Game design philosophy - what is Core?

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  • Game design philosophy - what is Core?

    This is something that recently came up on the Druchii.net forums, and I partook in the (not particularly active) discussion. Granted, the discussion there is rather army-specific, but the general issue is, one might say, wider than any specific army, or even any specific wargame.

    I read through the stated rules design philosophy of T9A, and I couldn't find any specific statement to the effect, other than a general point about internal balance and how every available option should be viable in at least some kind of army build. Which is great, but doesn't actually answer what I'm wondering.

    So, what is Core, game design philosophically speaking? Why is the category in, and what is it supposed to represent? Is there any sort of consensus among the T9A developers on the matter?

    I'm just thinking since a significant number of players seem to regard minimum core requirements as either a burden, one to be grudgingly accepted either to mitigate the extent to which you can make OP army builds, or to enforce a kind of game-world integrity, a vision about how an army of a specific faction is *supposed* to look.

    To me, all those sentiments, if true, are indications of the game design having already failed in other places. To elaborate on what I said over at Druchii, if a certain kind of troops comprise the bulk of the military of a certain faction in the fluff, that means doing that *should* be the most resource-efficient way of raising an army of given strength for that specific faction, the most bang for the buck. If making armies consisting solely of griffons was a battle-winner in the world of T9A, that kind of armies would exist in it, but they (presumably) don't. Such an army would be about as ridiculous as if Napoleon went on campaign with only grenadiers and cuirassiers and no line infantry. If he'd done that, his enemies would have laughed all the way to Paris.

    Thus, if a player ever feels like there's a tradeoff between power and army fluffiness, the game design has already gone wrong. People should want to take core units, and do so despite them being less powerful than the elite units of the same army. The best way to do this imo, one that maintains the distinction between core and "special" and other more elite categories, is to simply make core units cheap enough that people want to take them. Are these sentiments that are echoed by the decision-making powers that be of T9A? I hope so, and it indeed seems so to me, as I've noticed that the price of core infantry in particular has gone down over different versions of the game, while all kinds of upgrades and other bells and whistles have been stripped away.
  • I've thought about this issue myself and I think you are on the right path by suggesting core units become cheaper and more customisable.
    If core units cost less but the percentage required in the Army List remain the same, obviously more Core will be required.
    Giving them multiple options will allow them to fulfil slightly different roles on the battlefield.

    I would also suggest that there are some units in Special that could be moved to core accross the ABs, perhaps conditionally in the way that units of dogs have if they are over a given number of models.

    Another way of making them more useful/desirable would be to make it so that only Core units have Scoring, reflecting the fact that non-core units represent elite specialised units where core are the army's main force. Non-core units - in addition to their specialised functions - would serve then to protect the main forces en route to objectives, and to hold them. This is already part of normal tactics, but would be more important if only Core were Scoring.

    There are undoubtedly objections to be raised to this approach but I'm just throwing out ideas here.
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  • It is already the case that nearly all core units are scoring.
    Exceptions are: skirmishers; light troops; fast cavarly; some insignificant units.....
    So this all makes sense.

    Why shouldn't special units, especially infantry, monstrous infantry and heavy cavalry be scoring?
    Logically, these units are even better at holding positions because they are the elite of the army.

    I would rather introduce a specific minimum unit size for the various troops types to be scoring.
    So a unit could even lose scoring during the game...which make sense because why should a really small unit (in extremum even a single model) be scoring.

    This alone would favour most core units because they are mostly cheaper so can be taken in bigger units for the same point costs.
    Furthermore, this would introduce an additonal layer of game depth, because you would think strategically which unit to shoot or cast damage spells at or maybe charge (even if you are worse) just to get then enemy unit below the needed model number....not only to make them take a panic test but also to make it lose scoring.

    This min size limit should be too high, e.g.
    infantry: 10 or 15 models
    monstrous infantry and monstrous cavalry: 3 models
    cavalry: 5 models
    All other troops types shouldn't be scoring, which already is the case (maybe few exceptions).

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  • Not particularly, main principles for core units are followed in every armybook. DL are a little more harmed by this, due to the fact that there are not cheap scoring units like hobgoblins, SA core troops, and similar.
    On the other hand, there are other armies like VC that suffer too from internal balance in core.

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  • I wouldn't support making core units the only ones able to score. It seems like a rather contrived game mechanic to force their use. There's no reason for why elite units couldn't do such a job, and if they do, the player using them so is already paying a price for doing so by tying up a valuable unit that could be killing stuff elsewhere. There are plenty of real-world situations, military and civilian, where an unnecessarily valuable asset ends up doing a job it's overqualified for, simply because it happened to be the only thing immediately available, and tying it up was preferable to leaving the job undone.
  • I'm not sure how to go about correcting this issue, but I do agree that armies should be more core oriented. If that is done by making them more enticing, great. If it is simply adjusting points so that it competes in choice with other units from different categories, sure, I'm on board.

    As it is now, my armies, with the exception of BH, are built on core. EoS sits at 34% Core, OK are at 42%, SA at 47%, but BH are at a miserable 23% (mostly due to lack of models).
  • Which is why, as far as I'm concerned, core troop point costs should be reduced until we're at the point where everyone would want to take core, so that it wouldn't overly matter if, hypothetically, the 25% minimum would be lifted. If any unit in an armybook should be allowed to be OP relative to its point cost, it should be the humble core unit. Reducing their points cost is a simple and straightforward way to make it so.

    An issue would only appear if core would get so OP that nobody wants to buy elite units. But until the day comes when tournament armies regularly choke the table with nothing but core spam, I'd say the game would be good.
  • Only some core units are felt to be a burden. Most armies have some units/options in core everyone agrees are usable.

    While I agree core should be cheaper, there's also the problem of general usefulness. Or lack of it. For example, EoS and Dwarf Handguns and Crossbows would become immediately more tempting if the Unwieldy rule was reconsidered. They wouldn't need to go down in points, if they were useful as is. Now they feel just clumsy and inefficient.

    BTW, the designers have expressed their will to see what can be done with the core tax. It was in the 9th Scroll, half a year ago. So they know.


    If you think of it from another angle, you can picture that the generals (we, the players) would love to have all the special units for damage output, grinding, defence and special tasks. But the society/enlistment/training/industry cannot produce what the generals want. Not in quantity. So, just as in real life, generals have to accept what is given to them, and are expected to work miracles with insufficient/outdated troops & equipment. Even if they feel costly, i.e. consume the supply & the paychest.

    Big fluffy grin. :D
  • I'm glad this is being discussed, as I agree with the sentiment that core units really aren't where they should be right now, with some exceptions obviously.

    The main problem with core seems to be the fact that they are mostly unable to win any combats in a straight up fashion (unless vs other core). It seems to be that the way they chose to address this problem was to give them the steadfast rule, which kind of helped, but it still means you're losing combats, and rolling tests. As the game stands right now I don't think that simply reducing the point costs of core would help solve this issue, here are some of my thought:

    - Cheaper would mean cheaper access to shooting units, which for the most part are already as good as their elite counterparts. Take goblins for example, they're a very good core option, any cheaper and they would be too good (IMO). I know you could just increase the cost of bows but just consider where I'm coming from.

    - Cheaper means you're definitely not getting better, which means you're still losing combats (unless vs other core), constantly losing and trying to play the grinding game can be difficult for armies where generals are ld9. Also don't forget that in circumstances where you're outclassed unless you can actually kill whatever you're fighting you stand no chance of causing any break tests from your opponent (with the exception of them rolling ultra terrible). Maybe this is how they intend core units to function, who knows, but this issue of almost ALWAYS losing is a big one.

    - Body count is not a great way to off-set lack of skill (specifically in CC), as the way combat scores are calculated wounds caused can become much more of a factor than the +3 (rank bonus) you might get/ maintain from your extra bodies. Again I think that steadfast was implemented to make this kind of "defense" more viable, but I don't think it works that well. If you're easy to kill then you're easy to win a combat versus, which means you still need to take a test, and extra bodies beyond those required for steadfast don't make a darn difference when rolling it.

    This is my main criticism to core units in CC, extra bodies that you don't get attacks from kinda suck, being steadfast at the expense of being able to do enough (or any) damage to the unit you're fighting also sucks. Maybe these core unit were designed to be grinders, I don't know. What I do know is taking lots of core units in an O&G army is real difficult, keeping multiple large units in range of IP and HYG is a nightmare, but if you don't they're testing on a steadfast 5 6 or 7 and most likely running, and if they run and get caught there goes potentially 60 goblins, or 50 orcs, just like that.

    Going to stop the ramblings now, cheers all!
    Nathan.
  • If I may venture forth an explanation as to why it seems that Core is still having an identity crisis, even more than a year into the game and several versions into the game now having been released.

    The OP's comparison to a Napoleonic army consisting of nothing but Grenadiers and Cuirassiers is exactly right.

    Core is indeed the "line infantry" equivalent of an historical army, be it Napoleonic, Civil War, etc. etc.

    Here is where I see the heart of the problem lies. For Warhammer, Core was clearly included in the game because the designers wanted a mass battle game with real armies on the board, they were not interested in 10 models vs. 10 models skirmish or dungeon combat type games, they wanted armies.

    If you look at the very beginning of Warhammer, (and I'm talking about the VERY beginning, as in the mid-80s GW design and hobby team, not the more corporate guys of the last few years of Warhammer leading into AOS) you will find that Core was put in the game almost purely for narrative purposes, and for honoring visually what an actual army would look like in the field. GW early on didn't want their game to be between two tiny elite forces of heroes. It is for these reasons that GW always gave their Core such average stats, to the frustration of so many players seeking to build optimal lists for optimal play. The great stress point that I have always tried to point out to people, is that GW purposely made Core average, and they purposely made Core a requirement because they assumed that a good number of people would be playing this game for the narrative and visual aspects of the game. Yes, there would be competitors also, but for GW that wasn't a problem as long as Core had usable stats. It wasn't an asssumption made out of ignorance or to upset competitive players. It was made because well, GW was making a narrative game!

    Notwithstanding the what I consider misplaced outcry and complaint from the community that GW created a game merely "to sell models" and supposedly "force players to buy and paint more models", to which I say DUH, they created a mass battle game and then they sell regiments of models to create those armies, they were not exactly being hidden or devious about it, lol. It wasn't like GW hid the fact that the game was about huge armies, you as a hobbyist accepted that at the start or not.

    For GW it was very, very simple. You wouldn't have an Napoleonic army without Core, so why would a massive fantasy army not have Core as well? It's not so much GW trying to make a fantasy game into an historical game, but more that they seriously wanted an ARMY game. With ARMIES. Their sales philosophy/ethics/prices aside, it was as simple as that. Where you had to paint a lot of models because you wanted to, not because you had to. You wanted to buy and assemble and paint a huge army because it was part of the fun of the hobby, not something you resented and begrudgingly had to do in order to get an army ready in time for a tournament.

    Obviously, the devs. of 9th Age wanted to carry over that honoring of representing real armies on the table, which is obviously why they kept a Core section for all the army books.

    The problem therefore as I see it, is that too many players still look at Core as a "choice" among choices in the army books. In other words, Core is considered a category in a linear list along with Special, Rare, etc. Actually it's not. If you can visualize this, Core is actually like the CENTER of a wagon wheel, and the "spokes" of that wheel that radiate out from Core are all the other choices in the army book! Core isn't "taken along" with your cool stuff, Core IS the center of the army, or at least that's what the rules and the mechanics of the game should reflect.

    In that regard, Core should be the cheapest troops and the most numerous, and they should be at least average as effective fighting units on the tabletop. The trick has been, should you make Core "better" so that it's more palatable for players creating optimal lists? Or should Core remain what it is supposed to be from a narrative standpoint, purely average because average is exactly what line infantry IS SUPPOSED TO BE.

    Core has a huge stress point which conflicts with game mechanics and conflicts with the way the game is viewed as a competitive endeavor.

    The best way I can say it is, I think that a lot of competitive gamers who played Warhammer and now 9th competitively would be absolutely flustered, confused, and turned off by historical gaming of any kind.....you think being forced to take 25% in an army list is a huge hassle? Historical games usually have 80, 90% Core! Historical armies are almost ALL Core, with more elite units supporting them. As in like Core outnumbers the special and elites units like TWENTY to ONE in terms of actual numbers. And that is how Core should work in a fantasy game as well. If it doesn't work that way, then the game shouldn't have Core in it at all, and the designers should consider making the transition to creating a fantasy game that encompasses nothing but elite units in small, elite, specialized combats.

    But that's not what 9th Age is. It's a mass battle game. Core should be central to it.
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    The post was edited 5 times, last by Baranovich ().

  • I myself and I'm sure many others would have no problem with and would even enjoy taking a larger percentage of core, but not when it is just plain worse than its special equivalent and the same points value.

    Would anyone who is in the know on the rules team etc care to weigh in and let slip the percentage value that gets slapped on top of core points, so we can see the "true" pre tax cost of such units and maybe even play test untaxed books within our gaming groups and see if it results in more core choices being fielded?
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  • WastelandWarrior wrote:

    Would anyone who is in the know on the rules team etc care to weigh in and let slip the percentage value that gets slapped on top of core points, so we can see the "true" pre tax cost of such units and maybe even play test untaxed books within our gaming groups and see if it results in more core choices being fielded?
    The "Core Tax" is a carryover from GW. Most Core units int T9A have actually gone down in price (comparative to the total army points) from the GW era. But so have some more special units. Apparently, the Core units need to get cheaper still, and this is generally accepted in the rules design team. But not everything in every Core, as there are many Core units eagerly taken by the gamers.

    Thus, there is no fixed percentage value, because it's a carryover and differs from army to army and unit to unit - as does everything else. The point adjustment doesn't follow a theory, it's testing-adjustment-testing-adjustment. An organic process.
  • Fair enough. I can only really comment from the WdG perspective with any authority but when core warriors are the exact same price as chosen warriors it's a no brainer. I better be careful what I wish for though as the easy fix here will just be to raise the point cost of chosen!

    Anyway I'm enjoying the game as it is and it's only a minor niggle. Look forward to seeing what 2.0 brings when that comes round but will surely enjoy the last 8 months or so of knowing what stuff does!
    Take a look at my painted army so far. Feel free to share a pic of yours!

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  • IMO, the ideal scenario is that people usually bring more than the required 25%, not because only core are scoring, or to unlock access to more special units, but because the Core choices are worth taking more of.

    Core should be more efficient general purpose choices, with non-core filling more speciality roles.

    For example, core infantry blocks should be more efficient as a main combat unit, which can be pushed forward and left to slug it out with an enemy unit. Meanwhile, the non-core infantry would fill roles such as extra reliable anvil who can hold whatever is thrown at them until they get some help, or dedicated monster hunting infantry, or elite blenders who might not beat and break an enemy unit,ź but who can be relied on to inflict massive casualties, leaving that unit vulnerable to follow-up charge next turn, or simply reduced below combat effectiveness for the rest of the game.
  • CariadocThorne wrote:

    IMO, the ideal scenario is that people usually bring more than the required 25%, not because only core are scoring, or to unlock access to more special units, but because the Core choices are worth taking more of.

    Core should be more efficient general purpose choices, with non-core filling more speciality roles.

    For example, core infantry blocks should be more efficient as a main combat unit, which can be pushed forward and left to slug it out with an enemy unit. Meanwhile, the non-core infantry would fill roles such as extra reliable anvil who can hold whatever is thrown at them until they get some help, or dedicated monster hunting infantry, or elite blenders who might not beat and break an enemy unit,ź but who can be relied on to inflict massive casualties, leaving that unit vulnerable to follow-up charge next turn, or simply reduced below combat effectiveness for the rest of the game.
    I don't think I could agree with you more on this. Very well said and I think you're onto the exact role core, infantry in particular, should play.
  • Nathan.a. wrote:

    I'm glad this is being discussed, as I agree with the sentiment that core units really aren't where they should be right now, with some exceptions obviously.

    The main problem with core seems to be the fact that they are mostly unable to win any combats in a straight up fashion (unless vs other core). It seems to be that the way they chose to address this problem was to give them the steadfast rule, which kind of helped, but it still means you're losing combats, and rolling tests. As the game stands right now I don't think that simply reducing the point costs of core would help solve this issue, here are some of my thought:

    - Cheaper would mean cheaper access to shooting units, which for the most part are already as good as their elite counterparts. Take goblins for example, they're a very good core option, any cheaper and they would be too good (IMO). I know you could just increase the cost of bows but just consider where I'm coming from.

    - Cheaper means you're definitely not getting better, which means you're still losing combats (unless vs other core), constantly losing and trying to play the grinding game can be difficult for armies where generals are ld9. Also don't forget that in circumstances where you're outclassed unless you can actually kill whatever you're fighting you stand no chance of causing any break tests from your opponent (with the exception of them rolling ultra terrible). Maybe this is how they intend core units to function, who knows, but this issue of almost ALWAYS losing is a big one.

    - Body count is not a great way to off-set lack of skill (specifically in CC), as the way combat scores are calculated wounds caused can become much more of a factor than the +3 (rank bonus) you might get/ maintain from your extra bodies. Again I think that steadfast was implemented to make this kind of "defense" more viable, but I don't think it works that well. If you're easy to kill then you're easy to win a combat versus, which means you still need to take a test, and extra bodies beyond those required for steadfast don't make a darn difference when rolling it.

    This is my main criticism to core units in CC, extra bodies that you don't get attacks from kinda suck, being steadfast at the expense of being able to do enough (or any) damage to the unit you're fighting also sucks. Maybe these core unit were designed to be grinders, I don't know. What I do know is taking lots of core units in an O&G army is real difficult, keeping multiple large units in range of IP and HYG is a nightmare, but if you don't they're testing on a steadfast 5 6 or 7 and most likely running, and if they run and get caught there goes potentially 60 goblins, or 50 orcs, just like that.

    Going to stop the ramblings now, cheers all!
    Nathan.
    Lots of worthwhile thoughts here.

    I didn't literally mean that all core units should be given a points discount. If some core units are happily taken as they are now, great, they can stay as they are, or at most get a lesser discount than others. Your example with the goblins is a good one to show how core can be made viable by making it cheaper, and an example that imo partly refutes the next two points you make. Goblins are on the low end of the power scale even among core, relative to both their own armybook and others. Still, they are a very good choice because, used correctly, they can achieve quite a bit relative to what they cost.

    Core units SHOULD lose to more expensive elite units in a straight fight. The opponent is committing more power and tying down more points' worth of troops in that fight, and should win. That's why elite troops exist in real armies, and why they are outfitted and worth outfitting in ways that wouldn't be economical on core troops - sometimes you need to win that one particular fight in order to execute your overall plan, making that elite unit an effective force multiplier for a larger part of your army. For the player on the other side of that elite-vs-core fight, that core unit is holding up a more valuable enemy unit, giving you time to bring in the (literal or figurative) cavalry, or lets the rest of your army win the game somewhere else where it matters. If your core unit died stupidly and needlessly before an enemy elite unit, what happened is that you got out-played, not that the game design failed.

    Extra bodies allows you to retain steadfast for longer against killy, grindy enemies. Also, if core would be more common, there'd also be more core-vs-core fights, where the larger number of bodies would not just give you steadfast but negate that of the enemy as well. Which would be particularly useful if you bring both a core battle bus of steadfast negation and a killy elite unit to the same fight. Gets the job done faster, lets your elite unit move on to kill something else. Still, you're right in that the +3 rank bonus a deep formation gives only goes so far. Static combat score in T9A is pretty much on the same level as it was in Warhammer 6e, while the killing power of everything is much greater. Maybe it'd make sense to increase the maximum rank bonus to +4? Or change steadfast so that, for example, for each rank you have more than the minimum you need for steadfast, you get a +1 to the break test?

    Finally, you're right in that the range of IP and HYG are indeed something of an effective limit beyond which the efficiency of core dips. What effect might it have on the game if, say, all characters were given a mini-IP with 6'' range? Then, a lone character who's neither general or BSB could feasibly keep two proper core units at higher Ld, rather than just the one he's in.