Okay, the Space Marine formation has come out and isn’t going to cause as many OMGs as the Tau one (Stormraven gets Strafing run the oft forgotten rule which makes them +1BS against ground targets; Stormtalons can both escort the Stormraven) but I think what is being filtered down through a lot of the white noise in regards to the Formations is the complete disregard for the FoC these bring to the game.
Now when Allies were rumoured to commence with 6th edition I was pretty vocal against them and I’ll happily admit to being wrong in that department as Allies have assisted to build as close to balanced lists as possible, provided more army diversity and for the most part, the rules were done solidly for that.
Obviously some armies have it much better than others (Tau is BBros with two of the newest and better books, AoC with nearly everyone else whilst Tyranids are…all alone) and that’s an issue not only in just balance of the army table but balance in terms of what each option gives you currently (i.e. are you BBros with only bad armies?). Yes Allies expanded the FoC but you weren’t really breaking it as you were still constricted for both the parent and primary army. Supplements then disabused this as you could essentially ally with yourself; now you are expanding upon those basic constraints the game initially started with.
Again, this hasn’t really seen any game breaking come in; needing two HQs for an extra Elite, Heavy or Fast slot hasn’t reared its head as ripping the game apart (there are certain advantages to doing it yes but more often than not we are seeing Codex + Supplement being used to access something in particular such as ECA or Moloch from Farsight or different Chapter Tactics from Space Marines).
What formations are coming in doing however is allowing you to take an army/ally completely out of context of the FoC. Now this isn’t new – transports have been doing this forever and recent additions like extra HQ choices are common enough throughout armies (Command Squads, Warlocks, Royal Courts, Tyrant Guard, etc.) that this is not new however; what these choices essentially are (FA, Elite, HSupport choices) is.
Now again, this probably is unlikely to break the game at the points level we normally work at (1500-2000). Consider the Tau one is minimum 570 points and the Space Marine one is 450 (with a lot weaker bonus). These aren’t cheap and if you’re thinking of taking army + ally + formation, you’ve not got a lot of options to play with in the other choices. Consider as well these formations have no capacity to score (and I feel the insinuation is they don’t score in Big Guns and Scouring either as they aren’t Elite, FA, HSupport choices) and is the army actually going to be good? I’d imagine generally not to begin with but I’m sure at some point someone will think of something that isn’t a gimmick, works closely as a balanced list and has multiple books being brought in. That’s not a bad thing though it certainly is silly.
What I feel the bigger issue here is not what has been done but how it has been done. Formations are cool – I love the concept but the engagement in the current game I think is faulty. Again, it’s not likely to cause a huge riff in terms of gaming capacity to play a fair game but it’s assisting to breakdown one of the most fundamental parts of the game. Now if they had been in place of your ally, perfect. You have the option to build a flexible ally but you need an HQ and Troop or you can get a set ally through a formation which has a bonus. There’s give and take for both and you’re not breaking the FoC wide open.
The other issue is of course the balance and power of these formations. The Tau one is already better than the Space Marine one; Tank Hunters plus PE: SM? Um…ya, thanks. Strafing Run, pinning and making a bad rule worse? I’m not going to complain but can’t I have something cooler? The Tau one is something people will aim to work into their army whilst the Space Marine one is only if you’re already taking those units and want to give up the capacity to potentially score in those specific missions for the +1BS bonus on the Stromraven at ground targets but well ya, I don’t see that happening too often for a non-primary SM army. If these formations become so divergent or so good that they are like auto-includes or some clearly outweigh others in use, the breaking of the FoC mechanic will be further broken down – though again this doesn’t mean the game is being broken but certainly might become more homogenous.
Anyway, time will tell how these are released in terms of their ability to plug and go with lists and if we actually see people bringing four or five or six books to a tournament game but we do know Games Workshop has little care for this in the grand scheme of things so is it honestly a surprise? We should at least be thankful they brought back price breaks on packaged deals…
Go forth and whine!