the corner.
At least not yet.  Note the unused cat beds on the far left...

There is another chair, for visitors and symmetry, that is on temporary
assignment.  Obviously the cat (Blue) thinks I need it back.  Another cat
(Cleo) is usually in the chair in front of the airbrush area, hence
the blanket.

Seems a shame that puny little TV doesn't fill  in that
opening better.  If you are wondering what is in all those banker
boxes, they are filled with shame.  Lots of shame.

A very big improvement over this.  Anyway, not much else to report.  December should be a bit more interesting at least.  If nothing else I will get a chance to review all of my hobby failures, I mean achievements, for the year.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Too Funny

I'm in a bit of a sardonic mood today, so I thought I would share something I find a bit hilarious.  Or maybe it's sad.  Or maybe I am just kicking people that are down and trying to get up.  All of the above?  idk.

But before I get started, I will have to say (and I think I have said) that Games Workshop really appears to be marching to a different tune.  No need to discuss the changes, I think they are well known.  So, what about GW and Adepticon have me laughing (or maybe it's crying)?  Well, at Adepticon 2017 you can sign up for, at a cost of $5, a GW seminars!  Actually, there is more than one GW seminar but one in particular is the target of this discussion.  Which one you ask!?

Games Workshop Presents: Rules Writing

This is all well and fine.  A bit benign perhaps until you understand I am not a fan of GW rules.  But here is the icing on the cake when coupled with these seminars:  GW just released a comprehensive Warhammer 40k FAQ.  A FAQ for your flagship game is a good thing, don't get me wrong.  And they solicited community feedback/inputs regarding it, again a good thing.  But if you have not seen it, just go click that link.  Yeah, there it is:  A DENSE 16 PAGES OF FAQ!  The entire rules section for Wrath of Kings (yes, yes it's a different kind of game but...) is done in just 18 pages (if I recall correctly), with pictures/diagrams!

And Games Workshop is going to do seminars at a convention regarding rules writing!?!?!?  LMAO.  Or crying.  It will only cost you $5.  LOL.

Anyway, I guess I'm done throwing stones from the porch of my glass house.  I'm going back inside.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

October Recap

Well, just more than a few days late posting up my October activities but there was not much to report out regarding my hobby activities for that month.  Nothing done in just about every category imaginable.

I did manage to read the 3rd book in the Expanse series:  Abaddon's Gate.  I continue to really enjoy this series although there was a "twist" toward the end that almost felt as if the reasoning was "I can stuff another 200 pages in this book if I do this."  Maybe it's just me since I have been wondering why the "average" Sci-Fi book has seemed to grow from 300 to 500 pages.  But I can't help but have these thoughts after reading something like The Forever War, clocking in at 260 pages and spanning over a 1000 years of an interstellar solider's life.  Anyway, moving on.

Significant time was also spent ("wasted") playing video games this month.    I still haven't kicked my Overwatch addiction (BTW, why the hell isn't there an Overwatch miniature game in development!?) although there are signs that my obsession with it are almost over.  One of these signs was my purchasing of 2013 Tomb Raider reboot and immediate consumption of it.  I knew going in it was supposed to be "great" and I am happy to confirm those assertions.  Hmm, what should I play next.  Wait, I have another hobby and it's what this blog is supposed to be about...

There were also some new additions this month, of course:

New Rulesets, leaf punches, Alexander.  Wait, WTF!?
Hmmm, now to figure out priorities...  lol  Anyway, that little guy above poses some serious questions about where do I go from here concerning the hobby.  It was hard enough to stay "engaged" in this hobby the first time around when it was 2v1 (2 parents vs 1 child).  Now I'm in a 2v2 situation...  We'll see where things go from here.

That being said, you can see some new rulebooks in the acquisitions above.  So I will probably try to do review/overview of some of them (reading is about the only activity I can manage in the 5 min increments I get right now).

A few new/upcoming things under consideration:

I'm a sucker for Greek mythology.

Sci-Fi Frostgrave?

Pre-Registration starts Nov 21st!

Anyway, that is about it for now.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Huntsville Plastic Modeler's Society

I mentioned in my September recap, I stumbled across the Huntsville Plastic Modelers Society and their 40th Annual Model Show a couple of weeks ago (yes, this is kind of late to the party but I've been busy).  As I ended up with some free time that morning and it was extremely close to where I live, I decided to check out the show.  I took a bunch of photos, mostly of models that I thought were interesting or well done.  If I had to guess, the individual model photos probably only represent about 1/3 of what was there and there may have been more added through the day.  More information about HPMS can be found here.  Now I just have to resist this thought...

Hmm, just a few more people here than I expected.
Model display area.
Vendor area.

Overall, it was pretty interesting to stop by and check out the models on display.  As I haven't really dived into scale modelling, the vendor area was not terribly interesting to me.  I did pass on a scale model of a 3 mast cargo ship that could have worked for some kind of Pirate theme game/terrain, since it was 1/50th scale.  It was only $35, but I talked myself out of it.  Anyway, definitely was not a bad way to spend an hour on a Saturday and does tempt me to buy a scale model.  To many other things need my attention right now.  

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

September Recap

Well, September has come and gone without much activity for me to report.  Most of the month was lost to either preparing for a big life event in October or playing way to much Overwatch on the Xbox.

Part of preparing for October had me make a fast burn overnight trip to Atlanta.  I got to stop by Giga-bites Cafe in Marietta and was truly impressed.  It had been a long time since I had been to a game store that decent, sadly.  Their stock list contained some real surprises too.  Highly recommend it if you happen to visit the Marietta area.  I stayed over some old friends and managed to fit in a game Lords of Waterdeep (I love that game) and a game of Lagoon:  Land of Druids (meh).

I also got in a game of my buddy Mike's homebrew ruleset for mass combat:  Mini-Mayhem.  Mike saved me the effort of a "battle report", so you can find that here.  A very interesting ruleset that captures a lot of flavor of mass combat.

There were also some experiments with creating mud bases for Masons team.  It's been a mixed success.  I definitely identified a formulation for the "core" of it but I'm having a lot of trouble beyond that.  But I may have a fundamental problem/error in how I'm using weathering powders.  I'll need to do some research and more experimenting.

Oh, I also stumbled across and stopped by the Huntsville Plastic Modelers Society for their 40th annual model show.  I was very surprised by the turn out and saw some pretty nice models entered.  I will try to get the pictures up in a post soon.  More information regarding the Huntsville Plastic Modelers Society can be found here.

And that was pretty much it.  There were some purchases that I wont bore anyone with but it does include one I am very excited about.  I have to figure out where it sits in the backlog though.  And before I get to the backlog, I have to stop playing so much Overwatch and finish my Masons team for Guild Ball.

Lastly, if you have any kind of interest in Mechs these are haunting me:  Terra Promessa.  I've resisted the urge for a couple of weeks now but I still haven't found the strength to close that tab on my browser.  LOL

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Rules Review - Drakerys

As I mentioned in my August recap, I read through the rules for a new fantasy miniature game called Drakerys.  Derek over at Throne of Angels has raved about this game since coming back from Gencon in episode 54 and now has put out an unboxing video for the starter set in episode 57.  Since I bothered to read through the rules I thought I would post up some first impressions of them.  I wont bother to go into the fluff, setting, aesthetics that much as I was more interested in the mechanics of the game.  It should be noted, when I theorize about army composition it was done by ignorantly building a Paladinate of Irosia force that I thought "might" be balanced but I have no gameplay experience to know one way or another if it was.

Scale of Game:
For the scale of the game, Drakerys is written to support game sizes of 300-2000 pts.  At 300 pts I would say that you are definitely in skirmish scale with my list coming in at 13 figures.  At the opposite end of 2000 pts, my list came out to about 55 figures.  I don't quite consider that army scale, so I am going to ignorantly call it warband scale.

List Building:
Pretty simple, straight forward and mostly standard.  Each unit has a army point cost and a rarity cost, both of which are agreed upon with your opponent (I can't find it again in the rulebook, but I thought it was suggested to allow 1 rarity point for every 100 army points).  The cost (army and rarity points) is a factor of a unit's ability and the size of the unit.  For instance, for the Paladinate of Irosia a unit of 5 bowmen is 80 army points and 0 rarity.  A unit of 10 of them is 160 points and 1 rarity.  I am not 100% sure, but it seems to make sense (see later about initiative/activation order), that 2 units of 5 bowmen is 160 army points and 0 rarity.

Standard Rules:
With a couple of notable exceptions (initiative/activation and magic), the rules are fairly typical.  That being said, they are very clear and concise.  It is a d10 based system, which I think is nice for being able to easily calculate probabilities but I also like it because I think it allows a nice amount of granulation of modifiers that can be accounted for.

The real stand out aspect of this game for me is the initiative/activation system.  It manages to give you a large amount of flexibility and choice, yet that part is out shined by how it ensures there is a balance in the choices you make.  What do I mean?

Basically activation order is tracked among the players on a closed track called the Time Path and whoever has the lowest position on the track is the active player (and stays the active player until he is no longer the lowest).  A unit may have different actions it can perform at different "costs" (let's say melee is 1 action, charging 3 actions).  These are "paid" (my term) by moving your position along the circular track.  After the unit has completed it's activation, it receives a stress token.  Later, or right then if you still the active player, it looks like you can choose to activate that unit again but your "costs" go up by the number of stress tokens on the unit.  These stress markers are removed once you have completed a loop of the Time Path (there is slightly more to it than that, but for this simple review I think that is adequate enough).

The two time paths (one for smaller games, one for larger).  Shamelessly
stolen image from the rulebook.
One thing that did initially worry me when reviewing the rules was the Action Table.
Oh no, tables.  And what does it even mean? 
Basically, the top row is the difference between 2 skills/attributes/whatevers.  That difference corresponds to the target number on the d10(s) that is needed to succeed on the second row.  Once you wrap your head around a straight roll needs a 6+, then it becomes pretty intuitive:  adjust up or down from 6 by the difference.  In addition to this table being fairly easy to remember it is basically the only one (there is at least one other that talks about game size, table size, scenery elements, etc but I'm am not counting that).
I'll cover the Maelstroms and Vortexes under Magic.  But, I really
love a company that comes right out in suggesting the amount of scenery.
Three quick last notes on the rules:  the game uses centimeters (as seen above) in regards to board dimensions and measurements.  Based on my experiences with Rachkam's Confrontation, I sadly think this will be an issue for some people.  Also, as it matters to some:  pre-measuring is allowed.  The game does have a morale mechanic too, if you care about such things.

I approached the magic system section with a bit of apprehension.  The Rackham game Confrontation gets thrown around a lot when discussing/researching Drakerys.  While I learned (not an easy feat btw) and loved Confrontation, it's magic system was something I never could wrap my head around and largely felt either extremely overpowered or extremely underwhelming.

I'm glad to say I am I blown away.  The magic system looks spectacular, albeit a bit different than many gamers will be used to.  It is different in that wizards draw their power to cast spells from vortexes and maelstroms spread throughout the table.  Vortexes have a limited amount of mana they can provide and only of a specific type (air, earth, fire, water).  Maelstroms can provide an unlimited amount of mana of any type.  The individual spells have a cost in mana that has to be paid by drawing from vortexes and maelstroms, then the target number is calculated based on the level of the wizard, distance to the furthest vortex/maelstrom and the number of sources (beyond the first) that you are pulling mana from.  Unused mana from a source can be used to add extra d10s to the roll (maxing at 9 for maelstroms since they have an unlimited supply of mana).  Finally, the number of success can affect the results of the spell.

Maelstroms sounds pretty great (adding up to 9 extra dice to your roll) but tapping into these powerful sources comes at a risk.  A d10 result of a 1 triggers a cataclysmic effect and the more 1s, the worse and is cumulative with the lower results too (ie, 2 failures trigger the 2 failure cataclysmic effect and the 1 failure effect).

I very much like this system for magic but I do have a couple of unresolved concerns.  The spells are not laid out in the rulebook (they are an included(?) deck) so it is hard to get a feel for how detailed/varied the spell selection is.  I am also concerned, and it may be a completely unfounded concern, that the spells do not appear to have army point costs.  Perhaps this is accounted for by the most powerful (maybe, like I said I don't know what the spell selection is) spells are only available to highly costed, high level wizards.  Based on the attention to detail I've seen thus far though, I am inclined to think these 2 things are non-issues.  [Ok, edit.  The spells are available in the card pack downloads section on the website and they are specific to each faction.  As of right now (and I'm not even done writing this review), this review is already a lot longer than I intended (and thus taking more time), I will have to revisit this aspect in the future.  Maybe...]

Another interesting aspect to Drakerys is that awakened characters, which look to be primarily/exclusively your "leaders", can summon elementals to fight for them on the battlefield.  These can either take the form of Elemental Heralds or the stronger Elemental Overlords.  Summoning seems pretty straight forward and utilizes the Vortexes/Maelstroms I mentioned above.  Without having some play experience under my belt, it is hard to gauge how much of an impact they can have on a game but the concept seems pretty cool.

Missions and Scoring:
Unless I missed something, the only way to score Victory Points is via the Missions.  In total there are 9 missions and are randomly drawn from the Mission Deck.  Each mission is composed of a common and a solo mission (usually only very minor, but sometimes very important, differences between the two).  The first card drawn is the "common" mission both players share.  The second card is the "solo" mission for Player A.  The third card is the "solo" mission for Player B.  Each mission is worth up to 3 VP and the game ends on the 6th turn, I believe.  If I am correct about all this, it is pretty much perfect to me (I love Malifaux for it's Schemes/Strategies, so go figure).

Other Things:
The rules, in my eyes, are well written and laid out, although it is hard to know without being in the middle of a game and trying to find something.  Examples are plentiful and well illustrated with pictures.  The artwork in the book is top notch.  Not a focus of this review, but I suspect the fluff is rich.

A very smart aspect to the marketing of the game is the unit boxes.  For the Paladinate of Irosia army I used for sample builds, there is a single box for what I will call the core infantry unit(s).  With this box you could build them either as Bowmen, Conscripts or Halberdiers.  They come 5 to a box, with available unit sizes of 5/10/15.  I think this is great because in this day and age, less SKUs are good for everyone involved.  Even for the "leader", one box set can build one of the 3 options.  You might even be able to magnetize some of them to give you extra flexibility, although for some I think it would be difficult.

The costs seems appropriate for a game with high quality miniatures.  We are talking about 13 figures on the low end of the point scale and maybe 55 at the top end, so the game is not going to be cheap if you are getting good quality miniatures.  The 300 pt list I came up as an example, costed at about $100 retail.  The 2000 pt list looked to run about $400.  Which does seem slightly high for a warband sized game but I could get that cost down to the $250 with army selection, although I don't know how balanced it would be (but I don't know how balanced the $400 sample list I made is either).

The starter set for the game is an incredible value if you are looking to jump in quickly and at the lower end of the point scale.  For $90 retail you get what looks to be 360 points of Paladinate of Irosia, 410 points of Orcs and 2 Elemental Heralds (along with the usual things you would expect:  quick start rules, campaign book, tape measure, counters, dice, etc).  Remember I said the 300 pt list I came up with was $100?  One important note though, I mentioned above about how the unit boxes can build different versions of that core troop.  This is not the case with the miniatures you get in the starter but they are single piece and are already based, ready to play miniatures!  You could start working through the introductory game within minutes of peeling the shrink wrap off the box.

Some Minor/Personal Concerns:
It is really hard to say without any product in my hands but I am slightly concerned about miniature quality.  The painted miniatures in the book and from the Kickstarter look outstanding and of high quality.  If you watch the unboxing video on Throne of Angels, the quality is not quiet apparent.  Knowing that Derek has high standards in this regard though, I suspect the quality is top notch.  I look forward to seeing him paint them up.

I also have a 2 concerns about the scale, one at each end of the spectrum.  While the rules say 300 pts as a minimum, I suspect this is more of a "demo" size.  When I built my sample list, I "felt" I had next to no options of what I could take and get into 300 pts.  I suspect that for a more satisfying skirmish size you will need to bump the points up to the 500 or even the 650 maximum for skirmish.  Additionally, scoring VPs via the missions at this size may be very difficult.  And a failed moral check at this size could be devastating.

At the higher end, 2000 points, I (perhaps) ignorantly classified the game at this level as a warband scale.  Now if I look at my personal preferences for skirmish vs army scale games (bare with me, I will come back to warband in a sec), I want pretty different things accounted for and out of games of those scales.  For warband scale games, I really don't know what I want.  It is new territory for me.  My issues with wanting different things out of different game scales, has always caused me to question the "scalability" of rule systems, so that is a bit of a concern to me (ie does it work and play the way I want at 300/500 vs 2000?).

My last is entirely a personal concern.  It is highly unlikely I could pull the local gamers into this game but that is not the fault of the game.  They, for the most part, are thoroughly entrenched in KoW, Bolt Action and Frostgrave, having shown some signs of interest in Deadzone and Guild Ball.  Any further than that, at this time, might be wishful thinking.  I should pick my battles accordingly and focus on what I can get to the table.  Additionally, I think if I was going to explore a "warband" scale game my first attempt would be with the homebrew-ish fantasy version of Saga (sorry I can't find the link right now) so that I could tap my existing pool of models.  Also, I know I have a big expenditure on the horizon for Mythic Battles Pantheon so that tempers my temptation.

Drakerys looks to be a great rule system.  It's shinning star is the activation system but this is backed up with a compelling (to me at least) and unique magic system and an extremely tight set of rules.  If you are in the market for a new fantasy game that changes things up a bit but at it's core is still familiar, I think you should check it out.  The rules are available to download for free and that starter box is a great value.  According to the Throne of Angels unboxing video, while your local shop (or even your online shop) may not be carrying Drakerys, it should be available from distributors they have access to.

I hope it does well.  And if you have made it this far, wow.  I'm sorry.  The scope of this grew but as I wrote it I began to feel it deserved more than what I set out to write at the start.