Wednesday, May 28, 2014

When It's Such a Train-Wreck You Can't Look Away: 40k 7th Edition Thoughts

My Space Marine Collection

First Impressions

So the new, unexpected edition of Warhammer 40k is now out, and I've had a few days to process it.

Overall, I am somewhat disappointed.  One book in the set is just a bunch of pictures.  The background book has exactly the same background (and mostly the same text) as 6th edition, but with different pictures.  The rules are mostly the same as 6th edition, with the most notable changes being a new Psychic phase and an even more permissive army selection system.  Maddeningly, some of the most obvious problems with 6th edition remain unchanged: assault is too weak, massed fliers are too difficult to counter, weapons that ignore cover bypass core game mechanics, combinations of certain characters are ludicrously power, and psychic powers can buff a unit into near indestructibility.

What Was GW Thinking?

As a game designer (albeit an amateur one) I have to wonder, why does GW persist in leaving so many obvious problems in place, particularly when it would be quite easy to fix them?  It's tempting to dismiss GW as caring only about sales or just to write them off as completely incompetent, but I don't think either response really explains the new edition.  I notice that they did fix certain elements of the game, just not all of them.

For example:

  • Monstrous Creatures can no longer charge they turn they go from flying high to gliding.  It used to be that they could have all the advantages of a flier's protection, then slam straight into melee at the start of their next turn.  
  • Jetbikes and Skimmers now must choose between getting a Jink Save and being able to shoot effectively the following turn.  This could be abused in all sorts of ways, particularly when combined with abilities that enhanced Cover Saves.
  • Vector Strikes were toned down, so that fliers can no longer zoom around with impunity, decimating any units without leaving the safety of being a flier. 
  • Vehicles are now harder to kill with single-shot weapons, like meltaguns.  In 6th edition, most vehicles died to stacked hull-point loss, but if you got close with a meltagun, or lucky with other weapons, you could pop a vehicle easily.  
  • The Psychic phases has been modified so that, if you have fewer Psykers, it is harder to cast most spells.  In 6th, cheap Psykers almost never failed to cast, and could have major effects on game play. 

This suggests to me that GW is sensitive to certain balance issues, some of the time.  The issues they have chosen to fix, however, are those that you will might encounter in casual play.  If you have a small collection, or some restraint in building lists (say a list with only one Riptide or a combined-arms Marine or Eldar list) these are the sorts of problems you would notice and want fixed. 

On the other hand, GW seems stunningly indifferent to the sorts of problems that only occur for players with large collections or who are pushing the mathematical limits of the game. A Tau or Eldar army's capacity to stack lots of Ignores Cover only becomes evident if a player takes lots of the relevant units.  As Reecius points out in the link below, it is only when you have lots of Psykers that the new phase becomes absurd. Special characters' combinations only become evident if you play with them frequently and choose them for game-mechanical benefits rather than their background.

So I think what we're seeing is a game design that only cares about the center of the bell-curve of possible armies, and is indifferent to problems on the extremes.


Where to Go from Here?

People are already considering how to adapt to this edition.  Over at Frontline Gaming, Reecius has sketched out this article on the rudiments of tournament modifications for 40k:


His analysis is spot-on, and I do hope that the community develops a standard(ish) set of standards for open play in tournaments and leagues.  I suspect I will not be playing in any tournaments either way, however, as I am not especially interested in competitive list-design.

I prefer to win than to lose, of course, and I like to play with lists, but what I really want out of a game is for the victory to depend on decisions players make at the table: on maneuver and tactics and a little luck.  If the armies reflect the background, with a preponderance of troops and support, and not just a few tooled up super-units, I think that's desirable too.  On a scale of 1-10, between fluff (1) and unlimited competition (10), I'd put myself at a 6 or a 7.  

I am more interested in  how to create an environment for drop-in or league casual play: a system that encourages people to show up with a moderate list, but avoids puppy-stomping extremes.


Reece Robbins said...

I agree with a lot of your analysis. I think we need some ground rules or this edition becomes pure chaos.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

Axelman said...

I reserve judgment until I can play a few games. Certainly there are still flaws, but I was pretty happy with how 6th edition played for the most part.

I , too, prefer more balanced lists than crazy puppy-stomping lists, as you put it. I like to think I have a healthy balance of fair play and a will to win, and that reflects in my army composition. Sometimes I just want to try something out to see how it works, sometimes I build a list because I think its a neat combination.

If it works, great, but did I have fun? That's really my first priority.