Impressions/Review: Mantic’s Warpath and Firefight

Just a brief Impression today, as some family stuff has come up that will result in no Monday Game or Wednesday post next week.

The Warpath and Firefight digital rulebooks from the Warpath Kickstarter were released yesterday, and so I wanted to go over them in a bit of light detail and highlight elements I see as promising or potentially worrying.

One note: I’ve not had a chance to play either system yet in the current incarnation, just precursor editions and the beta ruleset, so take everything said here with a grain of salt.

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Note the lack of chunky square multibases: This is a Firefight game, or one of the somewhat-annoyingly common unbased model pictures in the Warpath rulebook

What Has Come Before

Warpath has had a variety of false starts over the past half-decade, some of which held actual promise for a strong game system before being canned.

Warpath 1.0 was by Alessio Calvatore, and was very heavily an almost 1:1 port of Kings of War. This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, as while the movement rules were a bit clunky, the remainder of the game played incredibly quickly and cleanly in the vein of KoW. One of the biggest complaints was the lack of model removal, which led Mantic to develop Warpath 2.0’s rules to account for that.

For what it’s worth, I think this system was damn near perfect, and could have just benefited from a bit of tightening of the movement rules and weathering the complaints of model removal until they faded as people got used to the system. After all, Kings of War lacks model removal as well, and it’s on-track to continue being the top fantasy mass-battle game on the market.

Warpath 2.0 was a heavy port of Warpath 1.0, keeping a lot of top-level elements of movement and shooting but adding model removal. This changed the element of Nerve tests to basically be a cleanup of heavily-damaged units, rather than a gradual progression of a unit being more and more likely to break and flee (but not guaranteed either). They also added an activation mechanic, which had some initial issues during testing but was resolved to work alright in the final version.

Melee and Shooting attack dice values became a function of the number of models in a unit, which took a lot of granularity out of a value that didn’t have to be a multiple of the number of models in the unit in Warpath 1.0. Flier rules were removed as well, which was a shame as the Warpath 1.0 Flier rules were (imo) the best interpretation of high-speed aircraft I’ve seen in any wargame.

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But of course, Warpath 1.0 and 2.0 didn’t have these sexy, sexy jetbikes

Warpath 3.0 (or just ‘Warpath’) is the current incarnation, and I’ve linked to the Alpha rules which are broadly the same as the final version.

The Good

To start off with, the rulebooks are very nice visually. Clean presentation, clean images, good little content blurbs that add flavor without getting in the way. At first I was worried there wasn’t much fluff blurbs to rules ration, but I quickly realized I was ‘spoiled’ for that by Warhammer 40K’s rulebooks. 40K has tons of fluff, but that’s also because it’s a massive tome of rules to swallow; Warpath has a similar ratio, but with a much smaller rulebook you necessarily get much less fluff interspersed in the book. The addition of the Warpath Sourcebook to the digital downloads is a great way to add that fluff without watering down the main rulebook or making it an unwieldy large download if it was given a dedicated fluff section.

Barring three areas (Secondary Objectives, Commands, and Nerve/Resilience/Recovery), the rules are quite good. The explanations are clear, and previous imbalance problems (like very strong units shoring up in Fortified Terrain and effectively becoming an untouchable and huge threat) seem to have been addressed and mostly resolved. While there are a few areas I wish had been handled differently, such as Fliers falling more in-line with how they work in Warhammer 40K rather than how I had liked them in Warpath 1.0, for the most part it’s very solid.

Line of sight and cover rules are also quite neat, adding Height mechanics and a good “shadow” mechanic for determining how far behind an object someone can claim cover without being seen or shot at easily. I appreciate it, since True Line of Sight can get messy in tournament settings and Kings of War already set a good precedent with this with their Heights rules.

The army lists are also quite clean, and I appreciate that older and phased-out Warpath kits from as far back as the halycon days of Warpath 1.0 are still given unit entries to use in the latest incarnation. Army/force organization looks to be quite straightforward, which is also appreciated in that it appears to try and limit spam of powerful units but not be too overbearing in dictating how to assemble your army.

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Another nice bonus is redesigning the Steel Warriors so they weren’t sharing part of their sprue with the KoW Dwarf legs. The new version now makes all of the Forgefathers look like Stormrage Veterans, aka the coolest looking space dorfs ever

The Bad

There’s really just three distinct areas of “bad” in the ruleset, but unfortunately they’ve been present for some time now through the various incarnations of Alpha and Beta test rulesets. One small nitpick is that a lot of photos in the Warpath book show units in battles that aren’t on the multibases, which is annoying since that’s one of the biggest factors separating it from Firefight in the first place.

Nerve/Resilience/Recovery: This section is a bit confusingly worded, and basically ends up making it so the toughness of a unit in terms of Resilience also has an odd might-be-immune-from-fear effect if they have a high enough Nerve. It works, but it’s a bit jarring to get used to if you haven’t seen it before.

Recovery is the one sticking point I have, and it’s a sticking point particular to the Warpath ruleset. In both rulesets, a unit that’s shot at enough ends up Going to Ground, getting a boatload of penalties and basically becoming useless from fear. Then when they recover, you roll to see if further bad stuff happens.

In Firefight, the player chooses the bad stuff: either models die off, or the entire unit retreats backwards D3″ for each model you failed the roll for. This is great, because it makes it a tactical option to either weather the losses but stay in a key position, or fall back but end up with better strength to advance again.

In Warpath, the second option doesn’t exist. If you fail the roll, teams die, and that’s it. it feels frustrating, especially with the perfect solution of the Firefight Recovery rules sitting right next to it for comparison, and ends up being more of a mopping-up die-rolling mechanic than any sort of tactical or engaging choice.

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It’s annoying that they’re not easily convertible from regular d8s like Fudge/Fate dice are from regular d6s

Commands: This is a big mechanic I strongly, strongly dislike. Some units provide ‘Command Dice’ (a unique d8 that players would have to buy rather than use dice from their own collection), which can be rolled and spent for various special Orders. Mechanically, the Orders feel a bit better-balanced than in alpha and beta, but the mechanic a a whole feels tacked-on rather than an integral game mechanic and it seems like it might have been included more to pay homage to Deadzone, the skirmish-scale precursor to the Warpath Kickstarter that was released after Warpath 2.0, rather than provide a important tentpole game mechanic.

Apart from the pasted-on feeling of the mechanic, my other big complaint is how Reserves are tied up into Commands as well. Reserves in Warpath 1.0 and 2.0 were a freebie, something where you could set aside units and have them come into battle at a later point from a flanking position. There was even a nice tradeoff, where the longer it took them to arrive, the more they could flank around the table in their deployment. Overall, it had been a great way to add tactical flavor to the game without messing around with the rules too much.

Now, however, the mechanic is gated behind an arbitrary resource mechanic, and the place they can deploy from is weirdly restricted and nowhere near as intuitive as it was before. The biggest issue by far is the resource-mechanic gating, as it means that you can’t reasonably or safely enter very many units into Reserves, while before you could enter as much of your army in Reserves as you wanted, provided you were willing to assume the risk of being tabled while the bulk of your army was waiting to arrive or being cut down if you arrived piecemeal over several turns.

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“Which objective am I going for? You’ll never guess! No, seriously, you’ll never guess.”

Secondary Objectives: So the Scenario provide two sets of objectives by which you can earn Victory Points, with the most victory points being the winner of a Scenario. Scenario’s Primary Objectives are detailed, and most or all of them include VP for killing a percentage of enemy units or for controlling objective locations on the battlefield. While there is a hint of concern I have for the fact that the maximum achievable VP from killing the enemy always 2-4x the maximum VP you get for controlling objectives, my other big concern is the huge list of Secondary Objectives.

Players secretly roll for a number of Secondary Objectives on a d66 table. This means that there’s 36 possible avenues they have for gaining additional VP; almost all of them are not enough to secure a win if they are losing badly in the kill-the-enemy VP race (again, this needed to be better balanced with the objective-control VP), and on top of that 3 of them are always unique to whatever army your force is from.

What this means on the tabletop is that your enemy will always have some hidden goal they can be gunning for to turn the tide of battle, and unless they telegraph it very clearly in words or deeds, there’s no way you can reasonably guess what their Secondary Objectives are. On the surface I think this was meant to introduce tactical choices, second guessing, and tailoring a list to adapt well to unexpected scenarios, but to me it just feels like an impetus for both sides to faff around a bit as they try and score these objectives while being unable to suss out and counterplay the enemy’s Secondary Objective. Sure hope you’re not both earning unequal VP for those Secondary Objectives!

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I do wish I could see how a jetbike-heavy tournament army would fare, since that speed could score a painfully large number of objective-based VP

The Ugly

All of the ‘Bad’ points above are minuscule compared to the one, overarching problem I think the ruleset has, despite the pretty pictures and (in most places) tight mechanics:

I don’t think this game is tournament-ready.

Let me unpack that a bit, and use Kings of War as a point of comparison. Kings of War started off with some weird mechanics for Nerve, but underneath those problems was a tight and fast core ruleset. The earliest incarnations of the rules encouraged the use of chess clocks to play with, and even the latest 2nd Edition of the rules continues to be as fast and fluid as KoW’s alpha ruleset had been.

Warpath, by comparison, has a clunky system. I’ve helped with it since Warpath 2.0, and the 3.0 incarnation attempted to reboot the game from the ground up, drawing almost entirely from Deadzone’s ruleset and essentially ignoring Warpath 1.0 and 2.0 that had come before. The game works, but the mechanics constantly seem better-suited to a smaller-scale game, something no larger than the small end of the suggested Firefight game battles.

I think a lot of this has to do with trying to convert the game from Deadzone, which is a skirmish game that accomplishes the skirmish game feel wonderfully. However, Warpath in its attempt to emulate concepts like Overwatch, Commands, Secondary Objectives, and more, ends up feeling like a laundry list of concepts thrown together rather than trying to create a smooth and cohesive game. I strongly suspect that Commands and Nerve/Recovery calculations and rolls in particular will both drag out gameplay time, and I think Commands and Secondary Objectives as a whole will be large sticking points for tournament gameplay and balance.

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While I’m not a huge fan of a d8-based game system, I do love the daylights out of Deadzone’s TLOS rules, modular sprue-plastic terrain, and the cube-based movement and shooting rules

Note that this isn’t to say Warpath is doomed; far from it. Kings of War had several issues that needed to be resolved in order to improve the tournament play, such as rules changes so that Individuals couldn’t block charging regiments fifty times their size at whim. I think Warpath can benefit from similar balancing, but I think the changes that will end up will need to be much greater than those that were needed for Kings of War.

Commands and Secondary Objectives add great flavor, but I think they would be better relegated to an optional rules section, maybe a supplement in the vein of Kings of War’s Uncharted Empires or something similar. Right now they add a layer of annoying management into an otherwise fairly-clean system, and the Objectives in particular undermine the ability of a general to make informed or deduction-based tactical decisions in a timely fashion.

Closing Thoughts

On the whole, however, I am impressed. Warpath and Firefight are solid entries into the wargaming genre, and I think that while they’re not going to be stealing 40K tournament players anytime soon, it’s easily a great beer-and-pretzels game to enjoy on a weekend with friends. If you get a chance to pick up a copy, and especially if you like casual gaming with Warhammer 40K or Infinity, then I strongly suggest picking up a copy once its available for purchase!

So what do you think of Warpath and Firefight, and of my thoughts about them? Let me know in the reblogs and comments below!

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5 thoughts on “Impressions/Review: Mantic’s Warpath and Firefight

  1. Petrow84 says:

    Thanks for summarizing it. I had my first Firefight game last weekend, so I would like to react for your points.

    Nerve/Resilience/Recovery: I knew such from KoW, but this is the first time I met with it in action. WM/H and 40k are my go-to tabletop games for larger fights, and it was quite refreshing to see that morale actually counts, and can render even the mightiest unit useless. As for warpath, I cannot judge, whether or not it is a good idea to omit the choice between the recovery modes, but I intend to find it out soon.

    Commands: I regard it as some sort of resource & risk management, which is cool in my opinion. You can either spend more points on troops and equipment (command granting models and upgrades are very expensive), or invest resources to have access to orders. Now, some of them seems a bit too strong, other ones fairly useless, but I wouldn’t go too far to judge it from a single game. As for the Reserve order, I guess, the intention was to counter last-minute objective grabbing. It could have been all too easy to hide for 5 rounds, then bring in the bulk of your force on turn 5, and sprint on the objectives on turn 6, winning the game.

    Secondary objectives: I give you that, all that secrecy stuff around is hot mess. We played with our cards put on the table, especially, that we rolled for Prospect for the Forge Father team, which is impossible to keep secret. The Enforcer team also rolled Bag&Tag, involving randomly selecting an infantry unit. It is also hard to do that without looking at your opponent’s army list, something, that gives away that you have something to do with his forces. To be sincere, this secret mission stuff first looked fun in DZ too, but we abandoned it soon.

    About not being tournament ready: I agree. It needs some balancing and the secret VP stuff is more or less inappropriate for an organized game. TIme will tell.

    • Thanks for the comment!

      One of my biggest worries with Commands is that the orders sometimes don’t feel balanced against each other. As for Reserves, the way it had worked in previous Warpath iterations was that you had to roll for arrival for each unit; this helped make sure that you couldn’t hold back your forces, and the only way to game the Reserves arrivals was to load up your army with multiple small units in reserve. Still, I definitely see your concern with using it to secure a last-turn win, and I’d definitely be interested in seeing if that’s an issue that could be fixed by letting local metas react and compensate for that strategy (like getting more anti-unit weapon choices or both players putting numerous small units into reserve) or if it would need a rules-level fix of some sort in order to function without being tied to Command.

      I think the Secondary Objectives being secretive would work, but only if there was something like D6 objectives possible. That way, you can both guess what the other person might be planning, as well as plan out how to feint your own intentions as well. For the moment, I think it will definitely be best if it is divorced from the primary game ruleset for tournament play as it could easily render a great deal of player skill and tactics moot. Here’s hoping that future tweaks will bring the game’s balance up to a much more tournament-ready level!

      • Petrow84 says:

        Speaking again from limited experience, the Forge Fathers’ Masters of Engineering rule seems way too strong. For a single CMD die, it completely eliminates cover, no matter, if it is from a defensible terrain, mobile defences, smoke, or a fortified terrain. I’d either limit it to be a Level 2 order, or eliminate the Fortified terrain / defensible terrain bonus, but not everything.

        If you don’t chain the Reserves to an order, some other changes should be made. Being able to assault from reserve seems like a very strong ability, especially with an anti-grav unit.

        You mentioned earlier air support in WP1, how was it back then?

      • Yeah, some of the faction-specific orders seem like they have the largest discrepancies in terms of power-to-difficulty ratio. At least for the general orders, everyone theoretically has equal access, but if a factoin-specific power is imbalanced, that’s a potentially much larger issue if both armies aren’t from the same faction.

        As for Reserves, I think the biggest way to balance it would be to make the roll to come in be a 6+, then 5+, 4+, etc, until it’s a 2+ on the 6th turn (and no roll at all to arrive on the 1st turn). That way, there’s more certainty of them showing up later, but no guarantee, and units that don’t arrive are counted as destroyed (In a similar sense, tabling an opponent with units still in Reserve would still count as a victory and the reserves units should count as lost). Maybe forbid charging the first turn they arrive, which would mean you can arrive from Reserves but it won’t be for another turn before you can offensively use a deathstar melee unit.

        Air support was basically a light vehicle with lots of small arms weapons, and when it arrived from reserves, it was placed anywhere on the table. At the start of your next turn, the aircraft was put back into reserves, and arrived on the next turn automatically, and so on. Basically, it was difficult to hit effectively, but with the tradeoff that it was essentially only a handful of rounds of shooting during the game in exchange for the cheap and versatile shooting positioning. To me, it made far more sense that shooting at it would be a “snapshot” of the battle as the craft shot by overhead, rather than the current rules and the rules in 40K, which seem to assume all aircraft are lumbering VTOL-type craft that hover around and unload fire into the enemy like a constantly-moving helicopter.

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