The word of the law vs. the spirit of the law. Whenever people get together to play a game of any type they have to decide where on that spectrum their game play experience will lie. Most cooperative and/or casual games will lean towards the latter, but most competitive games sit bunched around the former.
Each gamer has their own opinions on the philosophy of game design, and I’m no different. In my mind, if a game is designed to be played in a competitive format, then it should be designed to abide by the letter of the law. By designing for the more strict guideline, those who prefer the more casual and/or want to tweak their experience – to make the rules feel more fluffy or appropriate to their own vision of the game – can do so. Designing from the opposite standpoint results in a game that works for those on the spirit end of the spectrum but will likely negatively affect the word end of the spectrum, as the rules will either fail to accommodate certain interactions or maybe even resolve them in a manner the game designers didn’t desire.
Privateer Press seems to take the word-emphasized view of design, which I certainly appreciate. Each incarnation of their Steamroller tournament system has had its flaws, but for the most part they design their game and format so that it can be played in a highly competitive venue and not break down to dicing-off rules interpretations. In the past they’ve even made rulings that seem to go counter to how a rule was meant to be played when it preserved the word of the rule. For example, the ruling on MkI Vilmon that allowed him to run and still use his Impervious Wall ability. The rules supported the tactic, so whether or not it was intended it was supported (until the rule was reworded in MkII).
Bethayne, Voice of Everblight is Privateer’s second attempt at a dual nature warcaster/warlock, after Kharchev the Terrible. This time instead of a warcaster who is also a warjack, we have a warlock that can merge with its warbeast at will.
Privateer handled the modeling side of the duo nicely. Rumor is that the pieces will be packaged with a pair of washers and a rare earth magnet so that Belphagor’s rib cage can be swapped as desired. Trying to replace the small inner piece during play without moving Belphagor’s base on the table seems like a questionable maneuver, but it’s definitely an interesting solution from a conceptual standpoint. And at the very least it gives the modeler choices on how they want to assemble the figure.
But Melding is an even bigger hurdle from the game design standpoint. Melding (and un-Melding) seem straight forward, but there are a lot of intricacies of the game which are affected by this process and unfortunately Privateer Press couldn’t catch them all in initial release. These interactions have some assumably unexpected consequences on the model in play. Some examples of the rules-as-written include:
- Belphagor cannot upkeep spells Bethayne cast (and vice versa) because they are technically different models.
- If Bethayne casts Carnivore on a model/unit then Melds, her body (the one not on the tabletop) is the one healed when the Carnivore’s healing ability triggers, not Belphagor’s.
- When Bethayne un-Melds, her model returns to play. According to the rules for returning to play, she does so at full health since the Melding rules don’t explicitly state otherwise.
It’s not hard to look at the wording of the Melding rule and see what Privateer was trying to accomplish. And it wouldn’t be too hard to play by the spirit of those rules, but that spirit is open to interpretation by different players. Friendly games are one thing, but in a tournament who’s interpretation is correct? The Bethayne player? Her opponent? It goes without saying that the tournament organizer’s ruling is final but no TO should be forced to decide between the spirit of a rule and its actual wording. That’s a slippery slope to start down!
In my opinion it’s a good thing that Bethayne isn’t going to be released until January. It gives PP time to identify and patch the holes in her rules before she’s released and legal on the tournament scene. I love the concept of the model, but should a virtual beta period like this be necessary?
Privateer Press’s rules are written to be played in a competitive format – as unique as Bethayne’s concept is, should Privateer Press be designing models that require this much work to make perform exactly as desired within the rule system, especially now that rulings in the Privateer Rules Forum only come periodically now? Is the resulting uniqueness worth the initial confusion?