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Customs Creation - September 2019

Posted September 3rd, 2019 at 10:32 PM by HS Codex

Customs Creation
Designing for SoV Approval
Author: Scytale

Custom creation is a hobby, a creative pasttime that engages our ingenuity, our analysis, and our imagination. The ultimate result of our efforts are units that we can add to the Battle of All Time, playing with and against them on Heroscape battlefields. Some, though, desire more than that. Whether out of a desire to expand the units available for tournaments, or for personal recognition, or simply because they are so excited about an idea they want to share it with others, some wish to have their custom units approved for broad use by the Soldiers of Valhalla project.

To those that may be unaware, some Heroscapers community members have continued to expand Heroscape long after the line was officially canceled. Two projects, the Custom Creators of Valhalla (C3V) and the Soldiers of Valhalla (SoV), have worked in tandem to produce Heroscape unit cards for pre-painted miniatures made for other games. While they collaborate, their approaches are very different. C3V is a closed-door development community comprised of invited members. SoV is a public project in which anyone can submit any custom, which is then judged by a small number of dedicated testers who act as judges. Units released by either group are often legal in Heroscape tournaments, and can easily be printed out and used in home game with an assurance of quality.

Before I go any further, a disclaimer: While two of my customs have been approved by the SoV, I myself have never submitted any, nor have I created a custom with the intention or even hope of SoV approval. I merely make customs for my own satisfaction and home environment, with the goal of having my own units indistinguishable from official units to casual players. Perhaps that is a lesson in and of itself, one even more valuable than the rest of this article. Before concerning yourself with the Judgesí approval, make something you yourself are proud of.

If your goal is SoV approval, the first thing you need to do is research. Knowing official units is, of course, the basics, but you also need to have awareness of VC customs. Valhalla Customs (a term used to descibe the combined efforts of C3V and SoV) have been around for a number of years now and have produced a sizeable number of units. Your contribution must both fit seamlessly with what has come before and not duplicate any of it. Thatís not to say you canít reuse powers or even unit concepts, but another Syvarris is just that, another Syvarris, and the game doesnít need it. You should also take some time to see what units have gained SoV approval and which ones have failed in the process. There is no easy list of all units that have been submitted, but the second post in the main SoV thread has links to all of the units that have passed the initial submission test and links to all their reviews. These reviews often add invaluable insight into what the Judges are looking at when playtesting submissions.

It is also useful to know what kind of units VC is looking for, though that is not written down anywhere. Itís really more knowing what exists in abundance versus what is lacking. There are lots of medium-sized fantasy heroes, for example, so VC members will look at submissions for more such units with a harsher eye. Sci-fi and historical figures are harder to come by than fantasy, so they are more exciting to see. Even moreso, VC is always happy to see new squads (again, especially sci-fi or historical), due in large part to the difficulty of finding workable miniatures. Iím not saying that a medium fantasy hero has no chance in SoV; itís that the standards for such units are elevated.

But thereís the trickiest problem: the miniatures. Numerous, affordable, pre-painted miniatures do exist, but not necessarily of the unit you really want to make. This is especially true for common squads. While VC can be a little open as to what miniatures can be used, some things are indisputable (or nearly so). Pre-painted is one of them; I doubt weíll ever accept unpainted miniatures without good reason (unpainted figures can sometimes be used for phantoms or the like), though having a cheap unpainted version of a figure available might be a bit of a draw. Another must have is squad similarity. We canít expect the level of similarity that the official game had, but the less a bunch of figures look like they belong together the less likely theyíll be acceptable. Also, there have to be sufficient numbers of the figures available. There are lots of different guidelines and rules to this, and not all agree. In fact, some judges are more sticklers for this than others. In general, for uniques you will want at least 50 copies available in online stores, not counting eBay (which is more transient). Usually with commons you want 3 times that number, though, depending on the design, you may be able to adjust the target number down (or have to adjust it up!).

Once you have a miniature (or miniatures) and a concept, start playtesting. It is also a good idea to post in your own customs thread. You donít have to wait until you have done some playtesting to do so, but I prefer to. If people are kind enough to give feedback, take it seriously and consider their points. They are there to help, and can give your idea a fresh perspective. Donít forget that it is still your unit, though; itís ultimately your decision which way your design should go, and itís impossible to please everyone. Then playtest, playtest, and playtest some more. Donít simply reinforce what you think the unit should be, test until you know what the unit really is and the best ways to use it.

Once you have a good grasp of how the unit plays, post it to the Pre-SoV Workshop. This a great place to go to get feedback on your design and its chances of getting through the SoV gauntlet. Take this feedback very seriously. You will hear from numerous seasoned custom designers, including others who have submitted units to the SoV, and even some SoV Judges. Again, do not blindly follow their ideas (indeed, it is rather unlikely they will all have the same opinion), but use this resource to refine your work and possibly take it in exciting new directions.

And then back to playtesting. Again and again and again. SoV Judges are going to do just that to your unit, and do so with a critical eye. You donít want an ďokay chanceĒ of making it, you want to have confidence in your work. Be sure to test in various environments, mixed with various units (especially synergies!), and against various opposing armies. Know the unitís strengths and weaknesses. Itís okay if the unit is on the strong side or the weak side, though itís riskier. Not that SoV rejects strong or weak units per se, but you do run the risk of being too strong or too weak.

But even all the preparation possible will not guarantee success. Not everything can be the best of the best, and itís the SoVís job to decide what is or is not in that elite category. Sometimes some aspect will bring it down, and a change and resubmission could produce better results. Other times a unit simply wonít ever pass, for a variety of reasons including similarity to other units, rules problems, pushing boundaries uncomfortably far, or thematic canon issues. If you are looking for SoV approval, be prepared for rejection. This is not a slight on you personally or your ability as a designerómany top custom creators have had units rejected. At the time of this writing, 223 units have been submitted to the SoV (including resubmissions). Of those, 109 have been accepted for review (with one pending), which means that about half didnít even make it in the door. Of those, only 22 have passed review (with 14 still pending), which is less than a quarter. Thatís a steep hill to climb ... for anyone.

I am not trying to be discouraging, though. Being the best of the best is difficult, but a valuable challenge, one that will make you a better custom creator in the long run, as it requires not just a strong sense of the game and individual creativity, but also the patience to playtest thoroughly and the ability to listen to and manage otherís critiques. Ultimately, it is exciting and rewarding if you are able to get a unit approved, and pretty darn neat to be able to play it in a Heroscape tournament!
Total Comments 5


superfrog's Avatar
I remember how cool it was when I moved out to LA and somebody was using Urk at the first gameday I was at.

My SoV submission record isn't the best, but you are very right that it's rewarding to have a unit go through. This is a very helpful guide to submitting a good unit.
Posted September 4th, 2019 at 12:30 AM by superfrog superfrog is offline
kolakoski's Avatar


Well met!

The process leading up to Khaís induction was enjoyable in so many ways. The back and forth with the Judges and other members of the Community left me with such good feelings and taught me so much. Everything in this article was mirrored in my experience. Especially note the ďexciting new directions.Ē I was open to modifying my design to fit the SoV parameters focusing on how it played. If you do that, the rest will come.

Posted September 4th, 2019 at 12:15 PM by kolakoski kolakoski is offline
flameslayer93's Avatar
Another great article, Codex and Scytale!
Posted September 4th, 2019 at 07:14 PM by flameslayer93 flameslayer93 is offline
Taeblewalker's Avatar
Great show Scy!
Posted September 4th, 2019 at 11:43 PM by Taeblewalker Taeblewalker is offline
Tornado's Avatar
Great read. Thanks Scytale.
Posted September 9th, 2019 at 02:24 PM by Tornado Tornado is offline
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