Warhammer 40,000 Propaganda Data Slate: Balance – The Beginning

Avatar Tabletop Tactics April 18, 20199  45 9 Likes

Warhammer 40,000 Balance: The Beginning

Hello and welcome back to The Kitchen, with me The Chef, here to talk about anything and everything hobby related. Today sees the start of what will be a long running series all related to that most tricky of subjects – game balance. These will run the gamut of overall theory, to the individual phases, rule and mission structures, and even to individual codexes (or is it codices?)

Let’s begin by having a look at balance as an overall concept and touch on some of the things that I believe make a game as vast and varied as Warhammer 40,000, difficult to balance. The scope and variety of it.

There will likely be things in here that I will go into greater detail on at a later date, but if there’s something you want to add or really want to be sure it gets discussed, as always leave a comment, get involved in the discussion and send me an email with further ideas!

A Tough Balancing Act

Make no mistake, I love 8th. I think it is for the most part, a tighter and more accessible system than 7th, and the constant rules updates and transparency from GW with 8th edition has by and large been fantastic. But it still has problems with its game balance, which is perfectly understandable. 40k has always been a huge game, and each passing year has added to the complexity, be it new armies, new units, fresh or different ways of playing with existing models, as well as the myriad of expansions and updates. 8th has certainly done a great job of making some things more in line. Are we in a good spot? I would say, for the most part, we are. But that, ironically, makes any imbalances even more obvious and important.

Balance can be looked at in terms of overall rules, and then specific rules. By this I mainly mean the game rules and the army rules. The game rules I would argue, simply are. There is no inherent balancing issue with them, as there is nothing to compare them too, at least in terms of the rules themselves. You could discuss the balance of combat vs shooting, or the d6 system vs say a d10 system, but that comes more to game design, which of course balance is a big part of, but we aren’t going to look at how the game could be changed from its fundamentals here. We will take a look at the various phases at a later date, but for the most part, balance is more intrinsically linked to the armies themselves.

So we have our armies, of which there are dozens. We then have to account for internal vs external balance, where internal is how units within an codex match up to each other, and external being how units, and the army as a whole, compare to the others. We’ve gone from dozens of codexes, with all their internal units numbering yet more dozens, and have to compare them to all the others. The combinations are numbering the thousands, and we’ve not even considered the impact of anything else past just units yet!

Already we can see why Warhammer is such a beast to balance, there is a staggering amount of stuff in the game.

Freedom At A Price

I think it’s fair to say that a good portion of balancing issues stem from this sheer freedom that we have. The picking and choosing of detachments, often with no real restrictions, and then on top of that you add in the potential for allies, sub-factions and most recently, the specialist detachments. There’s so much going on, which is both potentially good and bad. I’m a big advocate for choices and having options, however it can be overwhelming, and it can lead to imbalance when all these factors pile on top of each other. Ironically, Unbound could have been considered ​more​ balanced, as there was no advantage to doing it outside of taking the best possible units. You were usually losing out on things like Objective Secured, or Detachment Benefits. In 8th, not only can you do that, but you get the army benefits for taking them! While we might like it to be like this…

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…we actually find often it’s not. Now it’s no secret, I’m not a great fan of Soup​*​, as whilst they can lead to some awesomely themed and fluffy armies, at a mechanical level they tend to cause a fair number of issues when it comes to balance. To explain, in order for the game to be balanced as a competitive game, or even just an evenly matched game, armies should be balanced so that one is not inherently superior than another on a pure mathematical basis. Player skill and luck should have as much of an impact as the overall power of an army. Soup complicates this by making balancing even more difficult as one needs to consider it would no longer be a case of how to balance one army vs others on an individual basis, but now rather it’s how to balance one army vs others that also get access to another army.

One could however, make the argument that Soup is considered in the balancing process. For example, Guilliman buffing other Imperium stuff not just his Ultramarines. However on the back of various rules seminars and the like, the rules team themselves have mentioned they don’t look at Allies when they balance and play test a codex. Furthermore, they also don’t see a problem with Soup, after all…

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Swapping Soup above there for the word Allies still comes out to the same effect. Some armies are built simply by cherry picking the best units from each faction to create overly powerful and unthematic armies. The choice of word you prefer is irrelevant to the intent of the design. This also hammers home that there is the desire to see fluffy themed armies, yet currently there is little in the way of incentive or reward for doing so, at least in gameplay terms.

“But Chef”, I hear you typing away, “That’s just how it is now, get with the times.”

And yes, perhaps I should catch up with the game. It’s moved on, list building and what works is different now. However, consider how having the ability to take Allies can actually remove or at least mitigate the main army’s weaknesses. Now I am not saying this is a bad thing, if anything it’s a great choice to shore up weaknesses in your arm. It’s the sign of a good general and well built list. However when compared to an Army that doesn’t have access to Allies, they will generally be at a disadvantage, and there is no downside for the Ally using army.

To use Age of Sigmar as an example of, in my opinion a better designed way of running Allies, is to have limitations and restrictions. In AoS, only 20% of the army can be used as Allies, i.e not from your General’s Army. These Allies gain ​zero ​benefits for being such, other than the units themselves being present in an army. Anything over 20% and your Army loses all its unique traits, abilities etc in exchange for the Grand Alliance abilities, which usually means sacrificing at least 2 or 3 powerful army traits for a much less potent generic one. You have the advantage of being able to mix and match across all the units from your Alliance, but at a significant cost. ​That​ is a balancing factor, the exchange that needs to be made for the promise of power.

Imagine Lawrence’s Top 3 Warhammer Grand Final Army with this system. He would either need to drastically reduce the amount of non-Craftworld units in his army in order to meet the 20% restriction, and those would give no benefits (so no Thirst For Power on those units, and no Agents of Vect, for example). Conversely, he could have run his army as it was, but instead of his differing factions having their unique rules and all the other things they bring, there was instead just a generic Aeldari Trait, such as +1” of Movement and +1 Ld. For taking those strong units, he has to use the units as they are with only minor advantages, over the stronger, more focused traits of a “pure” army.

Fixing Points Sometimes Misses The Point

Another thing to consider in the act of balancing is ​how t​hat is achieved, and points have been a key one in this edition of 40k. Points have been part of Warhammer pretty much since its inception. It is a way to control and limit what you can take. Points assign worth and value to units, based on various differing things such as damage output, survivability, effects they can bring to the battle, and so on. The points system is not perfect of course, as there is so much it needs to consider and do, again due to the vastness of the game. It is required to account for all of those things in the game, whilst remaining reasonably fair.

When you add in force multipliers however, the waters get muddied. You could go on theoretically forever. Close Combat focused Space Marine units should be worth less in Ultramarine armies as they don’t benefit from their Chapter Tactic as much as ones with more potent Shooting attacks. Shooting based Marines are worth less to Black Templars, and Raven Guard increases all Marines points, but then they’re all worth less as there’s no Captain to buff them… it would get convoluted to the point of absurdity extremely quickly, were one to break down armies into differing points, based on their sub-faction choice. Stratagem use, how many CPs you have to use those Stratagems, what Allies can do for them, and so on, would be too much to take into consideration.

So points as a balance factor is important, and what GW are doing is both very good and efficient, as it allows quite comprehensive and sweeping changes to many units. However, it doesn’t look at some of these more detailed nuances of game balance, namely stats, synergies, CP access, what Allies can bring, buffs given, traits being used, weapon effectiveness, etc.

If You Fix It, They Will Come

So whilst we await FAQs, army updates, or other tweaks to the system, what can we do to resolve some of these issues? One of the things that would certainly make a difference, at least in competitive events, is a more cohesive format, and one that looks at comping or restricting some of the offending elements.

Comp or restrictions have been a thing in competitive Warhammer games and events, as well as other far bigger games, for many years, yet if you were to raise it in a discussion now, it can be an issue for some people. An event with restrictions is sometimes derided as “It’s not a real game of 40k”, the players should “learn to adapt” and “git gud”, and some are even told “pft, bet you wouldn’t have won if other people could take a proper army.”

Which leads me to a potential fix.

A way to really focus on game balance from the top down would be a “4th Way to Play”, namely “Competition Play”. A universal set of tournament rules, devised by GW (so there is no question on it being the ‘correct’ way to play), but one based on monofaction armies with list building restrictions. This would initially be quite tough for some armies in this version of play, as the inherently stronger dexes will of course have a large dominance, but this can easily be switched to a good thing, as it will only highlight the issues in game balance between these armies in a much greater scope than the current system. As single codexes become more balanced against each other, this will trickle down to other formats of play. It is less of an issue in more Narrative and Open Play, as imbalances can be adjusted within play groups, or even as part of the whole point, such as last stands against overwhelming odds that have been part of the game since day one.

Surely all players, casual or competitive, would rather play a balanced game, or at least one that is attempting to reach that. A game where the better generals rise to the top.

Now, true balance is going to be incredibly difficult, if not outright impossible to achieve in a behemoth of a game such as 40k. There’s a phenomenal amount of stuff going on. The game is constantly being added to and evolving, which is no bad thing. So whilst it is a distant goal, it should certainly be strived for, and that is what I believe GW are genuinely trying to do. But given GW’s desire to touch base with the fans and players even more, only by giving them constructive feedback can we help them shape the game for the better.

Editor’s Note: Why not get involved and give Games Workshop the feedback on how you see the game being played? You can take part in Games Workshop’s latest Big Community Survey here: GW’s Big Community Survey 2019 – Spider

*​Yes, Soup actually means multiple armies in the same detachment and what I’m talking about is Allies, but that didn’t stop everyone referring to the Big Super Formations of 7th as Decurions, so its Soup and you can’t change my mind!

If you have a list with some unique tactics, a Tactica or hobby article that you feel would make an interesting read, or maybe you just want to give Chef a topic to rant about? Send it in to thepastrychef@tabletoptactics.tv and you might see your topic discussed in a future article!



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Sam ShandJoe Kerr-DelworthMr Graeme T PalmerThe ChefAlec Glass Recent comment authors
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Sam Shand
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Sam Shand

I’d like to see single codex, but also I think it should also be single chapter/craftworld/hivefleet etc too. GW could make armies lists single faction and still have allies at the same time. Just create a stratagem similar to the assassins “Operative Requisition Sanctioned” 1CP/2CP/3CP Allied Support. Use this stratagem before the battle. Your army may include 1-3 units that total cost is less than 100 points for 1cp. you may increase the points limit to 200 points for 2cp or 300 points for 3cp These unit/s must share at least one faction keyword with your warlord. All units added… Read more »

Joe Kerr-Delworth
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Joe Kerr-Delworth

I couldn’t help but stare in amazement when GW issued that “Soup if off the menu” statement. At least now though, they are starting to catch up to the player base and understand what is happening/what has happened. However, I think GW has been way to slow to act on this. Maybe this was through business choice (Soup sells, there is no denying it) and design choice (Marines and Guard is fluffy after all), but, control of the issue is not really in their hands anymore. Recently the ITC did a poll and found that the ITC players voted in… Read more »

Mr Graeme T Palmer
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Mr Graeme T Palmer

I do feel this is good point to make, sure, you put units into armies so that you can have a chance against your friends army that has trounced your force time and time again! But combining some lists do have that little bit too much weight, for example astra militarum and assassins. Yes we might all have felt that one at some time…. I can’t say I am an authority in this but having an Ad mech which is combined with a couple of Knights might make me a hypocrite but I do feel that as long as lists… Read more »

Mr Graeme T Palmer
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Mr Graeme T Palmer

I do feel this is good point to make, sure, you put units into armies so that you can have a chance against your friends army that has trounced your force time and time again! But combining some lists do have that little bit too much weight, for example astra militarum and assassins. Yes we might all have felt that one at some time…. I can’t say I am an authority in this but having an Ad mech which is combined with a couple of Knights might make me a hypocrite but I do feel that as long as lists… Read more »

Alec Glass
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Alec Glass

Great points! Also (as I beleive Spider has mentioned on occasion) – separating CPs into only being able to be used by the factions that earn them could be an interesting option. Or perhaps even saying that the “allies” in an allied army (whatever faction does not make up the bulk of the points) cost 120% (or 115% or whatever number wouldn’t be deemed too excessive) of what they would normally – representing the amount of resources required to negotiate with the allied factions (you can just imagine the Craftworlds resigning to give a Haemonculus certain sacred technology in return… Read more »

4LOM
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4LOM

enjoyed this article, does a good job of laying out challenges and starting to broach some solutions. one thing i wouldn’t be for is separate tourny rules to matched play, assuming they were significantly different. Im a collector and painter first, and a game second. in fact i havn’t even played but a couple of games for about 8 years, despite never really leaving the hobby. For me, although tournaments clearly aren’t my focus, the *idea* of taking my army to a tournament-like setting, showing it off and putting it through the ringer is always in my mind as does… Read more »

Yann Head
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Yann Head

very well said! And I totally agree with the idea that matched play should be split into two sections, MP-general and MP-Tournaments.

Jay Kay
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Jay Kay

Really enjoyed this, and agree completely. I think the only true solution is to inundate Games Workshop with every bit of feedback we have.

Nick Lucas
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Nick Lucas

I REALLY enjoyed your take on a potential balance fix with how Age of Sigmar addresses allies. Because as you said there is no downside at all, no give and take with allies. It’s like being able to use veterans of the long war for no CP. Also it is frustrating that there are such blatant balance issues, for example Dark Eldars Flayed Skull Kabal vs Imperial Fists. They both get ignore cover for their infantry units… that’s where it ends for Imperial Fists. DE continue by having ALL units ignore cover, fly movement speed increased, AND reroll to hit… Read more »

Zach
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Zach

I really like the idea of competition play with limited allies and a few other things. Three tweaks that I think would make a difference in competition play: 1. Your chapter tactic (or equivalent like sept, regiment trait etc.) costs command points. These could be adjusted in chapter approved or through FAQs. That way the more unusual or niche chapter tactics have a chance of being seen (as they could simply cost 0). 2. You no longer roll for abilities / relics / warlord traits / whatever that regenerate or regain command points. If you have such an ability in… Read more »

ststacey1971
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ststacey1971

A couple of ways to address soup: 1. Restrict CP generated by a detachment to only be spent on stratagems from their parent codex. So for example if I play an army with an imperial Knights detachment and a detachment of loyal 32 the CP generated by the knights can only be spent on stratagems from The knights codex and the CP generated by the allied loyal 32 can only be spent on stratagems from the Astra Militarum codex. 2. Give mono-codex armies a CP bonus: say +3 CP or make it based on game size(+1CP per x amount of… Read more »

Alex Gray
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Alex Gray

This is very well written with some excellent ideas! I would love to see more incentive tactically to take thematic lists and for the hammer of the Emperor to come down on cherry picked math hammer lists. It really flies in the face of what makes the game fun, the war stories!

Andrew Davis
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Andrew Davis

Great article, i didn’t know that in AoS you could only take 20% allies. Maybe they could bring this over to 40k so that people who want to play a mixed army still can without losing to much and people who want to play mono faction aren’t overwhelmed by the mixed armies.

Squid
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Squid

Excellent Article. It so closely mirrors my own thoughts. I loath soup, mainly because you pretty much have to take it to remain competitive. The irony being rather than allies being a option, it becomes mandatory. A 4th way to play (competitive) is the only solution. I play matched play not because I play in tournaments but because I want to take my single faction list down to my FLGS and have a fun, balanced game. I won’t take or play against min/maxed armies because I want to field fluffy lists that feature units that I think look cool. With… Read more »

Kev Bates
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Kev Bates

Great article and topic. I don’t mind fluffy soup and would be sad to see it go to but it %100 needs more negatives for taking it and id also like to see some innate buff given to the armies that cannot take them or choose not too. Maybe something along the lines of if your a single codex, single faction army you get +1 LD and you half any causalities to moral to represent being a united single army and if your soup you have -1 LD and double the amount of models that flee, maybe disable the auto… Read more »

Bulwyf
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Bulwyf

Good article. I have wanted a mono codex competitive scene for years. I detest soup as it is just an excuse for WAAC attitude and players. Age of Sigmar has a great way of balancing allies. I’m flummoxed why GW has not seen fit to carry that system over to 40k since we all know Sigmar has long been the testing ground for 40k rules and systems.

Rob Butcher
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Rob Butcher

A reasoned suggestion – it’s worth bearing in mind that Index Orks (2018) and Tau (2019) have won the GW GT Final for the last two years, using official missions and rules. And that the Events Team do put on different weekends at Warhammer World where different missions are “tested”. So it wouldn’t be too difficult for GW to put together competitive play as you suggested. GW are already spreading the GW GT to Texas and Australia, and I hope to see this officialdom continue. I really can’t get my head around some of the silly additional rules being pedalled… Read more »

Jamie Miller
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Jamie Miller

Another great article, Chef. I have been an advocate for ‘the 4th way’ for a long time. It sort of exists with the few bullet point lines it gets in the BRB as ‘organized play’ – but it has bled down into matched play and become sort of synonymous with it (rule of 3, for example). A GW endorsed and mandated competitive guidelines method of play would be a great way to fix codex balance as you mentioned. Yes, it would be bad at first – probably DEldar and Craftworlds leading the way at first, but with a years worth… Read more »