BUT ask an avid player of Fantasy like me, who really started playing properly during third edition Fantasy if they recognise eighth edition as Fantasy and they give you an interesting response. They’ll say it’s a vastly different game now to the one that it was, and quite often between editions there are deliberate…
Mr. Frontline said these words over at his blog thing, and reminded me that I’d had some words on this very topic backed up for a while.
See, lots of people have been saying that eighth edition is not the game that [their favourite] was. We have a lot of ideas about what eighth edition is not, and most of those ideas seem to boil down to “anything that I recognise as Warhammer”.
But it is something that I recognise. I’d thought it was just a few of the names for rules – the Enemy Sighted! and Flee! and Hold Your Ground! – but the more I think about it, the more I start to realise that eighth edition WFB is something I recognise as Warhammer.
It’s Dark Omen.
For those not in the know, Warhammer: Dark Omen is an RTS game from the late 1990s, loosely based on Warhammer’s fifth edition. I say ‘loosely’ because it’s not even turn-based, apart from the magic (which in itself worked pretty differently from how the tabletop did it at the time), but a lot of the strengths and weaknesses of the units, effects of the spells and magic items, and of course all that other stuff to do with setting and background and aesthetics and what-have-you, are pretty faithful.
Dark Omen was a bit of a ball-ache to play. It was characterised by, let’s see now:
– units which could be ordered to charge, but would move a random distance, and maybe not make it
– the generation of a random number of resource points with which to cast and dispel spells with, renewed every few minutes – and a dispelling mechanic which focused on layering defences onto key units, with each wizard able to put one, two or three points of dispel-fu onto a friendly target (cf. Magic Resistance)
– devastatingly powerful spells and war engines that would cheerfully scoop whole units off the map, with a corresponding certainty that one was well and truly buggered if one managed to lose the Bright Wizard or the Cannon early on
– a tendency to favour wide deployments in infantry units and narrow ones in cavalry units, as far as I recall anyway
– a generic set of magic items with two or three unique ones for each of the playable races
I’m not sure how old Mr. Ward is, but I’d bet he’s about the right age to have been of an impressionable age when Dark Omen came out. I’d bet money on it, if I had any money to bet. Warhammer.8 feels like a spirited attempt at a tabletop, turn-based rendition of Dark Omen. It’s not exactly the same – the prevalence of big monsters and monstrous infantry stands out as something significant by its absence from the computerised variant. That said, there’s definitely a traceable influence here, on Mr. Ward’s army books as well as his vision for the core game. The Vampire Counts have plenty of elements – Zombies being the only thing you can make new units of, Wind of Death being a unit-murdering purple cloud which you’ll probably have better things to do than cast, and units crumbling in a complete tizz whenever a combat doesn’t go their way – that remind me very strongly of the PC game.
So far, so blindingly obvious to anyone who’s played Dark Omen. What of it? Well (he said, in his best answering-rhetorical-questions voice), the thing about Dark Omen is, it was a) a single player game and b) it had a save-and-replay system.
a) is important because nobody else is going to be offended if you decide that this game is a bastard and this computer is a bastard and, in point of fact, everything in the world that’s ever born the appellation ‘Warhammer’ is a complete bastard, especially Necromancers, and throw a bit of a wobbler induced by the arbitrary bullshit the game was capable of putting out.
b) is important because the thing about arbitrary silliness is that it’s a lot easier to bear when you know that you can go back and run this exact same mission again and this time you’ll know what’s going to happen and you can be prepared for it. It’s a characteristic of those late-90s games. I tried replaying the original Thief a while ago and was struck by how sodding difficult it is, and how many save-reload-try-something-a-bit-different runs I was actually making. And the thing about WFB.8 is… for a game that’s so much easier on the surface (as Mr. Frontline has so vociferously pointed out, it can boil down to “I CAST PURPLE SUN SIX DICE I WIN”, or at least it can if you are not cursed with the inability to roll 21 or more on six dice, as I appear to be), it’s surprisingly difficult to deal with, because of its tendency to spring more unexpected and arbitrary nonsense on you.
It’s the sort of thing that you could try and try and try again, hoping that this time your unit will charge a decent distance or that this time you’ll be able to cast more than one pimpsy little spell… except you can’t really do that, because tabletop games are very seldom played in a context or fashion where do-overs are acceptable. And I’m wondering whether Mr. Ward’s vision has necessarily taken that arrestingly obvious fact into account – because if he is trying to make tabletop Dark Omen, it’s a fairly fundamental issue which I think needed to be thought out at some point.