Tuesday, November 24, 2015

A New Frontier (For Some) - Wild West Exodus Rules & Miniatures Review

I always enjoy a little freehand, and again based the various face paint on traditional variations. The shaved heads are relatively simple but I think add a lot of flavor.
My first foray into Outlaw Miniatures' Wild West Exodus was full of good discoveries- it's got some cool minis and the rules cover a solid middle ground between small skirmishes and larger, squad-based system.

Miniatures & Materials

The gatling Brave has a nice weight to him, and 
I chose the pastel blue as a fun, unusual color 
for a heavy gunner, which are normally much 
more brooding/action-hero-y in tone.
This is the same style of plastic that Wyrd and Kingdom Death use, from Wargames Factory, meaning HIPS* with crisp detail. I think the print resolution is a bit better than Wyrd's?

*High-impact polystyrene

They come in around 6 pieces per model, and it's a good mix of breaking parts up for undercuts and not going crazy with it and making tiny components you're worried about losing in the carpet.

Some of the models poses are a bit static, which was what initially turned me off from the line, and had me just getting in to the game now. Assembling and painting them, I think, though, that the renders shown on the box/site tend to make the models look notably flatter than they actually are, so it was a nice surprise when I found out they had more dimension and dynamism than I expected. The only negative comment I have is that the chest musculature was occasionally kinda' flat- the Javelin thrower (below) was the worst case of this.

I also really like some of the poses: I particularly think that the close combat braves came with some nice movement (my favorite being the dodging guy in my first pic). Details or poses are repeated to a degree across different models, but even the most similar (the two bowmen) are different enough that it doesn't have a feeling of clones with slight variation.

The detail is something that I just kept seeing more and more of. The models are just covered in textures and details, and the amount of work and variety that went into the sculpts was the most impressive part of the minis. I frankly think that if there'd been less repetition of elements it would have looked less unified rather than more unique.  Every time I was working on one color, I found another set of elements to pick out.

I also really liked the faces- they had great detail and some nice expressions. They also looked actually Native American in proportion rather than like a white guy or generic head with a mohawk or w/e.

It's also worth noting that they came with an assembly guide- I've gotten pretty tired of the recent trend in only online assembly guides or none at all, and clearly numbered and highlighted parts are definitely a bonus.

I had a lot of fun doing research for the colors of the minis.
I based the colors loosely on the Sioux, since
the one named model, Sitting Bull, was from the tribe.
The two named characters come in resin, nicely cast. They have just slightly rounded details that make them fit in with the plastics but with better detail, rather than the extremely fine edges some resin minis have. For wargaming purposes (which I prefer all minis to be functional for), I prefer the rounder edges as they're less likely to get rubbed off through regular use, though they don't have that extreme detail some display painters would be looking for.

My only complaint here was that Walks Looking had one very small connection, so I feel she would have been better suited to plastic, a single piece or a different pose. Otherwise, they're quite nice.

Easy to read, and with multiples of the same basic troops' health bars consolidated on single cards. The design's cohesive with the rest of the game aesthetic.

Quickstart Rules
The starter set comes with an 11x17" (small poster-sized) set of basic rules that did a pretty thorough job covering the rules, including a bunch of universal special rules and a basic scenario. They had a good flow, and the game clearly makes strong use of keywords, which I appreciate since it tends towards more stable design and more coherent changes (if necessary).

A few of the rules on cards weren't on the quickstart sheet, but the full core game rules are on their site, which filled in the gaps with a quick search (we didn't read further into the rules, since we assumed the quickstart ones were appropriately truncated).

I've gotta' say, the starter set is a really nice package for its cost. It has about double the model count of other skirmish lines I've played, for the same price, they're all unique sculpts, and a couple are even resin. It's definitely in the upper tier of "bang for your buck," which is a smart choice particularly in the case of starters.

Oh, and to reiterate, they're in HIPS, not PVC (more recognizable as higher-end board game plastic or much of Privateer Press's line), so you're not talking about quantity over quality.

First impressions
(Written before play)

The game seems like a mix between Malifaux and Infinity, focusing on single skirmish activations, lots of generic actions/conditions, a fair amount of out-of-activation reactions/options and higher offense than defense.

I liked the Braves' various weapon options, as they've got
some good variety, but are also immediately identifiable as their type.
There's a mechanic I've grown familiar with of a limited resource you can spend to affect probability, in this case, Influence. You can effectively buy re-rollable dice from a regenerating pool, and notably you roll for incoming damage, so it can be used offensively or defensively. I'm a big fan of this newer generation of game's use of this style of mechanic, since it allows more direct control over your most important actions.

The turn structure is a modified alternating activations system, where you also get a fair amount of reactions available (most notably in melee), and action points to spend, rather than the more traditional "move & attack."

The most unusual aspect to the overall feel of the game seems like it'll be the option for multiple styles of activation: single, in a simultaneous group, or in sequence. I'm expecting the management here will make for an interesting variation on the single "I go U go" skirmish form, since you're able to combine actions.

Battle Report
We played the starter "kill 'em all"-style scenario, with the Warrior nation vs. a proxied Outlaw gang, who had a few more guys, since their lieutenant was cheaper and we weren't using their heavy weapon trooper. Looking at the scenario setup when we were skimming for special rules (above), we noticed a high density of terrain, so copied that and had a ton of fences and several small buildings.

The Outlaws certainly had some expert pistoleros (high attack volume and able to fire while in melee), and the first turn having Jesse James nuking my gatling Brave from across the board told me to hug cover even more than I'd been.

We spent the first couple turn dancing around, closing while hugging cover, and mostly rolling terribly (other than said nuking).

Then things got serious, as our named characters (Henchmen at around 5x a trooper's cost; Bosses at 14x) broke cover and jumped in to engage proper now that we were used to the sort of damage output models had and were more ready to risk them.

Jesse got in a stand-off with something like four of my Braves, and just slaughtered them all, despite heavy cover all around, and his buddy, Cole Younger, denied any further retaliation with a nicely placed smoke bomb.

Then Sitting Bull climbed over a house, and launched himself into, through, and past the no-man's-land, to terrify one flank with some bad courage rolls in response to seeing him come out of nowhere and rip a pistoleer apart. Turns out that Warrior Nation, in contrast to the Outlaws' super pistol fighters, have some amazing knife wielders.

Sitting Bull is my favorite of the set, mostly because I got to do a bit of light research on his historical reference. The bead patterns on his arms are based on traditional portraiture, most notably the abstracted union shield iconography in beads on his left hand.
At this point, both sides were properly committed, and mostly stopped playing conservatively since we realized that plinking each other's troops with our own wasn't going to win us anything, so our battle lines started shifting more actively, with melee troops running across the gaps and skirmishing where they could dive in.

Another turn or two of this, and we were both hurting pretty hard. Playing melee, I'd been hugging the flanks with my heavy hitters and marauding through bandits, which had worked nicely, while Jesse'd obliterated anything in the middle of the board.

I launched Sitting Bull for another absurdly fast reposition, and just barely took out Jesse, who, possessed in death, hustled over to obliterate his own back line. If it'd gone the other way and Jesse'd taken out Sitting Bull (likely if he'd gotten the initiative), it would have been a serious struggle for my braves to fight that out, especially since Sitting Bull had been my only real anti-armor threat, but as it was, we were ready to call it at this point. Then we realized there was only one guy left, who failed his courage check, so ran off the board.

Rules, post-game
I felt my guess was pretty close to the mark, with a lot of mechanics in feeling similar to Infinity, and I think the ability to spend resources/influence results defensively was what was reminiscent of Malifaux. The activation element I thought would be a bigger deal wasn't, but that might've been due to our game size. We usually only had singles activate at a time, unless there was a necessary reason, such as two models being stuck in the open: As with similar games, there's a big incentive to out-activate your opponent to control the end of the turn with less risk, though I could see a concentrated alpha-strike being a good tactic.

The game flowed naturally, and by about half-way through it, we both felt comfortable with the rules. There were a few that felt counter-intuitive (the saving formula in particular is oddly structured in order to make high rolls good), but nothing felt wrong once we figured it out.

We had a nice chunk of guys on the table (around 15 a side), and it felt like a good balance of a big fight without being cluttered (especially after guys started falling). The game required a fair amount of tracking (particularly activation) but we had plenty of generic tokens that made it easy. Also, our little guys had 7 or fewer health, meaning d6's made simpler health tracks than those on the cards

We both really liked the game. It inevitably had a few questions and I'm sure we did a bunch of stuff wrong, but at the end of the day, it had a very cinematic feel, with the conservative stand-off followed by quickly deteriorating and shifting battle lines.

Our characters had high enough offensive stats to feel like badasses, low enough defensive abilities to not feel overpowering, and you had pretty good control so could really make your opponent work for the kill. As the centerpiece models, they felt exactly where they should be on the power spectrum.

Troopers had a high volume of low-ish damage attacks, so were in a nice place where they could take some hits, but lucky or unlucky rolls could mean they tough out a hail of fire or go down in one shot. Their stat lines were in just the right place in my opinion, where analogous models were distinguished from each other mostly by their attack stats, rather than special rules or point cost, so things felt balanced and straightforward without feeling generic or same-y.

Something I was fairly skeptical of is multiple attacks of the same type (i.e. two melee options on one model). I've seen a lot of games where this is a false variety: there's the attack you always use, and the attack that takes up space on the card. This wasn't the case, and there were times where quantity vs. quality was a real choice, or circumstances made one or the other the stronger option, which wholly justified the extra rules.

The scale and complexity of the game's in an area I'm starting to gravitate towards, of relatively simple mechanics making for a fast game where you can throw down and focus on targeting/positioning decisions rather than special rules. The light-end rules mean you don't need to commit a ton of time to understand how to play, but the starter sets felt quite balanced against each other despite different strengths and play styles.

For full transparency, my starter set was a review copy, though I always try to not let this color my assessment.

While I came into this with an open mind, I was also a bit reserved because I hadn't ever loved the model renders. The minis had some great detail, and at the end of the day, we both had a ton of fun playing the starter set fight- I hadn't expected to be so immediately enthused with the game.

A lot of games call themselves fast-paced. A lot of them. It seems like it's a way of saying "our game isn't boring." Sometimes fast-paced means simplistic or fluffy. Sometimes it means "if you play twice a week, you'll eventually get fast at it." Sometimes it's just false. In this case, I think it's dead-on. Actions are interesting enough that they take real decisions, but the variables are few enough that you can make and resolve them quickly, to make for a nice flow. My first foray into Wild West Exodus was a lot of fun, enough so that I immediately wanted more.