Thursday, 5 May 2016

A bit of nostalgia #3

Operation Nostalgia - Junkyard scramble

Almost forgot to do something this week.  Thankfully I have just enough time before the weekend, and therefore the Kickstarter trawl, gets in the way.

I've realised something fairly important, quite a lot of my Nostalgia games are Games Workshop's.  Now this is partly because they did do some reasonable games, all of which they sacrificed to the fire of WH40k at some point in the not too distant past.  Necromunda is todays fair, and it is a prime example of GW shooting themselves in the kneecaps.  Because this game did something I never really saw the other specialist games doing.

So, lets go with the background and work our way onwards into the actual game.

In the grim dark of the future there is only war... well unless you happen to live on a quiet agri world, or as a noble in some luxury apartments on a hive world.  Actually for the vast majority of people war is pretty low on the daily expectations list, but it is still Grim!  Necromunda was, certainly the lower levels of the Hive city Necromunda, were very Grim.  The base levels of Hives are vast, easily a few times larger than any real life city on Earth, and some of the really big Hives can stretch across counties (or really small states for the America readers).  Down in these depths gangs fight for domination of the slugs and scrapyards that are left behind.  The weight of the rest of the hive above has pretty much caused most of the Underhive to collapse, so people have got out of the area.. except you, and your gang.  Over time the gangs gathered together, to form Family type affairs, and entire cultures of their own.  You pick from one of the families, pay for your gangers, juves and leaders and then head out to make a name for yourself.

GW basically went all skirmish game on us here.  They twisted and tweaked the standard 40k rule set (keeping things like WS and BS... they always had some BS) and including rules to allow models to become more experienced, or gain better weapons, and even to have injuries.  It was like Bloodbowl.. just cooler... and I don't mean that to spite Bloodbowl (which will feature at some point in a Nostalgia post), but Necromunda was a lot of fun.  I remember playing an old play by post gang war game, where you could invade territory and push merchandise, and Necromunda sort of did that in a kid friendly way.  Each gang had territory to make money with, winning games might allow you to steal territory, or unearth new territory.  Even better than that, some of the territory you gain might not give you much cash, but you might get free juves to replace your dead, or secret tunnels that allow you to deploy your gangers behind enemy lines.

There were quite a few gangs available to start with.  The base gang came with Orlocks and Goliath.  They were very standard starters for GW, the Orlock being the jack of all trades family, and the Goliath where hitty "U's Hummies needs a stompin" Ork wannabies.  Ok so the background was that they were basically a patriarch gang born from living in the most oppressive and more brutal areas of the Underhive, but for the most part, they were just moderately smarter Orks.  You could, instead, go for Cawdor (moderately fanatical god emperor bothers who were fast and good in combat, just not Goliath good), Delaque (Assassins of the "looks like, but no where near as good as" Hitman variety), Van Saar (because who doesn't like a big gun), and Escher (Where all the men have turned into withered husks and the woman are fast melee fighters, who just can't be hit).  There was, as you can tell, a reasonable variety and "some" play style options.  On top of that you could add Ratskin scouts (sort of Tribal American, and could sneak about), Pit Fighters (with added buzz saw limbs) or Outlaws (who could, for the most part, actually shoot things).

Now, as with all GW "experience based" games, there were problems.  The guys out front got all the best stuff, making them harder to beat, meaning they got even more good stuff.  I don't think GW ever really managed to find a way to balance that problem.  It is something I have seen with more or less all campaign style games (I'm hoping Guild Ball has solved that).  It also struggled with the fact that, while the models were good, the inherent issue with systems that allow you to upgrade your models is that metal models don't "upgrade" very easily, so you either needed a lot of models to represent each type of weapon, or you had to be very clever at having convertible models (and some of them were small so magnetic weapon swaps might not have looks so good).

Plus, and this one is definitely a GW special, there was power creep.  The expansion for Necromunda bought in five more "gang" options.  In most cases you would expect that this meant five new gangs which panel beat every other old family, but no.  It was just one of them.  I mean how to do you over balance a new faction when you have four other reasonably balance new gangs coming out at the same time?  Anyway, the four good factions were;

The Enforcers - Judge Dredd probably would still teach them a thing or two, but basically they were Judges.  They didn't gain much from territory and advancing them was quite limited, but they had the best body armour and it was cheap to replace weapons and get good ammo for them.  To really balance them you could field a maximum of five models, ever.  You could have more in your gang, but they went out as a five man squad to each mission.

The Ratskins - As with the scouts there was a big Wild West type style to them, they worked well because while they were quite week they more or less ignored deployment rules (because they could get tunnels and vents really easily).  They also survived more often than not because they could reroll injury checks.  They basically couldn't have heavy weaponary though, so they didn't get a massive amount of "everything is dead dave" moments.

The Scavvies - Zombies!!! No?  So you guys are technically alive still.. I mean shit man thats harsh.  Basically these guys were cheap, your gang sheet was probably double sided and you still didn't end up running out of cash.  And they hit harder than the Goliah did in close combat.  Oh and you get free "fodder" troops every game, that didn't cost anything to put onto the field and it didn't really matter if they died.  However, they would probably shoot themselves more often than not, so giving them guns was a waste of cash, and no Heavies either, which is probably just as well.

The Cult of Redemption - Sisters of Battle have nothing on these guys when it comes to complete gushing crazy for the emperor, nothing.  They are, in essence, the elite of the Cawdor family, but frankly they would burn their own family if they decided they weren't devoted enough.  Burning being the operative word.  They got cheap one shot flame rounds for funzies and flame throwers all over the place.  In Necromunda they made one hell of lot of burning corpses very quickly (armour wasn't exactly common place).  Their Heavy was a guy with a huge two handed chainsaw as well, because why not.  The leader also got to convert any enemies that were captured during games (which made recruitment easier).  Of course to counter this they did have weaknesses, if I recall correctly they couldn't have certain territories (including the one that allowed you to recruit new guys so you had to convert people or buy full priced), flamers were very short ranged too and they lost all the Cawdor close combatiness, so if you could get past the fire they pretty much turned to ash themselves.  With a lot of close combat guys in Necromunda that was actually not uncommon.

Those were the balanced ones.. even The Cult of Redemption didn't earn the hatred of the next guys.

The Spyre Hunters - Screw these guys.  Seriously they could go died in a fire, started by the cult and faned my every other gang in the game.  Except they didn't, with their high and mighty armour they probably would just walk through it and then gut everyone stood watching.. for a giggle.  Ok, so the issue here is quite simple, they had 40k level armour and weaponary in a game where the weapons could barely get through imperial guard armour.  If you couldn't pin down a Spyre before it got a shot off them you were in trouble.  Just to make it even better, there were basically the Young Nobility coming down from the upper spire for a bit of sport..  You didn't get territory (if I recall) so hiring people was difficult (you basically just got the money from the missions), but it didn't matter, your guys basically didn't die.  They traded with the alien races (including the Tau apparently so I have to give them some credit), so everything they did was pretty harsh.  The balance off... you may be could stretch to having three of them in a gang at a time... basically they were expensive, but when you can deploy three ultimate killing machines on a field where people are firing pee-shooters at you, I think you can cope.  Van Saar were pretty much the only gang that would give them a run for their money, because they had easy access to lascannons and plasma weapons.  So...

Even with the Spyre "cheat mode" Hunters on the board, this was still a good game.  GW put into the box some lovely cardboard terrain,  it was skirmish sized (though I wish it had been an alternate activate system), it had really good rules to make it feel cinematic (like falling off of buildings when you got shot), and there was just enough to make sure it wasn't 40k on fat burners.

So far the first two games taught me something about how War Gaming could be.  Necromunda never taught me anything about war gaming.. it was just bloody good fun.  Probably one of the best games they ever made.  In fact I mentioned recently that Man O'War was probably only beaten by one GW game ever and that game was Necromunda.  When I said that I decided to actually write out my top 10 game list (only games I've played are on the list shockingly enough) and after much thought I realised that Necromunda sits on the top of the pile.  It is rapidly being caught by Malifaux and Guild Ball.. at a rate of knots that it probably won't survive, but there it is, Necromunda is my favourite game (so far).  So of course GW canned it!

Specialist Games are coming back, and I would expect Necromunda to be one of the games that returns.  I hope they do it justice, fix all the problems, make it alternate activations, and re-release the models in cheap plastic with enough in the boxes to allow you to customise the weaponary.  I think that is all it needs really.  Do it right, and Guild Ball might not make the #1 slot that Necromunda currently holds on to, by its fingertips, while being gunned down by a Heavy stubbed and stalked by one of those f'ing Spyre hunters.

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