It seems like a lifetime since I wrote this article on the State of the Meta: Circle Edition:
Things have changed a little bit since then, not really changed, but Circle did receive a few important Nerfs; to Sentry Stones, Una 2 and Wurmwood (all of which I agree with and embrace) and this has resulted in some individuals out there in the larger Meta feeling that the faction as a whole is shit. Or more accurately, that there are few competitive options available to Circle in the current Meta and that the faction has lost its “identity” and has no balance.
This all came to my a head when I read Jaden’s series of articles on Circle as a Faction. The first 4 articles on the various models were interesting and well written and are definitely worth a look if you play circle or are interested in knowing what Circle players will be using. I want to stress that I love Jaden’s Blog and that I think he does a great job and is a great contributor to the community. Just because I disagree with him on this one point doesn’t mean you shouldn’t check out his stuff and do so regularly!
For the most part I agree with 90% of his assessments on the individual models/units in the first 4 articles but his conclusion article threw me for a loop:
I was a bit shocked to see that, not only Jaden, but a number of the readers felt Circle was in dire need of design attention and that the faction has crap for choices.
Now I’ve been dealing with rockets and Jack Spam and trading effectively with expensive beasts since day one of MK 3, that’s nothing new to me. Apparently it’s something new for Circle players at large as I’ve seen more posts on the Circle FB group in relation to issues with Jack Spam and Extreme Ranged opponents. Like I said, that’s nothing new. Jack Spam and Extreme Range is a challenge for Circle. That players are having issues with that isn’t surprising. What is surprising is players responses to this challenge: they call for faction/game re balancing or some sort of overhaul design wise.
Why? Why are players not looking deeper into the faction or their play style for solutions to their problems and instead making some sort of appeal to the designers to make their problems go away? Has something changed?
Well yes, something has changed, something fundamental with the way PP approaches design and the way that new design paradigm has encouraged players to turn into proto-designers when faced with a challenge.
CID and RAPID ERRATA
When I started playing Warmachine, nothing changed, NOTHING. That’s an exaggeration of course, but PP was initially, very reluctant to make design changes to models and the few changes that did come through were very moderate and reserved. Every Errata, however minimal was a mind blowing experience and when they finally nerfed Haley 2’s feat it was a tremendous occasion. Still, change happened at a glacial slow pace, probably too slow.
Things started to change around the end of MK 2, changes started happening with more regularity, Shifting Stones got nerfed, shadowbind and blind became shakeable, it was exciting times!
Then MK 3 hit and they announced they would be doing Bi-Annual Errata, cool, that was a great idea. Then they had some Rapid Errata for some pretty poorly designed models, then skorne players cried so much they got a faction overhaul. It was pretty obvious that PP was becoming a lot more comfortable with changing the game, more dramatically, more regularly AND in response to community feed back.
Finally they announced CID and began testing the new hordes faction, SR 2017 and then Battle Engines. Not only is PP okay with monkeying with the game but they wanted the input of wanna be designers. That sounds negative, and it is, that’s because I think that the unintended side effect of all this change embracing has been to encourage players to whine and complain about their faction until they get what they want.
That’s not to say that there hasn’t been positive outcomes from CID, Rapid Erratas and the general embrace of change, but I think overall the new paradigm of change has had the effect of making players think they can and should complain and whine for design changes when in reality they should:
So, with that in mind lets look at some of the basic conclusions to Jadens review of Circle
1.the faction isn’t well balanced,
2. Circle has lost its identity
3. Circle has limited competitive options.
Are these conclusions valid? Let’s take a look:
WHAT IS A BALANCED FACTION?
There are a number of ways to look at design balance. Judging by Jaden’s conclusions his definition of faction balance is that models/units should be so closely balanced within their points value and place within the meta that it is difficult to pick between equally good options. This is not my definition of faction or game balance and has not been the design paradigm for Warmachine, or any other game I’ve played. Almost every game I’ve played works from the perspective that there should be a range of desirability between choices and that it is better to have a range of choices from “Garbage” to “Must Have” than to have model/units balanced too closely that they are practically indistinguishable. Some of this is that some models are more difficult to use than others or that some are more situational than others. All the options are viable, some just more ready made than others.
Of course the general assessment of these choices changes as the meta changes and a previously ‘garbage’ choice can be elevated to ‘must have’ with a shift within the meta. Everything is relative to your particular experience and the particular way you’ve adapted to your challenges and the challenges you wish to put out there for your opponents.
So why this design model? First off, simply because it creates want and purchasing patterns within the game that drives sales. It is also easier to shift a meta with future releases, errata’s and themes to create want and purchasing desire where it previously wasn’t.
That may seem jaded but it also creates a game that is dynamic, changing and constantly in flux. This makes it exciting to play and be involved in. If everything was so closely balanced that your choices of models units were almost irrelevant it would be a very boring game: we’d all be playing space marines in no time.
So, by this design model, for a faction to be balanced it should have a range of options available with the TOTAL balancing out but the overall range having some flexibility in desirability.
There are two methods for assessing whether the sub categories Jaden went through are balanced. The first is to take the value given to each model and average that result over the number of models assessed. If balance has been achieved the overall rating should be 2.5, meaning that out of the range of choices the sum result is an average and the choices therefore balanced.
The other mechanism is to chart the rating and determine were the faction identity lies within the balance (assuming it was achieved). What should happen is a chart that looks like a pyramid in silhouette, with the desirability of a choice on one axis and the number of options available within that range on the axis.
Obviously there are more choices within the Good to Maybe range than in any other grouping. It is important to note that this chart will fluctuate greatly depending on the areas that the designer has desired to focus the faction. For example is the faction known for a good pool of strong casters? Is the faction known for it’s powerful warjack choices? If so that will have to be balanced out with a large number of poor caster or poor jack choices respectively.
Finally this same approach can be used to determine the overall Faction Balance.
LOOKING AT THE DATA
I’m going to use Jaden’s data to determine whether or not his assessment of Circle models creates the profile of a balanced faction. Like I said, I don’t disagree with most of his assessments, it’s his conclusions I don’t agree with and since this article is meant as a counter point to Jadens conclusions I thought it best to use his own data.
So lets first look at each subcategory of model he looked at and determine if there is an overall balance within the values assigned and then do a closer look at the overall arc of number of options versus their perceived value.
Since Jaden’s scoring range is between 0 and 5 we must assume an average or balanced sub category will produce an overall average of 2.5.
So this is VERY interesting. What you have is a Faction that is balanced overall within it’s choices of warlocks BUT not within the overall options available. The bulk of the casters are above average in rating and that is balanced out by the fact that they have an abundance of very bad casters.
Conclusion: Circle has a balanced stable of Warlocks but that stable has very few average level warlocks balancing more in favor of Powerful and Weak Warlocks.
Another interesting result and certainly something that doesn’t fit the initial balance model. So does it mean our warbeast choices are unbalanced? No. Simply put the net average is 2.65, so the overall average is there but within the choices there are a different range of options.
Conclusion: Circle Warbeast options are balanced but it is a balance between GOOD warbeasts and MEDIOCRE warbeasts.
Jaden rated 14 units and in total their value was assessed at 31.5 points. So 31.5/14 nets an average rating of 2.25, below average for sure. Does that mean that circle infantry needs buffing to get them up to average? Maybe, we’ll look more closely at that when we look at Faction Balance. Lets look at the chart:
So it looks like the two data points converge here and show a very clear picture of Circle Infantry options: they are mediocre. Does that mean we need better infantry? Maybe, but we’ll look at that again in Faction Balance.
Yup, both data points indicate a below average rating for sure, a little alarming maybe but lets put the whole thing together and see what happens.
Jaden rated 4 sub categories whose average ratings were 2.58, 2.65, 2.25 and 2.15. In total that’s 9.63 over 4 categories which nets an average rating of 2.4, not bad really, pretty darn close to average balance. Maybe the chart will give us a clearer picture of what’s going on:
Interesting, it very nearly became the ideal pyramid model. All that would be required would be to push a few ratings around in a minimal and almost balanced manner to produce the pyramid. Push like 6 of the 2 ratings up to a 2.5 and 3 of the 3 ratings to 2.5 and you pretty much have it.
CONCLUSION: So is the Faction Balanced? Well, in my opinion, with an overall rating of 2.4 and the Faction Balance chart being what it is I would say circle is fairly well balanced. Sure a few tweaks to the 2’s and 3’s would get you closer to complete balance, but overall, based on Jaden’s own assessments, I would say Circle is pretty balanced.
It’s of course important to mention that the ratings are subjective, I don’t totally agree with all of them (zero for blood pact? Come on, at least play them before you do that) but I think they are all pretty much in the ball park.
Is there room for improvement? Sure, maybe, but there certainly is no call for a faction CID or to claim the faction is in ‘grim’ place in terms of balance.
IS THERE ONLY A FEW COMPETITIVE CIRCLE OPTIONS?
Jaden makes some excellent points: Jaws of the Wolf, Oracles, Jack Spam and Ranged threats that ignore Stealth are big issues for Circle. I don’t disagree with that at all, but I think Circle has options, and more than they ever had before when it comes to dealing with these problems.
At the end of MK 2 we had 3 lists to play: Kreuger 2, Bradigus and Morvhana, and even then Morvhana was more of a competitive SUS option as the K2, Brad pairing was far superior. So, do we have more than 3 list options now? Hell yah, Wurmwood, K2, Tanith, Balder 2, Balder1, Una 2, Mohsar and contrary to Jaden’s opinion (and my own until recently), Morvhana 2.
So if we have a lot more competitive options, what’s the problem? The problem is we don’t have any META BENDING options. As Circle players we are so used to having multiple Meta bending options that we not only dominate the match but also the list picking portion of the game. Until very recently we had total control, exuded the threat, asked the questions and in short, had it easy.
We’re not happy we have to work for our wins now. We’ve been lazy and now that we are faced with challenges, not only in games but in list selection and list building, we balk at them and demand changes, cry for CID and in general act like spoiled children.
I want to be clear, I include myself in this group of spoiled children. Until recently I held the opinion that there was a very small pool of playable circle casters and that Morvhana 2 was the worst in Faction. An English gentleman, Adam Cort, approached me and questioned my hate of Morvhana 2 and offered his list as an example of a good M2 list. I decided I would try it out, mainly to prove him wrong, and to my dismay discovered that it IS good and can be competitive. To add insult to injury, it’s in the Tharn Tier, which I despised as well.
That experience has shaken me out of my negativity and opened my eyes to options I previously wasn’t entertaining. If M2 and the Tharn can be good, what else am I missing out on?
For me, part of the list building process has changed. I’m not worrying as much about Llyth3, Kaelyssa, Sloan, harkevich etc, and focusing more on what I can come up with what will pose a question, regardless of how strange or seemingly weak. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still making lists to answer specific threats but that’s not all I’m doing for a change.
I think it’s important for Circle Player to pull themselves out of their cry baby routine and look at new things rather than demanding changes to a faction that is fairly balanced.
WHAT IS CIRCLE’S FACTION IDENTITY?
Jaden defines the Circle Factions identity as Fast, Hit and Run, and Terrain Generation, then goes on to complain that we aren’t really any of these things. This isn’t surprising to me as none of those things are what I would use to describe Circle’s Faction Identity.
We were never the fast faction. Legion and yes, Skorne have always out threatened us from a straight speed rating. We used to have druids to pull things a million miles and shifting stones ported further but we were never the fastest on our feet.
Hit and Run? Since when? Is that because the only heavy warbeast to see the table in MK 2 was the Stalker? We didn’t put Lightning Strike on anything but stalkers and casters because that’s all we played! Now we can do it for less. We have never had more native Sprint than other factions and “Hit and Run” was never really part of the Factions identity, it was a symptom of MK 2 malaise.
Terrain Generation? This one is weird, when has terrain generation ever been a part of the Factions identity? Certainly wasn’t in MK2. Sure Bradigus had a time when he had crazy Sentry Stones but that didn’t last long. Was terrain generation a Troll Faction Identity? I mean they made lots of walls, or at least Runes of War did and I mean it was only ROW, EE and warder spam, so terrain generation must have been a Troll Faction Identity trait! No, terrain generation is not a Faction Identity trait, even if we do it really well. Sentry Stones can make a forest and port back, 2 of our casters have Rapid Growth, 1 can make a wall and we have a warbeast (no matter how maligned) that can also make a forest. Sure we do it okay but it’s not really intrinsic to the Identity of Circle anymore than any other faction.
No, in my experience, Circle’s Faction Identity is something else. It’s something I would call “Asymmetrical Warfare”. We are the terrorists, the insurgents, striking where the opponent is weak and fading away where the opponent is strong. We don’t meet strength with Strength but rather control and confusion. We wear down the strong till they are weak and We murder and ambush the weak and prey on the vulnerable. We refuse to fight fair, we surprise and stalk.
That’s how I’ve always approached Circle and I’ve had decent success with it. It’s really hard to make this work in SR 2016 because it’s too easy for an opponent to steamroller a zone and force you into a do or die situation. In short, there isn’t enough time to complete the hunt. That coupled with the lack of terrain guidelines and you have a situation that favors ranged and jack heavy armies.
That’s about to change though:
SR 2017 and WHAT IT HAS TO OFFER CIRCLE
Another part of Jaden’s conclusion dealt with his prediction (or assumption) that the SR 2017 scenarios will further favor Jack Spam and Extreme Ranged. I found this shocking as it is the exact opposite of my experience with SR 2017.
SR 2016, with it’s lack of terrain and almost complete absence of LOS blockage favors armies that bring lots of long ranged guns and jacks that are either lacking in pathfinder or need predictable threat vectors. 2017 brings lots of terrain and a central LOS blocking feature. Even with the lack of pathfinder on a portion of our beasts, this massive increase in terrain IS a great BOON for Circle as it favors and allows us to practice Asymmetrical Warfare. With at least 2 LOS blocking terrain features it is easier for us to isolate elements of the enemy force and pounce on them with little or no chance of retaliation. We have excellent tools for practicing this type of warfare; shadowhorns can leap around or over things, reeves ignore cover and concealment, mannikins can appear out of nowhere, griffons fly over problem terrain, male tharn, scarsfells and war wolves ignore forests, shifting stones can port beasts over terrain features that are otherwise impassable to some factions, numerous units and solos have reposition and many casters have out of activation movement or place effects that aid in surprising the enemy and protecting circle models.
Of course Asymetrical Warfare takes time, but thankfully SR 2017 promises a longer game, and a longer game favors factions that don’t have the staying power to last 3 turns in the knock down drag out fight that is SR 2016. A longer game favors factions that isolate and shave off portions of the enemy force looking for a long term goal of dominating scenario in turn 6 or springing on an over extended caster. Longer games make dealing with 8-10 warjacks easier because we don’t have to meet the bulk of that strength head on in turn 3/4 like we do in SR 2016. Finally, 2017 scenarios cover a larger board area with more ways to score forcing armies, especially jack spam, that want to concentrate, to spread out, and that means you can snipe off stragglers, and the vulnerable.
GETTING TO THE POINT
Okay, to sum up, I love Jaden’s Blog and highly recommend you keep an eye on his page and everything he does, BUT I don’t agree with his current assessment of the Circle Faction.
It’s not in need of a major design fix, it’s not lacking in identity, there are MORE competitive options now than ever before and it’s only going to get better for Circle in SR 2017. In short, even though we don’t have Meta Bending options and don’t necessarily have any boogeymen in our arsenal of casters, we have a good range of fantastic casters with an good selection of beasts. That is supported by undervalued and underrated infantry and solos that are only going to get better in SR 2017 and with the addition of more theme forces.
To my fellow Circle players I would say; don’t complain with an expectation that PP is going to sweep in and make everything better. That’s not going to happen when the faction is just fine as is. Sure certain warjacks could be a point or 2 more expensive but that doesn’t mean warbeasts need to be overhauled. Look deeper into the faction and stop refusing to experiment and play certain options because you’ve written them off as “garbage”. Play them all, even the winter argus, Tharn Blood Pact and Druids. Try them out in a number of different ways and I promise you; they will surprise you, I know because they’ve surprised me.
Stop looking to solve your challenges with CID and ERRATA and start to: