Thursday, July 16, 2015

Relic Knights: Never Thought I'd Miss Dice This Much

By CaulynDarr

Pirates versus Oni
It wasn't the worst table-top wargame I ever played - Farmpunk
After sitting on this game for about a year, I finally got the motivation to force someone to try it out with me.  Sorry Farmpunk.

In a nutshell, Relic Knights is a skirmish game that uses a alternating queue based activation and a deck for randomization.  Movement is pretty straight forward with units being able to run straight up walls and jump gaps with normal movement.  Because anime.  LoS is decent too.  It's a corridor between the base edges of the two models. Anything bigger than the models in between blocks, anything smaller gives cover.

Given the genre conventions at play, Farmpunk an I where pretty sure those pirates where going to enjoy whatever happens next.
To start the turn, the player activates the top model in their queue.  They get to make an initial move, perform an action, and then make a follow up move.  Actions have color costs that correspond to the cards in your deck.  You use a hand of 5 cards to pay for your attacks and abilities.  Each unit has an offensive skill for the type of attack they make(range, melee, or psychic)  The player gets to draw that many additional cards after they pay for the initial attack.  These cards can be used to activate 'presses'; bonuses abilities for the attack that can add effects or increase damage.

If you can pay for the attack, it's successful, but the target player can use cards in hand(plus a defensive draw stat) to try and defend.

After the follow up move. the player can then discard cards from their hand and draw up to 5 to try to set up the next activation. Finally, you put a new unit into the activation queue.   The queue size is dependent on the scale of the game being played.  It can be 2 to 4, but for this small demo it was only 2.

Alternatively a unit can give up its moves and attack to refocus/loaf/derp.  When they do this, that unit gains a 'held esper'.  This is equivalent to a card in hand of any color you want.

Individually I find most of the mechanics sound.  When put together however....eh.

For one thing, some of the models have a staggering amount of  abilities.  My army leader had 12 different abilities on her card. Even a basic troop has 3 or 4.  That puts most Warmahorde casters to shame.  And while a warcaster would have all of their abilities available on a turn, that's not the case with a Relic Knight.

All the things my demon hunger games girl can do (minus half the red card).
Most units will have maybe 2 or 3 colors for abilities attached to them.  Each faction has a primary color affinity(red for the oni, orange for the pirates), and then the units will usually get another color that pairs with the primary.  There are 6 total colors in the deck.  A card will have a primary and a secondary color on it too.  The primary counts as 2 points of that color or it can count as one of the secondary color.  There's a couple of wild and null cards in there as well.  12 abilities aren't very useful if they all require red and purple and your hand is full of green and blue.

More than a few turns Farmpunk and I where faced with having hands that just didn't match up with the units we had queued up.  Forcing us to just derp our characters for a held esper much of the time.

Just derping it.
 Abstractly, not having the cards to make an attack is no different than making an attack and rolling a miss on the dice.  It does feel different though.  When you roll the dice you are at least trying something.   Here the game pushes you to sit around and twiddle your thumbs instead.  Just moving your models isn't as beneficial as charging up esper to guarantee getting to do something a few turns down the line.  This of course led to instances of  raving mad alien berserkers and skin suit wearing mech riding pirate queens siting around discussing the weather while their buddies are all busy killing each other. (Well, except, like I said, we were pretty sure that Serpent Priestess wasn't so much killing those pirates as...uh...go watch some anime and you'll get the picture)

Yay! Something happened!
 The other problem with models sitting around doing nothing was due to the activation queue.  It's got a similar problem to games like the old Mechwarrior:Darkage. When your activations are limited, you end up favoring the units that are in the thick of it. Both Farmpunk and I had units that sat around the whole game because they where deployed too far away to be immediately relevant.  It was always the better choice to activate something close than to waste turns moving something up.

This hampered the cyphers the most.  Cyphers are little Pokemon style creatures attached to your Relic Knights.  They can't be killed or kill anything else, but have some unique abilities.  Abilities that we never used because there was always something that needed to die, and cyphers just don't help much when you want to do that.

So, who do you think the pirate queen is going to kill with her attack?
After derping around for a few turns my Serpent Priestess started tearing things up.  She had an ability that generated held esper as she killed stuff, and she had a compel spell that allowed me to move the pirates. That way they couldn't just use their follow up moves to escape melee.  Frampunk tried to coup de grace my knight with a shot from his own.  But I just used my knight's Bribe ability to redirect the 9 damage it into the last renaming pirate crew.  After that, Farmpunk called it.

I came away with two important lessons learned.  If a game has a deck, it needs CCG style deck manipulation.  If those units had a few deck stacking effects that you could use when you derped instead of more attacks you can't use, I think the game could be a bit more strategic.  Second, games need to force all units to activate before being able to repeat a unit.  Otherwise you end up wasting points on guys that may not get to do anything all game.

As we were struggling with the game, Sandwyrm kept asking, "But, do you like it better than Age of Sigmar?<te-hee giggle giggle>"  And actually, I got to say no.   Age of Sigmar was stupid and silly, but I had a certain kind of fun with it (even if it was not the kind of fun GW intended).  AoS also doesn't force me to parse through a dozen possible things I can't do every activation.   I'm probably more likely to play AoS again than this.  Add the fact that I own nearly every Relic Knight model in existence to the weight of that statement if you want.  Kickstarters...

Meanwhile, I have slowly started buying Knight Model's stunning 32mm Batman figures...

Soon...

15 comments:

  1. I think with some work, you could get Relic Knights to be a decent skirmish game. Like make an App to handle all of your cards and queue, and spec. abilities.

    But by the time your game is complicated and fiddly enough to need an App to streamline everything for good playability.... Why do we have these figs on a table?

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    Replies
    1. Maybe, there's just too much cognitive friction in the design. Take Warmachine-a fairly complex skirmish game-for example. When you activate a model you do this.

      1. Look at the board and determine the appropriate tactical action.
      2. Find the rule on the model for that action
      3. Execute it.

      Now for Relic Knights:

      1. Look at the board and determine the appropriate tactical action.
      2. Find the rule on the model for that action
      3. Check hand to see if I can pay for it. Nope.
      4. Look the board and determine the second most appropriate tactical action
      2. Find the rule on the model for that action
      3. Check hand to see if I can pay for it. Nope.
      4. Figure out what I can pay for.
      5. Check the board to see if that is tactically useful. Nope.
      6. Derp.

      Delete
    2. Malifaux handles the card concept much better. In that you initiate an attack, and the cards get played by both players to boost, defend, or 'cheat' the outcome. So a lot of your decision making is whether you play a high-numbered card now, or save it for later.

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  2. Well there you have it everyone. For the record, a game that's worse (by far) than Age of Sigmar. Firmly placing AoS somewhere in the middle of the quality pack. Not really good, but not all that bad either in the grand scheme of things.

    I got a really bad feeling when I saw those color cards, with their lack of anything but colored blobs on them. So I decided to listen/observe while assembling some motorcycle infantry for Flames, which is its own circle of hell.

    Model-wise, I think RK deserves some props for what it was trying to do with their designs. But I think inexperience and lowest-bidder casting bit them in the ass. From afar, the models look fantastic, but up close it was apparent that many of the details had been added by some clever painting from CaulynDarr, and didn't exist on the actual model. AoS wins hands down there as well, though maybe not on assembly.

    Looking forward to trying out Batman...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. In some ways I think Relic Knights is a better game, but only because I don't think there's enough to AoS to actually call it a game. I'd like RK a lot better if a unit didn't have to spend 3 turns standing around scratching their butts before they managed to do anything. It sucks away all the fun potential.

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    2. Yeah, but minimal game with constant action beats standing around doing nothing interesting 3 turns out of 4.

      Delete
  3. Relic Knights didn't ever actually make it to my door being lost in transit and I just got a refund and walked away happy. Though the standing around gathering energy bit feels pretty Dragonball Z-ish, doesn't it?

    Looking forward to your write up on Batman, I've just started collecting a few models slowly myself and am looking forward to having this be my backup game to Infinity!

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    Replies
    1. Actually, if we'd just used the Pokemon mechanics with free-roaming miniatures, it would have been superior to RK.

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    2. I try to image it that way, but as a game mechanic it's just kind of boring. Especially when you need to get the most out of each activation because you don't know when or if that model will get to go again.

      And yeah, Kickstarters, man.

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  4. Rolling dice definitely adds something to proceedings that's hard to explain. I foudn this trying to play Blood Bowl online, either on official Blood Bowl or through FUMBBL - when the computer tells me "you rolled a 3, you re rolled, you rolled a 2, you failed, turnover" it just felt arbitrary and un-fun. When the same thing happened in the flesh the act of rolling the dice somehow made it more palatable in a way I can't explain

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  5. You should try Pulp Alley. Very good game and pretty much address all the issues you had with this game.

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  6. Totally disagree. RK is far superior to AOS. It has a wide range of tactical objectives, is not a "kill them all" game, has points values, has a very interesting and creative activation mechanic, and has an innovative attack system using the cards. I really enjoyed it and regret that it does not seem to have caught on. Forgive the self-promotion but more on my dissenting opinion here: http://littlewarsva.blogspot.com/2014/08/relic-knights-initial-impressions.html

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    Replies
    1. Always enjoy a dissenting opinion I'll check out your link...

      Delete
    2. We don't mind self-promotion, especially if it explains your opinion better. Only unrelated bot-links really bother us.

      Having read your writeup, I wish we had a RK cheerleader here locally to give us the best possible introductory game.

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    3. To be fair, if there where others around playing it, I'd probably play it some more. I just don't like it enough to boost it.

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