Friday, 24 April 2015

Oldhammer Rogue Trader: Battle at the Farm Redressing the Balance

Following the read through of Battle at the Farm play reports, it's reasonably obvious that victory for the Marines is par for the course. Wondering why that might be... is it because of the marines defensive position, the Orks goals being unachievable, lack of cover on the field of battle as the Orks charge in... or something else.

This misleading piece of propaganda shows the Orks winning | Ian Miller

In the quest for that elusive something else I thought I'd calculate the points values for the forces using the RT points calculator. Remembering that point values in RT and 2nd Edition WFB are an abstract value based on mathematics and the relative numerical attributes of troop and equipment, not spooky-magic, estimations and guesswork:

Trooper: 18
Missile Launcher: 47
Commander: 100

Total: 408

Trooper: 8
Officer: 11
Commander: 46

Total: 217

So Marines come in at a whopping 408 points, and the Orks at a measly 217.  I think its reasonably safe to conclude, all other things being equal, that properly calculated PVs are a strong indicator of the outcome of a given scenario.

Even so, there are some anomalies in the way the scenario is set up, as the marines are seemingly given unlimited plasma missiles, which should be costed at 1 point each, and the player made to keep track of how many used. This potentially pushes the value of Marines up a vast amount, but lets overlook this for now.

But so what? we could decide that balance isn't important in narrative gaming, that the Orks are doomed to defeat from the outset.  Makes it kind of questionable why one would rather play this as a two player game, as opposed to read a book, watch a cartoon or solo-play.  It is possible to have a game-like experience where the end is inevitable, and the players express  no agency other than filling in the details of moving little figures around and rolling dice - but that's not my idea of fun making meaningful choices in a narrative game - a GM "railroading" to use RPG parlance - players to a predetermined end point is not the same thing as the GM and players collaboratively shaping and telling a story. If we were to do this in terms of a skirmish war game scenario, we'd see motivational Victory Conditions (Orks get the loot +5 VP) balanced against realistically achievable goals - Ork survives +2 VP / Marine Survives +0 VP - but thats not how the victory conditions are set.

We could also disregard Points Values all together and just say 'experience and playstesting' shows us the scenario is biased towards the Marine player' and subsequently suggest fixes based on our own hunches. However the Point Values effectively tell us  how much needs changing - that the marines are nearly 100% over-powered in comparison to the Orks goes some way to helping us make informed decisions towards creating a less deterministic scenario design.

wrong farm! wrong battle! right idea | Wells Little Wars

Rebalancing the Battle at the Farm:

As suggested, we could just re-balance the victory conditions, leaving everything else in tact. But, without changing the field of battle, the narrative conditions or the characters objectives, what can be done to give the Orks a fighting chance of winning, and lift the Ork player out of his position of stolid doomed deterministic defeat?

1. Balance the PVs of the sides by force-size: 

Orks. Faasunds of 'em | Space Ork Raiders advert

1.1. Reduce the number of Marines to around 7 troops OR
1.2. Increase the Orks to around 40 troops.

Either of these changes keep the scenario asymmetrical - Marines, highly trained elites with their top rated gucci mil-spec equipment, Orks the low-tech horde, but the forces are still statstically balanced, giving each a chance of success. The shape of the scenario becomes the classic colonialist myth found again and again in fantasy literature (giving Orks guns does not make 40k sci-fi) the plucky few civilised against the unwashed primitive masses, not unknown in history or previous warhammer scenarios either...

2. Balance the PVs of the sides by troop capabilities: 

Power X-treme! | via

2.1 Reduce Marines firepower and combat abilities.
2.2 Increase the Orks firepower and combat abilities.

This potentially makes the game much more symmetrical - giving Orks powered armour and bolters pretty much makes them the same as marines, similarly putting the Imperial forces in Flak armour, makes them more similar to Space Orks. Much more in the vein of Modern Warfare (by which I really mean WW2) basket - where troops arms and armour are reasonably similar, and there is no clear technological edge. Arguably tactics, use of terrain and psychological effects come to the fore. However, it lacks the dynamics one expects from fantasy gaming.

3. Balance the PVs by technology

Killa Kanz | Space Ork Dreadnought

The Orks could spend their 200 points on a dreadnought, robot, combat vehicle, squad of psykers or something. The asymmetry of the scenario remains, but instead of being a foregone conclusion, the result hinges on the 'risk' of planting a significant pool of points into a single heavy hitting unit. This appears to be what was done with the 2010 redux - although I don't know how the rest of the troops in the scenario are balanced. Muscle and the mooks, vs. a smaller team of higher trained - this is a typical gangland, cops and robbers scenario also beloved by the writers of superhero comics.


So what does Battle at the Farm tell us about war in the 41st millennium? That a 'few more' bodies on the ground does not compensate for greater fire power, but 40ks internal logic states that 'vastly more' bodies will. A moral universe where the proud, noble warrior Marines inevitably defeat the dirty, greedy, stupid Orks and the 'good-guys' always win. I think that's ultimately the way the scenario was intended to be, the story Rick wanted to tell, as cut and dry as a Rogue Trooper tale of Future War.

My preference is for balanced, but asymmetrical fantasy games, where players have a reasonable chance of success, as they give dramatic momentum to the emergent narrative (can we take down the big guy? can we hold out against the horde?) , and leave the actual result open, rather than have the outcome simply determined by the weight of models put on the field.

Meanwhile, preparations being made for playing it, as written.

Mustering the forces | Lasercut 40K

Friday, 10 April 2015

tr00 kvlt Öldhammr




Saturday, 7 March 2015

Battle of the Oldhammer Rogue Trader Battle At The Farm Battle Reports!

The Top 10 Oldhammer Rogue Trader, Battle at the Farm Battle Reports that every Oldhammerer and Rouge Trader must know!

We've scientifically ranked many Rogue Trader battle reports of the Battle at the Farm by correlating the total Victory Points of each game against the chances of Ed Grundy successfully taking over Grange Farm, dividing by 2 and adding 1d6:

11. The Privates Eternal

Models: Kenner Star Wars

A late entry, which, believe it or not was prompted by this very blog-post. I slightly bemoaned the fact that everyone was using mostly using GW figures to play the scenario (not a bad thing in itself you understand). When  Private W. jumps up, out into the garden, for a quick skirmish using classic Star Wars action figures. Now that's more like it!  Unfortunately, rain stopped play, which leaves the outcome of the battle somewhat undecided, but not before Han Solo bounds in on his Tauntaun to whisk away Princess Leia.

Victors: Han Solo

10. 6 Iron Spikes

Models: 2nd Ed Tyranids vs. Classic RTB01 Marines

6 Iron Spikes dive in with some true impro gaming. No scenery? Use cardboard boxes and carrier bags. No orks? Use Tyranids. The orks managed to call for reinforcements and only 2 marines survived. Good play through.

Victors: The Marines

9. Cigar Box Battle

Battle at the Farm | Cigar Box
Models: Modern GW Orks & Modern GW Marines

Ran using 5th edition, and the Battle of the Farm ended prematurely, but not before most of the orcs were mown down.

Victors: The Marines

Cigar Box Battle at the Farm

8. Fawcett Avenue Conscripts

Battle at the Farm | Fawcett Ave.

Models: Space Ork Raiders Boxed Set vs. Classic RTB01 Marines

A fun report which captures much of the flavour of the scenario. The Orks actually managing to call for reinforcements really kicked off the motivated play, with both players working to achieve their victory conditions.

Victors: The Marines (just)

Fawcett Avenue Conscripts Battle at the Farm

7. Oldhammer 40k

Battle at the Farm | Oldhammer 40k

Models: Sisters of Battle & Modern Space Marines

In a creative, satirical,  and wholeheartedly Oldhammerist take, LegioCustodes' Orks were replaced by the forces of Imperial Governess Margareet Thatchot. Pretty much a draw, but good stuff, but really getting into the swing of things using the objectives and characterisation. Nice.

Victors: Draw

Classic Astartes Battle at the Farm

6. Toms Toy Soldiers

Battle at the Farm | TTS

Models: Modern Plastic Orcs and Modern Plastic Marines

After throwing his entire collection of 80s Warhammer into a skip, Tom was left with no choice but to play the modified Battle on the Farm from some unspecified triple-digit issue of White Dwarf, poor chap.  Orcs charged, got massacred, Thrugg got into hand to hand and killed Cantor. Tom didn't really seem to engage with the scenario and I suspect the redacted version may have had simpler objectives.

Victors: The Marines

Toms Toy Soldiers Battle at the Farm

5. Old School Workshop

Battle at the Farm | Old School Workshop
Models: Vintage Space Orks vs Vintage Marines

Suber and Miguel have a quick game of suicidal  Orcs running towards the farm and getting killed - blamed largely on putting too much space between deployment zones, and ending with the commanders going toe-to-toe in classic 80s action-movie style. A good time had by all, but these guys aren't taking it as a serious military exercise in the first place. Great!

Victors: The Marines.

Old School Workshop Battle at the Farm

4. Fighting Fantasist

Battle at the Farm | Fighting Fantasist

Models: Vintage Paper tokens out of the back of Rogue Trader

It's great to see that the game can be played as a game without endless weeks of collecting, painting modelling and prepwork. The game is the thing. The graphic charm of the original counters are not without merit. Not much in the way of tactical information, but it's all dressed up in Coops enthusiastic style.

Victors: The Marines.

Fighting Fantasist Battle at the Farm

4.1. Fighting Fantasist

Battle at the Farm | Fighting Fantasist

Models: Modern Orks and Modernish Space Marines

As Coop reminded us he's actually played Battle at the Farm more times than he's had hot dinners. Nicely accurate (to the map) terrain placement, Orks using the Orchard for cover. Some interesting observations about down-shifting from later editions.

Victors: Marines

Fighting Fantasis Battle at the Farm

3. Iron Dog Studios

Battle at the Farm | Iron Dog Studios

Models: Modern Orcs vs Modern Marines

Can't actually find the battle report, but can find the modelling preparations with lots of corrugated cardboard and masking tape.

Victors: unknown.

Iron Dog Studios Battle at the Farm

2. Somewhere the Tea's Getting Cold

Battle at the Farm | Somewhere the Tea's Getting Cold

Models: RTB13 Space Orks vs RTB01 Marines

Thantants plays Battle at the Farm, on an actual farm! So this game scores a gazillion post-modern points for that. A nice write up, and some terrain modifications to try to give the Orks a little more of a chance - not that it worked, they still ended up cooked.

Victors: The Marines

Teas Getting Cold Battle at the Farm

1. Hubbabubba on LAF

Midnight at the Oasis | Hubbabubba

Models: RT02 Space Orcs vs RT101 Space Marines

A great battle report, well written, nice photography, love the scenery. Super!  Good strategy from the Orks, including flanking and use of cover and keeps the play report interesting.

Victors: The Marines (just)

Hubba Bubba Battle at the Farm


OK I hate Listicles and blog-posts where the author just copy-pastes stuff other people wrote and makes inane comments about it, and generally find reading play summaries dull (I did read an incredibly witty, strategic and erudite game of Scrabble once) but I'm prepping to run the scenario and wanted to see what other gamers made of it first - and there are some really great games out there.

It's clear that in the first Warhammer 40,000 Rogue Trader scenario, Battle at the Farm, the Ork player is dealt a difficult hand. The Orks greed and reluctance to call for backup combined with their sub-standard military ability makes it tough for them to survive, let alone earn victory points. It's all too easy for the Space Marine player to get entrenched into the farm complex and just pick off the invaders as they approach.

Battle at the Farm | Maps vs. Photography

The original scenario is accompanied by a map and a photograph of some terrain, and they don't quite match - the map is not the territory - some players opt for set-ups that are truer to one than the other, notably in the farm building layout, and the maps Orchard is significantly larger than the photographs one. The subtleties of terrain placement do seem to make a big difference to the ork players strategies and all close victories appear to use both the larger orchard and smaller relative overall playing area as indicated by the map. Old School Workshop game particularly commenting on aspects of this, and Teas Getting Cold going some way to mitigate the disadvantage the Orks have by geoforming the landscape a little.

There is an even split between classic and new Games Workshop models being used, from vintage 1987 lead to modern plastics, and of course the original Rogue Trader card tokens just pushing the archeogaming into the lead (see what I did there?). It doesn't seem that people are jumping en-mass into Rogue Trader with their Ion Age Space Knights or Britains Space Force figures.

Overall I think it's great that The Battle of the Farm still gets played, and if taken in its original intention, as an intro with a few figures and objective motivated play, it does stand up. Still, some elite strategist out there needs to discover a way to get those Orkses to achieve their dreams...

Missing in action If you've run a game of Battle at the Farm, or know of an online batrep that I've missed, please do drop a link in the comments, especially if it led to a greenskin victory!