Today we’re going to look at campaigns. We’re going to take a tour through the various different GW skirmish games to see some of the various approaches they’ve taken. I’m hoping this will be the start of a series, so this will give a relatively high level overview.
The broad idea with a Campaign is you get to follow your team as they grow, develop, and sometimes fall. This is typically done as a group with multiple players competing to see who will end up king of the hill.
There are definite pros and cons to this. It’s a great feeling watching your team grow but it can suck when you’re takes a bunch of hits and ends up facing a team that has been a lot luckier. It can sometimes be tricky keeping a group of players invested over multiple weeks especially those players falling behind. Different games have different approaches in trying to balance this, with mixed success.
Games Workshop have been supporting the Open, Matched, Narrative trilogy for a while now, so almost all their games have at least some form of campaign option. While, campaigns can be done of any of the three, typically they fall into the narrative category.
Let’s have a look and see some of the approaches GW have taken through the various games.
At the most basic we have the Aeronautica campaign.
If a pilot survives 2 games, they become an ace and get a reroll once per game. If they survive 6 games, they get a second reroll. They also keep track of kills, after 5 kills they get an ace ability, and after 10 kills they get a second ace ability. So your pilots are slowly getting better.
If they’re shot down, on a 6 they manage to get lucky and return to the front, but 1 through 5 means the ace is dead. Any aircraft destroyed is replaced, so you never worry about being under strength.
This is actually a great way of running a campaign. Fighters that survive get rerolls which is great to have but doesn’t massively impact the game. Death is real but you’re only losing rerolls. We have the key elements of progression and loss. You play games and your pilots get better. They get shot down and they lose those benefits. It’s a nice and simple system that definitely is improved if you name your pilots.
Titanicus is similar, with the campaign rules in the Titandeath book. Crews gain experience for surviving games which lets them get rerolls. The reinforcement system is a little more detailed though, with each player using a pool of points after each battle to reinforce their roster. A bigger roster means more options to make your battlegroup out of a small roster might mean you struggle to make enough points for the battle.
As an added twist, any damage done to a Titan during a battle sticks around and you need to spend resources to repair them. So you can have Titans going into battle with some damage at the start of the game. It also means you can end up salvaging the weapons from one of your destroyed Titans to add them to another Titan. Getting payback for a fallen Titan with one of their own guns is pretty epic.
With this version, we’re getting a little more into the meat of a campaign system. Since you have points you get to play around with your battlegroup and take different options. If you got badly mauled in a battle, you could end up fielding an understrength battlegroup which could be rough. Multiple wins though aren’t going to put you in a massive advantage, you’ll be able to tailor your Titan’s for your enemy but you won’t be able to overwhelm them with twice as many Titans as normal.
Warhammer Quest, currently Cursed City, has your heroes entering into battles and coming out with loot and experience. Surviving a mission gets the heroes more experience and if they survive 3 missions they gain a level. Each level gets them more traits which improve their abilities. In each adventure they’ll gain currency, realmstone, which they can used on fancier gear and weapons. As they get better they can face bigger and badder enemies. It’s really just an escalating power thing, but it does make it feel like you’re slowly growing in power before facing the big bad.
If a character dies during a quest, you roll a d12 to see if they recover, they only die on a 1 or if they have an ailment a 2. So death is possible but should be pretty rare. Even if a hero dies, you have plenty more to choose from, so hopefully you’ve been levelling up a few.
Of minor note for myself and this channel, the box comes with a little plastic bag for each hero. As you play you add all the upgrade tokens and cards into the bag so when you’re ready to play next you have everything at your hands. This is a great way of keeping track of a campaign and could easily be adapted for other games.
This seems like a good enough time to talk about death in a campaign. Unlike with the previous two games, heroes get a lot more than just some rerolls. From a feel good factor, you want to give things to players rather than take them away. The net effect might be similar, especially in a campaign where giving one player something small and another something big, but taking something away is just feels bad. As such, Death is a pretty contentious addition, but without the risk of Death you lose something. Where do you put it though? Cursed City is relatively low risk, my experience with the game is having a hero go down is rare enough and if they do you still need to roll a 1 for them to die. Would it be more enjoyable if the risk was higher? Maybe, it would certainly ratchet up the tension. Making it to the last fight with only 4 out of the 8 remaining would be pretty epic.
In Bloodbowl, campaigns are seasons or leagues and you as the coach earn gold during games and spend it on new players and team upgrades. Meanwhile, on the pitch the players are earning Star Player Points which they can spend on upgrading their stats or skills. In the game of blood bowl, players hit the ground all the time, normally that means being stunned but if they’re a casualty then there’s a 1 in 8 chance they die.
Developing your team is one of the key parts of a league in Bloodbowl with coaches dreaming of the perfect combination of players and skills to make the perfect team. Leagues tend to be a tight number of fixed games, so while you can end up with big differences in team power it’s all part of the league and soon enough there will be a new league with everything reset.
Of particular note in Bloodbowl, different teams have different approaches to the game. Some of the finesse teams can dominate a league scoring a touchdown in a single turn, but the bash teams are more interested in kicking the shit out of the other team rather than actually scoring. Some leagues can end up decided when a bash team badly mauls another team especially when there is some excessive fouling.
Killteam’s campaign is called the Spec Ops Campaign. In it, operatives will gain experience from taking out enemy operatives, if they complete mission objectives or gain victory points, and if they complete a tac ops. Each operative focuses on one specific specialism: Combat, Staunch, Marksman, or Scout with each specialism having 6 benefits.
If an operative is incapacitated during a battle, they have to roll a casualty test with a 2+ being fine and a 1 meaning they get a random battle scar with a roll of 1 being death. Each battle scar they already have gives a -1 to the roll making them more likely to die.
In Killteam campaigns you also keep track of the overall kill team which has a stock of equipment and strategic assets. To improve and progress these you use requisition points which can also be used to add additional operatives to your team or other benefits. You start with 4 of these points and get one each game. You can also get more requisition points and additional abilities by completing Spec Ops which are missions you work on across multiple battles.
The Into the Dark box added a new twist on all this. Rather than working on Spec Ops you can choose the Gallowdark Expedition where your team are exploring a space hulk finding resources as they go.
In Warcry, you start with your 1000 point list limited to just your leader as a hero with no monster, allies, or thralls. The current season is all about exploring the Gnarlwood, so you start with a base camp somewhere on the outskirts of the forest. After each battle your warband gains glory which can be sent
Each of your fighters that survives gets to roll for renown which they will gain on a 6, each renown gives them a free reaction, in the earlier edition it was a reroll showing the similarity to the other games.
Each of your fighters who went down during the battle get to roll on the casualty table. This is a D66, so you’re rolling two D6 in order and checking the results, 11, 12, and 13 all are killed. So that’s 1 in 6 to roll the first 1 and then 3 in 6 to roll the 1 2 or 3 so that’s a 1 in 12 chance of death. The other results having lots of Injuries which reduce states and make the fighter weaker until they can eventually recover.
Each warband can go on a quest, these are similar to the Killteam Spec Ops and are objectives to complete over several battles. Each quest opens up rewards, maybe extra magic items, heroic traits, or the ability to recruit new fighters like Thralls, Heroes, or even a Monster.
At the end of each battle, you get to send your fighters out to explore the Gnarlwood and see what they can find. Sometimes they’ll come back with treasure, sometimes they get eaten by monsters, and on occasion they’ve found a new place you can make camp deeper in. This will cost some glory, but will giving benefits and importantly will increase the amount of points in your warband up to a max of an extra 200 points.
The biggest innovation that Warcry has is the way players run their own campaign solo. You still play against other players, but you don’t need to play the same pool of opponents or have to get games finished in a certain time frame. Instead, you play whenever you want tracking the benefits and penalties your warband receives after each fight. This can result in power differences between warbands, but you still get to level your warband win or lose, so it’s always worth playing.
The crunchiest version of campaign rules are from Nercromunda and Mordheim. With Necromunda, you have several options on how to run your campaign. Mostly these focus on a thing you’re fighting over. The standard campaign from the Core Rulebook is the Dominion campaign where you control territories. Book of Judgement has Rackets instead, the Uprising campaign deals with cults having an insurrection, the Outlander campaign let you build a base, the Ash Wastes campaign is set outside the hive and is about controlling trading routes, while the most recent campaign in Cinderak Burning focuses on battles between noble houses. All these campaigns have lots of nobs and dials that a arbiter running the campaign can adjust to get the right one.
Some rules will remain constant throughout all of them though. You hire and equip your gang with credits. You get more credits by fighting battles, getting more if you win. During those battles your gang members will gain experience which will let them get better but they can get injured, captured, or killed. To die, a gang member needs to go out of action, then roll a 6 on the first D6 of the last injury roll, even then a 1 to 5 on the second D6 will let a Doc save the ganger but often it’s cheaper to just find a new ganger.
Games can get pretty wild in Necromunda and unbalanced games are just part of the chaos that is a normal day in the hive. One notable aspect from Necromunda are the options to try make unbalanced games a little fairer. The most basic version of this is getting bonus tactics cards, but there are also more powerful underdog tactics and options like adding free bounty hunters and hive scum.
Mordheim is essentially the fantasy version of Necromunda. You build your warband by spending gold, starting with your leader then up to five more heroes, and finally a bunch of henchmen. As an example, a Witch Hunter warband will have a Witch Hunter Captain as the leader, up to 3 Witch Hunters, maybe one Warrior-Priest, then Zealots, Flagellants, and Warhounds to round the team out. And Skaven warband in contrast, will have an Assassin Adept as it’s leader, maybe an Eshin Sorcerer, up to 2 Black Skaven, and up to 2 Night Runners with the rest of the warband made up of Verminkin, Giant Rats, and maybe a single Rat Ogre. As with Necromunda, after hiring your warband you need to gear them out with weapons, armour, and equipment. So you have a lot of control over what you have and do get to craft the warband you like.
To work out relatively strength of warbands you look at the total experience they have, and for some fighters like the Rat Ogre, they already have a chunk of experience when they start to show how powerful they are. If you’re facing off against a warband with more experience than you, you are considered to be the underdog. You do not get anything to help you out in that battle, but along with the normal experience your fighters would get for surviving the battle they also get an experience boost. So even if you take a paddling, you will get something out of it.
That said, the Injury table is packed with bad things. Like Warcry you’re rolling on a D66 table to work out the result. For Warcry 11 to 13 is Dead, with Mordheim upping this slightly from 11 to 15. Of more note are the amount of lasting injuries, Warcry has 14 to 23 but Modrheim has 16 to 36. Injuries in Mordheim are permanent while in Warcry there’s a 50% chance to recover from them after each battle.
Okay, lets recap. All the campaigns reward you for playing with a bonus, from the basic Aeronautica to the attributes and skill of the more detailed games. Penalties, such as death or the occasional mauling aren’t as prevalent. They’re always there, but apart from Aeronautica you’re pretty unlikely to have a fighter straight up die on you.
This is kind of interesting as it reflects more modern game design where you want to positively reinforce playing. We’ve all had campaigns where someone got horribly unlucky and stopped enjoying the campaign, so they dropped out. That’s definitely something you want to avoid, but at the same time the risk of tragedy makes success all the sweeter.
I have to admit, I was quite surprised to see Mordheim wasn’t as lethal as I expected. Death is slightly more likely than with Warcry and injuries are more impactful, but it’s really not that much of a different especially when you consider you can boost stats in Mordheim to clear out injuries.
My assumption was Mordheim held to a more brutal design and that was part of it’s charm, but I don’t think that’s the case. It’s clearly a game people love, but maybe it’s more about the theme of the game than the actual mechanics.
Progression seems to be an important element, with players looking forward to being able to try out their dream team as they progress along the campaign. This might be why the Kill Team campaign isn’t particularly popular, at least from my limited experience, as your starting list will be the same as your end of campaign list give or take a few extra abilities and special equipment.
On the flip side of progression though, is game balance. It’s definitely feels bad when you end up totally out matched in a game with no chance to win, especially when you’re only able to get one game in that week. The various systems have different options to try address this whether something small like an extra wild dice for Warcry to the more advanced options like in Necromunda with extra fighters and gear. At the absolute basic, it does seem important that you get something out of a game when you’re the underdog, like the bonus experience in Mordheim. Some games just can’t be won, but at the end of it, it’s nice to feel that you achieve something.
One very important lesson we can take comes from the Necromunda community. Necromunda is a wonderful game but is prone to mistakes and the community is use to stepping in and resolving those issues with house rules. Typically, GW puts the most effort into getting the core game play down and often narrative campaign options are tacked on after the fact. That’s not to say the designers aren’t putting the work in or don’t have great ideas, but it does mean you get to mix up campaign play the way you think is best for you. Don’t be afraid to make changes and tweak things for your own gaming group.
Personally, I’m eager to try a Mordheim themed campaign using the Warcry rules. The recent Underworlds Witch hunters warband is too good not to pick up and I’d like to adapt the solo campaign style of Warcry into a campaign with one player developing a single warband while the second player goes through a variety of warbands with some sort of story chain weaving it all together.
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