Sunday, 4 December 2011

Sunday Sermon: Doing things the Privateer Press way, Wrath and Domination

No that isn't the Emperor talking to the Primarchs!

So you're probably all thinking why the hell has Frontline Gamer gone all religious on us right? What's with this 'sermon' stuff and preaching? Well you see I'm a researcher at heart, what people sometimes refer to as a stats geek. I've studiously watched over the last 6 months, yeah that's right this blog is now 6 months old, the viewing behaviour of people who read this blog. I thought I'd seen trends, only to find out that they weren't statistically significant, I'm still recording data as I believe the problem was one of insufficient data, the bane of every researcher! However, there is one undeniable trend... Sundays are my worst days for page views and comments. Seriously an average of 0.1 comment every Sunday, that's hurts me deeply! Plus my page hits plummet pretty sharply on the 7th day. Now I'm sure it's just Sunday. Perhaps you're all in church, or stuffing yourselves with roast dinner, or perhaps I don't post regularly on Sundays, or what I have posted is rubbish.

Great to drive on, but it gets lonely
So lets call this the start of a concerted effort on my part to produce some decent content for you all to read on a Sunday, obviously you'll be able to read these articles whenever. I just want to know for myself whether or not it is Sunday's that make you all lethargic and reticent to comment, or whether it has been my piss poor articles. So you're going to get a 'Sunday Sermon' for a few months, where I chat about something in the hobby that either bugs me, or really excites me, to see if it's the 'Sunday effect' or me being shyte. The first topic I've chosen is the Privateer Press way of doing things. What started me thinking about this particular topic? Well it was a comment left in my 'Does Malifaux need to take a pause for the cause?' article, the comment was written by Lauby, yes he of the House of Paincakes fame. He specifically drew a parallel between what we're seeing in Malifaux right now with the rulebook expansions, and MKI Warmachine and Hordes. I happen to agree with him, the similarities are unnervingly similar actually.

However, I guess I better explain further just in case some of you aren't familiar with what Lauby refers to as 'Privateer Press shenanigans'. Warmachine and Hordes are obviously now on their second iterations, and if you've jumped on board at this point you won't have experienced the delights of MKI. Yeah that is sarcasm. Warmachine Prime MKI was released sometime in 2003, I picked things up in 2004 around about the time they released their first expansion, 'Warmachine Escalation'. It wasn't really anything revolutionary, other games had taken the catch all or universal approach to updating rules. You see there is Games Workshops way, whereby they release the rulebook and then drop army books on us to bring certain factions into line with everyone else. Often these books will have been produced in previous editions of the game to the current one in play, sometimes being as many as two or three editions out of step. Yet ostensibly they remain valid, although some might beg to differ with that assessment. Then there is what pretty much everyone else does, main rulebook with all forces listed, then release update books that bring new rules and units for each faction to the game system.

Believe it or not Games Workshops business model is the odd one out, although their dominance of the market might be a strong enough argument for the contrary position. Most game systems update the army lists of all factions at the same time, and also take the opportunity to move the back story on as well. Something I feel Games Workshops games seem to lack, although Matt Ward tries his best. No that actually isn't sarcasm. To be honest I actually quite like this method for a number of reasons:

  1. Everything gets updated at the same time, so there's none of this the newest army is the best bullshit.
  2. It actually evolves the back story to the game, maybe introducing new units with new histories or characters. We all like a bit of fluff right?
  3. It actually gives games designers a little bit of leeway to rectify any balance issues within the game. By redoing profiles or introducing new troops to factions who might have a weakness of some variety you can respond to gamers concerns.

Infinity, Flames of War and Malifaux amongst many others all seem to use this method. Although obviously Flames of War fluff actually happened! So why did it go wrong with Warmachine MKI?

Are Privateer Press trying to make their game ever bigger?

To put it bluntly Privateer Press didn't know when to fecking stop! I didn't really have many opponents to play Warmachine with here in the UK, so I had a very small Cygnar force, very small. But those expansions just kept coming, in 2005 we had Warmachine Apotheosis, in 2006 Warmachine Superiority. Then in 2007 Privateer Press decided to re-do the main rulebook with what they termed a 'Prime remix', or version 1.5 of the rules if you will. I'm going to be honest with you, I gave up bothering with the game in 2007 and my Cygnar army was actually sold for a minor profit and I vowed never again. It got too much for me, the additions of extra rules and the burgeoning cost foisted upon everyone was a little bit much. Plus you had the added complexity thrown into the system with Hordes being compatible with Warmachine. The rules needed streamlining and the way they did business needed a rethink. But those expansions kept coming I believe, in 2007 came the first 'Forces of Warmachine' book, Pirates of the black coast (a taster for what was to come) and in 2008 they released Warmachine Legends.

There's also Hordes to think about. While they're supposedly separate games they're not really.

Thankfully I was no longer a part of this insanity. In 2009 though we had the prelude to what was to become the standard way of doing things for Privateer Press. They released their second Forces of Warmachine book, Retribution of Scyrah. Now I'm a fan of pointy eared elves, which I may have mentioned once or twice before. I liked the miniatures and the artwork, and the Games Workshop style codex interested me enough to buy the book. The similarity to Games Workshops way of doing things was a bit of a shock, but one I liked. There was faction specific fluff, Tiered fluff list rules and all the things you need for one faction in one book. Nice. Then in early 2010 we got MKII reboot, and Privateer Press started to show the beginnings of what I'm terming the 'third way'... what do you mean the phrase is already in use? Screw you Anthony Giddens! No, the third way is Privateer Presses way.

It got a second edition

They released Warmachine Prime MKII in January 2010, and then rapidly released all the Forces of Warmachine books in quick succession. From February 2010 to July 2010 at the rate of one book per month, with May having an empty slot and being skipped over, while we were forced to wait on the Cryx book until June. Finally in July they added the last 'Forces' book to the mix with the release of mercenaries. Done. All factions accounted for. Although the model looks exceedingly similar to Games Workshops their is one clear difference, this was a total rebooting of the game. The rulebook and the Forces books were all done in quick succession and there were no MKI Forces books kicking around for years on end waiting to be re-done at some indeterminate point in the future. It was slick and professional, and it impressed this here blogger. The rulebook contained all the rules, including all the standardised special rules, so there were no shocks when you met a new faction and discovered they had some wacky ability you weren't aware of.

This use of Universal Special Rules (USPs) also meant that at a glance of an opposing factions stat cards you could tell what each unit did in the game. No need for me to buy the Khador or Cryx faction books to find out their dirty tricks... although of course I did! You could buy a set of cards for each faction as well for a fraction of the cost of the rulebooks, to update your MKI forces to MKII. Or indeed just to own so you knew what your opponents could do. I approved of this change and I still do, I think given the growth in rules and the options for each faction it was an inevitability, but it was good to see Privateer Press were wise enough to see it too. However, I did find myself wandering whether the rise of the Forces of Warmachine faction books would mean the sad demise of the periodic full system updates that I quite like.

Well in June 2010 we got our answer? With the release of the 'Wrath' expansion for Warmachine. We got a universal update, every faction got new toys that gave them new options and addressed some flaws and weaknesses that might have been identified. We also got Battle Engines, a new type of unit to add further spice to the game system. We also had the fluff update that I so loved from MKI that moved the story of the Iron Kingdoms on. We currently have the best of both worlds, and with the release of Domination for Hordes we're all set to go again. Right now as things stand I quite like the mix of the two approaches. It has the strengths I identified above from the universal update approach, and the familiarity and ease of entry to the hobby that Games Workshops model brings to the table. Privateer Press might have seemingly hit on the gold standard! These universal updates seem to have reinvigorated interest in the HoMachine round by me, and I'm guessing it has done in most places.

Now we're all up to speed and ready to kick ass!!!

So it's all gravy then? Privateer Press have reached Nirvana, the promised land, the Holy Grail of wargaming? Maybe. You see I'm being cautiously optimistic that this method or approach can be sustained, and that Privateer Press won't go completely mental and try and give us annual updates for Warmachine and Hordes along the lines of Wrath and Domination. Why? Because that would be the worst of both worlds, the cost and potential rules creep and bloat of annual updates with the added expense and fracturing of the rules you get from Games Workshops approach of having individual army books. It's on a knifes edge for me because I remember oh so fondly how I felt during the MKI era with the annual updates, it got too much and overwhelming. Do I trust Privateer Press to do the right thing for the game system and hobby? Truth be told I don't know, when all is said and done they're a business, and businesses like to make money first and foremost. Therefore if they think annual updates will achieve that goal, that's the way they'll go. So right now I'm happy with the world of the Iron Kingdoms, but we'll have to wait and see long term what they do. Peace out!


  1. I tried to figure out a way to leave a tenth of a percent worth of comment, but my l33t haxor skills are waning.

    The PP games themselves don't really hit me, but I'm quite impressed with the way they do things as a whole.
    Good marketing, proper use of the internet, infusing their systems with new stuffs frequently, etc.
    Privateer Press has paved the way of a lot of other companies to follow in their wake.

    As someone who only discovered this whole 'Hobby Thing' a few years ago, I see PP as the 'Little Guy' who had the chutzpa to stand up to the bully at school, and drive him back far enough to jam a foot in the door before it slammed.
    That little gap is widening at an exponential rate now, it seems, and as a 'hobbyist,' I'm very, very glad.

    Warmahordes may not be 'my thing,' but I'm very grateful that it showed up, and I think PP is showing a lotta people how this thing can be done, and done correctly.

    And a regular Sunday riffing, ranty or whatever post is quite welcome.
    Coffee reading, don'tcha know....

  2. All right! I'm internet famous again! Thanks for the shout out.

    And now that that bit of self horn tooting is out of the way, I totally agree with you re: the current state of PP.

    Though if I still played, the Wrath book would make me nervous - carefully measured dosage of coolness or reinvention of the previous problem? Guess we'll see.

  3. @SinSynn, I think it's far funnier if we all refer to it as HoMachine. ;)

    HoMachine (teehee) isn't going to be for everuone, and I can get why. Not only from a miniature point of view, I mean lets face it the aesthetic is going to be divisive, in Britain we'd say it's Marmite. But, the rules too and how they work could arguably be divisive. But I really don't mind it at all. I quite like the design aesthetic and I just think the game can be really good fun at times. But you're right, they're one of the few companies eroding GWs stranglehold on the hobby, and others have now seen it's more than possible to force yourself a chink and a niche and to grow in this business. It's given others hope.

    @Lauby, werent you always Internet famous? :P

    I've drifted a bit these last few months away from PPs games. Not because I don't like them, but mainly because there is just so much cool stuff out there right now. /there aren't enough months in the year, weeks in the month, days in the week and hours in the day to play them all!!! But Wrath and Domination have yoinked me back in again, slowly but surely. Am I cautious? Yeah I'm cautious, I got burned last time and like I said in my Malifaux article, I'm not happy with it happening again!!! We'll see if PP have learned from their past mistake.

  4. You are my favourite blogger by far buddy! I read whatever you say with interest as we seem to have very similar tastes :)

    I too drifted from Warmahordes and our club played it quite a bit! I have quite large forces of Cryx, Cygnar, Menoth, Trolls and my favourite Everblight
    Recently I have felt the call again and have a very much renewed interest in the game and the awesome setting and storyline!

    I only wish I lived near you and could play some of these games with you!

    Keep on blogging mate :)

  5. @Darth Tater, well I'm glad I'm somebodies favourite blogger. I personally think I'm pretty damn amazing, but not everyone agrees. lol.

    If you ever find yourself in the West Midlands you'll have to let me know. It's always good to bump into people in the real world and get a few games in.

    As for HoMachine, I think it's in a good place right now. Part of me is hoping though that PP can bring out this sci-fi game they're working on and grow their business that way. I think HoMachine is in a good place right now and it could do with staying this way for a little longer than a year. Bi-annual updates I can cope with, it's the annual ones that could get a bit much.

  6. A big problem PP have is in supply. They have a model production operation in the UK, and they are, and have for some time, not been keeping up with demand. New releases seem to get priority over stocks of older, core, models.

    PP have publically talked about the dangers of expanding a company too rapidly, so have carefully planned their investment in staff and equipment, and supposedly have implemented a priorities list in terms of what gets cast, but the UK isn't really seeing the fruits of this yet.

    Hopefully the sci-fi game could take development resources away from HoMachine and slow the release schedule.

  7. @Fiendil, I think that's a fair assessment. I'm currently writing up another article I hope to go live with today on HoMachine. I'm on a bit of a HoMachine binge at the moment. So I thought I should write some articles on it as the mood takes me. I think consistent supply of miniatures and product is something that causes a slight problem for Privateer Press here in the UK, not too sure how things are back in the USA. It'll be interesting to see how things evolve I guess.

  8. Having starting my table top experience with GW, (and feeling betrayed in the end)
    I find PP's set up refreshing. I like the rules, and I'm still learning the game play - its a fair bit more then a point and shoot game.
    BUT I didn't play MKI.

    I'm still hesitant to jump in with both feet into PP (although I've got a sizable khador force) due to my prior involvement with a table top game :P

    But its the game everyone's playing in my club, when we want to mix things up Dystopian Wars gomes out -and I'm not missing GW games...they just aren' anymore.

    I've picked up Wrath, just waiting for the Kaszi Assassin chicks to drop. I'm trying to take a break from World Of Tanks (and failing), and get some models painted for a big PP tourney in January!

    In short, I'm still kind of waiting for the bug to bite - hopefully my first PP tourney will do the trick.

  9. @Lord Azaghul,You'll have to let us all know how the tournament goes. I've witnessed a few and heard plenty of things back from other peeps who attend more regularly than amateurs like me.

    I think round these parts Infinity is seemingly the current in vogue thing. It'll switch up again soon to be something else. I think it's kids in a sweet shop syndrome. It's like once GW gamers cross that line and see what's out there they want to try it all.