Godtear – a Look at Winter’s Reckoning and Jaak the Alchemist

I’ve banged the drum for Godtear. It remains a top tier skirmisher and I’m still clapping that snare. Winter’s Reckoning is the first organized play kit for the game. It’s a response to the community’s desire for support beyond the regular champion boxes Steamforged Games has released. It’s an solid offering and a worthy inaugural effort.

If you’ve never seen an organized play kit before, they’re a curious thing. Typically, a store or community leader orders one to drum up activity for a title, or to stoke the flames of existing interest. These boxed sets are not intended as a direct consumer product and can be elusive if you’re not involved in the local gaming scene. Like any fresh release, they may reinvigorate a stale scene or offer some new content to explore. The best fashion a narrative arc or provide inspiration for an entire new wave of players.

My previous experience in this category is centered around Android: Netrunner, X-Wing, and various Games Workshop titles. Winter’s Reckoning falls right in line with expectations. The quality of materials is professional, the content is varied, and there is sufficient support for a large cadre of participants.

A common occurrence in these sets are deluxe component upgrades or alternate art cards. Winter’s Reckoning covers this ground with plastic damage status effect tokens. These are cardboard pieces in Godtear that track damage buffs and hindrances. The deluxe versions are fine and exactly what you’d expect. I suppose some people love this sort of little reward. I’ve seen organizers offer similar tokens as participant awards or as secondary prize support for tournament play. You get eight here, plenty for a standard-sized group.

I wouldn’t blame most for tossing those tokens. They’re a light bennie, a promo. Of similar fashion are eight unique winter stylized dashboards. I actually found this set relatively useful, as it can be difficult to acquire enough dashboards to cover both sides in a full six champion game. They’re not needed of course and merely serve as boundaries to group your cards and tokens, but it’s a nice little touch.

The main attraction for Winter’s Reckoning is the surprisingly smooth campaign mode.

It’s a cleverly designed structure that primarily alters play through character advancement. After each match you will roll dice to determine how many godtears your champions recovered, and then you will spend these to upgrade your champions.

This is somewhat of an odd approach as it’s disconnected from the narrative of play, although it works and is simple. I think it would have been a better method to tie godtear recovery to tasks or objectives during the match. This could have offered an alternative sub-goal in addition to winning the fight and sparked varied playstyles. That may have proven too detrimental to balance or too ambitious in terms of development, however.

Every single champion up to the current release schedule is provided a new upgrade card. These are double-sided offering two distinct paths to improve. Don’t expect a wild or unhinged experience for the most part, as a large share of the upgrades are modest stat adjustments or minor abilities. They do become more impactful at the final level three tier, and there are some genuinely interesting effects that may draw some astonishment.

I particularly appreciate the brevity of the campaign. At four chapters, each being a single skirmish for each participant, it’s possible to finish this in one elongated session or to simply spread it out over a few weeks. It doesn’t demand too much of the players but gives back just enough in terms of those advancements to maintain interest.

Each chapter is also supported with a brief narrative. This provides a context to the struggle that ties into the wispy meta-story of collecting godtears and attempting ascension. While no one is playing this skirmish game for its over-arching narrative or setting, the effort is still appreciated.

From the perspective of design philosophy, I find it interesting how this campaign straddles the line between casual and competitive. It’s not high intensity or overly serious, but it does provide alternative narrative rewards in terms of the various scenario branches and the final closing moment of story. There’s certainly a reason to compete, but the windfall is primarily through tinkering with hero advancement which occurs regardless of performance. The campaign ending simply arrives, bookending play with a tidy outcome.

There’s quite a bit of physical components supporting this new style of play. You get a foldout paper map for each of the boards currently available in the Godtear starter sets. What this means is that you can run four simultaneous games using just these mats while leaving the full mounted battlefields at home.

But of greater significance is how they support a sense of permanence. Winter’s Reckoning provides several sheets of transparent blood splatter stickers. These are neat. I had to stop my daughter from plucking them off and placing them all over her Barbie Dream House.

The intention is to place these on the paper boards in spaces where a champion has fallen. There’s no mechanical impact. Some will scoff at this cotton-candy inclusion. It may be my favorite part of the whole thing.

Besides establishing a meaningful reason for the foldout paper maps existence, they serve as a journaling of the carnage that ensues. They’re pointers to battles won and lost, underlining the emergent narrative of play and helping to solidify memories of the Winter’s Reckoning campaign. You don’t need to use these. They’re absolutely not required. But they form a light parallel to the brilliance of Oath’s journal system. It’s an act of communal ritual, the game recognizing and dignifying your most sacred moments. I can imagine some hanging a map or two in their game room, immortalizing the death wrought on a cold afternoon where greater beings sought immortality.

That’s Winter’s Reckoning. It’s an interesting experience, one I’d recommend Godtear players participate in if ever given the opportunity.

Before closing, I also wanted to touch on one of the newest Godtear champions, Jaak. This oddball goblin is a “dubious alchemist” who is flanked by his obedient crew of laborers. They haul his cauldron, potions, and medicines. The most interesting effect is that Jaak can deploy his banner – thematically a cauldron – on an objective hex adjacent to his cronies. This additionally buffs the minions too, centering Jaak’s strategy around deploying and defending his cauldron strategically. That is unsurprising given his status as a Guardian-type champion.

Jaak’s most effective usage is in a support role where you can plop down the banner and then remain in a defensive stance. Deploying a Slayer alongside him to strike any aggressors near the cauldron is an extremely useful tactic. This is because Jaak is best used for his ability to heal nearby characters with his potent brews. When engaged in a war of attrition, your warriors will remain standing and fit to fight for an extended period of time due to this support.

Jaak is another useful and interesting character. I’ve had a hard time focusing on his exploits as my mind has been much more fixated on the totality of Winter’s Reckoning. Both these releases are solid and meaningful additions to the game. The most significant impression I’ve received, and my main takeaway, is that this game is going nowhere. Steamforged remains dedicated to this excellent miniatures game, and it’s deserving of that top level of support.

 

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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