I play both Magic; The Gathering and wh40k casually, and I’ve been considering writing a post about how MtG’s tournament/format/restrictions on rules could and should inspire official wh40k tournament rules. Then I saw this week’s Sit and Talk from MiniWarGaming (IMHO, the best wargaming site there is for casual wh40k) where the exact same thing is touched upon, and I’m playing a casual tournament in 6 weeks, so I thought it would be a good time to touch upon the topic.
The tournament organiser came up with a set of restrictions to balance things. No more than 2 formations, no super heavy vehicles, Battleforged, maximum 3 dice for casting Invisibility etc. It tries to address the main issues without overreaching such as unit point costs etc. Sure, if someone wants they can bring the Wind Rider host or the Decurion detachment, but at a glance it seems much more balanced than “normal” wh40k. Tournaments require more balancing than friendly games and campaigns, because the goal for each player isn’t to ensure a close game, but rather to win. That they’re between players who don’t necessarily know each other so they can balance internally doesn’t help either.
MtG has worked around this by having several official formats, originally introduced to reduce price increase in the barrier to entry. From Modern, which is the current “blocks” or released cards, to EDH/Commander (Elder Dragon Hill), which is centred around each player having a Legendary commander (Separate from the draw deck) determining the colour(s) their remaining cards may have, with 1 of each card with as opposed to Modern’s maximum of 4 of each card, to Legacy, which allows 4 of each card ever printed, but with restrictions on what cards are legal. You have many more formats as well.
Not only are the power levels and combinations available radically different in each format, the general strategies and usefulness of each card changes. In the standard 60 card deck of Modern, you can put in 4 of each card, centering the strategies around a few core tactics and combinations as the predictability allows this. This isn’t possible in EDH, as the deck consists of 100 cards, with only 1 of each. You can of course include “tutor” cards – cards that allow you to draw specific cards from your deck – but these still need to be drawn. So rather than organising your play around a few combinations, you arrange it around several win conditions and possibilities where your predictable Commander maximises a variety of different cards. I know there are many more differences to the formats, but for those unfamiliar with MtG this should suffice, so don’t crucify me!
Woe to the Conquered.
GW used to do something similar with their Grand Tournaments, and with Battleforged you have a way of organising a list in somewhat restricted manner by following the CAD, and obviously the Apocalypse format suited for much larger games. However, GW could, with a lot of thought, create a set of much more balanced rules in tandem with tournaments, making it easier for their players to organise balanced lists in friendly games. Depending on the points involved, you could prevent the amount of the flyers, super heavy vehicles, Lords of War etc in a similar way to the restricted and banned card lists in Magic. Nobody wants to play a 1000pt pick-up game in your local GW where your opponent turns up with an Unbound Imperial Knight and semi-Smashfucker list with a single painted model (this happened to me). I was thoroughly disappointed with my match up, especially when I was then told miniatures following FW rules wasn’t allowed – this was more due to the hypocrisy than that me actually using any. I’ve been somewhat vocal about being tabled the last 4 of 5 games, but I enjoyed those games – I didn’t enjoy that game though the game wasn’t finished due to time constraints; admittedly, my Endurance-boosted CCW MoS Cultists had just taken out an Iron Hands biker command squad, complete with Smashfucker.
Naturally, this is more of a tournament problem than a casual problem. Most LFGS/GWs have some way of putting players in touch before the game, allowing them to agree on an even match-up. Most normal, well-adjusted beings are capable of saying no to WAAC players and TFG as well, but in a tournament setting you have to play them.
I’m also aware this is the problem many people had with the introduction of heavier tanks in common play, such as the Land Raider. This was addressed gradually by making high S anti-tank more available, and nowadays the Land Raider is often considered an overcosted Rhino with extra space. Then you had the arrival of flyers, which lead to AA. The appearance of things like the Accelerator Cannon has led to an increased importance for cover. Then Jink led to a much higher incidence of cover-ignoring weapons, such as the Sicarans and Markerlights. Back in 3rd edition, Power Armour was good, but with the advent of ubiquitous anti-MEQ weaponry, is no longer worth the points.The current edition, and the previous, definitely favoured shooty armies, leading to a higher amount of ranged units.
However, the meta is constantly changing, but that’s not a problem – the meta should be changing. In a game as wide and vast as wh40k, this is expected. Problems do arise when players can’t counter things fast enough, as in video games, all you need to do is change your tactics or get a new weapon. In wh40k this process is a lot slower as you’ll need entirely new miniatures, and then paint new miniatures, just to generally test a new tactic or strategy (You can of course proxy). Extra Credits did an absolutely amazing piece on game balance and design which I recommend you check out.
The problem is the wide range of combinations available which aren’t balanced against each other. This creates issues in balancing armies as there are so many combinations available. Sure, it might seem somewhat balanced on paper, but in effect it’s not. That’s why having formats that would limit flyers, heavy vehicles (Land Raiders etc), super heavy vehicles, LoWs, psyker levels etc. while at the same time adjusting the balance of the codices, while still flawed, would make things a lot easier and give different units different uses at different points.
As an example, you could have these formats:
Skirmish (Best suited for <1001): Restrictions are 0-1; lvl3 Psyker or Heavy Vehicle, no flyers, SHVs, LoWs etc.
Armed Engagement (Best Suited for 1001-1999): Restrictions are 0-3; lvl3 Psyker, HV, flyers. No SHVs or LoWs.
Additionally, you could limit Formations, 0-2 of any given non-Troop unit, and SCs, and even mess around with scoring. These could be separate from Battleforged and Unbound as well. These are just examples as to how wh40k could take a few steps toward a more balanced and easy approach for most players.
This’ll be completely balanced and ensures everyone has a great time, right?
When I was starting out I would ask my opponents to leave out flyers, and they’ve never really had a problem doing that, as I just didn’t have any sort of counter. People are okay with this, but that’s a casual format, not a tournament tournament (Captain Obvious is a good friend of mine).
Having better and tighter rules would not just improve tournament play – it would ensure less time spent on making sure lists are balanced against each other and more game painting, buying toy soldiers, and playing with toy soldiers.