Sunday, March 17, 2013

An Introduction to Dark Ages

So, my blogmate Belgarath97 talked me into trying Dark Age. To be fair, it didn't take a lot of convincing

First of all, the model line for Dark Age is based on the work of Brom. For those of you who don't know, Brom has been a central figure in the art and illustration of RPGs for a couple of decades: D&D 2nd & 3rd, Deadlands, and many other projects. Somebody got the crazy Idea to build a storyline around his works, and set it in a post-apocalyptic setting- all in all, not a bad choice.

     The gameplay for Dark Age is a fairly standard d20 faire, so while it's not revolutionary in scope, it's easy to pick up, feels comfortably familiar, and has just enough of its own wrinkles to not feel like I'm playing an bastardized version of something else.

     The game support is, quite simply, impressive. Dark Age runs a tournament season, and updates all unit entries both just before and just after the season for balance.  Yes, you read that right: a game system that's updated roughly every 6 months, for all factions, to try to maintain a level playing field and eliminate cheap tricks.

     The game is currently spread across three beautiful hardbound books: a Core Rules book, a Forcelists book that gives unit cards and backstories, and a third book which offers the same for the games most recent expansion forces. The Grand Pubah of Dark Age, the enigmatic Mr. Black, will point out you only "need" the Core Rules, and everything else required to play is either packaged with the models, or available as free downloads from the website.  Rubbish! You want these books, you "need" these books, they are beautifully crafted nerdware full of backstory and lovely artwork,  displayed upon high-grade full color satin finished pages with a watermark on every single page. They're simply lovely, and worth the investment.
     So, there are the plusses or this game. Now we get to the "your mileage may vary" not-plusses.

     First up is the models. Now, a lot of the line is newer or been redone, but we're still talking about a ten year old game, so that means some ten year old models. Most hold up well by comparison, but there's a more than a few that don't.  Additionally, almost the entire line is metal. For some gamers this is a positive, or me not so much. I was quite happily surprised however to find the Howler of the Brood faction was resin, as I was wincingly expecting a "five pounds of fun" metal figure.  Personally I'd like to see a lot more of the line in resin or plastic (please gaming gods no more "restic"), but I recognize that's a personal preference and other will feel differently.

     Second up to bat is the story. I'll admit it, I'm a fluff gamer. I choose my units/armies based on backstory. (I even flipped which Saint I wanted to play of Forsaken based on it!) Now, don't get me wrong, the story is actually overall quite good, and each force does have it's own unique "feel" to it... but in some cases it just feels like somebody went "okay, we've got a picture of a spikey dude that we're making a model for, so where do we squeeze him in?"  Probably because, well, that's likely what happened- remember a lot of this source material predates Dark Age, and wasn't really intended to be used in this manner. Not something I'm ready to condemn the game on, especially because I know firsthand how tricky it is to work in that environment   but it does (at least for me) hold back what otherwise could be an incredibly engaging story.

     Now onto the point I will condemn this game on...  If you're going to release such a beautiful book, FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THING HOLY PROOFREAD YOUR PRINT FIRST!!! Let me be clear- we're not just talking about a random spellchecker laziness of letting an "of" slip in where an "off" should be. we're not just talking about a cutoff sentence here or there. We're talking about cut-and-paste errors of epic proportions  Two paragraphs in a row should not start with the same sentence... doubly so when it relates to the topic in only one. When I can't get through a page without feeling a need to break out a red pen, I'm no longer enjoying the read. I've said this before an it still stands: I'm willing to pay an extra $20 for a book that goes to print the first time without needing to be fixed. I'm also really, *really* good at proofreading, and will do so for free for any company willing to send me pre-print copy and list me as a Proofreader or Writer of some sort. Consider it charity work to improve the hobby. Nothing annoys me more than spending good money on a sloppy product.

     Overall, I think Dark Ages is a good skirmish game that gets a lot more right than it does wrong, and has a solid dedicated fanbase because of it. If you're looking for a new game and don't mind metal figs, you will enjoy Dark Ages. If you're looking for a balanced, competitive game, you will enjoy this one. If you want 3d renditions of Brom art, this is the place for you. Final grade overall: 4 bullets out of five. For me, the "heavy metal" of the figures and the abysmal proofreading of the printed material keep this game from claiming a 5/5.

See you on the other side of the table.

The Second Class Elitist.

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