Wednesday, September 11, 2013

High Command First Impressions

I was unfortunately not one of those lucky enough to get High Command pre-release, so I've only had it in hand for about a week now. Still, now that the game has been out for a little while, the forums are starting to pick up some noise about the game, and BoLS just released a first impression article that made me want to talk a bit about what I've liked about the game so far.

I'm not going to go deep into "how to play the game", as that is one thing that is very well covered elsewhere if you want to read more about it. Privateer Press published the entire rulebook as a free pdf, so if you haven't read that yet you'll get more out of going to the High Command downloads page on their site instead of me trying to explain the game. No disrespect to my fellow BoLS writer Relasine, but with such accessible rules it feels like a waste of space to give a game-play/rules overview as part of a first impressions article.

So let's talk about the game. I am fairly new to deck building games in general, though I really like the concept. I got started on Dominion a couple years ago, and have collected 3 or 4 of their expansions and still play it regularly. it's one of those nice games out there that is deep and complex enough for me to sink my teeth into it while being simple enough to teach a new player in an evening. Since dominion is the only other deck-builder I've played, I draw a lot of comparisons between it and High command.

First let's talk about the things I like about the game. I like how almost every card in High command can be used for several different purposes during the game. if you buy a unit or jack from your supply, you can later use it as either a resource, a fighting unit, or for victory points. That means that there seems to be less time spent building up a large deck like you do in dominion and at the same time there is a lot lower chance of drawing dead (like when you draw that hand of 2 copper and 3 green cards in dominion). I very rarely feel like I'm wasting my turn in High Command.

I like the faction system a lot in High Command. partly because of the variety it brings, but also because I feel like they did a nice job of capturing the spirit of the warmachine factions represented. even though they do very different things, some of those models you hate seeing on the field in warmachine you'll also hate seeing in High Command (Cryx still likes to answer problems with "more Banes!"). the deck-building and faction-choosing aspect makes it a bit different than Dominion with the shared resource pool. you can't just buy up the best card in the market before your opponent and get your engine running in this game. each faction plays a little differently, and each one is a little different to fight against.

So far the game seems fairly balanced. Having only played a half a dozen times I can't say that with any real authority, but for games between newbs (though all of us have been Warmachine vets) the games have seemed pretty fair. So far Cygnar is the only faction that hasn't managed a win in the games I've played, but the games were close enough that I don't think it's a problem with Cygnar. they have some very good cards that are a real pain to play against.

Warcasters are pretty sweet as well. again, they bring in a nice Warmachine feel to the game. the casters all seem to bring in some ability that makes it feel like they translated their feat from the tabletop game. Irusk keeps infantry from dying for a turn. Denegra makes all enemy units a little weaker. Goreshade gives you free banes. some of the feats seem a little weak right now, but I don't know if that means they're actually weak or I just haven't figured out what situation they would excel in. I'm still getting used to how Warcasters should be used in this game. they seem to be a really effective way to push an opponent off of a point they're about to score, but I tend to lose most of what I put on that location other than my caster, meaning I just have to deal with the same problem next turn.

Finally, one of the things I really like in this game is the different options you have to deal with dead cards. if you drew a bad hand or have cards left over at the end of a turn you aren't just out of luck. being able to bank an extra card helps make up for getting something you didn't need this turn, and can make a later turn very powerful. especially if you combine a draw effect like Terminus or winds of ward cards with your banked card giving you one really strong turn. in one turn the last time I played I was able to play 4 units and a caster in one turn, completely turning the tide on one of the valuable locations.

There are a few things I don't like quite as much. on the whole, this feels like a great game, but no game is perfect. there are other complaints I've heard online, but I'm not sure if I buy into them just yet.

One thing I'm not a real big fan of is the lack of theme in detachments. each faction has a mix of units in their detachments, but it's very hard for a player that doesn't know where everything is to pick a detachment. a lot of times you're just picking random colors and hoping for the best. a lot of detachments are very similar to each other, and you end up with a whole bunch of one thing. one game my opponent had a market of 4 of the same jack, from multiple different detachments. I would have liked to see some more variety between detachments, and some more theme to help choose between groups. like having some colors be all warjacks or all troops or something. it's not a big deal, but for a deck-building game there doesn't seem to be much decision-making to be done. maybe once I've played 50 games and know what cards are in what color combos. but that still makes it hard for a new player who doesn't know the code.

A second thing I don't like a whole lot is the Winds of War. the concept isn't bad, but the effects are kind of a let down. the idea of having a random effect each turns seems really neat, and was something I was excited about. the biggest let-down here was variety. you only have 5 or 6 cards in each stack (early, mid, late). how much harder would it have been to make 5 or 6 unique effects for each deck? every deck has doubles, and early and mid both share one of the same card! it gets really dull if you draw both mid-war "draw one more card" cards in a row, followed by the "draw 2 cards" in late war! there is also only one negative effect all game. Yeah it's a real messy one, but was that all they could think of? I can think off the top of my head of a few more effects that could have been added just for some variety. like instead of having 2 cards that make everything 1 less war, at least make one that makes things 1 less cmd. or have a negative card that makes things cost 1 MORE of each resource. or a turn where you can't play a caster.

Finally, (and this one is the most minor) Jacks seem a little lack-luster in general. they have nice armor which is cool, but generally have such low power that they can't kill another jack or unit by themselves. I'm sure they're done that way to balance the resources a bit, but it feels odd to have warjacks go down just as easy as infantry. it might have been neat to have warjacks be a little stronger so you would need to use your own jacks to clear enemy jacks. yeah I see why that would make them too strong, but just like the real game, jacks seem to not really be worth their cost. We'll see if more play changes my mind on this. I did have one guy watching a game of ours say he hated the game because it felt like all you had to do was stick a warjack on a location and you would win it. that's not at all what I've seen, but maybe given a different set of game elements it would have turned out differently.

Anyways, with all that said I really like this game. I still have not had a chance to experience the game in a multiplayer free for all format, which I've heard is a completely new dynamic. I'm looking forward to playing more, trying out new things, and figuring out what the heck these different colors mean (thank god I'm not color-blind).

I am hopefully going to be picking up the Hordes version soon, and I can't wait to play with some good old Skorne on the table! I'll be back with another article discussing that expansion and anything new I've gleaned from the game in that time. for now, I'd love to hear your own experiences, likes and dislikes about this new offering from our favorite minis producer. 

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