I’ve come out against tinkering with the Warhammer 40,000 ruleset before on this blog, primarily in the name of portability, a topic near and dear to my heart as I look at moving across the country again. The short version of that is that you should be able to go to a new store and play “40K”, not “Local Flavor of 40K”, wherein the army you bought, painted, and have played with, all under the auspices of GW, is somehow unplayable.
That is not what this article is about. Instead, it’s about acknowledging a simple concept that never the less seems to elude some people revisiting the perennial favorite of messing with the rules to “balance” the game: When you pick and choose rules, you’re picking and choosing winners.
Modifying the rules for what units are legal, how a unit is composed, or army composition is done is, at it’s core, an attempt to manipulate the meta.
This isn’t necessarily a judgement on that decision – after all, wanting to “rebalance” the game implies that you think the current meta is somehow biased or wrong, but it is never the less something you should recognize. And yes, a fully successful version of this will end up at “balance”. But a fully successful version of this not only has to balance the game, but it has to keep up with both Games Workshop releasing new products, and people adapting their strategies. And with shifting prevalences of which armies are being played, and at which tournaments.
Good luck with that.
What’s far more likely is that what you’re actually doing is just shifting the meta towards, or away, from particular armies, which isn’t any more fair, and absolutely is arbitrary. “Who should win this tournament?” is not actually a question a TO can fairly answer, and something like “Not Eldar” just means you shouldn’t have taken entry fees from someone playing Eldar. Beyond that, there’s always unexpected or ancillary consequences of these decisions. Lets consider a couple:
- No Allies. Sure, you kill “Super Friends” lists, and some of the worst abuses of a Eldar/Dark Eldar list, but you also kill a Dark Eldar/Eldar list, which is probably the best shot the dark kin had at carrying the day. And by banning allies, you’ve also given the Sisters of Battle players an uphill, “Hope you brought three Exorcists” climb, and now favored the armies that can make unpleasant deathstars without allies – Eldar, Space Marines, etc.
- CAD Only. You’ve just disinvited Knights, Harlequins and Skitarii from the party entirely, and really, at the very least two of those three aren’t what anyone is complaining about. Beyond that, you’re not going to shut down nasty, anti-fun Eldar lists. And there’s some other damned hard lists out there built off a CAD.
- Highlander. I devoted an entire post to this as well, but the short version is that, while a different way to play, there’s no credible way to call it a balanced way to play. It nerfs armies that depend on a few good units into the ground, while boosting up others that have strong, reliable offerings codex wide. So what you’ve accomplished is to make life worse for the Dark Eldar and Sisters of Battle players relying on Venoms and Exorcists respectively. Thumbs up.
- Altering the Ranged D table. This one is a little controversial, but I’m going to suggest that the recent success of Imperium-based Deathstar armies and a lot of the backlash against Eldar Wraith units are…a bit correlated. As discussed in the previous review of them, Eldar Wraith units are no more dangerous to single wound infantry models than they were before, but vastly more dangerous to multi-wound, high value models with good saves. Deathstars are made out of…multi-wound, high value models with good saves. But beyond just taking Eldar down a peg and boosting up an army that didn’t really need it, it also disadvantages cheap, infantry-based armies that might have been able to weather the Ranged D storm.
These are but a few of the suggestions I’ve seen. There are others, but I’ve yet to see one proposed that after a few minutes of thought doesn’t involve asking if they really intended to nerf X Army as well…
Again, the purpose of this post is not to tell you not to engage in meta-manipulation. It’s possible the game needs it, or your local group supports it. The purpose of this post is to make sure you’re doing it with open eyes, and be honest about what you’re doing: you’re picking winners. You can say that the power differential between codexes means GW has also picked winners, and to be fair, you’re probably right. But that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to follow in their footsteps, and it’s especially not a good idea to do so without extensive care and playtesting.
And I wouldn’t expect those people you haven’t picked to be terribly happy with your choices.
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