Monday, September 17, 2012

Fluff vs. Function: Striking a Balance in 6th Edition

It's a common issue: one that members of the 40k fraternity have struggled with for a long while. But with the advent of allied armies, fliers, and much much more, 6th edition seems to have brought it to the forefront of the game for many players. Let's take an example from my army of choice: Orks. Which elites choices are more appealing to you?

Choice 1:
-Lootas x15: 225 pts
-Lootas x15: 225 pts
-Lootas x15: 225 pts
Total: 675 pts

Choice 2:
-Tankbustas x11 led by a Nob with Eavy Armour and Bosspole: 200 pts
-Nob Bikers x4 complete with Painboy, 2x Power Claw, 1x Uge Choppa, Waaagh! banner, Bosspole, Cybork bodies: 310 pts
-Lootas x11: 165 pts
Total: 675 pts

Two very different listings for elites, to be sure, but which is the "better" choice? In the current meta, many ork players would be tempted to take Choice 1 without a second thought. With the prevalence of fliers and light vehicles in today's game, not to mention the potential rain of fire the lootas can bring from across the table, they're simply too good to pass up. But therein lies the problem: has "too good to pass up" become synonymous with "spam with all available slots"?

Squad number 1 shoots at your Stormtalon 45 times. Having fun yet?

But on the other hand, nobody can argue against the fact that Choice 2 had a lot more thought put into it. Extra wargear, customization, variety; this looks like a list that someone built instead of one someone plugged in using a template. Heck, you'd be hard-pressed to claim that Choice 1 is the "more fun" choice. Or would you be? 

That question brings us to the crux of the issue: why do you play 40k? Do you play to win at any cost? Do you argue over every inch, search for every potential loophole in the rules, employ every and ANY strategy available, no matter how reviled by all you play against? This mentality is understandable to a certain degree in the tournament setting where cash and prizes are on the line, but what happens when "winning" becomes synonymous with "fun"? 

Hey guys, how about I use my custom-built Battle Fortress using some rules I found from 4th edition? Everything is WYSIWYG, by the way. Including the dreadnaught close combat weapons. Oh and it has 14 armor all around and two structure points. And a Kustom Force Field built in. I'll just fill you in on the rest as we go.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to suggest that fluff should trump function in every circumstance. In fact I think that's the wrong way to approach this issue. The trick is striking a balance. I first chose Orks over a decade ago because I thought they were hilarious and awesome. Every unit brought something unique and, most importantly, fun to the table. That's what made (and still makes) putting my army lists together so tough! It pains me to see cookie-cutter army lists, or ones that take certain allies for the sake of power-gaming with no regard for what the Boyz stand for!

Maybe I'm just naive. Maybe I'll change my tune after a few matches against some Grey Knight+Necron armies. But for the time being, I'm not about to stop using my Biker Nobz (or any other unit) just because they went from "over-powered" to just plain "powerful". Certain units just hold a place in my heart, and the Nob Bikers have been a part of my army for literally over a decade.

What do you MEAN they can't "look out, sir" each other anymore?! Well, I might as well throw these in the garbage now...

Am I alone in my thinking? Do things like sentiment and fun not have any place in a competitive game? Or does it pain you guys as much as me to see some of the army lists out there that boil down your favorite armies into a simple part of a winning formula? Sound off in the comments and let me know what you think.


  1. I am a huge hellhound fan. When I found out about hullpoints, I wanted to grieve after playing my first 6th ed game and losing them by turn two due to only hullpoint damage. Not a single one died from penetration hits. After that, I tried other units but nothing was quite like the hellhound. After getting used to hullpoints, I am already adding in hellhounds into my list like my old 5th ed lists. I think it just takes time to find tactics that fit your fluff. Ya, spammed units sucks, that's why I hated playing old starcraft games. Stupid dragoon spam. But once you find that weakness in that spammed list, you can still fit in those favorite units.

  2. Amazing first article! I use fun stuff all the time - mostly my carnifexes, which are hilariously overpriced. I haven't been using my lictors, my favorite Tyranid creature, just because they are just too bad. I'll have to remedy that.

    With my Mantis Warriors I like using stuff that isn't that competitive. Scouts. Dang.

  3. I try not to do to much spamming, but I find that the heavy support choice for some armies is just to good not to take in multiple groups, Long Fangs being one an Broadsides being the other.

  4. Pretty much comes from bad internal codex balance that often shows up right after they drop and then get worse with the success main rule updates that a codex might cover. Some of the bad balance is GW pushing the new models with other is just accidental or caused by external meta issues. I know that some people say that finding the "good" units is part of list building but that is why units have points cost to account for differences in unit quality.

    Many spam armies have weaknesses but generally it is a very rock paper scissors type of thing where you can essentially lost the game as soon as you unpack your force.

  5. I'm old school.
    My minis collection is old school.
    So are my army compositions.


    I'll probably lose most every game I play with my army lists as they are, but at least I'm being true to the theme of each codex and not selling out like a boring power gamer. Then again I'm also not in any deninition of the term a "tournament player", so I only really get stuck into a game if there's some sort of narrative element to it, in which case fluff trumps all imo.

  6. When I started 6th edition after a 10 year hiatus from 40k, I wasn't exactly looking to win a lot of matches. But I (almost obsessively) strive for balance in my army lists to allow for the flexibility to account for most situations and it has worked fantastically so far.

    I guess the moral of the story is that as long as you are careful about the tactics you employ, you can make most units in most codices at least viable. Though admittedly, some units still fall short regardless of the circumstances (I'm looking at you, Flash Gitz).

  7. Well written article!

    When I started playing Necrons a couple of years ago there were only 3 viable builds with a chance to win. Of those 3 only the 3x5 Destroyer spam list was remotely competitive.

    When the new Codex dropped at the end of 5th edition Scarab spam was way over the top - my record was 11 vehicles destroyed by the end of turn 2 (thank you for all of the mech parking lots!). Now with the advent of 6th edition, I have not taken the same army list twice - every build has nuances that have to teased out and played correctly. It has become fun to sit down with Army Builder and create lists again!

    Realistically - playing a spam list is the "Easy" button for those who don't want or like to take the time to build a list. However in a tournament setting with prizes awaiting the winner The majority of folks showing up will have 1 or more heavily spammed unit in their list.

  8. Great article.
    For me, there is definitely a balance to be had.
    I build the core of my list around which units I love the most according to miniatures, fluff or whatever. Then fill in the rest with units that can support them on the battlefield. Having an army made up of boring units is no fun, but neither is losing every game you play.