In the comments to this I Do Not Play 40K post, Rob at Warhammer 39,999 asked me a Question.
Have you given any thought as to whether your interest is finally waning (And perhaps you’re “done” with warmachine), or maybe it’s just a slightly longer than normal cycle?
I’ve definitely been giving it thought, if only because there’s so much Warmachine stuff and it’s making packing for the house move inefficient, plus so much of it is just collecting dust. Now, the following post is me putting those thoughts down into words and thinking aloud. It may not be organised, it may not be logical, it may not even be correct. Please bear that in mind.
There have been periods where I’ve been not-so-actively-playing Warmachine before, and sold off collections only to end up replacing them/missing them, but I’m not sure how much of that was a proper interest cycle and how much was dictated by meta factors. I mean that in both the conventional sense of ‘metagame’, i.e. who I’m playing with and how we’re playing, and the broader sense that the word actually implies, i.e. what else is going on in my life and how I need money for food/rent/bills/life more than I need toy soldiers.
At the moment it’s starting to feel ‘done’, or at least that it’s not something I’m particularly interested in any more. Stanford and I were talking about this on Tuesday after an embarrassingly short game (more on that later), and we identified a few circumstances that have sort of disengaged us both where Warmachine is concerned.
Back when Prime was black and white, there was a sense that the game was a) a bit of a Saturday morning cartoon, with all these giant robots chucking each other about and all these ‘everything’s broken’ feats and spells about the place, and b) very much a scalable game, that you could play with a battle box and a unit or two OR you could play a honking great two-caster loads-of-troops whole-day extravaganza and that might be a bit taxing but it was basically fine.
All of that is still in essence true, but as the rules revisions have gone on and on, something’s changed. Compare the Hordes Primal feats to the Warmachine Prime ones. The Warmachine ones are simple and universal – everything within X inches is knocked down/frozen/gets a buff/takes a debuff, just to look across the starter boxes. In the Hordes starter boxes, it’s all “may not use this mechanic, that mechanic or the other mechanic” or “may mulch through models within one inch of each other, but since there are no infantry in this starter box, that basically means you have no feat in nine out of ten games” (HI TROLLS). Kaya’s is pretty cool but it needs all those callouts about exactly when it happens and exactly where the models can go. I can’t even remember what Lylyth’s does. Something cheaty, I’m sure. Hell, look at animi. Or the amount of stuff on a warbeast’s card compared to a warjack’s.
My point is, Getting It Right is now very important. We live in the age of new unit types with complex and distinct character pieces edging out simple, generic ones, and an increasingly tight and pedantic rules system (look through the step-by-step sequence in the back of Prime if you don’t believe me!). These increasingly specific pieces are enabling increasingly specific approaches with increasingly specific counters. It’s moving toward the rock-paper-scissors thing and I’m not sure that a collection of ‘basics’ is actually any of those. In terms that fall more easily into my mind: Warmachine is D&D 3.5, where an every-choice-counts player can labour over stacking and synergy and NUMBERS until they end up with something huge, and where a player who doesn’t especially care for the ins-and-outs of all these precise “do this do that get the other provided you’re this far away at that angle” mechanics… can’t.
It’s a tighter rules set these days, for sure, but I’m finding it harder and harder to get a casual game where I do anything other than line up, attempt to execute some tactics, bounce off the raw NUMBERS and then get shot because I had to put my neck on the line just to make a start. Could I potentially have not put my neck on the line and basically not done anything until I saw an opportunity? Yes. Would that have been an interesting and dynamic game experience? No. Could I have had a better plan? Undoubtedly.
The thing is that I’m not actually very good at wargames, and I may have mentioned once or twice that I don’t appreciate the social obligation to be good at a game in order to play it (since my working life is full of obligations towards Continuous Professional Development and I have no desire to fill my off-time with that as well). I have no problem with people wanting to be good at games and test their skills against other people who are good at games. I have a problem when I can’t find other people who are not so good at games to play them with.
That’s another problem I’m having with the Warmachine. When I started, it was with a group of garage gamers that have now broken up. When I started this blog, it was with Shiny, who’d be a garage gamer if he only had a garage to game in. In between times, in all the places I’ve lived in since then, I’ve only ever found The Scene, and The Scene is very much about the new release, the next tournament, the skills, the prep, the optimal. And that’s fine. But I can’t find the alternative, the space in which I’m actually comfortable playing. And that’s another thing that’s putting me off.
Stanford, despite being slightly better equipped in the list-building and having-a-plan departments than me, has another problem which he reckons is quite a big thing. Neither of us have particularly good spatial awareness, which is why he saves his real competing for card games and why I’m quite good at Blood Bowl – games where we don’t have to waste brainpower on correcting for myopic astigmatism, parallax distortion, and just not actually being interested in learning how to calculate distances on the fly. This is also a huge part of why I don’t hate WFB.8. I love pre-measuringbecause I have a visual disability and games with pre-measuring do not punish me for having one.* At least Warmachine has the control area, but it can’t do everything.
Then there’s the frugalist perspective. Warmachine has always been a CCG with models. The design process involves shaking up the ‘meta’ with new releases that force tactical adjustments and new purchases. It’s not as simple as New Stuff Is Better, more that New Stuff Impacts On Old Stuff and New Stuff Brings New Rules Which Don’t Apply To Old Stuff. We’ve talked about this before. I think I’m starting to experience the bad side of it now. It’s not that I can’t play Warmachine or even, very occasionally, win a game of it; it’s that I’m increasingly not enjoying the games, putting my stuff down and seeing the other guy’s stuff and knowing roughly what it can do and thinking “nothing in my case can do anything like that.”
I agree that a properly built collection that accounts for the nuances of the rules – an optimised build, in other words – can manage that. See previous. I don’t like build optimisation, not as the foundation of a whole collection/army/character anyway. I don’t like builds that flat-out don’t work either, so it’s not that the NUMBERS don’t have some significance for me, but I don’t like going out thinking “what’s the recognised Best Buy, let’s get that then whether it looks good or not”. If I’ve run with a good build it’s because I’ve experimented with it and built up to it and invested in it. That takes longer. That’s less efficient. However, in the long run I think it’s more successful and rewarding than just buying what everyone said was the best and rolling with that. That’s not yours. You don’t own it, there’s nothing of you in it, and you might not even do that well with it because you didn’t learn how to make it work. As Mr. Sabbath points out, RPGs work in a very similar way:
The brand new girl (the D&DMelt crowd is about 20% female) with her psion has seriously this 4 page character sheet and has to wade through it like a bucket of pint tar every round. Satine did a good job of priming the kids with “Hey you can do whatever you want, these are just some of the things you can do” but still, a 4e sheet is a lot to handle and poorly organized. And the fact that the online builder does it for you means the new girl wasn’t along for the ride in making all these numbers happen so she doesn’t remember them.
If I haven’t made the numbers happen, I don’t know how they work. If I don’t like, and invest in, and own the collection of models, I’m not interested in finding out how they work (cf. one or two failed projects of the past).
Part of it’s what I own, part of it’s my personal limitations, part of it’s the way the game is (with increasing ubiquity) played, and part of it’s the game itself. I’m not quitting, but I’m downsizing, and I want to see if, when we move, I actually bother to seek out Warmachine play, if that impetus is there. If I go for months and months without playing, it might be time to say goodbye.* – yes, it is a disability – it is a minor one which can be corrected for day-to-day purposes just by putting my glasses on, but there are definitely Things I Am Less Able To Do because I have spent my entire life not being quite able to see where things are, even with the glasses. For instance, I can’t throw or catch accurately to save my life, I have to physically move objects around to work out what spaces they fit into because I can’t trust my eyes to tell me what size things are, and I spend a lot of time in swimming pools asking people what time it is ’cause those clocks are actually quite far away. And I can’t guess ranges to save my life.