The Four Strands Modeling, Painting, Gaming and Storytelling

3Feb/110

Musings on Business Models: Part 3 – Warmachine (and Hordes)

For those who missed my previous rants, I have been examining how my favorite companies market their games.  My first rant covered GW Mainline games and the second GW Specialist games.  That covers GW.  Now, on to younger, hotter companies.

Privateer Press launched Warmachine in 2003.  It was immediately picked up by my friends Lexington and Andy (who now runs our local game store and STOCKS Warmachine).  I was dragged in when they showed me the minis and the gameplay, both of which were awesome.  I got into Warmachine and started a small Cygnar force.  During this time, I was frustrated by the Vlad Windwall Turtle army, and chose not to play Haley very much as she wasn't very fair.

Privateer then released Escalation, which added a new Caster and some more stuff to each faction.  This introduced the dreaded Zealot Monolith Bearer, and soon every Menoth army I faced had a unit of invincible Zealots in my face.

Then came Apotheosis.  The strained balance of the game shuddered and washed away.  Epic Haley, Darius, The Harbinger, The Avatar, The Garlghast Coven, and the Old Witch of Khador seemed so powerful that many among my friends questioned whether they had done any playtesting to balance these powerful models.  We learned later that they had not.

Superiority added even more stuff which could be used in tandem with old stuff, making new combos and strengthening old ones.  Prime Remix tried to add balance to the game by nerfing several overpowered things like Haley and Sorcha's feats.  This helped a bit.

Legends was the final expansion in Warmachine 1.0 and the nail in the coffin of me playing.  Three dudes with axes killed my entire army.  The three-person units were terribly broken.  I lost all interest as balance seemed gone forever.  Now there were "must include" units that you needed to balance out the overpowered units from other lists.  Gone was the idea that equal points tended to be equal armies.

Now, in Warmachine 2.0 I have a pretty decent interest.  Warmachine Mk2 was launched in early 2010 with an extensive playtest online beforehand.  Now EVERY unit had a new card, rules were more streamlined and units with similar rules now had the wording exactly the same for simplicity.  There were still one or two overpowered things, but "must includes" were powered down so that you could actually WIN without them.

Each faction had their own book released with "tier lists."  Essentially if you limit yourself to the choices in the list, you get various powers.  I wasn't a big fan of this as it smacked of the old 3rd edition White Dwarf lists in 40K that gave you special rules for taking a limited list.  Essentially this rewards you for taking things that are already a good idea to take.  It means you can't do wicked combos with your whole list plus mercs.  There are a few that are a bit unfair (such as the Retribution Rahn list that gives every goddamn model Stealth) but most are relatively harmless.

Now, Mk2 is coming out with Wrath, another expansion with gigantic 120mm based horrors.  Essentially the trend is to create a balanced game, then add expansions that make each faction have some new great things.  Sadly you have to top your previous effort with each new expansion, so balance tends to get out of control.

The other part of their business model is simply to consistently make incredible models.  Let's not mince words.  Privateer makes models you want to buy.  There are exceptions (Winter Troll and Extreme Warpwolf spring to mind) but most are so cool you want to play every faction ever.

Pros: The expansions keep the metagame flowing for every faction simultaneously.  There are no decade long waits for your army to be updated like with GW.  Each expansion also releases more pewter flavored crack for you to get a fix on.  Of course, some units are now PLASTIC crack, to the delight of players with sore arms.

Cons: Expansion after expansion leads to runaway power creep.  Didn't buy the latest solo?  Didn't include the latest unit?  Pick up your models and go home.  No one wants YOUR KIND here.  Oh, you didn't know this guy is unkillable?  Eat it.  Page five machismo is one thing, but there are some combos from back in 1.0 that were just unfair.  Like the Harbinger sacrificing life to save every casualty you cause, and then getting healed by other stuff.  Or "Chuck the Drakhun at the enemy and watch it still charge 10 inches."

Conclusions: Privateer keeps Warmachine selling well at the cost of power creep.  Let's hope Wrath doesn't undo ALL of the balance found in Mk2.  Otherwise you might see a lot less Warmachine posts on Four Strands.  If Wrath is as good as Escalation was expect MORE posts.

Rock over Corvis, Rock on Five Fingers.

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