40k is chaos.
Not since the heyday of 2nd edition has there been an unprecedented level of army customisation available to the 40k tournament player.
Since 6th edition and the allies matrix hit the shelves, after four editions of no allies except for fun games, there have been all sorts of combinations hitting the tables (some of them somewhat egregious in my opinion, hello yes I am looking at you Tigurius and O'Shovah and the Riptide Collective. Unicorn levels of Shame right here).
7th edition is now here and it's only got more intense, with the new and improved allies matrix, the bound/unbound armies, rapid fire pace of weekly releases with rules published in the White Dwarf Weekly, dataslates, formations, Forgeworld 40k approved... and so on.
Even for the most well endowed people (with regards to having both financial and available hobby time freedom to spend and participate every waking hour of the day that is, what were you thinking?), it's almost impossible to keep up with whatever is the latest meta, as people seek the Holy Grail ultimate combination of units to sweep all before them by Turn 2 (possibly coincidentally this being when their first wave of flyers turn up).
And this is doing three things - firstly, it's keeping everything vaguely fresh as no army appears to gain more than a fleeting advantage over any other; secondly, this means that being a good player matters, you can only 'point and click' so much; and thirdly it's reinforcing the GW mantra that you should be able to play with whatever toys you want. (Oh, yeah, can't forget all the awesome models that are being released too, sorry)
For playing at the local club, shop, or in a local league, or campaign, sure thing - knock yourself out. Use everything. Have fun.
For playing at a tournament, not so much. Caveat: Yes still have fun, just not the other stuff. You know what I mean...
In my experience of tournaments (and judging by the many many people populating forums and writing blogs on the hobby), the spectrum of players ranges from those that derive pleasure from wanting to WAAC (Win At All Costs) - people sometimes affectionately known as WAACers or Cheesemongers - to those who are referred to as Fluff Bunnies, or players who only take units or formations that are less than optimal because the background states many examples of this type of army appearing so they are being historically correct (? can you apply that to a futuristic sci-fi setting? Futuristically correct? Anyway, again - you know what I mean)
Composition - a short history
Army composition in tournaments, in some form or another, has been around for time immemorial (well, since 1998 at least... you know, when 3rd edition came out). And no I'm not talking about the Force Org chart or Bound/Unbound armies.
A lot of people will remember the GW GT's and their successors that started out when 3rd edition was released - first there was peer comp marked after every game, then there was a bit of a dabbling in panel peer comp (marked before the tournament), plus attempted maths comp (or as I like to remember it, 'peer comp by umpire'). Certainly greater minds than mine have wrestled with this thorny issue.
Those people that took tricked-out lists (commonly referred to as 'That Guy’) often did not win tournaments as you had to score highly in all categories of which Battle was only 40% or maybe 50% and Army Comp made up 15-25%. They were sometimes not very nice people to play either so got stung in Sports as well. Not to say they didn't win tournaments, it was just a lot more difficult for them. And they sometimes even left before prizegiving in a bit of a sulk, saying something like:
Maybe nobody truly understood them... (until now)
There was, I'd like to think, looking back with my rose-tinted glasses on, a general understanding, generally, of what was 'right'... or at least, 'right-ish'. I'm talking the 'if it looks like it and smells like it, it probably is...it" test.. Fluff used as a justification for taking certain units or combinations was regularly used and abused (particularly on the modelling front, things can look different on paper compared to in the flesh, a bit like Plaguecrushers of Nurgle, if you get what I’m saying), but the general composition by popular opinion or the opinion of a group of prominent gamers/cult of personality was king. I know because I was a part of it.
Then you had the problem of one person's fluff being another person's cheese... and so forums would rage with impassioned arguments to try and sway readers one way or another. People would post lists asking for a comp rating, and then take the feedback on board (maybe) and go off and tweak it to make it a little more acceptable to the 'community'. Or to surreptitiously put a rock in the proverbial sock.
Enough of that. What's the point of this post?
I am still in a believer in Army Composition for tournaments. My view on this hasn't really changed, but how this could be achieved has evolved.
Why do I care? Well, I want to know, as a player, that if I am spending a reasonable investment (money/time/social investment with the person across the table from me) to attend a tournament, I want to go and have some good hard games against other players, not a crap shoot against goofy lists. This is under my control (as I can vote with my feet).
The flip side is. if I am running a tournament and expecting people to spend a reasonable investment (money/time/social investment) to attend, then, as a TO, I want it to be inclusive. I don't want a newbie turning up and encountering 5 games of Necron Air Force Spam (sorry Necron players, I know it's not your fault, the Society of Hidden Immortals, Tombblades and Flayed Ones for Realistic Regular Equal-opportunity Army Lists or S.H.I.T.F.O.R.R.E.A.L. forced me to write that)
What's the answer then?
Where I see 40k suffers, compared to WHFB, in that there is no simple way to gently limit choices. In WHFB, you have to meet the parameters of:
- Up to 50% (now) Lords/Heroes
- Minimum 25% Core
- Up to 50% Special
- Up to 25% Rare
.... plus restrictions on duplicate choices for Special/Rare.
To be fair, WHFB is much better internally balanced across the armies compared to 40k, although in my view, the WHFB ETC is an example of comp taken just that little bit too far, where they try to rewrite core rules to balance out the armies. But I digress, this is about 40k...
Now bearing in mind that this whole 40k army comp business is irrelevant when you're playing your mates - what we're looking at here is when it's a game vs a complete stranger in a setting where you have both paid money to attend... because… let's be honest… asking wargamers to self-regulate their lists and expecting it to consistently happen without someone telling them where the boundaries are is a bit like the vision of free market economics - it just doesn't quite work in reality without some sort of outside intervention.
And even those that start out with the noblest of intentions may have their resolve slowly eroded over time until they hit the somewhat selfish "Well what about MY enjoyment? I'm going to take a list I like using and stuff everyone else".
So... if we used WHFB as a template (to show how that wouldn't work), imagine if I told you that you had to spend 465 points of your 1850pt army on Troops from your Primary Detachment. Most* Space Marine players would have a fit ("What? You mean you are forcing me to spend points on four Scout squads not two? THAT'S NOT FAIR!"). On the other hand, Eldar players with their Wave Serpent skimmerforce would be laughing all the way to the top tables as it makes no difference to them.
No... this is trying to use a system that is not designed for it.
So I am looking for some ideas or general discussion from you, the reader, the collective mind, the gestalt consciousness... (ok yes Jeff you too <sigh>) on how to implement simple army composition for 40k tournaments in this brave new world, with some general caveats - or - as I have just coined, the Fully SIC model, that is:
- Simple is good
- Inclusive is good
- Changing rules is bad.
But you know, the easiest way to apply composition to what people bring is to lower it to 1500 points
Yes I know people like big points values so they can bring all their snazzy stuff. But less points to play with means that, generally, people are going to have to make a hard choice or two about what units they will take and the less rules you as a TO need to put in place to encourage diversification. It encourages 'balanced' lists purely because of lack of ability to take everything.
For Tournament Composition, my opinion and suggestions are:
Core Restrictions (that should be compulsory most of the time)
- Battle Forged army lists only
- No 40k approved Forgeworld units or Forgeworld army lists. Sorry but these are, in general, not very balanced in the context of actual core Codexes/Dataslates/Formations. Save them for your friendly games at your local club. Nice models though, no problems for them to be used as proxies.
- No Apocalypse (anything)
- No Trial/Optional rules
Voluntary Restrictions (that should be seriously considered)
- No Lords of War under 2000pts. At high points games it's not really a drama, because if you want to drop 500+pts into a single unit... well... let's just say that's fine by me.
- No Fortifications
- Cannot ally with same faction
- Minimise the number of Detachments/Dataslates/Formations. For example, no more than 4 unique detachments or formations may be taken up in lists up to 2000pts. This allows some flexibility and won't affect most players, although the crowd that want to take Inquisition + Sororitas + Grey Knights + Imperial Knights + an Assassin will be annoyed... hey. That's me!
- Maximise the number of flyers allowed (one per 750pts or something)
So examples of this might be:
1500pts. Core Restrictions, plus Voluntary Restrictions of no Lords of War or Fortifications, cannot ally with same faction.
Vaguely restrictive comp
1750 points. Core Restrictions. Voluntary Restrictions 4 Detachments/Dataslates/Formations, cannot ally with same faction, maximum 3 flyers
You get the picture.
So yes - thoughts? Comments? Ideas? Improvements? Suggestions?