Sunday, November 12, 2017

Initial impressions of Company of Iron (and Relicblade)

I've been looking forward to the release of Company of Iron.

I tried out Warmachine and Hordes, the army-scale predecessor to Company of Iron, when Hordes was first released.  I wanted Hordes to be my game of choice, after trying out Warhammer Fantasy 6th Edition and discovering that Warhammer missed the mark for me.  Hordes promised dynamic combat, with all sorts of over-the-top wrestling maneuvers.  I couldn't wait to have my trolls throwing enemies all over the board!

Unfortunately, the game seemed to sideline all of that flavorful combat in favor of generic, straight-up combat.  Worse, many of the mechanics that I found to be unappealing in Warhammer were replicated in Hordes:  full army-wide IGOUGO activation; no pre-measuring (which required guessing charge ranges and shooting ranges); confined army builds; and "gamey" tactics rather than historical tactics.  I quickly lost interest in the game, although I still continued to collect several factions, since I still liked so many of the models.

So I was excited for the prospect of Company of Iron, on the assumption that Privateer Press (PP) was finally going to offer an entry-level game that would be more accessible to the broader player community, i.e. new players and casual players -- as opposed to the hardened, rules-precision players that are the stereotypical Warmachine/Hordes community.

By coincidence, I received a rulebook for another skirmish game, Relicblade, on the same day that Company of Iron arrived in the mail.  My impression of each game is night and day!  Let's take a look.



The cover art for each rulebook is good.  But if I were to see each of them on the store shelf side-by-side, I would grab Relicblade first.  Here's why.

Company of Iron shows a stereotypical duel.  It's a scene that's been done a million times.  And for a trained warrior, the lady on the right shows a static, vulnerable pose.  Now granted, the boar-lady with the dreadlocks is cool, and she's about to put the smack-down on the Barbie in blue, boob-armor.  That, I can support.

The Relicblade cover is unique and compelling.  Who are these believable, personality-filled adventurers, and what are they looking at?  Where are they?  What's the deal with that saber-tusked cat?  What sandwich is that guy eating?  Now I want a sandwich, too.

Let's take a peek inside each book.

Company of Iron
Written for rules lawyers.

Company of Iron looks and reads like a prospectus for an insurance firm.  There are 13 pages of definitions and conventions, before you even start reading about how the game is played.  Dry.  Uninviting.  There is no way that a player who is new to the hobby would subject themselves to this 6-point-font agony.  I put down the book after 20 minutes, and, grudgingly, I mentally blocked the time that I would need to finish studying the rules.

Relicblade
Written for gamers!

Relicblade.  Fun!  It has cartoons!  The font is characterful and easy to read.  The writing is light-hearted, welcoming, and filled with jokes.  In no time at all, I'm learning how to play the game.  In about 15 minutes, I want to play a game!

When you add the Advanced Rules for Company of Iron, the combined Core and Advanced rules are virtually the same as Hordes and Warmachine.  The only advantage is portioning the rules so that you can learn them in two stages.  But PP could have accomplished that with a digital addendum to Warmachine/Hordes.  Which they do provide, by the way.  So I wonder why I needed to spend $70 on what is effectively a starter set for Warmachine/Hordes...  Company of Iron is every bit as complex as Warmachine/Hordes.  Moreso, actually, because there are now variations and exceptions to learn, in order to play the Core Rules of Company of Iron.

PP missed an opportunity to appeal to new and casual players.  PP can't afford a misstep like this.  Not when the community is dissatisfied with Mk III of Warmachine/Hordes.  Not when Games Workshop is finally recovering from their hubris, acknowledging their player base again, and revitalizing their image and product lines.  Not when the market offers so many good games to compete for consumers' finite leisure time.  Sorry, PP -- I want you to do well.  But this was a disappointment.

2 comments:

  1. I've been looking forward to Company of Iron, because I think there's some Cool Stuff going on in Warmachine/Hordes that's lost underneath the Page 5 bullshit and how the game is grown to represent a scale the system is really bad at (it sure is army-scale, now, and roll 2d6 to hit, 2d6 to damage for each individual model/attack is MURDER).

    I don't think Privateer Press _does_ casual play. The best thing I can say about the company is that their games tend towards being pretty tight: tight to the point where they punish any sort of disparity in skill ruthlessly. That can be a good thing, but it's poison to someone who just wants to push around some models.

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    1. I'm with you, Richard -- I have always been attracted to what Hordes *could* be. There's something compelling about the Fury mechanic. And I really want to see what happens when a Troll puts someone in a headlock. Or Throws some poor sap into an enemy unit like a bowling ball.

      Since Chris has the same inclination to try out the game, I labored yesterday to create a cheatsheet that distills the Core Rules into a concise, manageable, learnable rule-set. I was able to fit it on one page...

      Sure, rules clarity is helpful and important. But there's a better way to present it, IMO, by shifting all the nuances, clarifications, full glossaries, special ability descriptions, and examples into later sections -- instead of wading through it at the outset, beginning with Genesis.

      In any case, I think we're finally in a position that we can actually choose our cool toy soldiers from Hordes and pit them against each other.

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