Monday, 19 June 2017

BattleTech Backer's Beta: Addendum

So; first piece of content for both here and the channel in far too long and I pick a game that's unfinished.
Look; I swear, the next thing I cover will be an actually finished product.  Promise.

If you haven't seen the video; you can go watch it here in my usual staggered, unscripted, long-winded mess of a video style.

BattleTech: Some of the Mechanics

So I said I'd explain a few of the mechanics in here, but it turns out the manual is freely available to people without the beta so I figure it's easier to tell you to RTFM than to type them out all over again.

Okay; one thing to point out with the Initiative System that I don't think was detailed in the manual - those defensive bonuses, like the basic one based on how far the 'Mech moved as well as things like Cover and Evasive; those don't fade as soon as that 'Mech's phase first comes around, they only do when the 'Mech next acts.  So if you have a Jenner that sprinted in one round to get Evasive and then next round Reserves all the way down to Phase 1, it will still have that Evasive bonus even though it's spent most of this round doing nothing, simply because it has not acted yet.

An example of the clever stuff you can do with this initiative system is a classic Light 'Mech hit-and-run.
  • Round 1, Phase 4: You have a Locust sprint into position.  It gains Evasive and, since it's standing in forests, gains Cover as well.
  • Round 2, Phases 4-2: The Locust reserves itself all the way down to Phase 1 - while this will give the enemy more time to shoot at it, between Evasive letting it dodge roughly half the shots that manage to hit it, the defence bonus from how far it moved, and the 25% damage reduction from Cover, the Locust has a decent chance of surviving.
  • Round 2, Phase 1: Now the Locust acts, moving into the rear of an enemy 'Mech while also moving into a position where enemy Assault 'Mechs yet to act won't be able to fire on it, before unleashing hell into its poor target (I'm assuming it's an SRM-packing LCT-1S).
  • Round 3, Phase 4: Before any of the hostile 'Mechs get to act, the Locust sprints back into safety behind the nearest hill or past the rest of his lance to avoid return fire.
  • Round 4, Phase 4-2: The Locust reserves all the way down to Phase 1 again, ready to repeat the tactic.
So you see; this trick lets the Locust, effectively, act twice in a row.  After multiplayer gets added, I'll try to do up a short video showing it in action.  If you're reading this after I've done so, the video should be linked or embedded right below this paragraph.

 Sorry; not yet.

Complexities of Tabletop BattleTech

I mentioned in the video that BattleTech's tabletop version is a little on the complex side.  And it can be.  It's not as complex as it looks, but it is a little on the finnicky and time-consuming side unless you've had a lot of practice with it.  It's by no means a bad game but, well, let's just say that the quick reference cards are double-sided A4 pieces of cardboard that still leave a lot of details off and Catalyst Game Labs can't seem to format a rulebook if their life depended on it.  Anything beyond that, you might be best off asking on the video game's official forum.

Why I'm Cautiously Optimistic About MechWarrior 5 Mercenaries

A lot of people reacted... negatively, to the news that the next single-player MechWarrior title would be made by PGI (same devs as MechWarrior Online, for those who don't recognise the acronym, hence the negativity).

Now, I am willing to admit that MechWarrior Online has its flaws, but here's the thing - how many of those flaws apply to a full-price, single-player title where Clan Tech only appears right near the very end of the campaign and built on a completely different engine from MWO?

The vast majority of the complaints people have about MWO and its development seem to be tied to either its use of the CryEngine or its nature as a free-to-play game with a competitive multiplayer side and attempting to find a way to use Clan Tech that was somewhat balanced (keep in mind - before MWO, Clan Tech was always just flat-out better than IS gear, PGI were the first ones who tried to make Clan Tech a sidegrade to IS rather than just a flat-out upgrade, which goes a long way to explaining why the balance can be wonky at times).  Take away the issues related to those aspects of PGI's work, and what's left?  And out of what is left, how much of that is entirely PGI and how much is remnants of what IGP (their former publishers who went under years ago) required of them back when MWO was first getting off the ground?

I am still somewhat cautious.  I can't point to any one thing specifically and it could just be some of the overall negativity bleeding through.  Either way, I'll be reserving final judgement on the game until I hear more, but I can't just flat-out decry it, either.

Finishing Thoughts

On the digital front; the BattleTech franchise is looking pretty good.  MechWarrior Living Legends is back, we're getting a proper turn-based tactics game for the franchise at long last, the single-player side of the MechWarrior series is making a comeback (and hopefully it'll be a good one)... all we need is for "Game of Thrones In Space" to finally get a TV series adaptation.

Now if only Catalyst Game Labs would finally learn how to format a rulebook...

Sunday, 8 May 2016

Battlefleet Gothic Armada - Post Release Update

So, the game's been out for about a fortnight now, how's it changed from the beta?

The answer; not a whole lot.  Some abilities were changed, Eldar holofields got a rework and we now have melta torpedoes (same as normal torpedoes, save that they cause fires rather than deal damage and lack the armour-piercing capabilities of the normal torpedoes).  The custom game mode is, sadly, not the sandbox-eque skirmish mode I was hoping for; you pick either your single or multiplayer profiles or one randomly-generated by the computer and it is limited to battles against the AI so the game does lack a way to challenge your friends to a game.

Now, that being said, the developers released their development roadmap about a week after launch and some of the stuff in there is looking somewhat promising.  The full roadmap can be found on their official forums here but here are some of the highlights:
  • Custom online games against friends - when I said the game lacked a way to challenge your friends, that's only going to be for a few more weeks (barring delays that have been announced since I typed this up, of course)
  • Pre-set behaviours - you might've seen me setting options for each ship at the start of the battle; things like engagement range and whether to engage in broadside attacks or prow engagement.  This will let us set those options while in the fleet management screen before even searching for a match.
  • The Tau - the second DLC fleet included in the early adopters bonus has been announced.  No word on when they'll be ready, but so long as you either pre-ordered the game or buy it within the first two months after launch (so sometime before late-June) you'll get both this fleet and the Space Marines for free.
  • Fleet Colour - they've been clear since AngryJoe's preview of the game that the fleet painter wouldn't be ready for launch.  There's still no word on when it will be ready, but it is coming.
Now, I have seen mention on the forums of people cheating and there has been mention in patch notes of Tindalos trying to clamp down on this.  I don't use the multiplayer so I don't have any personal experience to give on this, but just keep it in mind.

The campaign is in though I haven't gotten too far into it yet (procrastination, distraction and getting very frustrated trying to complete this one mission - dear god do I hate Data Recovery when you can only field 300 points worth of ships) but everything I have seen of it makes it really feel like a 40k game.  The tone and atmosphere is all there, the look of the different characters and starship interiors is true to the classic artwork.  The voice-acting deserves a mention as well, any 40k game with a story to it will rely on its voice actors to bring just the right level of hamminess to the performance without going overboard.

I was originally going to do this up as a video, but I felt like it wasn't worth doing all the recording and editing.  Plus with the way my allergies have been acting up lately, half of the voice over recording would end up on the cutting room floor due to me coughing up a lung or six.

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Battlefleet Gothic Armada: Addendum

Hello everyone and welcome to the addendum blog post for my Battlefleet Gothic Armada video.  As always, if some of this reads a little disjointedly then that's because I'm writing some sections before making the video (to cover stuff I know won't make it into the video) and some after the video (for stuff I probably just forgot to mention in the video or didn't have time for).  If there's anything I said would be in here but that isn't, then let me know in the comments either here or on the video because I probably forgot all about it while I was editing.

Early Adopter Scheme and DLC

There's been a few instances of confusion on this point (although I expect a few of those were just the general knee-jerk reactions to DLC being advertised before the game's out) and DLC/pricing/etc controversy is something I don't like dwelling on so this is just going to be straight-forward information.

Firstly; the only benefit of it that is absolutely exclusive to pre-orders is access to the multiplayer beta (as I mentioned in the video).  The DLC included in it - the Space Marines and an as-yet unannounced faction - are free with any purchase of the game for up to two months AFTER launch.  So; a lot of the complaints about them using pre-order DLC to sucker you into buying a game before it's done and before reviewers and critics have gotten their hands on it just don't apply.  You can wait until after launch, after the reviews and nearly two months worth of post-launch patches and updates and still get the two DLC factions for free with the game.

Secondly; the Space Marine DLC (which will be the first one released) won't be finished until a few weeks or so after launch, so you can't call it Day One DLC either.  I know this point'll feel tiny compared to the first one, but there's not much else to say on this point.

Thirdly; some have said that relegating the Space Marines, the "most important faction", to being DLC is a cash grab.  Problem is; the naval combat that Battlefleet Gothic focuses on is one theatre of war that the Astartes are far from the champions of.  You want the Space Marine equivalent of space combat?  That's the Imperial Navy.  The Space Marines weren't in the tabletop game's core book and while they were introduced in later publications (and then compiled into the Battlefleet Gothic Armada expansion book), they only ever had five ships - the Battle Barge (mechanically a battleship), the Strike Cruiser (mechanically a light cruiser) and three escorts analogous to the Imperial Navy ones.  Whether Tindalos will make more ships for them or not for this game, I don't know, but either way they are still a minor faction within the context of naval combat and, thus, perfect for a DLC faction.

 Ork Kustomizashun!

As I said in the video; orks get to customise the loadout of their ships when first adding them to their roster.  This is the menu you're presented with when adding a ship (a Light Cruiser for the purposes of this example) to your fleet's roster:
As you can see; an ork light cruiser has two weapon hardpoints - one on the prow and one on each broadside (port and starboard broadsides are identical, hence why it's only on that screen once).  You get a certain number of Kustom Points, based on the ship's class, which can be used to swap the default weapons, highlighted in yellow, for any of the other options.
So; on this light cruiser, it comes stock with a Weak Torpedo Launcha in the prow slot while the broadsides mount Lotsa Gunz.  As light cruisers only have one Kustom point, I can only change one of those weapons.  I could swap out the torpedos for a Mega Kannon, for example.  Or I could keep the torpedoes and change the broadsides to mount either Lotsa Mega Kannonz or Grot Shipz Launcha.  Or I could keep the stock weapons, keep it simple.

Stats and Combat Mechanics Explained

Sadly, the nuts and bolts of weapon and ship stats aren't as clear as they could be.  I've pieced this together from various forum posts, what I could gather from the tooltips, and a little common sense.  So here are the stats for a Lunar-class Cruiser to work as our example.
Thankfully, some of these are self-explanatory but I'll go through these one-by-one all the same.
  • Hull Integrity - Health, essentially.  Once this drops below 30%, the ship is considered crippled and runs the risk of suffering insubordination where it will attempt to flee the battle via emergency warp jump.
  • Shield - Health of the ship's void shields, should be straight-forward.  Recharge times seem to be the same for all factions.
  • Speed - Ship's top speed.  I believe this is units-per-second but there's no indication.
  • Rotation - Another clear one; how quickly the ship can turn.  This is just normal turning, of course, not when using a High Energy Turn order.
  • Detection - Range of the ship's main augur systems - enemy vessels outside of this range of the ship are just red sensor blips which can't be fired on.
  • Troop Value - Represents the ship's armsmen and other defensive troops.  It's your percentile chance of resisting enemy boarding actions (so a Lunar has a 60% chance of negating each boarding action made against it).
  • Turrets - Point-defence guns used to shoot down hostile strike craft and torpedoes.  Also come into play on normal boarding actions (the close, broadside-on assault of boarding shuttles); each turret increases the ship's Troop Value by 1 against such actions, representing the guns shooting down the incoming shuttles.  You lose a turret for every 100 points of Hull Integrity lost.
  • Armour - Armour in this doesn't work as damage reduction like you might expect; here, it's a percentile chance of negating all damage from a hit.  So any macrocannon shell that strikes the prow of a Lunar has a 75% chance of being totally negated and doing absolutely nothing.  Lances, torpedoes, and other armour-piercing weapons treat the target's armour as being just 25.  So there's still a 1-in-4 chance of a torpedo that makes it through the turret coverage will do bugger-all.
So those aren't too obscure; mousing over the icons (not the name or the number, the actual icon) will get you a tooltip explaining it a bit more.  Where a lot of the stat confusion has come from is the weapon stats, where a lot is still unexplained.  So here are the stats for what could be considered bog-standard armament - the macrocannon batteries on a Lunar.
  • Number of Attacks - This is the biggest source of confusion.  This is the number of attacks a weapon fires with each reload, but its the number of attacks per gun.  Since the macro-battery consists of four macrocannons, it means you're firing four shots with each salvo, one from each cannon.
  • Damage - How many points of damage a shot will deal to shields or hull.  No extra math involved, one of these hits a shield, it reduces the shield's 'health' by 18 points.  Hits the hull and the armour doesn't stop it, reduces the ship's hull integrity by 18 points.  So, assuming each shell hits, a single broadside from this macro-battery would deal 72 damage.
  • Rate of Fire - This really should be called 'Cooldown' or 'Reload'.  This is how many seconds it takes for the guns to reload between shots; so this macro-battery will be putting out a salvo of four shells every twelve seconds.
  • Range - How far the guns can fire in units.
  • Critical Chances - Each shell that hits the target and gets through the armour has this percentile chance of causing a critical effect (knocking out weapons, components or causing a Hull Breach, which does bonus Hull damage).
  • Angle of Fire - The weapon's firing arc.  You can usually intuit this from where the gun's mounted - broadsides can only fire to port and starboard, prow weapons (with the exception of torpedoes) can only fire in a 90-degree arc to the fore and dorsal turrets can fire to fore, port and starboard.
Some further confusion's arisen from certain upgrades and abilities referencing macrocannons but being available on ships that don't have any weapons called "macrocannons".  Some weapons (like the missile pods on an Iconoclast-class Destroyer) were re-named a patch or so ago but the tooltips on upgrades and such were left alone.

Rule of thumb is that there are only two kinds of weapons that the player has no direct control over - weapon batteries and lances.  Any ability that mentions macrocannons refers to any weapon battery - so any gun that fires without the player having to do anything and that isn't a lance weapon.  Macrocannons, missile pods, lotz a' gunz, shuriken cannons, etc.

Couple of other mechanics not explained clearly.
  • Boarding - Making a boarding action has nothing to do with the attacking ship's Troop Value (which is only used to resist boarding actions).  A boarding attempt is a percentile dice roll against the target's Troop Value.  Normal boarding actions make two attempts, a Lightning Strike works over a longer range and wider arc but only makes one attempt and can only be used on a target that's lost its void shields while assault boats make one attempt for each boat that reaches the target.  So if you have a ship with the Astartes Favour (which replaces the normal Lightning Strike with a Terminator Lightning Strike, which makes 2 boarding attempts instead of one) and have it make a Terminator Lightning Strike on an enemy ship with a Troop Value of 60, the computer makes two dice rolls and each one that rolls over 60 will cause a critical effect on the target vessel (knocking out components, setting fires, etc).
  • Ramming - There is no way to automate a ramming attempt and this is by design (so don't go asking for a Ram Attack button) - it's a skill shot.  Give a move order that'll take your ship through the target's flight path and, if you want to do extra damage, give an All Ahead Full order before impact.  Some people have mentioned then giving an immediate Burn Retros order to stop, let the rammed ship drift away for a second, then All Ahead Full again for a second ram.
  • Combustion Gauge - If this runs empty then you won't be able to do any manoeuvring orders until its fully recharged.  So, you know; try not to let it run empty if you can avoid it.
  • Manoeuvring Orders - The Imperial Navy and Chaos are the only two factions currently that have access to all four orders.  Orks cannot make High Energy Turns or Burn Retros to come to a complete stop and they replace All Ahead Full with a Big Red Button - which is a semi-random version of All Ahead Full (takes a second or two to kick in and seems to run in stops and starts) that cannot be cancelled.  Eldar have a brief burst of speed they can use and hold up to three charges of, reminds me a bit of how a fish might suddenly dart forward for a moment before returning to its normal pace.
  • Sub-systems and Criticals - As well as their main health, each ship (apart from escorts and transports) have four sub-systems; engines, generator, deck and weapons.  Technically more than four since each weapon counts as a separate sub-system, but you get my point.  Critical hits can knock out these sub-systems - losing the Generator stops you from using abilities related to it (like a Lightning Strike; no power for the teleportariums), knocking out the Deck prevents the ship from being able to use special orders like Lock On or Brace for Impact, taking out the engines slows the ship to a crawl and stops it from being able to use manoeuvring orders and the combustion gauge, and it should be pretty obvious what happens when you lose a weapon.
  • Sub-system Targeting and Enemy Prioritisation - I didn't do it in the video, but you can order your ships to target a specific sub-system by left-clicking on the enemy ship in question and clicking on the related icon in the panel at the bottom-centre of the UI.  I believe this will also direct crits caused by boarding actions, but I could be wrong on that.  Same section of the UI also has a series of four numbers used to set the priority on enemy ships, this is how your ships' AI decides who to shoot at when you haven't given them an attack order.  All enemies default to being Priority 4 and the lower the number, the more your ships will focus on them over other targets.  Even when giving attack orders, it can be useful if you have a ship in the midst of the enemy; if their main target is to port, it'll give their starboard guns something to shoot at.

 My Other Thoughts

On the whole, I quite like BFG: Armada.  I've always had a bit of a soft spot for Real-Time Tactics games (the kind where you have no base building or resource management - where what you take into a mission is all you get) and I really got sucked into tall-ship combat thanks to Assassin's Creed IV.

That being said; half the reason I said I suck at games like this is that it demands a great deal of micromanaging which I just can't do without that slow-motion feature.  Had the normal pace been a bit slower?  Maybe it would be a different story.  But I can understand why they settled on the pace that they have - if they went any slower, then it would be ages before the two fleets came into contact.  Similarly, they haven't made it so fast-paced that you don't get a sense for the weight of these ships - as slow as those transports were, I was feeling some serious tension near the end as I tried to nail that last transport before it reached the highlighted area on my side of the map.  And being able to get that feel across is very important.

I'll be doing another, probably shorter, video on it after launch, just touching on the campaign format and the currently-disabled Custom Game mode (which I'm hoping will be the sandbox practice mode I wish Skirmish was).

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

A Shadow on the Table - Cultural Considerations for the Iron Kingdoms RPG

Let me just start this by saying that the Iron Kingdoms RPG is brilliant - I've been planning to do a video on it for a while, I just need enough background images and some appropriate background music.  It's an amazing setting and I love that the basis of it is the fusion of magic and technology (as opposed to them being distinct or even at-odds with each other, like in Arcanum), but because of the nature of the different cultures in the setting as well as the very recent history of it, a player-character's homeland can cause some serious friction among players that can lead to disaster before the campaign's even gotten underway (not exaggerating there; that exact thing is what killed a forum-based game of it I was in a while back).

See; while in most RPG settings you can handwave away most national, cultural or racial disputes unless you’re intentionally playing either a bigoted character or one who’s had bad experiences with certain peoples, that’s not really an option in the Iron Kingdoms since there are relatively few nations and they've all been fighting each other for, at least, the last couple of decades.

For instance; if you play someone from Cygnar who are sort-of the poster boys of Warmachine (one of the wargames of the setting), you’re going to be wary around both Khadorans and Menites (whether the latter are from the Protectorate of Menoth or not).  Cygnar and Khador have been enemies and rivals, fighting over the Thornwood for centuries or longer.  Most recently; just five years before the setting’s present day, Khador invaded Cygnar’s ally, Llael, and committed to a very massive and costly war that Llael (and Cygnar, which had intervened on the Llaelese side of the conflict) ultimately lost.  As for the Protectorate; Cygnar got into a big war with them just a year or so after the Llaelese War that caused some serious damage and devastation to a sizeable portion of Cygnar’s capital city, Caspia (and doing the same to the Protectorate's capital of Sul).  So any ex-military character or a character from Caspia has lived through at least one of those wars (unless they happened to be out of town when it broke out and kept their distance until the dust settled).

True; you could get away with saying your character never actually got posted to the front lines in either one, but look at real-life history.  How long after World War 2 were people in the Allied nations still wary of Germans?  How long after the Cold War were Americans still wary about Russians?  You didn’t have to actually fight in those wars to be uneasy around people from the other side, it’s the same with the nations in the Iron Kingdoms.  Honestly; the only human nation where you could get away with being un-biased about any nation would be if your character is from Ord.  They’re a neutral nation, kinda like Switzerland.  The closest they’ve had to a war was when a Khadoran village near the border with Ord wanted to defect and ended up getting horrifically slaughtered by a certain Khadoran warcaster.  So that was just an all-Khadoran matter that just happened to occur near the border.

Species-wise you’ve got some of the same but in a more limited respect.  There’s tensions between the trollkin kriels and the Cygnaran government after King Leto went back on promises he made to respecting the territory of the kriels.  There’s some distrust of the Nyss among certain groups because most Nyss are blighted, corrupted and controlled by the dragon Everblight.  Not all of them, but enough that that impression filters down among those who have heard of the Legion of Everblight.

Probably the easiest way to play an Iron Kingdoms character when you know nothing about the setting is probably to play an Iosan.  The elves of Ios are a very insular people.  Even the ones who aren’t part of the Retribution of Scyrah don’t like to talk to non-Iosans about their culture and beliefs.  You can get away with knowing bugger-all about Iosan culture because your character would never talk about it to anyone unless they’re talking to another Iosan, who they don’t need to talk to about it because it’s a shared culture - you don’t go talking to someone living in your city to talk about your city’s culture because there’s not really any need.  And an Iosan character can get away with ignorance of the human nations because they probably only know about the nations in the most peripheral sense.  And if you don’t like the idea of playing an elf; don’t worry - Iosans are probably the most un-elfy elves I have ever seen.  An Iosan Knight/Man-at-Arms is probably one of the tankiest characters you can make without resorting to making a trollkin or ogrun - neither of whom have access to the Knight career so probably won’t have the starting assets to begin with full-plate armour.  You can make Gimli as an Iosan; a big guy with a huge sword and a rocking beard and that wouldn’t look out-of-place.  Well a beard that long might look out of place, but - look at this guy.

That’s probably the biggest beard an Iosan can get away with.  I could be wrong on that; for all I know, there’s some hard-drinking Iosan with a huge axe somewhere in Immoren who has a beard so big you could lose wildlife in it.  But Thalen Malvyss here is probably a good upper limit to work with regarding elven beards.

About the only typically-elven stereotypes that Iosans share are an air of mystery among non-elves (just because they’re tight-lipped about themselves), that they try and preserve nature but not in the environmental conservationist angle, more that they don’t see the point of mucking with nature when they can get the same result with a little extra work and that the overall design aesthetic they have for their buildings, weapons, armour and so on all have this smooth, natural flow to them but it has less of an actual ‘fantasy elf’ feel and more alien.  So you can get away with just about any sort of character and not have to feel like you’re playing a full-on elf if that’s not your sort of thing.

The GM, though, needs to consider this stuff and how where the campaign is set can interact with the characters everyone’s intending to play.  For instance; if you’re setting a campaign in Llael where the players are helping the Llaelese Resistance, it’s probably a good idea to ban the overtly-Khadoran careers like the Iron Fang, Man-o-War and the Doom Reaver.  That last one in particular because Doom Reavers are practically an icon of the horrors Khador inflicted in their invasion - violent criminals chained to ancient magical swords that turn them into raging berserkers.  And Khador unleashed hordes of these guys into various cities in Llael, like Riversmet.  Doesn’t matter how in-control a Doom Reaver is; one of those guys walks into a Resistance base he’s going to have every single gun in the whole damn place levelled right at his head while they get every warjack on the base up and running.  They are not going to screw around.  If you’re the GM, have a hand in character creation; make sure the characters they’re making will fit with the campaign.  Whether it’s as simple as keeping someone from making a cavalry character for an urban campaign or as big as trying to prevent cultural issues from coming up as potential PvP, it’s still a part of being a GM.

I can attest to this; as I mentioned back at the start of this post, I was in an Iron Kingdoms campaign on a forum called Myth Weavers and the first meeting of our characters in our new offices consisted almost entirely of the party Doom Reaver staring down the barrels from our two Gun Mages - the Llaelese Gun Mage/Spy and her Gun Mage/Bounty Hunter partner from Ord (who was mainly doing it because she was nearly freaking out).  Now; the Doom Reaver’s player and the GM had apparently discussed a lot about the character privately and the Doom Reaver’s character sheet was also private so I had no idea what, if any, safeguards the GM had worked out for this character and, from how the campaign’s started, I was genuinely worried that the character wouldn’t fit in at all.  We were supposed to be a team of freelance troubleshooters working in Corvis - think a cross between Burn Notice and Leverage.  We’d be doing subtle work and nothing about the Doom Reaver career is subtle.  Needless to say; the campaign imploded.  Not only did the Llaelese Gun Mage shoot the Doom Reaver, but she did so right after our first client and two of our sponsors arrived.  Despite the campaign’s total failure, it served as a good example of why these cultural differences should be considered and how they could easily derail a campaign when not properly taken into account.

For this next section, I'll try and elaborate on the more problematic cultural relations.  Not to say you should avoid these, just to take great care with them and realise that they can very easily cause the campaign to implode unless the players are on the same page and are aware of this.

Khador, Llael & the Protectorate
I covered this one a bit earlier but, well, let's just say that most Llaelese have a rather dim view of Khadorans.  There are of course those who just don't care and even one group who have grown to like being part of Khador (a region known as Umbrey who have taken quite well to their new leader).  Needless to say, there is a resistance to the Khador occupation but they're having to fight a semi-guerrilla war on two fronts - the Khadorans and the Protectorate of Menoth's Northern Crusade, which has resulted in the nation being split into three regions; the part Khador controls, the part the Northern Crusade has taken, and the part that's free of both and led by the Resistance (... and having to deal with both Khador, the Protectorate and are catching the brunt of Cryx's activities in the region... so they're having a fun time).

The Llael-Protectorate relations aren't exactly great, but at least the Protectorate didn't level whole cities with artillery or flood the ones full of civilians with hordes of berserk, rampaging madmen.  Needless to say, there are plenty of people traumatised by the horrors Khador inflicted on the Llaelese.

Iron Kingdoms & Ios
This is probably the one Warmachine veterans are most likely to fall into, particularly if they’ve made a character based on a tabletop unit (such as a Stormblade or a member of the Steelheads).  Despite the Retribution of Scyrah being a full-blown Iosan faction in the wargame, in the actual setting fluff they haven’t had a whole lot of full-scale warfare with any of the human nations apart from Khador.  Oh; I don’t doubt that they’ve had skirmishes with the other nations and I wouldn’t be surprised if the Cygnaran Reconnaissance Service has a few files on them.  The fact that Gavyn Kyle, the greatest spymaster in all of Western Immoren, has no idea who the Retribution are beyond “a political faction of Ios” should give you a good idea of just how much your average footslogging soldier would know - somewhere in the region of “bugger” and “all”.

I’m mentioning this one because I recall something from not long after the game’s release where the party ran into a team of Retribution mage hunters and the party’s Stormblade blurted out exactly who they were and what they sought.  Now if Gavyn Kyle - a man so well connected and so good at gathering information he could probably find out the colour of Empress Vanar’s underthings in his sleep - doesn’t know what the smeg the Retribution are after, how the hell would a rank-and-file Stormblade know?  He and the GM were the only ones familiar with that bit of the setting and the Stormblade’s player metagamed and killed all mystery that the encounter (and its subsequent connections to the rest of the campaign) would have added.  I’m sure it was a genuine accident by the Stormblade’s player, assuming that such information was well-known among the Cygnaran army simply due to the Retribution being a full-blown tabletop faction, but it was still metagaming - using knowledge he had but that his character would have no way of knowing.

Iron Kingdoms & Convergence of Cyriss
This is a bit of a finnicky one.  While the Convergence has kept its true capabilities hidden very well for centuries and only very recently engaging in military actions (possibly even several months after the ‘default’ starting date assumed by the RPG’s core book), Cyriss herself and cults dedicated to worshipping her through scientific advancement have been a part of normal society for even longer.  It’s not uncommon to hear even a devout Morrowan mutter a quick prayer to Cyriss while trying to start up a cantankerous ‘jack or some other piece of machinery that they aren’t sure is going to work.  It’s not seen as blasphemy either, no more than a devout Christian invoking the name of a saint - probably a poor analogy, but you get my point; nobody would bat an eye at a Morrowan priest invoking Cyriss’ name.
These opinions could change now that the Convergence is active, but it’s too early to get a real sense.  We’ll probably have to wait a couple more expansions to the wargame to find out.  Either that or someone jumps onto the Privateer Press forums and sends up the Seacat Signal on the matter (Doug Seacat's the head writer and he's reasonably active on the forums).

So those are the more problematic ones I can think of off the top of my head, if I think of any more I'll edit them into here.

Again, this isn't saying you shouldn't use them, only that you keep the risks in mind and make sure the conflicts serve to better the plot, not destroy it.

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

A Beginner's Guide to Mechwarrior Online

I've seen a lot of confusion among new players and thought I'd try to alleviate some of it.

Getting Started

First thing's first - play through the tutorial.  Not only will it give you a grounding in how to play - this is no typical FPS, after all - but it will give you a not-inconsiderable amount of C-Bills to get you started on the path to owning your own BattleMech.  Namely 3 million C-Bills.  The Piloting Challenge in the Academy will also earn you even more - 500,000 just for completing it and then another 500,000 for each medal you earn (so the Piloting Challenge can get you up to another 2 million in total).

Next; look over the available Trial 'Mechs.  These are BattleMechs you are, effectively, renting.  You can use these 16 'mechs whenever you want, there's no limit to how often you can use them.  To see the available Trial 'Mechs and pick which one to use, click on the Select 'Mech button in the top-left corner (I've circled it in red).
This will bring up an interface to look through the available Trial 'Mechs.  Some of the filters at the top of the interface should be self-explanatory; namely the slider reading "Both - Owned - Trial".  The Clan and Inner Sphere slider is for the technology base of the 'Mech; for someone just starting off, the only real difference is in weapon behaviour (ie; Inner Sphere autocannons fire a single shell that does the full damage, Clan ones have their damage split among four or five consecutive shells).  But for future reference, there are two easy ways to tell them apart without having to use the filter - see that coloured bar over each machine's portrait?
'Mechs with a blue line over them are Clan ones, brown lines mean Inner Sphere.  The buttons at the bottom of the filter section let you limit your search by a BattleMech's weight class.
  • Light 'Mechs are 20-35 tons
  • Medium 'Mechs are 40-55 tons
  • Heavy 'Mechs are 60-75 tons
  • Assault 'Mechs are 80-100 tons
When you're starting out, I'd stick to Mediums and Heavies.  Lights and Assaults take a bit more situational awareness and, while there's nothing stopping you from starting with either, I'd keep in mind that they are harder to use.

Once you've found a 'Mech you like the look of, click on the Quick Play button in the top-right to go into a match.  The drop-down arrow next to it can be used to limit which server or servers you want to play on - there are three at the moment: North American, European and Oceanic.  The game's pace is slow enough that ping isn't that massive an issue but if you really don't want to deal with high ping, limit it to the one closest to your location.  Unless you're Australian, like me - the Oceanic server is in Singapore so our ping to it is about the same as to the North American one.

Over your first 25 matches, you'll earn bonus C-Bills as your Cadet Bonus.  The total of it comes to 12.5 million - that plus the money from the Academy will be enough to afford just about any 'Mech in the game short of the most expensive ones (which, off the top of my head, is the Executioner and possibly some variants of the Summoner - maybe a few others I've missed).

Piloting 101

The tutorial should have covered most of the basics, so this bit's more general advice.

LRMs: the bane of newer players, these follow a semi-common phenomena of gameplay balance where something seems powerful at first, but more experienced players know is actually rather underpowered (If you're familiar at all with Overwatch, Bastion and Torbjorn suffer the same issue there - Blizzard are looking into modifying them to be more competitive among the more experienced players).
Of all the weapons in the game, these have the most counters.  ECM suites can be mounted on certain BattleMechs and will render both the carrier and any friendly 'Mech within 90m completely un-targetable.  Meaning LRMs can't lock onto them.  LRMs automatically detonate after travelling 1,000m - if the 'Mech firing them is further away than that, you have nothing to worry about from them until you get closer.  Some 'Mechs also mount Anti-Missile Systems which will soften up incoming LRM volleys once they come within the AMS' range, whether the AMS-equipped 'Mech is the missiles' target or not.  Finally; physical cover.  This one is trickier due to the missiles' high flight path but after a while, you'll get a feel for how they fly and have enough awareness of the map to know which pieces of terrain are tall enough to intercept them.  There's plenty of other advice for dealing with LRMs out there and you can always ask on the forums.  Just don't claim or suggest that they're OP - most of the replies that'll get you are just going to be claims that LRMs are actually weak; specifically ask for anti-LRM advice - you'll get more results.

Targeting: This is the big one, hence why I actually formatted the name and not just leave it normal.  Always, always, no matter what - press R to target what you're shooting at!  You'll get a damage readout of them showing where their armour's already taken a beating, you'll see what weapons they have (ie; if the target is armed only with LRMs and you see it there, you'll know that it's safest to get within 180m of them as that's the minimum-range of LRMs) and you'll relay their position to the rest of your team.  There are only two situations where not targeting them is understandable - one is if the target is under ECM coverage and you're not close enough to be within the ECM bubble yourself; you physically cannot target such a 'Mech.  The other is if you're in a high-speed 'Mech and are racing through on hit-and-run attacks where the target'll only be in view for a few moments; you'll be gone before your targeting systems get you the damage readout.
Other than those two situations, there is literally no excuse for not doing this.  If you've changed your controls so that either R is doing something else or is too far away from where your hands are, re-bind the targeting command to something you can reach easily.
I know your BattleMech will automatically target someone once you have them in your crosshairs for long enough, but manually targeting them is a hell of a lot quicker.

SRM Maximum Range: Like LRMs, SRMs automatically detonate when they reach their maximum range.  If your target is beyond their maximum range (the range listed on your weapons panel in the bottom-left of your 'Mech's HUD), don't fire SRMs at them - you'll just be wasting them.  This ties into the Targeting bit above - targeting someone will also show how far away they are so you won't go wasting missiles.

Mission Objectives

There are currently five game modes in the game, though one is only available in Faction Warfare which I'll touch on later (but for now, all I'll say is to stay well away from Faction Warfare until you have several 'Mechs of your own and have a solid handle on the gameplay).  The four you'll be playing the most for a fair while are:
  • Skirmish - Straightforward Team Deathmatch.  One team wins when the other is eliminated.  If both teams still have active 'Mechs at the end of the match's 15-minute time limit, whichever team has more kills wins.
  • Assault - The first game mode the game had back in Beta and where a few of the World of Tanks comparisons have come from (the most common game mode in WoT follows much the same format).  Aside from the same victory conditions as Skirmish, each team also has a base near their spawn area; capturing the enemy base will win the game for your team.
  • Conquest - Five control points are scattered around the map.  Controlling them gives the team a periodic influx of resources.  First team to reach 750 resources wins.  Killing the enemy team won't instantly lead to victory, however, so don't ignore those control points.
  • Domination - The latest mode, it's basically King of the Hill.  Each team has a timer that they run down by holding a point in the centre of the map, first team to get theirs down to zero wins.  Capturing the point is more difficult than in the other modes, you can find the details of it in the patch notes from when it was added.
I'll add other game modes as they're added to the quickplay queue.

Buying Your First Battlemech

First of all; remember what I said about how much money you'll get from the Cadet Bonus and the Academy?  Well don't spend any of it until you've played at least those 25 matches.  Take those 25 to learn the game, experiment with the available Trial 'Mechs, do as much as you can to figure out what sort of 'Mech you'll like to use before actually spending anything.

Once you feel you have a good idea of what sort of 'Mech to get, click on the bright yellow Store button at the top and then on the BattleMechs option on the left.  A lot of the stuff in there is for MC (the premium currency you get by spending real money) but it is also where you buy BattleMechs for C-Bills.
Ignore the MC prices under the 'Mechs - those are only if you want to buy one with real money, they aren't part of the overall cost.  So the 'Mech I have selected, the Centurion CN9-A, can be bought for either 1,480 MC or 3,697,080 C-Bills; one or the other, not both (I've seen people assume that you need both to buy a 'Mech).  The flyout panel shows additional information on the BattleMech - much of it is based on the default loadout which you'll most-likely be editing once you've bought it.

The blue text is the quirks; stat differences unique to that particular variant of the BattleMech.  So the CN9-A has additional armour on its right arm, letting it use the weaponless limb as a shield by twisting your torso to take damage on that side (which is helped by the bonus to its torso turn rate).  It has bonuses to all of the weapon types, but they have nice incentive for having the CN9-A use its iconic AC/10 - those general Ballistic weapon quirks stack with weapon-specific ones, like that AC/10 cooldown one at the bottom of the list.

The flyout has other information as well if you want to really get into specifics, like the diagrams showing the 'Mechs torso and arm rotation ranges.  Ignore the Cockpit section, though; that's just so you can find which 'Mech you left your Classy Urbie bobblehead in.
Seriously - you wouldn't believe how often I forget where I left this little guy.
You can own as many BattleMechs as you have Mechbays.  You start with just four bays (none of the Trial 'Mechs occupy them, if you were wondering) and the easiest way to get more is to spend MC on them.  That being said; the developers often run events where you can win Mechbays or MC (or both) and you can also earn them through Faction Play.

Faction Play

Some may argue with me on this point, but I do feel the need to make it clear - stay away from Faction Play until you have four BattleMechs modified to your preference - Faction Play is a more competitive game mode, case-in-point is that the mode has no matchmaking system whatsoever.  People who just got into the game are thrown in against experienced 12-man teams who are communicating through Teamspeak.  Go into Faction Play while inexperienced at the game and you will get your ass handed to you on a silver platter.  Which will then be force-fed to you (the platter, I mean, not your backside).  Any more on Faction Play beyond this warning is better served by dedicated guides; this one's for beginners after all.

General Weapon Advice

After you've played with your new 'Mech a bit more, you'll probably be wanting to customise the loadout a bit.  Now, I'm no expert on that front but here's some basic advice as well as some weapon-specific notes courtesy of a forumgoer by the name of Thor Sten.

Armour: Most stock 'Mechs are rather lacking in this department.  Generally speaking, you'll want to bolt on as much armour as the chassis can support.  Where you'll get the weight for this depends on what the 'Mech is equipped with.  For example; the Warhammer 6R (currently only available off the website for real money but should be available for C-Bills in May) has, among its weapons, a pair of small lasers and a pair of machine guns.  Now those weapons aren't inherently useless, but I was setting it up as a mid-range fire support 'Mech and neither of those weapons helped on that front so I yanked them out, chucked them into storage and used the extra weight to beef up the armour.
It might also be a good idea to shift some of the rear torso armour to the front - this personally works for me, but I tend to play the tankier Heavy and Assault 'Mechs so I can't vouch for it working in all situations.

Now here's Thor's advice with my own additions in italics:
  • Lasers might be a good choice for a start, because they don't run out of ammo, and you can correct your aim (as long as the laser burns). On the minus-side they generate a lot of heat, also you'll have to "look" at the enemy as long as they burn (if the enemy gets away from the lasers, they wont do full damage), and you'll give away you position. With other weapons everyone can make a good guess where it's coming from. Laser's give it totally away.  So if you want to make a laser-based sniper build, make sure it's a mobile one as they'll know where you're shooting from the moment you pull the trigger.
  • LRMs might also be good for a start. They require you to lock a target (which you should always do anyways) and keep them in focus for a few seconds before firing. LRMs even allow you to shot at targets other players spot for you (you still need to lock them), so there's no need for a direct line of fire. They're a little dumb but they'll try to seek their own way to the target. On the minus side: You can run out of ammo and there are a lot of ways to counter LRMs (from ECM to taking cover, or to come really near to you). Keeping the distance (at least 180m) or knowing the territory (no need to fire if there's a big wall between you and the target) might at least save you a few shots of otherwise wasted ammo.  I was a bit reluctant to suggest using these things earlier - lot of new players believe LRMs are overpowered.  That being said; sometimes using a strategy yourself can highlight its flaws better than being on the receiving end of it.
  • Streak-SRM are basically like LRMs with way better accuracy, but far lower range. They pull quite a punch, but if your enemy has ECM they might feel useless.  Streaks are a bit hit-and-miss - they can't fire without a lock and, even if you're close enough to target a 'Mech with an ECM suite, the ECM will increase the lock-on time.  And most ECM-capable 'Mechs are very fast so you'll have a great deal of difficulty getting a lock on them.  They are good at dealing with fast 'Mechs that engage you at close quarters without ECM, though.
  • Pulse-Lasers burn shorter and hotter than normal lasers at a reduced range. This allows for better "hit and run" tactics, but nets you also less time to correct you aim. On the plus side, if you hit with pulse lasers the damage is usually concentrated on one spot (Normal Lasers tend to distribute the damage a bit, especially if the enemy or you're moving).  One other drawback with pulse lasers is that they have shorter ranges than their normal versions.  Noticed this with my Warhammer after I switched its Medium Lasers for Medium Pulse Lasers; the ranges I was engaging at were fine for Medium Lasers, but the Medium Pulses just couldn't reach as far.  That being said; if you found this guide through this video of mine, you'll see just how much of an improvement the Large Pulse Lasers I had on my Marauder were over its previous ER PPC-based build.
  • Auto Cannons, PPCs and [non-Streak] SRMs might be hard to play at first, because, once you've fired your projectile, you can't correct your aim. This might be very frustrating at first, especially with a moving target. On the plus side this allows you to shoot and retreat, i.e. you don't have to look at the enemy the whole time and can get cover while the projectile flies and the weapon reloads. They also might run out of ammo. OK, the PPC wont run out of Ammo, but generates quite lot of heat instead.  He's not kidding about the PPC heat, those things are going to turn the inside of your 'Mech into a sauna in no time.  Don't have much else to add to this one, really.
  • MGs are support weapons. They don't generate heat, fire without reloading and instantly hit where you aim them. Sounds great, but the bad thing about them is their short range and that they'll do very little damage over time. Best use them to attack parts of enemy mechs that don't have any armor left (they tend to destroy Weapons and other things hidden on the insides). That's their primary purpose, however If, after a few matches you notice, that you never live long enough to deplete all the MG ammo: Fire at will. Ammo is for free and It never hurts to do a little bit more extra damage, even if it just hits the outer shell of an enemy. I personally don't use Machine Guns but Thor's bit about attacking areas without armour is right - every hit to a section that's been stripped of armour has a chance of destroying one of the pieces of equipment in there.  And if that piece happens to be an ammo bin or a Gauss Rifle...
  • Gauss Rifles; my own addition to this list, these are a sniper weapon but can be a bit finnicky.  From the actual build side of it; they're big and heavy so you might have difficulty fitting it into your loadout without having to make sacrifices elsewhere.  In gameplay, they have a charge mechanic - think of it like firing a bow in, say, Skyrim or Warframe; you have to hold the fire button down to charge it.  Difference from the bow analogy is that you can't let it go early to fire a weaker shot (letting go of the trigger on a gauss rifle while it's charging will just cancel the charge) and it only remains charged for about a second so you can't just hold the charge until a target presents itself.  They require a lot of trigger discipline and a good sense of how far to lead your shots.  They also explode like an ammo bin when hit by a critical (the mechanic mentioned in the machine gun section just above).  Their ammo doesn't detonate, though.


You've probably noticed that you've been earning a form of Experience with each battle.  Most of this will be 'Mech XP - Experience points tied to a particular chassis variant - while a portion will be Global XP - which can be spent on anything and the total is shown in the bottom-left of the interface along with your MC and C-Bills.  'Mech XP can only be spent on 'Mechs that you own - so you can earn it with the Trial 'Mechs but can't spend any of it until you actually buy that 'Mech variant.  If it wasn't obvious; you access these through the Skills button at the top of the interface.

'Mech XP is spent on what's known as Efficiencies.
Efficiencies are split into three tiers - the Basic ones (the eight at the top of the panel in the above screenshot) are what you have to buy first.  You can buy them in any order and their costs range from 750XP to 3,500XP.  They are:
  • Cool Run (750XP) - Increases Heat Dissipation by 7.5%
  • Kinetic Burst (1,000XP) - Increases BattleMech acceleration by 7.5%
  • Twist X (2,500XP) - Increases the maximum amount a BattleMech can twist its upper torso by 2.5%
  • Heat Containment (1,000XP) - Increases the maximum heat threshold before a BattleMech shuts down by 10%
  • Hard Break (1,500XP) - Increases BattleMech deceleration by 7.5%
  • Twist Speed (2,500XP) - Increases the speed at which a BattleMech can twist its upper torso by 2.5%
  • Arm Reflex (1,500XP) - Increases the speed at which a BattleMech can move its arms by 2.5%
  • Anchor Turn (3,500XP) - Increases the turning speed of a BattleMech by 2.5%
So if you see a 'Mech moving a bit better than yours or the like, this is probably the reason.  After you purchase the Basic Efficiencies for three variants of a chassis (so in my case, I have all eight Basic ones unlocked for the Timber Wolf Prime, Timber Wolf S and Timber Wolf C) you can buy the Elite Efficiencies for any of those three 'Mechs (any future variants you buy will have access to them as well once you have all of that new one's Basic Efficiencies).  The Elite Efficiencies are:
  • Quick Ignition (4,000XP) - Start-up and shut-down sequences sped up by 33%
  • Fast Fire (6,000XP) - Weapon cooldown rate increased by 5%
  • Pinpoint (3,000XP) - Weapon convergence speed increased by 15%
  • Speed Tweak (8,500XP) - Increases top speed by 7.5%
Unlocking all of the Elite Efficiencies for a variant also doubles the effects of its Basic ones.  So if you see an OmniMech (like a Timber Wolf) running faster than yours despite having the same engine, now you know why.  There is also the Master Efficiency, which you unlock by having all of the Elite efficiencies for three variants of that weight class (so they can be three different chassis entirely - I almost have this done for Heavy 'Mechs; I've gotten the Elites for the Cataphract 3D, Marauder 3R and I'll be able to get their Master Efficiencies once I finish off the Warhammer 6R).  The Master Efficiency costs a whopping 21,500XP and will unlock a new Module Slot on the BattleMech which I'll be covering in the next section.

There are also Pilot Skills, which unlock or augment modules and consumables, so let's take a look at those.


These are more of a late-game mechanic, so I won't be going into massive detail here.  Modules mostly cost a lot of XP to unlock (usually about 5,000XP at a minimum) and then buying the module itself costs a lot of C-Bills.  They do have potent effects, though.  One of the most prevalent of these is Radar Deprivation - while it's among the most expensive at 15,000XP to unlock and a further 6 million C-Bills to buy the module, it has the very powerful effect of letting your 'Mech instant drop off enemy sensors as soon as you break line-of-sight (normally this takes about two or three seconds to occur).  You can have just one of these 'Mech Modules mounted on your 'Mech at a time.

Weapon modules are a more straight-forward type of module - increasing the range or cooldown rate of the related weapon.  So make sure you're unlocking the right one for the weapons you're using (ie; don't go getting the Large Laser one if you're using ER Large Lasers).  You can have two Weapon Modules on your 'Mech at a time.

Before I move onto the consumable-related ones, I'll just point out that the slot unlocked by the Master Efficiency can be used for either a 'Mech or Weapon Module.

Now, you may have noticed in the MechLab that there are two versions of each consumable - one for C-Bills and another available for MC.  Before you go worrying about buying power, there are Pilot Skills you can purchase that augment all of the related C-Bill purchased consumables.  Buy both of the upgrades for a particular consumable and the C-Bill version will now be identical to the MC-bought version.  So if I buy the two UAV-related Pilot Skills (UAV Upgrade, which increases their range by 25%, and Improved UAV, which increases their duration by a further 15 seconds, both costing 15,000XP each), then all of my C-Bill-purchased UAVs will be identical to the MC-purchased versions.

Spending Real Money

Some of you may be willing to spend some real money on the game, and that's fair enough - if you feel the game deserves support, you may as well throw some money their way.  But what to spend that money on?  Mechbays are one option, but I'd avoid buying more until you've used up most of the four you start with.  Premium time's another option; earn more C-Bills and XP per match.  Beyond that, though; you have some options.  I'd avoid using MC to buy BattleMechs, though - their pricing is a bit much.

If you do want to buy 'Mechs with real money, I'd suggest having a read of this guide from AnimeFreak40k.  The guide covers every package with BattleMechs as well as the MC-only Hero and Champion 'Mechs.  He covers the subject far better than I can, so I'll leave it at that.

There is also cosmetics - paint colours for your 'Mech, camo patterns for them and various items to have in your cockpit.  Those are going to be entirely to your discretion and taste, though.


That should be enough to get you started, I'll update this with more info as I think of it or as things change, but anything beyond what I've covered here feels beyond the scope of a beginner's guide.

If you want a more detailed guide; Kin3ticX has done a rather extensive one and included a number of video tutorials for certain aspect of the game (such as certain roles a BattleMech can serve in the field).  fat4eyes has also done a very good tactics guide, detailing formations and otherwise how to move and fight as a team rather than a dozen individual players, while also making it a much more enjoyable read than I've probably made it sound.

Still; I hope this helps those of you getting into the game and I wish you luck on the battlefield.

Sunday, 1 November 2015

A Shadow on the Table - Dreadball

I was originally going to talk about this game in a video, but I ditched that idea because I just wasn't satisfied with what sort of video it could end up as (no background music and with how I tend to ramble on god-knows how many images I'd have needed).  So, in light of that, I figured I'd start a new series of posts here looking at various tabletop games I play.  I'll still talk about tabletop games on the channel, this blog series is just a backup for the ones I can't do a good video for.  In any case; let's get onto the game.

Dreadball is a sci-fi sports board game from Mantic Games.  It was one of the first companies, alongside Reaper Miniatures, to use Kickstarter not to fund the game itself, but to expand and accelerate its development and release.  Dreadball was always going to come out, but it would've happened over a much longer schedule without Kickstarter and would have been missing a lot of stuff that it ended up with.

So; full disclosure before I go on - I did back this on Kickstarter for a fair amount.  I've tried to stay as impartial as I can, but I am very happy with how the game turned out and I encourage you to do your own research into the game after reading this before you go spending money on it.

Now, there was a concern when it was on Kickstarter a few years ago that it would just end up like a sci-fi copy of Blood Bowl, not an unwaranted concern I'll admit.  A fair few former Games Workshop employees are currently working at Mantic these days, but I figured that fact also meant it was less likely to be a copy of Blood Bowl - they'd already done a game based on American Football, why do another?  A fact that was confirmed in a making-of book the backers got a while after launch.  Perhaps the best summary of the game I've ever read came from a surprising place - the 1d4chan wiki.  The summary I read there (which you can find on the site's page for Warpath, Mantic's sci-fi wargame and the setting Dreadball occurs in) described it as "like Blood Bowl, but is set in space, uses aliens, is played on a hex grid, isn't based on American Football and has completely different game mechanics."  Gets the point across quite well, I think.

The game seems to draw elements from a lot of sports - basketball feels like the big one, but there's elements of hockey, lacrosse and probably a fair few others I'm not recognising (not a big sports guy myself).
That's the pitch there.  At the start of the game, you randomly decide which team is the Home team and which is the Away team.  Home team goes first, Away team goes second, pretty straight-forward.  They even colour-coded the turn counter along the bottom of the board for you.  There's no fancy restrictions on where players need to be; just place six of your players anywhere in your half of the pitch.  Can't be on the centre-line, though (the bit between the yellow lines), because that's where the ball's launched at the start of the match.  Gets launched on from the active team's left (so if it's launched on a Home team's turn, it would come from the top of the image) and you roll a d6 to see which of the hexes with the Dreadball logo it lands on - if you get a six you have to roll another die to see which of the two end-hexes it lands in after hitting the opposite wall.

The objective is simple; carry the ball into one of the highlighted areas in the opposing team's half and then throw it into that area's Strike Hex (the ones marked with a dot in the middle).  The two zones closer to the centre are each worth one point while the rear one is worth three.  The extra hex projecting from the front end of a Strike Zone is called the Bonus Hex, a throw from there is harder but will earn you an extra point ontop of whatever that zone is worth (so the bonus hex for the rear Strike Zones will net you four points).  You don't track score totals, just the difference, by sitting a token on the score tracker at the top of the pitch and sliding it back and forth as the score changes.  So if the home team has a 2-point lead and the away team gets a 3-pointer, the score becomes a 1-point lead for the away team.

Player stats and dice mechanics are pretty straight-forward - each dice test starts with three dice, modifiers that make the action easier or harder add and remove dice to this pool.  You're trying to get as many dice as you can to roll equal to or above the player's relevant stat.  So a Human Striker trying to pick up the ball would make a Skill test to do so - he'd get three dice as the starting point, a fourth because Strikers get a bonus to Skill tests and as his Skill stat is 4+, he needs at least one of the dice to come up a four or higher.  Most tests just need one success, most of the ones that don't are opposed tests you make against another player who has to make a dice test as well (ie; Slamming someone, you make a Strength Test to hit them, they get to make a Strength Test to slamback, whoever rolls the most successes wins).  There's plenty of quick-reference sheets out there; Board Game Geek have one I grabbed a while back, there'll be a link in the addendum at the bottom of the post.

Another clever side to this is that doubling the number of successes you needed (ie; getting two or more successes on an action that only needed one) will give that player extra actions.  So if a player doubles on picking up the ball, they get a free run or throw action.  Succeed on a slam and you push the target back a hex, double the number of successes they got when opposing it and you knock them down and force them to make an armour check which can take them out of the game for up to 3 turns or kill them outright.  The reason these actions are big are because a player cannot act unless you play an Action Token on them and you start each turn with 5 tokens (always the same number, no point hoarding them).  So there's always going to be at least one of your players on the pitch who won't be acting that turn (unless that sixth player is catching a pass and gets two or more successes on the catch, giving them a free run or throw action).

Combine all of that, plus that each coach (the game's term for the actual people playing the game, just to avoid confusion with the players on the pitch) only has seven turns over the course of the game and that the pitch never resets and you get a very fast, very fluid game.  If both players have a handle on the rules or have access to a reference sheet, you can bash out a game of Dreadball in about 40 minutes or so.

It also feels more forgiving than Blood Bowl; where GW's entry in the genre will end your turn with a single bad dice roll, Dreadball will only prematurely end your turn if you lose control of the ball (ie; the ball carrier failing to evade away from an opposing player).  Dodges and passes feel far more reliable unless you're playing a team who are purposefully bad in those areas (ie; Forge Fathers have a Speed stat of only 5+ thanks to their stunty, dwarven legs, so they'll have a harder time dodging away from anyone) and most of my games have come down to the wire, where one team was only one throw away from taking the lead on their last turn.  It's rare that you'll ever be truly out of the running in Dreadball.

Dreadball does have mechanics for league play, where you have a persistent team you try to improve over the course of several matches, and some of those mechanics I find quite interesting.  For one; the MVPs - these are named, freelance players, big stars in the Dreadball scene who you can hire for a round in a league.  Unlike Blood Bowl, where you simply pay their asking price and get them for that match, the MVPs are auctioned off at the start of each round of the league, after calculating the Underdog Bonuses (a balancing factor - if your team has the lower value than your opponent's for that round, you get extra money).  Even if a player won't play for your team, you can still bid on them to drive the price up or, if you win, are basically paying them to not play for that round.  It adds an extra layer of strategy to a league that I rather like.  There's also how Free Agents are handled - after the MVP auction, if you have at least 10 megacredits (the currency used for the game) left of your Underdog Bonus, you get to roll on a table in the book to see which Free Agent you get for that round.  You get one roll on the table for each whole 10mc of the bonus you have unspent.  But with how the table's designed, you could end up with a player from a totally different species - a slow Forge Father team, for example, could end up with a speedy and nimble Veer-myn Striker for a round.  This can make a Free Agent more valuable than just another player as it can give your team enough of an edge in one aspect that throws a wrench in your opponent's strategy.  Later seasons' expansion books have their own Free Agent tables and you get to pick which table you roll on.

I honestly don't have too many gripes about the game.  It's easy to learn without sacrificing strategic depth, it's fast, it's fluid, the teams feel and play very distinctly from each other.  The actual models are very good-quality and extensive use of L-shaped plugs and other irregular shapes for them mean you'll never end up gluing an arm on the wrong body or the wrong way around.  Actually that's it; the one complaint I can see people having with this game is it being harder to convert the models and give them a distinct pose of your own.  That and certain teams (I'm looking at you, Veer-myn) can sometimes project out beyond the edge of their hex base, making it difficult when they run adjacent to another model.  Personally, for those situations I'd suggest just holding the models to the base with a bit of blu-tac or the like and have a mark on the base showing which direction they're facing - if the model interferes with others, just pull it off the base until there's room for the model to go back.  In any case; as long as you take your time and dry-fit the pieces of a model before gluing them, you shouldn't have any issues.

Pricing-wise it's not too bad either, the basic set (pictured above) has everything you need, including ten models each for the Corporation and Marauder teams and a decent-sized pad of team rosters for league use (and you can always photocopy them to make more pages if you need to), and it will only run you £50 plus shipping if you buy direct off Mantic's website.  Expansion books are another £10 each while teams will cost you about £18 for a set of ten-to-fourteen models (most have a full roster of 12-14 models, but the newer teams from Seasons 4-6 are only in packs of ten).  MVPs are £5 each while you can get a pack of 3 or 4 for about £15-£18 depending on the pack.  If you want a higher-quality pitch than the one in the base set, I'd recommend the Gruba-tek VII Coliseum.  It's reasonably affordable and, if the Dreadball Ultimate pitch (which is used for 3-6 team games and that I'll talk about in a future post) is any indication, it'll be good-quality.  Don't have one myself because I bought the much-more-expensive acrylic plastic one before the Gruba-tek VII was released (and by a pretty small margin, too; been kicking myself about it, believe me).

Either way; if you like the idea of a fast-paced board game about a fictional sport involving a titanium ball launched at a couple hundred kilometres-per-hour (so, yes, you can throw the ball as a weapon) that you can learn to play in no time, check it out.  And if I had to compare it directly to Blood Bowl; I have no problems claiming that this is the superior game.  Your tastes may vary on that, of course, but in my personal opinion, Dreadball blows Blood Bowl out of the water without even trying.


I've got a few links at the bottom of this article, one is a gameplay demonstration from Mantic Games, another is the first episode in a series on the game from Beasts of War called Dreadball Academy that goes into more detail on the game, though I do have to warn you that that one's about an hour and a half long (and Warren had a bad habit of interrupting guests back then which probably accounts for a chunk of the runtime).  I've also linked a post from another blog showing how to get a way to play the game online for free.  You will still need the rulebook for it, the program doesn't automate anything, but you can get a free copy of that from the Mantic Digital service (which I'll have a link to under the blog post's link).  It'll only have the rules for the Corporation and Marauder teams (so Humans and Orx) but it should be enough for you to get a feel for the game and see if it's worth picking up.  If I ever do any videos on Dreadball in the future, I'll have those linked down below as well.  I'm tempted to do a series of team summaries, but they'd be hitting the same issues as the ones that made this a blog post and not a video of its own.

Mantic Gameplay Demonstration:
Dreadball Academy Episode One:
Reference Sheet:
-Small Error in Sheet - Judwan Strikers are Speed 4+ as of rules adjustments made in Season 3.  They were kinda OP with Speed 3+.
How to play Dreadball online through VASSAL:
Mantic Digital: