Hello, 40k fans! Captain Morgan, Chief Librarian of Forge the Narrative, LVO 40k judge, and general 40k/30k addict here for a bit of a shakeup on my usual formula. I have been involved in an increasingly contested debate over how we award the winner for best in faction awards in the ITC, and want to discuss it for the new season.
It is likely not a secret to many, but for those of you who are not aware, I am and have been a voice in favor of changing how we award best in faction to include only pure faction army lists. This article, however, is not solely intended to be a place for me to rant and talk about how I feel on this issue. Instead, I plan to go over in a comprehensive manner some of the perspectives surrounding this issue, and in the process I hope to bring in a lot of community discussion on this topic going forward.
This is all, of course, in the context of competitive matched play. I’m also ignoring logistical barriers and how we would track these things, as we have more-or-less had an honor system for reporting factions up until now, and the lack of a system to double-check beyond community members themselves has not prevented these awards in the first place. I’m going to end this with a summary of my own opinions and will try to justify those as well as I can.
Why Best in Faction Should Not Require Armies to Be 100% Pure
There are several main arguments against the idea of awarding best in faction to only pure faction armies, and it’d be unfair of me to dismiss them out of hand. I’d like to make the best case I can for these perspectives here, because I have used mixed faction armies before in competitive and casual play. What is the appeal? Why do we do it? Is the game made for it? I’d like to touch on these issues and more in this section. I’m sure more arguments for this will show up in the comments, and welcome them to make the best case they can.
40k Is Not Designed For Pure Armies Anymore
This is a pretty compelling argument, as even in the main rulebook it is expressly allowed for armies to bring multiple detachments from various factions as part of your battle-forged army. Until the first big FAQ, single detachments could be mixed-faction. After the first big FAQ, you could still include three different factions in your army list provided they shared a keyword like “Imperium.” Additionally, there are models like Guilliman and some in the Adeptus Custodes army list that have rules that apply to different factions from different books. This obviously points to an intentional game design that includes multi-faction armies as part of the normal course of the game. You could even say that game designers intentionally build the game around this premise, take that into account in their playtesting, and will continue to steer the game that way going forward in support of all ways to play. It is a bit old-fashioned to think that pure faction is something that really matters in the game any more, and going pure is just a bone to throw to casual or narrative players.
Some Armies Aren’t Competitive Without Allies. Why Should I Have to Lose to Win?
Let’s face it, throughout the history of 40k we have had issues with power creep and imbalance between power level in factions. Back in the days before 6th edition introduced the allies chart, if your book was bad, you had to deal with it and play with an under-powered book until it got updated and bumped up in power level, or play a different army if you hoped to win tournaments. Now if you have a bad book, you can ally in some good units from another army to fill gaps in your army’s capabilities, or provide a bank of command points at a reasonable points cost that optimize the use of particular stratagems when it seems like the deck is stacked against you.
Why, if I want to compete for the best in my faction award, do I have to accept the idea that I am going to lose most of my games to get there? Am I not still the best in my faction if I am using it the best in conjunction with all the other game-legal armies that are available to me to build my list? It isn’t like I’m breaking the rules to make this army, either. It is unfair on one hand to say that you need a pure faction army to have your score counted towards a faction score, and to then expect me to lose and somehow score points to compete for it on the other hand. This is about competition and ultimately about winning games, so don’t handicap my ability to compete. Just make it so that the biggest portion of my army is the one that represents me. Pandering to fluffy, casual players is unnecessarily handicapping people who would otherwise be real contenders for these prizes.
Mixed Factions Are Lore-Friendly
I must admit that I find this argument among the weakest, though it still has merit on the surface and is worth considering. Novels and codexes alike feature battles and stories that incorporate multiple factions working in concert to accomplish a task. The entire Siege of Baal campaign series was practically made to justify one story in the 5th edition Blood Angels codex about Blood Angels and Necrons fighting together against the Tyranids. You can justify pretty much any alliance and combination of forces in the lore when creating your armies with a liberal application of broad-narrative strokes, though the rulebook has put some obvious limitations on what works in matched play. There is simply no narrative reason to prevent people from bringing mixed faction armies, but that is not what we are really trying to figure out.
Arguments For Pure Factions for Best In Faction Awards in the ITC
Competition breeds success, and the ITC is the largest and most successful way of measuring success in competitive Warhammer 40k. There are many competitive tabletop and board games out there, such as Chess and Checkers. There is even competitive rock/paper/scissors, which is hilarious and awesome to watch at the same time. The similarities between the games almost end there, as in the context of this argument, there is no one competing to be the best Chess player with black pieces. The depth of 40k goes way, way beyond the competitive scene, which despite its recent successes and record-breaking participation numbers, still does not come close to representing the large majority of 40k players and hobbyists.
For many people, the idea of winning the overall ITC season prize is really not all that interesting or attainable. Winning best in faction, however, comes with its own set of bragging rights and satisfaction that for many people has the most meaning. The vast majority of people in competitive 40k have a favorite faction, and at the very least have a preferred faction that represents their way to play. Very few people by comparison float between only the most mathematically optimized and most effective armies in the game. Even in competitive ITC, even people who really desire victory want to win with their preferred faction. We wouldn’t have a best in faction in the first place.
If You’re Mixed, You Aren’t Really the Best
If your army is 34% Imperial Guard, 33% Knights, and 33% Dark Angels (or some variation like that), are you really the best Imperial Guard player in the ITC (which is to say, the best IG player in the world so far as we are currently able to quantify)? No, you aren’t. You are at best 34% of the best IG player in the ITC. That doesn’t mean you’re a bad player by any means, but how can you really justify calling yourself the best at playing Imperial Guard and be rewarded for it when, in reality, your army consists of less than half of the faction that you are being recognized for having skill playing? A prize for best in ‘x’ faction should be representative of ‘x’ faction, not of ‘xyz’ factions. Skill in the game using any one codex is a demonstration of your ability to achieve mission objectives within the limitations of that codex. By expanding your toolbox and using other armies as a crutch, you are giving yourself an unfair advantage when competing for the best in ‘x’ faction against players who truly seek to demonstrate their mastery of their own faction’s book. Spoiler alert: you can care about your faction enough to play it exclusively without being casual about it. People who want to win best in faction want to prove what they can do with their army. You can be competitive and seek to do the best in your faction with one book, build strong lists, play competitive games, and try to win tournaments at the same time. Best in faction should only go to the players who are committed enough to show they are the best at what that faction has to offer, not the best of what two or three factions have to offer.
Using Lore to Justify Competitive 40k Is Silly
You can’t say that being competitive should only reward the best at optimization in one breath, and then try to justify the min/max optimization for lore reasons in the next. If you are trying to win the top spot, you don’t really care about the lore – you care about the best rules and will buy and build for that. Saying that you have seen examples of armies deployed side-by-side in a story once is hardly a justification for mixed factions beyond just a surface-level analysis of the setting. Conflicts in the novels focus on specific characters working within their own factions, feature one faction as the primary faction, and follow individual characters operating cohesively with members of their own faction above all others. In a book like Helsreach (rightfully lauded as a paragon of 40k stories) – which features Black Templars, Titans, Adepta Sororitas, Imperial Guard, and even some Mechanicus forces fighting together on a planet – conflicts are focused primarily on Black Templars warriors fighting against a unified Ork threat. If anything, the book demonstrates the aloof and separate nature of these disparate sub-factions of humanity, whose tenuous relationships and different goals at times almost lead to internal conflict and bloodshed in spite of the overwhelming threat of a large Ork invasion. Stories in codexes push this even further, as they highlight battles and moments of glory specific to the one featured faction, often to surpass, avenge, or rescue allied peers.
Relating lore-based battles to the 40k games we play in a competitive environment – where no narrative aside from winning or losing is set, and any hypothetical war representation is built less upon character motivations and grand narratives than it is considered for what the game allows us to do to achieve victory – is a WAAC excuse to just take what is good in the game right now, not what represents a faction in the lore. The only deus ex machina in 40k competitive gaming is the luck of the dice, and a Storm Shield is as close as you’ll get to plot armor. The biggest plot hook you’ll find is a damage 10 knight harpoon, and that’s if you’re lucky, since that knight is not as optimized a choice as the Castellan nowadays. It’s not like people competing for best in faction with pure armies are playing completely to the lore anyway, as armies in a pure-faction are still using the best of what they’ve got and are not necessarily representing the lore-ascribed combat doctrines of any particular faction.
Allowing Mixed-Faction Armies to Win BIF is Unfair to Factions That Have No Allies
Orks, Tau, and Necron factions have long been on the short end of the diversity stick when it comes to allied options. Even before 8th edition, their ally options were incredibly slim in comparison to the human, Chaos, and Aeldari factions. It is, frankly, unfair to create a system that penalizes them for their inability to make mixed-faction armies to win games when they can do nothing else except bring pure-faction lists and accept the limitations of their own codex as-written. No one can cast doubts that players of these factions are deserving of a best in faction award, because they can do no differently. All players should be held to the same standard for best in faction, so either open it up for these factions to take allies (I’m sure you fluffy competitive players could imagine a lore reason for any of them to have allies if you squint very hard), or stop pretending that a mixed-bag best in faction award has any meaning at all for any other armies but these.
If 40k Is Meant For Multi-Faction, Why Aren’t Codexes Multi-Faction?
There are currently fewer examples of rules in codexes that affect multiple factions than I could count on my fingers, unless you count things in other factions susceptible to your army’s attacks. When you open a codex, it is about one race or faction alone. Sometimes you may find photos of armies fighting together, but only one faction has rules in that book. Guides on expanding your army involve additional purchases within the faction. These books are designed to sell engagement with that faction, and that engagement is meant to sell models. The obvious counter-argument is that GW wants people to buy allies because that means buying more books and models across the range.
Fair enough. I’m sure GW would love it if we all bought as much as we could of everything they make (a tall order nowadays more than ever), but why would they waste time on development of models at all if they were designing the game for 2000 point multi-faction competitive 40k? Saying the game is designed to allow for the inclusion of allies is correct, but saying that they primary goal of GW and the overall game design is for competitive gaming and optimization goes far beyond incorrect. GW has not moved past creating full, single-faction armies. If anything, the big FAQ 1’s pure-detachment ruling demonstrated that abuse of the multi-faction system made a scaling back of the capacity to do so necessary. Because GW wants to sell models across several ranges doesn’t mean that they don’t want to sell all models within a particular range, or that they are OK with wasting time on the development of stuff they don’t care if you buy or not because: optimization. The truth is that while they have been paying recent attention to competitive 40k, the vast majority of what they care about is creating a game that allows for players to have the freedom to build and play what they like, and not pandering to a minority of competitive min/maxers in an effort to facilitate competitive optimization.
So, What is the Best Answer?
I don’t think anyone is trying to say that mixed faction armies shouldn’t be allowed in 40k, what we are instead arguing about is the terms under which we can agree that a player of ‘x’ faction is the best of the best at playing with ‘x’ faction. As I see it, there are three answers:
1. Change Nothing
Keep things as they are. The detachment with the most points will be what your faction is.
2. Something in the Middle
There have been suggestions for 50%+1 or 75% of an army in one particular faction to count for the BIF awards. Anything that didn’t meet these requirements would go into a new award, something along the lines of “Best Imperium,” “Best Chaos,” “Best Aeldari,” and “Best Devourer” (for Tyranids/Cult).
3. Pure-Faction Only
This is simple – your score only counts towards a faction score if you have a 100% faction army. Any mixed faction stuff would fall into the above-mentioned soup categories.
I like the third option the best. Giving a mixed-faction award for the soup categories still allows people to compete for a faction prize without robbing dedicated faction players who are (in my opinion) more deserving of a prize extolling the skill in playing any particular faction. I also think this serves to open up the ITC for more players who are dedicated to their factions by giving them a hook – you can still compete at what you love and on an even playing field. If you allow mixed-faction awards, they lose all real meaning as measurements of skill with a faction in the eyes of what I would wager is the majority of the 40k community.
What do you think? Is pure-faction an outdated mode of 40k, or do the awards lose all meaning by allowing multi-faction armies to count? Let me know in the comments below!
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