Monday, 27 February 2012

If it looks broke, maybe it 'aint.

There’s a lot of moaning about underpowered codices at the moment and, to be honest, for as long as I can remember there always has been. A couple of blogs have been posting articles recently on fixing certain armies, but I’ve just got to pipe-up and say “Stop it!”.

You’re not a game designer despite what-ever delusions of grandeur you may be under and, even if you decide to post your own “improved codex”, no-one is going to use it. In fact, while giving everyone a level playing field may sound like a good idea, I don’t really think that it is.

I’m going to use my recent experience of Blood Bowl as an example here (and before you all mumble “here he goes again”, bear with me, this is going somewhere). In Blood Bowl there are clearly established tiers of teams; Wood Elves, Norse, Undead and Chaos are among the top tier, meaning that they are easier to play with and have reliable strategies for scoring points and winning games. There is a mid-tier consisting of teams like Khemri and Nurgle, these are teams who have defined strategies for winning but they are difficult to implement and tend to require much more careful play. Then there are the bottom tier teams such as Goblins, Halflings and Ogres who really only have one way to win games and are very difficult to play by all but the most experienced coaches. As this is a dice game, luck is also a factor and the tiers reflect how much the luck of the dice comes into play. With top tier teams being able to cope best with poor dice while the bottom tier teams are very reliant on good dice.

I expect that by now you can see where I’m going with this!

In 40K we seem to have a similar system of tiers in the various armies with Grey Knights, Space Wolves, Dark Eldar and Imperial Guard occupying the top slots and Nids, Vanilla Marines and Sisters pretty well entrenched on the bottom rung. Now I do appreciate the fact that the cost of entry to 40K is significantly steeper than that of Blood Bowl (probably in the region of 10x more). So if you happen to play Nids, for example, and GW updates your codex which drops you down a tier or two it’s not necessarily practical to go out any buy a new army. But this is a commodity hobby, you didn’t need those toys in the first place, suck it up and find a way to enjoy your chosen army. Or, go out and start to collect a new army, you managed to do it once, if you love it enough you’ll do it again!

Rather than railing against this “tier” arrangement why not embrace it? It’s very easy for a top level player to spray some marines grey/blue and go off to a tournament and do very well with them.

Big whoop! Hey! Everyone’s very impressed.

Instead, why not say, “Hey, I’m pretty good at this game, let’s try taking a more challenging army to the next tournament and see how I do!”? Being successful with a lower tier army has got to be more satisfying to the player and will surely garner more kudos from the community, if that’s what matters to you.

Given the level of competitiveness in the tournament scene at the moment I don’t really expect to see many people do this but I do not think that equalising all of the codices is the answer. Surely there are top players out there who want a challenge and I think the game would become rather stagnant and boring if everything became equal.

A couple of cases in point for your consideration, I believe that Nic Nanavati is having some success with Nids in the States and over here Gaz Jones has always been a proponent of Xenos codices which have not fared too well (power level-wise) under 5th edition. Also in the UK, James Ramsey was (when last I heard) defending the honour of the Sisters of Battle.

So, what do you all think? Does the variety in the power level of the codices need fixing or is it there to provide a variety of game-play experience? Or am I just talking bollocks because I’ve been playing too much Blood Bowl? I’ll turn it over to you.


  1. While I agree, I also think there's a fundamental difference with BB and 40K. In BB they did not intend to perfectly balance all teams. Teams like Ogres, Vampires, Goblins and Halflings exist as a lower tier team intentionally to challenge experienced coaches. This is different from a 40K codex that was once good but turned into crap for one reason or another. For that reason you hear the pissing and moaning. Now, if GW said these codices aren't as competitive as the others and it's by design to challenge you all as generals then that would be another story.

    I think GW aims to make each codex balanced against one another. It doesn't always work out that way but I feel half the reason for that is the players. People will find a loop hole and exploit the hell out of it if they can. They'll design armies in ways GW never thought about when they wrote the codex. Of course that makes the other half of the fault that of codex design that these things exist to be exploited.

    That being said, not all armies are designed equally when it comes to the skill required to field an army successfully. That I feel is intentional and should remain. This is also where I feel some discontent arises and the afore-mentioned pissing and moaning. Some people refuse to work at learning an army in order to do well with it. They want things handed to them with minimal time and effort. Instead of coming to the realization that an army can do well if mastered and understood they instead seek easier and greener pastures.

  2. Nice comment, thanks.

    I take your point about Blood Bowl having imbalance by design and 40k having imbalance by the fact that the system is more complex and inherently more difficult to balance accurately.

    All I'm saying is that the imbalance is there none-the-less and we should embrace the imbalance rather than trying to equalise it out by our own design attempts.

    I know this doesn't help Joe Bloggs; the long-time Nid player (sorry to keep picking on Nids) who's just had the rug of competitiveness pulled out from under him. But that's the system we're subscribed to.

  3. That's kind of the reason I took Tau to Jolly Toys. I felt to do well with what is regarded as a "crap codex" would mean more than success with SW. However, I cocked up which didn't really prove anything in the end! Means I'll have to try again at Open War!

    The reason I stopped playing Tau in the first place is because my main opponent always played jump-pack BA. It's the same reason one of my other opponents doesn't like his nids anymore as when they face my SW they don't have much chance.

    The way I think of it (and I borrow this from C&F's Graham) is that some armies are 40K on Easy mode. Not saying that everyone can do well with them but they're certainly more forgiving than others.

    Imagine you're playing a video game e.g. Halo. If you'd never played before and elected to play it on Legendary then you'd probably be put off pretty early on. Play it on Easy and you'll never enjoy the game in the same way. Yes you'll complete it and you'll get the joy of killing the aliens but there'll ultimately be less satisfaction in it.

    That being said, I do have to say that some books are particularly dated and need a revamp. Personally I don't think much needs to change with most of them but the game has changed a lot over the years and they're left behind with defunct rules. In the case of Bloodbowl the LRB was written with all of the teams in mind and re-wrote the rules for them all at once.

    40K is a lot more complex so it's impractical to make all the books up-to-date at the same time!

  4. I can't possibly see how having an inherently weaker codex then the guy next to you is a good thing for the game. I've had THREE new people who have tried to get into the game on the back of Chaos Marines, because, well, look at them! They look freaking badass!

    Unfortunately, they are really quite bad, even compared to regular, vanilla marines. So they get stomped, game after game, and then they go online to figure out what they are doing wrong. And guess what? You know what their big gaming 'sin' that they did wrong that keeps them loosing?

    They chose the wrong army.

    Why is that a GOOD thing? That my marines are better then his marines because mine has fur coats and his has spikes? It's not even that spikes = bad, as DE vs Eldar show. How the heck is a new player suppose to figure that out? Sure, he could play with his models with a different book, but surely he would have just gotten those other marines in the first place if he wanted to play them.

    But no. He wanted the evil guys. Or the girls with the cool armor. Or giant alien bugs. Or the demons. Or...

  5. I guess your comment raises the point as to why a person gets into the game in the first place and how they continue to be involved in the hobby.

    If someone feels an affinity towards a particular Codex for aesthetics or background then that's great, in fact it should be something which keeps you with that army - it's why I keep comming back to Nids.

    If you happen to then take that Codex (which let's assume is a less powerful one) to a competitive club/game group then it's not just the army you have chosen which is going to get you "stomped", your lack of experience is going to figure heavily as is the ability of the people you are playing against.

    I jumped into the tournament scene in the UK with Vanilla Marines about 2 years ago and lost every game of the first tournament I played in. 1 year later, playing with the same Codex, I was placing in the top 30%. Ability and practice as certainly more important than the Codex you use - up to a point.

    Taking Chaos Marines as a specific example, they are far from a bad army, they do have bad match ups, and one of their most powerful builds (double lash) has lost it's potency with the prevalence of mechanised lists. Bui infiltrating Chosen iwth Quad Melta, Berserkers, Plague Marines and Oblits are pretty strong units and can be applied in winning lists.

    But back to the subject of my post, I'm not saying it's good that we have variation in power between the codices just that we do, it's not a bad thing and, anyway, there's nothing we can do about it so rather than complaining about it, be aware of it and accept it for what it is.

    Perhaps you, as a more experienced player, could educate and coach new players to your group, who bring weaker armies rahter than just stomping them. Or, even better offer guidance to players in selecting armies more suitable to the beginner before they jump into the hobby. Though I'm totally down with choosing an army based on spikes and chains ... or claws and gribbly bits.

  6.  He is simply saying that between different codexs the power level can vary wildly. Its hard on a new guy to go into a friendly local tourney and be tabled every game by the casual Grey Knight players, because their codex is just better. 

  7. This is a really interesting topic and one that's close to my heart. As a Tyranid and Chaos Space Marine player I understand the arguments for/against stronger & weaker codexes, but it comes down to far more than that.

    As I said, I play Tyranids as my main army now. I've been using them solidly for about a year, and I'm JUST BEGINNING to get used to their particular style of play. It may be I'm a slow learner (true) but I like to learn from my own mistakes rather than follow the perceived internet wisdom and blindly collect a cookie-cutter list. It is true that nids are a little under-powered, but on the other hand they can absolutely terrify an opponent on occasion! Sometimes you've won before you roll a dice because the opponent looks at your monstrous creatures and swarms of bugs, and mentally tells himself that he can't kill that many nids. This them informs his target selection choices and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    For me, the biggest factor in being successful with ANY codex is committing a long period of time to learning your army (though obviously the learning time is shorter for beginners' armies like Space Wolves (COUGHcheesefangsCOUGH). Gav (Mr. Claws & Fists himself) gave me some great advice last year - "choose a list and stick with it for 10-20 games". Best bit of advice I've had since returning to the hobby a couple of years ago. I am dabbler and used to tinker incessantly. Sticking to a single army list allows you to understand not only individual units, but how those units necessarily interact together.

    The other good bit of advice I received was to LEARN THE RULES! Sounds obvious, but for new or returning players, learning the 'advanced' rules (wound allocation, USR's, morale etc) can be daunting and even quite tricky. But it has to be done.

    Finally, a couple of things I've learnt myself:

    (1) when selecting a list, only pay points for things you'll definitely use;

    (2) Use the things you've paid for.

    The first is fairly obvious - don't overload on upgrades which may be wildly situational, random or only useful against certain units/armies. Far better to have a couple of extra Marines/Genestealers than a one-in-a-million killer grenade or pistol.

    The second point is less obvious (to newer players anyway). Many units, even 'standard' ones, have many special rules. Learn them and USE THEM! You've paid points for them, so take advantage. For example, your Genestealers can Infiltrate or Outflank. Your Termagants can Move thru Cover. And so on. That extra inch of movement could make all the difference!

    The final thing I would say is that designing a codex is hard. REALLY HARD. I've been working on a Squats fandex for some time now, and it's been a real eye-opener. You can't just invent a unit and blythely assign points to it without considering things like 'how does that unit work with every other unit in your codex?' and 'what synergies does this unit (sometimes unwittingly) bring?'.

    So in summary, what do I think?

    - Are some codexes harder to master than others?

    - Are any codexes unable to win?

    - What does it take to be successful?

  8. I think the power levels are pretty fine. No codex is anywhere near as bad as old necrons or GK. Every book can do well-the 'weaker' ones perhaps have more bad matchups so are more likely to not win events.

    Sisters, in my case, are still a strong book and In my opinion they are just as strong if not more so than the old book. 

    However the issue with the older codexes comes down to the limit of what 'good' choices there are. Any tournament sister army below 2.5k will have celestine, jacobus, 2+ exorcists, 2-3 dominions etc.


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