Saturday, May 3, 2014

40K 7th Edition: Why I Don't Believe the Rumored Changes

What Rumors?
Okay, I do believe some of the rumors. Specifically, it seems apparent that a new rulebook is being released and that it will be at least somewhat different that the current rulebook. The fact that the rulebook is labeled as "No longer available" on GW's website, and has been unavailable for a while, certainly indicates that something is going on.

Gone so soon?
What I don't believe are the wild rumors that 7th Edition is going to fundamentally change the way we play the game. At first, the rumors made perfect sense. Several sources were referring to the new book as "version 6.5" or "revised 6th". These rumors said that the new book would incorporate the FAQs as well as the rules for Escalation and Stronghold Assault. (Stronghold Assault's "recommended" building rules make infinitely more sense than the ones released with 6th.) Others said that there would also be a few simple tweaks that would partially nullify certain extremely powerful builds; e.g., it was said that Prescience would no longer be the Primaris Power for Divination. (I really wanted to field Chief Librarian Tigurius and to take advantage of this power, but I can see why you wouldn't want such a potent ability to be the Primaris Power.)

It was around this time that the rumors started running wild. People started talking about percentage limitations replacing the Force Organization Chart and that some complicated system called "sideboards" would be introduced that would allow players to choose from among preset sublists of their army upon seeing their opponent's army. Supposedly this information was being provided by a "reliable source". Not long after, actual percentage values were being posted.

Please bear in mind that I have no direct access to any rumor sources. All I have is a grasp of mathematics and a basic understanding of economics and human behavior. Nor is this meant as a criticism of the owner of Faeit212; Naftka seems like a decent guy with a positive attitude about the game who simply reports rumors for the entertainment of geeks like us. Mostly I'm writing this because the rumors don't stand up to scrutiny. I also hope to debunk the notion that a percentage based system would "balance" the game.

What's This About Percentages?
I'm not going to touch the sideboard issue since our group would probably skip the mechanic altogether. The whole concept seems to cater to the hyper-competitive tournament crowd, which a) doesn't sound like something GW would do and b) doesn't remotely describe the 40K Cabal. What I will address is the supposed abandonment of the Force Organization Chart in favor of a percentage system.

According to one source, the percentages would be:
  • 10%-30% HQ (single character HQ Warlords can break this limit)
  • 40%+ Troops
  • < 20% Elites
  • < 25% Fast Attack
  • < 25% Heavy Support
  • < 25% Lords of War
  • < 20% Fortifications
  • < 25% Allies, Secondary Detachments, or Allied Army formations
  • < 50% Primary Army formations.
I've seen a huge number of positive comments about such a system in the comments sections of various rumor sites. "It will get rid of the Death Stars" they say, "it will finally balance the game" they say.

It will do no such thing.

Why This Rumor Is Absurd:
First of all, lets look at what these percentages would mean to a 2000 point game:
  • 200-600 points of HQ (single character HQ Warlords can break this limit)
  • 800+ points of Troops
  • < 400 points of Elites
  • < 500 points of Fast Attack
  • < 500 points of Heavy Support
  • < 500 points of Lords of War
  • < 400 points of  Fortifications
  • < 500 points of Allies, Secondary Detachments, or Allied Army formations
  • < 1000 points of Primary Army formations.
Wait a minute; less than 400 points of Elites? A mimimum-sized squad of Terminators with a Land Raider comes in at 450 points. Do we really believe that GW would give us a new rule set that would prohibit Vanilla Marines from fielding the iconic five man Terminator Squad and their Land Raider transport in a 2000 point game? If that's the case, you can definitely forget about bringing a slightly larger squad and taking advantage of the increased transport capacity of the Land Raider Crusader.

It should be obvious that a 20% limit would be devastating for Space Marines, which are very dependent on their Elites.

But I just finished these, you can't take them away from me!

What about 500 points for Heavy Support? Just last year GW gave us Centurions who could take a Land Raider as a Dedicated Transport. I hope nobody wanted to put both the lascannons and the missile launchers on those Centurions; three Centurions with just the TL lascannon upgrade and a Land Raider would already max out the rumored limit on Heavy Support.

According to the rumor, the majority of the
content of a codex is just meant to tease us.

How about the shiny new thing in the game, Escalation? Supposedly we'd only be allotted 25% for a Lord of War. Space Marines can only field a Thunderhawk, which comes in at 685 points (775 with the turbo-laser destructor). To bring the lone Lord of War that my Ultramarines are allowed, the game would have to be 2740 points or 3100 points if I want to bring a useful weapon. Eldar are even worse; they wouldn't be able to field their 900 point Lord of War in anything under a 3600 point game. The Cabal plays Escalation games at around 2500 points, which is a decent level for the size of most of our armies. We would completely lose interest if we were required to play 3000+ point games just to allow some of our members to bring their Lord of War.

Sorry Eldar players, the rumors say
that GW doesn't want you to buy
this $330 model anymore
Driving people away from playing with expensive Super-heavy models; does that sound like GW's modus operandi?

So we've seen how absurdly restrictive this purported percentage system would be. How about the other end; 40%+ of Troops:

Raise your hand if you own 800 points of basic Troops. I sure don't, and except for the few that have HQs that can change Elites or Fast Attack units into Troops, neither do any of my fellow Cabal members. It gets even worse in our 2500 point Escalation games, where you would be required to bring 1000 points of Troops. Oh, and to play a 3600 point game so our Eldar player can use his Lord of War? 1440 points. I have absolutely no desire to paint or field 800 points of Tactical Marines, let alone 1440 points.

Without upgrades, Space Marines would have to bring over 57 Tactical Marines to meet the supposed minimum value in a 2000 point game (and 72 for a 2500 point game). It's technically possible to get the model count down to 25, but that's only through taking the most expensive upgrades possible, which most players will recognize as being uncompetitive.

A much more viable list would still involve 30+ Marines with several upgrades, two drop pods, and two Razorbacks with TL lascannons. That's an awful lot of power armor to paint just to be able to play a basic 2000 point game.

And that's just Marines, who have relatively expensive models and could get away with a low model count. Does anyone care to crunch the numbers on how may Guardsmen would be needed to add up to 800 points? Or Orks? If a 2000 point Ork army tried to minimize its model count by taking almost every upgrade (i.e., one squad being upgraded to 'Ard Boyz and each squad having a Rokkit Launcha, a power klaw Nob with a Bosspole, and a Trukk), it would still have 60 Troop models. How many Ork players actually want to paint that many infantry? How many people want to face 55 Boyz and 5 power klaw Nobs, all of them in Trukks, and 12 of them 'Ard Boyz?

Why Percentages Wouldn't "Balance" the Game
"No more Riptide spam!" the believers cheer. "No more triple Heldrakes!" Okay, so percentage based lists would demolish the much hated Death Stars (which I've never seen since the Cabal avoids spam as being completely uninteresting)...

...and would merely shift the advantage to other armies. Azrael would be an auto-include in Dark Angels armies so their Ravenwing Attack Squadrons and Deathwing Terminators would count towards their 40%+ of Troops. Sure, you wouldn't see Tau dominating the tables anymore, but you would have plenty of Wave Serpents and Spiritseers leading units of Wraithguard. Grey Knight Terminators and Draigo's Paladins would be everywhere. Typhus, his Plague Marines, and hordes of Plague Zombies would take the place of the Heldrake spam.

And we thought we saw these guys a lot in 5th Edition.

And since those of us who can't play such shenanigans with our Troop slots would be stuck with extremely limited numbers of Elites and Heavies, we would have a difficult time countering the new Death Stars. Our basic Troops simply couldn't compete with the kind of variety that certain armies can field.

Here's the problem; the current 40K codexes weren't designed around a percentage system. Armies such as mine were designed around the idea that there would be a relatively small number of durable troops fighting alongside some very expensive Elite and Heavy units. A percentage system would disfavor my army while favoring those that have cheaper Elites and Heavies or that have more flexible Troop options. Is it really that hard to see that balance is the last thing that would come out of such a system?

Just out of curiosity, how many people in a casual setting regularly see Riptide spam or triple Heldrakes? I don't know about other gaming clubs (the Cabal is a pretty closed group, after all) but none of us spam anything. None of us have any interest in painting or playing spam, nor do we want to alienate our fellow gamers, most of whom were friends before we even started playing 40K together. In comment after comment I see people declaring that percentages would eliminate spam, but all I see is a rule that would force most of the Cabal members into extremely boring and restrictive lists just to "fix" a problem that casual gamers like us don't have.

A Complete Change in Philosophy?
So, I think I've shown why a percentage based system (especially one with the rumored percentage values) would be a bad idea. I'm not saying that GW doesn't occasionally make bad decisions, but I believe that they would have considered the consequences of fundamentally altering 40K's Force Organization and rejected the idea.

But even if they did suddenly decide to address the supposed problem of imbalance, why would they choose such a restrictive method? For months they've enthusiastically expressed the attitude of "play what you want" by releasing Escalation, Imperial Knights, Inquisition, Militarum Tempestus, dataslates, etc. Given how quickly people snatched up the Knights, this approach seems to have been reasonably successful; why would they immediately turn around and severely restrict army builds? Why would they renege on everything they've done for months, force gamers to abandon their new toys, and risk a huge customer backlash?

Wait, you wanted to actually play with your Knights?

Other than the rumors from "trusted sources", there's no evidence that GW has any intention of changing course.

Since decisions that affect rulebooks aren't made on the fly, we should have seen them reflected in recent publications. Can anyone point to any indications that percentages are coming? It seems to me that the Astra Militarum Codex clearly declares that there are no major changes on the horizon. After all, why would it still have vehicle squadrons if the Force Organization Chart is going away? The codex now includes Tank Commanders and allows them to bring two additional tanks in an HQ slot. Was that so GW could laugh when the 10% HQ limit prevented Guard players from taking more than a single command tank in anything less than a 3000 point game? And now Guard Troops and several upgrades are even cheaper; was that to make sure that when many Guard players found themselves unable to meet the 40%+ Troop requirement that they would have to build and paint even more models?

Giving Guard players a new codex with interesting units and builds and then immediately forcing them into playing a horde army a few months later isn't a recipe for success or balance, it's a way to enrage your customers and drive them out of the game. Regardless of what GW-haters may think, I don't believe that GW's current management is that dense.

The Timeline
It's apparent that the rumored changes would adversely affect multiple armies and that they don't match GW's philosophy. For the sake of argument, let's say that GW is willing to completely change course (which they tend not to do because they're an extremely conservative corporation) and that they don't realize or don't care that several armies will get the short end of the stick. Would it make sense that now, only a few years after the release of the edition that was 'here to stay', they would be poised to drastically alter the game? Would they even have had the time to do it?

As I understand it, a completely new edition of the rulebook can take years to develop. Even a revised codex like the C:SM that added a few units, tweaked a few points values, and introduced Chapter Tactics will be in the works for a year or more. When would GW have even started a reengineering of the Force Organization mechanic?

Many argue that these changes are meant to counter the various Death Stars and power builds, but the most notorious of these (i.e., the Tau/Eldar combinations) were introduced less than a year ago. The 40K community itself didn't even really know which way the meta was going until fairly recently. How long would it take for GW to concede that there may be a problem, particularly when said problem seems to exist mostly in the tournament/hyper-competitive scene that GW says it doesn't care about? Then, how long would it take to completely redesign a fundamental mechanic (i.e., percentages versus the Force Organization Chart) as well as devise a mechanic that's completely new to the game (i.e., sideboards)? Once that's done, how long would it take to play test it and publish it? Oh, and all this has to happen while your game design team is expected to be developing codexes and dataslates and releasing them at an unprecedented rate.

The time frame is completely unrealistic.

It Makes No Financial Sense
GW has said it time and time again; 40K is a "beer and pretzels game". Many of us in the Cabal are teetotalers, and those who do drink don't want a sober opponent to have an advantage, so ours is more of a Dr Pepper and Doritos game. Either way, GW has clearly stated that it isn't interested in catering to the tournament crowd. And it seems to be the more competitive gamers among us who think that a percentage system or sideboards will solve their problems.

GW is a business, and as a business they are more interested in selling models than they are in severely restricting our lists so that the game is more "balanced" for the competitive players. Making popular combinations difficult or impossible to field (e.g., Terminators or Centurions with a Land Raider transport) while forcing gamers to meet an unreasonably high minimum Troop requirement would cause huge swaths of players to simply quit. With a handful of exceptions, it would drive multiple armies into extraordinarily boring lists (not unlike many tournament lists, now that I think about it). Most of us in the Cabal would simply refuse to play that way.

Those who didn't despair at the idea of painting and playing with huge numbers of Troops and quit would certainly end up buying more Troop models, but it would be at a net loss for GW. Troop kits are some of the cheapest sets that GW sells, while relatively expensive kits like Leman Russes, Dreadnoughts, Riptides, Wraithknights, Land Raiders, Centurions, Terminators, or Imperial Knights would simply sit on the shelves since their numbers in a reasonably-sized game would be extremely restricted.

Captain Agemman has some strongly
worded opinions regarding these rumors.
For example, I now run 8 Assault Terminators (3 TH/SS, 5 LC) in a Land Raider Crusader with a multi-melta. These guys are my heavy hitters and come in at a cost of 595 points. Under the rumored percentage system I could only take the squad in a 3000 point game. (In the meantime, Carl and Jake could bring as many Terminators and Land Raiders as they wanted with the right HQ; balance!) As I said earlier, even if I dropped the squad down to its minimum number and points cost, a 20% limit on Elites would mean that I still couldn't field the squad and their transport in a 2000 point game.

The Crusader's transport capacity is very attractive and encourages players to buy two boxes of Terminators to take advantage of it. At retail price, the two Terminator boxes and the Land Raider Crusader cost $174.25. Even if you go cheap, a single box of Terminators and the Crusader still cost $124.25. But if you can't take them in a standard-sized game, why would anyone spend that much? A Dreadnought model costs $46.25, but who's going to get one when they can't even fit Terminators with a Dedicated Transport into their lists?

Gee, I really wanted to spend $152.25 to field that Devastator Centurion Squad and their Land Raider so I could counter all those Wraithguard and DA/GK Terminators I keep having to fight, but they come in at over the allotted 500 points with the necessary upgrades. I guess I'm just going to skip that $74.25 Land Raider. Or maybe I'll just get a box of Devastators and a Razorback for $76.25 instead. And with the 500 point limit on Heavy Support, I think I'll leave that new $65 Stalker on the game store's shelf.

Boy those Imperial Knights are pretty cool. I'd love to buy two or three of those $140 beauties and take them as Allies, but I'd have to play a 3000 point game to have two and a 4500 point game to have three. I don't want to play games that big, and I certainly don't want to paint even more Troops. Maybe I'll just get one.

I can have three Knights in an Allied Detachment?
Only if we're playing Apocalypse, apparently.

Does any of this sound like GW's policies? Does making the game boring for most players and discouraging them from buying the latest and greatest model kits sound like GW?

My Sinking Opinion on Rumors
I've lost a lot of confidence in the rumormongers recently, even with so-called "reliable sources". Not only did IG not get the new artillery models that they were supposed to get, but they saw rules for the previous units disappear. There were even rumors of plastic Steel Legion kits, complete with some of the most blatantly Photoshopped images I've ever seen. Tyranid rumors, such as the supposed ability to ally with themselves, were entirely off base. Most of the rumored Eldar models never materialized. And I clearly remember a persistent rumor that claimed that Space Marines were going to get specialized Razorbacks.

I have regularly visited 40K rumor sites since I got into the hobby, but now I'm regretting the time I spend there. The rumors seem to be getting less and less accurate yet they still succeed in riling up the 40K community with outrageous claims or wishlisting. The Steel Legion Photoshop fakes may have been some of the most egregious. Despite the efforts of myself and others to convince our fellow gamers of the truth, there were many more who were convinced that they were real.

I see the same thing with the latest batch of rumors. It makes no sense that GW would risk alienating players in exchange for little or no financial gain. Yet there are those who are already trying to play games according to the rumored rules as if they were established fact. It reminds me of those who started playing according to the "leaked" 6th Edition rulebook, which turned out to be an early play test copy at best and a total fraud at worst.

The only rumors that make sense are the ones saying that FAQs, Escalation, and Stronghold Assault will be incorporated into the book. And maybe they'll add a couple tweaks to allies and Prescience too. Anything else is wishlisting, misinformation, or trolling.

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