EDIT: Yes, I am reading all the comments. No, I do not have the time to respond to even 1/4 of you, and will generally try to stay out of it. I appreciate all your thoughts and ideas.
This is not going to be a short post. I will do my very best to explain what Feast of Blades as a tournament is doing, and to give you some insight into the thoughts going around at the high-level organizational level. For those of you who are unaware, I am the head 40k Tournament Organizer for Feast of Blades, an annual major 40k event.
With the recent release of Stronghold Assault and Escalation, 40k is, to put it bluntly, no longer suitable as a tournament game. The inclusion of Strength D into the game, following months and months of “power combo” lists taking top tables at tournaments has made it more than evident that this game as written simply isn’t designed for or appropriate for ANY sort of high-level competitive play.
Some people think that’s a good thing, or may simply say “no duh”. Believe me, none of us are blind to this fact, it’s something we’ve all been aware of for the few decades 40k has existed. But up until this point, we’ve still pushed for competitive play and organized tournaments because they’re fun. It’s great to be able to go to a tournament for a weekend, drink beers and play games against strangers. It’s awesome to see the variety of lists, the master-level paintjobs, and the crazy conversions that people come up with. And there’s nothing in the hobby quite like seeing one of those big-event Apocalypse tables, with more Baneblades, Titans, and Thunderhawks than you’ve ever seen, flying around and fighting on the same board.
There’s no doubt that 5th edition was the closest this game has ever been to a “tournament” rule set, but 6th has turned things the other way around. This isn’t due to 6th being an innately terrible rule set, (yes, it definitely has problems, but it’s not awful) but rather due to the rapid-fire codex release scheduled creating very powerful builds and combos.
Recently, we’ve been hearing from several very reliable sources that GW has stopped their playtesting, or has at least reduced it to a very minimal amount. This jives with the releases and units we’ve been seeing show up all across the country. You’ll find mass Wraithknights, quad-Riptide, Necron Airforce, and Screamerstar as common contenders in many major (and not so major) tournaments across the country.
Can these lists be beaten? Yes. Definitely. We see top players beat them all the time. But are they fair? Do they create a fun tournament environment? To address that I’m going to take a very long quote from an article by Sirlin, a man who has designed several of his own games and rebalanced several more. I believe it cuts to the heart of the issue:
“…While I think the earlier arguments that good balance leads to problems in Chess and Starcraft make no sense at all, the argument about the metagame is much more subtle. I believed this same argument for a long time, but I don’t any more. The argument goes like this: it’s ok for a character to be too powerful because then players will try to find ways to beat that character with otherwise weaker characters who happen to be good against that particular strong character. Extra Credits further says that you explore more strategy in a game with this property than with a game with actually fair characters because with fair characters you’d be locked into doing the same kind of thing and not looking for counter-characters.”You could make that same argument about decks in Magic: the Gathering. I think this is an illusion, and I was caught in it for years because it’s kind of “conventional wisdom” and never even really questioned or talked about. I only really started to realize why this doesn’t add up when I was working on my own customizable card game. A “rich metagame” means there are lots of decks that counter other decks, and you get to sit around thinking about which deck will be common at a tournament and which you should choose in response. For example, if you discovered an unusual deck that could win 9-1 against the most of the field and lose 1-9 against part of the field, that could be a very, very strong deck. This is metagaming at its finest, yet it also leads to 100% of your games having terrible gameplay. (emphasis mine -Biscuit)
“And there’s the rub. The kind of metagame under discussion is one where global imbalance is assumed to be “good.” The assumption is that sitting down to play another player and having a advantage or disadvantage before the game even starts is a great thing. Well, it kind of sucks actually, and violates the concepts of basic fairness. You could define “the game” to be the larger thing that involves “picking a deck/character + playing it” but that’s hardly an answer. It’s just admitting that the part where you actually play is kind of sucky and unfair.
“I’ll tell you the key moment of discovery I had about this issue. I had several decks mocked up for my CCG. You would expect a variety of decks to happen to have several really unfair matchups, and for that to cause a metagame to form. The thing is, I didn’t design these decks to win a tournament, I designed them to test out how the game plays, so I used a few rules of thumb in deckbuilding that actually prevented any really unfair matches like 8-2 from happening. I figured that later when we thought about how players would really build their decks (not according to my personal rules), we’d have to figure out how to deal with those inevitable 8-2 matchups. The CCG community often assumes they are great (“it’s the metagame!”) but I think the emphasis should be on the part where you actually playing the game and making decisions. Deckbuilding is great, but not if it wrecks the fairness of individual games you will actually have to play.
“Anyway, allowing players complete freedom in deckbuilding in my game absolutely would lead to 8-2 matchups (like in any customizable card game) AND it would actually lead to worse strategy than my playtest decks! When metagaming and trying to win, you really want to take out all the “strategy” you can, and make sure you just stomp as many opposing decks as possible, even if you have pretty bad matches in there somewhere.
“You probably already see the revelation. Why not codify the rules of thumb of deckbuilding I was using into real rules of the game? Put limits on deckbuilding in such a way that still allow it, but that prevent the majority of unfair matches from happening. This seemed so obvious in hindsight.
“Now, unrelated to that, I also went to great lengths to give the player more strategic choices during a game than is usual in the genre. Tricky to do without being too complicated, but that’s another story. The bottom line is so far this game is shaping up to be a game with more strategic choices during gameplay than other similar games I’ve played AND with fewer unfair matchups. This is possible by REDUCING the importance of the metagame. It’s just more fun to have the GAME, the part where you actually sit down and play give you a) a lot of strategic options and b) as fair a match as we can give you.
“We shouldn’t dwell on this particular in-development card game though. It’s a general principle that you get more strategic depth during a game session by, well, focusing on making that as good as possible. As good as possible means putting more strategic decisions in and taking unfairness out. That’s the opposite of the intentional imbalance glorified in the Extra Credits video. It’s the opposite of making the decisions made before the game even starts become more important (necessarily making in-game decisions that much less important.)
“Making a bunch of unfair matches intentionally is just a poor man’s solution to the problem of strategic variety. In the end, that poor man’s solution constrains your strategic choices anyway, rather than opens them up. You’re constrained to playing the overpowered characters or the counters, rather than having free choice of all characters. Having a set of characters who ALL have fair matches and who ALL have a lot of strategy options makes you wonder what the point of intentionally having unfair matchups ever was in the first place.”
Obviously, there’s no way for us to make 40k into a “perfectly balanced” game without rewriting it from the ground up- no amount of banning or small rewrite is going to significantly alter the game to the point where listbuilding isn’t a major part of the game that provides a major advantage to those who do it well. To be honest, I’m not even sure such a game would be fun- to make it work, much of the character of 40k would be stripped away in the process. And even if we did, no game is perfect. (I suppose it’s another Sirlin reference, but the discussion of Chess’ evolution and current state is what I’m more interested in with that article.)
Right now top level tournament lists are incredibly polarizing, much more than they have been in a long time, and playing these lists simply isn’t any fun. No one is having a great time playing against Screamerstar, even most of the Screamerstar players I talk to aren’t having a great time playing it. The mere existence of 3+ Heldrake builds has an extreme effect on the meta, annihilating hundreds of possible builds through it’s ability to simply obliterate them. (So why even bring them?) I could go on, but I think you all know what I’m talking about.
It’s past time for tournament organizers to step up and start taking some stewardship of the game. The top lists in 40k are, as a rule, simply no fun to play or play against, and limit much of the field by being so overwhelmingly powerful against so many reasonable builds. Really, the fact of the matter is that games in 6th edition between what we would consider mid-tier lists are a heck of a lot of fun, and what most players are requesting to play.
Feast of Blades is not the only tournament who is thinking this way. I would be extremely surprised if there is a major tournament from this point forward that does not use some form of restrictions and bannings in order to create a better game. GW has made it extremely clear that they do not care to balance the game for tournament level play, or create a fun top-tier metagame, so that architecture falls to us.
We are interested in running a tournament who’s results fall more to player tabletop skill than listbuilding skill. We are interested in running an event where many builds are possible, not just a few power-and-counter builds. To that end, Feast of Blades will be enacting limits and bans.
The exact nature of these restrictions are already well into discussion and development, and will be available in their discrete form VERY soon. We know what the problem builds and combos are, now we are giving them the axe. Below, I will preview some of our potential changes:
1.) The Grimoire of True Names from Codex: Daemons is banned
As of right now, this is the only true banning. We feel there is too much potential for abuse, and disagree with the effect it has on the army and the game.
2.) A few units will receive 0-1 status
For those of you who weren’t around when 0-1 was a thing in codecies, means that a maximum of 1 of that unit may be taken per army. These are all units whose mass inclusion limits the potential lists in the game, and will thus be restricted. (As none of them are a problem on their own.) Rest assured that this will be a very short list, we are not interested in creating very restricted armies.
3.) Supplemental Codecies will no longer be able to ally to their base codex
There will be no more self-allying, no more cherry picking the best parts of a supplement while paying none of the costs, and no more force-org bloat from doing so.
4.) Dataslates will take an ally slot
Taking units from many, many different books and ignoring the force organization chart is too much. This change will make dataslates an interesting addition to the game, without allowing for truly bizzare armies.
5.) The number of psychic mastery levels in an army will be limited
This change will eliminate a great many power combos from the game, and will stop a player from making a lot of lucky rolls on the psychic power tables to effectively win the game before it begins.
6.) Strength D is out, Lords of Battle are in
We feel the the Lords of Battle are not overpowered on their own, the fact that they give the opponent some advantages (bonus to seize, and especially victory points) balances out their fearsome firepower and powerful endurance. Strength D, however, is too powerful. This is well-known by every apoc player (and I am one of them), and has been the case for the past two editions. (Yes, it was even overpowered back in 5th, and it was much worse then.) There is some debate still going on, but it looks like S:D will become S:10, ordinance, ignores cover. That still makes it very powerful, but more in line with the price paid for the superheavy as well as it’s other weapon options. In addition, superheavies will have to start on the table.
7.) Super-forts are gone, or at least downsized
No AV15, it will be AV14 instead. Every individual fortification from Stronghold Assault is allowed, but the “network” choices are simply too big and unwieldy to allow for tournament play. (As a consolation, they’re pretty terrible, so I think it’s OK.)
8.) Dedicated transport flyers will be limited
Flyers are not the be-all end-all of this edition, but all-flyer and mostly-flyer armies change the meta in uncomfortable ways and are notoriously unfun to play against.
For the vast majority of players, this list of changes will have little, and frequently no effect on their army build. Many of the games power builds, however, will become quite different.
We are aware that limitations such as these also create “new” power lists- after all, what was once second-tier must now be first. Perhaps. In the new environment there will certainly be builds better than others, and some that are extremely powerful. We expect that, but we also expect there to be a much greater variety of competitive options and lists vying for those spots. We also expect the game to be much more fun.
This is obviously a living document, and will be updated as time goes on. Not necessarily when a codex is released, but when we have had time to evaluate whether a certain unit, combination, item, etc. is actually very limiting to the field or not.
Our goal is to limit the game at the top end in ways that will be very small to most players in order to create a more balanced and fun tournament scene. We do not want to rewrite unit rules or entries or do things like adjust point costs, nor do we want to create massive documents that preside over army composition and limit force creation in detailed ways. We believe simple changes are for the best.
Obviously there are some who will cry foul at our attempt, or disagree with some of the things we have done. That’s fine. They can always choose to play in different events, or create their own! But I think it is worth noting that Feast is simply the first of many events that will be instituting policies like these in one form or another, so you should be prepared. It’s worth remembering that the 2013 Feast event was one of the the most by-the-book events ever run- it even used straight book missions with no modifications. If we’re the first to do this, we certainly won’t be the last.
GW is no longer creating a fun tournament environment, so it falls to us. In the same way that casual gamers are adults who can agree on how they would like to play, the tournament scene will adjust itself so that it creates fun, memorable, and challenging games of 40k.
Anything else would be a failure on our parts.