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No pictures, just a thousand words - my reaction to the July BAR update

What the…?

The dust has settled on the most recent, and by far most contentious, BAR update in Warhammer Underworlds’ short history. The restricted list has ballooned with eleven more cards added.

Universal – Objectives
Burst of Speed (Power Unbound #25)
Warning Shot (Power Unbound #36)
Acolyte of the Katophranes (Nightvault #291)
Calculated Risk (Nightvault #302)
Sorcerous Scouring (Nightvault #371)
Universal – Gambits
Sorcerous Flourish (Power Unbound #46)
Upper Hand (Power Unbound #48)
Sphere of Aqshy (Nightvault #451)
Universal – Upgrades
Spiritbond (Power Unbound #57)
Archer’s Focus (Nightvault #476)
Well of Power (Nightvault #557)

I’m not going to go into a blow-by-blow account on each of the cards- plenty of smarter folk than I have already done that. I will give a Gitz specific take, on what we’ve lost, and what our foes have lost later, but for now, I just want to talk about my general reaction to the cards as a whole and where it leaves us on the eve of Season 3.

This is by far the biggest change since the BAR appeared out of nowhere some eight months ago. What’s staggering is that, with the exception of Archer’s Focus, and personal favourite, Acolyte of the Katophranes, all come out with Power Unbound or the last two warband expansions. The cries of ‘power creep’ have been loud and numerous during that time, but it’s interesting to see how willing the devs were to react, and how strong that reaction was.

Like many others, I’m a bit shook. Most of these felt justified, but in totality these changes will herald a quantum shift in the metagame. Magic has been substantially toned down now, and recurring dice modifiers have also been pruned back. So why the anger?

I’ve made a horrible mistake…
It’s difficult to see this as anything other than admission that the developers erred on the side of power. This is okay, and I would absolutely prefer that they swallowed pride and took the action they took, than put on a brave face tell us that everything is fine. That said, game developers are like surgeons and pilots – hearing them say ‘oops’ is disconcerting to say the least.
In particular, it begs the question as to how much of a feel for the mechanical aspects of the game the developers have. Living in the future state of producing cards to add to an already large pool must be an incredible challenge, particularly as I gather there have been personnel changes within the design team, but it’s some of the cards printed, especially in Power Unbound looked overdone from the get go, and one has to wonder how much testing was done, if they decided they needed to be restricted within a month of their release.

Good news: Restricted isn’t banned
This seems pretty obvious, but I feel it merits saying, the way some corners of the internet are carrying on. Whenever a card is restricted, all it does is force a choice (which is never bad), and increases diversity in the meta (also never bad). Granted, some warbands will have more choices to make, and some will be harder than others, but overall, a restriction basically amounts to either having your cake or eating it*.

*I don’t quite understand this idiom, what are you going to do with a cake if not eat it?**

**Perhaps there’s an American Pie style scenario going on there. This would fully explain why people would be reluctant to eat their cake after ‘having’ it***.

***This revelation has made me never want to eat cake again. Ever.

Bad news: Restricted isn’t banned

Sometimes a banning is warranted, and I feel like Upper Hand should have got the big ban-hammer straight way. The card is ludicrously powerful. Upper Hand turns a Two Hammer into Two Dodge attack from a 47% chance of success to a 59% chance. That’s bonkers.  What’s really egregious is that the worse your attack, the more it helps. A 1 hammer attack into 3 Dodge will normally succeed 20% of the time. With Upper Hand, it rockets up to 31%. That’s basically like adding another dice to the attack, but only when you know it’s going to be useful.  Between this and Hammer of Sigmar, combat maths has copped a right kick in the erogenous zones.
But it’s not just the maths that’s been upset, but also the fundamental tenet of the game, and of the company as a whole.  One of the key “tells” of a Games Workshop game is the contest between both players rolling dice and the comparison of results. Adding innate results and changing a draw from a win to the defender, to a win for the attacker is a really, really big deal from a philosophical standpoint, and I hope they realise this sooner rather than later.

Cursebreakers, we need to talk

We’ve lived through four BAR updates now, and one of the patterns that quickly emerged is that only universal cards have received bans or restrictions. By now it seems pretty easy to conclude that this is an intentional choice, rather than a coincidence. I feel from a game-health perspective, that’s a position that needs to change. It seems preposterous for cards like Archer’s Focus to be restricted, and the strictly better Foul Temper not to be. Good luck explaining to a newer player why Calculated Risk is restricted but Harness the Storm isn’t. What makes this particularly frustrating is that many cards exist on the BAR due to abuse from one or two factions. Longstrider and Burst of Speed are two particular examples, where if it weren’t for Mollog, would be both unrestricted and unplayably bad.   I wonder, though, whether either would be worth restricting if Mollog couldn’t use them to accelerate into Foul Temper and Blooming Spores? Likely the answer remains yes, but they would be considerably less powerful.  Similarly, would Sphere of Aqshy be played over Encroaching Shadows in Cursebreakers if Harness the Storm weren’t there to add insult to injury?
While the policy protecting faction specific cards remains in place, the developers are in the unenviable position of attempting to create parity and curate a diverse metagame with almost exactly half the card pool is off limits. Equally boggling is that it’s a restriction they’ve seemingly placed on themselves, with no dialogue with the player base one way or another. With the exception of the most diehard fans of Cursebreakers or Mollog, I feel that few people would object to certain choice faction cards joining the universals in being restrict-able.

I have no literally no idea where you’re going with this…
The last point I wanted to touch on was the restricted objectives in particular. Four of five objectives that were restricted were very easy, score immediately, one-glory cards. Up until this point, I was convinced that this wasn’t a bug, but a feature. Score immediately cards are cool - they reduce bookkeeping and errors and bring upgrades into the action phase more readily. They also sustain a slew of objectives requiring objectives such as Victory After Victory, which is flashy and exciting, even if it can feel gimmicky at times. By proxy, they also lower the glory potential of most warbands, which, in theory, results in tighter games, and increases the impact of glory earned from kills or upgrades.
By restricting as many as they have, the developers seem to be signalling a redress of the balance between ‘immediatelies’ and end-phase objectives. Despite working contrary to all of the positive points I’ve just raised, this is a worthy goal, but again it raises the question as to whether printing these cards was an experiment gone too far, or a mistake?

Slow down, get your breath

I want to address this last point directly to the developers. Slow. Down. Clearly, for this many cards to be restricted so quickly after release, it suggest that more testing needs to be done prior to printing. This not only would save time and effort, but would avoid straining the good will of the community. The first BAR was met with almost universal praise, the second with excitement (confirming as it did that the BAR was an ongoing  ‘thing’), but I’ve noticed an increasing voice of dissent and annoyance growing louder with the third and fourth. Such rumblings aren’t helped by the weekly barrage of  new releases, updates, teasers and FAQs.  This pace is unsustainable for both developers and players. Obviously, too few releases will result in a stagnant metagame, but too many, and the player base gets burnt out very quickly.

I feel that Seasons need to either be extended from 12 to 18 months and or the number of warbands released each Season dropped to between four or six. Increasing the pool of warbands by eight each year is a phenomenal rate, and raises questions, in my mind at least, of the long-term future for Underworlds. Is this game going to be something like Magic: The Gathering, which is approaching 30 years old, or will it be more akin to Bloodbowl, tossed into the Never-Never for a decade after a few years of support, and was only resurrected after the wonderful community performed CPR on the game for years.

I love Underworlds. I hope it carries on for many years, but this recent set of restrictions has me on edge in a way that others prior have not. I hope I’m just overeacting.

As always, feel free to drop me a like over Facebook, or leave a comment below.

I’ll be back with more Git related content next week!




  1. Interesting read as always.

    In my opinion, you shouldn't look at the BAR as a bug, but a feature of this game. The designers didn't make a mistake making powerful cards and then had to restrict them. Restricting them is what lets them make powerful cards.

    In fact, I actually think that the lag time between the releases and BARs are the worst part of the system, and wish the R was printed right on the cards when they came out.

    We've only had 4 BARs, and 4 FAQs this season (and probably need 1 more for Power Unbound) and that doesn't seem like too much to me. I do wish they were faster and perhaps on a set schedule, though.


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