Tuesday, May 6, 2008

CAMPAIGN: Phoenix campaign aftermath

Following the tenth and final battle in the Phoenix campaign we totted up the locations that each faction held and found the Eldar controlled five to the Chaos Space Marines four, with one uncontested. That meant the Eldar scored a narrow victory in the overall campaign.

The Exigators were forced off Tyro Peninsula and abandoned their plans to spearhead the Chaos invasion of the Sector. Tchoi Guerez threw himself at the mercy of Abaddon the Despoiler and has not been heard from since.

For the Eldar, Farseer Lauthelias regained his standing within the Seer Council of Alaitoic and Autarch Icareane was lauded for his victorious campaign. The Exodites of Habour had been spared a bloody death at the hands of the Chaos attackers.

And yet, Lauthelias still foresaw a great black wave crashing upon the Skolarii Sector...

Once the campaign had ended, Gary and I asked ourselves four questions:
  1. Which parts of the campaign rules did you like?
  2. Which parts of the campaign rules did you not like?
  3. If you were going to play another 40k campaign, what would you change?
  4. What did you think of the experience system?
I'll look at each of those questions in turn.

Gary liked the variety of missions which were dependent on the location he attacked. We played a few funky games like Bunker Assault and Sabotage, which made for exciting dramatic battles. I liked that element too, as it gave a nice bit of narrative to the games. It also allowed us to stretch our tactical muscles as we were challenged in new ways. Choosing army lists after the mission was known was cool too, as again it forced us to re-examine our tried and trusted tactics. We both knew what army we would be facing off against (Chaos Space Marines and Eldar) and that meant that the pecking order of 'best' units was completely changed. Instead of building the best 1500 point all comers list we could actually tool up to take on the enemy and complete the mission. Good stuff.

We both didn't like the way the locations worked during the campaign. For two players of similar ability it was inevitable that most of the fighting would occur around the centre of the map. The dice rolls required to move along 'difficult' routes and the fact that you could only capture a location if you had attacked it (each player could attack and defend once during each campaign turn) meant that there was no incentive to try an attack other locations. If you did and failed the die roll (as Gary did once) then you lost your chance to capture a location for that campaign turn. We fought four battles at Emerald Ridge and three in the Weapons Testing Area and none in five of the locations!

It also had the effect of making it seem as if we were getting nowhere. There was no sense that we were building upon our previous games. Instead, Chaos would win one game, then defend an attack from the Eldar, then fail a further attack and finally get kicked back off the objective. After four games you would be right back where you started. We had a very similar problem in an earlier flowchart campaign where we went in circles for game after game and eventually lost interest in the campaign.

Fortunately I had already spotted a major flaw in the victory conditions as they were written in the 40k rulebook and changed them. Originally, you had to capture every single location to win the campaign. Imagine how many games two balanced gamers would have to play to complete the campaign? You might never finish it at all!

My solution was to cap the total number of battles at ten and the winner would have the highest number of locations. In the end ten was still too many games and we would both have shortened the number to five or six. This would be just long enough to get some sense of a narrative story but short enough to hold interest.

I love the idea of units building up experience points over the course of a campaign. Some units would stay green as their ranks were filled with newly qualified rookies while others would become grizzled veterans with an array of battlefield skills. Unfortunately, the experience rules do not really let you achieve this.

The first thing is that the points themselves are a pain to track. It's true that we would have been better off if we had been better organised, with master rosters, but it's still a hassle to tot up all the bits and pieces of action that took place during the game.

The second thing is that the table is incredibly harsh for certain units. Assault units can die in five out of six games so they will just never accrue enough points to gain a skill. Other more shooty units will only pick up about 150 points per game (if they survive) so if you're lucky you'll get a skill after the seventh game. After ten games in our campaign only three units had gained a skill, out of about twenty units in total! Then you have to roll on the skill table and take whatever you get.

If I was playing another campaign I would either drop experience points altogether or come up with a totally different system.

We both enjoyed this campaign but the next one will be even better. Watch this space!

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