|Splatgut takes aim with his Big Shoota|
- Although its core mechanic is the simple Warhammer 40K second edition ruleset (which is simple to me, at least, because I grew up with it), it piles on layer after layer of exceptions and special conditions, virtually guaranteeing that you will forget at least one of them during a match and feel like a dummy. Special rules for the weapons, special rules for the scenario, special rules for the factions. I admit that I am not a rules guy at the best of times, so maybe this is just me.
- It is, hands down no foolin', the worst-organised rulebook I have read, or at least it has the highest ratio of budget to quality. Not all the kill teams are in the same section! Kill teams and their special ops are in two different parts of the book, except only for some teams. Some teams have their weapons in different sections, but others don't. I realise that this is because some teams are "core" and others aren't, but how is that relevant? That's not how people actually play the game, a fact that ten seconds' reflection would have revealed.
- Despite its complexity, its advancement system is so limited that it's not really all that much fun.
- It is not balanced for toffee. In particular, the rules were designed for a game where everybody starts out with a Move of 4 and a BS of 3 (and an I of 3 as well) and gunsights are limited. I'm not just bitter because I spent a lot of time pinned, but when a significant chunk of your opponent's team starts the game hitting on 2s, there's only so much cover you can take. Similarly, the introduction of kill teams with a move of 6 should have made the designers rethink the scenario rules. There are loads of scenarios which try to prevent turn-one charges with 8" distance restrictions, which is not a big deal for kill teams where some or all of the models have move 6.
- It does, to some degree, compensate for its lack of balance by being random as anything. I think my win-loss was about 50-50, or slightly less, but I cannot attribute this to any tactical merit on my part. I just slugged forward and sometimes I got into optimum Ork range and shredded my opponents with sustained fire and face-punches, and sometimes I didn't. I did sometimes win by remembering to focus on mission objectives, but that's partly because I just find missions with objectives fun.
|The Grotmob advances, ready for action!|
Sorry, yes -- I enjoyed it! I mean, it's not going to win any awards, and if it does there's something fishy, but its very goofiness works in favour of it. Its high level of randomness and its goofy exceptions wind up provoking more laughs at the table than frustration, and it produces the kind of wargaming moments everyone likes -- moments that illuminate the personalities of the players and get retold at subsequent sessions. The thought of one of my Orks running around carrying a lectern, proudly proclaiming that he was the Boss now because he had a table, or Badlug squishing people like grapes with his power klaw and then, surrounded by the corpses of his foes, deciding it was time to bottle out, is good for a laugh.
I've mentioned that randomness cancels out the balance issues to some degree, but another thing that can compensate for balance issues is a general attitude of insouciance and/or inexperience. In a group that was half veteran killers and half total rookies, the weird disparities between some of the kill teams would have been frustrating, but in a group mostly composed of beginners no one really tried to build some ultimate murder squad. I encourage this attitude.
GW games are expensive, but they have this weird effect where their shared vocabulary works in favour of them. If Shadow War Armageddon were released as a spin-off for, I dunno, Beyond the Gates of Antares, no one at CURTS would play it, partly because they wouldn't already have models knocking about to play it with and partly because it would be unfamiliar to them. It was really interesting to see how the one guy in the group who didn't have a lot of familiarity with 40K struggled -- you sometimes forget that not everyone grew up with this game and take for granted the ability to, I don't know, tell a flamer and a meltagun apart at a glance and assess their relative capabilities.
(I feel bad because I think I was a little hard on that guy, actually; I am 90% more chilled out than I was when I was younger, but sometimes I still get impatient and I ought to learn to relax about stuff more.)
My main point is that the familiarity does have genuine benefits. On paper, Shadow War Armageddon is a hard game to learn. In practice, a huge segment of the gaming population already owns the miniatures and already understands what the statline means.
This may be for historical reasons that are more to do with savvy marketing and fun IP than how good the game is, but here's a question for you: who cares? Game designers, I have no doubt. Other than them?
So take a look at that photo. That's the final game, with seven players playing on an 8 x 4 (ish) table. You can see that there's painted terrain, stuff scratch-built out of foamboard, fantasy terrain, terrain made from junk, army man toys, I mean the whole bit. The whole thing's a mess. But it was a ton of fun.
And that's really important for me to remember. Like a lot of people who are into miniatures gaming, I spend a lot of time paying attention to the writings and works of people who are much better painters and terrain makers than I am. When you do that, it can be easy to feel frustrated about what you perceive as your own lack of progress. But this game was set up pretty quickly and there were all kinds of interesting sightlines and tricky angles and people cursing the terrain and people forgetting where models were hiding, and much laughter. And it has stuff people made themselves, and creative use of found objects -- the things I love!
|The buzzchoppa isn't the most supremely pointless weapon in the game, but it's close.|
|Boss Badlug is your basic Evil Sunz boss: a status-obsessed meathead consumed with the need for the latest gadgets.|
|These Ramshackle Games terrain pieces make great cover and great objectives.|
|High above the deck of the Space Hulk, Badlug battles the dreaded Nunboss!|
And that's why a game that isn't all that great can still be a lot of fun.