Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Warpath: First Impressions

by SandWyrm


Yeah, I broke down and subscribed to Beasts of War (about $6/Month) so that I could download the alpha test rules for Warpath, Mantic's upcoming 40K competitor, from their members-only area. What's it like? Well, I've got some good news, and I have some bad news.

First, The Good News


This game is very similar to 40K. In contrast to Kings of War, which felt more like a complete re-write of Fantasy (at least as I remembered it), Warzone looks as though they took 5th Edition 40K as a template and then simplified each major rule in a KoW-like vein. So Warzone should feel very familiar to veteran 40K players.


Now, The Bad News


This game is very similar to 40K. So if you wanted, for instance, to have variable movement for each unit (instead of 6"/12" for everything), you're out of luck. If you have a gripe with some major part of 5th Edition 40K, expect it to be streamlined, but not really changed in a big-picture sense.

Mantic's not rocking the boat very hard with this one. While I personally would have liked a more 'pure' ruleset, free of some of 40K's stranger kludges, I have to admit that their strategy is probably the better one. The more different you make the rules, the less of the current 40K playerbase that you will attract.


So, What's Different?


I'll hit the high points. Keep in mind that these are the Alpha rules. They may already have changed for the beta. I'm also using 40K terms for a lot of the rules to keep things simple.


Movement
  • Unit coherency is now 1".
  • You move the Sergeant/Leader and then fill the rest of the squad around him.
  • Every member of the squad must be placed within 5" of the Sergeant.
  • Vehicles can't move when infantry is mounting/dismounting from them.
  • If you exit a vehicle, you place the Sergeant anywhere within 1" and then fill in as normal.
  • To enter a vehicle, you move the Sergeant within 1".
  • Squad movement is similar to KoW. 1/2 movement for area terrain, 2x in the open, etc.
  • Assault moves are always 12", no matter what. These happen in the movement phase.
  • Vehicles are not slowed by terrain, but can still be immobilized exactly as in 40K.
  • Tank shocking does D6 hits to a target unit. 
  • But you must be able to clear the unit with your movement, or you can't tank-shock.
  • Melee to-hit is the same as in 40K. (i.e. 6's to hit if moving fast, auto-hit if stationary)
  • Hovering vehicles can't begin/end their move in area terrain at all.
  • Hovering vehicles can't be assaulted.
Shooting
  • You measure LOS from the Sergeant to at least one model in the enemy unit.
  • -1 to hit for long range (greater than half), -1 if moving, -1 for cover.
  • Cover is >50%, not >=50%.
  • The squad always rolls the same number of shooting attacks.
  • Heavy weapons are allowed to fire at different targets from the rest of the squad.
  • But you have to completely finish firing each squad before moving on to the next.
  • True LOS for everything.
Vehicles
  • Vehicles have Defense values of 7+, so you need piercing weapons to do anything to them.
  • 'Laser Cannon' example in the rules is Piercing (6).
  • The highest vehicle defense in the provided test lists is 10. 
  • Vehicle defense values are lowered when you shoot at the flank (-1) and rear (-2).
  • Vehicles test for nerve like everyone else, but on a 10 they are immobilized.
  • Vehicles that rout are also removed like anyone else. No wrecks in this game.
  • Open-topped vehicles let you fire out, but the squads inside take the same damage from shots that the vehicle does. (Nice!)

Aircraft
  • Aircraft are always placed in reserve.
  • When an aircraft comes on, you place it anywhere you want and shoot.
  • Ground units add 18" to the range they measure to an aircraft.
  • Aircraft always hit the top armor of tanks (same as bonus for shooting them in the rear).
  • On your next turn, you pick up the aircraft (it's pulling away).
  • Then, on the following turn you can place it again. (rinse, repeat)

Reserves
  • The reserve roll you need is the same as the game turn you're on. So you would need a 3 or less on turn 3, for instance.
  • Outflanking is built into the reserve roll.  Any unit can outflank.
  • You're allowed to outflank 12" from your table edge multiplied by the current game turn number. So on turn 3, you could outflank from a short edge 36" from your table edge.
  • On turn 6, a unit can enter on your opponent's table edge. Up to 12" from either side.
  • No rules for deep striking. Though I suppose a transport aircraft could unload some troops.

Psychic Powers
  • Works the same as in Kings of War.
  • Set number of dice as a shooting attack. Each die hits on a 4+. 
  • Number of hits determines the degree of effect. Effect depends on the power.
  • No way to block powers, but they're not as big a deal as in 40K either.

Races/Armies
  • The alpha rules come with 2 lists. 'Forge Fathers' (Space Dwarves), and 'Marauders' (Space Orcs).
  • The allies rules for each also mention 'Corporation', 'Rebs', 'Asterians', and 'The Eighth Race'.
  • All units come in 3 set sizes, just like in Kings of War. Mostly 5, 10, or 20. With some exceptions.
  • Each 'solid unit' (medium or large size choice) that you take unlocks a Hero, Ordinance Unit, Monster, and a Vehicle. 
  • You can mix lists of the same alignment freely. But only units from the same list can unlock Heros, Ordinance, Monsters, and Vehicles from that list.

'Forge Fathers' (Space Dwarves)

  • Are sort of like Vulkan Marines mixed with Space Wolves and a sprinkling of IG.
  • Can be easily proxied with Space Marines and some Guard.
  • "Steel Warriors" are heavy infantry. Think regular Marines with flamers and a few Thunder Heat Hammers.
  •  "Grizzlers" are Dev Squads (or Long Fangs). Heavy Weapons squads that can also buy Heat Hammers.
  • Squad heavy weapons are either a 5-shot autocannon or a multi-melta equivalent.
  • "Forge Guard" are basically Assault Terminators with Heavy Weapons options. Nasty.
  • "Hel Valkyr" are (I think) bike squads. But their defense is fairly low. Like IG.
  • "Scrappers" are a hoard melee option. Think IG blobs of 20 with Heat Hammers.
  • The "Hailstorm" cannon is an anti-infantry Ordinance choice. Like an assault cannon on Crystal Meth.
  • The "Heat Cannon" is a 36" super-multi-melta blast weapon.
  • "Light Drakkar" is a light-medium tank with one squad heavy weapon choice. Sort of like a Hellhound or a Razorback without any troop capacity.
  • "Fire-Wyrm" is a medium-heavy tank with one Ordinance weapon and an option for 2 more squad heavy weapons. Proxy this one with a Predator or a Russ.
  • "Heavy Drakkar" is a heavy transport with lots of guns. Think Land Raider.
  • For aircraft they get a "Rook" (Vulture) that can take 4 heat-cannons or autocannons (5 shots each).
  • "Iron Ancestor" is a Drednought with a flamer and a heavy weapon. Don't go near this thing!
  • "Huscarl" is a Hero in Terminator Armor. Lots of upgrade options.
  • "Chief Scrapper" is a sort of like a Commissar that only inspires Hel Valkr and Scrappers. Weird.

Marauders (Space Orcs)
  • Pretty similar to GW's Space Orks.
  • Same chance to hit as the Space Dwarves in both close-combat and ranged shooting.
  • 'Grunts' and 'Rifle Grunts' are obviously just Boyz and Shoota Boyz. But they do get heavy weapon options.
  • "Heavies" are MegaNobs/Terminators. No heavy weapon options though.
  • "Jumpers" are Storm Boyz with heavy weapon options. Wha...?
  • "Stunts" are Gretchen. Cheap cannon fodder.
  • "Stunt Bots" are Killer Kans. Nasty both at range and up close.
  • Ordinance options are "Big Shells Gun" and "Big Tank-Killer Gun". Anti-infantry and anti-tank blast weapons. Blast means that the gun's damage is multiplied by D6 or 2D6. Ouch.
  • They get 2 vehicles, like a Trukk and a Battlewagon. Each weapon added reduces the transport capacity by 5 models.
  • They get a "Fighter" aircraft. Same as Rook, but with a lower defense and less than half the cost.
  • "Battle Bot" == Deff Dred. Not quite as nasty as the Iron Ancestor, but a lot cheaper.
  • "Captain" == Warboss. Lots of upgrade options, like the Huscarl.

Conclusions


Overall, I think that the rules/options look pretty solid for an Alpha. I expected a lot worse based on what we used to call an alpha when I worked in video games. Even so, they need more polish and testing. There's rough spots and what look like little in-jokes in the names and wording of certain things.

Play-wise, I'm a bit worried about the 5" rule when grouping the troops around a Sergeant. That plus the 1" coherency rule might make the battles a bit too KoW-like for my taste (albeit movement-tray friendly). But we'll see how it goes on the table. Note that there aren't any templates in this game. So your formation and spacing has no effect on how much damage you'll take when you're shot at.

I also don't like the combined WS/BS, which is a change from both 40K and KoW. As I feel it will be too limiting (for Mantic) when designing lists/units. But you do have separate attack stats for ranged/melee, which is nice. I want KoW to get that. :)

I do like how they're going thematically with the armies. One of the big problems with the Squats in 40K was that the Space Marines had already used/stolen a lot of the tropes that would have made the Space Dwarves special.  So all we were left with was short Imperial Guard with bikes and some cool epic-scale vehicles. By coming out first and staking their claim to power armor and ancestor-entombing robots, they'll be able to stand distinctly apart from whatever marine-equivalents (if any) we see from Mantic later.

Which just emphasizes how much GW's Space Marine cash-grab has crippled the development of new 40K races over the years. It's like a voracious cancer that's stealing the blood supply away from the rest of the imagination in the game.

Anyhow, I proclaim Warpath to be interesting and ready for playtesting alongside your regular 40K fun. But it's probably a year or two away from appearing on GW's corporate radar to any significant extent. We'll know that day when the lawsuits appear. :)

The Marauder minis (if they're good) might cut into GW's Ork sales a bit, but the Dwarves... I dunno. You could proxy a Marine chapter possibly. But it would be a stretch. We'll see when the minis are released in October. I'm making a lot of assumptions based on the rules alone.

And yes, that is Gil Gerard (Buck Rogers) up top. :)

(My overall mixed-feelings on Warpath pretty much parallel my overall mixed-feelings on Star Trek: New Voyages. Hence the images.)

20 comments:

  1. Aw, crap, they're using the to-hit modifiers instead of immutable cover saves? Freakin' ... ugh.

    Some of this sounds good, tho.

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  2. Squad coherency and unit leader principles sound alot like Kryomek, which also only really had one stat for ws/bs. It worked well, but then the core mechanics complimented it... they did have templates and they were real unit killers.

    The forge fathers do sound a lot like squats exo-armour, guildmasters, warlords, hearthguard, brotherhood teams, bikes n trikes...

    To be honest though its the miniatures more than the rules that are gonna be the real interest for me :)

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  3. My impression of all the Mantic stuff is it's all very derivative. Their models are derivative, their rules are derivative, and their setting is derivative. They don't really bring anything to the table other than low cost. It looks to be essentially budget 40K.

    Even if you've sworn of buying any GW products from now until the end of time, there's now law saying you still can't use the 40K rules. Or for that mater use non-GW models with the 40K rules. I wouldn't have a problem with it as long as the models where of a comparable size to the originals.

    If you want to sow your gaming oats, there are a lot better options out there. Games that are doing interesting things both with rules and models.

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  4. Mike, You're comparing apples and oranges here.

    In GW's world:

    10 Bolters (Long Range) = 10 shots = 6.6 hits = 4.4 wounds (T3) with 2.2 cover saves. So 2 dead IG.

    In Mantic's world:

    20 long-range (-1) 4+ attacks w/cover (-1) = 3.3 hits = 2.2 damage. Reducing the Nerve of the squad by an average of 2 in their next Nerve test. Making them slightly more likely to run when they test.

    Nerve Check = 2D6 + Damage - Nerve.

    0-7 = Hold (Everything's OK)
    8-9 = Wavering (basically pinned)
    10+ = Rout (Destroyed)

    So the if the squad starts with a Nerve of 6, it goes from having zero chance to run to a 27.8% chance.

    There are no saves in the game. Or per-model casualties. A unit fights at full strength until it fails a nerve check and is either pinned or destroyed. Some Heroes allow re-rolls or can heal units. But that's it.

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  5. @CaulynDarr

    Derivative-ness has it's place. It's the reason I'm interested in Warpath, but not War Machine, for instance. Besides, what do you expect from an ex-GW designer? :P

    If the "Forge Fathers" models are decent, you can expect me to start up a Space Wolves counts-as on the cheap. Or maybe Templars if they're the new hotness. ;)

    Like I said, the rules are interesting but they're not going to be a real challenge to 40K for a long while yet. It's the miniatures that will make or break this company.

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  6. But not really for massed 28mm sci fi. You have 40k or...no really that's it. There's a lot of 6-12mm sci fi (which technically I think is the best scale for sci fi but that's a different topic.

    Having played the rules now for Warpath it does feel different to 40K and I will be continuing to give it a go. The best thing is that it will be free - I am not obliged to keep playing it like I feel with Warhammer as I spent so much on that error filled diseased corpse of a rule book known as 8th edition.

    You are rigt about setting being derivative at the moment Mantic have not really tried to produce a setting and I think this will hamstring them more as they go on.

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  7. Sandwyrm - damage is damage. Additional dice layers increase resilience against whackier odds. Cover saves, invulnerable saves, feel no pain saves ... they all improve reliability, which leads a game more toward tactics and less toward /rolldice.

    There's a sweet spot to find, natch, but having squad lifespan relying on whether they pass or fail single roll (2d6) nerve checks, with no saves against damage infliction, is what I would generally call a less-than-ideal thing.

    As whacky as it is to say, GW's cover save system increases tactical depth. Someone should write a corollary.

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  8. Interesting, but why would I want to play a game that's 'like 40K', but not 40K? I think this is going to be a hard sell, but we'll see.

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  9. Mike - Rolling more dice at once will even out the odds, but rolling more layers of dice that depend on each other increases the variability of your results exponentially.

    Just look at vehicle survivability in 40K. With all those layers, some vehicles take ridiculous amounts of punishment before being destroyed, while other (identical) vehicles will blow up on turn 1 to a single lucky shot.

    When I modeled that interaction, it took over 100,000 simulations to get the luck variations under 1%. It's essentially an unpredictable system. You can learn the odds for a given shot through modeling, but past that it's a blank wall during play.

    Looking at KoW/Warpath's damage system, you have a clear gradient of destruction odds based on damage. If you memorize your 2D6 odds, you'll know exactly how likely it is that a given unit will be destroyed for a given level of damage vs. starting Nerve. It's so simple that EvilTed and I had our optimal damage goals worked out (Nerve + 2) before the end of our first game.

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  10. @Oni

    Because the rules are free, and the models are cheaper. Hopefully they're better rules too, but cheaper is valid reason to care. :)

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  11. Honestly, I think that Mantic produces games that are too much like Warhammer to actually be played. So is going to suffer the fate of crappy WoW-clones.

    It mostly relegates them to a way to get minis on the cheap.

    I don't blame GW for grabbing the Space Marine cash-cow and running with it as fast as they can. They out-sell every other army, and have done it since Rogue Trader. Frankly, there's no other army as compelling as them. Second place goes to IG, as a spill-over to atract history junkies.

    Power Armour sells. Ask Halo.

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  12. Sounds too much like 40K. They need to look for real changes to the structure of play.

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  13. The real strength of this is exactly the same thing I like about KoW. None of the sides are overpowered, all the sides work as intended.

    Both 40k and Fantasy have reached the point where some armies are obsolete while others are overpowered. KoW and Warpath have much fewer rules to balance so will offer people a game where you can genuinely pick the side you like the most without worrying about what monobuild cul-de-sac you're forcing yourself into.

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  14. Not to mention that Mantic can update multiple rules at once. No FAQ, just post new PDFs of the lists for people to download at the same time that they update the rulebook PDF.

    Think about that speed of development for a second. The game is being officially released in October; yet here we are 3 months out, alpha-testing the rules and getting ready for the beta release in a few weeks. When the game is released, it will be pretty solid balance-wise.

    If this were GW, they would have to have the rules 'done' 3-4 months prior to release in order to get the printing and distribution of the rulebooks done. Which means that all of their design and internal testing would have to be completed in what? The 3 months before that?

    They'll catch some things, sure. But with a much smaller tester pool, and a much shorter time-frame to work in, are we really surprised when we get rules and points costs that seem like bad guesses?

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  15. Thanks for the coverage of Warpath, it's very appealing to me because it's like 40K. I'm not really interested in playing a different game, but being able to play a game that's close to 40K and much cheaper would be nice. Mantic also seems to have a more customer-friendly mindset. Keep the content coming!

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  16. Being more customer friendly than GW isn't too hard.

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  17. I have a feeling that GW is really shooting themselves in the foot with their inane prices. Mantic will, hopefully, learn from this.

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  18. I'd be happy to playtest for the cause, but I don't see a watered down version of 40K replacing my usual game-of-choice.

    Add to this my utter lack of desire to play as space dwarves or space orks (though no doubt more races will surface) and you have a system that has little inbuilt value for yours truly.

    That said, once more playable armies come out, and models for said armies are made available, this would be a way for me to look into other 40k armies. I've tossed around the idea of a small, heavily converted IG force, but none of the current sculpts would really be a great base. And of course, models are where Mantic makes its money, so I'd be supporting them fully even if I didn't play their game.

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  19. Nice summary, I had no idea this one even existed. Thanks for the thoroughness, I'll be keeping an eye out, at least for some fun, new models.

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  20. Nice summary, one or two corrections though (Yeah I got suckered into join BoW too). Fast Infantry can assault 24", namely the Marauder Jumpers (Which have both Fast and Jump Infantry). Also the Highest defense in the book is the Forgefather Landraider at 11+.

    Looks like the Beta should be out soon, hopefully some of the Army list balance issues and unit typos will be fixed.

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