8 Mar 2013

Is 6th Edition Good for WH40K?

   Hey guys, JT here with a somewhat retrospective article on the divisive trends and rule set that is 6th Edition, and what this new trend of cinematic gaming means for our beloved WH40K. Just what exactly is with the new Codex's and why are they so...balanced next to each other yet the game is still ruled by GK, IG and Necrons; and what happened with the new warp storm table? Does GW risk alienating part of its loya customer base with these changes, and is the new direction enough to help bring in new gamers and strengthen an incredibly niche market.

   The release of 5th edition was a god send when compared to the mess that was 4th; my memories of 4th are less then stellar with its confusing terrain rules and dumbed down mentality - It contributed to my extended hiatus from the hobby more then any other single factor and was a major let down. When I returned to the hobby, I was greeted with 5th edition and it reminded me of the glory days of 3rd edition.

   What I was not prepared for was the 'new' competitive elements, the net - lists and the min/max spam popping up everywhere; things so broken the average player simply had no hope of even putting a dent in their enemies implacable advance. It may have just been a matter of me not noticing the prior state of the game - but to me, it was a bit of a shock - my prior experiences consisting of cheery guys/girls playing with their fun,. fluffy lists and just generally having a good time.

   The first time I came across a tournament player with his Draigo wing mixed with Stormravens and psybolt dreads, numbering a grand total of 11 models - I got crushed, I failed to kill anything and it was the single most disheartening experience I've had in my time as a gamer. What was even more disturbing is that I was regarded as the best player at the local store, and I still couldn't deal with that kind of list despite my years of experience and utilizing a fairly solid Blood Angels all - comers list.

   The game had seemingly degenerated into a tournament mind set, and I spent a lot of time trying to wonder why that was the case. Was it a matter of poor Codex design, game mechanics - or maybe a subtle shift in the psychology of the player base. The rise of the video game may have helped to fuel the competitive streak in the new gamers of this century; leading to a focus on winning and absolutes as opposed to merely enjoying game mechanics and the like.

   When 6th edition came out I was extremely excited, written throughout the book were exciting words like 'forging a narrative' and 'the spirit of the game' - things that hooked me in the first place. I fell in love with the hobby partially for the social aspect of the game, and the thought of moving away from the previous editions 'faults' delighted me to no end; reassuring me that it would help bridge the gap between the narrative gamer and the tournament player -  a divide that is extremely crippling for the community.

   In a sense, the new edition was a success on that front - it somewhat helped bridge the gap between the average gamer and the hardcore and ensured that each player had a decent chance of hurting the other. The move from kill points to 5/6 missions focusing on objectives lead to a reduction in the desire to outright obliterate an enemy to achieve victory. It also lead to some fairly contentious things, the most prominent being fliers and hull points - fliers being somewhat broken when used en masse and with many armies lacking a sufficient counter unit; and hull points turning most vehicles into glass cannons. Things like overwatch and the reduction of cover saves across the board lead to the game shifting more towards a shooting gallery; which ensured you could usually at least kill something without losing your entire force in a turn.

   There has been a somewhat subtle shift away from the previous min/max lists, particularly with the three 6th edition Codex's being decently internally balanced and well balanced against each other - leading to armies that more closely resemble the 'ideals' GW portray with its battle reports. Despite GW moving further away from the tournament scene with this edition (they claim), they have been working harder then ever to balance the game properly.

   You can look at how quickly GW has been releasing their FAQ's, and how they fix issues (Heldrake aside) more often then not. So why are the tournament players fuming at the new direction, in a sense the game is becoming closer to what they wanted then ever before. It is harder now to outright crush any competent player; and victory is hardly assured from the get go; some previously useless armies have been reinvigorated with some viable builds thanks to the nuances of the current rule set.

   Of coure, there are always issues - things that can anger a lot of players. To my mind there are two primary reasons there are causing issues; randomness and fliers. The two new Chaos books exemplify both of these issues to varying degrees.

   The problems with the Chaos book, as the first 6th edition Codex to be released - are a perception that it is 'weak' and there are only a few viable builds, with random elements accounting for a lot of frustration. The boons table isn't meant to be game breaking, but there is some frustration over the fickle nature of dice rolls - one game you will be rewarded with awesome things, and others - useless crap. The other issue, especially following the latest batch of FAQ's, is the Heldrake. It is by no means the most broken unit in the game, indeed as more AA capabilities are introduced in future it will cease to be such an issue, but for now - a lot of players find it incredibly infuriating on multiple levels. It cannot be shot before it comes onto the board, unless you happen to have an Aegis line or a Hydra, you won't be able to stop it before it does two annoying things - vector strike you at strength 7 (you get no cover saves) then flame you with an AP3 torrent weapon which also offers no cover saves. A good player with a bit of luck will be able to fly onto the board, wreck your transport (if you have one) then burn your infantry to the ground ad you have no defence against this. The Heldrake is also a FA choice and is extremely cheap - and a lot of armies lack the capacity to reliably destroy is whilst it continues to incinerate your army.

   The other problem, as many of you will no doubt will still be debating at time of writing, is the new Daemons book. It is fuelling a lot of rage in the community and for good reason; I'm not saying that all responses are justified (smashing your models in rage and personally attacking people because they disagree is not justifiable) but it is ignorant to believe that the mechanics in the new book are perfect. The main point of contention is the warp storm table, which can have devastating effects in the game with little to no way of mitigating or preparing for it. This book is Chaos personified, and is full of rolls on tables and charts, even to select wargear.

   I believe a lot of the issues, as the random game effects and fliers represent - is the removal of player agency in the game. It is the feeling of powerlessness that pervades this new edition for some players that is driving them to quit the game or rage on the sight. When you spend hours and hundreds of dollars collecting an army for a strategy game, you can't help but feel cheated when a game can seemingly boil down to playing Blackjack whilst blind and deaf.

   A game is a lot of things, and there are many reasons why games are popular - but one of the defining characteristics of any game is the nature of actions and reactions. A game at its core, consists of player actions that have tangible effects on the environment with reactions, the key point being the realm of possible actions are determined by the game, but it is the players choice as to how they pursue victory. A strategy game is a unique kind of game that relies on a high degree of mental control and forward thought - the better player should always win in a well designed strategy game.

   The unfortunate truth is that in the new edition, this is not always the case and that is a symptom of poor design, not poor intent. I think that the new edition is a step in the right direction; its just the execution that is flawed, not the premise. The odds of you losing your 200 point HQ before a game even gets started are minimal; but the mere fact that the possibility exists and with no ability to influence or mitigate this from either player is extremely disturbing. Just because the event is a statistical anomaly does not make it impossible, the mere possibility of the scenario simply should not exist at all. It is up to game designers to determine the rules of the game, and the realm of possibility that the game exists within - in essence they engineer the reality of the game; and this was shoddy work.

   I like the new edition, there have been missteps certainly - but the edition that was meant to bring us together seems to be tearing us apart in new ways. I think that 6th edition is a good thing for the game, but GW is seriously going to have to lift their game to smooth out the issues inherent in the new rule set or risk alienating and losing a sizeable chunk of their player base - a blow neither GW or the industry can afford.


  1. Interesting post. I don't really agree with your thoughts for two reasons, a) GW games always have a strong meta and codex's will catch-up to make flyers less of a threat b) With reviewers focusing on a books strength by itself they are forgetting that allies are an easy way to add to your army. Not looking more closely at how allies are fitting in is 5th edition mentality.

  2. The Flyers are way too powerful in the missions in the 6th edition BRB. A list that plans on getting First Blood and Slay the Warlord through denial by hiding everything vulnerable out of sight and/or in reserves is tailor made for these BRB missions. Flyers that score in 2 of the 6 missions? Nice now they can get Line Breaker as well. If you build your list entirely around the missions it is definitely not fun for your opponent. If he follows the same correct strategy there is just so much luck involved with which player has their flyers come on first(and consequently torn from the skies by the enemy). A dog fighting mechanic would be nice.

  3. I really liked this post. mgellar seems to be focusing on the first element of your article, but ignoring the real point.

    You said it best in your second last paragraph, "the odds... are minimial; but the mere fact that the possibility exists and with no ability to influence or mitigate this... is extremely disturbing."

    It's the concept of extreme success and extreme failure. The game is based on dice, and therefore random chance, but we normally counter that by rolling lots of dice (i.e. rapid firing bolters generates a more consistent performance than a marine firing a bolt pistol).

    Plasma and Tesla weapons offer up unique results on dice beyond the typical (percentage based) result.

    The Warp Storm table while "balanced" with a good for every bad (though the bad's are guaranteed to occur, while the goods might not) the extreme results are neither fun nor interesting. They are just heavily influencing without any form of player interaction.

    Cheers to a very quality post.

    The comments will be interesting to read though as it seems like people generally reply to this kind of editorial with caps lock and stupidity.