Friday, July 25, 2014

Undead Mayhem

Last week I joined the Basement Generals for some Mayhem. The Baron knows I love me some HOTTs. He had me check out Mayhem because he thought I might appreciate some of its similarities to HOTTs. He was right. I found Mayhem similar to HOTTs in that:
    • Both rule sets are for gaming "Mass Fantasy Battles;"
    • Elements/Units are defined by battlefield behavior and tactical use;
    • Armies are built using points;
    • In the basic game armies and battlefields are small, but can be scaled up as desired;
    • Players build their armies within basic parameters - army lists are not prescribed;
    • Pips/Command Points are the basic command mechanism 
    • Pips/Command Points are the product of a die roll at the start of the turn;
    • Elements/Units conform/square up when they contact each other for combat;
    • Combat utilizes opposed die rolls with modifiers;
    • Strongholds (military architecture) are represented simply and abstractly;
      And there are others . . .

Mayhem differs from HOTTs in two significant (to me) ways. 

The first is the way that Command Points (CPs) in Mayhem are utilized as compared to Player Initiative Points (Pips) in HOTTs

Pips in HOTTs are used to move singe elements and groups, and to cast magic (individual spells are not used - magic is analogous to long-range indirect artillery fire). The turn sequence is easy but fixed: Player A moves, both players shoot, then both players resolve melee combat; then Player B moves, etc. Shooting and combat is automatic if within range or if in contact respectively. 

In Mayhem, there is no fixed turn sequence. During Player A's turn, CPs are used to move, shoot and melee with Units, in any order the player chooses. Units can even take multiple actions using the Overdrive mechanism, with an added CP cost, as long as the Player can pay the cost in CPs. Then it's Player B's turn. So the battlefield is more chaotic and unpredictable. . .

It's as if HOTTs and Piquet had a lovechild and named it Mayhem. The second point of difference continues the Piquet reference.  

HOTTs uses a single combat strength rating - albeit the number for distant combat (shooting) can be different than for close combat - plus the roll of a D6 to determine the combat results of a particular element. For example all "Spear" elements have the same rating, regardless of race, differences in armament or training. Per the Introduction in HOTTs 2.1: "We start from the assumptions that spell selection must not be a more important skill than generalship, that the results of magic or command decisions can be shown rather than the minutia of communication or spell casting, and that differences between troops of the same general class are relatively unimportant." 

I COMPLETELY buy into the HOTTs representation of magic use. The idea of spell lists and tracking magical strengths leaves me cold. Utterly cold. I can also rationalize the statement about  differences between troops of the same general class being relatively unimportant in that it makes for an elegantly less complex game, and the chances are high that the positives and the negatives of the different traits might actually balance out. Oh, then the opposed die roll creates more randomness! However, I understand that some players may want to actually "see" the differences in strength, morale, training, armor, or magical ability between their, say, Elven "Spears" and their Orcish counterparts.

This is where Mayhem adds a layer of granularity to the basic HOTTs model. With a more extensive point system, Mayhem models a unit using three basic qualities: Movement, Combat Quality and Ballisitic Armor Rating PLUS Traits, Abilities and Gear (TAG). LIke Piquet, Mayhem uses different die types - 4-sided up to 20-sided - instead of a simple numeric value to represent these qualities. The better the die-type, and in this game a lower number is almost always better than a high number in opposed rolls, the more it costs. Mayhem calls this the Versus system, and adds an innovative twist: whenever a player is called upon to make a die-roll, he must choose Danger or Default. The Default value of a die is half it's value, so the Default of a D10 is 5. Mayhem calls this "playing it safe." Danger is just rolling the die! So every die roll comes with this risk versus reward decision. Once you get the hang of it, it's kinda fun.

There are other differences and more opportunities to "add chrome" to your armies, and until we actually put armies on the table, my Undead, some of The Baron's Orcs and WOR humans and another of The Generals' Orcs, not all of the above was so apparent.

Here are a few shots from the game, taken with my phone in the midst of trying to "learn while we played" . . .

And here's a parting shot of the giant hole left in the Undead line when the Commanding General on his Zombie Dragon "died" (do Undead die?) to a combat result of mutual destruction to some nasty human pikes. . . only to be informed later the General had the "Damage" trait so hadn't actually died, after all! 

One of the reasons I don't generally like games that employ separate traits is that they are hard to remember! My bad for not checking the roster.

So do I like Mayhem? Yup. Even more after re-reading the rules post-game. We did some things wrong (of course) and some things are clearer now (the difference between Beat Back and Drive Back, for example).

Am I prepared to replace HOTTs with Mayhem? Not so fast there, my warm-blooded friend. More plays are needed, and loyalties die hard around here. . . you may still have to pry HOTTs out of my cold, UNdead fingers. . .

See ya!