Today on Bell of Lost Souls, one of Warhammer 40,000’s bigger fans, Thomas  R. (a.ka. Goatboy), inadvertently illustrated just what is wrong with both 40k’s players and 40k’s makers.

Lets Take a Look:

Goatboy posted an article talking about how he was looking forward to the next 40k ‘Ard Boyz string of tournaments coming this summer and listed what characteristics he’s looking for in whatever list he hopes to take to that tournament. To me, nothing illustrates better what’s wrong with 40k and what age level (mental or physical) Games Workshop is aiming their flagship game at than by what is revealed in the points Goatboy makes. It’s a short article, and I encourage you to go read it for yourself–some of the comments are pretty spot on. But I’ll also reprint some of the article here—mostly just the bullet points though.

First off: his goal. Goatboy aims on making his army list solid enough to get past the first round and hopefully do well enough in the second round to win a free army (retail value: somewhere around 750 and 1300 dollars). I’ve always taken issue with placing huge importance on prizes as I’ve felt doing so takes away from the hobby. I could rant about the current state of the player base (and who’s to blame) for a while—indeed I have before, but I think for now, I’ll just stick with saying that having valuable prizes up for grabs at tournaments changes how and why people play the game.

Here are Goatboy’s goals for his ‘Ard Boyz army, pulled verbatim from Bell of Lost Souls:

1. My army needs to ignore some rules.
“I hate failing leadership. …So any army I take needs to ignore leadership as much as possible.”

For me, this is the biggest problem with Warhammer 40,000 right now: that everyone—players and the GW devs alike—has decided that in war, no soldiers ever retreat…well, ever. I’ve read up on enough battles to expect that a lot of random things happen in battle, and troops pulling back is one of them. For me, this is one of the great things in war gaming (miniatures or otherwise): that there will be times where, just like commanders in real situations, you don’t have 100% control over what is happening down on the ground; but it’s still up to you to pull a victory out of the situation.

Ensuring your army is predictable is great if all you care about is winning and care nothing about the hobby and the creative elements of it (indeed playing a game is one of the most creative elements of the hobby: you and your opponent are essentially co-creating a story every time you play a game!). I’ve never understood why people who insist on playing armies which ignore leadership/psychology/etc are playing 40k; they quite likely would be much MUCH happier simply playing in chess tournaments.

2. I need to have as many options to win as I can.
”I also think having your force org as maxed out as you can is another great way to cover all aspects of the mission and game.”

Being a fan of jack-of-all-trades style armies, I don’t think this sentiment is bad in itself, but it points to what is wrong with how GW is running ‘Ard Boyz these days: the points limit for armies is so high that maxing out your Force Organisation Chart is actually a real option!

I would argue that what makes a good general is the ability to make do with what you have. Rommel wasn’t one of the greats because he had more “stuff” than his enemies; it was because he accomplished more than his opponents’ did—and through guile and cunning, he did it with less. I think part of the beauty of lower-points games is that it forces players to make some really hard choices when deciding what they will bring to the battlefield.

‘Ard Boyz simply requires players take “two of everything” (not as simple as that, I know…but it’s not far off). There’s the whole issue of how 2500 points is a game size the developers never accommodated for. Also, gaming at 2500 points in size makes the games more about statistics than about actual tactical acumen when compared to what’s involved in 1500-point games.

3. I need to be able to move effectively across the board.
”We all know how transports are key to a 40k victory.”

Again, not a bad sentiment; but I think the ramifications of it suck. To me, transports being the key to victory is not only a failure on the part of the developers, but it also displays how perhaps Games Workshop has little confidence in their game, how they’re shilling all the transports on us, hoping to sell as much as possible before the jig is up and we realise we’ve been had.

First off: a failure on part of the developers? I’ll start empirically: when a GW developer writes a codex, I’d say if less than about sixty percent of the book is seen by the player base as “viable” for their army lists, that means less than sixty percent of the models in that army’s range are seen as worth purchasing, meaning the book is indeed a failure—just based on the book’s ability to sell GW’s models (Vespid, anyone?). Yes, sixty percent is an arbitrary number, but what’s the point in GW making models from a codex if the codex makes only about HALF of them “worthwhile” to buy? Tackling it not as quantitatively, is it good writing if the people reading your book like only half of what you’ve written? J.K. Rowling didn’t get to where she is now because people thought HALF her book was pretty good.

Secondly, as for GW displaying a lack of confidence in their products by making transports a necessity: by making transports such a no-brainer to take (because they do so much in comparison to non-mechanized armies), GW has effectively made it so their fans only buy half of what GW’s has to offer for that army, all because GW’s actions show a lack of confidence in their products by refusing to  give people several options not just a single “no brainer” choice.

Were infantry armies just as viable as mechanised armies, I’d like to think the sheer coolness of that army’s background—and 40k’s back story in general—would be enough to sell people on multiple armies from the same codex. If foot-slogging Marines were just as good as Razorback spam (or what have you), who’s to say players wouldn’t strive to collect a Razorback-spam army and a foot slogging army—or every model GW makes for Space Marines for that matter?

Through their actions, GW has moved away from encouraging players to collect armies, favouring instead that people collect army lists—problem is: everyone’s playing the same few lists!

4. I need an army that I am familiar with.

“I need something I can easily remember its interactions turn by turn.”

In the replies section of the Bell of Lost Souls page, someone mentioned that indeed this sentiment has been a driving force behind 40k for the past couple of years: every other codex release has been a Space Marines codex since the launch of Fifth Edition. Nice and familiar.

I had hoped that the plethora of Marine releases had come about because GW was able to easily forecast what the sales of Space Marine lines will be—thus enabling them to properly plan and sock away money in anticipation of the transition from metal models to Fine Cast™ models. Sadly, if the rumours about Sixth Edition are more or less correct, that means I am wrong; and GW is looking at having 40k be even more heavily represented by Space Marines and MEQ armies…where no one runs away…and everyone gets a tank or an APC.

And all because the fans demanded it.

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4 Responses to And All Because WE Demanded it…?

  1. hotpanda says:

    Looking at what the tournament player buys in terms of models is but a fraction of the player base. Many players out there do buy the models they want and use them in non-optimized armies. To base your argument on the backs of tournament players is a bold statement to make.

    The problem lies in that GW is restricting the amount of codices that are horde style armies. At the same time they keep pushing variants of power armour toting marines that they have actually flooded the playing field with them. This is where the imbalance is in 40k.

    If the game system had both effective and numerous horde armies it would swing the balance of the meta game. First there would be less transports on the table which would result in less anti tank weapons on the table. In the end people would have to tailor their armies to handle both footsloggers and mechanized. Right now we have Orks and Tyranids for footslogging hordes out of 14 armies. This number needs to increase to somewhere in the region of 4-6 if we want to have a diverse gaming system. This what the fans need to start demanding…

  2. imaginarywars says:

    Thanks for leaving the comments!

    Yeah, it’s not lost on me that I’m being a bit bold with this post (incendiary even). I do, however, feel safe basing my arguments off of the relative minority of players who engage in tournament games; even though this “tournament crowd” is a minority of the 40k player base, I DO think that all but the most insular gaming circles end up aping what’s going on in the tournament circles.

    (The logic being, once one person adopts ‘hard’ tournament tactics to his regular games, his circle of friends must all up the ante as well–an adapt or die kind of thing–if they want to keep up with him. For most people, once you’ve started optimising your army lists, fairly impossible to quit it, making army-optimising the herpes of GW minis gaming. …All my opinion, of course!)

    And yes, I do agree with your assertion that there needs to be more horde armies–essentially, it’s what I was saying in my post.

    I just started getting into Flames of War (mid war) and have been struck by just how viable every kind of army play style is in the game. In Flames of War, you’re not a sucker if you choose to play an all-infantry army. Yes, you’ll be playing a more defensive game; but from what I’ve been reading so far, regardless of whether you’re playing an infantry army, a motorised/mechanized infantry army or an all-tank army, the chances of winning with each style of army is still pretty balanced (and not in a rock-paper-scissors match up kind of way either).

    I’m sure as I get more experience with the game, my thoughts on that might not be as straight forward, but I haven’t seen much yet about Flames of War failing in that way….which of course then begs the question: why can’t GW have the same dynamic in 40k?

    And I agree completely that we, the fans, need to start demanding more from Games Workshop–and not in that internet-rage kind of way, either.

    (I’ve decided I want my posts to wax a little more critical when discussing GW’s flagship games, but I don’t want to just come across as a nerd-raging fanboy or a cynic. Considering every year they demand more from us, the people who have decided to play and buy their premium products, I think it’s high time that we demanded more from Games Workshop.)

  3. hotpanda says:

    You hardly “come across as a nerd-raging fanboy or a cynic”. The post is intelligent and well thought out. I really enjoyed the article and the topic it is exposing. Thanks.

    The questions remains though how do we demand something from GW and get their attention while doing so?

    • imaginarywars says:

      Well thanks!

      As for demanding more from GW…
      ….. ???

      That REALLY is the big question! I would think hand-written, snail-mailed letters and voting with our wallets would be our only recourse right now–but I’m not so sure it would work in any meaningful way…at least not quickly.

      That said, I think people are *already* voting with their wallets; they’re just not doing it in a sudden, decisive way: they’re just slowly weening themselves off of GW’s “The Hobby”(TM).

      The problem with THAT is it fails to send GW any kind of message (other than one that prompts from them a “we need to raise our prices 13% to counter the 9% drop in volume and post 4% growth at the same time” kind of reaction).

      I DO think any message that is tried to be sent via the internet (blogs, websites, emails, etc) are instantly neutered because it’s being done on the internet; and GW either doesn’t believe there is *really* such thing as “a internet,” or they have the same view as much of the more internet-savvy population: people complaining via the internet is what the internet is all about, thereby making the complaints mean nothing.

      Hmmm… indeed!

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