Thursday, August 31, 2017

Necromunda Underhive and Evolving Team Games

One of the main bits of news passing through the internet over the past 24 hours from Games Workshop is the revealing of Necromunda Underhive. I have fond memories of the original version of this game, and of analogues in Warhammer Fantasy.

I will start with the latter. When Realms of Chaos: Slaves to Darkness was released, its impact was huge and broad. Not just in fantasy but in 40k as well. What were once nearly abstract chaos entities were given very concrete forms in a very specific and hierarchical manner. More than this though, the Realms of Chaos books introduced new ways to have battles and new ways to consider building armies. One of these was to build up your very own chaos war band from scratch and improve it from mission to mission. Sure, there were pitfalls along the way (the notorious 1d1000 chart in the same book had some serious balancing issues that were barely levelled out by the large number of possible outcomes on the chaos attribute chart that your war band chaos lord could get, and indeed: her or his followers). But the idea that you could "evolve" your team from game to game is one that struck a chord with many an old-timer.

Fast forward a little bit and we see this kind of idea take shape with Necromunda. You control an under hive gang of violent men (and / or) women hell bent on proving themselves better than all others, taking control of different areas and potentially suffering from serious testosterone poisoning. However, the thing that struck me here was not so much the random gains that one could make to individuals. No. Rather it was that the person in control of the gang could "upgrade" them from mission to mission. A reclaimed flamer was perhaps discovered in a long forgotten alleyway in the darkness of the under hive that was brought back to functionality by the gang. Now one of your gang members is happily toting a (very useful) flamer to cleanse all in her path. It is this upgrade and evolution that really holds the appeal to me. Having members of the clan or gang get better over time and still risk permanent death by the end of the next game is exciting, heart breaking, and interesting. It adds a new dimension of caring about the team and the individuals within it that is not generally seen in Warhammer 40,000 so much. Well, not unless you are one of those painters who scribes the name of each and every miniature on to their base or their shoulder pads. I sometimes feel Dark Angels should engage in this a bit more, myself. I digress though.

Beyond this thought (and attractive feature) is the fact that for perhaps the first time, the game moved away from the epic scale battles and skirmishes fought by the elite Imperium and the malevolent Orks (etc.). These kind of skirmishes were at a very much lower level (pun not intended) and between distinctly ordinary citizens of the hives of the Imperium. Thus, we got a little bit closer to the grim darkness of everyday life for some of the (not quite average) citizenry of the Imperium. We got closer to explaining how the hierarchy of the Imperium works with the rich on the upper spires of the Hives controlling the wealth and industries, the elites below them, the working classes facilitating the production of promethium (or whatever it is they do - I'm not entirely clear), the slave classes and the down and outs below them, and the gangers at the lower levels literally fighting for their very lives on a day to day basis. It might not be Nostramo, but it might be close. What it did show was the very real grim dark nature of the setting in a new light. 

In some ways, this kind of game can be seen here and there in different formats. For instance, Frost Grave focuses exceptionally well on a wizard and her entourage trying to Lara Croft the pickings out of a frozen waste land. Kingdom Death might be a further example of this where a band of survivors tries to build up their village over several Lantern Years and improve their lot by taking out various monsters in the heinous world that surrounds them.

These kinds of evolutionary games are very well done. It is really appealing to see Games Workshop once again go down this route in a very complete and well thought through manner. Although I may or may not purchase the new Necromunda ultimately, it really does bode well for this type of game and game system. 

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