Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Is 30k better than 40k?

Is 30k better than 40k? The title for this editorial is purposefully a little bit provocative! I wanted to examine a number of facets of both games and give my own view on the state of the games before I even try to address the question posed in the title.

As my regular readers will be all too aware, I have been analysing the units from the Horus Heresy 30k books in depth for a long time now - the summary page of the Horus Heresy 30k unit reviews can be found here. I will freely confess that I was actually one of those people who ordered Book I: Betrayal the day it become available for pre-order. I was very excited to see Forge World release this one and I'd been waiting with anticipation for it for a long time since seeing the first hints of its existence.

Why was I drawn to it? Well, I guess its because it deals with THE part of the Warhammer timeline that has intrigued me the most for a long long time. In the distant future of 40k, we know that everything is at war with everything else. The story is not progressing and its all a bit grim-dark. In 30k, though, we see a time of optimism and expansion of the human empire through the Great Crusade. Humanity is unified (once conquered!) and its space marine legions sweep (or attempt to sweep) all xenos before them. This is, of course, broken by the betrayal of Horus and his allies, leading to inter-legionary warfare for (maybe?) the first time. (maybe, because it has been teasingly hinted that the Space Wolves were released against either Legio II or XI at some point in the past). The prospect of building an army that could take part in the Great Crusade, Isstvan, and the wider Heresy, plus ultimately still be playable in 40k strongly appealed to me. Plus, I get to read in a humongous amount of detail never presented before what happened during those dark days of the Heresy in 30k. Originally I wanted to build a Death Guard legion, but eventually settled on Alpha Legion (as I've done Death Guard plenty in 40k, so wanted something entirely new).

Rogue Trader Days
But what about 40k? I was originally drawn to that because it was a new game when I was young -- yes I'm that old that I remember playing Rogue Trader rules battles. Everything we needed to know for those battles was contained in that single volume - no messing around with multiple codexes and expansions as we might have to do in this day and age. More of my opinions on the current state of the game versus earlier iterations can be found in my editorial from yesterday where I tackled the issue of Proliferation in 7th Edition 40k. But beyond the game mechanics, the heady days of Rogue Trader really appealed as the book covered such a wide variety of topics ranging from armies and terrain, right through to technology and background material. There really was such a huge scope - more than one could ever desire really. And although some bits were ignored in later versions and other bits were expanded upon, the system of comparing S against T has largely remained in place alongside the WS and BS mechanics to inflict wounds. Some aspects have been streamlined, others have been made more complex and its all in a state of flux overall.

List Building
One of the aspects that I've not yet discussed though, is how games of 30k play out and how folks go about building army lists. They're similar, but different to 40k in a number of ways. To take a random example, in 30k, the stubborn special rule is at a premium compared to 40k. That's not to say that a 30k army cannot take on a 40k army - far from it! Indeed, the Forge World FAQ makes quite clear that we can totally do this. But its important to note that 30k is INTERNALLY balanced, rather than balanced against 40k. Things are just a little bit different in 30k, that's all.

So what appeals to me about 30k rules and armies? Well, having been in both games since the "beginning", I think that 30k displays a much stronger tendency toward balance than 40k has ever done. That's not to say there are not strong and powerful rules in 30k, there most certainly are. Take for example the Iron Hands Legion rules -- they reduce the incoming S of any ranged weapon by 1. That's truly incredible as it makes them the 30k analogue of Plague Marines in terms of survivability due to the mechanics of comparing S to T of the weapons and miniatures involved. But in 30k, its balanced up. The Iron Hands must always stand and fight (Ferrus clearly didn't think much of his marines going to ground) and they have rigid tactics that severely limits the kinds of army that this legion can field (in a fluffy manner as well, I'd argue). This is not to say 40k does not possess some kinds of balance, it most certainly does (lower I for plague marines, and a higher points cost than basic marines to say the least).

Yet, I've personally found it hard to "break" the 30k army building rules to construct a win-at-all-costs army. Sure, I can think of a few Word Bearers legion lists that might combine with daemons and Be'Lakor / Fateweaver for some scary combinations with the likes of the Gal Vorbak, but that's the best I can do in terms of really fielding a uber army that is going to try to win with a death-star style unit. And that relies on 40k units and army codexes. I'm sure there probably exists other scary combinations without primarchs present, and I'd love to hear about them (leave a comment if you have something to equal or better Word Bearers + Be'Lakor / Fateweaver army lists!). But in 40k, we have all come across screamer-stars online or in person (or fielded them ourselves), and necron flying deathstar armies before that, leaf blower before that, etc. I just can't find too many 30k issues like that though. And it is for these reasons that I'm doubly attracted to 30k.

So, is 30k better than 40k? No. Neither is better than the other. They're the same game fundamentally, its just the armies are different. Its still early days for 30k as well. Once we get a more expanded picture beyond the legions, beyond the Solar Auxilla, beyond the mechanicum, we may see some horrendous armies come along. But for now, I really like seeing and playing 30k due to the potential it exhibits. And its kind of new, whilst at the same time feeling familiar. I think it is what 40k could have been with more attention to the game, rather than to the hobby and collection side of things. To emphasise my point: this is just a preference. It categorically does not mean 30k is better than 40k or the other way around. They both have very strong merits!

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