Monday, April 6, 2015

Proliferation in 7th Edition 40k

A bit of an editorial from me today, on the topic of proliferation in 40k. Although the word "proliferation" is usually used in a biological context, today I'm using it to simply mean the growth and multiplication of things. Specifically units, codexes and the like.

Rogue Trader Era
To start the discussion, let's go way to the start: Rogue Trader and the like. In those times, all the possible units and creatures for 40k were contained inside a single rule book - the Rogue Trader rule book. It didn't particularly matter if one player forgot their rule book as the other player who brought it would be able to tell them everything that they needed to know (and maybe forgot) about the units and creatures they were playing. This was good at the time, as it meant that both players in a game automatically knew everything about their opponent's army and their own.

Fourth Edition
Fast forward a little bit in to the era of 4th edition and we see a large growth in codexes. One for Chaos Space Marines (that still included daemons!). One for space marines (as well as those for non-codex chapters). One for Orks. One for Eldar. And so forth. In this era, Most people knew about the core armies that they would be playing against. People knew that all regular space marines had T4, S4, 1 wound each, and so forth. They had a good feeling for Orks - unlikely to hit and kill much with their ranged weapons, but reasonably good in close combat. Eldar were known to be a bit fiddly and required finesse to master. Chaos were not the same as space marines (particularly in the Ld department) and often better in close combat.

In the 4th edition, I feel that people still knew all the armies and permutations of them. They knew how to set up their armies to counter them. And they knew how to conduct a good game regardless of circumstances. And they still knew their opponents and their likely tactics. Whether this was a rhino rush, or a static gun line.

Forward a bit further in the years and we see the introduction of a few new armies. The Necrons came along with a rather limited number of units and we all learnt that reanimation protocols needed some strong weapons to circumvent. Then the Tau - excellent gun lines with high strength weapons, but very vulnerable to close combat. Some armies waxed in their power with new iterations of their codex, some waned as other things got nerfed. Chaos Space Marines and Daemons got split it to two codexes. Yet, players still knew roughly what every army did. Imperial Guard still brought tanks for the most part. Space marines were still the most forgiving army to play due to their 3+ saves. And so forth.

But now, I feel the meta is utterly different due to three things:
(i) the ability to take allies
(ii) the idea of unbound armies outside of Apocalypse
(iii) the multitude of data slates (Be'Lakor, Eldar Ghost Warriors, Cypher, Butcher horde, to name but a few) and new (arguably smaller) codexes and codex supplements (Skitarii, Harlequins, Clan Raukaan, Khorne Daemonkin, etc.).

It has now reached a stage where I can no longer look at a tournament (or casual) army and automatically know what they are about. 

It perhaps was not so bad when allies were first introduced. Eldar plus Dark Eldar - yes, we all knew what they were going to do. Daemons with Chaos Space Marines made for good fluff and solid armies (especially Nurgle on my part). Tau and Eldar were a popular choice for a variety of reasons. And death star units were in the ascendancy - especially the screamers of Tzeentch in pure daemons lists.

But now, I sometimes feel that I'm playing a mini-apocalypse game due to the sheer proliferation I see. What are those Orks doing with Astra Militarum? Are those Grey Knights going to be summoning daemons or not? Remind me, because I can't remember, what does Be'Lakor do again? What are Skitarii good at and bad at - what are their weaknesses and how should I counter deploy on the board?

Is this a bad thing? 

Yes and No. Yes in the sense that I no longer know exactly how to play and exactly how my opponents army operates. No in the sense it is really nice to see a multitude of possible armies with vastly different strengths and weaknesses. 

The former means that games tend to take longer. Both players often question a lot of rules and more time has to be spent explaining what things do. This has been a progressive thing since Rogue Trader I think (yes - I'm that old) and hence my experience of the game is that is now takes a lot longer. I think this kind of detracts form the game a little bit - at least for those of us who did experience much earlier editions. Equally, at least we got rid of the old 40k vehicles book with its OHP transparency for hits. And all those d1000 tables from Realms of Chaos that made the game very unbalanced -- not that balance is necessarily any better in the current era, but perhaps a bit less random (except for daemons, obviously!). The game is nice and streamlined now - and that can only be a good thing!

The latter is something that I actually love. All those new armies are terrific to see. Especially for old timers like me. They can still provide surprises! Even if the "expense" is longer games. And I get to learn some new rules about a data slate I don't own once in a while.

So on balance, the recent proliferation we're seeing in the game might be a good one. But I'll temper that by the "entry cost" to the game, and the not knowing what an enemy army is going to do for newer, and even older players like myself.

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