Tuesday, 29 March 2016

(Why) I still prefer Warhammer Fantasy Battle

I spent last Sunday playing the good guys for a change, in a scenario organised by Paul of "more orcs than Sauron" fame, and on the drive home was pondering not just that I prefer WFB to the more modern games that I'm generally playing at the moment, but why I prefer it. Aside from the familiarity and no doubt nostalgia value it boils down to -
  • The excessive detail (in troop characteristics, weapon bonuses, etc.) make it both easier and more prone to having a role playing game feeling
  • It still handles a breadth of scale from handful of miniatures to small hundreds
To explain what I mean a few details of the scenario are relevant. I was leading a small band of samurai whose goal was to rescue some kidnapped damsels - facing me were around 100 barbarians and half-orcs, and some people on a war mammoth (very cool model - not room for one in my paint queue at the moment though!). A good number of the samurai characters had magic weapons, which naively I thought was to balance things out a bit...

One of the weapons was a Frenzied Blade.

In Dragon Rampant, to take a counter example, things are very much abstracted. You can build a narrative using the fantastical abilities, the various troop types and the Reduced Model rule. But actually the number of levers which are available to twiddle are fairly limited. This has a lot of good things going for it - the game can be more balanced and less open to abuse - but at the end of the day units end up somewhat alike and it's harder to really feel you know a character as an individual.

Back to the scenario: the Frenzied Blade wielder saved my bacon at a crucial interval (frenzy being a bit of a monster when it comes off) and looking back he becomes one of the key narratives that emerged from the game. There were also several other narratives, actual and potential - an interesting wizard duel, and the barbarian horde being held off by some seriously unlikely dice rolling. But those two factors - the detail and the breadth of scale - are what made the scenario truly memorable.

It can so easily degenerate into Herohammer or a "win in the army design" mess, but with a good GM and scenario Warhammer Fantasy Battle still seems, in my admittedly limited experience, hard to beat.

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