Graham Smallwood
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I got the chance to play this at Comic Con and then barrage the demo person with questions. She was quick to answer anything I could think of and really knew her game, so I am confident in conclusions I can draw from the 20 minutes of talking and playing. But of course, without a full set of printed shipping instructions, I may get something wrong. So here it goes.

Gameplay:
The game is meant to simulate the Battlegrounds in the World of Warcraft massively multiplayer computer game. What that means for a boardgamer is that you will have a squad of 2-5 guys each with two additional powers gotten through cards, and you will try to capture victory locations and destroy the other guy's doods.

There is a timeclock that runs from 1-10 in seconds printed on the board, and each figure has their own clock attached to their base. After rolling for initiative at the start of the game, players take turns activating one dood whose personal clock matches the game's clock. They can move and perform one attack (their own or a card's) plus any instants they have on their power cards. Each action costs time, so after all the dice rolling you click the unit's timeclock that many steps. They will get to activate again when the clock catches up to their number. Reaction abilities on cards and opponents' actions can also affect the clock.

Each attack rolls a certain number of dice, and to defend the victim rolls dice according to their physical or magic defense. The dice used are ten-siders with the 1, 2, and 3 painted out so you don't have to remember that everything hits on a 4 or higher. The 10 is replaced with a skull, and signifies an attack-specific Critical Hit effect. Effects are extra damage, a second attack, an AoE effect, etc.

Picking your team involves selecting the agreed upon number of guys and assigning each of them two power cards. The cards have to match the Class (Paladin, Mage, etc) of the dood. Each dood has an Honor value that affects the total number of VPs needed to win, rather than being the cost of the guy. So a fight may be a set 3 on 3, but one side needs 12 to win and the other needs 18 to win because they have chosen more powerful doods.

Scoring VPs is done by eliminating the other guy's doods for 4 points a piece (they respawn in two seconds) and by having doods on or next to VP locations for 1 point a piece when the clock hits 5 or 10.


Marketing:
The basic starter set comes with the same 4 guys, 8 power cards, and a small preprinted battle map. The deluxe starter set has 6 random guys, a larger (random) map, and movable terrain pieces. The action cards are matched to the guy they come with, so they will be sure to have powers to use.

A booster box has three figures chosen randomly from one of the three factions: Horde, Alliance, or Monsters. Each has either 2 Common and 1 Rare, or 1 Common, 1 Rare, and 1 Epic. Each guy again comes with a set pair of powers. (So the mini is random and has a rarity, but every mini X comes with Power Y and Power Z. So powers effectively have a rarity, but not an independent chance of drawing.)

Opinion:
Good:
The timeclock mechanic is the core of the game, and it is freaking brilliant. The closest I've seen to that is maybe the old Solaris ruleset for Battletech. Both for the balancing effect of strong powers taking more time to use, and for the tactical benefit of combos like hitting someone with a stun power that adds to their clock so another guy can slip in and get in an attack before the victim can attack again.

The powers very strongly evoke the feel of the computer game. And even the starter set had a good variety that was fun to play with. (Although giving Taunt to one guy is silly in the 2v2 starter. It just can't ever be useful.)

Bad:
The random purchasing model is the core of their marketing, and it is freaking ridiculous. Not only are the figures random, but you can't even know the faction you are getting. Even the map in the starter set is random. The website has the gall to say that having a random faction is a good thing "so don’t worry about searching for a Booster Pack with Monster artwork just because you’re looking for some new Monster minis". Good thing I can't play the team I want.

The rarity system also stabs game balance in the chest. While a more powerful rare costs more honor than a common (which makes sense) rare power cards can be assigned to common minis without a balancing cost. (Epic powers can only be assigned to the Epic they come with though.)

Economy:
And random packaging not only hurts the players, it hurts the company so it makes less sense. There are three types of customers for a minis game like this: Type A will buy a case, pick out the guys he wants, and resell the others. Type B will buy one starter set and just play with a friend. Type C will wait until the singles get to eBay and buy the guys he wants.

Now if the game were explicitly packed, A and C will instead just buy the exact guys they want. Type B will buy just as much, but they'll be happier with what they get. To justify random packaging, the ratio of A's to C's has to be high enough that you don't care that C's are giving their money to A's instead of to you. Heroscape's success, Dreamblade's failure, and Mutant Chronicle's switchover all point towards marketing departments knowing which choice makes the most money. Ask a Warhammer player what they would think about random-packed minis.

Verdict:
This game is absolutely worth getting... off eBay. The pieces are beautiful and the gameplay is great, but only if you are the one that gets to pick what team you want to play with. Defending the practice with "trade with others" is a cop-out. Who wants to pay money for someone else to play with the toys you get? And even if you have a big enough circle of friends that you can trade for the pieces you want, what do you do with the pieces nobody wants besides cry for the money you wasted?

Let the diehards who want to collect full sets and play with all rares buy up boxes and wait for them to sell the commons you want for cheap. But by all means get yourself a party and stomp across the map flinging fireballs and executing squishies. It's a sweet game.
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Sean Dooley
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Dorque wrote:


Heroscape's success, Dreamblade's failure, and Mutant Chronicle's switchover all point towards marketing departments knowing which choice makes the most money.


Sadly, it's Upper Deck so I'm sure they could care less. I am excited about trying this out, though, and will most likely pick up a basic and deluxe starter, then go for the other figs on eBay or (hopefully) websites like Coolstuffinc.

Thanks for the nice preview!
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Scott Everts
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Nice review. There is another group that will buy just the figures that look like their heroes in the game. They'll never play it or maybe try it once.

If it was any other license I'd say this game would be a huge flop. But considering its WoW based it might do well enough for the MMO fans to want to pick up some of their favorite characters and monsters to sit on their desk while they play the computer game.

I shall stay well clear of it!
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Graham Smallwood
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ScottE wrote:
Nice review. There is another group that will buy just the figures that look like their heroes in the game. They'll never play it or maybe try it once.


Oh, of course! Call it Type D who just want a Troll Warrior and a Murloc to put on their monitor. In computer industry cube farms over the years, I've always known people with little Strongbad, GI Joe, or Star Wars figures just sitting around looking cool.

That is one more group who will be giving money straight to A's instead of to Upper Deck.
 
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Joseph
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Thebes uses a similar time keeping mechanism. I find the idea intriguing, and I'm wondering how solid it will prove to be in the long run.

Thanks for the article. I found it illuminating.

Respectfully

Falloufan.
 
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ŁṲÎS̈
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wittdooley wrote:


Sadly, it's Upper Deck so I'm sure they could care less...


I'm sure they could NOT.


Sorry.

You get a thumbs up for being the victim of an attack against my pet peeve :)
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Nathan
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The cards that come with minis are limited to certain classes and can also be limited to specific characters, this is supposedly going to be used for epics. I'm curious to see how it will balance over all, though I agree that from the samples so far some of the cards that come with rares could be better.

I'm interested in the game, but the major thing that bugs me about collectable miniature games is that rare pieces tend to be more powerful than commons. So essentially I'm waiting for a game where 3-5 commons will be just as good as 3-5 rares. I don't know if the honor point system will fix that or not, but I hope it will.

The random packaging seems really odd as well. I don't know what I'm getting, but everything in the booster will be from only one of the factions. It seems to facilitate certain tournament formats by making sure you get 3 miniatures from the same faction, and allows retailers to not get stuck with "unpopular" faction boxes, but makes purchasing a real gamble.
 
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Brian Murray
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Nice article Graham. I think you just saved me a lot of money.
 
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Ken B.
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Quote:
6 random guys



Dammit.



Hey, 1995 called and said they want their game distribution ideas back.



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Quote:
Bad:
The random purchasing model is the core of their marketing, and it is freaking ridiculous. Not only are the figures random, but you can't even know the faction you are getting. Even the map in the starter set is random.


Ridiculous? The random purchasing model has already made them buckets of money in the TCG department.

Quote:
The website has the gall to say that having a random faction is a good thing "so don’t worry about searching for a Booster Pack with Monster artwork just because you’re looking for some new Monster minis". Good thing I can't play the team I want.


The website does not use that as reasoning for the random purchasing model. It's merely information regarding the packaging. "Monster picture =/= monster characters inside"

Quote:
The rarity system also stabs game balance in the chest. While a more powerful rare costs more honor than a common (which makes sense) rare power cards can be assigned to common minis without a balancing cost. (Epic powers can only be assigned to the Epic they come with though.)


Rare action bar cards are balanced by their tick cost, much the same way that rare cards in TCGs are balanced by their play cost. Rarity will not be an indicator of playability.

Quote:
Economy:
And random packaging not only hurts the players, it hurts the company so it makes less sense.


It hurts the consumers who don't like it. It doesn't hurt the consumers who do like it. UDE has done the research. They considered WoWminis would be a profitable venture. I think people will buy a lot of it.

Quote:
There are three types of customers for a minis game like this: Type A will buy a case, pick out the guys he wants, and resell the others.


I don't think there are many of these. You have a few resellers(mostly ebay stores, FLGS) and you have people who like dropping a couple hundred bucks on a game every so often for the thrill of opening a bunch of packs and getting a lot of figures, some of which will be traded/sold to complete collections/parties

Quote:
Type B will buy one starter set and just play with a friend.


Boosters outsell starters by some large N-to-1. PS. Base Starters are fixed

Quote:
Type C will wait until the singles get to eBay and buy the guys he wants.


I don't know many people who exclusively ebay (although I do)

Quote:
Now if the game were explicitly packed, A and C will instead just buy the exact guys they want. Type B will buy just as much, but they'll be happier with what they get. To justify random packaging, the ratio of A's to C's has to be high enough that you don't care that C's are giving their money to A's instead of to you.


To justify random packaging, you need the people who like the game (Type A, not counting the resellers) to buy more of the product than they otherwise would, which they probably will. Type B, who don't like the game enough to spend much, will spend a small amount in both cases. Type C are essentially buying product from the company by way of the resellers. Fixed and random packaging have slightly different target audiences, BGG is usually pretty frosty about random dists. However, companies like Wizkids, Wizards and UDE will continue to use random pacakging as long as it puts money in their pockets.

Quote:
Heroscape's success, Dreamblade's failure, and Mutant Chronicle's switchover all point towards marketing departments knowing which choice makes the most money.


Dreamblade failed because the flavour was incoherent, the gameplay was somewhat dry and complicated and a few of the popular pieces created negative play experiences (for the record, I liked Dreamblade). I don't think citing one successful fixed dist. game and one unsuccessful random dist. game and a marketing decision that is yet to be vindicated is particularly useful.

Quote:
Ask a Warhammer player what they would think about random-packed minis.


That'd be a great sample =/ Besides which, seen GWs profits lately? I don't think any company should attempt to emulate them (for the record, I like a number of GW products) ;)
 
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Richard Young
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Collectables, whether cards or minis, have proven to be short term money machines. They appeal to that "collectable instinct" that can, it turns out, afflict more people than anyone realized (except the marketeers it would seem). It also appears to be an affliction that can reinfect some individuals not only more than once but on a regular basis. If it should also turn out that the game buried in the marketing happens to be particularly good, then you have a genuine phenomonon such as what Magic:the Gathering still is and what MageKnight was for a time.

While I resonate with much of the OP's cynicism about it, the fact is that enormous sums are shelled out by folks who, despite the logic and previous experience, are prepared to do it all over again. Type A individuals (who buy crates of the stuff) are somewhat more prevalent in a CCG market than a CMG (collectable miniatures game) one; but really, in either case, it is the retailer who opens cases/crates and sells the cards/figs individually thus realizing a profit that is only limited by what Scrye Magazine says it will be. Except for the problem of the commons, I often wondered why some retailers didn't just sell just the individual figs and forget to display the unopened packs entirely. Wouldn't that actually be a win-win for everyone? Everyone would get what they want, in quantities they want. Perhaps those retailers good naturedly like to leave some of the fun and anticipation to their customers. Maintaining a little bit of mystery is also good marketing (ask any woman).


Frankly, I'm not convinced this latest "reverse ATM machine" will have much staying power (Crimson Skies anyone?) based on what I've seen and read (which is as close as I'll ever get), but we won't really know until the novelty wears off. Which event UDE is surely hoping will take a while longer yet...


 
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