Many of us see the Formations currently being released as creating a huge shift in the balance of power between codexes and forces in the game we love, the viability of the armies we’ve painted and built, and changes in how the tournaments and events we enjoy will be run.
Gamesworkshop sees this as a fun December Advent Calendar likely to put more of their products in Christmas Stockings worldwide.
That statement should be hyperbole or at least exaggeration, but appears to be literally true. This article is an attempt to take a mature look at where we are, where we’re going and how to reconcile the gap between that and where the players who enjoy tournaments as well as casual games would like it to be.
Rules that are good enough for tournament players are great for casual players.
I would hope most readers agree with that statement. Whether a game is designed for tournaments or casual play, a tightly written, easily comprehensible and reasonably balanced ruleset is to the advantage of any type of player at any level of experience.
The issue now is that 40K has changed and is continuing to change. It’s not just the speed at which codexes are now being released and the way that the new are sweeping away the old, but now the Codex:Inquisition finding a way around the ally chart and Dataslates effectively ignoring the ally allowances and the Force Organisation Chart.
An army can now be made with no troops at all (not just no scoring units, genuinely no troops), or 7 HQs at 1,500 points, or 12 Flyers from a single FOC [edit: Someone sent me a preview of the new Adeptus Astartes Storm Wing while I was writing this, which will move that up to 15 Flyers in a few days], or 5 (perhaps 6) Riptides, or all sorts of other crazy concoctions. Your opinion on whether this is good or bad is likely to depend on what you want from the game, and where one man sees the destruction of FOC another may see the freedom to imagine a new army.
However I think a key factor is that many of these new releases only appear to be adding new rules; they are also removing existing rules that govern the organisation of forces, the use of allies, the balance of scoring to heavy units, the restriction of psykic powers and buffs to certain armies, etc.
The changes are chaotic, will inevitably lead to new powerful combinations the authors didn’t forsee or have time to playtest for, and a lot of people have leapt to the conclusion that 40K is becoming less viable as a serious tournament game.
And they’re probably right. However, all is not lost.
What follows is a (genuine!) attempt to guide you through the stages of Grief over the comparative predictability and sanity of the game you thought you knew being replaced by anything-goes smorgasbord of units and rules.
“The big tournaments in my region have banned all fortifications and put a restriction on Flyers and allies, to make it more balanced. Restrictions change constantly, but something tells me Fortifications will never be freely allowed in many places.” – Anonymous poster on Faeit212
The rules have changed, and unlike Imperial Armour, Planetstrike, Cities of Death etc there is absolutely no distinction between these new releases, alliances, supplements and dataslates and the rest of standard 40K. There is no ‘see if your opponent is willing to use them’ or ‘this is an alternate way to play games of 40k’ in any of these releases.
Love them or hate them, they are part of the game, here to stay and only going to increase in number. They aren’t going away, and while TOs are always entirely free to set any rules they want, ignoring and avoiding them won’t make them go away.
“”Standard 40K” is officially dead for tournaments. The FOC needs no longer apply… The GW cash grab has gone too far. I am now officially a hobbyist not a competitor.” – Anonymous poster on 3PlusPlus
I saw a rebuttal of people’s anger about these new rules posted on a forum which basically said they couldn’t understand why people complained – after all players have no right to complain when Blizzard or EA release a new patch which dramatically changes the balance of a game.
I realised how easy that was to answer when looking in my cupboard for a model and accidentally opening my Tank box – full of fairly expensive, painstakingly painted models that have hardly seen the light of day for over a year. You see, unlikely video games, when balance is dramatically changed we don’t all get access to all the new toys immediately. We spend months saving, shopping, buying, building, converting and painting the models.
I am not angry not to be able to use these models – I still could if I was willing to accept their dramatically reduced utility – but I do understand why people might be angry about changes that impact on their own expensive army.
For example, White Scars shot up in power at the C:SM book launched, then dropped dramatically simply due to the release of C:I. To phrase that differently, most shooty-mech armies went from barely able to deal with White Scars to finding them merely a hard matchup now they can have 24” of space in which to deal with them. And I know at least one person who bought and built and entire White Scars army in the gap between those two dates.
There is a strong case to be made that these dataslates are specifically designed to help shift stock, but with a constant state of unit and codex flux this could actually backfire. Will your new army still be good when you finish buying and painting it?
“These DataSlates are clearly GW testing the water with a microtransaction sales model. If they sell well, we’ll see lots more of them and if they don’t sell well we won’t. Buy the models but please PLEASE don’t buy the Dataslates.” – Anonymous poster on 3PlusPlus
“We’ll allow standard fortifications and the =I= dex, but likely not the new dataslates and superheavies”
For games at home, allow which ever sections, codexes and parts of the rules you like. For tournaments, TOs can allow whatever they want. However, as mentioned above if these things are in the rules they’re in the rules, and if you want your event to be RAW Pure 40K, well… there’s no bargain to be made.
Anything else is a home-brew version, where every TO thinks they have the magic formula that will fix the game. I have always preferred to avoid made up rules, changes, alterations, artificial comp and the extra layers TO’s can sometimes add to try ‘balance’ the game, and hope they won’t be needed to make tournaments viable. That might rely on seeing the full impact of the super-heavy rules implementation.
Dear GW, if you promise not to let super heavies stuff up the game, I’ll try to learn to love and accept the dataslates – whoops, now I am bargaining too.
“Personally, I am putting up for sale a large part of my collection. I am plain ol’ not interested in playing Apocalypse 40k. This game has not been fun from neither a competitive nor a casual angle for quite some” – Anon on Faeit212
“I used to be pretty competitive with 40k. Looking forward to tournaments, list building, etc etc. But now, what’s the point? It might as well be “take whatever you want, the rules don’t really matter” – Anonymous poster on 3plusplus
These aren’t isolated comments, so I assume it’s not that rare a sentiment.
“With these formations. They still have to fit in the points requirement yeah?” Anonymous poster on Westgamer.com
What does that comment have to do with Acceptance? Nothing, except that it is the comment that spurred my own process of accepting these changes.
You see, and remember I’m saying this as someone who plays enjoys tournament-style points-match book-scenarios to any other type of 40k, Gamesworkshop never intended 40K to be a competitive tournament game.
If you want a game built from the ground up for tournaments, try X-Wing (that’s not just an idle suggestion, I myself bought X-Wing a couple of weeks ago – more on that next week). 40K was designed to be a fun, narrative, beer-n-pretzels evening war game featuring striking models and distinctive characters.
In my opinion in 5th Edition, the game almost stumbled in to being the most competitive and streamlined that it has ever been. It had its problems (overly resilient vehicles, codex balance issues etc), but was a viable tournament-game offering a competitive experience.
This was never really the case in 6th Edition. Fortification rules are patchy, flyers and access to flyers have never been remotely balanced, and while in many ways it has been more fun the game has also had more of a rock-paper-scissors feel to it than 5th.
And now supplements, codexes allying with variations of themselves and rapidly released dataslates and formations?
However, “With these formations. They still have to fit in the points requirement yeah?”.
Yes. Whatever the 1,850 points of toys your opponent puts down are, you get to put down 1,850 of your own. Whatever they have access to, you have access to (unless you play Nids, in which case please select Anger or Depression from the list above). For every point they spend on insane combinations, you get a point to spend to (and might even be tempted to put it into scoring units).
In my opinion, players can play this game any way they want. I personally see no reason to show more allegiance to the confines of a codex than GW themselves do; if they want to break down the barriers in their own ruleset and treat this more as a sandbox game where players get X points to spend on virtually anything they want, then that’s what I’ll do. I’ll spend the points on whatever army I want, and while I lament games will very rarely be the instantly recognisable and iconic “Chaos Marines vs Eldar” or “Imperial Guard vs Tyrannids” of the past, I’m sure we’re all capable of imagining our own background, stories and force justifications.
In the final analysis, the hardest cap on army building remains, and that is the points that can be spent, and despite all the access to expensive new toys from other books we still play a game where only scoring units score.
Winning games remains as simple as it always was:
Strip away all the rules and codexes and armylists and you will realise that all 40K is about is 3 things:
- Having more Scoring units in certain locations at the end of the game than your opponent does
- Removing more of your opponent’s entire individual units from the board than she does of yours
- A combination of both
Formations don’t change that.
Allies, exceptions to the ally chart, special codexes and new supplements don’t change that.
Everything else, all the armour, characters, ballistic skill, invulnerable, special rules, hull points, ‘metagame’, weapons, toughness, fluff, background, chainswords and forging narratives is the great big spectacle that distracts from how simple this game is.
For more on that subject see Winning at 40K – What if it’s just not that complicated?
If you’ve enjoyed the challenge of accomplishing those goals in the past, you’ll enjoy it in the future. 40K remains a decent game, because and despite of GW.
That’s not happiness, but that’s acceptance.