My blog about my wargaming activities. I collect a lot of 15mm miniatures for the American War of Independence and so collect a lot of rules for this period. I started miniatures with Napoleonics, so I have a number of armies in 6mm and 15mm figures for skirmishing. I have15mm WW II figures that I use for Flames of War, Memoir '44, and someday, Poor Bloody Infantry. Finally there is my on-again, off-again relationship with paper soldiers that I sometimes write about.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

One-Hour Skirmish Wargames and Close Combat

A recent comment on my One-Hour Skirmish Wargames Review blog post read:
"So maybe a close combat should be treated as firing – engage in one and the figure ends all action for the turn."

I suspect this is the authors intent. This is a shooting focused game and melee should not be so over powered.
Hey, I thought, I have John's email address. Why not simply ask the author his intent?
Hi Dale,

Yes, I intended that close combat ends a figures move for that phase.

Best wishes,
Well there you have it! Thanks to the Unknown blog post commenter. I agree that it is a good change also and does change the nature of the game considerably.

Sunday, April 07, 2019

Warhammer Underworlds and the Games Workshop Marketing Machine

First off, this is not intended to be a review, but I will be talking about the subject game, its design, and its marketing model.
I was given a copy of Warhammer Underworlds: Nightvault by someone who got it as a gift. They opened the box, took one look at the miniatures that needed to be assembled and later offered it to me. "Sure" I said. Who doesn't want a free game?

I opened it later, looked at the model – they looked like a familiar sculpting style – looked on the back of the box and saw it was by Games Workshop, the dreaded sucker of souls and wallets, and I promptly put it on the shelf to collect dust. Nope. Not going to do it. Not going to get sucked into a mainstream money pit of a game. My days of Warhammer 40K and Warhammer Fantasy are over.

One day a video pops into my YouTube feed and it is about Warhammer Underworlds: Nightvault, so I decide to give it a watch. Several things immediately leap out at me.
  1. The game is played on a hex grid.
  2. The game is played on a small space (although some board configurations take more space than others) and can generally be played on a standard gaming convention or hobby store folding table. It will easily fit on your dining table.
  3. The dice have the combat resolution odds built in.
  4. The war band (faction) you play uses a set number and combination of figures, from three to nine figures. No futzing around with points, figure selection, or army composition. (As I found out later, you do customize your decks, however, so there is some futzing about before a game.)
  5. Each player has two decks and maintains a hand of cards from both decks, that are kept secret from the opponent. The Objectives deck provides the player with options to score points and the Power deck consists of upgrades (better sword, spells, and gear for your fighters) and "gambits" (think dirty tricks and "tactics" card that modify the combat in some way).
  6. The cards for your fighters have their stats and abilities clearly spelled out, so no requirements to reference rules.
  7. Games are fixed in length; think of it as a 12 turn chess match.
  8. Games play fast (about 30 minutes, once you get the hang of it) and chance (dice rolls and card play) has a large impact, so matches are best out of three games.
  9. The game plays very well with three and four players, not just two.
Honestly, so far this game looks like it scratches a lot of my itches (grid, small space, small figure counts, rules on cards, combat resolution built into the dice). People talk about Warhammer Underworlds (the official name of the game, Nightvault being one of two waves, the other being Shadespire) as a gateway game, but this is a tactically rich game, despite having relatively simple rules to play.

Games Workshop's New Marketing Model

Let's look at the fantasy lineup that Games Workshop is providing now. The old Warhammer Fantasyis no longer sold (although it is certainly played) and has been replaced by Age of Sigmar. If you want to play Age of Sigmar you can go out right now and legally download the rules and start playing with the figures you have. Games Workshop's idea was that a kid could go into the hobby shop, buy a $25 or $35 box of miniatures, and start gaming with only a few more pieces. Not like the old days where someone would have to buy an expensive rulebook, each player would need an army book, and then both people would need miniatures. (That is why the large, expensive box sets were so popular, as they were a "good deal" because it included the two sides and the army lists, as well as the rules.) Now, that kid can download the rules for free, download the "warscrolls" for free, and get to gaming.
No, Games Workshop has not gotten out of the business of selling rules – you can still buy the glossy hardback versions of all of this – but they have lowered the barrier for entry.
Back to Warhammer Underworlds. The starter sets contain everything you need for two players to start playing: the game boards, two war bands, dice, tokens, and cards. You can actually push-fit the miniatures together (no glue required) and the hobby shops near me that sell this line will lend you plastic cutters and a hobby knife to remove your miniatures from the sprue so you can start gaming right then and there. My first game was in a "Draft Tournament" at a hobby shop. They charged $15 as an entrance fee, gave you a random war band box ($30 retail value) to use in the tournament, and we all set about building our models and card decks in the first hour. It is a brilliant marketing move by Games Workshop to support these sort of tournaments and it shows you how cheap getting into this game can be.
So, if one person in a group has the starter set ($60 retail), you have two war bands, the boards, dice, and tokens. Some of my local stores have multiple copies on hand on their demo shelf. That allows people to invest as little as $30 getting a war band and getting started, either at a hobby shop with a demo set or with someone who owns the starter set. So, pretty cheap to get started.
Let's switch back to Age of Sigmar for a moment. So Age of Sigmar is the big brother army game using lots of models, but they also have Age of Sigmar: Skirmish so you can play smaller games with fewer models. No, those rules aren't free, but they are only $8. Using the core rules (free), the Skirmish supplement ($8), the warscrolls (free), and a few miniatures you can play that game pretty cheaply. Now for the connection: Games Workshop published free warscrolls for the war bands in Warhammer Underworlds so you can use those figures in your Age of Sigmar and Age of Sigmar: Skirmish games. Pretty damn smart. So I can buy a war band and use those miniatures for three different games (four, coming soon, as Games Workshop is releasing another themed Age of Sigmar game called Warcry which is at the skirmish level).
Back to Warhammer Underworlds. So, how does this game sustain itself such that there is a second wave of expansions and a third (Dreadfane) on the way? Remember that interesting twist, the game uses cards as a way of customizing your war band and how it plays? Yeah, that.

Warhammer Underworlds is a collectible card game with miniatures. Now before you stop reading, understand that there are two variants of "collectible card game". The first, which is the evil version, assigns probabilities to each card in how frequently they will appear in starter decks and booster packs, then randomizes the cards you find in those packages. Think Magic the Gathering. Many of these are branded trading card games because they follow the model of sports trading cards, but wrapping a game around the cards.

The second model is that all packages have a fixed set of cards, so there is no randomness to collecting, you just have to collect them all. And they way that Warhammer Underworlds gets you to collect them all is to include cards in with every war band. So to collect all of the cards, you have to buy all of the war bands at $30 a box or $60 a starter set. (There is also a set of cards not associated with any war band.) On top of that, there are now additional boards to collect. (Initially the game boards were only included in the starter sets.)

If you were to go all in, getting everything, that would be two starter sets at $60 each, ten additional war bands at $30 each, two additional boards at $25 each, the Leaders card expansion at $25, and dice for the factions at about $15 each. Mind you that the Shadespire starter set is out of print and the dice were limited items, so finding them for sale, or for sale at normal retail prices might be hard. Not counting the dice you are sitting just shy of $500 for the collection.

I, of course, being of the species that collects lead, pewter, plastic, and wood mountains, started collecting them, simply to complete the card collection, thinking it was required to make me "competitive". I watched so many games with people using cards I did not have ... oh the possibilities. "If only I had card X."

Ironically, I am not the only one that has spotted this ploy by Games Workshop. Not only are their deck builders out there, showing all the cards and which war band box they appear in, but there are virtual card players now that allow you to play cards with an app. This would allow you to build decks with cards you do not own, so would be another inexpensive way to go.

Okay, so I have laid out what I think is the largest negative out there, that if you have an obsessive collecting disorder, i.e. wargamer's OCD, then you have been warned. There is a way to mitigate that aspect, however.

That said this is a game that my wife has played with me (when she deigns to humor me) and due to its small footprint we can easily play on the dining room table, sitting down, so it saves my back. It uses a grid, to save on standing up to measure and reducing arguments. (Not that I win any arguments with my wife.) Maybe if there is interest, I will write more on it. As it stands now, I am a bit late to the train on this one. This came out more than a year about and although it is still getting support from Games Workshop, it is no longer the Flavor of the Month, so getting games takes some work.

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Huachuca City, Arizona, United States
I am 58 yrs old now. I bought a house in Huachuca City, AZ working for a software company for the last three years. To while away the hours I like to wargame -- with wooden, lead, and sometimes paper miniatures -- usually solo. Although I am a 'rules junkie', I almost always use rules of my own (I like to build upon others' ideas, but it seems like there is always something "missing" or "wrong").