It's nearing that time again, when the community waits with baited breath for a rules update. This is a time of terror for some, joy for others. I consider both reactions to be interesting. As a miniature gamer I am well aware that the history of miniature gaming is filled with examples of radical veering shift in the rules of a game. The Living rules can be described that way though I prefer to describe them as an evolution of the rules into something better.
There are a couple of things that I like to iterate to people who come to me with concerns about updates and what changes can mean. 1) Don't panic. Really. Don't panic. The absolute worst reaction is always panic. Panic prevents us from approaching problems rationally and as I often have to repeat to my son the old advice of just breathe… It is okay… Read on for a sneak peek under the hood of the new update.
The giant ground quaking rules shift that was the new edition of Heavy Gear Blitz (HGB) as it is encompassed in the Living Rule Book (LRB) was the result of more than 2 years of conversations between the Line Developer, the future Line Developer (Me) and a number of really dedicated individuals who started by asking some really hard questions about the rule of the game and how the game play fit or didn't fit the vision we had for the rules.
Since then there have been three large updates but large is more a descriptor of the number of pages that the change log file is long than a descriptor of the number of absolute changes.
An example in the upcoming rules update is the changes to Unit Availabilities (UA). One small change; the decision to rationalize away a number us rarely used UAs and consolidate the rest into some core UAs, has led to more than ten pages in the changelog that are all logging the same thing. Change X into Y. line after line of this simple change can make an update much longer and more complex looking than it really is. An example is the Milicia UA (UA:MI). Before this rules change you would choose a type of UA, in this case the MI one, and then look for models with that UA. If they matched then they could go in a squad together. Simple, right? Except that this created two UAs where really only one was required and we start to get into the Paradox of Choice where the number of decisions required makes making a decision really difficult and anxiety inducing.
This problem was pointed out to us at various points but there was always a common problem, namely that the UAs were a vague identifier and really had no role other than as a marker for game balance. "Why bother?" was the cry. Well the simple answer is that anarchy has it's own set of issues and some structure is good. Choice is good too and a balance has to be reached. The answer to that question is now in the update to section 15.3: Selecting Objectives.
There are still three methods to choosing objectives that are presented and each one causes the game to be played slightly differently. The Default method of selecting objectives is now clearly defines as the Selected method where each player can design their army with their objectives in mind. UAs now matter since each of the six main objectives have an associated list of UAs that require at least one UA of the appropriate type to be represented in the force to choose that objective.
For example:If you want to select the Assassinate objective you need to select a either a Strike, Special Forces, or Mountaineering unit. Even if it's just a single model as a support unit, who is clearly on a special mission, then that can be a part of your options. By agreement the players can choose their objectives when picking their armies which speeds up getting on with the game. Normally you choose your objectives as the last step of the Advanced Scenario Generation section of the rules.
If you choose to play using the Random Individual objectives then each player randomly rolls up three objectives and then selects one objective to be their primary objective; worth two victory points instead of one. With the new UA limitations if you roll up an objective that you don't have a matching UA in your Force that matches it then you have to re-roll that objective. This can be used strategically by not taking some UAs to narrow the normal range of objectives that you are likely to have to complete.
Back to our example of the old Milicia UA, a UA that was only used in one squad in the Southern list, and those models are now under the GP UA and choose objectives like a GP. To specify that the traditionally Milicia UA is still a thing they have the new Limited:X triat that states that the model can only be taken in a unit with other models that share the same Limited:X trait. This creates a sub-type that can be used to separate the UA with too much choice (GP) into two sub-types; GP and GP with the Limited:MI trait. With the advantage that the non-South players don't have to worry about that detail so a little bit of complexity for one faction that nicely supports the historical variations in their forces does not add needless complexity for other factions, thus simplifying the number of choices that must be made.
Something to remember about this UA change is that if a model has a GP, SK, FS, RC, SF, PT, MN, LT, MT, HT, HV, CV, VL or IN Unit Availability then they are not changing. 97% of the models will still fit exactly where they currently fit. Most of the UA changes are to armies with specialty terminology like Peace River, Black Talons, and the CEF where you can probably already figure out where the specialty UAs exchange for a more generic term. This is a long awaited change that has been asked fro many times in the last year and I'm glad I was able to make the changes. The suggestions and support of the community have been very helpful in that work.
In addition I have started a thread in the 2015 development forum that will be including commentary about the rule. Subscribe to it and get updates and insight into the rules as it is updated. This will provide a resource for players who might be scratching their head over the context of a rule, or might be wondering how to visualize something that they've read. Everyone is welcome to participate by sending in your favorite sections by message which may affect how the thread grows. It will be an interesting experiment in the power of open development and will cover material in detail that is unlikely to make it to this blog.