Saturday, March 28, 2015

Hobby Progress: Angels of Impunity (Centurions, Tacticals, and a Terminator)

Slowly, but surely, I have been settling into my new home. After a thorough clean of my hobby room, I took some time to hobby! I have quite a number of unbuilt models for a few different armies. I focused on Space Marines this past week, building a few of these bad boys:

I actually had quite a lot of fun with the Centurion kit. Who knew a Space Marine within a Space Marine would be so intriguing? I, of course, outfitted them with Missile Launchers and Grav Guns. I built all out of the kit. HOWEVER, I was left with exactly three of this sprue:

So... 6 Lascannon bits, 6 Heavy Bolters, 6 Meltaguns, and 6 flamers are left, along with some neat bits I could use for other projects. Talk about a value kit! I love it.

In other news, I have been working to arrange a new gaming group in Southern West Virginia. We have a Facebook group here, if you are interested

The group is still in its infancy, but we are looking to expand a bit with our efforts. Who knows where it will go from here? 

Saturday, March 21, 2015

20,000 Views AND First Post on BoLS

Several things to celebrate in my newly reinvigorated blogging career:

1. I had my first article posted on Bell of Lost Souls. The link is at the top.
2. Partly due to the first article and other traffic sources, I have reached 20,000 views on the blog!. Granted, that is over 5 whole years of existence, but the past month has seen nearly 1,200 alone. Excited!
3. I am looking to attend more 40k GTs in the near future to add some content onto the blog. We shall see as time winds on.

Join me in the journey. It'll be fun!

Monday, March 16, 2015

Comparative Analysis of Games Workshop and Riot Games Part 1: Game Design

This article is the first of a series I am composing on these two games.

I was considering the other day the popularity of these two games, the design philosophies, the competition, and furthermore, the communities that gather behind these two games. Some of these elements are extremely similar and worth discussing. It may give some insight into these two games.

Part 1. Design Philosophy
I have been a part of the community for both games for a very long time, playing 40k for about 10 years and League for about 5. I have seen a great deal of evolution by both companies, and I have reaped the benefits and downsides. Let's look at the similarities of both, and compare them in somewhat even terms.

Comparatively, Games Workshop designs Codices and Army Books that have wargear, rules, and more to play an army on the tabletop versus other armies. It is intended to be a 1v1 type of game, with competition as perhaps a sidebar element to the narrative elements of the game.

League of Legends is a game that is part of the MOBA genre, featuring teams of 5 players controlling champions, established characters with 4 abilities and a passive. These characters earn gold over time and purchase items to increase their power.

Now, both of these games have to work to balance two major elements, which I refer to as internal balance and external balance.

Internal balance of Games Workshop games involves units within the codex being comparatively good to each other. Unit X should be as useful/effective as Unit Y assuming they serve a similar function within the game mechanics.  Internal balance of League of Legends comes from the math to create abilities and items. Bloodthirster should grant X Attack Damage with X Life Steal. Garen's Judgement ability should deal X damage.

External balance in both games refers to how the units interact with other codices and how champions and items interact with other champions and items. Certain units in Games Workshop games nullify major strategies of other codices in terms of the very math. A certain Armor Value can not be penetrated, and a certain Toughness value cannot be wounded. The missions in Games Workshop games also provide a source of external balance. Units become better or worse dependent on how they must achieve victory. In League, the items and characters can be impacted similarly, but to a lesser extent. It will just offer a significant advantage rather than a out and out negation of the opponent's strategy.

Games Workshop's Struggle With Balance
Games Workshop struggles with balance of both types. Often new codices appear with units that are just leaps and bounds better than other units within the codex. Eldar Wave Serpent is just so much better than the Falcon, based on its point values and rules. Players can choose to play either vehicle, but in the end, even the most novice of players can see the discrepancy. Because of this, the external balance fails as well. The Wave Serpent is so effective against a wide range of the opposing armies that it sees a tremendous amount of play. It serves to see then, that regardless of the mission or the opponent, the sheer strength of the Wave Serpent can really benefit the player immensely. A lower skill player can overcome an opponent with higher skill.

Riot Games's Struggle With Balance
League then also suffers from the same sort of balance problems. Sometimes, the designers release a Champion that just does not do enough damage. They then need to readjust their numbers to be more suitable for the environment. The same is true of items as well. A new item can be released and just allow champions to do horrific amounts of damage. Any scaling ability in League can be affected by this misappropriation in numbers and values. There was a time in League that Diana ruled the map. She just did so much damage that she was unstoppable. She was fixed eventually, but it required a few changes to get right. It then allowed lower skill players to win against a higher skill player based on the champion selected.

See the comparison?

Balance Issues Due to Evolution/Identity 
Both game companies struggle to maintain balance; this we have established. I think that both companies suffer from these issues due to at least one similar reason. The game design philosophies change so often and so drastically at times.

Games Workshop releases new editions of the rules for their systems. This changes the game from the base up, affecting armies and units ubiquitously. Riot releases patches that change many elements of the game, from towers to the jungle. These changes affecting the game and all of its items and champions. From there then, both companies play catch up in reducing power levels and increasing power levels based on the "new edition" that surrounds the internally balanced elements.

But of course, neither company stops the design of the game there. As businesses, they need to release new internal units, which of course draw customers and consumers.

However, due to the timing of their releases, they then create some "time warp." Suddenly, this unit from Q Codex is not the only one with this ability. Suddenly, this character has this ability! As new units and champions come out, the older additions become out-dated, less effective, and less unique over time. This then leads to codices like 5ed Dark Eldar in 7ed, and champions in League like Urgot. Both companies then struggle to simultaneously maintain their previous elements and create new ones, often creating imbalance and overall non-functional elements within their games.

The evolution also seems to create some disparities in the external balance as well. Why should a Wraithknight have super awesome guns AND close combat ability? Some design evolution later, and the Nemesis Dreadknight has decent guns with exceptional close combat. League suffers similarly. Why does Nocturne have a high engage, spell shield, attack steroid, sustain and flexibility in terms of laning/jungling? Then enters Bard that has only one damaging ability, a heal, utility and a non-damaging ultimate. Suddenly, the champion design is drastically different and then creates champions that must be in one role and have no other function.

The final point to make is a question of the unit/champion's identity. As game designers and artists, it is hard to sacrifice creative children. Kassadin, as a champion, should have the ability to warp across the map dealing high magic damage and taking less in return. This is how his story and champion identity work. The Wave Serpent, as an ancient and powerful technology of a sagacious alien race should wreck Space Marines and protect their troops very effectively. That is how the story goes. At some point though, game designers must realize that the "fluff" just can't sustain the game design in a healthy way. Eventually, the designers rework the ideas to be a bit more reasonable, but at the loss of a creation.

Stay tuned for my next article on the Competitive elements of these games. Parts 3 and 4 will feature some comparison on business model and the community.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Rarkthor's Response: Army Composition Fixes Part 1

As usual, Torrent of Fire posted a very intriguing article regarding the author's perceived need to fix the system by which people generate their armies at list building. I applaud the author's encouragement of discussion and disclaimer against a flame war, which he establishes early. This discussion will certainly require some meaningful back and forth, and I'm glad the author values this.

The philosophy student in me recognizing some flaws from the beginning of this article. It begs several questions that the author seems to have already given the answer for. Are the rules right out of 7ed unplayable? Has the "rock-paper-scissors" imbalance increased? Are fluffy players lashing out against those willing to use the established rules?

Regardless of these questions, I am willing to accept the author's stated premises and move forward analyzing the solution.

The author defines more terms before expounding upon his solution.

The solution put forth involves percentages to affect the composition of armies in terms of their detachments. Unlike the Fantasy Army building, the author just applies this concept to the detachments. So my Primary Detachment must be 55% up to 100%, and the Secondary Detachment can only be up to 45%.

This solution, according to the author achieves several goals. He states that the positive aspects of this solution include (as stated in his article):
- Very scalable
- Affects everyone equally
- Cuts down on deathstars, Imperial Knights, and big formations in lower point games.
- Brings the FOC into better alignment with fluff. “My ally represents 80% of my army is silly”
- Creates an effective limit on detachments without a fixed number limit
- Objective
- Very limited change

I will agree with this author in terms of the idea of scale-ability, with a limited and objective change. I disagree though that the FOC would be better brought into alignment with fluff and cuts down on deathstars.

I feel that some codices, due to their nature, would still benefit from this. This is particularly true of Deathstar armies that don't require an extra detachment, like Screamerstar or Jetseer. I also can easily imagine a smart player negotiating the points just right in order to include that one extra character and a Troop for an allied detachment. It doesn't strike me as a solution in that regard.

In addition, I think using "fluff" as a justification for a good change is not appropriate. Due to the nature of a fantastic world with aliens and genetic supermen, I think it is justifiable for an army to include an ally that may range into higher points. For example, I absolutely love Grey Knights. It would certainly NOT be unfluffy for a Grand Master, who is the commander (read: Warlord , to be in charge of a massive Imperial Guard force. Even though, he only has 10 Grey Knights by he side, how is that not fluffy?
I admire the work to try and reach a solution that is more appreciated by all, but I think that this idea loses once it gets into the nitty-gritty details of what needs to be happen. I don't see how this solution is any better than LVO (which featured a wide variety of armies and compositions for the top8) or NOVA format. 

Thursday, March 12, 2015

The Struggle to Play Magic

Ah Magic: The Gathering. It has been one of the most fun games I have played, and it has been one of the least fun games I have played. Every so often, I fall deep into the arms of Magic, invest in a ton of cards, build a deck, and play as much as possible. After reaching a "peak" of enjoyment, my enthusiasm wanes away again into nothing.

In this seemingly endless wave of enjoyment cycles, Dragons of Tarkir, the newest set, does have me excited. There are a number of really interesting cards and mechanics looking to break into a new Magic meta. (I'll post some of the cards I am most looking forward to at the end of the post. )

To "get myself ready" for the prerelease events, I started playing some Magic 2014, a digital adaptation of the game for console and PC. In this particular iteration of the game, there was a mode called "sealed deck builder." Prerelease events are traditionally sealed events, which give players six packs to construct a 40 card deck.

I started playing a few games in the sealed deck builder mode, and I was swiftly reminded of the infuriating nature of the Magic mana system. While the mana system enables a wide variety of strategies and unique decks to be constructed, it also can be wildly inconsistent based on the randomness of cards. I was running into the very annoying parts of this particular RNG, and it reminded me how frustrating Magic really can be. It was no error of play on my part; it was the randomness affecting me.

Some may say that 40k is a dice game, and it is prone to the same issues. To this I say one thing: a good 40k general controls the randomness to the best of his/her ability. Magic has very little outside of the deck building that a player can control to keep themselves in good shape.

Perhaps what is more frustrating often in the physical card game is the sheer investment of money to then lose to card randomness. This is a frustration that I have yet to overcome. I look forward to the days that I can simply move past these issues and find enjoyment in the game alone.

With this, I am still contemplating the decision to play in the Dragons of Tarkir pre-release. I will certainly post about it if I do!

As promised, here are cards I find powerful, exciting, or just interesting. Magic players, what do you think?

NOVA Open Plans in the Works

For those who have been reading my blog for some time, it has been one of my gaming goals to attend a high population gaming convention and compete in some of the events! My original goal was to attend the NOVA Open Grand Tournament, but some other obligations have come up (Sorry, 40k, can't miss one of my best friends' wedding!)

In spite of this, I am planning to attend Thursday and Friday, competing in the Trios Tournament and some of the Highlander "Quickening" events. I have never really played the Highlander format before, but it seems like a very fun way to play the game! I think I will bring out Grey Knights for these events. The Trios missions and events still seem to be in some transition in terms of the rules and list building, so I'll bide my time on that.

Please let me know if you are attending NOVA this year! I also want to try and make the event a social time, branching out and meeting new people. I am looking to try and blog much more seriously in the coming months, and I think NOVA would be a great place to network!

I'll post a highlander list in the near future for some critique. Stay Tuned!

Wednesday, March 11, 2015


For those who may be new readers, I thought it would be worth trying to establish an idea of the purpose of this blog.

I am a gamer through and through. For many of us, this doesn't limit our wide view of the gaming world. While I do enjoy Warhammer 40k, Warhammer Fantasy and the other tabletop wargames, this does not mean I only enjoy those games alone.

I want to use this blog to spread my thoughts, feelings, rants, and more to the silent world of the Internet. While I have become a new contributor to the Bell of Lost Souls website, I do not wish to give up my independent writing here. I started this blog for myself as a way to express, and I want to maintain that goal.

Hopefully, you will join me for the ride. Follow me on Google+ and keep a look out for articles posted on Bell of Lost Souls. Those articles will focus on my wargaming, but I'll still post some articles here. The Writing Bug is a fickle creature, and it should not be ignored when it bites.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Bell of Lost Souls Contributing Author!

A few days ago, Bell of Lost Souls posted an open application for some contributing writers to join their staff. I was interested in applying, but I thought there were perhaps more qualified applicants. I took a shot anyway.

Today, I received an email from Larry Vela, the head editor, and he was happy to give me a chance! Soon, I'll be a writer for Bell of Lost Souls!

I am curious as to where then this blog will go, but stay tuned readers. It may get even better!

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Rarkthor's Response: Gamer Culture and Competition

This Rarkthor's Response is less of a direct response to Mike Brandt's post, but it is more musings on a question that arose from my reading the article.

Mike Brandt, in his own way, did an excellent job of explaining the issues in claiming that 40k is not a competitive game. His comparison to Football really made it clear just how silly the complaints are. It's a good read, and if you feel similarly, you should definitely give it a look.

After reading Brandt's post, I delved deeper into my own experiences concerning competitive gaming, and I reached an unsettling conclusion: All competitive games have a naysayer community somewhere deep inside them.

In every single video, board, card, or tabletop game that I have played with any amount of popularity and element of competitiveness, the negativity comes flying out, particularly from the most competitive of people. Those who hate to lose often find reasons why they shouldn't have lost. These people, at least ones who value social efficacy and friendship don't want to blame the person across from them. Then, the easiest person to blame becomes the creator of the game.

Riot, Wizards, and Games Workshop all receive a lot of heat for their business and game design decisions, and some of these complaints are justifiable. Some of the complaints, however, are not even close.

Do not mistake complaints for criticism; criticism is based on constructive and helpful analysis with a focus on a solution. Complaints, in a word, refers to just plain bitching.

The toxic gamers I have met are toxic in every game they play. It is not a matter of the one game and all of its inadequacies bringing out the worst in that person. A reasonable person would then simply stop playing that game. Really, it is their attitude that ruins the game for them. This leaves those of us, who love the game and wish to improve ourselves and the game, feeling crummy that our fun was ruined by their toxicity.  

Gamer culture really needs to take a turn for the better before this behavior ends. I certainly strive to find improvements within my own play and strategy before blaming something out of my control. I think that healthy competition needs to be taught and modeled, if we are to see change.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Rarkthor's Response: Is or Was 40k EVER Competitive?

Let me start this response article by stating one important caveat: I absolutely love the game of Warhammer 40,000. I really and truly do. It's one of the few games that has solidly held my attention since I saw it being played at the young age of thirteen. This love and appreciation, then naturally, affects my opinions greatly, and I acknowledge this.

The article really does call into question then the nature of a competitive game. The definitions people used for competitive vary greatly, and this is something I have touched on a few times myself on this blog.

This author, Auticus, narrows down what he feels about the competitiveness of a game. He essentially feels that a competitive game has a very specific set of rules and standards that are used to measure the competitor skill. Auticus gives a good number of examples of competitions that go even farther in terms of standardization, including wrestling and boxing with the idea of weight divisions. To this author, Warhammer 40k lacks the competitiveness due to the potential for a heavyweight to take on a lightweight fighter.

While it is true that folks may see the game of 40k differently, I think that a tournament clearly calls for a higher scope of play. If folks don't want to run into Leafblower, don't enter the tournament. In a sense, people are willing to agree to a set of standards for winning and losing, and they are attempting to demonstrate their skills. Is this not the foundation of competition?

Yes, the rules need some help and tweaks. Honestly, as long as people want to compete at 40k, it stands to be a competitive game.