Saturday, 5 November 2011

X-Factions! Or how my army breaks the rules!

Last week I had a couple random games of Hordes and Hell Dorado with a couple friends. Cal pointed out, after being on the recieving end of a rather nasty assault by my Everblight, that I always pick armies that, in his words, "break the game's own rules."  This got me thinking...

Many, if not most, game systems out there have at least one faction that breaks the rules set by the game.  A faction that differentiates itself from others in the game, not simply by it's image, back ground and stats, but by the fact that they ignore, or even master, at least one core principle of their game, making them an. . . . . X-Faction.

The most obvious example I can think of would be the Undead in Warhammer Fantasy. They absolutely rock the psychlogy section of the rules; Undead ignore fear, terror and panic, they don't break from combat or flee.  At the same time, they force (most) opponents to test for both fear and terror, risk losing combat, fleeing and causing panic in their ranks. And, back in good old seventh edition, the Undead were even better at this!

Ok, so the Undead don't
ignore the psychology rules, but they do allow the player to ignore fear, panic, terror etc in a defensive way, concentrating on using them offensively.

But why do so many games feel the need to include one of these X-Factions?  What makes a gamer choose to go down this route, rather that pick a more conventional force?  Btw, I'm not about to start arguing that any of these factions are broken or unfair.  I accept that most games do an excellent job of balancing out their various armies, and it's extremely rare that I'll ever complain about something being "broken" (I'm looking at you British Armoured Regiment!)

The main reason I see for including an X-Faction is that it is a very simple way to highlight the "otherness" or isolation of a faction in the game's background.  For instance, any Hordes players out there should easily identify the Legion of Everblight by this description.  In the HoMachine background, the LoE are a faction on the edge of the world's map, being tucked away in the north amongst the mountains.  The LoE is also very secretive, absorbing a tribe of Elves (the Nyss) into their culture, not simply to create an army, but to keep their presence hidden from other powers in the land.  Finally, the Warlocks and Warbeasts of the LoE are all linked to the conciousness of their ruler (the dragon, Everblight) and are continually atuned to his thoughts and commands.

So how best to convey this sense of insularity and strangeness through the rules?  Well, as the faction's Warbeasts are created from each warlock's blood (long story,) the rules portray this by allowing the LoE to ignore apart of the Frenzy rules for the Fury mechanic (this is known as the Blood Creation rule.)  Hordes is a risk management game; force a warbeast to do too much in a game, you run the risk of it turning round and (literally) biting you on the arse.  As the LoE Warlock personally creates each warbeast, should a warbeast freny, it will never attack it's master.  I'm not going to discuss actual game tactics here, suffice to say it can be a royal pain in the arse when this happens.

I've got three heads, six legs, no eyes. . . And I can still fucking see you!

Privateer Press have further refined this by adding new creatures to the LoE army list.  As Everblight has grown more cunning and confident in the background story, he has created new Warbeasts with more intelligence and the capacity for independant though (another long story.)  This is represented in the game by the three Nephilim Warbeasts available; very high Threshold stat, but don't have the Blood Creation rule.
The LoE have another X-Faction talent (see what I did there?) with their Eyeless Sight special rule.  Basically, the models for most LoE Warbeasts don't have eyes, but see through some other alien sense.  I don't know what came first, the design of the minis or the rule itself, but it's another way of seperating the LoE from everyone else.   No other Hordes list makes much use of this rule.
Giant Armoured Samuri Belligerent Insane Robots?  Yes please!

How else might a gamer be interested in an X-Faction.  How about effectiveness in an actual game?  For instance, take the game Eden, by Taban Miniatures.  Eden is a small skirmish game (max 7-8 figures per side) much like Hell Dorado or Dark Age and is set in a post-apocalyptic Earth.  Like most skirmish games of this scale, each miniature has it's own stat card used for tracking damage and describing any special rules or abilities.  Unlike most skirmish games however, a miniature's stats can change during the game depending on how badly injured they become (for instance, hack most of his arm off and a thug won't be swinging it back at you.)

The ISC faction, however, ignores this stat/damage mechanic completely; meaning that each miniature is as effective at the end of the game as it is at the start.  It's thematic to the game as the ISC is a faction comprised of robots from some, presumably, pre-apocalypse corporation and thus, more resilient to damage than the average human.  Is taking an X-Faction such as the ISC a power gaming choice?  After all, if I have six minatures to control, four of which have one damaged stat, it would be very easy to miss the damage and use the original number.  If my opponent had miniatures with damaged stats, you can be sure I would make sure he used the damaged numbers!  Or is it an easier army to play with as "I don't have to bother learning that rule."

The answer to both questions is, of course, no.  The ISC and the other X-Factions here are no easier or powerful to play than any other faction in their respective games.  The LoE are a glass cannon army, if anything survives their first assault (or gets to assault first,) then the LoE are exposed as being horribly frail and fragile.  The Undead in Warhammer may get to ignore psychology , but their average troop choices have woeful stats.  While a Matriarchy or Jokers player in Eden may field 6-8 miniatures in their force, the ISC will be lucky to have 4 minis.

X-Factions seem to be a sci-fi and fantasy phenomenon.  Although each army in, say Flames of War or Field of Glory: Renaissance, has their own special rules and army list, none of them take wholehearted liberties with the core rules.  And plenty of fictional games don't make use of an X-Faction; I can't think of any for 40K, Firestorm Armada, Dystopian Wars or Hell Dorado.

So there we go, not entirely sure what my aim was with that little ramble - just surprised to see such a common theme in the various armies I've chosen (and even then only after it was pointed out to me!)

So, any other X-Factions out there I've missed?  Do you ever pick the odd-army-out?  Do you like armies that break the rules?  Thanks for reading and feel free to let me know your thoughts!

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