Friday, April 3, 2015

Thoughts on Theme Forces

Go home, nobody loves you.  Except Vetock.
I hate the space pope more than Godfrey hates my taste in movies.  I loath the idea of putting the most important person in your society in a war zone unless absolutely necessary.  Then there are characters and units who are only included in lists because they're the only thing you have or they're the only ones who fit the points available. What would it take for you to bring those models to a tournament?

That's  a question PP has been taking seriously to the betterment and detriment of WarmaHordes.  While GW has made characters like Pedro Kantor, Farsight and now supplements to encourage players to play different styles of armies, the ability to play an army from three or more books leaves me a bit sour on armies having their own sense of identity.  Not so with theme forces.  They've got their own very distinct feels that make one caster feel radically different from another.  Sometimes its' a list that shakes the earth of the competative metagame and sometimes it's "No, I won't buy your shitty Animantarax, PP.  Stop trying to make me."  So is the benefit of having these worth the unintended consequences that errors in designing these lists my bring?

Theme forces are deeply tied to the game structure that PP has made for Warmahordes.  The best analogy I can come up with is to the governments of ancient Rome.  In 40k, the headquarters are the equivalent of the Consuls, important leaders with more power than their peers, but essentially replaceable.  In Warmahordes, the warcaster/warlock is the emperor in the Dominate, the absolute ruler, the center of every circle, without which there is anarchy and chaos.  This difference means there can be Imperial Fists lists with no models in common (unlikely), but every pDoomshaper list will have pDoomshaper.  The difference in structure leads to stronger characters being able to carry weaker ones in 40k.  In WM/H, the only way to get a weaker caster to be carried is for you to be playing huge games (each point level has a dictated number of casters).  Even with two or three lists available to your in tournaments, the casters who got the short end of the design or meta stick simply don't see play by competitive WM/H players.

Cool theme, bad rules?
Sure, why not?
Enter theme lists.  Every caster has their own story to tell and part to play in the lore of the universe, so they get a theme force.  It's not just that the weakest links get a list out of pity, but every caster has a list they can choose to use.  In my ideal world, these would buff those on the short end of the stick to the point they're not great options, but they're not laughing stocks.  In some cases PP has succeeded in reaching this happy medium, (e.g. Naaresh No Pain, No Gain), but in other they've overshot to the point of creating a new monster (e.g. pDoomshaper Runes of War).  Anyone who's gamed for a long enough time has run into this.  No game developer is perfect and no gamer's preferences are perfect either, so misalignment of preferences is going to happen.

So how does theme forces change the way casters work in the metagame?  Generally by giving out rules or point reductions for meeting requirements.  Initially, the only requirement is "Army uses only models/units that are among those listed above" with a list of beasts/jacks, units and solos that can be included in the army.  Beyond that they generally move into "Army must include at least 2 [Unit]" or "Army must include at least 3 [solo]," with the occasional "Army must include [Character Solo]."  These additional restrictions, "tiers," generally give you bonuses to the units you must include.  When they don't they'll give you a bonus to some other unit that you aren't required to take.  As you move onto higher tiers, you can get bonuses that sound awesome "Models begin the game affected by [Caster]'s upkeep spells and you don't have pay to upkeep them on round 1" to ones that sound bland "Your deployment zone is extended by 2 inches."  If you're coming from a 40k perspective, 2" is nice, but negligible.  In Steamroller games, PP's official annual tournament format, player 1 gets 7" of deployment off their back line and player 2 gets 10," so adding 2" is either a 20%  or a 28% increase, and that's pretty nice.

Rammus: Your sister's hotter
Beginning with you upkeeps in play has lead to one of the problem children of theme lists.  Most of the ones that are powerful in the current meta are essentially walls of heavy infantry that are powerful simply because they make good units slightly cheaper.  Unfortunately then you get eDeneghra's second theme force "Body and Soul".  The model you need to bring to get the upkeeps in play aren't the best, but Cryx and Deneghra specifically, are master turd polishers.  So far this is the only time you can begin the game with debuffs on your opponent's models and let's hope it stays that way.  The reason it's a problem isn't the reason Caw-Blade was a problem, but because it allows the possibility for winning the game without making an attack roll.  Her feat means any enemy model in her large control area can't move except to pivot and get hit with debuffs for a round.  In Steamroller you can score on each player's turn and it'a a race to five points.  You get one point for killing your opponent's objective, one point for controlling a zone and two for controlling it with your caster.  Starting with her spell Pursuit up means she can move if you move the effected model without first removing the spell.  Add that to her normal movement and control area and it's likely she'll catch your entire army under her feat.  You can't start scoring until the second player's second turn, but if she feats and denies you your movement on your second turn, all she needs to do is throw her army forward, kill your objective and camp in the zone to win.

Excepting Body and Soul, theme forces have pulled mediocre to bad casters back  into the competitive discussion and put some good casters into the top tier of competitiveness.  The theme force's power level is generally inversely correlated to the caster's power level.  When they're positively correlated the turds get smellier and the gold shines brighter.  So far there have been a lot more inverse correlation than positive correlation, but every positive correlation leaves a bad taste in my mouth.  For the most part it feels like theme forces have been a positive force in WM/H, but when they're bad, they're really bad.

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