Thursday, February 3, 2011

But it's so Cool!
Theme vs. Functionality in Gaming

If you are like me, you often find that your choices in gaming are not always the most gameable, powerful, or even effective. Whether it is a desire to play that obscure character, to stick to a particular army regardless of the situation or, like me, wanting to play the under-dogs there are many reasons why we gamers decide to play things in a less than "optimal" way.

For role-playing games, this isn't usually a big problem as so much of a character's potential is tied directly into how you play him and the complexities of role-playing can often allow players to overcome or even capitalize on their characters' shortcomings. A character that might be created as an unarmored peasant can play off his guile and agility to come out of otherwise deadly situations where armor and stout weaponry would be the choice of others. This doesn't fly so well with wargaming where so much of your success comes down to not just how you play, but what you play.

In a wargame, the choice to go with a thematic army can often be much more detrimental than playing that quirky RPG character. Pick the wrong troop combination and you may find yourself unable to challenge your foe as anything more than a nuisance. Even in games with "balanced" points systems, it is possible to end up with a force that may be cool but that is functionally inferior to a force that has been constructed with a mind toward the abilities of the models involved.

But does theme need to be at the expense of functionality? Not always.

A clever use of the theme can often allow you to fit effective units into your forces. Often this involves a subtle reskinning within the thematic constraints of the setting. A careful look at the thematic elements and some abstraction of the rules of the game, can often provide the opening you need to boost up a force to a competitive level.Take for example an army idea I had for Warhammer Fantasy Battle.

Though, I never had a chance to build it, I wanted to do an Chaos army that was all Chaos Marauders. Now, by itself, this would make for a tough, but limited army, but I considered a few thematic tweaks and it became more competitive. I decided that I would include Chaos Warriors and Chaos Knights, even though I did not want the massive armored look of those troops. Keeping with my theme, these warriors would be depicted as hulking, mutated brutes who have been given the supernatural resistance of Chaos Armor through their very twisted flesh. Also for this army, I decided I wanted Chaos Hounds but I wanted to keep with the wild barbarian horde theme. Now war dogs are not out of theme for barbarians at all, but I decided to go with savage looking "human" hounds instead. Another project presented a different issue.

For Land Ironclads I am building a force loosely based on the Burroughs Barsoomian and Martians and other sorts inspired by them such as those in Space: 1889, Martian Empires, and Parhoom Station's line of minis. A force like this is not gifted with the vast array of giant ironclad machines of war that the Earth Men are. I don't have ironclads, contraptions, or airplanes. Once again, a little thematic gymnastics found a way.

To counter contraptions, I turned to some monstrous war machines. Huge Martian beasts would carry cannons and armored howdahs into battle in place of mechanical contraptions. For air units, I could have Martians on flying beasts. Surely these would be every bit as sturdy and effective as the powered kites that humanity was using. the biggest challenge was in how to counter the massive land ironclads themselves. My solution was to invent something that size but with a Martian theme - Sand Skiffs. These would be vessels capable of sailing over the sands of Mars. These would not be as mighty as the earthly ironclads but more agile.

As you can see in both cases there were openings in the theme to allow for competitive troops. It all comes down to how flexible you and your group are willing to be with the theme, story and setting. I could have easily thrown in giant Martian machines using ancient lost sciences (and may still) but that wouldn't look right with the rest of the army (at least not in force).

Theme can be tricky and sometimes it's more flexible than others. There is a certain fun in sticking with theme, even when it bites you in the butt. Playing a force that isn't optimal can sometimes surprise you and your opponents. It can even be rewarding. If you win with a thematically cool army that is statistically deficient then you all all the cooler.

Game on folks,



  1. You can literally field anything by using imagination and by people agreeing or if its a group of friends....bullying.As long as it makes sense and not giving one side an advantage because their your favourite army.

  2. With my Warhammer Dwarf Army I wanted as my theme a hold that had deposed their king and was ruled by a confederation of guilds, with this radicalism also playing out in the rapid adoption of new technologies. Bit of Tzeentch behind the scenes, perhaps? Almost certainly, as the Brustellite texts that inspired the revolution had been tainted by Tzeentch cultist Yevgeny Yefimovich.

    Anyhow, when 8th edition rolled round it was obvious that a Dwarf army needed stone throwers. But Grudge Throwers were so low tech. So out roll the mortars - same rules, different model.

    At the moment I'm working out how to make a Bolt Thrower into a rocket launcher...

  3. The other great thing when fielding a themed force that's less than optimal...when you win with it.

  4. I wanna play my genestealer hybrid army but no one will let me. Then there's this idea I have for a council of dragons game...

  5. Look forward to hearing more on Mars.

  6. YES! Back to work on your VSF projects, Eli!

    I'm using some of the time on this no-snow Snow Day to paint some Martians in 25mm. And work on my Empress Brits.


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