Monday, September 13, 2021

Cursed City, the heroes of the story, and a long rant about army building in Age of Sigmar 3.0

Ah Cursed City, now there is a tale to be told, and I don't mean the one in the background (although that is quite good). I lucked out and got my hands on a box and set to painting these. This weekend I finished the eight heroes that come with the game. Here's a group shot. Aside from these models this blog post will be a bit uncharacteristic because I feel like ranting (something I actually try to avoid on my blog). But with the release of AoS 3.0 I decided to follow the Dutch proved that says: "Don't turn your heart into a murder pit." Speaking of murder pits, the fun part first. Here's a group shot of the heroes of Cursed City.

My heroes stand ready to save the Cursed City of Ulfengard.
Cursed City is was supposed to be the latest Warhammer Quest game. It is set in the city of Ulfengard in the Realm of Death. It is one of those wonderful over the top Age of Sigmar settings. The story (in broad strokes) is that the city managed to stave of a Khorne invasion during the Age of Chaos. It did so by allying itself with a vampire lord. A logical choice as it was founded in the saver center of Shyish (the Realm of Death). This made it easier to contact vampires, while at the same time close enough to normal to live with them. When the Age of Sigmar started the vampire was still protecting the city. Then Nagash used his magic to turn the Realm of Death inside out. Usually a realm's influence gets more pronounced as you travel towards its outer edge. Thanks to Nagash's bungling Shyish works the other way around. As the city is close to the center of the realm the world around it suddenly turned into a horror movie hellscape (well deathscape), cursing the city and putting the vampire lord on top. In Warhammer Quest your band of adventurers enters this Cursed City to slay its evil overlord. 

I tried to follow along with the box art as well as I could, that should make play of the board game easier.

For those of you not quite up to speck with the latest news around GW, (well sort of latest, it is a few months old by now) the release of Cursed City was an unmitigated disaster. The game was presented as the new edition of Warhammer Quest. After the Silver Tower and Shadows over Hammerhall we could go wild with this one for the conceivable future. It sold out within the first ten or so minutes on pre-release. Another rousing success you'd think. Then the game disappeared. GW reverted to its start of the millennium wall of mysterious silence as PR mode. No one knew what was up with Cursed City until a support agent (allegedly) told a customer it was a limited release that would never return. Despite the internet hue and cry no other comments have been forthcoming from GW. The game sells for silly money on eBay. As it happened I lucked out (as I really wanted the game). The Dutch webstore MiniHobby (for some odd reason) got 100 copies of the box after the bungled release. They opted not to go for 'profiteer mode' and instead raffled off the copies at their normal discounted price. I was one of the lucky ones to get a copy and I've been happily working on the models between other projects. 

An excuse to freehand runes you say? Say no more!

As these are game pieces with accompanying cards I've been trying very hard to (more or less) follow along with the box art. I'm also taking some extra time trying both new things and those odious things that require patience like the freehanded runes on both sides of the odd cape of the model above. I hate to add more pain to people who wanted this set and can't get it, but it is awesome. I truyly can't understand why no more copies are forthcoming. This is an age where we've gotten used to Made to Order and constant (almost too much) interaction by GW. Why has this box been relegated exterminatus?  

Warhammer 3rd edition (top left) and Age of Sigmar 3rd edition (bottom) have a readable font. The General's Handbook makes you wonder if printed previews were used during development of the book. 

Ah well, as this post is a bit of rant on the bungled release I might as well keep the blood pressure going. I'll promise to get back to my regular cheerful blogs next time. Of late GW has been shifting course. It seemingly decided to go for the smallest font in the world on one hand. Aside from that they appear to think tournament organizers are the most important players of their game. Both these decisions annoy the hell out of me. Lets start with the small font. I'm getting old. There I said it :) How old? This year's birthday present (from me, to me) didn't just consist of a few Skaven, but also a pair of reading glasses (I'll add a 'painting while getting old' post to the 'to write' list). With that in mind, why has GW switched to a 6 point font? This weekend I played a game of AoS 3.0 and me and my equally aging opponent both stood there trying to decipher the obligatory General's Handbook at arm's length. Yes we mostly need reading glasses but not quite often enough to remember to bring them along. Why has the General's Handbook shrunk from A4 equivalent to this evil tiny size? Don't tell me it is to save space lugging it around. I'm transporting an entire army, I can manage an extra booklet. Now get off my lawn!

My second game of Age of Sigmar 3.0 was a lot of fun. Pictured above my opponent's Terrogheist before it ate most of my army.

Ah that feels a bit better, now on to part two of my rant. Let preface by stating I fully appreciate the existence of a tournament scene. I don't begrudge them their need for special rules. Their type of play needs a lot of rules as they seem to be looking for the balance of chess mixed with the creativity of Warhammer. I wish them all the best, but I do not share the opinion that they 'play at a higher level' or have a 'mastery of Warhammer'. They play tournaments and are good at that. Good for them. I do not play tournaments. I play narrative and casual games. That is not a lower level, that's a different way to play the same game. Unfortunaly the pretense that tournament games are a 'superior class' has infected GW's game recent design. The latest editions seem to focus on tournament organizers, allowing them to host with minimal house ruling against exploits and 'treating' us to the bland mulch that some call 'playing Warhammer at a high skill level'. Ugh. 

You wonder why I'd drop the Changeling in the midst of an enemy army. They changed the rules! And I only spotted the missing 'can't be seen' entry after the game started. Oh the (in-)humanity.

The result of this focus is a new 40K edition I've left in the stores. Why? Because as a narrative gamer I am not interested in an edition that was made with tight involvement by the world's premier tournament organizers. That sounds about as much fun as a 'fast food tasting' organized by the world's premier weight loss experts. I mean, good for the tournament organizers and I wish them the best luck in all their future 40K endeavors, but I think I'll pass. Now Age of Sigmar 3.0 has hit the markets. I like most of the rules updates, but sadly here too the building of point costed armies with lots of esoteric options and counterbalancing ones has infected the game. It was already lingering over 2.0 and 1.0, but this edition. Well allow me to demonstrate my process when I went and made a list for my second AoS 3.0 game this Friday. 

  1. Pick an army based on allegiance and pick a subfaction;
  2. Discover large parts of your Battle Tome have become obsolete;
  3. Pick the unreadable General's Handbook supplement to discover the points cost for units;
  4. Discover more units that either have left your army or no longer have points values and are therefore difficult to include in your list;
  5. Take the core rules because you need to pick battalions (that are not the battalions in your battle tome (those turn out to have become obsolete (for now)));
  6. Take the General's handbook because there are new battalions there (only two, more will be printed in different supplements (supposedly) the rest are in the core rules;
  7. Pick a Grand Strategy, wonder what this is. Check the internet, discover these are in another place in the General's handbook;
  8. Pick Enhancements, discover (through validation errors in a list builder) that these have nothing to do with Artefacts and the like, but are in a different section of the General's Handbook;
  9. Realize you have three books open to make a list (General's Handbook, Core Rules and a Battle Tome);
  10. Realize you're also using software to help you make this list (Warscroll Builder, Azyr or Battlescribe);
  11. Realize you still can't quite make heads or tails of army building;
  12. Persevere only to discover upon entering your list in three different programs that each gives you a different total points costs for the army. Then realize two of these applications are build by the same company...that is trying to sell you onto another solution (Warhammer+) that for some reason does not include AoS yet;
  13. Having build a list you are not done. Now you need to look through the FAQ, Errata and Designer's Commentary (DC) to find out what the actual rules for your army are; 
  14. Realize the FAQ, Errata and DC are not three documents, but three documents per book (for now nine, this will multiply as source books (like Malign Sorcery for 2.0) are released;
  15. Cry softly (whimpering optional);
  16. Look at the pretty Warscroll Cards you bought and realize most of those turned useless the day they were delivered because of constant rules changes;
  17. Shrug, bring an army full of errors to the game, apologize to your opponent, discover the problem is on both sides of the table;
  18. Have a laugh about silly GW and enjoy the evening (this is the most important step on this list).

And there you have it. The angry internet mob that fulminated at Age of Sigmar's launch. The wailing that a perceived lack of rules translated into a horrible game for stupid babies. Well that mob can douse torches and store pitchforks. What does this give the rest of us? An overcomplicated mess. Tournament organizers still need to add their own set of extra rules because half the point (and all of the fun) in tournaments seems to be finding loopholes and exploiting these. The rest of us are left with the old 'Narrative you say? Just do whatever feels right you fluffbunny you. Now go away.'-approach.

My Legions of Nagash book is obsolete. In the new Soulblight book these poor Morghast are missing (I think I need to play an Ossiarch army if I ever wish to field them again). Also where is Arkhan the Black? Nagash's number two has been removed from the current game without so much as a whisper...

Why complain, narrative games are about creating your own thing? You might ask. That is part of the point of narrative play isn't it? And yes in part it is. But point costing is not only there to bring 'balance' to a game (that in my humble opinion can't and shouldn't be balanced). For quite a lot of us it is a way to easily measure how long a game will last and get a semblance of what matchups will be fun. As much as I loved AoS even before the original General's Handbook launched. The added points made it easier to play. It was rather hard to get past turn two on a game night before it because we kept slamming too many models on the table. 

Oh dear, will I be needing these again in the future? 

As I'm listing anyway here's three reasons why narrative players use 'matched play' when we're actually going to play an 'open or narrative game'. 

  1. It stops us from slamming down half our collection on the table (as this tends to be too much even for a weekend's Apocalypse style game);
  2. We get a reasonable measure* how long the game will last and whether we'll finish before the evenings over (* time wasted chatting about nonsense not included);
  3. We sort of get the same size armies, no need for full balance, just a semblance of it is ok;

Getting casual games back on track is hard enough after all the lockdowns of the past year. Making army building a chore that takes hours (with the aid of software) is not helping. If I was magically transported to GW HQ I would propose these changes to Age of Sigmar:

  1. The previous edition of 40K introduced Power Levels. Instead of calculating the cost of a unit down to the fluffy dice on the Rhino's rearview mirror you get a global sense of what its worth. It would be nice if this was implemented in AoS as well. I suspect we'll be surprised with yet another General's Handbook next year, why not add this? While GW is at it, how about keeping these costs constant until at least the drop of a new Battle Tome for the army.
  2. Reduce the amount of special rules you can pick that influence other rules. Army Special Rules, Add-on Artefact, Extra command trait, pick a realm rule, addon spells (and in AoS we are lucky enough not to have to deal with tactics and strategems (yet). The strength of AoS was that a warscroll told you everything you needed to know to use that unit. Now you need pages of reminders to help you keep track. I love this site, but it shouldn't exist.
  3. I you're going to add realm special rules and battalions, create an online place where we can look all of them up. All the addon rules are getting spread out as an edition develops. Look at the mess at the end of 2nd (and 1st) edition AoS and stop repeating that please.

Even fluffbunnies need a bit of guidance to field armies. Personally I would love to get a supplement like the ancient 3rd edition Warhammer Armies. You'd pick your entire army using a few page spreads / These listed rules and minimum and maximum models allowed. The warscrolls and Battle Tomes remind me of this, but utterly fail to deliver. To be honest at this point any system that would allow me to sit and make an army list in about thirty minutes without opening three books and two supporting websites would work for me. I really want to spend the rest of my hobby time either painting or playing the game. So there it is, rant ended, back to our regular programming.

Did I mention you need to get off my lawn! I'm going to have a blast writing my take on Warhammer for elderly people (well 45+ but close enough ;). 

18 comments:

  1. That sounds incredibly stupid about Cursed City. I wonder how making it so hard to get actually makes any extra profit for GW? Or is it just prohibitively expensive to keep it going once it's produced? I doubt it.

    I felt much the same about 8th Ed 40k. I've not really had the chance to play any games for ages, but I'd be wary of it. When you compare GW's stuff to other games like Frostgrave, it's hard to tell what they think they're achieving.

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    1. I agree with you Gaslands, Frostgrace, A Billion Suns (hmmm all Osprey there) are wonderful games that show how simplicity can make it all more interesting. Its a pity getting enough people excited about a wargame is such an uphill battle.

      As to Cursed City that's a real mystery. As far as I know the highest costs in board game are the designers and creators, marketig and injection mold making. After you have the files to print manuals and cardboard tiles, a pretty box people have heard of and molds to inject plastic into, the production and distribution cost are negligible in comparison to the listed price. Earning back the development costs is the hard part (I think). With that in mind I have two guesses (both purely gut instinct, no evidence here) as to what happened here:

      1. This is an old production run/someone's pet project that slipped beneath a lot of radars. The reason I'd suspect this are the sprues. These are more reminiscent of Island of Blood then anything current. These days every model is either from an existing line, or produced so that it can ben blisterpacked or boxed as a separate unit. In this game zombies, skeletons, rats, bats and objective markers share one sprue. Radukar's monstrous court has its own sprue (and is available on its own) and the heroes share two sprues (a large one and a small one), making them hard to split up. Perhaps a new product manager for boxed games blew a fuse on seeing this project. This might have occured after boxes had been ordered. It takes months before an order makes the transit from China which made stopping the first production run impossible. Instead all follow-ups where flat out cancelled. That would make Cursed City a victim of Office politics mixed with someone going retro/dropping the ball on production design.

      2. The other option I see is the possibility something on one of the sprues violates someone's (other than GW's) Intellectual Property. That would mean GW incurred serious fines on launch. To stop repeat fines they would have to cancel any reprints of the product. It would explain the sudden cancelation and the purge of most pictures and mentions of Cursed City on GW's sites (to prevent more fines). It might even explain the silence from GW. It could be in the context of one of those US-type settlement deals. I have to add to this that for the life of me I can't find anything that could be described as a breach of IP in the box. It won't be in Radukar's Monstrous Court as that one is still available.

      That's as far as my guesswork can take me. I think this'll remain a mystery until the far of days when we can safely add Age of Sigmar beneath the Oldhammer banner.

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    2. That's interesting. It reminds me somewhat of Kill Team Rogue Trader: a slightly different and more quirky setting, a few heroes, a more John Blanche feeling than the bigger games, and the fact that it vanished quickly. It's almost as if GW is trying to make these games feel exclusive, but I can't see how that would make them more profit in the long run.

      Perhaps there was a mistake, or it was just something that they had on the back burner and just wanted to get out there. It's hard to tell, but the way it worked out, GW don't seem to be capitalising on it as well as they could.

      I look at a lot of GW stuff and realise that it's not my thing: it's costly, the rules may not be especially good, and the models (while often very well-made and produced) are sometimes not to my tastes. I find the simplicity and flexibility of games like Frostgrave much more appealing these days.

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    3. Good point. Kill Team: Rogue Trader was an interesting looking game that had a very Blanche vibe going for it. I agree with you on the gaming side. Frostgrave (and some recent boardgames like Nemesis) do a better job at entertaining than GW and make it easier to start and keep going. On the model side of things I just like too much (nearly everything). My main complaint about GW's models is their lack of support. I think the current product line managers don't quite grasp how much it sucks to paint an army over the course of years (we're not all pro-painters) only to have it stuck on a shelf because of a lack of rules support. Come to think of it, that's one of the reasons I left that Blanchian game on the shelves. I strongly suspected the models would be useless within a few years (from a gaming perspective). I haven't checked, but I strongly suspect I'm right on that count.

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    4. I found Kill Team: Rogue Trader really odd, as while the models can be used in 40k (I think they released stats for them) they don't fit into the army lists. It did feel like a pet project, and so does Cursed City. It's almost as if GW was contractually required to release them, the way some musicians on a bad contract have to put out an album.

      This is just personal choice, but I find the very complex plastic models coming out of GW these days less appealing than the simpler but easier to convert/personalise models that other companies are producing. I see that GW can't just produce generic knights and spacemen but the very specialised armies put me off. I'd much rather make up my own concept for a particular army than buy something like that from GW.

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  2. I heartily agree regarding tournaments. My preferred systems don't seem quite as bad, though there is certainly an element of it, and the annual tournament book is now wrapped up with the annual tweaks and changes (all in one book though, so you only ever need the one supplement at table).
    The army list building sounds an absolute nightmare. I don't think I'd have the patience for that.

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    1. Building an army with only one supplement on the table. Now there's something to aspire to. I don't have the patience to build proper AoS armies either (at the moment).

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  3. Good read. It does seem as though GW are in the middle of their cycle, where they go simple, then get more and more complex and added in, then realise its all too much and reset to strip it all back. Then start again........

    Dead right about the need for a structure on narrative play too. Still needs a framework for people to work with, even as just a guide for "yeah, about that much should be right" eyeball for army sizes.

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    1. The more I think about your comment, the more I agree with you. GW does have these phases. I'm remember Rogue Trader clogging up with robot rules, tank hit locations (well loved by some, I know) and the like. Or the old Adpetus Titanicus/Space Marine game that turned into a confusing mess of useless addon rules. Rogue Trader was rather brutally reset by 2nd edition 40K and perhaps most illustrative for this point Epic. I recall one of Epic's designers stating they wanted to smooth gameplay by simplifying the system and ended up killing it's spirit. Can't wait until they finally start expanding the new Adeptus Titanicus. .

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    2. Do you remember the original robot programme rules in WD? IIRC at least one was flawed such that it never attacked.

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    3. Remember them? I still have that White Dwarf in my collection :) I vaguely recall myself at thirteen years old trying to use this as a template to code a robot AI in BASIC. Looking back I never stood much of a chance at a developers career in IT ;)

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  4. Oh Cursed City.. I so wanted that game. Aptly named as it ended up being cursed, financially unviable to have more copies printed (so I was told by my local shop staff), shame. On the plus side, Cursed City was the teaser intro for the new vampires and giant bats recently released.

    Your CC heroes look really nice, prize to the wizard for best whispy beard ever. How is it, even in a diverse gang of misfits, the broody witchhunter stands out.. so cool.

    Hrm.. GW and fonts, yeah.. this is something I've complained about for a few years now. Some colour combinations and coloured text I find almost impossible to read. Old black and white GW books, easilly readable print. When books became coloured, the font got thinner, finer, and slightly smaller. The Grand Alliance books had larger print. I dont need reading glasses but fine slender fonts on colour tinted paper is straining on the eyes, between the colour tints and the light refraction from the paper, the fine slender letters appear overwhelmed - not immediately identifiable. That leads to strain. A big detective magnifying glass solves the problem, I'd prefare GW to solve the problem but till then, sales on magnifying glass could see a rise in sales from the gaming community.

    Regarding the shift in rules and game design. For true balance, perhaps its time tournament people had one supplement and the casual / narrative game had another. Gamer schism or one book for all?

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  5. I feel your pain. Its quite frustrating to see a cool game disappear in the blink of an eye. Especially with a witch hunter like that in the box. I do like the new vampire characters they've introduced in the regular store. I want to get Lady Annika on my paint station post haste. Kritza the Rat Prince needs to make some solid promises not to hurt my Skaven first ;)

    You're point about the font/color combinations is on the mark. I have nightmarish recollections of my time reading Tamurkhan: The Throne of Chaos by Forge World. Not quite because of the story, but because of the brown-red font on parchment brown transitioning to red paper.

    I wouldn't mind a schism in books, although I think the tournament scene would be better served if left to do its own house ruling. It seems to be part of the fun there after all and no else can respond to 'the meta' (har har) quick enough.

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    1. I look forward to getting those two vampires too, theyre both so kooky and weird, almost as weird as the vampire council which appear in the Ulrika trilogy.

      Kritza would also make a great vampire lord for a Mordheim warband.

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  6. I do not have anything to add, except that I really enjoyed this rant. :)

    The kid is interested in 40k enough to spend time painting and reading the books, but the pile of special/army/CP/stratagem/etc. rules is so... off putting. And 9th is still pretty new! I shudder to think what it will look like near to the end.

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    1. No worries, 10th will bring it back to a 4-page booklet and datasheets :).

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  7. Absolutely beautiful hero’s you have painted there! Congrats on snagging a copy. I can agree on the age thing. My wife laughs when I break out the reading glasses to paint. Lol

    Lastly I share your GW frustration. I came back to the hobby through Killteam about 3 years ago. New Killteam is about driving me out with its two books and future faction boxes to come. Thank goodness I’ve bought 4+ other completely different games I can play for the entry price of new killteam. And I’m not sad about it, just sad for GW losing me for a second time.

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    1. My wife calls my Optivisor the ultimate woman repellent (well actually its a slightly ruder description I won't burden the internet with :).

      Sucks about Kill Team, I can relate to running away from GW again. That launch looked like interesting miniatures coupled with rules that missed the point. I bought the previous book because it looked interesting, but I found the game lacking somehow (can't put my finger on it). Now I'm going to go with Stargrave. The Osprey Blue Books are just more suited to combine miniatures and with some of your own imagination I guess.

      Botched launches, bloated rulesets and the rise of 3D-printing will make the coming decade interesting for GW to say the least. On the bright side they have (as far as I can discern) never launched a worse campaign system than the original Realm of Chaos one (though Path to Glory in AoS comes close). So there's another future challenge for GW, and a bit of Oldhammer Heresy from my side :)

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