Monday 11 September 2023

HOT TAKE - Tenth edition and how to balance competitive and casual play

Afternoon #WarHamFam and #WarhammerCommunity just last Friday I posted my second #New40k battle report. Although not the most amazing game it felt like it was moving in the right direction and I've been enjoying quite a few '40k in 40 minutes' videos on Play on Tabletop which have made the game feel dynamic and exciting.

But this post was written before Friday and on the Thursday GW gifted us with a new 'Balance Data Slate' to help balance all the factions in 40k and bring everyone back into that magic zone of around 45-55% win ratios. This happened throughout 9th edition and spills over into tenth in what would appear to be an admirable approach by GW to make the game fair - but should they? Right now I think they should not.

As of Thursday my Imperial Knights got a second round of 'balancing' to help stem their runaway win:loss ratio. Having already had points increases across almost all the larger knights in the first round of balancing just after 10ths release they now got the change to Towering that should have been made in the first instance. But also, the Bondsman ability only affects Armigers [which seems fair and fits the fluff] but just for fun lets raise the price of the Armigers too!

The problem with this is it has a disproportionate impact on a Knights army list, certainly for lower point games. It tips over and without the upgrade options to help bring units under budget you can end up with a significant underspend or forced to take a type of Knight you don't actually want to run. Of course you could always take an Imperial Agents Exaction squad - 5 space police that can help do missions and are super cheap.

Except, you can't actually appear to get them anywhere as they're sold out and they got 'balanced' too! So now you have to buy a unit of 10 for 100+ points, which is almost worth trying to find the extra 50 for the Armiger. I suppose there's always a unit of Henchmen... but for sure, that means folk don't need to be rushing out for that Kill Team box [that wasn't available anyway]. So, wholly disheartening as a Knights player and I've only played 2 games. But this isn't the only one, what about my beloved Tyranids? A new Codex, surely all their points were safe... Even the Norn Emissary and Assimilator got price increases and they hadn't even been released. But for me, the biggest kick was the Tyrannofex, going from 200pts to 245pts.

For year's I'd seen folk ask Exocrine or Tyrannofex? And more often than not Tyranid players would advise to take the Exocrine as it's firepower was generally more predictable. But I would recommend the Tfex for a few reasons - firstly Exocrines were like hen's teeth. They were mostly unavailable before GW had most things 'unavailable'! You couldn't get them from 3rd party sellers either. Secondly, if you could get them they were about £45 [at the time, £50 now]. Whereas a Tfex was about £30 [and even cheaper on ebay]. Although you can now get Exocrines at FLGs, they're still charging RRP on what is clearly a smaller model. Which brings me to the final point - the Tfex is so much more bang for your buck. It's bigger, better looking and a cooler centre-piece to your army.

Exocrine by Third Eye Nuke, formerly of Tale of Painters

Every time I even considered buying an Exocrine I thought why should I pay 50% more for less? And 9th, Exocrines were only between 5 and 20pts less... but not in 10th. They're only 135pts compared to the 245pts of the Tfex. So when I saw someone recommending taking 2 of them for just a little more points than 1 Tfex I couldn't believe the real world disconnect of £100 versus £33? So what has this got to do with balancing competitive versus casual play?

The regular balancing as mechanism seems like a good idea. It shows GW is listening and reacting, trying to make the game fair - for competitive play. Afterall, no one has to use these updates. But even casual players like myself like to keep abreast of what's going on, as my mates and I liked to go to tournaments. Not so much since COVID but the blog features plenty of road trips that me and my mates took, with no plans of winning. But to compete you have to practice in the way people play and that is not often casual at tournaments. But it's worth reflecting on that period when we did go to tournaments, where there was no balancing going on. You had your army, if it was good, you were lucky. If it sucked you weren't. For year's I would say "if I wanted to win I wouldn't play Tyranids". I accepted their place in the competitive faction hierarchy and got on with it. I had their rules and learned to play them, as best I could. What I can't deal with now is the constant shifting goal posts. Not just with changing points, but rules too and not just faction rules but the core rules. 

How am I supposed to learn the game if it's constantly changing? Of course it always does, but previously it was every 4-5 years, with perhaps a Codex change somewhere inbetween. For the last few editions there have been Index's, Codex's and balance data-slates with FAQ's/erratas built in. It makes a mockery of that 280 page tome that came with Leviathan. Lets face it, this should have just been a rule book without the lore or split like 7th edition. Leviathan didn't even come with dice - because it was not aimed at 'beginners' so it didn't need any of the lore, but I digress.

The bottom line is the constant change to rules and points to help balance the game competitively does no favours for casual players. Does this happen in other competitive play? Does Premiership football change the rules of the game mid-season when it's clear one team is dominating? No, it's up to the other teams to change tactics, buy new players or practice harder with the players they've got. Sometimes you just have to accept that for a time some factions are OP. Funnily enough that happened with Knights when they first came out. I feared them with utter dread and never expected to be anything other than cannon-fodder with my nids. But in 7th Edition I had one of my most memorable games at a tournament against 2 Questoris and 2 Cerastus and secured a draw! I adapted, overcame and that did not need them artificially levelling the playing field to do so.

Perhaps the solution is to stop meddling again. Balance is not what it's cracked up to be. Make your rulebook smaller, stop bundling it with all the lore and stick to it. Then you can focus your resources on delivering the products that are out of stock, rather than creating demand for items that aren't available. It's worth noting that the most fun I've had gaming recently are with rulesets that are simple and stable. I don't need to worry about #MESBG because the rules don't change [much]. I've learnt enough about them to play casually or even at a tournament, if I felt so inclined. I am competent and confident I could play against people I didn't know. Sadly I can't say the same about 40k, despite years of practice in previous editions and many similarities. The subtle edition changes and the constant meddling - means I can hardly trust my core rule book before I've even had a chance to get familiar with it.

It's such a shame as I really hoped 10th would bring me back into the fold. I love the lore [even if I don't need it in my rule book] and the figures too. I've invested so much time and effort into it but so much of it now feels utterly redundant as the game, although less complex now, is something I just don't trust.

1 comment:

  1. The constant changing is what turned me off Kill Team about 12 months ago as well. I was trying to learn the rules and play in a club and all of the changes just repeatedly made me feel like an idiot :-)