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.

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