Privateer Press – Embracing the Digital Age

On 21st December 2016, Privateer Press put out an Insider Article which brought all kinds of info.

It’s was a long one, linked here, and had two parts, though I will be focusing solely on the second announcement for today – the end of printed unit cards being included in the box with models.

If you have never seen their main line games, Warmachine and Hordes use a system of cards for their units akin to 2nd Edition Warhammer 40,000. On them you have an a wealth of information on the front and back for quick reference – health, weapons, rules, stats etc, and tracks for damage if you use card sleeves and dry wipe markers. Here is an example of the front of one:
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It has been this way since their very first Edition (we are on Mark 3 now) and these cards have always been provided in the box. With the move from white metal to plastic, more and more kits became multi kits capable of building any one of three or four different units/warbeasts/warjacks, and every possible build had its card included in the box so you were covered what you went with.

The rules are also available in their army/campaign books, but it meant you could just buy the core rules and the model and that’s would be all you need.

However, last night, Privateer Press dropped the bombshell that they will no longer include the unit cards in the box/blister with the models.

I will admit that myself and many others very quickly knee jerked in to an “Oh Hell No!” stance, but its not the first time we have seen a big name in wargaming stop issuing card stock for unit stats – I’ve already named the system in question – Games Workshop.

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(Side note – is it heresy to be have both GW and PPs logos in the same post?)

They stopped card stock when the moved 3rd Edition came out, and beside some Objective cards and Spell/Psychic Decks have avoided any card stock support for their games. And it didn’t suffer for it.

Now before I move on, I was going to make the counter-argument that GW made the transition easier because their army books were generally a well compiled and throughout compilation of all you needed, whilst Privateer Press have core army books and then new stuff strewn over various campaign books. However, GW is now guilty of the shame, and I’d even argue worse, with some multiple but variant versions of rules for the same model/s now they are putting out campaign books every few  months. So I won’t make that argument, but thought it worth nothing none the less.

Now whilst Privateer Press won’t be including them, they have stated that you will have other options besides War Room, their in house army builder & game support app, which I will get to in a moment.

The options are:

  • Free to download PDF files with all the cards on there and you print what you need at home.
  • A Print on Demand service so for a “nominal” fee you can request physical cards to be printed and shipped out – orderable only via their website as far as we are currently aware.

So other than the books, your looking at a primarily digital solution – use the app, print them out, or order online.

Now War Room… I have been around long enough to recall, and have extensively used a blessed little app, not dead, called iBodger, which was an unofficial app that does most of what War Room does, only with less pomp, fuss and more stability. If I sound like I am being harsh on War Room, its because I am.

I have no issue with the concept of an army builder / collection tracker app, but when it comes to playing an actual game, no matter what features it has – built in game clock, Bluetooth access to see opponent’s cards from their copy of the app- physical ALWAYS trumps digital for speed of reference, clarity and reliability. But there is ONE field where physical lags behind and has no hope, and this is why this move is being made.

Physical rules are set in stone, and any errata made cannot simply be downloaded and patched over old material like you can with digital media – again, GHW with their eBook Codexes updating after FAQs drop. And Privateer press run a tight ship with frequent and ongoing FAQ, errata and rules design throughout the life of their primary systems, with a lot of community involvement.

But this means people who may honestly not know about the Erratas using out dated/incorrect rules and that’s obviously a bad scenario to have for a game so well founded and built up for tournament level play – keeping everyone in the know with the current rules is vital for a level playing field.

But is it reasonable to expect everyone, at least are tournament level, to have to bring a device that can run War Room? Even if they do, not everyone is going to be comfortable taking it with them to events in fear of damage or theft (it happens, rare as may be, but happens)?

Add in that part of the Tournament rules state that if your War Room app fails mid game for any reason – dead battery being a primary concern, then you lose – and this is not going to sit well with many. People tend to take physical cards anyway to avoid a tech glitch losing them a game, only now rather than just having them as they buy models, they need to spend more money on ordering them separately, unless you have a printer you can abuse, which is going to be wasteful – one card, back and front, is a waste of sheet of A4 sheet paper.

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Now, whilst talking cost, we know card stock is not cheap, but I do not feel that is a factor so much in Privateer Press’s decision, but I do think the possible extra income from War Room may have helped their decision.

See, War Room is a free app in itself, but it only comes with a few sample cards for each faction. You have to pay to unlock  a full faction’s worth of cards, with discounts for buying all factions at once I believe. For that cost, you get any new cards for new units added to the faction list for free for the duration of the current Edition of the game, as well as it updating all rules for you.

But should they still be charging you for these faction packs if it now their aim to push for the app to become the primary reference source? I’m am going to guess that the prices will not drop on models for the cards not being in there as the per kit saving will be pence, but add that up over the tens of thousands of kits that wont have them in, and that’s not a bad sum. Could that be put back in to at the very least discount War Room’s prices?

There is a surprising amount to consider off the back of this announcement, which is not really a surprise given the rise of digital media’s use with gaming – not just ordering and design, but game support apps and tie ins.

A final thought – this is not the furthest a company has gone with digital game support- anyone recall the game Ex Illis?

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This is a fantasy setting game of pre painted miniatures that came out in 2009 that used an app on tablet/pc to do all the calculations etc for you to allow greater depth of rules without you having to deal with the resulting complexity directly.

Now ironically, in 2014, Ex Illis 2nd Edition came out after a successful Kickstarter campaign, and it actually did away with the software aspect and brought in printed materials for the rules!

Wargaming wants to embrace the digital age and more and more moves are being made to integrated to allow the quick distribution of rules and updates to them, and I agree that is a major boon.

But, even with that, there is nothing like the first time you crack open a new rule book or army book, reading through it front to back a few times, and having it to hand for quick reference. There’s something…. Comforting maybe, not sure if the right word, about it being there. For me anyway.

And as a result, I could see me selling up and out of Hordes (I have a Circle of Orboros collection) as I don’t want more faff and hassle beyond rule book and model. It is a possible detractor for many. But I do not condemn Privateer Press for the decision, and in fact will be watching eagerly to see if this works, as I am sure many other wargames companies will be to.

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