Thursday, January 30, 2014

"Take All Comers" Lists, 'Caster Power Level, and Of Course More Harkevich

My friends and I started playing Warmachine back during the Apotheosis book release cycle (before Hordes was even out!) Back then, the game was much more limited in scope, so the goal of list building was pretty straightforward: build the "best" list you can for a given 'caster, with "best" often being qualified as "the list you can use against just about anything and do well."

A number of years and an edition change later, I feel like that definition has shifted. The game is much, much bigger than it was when we all started playing, and that added size and depth has made it commensurately more difficult to design lists to fit that old standard. A "best" list for a 'caster may be something that isn't particularly well rounded, but it asks a very direct question that the opponent has to answer effectively or else they will lose (a number of theme lists emphasize this style of list building, which I think helped open the mental floodgates to that type of theorycrafting.)

One of the reasons I feel the definition of "best list" has changed is the sheer number of possible challenges your list will have to deal with. At it's most extreme: there are around 141 warcasters and warlocks in the game (including yet-to-be-released Vengeance warcasters, but they're inevitable and mostly known at this point,) and each of those 'casters/'locks has a theme list associated with them that changes the type of list they can bring (some have more than one, thanks to NQ.) At base, that's around 280+ different challenges you may face off against, which is a helluva lot to plan for.

The saving grace is that the practical meta concerns are lower than that. It's way more practical to try to build your list to handle expected archetypes (infantry spam, heavy spam, anti-infantry, anti-armor, heavy ranged, heavy melee, etc,) and tweak your list based on any super specific things you think will monkey wrench you. However, even that can be a daunting task, as there are a lot of archetypes to plan for and most require their own considerations/inclusions.

One of the biggest factors to consider when trying to build a well rounded list is the capabilities of your chosen warcaster or warlock. This is (in my experience) where the concept of "power level" comes from: the more situations that a 'caster or 'lock can handle on their own - or the more problems they can successfully enable their army to overcome - the easier it is to build an "all comers" list with that 'caster/'lock.

As a result, when you're working with a 'caster/'lock that has a limited set of tools, you need to focus on what those tools are, how to best exploit those tools, and how to cover up any limitations that 'caster/'lock may have in their game. If your chosen figurehead has a particularly egregious set of weaknesses you may need to focus most of your list on overcoming those weaknesses, which is why some 'casters/'locks see little play outside of their occasional affectionate champion.

Looking at the Khador stable of warcasters, its pretty easy to see why players consider the "worst" to be as such. The most commonly provided names are some combination of: Karchev, Harkevich, Strakov, and Zerkova. All of these warcasters have serious flexibility issues that are evident right away when you read their cards, so a great deal of the challenge when using these models is trying to come up with a list that plays to their strengths while also overcoming their weaknesses.

That is also why it can be so addicting to theorycraft for models like them: for "stronger"/more flexible warcasters, either the list composition kind of writes itself (Sorscha2 is a good example) or its so open ended that you can do almost anything you want (Vlad1.) Trying to make the best of the worst imposes it's own interesting set of limitations ("how in the hell am I going to make a good list with this chucklehead at the helm?") while also providing you with tons of possibilities (you never know what combination may yield staggeringly good results.)

Across my many years of playing Khador, I've bought and played every single in-faction model available to the army, which includes all of the wacasters of course. Having played all of them, I can say that none of them are "un-winnably bad"; if you build a good enough list and keep your head in the game, you have a shot with any of them. However, the 'casters most often cited as the "worst" definitely have a harder time of it than the rest of the bench, and frequently run into uglier match ups as a result (running Karchev nowadays is often like playing Russian Roulette with 5 chambers filled.)

Out of the four Khador warcasters I listed before, I think Zerkova and Harkevich have the most potential for redemption. Karchev has serious design issues that seem to get compounded every release cycle, instead of getting any easier, and Strakov can be used well, but he's really unforgiving and unfortunately suffers from what I call "Early Mk. 2 Jank Syndrome." Harkevich and Zerkova have enough of a functional kit to put together workable lists without too much struggling, and I think both of them are worth messing around with because they each bring something interesting to the Khador bench (Karchev and Strakov are both fun to play, but are also somewhat redundant in terms of what they offer.)

So, I very often come back to Harkevich whenever I want to tinker around with lists. I've played him enough to feel like if I could just find that right combination of models, I'd have a list with him that I would really love. I don't think it'd ever be something I'd feel comfortable dropping in every situation (Harkevich's core set of a abilities is too limited for that) but I do feel like it's possible to come up with a list for him that could make him a good pairing in Steamroller, or a good third list in Masters.

To clarify: I don't think Harkevich is a stronger choice than the commonly accepted "best" Khador warcasters (push comes to shove I'd take any Vlad over him in a heartbeat.) More than I think he has unexplored potential that may make him a reasonable (if sub-optimal) choice competitively. I don't think he'll ever be the scourge of the tournament circuit, but I do think he has more going for him than most give him credit for.

I mentioned in a previous post some of the list theory I've had with Harkevich. I still really like his theme list, and I think I'll always be flip-flopping between the benefits of running the theme vs. the flexibility of a normal list. To shake things up, I used a warjack heavy list in the last game I played using Harkevich, and it performed pretty well. Having that many heavies let me trade pretty cleanly with my opponent, and I was able to handle his one infantry unit and support pretty well.

However, I can't shake the feeling that a good part of that was luck. I had at least one very crucial Critical Devastation with Conquest that helped clear out the Temple Flameguard, and I killed one of the Vassals due to a lucky spiked blast damage roll. Both of those were a huge help in whittling down my opponent's army, which ultimately set up the exchange and positioning that lead to me being able to win via assassination.

Remove that crit and spiked blast roll from the equation, and I'm not sure the game goes so well. Likewise, I think my opponent could have made my life a lot harder by being more conservative and careful with positioning his support, and by having Feora2 abandon the flag she was Dominating (in that scenario it was causing me to lose VP, but standing by that flag ultimately let the Drakun easily get a bead on her.)

The warjack heavy configuration ran into the problem that most "heavy heavy" lists run into: you typically have little in the way of redundancy, so everything needs to go mostly according to plan lest you end up screwed. Lists that run multiple heavies well usually have some way around that, and Harkevich has a little help with Fortune and Broadsides, but it's not enough to counter-act some of the issues he runs into (specifically: trying to deal with infantry using Khador warjack shooting.)

My initial thought was to treat the Harkevich list as a skew list, and go in with the mindset of only dropping it in favorable match ups. But I don't think that's very practical with how limited the list feels: even one unit of jamming/chaff infantry is enough to divert all my resources in that list, which feels like it tremendously lessens the ranged presence I have. I think that its unreasonable to expect to not have to deal with at least one squad of infantry in any set of opposing lists, and I think it's pretty reasonable to expect to see two units (even if one is more of a "workhorse" unit than the other.)

For that reason, I think I'm going to go back to my "old faithful" version of the theme list, or some variant thereof (which I'll touch on in the next post.) As much fun as it is to put 4-5 heavies on the table, it's really difficult for me to do that and feel like my list is flexible enough to deal with a significant enough % of the lists I'm likely to face. That's probably my more conservative side talking, but I feel like it'll be better in the long run, and I can always revisit the 4-5 heavy list if anything changes (i.e. Khador gets a sick anti-infantry warjack, though that will happen at the same time as Khador gets a unicorn.)

In typing all of this up my thoughts spiraled out into a "theme vs. non-theme" debate for Harkevich's lists, but I'll save that for a (hopefully soon forthcoming) follow up post. Keep an eye out!

Monday, January 27, 2014

TV Roundup

I don't find a lot of TV shows on my own. Some will pop up on my radar from time to time, but for whatever reason I have a hard time sitting down and just watching a TV show nowadays. Most of the time any shows I experience are ones that I have on in the background as I paint, though I pay attention if it's particularly compelling.

I grew up watching a ton of TV. If I was in the room, the TV was on, and some program or another was always playing on in the background. I was always aware that I had the TV on, but wasn't really watching it. So when I moved out I tried an experiment: don't watch TV unless something really interesting is on. No more channel surfing, no more having something on just for some background noise.

I was surprised by how well it worked. I didn't miss casual TV watching at all, and I was greatly aided by Netflix rising to prominence at around the same time. Instead of just watching whatever was on, I could choose precisely what I wanted to watch when I did decide to turn the TV on.

I think the flip side of that is that I've become a TV snob, which I know drives my wife nuts. Because I've been allowed to be so picky about what I watch, I've been very ready to easily dismiss anything that didn't measure up to what I thought would be worth watching. Even past that, once I got used to not watching TV shows it was pretty unpalatable to try to watch them again. I became much more likely to watch a movie or a miniseries; something self-contained and finite.

My wife is trying to get me to break out of that shell, and I think she's right to do it: while there is still a ton of garbage on TV, there are a number of really remarkable, good shows that are absolutely worth experiencing. Hell, I was such a curmudgeon that I didn't experience Breaking Bad until after the final season had aired, even though I was pretty sure I'd like it! It was just the idea of starting a show that really put me off; the thing that made Breaking Bad easy to get into was that I knew there was an end in sight (and it didn't hurt that I'd heard it was a pretty good end at that.)

So even though I'm still curmudgeonly about it, I'm watching new shows with my wife while I hobby away. Here are some quick capsule reviews of what we've been watching:

 - Orange Is The New Black: This one was a hard start for me. The writing and acting are both great (and get better as the show rolls on,) but a decent chunk of the characters really get under my skin. One of the biggest things I had to resolve was how the show wants you to feel about Piper: she (and pretty much all of the people directly associated with her) are the kind of pleasant but narcissistic vampires that I've grown to hate with a passion.

Watching a show with that as your main character was difficult, but the show does a very good job of playing it pretty neutral: while it's pretty clear that you're not supposed to behave like Piper does, they also don't discount the fact that she's a human being, and even though she's kind of broken so is everyone around her. She's sympathetic in a way that's genuine, while also being flawed enough to be realistic (even as we close in towards the end of the season, she's got a lot of growing left to do.)

Combine that with an overall very entertaining cast of characters, and it's a show that's really grown on me. Which is a pleasant surprise, because for the first few episodes I wanted to beat Piper and everyone around her with a hammer.

 - Justified: We just started watching this one last night, so my impressions are pretty shallow. For what its worth though, the pilot was pretty darn good. It did a good job of setting up the characters, the tone of the show, and it also does a good job of tipping you off on the depth of the characters without being too explicit about it. The ending in particular was pretty unexpected, and I think it paints the show as shooting for something more interesting than just "Wild West style sheriff in modern days" (this theme is implicit; there is sadly no time machine involved...yet.)

 - True Detective: My wife found this one on HBO, and I can't believe I didn't know it was coming. I have a bizarre affection for Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey, so I would have signed up just based on the premise of them acting together in a crime drama. Two episodes in, I love it even more than I thought I would. The whole show has a slow burn going on that makes everything that happens very interesting and satisfying (even if its a minor development.) It also has a dream like quality, a sense of unreality and irregularity, that is enhanced by the way the story is being told. It feels akin to a David Lynch movie, and that's probably one of the reasons I've enjoyed it so much so far.

I'm extremely interested in keeping up with this show for the rest of this season. My one concern for the show in the long term is that it sounds like the format for the show is that each season is going to use completely different characters and setting, with (I'm assuming) the underlying theme that ties them all together being the detective work. On one hand, it could be brilliant: instead of following the same characters until they become stale, you get one season for the writers and actors to really blow your mind, then you move on. On the other hand, it means that each season could be really hit or miss, though I guess that also does mean that one bad season doesn't necessarily mean the show has gone bad.

Regardless, that's all future hem-hawing. Right now I can't wait to see what the rest of this season has in store.

 - Boardwalk Empire: We kind of stalled out in the middle of the fourth season, but I've been enjoying it a good bit. The first three seasons of Boardwalk were interesting: season one felt like it was all set up, then seasons two and three used that set up to keep rocking the setting and cast with as many dramatic changes (often character deaths, but sometimes status quo shake ups) as it could get away with without unraveling everything.

Season four picks up in the rubble of season three, and does a good job of establishing the new order. Things are different in a familiar way, if that makes sense, and we're seeing old characters either in new lights, or watching them grow in new ways.

It's nothing super-nuanced, and it still relies on hitting the "what the hell?!?!" button fairly often, but I feel like the writers have done a very good job so far following up on the blissful chaos that was season three. I'm looking forward to finishing the season out, and so long as they don't pooch screw hard at the end, I'd be up for tuning back in for season five (assuming one is forthcoming.)

 - Attack on Titan: Oh yes, I watch the animes as well. I feel like I'm doing myself a huge disservice by not watching this show. Everyone I've heard that has watched it has absolutely loved it, and by all metrics I should enjoy it tremendously (I love all things Berserk, which seems to share similar "good gawd what just happened" DNA.) I just haven't sit down and watched it, though a friend did show me the first episode. I'm going to shotgun this series at some point, and I'm very excited to experience it.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Malifaux, M2E, and the Future

I've had a very strained relationship with Malifaux in the past. It was a game system that some of my friends discovered, and we all quickly bought into based on the charm of the models, the uniqueness of the setting, and the interesting potential of the rules.

Unfortunately, Malifaux suffered what I've noticed is a trend in miniature wargames: the first set of rules wasn't very good. Although the various books for Malifaux have titles, most players refer to them numerically - the Malifaux Core Rulebook (back in 1st/1.5 edition) is "Book 1", Rising Powers is "Book 2", Twisting Fates is "Book 3", and Storm of Shadows is "Book 4". 

The various books in Malifaux had a pattern to each of them, and it resulted in a really skewed gaming landscape:
  • Book 1 models were simple in most cases. These were some of the first models designed for the game, so the developers didn't seem to yet have the nuance of coming up with more complex interactions. As a result, most models were either pretty bad (due to having a poor rule set with limited focus,) or extremely good (due to have a great rule set with a laser focus,) and there wasn't much room in between.
  • Book 2 is where the developers let their imaginations run wild. The Masters in Book 2 were insanely deep, infinitely capable models that also had extremely strong ties to models in their visual theme, so they also came with very good crews. This made them flat out better than almost all of the Masters in Book 1, outside of some of the more innately powerful Book 1 Masters. Additionally, many of the Minion models introduced in this book were such a power curve jump above Book 1 that they became the staples everyone based their lists upon. This book also introduced the concept of Henchmen, which let factions that had a good Henchmen (or anyone willing pay the extra SS to hire Von Schill) to essentially have access to two Master level models, greatly skewing the power level of their crew.
  • Book 3 seemed like it was an effort to reset the power curve, to an extent. The main thing that was introduced in this book was the Avatar mechanic: transformations for each Master (unique to them) that would dramatically alter their play style and rules. In theory, this was a way to get old, unused Masters back on the table - their basic rules may suck, but when they manifest they'll be cool - and give some of the really rigid Masters more flexibility. In practice, the Avatars ended up being an incredibly mixed bag, and outside of a handful or two weren't really that useful. Some Masters saw new life with their Avatar rules, but most of the ones that were on the shelf stayed there; the Book 2 Masters were amazing right out of the box without the extra work needed to Manifest.
  • Book 4 marked the introduction of a new concept and a new faction. The new faction, Ten Thunders, brought an Asian themed faction to the mix, which was met with excitement by some. What was particularly interesting was the other concept introduced: Dual Faction models. These were models that could be used in two different factions, without any extra rules or cost associated with them. In particular: out of the five new Masters introduced in this book, four of them were Dual Faction Masters between Ten Thunders and another faction. This made it very easy to add something new to your faction, while also potentially dipping your toe into a new faction. This book also showed the most restraint and refinement in rules, with few entries being out and out power jumps (though as a result some things were underwhelming when considered in the context of the other options available.)
Towards the end of Malifaux's first edition (technically 1.5 since there was a partial update of the core rulebook at one point,) it faced a situation very similar to what Privateer Press faced with Warmachine and Hordes: their flagship game was awash in clunky, confusing rule interactions, models were wildly imbalanced or laden with extraneous rules, and the game was a mess of errata, addendums, and clarifications from the rules forum.

Malifaux also faced its own issue that didn't factor into Warmachine/Hordes (and was partially resolved by the yearly Steamroller releases): Malifaux's original scenario options had aged very poorly. Many of the Strategies and Schemes (the ways players earn VPs and thus win the game) seemed interesting and fun, but played out awkwardly on the tabletop. This was heavily exacerbated with the Book 2 releases, where a number of Masters, Henchmen, and Minions were so fast that they could complete Strategies and Schemes fairly trivially. Instead of being the core focus of the game, the Strategies and Schemes became something you paid lip service to while you slaughtered each other.

As a result of all of the above factors, Malifaux was a game that some of my friends enjoyed playing, but I could never really get to "click." It always felt like the game was tripping over itself, showing lots of potential and promise but failing to live up to it. For every decently fun game of Malifaux I played, there would be half a dozen games that felt one sided or miserable. And that is all accounting for the fact that our group mostly stayed away from the more powerful models, and didn't dip into the more ugly rules loopholes! I can't even imagine what it must have been like playing that game in a competitive environment.

The challenge of Malifaux 2.0 (M2E) from my perspective was simple but tremendous: level set the models so that every model becomes an interesting, viable option; refine the Strategies and Schemes to return them to being the focus of the gameplay; re-write the core rules as necessary to achieve the previous two goals while also closing all of the previous loopholes, and make the rules as easy to understand as possible.

Wyrd's approach to this process was similar to PP's: they held an open beta of the rules and asked for players to participate and provide feedback. The main difference was that PP relied on players submitting beta results through a formal process, probably not dissimilar to what they do with their actual playtesting. Wyrd opted for a less formal approach. They created a sub-set of forums off of their main Malifaux boards specifically for beta discussion, and gathered all (or a lot) of their feedback from what players reported in those forums.

I have fairly strong opinions on where PP went right with the Mk. 2 field test and where they went wrong, but looking back at it I think each company made the correct decision with their data gathering methods. Although they weren't as big as they are now, I feel like PP at the time of the Mk. 2 transition was bigger than Wyrd was/is going into M2E, so trying to collect data via forum interactions probably would have been disastrous for them (apparently the process they implemented was already pretty damn unpleasant for them to work through.) Wyrd's forums feel smaller in comparison, so it seems like it was a better idea for them to be more "grass roots" in how they solicited feedback.

Wyrd also broke up their beta, similar to PP, but along different lines. Wave 1 targeted the core rules and all of the models that were in Book 1 (with some extras thrown in as necessary to get the model counts even,) and Wave 2 would handle everything else. 

Wave 1 concluded towards the end of summer last year, and I feel like it was a huge success. The core rules, while not perfect, were leagues better than the M1.5 rules turned out. The Strategies and Schemes were significantly overhauled, and the new system results in games that are (typically) much closer and more "live" for longer in the game than they ever were in M1.5. And the Wave 1 models largely succeeded in being cool, interesting, and useful across the board. 

I finished Wave 1 of the beta incredibly optimistic about Wave 2, though I was nervous about the scope of it. Wave 2 included some of the most loved/used/purchased models in the game, who also had really powerful rules in the previous edition that would no doubt have to be adjusted to get them in line with the new power landscape. I knew there would be some serious back and forth about some of those models, and then you have Avatars on top of all of that.

Wave 2 recently concluded, and although we're two weeks out from getting the final rules, the pre-final rules we've seen make me feel like this wave was also very successful. I feel like all of the Masters in this wave ended up with very interesting, cool mechanics that work well in the context of M2E, while also retaining the feel and flavor of those models as established previously. Plus, some new Masters were added in this wave that we got to playtest, and I think those turned out awesomely as well. I'd be pretty damn happy if the final printed rules matched what is in the current pdfs, and I'm sure the rules we'll get in two weeks will be even more refined. 

Wyrd also made a very wise decision during this wave of testing: in order to limit the scope and let everything get it's due attention, there will be a third wave of the beta that will focus exclusively on Avatars and any new general upgrades they want to introduce. This was an extremely smart decision on their part, as it let the players focus on the models in this wave. Most important of those are the Wave 2 Masters; with those locked in, all of the Masters will be done, so testing can focus on just how the Avatars interact with the Master.

So with two waves down and one (comparatively shorter) wave on the way, M2E feels like it's almost all the way up and running. There are still some more kinks to work out: many of the new models aren't out yet, it's going to be awhile before we get actual printed cards for anything in Wave 2, and although it should be a relatively easy wave there's still one more round of testing to go. By the middle of this year, the beta for M2E should be done, which is very exciting.

I never would have thought I'd describe playing Malifaux as exciting even as early as a year ago, but the changes to M2E have made me do a 180 on how I feel about the game. It's gone from a game system that had promise but flawed execution to a game system that consistently delivers nuanced, interesting, deep games, and has a ton of replay-ability (between all the different crew types you can run, and with your Strategy and Scheme pools being randomly determined.) So long as things continue as they have, I feel like Malifaux is a game I'll be happily playing for a long time to come.

Thursday, January 23, 2014


As part of working through my "last gen" backlog (doesn't seem that long ago when that would have referred to me playing PS2 games,) I've been trying to finish off some of the games I've had sitting around with every intention of playing. Most of those games are on the PS3 side; I was far more active on my 360 last gen than I was with the PS3, though the PS3 had enough interesting exclusives that I've built up a little pile of games I've always wanted to play. By contrast, almost all of my 360 games are either a) fighting games, which can't really be "completed," or b) action games, which are pretty easy to wade through.

My collection of PS3 games is kind of interesting. All of my friends have 360s, and those that also have a PS3 primarily play on the 360 when it comes down to a choice between the two platforms. So whenever a bigger budget/AAA game came out, I'd buy it for the 360. That leaves the PS3 as the console where the "oddball" games collect: typically Japanese games that weren't ported to the 360, or primarily single player experiences that I don't mind giving up my friends network for.

One such game is Tales of Graces f. The previous Tales of game, Tales of Vesperia, came out on the 360, but for whatever reason (I'd guess mediocre sales, but I remember Vesperia being decently well received) that was the first and last Tales of game released on a Microsoft console. Tales of Graces f was released only on the PS3 (having been upgraded and ported from the Wii,) Tales of Xillia was a PS3 only release (and the sequel is expected to stay exclusive as well,) and the upcoming Tales of Symphonia Chronicles is also PS3 only. In short: if you like the Tales of series, I hope you have a PS3.

I've been a fan of the Tales of series ever since I played Tales of Destiny II (the English port of Tales of Eternia) way back on the PS1. Its a series that alleviates the main issues I usually have with JRPGs: the combat systems get dull pretty quickly. Once you figure out an optimum approach, aside from a few variations, the average JRPG devolves into repeating that pattern as many times as possible until you either win or run out of resources. That can be interesting, depending on how the game is designed, but I play video games for novelty so I usually end up bored before I can finish the damn thing.

The Tales of series does away the traditional JRPG approach to combat - the party lines up against their foe(s) and murders them via menu commands - and handles it in more of a "beat-em-up" fashion: you have two attack buttons, which allow you to perform chains of attacks. There's still an important back end of numbers, but an important part of playing a Tales of game is being able to react to the enemy, time your attacks properly, and build up long combo chains. It's way easier than something like Devil May Cry or Bayonetta, but it's also light years more active and interesting than your average JRPGs menu system (not that those aren't good in some ways, but developers usually don't go deep enough with their design to keep me interested for 60 hours.)

Tales of Graces f is a game that I read a fair bit about before purchasing. The common review went something like this: "the best gameplay of any Tales of game, but the story is super anime." After playing through a big chunk of the game - I've sunk 40 or so hours into the main story, and I'm at the final dungeon - I can mostly agree with that review.

The gameplay is extremely fun. The mechanical change from previous games is that instead of having a finite combo or set of attacks, your attacks cost CC (can't remember the technical name, but they might as well be "attack points") and you can keep stringing attacks together until you run out. Recharging CC is fast (though not instant) and ties into the other mechanic where guarding buffs up your next set of attacks, so it naturally flows together in a smart way. The end result is a combat system that is constantly moving, but has natural ebbs and flows with a minimum of forced downtime. Even after 40 hours of combat I'm still running into random encounters on purpose just to clobber enemies to death; it's just flat out fun to play.

The story is, indeed, anime as hell. If you're familiar with common anime troupes, this game hits pretty much all of the notes and it doesn't really surprise in that regard. It's also kind of a slow story to start up, so it's a fair chunk of time before the story really gets weight behind up.

What I think helps the story out a good bit is the characterization. Again, it's nothing really remarkable or surprising if you're familiar with common anime story beats, but the writing and voice acting does a fantastic job of adding nuance to the characters and making them feel much more rounded. A lot of this characterization comes from the skits in the game, and the game peppers plenty of them throughout the journey so that by the time you get to the end of it these characters are way more interesting and endearing than they would be otherwise.

So even though the story is "really anime," I've enjoyed it thanks to the characterization adding more to the overall package. Combine that with the awesome gameplay and I'm really pleased with the time I've spent with Tales of Graces f. It's pretty light and breezy by usual JRPG standards, but there's a lot you can sink your teeth into if you're so inclined (not one but two post-game tasks.) I don't know that I'm gonna dig that deep into, but I'm definitely going to finish out the main story, and I'm excited to come back to it after a break. And then there's Tales of Xillia to try...

Friday, January 17, 2014

Moving Metal: Harkevich Battle Report and Thoughts

As promised in the previous post talking about Harkevich and his theme list, I managed to get a game in this week to put some lists to the test. First up is a quick-ish recap of the game, followed by thoughts about my list, how it played, how the scenario affected the game, and what mistakes I made that can be used as a vehicle for improvement.

Battle Report:
My list:
Kommander Harkevich, the Iron Wolf (*5pts)
* Black Ivan (9pts)
* Conquest (18pts)
* Juggernaut (7pts)
* Spriggan (9pts)
Battle Mechaniks (Leader and 3 Grunts) (2pts)
Winter Guard Mortar Crew (Leader and Grunt) (3pts)
Winter Guard Mortar Crew (Leader and Grunt) (3pts)
Man-o-war Drakhun (without dismount) (4pts)

My opponent's list:
Feora, Protector of the Flame (*6pts)
* Judicator (18pts)
* Sanctifier (9pts)
* Templar (8pts)
Choir of Menoth (Leader and 3 Grunts) (2pts)
Temple Flameguard (Leader and 9 Grunts) (6pts)
* Temple Flameguard Officer & Standard (2pts)
Eiryss, Angel of Retribution (3pts)
The Covenant of Menoth (2pts)
Vassal Mechanik (1pts)
Vassal Mechanik (1pts)
Vassal of Menoth (2pts)
Vassal of Menoth (2pts)

List Thoughts:
Both lists are very similar: big 'ol colossal on a warcaster with a speed buff (though Feora2 brings even more to the table with her warjack bond and Ignite,) some other warjacks to vanguard, some miscellaneous harassment models, and support.

I will say that I like the Protectorate version of this list more on it's face. It'll have an easier time clearing infantry with a bonded Judicator (so many fire causing templates,) it hits damn hard with great threat ranges, and it has that wonderful Protectorate warjack support keeping the warjacks in fighting shape on the approach.

The Khador version I'm kinda running is similar in approach, but has to be played more aggressively. I only have the one turn of feat armor buffing to carry me through a big damage turn, and my Mechaniks can only do so much work (though when they "hit", they can repair impressive amounts.)

Scenario and Terrain:
With the recent release of Steamroller 2014, we decided to roll up a scenario from the new packet. We managed to roll up a new scenario - Scenario 3: Balance of Power (pg. 16 of the pdf for those playing along at home.)

Terrain was probably a little more prevalent than normal, but not super dense. There was large patch of Concealment granting rough terrain adjacent to the scoring zone, several walls scattered around, two forests out on the flanks, and a hill in front of one of the deployment zones.

Harkevich's theme list lets me cheat with terrain and put down four wreck markers. I put one up near the zone as close as terrain will allow, another next to my flag (giving Harkevich a safe spot to stand and Dominate it,) and the other two go out in miscellaneous spots, since terrain prevents me from placing them anywhere particularly great.

Deployment and First Turn:
I lost the roll off, and my opponent decided to go second, setting up on the side with the hill. I declare my theme bonus starting upkeeps: Fortune goes on Conquest, and after very careful deliberation I decide to put Escort on Harkevich (this is a joke.)

With such small armies and a central scenario, our deployments were pretty straightforward. Both of us set up our colossals in the middle, with Judicator in position to run up onto the hill(not good for my flammable elements.)

I set up Black Ivan, the Spriggan, and Harkevich to the right of Conquest, with the Juggernaut and Drakun going to the left of Conquest. Both Mortars were deployed out to the flanks, and the Mechaniks glue to Conquest's back.

Most of the Protectorate army deploys in the center, with the support lumping up behind the warjacks. The Templar goes to my right of the Judicator and the Sanctifier goes on my left near the Temple Flameguard (TFG). Eiryss2 is deployed in a forest far on my left side, near the TFG but far from his warjacks.

First turn was the same as most games: everyone runs pell mell up the table. The biggest things of note come from the Protectorate turn:

 Feora2 casts Escort and allocates focus. An Ancillary Attack shot from the Judicator floats onto Conquest, setting him on fire, and all the warjacks get the Passage prayer. The TFG run up in a cloud, and the Protectorate player opts to save Iron Zeal for the following turn. Covenant puts up the Power of Faith (no KD) aura.

Khador - Turn 2:
Harkevich upkeeps Escort and Fortune. Conquest is allocated one focus, Harkevich keeps 3. Fire on Conquest doesn't do anything. Lots of shooting this round. 

Right flank Mortar lobs a shell out towards the Covenant and the nearby Choir. The scatter catches one Choir member and the Covenant, but the Choir member apparently takes one for the team as the blast damage kills him but doesn't break ARM on the Covenant. Left flank Mortar lobs a shell towards the TFG, but goes way long (6" scatter, direction 1) and hits nothing.

Conquest advances and puts a boosted Main Guns shot into one of the TFG. The attack hits and gets a critical, so the three TFG in the blast and the Sanctifier are thrown 2" backwards. Two of the TFG collide with other members of the unit and when the dust settles 4 are killed, including the Standard Bearer. The Sanctifier is thrown into Judicator, taking a few damage from the collateral damage roll, and isn't KD'd thanks to the Covenant. The shots from the Secondary Battery shots come up short and don't drift onto anything.

The other three warjacks advance, with the Juggernaut moving into the difficult terrain near the scoring zone and Black Ivan toeing into the zone. Black Ivan shoots one of the TFG and connects, killing it.

Harkevich advances up into the wreck marker next to the flag behind Black Ivan and casts Broadsides. Black Ivan's shot clips the Covenant and does 1 damage to it. Conquest's free Main Guns shot into the TFG connects with no crit. The shot kills 3 more TFG, and they pass their command check to not flee (the remaining models were just outside of Feora2's Inspiration bubble.)

The Drakun attempts to pick off one more TFG with his Shield Cannon as part of a Ride-by Attack action, but misses the shot.

Protectorate - Turn 2:
Feora2 upkeeps Escort, allocates one to the Judicator (possibly another to the Templar; can't remember) and keeps the rest. Judicator gets its free focus.

The TFG advance in Shield Wall and pop Iron Zeal. Eiryss2 moves up somewhat behind them and tags the Juggernaut with a shot, Disrupting him and doing one point of damage.

Judicator advances and shoots at the Spriggan, but misses. The resulting scatters set the Spriggan and Black Ivan on fire. Judicator's second shot goes into the Juggernaut, which connects for 4 damage and sets him on fire. The secondary scatter doesn't hit anything.

The Sanctifier and the Templar both receive Enliven from the Vassals, and advance into the zone. The Covenant moves up onto the hill and puts up it's "no KD" aura. The Choir advance and put Passage on all the warjacks.

End of Turn: no one scores.

CPs: Khador 0 - Protectorate 0

Khador - Turn 3:
Harkevich upkeeps both spells, allocates one to Conquest, and keeps 3 focus. Fire goes out on Black Ivan, but it can't go out on the Juggernautt, the Spriggan, or Conquest due to Caustic Presence on Feora2. Fire does 3 damage to Conquest, but nothing to the other two warjacks.

The Mortar on my right flank lobs a shot into the cluster of Covenant, Choir, and Vassal. The shot scatters but still catches the Vassal, and remarkably kills it with blast damage (thankfully it wasn't in base with any warjacks.)

The Mechaniks advance and repair the damage caused by fire.

Conquest advances and shoots at the TFG Officer, connecting with no crit. The Officer dies to the direct hit, another TFG dies in the blast (back arc on the blast ignored Shield Wall on the three in front of the Officer,) but Eiryss2 lives through the boosted blast damage with 2 health. The Secondary Batter shots go into the Covenant, but all the shots miss (DEF 14 on a hill) and only one blast manages to both stay on target and break ARM (2 damage total on the Covenant.)

Black Ivan aims and shoots at the Covenant, connecting. The shot puts another point of damage onto the Covenant and kills a nearby Choir member with the blast.

Harkevich activates, shuffles up slightly, pops his feat, and casts Broadsides again. Conquest lobs a Main Guns shot at Eiryss2 to try and catch her in the blast, but it scatters wide. Black Ivan shoots another Choir member and connects, killing it. The Choir pass their resulting morale test.

The Spriggan charges the Templar, connecting with it's Lance for 8 damage. The Juggernaut charges the Sanctifier and hits with it's Ice Axe, doing 11 or so damage and breaking it's movement system. Both Protectorate warjacks use their Enliven moves to get back to nearby Vassal Mechaniks, which takes them out of the zone (a perfectly fine move, thanks to this scenario.)

The Mortar on the left attempts to catch Eiryss2 in the blast, but it's shot drifts wide. In a final hail mary attempt to finish her off, the Drakun charges Eiryss, hoping to impact attack through the one TFG in the way (the blast damage had killed the middle TFG causing them to lose Shield Wall, making the impact attack much more likely to kill if it connects.) Unfortunately for me, the Drakun misses the impact attack and stalls out the charge.

End of Turn: Khador scores 1 CP.

CPs: Khador 1 - Protectorate 0

Protectorate Turn 3:
Feora2 upkeeps Escort, allocates 3 focus to the Templar and keeps the other two. Judicator gets its free focus.

The Sanctifier moves back to meet up with the Vassal Mechanik on the left flank, as well as give Feora2 a warjack to hide behind while Dominating the flag. The Vassal Mechanik on that flank moves up, but flubs his repair check. The Vassal Mechanik behind the Templar is more successful, repairing 3 damage on the Templar.

The remaining Choir puts Battle on the Templar, and the remaining Vassal of Menoth puts Enliven on the Templar while remaining in B2B with the Sanctifier for the defensive bonuses. Feora2 moves up behind the Sancifier in B2B with the flag and casts Ignite on the Templar.

The Templar moves up into melee with the Juggernaut and the Spriggan, then goes to town on the Spriggan even with Harkevich's feat up (thanks in part to Chain Weapon negating the Shield ARM bonus,) doing 20 or so damage and breaking the Lance arm.

Judicator lobs a shot towards Harkevich, but misses and the scatters go wide (though Black Ivan is set on fire.) It's second shot goes towards the Mechaniks behind Conquest (thanks to the hill) but thankfully for me the scatters don't cooperate and Conquest is the only thing caught in the blasts.

The TFG move up and CMA into the Drakun, connecting but failing to break ARM (though he is set on fire.) Eiryss2 runs into the middle of the table, catching Conquest, the Juggernaut, and the Spriggan in her Technological Interference aura. The Covenant moves up behind a nearby wall (blocking LoS to it from a few angles,) and maintains it's "no KD" aura.

End of Turn: Khador loses 1 CP.

CPs: Khador 0 - Protectorate 0

Khador - Turn 4:
Harkevich upkeeps both spells, gives Black Ivan 1 focus, and keeps the rest. Fire can't go out on anything affected by it due to proximity with Feora2, but the Drakun is the only thing damaged in the rolls (taking 3.)

Conquest starts off by aiming and shooting at Eiryss2 with his right Secondary Battery, connecting with the first shot thanks to the Fortune re-roll and killing her. The Main Guns shot goes into the Sanctifier, connecting with no crit. The direct hit does a chunk of damage, and the Vassal Mechanik takes a point or two in the blast. The other Secondary Battery hits the last Choir member, killing it.

The Spriggan shuffles slightly to get the Covenant into melee range of it's shield, then attacks. The shield connects against the Covenant, doing a point of damage, and the broken lance manages to both connect and hit for max damage (6! woo-hoo!) doing 3 to the Templar and triggering Enliven. The Templar uses that move to shuffle back to the nearby Vassal Mechanik.

The Juggernaut advances over to the Templar and also in melee range of the Covenant. The fist attack connects against the Covenant, finishing it off. The Ice Axe attack connects with a crit, doing solid damage and freezing the Templar.

The Mortar on the left flank shoots at the Sanctifier and connects for decent damage. The blast doesn't do anything to the surrounding models. Black Ivan advances and shoots at the Vassal, but misses and the boosted blast damage fails to do any damage.

Harkevich activates, moves over into a wreck marker behind Conquest, and casts Broadsides. Conquest and Black Ivan both shoot at the Sanctifier, and the damage from both shots is enough to finish it off.

The Drakun performs a Ride-by attack, kills the two remaining TFG in melee with it, then moves up to threaten a charge on Feora2.

End of Turn: Khador scores 1 CP.

CPs: Khador 1 - Protectorate 0

Protectorate - Turn 4:
Feora upkeeps both spells, gives the Templar 3 and gives the Judicator 1. Templar uses 1 focus to shake Stationary, and Judicator gains an additional focus thanks to being super-holy.

Judicator advances and beats the Juggernaut neatly to death. Not to be outdone, the Templar kills off the Spriggan with a focus to spare.

The remaining Vassal puts Enliven on the Templar and the Vassal Mechaniks shuffle around.

Feora2 shuffles into the wreck marker provided by the Sanctifier, then pops her feat to gain 2 focus (Drakun and Conquest are both on fire in her control area.)

End of Turn: Khador loses 1 CP.

CPs: Khador 0 - Protectorate 0

Khador - Turn 5:
Harkevich upkeeps both spells, then gives 2 focus each to Conquest and Black Ivan. Fire does no damage to either the Drakun or Conquest.

Conquest aims and shoots at Feora2 in the wreck marker. The re-roll from Fortune connects with a crit, throwing her and the nearby Vassal Mechanik 2" and knocking both of them down. Feora2 takes 9 damage from the boosted direct damage shot and the Vassal Mechanik is killed by the collateral damage.

The Drakun charges the knocked down Feora. The impact attack automatically connects for no damage, but the charge attack does the required 7 damage to kill Feora2, ending the game.

Final Result: 
Khador victory by assassination. CPs: Khador 0 - Protectorate 0

Scenario Thoughts:
This is an ugly scenario for Harkevich. In my experience, Harkevich wins by exploiting the pressure that the scenario puts on your opponent to force them into an ugly situation, then you capitalize by either winning via CPs or sneaking the 'caster kill.

In this scenario, your opponent is in much less danger of losing suddenly due to CPs so long as they can camp their flag, and Harkevich's theme list isn't really flexible or fast enough to put pressure on their flag to keep them from Dominating it for much of the game.

I think a key factor of this scenario is: if your opponent wants to exploit their flag, you know exactly where their 'caster is going to be. They then need to devote resources to protecting their caster there (more or less depending on how beneficial the terrain is,) so it pulls their army in a certain direction. Likewise, you can exert pressure in that direction to force a reaction, which may cause them to back off of the flag, or let you get to their 'caster. 

I do feel like this scenario may make fighting against a gunline damn unpleasant. So long as they can feed a token element into the zone on their turn and dominate the flag, they can stall without having to heavily commit to the zone. You can kind of pull a counter-stall, which is funny and sad all at once, but I don't think that will work out well in a competitive environment; someone's going to 'clock themselves, or sneak in 1 CP to hold onto before dice down. I'm interested in seeing how this scenario plays over the course of the year.

Things to Learn From:
From my side of the table:

 - When trying to kill Eiryss2, I should have just given Conquest 2 focus and had him boost the hit against the TFG Officer, then boost blast damage against her. I gave up the chance for a crit there which would have been tremendously clutch, and I also banked my entire plan on rolling a hard 9 (granted, with a re-roll its not totally insane.) The blast damage roll failed me, but I'm honestly a little lucky I even got to that point.

 - Speaking of Eiryss2, when I saw where she was deployed I should have tried to have my Juggernaut and Spriggan switch places as they ran up. If I could have gotten a Flare on her I would have been able to shoot her straight away, which cuts down on my consternation considerably. Plus it may have reduced the likelihood of the Spriggan fighting the Templar, which cut into his durablity; though the Templar has enough movement in that army to probably get himself realigned against his favored target.

- I was seriously debating running the Drakun to tie up Eiryss2 in combat (he had enough movement to shuffle up and engage her around the TFG.) Less profitable than trying to kill her outright, but also impossible to fail. To free her up he then needs to either send Feora2 that way (which gets her eaten by Conquest if he doesn't super protect her,) or send one of his heavies over that way (letting me better tag-team the Templar more.) I'm still not sure what the "right" call is here. Looking back on it, trying to kill her was probably the best move, since the payoff is worth the risk - if I kill her, she can't focus block me ever again, but if I engage her he can still do it, just with expending resources (which is likely worth it when it shuts down the combat wing of my battlegroup for a turn.)

 - I need to be more mindful of two-handed throw shenanigans with Conquest. I may have been able to do something silly like throw the Drakun at Eiryss2, but I was so fixated on his shots that I didn't even consider the possibility. I was seriously eyeballing throwing things at Feora2 at the end of the game, but I figured it was easier/more fun to just shoot her and hope the re-roll got me the 13 I needed to hit (in hindsight it probably would have been way smarter to toss the Vassal at her, though I'm not sure if it was in the right spot.)

 - I am way out of practice with boostable guns in Warmachine. My last experience with boostable shooting was when I used to play Legion, and that's cheating because you can essentially boost as much as you want. I need to get better about knowing where to allocate, what that focus is going to be used for, and following through on all that.

Looking at my opponent's side of the table:
 - I was surprised when he didn't pop Iron Zeal first turn when running with the TFG, though I understand the reasoning: if they can make it across the table in decent shape, it's much better to have them in ARM 17/ARM 21 with Shield Wall the next turn when they're going to try to get stuck in. I don't think either of us expect Conquest to take such a big bite out of the unit on it's approach. Iron Zeal would have cut down on a lot of that damage, though I probably would have still killed 5-6 between direct hits and collateral damage.

 - I was gunning hard for his Choir this whole game, and he kept moving them up to buff his warjacks so I was able to keep lobbing POW 8 templates at them. In particular, on Turn 2 or 3 I think he could have buffed his warjacks before sending them out, leaving his Choir back so that they stay safe. I don't know if they would have been able to get back into position to buff the warjacks the following turn, but considering how well the yo-yo was working for him, that may have kept them around longer.

List Evaluation:
Honestly, the list performed better than I thought it would.

I'm very used to having a buffer unit in the mix, so I was really worried about what I'd do without one. In this case, it worked out, though in other situations I probably wouldn't be so fortunate (though I wouldn't drop Harkevich against the most egregious ones like Cryx.)

Having so many warjacks to rotate into the fight was really helpful. It let me keep Conquest back, which not only allowed him to keep shooting (which increases the value you get out of bringing the big lug,) but it also allowed me to try to engineer the trades in such a way that Conquest would end up fighting Judicator. I think that's a huge slugfest, but without Choir, with my Mechaniks still around, and with some luck, Conquest should be able to either win that fight or weaken Judicator enough that Ivan or Harkevich can finish it off.

The Drakun was awesome to have in the list. I had forgotten how much fun that model is to have around. It's a fast, tough, hard hitting model that your opponent has to deal with, but can't get rid of without some significant commitment (versus something soft like Eliminators.) He was pretty much invincible on that flank, while simultaneously being threatening enough that Feora2 needs to be worried about him charging her. 

If you didn't need him to run interference like I did this game, he can easily contribute to the warjack/warbeast trade with his P+S 14 weaponmaster attack. And on top of all that he has some wacky synergy with Conquest: because the Drakun is immune to KD, he can still act after being thrown (has to forfeit movement or action,) so if Conquest throws him at a model he can still hit them with his weapon and his mount. That's a POW 18 from the collateral of the throw, then a POW 14 mount and a P+S 14 weaponmaster hit. Not too shabby! The Drakun's DEF is also low enough that Conquest can pretty reliable hit it with the back arc bonus, so you can pull that move off for as little as 2 focus - one for the power attack, one to boost the two-handed throw attack roll.

The warjack load out worked well. The Spriggan is always good to have with Harkevich, though in this fight he ended up being a punching bag. I really liked having the extra, raw hitting power of the Juggernaut; it helped me feel like I could keep Conquest back longer. I also like how Critical Stationary can pop up and either equalize out DEF (helps a lot with MAT 6,) or set up shooting follow ups into melee.

Black Ivan is always great with Harkevich. The free boost to his shots is extremely helpful, since that's where you "need" to spend focus on him but don't necessarily want to. RAT 5 boosted for free lets him get good work done in conjunction with Arcing Fire. Black Ivan is also remarkably durable: DEF 12 and Dodge combine up with the regular Khador heavy profile in a way I've found consistently surprising. His claw is also randomly very good; every crit turns it into a weaponmaster hit, so randomly he'll spike damage well above his expected output (which probably means he does surprisingly well on average.)

Conquest was the star of the show. His Main Guns are just good enough to do a lot of different things, and every time you get a juicy crit it's like Christmas. I walk away most games kind of disappointed in the Secondary Battery guns, but they occasionally do something great for you, and extra shots are extra shots (plus on the few times you run into a unit that it can stymie, Creeping Barrage is very nice.)

I also continue to really like the synergy that Harkevich has with Conquest. Broadsides is a spell that's usually not worth casting, but if you have a battlegroup with Black Ivan and Conquest, I feel like you're more likely to run into situations where it's useful. Not that you should be 'casting Broadsides a lot (it's a very situational spell,) but those guns with those rules make ponying up for that extra shot worth it sometimes. Plus there's the obvious benefit that +3 ARM gives to a colossal, and the much needed hitting power that Conquest brings to Harkevich's lists (especially the theme list.)

Overall, I'd definitely play this list again. Its not an easy list to run - very little attack redundancy, high density of attacks and resources - but it's a unique experience in Khador, and it feels like it's got more game than just the outward gimmick of "lots of warjacks". 


I was originally going to include some extra thoughts about Harkevich, this list, and where to go next, but this is already a monster of a post. So I'll cut things off here, and save that for another time. Thanks very much for reading!

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Killer Instinct, Rage Quits, and Titanfall

One of the things I like so much about fighting games is that you build up tangible skill. Through repeated practice and trials, your muscle memory evolves to the point where you can pull off some really sick stuff just off the cuff, and that frees up your mind to think up the really dirty stuff that comprises higher level play.

The downside to all of that is the obvious: if you're out of practice, you need to knock the rust off before you can really get down to business again. Some players re-sync faster than others; it usually takes me a few games before I get back into my groove.

But just getting back into the flow of things would be way too easy, so I decided to make things more complicated by introducing two factors: a new controller and alcohol.

The new controller bit is something I'm overall happy about: my recent acquisition of a CronusMAX adapter has allowed me to use my MadCatz TE fightstick for Killer Instinct, and overall it feel infinitely better than a controller.

I enjoy using a joystick with Killer Instinct for different reasons than in other fighting games though. In a lot of fighting games - particularly 2D fighters - using a joystick feels almost like a necessity due to how complex some of the moves are and how you're required to chain or flow them all together. Having the extra precision of a joystick made those motions a lot easier once I got used to it, which surprised me because I was happy to play fighting games on a regular controller ("pad" in fighting game parlance) for every fighting game in the years before.

Killer Instinct presents a different challenge: the moves themselves are easy to perform (every move is some common fighting game special move motion, and there are no "double motion" moves to be found anywhere,) so the extra precision of the joystick isn't strictly necessary.

What I do find extremely helpful is having easy access to the full set of attack buttons (KI uses the traditional Street Fighter configuration of 3 punches and 3 kicks.) In trying to play the game on a pad, I found that I had a really hard time switching between face buttons and triggers (I played with lights and mediums on the face buttons, and heavies up top on the right bumper and triggers,) so once I used one set of buttons in a combo I had a hard time switching between the two. With all the buttons laid out in front of me it was way easier to dance around and vary up my auto doubles, which will be a big help in getting better at KI in the long term.

Unfortunately, because I had spent time playing the game on the Xbox1 pad, I'm feeling like I kind of need to re-learn it on the joystick. This has resulted in a condition clinically referred to as "dickfingers"; I'm dropping things left and right, screwing up buttons, and in general flopping around like it's week 1 all over again. In fairness: I was slightly drunk when I was playing last night, which didn't help, but I think even stone cold sober I've got some adjusting to do.

All of that is kind of a preamble for a quick story that sadly representative of one of the bad aspects of playing fighting games online.

Killer Instinct is kind of bare bones right now, having only two different online match choices: Ranked and Exhibition. Ranked is common in most fighting games: battle it out with other player to climb some kind of ranking ladder. Winning matches ranks you up, losing matches ranks you down.

Exhibition is essentially an online Versus mode; two players play against each other until one person decides to move along. Unlike Ranked, there is no risk or reward for playing Exhibition matches. Most of the time people are playing to try out new characters, new techniques, or just to take a break and play some matches with zero consequence.

Last night I sat down with an hour or so to play, so I decided to try out Exhibition. I've never played any matches under that mode, and I figured it would be a good format to knock off the rust and try to get used to playing on a fightstick.

My first match was a little odd. Killer Instinct normally has exceptional netcode, but this match was kind of hiccup-y at the start. I also noticed my opponent was doing some very odd things - seemingly random attacks, trying to throw me when I wasn't anywhere near him, things like that. I've heard that in some cases players have ended up de-synced after getting hit with lag, so each player is essentially playing their own version of the match (in theory, I'm spazzing out just as hard on his end as he is on mine, since we're operating in different timelines now.) I'm not sure if that was what was happening, but for whatever reason the match felt odd.

I won that match and I finished it off with an Ultra (quick explanation in case you aren't familiar with KI: a super flashy, automatic combo designed to end the match with a "bang," but it takes a few seconds to play out.) Here's where I admit I committed a faux pas: it is common courtesy in KI to end your Ultras early (you can cut the whole animation short by pressing both medium attack buttons,) to save your opponent from sitting through a long animation that a) they've probably seen a hundred times already and b) is rubbing salt into the wound of their loss.

Not only didn't I end it early, but I decided to try for a super fancy double Ultra, which is technically impressive but is also like rubbing salt in your opponent's wound while nailing his girlfriend.

My opponent's response (and the reason I think the match may not have de-synced, just been really wonky): he quits the game, dropping me out of the match and costing me the credit for the win.

On one hand, I understand the frustration. I've had to sit through my fair share of double Ultras, and while it's neat to see and hard to do, it is frustrating when you just want to get back to playing. On the other hand: man the hell up and sit through it. You lost, and this is the consequence. Be happy you don't have to drop $0.50 in the machine just to try and get revenge. What was even more remarkable was that it's an Exhibition match: it's not like he was going to rank down or lose anything.

But, no big deal. Maybe he had something he really needed to attend to, or maybe his cat stepped on his power strip's on/off switch at that moment (this has happened to me more times than I ever thought would.)

My next match is against someone with a better connection, and we have a pretty close, fun game that he ultimately wins. It is at this point I discover a really nice feature of Exhibition: you can instantly rematch your opponent if you want, giving you an immediate opportunity to redeem yourself (in fighting games, a rematch is often referred to as a "runback", with the implication that one person is looking to avenge the previous loss.)

We rematch two more times, and he wins both games (Sabrewulf getting you into the corner can be quite awful.) At that point, he opts to go to character select and switches to Jago. As with everyone who played the game at launch, I've fought what feels like half a million Jagos, and it's a tricky (though not unwinnable) fight for Thunder.

The next match comes right down to the wire with both players in "Danger" health status, and Thunder clinching the win with a back throw into combo into Ultra. This time I remember to not be a dick and end it almost immediately.

With a win under my belt against this guy, I'm ready for more matches. Especially if he's sticking with Jago, because I've fought against that character a lot. But this guy is having none of that, and immediately leaves the Exhibition lobby after the match is over (at least he didn't rage quit at the end of the match.) I can't really hate on him leaving as it's his right to opt out at any point, but it seemed a little low class. We're playing matches and having a grand old time when you're winning, but when I take a game off of you, "oh damn I gotta roll out"? Similar to the first guy, I don't know his situation: maybe he only had time for that one last game, and maybe that's why he changed characters (everyone has been there before.) I like to believe the best, but there are a number of players out there who are shifty when playing online, so it's hard to say for sure. I'm happy I won the one game I did, and I can't complain about getting time to play in general.

That shiftiness is one of the biggest issues Killer Instinct is facing right now: rage quitting is common enough in Ranked that it kind of throws the system off. I've had people rage quit against me even in the lowbie ranks that I'm at, and I've seen it happen a fair number of times when watching other players match videos. When you're playing against someone you don't know if their rank is the result of hard work, or quitting so that their losses don't stick on their record. Not that online rank matters to me, but it is a shame to diminish the system like that, and it is a slight against the people who have put in the time and effort to gain those ranks legitimately.

This issue isn't unique to Killer Instinct, however. I've played a number of different online, adversarial games (mostly fighting games and FPS games,) and rage quitting is just something you have to live with. You can't control whether your opponent stays in the game; they can opt out at any time. The important part is that the game needs to be set up in a way that it either punishes the rage quitters, or at the very least it needs to not incentivize the behavior. One of the reasons rage quitting feels common in Killer Instinct is because it's a very easy way to preserve your rank, so some players are going to do it every chance they get. I'm looking forward to seeing how Double Helix addresses this issue (based on tweets/forum posts I've read, they're aware of the issue and working on a solution.)

I feel like it's also more common in Killer Instinct because the time after a match has ended is extended by things like Ultras. For example: in a game like Street Fighter, the match is over when one player's life runs out, and then they fly through the air, defeated. If the match ended with an Ultra (not the same as KI), maybe you have to watch that animation play out, but that is about as bad as it gets. In Killer Instinct, it's possible for the winner to keep on hammering out a combo well after the match is over, which gives the other player plenty of time to reach for that power button/Ethernet cable/quit the application.

The reason I mention this is because another game I'm really excited about, Titanfall, is supposed to have a decently significant "post match" segment. I'm hazy on what constitutes an actual match of Titanfall, but my understanding is that after whatever victory condition is in play has been achieved by one team, that team then has to extract from the map. During this retreat, the losing team still has the opportunity to pick them off for points, which may or may not actually tip the balance back in their favor (something else I'm not sure about, but I love the idea of it all.)

I can see the idea behind this segment: in a lot of FPS games, the wins and losses are binary, so if your team is losing pretty badly you can fairly safely quit the game knowing that you weren't going to win it anyways. In theory, this post-match segment keeps both teams engaged right up until the end, because even if you were blown out during the main game you can potentially get revenge in the post game and possibly even end up victorious.

What will be interesting is seeing how well it will work. For instance: if we're halfway through a game that isn't going well, and half my team quits (not uncommon in FPS games, sadly,) unless the game is very good about refilling those depleted ranks we're probably going to continue to snowball into a loss, no matter what the post-match might have otherwise allowed us to do.

Also, how many players will quit out of despondence/apathy, instead of fighting it out? Some of my best friends are tenacious, mean motherfuckers in these games and that's why I love 'em. They will keep fighting you until the bitter end, so this post-match segment sounds like a wonderful time for us. But I have other friends who are more prone to have their spirits broken; to approach adversity with "why bother" instead of "lets see what happens." And I feel that reaction isn't uncommon among the gaming populace; the psychology that leads some people to retreat into gaming also makes them very risk and failure adverse, so challenges are faced with apathy or dismissal (a preemptive strike against what they may feel is the inevitable disappointment of another failure.) How many players will get to the extraction phase and Titanfall and say "we can't win, why bother?"

Titanfall presents an interesting scenario. Its addition of the extraction phase is a way to try to combat the issue of players giving up if a match isn't going their way (again, I can't fully fault players for doing this in the way conventional FPS are set up.) But it may also serve as an interesting psychological litmus test, if the margin is in a sweet spot: you could potentially win if you tried hard enough, but the odds are not in your favor. Do you step up and try, or resign yourself to your loss?

I'm very excited to see how this system plays out. Plus, giant robots.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Pondering of the Wolf: Harkevich Thoughts

Kommander Harkevich, The Iron Wolf is a Khador Warcaster, and ever since his release he's been one of my favorite warcasters to think up lists for.

This is for a few reasons:

  1. He's not a popular 'caster competitively, so his lists are less "solved" (i.e. widely accepted lists that very good, and not often deviated from) than more prominent alternatives.
  2. He can, and does, run a larger number of Khador warjacks decently well which is a rarity among Khador warcasters.
  3. He has a theme list that is actually very good and useful, which is another rarity in Khador (or any of the factions hit with the "early 'Forces of' book" curse.)
  4. His character warjack - Black Ivan - is damn cool, and I like the synergy they have with each other.
Typically when I sit down to think up a list for a 'caster, my first question is: "Is this 'caster's theme list an option?" For most of the Khador warcasters this answer is an immediate "NO", either because their theme list is not very good (being very kind for some of them,) or because I don't own the models to run that theme list (Butcher2's theme list is very good, if you own enough units of Doom Reavers.)

Harkevich is an interesting case because not only is his theme list good, it may well be better than running him in a normal list. The net benefits of the theme list are: +1 to your starting roll, place wreck markers for each heavy warjack you bring, start with upkeeps in play, and all your warjacks with guns get cheaper.

The balancing act between going with a theme list over a normal list is: is the loss of flexibility worth the bonuses I pick up? Nearly every theme list is hurt by losing access to Merc models (very rare, usually NQ published, theme lists let you take a Merc solo or two in a regular Faction theme list,) and every theme list limits your choices; some tremendously so.

Typically, a theme list will give you one or two good benefits, and the rest is filler. Harkevich's theme list is so enticing because every single tier benefit is decently beneficial, and they combine to enable you to play a list that you would otherwise have a hard time running otherwise: lots of heavy warjacks ("lots" meaning 3+.) All of that is a very reasonable offset to losing out on out-of-theme elements, though I'm still divided as to which style of list is going to prove to be the "best."

Since the theme list is the more restrictive list creation option, that's the current focus of my theory and testing. I figure that I can run through several lists that I like which utilize the theme, and if all of them end up being cut or leaving me wanting I then know that I need to branch out and look at normal lists for better options.

My initial pass at the theme was a very balanced approach:

Kommander Harkevich, the Iron Wolf (*5pts)
* Black Ivan (9pts)
* Demolisher (8pts)
* Juggernaut (7pts)
* Spriggan (9pts)
Battle Mechaniks (Leader and 3 Grunts) (2pts)
Winter Guard Infantry (Leader and 9 Grunts) (6pts)
* Winter Guard Infantry Officer & Standard (2pts)
Winter Guard Mortar Crew (Leader and Grunt) (3pts)
Winter Guard Mortar Crew (Leader and Grunt) (3pts)
Kovnik Jozef Grigorovich (2pts)
Man-o-war Drakhun (without dismount) (4pts)

(The last 4 points vary, but as of late I've liked the idea of a free roaming cav solo.)

Decently large battlegroup with some shooting and melee, Winter Guard Infantry to clear out enemy infantry and/or gum up the opponent, and the requisite Mortars which also bring some random anti-infantry to the table.

It's a decent list, and I've done well with it in the past. I was pretty happy with it way back when Harkevich was released, but then something changed the game of Warmachine dramatically: colossals.

Now instead of having to deal with a few heavies, which you can do via whittling them down or controlling them with power attacks/pushes/pulls/etc, players need to also consider the possibility of having to deal with a big, hard hitting model with decent-to-great guns, that also cannot be moved or made stationary so you need to hack through the big bastards if you want to have a hope of winning via scenario.

Obviously, you need to have a plan for what you'll do against a colossal, because while some may not be too popular (and gargantuans were pretty much DOA,) odds are high you'll face one at some point with your list. I had serious concerns that this version of my list had enough punch to get through a colossal and still make a game of it, and it gets even worse if the opposing list has a heavy or two to go along with that colossal (not terribly common, but when it shows up its scary.)

My next thought was to counter heavy metal with heavy metal, so I tossed out the idea of balance in favor of really skewing the "heavy armor" factor the theme list brings to the table. There are two iterations on this idea. The first is simply a ton of warjacks:

Kommander Harkevich, the Iron Wolf (*5pts)
* Black Ivan (9pts)
* Demolisher (8pts)
* Demolisher (8pts)
* Juggernaut (7pts)
* Spriggan (9pts)
* War dog (1pts)
Battle Mechaniks (Leader and 3 Grunts) (2pts)
Winter Guard Mortar Crew (Leader and Grunt) (3pts)
Winter Guard Mortar Crew (Leader and Grunt) (3pts)
Man-o-war Drakhun (with dismount) (5pts)

This list attempts to overload the ability for most lists to be able to deal with that many warjacks, and set up a set of trades that ultimately results in Harkevich's battlegroup coming out on top and either finishing off the enemy 'caster, or winning via scenario (probably more likely.)

While the second adds in Conquest to give the list more punch, and even more of that "armor bully" quality:

Kommander Harkevich, the Iron Wolf (*5pts)
* Black Ivan (9pts)
* Conquest (18pts)
* Juggernaut (7pts)
* Spriggan (9pts)
Battle Mechaniks (Leader and 3 Grunts) (2pts)
Winter Guard Mortar Crew (Leader and Grunt) (3pts)
Winter Guard Mortar Crew (Leader and Grunt) (3pts)
Man-o-war Drakhun (without dismount) (4pts)

Both lists attempt to do the same thing: overwhelm the other player's list with lots of armor, boxes, and templates. Having discussed both lists with my gaming buddies, I think the second list is overall stronger: while Conquest reduces the footprint of the list, he brings some sorely needed hitting power to the table. Plus, he can leverage his guns more actively than the Demolishers can (who either need to open up to do so, or rely on Broadsides shenanigans.)

I think the hardest thing to do with either list is set up the trades in the right order based on what I'm fighting, and make sure to stick to the plan throughout. One of the oddball dangers of having guns is that it's easy to get distracted by random opportunities to shoot at stuff. If the targets are sufficiently high priority, this can be a good idea, but at the same time Khador warjacks have a hard time with accuracy (I'm continuously amazed at how often RAT 4 can let a person down) so sometimes it's better to stay the course and continue pressing melee advantages.

Setting up the trades is also going to be tricky for me. Khador most often solves problems by tossing infantry at the problem, and units are way more forgiving in terms of trading models. In your average 10 model unit (12 with a UA, but focusing on the core 10 for simplicity) you can usually arrange your unit in waves so that the trades happen at a fairly natural and obvious progression. Also, infantry is binary: they're either dead or not, so its usually very easy to evaluate how a combat will work out.

Warjacks are harder to evaluate. Assuming a situation where the warjacks aren't likely to one-round each other (a common scenario, though the goal is to one-round targets whenever possible,) it all comes down to the dice: if I can put my heavy out there and it takes "average" damage and, most importantly, that damage goes around the cortex, I can reprise with that warjack and start a very legitimate trade scenario.

If, however, the dice spike and/or the damage goes right into columns four and five (eating the cortex,) then that warjack isn't going to be able to contribute much to the counter-offensive, so I need to bring another warjack into the fight. Now, if I had more Mechaniks in either list, I could try to do a warjack rotation (send one in, pull one back and fix it,) but with just one minimum unit I don't think that's likely to work out well.

All of that is compounded by the presence of any kind of "tarpit" infantry, let alone a legit infantry threat. Both lists have template guns to throw around, but those guns are unlikely to chew through threatening or jamming infantry fast enough, since those units are typified by stats/abilities that help them get into position to punch things or get punched.

For those reasons, I feel like the optimal set up for Harkevich's theme list has to include some kind of infantry somewhere. Winter Guard Infantry are the most obvious inclusion, and they've served me very well in the past. While a lot of Khador lists have (and still do) use the WGI as a backbone unit, I really like them in Harkevich's theme list precisely because they aren't the backbone of the list. I only need them to live long enough to clear some models out, and probably get in the way of things a little. So they feel much easier to use than in a list where they're expected to survive and do work.

Winter Guard Rifle Corps are another option for clearing off chaff, and they bring some very nice, accurate, long ranged guns to the table. They also bring a Suppressing Fire template to the table which is a big deal against all but the heartiest single wound infantry. However, I don't particularly like the WGRC in this theme list because the warjacks tend to vanguard, so any threats/speedbumps they run into are often in combat with them. The sprays offered by the WGI UA make it way, way easier to keep your warjacks moving where you want to, and they also get around irritants like Stealth or Concealment/Cover.

I've also seriously (god help me) considered Man-o-War Demolition Corps in lieu of a fourth warjack. They bring some high power attacks to the table that don't eat into Harkevich's focus pile, they're kinda-sorta-durable (more durable than single wound infantry, at least,) and they can slot in naturally behind the warjacks as they move up to counter-charge.

However, the one time I've tried the Demo Corps, they were a pain to use. Here was the list:

Kommander Harkevich, the Iron Wolf (*5pts)
* Black Ivan (9pts)
* Demolisher (8pts)
* Spriggan (9pts)
Battle Mechaniks (Leader and 3 Grunts) (2pts)
Battle Mechaniks (Leader and 3 Grunts) (2pts)
Man-o-war Demolition Corps (Leader and 4 Grunts) (9pts)
Winter Guard Infantry (Leader and 9 Grunts) (6pts)
* Winter Guard Infantry Officer & Standard (2pts)
Winter Guard Mortar Crew (Leader and Grunt) (3pts)
Winter Guard Mortar Crew (Leader and Grunt) (3pts)
Kovnik Jozef Grigorovich (2pts)

It was a fight against Circle, which isn't a match up I love for Harkevich thanks to MAT 6 sucking hard against DEF 14 warpwolves. 

The biggest issue I ran into was that the list was too damn voluminous, and none of the infantry has Pathfinder. That becomes a big issue when you put down wreck markers for the theme list benefit. You end up with a situation where you can either place them in aggressive positions to cover your advance, but your infantry get jammed up, or you can put them in easy to navigate spots, but you're pretty strongly telegraphing where your battlegroup is going to go (not that it usually isn't obvious, but still.)

On top of that, the Demo Corps ran into the same issues that they usually do: they're pretty easy to pick off with decently strong ranged attacks (they ended up Prey'd by Bloodtrackers, which terrified them well into the back line,) and their slow speed makes it hard to re-position them or project threat. They're a good second line, but actually getting that to line up is tricky. 

If Demo Corps ever get a UA, solo, or whatever that makes them more relevant as offensive choices, I'd be willing to reconsider them in the theme, but as-is they feel worse than bringing another warjack (or super-sizing up to Conquest.)

All of this should illustrate the point/problem: I have way too many ideas about Harkevich lists, and not enough table time to try them out. My old list is at least semi-proven, but everything else is based on theory, experiences with other 'casters in those match ups, or just good 'ol fashioned hope. No matter how many games I get in with Harkevich, I feel like I need to play more with him to get a handle on a list I really, really like. I think it's going to come down to a combination of the right list build, and enough practice with that list build to where I really feel comfortable with everything it brings to the table.

The good news is: I'll be playing a game this week, so I get to try out one of my million lists. It's a really good challenge too; my buddy cooked up this Feora2 list:

Feora, Protector of the Flame (*6pts)
* Judicator (18pts)
* Sanctifier (9pts)
* Templar (8pts)
Choir of Menoth (Leader and 3 Grunts) (2pts)
Temple Flameguard (Leader and 9 Grunts) (6pts)
* Temple Flameguard Officer & Standard (2pts)
Eiryss, Angel of Retribution (3pts)
The Covenant of Menoth (2pts)
Vassal Mechanik (1pts)
Vassal Mechanik (1pts)
Vassal of Menoth (2pts)
Vassal of Menoth (2pts)

That list is like the ideal version of a Harkevich list, but of course in Menoth where the warjacks hum. I'm very interested to see how one of my lists works out against it. I'll probably be trying one of my "lots of warjacks" variants against it. If the theory doesn't work out against a list like this, I'm dropping the idea and either going back to my original theme list set up, or I'm going to finally branch out into non-theme lists (yes I have a few all ready, why do you ask?)

Monday, January 13, 2014

...and Dice.

The other half of this blog refers to my love of miniature wargaming. If for whatever reason you got here and don't know what that phrase means, that's kind of beyond the scope of one post to explain.

I will share the short breakdown we were taught to use when I worked for Games Workshop when explaining the game to new customers: its a game where you move models around, roll dice, and stuff happens based on the dice. You also assemble and paint the models yourself, so there's a hobby aspect to it.

Also, for reference, the games I'm most likely to be talking about will be:

Warmachine and/or Hordes, produced by Privateer Press, Inc.


Malifaux, produced by Wyrd Miniatures, LLC

There will be others, I'm sure, but those are the main two game systems that I devote my thinking cycles to. And man, do I devote some thinking cycles to them.

A big part of what brings me back to these games time and time again is the variance involved. Dice/cards are the obvious point of variance/variety/novelty, but there's another layer. There are a ton of different things you can do in how you set up your list or how you played the game that alter how a game could have gone, and it's fascinating to think about all those different options and possibilities.

It's so fascinating that sometimes I go deep down the rabbit hole thinking about how I'd set up a list for a particular 'caster in Warmachine, or how I'd use a model in Malifaux, and sometimes I need to expunge those thoughts in order to be able to function (semi)normally again. So there will be plenty of posts about me rambling on about this 'caster with the hundred different list ideas I have, or this Malifaux model and all the different ways I think it may be useful (or terrible.)

Getting into the specifics of any one thing would cause this post to explode, so I'll just wrap it up here by saying the next post is probably going to be a long yarn about the Warmachine 'caster I've had on the brain for awhile now: Harkevich, the Iron Wolf.

That should be going up relatively soon (I seriously need to get some of these list thoughts out of my head before it explodes,) so keep an eye out for it!

Thursday, January 9, 2014


The title refers to the tools used to partake in two of my favorite hobbies: "sticks" = fightstick = joystick, used to play fighting games (one of my favorite types of video game, much to my wife's chagrin,) and dice, the polyhedrons rolled to resolve random effects in miniature wargames.

This post will briefly talk about the first half of that pairing. Or, more specifically, an adapter.

Backing up a step: the "next gen" jump for video game consoles is always equal parts exciting and suck. It's exciting because you're promised a slew of new games that would have been impossible on the current machines, and although some developers are invariably blowing smoke there are usually enough legit next gen games that it's worth getting excited over.

The part that always sucks is that it fractures your gaming collection, sometimes severely. This particular generation jump has been pretty harsh because the two "big" next generation consoles (Playstation 4 and Xbox One) have totally cut ties with the previous generation: the new consoles will not play any PS3 or Xbox 360 games, and for the most part any peripherals you own won't transition to the next generation consoles. Xbox One will not allow you to use any 360 peripherals, and while the PS4 seems to be a little better (based on this list from the Playstation Community Forums,) it's still not encouraging, especially in the context of what I'm leading up to.

For the average gamer, the most frustrating part of this news is that their game libraries are now fractured: instead of having a "one stop shop" for your gaming, you're now going to have at minimum two consoles to play the games you have (previous gen and the new now-current gen.) However, even then it probably isn't that big of a deal: I think your average gamer doesn't so much collect games as they experience them, so making the jump and cutting ties with the previous generation isn't that big of a deal (only nerds like me get worried over something like that.)

The part that is more of a practical frustration is that peripherals won't be making the jump. More specifically, that most fightsticks - joysticks used to play fighting games - aren't usable on the next generation of gaming consoles. As above, PS4 is a little better in this regard, with the word on USB based devices being that they are "Not compatible, however publisher may decide to enable them on a title-by-title basis" (taken from post linked above,) though practically we don't know how this will be followed up on. Xbox1 is having none of that: no 360 fightsticks work on the new system.

This leaves a lot of current generation (PS3 and 360) gamers with a sticky wicket of a situation. Their current fightsticks will not work on the next generation (or at least in the case of PS4, aren't guaranteed to work,) and upgrading to a next gen fightstick is expensive: the Mad Catz TE2 Killer Instinct fightstick (linked to Amazon, but you can get this from is the only option for Xbox1 owners, and it costs a gentlemanly $200. That's assuming you can find one; they're sold out in most retailers, so it's kind of a wild goose chase to track one down.

Like some others, I was willing to chief up and buy a new stick for the Xbox One, but the low stock levels combined with the reality of just how much it costs (it's almost half as much as the console!) soured me to the prospect. It was about that time that several video game news outlets started breaking stories about the CronusMAX controller adapter and how it had been recently updated to allow players to use a variety of controllers (including 360 controllers) on the Xbox One.

Shortly after those stories were published, the CronusMAX sold out in most places you could buy it, so I was left with some time to contemplate buying one before I could act on it.

I was initially reticent to buy one. Digging around the internet, I didn't hear great things about the previous Cronus product (I believe it was called the Cronus Cross Over, or something like that,) it's not a terribly cheap adapter ($60 at most retailers which is at least cheaper than a $200 fightstick,) and because it's a 3rd party product there's no guarantee that it won't run into issues with a future system update.

But for Christmas I received a $50 Amazon gift card, and not too long after that I managed to find a retailer selling the CronusMAX through Amazon, so I thought "what the hell" and took the plunge.

This is already long enough, so I'll cut to the quick review (which, upon review of the review, is still quite long): it works, and it works well.

The CronusMAX has an "auto" setting that is supposed to work out of the box for PS3 and 360, and at least in my case, it sure as hell did: I took the CronusMAX out of the package, plugged my 360 stick (Mad Catz TE stick) into it, and then plugged it into the PS3 and it worked right away.

The Xbox One set up took some more time: firmware update, and you need to manually set it to "Xbox1" mode, which I think will make switching between Xbox One and PS3 a little bit of a pain until they update the software again. My initial test with Killer Instinct was a little off - the RT and LB buttons didn't work - but everything ran fine after I reconnected the Xbox One controller, did a button check, and reconnected the fightstick.

The matches I played with Killer Instinct using the device felt great, with no noticeable lag and no dropped inputs. That was one of my biggest concerns about buying the product, so I was very happy to have everything run so smoothly.

As someone who owns two different systems I want to play fighting games on (and I'll likely be getting a third eventually with the PS4, which the developers are working on,) I really like that I have a way to use my fightstick across all of those platforms. It's a huge relief on my wallet, and while the Xbox One controller is good, it's so much nicer to be able to play with the stick I've gotten used to over the past year or so.

A few caveats: as mentioned, it's a 3rd party device. So there's a real possibility that a console update could kill this adapter. I don't know how likely this is, and I would like to believe that the developers of the product would respond by finding new ways to make it work again, but its worth bearing in mind. 

Similarly, because it's "mod" hardware, you're not likely to see a lot of support for it at events. So if you're a competitive player, you'll need to chief up and buy new sticks, but I think that if you play competitively you knew that was coming.

Overall, I'm very satisfied with the CronusMAX adapter. I'm kind of the perfect demo for it, really: I have multiple consoles I want to play fighting games on, and while I'm decently competitive I'm not going to travel to events. I ended up buying it for really cheap thanks to the gift card, but I'd happily buy it at full price.

As I continue to play using it, I'll post any updated impressions I have.