Editorial: Expectations and Perspectives (or how to not hate playing Space Marines)

Hey all, Danny from TFG Radio here, and today, well, today is about thinking of Space Marines and their impact on the game as a whole. It is hard not to hear some ballyhoo about Space Marines.  For us old-timers who have seen the fires of Chaos 3.5, unkillable Eldar Vehicles in 4th, Grey Knights in 5th, Screamerstar/wolf-tide/greentide/battle company/Taudar in 6th and 7th, Ynnari and BA/Guard/Castellan in 8th, you get kind of dead to the pattern.  Yes, Space Marines are just better than everybody else.  I am not arguing that point as well, the math is pretty clear here.  This is a not about that.  Am I just broken inside that OP no longer really bothers me?  No, it does bother me, but then, I find that managing expectations is the key to a happy gaming experience. I don’t need SM or any army to be toned down to enjoy this game, depending on my expectations. 

When I go to an RTT, a GT, or the exceedingly rare times I get away from work/family to do a Major, I have to decide before I ever pack up a model or build a list what I want from the experience.   Do I want to win? Do I care about my W/L? If yes and this is my expectation, then I know I need to build a list that is ready for Space Marines, probably to the detriment of other builds, or I just take Space Marines.  I did this for SoCal Open 2019 since I really wanted to try and do well, so I took the strongest list I could get and build/paint, Iron Hands. I went 4-2, which is fine, especially for not having played in a tournament with over 80 people since the halcyon days of Games Day Los Angeles. All in all, I had a good time, even if I did end up playing against more or less than same list archetype 3 of 6 games. 

Do I want to experiment? I write a lot of theory articles, so when I do get to play, I often take units and combos that aren’t generally considered “good”, but then I want to see how it works on the field myself.  So do I care about my W/L? No, not really. I am more focused on testing my hypothesis, not if I actually win.  If a combination did what I thought it would, but it cost me the game, so be it.  If none of my combinations worked, well then, I at least got some new information.  I do this a lot with RTTs and friendly games, even when I have to play Space Marines over and over.   Yah, I tend to lose a lot that way, especially against the most tuned competitive builds, but winning wasn’t my primary objective.  I was not expecting to win.  I was expecting to deepen my understanding of the game, and so as long as that goal was achieved, it was a successful and enjoyable night. 

Do I want to just have fun? I do this a lot when I get to go to a local GT where it is mostly a friends and family sort of experience.  I take lists that are easy to play, easy on my back, and win or lose fast so I have more time to eat, drink, and be merry. This is when my all Big Bugs army comes out or Chaos Knights or 4 Bloodthirsters.  These are not competitive lists,  The only way my weekend is bad is if I eat or drink too much or some of my favorite peoples don’t get a chance to make it out.   My expectation is to enjoy this game as a social experience, so the game is more a vehicle for that socializing as opposed to the center of my enjoyment.  Did I get blown off the table by Imperial Fists on Turn 2? Great, now time to chat.  Did I manage a win? Awesome, still time to chat. Win or lose, it is all a path to hanging out with people whom I enjoy. 

So what does this mean for you? If you are tired of playing against Space Marines, ask yourself: what you are expecting? If you want to play bleeding edge competitive 40K, then you need to be honest with yourself and with the reality that yes, you will play against SM a lot, and if you want to have the best possible list, SM is probably what you should be playing.  Player Skill is still a determining factor in victory, but at the highest levels, when skill is more or less equal, then things like list design and luck are much more impactful.  You need to understand this and accept it. 

If you lose, it is because you either took a sub-optimal list and you weren’t savvy enough in that game as a player to overcome that efficiency-gap in list design, or that with all player and list variables being equal, you just got unlucky.  You have to accept these outcomes as not just possible but likely, and so if you want to play as hard as possible, you have to either be prepared to beat Space Marines and/or play Space Marines> Just like back in the day, you had to either tek against the powerbuilds or play one of them.  That is the nature of competitive gaming.  These are the expectations that are placed upon if you are solely concerned about Win/Loss. If this ceases to be enjoyable, then you should stop expecting that victory equals fun. 

Should a game company avoid a situation like Space Marines or insert any other dominant list? Ideally yes, but any competitive game built around millions of variables is going to have optimal builds and optimal strategies; it is unavoidable as human minds create systems that can ultimately be solved, and as the level of complexity increases in that system, there is no way to meaningful predict all the ways that a superior model can exist until it is live in the world with thousands upon thousands of games.  This is not meant to excuse the game design as yah, I’d like to see Space Marines powered down a bit, but as someone who has been in this hobby awhile, I also accept that these things happen, and that all will change, and in another year, we’ll probably be arguing about another build or codex that is just better than the others. Until then, we are where we are, so swim in the current in which you find yourself.

But what if you don’t care about winning, but you are just tired of being leaf-blowered off the table in a game? Well, if you don’t care about winning, then you shouldn’t care how fast you lose.  Perhaps it is better to place your emphasis on something other than winning or at least losing in a close fought game.  Use some new models or units that you haven’t used ever or in years, and just see how they do.  Did they die miserably to Centurions? Welp, now you know.  Did they actually kill something? Hey, something to consider.  Did you manage to kill something with the Valiant’s Harpoon? Hell yah, that’s a win to me.  While everyone approaches the game a bit differently, and yes, winning is always fun, there are other ways to enjoy this game that don’t rely on winning.  Taking units you love, experimenting, or just trying to have some good laughs matter. Your perspective is going to shape how you interpret events.  

For example: say to win the game, you just need to kill 5 Scouts.  You have 600 points of models left to shoot.  By the math, you should put them down 99 out of 100 times.  You fail to kill them.  One lives, and it passes morale.  You just got X-Com’d.  Now, in a super competitive game, this sucks.  If all that matters is W/L, this is just a gut punch, and bravo to the player who takes that punch with grace and civility because it does happen, and does indeed take a rare breed to simply nod and accept such.   Now, what if this was a friendly game at a store, in garage, or even at a local RTT?  That scout gets a name.  People laugh.  You shake your head at the ridiculousness of probability.  You tell that story over a drink or lunch.  It becomes a source of joy.  

What changed? Simply expectations and perspective.  What we expect to happen and how we perceive what does happen will determine our enjoyment.  If you are expecting to win the top prize, then you could have 3 great games that were well-matched with three awesome opponents, but if you lose, then suddenly your perception of the event is that of failure, and what should have been a great day engaged in a great hobby is now seen in negative light.  Again, if getting to the podium is what matters, that’s fine, but you need to be honest then that you are not going to get there every time, learn from what happened, and adapt to the meta because it won’t adapt to you.  

Also, realize that where you are should shape expectations. If you are going to an RTT, GT, or Major, then remember that this is a tournament, and unless the tournament packet makes it explicitly clear that W/L is not the foundation of the event, then the expectation of the event upon you is that you are well-within your rights to bring the dankest list possible.  This means yes, you are probably going to play someone who wants to win more than anything else and brought the Broviathan list.  That’s a tournament; it is a competitive game.

If that doesn’t work for you, try working with your local community to do Narrative events or Friendly events that prize other aspects more than just winning.  If you don’t like Narrative games, then, well, sure, that’s on you to enjoy the game how you want to, but again, playing competitively means that you are going to play the strongest lists out there.  You have to expect that, and today, that means expecting Space Marines.  If you want to play competitive games without going against the strongest available lists, then this isn’t quite how the community has embraced what competitive means.

Maybe you just play very casually but are tired of getting more or less stomped by your friend who just happened to stumble into Marines. If that’s the case that most of your games are not in a competitive environment, then talk to your opponents. Make it clear that you don’t want to play against Space Marines or that you find Thunderfire Cannons to be unfun in a casual game. Yes, it is not always nice to hear people complain about your army, but this game is a game between two people, and both sides have power over the level of enjoyment. If your friend asks you to not take Assault Centurions or Iron Hands, then maybe listen and think about their experience. If you just are playing to have fun, then make sure that both sides are having fun, and you can accomplish this by just talking for 5-10 minutes before the game and before building lists. A really fun way to play a game against a friend is to build both lists together, making sure both armies have answers to the other and are well-matched.

The trick here is that you have to accept that people have different expectations and perspective. If you want to play the most competitive 40k possible, then go on with your bad self. Enjoy it, and good hunting. Accept that you will have to adapt to the meta, and if there is clearly a big dog on the block, you need to either use that big dog or build to deal with it.  If you are stuck in the mindset of “I want to use X army and win, no matter what” then you have to accept that your road is a lot harder to hoe because if you bring a weaker list, you have to overcome that through both player skill and luck. If you are pouring over your codex looking for the silver bullet, you either need to develop a combination that will work or develop the Techne necessary to win with what you’ve got.   If you are trying to be a top faction for ITC, then your expectation shouldn’t be win every event but rather do as well as you possibly can, knowing that there will be some builds and matchups that could feel insurmountable.  

If you want to just roll dice, play with the army you love, play with the models you love, then please do so.  This is a game; you should be having fun when you play it.  If you are getting salty because yes, your favorite list can’t seem to beat Iron Hands, then adjust your expectations a bit.  If I bring my Big Bugs to the table and I get paired with Iron Hands, I generally assume I will lose, and that’s ok, because my enjoyment comes from playing the game and having a good time, maybe trying out a strategy or combination that I haven’t tried before. If I primarily cared about winning, I wouldn’t bring my Nidzilla list to a competitive event. Again, winning is fun, but it is not the only way to have fun, and if you are not having fun, you need to evaluate your expectations and perspective.

If you want to play competitively but don’t want certain units or supplements involved, then you need to develop a community where composition is used and you and your opponents discuss how to fairly implement such. Will that lead to a wider system? Who knows? I don’t, but you do need to take the initiative if this is what you want. Whether it be a local play group, a store, or even a local GT, you need to reach out and open dialogue with your community.

 If winning is truly what is fun, and you cannot convince those around you to limit what is acceptable and not, then you have to approach 40K like any other competition where training, due diligence, and constant self-improvement are the means to that end, not hoping the game changes to accommodate what you want. Especially at a larger, multi-region tournament where the standard expectation is competition, you can’t expect that you will play only non-power armies.  If you want games but not the bleeding edge of power, talk to your opponent, try a Narrative game, build a Narrative or Friendly community.  Even if a competitive environment, focus on specific strategies and tactics to see how they work, and if they don’t, no biggie, and if they do, awesome.

So yes, GW, please rework Space Marines as it is pretty clear they are just better than they need to be. The game flourishes when most models and most armies have a reasonable chance of victory, all other factors being equal.  We all support this, and I am sure GW does as well, but balancing everything is always a work in progress, so maybe a more dynamic rules-delivery system is in order to facilitate this. 

And yes, players, please be aware of what you want from this game and what expectations that entails.  Power builds come and go, and if you aren’t having fun, then you need to evaluate why. If you care about winning more than anything, then embrace your competitive edge and adapt, including choosing a new army if need be. If you care about fun games that are reasonably close, then try other forms of playing rather than just pure Matched Play. You can play this game a thousand different ways, and while we love to focus on the competitive aspect, 40K is at it its very earliest center and creation a role-playing game, a narrative engine, so don’t shy away from that if the competitive aspect is getting you down. Chances are, you could be having a lot of fun with this game the way it is written now, but it is a matter of perspective at the end of the day. 

And remember, Frontline Gaming sells gaming products at a discount, every day in their webcart!



About Danny Ruiz

Long-long time 40K player, one of the original triumvirate of head 40K judges at LVO, writer, educator, tyranid-enthusiast, disciple of Angron, man about town, afflicted with faction ADD.

7 Responses to “Editorial: Expectations and Perspectives (or how to not hate playing Space Marines)”

  1. Zweischneid February 26, 2020 12:42 am #

    I think the issue is the false equivalence of comparing the current space marines to 3.5 Chaos, 5th Ed. Grey Knights, Screamer Star, Ynnari, etc..

    They clearly go far, far, far beyond any of that.

    Not sure about 3rd edition tournaments, but 5th ed. Grey Knights come to about 18%-20% in the top 10s of large tournaments such as Adepticon at the time, which was maybe the worst we’ve ever seen in 40K pre-Marines 2.0 in 8th.

    Adepticon 2017 a month or so before 8th dropped had, compared to events these days, a surprisingly diverse top 10 with Chaos Daemons, Nids, 2 Ynnari, a few Marine soups, Riptides, etc.. in the Top 10.

    Ynnari won LVO in Jan 2018 with just 2 majority Ynnari in the Top 8 (actually outnumbered by Blood Angels), and didn’t win another big tournament after that for months (and were still considered way off balance).

    Compare that to Marines (or even just Iron Hands) winning literally every single tournament on many weekends and often being 60%+ of Top 10 or Top 8 placings, the problem is that they don’t compare.

    Current Marines are nothing at all like previous balance-problems such as 5th Ed. Grey Knights or Screamer Star or Maelific Lords or whatever.

    It’s a phenomenon unprecedented in the history of 40k (bar perhaps some 1st or 2nd Ed. weirdness I have no knowledge of).

    There’re some fun memes illustrating the concept of false equivalence. I am sure the TFG crew can take a look at them.

    • SaltyJohn February 26, 2020 9:56 am #

      Considering I posted the 40k meme yesterday about bias confirmation and I routinely provide 40k memes the TFG crew is more than aware of what memes are out there. Thanks.

    • winterman February 26, 2020 3:27 pm #

      What are you going on about? The article doesn’t hinge on whether Space Marine power is equivalent to previous issues with the game, so why bring it up as an ‘issue’. Even when everyone including the author realizes the situation is bad?

      Maybe because (ironically given the actual point of the article) you feel the strong need to win so badly, whether its in a game of 40k or on the internet, that you have to find an issue with this article and beat on it with fake data and flawed analysis?

      How about this, since you obviously missed the point of the article and seem obsessed with fallacies. Why don’t you go find some straw man memes. Maybe you can take a look at them and see why that may apply to your ‘issue’ with said article. Or better yet try and regale us with rhetoric proving your point wasn’t a straw man fallacy. Even better, why not go on dakka dakka or reddit and rabble rouse them with your expertise on the 40k meta of old or fallacies in general. They love that stuff.

      • Zweischneid February 27, 2020 12:47 am #

        “For us old-timers who have seen the fires of Chaos 3.5, unkillable Eldar Vehicles in 4th, Grey Knights in 5th, Screamerstar/wolf-tide/greentide/battle company/Taudar in 6th and 7th, Ynnari and BA/Guard/Castellan in 8th, you get kind of dead to the pattern. Yes, Space Marines are just better than everybody else. I am not arguing that point as well, the math is pretty clear here.”

        Aside the introduction, the article literally starts with putting current Space Marines into a list with a bunch of other examples that are in now way or shape even remotely comparable to the current Marine-Meta, as well as calling it a “pattern”.

        That’s a fallacy. That’s a false equivalence. That’s putting first degree murder into the same list with shoplifting and jaywalking. That’s putting Deepwater Horizon into a “pattern” with accidentally spilling a splash of gasoline while filling up your car.

        If the article doesn’t hinge on that, why kick off with such a misleading deception?

  2. DaveSoundwave February 26, 2020 2:27 am #

    “Well, if you don’t care about winning, then you shouldn’t care how fast you lose.”

    See now this right here is where I have a problem with the current situation. Outside a competitive environment games are still about having fun, seeing what happens and witnessing the ebb and flow of battle. That’s hard to do when you’ve been tabled by turn 2 by someone who’s “always just really liked the Iron Hands fluff, you know.” Not caring about winning doesn’t mean you should embrace losing. I don’t care about winning myself, but I do care about having a good game full of suspense and surprise. That’s not something I get from playing against marines, I get the same experience every time, which is entirely defined by them point-and-click leaf blowing me off the table, there’s no interaction there’s no ebb and flow, there’s just a feeling of having no control as me and my opponent end up playing two entirely different games.

    That’s the problem, against marines in any format (playing narrative helps sure, but it doesn’t stop them having access to their insane combos and buffs), it’s an uphill struggle for me, their opponent. I start the game at a disadvantage, I start the game having to work out how to salvage a fun experience out of what is going to be a very predictable and arduous battle. Playing narrative or open could fix things, but even then it’s putting pressure on the players to go out of their way to try and create an engaging experience. If we’re able to commit that level of planning to try and make the game feel like a mutually fun experience, we might as well just agree to play Matched but have the non-marine player tailor their army to directly combat the Marines. It’s not fair on the players to have to go out of their way to do that.

    It’s not so bad in a competitive scene because, like you say, you can expect marines. But when you’re meeting up to play against someone new, or when you’re a kid who rarely gets to play and whose friends only play as marines, or you just want a little afternoon no-stakes smash up over a beer or two, and you get that nasty little surprise as your opponent whips out a supplement book and you realise, regardless of format or intention, that is going to be another one of *those* games, it’s an increasingly disheartening and predictable experience.

    • gvcolor February 26, 2020 5:43 pm #

      Completely on target with this! Let’s face it, by the time you unpack your army, setup the game, then play and pack up – you’re sitting at 3 hours min and more likely 4. The enjoyment is lost. All I need is a close game to have a good time, but when your opponents army has so much advantage and dice abilities that go far beyond your own – it sucks!

      Now back over to AoS…

  3. Rob Butcher February 26, 2020 7:33 am #

    An interesting article that raises some key issues. My attitude is so what “my army is winning for the first time in three years – it won’t last.” I’m enjoying it whilst i can and carrying on collecting different units for my IF army.

    NOT I’ve lost my first game, so i’m going off around the casinos with my buddies !!

    BUT competitive play is only one way to play – and tends to ignore that GW is a hobby company making models. So we COLLECT, BUILD, CONVERT, PAINT and PLAY to get the best of them.

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