Sunday, December 18, 2011

What's Wrong with 40k? The Emperor Wears No Clothes.

Lately I've been doing my best to get back on the 40k bandwagon. I've decided to avoid tournaments and instead have taken it more as something to enjoy. I've played Kill Zone 40k, a team game, and a straight 1750 pt mash up against a really great opponent. But I am having trouble. None of these games came close to giving me the enjoyment of a well-played Infinity game. They just weren't as fun.

The games lacked excitement, they were long, drawn out affairs. We rolled huge handfuls of dice with little effect. I was bored after Turn 2, and wanted it to be over and done with by Turn 4. I found myself really hoping the game would end on Turn 5 and was disappointed when it would continue. This has nothing to do with my opponents, in most cases I play 40k with like-minded players and friends. There are few, if any, rules disputes. It all has to do with the system.

It just isn't fun.
I've thought about it a lot, chatting with mates and discovered that there are four main reasons why 40k is no longer fun for me.  Here they are, in no particular order.

1. The Phase System.
The phase system is fundamental to 40k as it determines how you activate your models. We all know the system. For me, the system really stifles excitement. I tend to get excited about a certain attack action (moving up to rapid fire, plasma death or some kind of assault) and I find myself have to calm myself to get on with the phase system.

How many times have you gotten really excited about a move and jumped to the shooting phase before you've moved all your units? DOH! You now cannot move the rest of your units. HAHA! Rules lawyered like a bitch! Objection. Overruled.

No, you are in a way forced to temper your excitement so you can make sure to move all your other models before getting into the shooting phase. I see it in almost every game. Seriously how much more fun would it be if you could move and shoot your units all in one action, instead of waiting for the next phase.

Anyhow, there is something boring about moving every unit, then shooting with every unit and then doing the assault phase. It's just too...organized.

2. Dice Rolls.
My last game of 40k, I was astounded at how many dice rolls, or I should say series of dice rolls, that amounted to nothing, no effect. Handfuls of dice would be scooped up and rolled, all in anticipation of something momentous, then another handful would be scooped up, then another, then another. End result, zilch. WTF? What a waste!

Do the game designers have any concept of how frustrating, and just how unfun, this is? Contrast that with Infinity, if you're picking up dice something is going to happen, for or against you. And why is this fun? Because you get right into the action, it kicks off as soon as you pick up a die. Things happen all the time!

 In 40k, you can spend an entire turn dishing out shots only to watch your opponent make every armor save, every cover save that your efforts are not rewarded. Maybe this is why meltaguns are so popular, they're the only guns that can do anything, LOL!

Not cool. Not fun.

3. List Building.
Games Workshop's Codex release model makes sense for getting a big splash in sales in a particular army that they've just invested in developing. While there is something flawed in the focus on Space Marines in the past couple years (essentially the game becoming Marinehammer with no compelling enemies in sight), this comment is not about that. It's about game balance. Because the updated rules for each army trickle out over a number years, certain players are left waiting and waiting and waiting for their army to get an update. During that period, they meet their friends on the tabletop and get crushed over and over by newer armies that have the varied army builds, options, etc. This leaves some players feeling cheated after their games. They feel that even though they've put the time and love into their old armies, they aren't rewarded on the tabletop. This is how I feel after I've faced a Space Wolf that shoots better than my Tau.

Lots of really good players would disagree with me about game balance. They would say that certain lists from older armies do just as well as other newer armies. However, in fact, what they are saying is that game balance only occurs between certain lists, not between the books. If your lists are of equal power, then there is game balance. If not, then your game is not going to be balanced. Lists must be balanced against each other to achieve a true game of skill.

You get tons of list-building bitching on the internet. It's all over the place and this is something the game designers need to tackle in the next edition. Why? Because themed lists, fluff lists, etc, i.e. those which are not power-built, suffer in game. These kinds of players get frustrated. Again, they feel cheated.

They need to make list building less important. It needs to have a smaller effect on the game in exchange for making tactical decisions on part of the player in game more important. Game play should matter more than list building. Otherwise why don't we just show up with our lists and see who has the better one, no dice even need to be rolled.

Infinity has done this...list building is of little consequence to actual game play. How? I'm not exactly sure as I am still new-ish to the game. One reason could be that no model is immune to damage of any kind, unlike vehicles in 40k. Each and every unit has the ability to kill each and every other unit in the game in the hands of a capable player. You can just cobble lists together and with skill, you can beat every other list out there. There is no leafblower, no SW razorspam, no Grey Knights.

4. Predictable.
This is what I mentioned earlier. A lot of experienced players can look at two lists, then look at how each player deployed and they can predict the outcome of a battle. It's actually not that hard. Even semi-experienced players can do this. Sure, your efforts in game can tip the battle against the odds, but for the most part, military blunders aside, the game can be determined before it's actually begun. On the other hand, you could point out that since dice rolls are involved, lady luck plays a part. Yet, how much does luck play a role? Since there are so many dice rolls over the course of the game, the law of averages mitigates the role of luck.

So why does predictability stifle fun? For one, it ruins suspense. Suspense is fun. Not knowing how things are going to turn out is fun. Can't explain why. It just is.

Infinity has solved this problem by including the critical success rule. I'm not going to go into the mechanics, but essentially any time you roll a die you have a 5% chance of making a critical success. If it's a shooting roll getting a critical means you've automatically caused a wound, no armor save allowed, period. It's a HEAD SHOT! haha! FUN! You never know when you're going to get one!!! Now, I am not suggesting this for 40k but just want to illustrate it as an example of how a simple rule like that can be fun.

So that sums it up for me. 40k needs to be re-built from the ground up. It needs a revolution in game play for it to be fun for me again. I know there are lot out there that would disagree with me. I could be wrong. I can only tell you what my perspective is, and like the little kid who pointed out that the Emperor was naked, I think I am pointing out what everyone knows to be true. 40k just isn't that fun.


Pat said...

I totally understand where you are coming from...

Anonymous said...

Hmm i have to agree with your points though you sound to me a bit absolute. I am afraid that maybe they will not bother changing the way the game is played since it has still momentum (there is still a vast majority playing 40k and more importantly for GW they buy stuff).

Marshal Wilhelm said...

I was surprised when playing Space Hulk again, just how brutal one dice roll could be, which is quite different from 40K. 40K does have too much spare dice rolling, especially when you get past 1.5K. But when you think that GW does push for Apoc sized games too, we cannot just say that people aren't 'doing it right' when playing at higher points values.

I am not sure that using one d6 allows for enough complexity, which is needed to reduce rolling heaps of dice. Idk....

I'm not sure if phases versus complete unit activation is better or worse. I will say that I think smaller games benefit from unit activation and larger games from phases. It depends on what 40K is supposed to represent.

I, and others, have thought that there should be different ruels for 40K depending on the size of the game. As in, the 40K rules for <1K games are too simple and would benefit from something more complex like a Necromunda, WM or Infinity set of rules.

List fu is far too important. I have pwned people even when playing averagely, just because I had a better list than them.
Fluffy should be powerful, and this would narrow the gap between fluffites and competitives. I think it would also grow respect in more relaxed gamers for people who play hard - they would have been outplayed, rather than being beaten by a bigger gun, so to speak. Skill as a general would be more important than min-maxing your way to victory.

Argeros said...

I have to agrees with most of the things you said in the Ariticle. However. I think there should be something said in the point escalation that seems to be going on in the tournament scene. Like when I started 1750 was the gold standard of 40k. Now it seems its around the 2k-2.5k mark. I also believe the game is much more balenced at around the 1500pt level since at that point you have to make some serious choices in what you want to bring to the table and it heights the scales back on to skill. Marine armies cant have 6+ troops and all of the goodies to go with it there just isn't enough points. I think can can mitigate the ammount of dice and unclog the table. just my 2 cents.

oink said...

There is a certain truth to be said that GWs idea of fun is getting to roll massive handfuls of dice... over and over. All of their recent game models have revolved around that... The trouble is exactly as you point out. What is the point if all those dice don't do much?

This is not an easy fix, but it can be fixed. GW have made plenty of games which are meaningful with their dice... such as Blood Bowl... or Gothic.

But how does this help you now... well, it doesn't. But perhaps you are looking for the wrong thing. I get the feeling (having never played Infinity) that it offers great skirmish battles. Skirmish battles are good because they let you see the outcome of something right then and there! 40k, is really not a skirmish game... it works on a grander scale.

What this means is that you should aim to play themed battles, where outcome in one battle may affect things in the next one setting up a story led campaign. This way, you aren't simply "playing a wargame" for the sake of rolling dice, but you set yourself the scene. I think its doubly important for me to mention this because it's the one gaming style that you have not tried with 40K.

BrandCAG said...

As far as the phase system goes, it is what it is. Every game is different and 40K uses this mechanic. Fine by me.

Dice rolls don't bother me either. As Tau, we have methods available in the codex to effective improve our results. We can ignore those cover saves, improve our BS, and do a whole lot more. We have more control over our firing than anything. Moreover, we know precisely how every single close combat is going to end.

List building is the most interesting part of the game for me, so I can't relate to your objections. I have both competitive and casual lists at various points levels that I bring to whatever kind of game I agree to play with my opponent. That probably alleviates much of the frustration. I also use training lists which are intended to be weaker than my opponent.

I don't play high level GT games against top opponents so I'm unable to comment on the predictability of the game at that level. I do know for damned sure, however, that my opponents can't predict wins against me :)

Anyway, the game is still enormously enjoyable for me. Part of that is because I don't put any pressure on myself to play or paint or anything else related to the game.

Tim said...

@Wilhelm. Yep. List-fu is pretty lame IMO, and it isn't the player's's a problem with game design.

@Argeros, I don't think it comes down to point-level. I enjoy 1500 pt games a lot more because they are quicker, but the inherent problems are still there. The Kill Zone game I played was 250 pts. It was just as annoying as a 2,000 pt game, just shorter.

@oink (love the sign name BTW). Good suggestion on trying the themed games. I've tried to get my gaming buddies psyched for a little avail not due to lack of interest, but few can commit the time. We're all in our 30s, some with kids, etc. Just is impractical to do linked games.

@Brand, the phase system is kind of my own pet-peeve. I don't expect everyone to see/understand why I find it unfun. I just don't think it works to build excitement and action. It just seems slow, lame, et. totally subjective I suppose.

The Tau aren't really that good at adjusting their die rolls. I guess you're referring to markerlights, which are pretty poorly designed being a heavy weapon given to BS3 models. but then you mention that we know precisely how every close combat is going to end...that is too predictable...where is the random chance that brings the excitement. Why don't i just remove my models when they get assaulted, instead of bothering with the dice?

GTs have their own issues that I believe we need to address as a community. There are far too many sour grapes after every tourney...NOVA, adepticon, mechanicon, etc...

I don't feel any pressure when I play...well not true, the only pressure I feel is to enjoy the game and make it enjoyable for my opponent...a difficult task...

I just can't honestly see myself ever trying to get new people into 40k, Infinity definitely, but 40k...too unfun, too expensive, too many freaking models to paint, too much listfu...just wouldn't feel right encouraging someone to start 40k.

Cobalt Cannon said...

I really enjoyed your post Tim. It was well thought out. I have thought a lot about these things also. I think it's because I have other games to compare it to.

For those of you that haven't played anything but 40k, then before you comment, I suggest giving something else a try. See if you like it and compare it to 40k. You might or might not have the same view, but it might be some new fun regardless. Who knows, maybe you'll enjoy 40k more afterwards.

The phase system doesn't work for 40k , and never did, and the reason is that it's not realistic. Modern armies or future armies don't all move at once, while the other army waits, then all shoot at once, while the other army waits. This never happens. Units maneuver and engage all at the same time. Each unit moves independently with team goals in mind. 40k doesn't do this. Now a phase system Does work for Warhammer fantasy. In those kinds of battles up to the American Civil war, units did move together, then shoot, then charge. Then they would maneuver again, and shoot or charge or maneuver again. Maybe an alternating unit activation combining movement, shooting, and assault ( which SHOULD be a very rare occurrence in any modern warfare) would work better. When all units on both sides have activated, then the turn is over. Start turn 2. This way the battle unfolds while every unit is simultaneously maneuvering against each other.

Warhammer 40k's list building problems might be from force organization. Gameworkshop is stuck in designing units to be troops, or to be "fast attack" and these have become stereotypes of what that kind of unit is expected to be like. This creates that problem with every army always being the same, and this kills a lot of creativity and fluff. You can't have fast attack choices be expected to take on elites and do well, or hold ground, or take on that hero HQ choice. I think they need to get rid of this Fast attack, elites, troops stereotype that they have created for the game. Or just get rid of that system. There are other ways to create balance. That's why you have a points system. Heavy Gear Blitz and Infinity are examples of just a points system working for balance. Heavy gear also has something they call Priority Level for army building. This number of 1 through 4 indicates the kind of missions the unit is build for. PL1 being guard duty milicia weekend warrios, PL 4 being missions that nobody in your force is expected to come back from( Special Forces missions) and then they have 2 and 3 in between.
Each PL number also indicates how you can build your lists, and what you are expected to accomplish with that force. Maybe Something like that can be tried with Warhammer 40k. PL1 forces can met against PL 4 forces. But the PL 4 force might have 3 or 4 objectives they have to accomplish to win, where the PL 1 force only has one. They are both built with the same points though.

suneokun said...

Great article and well put.

Getting defensive about 40k and list-fu simply proves the point. If the only way you can defend it is on the attack???

Infinity has it's problems, it's complicated and a steep learning curve for newbs. A whole game CAN fall apart from 2 shots (my opponent and I rolled two criticals in a row, he killed my entire command team, suckered the commander and ended the game with a critical grenade lob?!?)

HOWEVER, to address the comments above.

LIST-FU: The rumblings i'm hearing online about percentages (AKA WFB) and unit limitation (ie Elite maximum 1 or 2 per choice), would cut a hole right through the list-fu and force players to create lists which covered their weaknesses as well as exploiting every option.

PHASE SYSTEM: 40k ain't alone, Flames also has a 'bit by bit' option, but their 'grown up' deployment options and reserves rules mean that its possible for a unit to overextend as well as exploit. Simple reaction rules (like defensive fire, giving a unit the chance to fire into charging troops) makes charging into combat WITHOUT pinning them near suicide.

Pinning them and then charging is equally beneficial AS YOU GET TO SHOOT ON THE WAY IN ... but this simple change makes it much more realistic.

Equally, cover saves should be 3+ across the board, but with better pinning rules.

DICE ROLLS: Are dull, couldn't agree more. There is a tension in killing off the last 2 necrons in a unit with burst cannons - but fighting Terminators without plasma is just boring. 40k needs to step away from, dice=fair AND dice=fun. It's not.

Changing all of the above is well within reach and would go some way to making 40k a thriving game again, unluckily it'll never happen. Unlike Flames, Hormachine or Infinity - 40k sold off its dynamic leadership in the mid 90's.

Alexandrio may have caught the bullet for 5th, but I think it was probably death to innovation by committee that killed it.

G Red said...

Totally agree with you. I would add that 40k has never been able to evolve sufficiently from its origins as a spin-off of WHFantasy, and the current crop of game designers barely understand the game engine, hence the handfuls o' dice dynamic. They need to divorce it completely from Fantasy, which means re-engineering the thing. Won't happen. Sad.

Xyhelm said...

Maybe the release of a new Tau codex and 6th edition later on, improvements will be made and you will get back into it. I do greatly miss your Tau posts.

Anonymous said...

While I cannot speak to Infinity (as I have not played it, and nor does anyone in my local area). I will caution that this article sounds like a move from the old game to the new shiny. (Infinity is cool and fun, and 40k is old and boring). While this may not be the case that is what I read into it.

That said I think the issue with 40k is that the things that would fix the game are directly opposed to GWs current sales strategy, and some of what you mention while in part true does not have an easy fix.

The phase system, is one thing that could be fixed fairly easily but what is really the good answer to this while still keeping the game fairly streamlined. The Warmachine system of one unit activates, does all of its stuff, and then the next unit does the same is no more dynamic. Furthermore unless GW allows shooting into combat it would completely change how armies play (If I move shoot and assault, then my next unit cannot shoot the unit I am assaulting.) I can think of some interesting solutions to this problem, but the game would need to move away from a turn mechanic (and become more complicated) for them to work, which experienced players might appreciate but would make the game harder for new commers.

I also agree that 40k has a lot of dice rolling, but I have yet to see another game that has player investment during their opponents turn done well (again if we move away from turns then this could be improved). Warmachine for example is I take my turn, then watch you take your turn while I pick up models or mark down damage. While I agree that far too many of the dice rolls (basically basic weapons for most units) do little, I think this is more of a function of too many space marines, then it is of the rolling. If more armies had poor armor saves (or at least if they were played) then we would not see as much of an issue. IN addition the fantasy system of modifying saves due to weapon strength makes far more sense than the 40k AP system (or the space marine advantage system), so my Tyranofex can penetrate a Land Raider, but that marine can stand there and likely take the shot to the face...., having saves modified would make the rolls more suspensefull (as now a marine shot with say a S 5 weapon is now only saving on a 4+ or 5+, and is now not as likely to make those saves.) In addition removing cover saves from the game is a must for this point. Cover should modify the to hit roll and not be a save, this way cover benefits all armies equally, rather than just being a 4+ save for every army.

As for list building I think this is the hardest fix. I love building lists, but I agree I would rather see all choices be "competitive" but just produce armies with different styles of play. The issue here is the GW sales strategy of staggered army releases and nerfing old models to sell new models. Until GW follows PP and releases units in books with units for every faction, or releases all of the dexes upon the release of a new edition, the game will always lack balance. This is further amplified by GW secrecy as they are terrible at playtesting for army balance (I'm looking at you Pyrovore), if they did unit releases instead of army releases it would be much easier to release units and then if it is found that those units serve no purpose, then they can re-release rules for said army.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you. Its part of why I feel 40k is declining while skirmish games like Infinity and Warmahordes are on the rise. They are just more entertaining to play. In warmachine you actually do get to move and shoot 1 unit a time like you mentioned. This keeps the tension and excitement high the entire game.

Tim said...

Hopefully someday in the not so distant future they get around to releasing a new Codex and brand new shiny models for Tau...rumors seem to indicate that it will be soon, but I am skeptical...if it drops and is amazingly fun to play Tau again then great!

I'm not someone who deals in absolutes...I'm probably never going to jump out and say 'I quit 40k' in a fit of nerd-rage, but I'm not having fun with it at the moment...not sure when I will again, but a shiny new Codex could change that...

Spaguatyrine said...

Some of what you say can be true to some and not to others. For me it is fine.

I ran a 60,000 point apocolypse game earlier in the year and decided to change the way the game ran because all the apoc games I ever played only went to 3 turns. This is what I did...:

Both sides moved at the same time. Each side got 10 minutes.

Both sides got to shoot, regardless of the damage result that happened that round.

Both sides got to assault at the same time.

This did 3 things:

Made the game more realistic-You move where you would go as if you were in real combat, not where you see your opponent go and then change it.

Made the game more fun-you didn't pay for that 500 point tank and never get to use it, assaulting units got their extra attacks, etc.

Made the game managable in time.


Think about it!

Garnet said...

"and like the little kid who pointed out that the Emperor was naked, I think I am pointing out what everyone knows to be true. 40k just isn't that fun. "

Ummm... no. The Emperor was objectively naked; it was a fact that could be pointed out. All you can say is that 40K isn't that fun -for you-, which may be a fact, but is a pretty weak one. It's more that you've pointed out that you don't think the Emperor's clothes are flatteringly cut, and could probably use some time with a better tailor.

As far as your four examples go, obviously they're subjective, but I think they can still be responded to, like so:

1. The Phase System – The phase system is not broken, you're just missing the reasoning behind it. Namely, 40K isn't meant to be a game of heroes (the prevalence of special characters notwithstanding), but a game of armies. So the army moves, and the army shoots, and the army assaults. It provides a more strategic experience compared with the individual-level tactics of WarmaHordes or Infinity, in which it's not an army but a small group of relatively independent individuals. Rather than being a thing that forces you to 'temper your excitement', the 40K phase system provides a different kind of excitement, namely, that of marshalling your forces and executing a particularly devastating army-wide attack. Personally, I find nothing more satisfying than a rolling barrage of firepower reaching out from the barrels of my army's guns to smash unit after unit of my enemy's army, and nothing more nerve wracking than seeing that same kind of barrage come back at me.

2. Dice Rolls – Don't you play Tau Empire? Why are you rolling huge handfuls of dice at once? Anyway, the way the to-hit/to-wound/saves system is set up in 40K may not be perfect, but it's hard to see how you could change it without making it noticeably worse, particularly given the way 40K armies run the gamut from ork Boyz to markerlight-enhanced Broadsides. And frankly, I can't really imagine that you could spend 'an entire turn dishing out shots' only to watch your opponent make every save, particularly if you're rolling handfuls of dice each time you make an action. Well, unless the other guy is using cooked dice...


Garnet said...

3. List Building – There are some pretty bad codices out there, it's true. But let us be serious; there is perhaps only one book (Chaos Daemons) that is so bad that winning with the options it presents is an almost insurmountable challenge. Other than that, every codex offers at least one or two quite solid basic builds, which can be tweaked this way and that to the preference of the player. And frankly, it's pretty tough to take anyone seriously when they complain about having to build a good list to really have a good chance of victory; of course you do. You also have to hire professional baseball players if you want a shot at winning the World Series. You can't just grab nine friends and challenge the Yankees for the pennant, any more than you can just throw an Ethereal, a bunch of Warfishl, Vespid and SDTs on the table and expect to do well against someone who's put some thought into their army. List building is important, yes, but it's something everyone has a reasonably equal chance of doing well. Nobody is stopping you from putting together a really killer list, no matter what the faction, and nobody is stopping you from putting together a badly-synergized force that will get creamed if that's what you want, either. But if you choose to put together that begging-for-death-style army, don't be surprised if someone who didn't obliges their death wish.

As for the myth of the 'Win Button' army, it's just that, a myth. Barring the odd, absolutely awful matchup there are no games of 40K that cannot be won by either of a pair of equally-skilled players, no matter what particular good list they're using. Grey Knights, Space Wolves, Blood Angels, they can all be beaten so long as the opponent has a good list and a good, keen mind. True, some fights will be harder than others, but can you really say that if you spent time learning the rules of every model in your Infinity faction, and developed a strategy, and worked to maximise synergy, and I just randomly grabbed some models I thought were pretty, that we'd have a tense, close-fought, down-to-the-wire fight?

Garnet said...


4. Predictable – You might be able to predict the most likely outcome of the battle given the lists and deployment, but it certainly wouldn't be a sure thing. You can't predict where Deep Strike units will land, you can't predict what side Outflanking units will come on from, you can't predict which vehicles will get 6s on the damage table and which Terminators will throw out snake eyes for their saves, heck, you can't even predict how long the game will go. 40K has a fair amount of uncertainty built into it already; remember, you were complaining about it back in point two? Where you talked about how, despite throwing buckets of dice around, you might still not end up accomplishing anything? How is that statistical abnormality predictable?

More generally, predictability in and of itself is not a negative quality. Chess is one of the most predictable games in history; it has an incredibly finite set of useful moves, and at the highest levels it can often come down to who makes a single mistake in the game. And yet, people have been playing chess, boring, predictable, chance-free, suspense-less chess, for hundreds of years. Now, I'm not saying that 40K is as predictable as a game of chess, but even if it is somewhat predictable (you can rely on Death Company units to kill what they charge and railguns to blow up what they hit, for instance), that's not a bad thing either. I don't know about you, but I would hate the idea of a game the size of 40K constantly turning on singular dice rolls, rather than being an exercise in strategy. It might work in a game like Infinity, where there are less than twenty models on the board in total, but horde armies like Orks and Tyranids and Guard would be hugely penalized by that kind of decisive random rolling. And more broadly, where would be the fun in winning because stuff just randomly happened, and you were on top when the game ended?

It's fine if you don't like 40K anymore. And it's fine to explain why. But the game isn't objectively 'broken', as its continued popularity attests, and it most certainly does not need to be rebuilt from the ground up into an entirely different kind of game. Turning 40K into Infinity or WarmaHordes would be a terrible idea, because those games already exist, and I suspect that if you give people a choice between WarmaHordes or wannabe-WarmaHordes, they'll choose the original every time. 40K is what it is, and while it does need some tweaking, it doesn't need to be what it isn't.

The Emperor isn't naked. You just don't like his clothes.

Anonymous said...

If both move and shoot at the same time, doesn't that hurt units that need to shoot and then move to hide behind cover?

Tim said...

@Garnet. Thanks for your comments. I think you mistake me a little bit. I never referred to anything as broken, so I don't really know what you mean there. But you actually miss a lot because you haven't told me what makes 40k fun. Sure, I may have gotten some of the details wrong, but my article was about FUN. And it's not entirely subjective...there are things that make games universally fun. Suspense, excitement, action...and things that make games universally unfun...knowing the outcome of a conflict in advance, feeling powerless during gameplay, to list a few tell me, what makes 40k fun?

Garnet said...

Fair enough, Tim, fair enough. Why is 40K fun, then?

Well, the three big reasons I find it fun are the people I play with, the beautiful modelling so many of them pull off, and the fluff. But those don't really have anything to do with the game on the table, and two of the three are shared by just about any tabletop minis game you'd care to mention, so we'll just leave them there. As for the game itself, sure, I still maintain it's absolutely fun, and for several of the reasons you yourself claim that games are made fun. There is plenty of suspense in 40K for me; there are the big things, like how deployment will go down and whether a seize roll will go off, and in reserve and game-end-check rolls. And on a more basic level just on seeing how the game unfolds turn after turn is great fun. I don't know what sort of savants you've met, but I've rarely known the outcome of a conflict in advance (the only real exception is those damn Descent of Angels lists), and watching luck, good and bad, strike down vehicles and units and characters is positively fascinating to me. Will a squad trying to get through difficult terrain get bogged down, or charge across? Will a vital model weather a hail of fire, or will it be blasted to pieces? And of course, there's the unrelenting challenge of pitting yourself against someone else, and pulling out every trick and trap you can to emerge victorious. Even those aforementioned Descent of Angels lists, the more I play them, the better my counter-strategies get, and the closer I come to finally putting a railgun slug where the sun don't shine, mwahaha!

Heck, even some of the things you complained about originally I find enjoyable. I like being able to toss out sixteen to-hit dice when my Fire Warriors are in rapid fire range, and sure it's frustrating to watch die after die get removed, but it's also suspenseful, and therefore engaging, and for me at least, therefore fun. And honestly, as lame as it sounds, I love list building; I love sitting down with Codex: Tau Empire and a blank Open Office window, and just running through variations and possibilities, slotting various and sundry pieces together like some sort of military puzzle. It's not as fun as playing, of course, but it's a nice way to keep yourself immersed in the hobby in general, and in personalizing your army in particular, between games. And speaking of personalizing, I like the way so much of 40K is all about making up an army you like, and customizing a commander to represent you, something so many of the skirmish games like Infinity and WarmaHordes, with their more clearly-defined factions and characters and their models' limits on customization, make less accessible for players. My Cygnar force is led by the same Victoria Haley as every other Haley-led army, but my Shining Long Strike cadre is led by the brooding and mercurial El'Nan'sha, the Swordwind. To me, one of these is way more personally rewarding than the other, and that makes for a heck of a lot of fun.

Tim said...

Well, there you have it, folks. Read Garnet's comment just above this one. An excellent counter-point to my post. Although I think other games do game-play better, 40k allows an unparalleled amount of customization. No other game has the sheer amount of options and breadth that 40k does.

Garnet said...

Well, now that we've got that all sorted out... ^_~

I am curious about something, though, and I'm just throwing it out there to anyone here; what's the problem with list building, exactly? I hear people complain about it, but I've never actually been able to understand the specific complaint. What is it about list building, as distinct from the general power imbalances between old (Tau, Ork, Eldar) and new (GK, BA, SW) codices as a whole, that so many people seem to find so... I want to say galling, really, given the way some folks talk about it. Why is tooling and tweaking your army to give you the best possible performance on the tabletop, and I really mean 'you' as an individual player, not the sort of general 'this is the netlist, you should just play this and not think about it, regardless of your personal playstyle', seen as such a negative thing?

Thanks in advance!

Tim said...

It’s hard to describe why the emphasis on list building bothers me so much. Why it makes the game less fun.

Sure, there is no auto-win army list. But frequently we see that certain lists are much better than others. So even before the game starts, one of the players has an advantage over the other. This adds a level of powerlessness to one player.

Then there is the fact that there are some obligatory units. Units that each army seem to not be able to go without. Dark Eldar=3 Ravagers, Space Wolves=3 long fangs squads, IG=3 vendettas, the list goes on. Maybe this is due to the ‘net-list phenomenon, but players frequently play the same lists over and over with little variety. Once a codex has been ‘unlocked’, the lists from that codex all start to look the same. This hems players in, and works against that customization that you talked about. Basically themed armies become less and less common and that’s a really sad state of affairs in my book.

I think it comes down to GW being pretty bad at designing units…Necrons just got their codex and there is a lot of stuff in there that you will never see on the tabletop: Deathmarks, for example.

Garnet said...

See, to me what you're describing seems to do less with list building, and more with the fact that GW is not particularly good at balancing the units inside a codex. Absolutely there are 'must take' options, because they just do the job so darn well that you have to voluntarily handicap yourself to take something else. But even then, nothing says you have to take tons of them. I've faced several IG armies at my local gaming store, and one had two Vendettas and one had one and one had none. Heck, I'm guilty of it myself; I max out my elites choices by 1500, because you just can't run Tau and not have battlesuits all over the place. But I also run 24 Fire Warriors at that level, and a Piranha, and an 'El armed with the AFP. My options are a little constrained by the sheer value of the XV8s, but there's still tonnes of room for me to customize.

I wonder, do you actually, personally see people running netlists and spam-lists? Because me, I hear about those lists all the time online, but I can't recall ever facing anyone who was playing something even particularly close to one.

Finally, I really feel sometimes that those who talk about how 'list-fu' forces them to do things just aren't thinking hard enough about their options. Common wisdom, after all, is that you should take 6 FWs, put them in a Devilfish, and hide them the whole game. And I did that for ages, and what do you know, voluntarily throwing away hundreds of points was crippling my army. So now, despite what everyone online says, I run 24 FWs at 1500 and 30 at 2000, and they shoot down Guardsmen and Terminators and Assassins and Purifiers and all sorts of nasty units that are supposedly just soo~o much better than them. Because every list has its strengths, but also its weaknesses, and thinking outside the box will often let you stick someone right where they were least expecting it.

Tim said...

While I don't play lots of 40k these days, I do see lots of netlisting at tournaments and even at my local store. Just have a look at any online tournament coverage and look at the armies. You'll see what I am talking about.

I've never seen a Space Wolf army without 3 squads of longfangs, I've never seen a IG army without meltavets and vendettas, I've never seen a blood angels list without 3 preds, etc, etc.

So no I don't think netlisting is a myth. The internet influences lots and lots of players...even myself.

Tim said...

and yes, you're right, GW is borrible at balancing units within a codex. But you see, I'm not trying to put the problems with 40k onto the players, rather to the game designers...

Taubeast said...

try Warmahordes. Fast, fun, small armies, and the most dice you roll at once is like, 4?

alex said...

After reading your article, I want to leave these comments. I have been lurking around your site for too long and not said anything.

I'm a Tau player for about 5 years, I can't claim any great achievement over the years, nor any deep knowledge, but I feel picking Tau as my army was the right choice. Since 5th turn into a mech fest, it have been very exciting for me. Oh why? Tau have the right tools to be top tier (someone will laugh and disagree, but that's ok). To me, it's a challenge to stand toe to toe against all these new flashy codices. I can't win all the games, and that's what brings me back. Because losing so much, it keeps me thinking and improving. If I am playing something like mech IG, just point and shoot and win most of my games, now that's boring.

To balance armies is never a easy job, in fact, too hard for this type of games. One, this is not like a computer war game where they can easily make a new patch every couple month, and create some balances. If GW reprint a new edition every year or two, they would waste a lot of money on all those old unsold copies. Two, with so much armies out there and keeping each one unique is hard enough, to achieve complete balance is rather impossible. Oh why? Even Chess is not balance. White have the edge over black in a small margin, that's not equal.

Now, different people have different preferences. Some likes low model count and quick games while some likes long games with a lot of models on the table. If this game doesn't fit your taste, we have the freedom to switch. Also, I think GW did a fair job giving us the option changing the point system or playing kill team.

I play warmachine and infinity, too. They are fun on their own ways. 40k still pulls me back for the last 10 years