Hello all! I hope 2015 is treating you well so far. Me, I’d just be happy if it could stop being January now, please thank you.
But enough of the pleasantries, let’s talk about games! I’ve gone a bit mental these past few months for card games; Magic: the Gathering is now dead to me, despite the recent rush of enjoyment at our “Low Standards” games, so Cryptozoic’s deck building games are my current top choice, but I’ve recently picked up Sentinels of the Multiverse (which is due its christening game this weekend), and I’m casting covetous glances towards the many, many LCGs that Fantasy Flight make; I’m torn between some of my favourite franchises – Game of Thrones, Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Warhammer 40,000 and Call of Cthulhu!
But there’s another deckbuilder in my cupboard that’s currently gathering dust; Privateer Press’s Warmachine – High Command!
I snatched this up when I learned about it; after all, Warmachine is probably my favourite wargame (Warhammer dishonouring itself a long time ago), with a great setting and characters. How could I not want a DBG for that?
CCG or TCG (Collectible/Trading Card Game) – A card game in which players purchase booster packs to obtain random cards, which they then use to build a deck to play. The better and rarer a card, the more expensive it is to obtain in trades or on the secondary market, resulting in a very competitive “pay to win” mindset. Examples – Magic: the Gathering, Yu-Gi-Oh!
LCG (Living Card Game) – A card game which provides one or more players with several ready-to-play decks out of the box. Players can add cards to their deck just like a CCG, but new cards are released via fixed distribution, eliminating the “blind-buy” element of CCGs and putting a cap on ridiculous secondary market prices. Fantasy Flight love to make these. Examples – Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, Warhammer 40,000: Conquest.
DBG (Deck Building Game) – The new kid on the block. A card game in which each player starts off with a small deck of basic resource cards, and uses those to gain cards with more powerful effects – usually from a shared pool – to improve their deck as the game goes on and achieve victory. Examples – DC Heroes, Dominion, Thunderstone.
Okay, good, so now you’re up to speed. Back on track…
Unlike the Cryptozoic DBGs, High Command is a bit LCGish as well, with lots of expansions adding a set number of cards to the available card pool. It’s a weird hybrid voodoo baby of mechanics, and I love it. There’s High Command sets for Warmachine, Hordes, and another one for Warmachine called Faith and Fortune which deals with the less popular factions (cue the Retribution fanboys).
The aim of High Command is to capture locations. You do this by recruiting warjacks/beasts and warriors from your Reinforcement deck and deploying them to said locations. If there are enemy jacks/beasts and warriors at said location, fisticuffs ensue.
The jacks/beasts and warriors you can include in your Reinforcement deck depend on what warcasters/warlocks you select. At the start of the game, after you’ve picked your faction, you select three warcasters/warlocks. Each warcaster/warlock has two choices of “detachments”, represented as colours. A detachment is a set of 12 cards that are loosely themed; red cards are usually heavy, expensive jacks/beasts, orange cards are usually cheap warriors, and so on.
As an aside, the decision to use colours rather than icons was a poor one on PP’s part. One of my friends is colour-blind, and it’s annoying for him as he tries to differentiate between red and orange cards, and blue and purple. Even to me, the red and orange look very similar at a glance. Icons probably would’ve been better to convey the theme of a detachment; a warjack’s face for red, a magic-looking symbol for purple, etc.
Let’s look at Stryker’s card. He gives you a choice of taking either a red or a blue detachment. He also has a pair of special abilities that makes ‘jacks at his location stronger, and makes all his buddies harder to kill. However, a warcaster/warlock can only be summoned to a battle once per game, so choose wisely when to use them!
The playing area will look like this from your point of view;
In the above picture, I have my three warcasters at the bottom; Vlad, Sorcha, and Irusk. For my detachment choices, I’ve chosen red (granted by Vlad), orange (granted by either Sorcha or Irusk, but in this case Irusk), and yellow (granted by Sorcha, as I used Irusk to get orange). The 36 detachment cards form my Reinforcement deck.
To the left of my ‘casters is my Army deck, which at the start of the game is just full of basic resource cards. When I buy cards from my Reinforcements (the four cards at the top), I add those cards to my Army deck discard pile, and when my Army deck is empty, I reshuffle and get the chance to draw and play the cards I’ve bought. As I buy cards from my Reinforcements, I refill the empty spaces with new cards drawn from the top of my Reinforcement deck.
Volingrad and Steelwater Flats are the two locations that we’re currently fighting for. Volingrad would give me more victory points and give me a better chance of winning the game, but Steelwater Flats has a useful special ability if I capture it, and gives a hefty 4 WAR resource when played. Decisions, decisions! When a location is captured, it goes to the winner’s deck just like a card bought from his Reinforcements, and a new location is drawn from the location deck.
Sounds fine, right? Well, sort of.
Ian and I tried playing this game out of the box with the rules as-is, and really didn’t enjoy it. There was a paradoxical feel between how slow the game play actually is and how fast the game wants you to play! You see, your units have two costs; Purchase and Rush. Purchase means they go into your deck, you shuffle through and eventually draw them. Rush means that you can move that card straight to a location. Naturally, Rush costs are higher because they ignore the drawback of having to wait to draw your new card. However…
When you eventually draw your nice shiny new warjack or warrior, you can deploy him to a location. Fine. Except you have to pay his Purchase cost again to do so, which is… is… just so dumb. Meanwhile, the “Winds of War” deck is counting down. The Winds of War is a deck of cards that grants random bonuses to the players each turn – cheaper Rush costs for a turn, warriors have higher Health for a turn, etc – which seems fine. HOWEVER…
The Winds of War deck is not big. And in the bottom third of the deck will be the “HURR LOL GAME OVER” card. Ian and I played two games where we got the HURR LOL GAME OVER card and we’d barely managed to purchase, draw, and deploy a few units each. It left us with a sour taste in our mouths; we were looking forward to a big game of warjack violence and gruelling, down-to-the-wire combats to conquer another location. I don’t mind an in-game timer mechanic when you’re not sure when the game’s going to end, but in High Command you’re told to pack up your toys and go home before you’ve even got the chance to play with them.
So in came the house rules, and the “High Commander” variant was born. Now that I’ve given you the background on High Command, next time I’ll get into the nitty-gritty and I’ll discuss the changes I made to the rules, and why.