Thursday, May 21, 2009

Hero Hammer?

When we used to play Warhammer back in the 1995 edition, it was a broken, broken game. You could tool up your heroes to the point where troops were of little to no value. I remember one game where we were playing a 3-way battle. I tooled up a Bretonnian Lord on a dragon. After the first turn, the other two players, neither of whom had anything of the sort, ganged up on me. 

IF my Grail Knights did even a single casualty it was a minor miracle. Instead, the dragon/champion rampaged across the field leaving in his wake carnage unmatched. Not too long after that we stopped playing. It was broken, broken, broken.

We moved on to a collectible card game called Raw Deal. Great game, a lot of fun, but it suffered from power escalation until it reached a breaking point. Along the way, it suffered from some curious rules interpretations and decisions that were, well...illogical at best, downright stupid at worst. 

Finally, that game did a complete reset, basically a start over, but it was too late and within 3 sets it died. This side-trip will make sense in a little while.

Not too long ago, we started painting again. Since I had the Battle for Skull Pass set, I painted up the Dwarf and Goblin armies from it and we started goofing around, playing games here and there.

Quickly it began to appear that the "Herohammer" phase might be gone. No longer were characters game breakers. 

Well...okay, so in the second game, I had this to say:
"In close combat, Norri again slew a Spider Rider while taking no wounds yet again lost the battle to their superior numbers and Standard. Being unbreakable, unhittable, and unwoundable by the Spider Riders, he laughed it off, took a big drink from his hip flask, and settled in to deal more damage when his own turn arrived."

Other than the Unbreakable, unwoundable slayer, though, Characters were very balanced. They could do damage...but we also saw a Thane fall to a Goblin Boss, a Troll fall to Thunderers, an Unbreakable Slayer fall to the lowly Night Goblin archers, a pointless unit if I ever saw one.

The game made sense. TROOPS would be the key to the 7th edition of Warhammer. That was a good thing. Battles would be won or lost by maneuver, putting the proper troops in the proper places, and so forth rather than just by who tooled up their character the best.

We saw that early on when those who used skirmish screens to protect their close combat troops won. Those who put valuable troops alone and let them get shot up lost. Every time. Line troops and tactics were deciding the outcomes.

We moved on to new armies. The Wood Elf army showed up. Their characters are...well...not exactly awe-inspiring. They have a decent stat line but were still able to be wounded by line troops.

The Dark Elves showed up. Their Assassins caused mass fear but, to this point, have yet to be game-breaking. Actually, I have yet to see them even in a combat. In fact, the games I have seen them in were decided by the near-broken 2 million shot per turn Repeater Cross-bow/mass Repeater Bolt Thrower arrow lines of death. Of course, I also did not see anyone use skirmish lines against him and the result was arrow carnage of death.

The point remains, no hero was dominating games. Occasionally they would tip the balance of a battle but they were not determining games on their own. In fact, other than the unbreakable Slayer, any character who rumbled around on his own died.

But then the power escalation started. One of our guys decided to go with the Ogres. They were an army we had initially planned to not use, along with Bretonnia and Chaos as they were "hard" armies...tough to kill. But we had a change of heart and decided all the armies were more or less balanced, or so it seemed from the outside.

And so it has more or less proved. Actually, the Ogres have been a decided dissapointment. One of our big fears was that they would be like the Slayer; untouchable, unkillable for S3 units like the Dark Elf gun lines.  

Instead, they have had a surprisingly poor record despite Kev setting them up about as well as he can, moving them well...they are just A) massively overcosted and B) the WS of 3 is what makes them overcosted. Well, that and the fact they have no discernible saves since anything that wounds a T4 model obliterates heavy armor saves anyway.

Against the Dark Elf army the Ogres have suffered a Massacre of epic proportions and been on the wrong end of a Substantial Victory.

Surprisingly, it is the Vampire Counts and Dark Elf armies that have seemed overpowered. The Dark Elf army is the only one that has not lost a game (other than Warbands which don't count since the Warbands system blows mighty chunks of steaming orangutang warbles). The only game the Vampire Counts have lost was to the Dark Elf army...which brings us to the point.

In that game, line troops did...well...nothing. That was largely because the VC general wisely put Ethereal units out as a skirmish screen. As a result, all the damage had to be done by magic. So sorcery and Malus wiped out those ethereal and then rampaged through the skeletons he had left over. 

It was the first sign of a developing problem. Since I was not partof that game, I was not privy to what was going on.

The beat went on when a dragon rampaged over the Ogres.  Again, a hero was tooled up to be so strong it was untouchable and was able to almost single-handedly win via a massacre against one of the tougher armies we have.

Then last Saturday it was really brought home. I had Galrauch, the first dragon, and next to me was another dragon.

In the game, Galrauch took 2 wounds. One was when he Miscast. Bound to happen when you miscast FOUR times. One was when he failed his Leadership test and attacked himself.

He shrugged off a volley of 30 peasants where I think 28 of them hit. He did not even need to make a save. Meanwhile, he saw off a Grail Reliquae, a Trebuchet, 30 peasant bowmen, did something like 5 casualties in one combat, and in yet another he single-handed killed a Bret hero with no real danger to himself.

Hero hammer.

Next to me another dragon was rampaging back and forth killing ogres at will. 

Hero hammer.

Now, to be fair, there was some line troop action; my Chaos Knights slew  4 or 5 units, his Grail Knights and Knights Errant killed my Chaos Warriors who, along with my Chaos Knights, have been compared by one guy to being heroes themselves.

Basic, core line troops did...well...nothing. 

I don't know what they did in the game next to us. I did see Gnoblars win a combat. Bwoohahaha. Against a line unit. SO there is that. But otherwise, line units have been casualties. Mostly to heroes.

I do know both games were more or less decided by what ended up being massively overpowered heroes who could barely be wounded, much less harmed seriously. 

I actually felt somewhat bad about what Galrauch did. Liam is new to the game and simply had nothing capable of dealing with a monster with a stat line of 6s across the board (except LD which is 9). 

So I started thinking about it. What changed? Why did what was initially a pretty well-balanced game where heroes were a nice touch but units were superior become something where units are a nice touch but characters determine who wins?

I think I figured it out. 

The problem started when we started using Lord level characters. 

Suddenly, the characters no longer are vulnerable to line units. Not even to good line units. They can set out  on their own at will, safe from all harm and easily able to dispatch enough enemies to overcome starting combat resolutions scores of -5, -6 or more. 

Back to Raw Deal; I am wondering if going to the Lord level characters is the power escalation point that brings us back to broken? 

It is funny. When we talk, each of us seems to see the strong points in every one elses' army while primarily seeing the weak points of our own army.

Case in point;
I see my Chaos Knights and absolutely love them.  At the same time, I know they are scarily fragile. As one guy said about his dragon with mounted sorcerer on why he wasn't using it, "It was too may points to risk." Of course, once he started using it, he crushed his opponent but his point is well taken.

When I lost a combat with my Chaos Warriors, I gave up almost 1000 points between unit cost, attached heroes, banner being captured and him receiving a second bonus for capturing a banner. That can be very, very difficult to overcome. I gave up 40% of my starting points in that one unit.

I see the same problem with my Chaos Knights. A basic unit costs well over 200 points. I will start most combat resolutions behind by several points. If I roll poorly or they roll well, I am risking a lot of points. I cannot roll "average", I MUST do 4 - 5 casualties or more to have any chance of winning most combats. 

So far, I have been able to do so, and that is what everyone BUT me sees. I see the risk, they see what has been happening, which is a lot of fortuitous rolls.

By the same token, when I look at other armies, I see what they can do to me...I know that just one round of shooting that slips in 2 casualties can essentially remove my knights as a factor. I know that one well-placed cannon ball or one good Organ Fun volley can take out a good percentage of my army in just one phase. I have watched magic devastate me (though I have yet to devastate anyone with it. Magic so far has been a very, very miserable experience for me. I have taken a lot of damage and dealt very, very little in return.)

I have been trying to compensate for the "over powered" nature of the Warriors of Chaos by taking armies that are worse than what I want to take: I have only once used a screening unit (this past game when I put in the Warhounds) and even there, it was just because I planned to go get his archers with them. 

In other words,  am deliberately playing the army somewhat wrong. I don't use screens, I use my Knights like block infantry instead of as flanking units, and so forth. But I also see how fragile it is. I have gotten by with some very fortuitous close combat rolls and tactical mistakes by my opponents.

Example A) When Fullur put skinks in front of me, I was able to do a whopping 7 casualties in just 12 attacks while he did none in about 12  attacks. He should have hit me about 4 times and, if it was a Kroxigor that hit me, wounded with me having a 50% chance of wounding which I would then have about 50% chance of saving. So him NOT wounding me was not a huge shock (though it is pointing out a flaw in the Lizardman army design; they force you to put skinks in a unit that has to be in hand to hand to be effective. Skinks in close combat are better known as "casualties". )

By him giving me all 5 front line guys attacking to go with the 1 flanked guy, I was able to overcome what would have been a GUARANTEED break test for me. He had the flank charge, he outnumbered me, he had a standard, a 2 rank bonus: he had a +5 combat resolution score and I would have had only 4 attacks back. There is f course no guarantee I would have failed it...but not having to take the test was a break for me.

Example B) Liam flank charged me with Knights Errant, had a 3 rank bonus in front of me, outnumbered me. He started with a +5 to the combat. He had 4 guys hitting me, one a champ; 5 attacks, 1 -2 should hit, wound on 2+ thanks to his Lance, my save reduced to 50%...he had a good chance of killing a Knight. Instead I put a hurt on his peasants in front of me doing something like 9 casualties to him when I should have done about 6 or 7. He broke.

So I had slightly better results than I should average, he had slightly worse. Made all the difference. 

Well, that and never having to face his Grail Knights. That battle would probably come down to who got the charge since our stat lines are almost identical except I have T4 to his T3 and he has a Lance giving him S6 on the charge; we should hit each other 50% of the time, if he has the charge, he wounds 83% of the time to my 66% and with a -3 to my save, I save "only" 50% of the time while he is saving 66% of the time. Between the near-parity of our troops (if he does NOT get the charge I get a slight advantage as he then wounds only 50% of the time and I save 67% of the time) and the combat resolution bonus he gets, the battles between our Knight units will truly be titanic sights to behold. 

Anyway, the point is the combination of fortuitous dice rolls, better maneuvering and tactics has hidden my weaknesses. 

At the same time, my limited exposure to some armies has hidden their shortcomings from me.

And in all cases, the overwhelming devastation wreaked by all but invulnerable characters in all disproportion to their points cost kind of minimizes the point of tactics anyway. If all I have to do to keep my line troops out of danger is fly Superman up on a character to crush into helpless jelly any unit that threatens my beloved Knights then the game is broken.

This is only exacerbated by bizarre rulings such as FAQs saying Magic Resistance doesn't work against area effects spells, then saying in the White Dwarf magazine that it does (November 2008 issue). Does it or does it not?

Or how about the ruling that a cannon ball does no harm if it is flaming? I can see where the flaming part would be obliterated by something like a Phoenix Cloak...but you still got smashed by a cannon ball.

So the question is; how is the mix of overpowered heroes and imbalanced armies affecting your enjoyment of Warhammer?

What tweaks do we need to make? I have considered things such as taking no Lord level characters (and dismissed it; my hero level characters would then have a marked advantage as they are arguably better than my Wood Elf Lord-level characters, for example).

I have considered taking points deficits, but not knowing if I would be facing a Dragon means I don't dare do that myself and neither can anyone else.

So how do we keep Warhammer from becoming Hero Hammer? Let's be proactive on this one. thoughts? Opinions? Ideas?


Liam said...

From what I saw, the two people who won Saturday both had *special* Lord-level heroes. Perhaps the only way we should be able to take special Lords is if both sides have them. Or just get rid of them in general. Either or.

We could also have < 2000 pt games (not the greatest solution, big games are fun). Tweak the character allowances, say like special lords take up a lord spot and two hero spots.

kennyB said...

I dare say it is not so much hero hammer on the Dark Elve front, as it is Monster Hammer. Malus is good because I get an extra attack over a regular Cold One Knight and re-roll to wound, but I could give my unit champion a sword that does that, and I would doubtfully take a unit of Cold Ones without Malus, as every time I do they wander around "Stupid"ly, and get murdered. But the point of that line was, the knights themselves cause an inordinate amount of casualties, while being heavily armored and difficult to kill themselves other than by artillery or magic ignoring armor saves. In fact, point for point I could take three Cold One Knights (27 pts ea)to every Master (Hero-80 pt base) at base costs, and they would win without a doubt, every time. If I tooled the Master up, I could take four or five knights for the cost and they would beat him every time.
The Dragons have been another story. They have straight 6 stat lines meaning they hit often (usually on a 3), hit hard (wound usually on a 2), reduce armour saves (-3), are tougher to hit(usually a 4), are harder to wound (usually a 6 if possible), and still have armour saves and 6 wounds. I mentioned I doubt you would see me take Malekith often because he is 600 pts, and for the 320 a dragon costs I don't think Malekith could ever beat one. It would Probably be best to take a Dreadlord (Lord) and Master (Hero) each on Dragons (Hero slots), a couple Hydra's, and a bunch of Knights, making me almost untouchable (at least the Dragons, and I don't care if the Hero's get shot off their backs because the Dragon's are the deadly item in the combo). I think the danger ends up being in the ridiculous stat line. I was going to say toughness, but when you combo 6 attacks with a 63% chance to kill, and that makes it to where almost no retaliation attacks can be made, it makes for a very tough enemy. My Dreadlord has 4 attacks at strength 4, and toughness 3, and comes with just a hand weapon for 140 pts. It's not even a battle if a dragon attacks him. Or 2 of him. But I see the same type of problem with Chaos Knights (or Cold One Knights, though not to the same extent as they have lower S, T, A, and Armour). An example is this, my Master (Hero) is base cost 80. He comes with a Hand Weapon. His stat line is :
M:5, WS:6, BS:6, S:4, T:3, W:2, I:8, A:3, and Ld:9. That's no save, no mount, nothing for 80 pts. So, 2 Chaos Knights/Horses at 40 ea are :
M:4/8, WS:5/5, BS:3/-, S:4(5)/4, T:4/-, W:1/-, I:5/3, A:2/1, Ld:8/5 and come with a 1+/0+ Armour Save and cause Fear. If I tool up my Hero with maximum armour and a mount, it takes me to 110 pts (and makes me stupid because of the Cold One mount), and I'm still no match. Nor am I a match for my own Cold One Knights, so unless I join them, it's wasted points, and the only thing I add to them is 2 extra attacks in the front line (COK only have 1 attack ea). That's not to say it's not Monster Hammer, just that some of us have cavalry that are monster's themselves. I am not opposed to not taking "special" Lord level characters, although it takes some of the uniqueness out of each army. I think a better alternative may be to limit maximum toughness and armour saves, as a dragon with toughness 5 or knights that save only 50% of the wounds you get through is a lot less hero hammer than no hero's (lord's).

kennyB said...

And since I was comparing Points costs, it's 10 Cold One Knights (27x10=270) to Malus (275), and I would take him every time, or pay an extra 200 pts, to remove the stupidity from my cavalry. And Points wise it's almost 2 dragons
(320x2=640) to Malekith (600), or to be more legitimate, A dragon with a master (320+80=400) and a Hydra (175) (for a total of 575) to Malekith (600) and that leaves me 25 points to tool up the hero. Or I could take 22 knights (27x22=594). mwah hah ha ha ha. But I don't. And I wouldn't. Certain things, actually almost everything, is still being tested. The Dragons have now been in a grand total of 3 battles (mine in 2 and Drew's in 1), and I have been in a grand total of I think 4 big battles. I lost to the dwarves in a big game, and 2 warbands I think. And the warbands games were not played properly half the time
I think the Dark Elve record is:
2 wins against the ogres in 2k+, 1 loss to the Dwarves in 1.5k, 2 wins in warbands, 2 losses in warbands, and a win against the vamps in a 750. Hardly enough playtesting to make a call yet me thinks. Enough rambling, back to fixing virus-ed up computers for other people!

kennyB said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
kennyB said...

I keep reading this and seeing more to comment on, so I will add this for now. I said my sorcerer (Malekith) is fragile in Close Combat because at 600 pts for him alone, he has a 3+ armour save in close combat and a 2+ ward save AGAINST NON-MAGICAL ATTACKS. So against magic or magic weapons, I start with a 3+ armour save. And against anyone with a magic or a magic weapon, that means it's reduced to NO BETTER THAN a 5+, or 33% chance of saving. And that's if it doesn't completely eliminate it. That's not good for a 600 pt model. That's fragile. I can't do 600 pts to any army in 4 wounds that only require going past toughness 4 and a 5+ modified armour save. And that would have taken me from a victory to a defeat.

The Ogres have ended up not being a threat TO ME SO FAR because they have only WS:3, T:4, and an armour save of 5+. So if I hit with a weapon that is sufficient to wound, it is unlikely that there will be a save left, and if there is, it is only 6+, or 16%. The majority of the wounds in our game was done by my shooting, my knights(elite unit), and his bull charges/elite troops, as they are all numerous enough to change the course of the battle. The majority of the wounds that were done in combat with my Heavy Cavalry (Knights) were done by the basic cavalry, and not by Malus. He did one or two wounds in each round of combat, nothing excessive of his points value. I really believe that at their points value, the Ogres should have T:5, or better Armour Saves, or maybe both. In a battle where he successfully cast a regen spell on his unit, combats were very different because he saved more than 50% because had a 4+ save on them. That doesn't happen all the time, but it does show what happens when you have a 50% chance to save after modifiers instead of just keeling over. However, I will say again I think 3 games is too few to base game altering decisions on, especially when 2 of the 3 games were against the same enemy, and very similar to the same army. And I would like to be allowed for at least one battle (preferably two) against each army to try my best, and to field a fierce army. If that proves that with present army compositions there is no competition, it might be time to change the rules a bit. But by then, we should have more knowledge of what exactly (WS, BS, S, T, W, I, A, Ld, Saves, Ward Saves, Regen, Terror, Unbreakableness, Armour Piercing, or generalship, or is causing the imbalance. -Ken ^^

Darth Weasel said...

Liam, to your points
1) I thought you were taking the Special characters to get the points up. That is part of the fun of the big games. You should roll The Green Knight out there. He is AWESOME. The only time we have disallowed special characters is you cannot have a special character as your over all General in the campaign. Otherwise, they are fair game and great fun.

And the "special" part of Galrauch actually only hurt me. Not only did he only once succeed in casting a spell (which promptly did zero casualties), his magic A) allowed you to freeze two of my units and cost me a Dispel scroll and B) wounded him, and on top of that he failed a LD test and wounded himself again. I actually would have been better off with a NON-special character....

I am pretty sure most of us prefer to keep them around, I was just mostly wondering if people were hating playing against them and it doesn't seem they are for the most part.

As for the small games, that is part of the fun of the campaign; I think you are probably lined up to play in the 250/500 point games which should have just Hero-level characters for quite some time so that should be covered. G

Good feedback.

Kenny, on your first one: I was referring to monsters as heroes so I think we are saying the same thing from different angles.

As for the Knights, I would argue their effectiveness to this point has been a result primarily of better maneuvering on my part to put them in the position they needed to be in.

On the save front, I am more in favor of something like, "saves can never be reduced to less than 6+" or something like that. Since most non-Dwarf or Knight armies cannot get any better than a 5+, armor is pointless since most wounds then completely remove almost everyones armor save completely. Then again, that would remove some of the points value of, say...Dwarf Thunderers.

On your second post, when did you lose to the Dwarf army? There was the 4-turn game you two drew, about 40 points apart, but I don't remember you losing to them?

On your third, I actually have seen that, except for the Ogres who had nothing that could hurt the Ethereals and can't hit anything, the other games have pretty universally been decided by generalship. Maneuver, putting the right unit in the right place at the right time, not putting the wrong unit in the wrong place...I actually like the game as is, I was just wanting to make sure nobody was getting frustrated with the hero thing and since a few comments were made at the last game, it seemed like a good time.

I for one am loving the game and have a pretty good idea how to beat every army except one, which is one I have only faced in Warbands. And split my games with....

By the same token, I know what every army excpet the Ogres and Lizardmen need to do to beat me, and am confident that as the generalship improves, that will be more and more common.

The Ogres are a better WS and armor save away from being competitive, they are just massively overcosted.

The Lizardman army was just made so weak by the new book that I have no clue how they can win. The Saurus should be better and ended up sucking, forcing the Kroxigor to be IN units with Skinks instead of charging THROUGH them makes them not worth taking...the best Lizardman army seems to be 5 million Skinks trying to shoot without being charged while rolling lots of 6s and hoping the opponent save miserably. And that irks me because I LOVE the Lizardmen.

kennyB said...

With me now understanding you were referring to both monsters and characters, I agree to the extent that, at least for my Army, the monsters are far and away more powerful than the Hero's that ride them.

With your knight thought, I disagree, but still believe it is too early to say for certain. So far, what I have seen, is that in close combat, knights, even head on into solo combat with another unit that vastly outnumbers, even decent troops (thought I haven't seen an elite v. elite yet), cannot be touched. They almost always get the charge, because they are faster (M:7 for mine, more for some peoples). They almost always wipe away most of the enemy that could attack back because of their high WS and S, leaving little enemy frontline (or midline, or backline, lol) to retaliate. And the few that get to attack back, have a poor chance to hit, a poor chance to wound, and a non-existent chance to get through armour. I see a max 50% save having a much more super-troop limiting effect than a 16% everyone shot. But that's me. I love my heavy cavalry because they have absolutely decimated everything they have touched, in not even close close-combat. That includes Yetti's, Butcher's, Gnoblars, Bull's, and more. Not even close. The only time I have taken wounds, is from artillery which hit hard and removed my save, and dwarven guns which have a high base strength (4 to my T:3) and limited my save to 4+ (I only have a 2+ base in non-close combat). Other than those instances, nothing has hurt them. I'm pretty sure it's the same for you, just add magic to that mix. I'm sure I will add magic too my list of "killed my knights!" at some point, when someone with offensive magic hits me with it. So far, it's been the dwarves with no magic, and the Ogres and Vampires with seemingly little offensive magic. Anyway....if I recall correctly, which happens rarely, but it does had mentioned that the only thing you saw that presented an issue to your knights was his, and then mainly if they got the charge. That says alot. To me. To me, that says alot. lol.

Anonymous said...

I kind of like seeing the special heroes in the game. I eventually plan to get a few and then that may change the way some of my games go, but then again perhaps not. They definitely do make a difference in the games, but I wouldn't call them broken by a long shot just yet.


kennyB said...

I don't know Kev, I don't think I want to see your specials! Nor the Lizards', nor the Brets', nor the High Elves', nor the Vampire Counts', nor Chaos'! In fact, everyone but me is hereby banned from using special characters. Unless your allied with me, then you can. But if you turn on me, your Specials will turn on you!