Wednesday, February 24, 2016

SmogCon Q&A Tidbits and Rumors

At some point, probably a year or two ago, the Warmachine and Hordes community really embraced social media. Lots of prominent players took to Twitter and Facebook as ways of directly communicating with each other and the rest of the player base.

While that is good-to-great for building a sense of community, it had an effect I never would have foreseen: almost all spoiler talk happens first on Twitter/Facebook, and then we're lucky to catch it on a forum somewhere (usually it's just something like "spoilers on Trevor from Chain Attack's Twitter?") As a social media Luddite, it makes me nostalgic for the good 'ol days of vague forum posts and blog info dumps.

In that spirit, I wanted to collect the set of spoiler-y tidbits and rumors that came out of SmogCon this past weekend, which you can find after the break. If you want to preserve the original means of delivery, only read it 140 characters at a time.

In no particular order, taken from various PP forum posts (bless the fine folks who shared that info with the rest of us):
  • Play test starts on new Hordes Faction on the return from SmogCon
  • Carver on boar chariot possibly in the future
  • Theme force levelling/adjustment will happen in future
  • Agathea is taller than deneghra, smaller than terminus
  • Lich Lord Mortenebra may have been a typo (referring to her seemingly epic 'caster title in the most recent NQ)
  • Hydra taught some hard lessons, these will payoff in future colossal releases (context indicates this relates to manufacturing delays, not rules or balance)
  • Dracodile (Blindwater Gargantuan) has appeared on and dropped from the release schedule multiple times
  • Allison Jakes is in current playtest in her full caster form. Will be akin to the game iteration, but not exact 1:1.
  • Plan is in place for errata/card conflict
  • There was a rumour circulating that House Vyre light warjacks had been developed, but were pulled from the Vengeance books in order to accommodate Imperatus. This was literally debunked as rubbish. There are no House Vyre lights.
  • Jason was pleased that the company moved away from a policy of introducing new technology in each book.
  • There are not any new Battle Engines on the horizon.
  • It wasn't categorically stated, but was implied that the next Warmachine book will contain only one Warcaster per Faction.
  • Caine3 exists and will work for a Faction <----- PP very cagey when discussing Caine3 and the next Warmachine book: "all will be revealed in the next 12-18 months"
  • We are likely to see version 4s of Casters/solos in the future. There was a joke that Stryker8 was currently in development.
  • Ron chose to resculpt the Gorax himself because the original model was horrible, then engineered an opportunity to produce it and shoehorn it into the release schedule.
  • Several versions of epic Allison Jakes were written. The one chosen for Tactics might be different from the one currently in play-testing, but the character's overall theme will remain constant.
  • At some point in the future, Fyanna will perform an act which attracts Everblight's attention and earns her an athanc shard. Her epic version will therefore be a full Warlock, making her Legion's equivalent of Allison Jakes.
Some of those points are very interesting. I personally love reading "behind the curtain" bits like the story behind the Gorax resculpt, though it doesn't technically have any bearing on the game itself. 

The talk of 4th iterations of various 'casters isn't too surprising when you account for the fact that PP has a very long view of the game (I've heard they plan as far as 5 years out with releases), though here's hoping we get a few more 1's, 2's, and 3's before we get very many 4's.

The talk of Jakes going full warcaster isn't surprising - PP staffers mentioned way back when that they planned on "upgrading" all of the character Jrs. from Vengeance to full warcasters in the near future, and Jakes' is playable as a full warcaster in Warmchine: Tactics - but it is cool to see that those plans are progressing along and probably aren't too far off.

One of the most interesting things is the mention of the Dracodile as an honest-to-god release. We haven't seen much of it other than an IKRPG entry so hearing that it has made it far enough along in the development process to have come on and off the release schedule is rather exciting. I'm guessing they've been playing their cards close to their chest on this one due to production concerns (especially in lieu of what they said about the Hydra teaching them some hard lessons). It will be very interesting to see what a Minions gargantuan looks like. Who knows when we will see rules or a model, but it will be a giant crocodile-thing so it should be pretty impressive looking, if nothing else.

Carver on a boar chariot is generally neat news. I feel like warlocks fare better on Huge bases than their 'caster brethren; the flexibility of animi and the ability to flat transfer off damage gives them a much better chance of being able to actually do things during a game and survive. Denny3 shows the lengths you need to go to have that kind of success in WM, and frankly I'm not sure how many other warcasters will have comparable mechanics that help them not melt once they spend some focus. 

Plus there is every chance that the boar chariot will be as entertaining and interesting a model as the Meat Thresher. With the added bonus of having Carver on top.

The stand out bullet point is the one concerning theme forces, and the balancing thereof. 

Theme forces have grown to be sort of a bugbear for PP over the course of Mk. 2: they started off being largely throw away, semi-fluffy army lists that had a few stand outs which survived based on shenanigans (Butcher2 theme force being a great example). As time went on, PP became better at creating theme forces, and started to produce special ones via NQ. Those theme forces, and some of the ones associated with 'casters that came a little later in the Mk. 2 cycle, have ended up being big balance problems when taken to extremes (along with the few standouts from ye old "Forces of" books).

Based on posts from folks who sound like they were actually there for the Q&A session (such as this post from PP forum user mercury), PP isn't necessarily looking to do a big, sweeping revision of theme forces as we know it. They want to preserve the validity of everyone's purchases (a mantra they've had for some time) and honestly probably do not have the resources to thoroughly revise and re-balance 200+ theme forces.

One theory that has been kicking around for awhile now, and may regain some traction, is the thought that theme forces will be restricted out of normal Steamroller play (possibly also in Masters and Iron Gauntlet as well, though those formats can technically be totally different if PP chooses). That would effectively kill theme forces as a meta concern - the meta revolves around what is legal under the Masters packet, give or take - and possibly as a general gaming concern (since PP's competitive play does so much to influence regular play). Theme forces would be allowed in Steamroller variants and user-created formats, but the "core" of WM/H competitive play will be Theme-less. Purchases will still be valid, though much like the Evolutionary Elementalism theme force change some players will probably end up with models they won't field very often. 

I have zero idea how likely that solution is (or one similar to it). But I do remember a similar situation, that ended in a similar way: the concern over character models way back near the dawn of Mk. 2. 

Players had similar concerns - characters models were too powerful, too prevalent, stifled list building choices, invalidated other army options - and PP was faced with the same general problem - practically impossible to fix on a case-by-case basis, need a solution that works as future releases add to the pool of models, need a solution that is well communicated.

Their solution, which was initially disliked (and still has it's friction moments) but has held strong since then was to introduce character restrictions to all competitive play formats. Character models are still just as strong as they ever were (with plenty of new strong ones coming out in various release cycles) but keeping them from being in every tournament list was apparently just enough to keep the issue in check. Meanwhile, there is nothing stopping you from playing casual games with every character known to man and living it up.

It will be interesting to see where a lot of those tidbits and rumors lead in the coming months. PP seems to be keeping everything relatively tight lipped for now, with (I'm assuming) the intent of blowing the doors off with a few big reveals at Lock & Load this year. That would make a lot of sense, as PP has been trying to place more emphasis on that convention but in prior years early year announcements sort of stole any thunder they may have normally saved for L&L. Now that TempleCon (the con where PP used to do their big reveals) has shifted to later in the year, L&L can finally become the "con to watch" for WM/H news. 

Hopefully we'll see some more nuggets of info between now and then, though release list is filling out quickly - sites such as The War Store already have release lists out through May - so we may not get many surprises before L&L. It certainly seems like that is going to be the con to watch this year.

For all of us who still look to the hoary 'ol web for spoilers/rumors/tidbits, I'll keep posting 'em as I find 'em. Until next time, thanks very much for reading!


  1. The problem is that restricting theme forces hits some factions like pigs disproportionately hard. You could offer a straight theme force adjustment to each faction like the current minion pacts. You can cut the biggest offenders down to size. You can modify stats for crucial models such as with warders but no matter what PP does, they are going to ruin somebody’s day.

    From a developmental standpoint, I am glad to see a greater focus on enhancing individual factions over releasing new concept pieces. If rager was the only thing to come out of the last book for Khador I would have been ecstatic.

    On a macro level PP has several issues to cope with. Some factions, Cryx in particular, have an objectively better selection of models and synergies to work with. As long as this persists, any theme force that tunes up already better models is simply going to make that faction more dominant. Second, PP has a real problem when it comes to competitive vs. casual game play. Effectively their steamroller rules are default rules for casual play because the community views them as the only way to play something other than caster kill. That is a stagnant design that unfairly tethers your product to the competitive Meta. Effectively, each year’s steamroller rules are a mini update to the main rulebook with associated barriers to entrance based on learning curve. PP would sell a lot more models and widen its player base if it could break off some of its design space for less tournament minded play. Finally, hordes is, despite its pet agree, a new effort for PP relative to war machine. It doesn’t have the defense in depth war machine factions have, especially when you take mercenaries into account. So as long as both groups are in the same sandbox you are going to encounter imbalance. I still say MKIII is the best way to resolve these issues. I know it has only been a couple years since MKII but there is only so much that can be done with the existing set of models and cards as written.

    1. But their goal is a imperfect imbalance, which they - via releases and else - will tilt ever so often in somebody elses favour.

      That MK3 would both Salve and Salvation is a dream. It would not fix any of the issues without creating others as a necessity. The issue you mentioned regarding SR and casual play - to which I fully agree - would not be solved, because it's not the game's fault, but the community's (I also refer to Moondog's Jab at the Masters pack dictating all of competitive gaming). How could MK3 hope to fix that? Or the tendencies of people to go as cutting edge as they want?

      They could certainly do something towards casual gaming, which would help a lot. They are already doing it via the leagues, but it should as... codified/official as the SR document.

    2. PP has a lot of balls in the air when it comes to trying to address balance issues. You both bring up very good points: no matter what they do, they're going to piss someone off (ban themes, theme players get mad; change models, owners get mad; etc), and at the same time, it is unlikely they will ever be able to do enough to address *all* off the balance concerns.

      I think that is the reason we keep seeing so many "patches" in the form of SR updates, which freshen up competitive play (and trickles down to casual play), errata, and model releases.

      The frustration for at least me is that the game feels like doing a lot of renovations (of varying quality) to a house with a jacked up foundation. PP have made some really good rule updates in the past couple years, and they've added some fantastic models (insomuch as they are good and useful, but not crazy game bending). But its hard to really appreciate those things because the same core issues are always looming and frustrating.

      Mk. 2.5/3/2 Remix/Turbo Ex+ Alpha can't hope to address everything, but its the only way PP is ever going to address issues with things like stats being off or point costs being out of whack. I don't think they'll ever change those via errata so something on the scale of an edition rework is the only way that is going to happen.

      I always think that it hasn't been that long since Mk. 2, but I think if you run the math on it we're pretty close to as long as it was between Mk. 1 and Mk. 2 at this point.

      As for casual play, I have no idea what they can do about that. I think they are actually doing the best thing they can with the leagues they're constantly promoting because I don't know how you encourage casual play otherwise. PP cultivated a lot of popularity based on being a premiere competitive miniatures game, and good on them for it. But over time that has become the standard, which makes WM/H a game that has a bizarre casual play environment.

      Whatever solution they come up with, I wish them the best of luck. :)

  2. I have always respected games like WM/H and MTG because they prove the point that you can have a tight rule set, a competitive engine, and still foster a casual side. When you ask what can MKIII do about tournament min-maxing? I say nothing—as it should be. Actually I think the game benefits hugely from tournament players testing the limits. The problem that MKIII can solve is twofold.
    First, it can build a game with more than one win condition ala 5th ed 40k that still has a clean rule set. If PP wants to add/adapt for SR it can, but the base game can offer some more flexibility other than caster kill/100% attrition.
    The second thing it can do is balance points costs and abilities with the expanded world or at least make it so each model in each faction has a chance of relevance. Obviously, there are going to be “better” model choices out there, but how often do you see the Khador field gun or bombardiers or cleanser UA? By balancing out their stats to the new meta PP can not only make models useful again vs. their points, it can fundamentally shake up the existing meta allowing for more innovation. Whether it will do so or not is up to PP but my point is not that PP will fix these problems but that MKIII is the only solution I can think of that will address all of MKII’s issues in one comprehensive step.

    1. I agree. MK. 3 (or whatever they end up calling it) is the only real recourse PP has for readjusting the game.

      In addition to rebalancing things/changing mechanics/etc it would also be good to roll all of the errata and expanded rules (battle engines, colossals, 'caster/'lock units, warbeast packs) into the core rulebooks so you don't have to buy old expansion books just to have the rules for the new model you just bought. I can see that being confusing/frustrating for a new player, and that was one of the driving forces behind Mk. 2 in the first place (Mk. 1 was lousy with errata and rules not in the core rulebook).

      I also agree that, even though the game is impossible to perfectly balance, there is still a lot to gain from relatively rebalancing rules. Flattening the sine curve of balance across the game (i.e. bring the lows up and bring the highs down) could dramatically change the game just by re-introducing whole swathes of models that don't see use either due to obsolescence or being saddled with kinda crappy rules to begin with.

      This upcoming year is going to be very interesting to watch. Its the first time in however long (maybe ever?) that we've gotten a full line up of new 'casters and 'locks coming down the pike but no context for what release cycle they are part of. That could mean any number of things, but it does peak my interest because it hints that this year may have an unusual release schedule (i.e. not the usual anthology book per game system). We'll see (especially at L&L).