Friday, May 3, 2013

Heavy Gear Kickstarter Musings and Robotech Update

The Robotech Kickstarter I posted about last time is still going strong and likely to reach $500,000 tonight with a free Khyron in an Officer's Pod to celebrate.  If you haven't checked it out or only checked it out in the first few days, feel free to click the link below and take a peek as they have added plenty of designs in the meantime.

Since I've been following the Robotech Kickstarter, I've also been thinking about the kickstart that I believe Heavy Gear needs.  Most gaming kickstarters tend to be glorified preorders that simply cut out the middlemen (stores, distributors) and pass on some of the savings to consumers but the core original idea of the platform is to fund things that otherwise wouldn't get funded.  Almost every time a discussion about increasing the output of Heavy Gear products or revamping the game completely comes up on the DP9 forums, some fanboy brings up the fact that DP9 has only a small core of full time employees that can't handle the added workload and the company can't afford the increased pace anyways.  A kickstarter for a truly new edition (and not just a minimal Locked and Loaded revision every 2-3 years for full $$ price) would help both of those problems as the earned funds could pay the salary of another full time employee.  That is a change and effort that I would indeed support assuming that the scope of the project was broad enough and re-examined everything about the game from the ground up.  No turning the whole herd into sacred cows though!

The proposed change that I suspect would be the most controversial would be simply rebooting the entire universe ala Battlestar Galactica.  The Scifi channel didn't just take the Richard Hatch BSG proposal that simply continued the 1970's show into the new millenium but rather revamped the original into a modern show that still kept the core feel and ideals of that original but updated everything else.  Heavy Gear needs that type of change if it wants to be a more successful wargame.  Right now, every possible change for an existing army (especially the North and South) is buried under literally thousands of pages of fluff and history for an RPG that has effectively been abandoned by its maker for almost a decade.  When the RPG first came out around 1994, it had the unique "hook" of a real time advancing storyline for the world that aged with us.  Despite how good that was in the RPG, the wargame doesn't need that and instead suffers from it.  Take a page from the comic book industry and reboot the Heavy Gear wargame as an alternate universe set at the end of or right after the first Earth Invasion.  Mold the universe and the fluff around what the wargame needs instead of  continuing to shoehorn the wargame into a decades old RPG universe.  If the RPG is no longer weighed down by it's own rules and fluff, why the heck is the spin off wargame that didn't need 90% of it in the first place?

Take the time to re-examine the rules and pick either a skirmish game or a full scale wargame... you can't have both if you want to do a good job!  Right now, Heavy Gear is a skirmish game effectively as the complexity of the rules leads most players to play games of less than 15 models per side (infantry not included of course) in order to finish a game in one evening... but it pretends to be a wargame in its army building portion with 5 gear squads as the core unit.  That dichotomy is the main reason this blog exists as I couldn't finish a full wargame sized battle in a single evening and wasn't satisfied with what I was given in the size game I could finish.

Finally, update the production and materials to the current millenial standards of plastic sets.  Take the opportunity that the release of the upcoming video game gives you to revamp the look of the models to modern robot aesthetics.  People who will be crossing over from the video game will be expecting modern scifi robots and not early 1980's VOTOMs.  As much as I personally like the classic look (and I really do), they don't sell the game as effectively as they did when they were first released.  The Xacto update from the frequently goofy looking Tactical minis was a great move but that was almost a decade ago and the game needs another makeover.  Keep the older minis as officially "legal" in the rules but revamp the design to better match the aesthetics shown in the video game concept art. (I'm not a fan personally of what they're showing for the south but the concept art for the Hunter is kick ass.)  New startups are using kickstarter to raise funds and coming out with plastic lines from the get go.  Take the time and effort and redesign the core minis in the North and South for the rebooted universe/timeline in plastic for an upcoming big starter set of 40+ minis.  Include revised Hunters/Jaegers, Iguanas/Cheetahs, Mambas/Jaguars, and Grizzlies/Cobras in plastic along with the new rules in a wargame style big boxed set like the upcoming Robotech game or like GW has been doing for almost two decades.

I want Heavy Gear to grow and I think the kickstarter platform gives DP9 the opportunity to create the changes needed with less financial risk.  You can't please everyone and you'll inevitably lose some core fans with the scope of the changes above but you'll likely bring in newer fans as well.  I've frequently criticized DP9 for pointless changes that decimated player collections (minimally revised rulebooks that invalidated editions after 2-3 years released for over a decade, tactical minis making the old RAFM ones obsolete and out of scale, etc) but I'd support financially a truly new edition that was worked from the ground up as a wargame.


  1. Having been an HG fan since the mid 90s, I'm as eager as you to get it back to success. I'm not sure if decoupling it from the RPG is the way to do that. I'm also not convinced that the game needs plastics. The metals aren't bad, though there are a few that should die. The packs could also use more spare weapons sprues. Tiny metal figures costing $10-$30 should not abandon any semblance of value to save a few pennies.

    I'm right there with you on DP9 needing to decide whether the game will be tactical or skirmish. If they did move it beyond skirmish, then plastics would be a must. Then again, I'm not sure Pod could manufacture plastics successfully and put them out at a price that wouldn't be a show-stopper. They price their products dearly and when questioned about it, repeat the tire response that they produce the products in North America.

    While they're at it, they could take a long hard look at the mess they've made of the books. Chintzy $70 rulebooks coming out every few years only serves to tick off the remaining player base and ensure that new players are hard to recruit. The Kickstarter idea would only work if DP9 was truly honest with itself going into the project; there has to be an acknowledgement of the problems with the current rules and a commitment to hammering out the issues and playtesting. Playtest at conventions. Playtest with gaming neophytes and hardcore list-breaking cheesemongers. Allow no sacred cows in the rules. If a rule breaks the game, it goes. Also, most of the HG jargon has to be excised.

    Maybe that would result in a good ruleset. After 18 years of HG fandom, I'm a little skeptical. One really good, complete rulebook can still be deepsixed by a series of ill-conceived expansions and supplements.

  2. I pretty much agree with what you said above. I don't think that I made it clear but I'm hoping that a kickstarter converts the core minis for the north/south to plastic (hunter/jaeger, iggy/cheetah, mamba/jaguar, cobra/grizzly) but not necessarily all of them. I'm completely fine with the more unique and less common models (like sidewinders and razorbacks) staying in resin or metal. I don't believe that $10-20 metal models and $30-100 resin ones will allow HG to grow much bigger than it currently is. What they need IMO is a cheap way for people to get into the game and I think the best way is via an AOBR/Dark Vengence/Robotech style plastic box with two armies, physical small format B&W books (no pdfs!), and templates.

    The key to my support is (as we both said above) the requirement that DP9 step back and take a look at what is truly needed and what is just there as legacy filler. I personally think that the RPG backstory is largely a weight around the minis game neck at the moment and that the setting needs to be rebooted for the purposes of the minis game. Rules need to be completely reevaluated for their use in the style of game ultimately chosen (skirmish or wargame) and if the play doesn't fit the style they need to be chucked.

    DP9 has a history of minor revisions for full retail price way too soon (I've been burned twice by that personally as their customer). Despite that history, I would support a new version that focuses on the wargame that Heavy Gear is and not the RPG that it was.

  3. You may be right about cheap plastics that they can box and get people into the game. They have an uphill battle when it comes to getting people to consider playing what is widely considered to be an expensive game with few players.

    I just don't think the RPG history is that much of a hindrance. That stuff can largely be left out of the rule books. Make it available for those who want it and leave it out for those who just want giant robot bashing.

    Yeah, the DP9 minor revisions have been toxic. They've also changed directions repeatedly when it comes to book formats. Remember the Southern Republic Army book. It was really nice, but pricey and sold like it was made of dung. Then they decided to do faction books again with the Norguard and Milicia books, but decided to can that project. Now we've got books that cover many factions, but not all, cost a grip, and leave new players confused as to what they're supposed to have.

    In that context, I fully support a reboot. I just want them to lay out a plan clearly in advance. What books are they going to do and what schedule will they release under. I'm fine with a rulebook and an army book or two, but that means they have to get them out early on to prevent one side from being left without. They also have to give up on streams of future releases that undermine the existing books.

  4. My fear with the RPG history is that it'll be dead weight for them and prevent real change in the system. Something changes or is even proposed as a change in the wargame and fans on the DP9 forum howl that it doesn't jibe with fluff from the abandoned RPG line (I recall a really long Mad Dog argument a few months back). If the universe is rebooted, that won't be a valid argument.

    I guess I'm just wary of DP9 doing yet another small incremental change in the end instead of the ground up re-evaluation that I believe the game needs to grow. Just skipping most of the fluff might work and would save over 1/3 the page count in the field guides that I believe are too expensive for new players. I'll never understand why they got rid of the cheaper B&W option for books... I would have bought a $30 MSRP B&W NuCoal book at my FLGS had that option been available instead of paying $15 for the PDF.

  5. Something about HG is most definitely stuck in the Harley Davidson Dilemna: (they) are demonstrably capable of building a better item for our customers, but the inertia of habit and the vocal objections of the fervent prevents the core product from ever truly growing.

    As it is, I'm still groping for a hodgepodge of the rules to play with, as the existing set (Blitz, etc) went off the rails for me.

  6. Yeah, it's a bit of a double edged sword. The die hard superfans that are currently keeping the company afloat don't want things to change despite the relatively stagnant size of the community. Should DP9 risk losing them to gain back some of the much larger pool of ex-customers as well as new ones brought in by news of shiny new products? It's a tough call but I think the game needs the shake up after years of catering to the former with minor incremental additions/revisions.

  7. Honestly? I know I'm one of those diehard superfans who's always been advocating the fluff. So I'm probably one of those to blame for constantly arguing.

    These days, I understand that plastics and resins are much better than they used to be. If the men at Dream Pod 9 were to get involved with a Kickstarter that actually advocated a complete and total revamp with new plastic miniatures (preferably with some great poses mixed in for good measure), then I would not argue with them on their decision. I think it would really help to bring the newer generation in... and unfortunately, in these hard times, the smaller the price you can afford to build a force, the better off your chances are that folks will try the product. I'm not blaming people on being stingy by any means. I consider someone smart if they decide to get food for their children instead of that new shiny miniature they've been drooling over. So yeah... go plastic or resin, revamp the line, let this phoenix get out of the ashes again.

  8. As a die hard fluff fan, what do you think of my proposal to reboot the entire timeline ala Battlestar Galactica to start fresh with my proposed first truely new HG minis game since original blitz?

  9. Honestly, as a fluff die hard, I'd be down with a back to basics return to the Polar War of the original HG. North vs. South with a bit of GRELs. The other planets got to be a mess and they've still not sorted out the rules. Add that to the fact that the miniatures are wildly overpriced. When I've encountered newbies looking at Caprice, I always cringe.

    HG needs something radical. The old player base is aging and dwindling. Many of them are getting married, moving on in their careers, and having a harder time justifying the fandom when there's an decreasing likelihood of finding players at the local shop. The shops are also getting fewer and unable to stock a rack of $70 books and $12 minis for a game for which the local fanbase can fit in the back of a VW Golf.

  10. Any real wargamer knows that you have to separate gaming fluff from gaming actuality. Look at how many times a single Space Marine in W40K has slain a thousand Tyranid single-handed, but in the Tyranid codex it will talk about whole chapters of marines being killed by a single genestealer (example only, no clue if these stories are still in the new codexs or not). The roleplay game is great, but what happens in the roleplay shouldn't drag down the game and vice versa. They should effectively be two different universes in the grand scheme of things, much like WFRP and WFB. On that note however, I think the timeline where it stands is actually a good spot in terms of fluff. All the various forces add a lot of different tastes to the game so people aren't simply stuck with effectively three options.

    While the core North, South, CEF, PRDF, and NuCoal seem pretty balanced and fleshed out overall, the added forces of Utopia, Caprice, and the Black Talons especially have far to much of a fragmented feel to them, making them appear as though thrown into the game for a money grab. They also vary far to greatly in power, with Utopia on the weaker side and Black Talons on the other side near OP in many peoples eyes. Yes, the forces are built to be used with allies as intended, but some folks don't want allies, and forces like Black Talons are so over costed, it is hard to get any allies on the field without being a stupidly huge battle. The forces need to be brought more inline in terms of cost and ability to the other major powers. Black Talons for example could just be special upgrades for PRDF units. Warriors could upgrade to Dark Hunters or Dark Jaguars for example.

    I would love to support a kickstarter that brought all mainline gears and tanks of the primary factions to hard plastic (Warrior/Warrior IV, Hunter, Jager, ect), the rarer vehicles to a restic, and leave metal to special characters/edition mecha. Of course going to plastic and restic, I would naturally expect that the minis get more options in terms of poses and better prices. Honestly, I think DP9 should aim for a price point close to Mantic, where it is either $25 for restic unit of 5-10 minis or $25 for 20 hard plastic minis depending on if DP9 wants the game to be skirmish or battle style.

    Low entry price point and beautiful minis would really help put HGB back on more than a few people's radar.

  11. @Chris: Good to hear that a fluff nut wouldn't mind a reboot. The story and background is fine for the (now defunct) RPG but it needs a hell of alot of trimming down IMO for the minis side and a nothing short of a complete reboot can do the type of changes I think it needs.

    @Chad: While I would beg to differ about Talons being overcosted, I agree that the non-TN factions need some redesigning from the ground up. I don't think there is any chance of $25 for 20 full plastic minis though. Right now, gear prices are roughly $9-$20 USD and I personally think they need to go to around half that for plastics regardless of whether they choose skirmish or full wargame battle scale. The skirmish would just be a really good idea whereas the mass battle choice would make it an absolute necessity.

  12. It's an interesting concept. I'm completely pessimistic about a relaunch of Heavy Gear or DP9 - I think it's basically a continual re-organization of the deck checks on the Titanic at this point.

    I am curious, though, why you want to jettison the fluff - the world is in my mind the Very Best Part of Heavy Gear. The rules have always been the albatross we tolerated because we liked the world. We liked the conflicts (North vs South, Terra Nova vs Earth, Earth vs its former colonies that it abandoned. Those are the stories that make it worth playing.

    Rebooting the Gears? I'm not sure how that would improve things. I DO think there needs to be a reboot of how weapons work in a general sense - why in the world do Gears carry Autocannons that are so combat ineffective against their primary enemy?

  13. In a nutshell, I don't believe DP9 can truely reignite the franchise without a ground up reimagining of everything as there have just been too many incremental new editions with 10% change at 100% full price. The fluff and continual advancement of the storyline has contributed nothing really to the minis game over the past few years as we've gotten some half baked non-TN armies, overpowered Talons that are no fun to play against, and visual and thematic monstrosities like the Drake. I personally feel that the only way to get people excited about core gears like the Hunter/Jaeger/Warrior is to ditch the fluff that has them around for 100+ years and redesign the models themselves as well (likely as a tie in with the upcoming video game).

    If they redo the backstory, they can redesign the variants as well without any strings attached. I fully expect the above opinion to be a controversial one but frankly (as you said) I don't see any other way personally of saving the Geartanic. They've tried tweaks and half measures the last couple of times and it hasn't helped noticeably if the various forum posts and general mood are any indication. Is there risk involved? Absolutely.. but the alternative is the zombie-like state of the community where there appears to only be three or four actively playing groups in all of North America.