Hawk Wargames Justifies Scenery Pricing

It seems the general outrage from the wargaming community – much 0f it coming from me – over the prices of Hawk Wargames scenery has provoked a response from them. It can be read in full here. In my opinion it’s largely bollocks.

RANT INCOMING

The general gist surrounds cutting edge technology and a modular system allowing limitless potential and superior resins etc. This is all crap. Their resin is not the best. Not even close. The technology is the same technology that Spartan and the Games Workshop uses. Spartan seem to be able punt their wares out at a reasonable price. And if the tile system was resulting in shrinkage in a ‘cheaper’ resin then it’s a flawed concept and should have been abandoned in favour of something else, not passing on the truly stellar costs on to the customer. Who were hardly demanding a modular scenery system that’s only any good for that one game. Plus, there’s nothing innovative about mounting tiles on foam board. Innovation would have been scenery sets that you can just build out of the box.

There’s also some cock and bull about the tiles being super detailed. They’re not. Don’t get me wrong they look cool, but they’re nothing to hit your hobby spot. The overall finished effect is very striking but they are nowhere near the detail or other scenery kits out there. I also have to ask the question; how important is a modular system in a game where the emphasis is on air units – so you’re only looking at the roofs – and when buildings are essentially obstacles rather than things to be interacted with?

But it boils down to total lack of commercial sense. £720 for 15 buildings make no sense. Even if all of the crap about the finest quality blah blah blah was true, anyone with a shred of business acumen would conclude it is not commercially viable to punt out scenery, the lowest priority purchase for probably 90% of gamers, at those prices, and instead look at an alternative way of doing things. It’s either naivety, arrogance or petulance.

It’s great that Hawk Wargames have such high standards but they’re forcing those standards on the customer. The majority of whom simply can’t afford it. The number of gamers I’ve spoken to who are just going to bust out old Epic scenery or just use the paper buildings compared to those that’ll actually spend the money is 20 to 1. I also have to ask; where’s the innovation in system that requires you to mount your lovely expensive scenery tiles onto foam board? True innovation would have been a system that looks good, is easy to build, and doesn’t bust the bank. Unfortunately it doesn’t do any of those things.

I really feel Hawk has blindly stumbled into the same position the Games Workshop are in now in so much as they are producing a desirable product at a ridiculous price. But whereas the Games Workshop have 30 years of canon to draw in loyal customers time and again to hide their dropping customer numbers by paying increased prices, Hawk just doesn’t. But more than that, gamers can buy proxy models to cut costs so they can continue to play Games Workshop games, short of building paper buildings Dropzone gamers don’t have the option. And for gamers looking at getting into a new system I struggle to see how they can look at Dropzone Commander as a financially viable option any more.

Especially with the stand out comedy moment of the FAQ being when they recommend just 10 buildings for a 4×4 game. So only a £460 layout.  So that’s all right. What makes it worse is that it’s bullshit. We played on a 4×4 board with 15 buildings and we were told that ideally, to play the game the way it was design we’d need at least another 10. And you know what; I’d agree with it. Interestingly as well, pretty much all the scenario diagrams have 15 buildings in them…

I think it boils down to the this. Hawk Wargames may think they can justify £720 for 15 buildings and claim they’re awesome. Maybe they are awesome and maybe £720 is good value for money, but they’ve missed the point. It never should have gotten this far. At the product development stage someone should have said ‘fucking hell, this is gonna come out a bit expensive’. It’s a classic example of being too close to a project to objectively look at it and question it’s viability. The tiles are a great idea but if it wasn’t going to work whilst making it affordable it should have been canned.

As it stands Dropzone Commander is one of the most expensive games in the market with zero justification to be beyond an alleged high quality resin. My sources in the know tell me this is balls. Yes, okay, so they may be positioning themselves as a premium product but in a recession that’s retarded. Plus it isn’t a premium product. Erratas for the rules hit the site the day of release and continue to be updated. The rule book itself is badly laid out. For all their posturing about casting quality, miscasts have been rife. And let me ask this; what happens if the tiles even slightly warp? You’ve paid out a fucking fortune for something that doesn’t line up.

I full appreciate how bilious this post is coming across, but I don’t care. I don’t feel Hawk Wargames have a solid perspective and instead of reconsidering the viability of the scenery, they have instead tried to justify the colossal expense. Because, quite simply, I can buy myself a Warhound Titan from Forge World for less money than the supposed 10 buildings (minimum) I’d need to fill a 4×4 board for Dropzone Commander.

It’ll certainly be interesting to see what they come up with next…

Is the Hawk becoming a Turkey?

Resin scenery is finally available to pre-order on the Hawk Wargames website. Having seen the real deal when I was invited to Hawk HQ for playtesting I was excited for DzC gamers. Despite my misgivings about Hawk’s truly shameful pricing policy the models are ace, the game – once you’ve deciphered the rulebook – is good and the scenery did look superb.

Sadly however, all my misgivings immediately bubbled to the surface when I saw the prices. £7.50 for ten wall tiles. This may not seem that much but they’re only 36mm wide by 21mm high. Ten tiles will not make a building of note. And roof tiles and accessories are separate.

Anyone who plays Games Workshop games is no stranger to high prices but I’m starting to wonder what Hawk Wargames are up to. Army deals that start at £68 with very little of the good stuff in them and the bigger better army deals are on available on the Hawk Wargames website and they are no better on the value for money stakes. The Metropolis pack was what we used for our playtest game. More or less anyway, some of the buildings didn’t have backs to them but in terms of board space that’s what we used. It covers a 4×4 board but it doesn’t fill a 4×4 board. To play the game as it was intended you’d need a Metropolis pack and, at least, a City Pack.

On the plus side the scenery does look gorgeous when it’s painted up but £740 for enough scenery for a 4×4 board? I mean are they fucking high? As they seem to thing they have the muscle of Games Workshop let’s use them as a comparison. Specifically Forge World. Specifically the Forge World Zone Mortalis board set. It costs £350 for a 4×4 board that’s modular. And that is an absolute shit load of resin. So for less than half the money for 15 buildings for DzC you can get a fully pimped 4×4 board. From Games Workshop. The most expensive wargaming company ever.

Or are they? I’m really concerned that Hawk Wargames have lost touch with reality a little bit. They’re in a full tilt blind rush to pay off their investor and simultaneously expand the business (plus pay off all the unplanned expense of increasing production) that they seem to think that gamers will blindly pay that kind of money. Now I’ve been in wargaming long enough to know that there are some people who will happily part with £740 for scenery, and good for them, but for the vast majority of gamers scenery is an after thought and something they will but would rather not spend money on.

Personally I love a good bit of scenery. I’ve got enough 40k buildings to fill and 8×4 board and I’d happily get more. But it only costs me £70 for an Imperial Sector, which is crammed full of plastic, will fill a 4×4 board and I can build it how I like. And it’s not made of one of the most expensive resin blends going. I completely understand why Hawk Wargames felt the need to cast their models the way they did. The detail is stunning and they’re robust. But they need to be stunning and robust. Scenery just doesn’t. Again, a lovely bit of a scenery really sets off a board and there’s no denying that the photography in the DzC rulebook is stunning; however it seems crazy to cast scenery, that just sits there, out of the same stuff. I also suspect that Hawk are attempting to squeeze the same margin out of scenery as they are their models. Which, again, is mental.

The laughable thing is that because the tiles are so thin they have to be mounted on something like foam card anyway. Which makes me  think that perhaps a cheaper grade resin cast in blocks so it’s stackable may have been the smarter move. I also suspect it would have been cheaper too.

Between a shocking lack of planning leading up to launch, over priced models, over priced scenery, an iffy rulebook and a pervasive arrogant indifference since the game release I’m deeply concerned about Hawk Wargames. I can’t decide if it’s greed, over ambition or because they want to pay the bills. I have no idea but there’s already striking similarities between Hawk and Games Workshop both in attitude and pricing structure. And I’m not one to defend Games Workshop and how they do things but at least they have share holders cracking the whip and setting targets the business has to meet.

For a company that claimed to have had its roots in the community, that allegedly puts the community first they seem to be completely out of touch with what is reasonable and what is reasonable for the money. The one good thing that’s come out of this though is that it’s made me realise that GW isn’t all that bad and actually a realm of battle board for £175 isn’t comparatively bad. And I’d still have enough money to buy 2 Imperial Sectors (£140), the 40k rulebook (£45) a Codex Space Marines (£25) Mega Forces (£300) to play on it and I’d still have £55 to spend on some glue and paint.

Obviously you don’t have to spend that much. Obviously you can buy fewer buildings and obviously I’m taking the most expensive as an example. But only because I know that gamers are realistically going to need that many buildings to get the most out of the game because it was designed to be played, primarily, in dense cityscapes. With so many awesome games already in a very flooded market. With Spartan and even Games Workshop able to match the quality of design and (most of the time) casting but for a better price I don’t see where Hawk Wargames expects to go. But a tweet I saw earlier today summed it up rather well for me, which read;

‘so just seen the price of the @HawkWargames resin buildings. Think I will keep my paper buildings’

 

Dropzone Comander – The Full Review

That’s right, it’s finally that time. I didn’t want to rush this as I’d already been lucky enough to play test the game and had penned a first look review that can be found here.

So for those that have been living in a cave/under a rock/on Mars/in the long lost city of Atlantis (delete as appropriate), Dropzone Commander is a 10mm sci-fi game set in the distant future in which humanity has been forced to abandon Earth and her core colonies (known as the Cradle Worlds) after an alien race known as The Scourge invades.

Skip forward a couple of centuries and humanity is ready for some payback. Add into the mix the mysterious Shaltari and the Post Human Republic – a human faction that heeded the warning of the Scourge’s coming from an advanced alien device and fled to a distant world only to return altered. And quite frankly; bad ass. So four factions, all with their own agendas and kick ass cool model range; sounds like a ball game to me.

Which actually is the first big fat skyscraper sized tick in the box which is fluff. Lots and lots of lovely juicy fluff to give your factions a unique feel to go with their unique look, plus that all important reason all the arse kickery. Which, to be honest, can really lack in a few games I’ve looked at in the past.

So on to the aforementioned arse kickery. The thing that makes Dropzone Commander rather special is that it’s emphasis on combined arms. Dropzone Commander’s force organisation is built around battle groups starting with a dropship and working its way down. The idea is a simple one and grounded in modern warfare; armies are made up of smaller, better trained, units that require rapid redeployment to deal with the constantly changing tides of battle.

Although there’s no shortage of sci-fi games availabke, there hasn’t been one that so actively encourages the use of infantry, armour and aircraft so completely. The downside with this is that ground units are relatively slow and rely heavily on dropships which means that if they all get blown up you’re pretty much buggered. This is both good and bad as hunting dropships with gunships and fast movers is an easily exploitable tactic but encourages players to structure their army around mutual support.

The rules themselves are familiar enough, their influences easy to spot. However rather than alternating turns it alternates activations which, for gamers familiar with the likes of 40k and Warhammer, will be an odd. What makes a gaming nuance a genuine tactical twist is the fact that each activation activates the entire battlegroup, not just the one unit. As I mentioned in my first look review, this can, and probably will, lead to you forgetting to move models in the battlegroup if they are spread out across the board. But that’s more gamers having to keep their eye on the prize than the rule being broken.

The activations themselves allow you perform two actions rather than a prescribed series of actions. Again this adds a tactical flare which means that units in the open can fire then bugger off behind cover which is very cinematic, makes complete sense and makes that initiative role so important as it’s the difference between a daring move paying off or your take unit getting blown to tin foil because they got caught in the street.

All units have weapons assigned to them as part of their profile. I’ve heard some people grumble about this but at the end of the day, it’s a 10mm game, there’s feck all point in getting too fiddly when there’s plenty of other fiddly bits to remember. The weapons follow a fairly standard format – energy verses armour, the number of shot and accuracy. There’s also two range bands. Full range and countered range.

The idea is this – full range is the range of the weapon (obviously) the other is the diminished range when shooting at a model with active counter measures. It’s a nice idea but if I’m honest, I’m not a fan. Active counter measures are things like targeting jammers and the like that interfere with systems or the projectiles themselves. There’s also passive counter measures which are things like shields or short-range point defence. The thing is when your enemy invents a jammer you invent a jammer jammer. And active counter measures just doesn’t explain away the time-honoured tradition of pointing a gun in the vague direction of the target and just pulling the trigger.

It’s not that the rule doesn’t work, I just think a penalty to hit for active counter measures would have been a more elegant rule, especially as passive counter measures is, effectively, an armour save. But as everything except lovely squishy infantry has (at least) active counter measures it’s actually a bit pointless and you may as well just have long and short-range.

But there are a lot of rules in Dropzone Commander. Aside from the 16 different clarifications for terrain/scenery, there’s also 5 building types, each with 3 subclasses and 15 special rules just for weapons. It’s a lot to remember, made harder because special rules are usually abbreviated so you’ll be getting plenty of use out of your book looking them up. It’s on the hand a fantastic level of detail meaning you can create any gaming board you can dream of and all your units will be individual but my concern is it’ll impact on the flow of the game until you’re really familiar with them.

These grumbles aside the mechanics work well and the emphasis is on rolling fistfuls of dice and blowing things to buggery. Which is always a win. And yet another tactical layer is the fact that, for the most part, ground units can’t shoot air units and vice versa. There are anti-air units but these can’t target ground units. Again units performing very specific combat roles and encourages you to take a balanced force – although does rail road you into always taking certain unit types to cover your arse rather than what you’d like to take. Although this isn’t dissimilar from having to take a HQ choice and two troop choices in 40k.

The final piece of the tactical puzzle is infantry. Hawk Wargames has placed a high premium on the most vulnerable units in the game and challenges the gamer to not only keep them alive in their almost as vulnerable bullet magnets but to use them to capture buildings and, more importantly, hold objectives. This means, of course, that you can blow up buildings which is fun, albeit time-consuming. Buildings can take a lot of punishment and although this is representative, it’s a little too representative. Your infantry will be crushed by falling masonry (yes it’s a rule) long before the building comes crashing down. Which is a bit disappointing.

The other side of it is CQB which is utterly brutal. It’s a nice set or rules and will result in fist-fulls of dice being rolled and infantry bases being returned to figure cases in droves there’s just a lot of stages to it, at least on paper, but once you’re familiar with it, it flows very well. It suffers a bit from being totally different from the rest of the game and the change in pace is noticeable but again this is more because to begin with there’s rule checking. I’ve read the rule twice and I still don’t fully understand when the combat is actually initiated. This said, when we tested CQB it seemed to happen very fast and people got manged so that has to be a good thing.

The DzC rulebook is also crammed full of lovely scenarios and complete army lists for the four factions so for slightly more money than Dystopian Wars you get a stronger rule set that’s laid out in a sensible fashion (although I would have had flyer moves in with movement) that looks gorgeous, has all the faction army lists and scenarios, all in one book, rather than having to spend more money than the rule book faction specific scenarios. This is better.

Dropzone Commander is very good. It presents tactical challenges across all levels of the game, right down to not only how you move a unit but how you move a battlegroup, in what order and which actions are carried out first. As I said in my original post, it’s a lot like chess in that you always have to be thinking about the move two moves away. And you always, always, have to keep your eye on the prize as your force is far too dependent on each other to win the game if you’ve taken heavy losses.

It’s a beautifully put together book with lovingly written background. The sheer amount of effort that went into this game and the sheer excellence of the models means you have to forgive it the odd obsessive rule. My few gripes aren’t enough to put me off the game at all as it’s overall a very solid, very well thought out rule set with a robust concept behind it. And I have every intention of collecting a PHR army (to start with) just as soon as I can.