I am no wargames or boardgames specialist, only a casual gamer and painter. I have no credential whatsoever and never developped a game. I wrote a set of rules when I was 8 to play napoleonics 1/72 plastic soldiers with my family, but I am not sure this qulifies as a professional experience of any sort!
Do not expect this post to be an expert opinion on game mechanics or a comprehensive compartive study of what kind of game Confrontation is. It is only my « informed opinion » of how the game works and, more importantly, why I like it and still play it almost 10 years after the collapse of its editor and maybe 15 years after my first Confrontation game.
I decided to write this post because of my undying love for this game and the fact that I succeeded in playing it again this year, even dragging new players to the table (lending them my own minis). It is also my way to reach out to the #warmongers out there, who saw my numerous Confrontation posts and, hopefully, grew curious about what all the fuss was about.
What the hell is Confrontation?
Confrontation is a skirmish game set in a fantasy universe. It was edited by a French company (Rackham) and was widely played and distributed in the late 1990s, early 2000s, at least in France. You could start a game with 10 minis warbands and a couple of papercraft terrain. The company finally collapsed and the game was dead for years eventhough a fan community remained and a bunch of second hand minis were available on ebay and elsewhere. I fell in love with it in high school and that flame never died.
There are different editions of Confrontation. The old Grognards used to play v.1. I started the game in v.2 (which was a short free set of rules you got with the minis, same as v.1). Back in the days I never switched to v.3, which was the first edition relying on a full scale rulebook. We then got v.3.5, which is more or less v.3 + FAQ (and some heavy modifications to balance the game in favour of shooters, wizards and priests).
There are a bunch of other systems set in the same universe as Confrontation (and using the same minis). I own Hybrid (the boxed set and the only expansion that was released) but never got to paint the minis or play it. It is a « Hero Quest » kind of game where a group of Templars purge dark Alchemists laboratories. I also own the rules for Cadwallon, a RPG which I read dreadfull feedback about. Finally there was Rag Narokk (I own the rulebook and lore book), the « large scale battles » (WHFB style) game. It never really took off I think since the minis were all metal and quite expensive to play with large armies.
There also was a v.4 of Confrontation using pre-painted minis (meh) on round bases (heresy!).
A bunch of fan made versions of the rules were developed after Rackham went under (the are available, in French, here and there) but I never tested them and kept on playing with the old « official » rules.
Tradition et Modernité
To me Confrontation (and more broadly the different game systems Rackham edited) are a fine mix of classic mechanics and what feels like a very modern approach to wargaming.
At the time of Rackham golden days GW only really maintained two games (WHFB and WH40K) which used very similar rule systems imo (yes I know, Mordheim, Warmaster, Battlefleet Gothic… but these were not available for a long time and often had specific minis you couldn’t use in the other system). The « one mini / many systems » approach of Rackham seems to me very close to what GW is now doing with games like Blackstone Fortress, Kill Team and the many AoS side games.
On the « modernity » side Conf. v.3 and v.3.5 worked with an activation system (the older versions too to be honest but it was not as dynamic) similar to the new Necromunda. It was refreshing back in the days. I always thought that was what was missing in Mordheim for example (been wanting to twist the rules and play with such a system for years actually). I get the « player’s turn » for large scale games, but in skirmish games I feel it slows down the game unnecessarily. Activation system which mix the movement and shooting phases are far more nervous and give the « bar brawl » feeling I like in skirmish games.
On the « traditional » side you get the excruciating large number of characteristics and effects. Coupled with the fact that the different versions and profiles were never aggregated it made list building (for example)…tedious to say the least (more on that later).
The success/failure system, based on dice rolls, and the wounds system (which affects characteristics in game) are an hybrid between wargames and RPGs, which I like but are clearly on the complex side of things. Confrontation is a game you need to play a couple of times before really grasping all that is happening on the table. Same goes with the fact that you have two sets of rules for mystical arts (magic and faith). This also reinforces the randomness of the game, which is a good thing in my opinion but can be a bad thing for others.
Of course, you play with metal minis on square bases, clearly a cross in the « tradition » column.
« Rules so complex they would make an adult cry »
Someone told me that once on twitter when I was talking about Confrontation. My answer was that I was not an adult back then… Still, he had a point!
The rules are complex and it takes time to grasp them. I do not really care since I played the game for years. I guess I am still making mistakes and that these are now embedded in the game I like in a way that makes them « legit » for friendly games. I guess it also can rebuke some beginners. When introducing new people to the game I usually adopt a step by step approach, introducing layers of complexity during a couple of test games.
Still, in the end this is no piece of cake. How complex is it?
Let’s take the close combat phase. It uses at least 5 characteristics (initiative, attack/strengh, defense/toughness) and sometimes more (bravery/fear). You get 3 rolls where you have to best your opponent’s rolls (initiative/attack/defense) and you have a special roll to wound (using another system entirely). Still there? Well guess what, since a non mortal wound has impact on your characteristics all the parameters vary during a game… Yeah. I know. The close combat phase is then devided in sub-phase, as each fighter as a chance to attack depending of the number of dices the player chose to attribute to attack. Can be a tough nut to crack.
Why do I love this? Well I guess once you master it and as long as you are not a rule freak (which I am not), the game can be really fluid despite all this. Complexity becomes a great asset to the game at that point because it gives depths to it and bring the whole « skirmish » to the next level. It also means you get many parameters to choose from. A single action is made of several choices done by the player (and several rolls) which, in the end, creates a very tactical game with loads of options.
Let’s take an example (for this you have to bear in mind that the game is played with few minis, 10 guys is a large army) with very different points value).
Now let’s say you went for the numbers, fielding a bunch of rank troopers. Your opponent brought less minis, but is fielding one big, tough, fast silly bastard.
Now, put some bullets or arrows in it, better, set it ablaze with a good old fire ball. Not so proud now hey? This you can do in any game, from Mordheim to WH40K. Well yes, but let’s take into account the fact that in Confrontation most of the time you will wound (strictly speaking) the beast but not killing it. In Mordheim for example, your guys are either dead or alive. Of course there are some things they can’t do while they’re down, but once back on their feet they perform at full capacity. Not in Confrontation: a wounded character will be less efficient untill the end of the game.
In my modest opinion it changes two things: as long as you wounded the guy, your shot is not wasted, even if it was not a killing shot; from your opponent point of view, the beast is wounded but still on the table, so it can still make a difference. Now that wounded beast is closing in on your troopers. You levelled the odds. Now you can take it down. But it still could prevail (which a dead mini can not).
To me, this is the true wonderful aspect of the game: it is not straightforward. Because you have to roll many many dices and because characteristics change in game, almost anything can happen at any given time. Most games are won or lost with the last roll. Makes for great epic climaxes. That is my kind of thrill!
Now, this is good complexity. The price you pay to get a thrilling battle full of ups and downs, lucky shots and curses and in the end great anecdotes to share with your mates.
But let’s face it, there is also bad complexity (yeah, I am not blind enough not to see the downsides of the system).
The profile of the minis were printed on cards sold with the minis themselves. Good right? No books to buy to start an army. New minis released? No need to wait for an updated codex. I guess it also allowed a great flexibility in the releasing process for the company since you did not have the kind of scheduling nightmares the people at GW must be facing when they add some new factions or minis.
Still, the devil works in mysterious ways. First of all the game evolved from v.1 to v.2, which meant that a bunch of cards were out of date at some point. They still used the same characteristics but their values changed sometimes and so did the points value of the minis. As long as Rackham produced the minis you still could watch the new characteristics in a shop and use your finest pen to « correct » your old cards. Still… Nowadays you can use all the online ressources to do the same. Thank the Gods the old cards look different from the new ones, so it is easy to know which ones may be out of date.
Then came v.3, well, that was something else entirely. That version of the game came with a proper rulebook. The first one if I am not mistaken (before the rules were a booklet you’ll find with the minis). At that point well…things got nasty. You still use v.2 cards in v.3 BUT some profiles were amended. Where would you find those new profiles? In the book, since the v.2 ruleset was still commonly used by people who did not own the rulebook (I was one) and the cards were still v.2 since this version still served as a simplified (and free) version of the rules.
It means that when you play v.3 you have to constantly check in the book if the mini you’re using has a new profile or not. It gets worse. I told you about the mystical arts (magic and faith), which are very important in Confrontation (see here if you want to understand ho a wizard can tip the balance in your favour). Well, spells and miracles were available on cards (sold with the minis casting them or separatly). Well these were also amended with v.3 with some of them being banned, some new ones created and some changed. This was all in the book, but you could still use some old cards that were neither banned nor modified… Special equipment? Well, basically the same.
I guess if Rackham survived we would have gotten a consolidated version of all this at some point and this would have just made some old Grognards like me grunt. But the company first turned its attention to other games (Rag Narrok, then Confrontation v.4 – the one with pre-painted minis, my nemesis -) and then collapsed. So nowadays we are stuck with this mess…
This makes list building a very challenging experience since for a very long time you had no option to get a comprehensive view of what was available and what you could use or not. Kind of remind me of the way you build a MTG deck. You basically do with what you have, hoping you are not missing a key artefact or making a forbidden combo. Must have been VERY painfull for competitive players. Even for someone like me, it was rough.
This was even more an issue because of the scale of the game. In a 10 minis team you do not want to make a serious mistake or your list may well be very unbalanced. This was slightly compensated by the randomness of the game itself, but still…
It took me some time to uncover the wonderful work that the fan base did. Now I use online ressources for list building (here). They are wonderfully done and very very usefull. You still need to check some things and there may be some minor mistakes here and there, but they are free and fan made, so I won’t complain.
So how does the game really works?
Well, the main aspect I like is that you do not have a turn sequence as « one player does everything then the other one does everything,… ». Each player activates a mini, in an order he chose before knowing who will be activating his minis first (which determined by a dice roll + characteristic). The whole thing is very similar to the current version of Necromunda, you get an ordered pile of cards representing individual minis or group of minis and you activate them one card at a time.
Little twist in the activation sequence: the guy who win the « discipline » roll also gets two « reserve » (the opponent gets one). These are options to modify the activation order you chose. When a card is drawn you may put it in reserve in order to activate it later (allows you to activate different people at the same time).
Once a mini is activated you may move, shoot and use your mystical powers. There is no particular order in which you should make these actions but some are exclusive (you may not charge and shoot for example). This allows many tactical option since you may move to get in range or, for example, shoot at someome then run away (not run technically but walking away in a cautious manner is allowed). It gives the whole thing the proper « skirmish » feel I think Mordheim sometimes lacks. Of course you get plenty of bonuses/maluses when you combine actions, but I won’t bother you with these.
A word on the mystical arts. As I said you get two kinds: magic and faith, with two classes of users: wizards and priests. Spells and miracles differ in the way you cast them. On the magical side of things you have elemental gems that your wizards collect and then spent to cast spells. On the faith side you use prayers of friendly fighters nearby to get help from your God(s) on the battlefield.
For a long time I found mystical arts a it too random for their point values (coming from a guy who likes randomness in games it is a strong issue). Since v.3.5 this disappeared because you do not pay for spells and miracles with points anymore: what you can choose and how many you can get depends on the characteristics of the caster. This was welcome in my opinion. Nowadays I think the mystical arts are key to a good list, which is very coherent with Confrontation lore.
When all fighters have been activated you resolve close combats. I won’t go into much detail, I already talked about it and pointed out how esoteric and complex it can be. I’ll only underline one aspect of it that I like in my « there are a ton of tactical options avalaible to the players » line of thoughts.
The aspect that I like very much is that you get a number of dices (depending on the number of foes you face and some specific skills) which are used to attack or defend. This means, depending on how the combat is going, how wounded you are, how close support is etc…you can adapt your tactics in any round. This is one of the very enjoyable part of the close combat phase which make it far less predictable and straightforward than most of the games I am used to play.
After all this ia done, in the end phase you get yet another bunch of stuff to do (collecting magical gems and else). I won’t bother you with all this untill you come and visit me for a test game.
At the end of the day?
Well the company supporting the game has collapsed some 10 years ago and the minis are really hard to find. I still play it, collect the minis and try to intoduce new people to the game. I guess you all know how I feel about it…
Well that’s all for folks. Hope you liked what you read, see you soon.
Banner picture and Confrontation art was owned by Rackham (I guess…) and shamelessly looted on the internet, pictures of miniatures are my own.