Assorted Geekery

Hordes of the Things – Part 02 – Selecting a system

So, with this initial idea buzzing around my head I started to round down the specific details.  Firstly miniatures scale.  This was a bit of a no-brainer as the scale it pretty much dictated to you by GW when you choose fantasy.  Although I love 6mm as a scale, there simply isn’t the range of figures out there.  The only suppliers would be baccus and irregular, both have recently been building up their 6mm fantasy ranges, but although it’s the best way to put the most guys on the table, 6mm lacks the visual impact of larger scales, and I don’t think I have it in me to paint 4000 goblins each 4-6mm high.  15mm is the classic scale for wargaming, and I already have brought a pair of 24pt Hordes of the Things armies from Magister Militum, and was very happy with the quality.  However both 6’s and 15’s are only available in metal and thus were beginning to creep up the price scale.  If I wanted something truly massive, the only option to obtain bucket loads of miniatures for an affordable price was to go for the most popular scale; 28mm.  The market for 28mm figs (Sometimes called heroic 25mm) is huge, the powerhouse that is Games workshop has made 28mm the defacto standard for fantasy and sci-fi gaming worldwide.  Any manufacturer that makes plastic kits makes them in this scale, and Ebay is teeming with sellers. 

With the scale chosen it was time to start looking at rules systems.  Once I have got these and a provisional army list, I could start scanning eBay for relevant auctions.  Having said this, I did start snapping up job-lots of orcs, because I knew if I was going to achieve anything with this project, it would be a truckload of orcs rolling over the table. 

 Warhammer fantasy Battle 8th Edition

No article about fantasy systems could be written without mentioning warhammer.  It has been the mainstay of the fantasy gaming market for decades, and now in its 8th edition, is shinier than ever.  I played Warhamer fantasy battle (WHFB) between the ages of 11 and 15, and have fond memories of the game.  I still own editions 1st through 6th, and was quite tempted by 8th.  However I decided against this system for a few reasons.  Firstly pace, if I wanted a huge scale game WHFB simply wasn’t going to run quick enough.  I have memories of WHFB games running into 10 hours or longer, and the White dwarf article which inspired this project says their game took 4 days to complete.  Games workshop, despite decades of dominating the industry have never managed to make a slick rules system, a pathological fear of abstracting game mechanics has driven the system in a downward spiral of complexity, making it a poor choice for large scale games.  Secondly cost!, not just the core rulebook (A eye-watering £45) but also all the army books and supplements needed.  A Quick costing for rulebooks for all the races I wanted to field on both sides pushed me well over the £100 mark on paper alone, which accounted for half the project budget before buying a single figure.  Thirdly Balance: this had always been an issue with all previous editions of warhammer , which characters dominating the fields and special abilities meaning every page of that £100 worth of books had to be searched in order to eek advantage over your opponent, this isn’t what I was after.  Lastly basing standard, single basing miniatures is a pain in the arse for gamers to move large formations, and GW’s obsession with modelling each figure on a 1:1 mapping frankly is irritating. 
With the most prominent rules system clearly out of bounds for this project, I started looking at the other options on the market. 

 Whereas WHFB is the epitome of old-school game design,  Fields of Glory from Osprey publishing is on the cutting edge.  A recent addition to the wargames lineup, Fields of glory (FoG) is a fast playing highly detailed system that is geared for historical gaming from Ancients to Medieval.  Its instantly obvious this game has no design heritage form any existing system, its clean cut and modular, and most importantly doesn’t feel “patched” like most other systems.  FoG is designed around 15mm models based in the near industry standard DBA sizes.  Also its fair to say Osprey publishing are the gatekeepers of historical accuracy, I have trust in any system they would produce to be accurate to how things would actually play out in reality.  However this was where we had to discount FoG as a contender, FoG is built around about 2 dozen bases on a 6’x4’ table.  Once scaled up to GW figures, we would need a 12’x8’ table, which to my knowledge is something only Sam Mustafa has room for. 

 So, this brings us on to DBA.  De Bellis Antiquitatis (Nearly always referred to as simply DBA) is a true mainstay of historical gaming, just about everybody who has played any historical systems have a DBA army in the cupboard.  If FoG is the new concept car of wargaming, then DBA is the Toyota pickup truck; trusty, simple, reliable, and indestructible.  (In this car analogy WHFB is the 600ft fishing trawler complete with production line gutting and packing facilities).    So DBA is a simple fast system, and needs only a 2’x2’ table , or a 2’x3’ for larger games.  So when upscaled to 28mm we would need a 6’x4’ table – which is achievable.  The rules are very fast, simple enough to be boiled down to 1 side of A4 for reference sheets, and very well tested.  Categorising my eBay lucky-dip miniatures into DBA may be a little tricky, and modelling magic users could be tricky.  Although DBA is probably the best bet so far, we are lucky to have its fantasy cousin ‘Hordes of the Things’

Compared to DBA, Hordes of the Things (HOTT) is a much more simple rules set, if such a thing is even possible.  Given DBA had stripped historical gaming down to a handful of troop types and a handful of dice rolls, HOTT had taken this tried and trusted system and given it a fantasy remix, removed some complexities, and wedges in more fantasy troop types for things such as ogres, heroes and mages.  Tom and Myself had already played a good few games of HOTT having been sucked in by the Magister Militum stall at “Campaign” in Milton Keynes a few years back.  The rules system is fast, very fast, and gives you a real feel of having to command an army. 

However, the only problem is HOTT is built around a 24 point force (about 10 stands of figures) on a 2’x2’ table.  Even when upscale to a 4×4 table we are still lacking a huge quantity of models to push around.  The great thing about HOTT is that it comes with its own campaign rules and multiplayer rules, which is a rare thing with most compact systems.  With 3 players a side, each commanding a 24pt command, we could really start to do something massive. 

The last rules system to take a look at was “Age of might and steel” .  I was not really aware of this system until salute 2010.  I was looking for a few odds and ends to finish off my 2x 15mm HOTT armies (Undead and High Elves), I picked up an undead dragon and some elven bolt throwers from the stall, and noticed their pre-supplied bases were the exact same standard as HOTT but were advertised for AoMaS.  I picked up a copy of the rules system and found it compared favourably to HOTT.  A few extra rules for magic users compared to HOTT, and more of an emphasis on banding units dogteeth into formations than commanding stands independently.  It seemed to give that nice scale of game , 20% bigger than HOTT, and with a little more room for customisation.

OK so decision time, something I am terrible at.  It really came down to HOTT vs. AoMaS.  Hordes is simpler and faster, AoMaS scales a nicer and has more tactical depth.  Under normal circumstances I would take the more complex of the 2 systems, but in the end I went with HOTT for the following reasons.  Firstly familiarity, anyone who hasn’t played HOTT has at least played DBA, so getting the big group games running would be quicker.  Secondly HOTT is geared up for multiplayer, and I figured the size of game I want to run, that is the way forward.  Lastly table size, HOTT squeezes more models per square foot of table than AMOASS, which becomes a factor when you are scaling up their basing sizes to double their intended size.  Once upscaled table sizes rapidly spiral out of control, and HOTT only requiring a 10×4 table was thee only system that didn’t require us moving house.

Luckily AoMaS, HoTT, DBA and FoG all conform to the same basing standards, so the decision on rules systems isn’t set in stone, we could in theory swap systems without the hassle of rebasing 500 figures.