Friday, January 24, 2014

History Trip on the Magical Gator Bus: Hordes MkII Play Test

Let us turn back to a time long ago, a time before the Blindwater Pact rose from the primordial swamps of eastern Immoren, a time where Morghoul2 was considered one of the best warlocks in the game, a time when Kaya2 was the bee's knees..... a time called the MkII Playtest.

I'm sure I've complained a few times about the Hordes MkII playtest on this blog and how it was probably the least enjoyable time in Warmahordes for me (outside perhaps the release of Colossals - I quit playing for many months at both those times). I've probably also mentioned that the most fun period of Warmachine for me were the 2-3 months of the Warmachine fieldtest.

Play Test vs Field Test

Notice how I use the words 'Play Test' when referring to Hordes, and 'Field Test' when referring to Warmachine, even though they were both named 'Field Tests'. Basically, Warmachine MkII was more or less a complete process that had been put through the ringer, abilities and spells on models simplified, nerfs and buffs applied, costs reconsidered, and so on before being released to the public. A single .pdf version of the cards and core rules came out, there was a one week rage period, and then feedback was opened for another 3 weeks. After this period was over, official feedback channels were closed, and 2 months passed by before Privateer Press released the 'final' rules .pdf. Easy. Everything was already done, and what was needed was mostly completed but needed some mass play to polish the rules and eliminate some of  model balance issues (like WG Rocketeers having boosted damage rolls - if you think the Deathstar is scary now...). In essence, Warmachine MkII was more or less finished and just need some field experience to clean it up. It felt like an open beta.

Hordes, on the other hand, was more or less an alpha built from the ground up by the community. The first release of core rules .pdf were understandably almost identical to the Warmachine one (which had already gone through the ringer), together with a few pages on fury and leeching and transfers and stuff which were pretty much the same as Mk1. The models also were more or less the same as their Mk1 counterparts, with some minor changes of the most OP things.While there were some changes and simplification, you could tell that these rules had not been put through the same process as their Warmachine counterparts. There were also (I think) 4-5 model updates for the 6 week duration of the Playtest, with each update focusing more heavily on a particular faction over another - like you had a "Circle" update week 3, a "Skorne" update week 3, a "Troll" update week 4 and so on.

The official feedback channels were open from the second week onwards while all the changes were being put out, so they had no real idea which version of the rules you were commenting on, given that this week's releases could be very different to last week's releases, and one had to assume you were commenting on the version released right before your feedback.

In essence, Hordes MkII models and fury rules were largely untouched from MkI and constructed almost entirely from community feedback (a lot of it from the forums). I feel that not enough preparation time was put into the playtest cycle, and this did not make up for the extended time of the Play Test given that participants in the Play Test were expecting a Field Test and treated it as such. A different approach and preparation would have lead to a more successful, more organized and less stressful process for all parties involved, I feel.

You can have a look at the initial release of Hordes MKII cards here to get at look at what things were like at the dawn of the playtest.

Nostalgia trip

While we're here, we might as well take a little nostalgia detour into the past to see how far Hordes has come since its early days.

Trolls were considered one of the strongest factions in the game shortly after the Play Test finished (MAT 11 troops ZOMG!). Which is surprising considering the general belief that they currently are one of the worst factions in the game. I personally don't have too much trouble against Trolls, and I hate playing with them (god knows I tried), but find them to be really strong if you really think about and understand your builds rather than cookie cut (except Runes of War, that list is dumb). The biggest hold-up IMO is that the models are crazy expensive and not many things really look broken on paper in isolation so it's tough to get all hyped about them.

  •  pMadrak's Stone Fall spell - that 3" AoE with Crit KD. I think it may have been Crit Concussion in Mk1 (crit: cannot cast spells). There was a lot of talk about this spell and how it is basically a Hail Mary, all-in, last-ditch spell and as such is wasting space on his card. I won a ridiculous number of games in Mk1 with such spells though so sad to see it go.
  • Borka's spell list changed radically over the playtest. You can see his crit Stationary spray spell on the card which recently resurfaced as Frost Hammer on Lylyth3 (for 2 FURY rather than 3).
  • Calandra: Befuddle - holy shit was that a retardedly broken spell. I remember playing a test game against Calandra/Impaler/Burrowers with a Xerxis 2xCetrati/Krea brick list and my 2 units of Cetrati getting befuddled away, then Xerxis getting shot a million times while KD. Not cool.
  • Mulg's rules yo-yoed during the Playtest like mad. I think at one point he was SPD 5 and more expensive.
  • Thumpers and Kriel Warriors were all beloved by all during the Playtest. What happened? Money, probably. Can't say I'm sad because I hate Thumpers and Caber Tossers.
  • Long Riders - only had 5 wounds and were generally not that great. Now? Amazing.
  • Scattergunners going to SPD 6 was a very needed buff IMO. This was my only valuable piece of feedback on Trolls.
  • Burrowers - I remember when the current Burrowers were released for testing. The Troll players threw an immediate hissy fit about how bad they are and can't chain burrow. Jason Soles, in what was probably one of his last PP forum posts ever, told Troll players to "quit your whining - play them as they are and THEN whine." Of course, they did and now take them in most of their lists.

The shift from Mk1 to MkII wasn't as drastic for Circle as it was for Trolls or Skorne. Basically the stuff they had in every list got nerfed (Wolf Riders, Druids, Blackclad, Sentry Stones) so they just had to play different stuff but played a similar game otherwise - high mobility, high board control.
Circle didn't have Stalkers in Mk1. Stalkers were without a doubt the biggest meta changer for Circle in the transition. The typical Circle list was usually filled with Tharn Wolves/Bloodtrackers, Druids and stone beasts (especially Wardens and Wyrds). pKrueger, pBaldur and Kaya2 were the kings of the pack.
Now they are probably one of the strongest factions all-around if played well, which can be seen in the (pre-Morvahna2) variety in casters. Many different combinations were available in caster pairings, although SR 2013 really hurt Kaya2, and Gargossals really hurt Krueger2 so they've become a little less varied because of those changes.

  • Kromac changed a lot during the Playtest. People pushed really hard for a feat change as well, since he literally didn't have a feat against Warmachine. No, changing the feat so it could take focus off warjacks as you see on the cards didn't quite cut it.
  • Morvahna1's Eruption of Life used to be one of coolest spells in the game. It was a cost 4 offensive upkeep that created a 4" AoE upkeepable forest. Any models killed by the forest (either when the spell was cast or walking into it afterwards) created a delicious fruit token. Delicious fruit tokens could be used to upkeep the forest, or heal friendly models who walked into the forest.
  • You can see how the Mk1 Woldwarden has a less broken version of Megalith's animus. The animi between these two yo-yoed quite a bit during the Playtest. After a few weeks they just decided to give Megalith a permanent 12" uber-forest. I hate that guy.
  • I don't remember what was so broken about Bloodtrackers in Mk1. It was probably to do with the 12" AD (rather than the 6" AD we see today). They are still good today.
  • The Ravager Shaman UA saw quite a few changes as well. Now he is basically a lightning stick WA. Too bad you never see him, ever.
  • Wolf Riders - the reason these were insane broken in Mk1 was that they had no unit coherency. It was the most ridiculous thing and you can see they picked that up right off the bat. Good work PP.
  • Sentry Stones are another thing that were super retarded in Mk1. I think they used to be invisible when they had no fury (Invisibility was something like "cannot be targeted by ranged or spells, cannot be charged, +4 DEF against melee attacks, doesn't block LOS"), had a way bigger CMD range, and the Mannikins could do retarded damage with their sprays. And they were super cheap. Now they are kinda balanced but don't really fit into the game as much.
  • Shifting Stones - notice how they didn't have fury management in the early Playtest? Lots of argumentation amongst players convinced the designers to throw Circle a bone. I think I have seen the ability used once in 4 years, because 90% of Circle's fury management comes from trading Primaled Stalkers for your heavy.
  • Blackclad Wayfarers - these used to be able to teleport ANYWHERE on the table in Mk1. Basically one or two just teleported behind your army Turn 1, then you'd have to dedicate some stuff to dealing with them, then you'd get pinned down and never leave your deployment. Classy. They fixed that quick and early.

Skorne is one messed up faction, and in my opinion changed the most in the Mk1 to Mk2 transition out of all the factions in WM/H.
In Mk1, they initially had no pathfinder at all and relied heavily on troop-heavy armies grinding across the battlefield protected by Kreas, and backed up by multiple Ancestral Guardians (who were OP as hell and could easily wreck heavies with a few souls) and Cannoneers. Then just before MkII, Skorne got eMorghoul, Molik Karn and pathfinder everywhere. Then then Play Test happened and there was no clear design direction for about a month, until the designers decided to remove the +2" of movement speed from Enrage and give the Gladiator Rush.
Now Skorne is a fast beast-heavy army, and since the end of the Play Test have gome from being considered total garbage, to amongst the top 3 in the game, and now back to being garbage in the last 4 years. They were probably the faction that changed the most during the Play Test, and since they were my faction of choice at the time, I assume this is why I kinda got frustrated with the whole deal (not so much with the changes as the way it was done) and decided to sell my Skorne and quit playing for a few months.

  • Morghoul1 - in Mk1, he had a cool spell that allowed him to move whenever he suffered damage (even if transferred). It was amazingly sweet. That spell became Admonition. That made me sad. But overall he is much cooler than he was in Mk1, although he still auto-loses to pKreoss.
  • Morghoul2 - the single biggest nerf in the history of Warmachine/Hordes IMO. Mostly because he was so ridiculously overpowered in Mk1 (his feat was almost literally a 20" Gorman Black Oil bomb), but also because they had no idea what to do with him. He didn't change at all until at least halfway through, where they messed around with his abilities like mad (he had a spell that granted Arcane Assassin at some point). They changed his feat last minute to the boring uninspired crapfest it is now, gave him a really sweet spell list and then patted themselves on the back. Well, he is a pretty good 1-on-1 assassin. Unfortunately the game is unlikely to get to that stage in the current meta.
  • Neither Makeda changed much. The biggest change was mostly to eMakeda's feat, which as you can see from the Playtest cards, was almost exactly the same as pMakeda's. They changed it about the same time as eMorghoul's. She won.
  • Hexeris was the most badass Skorne caster in Mk1, primarily because his feat shredded the infantry heavy meta, but also because Death March was retarded strong (it was exactly how it reads on those cards, except with better infantry). You would have a Death Marched unit backed by 2 Ancestral Guardians and then kill everything. He changed quite a bit, but I'd say he was one of the successes of the Play Test process. He is still really good in Mk1, just balanced.
  • Xerxis also changed a lot. Check out that Armor of Karak! That was an awesome spell.
  • Zaal and Mordikaar were the flagbearers of Skornergy in Mk1. You can still see it in the cards. They managed to reduce a lot of it though.
  • The Krea was insanely powerful in Mk1, primarily because she could SHOOT HER ANIMUS, which was pretty OP.
  • Cyclops Savage - see how that animus cost 2? If there's one thing I pushed hard for during the test in my feedback, it's that this animus should cost 1. I like it a lot. It now costs 1. Nobody gives a shit, or even takes Savages.
  • Rhinodons were probably the best Skorne heavies in Mk1, because they had a crit ARM Pierce on their horn attack and hit damn hard otherwise. Their damage output was SERIOUSLY reduced in Mk2.
  • Skorne used lots of Cannoneers in Mk1. I am serious. Mostly because the Extoller used to grant Ghost Sight instead of Eyeless Sight, but also because long range AoE guns on beasts are really good (as the Ironback Spitter demonstrates). Unfortunately these days it's too many points for what it contributes to the Skorne beast game (and the animus is crap).
  • Molik Karn - Fate Ward. Apparently this was insanely broken. It certainly seems that way although I remember him not being able to hit very hard as a tradeoff. I guess it's a matter of perspective. Anyway, I kinda like how he turned out EXCEPT for Side Step. Putting that on last minute was not brilliant and in my opinion is what makes him OP. Should have been Circular Vision.
  • Arcuarii - this unit has a ridiculous amount of attention focused on it in the Play Test. Skorne players really wanted their Arcuarii to be good. Now they are decent and nobody uses them. Go figure.
  • Beast Handlers used to have +2" to warbeast charge under Enrage, as you can see. Dropping this changed the faction a lot and made Gladiators auto-includes in any list with more than 1 heavy. It also killed the triple Savage Missile trick I used to like a lot. Them's the breaks.
  • I don't remember Karax being good in Mk1 either. I think they were relatively better, but still bad.
  • The Ancestral Guardian was one of the most nerfed things in Skorne, because it was so overpowered. I think it had 5 soul tokens max, was P+S 13/14, had weapon master, could use a token to get +4" movement..... but had to spend a soul token to charge. Basically it was stupid. Now it's balanced. Yay.
  • The Master Tormentor was one of the most broken things during the PT because of its Vanish ability you see on the cards - two of them could shred units with little to no consequences. You can see it got nerfed pretty hard since then.
  • Rhadeim was also really popular after the Play Test finished. People don't really play him so much anymore, which is strange because he didn't change at all and he is still really good.

Legion got nerfed HARD going into the Playtest, mostly because they were ridiculously overpowered at their core. Flight ignored free strikes in Mk1. Yes, really. Also they had some tricks like "waterfalling" combined attacks with infantry units that allowed very high damage output at range, along with Incubi appearing on the table and activating as soon as their "host" died with fully-boosted attacks and all that. trolololol.
The less-skilled Legion players were whining pretty hard after the Play Test, so a lot of people thought Legion wasn't that sweet anymore. However most players with knowledge of the game recognized that Legion's primary strengths were still there and are what makes them the powerful faction they remain to this day.

  • Lylyth2 was super retarded broken in Mk1 mostly because of the 12" AD. It was pretty easy to wipe out most of your army before you did anything. She didn't change much otherwise, and remained one of the strongest casters in the game until SR 2013 kicked her in the nuts.
  • Thagrosh2 was one of the most contested Legion models during the Play Test. Most discussion revolved around Manifest Destiny (called "Glory of Everblight" in Mk1, a name which I dearly miss) and how it interacted with Typhon and Carniveans... because multiple S+P sprays is kinda stupid. So they nerfed it and killed his ranged superiority.
  • Vayl1's feat in Mk1 triggered on a model-per-model basis. It was basically Pursuit on everything. Yeah, that was dumb. There was a lot of talk about Incite as well, and how reducing it to CMD range rather than CTRL (which happened mid-Test) would mean she would die easily and not be worth much. Well, those people were wrong.
  • Rhyas is a bit like Morghoul2 in the extent to which she got nerfhammered. You can compare the Play Test card to her card today - down all the way. Decap on every attack combined with boosting combined with incorporeal after killing something (in Mk1 she went Invisible, which was nigh invulnerable for her with Riposte). Also the feat could trigger infinitely IIRC. Well, at least she has Reach now.
  • Saeryn also good nerfed pretty hard but remains one of the best casters in the game. Just look at that card! One of the many playtest documents allowed models with magical weapons to attack things under her feat. That lasted a week, because Menoth.
  • Seraph Spam was one of the strongest lists in Mk1, mostly because they could kill anything with their guns. D6 POW 12 shots combined with the best fury management? Yes please.
  • Typhon also changed many, many times in the Field Test. I think the card says it all.
  • I think Blighted Nyss Archers used to have minifeat: Poison on their UA. They were very common. I haven't seen them in years.
  • The Warmonger War Chief used to have Blood Quenched, the ability on Bart/Vlad3 that gives +1 STR and ARM when you kill a thing. That was especially funny combined with Rhyas' old feat. Basically a 1-man army.

  • - Oh wow, I didn't even know Gatormans changed from the Field Test version!
    -> Traded Life Drinker prayer for Pathfinder prayer
    -> Gained Unyielding
    That seems legit. I had a look at their old Mk1 stats and they probably weren't as good as they are now.
As you can gather, Blindwater didn't exist in Mk1. One can only imagine how broken Rask would have been.

Nostalgia. Sweet, sweet nostalgia.

1 comment:

  1. I don't remember what was so broken about Bloodtrackers in Mk1. It was probably to do with the 12" AD (rather than the 6" AD we see today). They are still good today.

    They could Ambuscade (effectively Assault-shoot) several inches into the enemy deployment zone with no buffs applied to them.