Monday, 28 February 2011

"Why can't you just make do with what you've got?"

My grandmother's been asking me that for as long as I've been gaming, and in that decade and a half, I've never been able to come up with a satisfactory answer.  Given that I've built Warriors of Chaos and Ork armies three times, and Undead, Dark Eldar and Chaos Space Marines twice each, with occasional dalliances off to the side, it's a valid question.  Why do I, and others, feel the need to swap all the time?

I blame Noel.  He hypnotises you into it.
Originally, I'd have said it was down to design limitations and boredom.  Particular factions in games have particular aesthetic and tactical styles, usually dictated by the game's background.  Chaos armies in Warhammer, for instance, tend to involve small units of armoured hardcases, covered in spiky metal trims, paired up with hordes of lesser minions, often under-armoured and fur-clad.  The army will feature only token ranged elements, top-end-of-middling magic, and overwhelming combat potential, and (if well designed in the particular edition) will have the mobility and control required to deliver it with some degree of effectiveness.

This is cool.  After a few years, though, it gets boring.  You end up playing essentially the same game all the time, which was the end result for my poor Vampires.  Some factions have more variety in them than others - a large collection of Dark Elves could play combat-heavy, range-heavy, magic-heavy, monster-and-chariot-heavy, skirmishy, hordey, anywhichwayyoulikey, but they'd still be M5, T3 and wear tinfoil armour painted in dark moody colours.  Eventually, you'll come up against the fundamental limitations the designers chose to place on the army, and I'd bet my bottom dollar that that will eventually become boring, although I suspect the game system itself may grow wearying and the player will either drift away or an edition change will occur before this boredom becomes truly endemic.

Historically, then, I've changed armies once I've become bored with the way they look and play.  Occasionally - more often in recent years - I've done so because they don't live up to my tabletop demands.  The problem is that changing armies doesn't help one escape from that - if anything, it exacarbates the issue, thanks to the inherent tactical limitations of small collections vs. large ones.

When you're starting out, you can lose during list-building, because you simply don't have the pieces available to engage meaningfully with what your opponent's bringing.  I'm finding that a lot with my Skorne - give them a target-light environment and they do all right, but give them a horde of stuff that they can't trample through or a small set of well-buffed targets and they flail horrendously.  I can tell what they require in order to do better, but it's quite a lot of stuff - more than I can afford to invest in, more than I'm able to prioritise effectively, and more than I want to paint (those uniforms are really starting to get to me).  Can I enjoy a game where it's possible for me to lose before I've even started, simply because I can't afford the variety of pieces to open up an interesting range of tactics?  Honestly, I have trouble giving a 'yes' to that one.

The issue is further raised by many game systems' privileging of expense.  40K5 likes high-cost low-value transports; WFB8 favours large units of increasingly-expensive plastic infantry (£15 for 10 Gor is bad enough, now factor in that it'll take 30 to make any sort of meaningful impact on the battlefield and you'll see why I don't play Beastmen), and Warmahordes has an internal kink that means units start to be a better buy than single models after the initial buy-in (it also has a bad habit of patching poor design choices with unit or weapon attachments, or solos that do the same job, which means your crap unit now 'needs' the new solo to make it worth the investment).  This may make sense for the companies, provided they don't go crazy with it (arbitrarily doubling the cost of Orc Boyz models that have been out for around ten years is my new benchmark for 'going crazy with pricing', in case you're wondering), but it's frustrating for the player who's trying to branch out.

Stelek said something about this recently, while exploring and justifying his own Skorne and explaining why he doesn't branch out into a third faction:

Also, I realized in my quest to figure out the kind of army I wanted to run in those other armies, that I could probably ‘make do’ with some upgrades to my Skorne.

Despite myself, I reckon I probably could have made do with my Cryx, very happily, especially if I hadn't been an idiot and sold off a good chunk of them during my Masters' year (to be fair, I did need the money...).  At the very least, I could have gotten by with just adding new pieces to the collection and extending what it could do.

The reason I didn't make do with what I had for Warmachine, is partly down to other people.  In the UK, the faction is both overplayed when compared to others, and annoying to many opponents because they don't 'play fair'. That combination of things tends to result in... not necessarily in butthurt, but just in a display of weariness from across the table as someone sees me unpacking the third Cryx army they've been 'cheated' by in one day.

You get used to these as a Cryx player.

What I'm trying to say is that I may not have taken up Skorne if a bout of frustration with my Cryx collection hadn't co-incided with frustration from others that there were too many Cryx players around the place.  Beyond that, I'm not sure I'd have taken up WFB again if Dave and Shiny hadn't been around, with their models going unused, or 40K again if I hadn't decided to run the school club and wanted to play the game the kids played.

If I didn't think about what other people play, and how they want to play it, I'd never get any games in, or at least not any fun ones. It can't be argued, though, that attempting to address the needs and goals of others does create additional opportunities to spend time, effort and money.  It's with that in mind that I'm refocusing my efforts onto one faction, and that faction is Cryx.  Other people's sensibilities are less important than my wallet, in the end.


Tristan said...

My biggest regrets have been selling a completed (or at least, fully painted, suitable sized) army to fund a new one. Like my old skaven, with 50 metal skaven w spears. I wish I had them back.

This is why I love skirmish/specialist games too. I've played plenty with my Necro Spyrers for example, but it's only 10 models so I can always just pack them away or let someone else use them.

Von said...

Aye. Historically, I've always funded new projects by selling off old ones, but in these troubled times I'm finding it more and more tempting to downsize and settle on the choices that I have the most instinctive fun with. Hence the Cryx.

arabianknight said...

A yet another Cryx player (just to prove your Cryx saturation point) I have to agree with your post. The local shop league has 10 players and 4 of those are Cryx. It actually periodically puts me off playing WM at times. I do have a second force (Cygnar - as posted) for some variety, but whether I play enough games of these we'll see. I'll keep the mini's though so that I can always pull them out for a game.