Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Argument for Counts-As Armies or A Declaration of Independence from GW Fluff

Counts-As Armies are becoming more and more common these days. Black Matt's got his Chaos Wolves, Goatboy's got his Space Goats, even Eldar players are trying to see if they can use Dark Eldar rules. There's been a recent backlash to it and even some tournaments are disallowing the use of such armies. So I wanted to take the time to post my thoughts on the subject with regards to aspects of the hobby, the gaming and the modeling.

Counts-As Armies seem to push people's buttons. Some players really don't like seeing Chaos Space Marine models being played with the Space Wolves or Blood Angels Codices. I'm not quite sure why this is. There are a couple possible reasons. 

They could simply be tired of playing against Space Wolves (or insert 5th Codex X). There are a lot of Space Wolf armies at most tournaments and the Codex is wildly popular. However, popularity of a Codex shouldn't be reason to disallow people from using it for their Counts-As army. 

Another factor to consider is that the complaints about Counts-As also seem inconsistent. Nobody ever complains about traitor guard being played as IG, but complaints about Chaos Wolves are common. 

Another reason could be that some people feel the Codex is "cheese" or over-powered and so they feel that Chaos Wolves are gamey, or an indication of a "power-gamer." This is the most likely reason, as it seemed to be the most common complaint on Goatboy’s article on BOLS earlier this week. Some people see Counts-As armies as a veiled attempt at “power-gaming.” Accusing some one of “power-gaming” is pretty low in my opinion and amounts to nothing productive within the hobby so I really don’t believe this is a valid complaint. Using effective units shouldn't be a reason to disallow someone from using a Codex. 

This piece isn’t about power-gaming however, it’s about Counts-As armies. I believe that Counts-As armies should be accepted and embraced as part of the community and hobby of 40k gamers. This is because Counts-As armies add to the diversity of army projects out there because it removes the limitations of imagery for competitive armies. By allowing Counts-As armies, we’ll see more Chaos Space Marines on the table, more Pre-Heresy Armies, and more traitor guard. It opens up more possibilities for our models and stimulates diversity in the hobby. 

Another reason I support and encourage Counts-As armies, is because I see the rules as simply a template for army building. Fluff is something completely separate from it. While the rules are often designed by GW to fit the fluff, fluff is something that is mutable. Fluff can be molded to fit the rules of your army. 

This is where imagination comes in. Players should have the freedom to use their imagination to come up with armies they like and use models they like, then choose the codex that fits their army. Why should we be limited by GW’s imagination? Why should I be banned and ridiculed as a power-gamer if I want to field an army of Khornate Champions riding Juggernauts that count as thunderwolf cavalry? Or why should I be forbidden from playing a Jump-Pack Raven Guard army using the Blood Angels Codex? Why should I limit my imagination because Codex X can only be used with model X, painted in X color?

That said, there does need to be some consideration of game play when building an army. Counts-As Infantry need to be WSYWYG, to a degree. A model with a 3+ armor save, should be wearing a significant amount of armor and a model with a melta-gun should be armed with a meltagun. Size should also be appropriate. 

Vehicles need to be even more so, because vehicles rules depend so much on the size and shape of the model. I would go as far to say that Counts-As armies should still have the same vehicles you’d find in an army from that codex. This is why the Space Marine variants are the best candidates for Counts-As armies, as they all have the same vehicles chassis.  I’ve seen Ork models used as Blood Angels, but the owner stuck to using Rhinos and Predator models, but modeled them to look suitably orky. This is in my book is totally acceptable.

As long as the player/modeler considers game-play in his/her conversions, I believe Counts-As armies are a welcome phenomenon in the 40k universe. We don’t need GW to tell us what our armies should look like. In fact, GW openly encourages us to use our own imaginations to build and paint our armies. We need to be able to “own” this hobby. Owning it means freeing ourselves from the limitations of the GW fluff-rules marriage. 

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to build my Sisters of Battle Army from Eldar models and converting Immolators with Wave Serpent sets. 


sonsoftaurus said...

Fluff. Models. Paint. Rules. Mix and match as desired.

I love counts-as. The more variety the better.

Atreides said...

This is a brilliant article.

Black Matt said...

Ol shatta,
Your the bees' knees! Well put and I agree 100%

Milkstorm said...

Nice post, I'd have to say that the Counts as rule is one of the things that makes space marines so great.

I'm a huge fan of CSM, I have quite a large collection and have just recently decided to renovate it and expand into the other marine books. I view Chaos warbands as diverse and with lots of splinter cells. I have to say I'm surprised I don't see more Khorne themed Black Templar armies.

The fluff is not gospel.

Big Bad Garou said...

hehe love the last line.

But, my major issue is that it is fine that you are bending your army into a codex. I am fine with that. I am not fine with Codex Jumpers. Every new codex their army "Counts-As" the new one. Its very confusing. on the table. Now I need to remember that the Etheral is really a Rune Priest and the Kroot are really Bloodclaws.

I can see traitor guard using the IG codex. They are IG. I can even... kinda... see Eldar being used as DE... but Orcs using the Blood Angels?

Old Shatter Hands said...

@Big Bad Garou, Is it really that confusing on the tabletop? I mean, a meltagun is still a meltagun, isn't it? That's why I've stated that modellers need to consider gameplay when they are building and painting their armies. Also, according to me, Kroot as Bloodclaws won't work as they don't have armor so how are you going to represent the 3+ save? Now kroot converted to be wearing heavy armor, like sticking kroot heads on stealths, that works as Blood claws just long as they are WYSIWYG.

Yep. Orks as Blood Angels. I've seen it and it works just fine in my book.

CounterFett said...

Well said good sir!

I actually catch a bit of flak for my counts as from internet folks, and I can't really figure it out.

Black Matt said...

I have to say that I am a codex jumper. But I also have to sat that I play so much that its boring for me to play one codex per army. I'm not some loyal fan to one codex or the next. I like to switch it up, but I definetly believe in wysiwyg. Power armour is really the only thing that let's you jump around like that!

Gredus said...

The problem I have with it is this:

You don't see Space Marines armies using "count as" Chaos.

You don't see DE using "count as" Eldar.

It's always done for people to jump up their armies to a newer and simply more powerful codex.

When Chaos use Space Wolf rules, that's not a Chaos Army, it's a Wolf army. You can sugar coat it all you like but they'll play just the same.

I'm all for change people playing with the armies they have. But it's not right imo to just simply have a generic bunch of marines and then play whatever codex you want that week. It's a bit of a slap in the face of people who buy the models for the rules they're designed to work with.

Long story short, I hate marines and "count as" usually just comes down to people just using marine rules, or whatever latest codex is out.

I'm not saying anyone is wrong, I'm just saying I don't like it! ^^

Jawaballs said...

Time to chime in with beef! I for one hate... no, dislike counts as. Hate is a strong word. The one good thing about counts as is that it allows you to play a competitive list with the models you put your life into, such as in the case of Black Matt. He poured his soul into his Chaos models, only to see them dropped to the bottom of the power heap and with that any chance for him to contend at tournaments.

My beef? Counts as models need to be geared and armed appropriately, and that is something we rarely see.

We have all seen Rob Baer's IG Orks. He is a friend, and his army is great, so I think I can pick on him. The first time I played his army I had to continually ask him which guns were what. "Ok, so all shooters are Las Guns? What about flamers? Rockits?" "So the dozer blades on that truk actually count as hull?" And so forth. Such an extreme counts as army is a big advantage for the user because it adds one more thing that his opponent needs to think about every time he makes a decision. "Oh Snap! I thought Rokits were Rockets! That is a multi melta?" "Can I redo my last move I would never have gone that way had I known that was a multi melta." It goes on and on.

I think a beef others have is that they spend a lot of time painting their army to fit their codex. And any one else can just do a "counts as" and use it too. I don't much care bout that, but I personally would never play my Blood Angels models as Space Wolves for example. If I wanted to play SW, I would build and paint a SW army.

Having said that, wait until you all see my new Emo Vamp Blood Angels! A totally converted kit bashed army. :)

Old Shatter Hands said...

@Jawaballs, I think we might be talking about different things. It sounds like your buddy's ork are a proxy army. A counts-as IG army using ork models, would not have rokkits as multimeltas...that isn't WYSIWYG. rokkits would be missile launchers, kustom mega-blastas could serve as meltaguns, but it sounds like your friend's army isn't going that far. It's just proxy army. Proxying is something I loathe, even in friendly games, for the exact reasons you pointed out.

Proxy Armies are taking your existing ork army and then using it as an IG army. A Counts-As army is one that has been built with the Codex in mind from the start. Marines are easy in that regard, but just taking your ork army and saying its IG doesn't work. However, taking ork models, arming them with laser guns and meltaguns, then giving them looted chimeras as their rides...totally acceptable IMHO. Although personally I think grots would make better guardsmen...that's right, guardsmen are weedy grots! LOL.

Anonymous said...

Count As and Proxy are two very different things. If you take a Chaos Space Marine army, add Wolf Bitz and tons of Chaos stars to get some new Space Wolves. If a person does the work to make new models, they should play with them. If you are using Proxy, ie Raven Guard as Blood Angels then you need to tell everyone (if your at a tourney) that you are play Blood Angels. Aside from that, I agree with all the posts above.

Lt. Renen

Lord Shaper said...

I have to agree with you OSH!

going back 20 years ago we could all afford to buy multiple armies but when I'm looking at a land raider costing over $100 over here in Australia I can't afford to have Blood Angels and Chaos for example. Now since my Blood Angels army is based on the Knights of the Blood which also appear in the Chaos codex then do you think people would have an issue with me using either one?

How many Deathwing Armies were out there using the Space Wolves codex so they had something that they could take to be competitive before the latest FAQ's.

If people want to complain I'd say let them but to say your Red Marines can't be Space Wolves is a joke.

For these tournaments that aren't allowing people to use Juggernauts as Thunderwolves are they also not allowing non GW figures as well?

I think it's inventive to come up with the idea to do such a thing and would love to see something like that on the table in front of me.

Marshal Wilhelm said...


Basically some people seem to like complaining and like taking offence over things.

GW has said 'Count as' is fine, yet people still aren't tuned into that. They gave us C:SM and the Salamanders character is a fine inclusion in even an UM army. C:SM pg127.


Jervis Jonson has written an article and is shows his 'grey Marines' using different Dexes. This coming from the "I'm allergic to winning overlord" himself!


*Gredus* wrote, 'I hate Marines'. Not to pick on him, and I know that 'we are all entitled to our opinions' but how is that even vaguely reasonable? If that is the mind set of people, trying to win them over to a great hobby idea becomes nigh on impossible.

People hate C:SW. They are given a clever excuse to do so with this whole 'count as' thing. They make out it is hard to keep up with it [it still needs to be WYSIWYG] or that they are defending the fluff. Imo, that is baloney.

If count as didn't exist, it would be a direct attack on C:SW itself instead of this 'war by proxy' *entendre entendre*
If C:SW was not what it was, it would be C:BA. It is surprising that C:IG doesn't get more heat, but then they will never be as popular as Marines and so they dodge it.

No matter what, stuff always irritates some people and they will complain.

It is just the way it is.

It is odd that many who profess love of fluff and who say how 'deep and diverse' 40K fluff is are some of the biggest nay-sayers when it comes to using your brains and heart on the table top.

Most seem very elitist to me.

Dan (nyhil) said...

I hear the "counts as/proxy" hate, regardless of my own projects (Vraksian IG, Skaven as DE). However, I think that this distaste can be distilled into a more accurate expression:

Running old, already finished models that represent a pre-existing GW army, with rules for the currently most powerful army in the meta, is a clear attempt to circumvent the investment of time, money and effort necessary to presenting a collection, while still capitalizing on the newest and shiniest codex on the shelf.

So long as the individual using the "counts-as" army has spent the required time/money/effort to make their collection uniquely suited to representing the codex of their choice, I see no problem. Black Matt's Khorne Berserkers riding Juggernaughts as Thunderwolf Cavalry are a perfect example of this. Otherwise, I can understand people seeing such a substitution as a shortcut to glory.

That said, you honestly cannot complain about actively investing time/money/effort into a counts-as project. At that point, you just look jealous.

My two cents.

Black Matt said...

My chaos army that I have been painting for ever started as a counts as army. Look at the troop choices, each modeled to represent or reflect the 4 powers. But my intention has always been to play them as plague marines. Watch the seriously outdated video at the top of my blog. Since I had creative or conversions in mind, does that make it ok to use it as a counts as?

I agree that people hate the sw codex, that's the root of the hate. Listen here, I promise to never use chaos as chaos or imperial as imperial. I will forever champion this cause as your counts as king! Everything will be wysiwyg!

I think that the article on bols today was just wrong in defining counts as vs proxy.

Gredus said...

I love the count as idea for people wanting to do something different. I can totally see someone falling for an army play style or their models yet hating their rules.
(In my head I've been thinking of a crazy converted Thousand Sons army using Necron rules as I liked the idea of "We'll be back" reanimating and resealing the suits)
Sadly the "count as" rule can be used too much as a path to the current power/flavor of the month codex, which is what gets people against it. (Or when people just use totally different models and the dimensions, target area's change)

@ Marshal Wilhelm - I don't hate marines for the proxy reason. I just hate marines because they're the most common army out there and other armies fall behind in developement whilst everyone get's their special chapter rules first.
On the flip side I love the marine models and the variety of army lists. I just won't play them as they're so common, in my head I'm on the bandwagon if I do.

It's not really got anything to do with the topic however and I apologize for the confusion caused by that statement.

Max said...

Fantastic article sir! I might just have to write one up meself...

NockerGeek said...

My problems with 'counts-as' armies as they've been popping up lately are two-fold:

1) I don't think the accusations of 'powergaming' are misplaced, even if it seems like a dirty word. If someone builds an army that looks like army X, but plays like army Y because they consider army Y to be more competitive/powerful, isn't that the very definition of powergaming? I'm going to single out someone who commented on Brent's article on BoLS, Chaosgerbil:

"I have spent over a year on my mutated non-rubric Thousand Sons and have no intention of fielding them under the crappy 4th edition CSM codex...Why should I be denied use of fun and powerful new rules because I like playing 'bad guy' armies?"

One gets the impression that if he considered the CSM codex to be good enough to win with, he'd really play his Chaos Marines as Chaos Marines, but because he wants to use something he sees as easier to win with, he's built them as Space Wolves. Never mind that it's not a Space Wolf army at all - it's a Tzeentch army, and if I came to the table to play him I'd expect a Tzeentch army - but it seems like it's all about the win instead. Now, I don't mean to slag his work or his creativity. The army he's put together is a beautiful Tzeentch army, but it's no Space Wolf army.

It's almost as if he's proxying in rules that fit his desire to win: "I don't have a codex that I think is good enough, so C:SW is counting as my codex for now."

2) When people are building armies using one codex/faction's models, but under another codex's rules, it really gets confusing to tell which army is which on the tabletop. For example, Stelek's pictures from one of his games at the NOVA Open. One army is red and black, is made from CSM models, and has CSM vehicles, complete with spiky bits. The other army is in a spectral swirling blue theme, is made from CSM models, and has CSM vehicles, complete with spiky bits. I showed the pictures to several of my friends who play, and none of them could tell that it was a Space Wolves v. Space Wolves match. The closest one got was 'Blood Angels v. Chaos Marines'.

I don't have a problem with Traitor Guard - they're still using IG models, vehicles, and minis. They may have a variant paintjob and some mutations amongst the troops, but it's still an IG army being played with the IG codex. I don't have a problem with custom SM chapters/CSM warbands. I don't have a problem with characters within the same codex being shifted to different subfactions (Vulkan in a Ultramarines army? Be my guest.) However, when you're representing one army with models from another, things just get confusing, WYSIWYG or not. Why even play a faction if you don't really want to play the faction?

This part is more a personal gripe than anything; I'm big on the fluff and picking an army because I like it, regardless if the rules for them are considered competitive. For example, I'm working on a Slaanesh CSM army. I'm not playing it because it's the best army out there - it's definitely not - but because I like the look and the theme of the army, and I'm using the CSM codex because it's a CSM army. That's what I wanted to play, that's what I'm playing, and I'll do the best I can with it, tournament win record be damned.

And as Gredus pointed out, you really only see this codex-shifting on MEQ armies; xenos players tend to stick with the codex they were given (Ork Blood Angels not withstanding), or switch to a different army with completely different models.

Personally, I think there's more than enough room for creativity within the existing factions/codexes without people needing to play a different codex for advantage. People are free to play and model however they want, but I'd be lying if I said codex-shifting/jumping/bandwagoning didn't rub me the wrong way.

Old Shatter Hands said...

Nocker, thanks for the well-thought out response. It's easier to read than the knee-jerk responses we saw on BOLS comments.

1)The accusation of power-gaming. Is it really such a sin to use a 5th edition codex? I don't really understand why people have a problem with Chaos Wolves and Crimson angels and the like. I want my opponent to be running a honed, competitive list. I want him to be at his best in each game. I want him to be using a 5th edition codex. The challenge is greater and the games are more interesting. C:CSM pretty much only has one competitive build - MSU plague marines with Dual fluffy is that? Answer not at all. I call them STD marines...anyway, when people start calling "power-gamer!" that's when I stop listening. The thing is, players who run chaos wolves aren't breaking any game-rules. They are completely within them so what is the problem? The problem might actually lie within the SW codex.

2)A true counts-as army shouldn't be confusing and I think once you're in the game, its not confusing for you if the models are WYSIWYG. Take Stelek's Chaos Wolves. When you're playing against, you never forget that you're playing against the SW codex, because he calls things "wolf scouts" and "long fangs." It's not like you're suddenly going to forget what codex you're playing against because they aren't modeled like Space Wolves.

That said, the confusion comes in when you can't tell what weapons and armor models have. This is why I stress that counts-as armies need to be WYSIWYG. The modeller needs to keep game-play in mind when assembling the army. He needs to be respectful of his opponent. That is the most important rule with Counts-As Armies.

I understand that Counts-As Armies rub people the wrong way. I just want people to understand that it's a) within the rules b) within the fluff (because fluff is totally mutable) and c) makes for more diversity of models within the hobby.

Black Matt said...

Ol shatta,
I think you've done something !awesome here.
Hats off to everyone who has expressed their opinions so well mannered.


NockerGeek said...


1) Is it a sin? No. As you said, there's nothing against the rules about playing a counts-as army. As far as playing a current edition codex, though... some armies just don't have that option. Tau don't. Eldar don't. Chaos Marine players don't (if they're actually intent on playing CSM). As someone who plays two 4th Edition armies, I feel like I play with what I have available, and do the best that I can with it (without falling into the trap of the One True Mono-Build; the day I put Plague Marines in my Slaanesh army to go for the win is the day I put my collection on eBay). I can honestly say that I don't understand the desire to play a different codex to be 'more competitive', but then tournaments aren't why I play the game.

2) For me, it's not really an issue of WYSIWYG or not, although that's definitely something that has to be especially strict for counts-as armies. Instead, it's more about the big picture - are you actually playing the faction your minis represent on the table? Some people don't have a problem with an army/rules mismatch; I do. However, my pre-40K gaming background was in card games like Legend of the Five Rings, where faction loyalty was a major part of the fandom, and where there was a definite rift between the faction fans and the competitive players who jumped from faction to faction as the metagame shifted. I'll admit, I tend to look down on the latter, as I was one of the former and that has stuck with me.

Again, this is all personal opinion. I can't claim that someone is objectively 'wrong' for doing what Goatboy, Chaosgerbil, Stelek, and others have done. I can't even argue that it's bad for the hobby, because there's obviously a lot of creativity that goes into these armies, and the players are good players. I just feel like it's a loophole of sorts, though, letting some people want to have their cake and eat it too, all in the name of being 'more competitive'.

Jawaballs said...

Haha Matt, You're right, Shatter managed to foster a decent, respectful discussion! I wonder how many comments he had to deny in order to do so. :)

If this were a BOLS article we would be sifting through 500 rude, disrespectful and off topic comments which is a shame because this is a good topic.