Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Death by a thousand points...

I've actually been playing some games of 40k in the last couple of weeks.  And, strangely enough, I've determined something.

Bigger games suck now!

Yep, I said it.  I have begun to like smaller games.  Why?  What do I mean?  Well, let me explain.

First off, the game of 40k is no longer balanced.  There is an absolute heirarchy to armies in terms of power.  The core rules are pretty solid (minus my suggestions and many more), but the codices have definitely outgrown any hope of fair battles with armies.  For example, Eldar cannot compete with Necrons or Grey Knights at 2000 points, unless the Eldar army is specifically designed to win (Seer Coucils and War Walker spam, anyone?) and the GK player is an idiot.  Necrons can kill an entire horde of Orks in one turn with a cheap little skimmer and the Orks can do nothing about it.  IG have one actual good list-build option (parking lot!!!), otherwise it's fodder for anyone that wants to test their killing ability. 
Main point here is that the larger the game, the more these unbalanced options come to maximum power.  Does this mean small games eliminate this?  Gosh no, but it definitely mitigates it.  I dare someone to take three squads of thunderhammer/storm shield Terminators at that points value and see how quickly 'death star' tactics fail. 

Secondly, the larger games used to be easier to play for 'newbies' when everything had the same stats in a given army (3rd and 4th editions, remember?).  Now, with 5th edition, GW seems to be returning to the days of 2nd edition when a veteran had a higher statline than a troop, a character higher than a veteran, and a captain higher still.  It used to be simpler for newbs to be able to memorize their dice-rolls and get comfortable with the system because their leader was the only divergence from the VAST majority of their army.  Now, trying to teach the game or even play it without the veteran gamer's 'computer brain' (of which I'm lucky enough to have, even if it was forced for years) can get rather confusing.  And that confusion can be demoralizing, especially to the poor newb.  This isn't as big a deal to the hardenend vets of us out there, unless we're trying to get our friends into it. 
Do smaller games eliminate this?  Hell yes!  If one only has four squads to deal with, then you'll only have two stat-lines to memorize!!!

Finally, and this is the biggest deal, big games take too long.  I used to be able to go to my local game shop and play three full games in the span of a single day (that's right, ten hours), with time to shoot the breeze, get food, and generally horse around.  Even tournaments have increased the time for rounds and given less break-time in between those rounds because of this.  And that's for experienced, competitive gamers!  Imagine what that poor newb feels like when a 2000 point game takes four hours to play and his opponent is not only smashing him, but also annoyed at how long this newb takes to play.
I can play a small game with a newb as fresh as my wife (whose interest in my games is more obligatory than genuine) in two hours flat.  Add to that the teaching aspect and the narration of the action, and you have a fun, quick exercise for a game that isn't difficult for either party!

Let me drive this home with a complete example:

I am a fair gamer with a massive collection of everything I ever want for 40k (and much more besides, unfortunately).  With that, I have taught my brother, who has a rather keen tactical mind, how to play the game and played with him a few times.  I chose to put Eldar (in my experienced hands) against Blood Angels (forgiving, powerful, and downright new-ish) at 1500 points. woth simple Pitched-Battle deployment.  Here's the breakdown of our battles-
  • Hold table center- Blood Angels smashed! the Eldar, losing not a single unit
  • Capture and Control - Blood Angels killed all Eldar while Eldar killed one unit in return
  • Kill points- Blood Angels 6, Eldar 1, and that was a game that ended halfway through turn 3
I then dropped the points value to 1000 for the next two games (the second against my wife, who knew nothing of how to play beforehand) and here's the results-
  • Kill points- Eldar win 4-3
  • Kill points- Blood Angels win 5-4
Obviously, the difference was huge.  There are some conditions to the games, however.

First is the Force Organization Chart:  At 1000 points, a player must take 1 HQ and 2 Troops as normal, but may only select 1 Heavy Support, 1 Fast Attack, and 1 Elite option.  A player may NOT select additional options beyond HQs and Troops as most of the imbalace of the codices is found in the remaining three slots.  In addition, both sides sharing the same limitations in army-building makes the matchups pretty obvious, even for a newb.

Second, and far less important but big philosophically, neither army may repeat a choice selection.  No '2 squads of Dire Avengers' or '2 Assault Squads'.  Yes, I know some armies have no choice (remember old Necrons?), and some armies have terrible Troop options (yay Boyz mobz!), but the point is to put different units on the tabletop and, sometimes, suffer the pain of trying to use a crappy unit well.  This does, believe it or not, make the game more balanced and FUN!

Lastly, create 'parity' in opponents.  There should be a reason these two armies are fighting one another in the gaming sense- guns against guns, speed against speed, armor against armor, etc.  There is nothing less fun than watching your tiny Grey Knights army get mauled by the massive, unkillable tide of Tyranids.  Can it be done?  Why yes!  But what fun is it to see a winged Hive Tyrant eat your Stormraven and then eat a squad of purifiers while some crappy Termagants tarpit your Terminators?  Now don't get me wrong, you can always have these fights without parity, but the real fun is when you get to play a game within a game based on comparable tactics.  Weakest point, I know, but it's been proven in my experimentation so far...

I must throw my disclaimer out there- I'm all about the big games myself!  I don't own every single Apocalypse book and model just because, and I didn't spend a decade in a GW Hobby center promoting big games for just sales purposes- I actually enjoy big games!  But I've noticed a distinct lack of fun in this, my hobby of over two decades, and I believe I've found a way to bring it back. 

I hope this may provide some insight to y'all's gaming journey and even make it a little more addicting as it has for me lately.  Also, I'd like to thank AWC for inspiring this with their team-tourney rules (credit where it's due) and GW for initially forcing me to play smaller games, all to which have led me confidently to this article. 

As always, let me know what you think and Happy Gaming!


  1. I don't know about the taking only 1 Heavy, 1 Elite, 1 Fast Attack... There are fun units there. What would that mean for Imperial Guard? My Dark Eldar take Talos' and Ravagers, but that army is balanced enough (great codex)

    I'd like to think that 6th edition might fix some of these difficulties, but who knows, right?

    1. I'm hoping 6th fixes it too.

      But about the only taking one unit from the esoteric three, consider this:
      A SM player brings two Land Raiders in 1,000 points, and his opponent is an Ork player. How will the Orks kill the Land Raiderzzzzz? One is hard enough to handle, but two is just horrible at that level. Now imagine an IG player against an Eldar army- IG can put out four times as many doods and five times as many guns, while the Eldar is stuck killing guardsmen by the twos...
      The point is to keep the game balanced between unbalanced books as well as make it obvious how the armies are designed to fight. Most importantly, a 1,000 pt game isn't big enough to take alot anyway, so it's not much lost...

      As far as a Talos and a Ravager at 1K pts, that would certainly be fun to play and isn't 'spam', so awesome-sauce all day! However, how is a Dark Angel player supposed to handle that? Not only will you outnumber him three to one, but you'll have many more special weapons and you'll play a game that lasts three rounds before you've utterly annhilited him. At least being limitted to one or the other means your book's power level compared to his is also limitted (although still great, comparitavely). Also, the point is to play outside the tried and true standards of army-building. How's an Eldar player supposed to do anything with only one Heavy? (that's VERY not good for that book.) :-)

  2. I totally agree that there needs to be more balance, but there are two factors at play here: first, GW wants to sell tanks and big kits, but keep the troops still vital to sell as much as possible (that's not cynical GW bashing, but it is true), second, players love to play with big guns, and as many as they can get. That's one of the reasons people play 40K- the sight of a ton of IG tanks is what the game is about to some people. With those two factors, I can't see GW changing the dynamic that much- but I agree that certain books (Orks and Chaos for sure) need to be fixed up, and that 6th should provide better balance overall.

    I am not the greatest player by any stretch; indeed, I used to be very frustrated when I played the original DE (talk about a bad book!). Now, I've mellowed a bit and I enjoy just having a snack, having some laughs and rolling the dice. However, at tournaments, I see exactly what you're talking about- people playing to win no matter what, rather than just having fun and admiring painting, modeling, and tactical skills. And that's too bad, as this means 40K fans get into it with those determined to win at all costs.

    I played a two round game recently as the Forces of Chaos. The first round was a Kill Team mission against the Grey Knights. The mission was a blast to play, and was very small. We then used the outcome to determine the mission type for the big 2000 point game. It was fluffy, it was fun, and I lost big time... I feel that Grey Knights having such weaponry is waaaaay too much, and GW needs to balance THAT type of issue. That said, the game was still fun, because it was about a storyline and fluff.

    That's just my two cents, at any rate.

    1. Right on! I totally agree, especially on the GK and that broken-ness.
      I DO believe it is easy to play a balanced game using whatever you can fit into the points, I'm just placing hard restrictions on it so anyone I know can have a chance no matter the book...
      You sound like a blast to play based on the philosphy that you keep. It makes me sad that I can't game against more people like you (my area is full of douchey soldiers who don't care for fun if winning isn't the goal). Keep it up, and thank goodness there's some good DE players still out there.
      and thanx for the two cents. I really do appreciate it, this community needs better representatives. And yours is worth more than 2 cents for sure. :-)

  3. I went to a tournament a few years ago at ICON. It was hosted buy a local gaming store. There were nearly two dozen players there- some new guys, some vets. It was a fun atmosphere, and some cool looking models.

    One of my opponents was a Necron player. This guy rolled dice, counted SO quickly so that I couldn't even count them. He did things so damn fast that in my mind I questioned his honesty, but I decided not to bother, as it was the most singularly unfun game I've ever played, and I just wanted it to be over...

    I placed 8th in the tournament despite the loss to the Necron guy. Indeed, the rest of my opponents were great fun- whether I won or lost, it was just a great time. I hope you find opponents in the near future who are in it for the fluff, modeling, and the spirit of it rather than just the win.

    And with the way the economy is, my 2 cents is actually worth 1.5 cents...