Saturday, March 3, 2012

Does 40k need to be Balanced?

People are always stating that 40k is not balanced. I have been thinking about this statement all day while I was at work. Yeah it was a boring day. The real question should not be whether it is or is not balanced, but whether we really want it to be balanced at all. Are any wargames really balanced?

Balancing 40k, do we really want to? I ask this question because some one jogged my memory of a couple years ago. In early 4th edition, I quite playing 40k for a while. I played World of Warcraft from the end of the original game through 3 expansions.

 How does this apply to 40k? Well, WOW was a game where everyone complained for balance. It was unfair that the Alliance had paladins. It was unfair that the Horde had shamans. Each class had different abilities. Each race had different specials. PvP was not balanced... Raiding was not balanced. The people complained and Blizzard listened to them. The first expansion saw the Horde getting paladins. The Alliance got their shamans. Over the next couple expansions people still complained, and Blizzard listened. Race specials got nerfed or outright changed. People complained because not all classes had crowd control, so they changed it. Now every class can cc in some way. The lines between races are now simply cosmetic. Class abilities are blurred to the point of it not mattering what class you need to do the job. They are all very similar to the point of not being unique anymore.

People on WOW now complain that nothing is unique or different. That everything is the same. All the flowers are roses and none are special.

“Be careful what you wish for. I know that for a fact. Wishes are brutal, unforgiving things. They burn your tongue the moment they're spoken and you can never take them back.”
Alice Hoffman

 Maybe you are saying so what, so what if the armies are the same. Maybe you are saying, they don't need to make the armies the same to balance them. I say be careful for what you wish for... To balance, and I mean truly balance the armies, they will have to have similar abilities, similar units, and similar power in assault and shooting. This is the only true way to balance a game. It is also the easiest and cheapest! Any bets on how GW will balance the armies?

So does everyone want to play space marines? Do you always want to play vs space marines? People complain now, how boring it is to play 3+ armies. To balance the game all the armies will have similar stats. It will be marines vs marines, but their will not be variation either, because that would be unfair! No more GK, BA, or Wolfie SW action. Just basic Marines. Is this an over exaggeration? Yes it is.

I want wacky armies. I want Grey Knights with cool powers. I want vampire Blood Angels charging into assault. I want those annoying Space Wolf long fangs shooting me with a million cheap missiles. Why would I wish for this? I do because, it's the differences in the armies that makes each game unique. Different terrain changes the game. The ability to choose different units makes games unique. The ability to equip those units differently makes games unique. Do they make the game fair?

So we are back to the question of do we want 40k to be fair. What if we compare 40k to any sports game. We have 2 teams. We have a set time and field for the game. Both teams play the same game by the same rules, mostly. Teams have special units that are unique, and abilities that allow them to do different things. Like sports teams who have different plays and different players. Do you want Kobe to be equal to MJ? I don't. So is football fair? Is soccer fair? Is basketball fair? Should we change them so they all have the same chance at winning?

So back to 40k. Does Games -Workshop need to make 40k "fair"? I think it is fair. Every army has the same chance of winning. They play the same basic game. Their is no Marines only get to shoot rules. Their are special rule for armies and special units. These make them different. That is all. Wargames will never be equal for both sides because the are based on real life. Real life is not fair. Germans are never equal to Americans. Romans are never equal to Barbarians. Points are used to get close games, but they can never be equal because they are too different.

I stated there aren't any fair wargames, I was wrong. Chess is fair. Chess is fair, because the armies are the same. I do not want to play chess, I want to play 40k.

That's my 2 cents. You may leave yours below....


  1. The armies don't need to be balanced, the RULES need to be fair and balanced in how they work. The mechanics are what need to be 'balanced' in application, then the lists can take be what they are and if the BA are all cc and the necrons are all shooty, well that's just how it is. As long as the special rules (abilities, powers, etc) work correctly and fairly within the rules then there shouldn't be an issue.

    Unfortunately the one issue I seem to see with GW is that their formula for getting the points cost of a unit is flexible and not set in stone. If they actually made everything cost correctly we wouldn't run into a lot of issues that come up in 40k.

  2. I think you've been guilty of a brutally simplistic and one eyed argument I_D. Sorry. But if you want different armies then balance or an equilibrium between the various factions is required. Why? Because if one faction is better than another then more gamers will naturally gravitate towards those anyway and you'll all end playing space marines regardless.

    In fact isn't that happening now? Seriously the last 16 games of 40k I've witnessed have been various flavours of space marines fighting a different or sometimes the same flavour of space marine. To balance a game or the factions doesn't require what you suggest either, that's homogenisation not balance and the two are quite different. If others can manage it why can't GW? The reality is IF there wasn't an attempt at balance and GW and others didn't want it or strive for it there wouldn't be points now would there?

    So to go back to your argument about sports. You are right different teams have different players and athletes. Some better than others. However, to take your analogy further those teams do have points of sorts to play with... we call it cash! lol. Better players cost more money, just as better option cast more money in wargames, or should. True the analogy falls down because some teams have more disposable income than others... but that ultimately means it falls down for your argument too.

    I get that you love 40k and I admire your passionate defence of it and GW. However, you're way off the mark with this one I'm afraid for me. The lack of balance and any attempt to try and reign it it and readress it will lead to what you actually say you fear far more rapidly, trust me.

    1. Good points. So the weakness of 40k is in point costing units? Pretty tough to do when you are comparing apples to oranges. It's easier to just make them all apples. Then its easy to point them out.

      I'm fortunate around here, I guess. People are still playing what they want. Last 30 man rtt had zero IG, 1 SW, 2 GK and one was a Mordrak build. Tau won best over all.

      Their is a difference in people choosing to play the same army and having that be the only chioce becaus ethey are all the same.

    2. How do you see the DE and Necrons? Necrons are looking like they will change the meta. But they take a special type of player to get the most out of them.

      I think part of the problem I have about people complaining about balance is that not all the codexes have been brought up to date. I think 5th edition codes are pretty well balanced.

    3. I actually don't think DE make much sense on the average GW 40k table. They need terrain to work if you ask me. Plus I think they're not so great at taking out tanks.

      Necrons are an interesting one. I'm not so sure what they'll do to be honest with you, although for the points I like some of their options.

      I'm also going to take apart I'm afraid the difficulty with points balance argument both you and spiffy have put forward here. I have some experience in helping games designers 'point' things. First off your assertion that you're comparing apples with oranges is mildly amusing.

      So what DE don't have a weapon skill or Initiative stat like Space Marines do? lol. I think you'll find you are actually comparing different breeds of apple if you will. That's the reason we have profiles in games.

      Each stat has an intrinsic value on it's own that can be pointed. Then their are multipliers that can be attributed to the stats once another stat goes into the profile. For instance WS 9 might be awesome, but if your strength is only 1 is it really worth those points?

      Games Workshops problem is they've oved away from this sort of approach and just pin a points cost on that they feel sounds about right for their own little bubble up at Lenton Lane. Trust me it's what they do!

    4. DE do need terrain (I'd know I play DE) but the problem is the majority of players have never played anything but marines and don't know what terrain is so there's barely any on there!

      To be blunt 40ks totally unbalanced and I can't see a hope to re balance it. Marines will always be better, I admitt Ive won tournies with DE but it's been close and has come down to me facing over confident marine players (no your marines can't survive venoms even though you do have a godly 3+).

      It all comes down to GW makin money, and marines make money.

  3. I agree that a certain type of balance does create sameness. However, part of the reason GW CAN'T balance 40K is the diversity of the armies involved. Most major wars have been fought by armies with similar tactics, weapons, and marital philosophies. 40K and Fantasy are full of asymmetric warfare, which is very hard to balance.

    Different armies with different personalities is fine, but I think GW went too far. No one is going to argue that 2nd Edition was balanced, but at least every army was drawing from the same (or similar) wargear pool. Now everyone uses different weapons (and Imperials have the best). Too many options pushes things further and further out of balance.

    I played WoW from launch to mid-way through WoTLK, so I know exactly what you are talking about when it comes to a devolution to same-yness. With WoW the trouble was the people wanted to do one thing with their character when it was designed to do another. The cry for more options within each character led to fewer options in the game overall.

    40K is a different situation altogether. Space Wolves and Grey Knights are clearly superior to every other army. So, all players are being given a choice: you can have the army that's good, or the army that's bad. No surprise, the vast majority are picking 'the army that's good.'

    The reason that 40K is popular and the reason that 40K is so out of balance is simple: Space Marines. The default, stater, poster-boy army is by requirement of popularity and fluff the best at everything. You can't balance a game when the 'average' army has to be above average.

    I agree with Frontline Gamer on that score, everyone is rushing to play Space Marines because they are better than everyone else. The solution I see isn't 'make everyone else like Space Marines' it's 'nerf Space Marines'.

    1. You could nerf space marines... or make people pay for them in accurate points costs. I've written a huge series of articles on game balance on my Blog where I talk about the various elements I think games designers need to consider. But I think there is perhaps too much focus in 40k and balance on purely the army list and choice / points debate. But this is because quite frankly it's the only part of GW games that has any real importance on their games. The rest of it is... well secondary to the list. Poor games, and poor games design. Hardly surprising as their two main games are massively antiquated now.

    2. I agree with you, Space Marines are seriously undercosted for what they do. A general point increase is just the nerf they need. But, that would run counter to GW's trend of pushing down point costs to increase army size.

      GW's systems have not aged well, and true line of sight along with the player base's general aversion to terrain has made many of the systems' flaws more obvious.

      I'd never before considered that discussions of balance and 40K hover almost exclusively around list building, but you're right, they do. I suspect it is because the interaction among units and their environment on the table is very limited. Which, of course comes back to antiquated design.

      I still follow GW games from afar, but I have been unable to work up the enthusiasm to actually paint an army or play a game in some time. 40K could be a lot more fun than it is, at it's best GW produced games that were fun, iconoclastic, and had tongue firmly in cheek. Going back to what Inquisitor_Dunn first wrote that seems to be fading into a mass of people complaining and everyone playing power armor armies.

  4. Also not mentioned is the myth that GK and Marines are overpowered and winning everything. While this is the perception of the average Joe, Tournament results are just not supporting it.

    So far the winners have been mixed.

    Necrons won SVDM.
    GK won at Dark Star.
    Orks at Broadside Bash.
    Astoriomi-Con GK
    Summit Gt GK
    GottaCon DE
    TempleCon Necrons
    Conflict GT GK
    Feast of Blades BT
    Mechanicon BA
    Daboyz GT BT

    While GK are good, they are not dominating. Necrons look to be coming on lately proving it is the age of the codex that might be the problem.

    Oh and of the 4 undefeated armies at the IndyOpen, 2 are necrons!

    1. I actually think that does show a problem!!! But there you go. lol. The mathematician in me has analysed tournament results for a friend and found some interesting trends. Especially when we know the peoples names and know their past performances. GK, SW, BA do I'm afraid give players their biggest leaps up the tournament rankings. DE gave about a 2 month bump and then people slid back to where they normally were. It's not just the victories of tournaments that count but what the armies seem to do to individuals performance. That's the trouble with most GW gamers, they never look past the headlines!!! lol.

    2. The tournament results seem to support the myth, not dispel it.

      Tournament results are hard to draw conclusions from since different events have different scenarios and different rules. Plus, individual skill and luck are important factors in winning a game. So, there are inherent problems with the data, but lets look at it anyway.

      Of 11 events Grey Knights won 4 of them (36%). Some flavor of Space Marine won 7 out of 11 (64%). And the newest codex, Necrons won 2 (18%). So, out of 15 armies only 5 showed up in the winner's circle, and only 3 more than once. GK won twice as much as any other army. Despite accounting for only 5 out of the 15 armies available for play Space Marines of one type or another won the overwhelming majority of victories.

      It is interesting that the supposedly powerful SW didn't show up on the tournament results and that the ancient BT are winning events.

      Before anyone else points it out: I am fully aware that the analysis I provided means next-to-nothing because we don't know what armies participated or in what numbers.