Tuesday, January 31, 2017

The Problems with Balancing 40K

The Problems with Balancing 40K

I consider game design a hobby of mine, and 40k and how it works is one of my favorite points of discussions. I don’t seem alone in that regard, because I see discussions and theories of how to “fix” 40k very often online. Rather than offer my own thoughts on balancing it (which I have done in pieces before) I want to talk about why 40k is so difficult to balance and why the community is the least qualified group of people to do it.

First, let’s talk about balancing techniques. Speaking broadly, there’s two ways to balance a game: incrementally and in bulk. Incremental balancing is releasing relatively frequent patches or FAQs to change the game, which you see in online games like League of Legends or in the FAQs for the X Wing Miniatures game. Bulk balancing is releasing large, infrequent updates at once like in Warhammer or Warmachine. From a pure balance perspective, incremental balancing is superior. It allows for smaller tweaks that (hopefully) won’t massively upset game balance. Unfortunately, frequent updates like this require a large amount of data to work with, and put more strain on the players to adapt to their strategies. Online games can store data from every single game being played all the time, while X Wing has an official competitive circuit to receive data from, Warhammer lacks both of these. Also, imagine if Warhammer updated every week, with small changes to statlines for units that are too predominant or weak. As a player it would be both frustrating and expensive to need to change out your models or buy new ones every few weeks based on changes. X Wing already has a problem with this, where significant changes may be made to cards with the FAQs, but players with the older printed cards won't necessarily know about these updates. 40k games are too long, the hobby is too expensive, and there isn’t enough reliable data for incremental buffs to be a good way to balance the game.

The problems with bulk balancing are the ones you see already, even if you hadn’t noticed. In 4th edition 40k melee was very powerful. In 5th edition it was nerfed a bit, but alpha strikes became incredibly powerful. 6th and 7th over compensated, making both alpha strikes and melee very weak, and we’ve been in that state of the game for a few years (as we were with 4th and 5th as well). For people who are willing to look deeper, GW actually has a pretty good track record for trying to compensate for overpowered/underpowered strategies, they are mostly hamstrung by the necessity of bulk balancing for their games. In addition to the exampls above, Space Marines lacked a way to deal with monstrous creatures while Tau couldn’t handle death stars. The solutions were grav weapons and the Hunter Contingent, which both accomplished their goal, although grav did so too well.

The last problem with balancing 40k is that leaving it up to the players is almost always a terrible idea. Games like League of Legends and X Wing balance around top-tier play while 40k, lacking an official competitive circuit, doesn’t really have the data to see what the top players are using except through independent tournament results. If you’re asking why balancing around what all players want rather than the top-end is bad, the answer is that it punishes low-skill cap, armies much harder, while leaving incredibly powerful but hard to master armies untouched. For example, in reddit discussions you very often see complaints about Tau being wildly overpowered, but Daemons are almost never even mentioned as a top army. This is because Tau are fantastic at sweeping low-to-average skill players, while daemons are difficult to master, but Daemons almost always out-perform Tau in competitive events. Nerfing Tau based on the wishes of lower-skill players would only hurt the diversity of competitive events, while probably not changing much on the bottom-end anyways.

To elucidate with a real-life example: I went to an event awhile ago where the TO arbitrarily banned all formations, superheavies, and gargantuan creatures. He was then very confused about the number of daemon and tau players at the event. When I told him he had buffed both of those armies, he said he had only removed things, and I had to explain to him that removing things that countered both of those armies made them much stronger. Stomps meant there were few ways to deal with daemons’ rerollable 2+ invulnerable, while tau don’t lose much from lack of formations.

I hope this article gives you some thoughts on why balancing the game isn’t as easy as it sounds, and why most players aren’t qualified to be doing so. As always, you know I advocate casual play as centering around fun for both players, so don’t let the competitive meta dictate what you play with, but consider the ramifications before you arbitrarily change the rules of the game.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Advice for New Tournament Players

Advice for New Tournament Players

New to the 40k tournament scene? Here's some of the basics

First, an apology. Life has gotten quite busy and it's been over a week since my last post. I will try to get one article out a week, but the time of 2-3 a week is definitely over for the foreseeable future. Luckily, tournaments are picking up again and I can do tournament reports in addition to my normal articles. My first one will be this weekend and I've gone back to my old staple of White Scars and Ravenwing. Anyways, if you're looking to get into competitive 40k for the new year, or on the fence and not sure what to expect, here's an introduction.

Player attitudes are no worse, usually better
This is a common misconception in my area, and I've addressed it a few times here in the blog, but I want it to be clear for new people entering the competitive 40k scene. Most of the worst "competitive" players are just really bad players. They'll be jerks in both tournament and casual games. Otherwise, tournament players tend to be a good group. I've made as many friends from tournaments as I have at my local club, and many of them are more than happy to talk to a new player. If you're looking to improve, ask the guys you play against what they thought of how you played, mistakes you made, and where you can improve. You'll be very surprised with how many of them have good advice to offer.

You don't need a "top-tier" list
Here's another common misconception, and I wouldn't be surprised if it's perpetuated by the same jerks mentioned above. You don't need to show up with the list that won LVO last year to do well. I've said before that what makes a lot of those lists top-tier is their lack of both good and bad match ups. They are almost completely player-skill dependent, and as a new player you don't want that. Bring a list that has clear win conditions and has units you're comfortable with. You will almost definitely have to make some concessions and drop units/equipment you like to make the list better, but you don't need to drop everything and grab whatever the most meta list is at the moment for a chance of performing well.

Understand the missions and format
I'm consistently amazed by the number of people who show up to tournaments with no idea how the missions work. It's impossible to make a good list for a format without understanding the format, and it's pretty difficult to win a mission when you don't know what the goals are. Before you make your list, sit down and read the missions and format, and check if there's any FAQ parts relevant to you. You don't need to memorize the entire ITC FAQ, but you don't want to be caught with your pants down when you find out electrodisplacement stops you from charging, or some similar problem.

Have fun
It feels pretty cliche to mention this, but I think some people forget our hobby is for fun. Whether you're going there to try to win the whole thing, or hoping to make some new friends, competitive play doesn't necessarily preclude having fun, and you will have a much better time if you keep a positive attitude and don't take it too seriously.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

The Thought Process Behind "Casual Tactics" is Fundamentally Flawed

The Thought Process Behind "Casual Tactics" is Fundamentally Flawed

This is a topic I’ve skirted around a few times before and I’d like to directly address it. More than most of my articles, I encourage discussion and questions about this.

I’ve received a few requests to cover “casual tactics” on my blog. This vague, and to me contradictory, request has come up enough that I want to address it and explain why it’s both unnecessary and conflicting with my philosophy about the game.

The best way to tackle this is to unpack what people might be asking for when they request “casual tactics”. I’m yet to have anyone be able to qualify that or explain it well, so I’m going to address a few different meanings that request may have. Before we go on, anyone reading this should understand my philosophy about casual vs. competitive play. Casual games are ones where the primary goal is for BOTH players to have fun. Competitive games are ones where the primary goal is to win. Those goals aren’t mutually exclusive, and there are plenty of other goals you can have such as improving as a player.. The terms “casual” and “competitive” get thrown around without qualification a bit too much in this community, so I want to apply a hard-and-fast test you can apply to any game. If the game is at an event where the goal of each player is to win, such as a tournament, or if the game is practice for such an event, it is competitive. Anything else is casual, because in anything besides that the goal of both players should be to have fun. The lack of definition is probably why so many people give me this vague request without elaborating. Hopefully that already sheds some light on why I don’t think “casual tactics” are necessary.

The first and most obvious meaning for “casual tactics” is people might be asking me to discuss tactics for units that aren’t very popular. I more or less already do that, as I am of the opinion that being a good player and knowing your army means far more than the relative strength of your list. My entire Deathwing tactics series covers units that aren’t popular in the current competitive meta, while I often give the benefit of the doubt to units that are mostly seen as bad, such as the Dark Talon.. For those units I do say are really bad, if you want to run them anyways do it. The units that I think are terrible are often ones without a purpose, with rules and weapons that don’t mesh or are even contradictory. I can’t and don’t want to tell you how to play your fluffy units and games, but I’ll tell you how “less than top-tier” units can be used, which I think qualifies as “casual”.

The next definition might be people asking for general tactics, ones that apply to any army, in any game. I’ve already explained before, there are very few “general” tactics in 40k. If anything, I’m often afraid writing “general” tactics are more damaging than helpful. I’ve seen too many players play their army exactly the same way, every mission, every game. Roll the same psychic power tables, same warlord trait tables, same deployment. There is no better way to shoot yourself in the foot, and lack of flexibility in either a player or a list is the biggest weakness you can have in 40k. While there are “general tips” some people could use, such as spreading troops out to avoid blast templates and how to position your models to keep opponents away from an objective, these are usually things that can be learned in-game, especially by asking someone after a game if they noticed things like that. I feel like the potential benefit of “general” tactics is too small to the potential harm of people rotely playing my advice and failing miserably due to lack of ability to adapt. Being more adaptable is almost always the first piece of advice I have for players struggling to win games, and the best way to learn the game is to just play it.

Finally, some people might just be turned off by the fact I always say my advice is for competitive play. To me this is a bit silly, because unit tactics and list analysis can be applied to both casual and competitive games. The only thing that differentiates a casual and competitive game is your mindset. You can still play the game well and use your units to the fullest in a casual game, as long as you do so in a way that doesn’t impede your opponent’s ability to have fun. I even go out of my way to specify that most of my tactics apply to casual games, so I hope this last definition is the least common.

Big wall of text there guys. Sorry, but this was something I wanted to explain and be able to point to it when I get these requests. If you guys want to discuss this, or have questions or complaints about this, please speak up, this isn’t a topic I want to have to address frequently. If you have a request for casual tactics, feel free to ask me what you’re specifically looking for, and we’ll figure out how I can best cover it, or if it needs to be covered.

The new year is starting up, and I don’t have anything lined up for articles. If you have a request, please let me know. I’m still open to doing list reviews on the blog, or feel free to PM me if you’d like review in private.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Greenwing Tactics Part 3: Formations

Greenwing Tactics Part 3: Formations

I’ve decided to skip vehicles and go right to the formations below. I couldn’t really find enough to talk about other than a generally tactica for the vehicles, as Dark Angels don’t really bring much when it comes to tanks.

The Lion’s Blade Detachment
Our Decurion/Gladius. It’s a bit different from the normal Space Marines one, trading doctrines for full BS overwatch, which means giving up better offense for better defense. That lack of flexibility means that if you’re going to bring this to a tournament, you better take a full battle company for the free transports. There really isn’t much of a purpose to this detachment without the free transports, but it works perfectly well with them, and the Lion’s Blade is a powerful detachment for those looking to take the Greenwing to a tournament.

Battle Demi Company
Like the normal Space Marines, we give everyone objective secured, but we give up their extra doctrine for better overwatch. Unfortunately, this is completely replaced by the benefits of the Lion’s Blade, and this formation alone is a bit inflexible due to lack of fast attack options. It’s still a good formation, but it’s completely overshadowed by the benefits of taking two of them.
I left dreadnoughts out of the elites section so I’ll add a quick mention here. Like regular marine dreadnoughts, they’re in a bad place thanks to the bad state of walkers. However, with obsec and a free drop pod, they get a bit better. I’d give them an assault cannon to make use of that extra BS overwatch and drop them on a backline objective.

Deathwing Redemption Force
It’s bad, even worse here because of how expensive it is. See my Deathwing Tactics for details.

Ravenwing Attack, Support, and Silence Squadrons
If you need a little extra kick, the attack squadron isn’t bad, probably the second best auxiliary option for the Lion’s Blade. For further analysis of these three, see my Ravenwing Tactics.

The Hammer of Caliban
I really hope I’m not the only one who read this and asked “What were they thinking?” This formation is incredibly restrictive and forces you to squad a land raider with a unit of other vehicles, and take a techmarine. I guess a little extra BS and Monster/Tank Hunters is nice, but there is no situation where I’d ever want my land raider squadded with any of those vehicles. Land raiders are transport vehicles, and two of the other options have 48” range on their main guns. The last one is a vindicator which needs to move slowly, in addition to being significantly worse than the other two options. The weirdest thing about this formation to me is that Dark Angels aren’t known for doing any strange/special things with their vehicles, so something like the Space Marines Armored Company or even just “take a squad of one or two vehicles” would have been both better and made more sense fluff-wise. Short story, never take this. It isn’t even fluffy.

10th Company Support
This auxiliary option is probably the single best choice between both the Lion’s Blade and the Gladius (I’d say best of any marine decurion, but stupid Fists had to go and get Thunderfire Cannons as an aux). It’s dirt cheap, gives the scouts a pretty useful benefit (BS4 Overwatch) and lets you complete a Lion’s Blade easily. Unless you’re taking a Ravenwing Attack Squadron, take this. It gives you plenty of other points to play with for other units while letting you take a Lion’s Blade for a powerful base of obsec, difficult to charge units.

That wraps it up for Greenwing Tactics. Hope you guys enjoyed it, and thanks to /u/Redbaron67 for requesting it.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Greenwing Tactics Part 2: Elite and HQ

Greenwing Tactics Part 2: Elite and HQ

Part two of the greenwing tactics as requested by /u/Redbaron67. This is where the Dark Angels set themselves apart from other chapters.

Company Veterans Squad
The first unique Dark Angels unit doesn’t make the Greenwing look very good. For 4 points more than regular marines you get a squad of 5-10 with veteran statlines and the option for every model to take a shield, ranged weapon, or melee weapon. Additionally they can always take a heavy weapon and can take one special weapon for every five models. I normally don’t go into that much detail about what options a unit has, but I feel like I need to in this case because these guys are so bad and so rarely seen. With just a marine statline you don’t want to be kitting them out with too much equipment and they aren’t required in any formation, just an option for the demi-company. If you really want to max out your MSU and take them as part of a demi-company, give them all combi-meltas and a drop pod and have a decent chance to roast a tank turn 1 with a unit that’s slightly cheaper than sternguard veterans but a bit less accurate.

Dark Angels Command Squad
Pretty much the better version of Company Veterans, the Greenwing command squad can take every single melee, ranged, and special weapon available to us, as well as storm shields, an apothecary, standard bearer, and a company champion. Like the Company Veterans, they’re still just marines, so don’t go overboard with the upgrades for them. Luckily, one of our standards is the sacred standard, which grants counter-attack and relentless. Give all five of them grav guns and the standard for a relatively cheap, obsec suicide pod squad that’s a pain in the ass to charge in the Lion’s Blade. The apothecary is optional but not a waste of points, and the champion is identical to a standard marines champion but has a sword with +1S, which I’d like to imagine is a tiny nod to Dark Angels being expert swordsmen.

Company Master
Lacking the option for a bike is damning for a character who’s only real purpose is melee combat. While you’d otherwise want to skip the Company Master, he is unfortunately required as part of the Lion’s Blade Battle Company. If you aren’t going to just keep him at his base cost and stick him with his tax-unit pals, an assault squad, he can serve as an ok but kind of expensive buffer to a command squad. Give him a combi-grav or auspex and The Eye of the Unseen and drop him with a grav-gun command squad for a now slightly tougher suicide pod squad. If you want to be fluffy and make them a little better in melee, give him a relic blade and take a champion in the squad (or a power fist somewhere). Still, skip this guy unless you need him for the Battle Company.

Can’t take relics, but unlike a Company Master he can take a bike. He’s required for a Battle Company, but also unlike the Company Master that’s not a bad thing. I would either keep him cheap and toss him with a drop pod assault squad, or put him on a bike if you’re taking any allies on bikes *cough* black knights *cough*. If you aren’t taking a Battle Company he’s still a decent choice, but remember Greenwing don’t have a lot of good melee options, so he’s best buffing Ravenwing or allies.

Zeke is awesome, and unlike other chapters’ librarians he doesn’t need to bring a whole entourage with him to be taken in our Decurion. I praised this guy a bit in my Deathwing entry but he can really shine with the Greenwing. His warlord trait is pretty bad, but you’ll have at least two other HQ’s in a Battle Company and his other abilities are excellent. A better statline than your average librarian, ML3, and a +1 attack aura for everyone around him, for a lower price that Tigirius before you even consider the two boot-lickers Tiggy has to bring with him. He’s not a must-take but Zeke can do everything from buffing a command squad to helping your dudes hold the line, and makes your whole army a lot of flexible. He’s almost never a bad choice for any type of Greenwing army.

Librarian and Interrogator Chaplain
This article is running a bit long and I want to get to this last entry, but I shouldn’t leave these guys out. Both of them can be taken in a Lion’s Blade but don’t have a lot to offer the Greenwing. One level 2 psyker isn’t enough to reliably do the psychic things you’ll need, while Interrogator Chaplains are big melee buffers which Greenwing don’t need.


He’s got a personal banner on his back, personal helmet bearer, and costs almost as much as a Land Raider. For that you get a pretty good statline (although no Eternal Warrior is worrying) an ok melee weapon and a couple special rules. Army-wide leadership 10 is useful, and no one will say no to +1 to seize. Picking his warlord trait and the 4+ invulnerable save for his squad are both powerful but situational tools, especially for someone as expensive as him. Azrael certainly isn’t bad, but for his price tag and potential to dying to a random lascannon shot, make sure you have a purpose for him before including him.

If you’re wondering where Dreadnoughts and the tanks are, those will be covered in the next article before I wrap it all up with a discussion of the Lion’s Blade Detachment and it’s formations.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Greenwing Tactics Part 1: Troops, Heavy Support, and Fast Attack

Greenwing Tactics Part 1: Troops, Heavy Support, and Fast Attack

Hope everyone had happy holidays! In a pretty interesting stroke of luck for me, the runner up for the painting contest, /u/Redbaron67 requested a Greenwing tactics series

I’m going to work my way up with this one, starting with their basic choices and moving up to formations and detachments. Unlike with the Deathwing, I don’t have a disclaimer about competitive play for these guys. Dark Angels have some funky options but as a whole work quite well in the competitive scene and a few of their options are flat out better than other chapters.

The only special rule worth mentioning here is Grim Resolve, which is our version of Chapter Tactics (but is not actually called that) and gives all Dark Angels Stubborn and overwatch at BS 2 (or full BS in our Lion’s Blade Detachment).

Dark Angels Tactical Squad

Identical to codex marines except losing chapter tactics for Grim Resolve. Against some armies that extra BS on overwatch is killer, and I think the best way to run them, especially in a Lion’s Blade, is keeping them cheap with bolters. Most of the heavy lifting in a Dark Angels list is going to be done by whoever you’ve supplemented your Greenwing, so leave your tactical marines cheap to go sit on objectives and never run away. If you want to give them a weapon upgrade, grav cannons and heavy bolters synergize nicely with the extra overwatch BS. Without doctrines to buff our BS, I wouldn’t recommend relying on melta-pod squads to kill vehicles, but having one or two of them as an early distraction isn’t a bad idea. I’d recommend drop pods or razorbacks for their transports if you’ve kept them cheap.

Dark Angels Scout Squad
If there’s Greenwing in your list, I expect to always see these guys. They’re the cheapest troops for a CAD, and they’re the cheapest auxiliary for the Lion’s Blade. Like the tactical squads, keep them cheap and give them bolters to take advantage of the extra couple hits you get on overwatch.

Dark Angels Assault Squad
With no other option for fast attack in a Lion’s Blade, these guys are the biggest tax on a battle company formation. They don’t benefit much from Grim Resolve and kitting them out for combat is a waste of points. Just give them flamers and a drop pod and roast some backline units or sit on an objective.

Dark Angels Devastator Squad
BS 2 or 4 overwatch with grav cannons is amazing. You’ll need two of these units for a battle company and Grim Resolve probably benefits devastators more than any chapter tactics except White Scars. I put them in rhinos with two grav cannons apiece and park them on objectives and dare my opponent to charge them. Remember they’re still just marines though, so don’t get too crazy with them. If your opponent has a lot of shooting make sure to get in his face with other units first so he doesn’t blow your gun-toting green guys off the board. Heavy bolters are also a decent choice if you don’t want them to be too expensive. I’d stray away from other weapon options though.

Dedicated Transports
Nothing to say here, other than including them for the sake of completeness. I’ve explained in each unit entry which transport I think is best for them, and if you’re taking a Lion’s Blade you’ll have a lot of them kicking around.

The clear winners here are Tactical and Devastator Squads. Both of them get a pretty big boost from Grim Resolve, and they can be kept cheap and still be a nuisance, unlike those of many other chapters. If you're looking to make use of Greenwing, those two are a good place to start.

This first part felt a little empty but I didn’t want to also try to cram elite and HQ choices in here. Those will be for next week and those are where Dark Angels start to get a little different.