Sunday, 25 June 2017

Domina and Needless Busywork: What is a game's core focus?



A dozen battles into the awesomely violent pixel gladiator game Domina, I received a humourous message to the effect my avatar (the lanista) had died of thirst, thus ending the game.

My response: "Wtf?!"

The aim of the game is to run your own ludus, to become the best ludus in the land and have champion gladiators. In short: the core gasmelay is to a manage gladiators. Giving your lanista a drink is something one would assume would be abstracted; given you can't walk around with her or anything and she's just an icon on the screen.  Keeping track of finances and, say, overall food supplies for your ludus makes sense; micromanaging every glass of water does not. 

Before you race to comment: I later found that water was a resource to be managed (it linked to gladiator training)...   ...but the point was stuck in my head...

While googling my water dilemma, I then noticed the biggest gripe from players is how the research skill "Mind Control" - which allows you to directly steer a gladiator - make the game too easy to win.  Again, by allowing you to control a gladiator, the game is stepping outside its core gameplay - managing a ludus. It's be like if a football management game allowed you to control a single player allowing you to wtfbbqpwn Real Madrid with Luton Town's reserve striker who works at Woolworths.

These musing have applications for game design:
What is the focus of the game? What can be abstracted? What can be micromanaged and what should NOT be micromanaged?  

A lot of games fall into the trap; the general can control each individual sniper or aim each cannon.  A tank commander should be able to designate individual targets; but should a division commander be able to do the same?


 Domina is hilarious pixel violence as you control your own ludus (gladiator school). I found myself shouting "tis but a flesh wound!" as a pixellated trident-and-net dude hopped around clutching an amputated leg...

Why people are failing to make the next Mordheim
I've often discussed how the skirmish campaign genre lacks a torchbearer since Mordheim/Necromunda.  Funnily enough, there are many skirmish games with much better tactics and mechanics already.  I actually think the real reason most have failed as the core of these games IS a ridiculously deep and complex campaign system.   Most games since then have focussed on improving gameplay while tacking on a "simple" and "elegant" campaign/advancement systems.  But I think they've missed the point.  Mordheim was pretty basic (and imbalanced at times) in terms of gameplay, but the nostalgia lingers.  Why? Tellingly, the most successful imitator (Frostgrave) has rather meh, bland gameplay but has a deep magic system and plenty of meat on its campaign mechanics.  Along with an appeal to nostalgia (a searching a ruined city for artifacts...) I think Frostgrave has successfully indentified what makes a skirmish campaign successful - the campaign/advancement/skills/base building part.   I always liked LOTR:SBG, and it's Battle Companies campaign system elegant and simple...   ..and you'd think I'd love it...  ...but it's too simple; as it does not hold the depth of play of its GW predecessors. 

Busywork - aka meaningless grind or activity
Besides the focus of the game, Domina reminded me of "busywork" - contrived or added work/grind in a game for the sake of it.  A good example is found in open world survival games - ARK - an awesome (but terribly optimized game) where you can build bases, ride dinosaurs, and fight other people while riding said dinos.  A key "feature" is how you need to constantly eat or die; you need to scarf down berries every 5 minutes, or your HP steadily and quickly drains until you die.  It's busywork.  Grind for the sake of grind.  It doesn't even make it feel realistic. It's LESS realistic. A few hours without a meal shouldn't kill you. There can be a penalty - reduce stamina, or XP gain, or -1 to all stats or something...   but you shouldn't be constantly hunting berries. That's not realistic survival - it's busywork. 

Does a game track something that can be abstracted or ignored? Are there dice rolls or extra actions that are "tacked on" to a game?  Has each element of the game been looked at; and asked the question "Does this add enough to the game to be worth the extra time/complexity/recording?"


I fail to see much difference between Diablo and clicker games... What is a clicker game?

Perhaps a little off topic (although this is mostly a rambling train-of-consciousness post anyways). Talking about core game design and what the main point of your game; I've always wondered:

What is the point of ARPGs? (PC games like Diablo)
Talking about core gameplay - what is the point of top-down Diablo-ish games (ARPGs?) I call them dungeon cleaners.  It's just cleaning dungeons of coin and skeletons by clicking on them. My level 20 broom cleans your level 15 poop off the walls.  Unless there is dodge/roll mechanics, or specific aim (like Alien Swarm)they're a bit too akin to those clicker games which reward you for how fast you can click.  I try to like them (because I know folk who do) but... ..what is the ultimate point?  What is the core gameplay?  Levelling your character? Because you can level characters in other, more fun game styles that involve more depth and skill than clicking on stuff...

Friday, 26 May 2017

15mm Tank Project (+PSC vs Zvezda vs Battlefront Comparison)

I've finally made some progress with my tank campaign game - sort of "Necromunda/Mordheim-meets-World of Tanks."   While we have a zillion platoon+ WW2 games (a la FoW/Bolt Action)  I'm interested in focussing on individual tanks; giving their commanders and crew a progression system and making the movement system/orders feel like using actual tanks rather than acting just like a large fantasy monster; but keeping it smooth enough to handle 12 tanks at a time without getting bogged down in counting every ammunition round. 

Keen to avoid reinventing the wheel, I first looked through Flames of War for ideas (yes I understand there is a newer edition which probably poops rainbows) and man, the rules are dense.  Given it is a 40K-adapted-for-WW2 ripoff, it is surprisingly unintuitive and "dense"; with 101 ways to resolve mechanics and a hundred special rules and rules exceptions.  Very "British homebrew rules" in it's design.

Currently I am going to borrow ideas from Fistful of ToWs (perhaps adapted for d10) as it is a lot smoother and will be able to handle the ~12 tanks per side a lot quicker, leaving more room for emphasis on campaign-orientated stuff.  Also, FFTW has an awesome vehicle database with pretty much every tank from 1917-2017.

Anyway, I was going to share a bit about some of the models.  I'm initially avoiding the late war King Tiger-Panther-German weeaboo stuff in favour of quirkier mid-war tanks. 

If you're wondering why my blog posting is so sparse - the answer is in this photo...
You can see my daughter "helped" me set up as the tanks "needed some gems" to fight over (hmmm, maybe a campaign idea) and she added her own wooden block buildings.

P.100 Landcruizer Ratte (Takom)
This was an awesome piece of kit by Takom, inspired by the Delta Vector google group's "landships" thread.  It was easy to put together, apart from the fiddly AA guns on the rear hull (gun barrels broke off and glue was spilt) and the tracks which were a little unintuitive to put together (I procrastinated a week before forcing myself to do the tracks).  Given it came with two Maus tanks it was reasonable value at ~$60AUD. The only disappointment is it was 1:144 which means it is SMALL compared to the tanks(!) and out of scale. Luckily it's so huge it means it merely looks big instead of freaking humungous.

The Zvezda Cruiser IIIs seemed a little weedy - the 2pdrs looked more like MGs.

Zvezda Cruiser III
Oh, I love snap-together kits.  After the incident with the Robotech models which had me quit modelling for several months in a monumental rage, most readers will know I am not a fan of multi-part models, or "unecessary modelling."  You know, when a mini is cast in 8 pieces when it is perfectly capable of being cast in a single piece?  I don't get any more "satisfaction" taking 30 minutes to assemble/prep a model that should take 1 minute.  But what about scratch builders and creative folk?  Pffft. 99% of modellers assemble their models the way shown on the box, and most multi part models are designed to only go together a very specific way anyway.   Also, if I'm in the 1% and in the mood to be creative, I'm happy to slice and dice models up anyway.  If a model is made for wargaming, it should be easy to get on the table. There's plenty of Tamiya/Revell kits for those who want to stuff around for hours gluing stuff together.

Anywhooo - it took about 3-4 minutes per model and they hold together tightly and neatly without glue.  A massive thumbs up.  That said, they are a little weedy - the Zvezda 1:100 is not an exact match for the Plastic Soldier Company's own 15mm lines.

At $4.50AUDea from PSC compared to $15AUDea for a FoW model, the price is good, too. 

Zvezda Panzer IVD
I thought I was getting IVF+ with the long 75mm so I wasn't pleased to get the short gun (it was my fault in ordering)

Again, these were gloriously easy to put together - and didn't need any glue (though I may add some later for peace of mind)

Interestingly, Battlefront is becoming increasingly like Games Workshop; not content to copy their rules and codexes and overpricing their models, they now are trying on the anti-competitive business practices (i.e. selling only through certain suppliers/restricting overseas access) so I'm keen to avoid their products where possible.

The Shermans were a mix of resin and plastic. The plastic models were better cast. The PSC ones were identical in quality than the FoW ones which cost 3x more.

PSC Churchill
These were a big turn-off compared to the previous two models, and took ~25 minutes each - I could assemble a platoon of 5 Zvezda models faster.  There was a LOT of unecessary modelling - such a turret hatches, exhausts etc which should have been cast on in a single piece.    The AVRE square turret was a nightmare with 7 pieces that needed to be joined simultaneously which would be fine if I had octopus appendages.  If I had to do all of them as the AVRE turret I would probably commit suicide with a claw hammer. 

While the assembly job was painful, I did like the fact it came with the cast (rounded) turret and the earlier square one, as well as 6pdr/75mm gun options to allow pretty much any Churchill version to be made.   At $29AUD for 5 compared to $55 from Battlefront, the price was also competitive.

The plastic casting was good and everything fitted together well.  However, they were the worst to assemble. 

Battlefront (FoW) Stug
These came with both StuH and StuG upper chassis and I was rather impressed with them.  They assembled rather easily and came with lots of options.  I got mine in the big Normandy starter box which means they cost under $10ea (even less if you deduct the cost of infantry) but they would cost a steep $15ea if bought individually which would shift them from "recommended" to "no freaking way." 

This was probably the best mix of easy-of-assembly and customization options (lots of baggage/tracks/wheels + gun/hull types).   The best thing was if I do not glue the top hull down, I can swap out the gun/top hull and have them in either early or late war configuration (or with the assault gun).

I also had two resin StuGs from the original FoW starter box (you know,  the one with 3 Shermans + 2 StuGs) which I prettied up with the extra bits from the plastic kit.

Battlefront (FoW) Sherman/Firefly
I assembled four of each.  I had three solid-cast resin ones from the original Battlefront which were a bit uninspiring (poor resin casting, droopy guns) and again, the cost was well under $10ea due to coming in a box; whereas it would be $15 if sold individually.

Again, it had two hulls+turrets (Sherman V and Firefly) but annoyingly, unlike the StuG you couldn't swap them out as there was only one gun mantlet - once you assemble the model you are stuck with it.

I've got an unassembled PSC Sherman for $5 to complete a platoon, but it is in a ridiculous amount of pieces (multi-part tracks are a no-no).  That said, at 1/3rd of the price, it's hard to justify what Battlefront are asking - I'd rather grudgingly take longer on assembly.

TL:DR
Zvezda are very cheap (~$5ea) and super fast to assemble (a few minutes each) and can be snapped together without glue.  Downside: they seem a bit weedy (I'm going to get some PSC PzIVHs to compare to my IVDs so more on this later). Also, no customization options (track links etc). Nonetheless, well recommended.  So freaking easy!

PSC are also cheap ($6ea) and come with more customization options. Downside: They were the worst to assemble (25min each+) with lots of uneccessary bits and some unpleasant tasks (AVRE turret). Recommended - if you are bit more patient.

Battlefront/FoW are easier to assemble than PSC (15mins) and also come with good customization options.   Downside: ridiculously overpriced ($15ea) - 3x more expensive than the PSC which has identical build quality. I did like the StuGs.... but  not recommended unless you have more money than brains.  And like supporting douchebag business practices.  

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Retirement Home for Amputee Miniatures

I found some broken Clix in a box, laying conveniently next to a sprue of Perry medievals.  Voila!

This latex-clad lady had a broken whip arm.  It was replaced with a medieval plated arm, to channel a pulp Witchblade air.  You can imagine her hunting undead or something with her blessed blade.

A missing gun - no problem! I chopped off both arms.  The Perry stuff is amazing - the arms just slotted straight on with no adjustments needed.  I might do something about the kabuki mask  as it doesn't go with the medieval sword. 

My favourite: a missing throwing knife ended up with both arms removed with the Perry medieval arms just dropping neatly on.  I also had to replace the legs as they were snapped off at the ankle.  She could play in pulp games like the others, but could also slot into a conventional fantasy game as well.

This model had snapped ankles; rather than try repairs, I lazily hid them by sticking her legs into a coffin.  I swapped her sword and replaced the pistol with a Sten gun, so she channels a kinda Bloodrayne vampire-fighting-Nazis.

Obviously these models are not fully "tidied up" but I've been having heaps of fun digging through my boxes looking for broken things to make "table worthy."

I also worked on getting Weird War II stuff based up and painted.

Some of the few AE:WW2 that are not weedy and out-of-scale.

Some Soviet Survivors from West Wind's SOTR line.  Remember the broken whip arm from the first picture? Yeah, I thought the commissar might use it to "encourage" his troops.  The whippings will continue until morale improves, comrades!


The British use space marines I mean, power armour to fight the Nazi undead hordes....

Ever since I decided on the "no new minis in a scale until I paint the old ones" and "tabletop standard not masterwork" policies my painting output has been a consistent two dozen or so a week.

I'm deliberately setting aside time to paint, as I want no unpainted minis.  There's no reason to use the "army of silver and undercoat" - we all have some time to paint (I mean, think of the time the average person spends watching TV) we merely choose to do other things. 

Sunday, 15 January 2017

Diary of an Average Painter #5: Clearing the Backlog

The "heroic" 28-32mms are almost done; I've got a few more Warmachine and Confrontation models to go but most are repaints or touch ups.  Here's the last day's accomplishments:

These guys are Circle of Orboros.  Again, I went for quick-and-easy.  They are a little less bright than my usual (I'm going for brighter, more aggressive colours in my "looks good at 4ft" style). As usual I used few colours and even fewer "layers"; a drybrush of their cloaks and a overall brown wash was as complex as it got. Not for me layering a shoulder strap in 5 shades of blue...

Some Confrontation minis who are going to be wizards/monks alongside my more mundane Perry medieval plastics.  Again, they look rather dodgy if you look up close (click on pics to enlarge images) but the aggressive highlighting on the cloaks looks good at 3-4 feet away.

Some Mantic ghouls flank a cyborg gorilla I found when rummaging through a spare parts box.  I'm not sure of its origin - the unlamented AE:WW2 perhaps? 

Group shot.  I'm alternating between groups of 10 or so rather uniform models (aka ghouls) so I  feel like I am progressing, and more characterful models - for a bit of fun to break up the repetition.

By accepting lower standards and going for a "just get them on the table" approach I am enjoying painting again and whittling away at my lead mountain.

I'm also putting some models aside for my daughter to learn to paint, as well as boxing up models I am unlikely ever to paint.  I have quite a lot of Confrontation Alahan, Daikinee and Dirz stuff that is a little to fine to scale with my random Warmachine models which I might perhaps trade or sell.

These Mantic ghouls have served me well in the past - they make good antagonists in settings from fantasy, to steampunk, to modern pulp/superhero settings.  I recommend them, in contrast to the rather weedy and oddly scaled skeletons from the same supplier.  I'll have to try their zombies sometime and see how they match up.

For some reason I really enjoy painting Warmachine stuff, though I dislike the game itself.  I think there is something that appeals to me about their chunky, exaggerated sculpts - they have sort of captured the sense of fun I remember from the early years of Warhammer/40K.  Steampunk robots, gun mages, high-tech elves, undead pirates lead by undead dragons...


My wife likes the Circle faction. I'm going to supplement these models with some from the Confrontation's celt-like faction (forgot their name, but they have some awesome models - pity I'm so crap at painting skin) as well as using some of my many Wulfen as not-warpwolves.

The mention of two useful boxes (Mantic ghouls, Perry medievals) leads me to my question of the day:

If you were to recommend a box/range of minis to someone, what would it be, and why?

I haven't thought too deeply about it, but off the top of my head, some picks would be:

Perry Medievals (plastic mercenary/WoTR boxes) 
Because they are great sculpts, and extremely useful for kit-bashing any fantasy/medieval stuff. 

Mantic Ghouls
Useful, cheap bad guys for all eras.

Empress Moderns
Well sculpted. At $3 a pop I felt they were better than the Infinity Ariadneans which sell for $10 each...

Quar
Because they are quirky and awesome. In fact, anything by Zombiesmith falls into this category.  Viking teddies anyone?

GZG UNSC
My favourite 15mm infantry (though Khurasan is the best overall manufacturer)

West Wind Werewolves
Again, cheapish, solid sculpts and useful for a wide range of settings.

All of my picks are aimed at the fairly-cheap-but-useful/good category. Whilst I like, say, Infinity they are expensive and a mongrel to paint; at the other end of the spectrum Wargames Factory zombies are a cheap source of body parts for projects but are rather awkward, repetitive sculpts.

I'm going to toss in a booby prize - the most odd sculpts in my collection are the militia/SWAT guys from Urban War whose proportions make me grind my teeth, followed by the Wargames Factory vikings with their breakable tiny weapons and ill-connecting limbs.

Sunday, 8 January 2017

Diary of an Average Painter #4: A lick (wash?) and a promise

I'm going to do an article on "kids toys as wargame minis" but this post will highlight one quick method of turning plastic-y junk into tabletop minis - the good old wash.  This is simply using very watery dark paint (i.e. 50/50 water and black/brown paint) or premade bottles such as GW's Nuln Oil.
It is brushed over the toy, and pools into the cracks, giving more "depth" to the model and dulling any plastic sheen.

Exhibit A: A $10 plastic model of the Milennium Falcon, from a local junk shop
You can see the wash on the bottom left corner

The other side is washed. (I left the radar unwashed for contrast but I forgot to tell my photographer/wife about it) 
So -3 minutes later with black wash casually slopped all over it - look how much more realistic is looks.  It is now similar to hobby-grade kits available for $50+....    
(Interestingly, it is very similar to the prepainted FFG model for their X-Wing game that costs $52 - guess those flight stands and unit cards must cost $42 to make...)

As you can see by the models nearby, I planned to use it as a 15mm dropship or a mothership for space fighters... but it's too iconic - everyone walks past and says "wow, Milennium Falcon!" grrr

Another source of cheap models are junky collectibles such as the Heroclix, Horroclix, and Mage Knight games - or any prepainted plastic toy in the right scale. They usually have hideous factory paint jobs and there are some hideously deformed sculpts... ...but there are decent ones among them. The trick is looking past the paint and seeing the model.

These Mage Knight princesses were both broken - the yellow paint was unsuited to washing so I redid it in blue. It is a bit of a dodgy sculpt. The blue princess shows the dangers of too much wash - a bit of a dirty urchin look. It's easy enough to fix with flesh paint - but I'm lazy.

The one on the far left shows the bendy plastic they are made from; the others are more promising; most simply got a brown wash and some highlights (i.e. grey on the black cloak, light metallic edge on the sword). A wash also does wonders for making hair look less "flat."

These Heroclix are lesser-known superheroes so I don't get people saying "ah - Avengers!" in my Weird War II game. (the brown based models are West Wind SOTR minis)

...more, this time with West Wind Germans.  Bonus points for identifying all the models!

These models show a few simple ways to make them look less plastic-y:
As well as a wash, they often get a highlight in a lighter shade - i.e. brighter red on cloak creases of Magdalena(l), and butt cheeks of Witchblade(r) - where the sunlight naturally catches the mini.  The Nazi in the middle had his cloak edged in grey so he didn't look like a shiny blob of black. 
To finish, I streaked the hair of Witchblade to give it depth, and dulled the bronze kneeplates of Magdalena with a wash.

I see there is some sort of prepainted D&D game which might be fruitful for cheap models, but with postage from US skyrocketing my sources of cheap clix have dried up - the postage costs many times more than the models.

These Confrontation minis are going to be "Lucky 13th" gunmages for Warmachine. They are 100x nicer than the official sculpts (if you've seen the bland little out-of-scale pygmies in a game, you'd know what I'm talking about).

The "chainmail bikini" trope is ingrained; I originally gave her brown leather pants but it looked odd... 
These are Dragyri from Dark Age. Since the game was "unsupported" at the time I think I picked up the lot for $30 from an online sale - I got a complete warband for the price of a single Warmachine jack.  They will be a faction for my homebrew Middleheim rules.

The centrepiece models. I find it interesting that a race of insectile flea-like beings would have females with mammaries...  Us wargamers must be a sad bunch...

Saturday, 7 January 2017

Pay-2-Win Rant

This is a PC gaming topic which interests me at the moment.
What is pay-to-win?  The source of all wisdom, Wikipedia, says:

In some multiplayer free-to-play games, players who are willing to pay for special items or downloadable content may be able to gain a significant advantage over those playing for free. Critics of such games call them "pay-to-win" (p2w) games.   Wikipedia

Let's tidy up that defintion as "paying real money for a significant gameplay advantage over non-paying players."  So it's not really pay-to-win, but pay-to-gain-advantage.

I remember one player with a "overpowered" mecha saying "it's not pay-to-win; I lose games in this all the time"  and "other people score higher than me."  Facepalm! It's like saying "I'm racing against Mazda 6s in my Lamborghini but the Mazda 6s win sometimes so it's not like I'm buying an advantage"

Pay to win can be rather obvious. If everyone in a shooter has a gun that fires 50-damage bullets at 500 rpm with a 20-round clip; but paying players could access a more accurate gun that fired 75-damage bullets at 800 rpm with a 50-round clip... ...it's pretty easy to see paying players are gaining a significant in-game advantage.

But sometimes it's harder to spot - in the same Wikipedia free-to-play article  that defined "pay to win" it went on to cite WoT as a good example of "non-pay-to-win."

Amongst its "good, anti-p2w practices"....

....titles such as World of Tanks have explicitly committed to not giving paying players any advantages over their non-paying peers, while allowing the users buying the "gold" (premium) ammo and expendables without paying the real money. However, features helping to grind easier, such as purchasing a 100% training level or converting experience to free experience, remain available for the paying customers only.[33][34]

Well boys, where shall we start?

Premium (gold) ammo has much better chance of penetrating hits. Firing this "gold" ammo will boost your damage per game a lot (20% or more) - heck, some enemies are functionally immune to standard ammo.  Non-paying players can access it too, for in-game credits - so not "pay to win" right?  

....Buuut.... players with a paid premium account earn double the in-game credits, allowing them to fire twice as many premium rounds as a non-paying player, who would quickly run out of credits if they used similar amounts. Even worse - a player paying directly with cash can fire as many "premium rounds" as they are willing to pay cash for. 
 Premium ammo: Pay to gain a significant advantage? Check.

Now, these features that make the grind easier - XP boosts and the like. That's not paying to win, surely? 
A bit more of a grey area, but let's look at it more closely:
 Well, a 100% crew fires ~25% faster and more accurately, drives and turns faster, and spots enemies from further away.  Quite a big deal. But both players can access a 100% crew. Not pay to win, right? 

But....   ....A paying player can instantly access it with cash. A non-paying player may have to to earn up to 95,000XP (at ~1000XP/game) = 95 games (8 hours of game time) where he has an inferior crew.
Crew-for-Cash: Pay to gain a significant advantage? Check.

The "convert free XP" is also a bit vague.  In practice, this "free XP" allows you to instantly upgrade your "stock" tank - from say a 76mm gun to a 90mm gun - or even a 105mm, or from a 450hp to say a 650hp engine.   As you could guess, these are absolutely massive advantages. But again, both players can unlock the upgraded weapons.  Not pay to win? Sure, the non-paying player can access upgrades, but may be stuck playing with the stock guns for perhaps 30-50 games.  In a 1v1 duel, the stock tank may not even be able to penetrate the upgraded one, which can easily penetrate it in return.
Convert Free XP/Instant Upgrades: Pay to gain a significant advantage? Check.


I object, your Honour!
Wait a minute, for the last two examples, the paying player only gets an advantage for a set time period. 
 

That's not pay-to-win, that's "pay-to-avoid-grind" or "pay to not wait!"
You want it for free? Just play more!

You're ignoring the fact both players can access the same stuff - it just takes longer for the non-paying player. It's not exclusive to the paying player.**

(**Actually the wiki  article did not mention premium tanks, which ARE exclusive to paying players, and many are very overpowered due to the dev's unwillingness to ever nerf them - and thus be liable to offer refunds)

However, this argument ignores the fact that for that set time (anywhere from say 20-90 games - up to 8 hours) the paying player has a a significant advantage.  There is a paywall. It may be "temporary" (although several hours of gaming time is, for me at least, not "temporary") but have the players paid to gain significant advantage? Yes they have.  It's pay to win.

Using the pay-to-not-wait logic: If I played a club football match and paid the referee to make my opponents play in stilettos and ballroom gowns until they scored 3 goals....   ...it's fair, right?  I mean, they only had a short term disadvantage and they can "grind" the right to wear proper kit if they score goals... the lazy scrubs

(In games like Mechwarrior:Online, new mechs may be "locked" and not be available to non-paying players for up to 6 months... by which time they are often nerfed...   and players claim that is merely "pay to not wait" and not "pay for advantage.")

So what's not pay-to-win? 

Well, anything that does not offer a gameplay advantage either directly or indirectly, over a short term or a long term.
In most cases, things that do not effect gameplay.   Like cosmetic items such as fancy camo for your tank, or unit markings and insignia, or a fancy hat (Team Fortress 2).
 
So even premium accounts and XP boosts are pay-to-win?  
Well, if you can use the benefits of them against other players in PvP, then yes, they are.  In WoT there is no "solo" or singleplayer mode which makes it even more problematic.

In a non-PvP/non-competitive game where there is no really way to "win" or disadvantage other players, then sure.
For example in Warframe (a 4-player co-op) everyone gets the same loot; so a player buying better gear or getting higher tier gear faster does not inherently disadvantage other players.  A powerful player may help the others defeat higher level bosses than they otherwise might. 

So you're saying pretty much the only non pay-to-win things players can buy are cosmetics?
Pretty much, yes.


Hey, what's this PC content? This is supposed to be a wargaming blog!