Hey everyone, Reecius here to start a discussion as to the options available to us going forward with organized 40K!
The last few weeks saw a veritable internet explosion after GW simultaneously let everything into the game while also telling us we got to choose what we actually used in our games. All of it was now official but also officially optional! Hmmm….
Needless to say, a lot of folks were pretty stunned and there has been a great deal of confusion as to how to proceed along with strong feelings for and against all of the options. Some feel that now that everything is ‘official’ it should all be included or we’re no longer playing 40K. A lot of folks also feel that the potential for game breaking combos and just outright confusion has hit an all time high in 40K (a game never really known for it’s rules balance) and that the comp and/or ban hammer needed to be brought back out from the closet it’s been sitting in since 4th ed!
Some of us had to make very quick, short-term choices as to what to let in to events that were already planned, with tickets sold (such as our Las Vegas Open coming up in February) without the benefit of really getting used to any of the new rules or play testing them thoroughly.
After getting our paid attendees’ feedback as to what they wanted for the LVO through a poll, we feel confident we chose the best path for the immediate situation. Considering that no matter which road we took was going to leave some folks dissatisfied given the options available, the overwhelmingly positive feedback we’ve gotten and the steady stream of ticket sales we’ve had throughout the craziness has been great and even a bit of a relief!
Some folks disagreed with parts of what we did, but largely everyone was happy with it or at the least understood why we did what we did. The LVO will be an epic 3 day gaming convention with friends, booze, games and even GW’s crazy rules explosion of the past month won’t change that =)
Oh, and we renegotiated the room rates for the LVO down to $79 a night for Friday and Saturday night! If you already booked, you will be credited at check out.
But what about the long term? Should folks expect to never see Super Heavies in tournaments? Should they expect to never be able to use those Void Shield Generators? No Formations for ever and always?
Of course not. The future is wide open! Now that everyone’s not freaking out anymore, I hope that everyone can see that we now have a toolbox with more tools in it than ever before! We just have to come together as a community and decide which we want to use.
As I see it, we have a lot of options.
We can just use the rules carte blanche as they stand, the dirty D, 5+ factions in an army and all! We can also have restricted formats, or any combination thereof. There is room for everything depending on the style of play the gamers at the table favor.
Having tested a lot of the new rules now in actual games I can say that personally, I think there is room for truly unrestricted 40K and that it can be super fun in a casual, just-for-laughs type of setting. That said, if you are looking for a game that is tactically complex and challenging; with D wielding units and the insane uber-combos that you can get from Cherry Picking the best units from 4+ rule sets in a single list, the game devolves into who builds the more insane list and goes first in many cases. While that can be fun on occasion, it isn’t fun for me in a tournament format. I know a lot of people already think of the game in those terms, and admittedly it can be that way at times, this new landscape we find ourselves increases that aspect of the game to the point of absurdity.
In my conversations with TO’s from around the world over the past weeks I have not talked to anyone that is going to have truly unrestricted 40K tournaments. That isn’t to say that no one will or that it is objectively a bad idea, simply that at this stage everyone I have sopken to is looking to make some alterations to the rules, even if very minor.
The thing we need to be very, very careful about is what we change, and how much we change. As everyone is aware of, it is oh-so-easy to start out making very minor changes with 100% good intentions and then find yourself heading down a slippery slope that ends up with a bastardized version of the rules that can upset and confuse players. As a rule of thumb, we as TOs tend to avoid making rules changes unless deemed necessary, and then only as much as necessary. Where that line is drawn is different based on the opinions and value of each group of players.
The trick of achieving a balance between altering rules just enough to keep things fun and fair, and unintentionally ending up in bizzaro land is incredibly difficult (and subjective). Remember, pretty much all tournaments alter rules to a certain degree, whether it be for missions, deployment, terrain placement, etc. it is common practice to make some changes in order to even have a tournament.
People tend to get upset when you alter a rule that changes how they write their list. As a community we largely accept that changing missions or ignoring terrain rules for example, is totally acceptable despite the fact that altering win conditions has a MUCH bigger and broader impact on the game than altering the way a single item or unit works in most cases.
And that brings us to mission and terrain design, a topic making the rounds now among TOs and players. Despite the fact that, as stated above, this actually impacts the game a lot more than influencing list building, people don’t have such strong reactions to it. To make a comparison, altering missions instead of list building would be as if a TO organizing a foot race said that in order to win a 100 meter dash, you actually had to run 110 meters. That impacts everyone, right? But in our community, folks tend to look past that and get angrier if the same TO were to say: you win by running 100 meters but no one can wear blue shoes while running. Then you see gamers get angry! They love those blue shoes! RAWR!
Joking aside, it is a legitimate beef as if you write a legal list, buy, build and paint the models, you should be able to play them, right? That is not an unreasonable expectation. We value freedom of choice and want people to play what they want insofar as that freedom of choice doesn’t make the event less fun for everyone else. And that is where we find ourselves now: where the lists being written are infringing on everyone else’s rights to an enjoyable game to an extent we have not seen before. For the first time in my gaming experience, a huge portion of the community has taken action in response to these new rules and want to do something.
Which brings us back to the topic of mission design to level the playing field. It is the best choice in my opinion as it allows players to still bring what they want to bring while, hopefully, making the event as fair of a competition as possible. The issue though is, it is also the hardest way to go about achieving this goal.
Why? Because it is like trying to fix 100 different broken down cars with a single tool. Odds are that not only will you fail in the task, but have pretty severe unintended consequences. There is a reason why so many tournaments’ missions resemble one another and tend to be very simple. The more complex a system, the more failure points. The more complex a mission, the more likely it is to create situations where a player loses before a single die is cast based on who he or she was playing, on which table under situationally unfair win conditions.
Nothing in my opinion is worse in the context of a table top gaming tournament, than to walk to a table and have lost before the game started due to a poorly designed mission. It makes players feel like they should have never bothered to show up in the first place.
Previous editions of the game and RTT traditions of years gone by produced INSANE missions. Gravity Well is one I always bring up from 3rd ed that carried on into 4th. It involved a rule mechanic where every turn you randomly determined the effect of gravity on the game. Either it was normal, things moved double speed, or half speed.
I know some folks read that and think: that sounds fun! The author of the mission probably did, too and in all likelihood has the best intentions at heart when writing it. I am sure for some people playing a game where the outcome of the game was not something either party cared about, this type of mission could be fun and funny. However, if your intention in a game is to have a challenging, fair match this is about the worst type of mission.
Why? It randomly impacts different armies in completely different ways. An assault army that rolls hot and doubles their movement is potentially charging first turn! Or with bad dice: never! A shooty army that doesn’t move at all doesn’t give a rat’s behind unless they are playing an assault army in which case it either gets owned by insanely fast units or the game becomes a joke as they mow the slow-motions assaulter units down with ease. It impacts different armies unequally and is therefore unfair. While this occurs in all missions to a degree, in cases like this it becomes extreme and removes player skill from the equation. The mission determines who wins or loses, not the players.
As a rule of thumb, the more you alter missions with specific rules (such as the suggestion we’ve heard of randomly having Psychic powers getting shut down, or troops respawning, etc.) the more you open the door to this type of things.
For the same reason universal comp systems tend to fail in their goal of evening out armies, so do these types of rules changes. When each army is intentionally different from the others, a rule that impacts them all will impact them all differently. For example, saying every turn on a 5-6 the psychic phase doesn’t occur may indeed stop a psychic deathstar from going Super Sayan, it also punishes everyone else that may need those powers to buff their non-abusive list. Babies and bathwater and all that.
Now, I am not saying game balancing missions can’t be written. We at Frontline have always tried to use this method where possible. Mike of NOVA and Neil from 11th Company along with some other TOs have been reaching out with a hypothetical tournament mission system that aims to even the playing field a bit which you can read about here. The gist of it is to allow players the choice of selecting their win conditions based upon their opponent.
I like this train of thought as it does several things. For one, it gives players’ choice which is a good thing. The reason so many big tournaments use layered missions (2 or more win conditions) is that it gives players a choice as to how to achieve victory by providing multiple paths. This means if you do find yourself in a bad mission match-up, you can play around it by going for secondary win conditions. The better player, theoretically, wins more often.
The concept proposed in the article linked to above, takes it a step further. The goal is to incentivize players to not feel like they HAVE to take the uber-lame 2++ reroll save armies or Taud/Eldar (which in all fairness, the 2++ reroll armies arose to counter Taudar!). I think this, combined with proper terrain are the most agreeable solutions to tournament balance to the largest number of players as I have stated in the past. The trick though, is doing it right to avoid the pitfalls listed above. That takes time, testing and patience. Jumping into the deep end without proper testing can create solutions worse than the problems.
The other concern for me personally, is even subtle changes that are meant to favor weaker builds or hamper strong builds, can backfire or fall flat. For example, in the example linked to above, resource farming is used as a potential win condition (getting points for every turn an objective is held). I have played in tournaments using these rules and they can create lop-sided games wherein a list with highly mobile scoring units can grab objectives early and then take a few turns to dislodge. By the time that is done, the game is over as the player may have sacrificed their troops in the effort but have earned such a big advantage the other player can’t win. Things like LoS blocking terrain and such make this a major concern as we can all imagine Jetbikes or Drop Pods getting onto or contesting every objective on the table turn 1 as an example.
When the focus is on inhibiting one type of build, we also have to be mindful of the impact on all the other builds too, which can be extremely difficult. Now, I am not putting the author on the hot seat saying this is what they absolutely will do or putting the ideas down (I think it is a great start!). Just making a point.
There’s never been a problem that couldn’t be overcome!
I am 100% confident that as we progress through these changes and communicate with one another as a community we will find those formats we most enjoy to play the game in. I believe that we will see multiple formats emerge to satisfy a broader audience of gamers. I think that is healthy and could be great fun!
I also believe we will see a version of these formats emerge as the baseline “tournament” format. If we can all pitch in on ideas, communicate and be willing to accept some compromises I think we can find that middle ground which will help to bring some order out of the chaos.
We have been discussing ideas such as greater flexibility in player choice in missions. Everything from the idea linked to above of asymmetrical missions, to a full blown mission maker. This is a type of sub-game between players wherein they compete with bids to determine both the mission, deployment and starting conditions (such as night fight, etc.) at the table. This means that TO’s no longer have to dictate missions to the players but it instead becomes a part of the game, allowing you to try and set up favorable conditions for your army based upon who you are playing and the terrain. It is no longer luck of the draw, but something the players determine using skill and experience as a guide. We have also been discussing the possibility of side boards or multiple list formats to mitigate bad match-ups.
The point with this is to do our best to mitigate the clearly untested (and sometimes unedited!) rules GW is blasting us with while still playing the game we want to play the way we want to play it. The cool thing about all of these changes is that a lot of taboos we’ve clung to previously have been blown out of the water in response to the changes we are facing.
So join the conversation and take ownership for the game we all love. We at Frontline are going to jump into this ongoing conversation with you and other TOs to try and find that sweat-spot of minimal rules alterations, great terrain and flexible mission format that allows players to play the army they want to play and still have a chance at winning any game based on their individual skill and luck.
Mega Mat Update!
We have releases ‘Barren Wasteland’ and some close-ups of ‘Alpine!’ The detail is fantastic, and we think these will be very popular. Check out our KickStarter here.