Thursday, September 11, 2014

Out of our Element: Wild West Exodus

Howdy there pardners, and welcome to the first of two articles teased in my GenCon review, an assessment of Wild West Exodus. As hinted at earlier, this is a game that I'd heard talked up a lot in the local area, and when I stumbled across their booth, I was actually, for the first time in my life, drawn in by something with a steampunk aesthetic. Was my visit rewarded? Hit the jump and find out!

We're going to try a new format this time, and I've sought to organize my thoughts a little more categorically. Hopefully that will give people a similar feel to what I actually got from the demo, both in terms of "feeling like you were there" and in terms of being able to take each part of the experience standalone. Don't like the new format? Want me to go back to a stream of consciousness? Let me know in the comments!

First Impressions
Between word of mouth and having seen a little of the product on store shelves, I knew most of what was being offered here. Steampunk, grim dark, wild west action, portrayed with 35mm models (no surprise). These models have rules and points costs depicted on stat cards, rather than in army books, immediately drawing a parallel to WM/H. This was further emphasized in how health and other stats are tracked and identified, as well as in the character of the models. Significant differences start to arrive when you consider the system is based around shooting (mid to close range by 40k standards), yet is played on a full 6'x4', unlike other skirmish games. The last hugely eye catching feature was the fact that it's a d10 system. Smaller model counts helps them get away with "larger" dice (as I don't believe d10s come in mini), and larger dice means (in theory) greater levels of distinction in skill between individual models.

As stated, the models are 35mm, and are made of some semi-resin analogue, not unlike WM/H. The detail is pretty spot on, and the poses are suitably action-y, but the complaint here is similar to WM/H in that a model is that model and there's really no customization. Awkward when you consider of the 30-40 models they say you'll be fielding, there will be 15 or so duplicated. They aren't necessarily any cheaper than GW on a per model basis, especially considering that they appear to be single sculpt/pose resin, but the larger models are somewhat cheaper than 40k tanks, which they appear analogous in size to. The visual style is unique, and the mash-up of grim dark, steampunk, and wild west has been pulled off really successfully in my opinion.

The Rules
So, this has been hinted at leading up to here but WWX seems to combine the best elements of WM/H with positive elements of 40k. They've reintroduced saving throws, and the dice manipulation, rather than "boost" has been replaced with an expendable influence system which allows players to reroll the dice they choose, but for a price. It's a nice resource allocation system. At a system level, I was very very impressed, and definitely think WWX is poised to give WM/H competition it wasn't ready for, especially considering the "action point" system powering WWX. Models have a number of action points they get to use each time they are activated (activation is done in a hybrid phase unit setup that's about halfway between 40k and WM/H) and they can spend them to make any combination of moves, ranged attacks, and close combat attacks. Now, speed or agility can be reflected with more than just higher rates of movement, and it's possible to rig up "flurry of blows" style combatants.

The Demo
The biggest complaint with the rules though has more to do with the company and how they organized their demo. Godfrey and I played a quick game (maybe 500 points) on a 2'x2' board. He had the outlaws, gun slinging villians led by none other than Jesse James himself (packing thermite rounds for his pistols no less!). I had the Warrior Nation. A few Native American types, featuring Hawkman, a Werebear, and a living spirit. We glanced over our cards, rolled for initiative, and Godfrey took the first move. On player turns they can activate up to three models, so he'd get to use his whole posse before I could act. That said, he elected to only activate two, as his sniper was poised to take aim and fire on me if I entered his range of vision. Jesse's thermite round bowled over my bear and knocked a few wounds off, and another henchman took a bite out as well. This prompted me to ask if being knocked down has the same effect as it does in WM/H, and it does not. This meant that my bear "stole" the activation from another friendly model, and doubled his action points. It took my first to stand, and two more to close on my foe (also of note is that different models have unique melee ranges, and that some can even use their pistols in CC), leaving me three action points with which to tear one of Godfrey's guys apart. I gave the bear the activation from my living spirit, because so long as she was more than 8" away from an enemy, they couldn't shoot her, meaning she was able to be safely left at home. Seeing how effortlessly I had decimated Godfrey, we were prompted to remark on the balance of the demo, to which we were told that it wasn't intended to be a two player demo, and that the producers were supposed to play the Outlaws while attendees played the Warrior Nation. This didn't sit quite right with either Godfrey nor I as it felt like the company was willing to trick players into thinking they were more skilled, or that the Warrior Nation was better, in an effort to drive sales, which is really troubling to see. For anyone who complains about the internal unbalance of Dark Vengeance or Stormclaw, it's about like that. Now, something Godfrey and I batted about is which is worse: running a one sided demo, or selling a one sided box? At the end of the day, I see them as the same. Each is reflective of a business strategy, rather than a gaming or hobby sensibility. It should give us a players or hobbyists pause and examine what it is that we want not only from a product, but from a producer.

The Verdict
Worrisome as the demo was, there were enough positive elements to my WWX introductory experience that I can say I'm hungry for more. The models and aesthetic are compelling, the d10 system feels refreshing and exciting (so long as they play with the full band). Add in a resource allocation and a hybrid player turn structure which seems to offer rewards to both hordes and elite armies and I'm stoked. The biggest worry is the model line. Blister figures and monopose grunts really really grind my gears, especially in a system advertising a low model count, where those grunts will have trouble hiding. And then there's the resin they're made of, which, having not gotten my hands on, could be wonderful, or could be awful. At this point though, the biggest thing holding me back is having to finish building my lizards...


  1. Hey, thanks for posting this review. I've been playing WWX since the Kickstarter goods got delivered, and even helped run some demos at Gen Con on Sunday (doesn't sound like you guys were on my table; I had Union and Lawmen). Anyway, thought I'd share a couple of things that might help on some of your questions/concerns.

    Models are made out of one of two materials: polyurethane resin or high-impact polystyrene. Generally, most of your characters (Bosses, Sidekicks, Underbosses) and vehicles are going to be the resin, while your Hired Hands and some heavy weapon support dudes will be the HIPS. The resin's a pretty nice resin to work with, definitely better than Finecast was in my experience. The HIPS is, of course, great to work with since that's "real model plastic" (just like GW plastic kits or model airplane kits).

    I'll definitely concede that conversion/posing potential is pretty limited, but I will follow onto that by saying that you're not ever going to have multiples of the named characters anyway in the same posse, and the Hired Hands (grunts) come in a box with 10 distinct poses. So, unless you're going to do a heavy Hired Hand posse, you aren't likely to have duplicates. Light Support, like Gatling gun guys or crossbow guys, and light vehicles will probably be the exception here, though you can tweak the vehicles a little bit.

    If you have other questions/concerns, feel free to join one of the Facebook groups or bounce over to the official forums!

  2. Plastic?! Stoked. Resin? Not Finecast is good news, but I'm still anxious that it could be PP's "mystery meat" hybrid plastic resin. That said, knowing there's plastic in the range definitely ups my excitement.

  3. Have no fear; there is no trace of the dreaded restic substance. When I say resin, I mean real, old-school, hard resin. If you're worried about the "plastic" used in, for example, the Privateer Press warjack kits, it's absolutely a different substance. It's closer to the resin used for the battle engines and colossals, though not as soft as those, either.

  4. Awesome.

    To ask the question though, how game balance? Both internally and externally.

  5. Balance is always a tricky question. Some folks will say "X faction is way OP!" or "Y faction is way too weak!". Ask someone else, and you'll get exactly the opposite answer; X is underpowered, Y is OP.

    That said, I think generally most armies seem fairly well balanced. I've both rolled over, and been rolled over by, every faction at one point or another, with the only exception being the Holy Order (which just came out, so understandably has very few models at the moment, thus a lot of "holes").

    I will say that I think some armies might be easier to pick up and understand than others. It took me a little while to understand how to play my Lawmen effectively, but now I can easily hold my own.

    One of the *most* important things, I think, in this game is making sure you have the table terrain set up properly. This game wants more terrain than you may be used to in Warmachine, for example. Not quite Infinity-level of terrain, but somewhere in between. Some factions have a lot more long range (e.g., Lawmen, Union), and factions that don't have that (e.g., Warrior Nation) will have a *very* difficult time if there is not LOS-blocking cover to take advantage of.

    Also, Outlaw has actually been pretty good about listening to the community regarding issues, and did actually make some changes to all the Hired Hands not too long ago; making them all a bit cheaper, and debuffing them a touch, but that had the effect of them being more like the grunts they were supposed to be, and pretty much everyone in the community has been happy with them.

  6. That's exciting to hear that a company is willing to sacrifice a model count ideal to jibe with playerbase comments regarding the satisfaction of game feel.

    Does it have the "chess" wincon of kill the boss like WM/H?

  7. Generally, no. I suppose you could have a scenario with the sole objective of "kill enemy boss," but there aren't any currently, and it's not auto-lose when Boss dies. There is a "clearing out check" required if you lose your Boss *and* have less than half original count in your posse, but that's not actually caused a game end so far in any of our games.

    That's one of the other things that makes this game pretty different and interesting: the scenarios. The core book has 3 "competitive" scenarios, which are your more standard fare kinda things, and the Gunslinger tournament rules have a couple (with more in the works). But the really fun, cinematic ones are the "Narrative Scenarios" in the core book (big book only; the Narrative Scenarios aren't in the mini rulebook, nor is any of the fluff, but all the rest of the rules are.

  8. Hold on, two sets of missions, one for tournaments and one for storytelling?

    And no "when your dude dies you lose" condition?


  9. Hehe, yup. So, without really needing to change/tweak any of the actual rules, you can go from "casual, fun play" to "competitive play" pretty easily. Of course, it *is* the first edition of the game still, and I won't lie to you and say it's perfect--there are likely some issues that still remain and will require errata, balance tweaks, etc. But they've been pretty proactive about that, too.

    Even in the "competitive" scenarios, though, it's still really cinematic. There's been a few games where I've done a last man stand with Doc Holiday, and held on so long as to actually have to count up how many points of things got killed on each side to figure out who actually won. Of course, there are also TONS of moments in the game where you can throw out quotes from your favorite Western movie; Tombstone happens to be pretty popular for quotes for us Lawmen players. ;)

  10. It's safe to say that I enjoy the game, and it looks like the company is taking great steps in the right direction with much of their strategies. And I would never look to a first edition as being the be-all end-all. It will grow over time if given the potential.

    I think the game has a lot of possibilities, and the rules and model line look pretty snazzy. Though I'm not gonna lie... the design team has let me down pretty bad with one pretty major regard.

    WHERE IS CLINT EASTWOOD?! The man needs him some alternative reality love, even if he is a fictional character. But I'll forgive it for now.... Legendary Abe Lincoln made my heart flutter a time or two.

    The game will need work moving forward, but if I could get the extra cash, I'd be down for giving it a shot.