The Big FAQ: The Variance Hammer Hot Take

So it’s out, a mere half-month off schedule: the first of the major FAQs that Games Workshop has promised will be on something of a “tick-tock” cycle. So what’s in it, and how do I feel about it?

First, a disclaimer: I’m reading this when you are. I have no special insight, and I have no super-secret inside knowledge. Nor is this informed by a dozen games played with the new FAQ. Rather, I’m sitting in my office, and this is my gut reaction.

Second, a rant: It’s an errata, not an FAQ. It’s changing rules, not resolving ambiguity. And yes, this is a hill I’m going to die on.

Alright, with that out of the way, lets actually get to the rules changes.

Link to the rules and GW’s commentary here.

Rule Fixes

Psychic Focus:

There were some beta rules introduced back in December which pretty swiftly got incorporated into what people considered “the rules”, because honestly the whole notion of “beta rules” was a little silly. One of them was a rule punishing Smite spamming, by increasing the Warp Charge value of Smite by one each time it was cast, up to a maximum of 11. That’s honestly a pretty brutal nerf, and reduced the utility of Smite from “Obviously designed to be spammed” to “Well, technically everyone can cast it.”

From the perspective of an Eldar player, that was fine – lord knows we have enough ways to send out mortal wounds in the Psychic phase. And it did tune down some Smite engine armies. But in the process, it really hurt several armies – most notably in my mind Grey Knights – who were expected to be doing a good chunk of their damage in the psychic phase and had suddenly had their major tool to do that removed.

The new version of this rule basically exempts Grey Knights and Thousand Sons from this rule. I honestly don’t think this will have a huge impact on the game, except for not kicking Grey Knights while they’re already down.

Spam away kiddos.

Character Targeting:

This is the change most accurately called an “FAQ” that’s in here, and it cleans up some ambiguity regarding targeting characters – notably, that you can’t play LoS games to make a character snipe-able by regular units, and characters can’t shield each other and cause some weird and un-fun rules interactions. These are pretty straightforward, common sense changes, and if your strategy relied on using either one of these…well, you should have seen this coming.

Beta Rules

Again, I think the notion of “beta rules” is somewhat silly – all rules are subject to change, beta or not, and they functionally become official the moment they’re released. And, in my saltier moments, I will note that even if they say Beta Matched Play Rules, I never see them not used.

Tactical Reserves

Remember, in the halcyon days of 8th Edition being released, when everyone was convinced that getting rid of the ability to null deploy an army would fix all kinds of problems with the game, and those mean jerks with their Deep Strike heavy lists wouldn’t be able to kick sand in your face anymore (or hide from your alpha-strike happy army…)?

Yeah, that didn’t happen.

The first change they’ve made to Tactical Reserves is an important one – they’ve defined what “half” an army is. Notably, half the power levels of your army and half the number of units – both conditions have to be fulfilled. Oddly not points, which now makes Matched Play folks deal with both cost systems in the game at the same time. I think that’s an odd choice – using points would arguably be more convenient for the Matched Play scene, and would have placed this “Beta Matched Play” rule squarely in the realm of clearly for matched play only.

But it’s a good ruling.

They’ve gone beyond that though, and also added that if you arrive on the battlefield during the first turn, that unit has to be placed in the controlling player’s deployment zone, even if it could be set up anywhere. Not a big deal if your plan was to hide a unit in deep strike in order to protect it from getting shot at – but a much bigger deal if your plan was to take the fight to the enemy. I think this is a really big change to the game, and one that will have implications. 8th Edition is already alpha strike happy, because of the increased lethality, and one of the ways to address that was to force some conservatism on the part of gun-line armies needing to shield their heavy hitters from deep strike, potentially have a pre-emptive deep strike of your own, and deny them targets. This change impacts that a lot – you’ve got more time until that counter-punch arrives, screening to prevent first turn charges from deep strike is no longer a thing, etc.

I’m not saying this is a bad change. Getting turn one charged and knocked out of the game is profoundly disempowering, and the changes to deep strike in 8th made these kinds of things reliable rather than a risk. But it is a big change, and I suspect is going to make some people rethink their armies and their strategies.

I would, for example, not want to be a Blood Angels player right now.

Battle Brothers

I’ll admit my heart skipped a beat, and not in the good way, when I saw the preamble to this rule. I’ve been playing allied armies for a long time. My Sisters force had inducted Guard back in 3rd Edition, and I’ve never looked back. My “Eldar Corsairs Using Core Army Rules” army practically depends on allies being a functional concept. If people abusing things killed one of the coolest parts of the game for me…

And then it was just not a thing.

Basically, if you want a “Soup” army with multiple forces united by a high level Keyword, that needs to be between Detachment, not within Detachment. While, again, I’m sure some folks will need to rebuild their army because they’ve been hitting this hard, most people I know, even tournament players, have been using multiple detachments to mix and match their forces – like using a cheap-as-chips Guard detachment as a CP farm for a more elite army (more on this later…).

They’ve also done a commendable job of exempting most of the people who should have an exemption. I’m sure they’ve forgotten something but off the top of my head I don’t know what. It makes things a little tricky for Ynnari players, but from a narrative perspective I like it, and I think that army generally is in an odd place until it gets a proper codex.

Balancing

The part where GW messes about with stuff trying to iterate into a well balanced game. Lets hit some of the highlights:

  • Battalions now get +5 Command Points, and Brigades +12 Command Points. Guard are now essentially infinite CP engines, the local CP battery for any Imperial army, etc. Or more accurately, more so. I’ll admit I’m a little miffed about this – if they wanted to have more CPs, which was their underlying logic, they could have just boosted the CPs you get from being battle forged. In their discussion of the changes, they expressly call out the shortage elite armies have in CPs…but this helps armies with cheap choices more than it does others. And it definitely makes the Battalion the best “out of the box” army construction approach, which is somewhat sad, as it means things like a Saim-Hann army with all jetbikes and Vypers is manifestly worse by a lot than one that tossed in a few units of Rangers. This benefits me personally, as “Crap tons of Guardians in Wave Serpents” is a Battalion, but on principle I’m not a fan.
  • Tide of Traitors has been moved to only being a Once per Battle ability. This is definitely a change that will require some re-engineering if this was your core army concept. I don’t know that it needed to be fixed that urgently, but I can definitely see how this could be exhausting and un-fun for one’s opponents.
  • Word of the Phoenix got harder to case, which is probably fair, but I think there’s some error in the re-wording. At the moment, it doesn’t seem to do anything – it just details who you can do that nothing to.
  • No more stacking “Feel No Pain”-esq rules. Again, I’m going to put this in the “If you didn’t see this coming, you weren’t paying attention…” bucket.

Organized Play Suggestions

The appearance of this genuinely surprised me – GW’s accounting for how they think organized play should be conducted. Most of this isn’t particularly earth shattering (although it does kill Carl Tuttle’s “Where does it say in the rules that a game only lasts X hours…”)

The big one is limiting the number of times a datasheet can be used to 2, 3 and 4 for <1000, 1000-2000 and >2000 point games respectively (not including troops and dedicated transports). Folks are calling this the “Rule of Three”, and it’s…an interesting take. It’s an across-the-board “STOP SPAMMING THINGS”. And it definitely does do that.

It also kills some amusing armies – a Valkyrie-borne IG army (which was already on the ropes due to the Boots on the Ground rule), the notorious Splintermind Sslyth Party Bus, etc.

But honestly, those weren’t exactly things that people were taking to organized play anyway. And it’s probably at the point now that, while I’d prefer a solution where there weren’t “Clearly this unit is so good you should take as many as you can” choices in most codexes, this is probably a workable interim.

One of the things I have trouble with is some of their reasoning, or at least the language they’re using for it:

This lends itself to one-dimensional armies that aren’t particularly interesting to play with or against and don’t match the narrative of the setting.

…but you won’t be building your entire battleplan around a single supposedly rare or exotic unit (such as Dark Reapers)

Both of these things are true, and in narrative gaming I’d support them. But this is expressly for organized play. All of the armies are, in spirit, one-dimensional (“Winning is a theme”). And matching the narrative setting is never a thing – for example, why are we restricting “rare or exotic” units like Dark Reapers, but we can have multiple Primarchs fighting on every table?

This isn’t the reasoning for the change. The reasoning is “We occasionally make a unit that is the globally optimum unit for this codex, and we can’t promise that never happens, so we’re putting in an automatic stop to keep it from getting spammed.” And that’s fine reasoning. But in a game where we must approach things from a “Rules as Intended” perspective, putting in language about whether or not organized play armies match the fluff and “realistic” rarity of the setting is…not great.

Points Tweaks

Yeah, who didn’t see these coming?

  • The Commissar and Lord Commissar got cheaper, which is fair given the rules changes that made them worse.
  • Feculent Gnarlmaws got more expensive – stop with the shenanigans with these.
  • Dark Reapers got 7 points more expensive base, which is a pretty dramatic step up, and with equipment go from 27 to 34 points each, a 26% increase, which is, as someone who fields a single unit of them, entirely deserved.
  • The Ravenwing Dark Talon got more expensive, which given I’ve never heard anyone on the internet complain about it at all is surprising. Edit: Adam Abramowicz reminded me of a picture from a tournament I had literally erased from my mind like some sort of post-traumatic amnesia. Dark Angels players – you can all thank the guy at Adeptacon.
  • Roboute got more expensive
  • Biovores and more importantly Winged Hive Tyrants got more expensive. The latter one isn’t surprising, and nor was the fact that people were spamming it – the changes to flyers put Flying MCs back in the “Like flyers, but better in every respect” category, and with the Daemons and Tyranids codexes having not hit the shelves yet, it was inevitable they’d overshoot on one flying unit in those two books.

There were also some minor changes to Forge World units. Frankly, I was hoping for more of this, as Forge World costs in this edition are still in what I’d consider the “Hot Mess” category.

Overall Impressions

Honestly, most of this was pretty clear, and for the most part, I think entirely reasonable. The Rule of Three throws the baby out with the bathwater a bit, but its entirely possible that organized play is at the point where some niche, ancillary armies taking a hit to preserve the core function of the game is worth doing. Most of the other changes fall squarely in the “If you built your army around this, you’re part of the problem” category.

The two exceptions to that, I think, are the changes to reserves, and the CP boost.

For reserves, I’m still not sure if this is good or bad for the game overall. But it definitely is picking winners and losers, and not based on their “It’s not narrative” reasoning – because when it comes down to it, “There I was, minding my own heretical business, when suddenly DEATH COMPANY…” is pretty damned fluffy.

For reserves, my primary issue is that the CP boost doesn’t match their reasoning. It, relatively speaking, hurts elite armies, rather than helping them, and it further cements the old, 5th Edition thinking of “The CAD is the fluffiest of all things, regardless of faction” which I think is fairly flawed.

Overall, I’d give the FAQ an B+. It’s a solid effort, with some flaws, but none of them fatal.

13 Comments


    1. PS. would*

      PPS. Typing properly would also be handy on my part!

      PPPS. Yeah for Guard CP overload!

      Reply

  1. I think that on reflection the Blood Angels players may just have to live with the possibility of letting me get a whole turn in before they smash me off the table with their hammers. Tactically it was quite often the smart move to wait a turn before dropping the BA bomb anyway.

    I think chaos will be hurting a lot more with the loss of their stock-standard teleport-then-warp-time tactic.

    Most hurt of all are the zombie farms. You now pay points for anything above the starting size of the unit and you can only recycle one unit of cultists. Not that anyone else will be shedding any tears over the demise of this one I think.

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  2. Imperial Guard and their ability to field Squadrons of Vehicles seems like a sneaky workaround to Rule of 3… you can field 9 Leman Russes before even using the FW or Tank Commander Data Slates

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  3. Seemingly one of the biggest and most problematic changes wasn’t called out by the GW article at all. In the Rulebook FAQ/Errata:

    ——-
    Q: If a unit declares a charge against an enemy unit that is
    entirely on the upper level of a terrain feature such as a ruin,
    Sector Mechanicus structure, etc., but it cannot physically end
    its charge move within 1″ of any models from that unit (either
    because there is not enough room to place the charging unit, or
    because the charging unit is unable to end its move on the upper
    levels of that terrain feature because of the expanded terrain
    rules for it – as with ruins, for example), does that charge fail?
    A: Yes.
    ——-

    That prohibits an extremely common application of Wobbly Model Syndrome common sense and negates an awful lot of charges. Seems like a very bad ruling with a lot of practical impact.

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    1. Generally, it’s pretty clear that terrain this edition is a mess.

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      1. Agreed. They just got super lazy or maybe wanted to push their GW specific terrain pieces.

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  4. Missed some pretty big things. First they did a quadruple whammy on assault armies:

    1. The deep strike PL limit
    2. The deep strike 1st turn deployment zone limit
    3. The “no charging units if there’s no room” ruling
    4. The no second move after deepstrike via psychic power or ability

    Also they pretty much put an end to the endless poxwalker horde.

    Reply

    1. I noted two of those four things – but yeah, they went after assault armies hard. They seem to have trouble (and have for the past few editions) in making assault-after-arrival both possible and fun.

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      1. Seems like a U Turn. When 8th arrived Games Workshop was saying how brutal assault would be. Now they’re reversing it.

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        1. While I agree that Assaults should be hard hitting (and they still are), being able to DS a unit 9 ish inches out, then move them 6-8 inches made the charge an all but guarantee with little that your opponent could do.

          I have to approve of them taking away that ability, as it makes the game a good bit un-enjoyable for your opponent. And I was typically the one doing this to people.. if we were going competitive that is.

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  5. I view the CP adjustment as an attempt to make troops more appealing to play and give people (besides guard) a reason to take the big detachments instead of two of the elite/heavy/fast ones and only be down 1 CP.

    As a whole I think this is a good step to help adjust the game and I am 100% in agreement this should be an Errata not a FAQ, make room on that hill for one more.

    What I like most is not the new changes but the MINOR tweaks to the previously introduced changes. That tells me they are actually paying attention and reworking things to make the game better, even if it’s still very much a knee jerk response.

    Next Errata: Bring back Night Fight !!!!

    Because gun lines are going to wreck face for a while.

    Reply

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