Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Size matters

An alliance of Dwarfs and High Elves tries to hold off 10,000 points of the restless dead...
I have always been attracted to large games of Warhammer. I think one of my earliest inspirations was A Gathering of Might, back in White Dwarf 181 (I may be showing my age here a bit, but hey). The game consisted of the studio’s entire Orc and Goblin and Chaos Dwarf armies vs their Empire and Wood Elves, commanded by a total of 8 players. It was epic (and at the time, the number of models seemed unimaginable). I don’t know how many times I have gone back and looked at that battle report, but the number is large indeed.

As attractive as a standard game of Warhammer can be (when played with 2 painted armies on decent terrain), the game becomes a real spectacle when it’s played with larger armies. It adds a sense of occasion – one that tends to draw others to watch, so I know I am not alone in feeling this way. I’m not sure whether this is just because we all appreciate how hard it is to paint that many models, or how much it costs to collect these things, or whether this appeal has nothing to do with these boring aspects of the hobby. Regardless, in terms of making a game feel like something special, bigger is better.

Big Games, Small Units

In previous editions of Warhammer however, this axiom did not apply to the unit sizes within these vast armies. You might have been playing a 10,000 point game, but there was still no point to fielding your units in blocks of 50 models. The game effect would be similar to a unit half the size (same rank bonus and the like), and would break and die just as easily. This was a great shame, because ultimately a big army tends to look more impressive on the table when it has huge units, instead of lots of smaller ones (or worse, all the points are spent on characters…). This was a problem largely addressed by the way GW did battle reports – especially in games such as these huge ones, practical concerns were ignored in favour of giving the game an epic feel, and ludicrous units of 60 models could stomp around, smug in their (entirely imagined) invulnerability.

Being a fan of silly games and also wanting the battles to be a proper spectacle, I had been toying with the idea of adding to the “Legendary Battles” rules as shown in White Dwarf 340. The rules were cute, but did nothing to encourage players to field larger units. As such I proposed that if a unit had to be 5 models wide to get up to +3 rank bonus, a unit 10 models wide could enjoy up to +6 rank bonus. This would require at least 70 models to make it a reality, and seemed a happy solution. I never did get around to actually trying these rules (and other tweaks I made, such as massed volley fire and larger flanking units to compensate for the bigger formations). Instead, 8th edition came along, and basically rendered all my changes unnecessary…

8th Edition – The Great Enabler

No edition of Warhammer has ever been as well suited to playing huge games as 8th edition is. The Horde and Steadfast rules might as well have been made for huge games (and I suspect some players wish these particular rules stayed in the bigger battles and away from their tournaments). Now there are reasons to field your units 10 models wide. Likewise there are reasons to field excessively deep formations. Flanking units need ranks in order to achieve much, so they also increase in size. Units can fire in 2 ranks without needing a hill, thereby freeing up valuable deployment space for more models. The changes they made, as a rule, tend to eerily reflect the sort of results I was after with my own proposed alterations (I don’t know who to congratulate – myself or them. I will stick with congratulating them, since they did what I wanted…).

In truth, I think the 8th edition rules are made with larger games in mind. They’re not just made as intended changes to smaller “standard” type games such as 2,000 points, but rather as rules that make all game sizes work better, with a particular emphasis on improving bigger battles. Some cynical people will always point out that bigger games mean more models, which means more money for Games Workshop; however, they have come out and stated that tournaments should still be 2,000 points, so they are not really demanding that people play bigger games – they are simply making it easier with the rules.

Legendary Battles

As great as huge games are, they are a lot of work to organise, setup and clean up afterwards. I wish this were not the case, but it’s the truth. As such, these games are never going to happen every week, so it’s worth making the most of them when they do come around. As suggested in the Legendary Battles rules, something can be added to the game by basing it around one of the historical battles in the Warhammer world. This helps give the game focus, adds personality to the characters, and makes for a more interesting game than the usual premise of “I KIIIIILL YOU!!” (apologies to anyone whose secret patented tactics I just gave away).

I fully intend to play some very large games this year (there, I have put a timeframe on it), based around some of the greatest historical battles in the Warhammer background. This is part of why I am painting Empire – they feature heavily in so many of these great battles, but we don’t have a lot of painted Empire armies lying around. This is a large part of my current motivation, so I will talk more about my plans for these games in the near future.

Triple Dragon. The little-known sequel to the beloved arcade game from about 1,000 years ago...
NOTE: The photos I used here are from a 4 player game that took place a couple of years back at the club. For more photos, click here.

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