Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Following on from Mordhiem/Necromunda - Campaign Skirmish Games

Ah, nostalgia goggles! They make everything look so rosy!

Mordhiem (and the similar, sci-fi Necromunda) seem to retain a cult following long after they "died" and though GW is returning to a smaller-scale focus with Age of Sigmar, it is apparent they are more interested in a Warmachine-style game rather than a true skirmish game.

A lot of rules have tried to recapture that feeling (and the playerbase) and failed.

Here are a few that immediately come to mind....

LOTR: SBG (and spin-offs)
This was a remarkably clean ruleset with some subtle mechanics. Perhaps a bit too subtle for the usual GW crowd.  The Battle Companies campaign rules offered a simpler Mordheim alternative for adventuring in Middle Earth.   To be frank, the dark ages LoTR world is a bit too bland to make people excited about it.  It doesn't have the pizzazz of chaos demons, lizardmen, and rat-people.   Ironically, the original orcs-elves-dwarves-goblins suffers from the popularity of its creations. It's just a little dull.  I mean, the most powerful magic artifact simply turns you into an invisible drug addict?
Battle Companies was likewise a bit too simple/bland.  Whilst sensible and clean, I don't think it has enough bling to allow you to pimp your warband.  

Song of Blades & Heroes
For a while, this was the default response to "what fantasy skirmish game should I get."  An awesome "build your own warband" toolkit allowed you to use any random model in your collection, and a clever activation system initially obscured its faults. Using only 2(!) stats necessitated adding 100s of special rules to add "detail."  Quick, creative fun if you have like-minded friends, but more home-brew rules than club ruleset.  Having to buy 3-4 pdfs for the complete rules means you have to pay $40+ for a bunch of pdfs - I'd expect a hardback rulebook for that price.  Fun for a while, but ultimately lacks depth. 

Confrontation v3
Some clever ideas but somewhat obtuse and overcomplicated rules.  Had awesome, awesome metal minis years ahead of their time; but an ill-advised switch to prepainted plastics killed the skirmish game and the company. 

Empire of the Dead
Basically a steampunk LOTR:SBG with its serial numbers filed off, and d6s replaced with d10s.  Rode the initial wave of steampunk enthusiasm a few years back.  Does seem to have a steady following, but it's not really tearing up any trees. Most LOTR:SBG comments apply.  I suspect most play it for the quirky steampunk vibe and the fun models that come with it, rather than scintillating gameplay.

Infinity the Game
Quite possibly the best skirmish game out there, of any genre. However, it does not have a progression system, the chaotic characterful "levelling" and equipping your character that Mordhiem/Necromunda had.  They had their chance with Paradiso campaign book, but it was a big letdown.  They seemed to prefer strict "balance" and rigid mission structure instead. I think they're missing the point of a narrative campaign.  Also, with each release Infinity is increasingly bogged down with extra rules and abilities until it is some sort of overcomplicated behemoth with more errata than the most involved RPG.  It's ironic to say, but Infinity has been so supported and successful it's bloated from being a great game to merely good.

Frostgrave
Probably the closest Mordhiem analogue.  A fairly bare bones game at its core, driven by a thorough magic system.  Definitely a "casual" game as its campaign system as it stands is a bit (very?) open to abuse by powergamers.  I'm not a huge fan of hitpoints for individual infantry, though.  And I was kinda hoping for a character creation system, although the generic templates do cover most things.  A nice shiny book for a bargain price - no reason not to check it out.  Dig out those old fantasy minis!

Hmmm. Did I miss any key players?

Anyway, despite the fact I've played all the above (OK, Confrontation only against myself a few times in a vain attempt to decipher the rules - minis are awesome though) and whilst Infinity and LOTR are some of my favourite games, I don't think the skirmish-campaign-gaming thing has been nailed yet.  At least for me, all the contenders are a bit lacking.  It's a topic I plan to explore over the next few weeks, given I have a lot of Warmachine/Hordes fantasy models coming off the painting presses and I have no real interest in the official rules.  Maybe it's time to dust off my homebrew "Middlehiem" rules...

23 comments:

  1. I hope to read more than the name of your homebrew ;)

    ...and Ivan doesn't like to create a new system for fantasy skirmish?

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    1. It's not very polished but I'll put what I have into the "Delta Vector" chat group.

      It's more a series of ideas that have been connected into a game (quite literally) but I haven't got into it yet.

      Group details:
      http://deltavector.blogspot.com.au/2015/09/delta-vector-gaming-chat-group.html

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    2. Ivan does like fantasy, but the problem is exactly how to weight it.

      Some people want the RPG party adventuring, some want the warband, some want a small army with a few recurring characters :)

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    3. I'm interested in LOTR-scale "small army with characters" but tend to end up remaking LOTR with d10.

      Handling ~30 minis makes interesting activation/breaking up the turn hard; you run into the "is reaction worth it" issues etc.

      I'm having fun with homebrew Infinity/SoBH spin off rules for fantasy; though limiting reactions is important as it is a different flavour than the move-cover shooter style of Infinity.

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  2. I think a Post-Apoc campaign skirmish system would be great to do. I could probably morph Necro that way but I'd prefer something with more focused theme

    If anyone wants a fun Dark Ages/Viking based campaign skirmish game, check out Age of Blood (2nd edition) - free off the internet. Played it very successfully for about a year with my son and 2 friends. Good times. If you are interested, here are our battle reports and campaign posts:

    http://tasmancave.blogspot.com.au/search/label/Age%20of%20Blood

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  3. I am loving Frostgrave I can't speak to the ability of powergamers to exploit it in a campaign but I think there is little in the game to appeal to the powergamer its not a list building game with points and the D20 means even a powerful wizard with a number of levels could fund himself in real trouble if his bad roll corresponds with a lowly thugs good roll.

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  4. "This is not a test" by worlds end publishing. Post apocalyptic setting (pretty easy to reskin to necromunda-like I suspect). I watched one video review, I think it has a die roll mechanic to activate groups.

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    1. I'll check it out - thanks!

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    2. Ironically, I think this one is sitting on my review pile, Paul.

      I'll get cracking then!

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  5. You should take a gander at 7TV and Pulp Alley. Both great little pulp skirmish games.

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    1. Have 7TV stuff (ripoff $$$) and I think Pulp Alley too (I found it similar to Savage Worlds I think, so didn't get too into it)

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    2. I have played a few Pulp Alley games and am impressed.
      More combat obsessed players might dislike the exclusive focus on "plot points", and the fact that nobody ever really dies.

      6 stats plus health augmented by lots of abilities.
      The abilities might fall foul of the author's "Special rules" tastes, but most integrate tidily into the stats line, so there's little to learn).

      My group start our first campaign on Saturday, excitement is building.


      I've also tried 7TV; found it bland, slow and its mechanisms antiquated.
      It takes all types, and the system isn't for me.

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  6. It's also worth mentioning in regard to the One Ring from LOTR that its power was not to turn the user invisible, but to grant them their desires; where Men wish for power, Dwarfs for gold, and Elves for, well, whatever it is Elves wish, Hobbits wish to be inconspicuous and to be left alone, so the Ring obliges.

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  7. There was a sword & sorcery game from Rattrap Games similar to Gloire. oh and Astounding Tales!

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  8. Worth giving a shout to Mantic's DeadZone. Sci-Fi with an integral campaign progression system... but suffers from not being Infinity.

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    1. True! Whilst I quite like what I see of Dreadball, I found Deadzone to be a bit bland.

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    2. Yeah that was my thought as well. I had high hopes with the Kickstarter, but doesn't quite make it for me.

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    3. I only saw the beta rules, but I felt that in the attempt to streamline it, they lost too much "crunch" in the campaign section.

      I.e. they aimed for "different" and "fast play" and ended up with "bland."

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    4. Whereas it's GOOD Dreadball is faster and more streamlined than BB (at least from my limited experimenting).

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  9. Zed or Alive is a fun game. It runs off the free showdown rules (the skirmish version of savage world's) and only costs a few pounds. It's not perfect, and there are a few bits that aren't very clear. That said I've been playing a campaign with my group for about 8 months and we like it (even the play who doesn't really like zombie games). The campaign system is good, and you can even have a zombie warband where your main guys mutated zombie types ranging from the Left 4 Dead types to Romero zombie masters and gun toting zombies.

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  10. Forgot to mention, the standard game involves 3 players, 2 human and one zombie band. You can also play solo or 2 players against each other or co-op.

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    1. Savage Worlds is the only RPG I play due to its general usefulness for gaming (due to being based off a wargame 'engine'). I probably should update the main post because Deadzone and SW should be up there.

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  11. what about 'in her majesty's name'?
    You seemed to like it earlier?

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