Warmachine: Errata and Precedent

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How will Privateer Press manage a Warmachine and Hordes errata without setting a problem precedent?

Chalkboard here from Chalkboard War, with a few thoughts about the announcement this month about the contents of the January Warmachine and Hordes errata. By now most of you have heard the four changes announced for the January errata: a consideration of throw exploitation, the examination/rebalancing of top and bottom 5% models, a Cryx gunline issue (probably their ability to survive against them, not field them), and the big one: reconsideration of the entire Skorne faction. The first three are things that are normally what errata documents do: realize a rule wasn’t working as intended and adjust it, keep the floor rising and the ceiling from getting out of control when it comes to model power, and recognizing a specific area of concern with a set of models and improving things. Warmachine and Hordes will certainly be better for all of these.

It’s the Skorne portion that seems to be the big one. The Privateer Press Insider earlier this month didn’t mince words. Entry number 4 in the list was: “Skorne. Yes, the whole Faction. After reviewing the community feedback and game data so far, we realize that we fell short with the Faction in the new edition.” That’s a huge deal. Two things follow from that admission: 1) it takes guts to recognize that an entire faction needs to be better conceptualized and equipped in the rules, and 2) I really hope that this doesn’t set a precedent. I’ll explore both in turn below.

A quick initial note to clear things up: I’m definitely a Skorne player. I’ve played many Warmachine and Hordes factions over the years (Cygnar, Ret, and Convergence are the only three I’ve never set on the table), but always seem to boomerang back to Skorne. I figure it’s important to preface the two points I’m about to make with this, as not revealing that I have a stake in the topic might be swaying me more than I think. I’ll do my best to stick to the rigid and non-biased attitude, but I’m hardly some stoic master of the Hoksune code.

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There’s definitely room for academic-types in the Skorne Empire too.

Changing an Entire Faction?

I’m going to start with the simple assertion that a change was indeed needed for Skorne. Mark III hit with high hopes, and it simply fell flat: both among Skorne players and the broader community at large. While other factions doubled-down on their identity in critical ways with Mark III, Skorne kept the only piece of their identity that makes them somewhat miserable: Skornergy. They’ve got problems counter-punching, lack control, are costed such that real combined arms cannot flourish, and most of all: simply don’t have a strong way to ask a question of opponents that is special to the faction.

And the community did indeed let Privateer Press know. Warmachine and Hordes players began recognizing that something was simply not effective with the faction, with the World Team Championships really crystalizing that fact in most players’ minds. Skorne players were rare, no one bothered to “tech” against them, and still their win rate was well below the line. Add to that reports from retailers that Skorne models simply were selling much worse than the rest from the very start of Mark III.  Forums and social media both overflowed with this recognition–people trying their best to make good Skorne lists by any trick that they can, and others simply resigined to leaving the faction or staying and bemoaning the situation. You know it’s bad when Skorne became the butt of the meme jokes across the broader Warmachine and Hordes world. In Mark II even Minions didn’t get this level of derision.

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My favorite of the many, many Skorne memes I’ve seen in the past month. Kudos to Dan Simmons for putting this one out there into social media.

Okay, so all that said, I’m really proud of Privateer Press for taking this issue seriously. That Insider did what few communications from gaming companies do: recognized openly to consumers and players that something was deeply amiss in the rules. Kudos to Will Shick and the rest of the design team for being open about it. That’s not a common thing. And my sense is that Skorne will indeed improve some thanks to their efforts. I don’t expect it to set the world on fire, but I do believe that the faction with have “their thing”, and be able to try and win games by playing to “their thing”.

Precedent in Warmachine and Hordes

So Skorne may be destined for an improvement… what’s so wrong with that? Well, nothing in itself. But these errata do not happen in a vaccuum. They have a precedent. And this large set of changes to Skorne could (note, I’m going with “could” not “will” purposefully here) set a dangerous precedent for the game if it’s not handled well.

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I hope that the powers that be in Warmachine and Hordes are consulting with the masters of precedent: the Supreme Court.

Precedent is really simple in a legal sense: we use prior decisions to inform our current decision. Why that worries me when it comes to the Skorne section of the errata, is that the reasoning for the change might be on shakier ground than it seems. If Skorne really isn’t selling, and starts selling because of the changes, then that sets a precident for other under-performing models and lines. And that’s a recipe for power creep. Warmachine and Hordes is very carefully balanced compared to many miniature game systems, and getting stuck in a precedential spiral could lead to concern. If it was the loudness of the community that brought this to mind, that sets a precident for “squeaky wheel” issues in erratas: only fixing the things people are squawking about the most on social media and the forums. If one faction is able to be tinkered with, why not the entirety of another? Players will quickly see the changes, and then advocate that they be made for their own faction. What if a classic faction simply had a string of bad luck at WTC or another major tournament? Would peopel clamor for changes to them? Would Privateer Press even listen? Does this at the very least set a precedent of more and more whining about what is wrong with factions in social media and on the forums, as people may perceive that as the reasoning why Skorne got its change(s)? Will the errata fix Skorne and lead to a worse player base outside the game?

Privateer Press is in a tough spot with this. Make the faction better, but close the door to anything that would unravel the system under the weight of demands to spread that improvement elsewhere. I’ve had a lot of faith in this company, because they almost always make the move that ends up being best for players and the best for the community. So I don’t have too much fear this time. I think they can do it if they’re careful, particularly if they give Skorne tabletop rules that match their identity in the fluff. That said, I for one will be watching what precedent is set with the January Warmachine and Hordes errata, and then look closely when it’s errata time again in the summer.

~ So what do you want to see in errata? What would a successful errata look like for Skorne, and what do we make of the precident that sets? Is this likely to be the first, only, and final complete faction-adjustment change that Mark III Warmachine and Hordes sees? 

To see someone setting a precedent of losing, take a look at Chalkboard’s Warmachine and Hordes blog at:

www.chalkboardwar.com

  • zeno666

    Good article!
    While I really like PP and Warmahordes, I just can’t shake the feeling that we’re playing the open beta of Mk3 at the moment.
    If that was/is the case I would like to see erratas released more often.

    • ZeeLobby

      I somewhat agree. WMH is very meta-centric. I think you need to give time after any change for the community to explore the meta before adding more changes. Otherwise you wind up with a game that is never stable. I like the 6-month window.

      That said, I think there’s some pretty big things they missed during playtesting, but I’ve always been a fan of living rulesets than those that are playtested, printed and then updated 5 years later.

    • Hawt Dawg

      It’s bound to happen.

      The game is huge in terms of specific rules and combos. We are talking massive. The problem with a meta errata/FAQ/LR is that it changes slowly. Maybe too slow?

      I love MK3 because they addressed a lot of things I “disliked” about MK2, and they made it more beast/jack centric backed up by troops and solos, and not the other way around.

      Perfect? Hardly, but damn good either way

  • UpAndAtom

    Skorne’s problems are big, but in your first paragraph you claim that the other 3 key changes that Will discusses in the insider are “things that are normally what errata documents do”. Apart from the throw power attack exploitation, I feel that the other points are in the same vein as the changes coming to Skorne, just not as drastic or faction spanning (I hope).

    If Skorne is brought into line with the other faction then they will sell better. That’s just going to happen. I really doubt this will create a tendency for PP to start firefighting and appeasing those that complain the loudest.

    • ZeeLobby

      Agreed. I could definitely see Cryx getting some of the same attention at some point, but I hardly think this will set any precedence for every Errata buffing an entire faction to awesomeness each round. The majority of the WMH community came to WMH because of their dedication towards balance and making one of the tightest game rulesets possible. If they started doing this they’d lose the majority of their player base.

      • Hawt Dawg

        Well that, and GW hate.

        • ZeeLobby

          Definitely true of the originals. MK3 at my local store saw a huge influx of people from non-GW systems. As well as some first time gamers (mostly from board games/RPG). Was pretty fun.

  • euansmith

    I don’t play the games (yet), but enjoyed the insight this article provided.