Read And Respond: Warhammer 39,999 and Not Playing Games

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.

"What? No, I was thinking about curtains..."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.

10 thoughts on “Read And Respond: Warhammer 39,999 and Not Playing Games

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  1. I’m with you on garage gaming rather than ‘scene’ gaming – though I don’t have a garage, a cellar, or an attic. I do have a dining room big enough for a 3 peices of wood that make a 6’x4′ gaming table, though.

    But, my god, from that paragraph, D&D4e really does sound awful.

    It sounds like a ‘role-playing game’ that has taken on all the worst aspects of The Scene – “very much about the new release, the next tournament, the skills, the prep, the optimal”.

    I’m with you pre-measuring. I hire Dwarf Engineers to accurately gauge distances. And as for ‘optimal builds’, that’s why I rarely hang around Bugman’s Brewery anymore. I know, I get it, you don’t need to tell me again – the optimal 2.5k build is a tooled up runepriest or two, a couple of cannons/grudgethrowers, and several hordes of hammerers. But don’t you want to play in a way that is a little more fun, that has a little more variety?

    1. Mmm. In my heart of hearts that’s where I’d rather be, but I’ve had to trade away my gaming table: the new place just doesn’t have room for it.

      I feel compelled to observe that I first saw four page character sheets in… well, Vampire actually, although to its credit there was a choice between one or four there. But third edition had them too, or at least the Iron Kingdoms setting felt they were warranted…

      That last part is souring me on forums in general, to be honest. I don’t begrudge the existence of the top builds or the play they’ll be used in, and it’s not like probability and reliability and redundancy aren’t factors in the lists I write – but they’re not the only factors, and that’s not the way I play, and I don’t think many people have that sense of plurality.

      1. I do think that’s kind of the purpose of forums, though. The list sections tend to be for the number crunchers, and for new players to get a sense of what’s good quickly (and to avoid wasting money on things that don’t work well and get frustrated). I’ve noticed the truly innovative lists tend to be ones that individuals discuss in real life, test out, and then report back to forums saying “hey, think about this since it worked for me at high levels.” Same with strategy – forums are good for starting off and getting a footing, but it comes down to play experience very quickly after that.

        If you’re not that type of gamer – if you just enjoy throwing down with friends using models that look cool in games that tell stories – then you really don’t need forums. I suppose there the forums are more valuable for painting/conversions, general discussions of background/plot, and new ideas for scenarios and such. Fortunately, the PP boards are pretty good about at least the first two of those (I couldn’t say anything about the third). It’s one of the reasons I look forward to every time Doug Seacat posts something on the PP boards, because it’s always fascinating background and/or history.

        1. I agree that that’s very much the point of the forum – that, I think, is why I’m a bit sour at the moment, ’cause in Warhammer terms I’m very much not, and yet still, a beginner (been playing for fifteen years, but still struggling with the fundamentals of eighth edition).

          God yes, Seacat’s one of the few things I miss about the PP boards.

  2. So I guess you have given it some thought… :)

    It appears I adhere to a similar style of gaming as you do (though my fiscal resiliance might be a little more lax than yours). I tend to pick up a little of everything, and I like to play with all of my models. That means that in 40k, I use space marine scouts, shooty terminators, landspeeder storms, whirlwinds, and a variety of other models that are largely seen as “inferior.”

    I’ve played cheesy power-gamer type armies before, and I did have fun with them, but I’ve grown old, and have learned that a key part of the game is to ensure your opponent has fun as well. I also feel that playing with “inferior” choices hones my skill, and makes me a better all-around player.

    As a side note: on your failed Tyranid foray–did you ever start painting any? I think a “realistic” scheme could look amazing on the table-top.

    1. Heh. I don’t think it’s an issue of resilience, really. When I say “I can’t afford this” I mean it. Food/rent/bills or toys? Sorry, I like living indoors and eating more than the disposable income arms race that is an actively developed competitive wargame.

      But I do like all the stuff I have to see the table. That’s another reason I’m downsizing in Warmachine; many of my models are gathering dust thanks to the way I build lists and play the game. I’m hoping that, if I don’t have the models to just be lazy and take one full unit of whatever, I’ll start fielding combinations of stuff again, and be forced to dust off things like the Soulhunters… and it’s not like I can really be less effective as a player at the moment, so I might at least put more different pretties on the table.

      Funnily enough, I was having the “I did all that power-gaming stuff years ago” conversation yesterday. The thing for me is that it’s just boring, after a while – you start to coast, and get sloppy, and start losing games even though YOUR LIST IS THE BEST and that’s just stressful. These days I try to win whilst resigning myself to defeat. It seems to work for the Hammer games but not too well for Warmachine, for whatever that’s worth.

      I painted about a dozen but didn’t like how they came out. Pretty sure I know what I did wrong though (choices of hue rather than of scheme, if that makes sense). I might have another go at some, one day, but for now I’ve gone back to “if it’s undead, I’m playing it”, and I seem to be a lot happier…

  3. Hey, Von

    Thanks for popping by our Carolina Gunbunnies forum and offering some additional insight. My apologies for “passing judgment.” Given that you and I have a very similar situation (just me w/ 40k while yours is w/ WarmaHordes), I felt like you were blaming the game for your current state. Honestly, I blame 40k for my lack of interest there. So we’re even. lol ;-)

    But my main point there were thus:

    Find folks who want a similar play experience to you. I find that in tourneys and game store leagues, heck, even on simple “open gaming” nights, folks get a bit more competitive. BUT, some of those people surely desire to play more fun stuff at times, and maybe you can ID them and grow that element of the hobby. You mention a move and I’m not sure if its done or coming up and whether its far or local (hence why I didn’t feel qualified to post a comment here earlier). Either way, my advice is this. If you’re burned out on WM, then put it down for a while. If your move takes you to a new meta, then pick it back up and see if you can’t find those folks who have a similar desire out of the game as you. If you’re stuck w/ the meta you have, then drill down into some of the other players to ID those who, while competitive at times, also want laid back fun at times.

    Good luck w/ it all. Here’s hoping you don’t give up completely on Warmachine and can find the play experience you desire. [And here’s hoping 6th edition 40k and a new Eldar and/or CSM (I play Deathguard) codexes get my juices flowing in that direction again.]

    1. Thanks for commenting! It’s not the judgment I mind, it’s the doing it over there rather than getting some discourse going over here, but it’s all worked out in the end, and we seem to be all squared up now and here you are, commenting on my blog like I want people to, so it’s all good in the end. *thumbsup*

      I think your suggestion is pretty much what I was planning. Honestly, I know there are a few chaps round here who do want to play the game the same way I do. My attendance at club is so irregular (it’s a cash flow thing) that our paths don’t cross very often, though, and irregular attendance means irregular play means being frankly so rubbish that even casual funsies games go south very quickly. For all that I grouse and grumble about the direction Warmachine is taking, my biggest problem is that bearded foo’bag in the mirror, who doesn’t seem to have a clue what’s going on any more…

      Things – both the circumstances that stop me playing as often as I’d like to, and the lack of practice/skill that makes it such a sour experience when I do – may well change in a few weeks when I move, and in the meantime, I’ve quietly put my Warmachine toys away and gotten on with the eighth edition WFB (which is a game you can be utterly, utterly dire at and still manage to scrape a draw – witness!

      Cheers for the good luck wishes – and I hope sixth edition 40K does good things for you.

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