The Las Vegas Open was awhile ago, and the Warhammer Preview panel that was held the first night has been detailed in depth, as has the tournament itself. The results have been discussed ad infinitum. The models have been (rightly) drooled over by everyone. Innumerable blogs and podcasts and YouTube channels have had their go at it.
So lets talk about it some more, eh?
Mostly, because I don’t want to talk about those things.
But I was there, and I have some things that have been brewing in the back of my mind.
Let’s be clear: The models are spectacular. But I’ve really got nothing to add there. It’s awesome that the Primaris line is getting fleshed out, and Chaos is getting some much needed sculpt attention. The Dark Mechanicum Nightmare Spider Thing in particular is amazing and I love everything about it.
And while the vast majority of the panel was previewing amazing new models and people rightfully drooling over them, there was also an extended Q&A session. Now I didn’t record it or anything, but between the utterly useless questions (“When are you bringing back Squats?”) and the very clear personal agenda questions (“What are you doing about X thing in Y build and what’s the release date?”) there were a couple questions and answers that revealed things about the process of how GW thinks about 40K that I think were potentially interesting.
Again, these aren’t verbatim, but more accurately my gestalt impressions, so take that into consideration.
They’re Paying Attention
Someone asked if they pay attention to the various sites with tournament statistics, results, etc. The clear subtext being “Do you know Faction X is bullshit?”
Their answer? Yes.
Do I think they read this site? Probably not. If they do, *wave*. And keep up the good work.
Now, what was more interesting is that they had a caveat to this. That those sites don’t tell you the full story, because they’re not particularly granular. Especially for soup-friendly factions, the sort of single-faction standings and statistics you get are hard to parse out into a meaningful, broad view of the game.
I’m really glad they said that because it’s an issue I’ve been struggling with, and I’m glad to see they’re cogent of it. In the free-wheeling world of 8th Edition, “faction” doesn’t really mean much anymore. Longterm readers of this forum might have noticed that I’ve stopped directly reporting faction-level statistics from tournaments like I used to, despite these being fairly popular and high traffic features. If I told you “Blood Angels are middling-okay right now” do I mean pure Blood Angels? A Smash Captain, a few units of scouts, backed by a Knight and 32 Cadian chumps? Does “Eldar are Good” mean my Craftworld list, or a unholy fusion of CWE, some Ynnari, and a single smallish detachment of Dark Eldar for Agents of Vect?
There are definitely some ways to solve this problem. For example, one could look at armies by “Phenotype” rather than faction. For example, “Hard hitting Power Armor Characters plus CP Farm and Superheavy Support” would argue that a Smash Captain/Loyal 32/Knight Castellan list is probably more similar to a Wolf Priest/Small Detachment of SoBs/Knight Castellan list, or one featuring Custodies Shield Captains on Bikes than it is to a Blood Angels army built up around say, two big units of Death Company, Dante, and some Intercessors. But that’s…a little bit exhausting. And requires careful evaluation of each list. And isn’t easy to just scrape from Best Coast Pairings. Which makes it particularly unsuited for analysis of large tournaments like LVO – which is unfortunate.
But it does mean that you should consider those sites in the context they exist in, and also, reassuringly, GW understands that.
Warhammer 40K Isn’t Going to Be Balanced
Basically, this was outright stated. The perfect, ideal state of balance, where every unit is viable, and all armies have an equal chance of doing well, isn’t a realistic target. They gave an estimate of the number of combinations of stuff when someone asked about if we’ll ever see a 40K app similar to the AoS one, and while I don’t remember the exact number, it was big.
The combinatorics of actually trying to balance that are impossible.
Again, it’s good that GW knows this. It’s better that GW is saying it out loud.
Games Workshop is Designing for “Feel”
This bit had some genuine insight to it, and has been backed up by the latest Battle Sister Bulletin. Mainly, the idea is that the feedback on individual units in terms of “are they powerful enough?” or “are they overpowered?” is a more than a little overwhelming, and also depends on context. What type of list are they being used in. With what support? With how many CPs? All of those fun questions – it’s hard to really generate action items from them.
What they have suggested is that they pay a lot of attention to whether or not the feedback says the army “feels” right. And no, “I feel like I should win more” is not a feeling. But if your army is supposed to be fast and fragile – is it? Does that elite unit feel elite, and is it suited to accomplishing what they’re supposed to accomplish?
I think this is a really interesting way to think about the game – and I think for some armies, they’ve done a really good job. The Drukhari are my go-to example for this. Are they good? Yes. But more importantly than that, I think they feel like a Dark Eldar army is supposed to feel. Having been on the receiving end of some Custodian armies recently, I think they also feel like the elite, singular warriors that they’re supposed to – whether I’m beating them or the other way around, I’m never taken with the feeling “This isn’t how this battle should be shaping up.”
There are other armies that I don’t think are living up to that. Right now, especially if you don’t go all-in on the more extreme aspects of the list, the Space Wolves don’t feel particularly like Space Wolves to me. And honestly, I don’t know that the Space Marines feel quite right yet – we’ll see with the new units.
Matched Play Isn’t The Default
If there’s one 40K hill I’m willing to die on, it’s this one. The comments from the folks from GW consistently reflected that the competitive mindset is a way to approach 40K, not the way to approach 40K. And not one they’re necessarily placing front and center. Matched, Open and Narrative player are a balancing act, and Matched Play is, in some respects, the distorted end of that.
Am I saying that Matched Play is a bad thing? No. But I think it’s good to be cognizant of the fact that the game is not necessarily being designed with robustness to competitive play at it’s number one objective. Game stewardship is an important element of how you shape your local scene.
One example they used is soup – which they appear to be starting to understand better. Soup is distorting competitive play. But the ability to build combined and diverse forces is also a rich avenue for narrative-based armies, hobby projects, etc. Trying to fix one without breaking the other is a balancing act, and one that won’t necessarily prioritize the competitive scene. And even if that fix does address soup for competitive gaming, that shouldn’t necessarily trickle down to the games played at your local shop.
Give the game room to breathe.
So there they are. My takeaways from the Warhammer Panel, or at least those that don’t involve the thought “Oh thank god, finally a boxed set I don’t want to buy, maybe my walle…oh hey, new Sylvaneth heroes!”. Overall, I think the game is in good hands, but I think it behooves us to recognize – and acknowledge that GW recognizes – that 40K is a very complicated design space.