Sunday, December 9, 2012

Game Design Series - High Elves and ASF

There's no way my HE looks like this.

Hey guys, it's been a long time.

I've been pretty busy over the last couple of weeks and it hasn't been minis related.  First it was work, then it was thanksgiving.. I've been traveling a lot and I just came back from a friend's wedding over the weekend.  I'll also be AWOL in the next couple of weeks due to Christmas break.

This is going to be the first article in a new series of articles I plan on writing.  It might not be the first of its kind, or similar to some of the other ones you've seen around the web, but it will be something special.  I'm calling this particular series, the Game Design Series.  It's basically a series that'll touch upon the finer points of gaming; breaking down the facets of why certain things are the way they are, who thought of them, or why did it originate in the first place.  I'm a huge fan of game design, most notably in the field of balance design, and I make a big deal when something just doesn't work.  I love the idea of originality and creativity, but not at the expense of game imbalance.  However, there are times where something works so wonderfully that I have to talk about it.  This is one of those times.

We'll kick this series off with why I think ASF - Always Strike First, is the best thing to happen to High Elves faction design, ever.

I've been playing High Elves since the end of their 6th Ed. book in 7th Ed.  I played with their current book (the ASF book) in all of 7th, and now in 8th.  Before you ask why High Elves getting army-wide ASF is a good idea, you have to understand who the High Elves really are.  I'm not talking about the fairy-looking aesthetics, I'm talking about their faction design to the core.

High Elves are meant to be elite.  This is represented with slightly inflated WS, BS and I, but most importantly, this is represented by the average cost per model in the entire book.  Games Workshop has specifically said that High Elves are supposed to be the most elite force/army/faction.  They do this by making all these T3 elves more expensive than anyone would like to pay.  This brings us to our next point:  Why in god's name would you make lightly armored, T3 Elves so expensive?  Expensive costs per model means less model per unit, less opportunity to beef up your existing battalions, and thus having less units on the table.  From an aesthetic and ambient point of view (very important in game design), this is perfection 101.  How do you best capture the elite feeling of being outnumbered (numerically) in every game and against every faction?  You make them so expensive that no matter what you do, the end result will always be the same.  With one, little gesture, Adam Troke and the rest of the GW design team made High Elves the army they always wanted to be.

Now that we have an army of "overpriced", lightly-armored, T3 elves, what do we do now?  This is where you analyze the nature of the army and envision the actual "how" are they supposed to fight.  Well, by the lore given to them, they're supposed to be so highly-trained that they can knock a rider from his mount before the lance hits home.  Before we go any further, you have to understand that the current High Elves book was written in 7th Ed.  This means that the actual design for the High Elves have to work hand-in-hand with the core structure of the rules in 7th.  If anyone remembers this, the first thing they would tell you is how High Elves killed guys in the front row before they even get to strike.  Yes, this is absolutely true.  However, what they forget to tell you, is that after they killed those models in the front rank, the amount of attacks coming back at the High Elves were dramatically reduced.  This is how it was in 7th Ed, not 8th.

The High Elves faction, from a game design perspective, was given army-wide ASF for one reason and one reason only:  To deal enough damage to the enemy before they can do sufficient damage back.  The entire philosophy behind the faction, as I mentioned earlier, was to be elite.  They were purposely given a lower model count so that each unit, given the stats and weapons that they were given, was somehow able to make it work.  To make the solution even more appealing, army-wide ASF is dead simple:  You Always Strike First regardless of the weapon you're carrying.  Clean, precise and straight to the point - You can't really ask for a better rule (especially one that's already in the rules).  That's the primary justification why 15pt Sword Masters, with their T3 and 5+ save was able to make their points back.  They still make their points back, but they do it in a way that wasn't intended by GW.  With the onset of 8th Ed., ASF now turns HE units into blenders, but robs them from their original identity of unit preservation through first strike.  We now have Identity Lost, and this is a problem.

So next year, there's rumors of a new High Elves book.  I, for one, am very skeptical on what they're going to do with High Elves.  If you do a radical points decrease, High Elves will no longer be considered elite by the sheer amount of units on the field.  It won't "look" right, and for GW and most game developers, that is very important.  In my opinion, army-wide ASF was the perfect solution to the problem of:  How do you convey "eliteness" in actual gameplay with respects to how much you're spending per High Elf model?  They sure the hell can't keep what they have now.  ASF right now is all about offense; offering nothing defensively (both visual and practical); and doesn't work with the whole High Elf aesthetic.  I would shit a giant monkey if they kept Speed of Asuryan in the game in its current state.  But hey, this isn't the first time GW did something ridiculous.


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