I had originally made some drafts for posts about why Traitor’s Hate didn’t fix Chaos, how Wrath of Magnus wouldn’t fix Thousand Sons, and how Legions wouldn’t fix us spikey boys. While writing this, I realised it became more of a general criticism of the edition due to the differences in codices. This introduction thus serves as the framework for my criticism, so the reader can understand the thought process behind the criticism, so bear with me as I start off with a quick CSM intro!
Striking a Balance
In short, why I didn’t think the aforementioned supplements would fix the CSMs boiled down to these being supplements, our codex being terribad, and GW’s policy is that codices are the go-to for points and statlines. Within that framework, and based on previous supplements measured against the Emperor’s lapdogs’ formations, I made a list of demands required to make us playable, much like a demented hostage-taker with no hostage.
- Drop pods or viable delivery method
- Null deployment
- Free transports
- Army-wide …ATSKNF/Fearless equivalent (or which doesn’t cost an HQ cost and/or 100+ points)
- Weaponry to compete with grav
- Chapter Tactics (turn 1 charge or similar)
- Chapter Doctrines
- Point reductions for all sub-standard units
First of all, this isn’t to make CSMs the best codex. It’s a list of what we would need to be balanced against the Emperor’s lapdogs so we all can have a fun game and not see how many dice throws it takes to remove all the bad guys. Granted, we do have some things, like VotLW, Marks, better Sorcerers, Decepticons, Daemon Princes etc. that the aquila-polishers don’t have, but it goes both ways (Land Speeders, Razorbacks etc).
Judging by reviews etc., we get 1-3, depending on the Legion you pick, as Death Guard and World Eaters get Fearless for CSMs, and we get some useful Legion Tactics. Essentially, we’re now better than ‘Nids, IG (though I have never beaten them personally!), Orks and non-monobuild Sisters of Battle, and possibly start nudging our way in the mid-tier. Then I saw the below tweet, and I started thinking about why these others codices are so bad from even a casual or game design point of view, and why Eldar, Tau, mono-build Daemons, and SM are so good. What, in this edition, is it that makes them so bad?
It Began in 6th Edition
8th edition 40k is due in June. What do we think about that? Good? Bad?
What changes are you hoping for?
I really hope challenges disappear.
— 4dads (@4dadsapocalypse) December 3, 2016
I’m gonna start by rolling the clocks back to the beginning of 6th edition, when Chaos Space Marines got their flying Decepticon, the Heldrake. While you can obviously go much further back, to wh40k being essentially a skirmish game of 10-15 models adapted to a few squads, this is the crux for now.
From a game balance point of view, adding flyers was like adding another item to the rock-paper-scissors. While adding another dimension can add depth, and make it more fun for everyone if implemented properly, it wasn’t necessarily added properly. People didn’t have counters at all in many cases, and the Heldrakes ran rampant. This was especially telling at lower point games where you didn’t have points to bring counters for everything else. Here is where it began becoming important to talk to your opponent prior to the game, and know whether he’s bringing Heldrakes or flyers.
Imperial Knights were the next culprit. Lords of War outside Apocalypse games is another massive shift in how the game is fundamentally played. It started becoming more about packing enough firepower to drop them ASAP. Then these got Invulnerable saves, and that damnable shield which affected anyone NOT mobile enough to avoid it. The game moved even further away from a skirmish game.
Furthermore, how Allies were handled became an issue in 7th (see Superfriends). Limiting the amount of combinations possible is a good way of preventing a lot of potentially game-breaking combinations that are difficult to prevent when you suddenly allow different armies to share benefits. While Unbound was a piece of the puzzle, the combinations of the different Space Marine codices was the main issue here, though Tau/Eldar combos were also exceedingly common earlier in the edition. The BRB has issues, but I think this is the main issue.
Magic; the Gathering prevents most combinations by having several formats than prohibit certain block (a series of cards) and cards from being combined. You then notice the level in power between Legacy, which allows a lot of cards, and Modern, which only allows the most recent cards. These decks can’t really be played against each other as a fair game. Warhammer 40k does not such thing. Honestly, while Allies make sense fluff-wise, and they are here to stay, at least a blanket ban on squads consisting of models from separate codices would be a good place to start, unless they have special rules that would allow that. It would make creating balanced codices without potentially game-breaking combinations much easier.
Formations really began to come into their own in 7th edition, with the unkillable Necrons in the Decurion Formation romping Eternal War missions. In addition, the formations quickly began giving some incredible bonuses to firepower, or allowing certain units to be spammed. As one of the Norwegian ETC players said when he played his Eldar vs. another ETC player’s Tau – whoever goes first, wins. While these lists are obviously competitive, they are indicative of what is happening in the more bigger casual game scene. However, you don’t want to have 2 dice rolls (who sets up first and Seize the Initiative) be that important. Alessio Cavatore and Rick Priestly solved this by abolishing the old You Go, I Go system in Bolt Action, which again is a relic of both time and 40k’s origins as a skirmish game.
Maelstrom missions increased the value of drop pods and mobility in 7th edition as well. Don’t get me wrong – I love the Maelstrom Missions, but they had effect of boosting many of the already strong codices, which further exacerbated the problems associated with the codices. The value of mobility Maelstrom Missions did not seem to be taken into account by the codex writers.
Shooting is Everything
The firepower of Tau, Eldar, and SM, and to a lesser extent AdMech/Skitarii, is then too strong, point-for-point, when compared to the durability of units in other codices. Think about it; Telepathy is considered the best Psychic Discipline because it means you can guarantee any unit to survive for at least one round (as long as you go first). Remember that the mainly close combat armies Orks and CSMs struggle massively because they can’t get into close combat. I know at least us spikey boyz complain about a lack of viable delivery methods, which has begun to boil down to drop pods or assaulting out of Deep Strike, due to grav Immobilising everything, meaning Land Raiders are too expensive. When you combine this with bringing an extra few hundred points to a game just because you have aquilas on a bunch of Tacticals, ignore cover when needed, re-roll To Hit rolls, being able to spam your already unbalanced units through formations, incredible mobility, durability, Interceptor, drop pods and/or Psychic phase domination, it ruins the game balance. The game essentially began to boil down to going first, and making your opponent incapable of retaliating after your initial onslaught, or having some way of weathering the first turn.
The Tau codex is certainly not the only culprit, they’re the poster boy for how things went terribly wrong this edition. The power creep associated with the firepower and its accessibility in some codices forced me to begin talking at length with my opponent to simply get a balanced game, which was reliant on both of us having a certain level of experience and knowledge of 40k.
The power creep had made it impossible to turn up with just any old army (though there are differences in synergies), and have a somewhat balanced game. The newest power creep in the form of cheaper firepower spammed by formations exacerbated this problem. I’m not saying wh40k was ever a perfectly balanced game, but it is much less balanced than it ever was. Da boyz, the Sisters, the Guard, and us spikey boyz can attest to that.
While having to almost coordinate lists is impractical for me, what about the newbie who likes Riptides and brings them against his newbie friend, who built an army around the CSM force from the Dark Vengeance kit? They have no working knowledge to really balance their game, and thus their game will be utterly lopsided. The codices exist for them as a reference point to create a balanced game.
So while the ruleset is bloated, Telepathy is god, and stupid rulings in FAQs (Grenades…), combat resolution hurting mob-style units, vehicle rules at least need tinkering, a new ruleset can help make the game more accessible for newbies, and can truly benefit from some streamlining, but that is not where the main issue in wh40k lies. The codex designers need to get their noses out of Phil Kelly’s medicine cabinet and apply some common sense, and hopefully begin playtesting again. My hope is the creation of an online “living” codex ruleset, where GW and its codex designers get feedback from the community and tournament organisers to tweak the rules every few months.
tl;dr: Shooting is too cheap for some codices and exploit the frailties of the BRB, the rules in the BRB are fine, though streamlining would make it more accessible.