Guest Editorial by Requizen on the state of 40k.
Let’s face it: the scale in 40k has grown a lot since the old days. You see the term “Apocalypse-lite” thrown around occasionally when talking about 7th edition, and it’s not hard to see why. Massive armies, formations, superheavies, gargantuans, and Destroyer Weapons are all extremely common things to see on the tabletop. In fact, some people might consider them more expected than likely. This very thing has even driven some players away from the game.
And, to an extent, I can understand that. Not the leaving part, I quite love the game still, but being put off by it for sure. Both new and old players can be vexed by it – old players are seeing their armies pushed into obscurity since many tools in the book are just not on the level to combat things like Wraithknights, Multiple Formation Detachments (aka Decurion-style detachments), and D-weaponry. A squad of dudes sometimes doesn’t feel like it goes quite as far as it used to (though they still provide their role in the grand scheme of things). A lot of times they just vanish in a puff of dust under the withering fire of that Imperial Knight. And for new players, the disparity between “power units” and “leave at home units” has never felt quite as high, and even to an extent “power armies” and “please why armies”.
This is why I think it may be time for TOs and other event organizers to think about scaling back on 40k to make it somewhat more manageable.
Tools, Not Requirements
“But it’s all in the rules! GW put Gargantuan Creatures, Superheavy Vehicles, and Formations in regular codices, you can’t tell me I can’t take them!”
Well, you’re not wrong. Kinda. GW did specifically make these units part of the baseline 40k game, including dataslates in codices and having the SHV/GC rules in the Rules. but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s compulsory to utilize them.
I’m also a player of Dungeons and Dragons and other Traditional RPG variants, being the nerd I am. These types of games often have massive rulebooks, sometimes multiple, the contents of which are comparable to 40k or even dwarf it. But, one of the first things you realize when you start playing with people who have been doing TRPGs for a long time is that many of those rules aren’t utilized or are modified. Take, for example, Polymorph. It’s one of the strongest spells in D&D, and is available at relatively early levels. Many DMs outright disallow their players from using it, or will put restrictions and modifications in place to keep it from being too game breaking. And don’t even mention Wish or Deck of Many Things to a DM worth their salt.
A rulebook is a series of building blocks, especially for games with lots of rules like D&D or 40k. GW is saying “here are all the tools you need to play on basically any scale”, not that they’re required parts of the game. The core rules are required – your Phases, actions, profiles, and Special Rules – they’re what’s needed to play the game and allow both players to know what’s going on. But, there is a lot of stuff in there that is not *needed* to play a game of 40k. Look at Mission rules, for example: You can play games without allowing Reserves, they’re just an option for missions (though you may want to let everyone know before they bring Flyers and Pods). You can play games without Mysterious Objectives (as the ITC does) or Night Fight. You can even play games without Terrain, though I wouldn’t suggest that. But none of those are core rules – they don’t tell you how models interact with one another or how to start and end a game.
Banning Things and Balance
Of course, no one likes to be told that they can’t bring stuff, especially stuff that’s right there in the basic book they need to play the game. But, sometimes that may not be a bad thing. There are some parts of the game that are more problematic than others, and we as a community need to accept that. You’ll often hear people say things like, “Well yeah Wraithknights too cheap for how strong they are, but what can you do?”.
I’ll tell you what you can do. You can look at the game and remove or limit the things that make it unfun for people playing it. Most places, including ITC, do this by limiting to just one SHV/GC, a limited number of detachments, and banning Unbound, all of which are part of the basic rules, but even then there are armies that are abusive in those formats.
Just because 40k now allows everything, doesn’t mean it’s good for a competitive scene. In fact, GW has made it clear many times that they don’t really design with true competition in mind. Core 40k is a Beer and Pretzels game, even moreso than people would say tournaments are. They want people to collect an army based on the fluff, paint it up with their buddies, and throw some dice while laughing at the results.
If the community really wants a competitive or tournament scene, then it’s up to us to make it a reality. And that means taking at least a measure of balance into our own hands. ITC does this to an extent already, and it has been, on the whole, a good thing. While I don’t think we need a group of people going in and making Errata to the books and rewriting the core concepts of the game (which are, themselves, not bad), it should be by and far acceptable for there to be some restrictions on the more over-the-top things that are out there, or slight modifications to rules that dominate the game.
While I’m not a GT winner and I don’t propose to be the best 40k player out there, I think these are considerations that TOs and the community in general should consider for events. Not to say that all of them should be put in place at once, but rather, if you feel your meta is stale or in some way unhealthy, think about adding one or more of these sorts of restrictions and see if that helps.
Ban problematic Formations/Detachments
While there are none that I can think of off the top of my head that are too bad right now, TOs should not be afraid of just outright banning things they think are bad for the game. There are a few that come to mind as potentially problematic – Battle Company Gladius with the free Vehicles, Adeptus Mechanicus War Convocation with massive amount of free points and shared special rules, Riptide Wing for plug and play Riptides into a huge number of armies, and perhaps super casting formations like Seer Council or Librarius Conclave (though they got a reasonable nerf with the FAQ). I wouldn’t say any of them need to be banned yet, but a watchful eye should be kept on them as 7th Edition continues.
Still, this like anything is an iterative process, and after a year of people playing with different limitations, things might be different.
Ban Superheavies and Gargantuans
Everyone loves their Wraithknights, Stormsurges, and Knights. I get that, but they are very limiting on the scene. There are so many interesting lists that I’ve seen out there that would be fun to play with or against, but people refuse to bring because there’s no way to deal with LoWs, and that can be really disheartening when you see one on nearly half of the tables at an event. In fact, I’m usually surprised when I don’t see one in some lists.
Sure, you can beat them without having one of your own or a dedicated counter unit, but a lot of times it’s just… not fun. There’s not a lot of player agency when fighting one, you just sort of accept that it’s going to kill one or more units per turn by itself, and unless you have a unit built just for killing it, it probably won’t die. It takes a lot of choice away from the player, and for some armies one can be an insurmountable obstacle that they just have to pray to get lucky against. Especially with multiple Knight lists, which have weaknesses, but many armies just sit there and don’t even bother to shoot or really do anything besides run around, because they have no real way to interact with that sort of army.
I think that, while there are things that SHVs and GCs add to a game, their downsides far outweigh what they bring. Especially for armies that don’t have a good one of their own or a good way to deal with one other than luck.
Limit the number of Factions an Army can bring
This is another things that can be a problem, generally seen in Imperial armies or some Chaos lists. Cherrypicking the best units out of the choice of all armies can lead to abuse cases and is a relatively prevalent part of the current 40k meta. While this can lead to some interesting armies, it can also lead to a lot of annoying things – RavenWolfSanguinaryConclave, for example. Limiting an army to 2 Factions (regardless of the number of Detachments) allows players to pursue interesting interactions while also cutting back on some abuse cases.
Alternatively: Change Battle Brothers to be more likes Allies of Convenience Plus
Battle Brothers is one of the most powerful systems in the game, in my opinion, and has a bit of an unfair feeling to those armies that can abuse it like others. One of my favorite things to say is that Armies of the Imperium is the best special rule an army can have, and I honestly believe that. Especially with Formations and alternate Detachments, it’s so easy now to just pick and choose the best parts of a codex, creating something that is exponentially better than the sum of its parts. Detachment limits help stem this somewhat, but you still see lots of cherrypicking in armies.
I would say what needs to be done is pretty simple: don’t allow ICs to join BB units. Keep allowing them to cast Powers on each other, that’s strong but reasonable. Allow them to embark on Transports, that’s a neat tool for some units that otherwise would be dead on foot. But ICs joining and pooling special rules has led to really toxic situations and more rules debates than you can shake a stick at, which is not good for a game.
What are Social Norms?
“Is any of this really necessary? Why can’t people just cope with the way the game is right now?”
Well, social norms are why. A casual game, especially Tabletop ones that require human interaction like 40k, have built in social norms. When you play with friends or local people at your FLGS, you don’t do dickish stuff because if you do, they’re going to label you and dislike you. They may even shun you or refuse to play with you. That doesn’t bother some people, but it’s the same reason you don’t cut in line at the bank or leave a mess in shared spaces like the office. You do it because, even if you don’t care about those people, being part of a society means that you have to not act like a jerk sometimes because it’ll have negative consequences if you do.
Tournaments somewhat take away from that. It’s no longer you going out and rolling dice for a few hours with your buddies (or even casual acquaintances), once you add in things like entry fees, prizes, and just general winners, social norms can occasionally go out the window. People aren’t going to refrain from playing, well, like a WAAC tourney player now that there’s pride and prizes on the line. In 40k, when you just go to a local place for a pick up game, you can reasonably expect someone not to bring 9 Riptides because they’ll be laughed out to the curb if they tried, and you can just refuse to play them. At a tournament, well, that’s just a thing that can happen (and surprise, now is easier than ever).
It may sound cynical, but without social norms to really keep people from doing those sorts of things, you really do need rules in place to keep the environment from becoming too toxic. And that’s what we want, because a toxic environment kills community and drives away new people. For a newbie who goes to a tournament and sees the insane min-maxing that GW has allowed in 7th edition (*cough*45 Warp Spiders*cough*), it can be a big turnoff and prevent them from ever coming back. And for long term players, seeing their armies slowly move into obscurity can be the tipping point to make them quit.
I wouldn’t pretend to be the best 40k player out there or have high level grasp on balance, but the point is that I think it should be more acceptable for TOs to just say things like “No Superheavies/Gargantuans, I think they’re bad for the game and community” without some sort of backlash. I understand that the Tau guy who just bought 2 Stormsurges to build his army around, or the Knight player with a Baronial Court might feel personally attacked, as might Deathstar players if their Battle Brother tactics get changed. But I think, on the whole, that they can adapt in ways that some players can’t adapt to the LoWs or Alliance tricks just can’t. I think restricting 7th edition to play at least a little more like previous editions can be very healthy for the community and the game overall.
And in the end, that’s what it’s all about. We want a thriving community where we can play the game that we enjoy at a more competitive level, and that means we may need to take some actions to make that a reality. And I don’t think that’s a bad thing.
What do you all think? Do you agree with Re Uizen or not?