Weekday rants and reviews of videogames, comics, movies, skateboarding, art, urban vinyl and even playground basketball.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Tabletop Gaming: Part 5

Rackham is a French company. They have... ahh... it pains me to say it... in the past few years they have... uhh... taken the crown from Games Workshop. To be specific, their studio is producing miniatures and painters that have surpassed all but the best at Citadel. Nobody in Japan even comes close to doing what they can! You will be hard-pressed to find a studio whose entire catalog can even compare. At every step I will compare them to GW but that's a good thing because they have learned from the best. Rackham is now a serious contender for the best tabletop gaming system publisher.

Rackham produces a series of systems. The quick overview goes as follows: Ragnarok is their big system, their version of Warhammer Fantasy Battle, designed around armies and campaigns. Confrontation (possibly their most popular system) is a scaled-back version of Ragnarok, meant for quick skirmish games, characters between Confrontation and Ragnarok are interchangeable. Cadwallon is their miniature-friendly role playing system, similar to Dungeons and Dragons. Hybrid is the closest thing to a board game that Rackham produces, set in the villainous labs of the Alchemists of Dirz (part of the Confrontation universe). The miniatures still need to be painted and assembled but are to-scale and part of the canon. Cry Havoc is their version of White Dwarf and while it does not come out monthly it is an exceptional hobby guide.

The thing that sets Rackham apart from GW is their attention to detail. The systems and publications are of the highest quality and fit into each other seamlessly. Cry Havoc looks and feels like a collectors issue of White Dwarf, complete with game supplements. Their approach to miniature wargaming feels very exclusive. There are not dozens of generic characters to pick up and put on the battlefield but rather, individual characters with their own name and story. Unlike other companies that continue to publish the same miniature year after year, which eventually leads to wearing of the mold, Rackham produces a certain number of a miniature and then retires them out of circulation. Further adding to the sense of exclusivity for the system.

Their approach to the system of tabletop gaming is what makes Rackham very progressive. Traditional tabletop systems rely on a thick guidebook, a dozen field markers and a xeroxed page to keep track of armies and special characters. Each miniature that Rackham sells comes with a collector card displaying either a picture of the painted miniature or a concept painting of the character. On the card there is vital information for the use in either a skirmish battle or a full Ragnarok game. If the character has special weapons or objects they are contained on their own individual cards. These cards can then be placed in front of a gamer, ala Magic the Gathering, to keep track of stats and abilities.

In Ragnarok there is a letter-sized laminated card with damage counters, magic and rules on it, as well as some colored cardstock tokens to help the general in battle. A dry erase marker can be used on the laminated card to help keep track of everything much easier than an open rulebook and a xeroxed page. This set up is great during games and much easier than most systems however Rackham still has some fine-tuning to do. I have a feeling that something was lost in the translation from French to English. Awkward phrasing of some passages makes the skirmish rules open to interpretation, which is not a good thing. Rules need to be water-tight, or close to it in order for the game to run smoothly. I'm sure these things will go away as updated versions and errata get published in Cry Havoc. The failings of the system are few and far between.

Where Rackham gives the world of tabletop gaming a slice of humble pie are the miniatures. Sweet jeebus they are too good to be true...even better if you can paint like their the in-house studio. Even if you have mediocre painting ability these miniatures are so well sculpted that they still look good on a battlefield. Take at the look at the human characters for the Lions of Alahan, the Griffins of Akkylannie and Kelt Sessairs. There are noticeable differences between these tribes.

Even the elves and dwarfs in the Confrontation world are unique. Rackham excels in the fantasy creatures, the Wolfen of Yllia and their evil counterparts the Devourers of Vile-Tis are among the best designs in the past decade. Any artist looking for inspiration should just flip through their store and check out the miniatures.

The Rackham fantasy systems are great, but what do they have in science fiction? I'm glad you asked, AT-43 is not only the beginning of a sci fi epic, it is also their most progressive system to-date. In a nutshell this is the future U.N. encountering an alien resistance. What makes this system unique is that Rackham has spared no expense to make this a self-contained game. The rules, dice, counters, cards, terrain and miniatures are all provided in a box. The miniatures are pre-painted plastic but of the highest quality. The same sculptors that worked on their fantasy systems also worked on this, so these miniatures are leagues ahead of the pre-fab competition. The human and alien forces have great design, they are unlike the forces in other tabletop systems, including 40k. For veteran tabletop gamers this system is easy to pick up. The character cards provided are similar to the fantasy ones, all special rules and attributes are written right on the card.

While relatively young the company is ambitious. In the span of a few years they have shaken the modeling community, they have forced Games Workshop to step up their efforts. As if taking a page from GW, Rackham are also cutthroat in the business. They are very selective about their overseas retailers (another company that demands a lot from hobby stores) and undoubtedly have plans to begin opening hobby boutiques when they become big enough. Time will tell when they will license their systems for videogames or design a game themselves. Rackham has a solid product with many progressive ways to play and a good plan for the future. Artists looking at collecting miniatures to paint should definitely check them out. People interested in getting into the hobby should consider checking them out as well.

That does it for today. Tune in tomorrow to learn about the tabletop gaming system that is quickly becoming a fan favorite and unlike anything either Games Workshop of Rackham produces.

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