Paperback & Pulp Bookfair
Olympus Heights by Kevin Munroe

Warmachine: Legends from Privateer Press

Legendscover400pxWarmachine: Legends is the newest expansion to the popular Warmachine game from Privateer Press. Legends has been a highly-anticipated release since its first announcement, and, in many respects, it does not disappoint.

The sculpting, for example, has matured - vastly - from the early days of the game. Although Warmachine figures were always produced to a high standard of artistic quality, the new figures are almost universally stunning. The figures are much more detailed, and it pays off - some of them,for example, Nightmare, are just knock-your-socks-off brilliant. Even the less spectacular miniatures in this expansion have been crafted with an unprecedented level of intricacy.

The improving crafting of the miniatures is one symptom of the game's maturity, but there are others - and not all of them are good news.

With Legends, Warmachine seems to have hit the inevitable point in its development where the need for new product has outpaced the need to keep things straightforward and easily accessible. To poach a term from web design, it is sacrificed 'usability' - the idea of making sure that the process of using something doesn't become a barrier to enjoying it.

In Legends, the game adds several new and unnecessary levels of complexity. Character units are essentially bundles of solos, each figure coming with its own rules, conditions and special actions. Character jacks are similar - revised and 'unique' versions of previously-released warjacks that come with several different layers of additional rules and conditions. The new unit attachments and Warcaster attachments add even more complications. For the most part (the exception is the Khadoran Warcaster attachment), they don't actually do anything themselves. Instead, they add layer more conditions and more complexity on top of existing figures.

There are several new basic units released as well. The Exemplar Bastions are an example of something done extremely well. They are simple, straightforward, and a creative extension of the existing Exemplar theme within the Protectorate of Menoth faction. The Revenant Cannon Crew is another great one - a basic artillery unit with a good, thematic, twist.

Unfortunately, straight-forward seems to be the exception, and not the rule. In Cryx, for example, the new Bloodgorger unit introduces the dreaded token mechanic. Instead of just flat-out 'doing something' or even having a simple trigger for their special ability (e.g. 'someone else in their unit dies'), the Bloodgorgers have several special abilities which require tracking via a new set of tokens. Their new unit attachment adds further intricacy as well.

If I had to hazard a guess, the difficulty lies in both appeasing the existing user base and recruiting new players. Whereas the long-term (and most vocal) players have mastered the rules and are up for the challenge of an additional token mechanic or two, new users are certainly intimidated by the complexity. The original, simple units and rules still exist - but someone coming to the game sees it holistically. They don't see the Battlebox (Warcaster plus three basic warjacks), they see a shelf of books, character units, cavalry rules, unit attachments, specialized token sets, etc. etc. That's daunting.

The problem is a fundamental one, and by no means limited to Warmachine (or even Privateer Press). As games age, they grow more complicated and convoluted, until they eventually get so bogged down in combinations and rules-layering that everyone throws their hands up in the air and publishes a new edition. (See: Magic: The Gathering and Dungeons & Dragons).

As a final note, Legends also contains the usual assortment of fiction. Fantasy filler that helps explain the cataclysmic struggle that currently rages across the face of Immoren. It is, at its best, gaming fiction. Six page chunks of copy, in which the task is to sell figures, will never be the best format for literary genius.  The thirty-plus named characters (for £8.99 each) all flit about, seemingly immortal, slapping one another about like armor-clad versions of a Warner Brothers cartoon. If you've enjoyed the earlier Privateer fiction, this won't disappoint. If you haven't, Legends certainly won't change your mind.