Wednesday, 22 December 2010

MK2 Musings Pt3 - Balance in Warmahordes

One of the biggest questions in the game since the introduction of Hordes is 'are the two systems balanced?' It comes up on all the forums repeatedly and has such a difference in opinion that it always reaches a stalemate (albeit a very vocal stalemate). Some adhere unwavedly to the belief that the versatility of FURY for warbeasts is so much better than FOCUS whilst others feel with utter conviction that warcasters outperform warlocks and that Warmachine's access to better solos, units and support give's them a significant advantage.

So, whose right? Are the two systems balanced and, if not, can they ever be balanced?

Well to tackle this problem we almost need to step back and ask is Warmachine balanced with Warmachine (and, of course, Hordes with Hordes)? The Blue Player has a Cygnar army and lays waste to all before him with sniped Long Gunners and their tremendous board control possibilities. He then faces the Orange Menoth Player whom, with the Choir singing 'Safe Passage' (no shooting) and Zealots with their UA and 'Greater Destiny', quickly show him that the Long Gunners don't rule the roost. Next the Green Cryx Player brings his Bane Thralls with Stealth and the Long Gunners are again in trouble. The Red Khador Player has a Devastator that laughs at his measly Long Gunners and again show the Blue player that he is no longer the king. So what does he do? He adapts. Chain lightning through an arc node can get rid of choir acolytes and make it so Zealots have to mini-feat early. Gun Mages with their UA again bring problems to the Cryx player and Armour Piercing rounds from Hunters or Seige Brisbane can crack open the Devastator. As he brings these tools out the Menoth player brings out smoke clouds with the High Reclaimer, multiple AoEs with Redeemers and Paladins that are immune to most things. Cryx has speedy arc nodes that can channel AoE templates to kill Gun Mages and Khador brings out Man Hunters and fast moving powerful infantry to minimise the Hunter's effectiveness. It is quickly obvious that there is nothing that is impossible to deal with and that players need to evolve to who and what they're facing. Cross-factions-wise there does seem to be a pretty decent balance and to find imbalances you need to actually go down to the caster level.
Within both games there are different levels of casters. Some, as listed in a previous post, bring a deadly assassination threat whilst others support Warjacks or troops or a type of attack (magic, melee or ranged). However one thing is certain casters are more effective and certain ones less so. In this respect the game is not about balance and actually promotes imbalance and it is the use of tactics that are employed to get round a bad matchup that makes the game fun. If all models had the same functions and stats then it would be about dice rolling and the game would be dull. I know when facing Menoth that there jacks are going to be immune to either magic or shooting and that I will very likely have Holy Zealots thrown at me. I also know that a lot of Menoth is very good at crowd control and can use denial very well. So I look to take something that can get the charge on the Warjacks and something that can flank the main force to attack the support models. I also make sure I have a shooter with magical weapon specifically for Vilmon. What I can't do is become too defensive and create a force that doesn't cause the opponent any problems and, unless otherwise agreed, know which caster I am facing. If I am playing Cryx it is maybe better to play epic Goreshade for example than prime Deneghra as eGoreshade does not rely too heavily on upkeeps and maximises the melee threat through his Bane Thralls. pDenny is generally seen as the superior caster but there are too many bad match-ups versus Menoth to risk using her. Balance is only achieved through experience and list building. Of course this naturally goes on into Hordes vs Warmachine. Here the number of bad match-ups generally increase as a lot of abilities and spells for both games are system specific. eHaley is arguably the best Warcaster in Warmachine but several key abilities don't work vs Hordes and therefore she is not as frightening as some others. Playing the Warlock pDoomshaper against certain warcasters would also be a recipe for a very tough game. It doesn't follow that Trollbloods are weak against warmachine though because the increased number of bad match-ups they can appear so. Play Grim Angus and the match up can be very good.
The final point that needs to be made is that Warmachine and Hordes are games that need sales. The new stuff has to offer something that the old doesn't and to this end the scale of balance is a precarious one. In Mark 1 there were several warcasters that were simply too powerful when coupled with options they factions had. Epic Vlad and the pGoreshade Bane Knight spam are typical examples of these. In Mk2 these do exist though thankfully to a lesser extent. Finding players that you can have a balanced game with is still paramount. Typically if your opponent has a balanced list (no spams or multiples of certain powerful models) then the likelihood is that you will have a good and balanced game no matter whether you play Hordes or Warmachine.

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