Warhammer 40k Propaganda Data Slate: Balance – Army Building & Allies
Hello and welcome back to the The Kitchen, a place of madness with me The Chef, as I attempt to put thoughts and ramblings into something resembling coherency. Today we continue the Balance Series of 40k, specifically into the impact that Army Building and Allies have on the overall balance of the game.
We have already spoken about the sheer size of the game and variety of things you’re able to do being a big contender for some of the bigger issues when it comes to balance in the game, and off the back of that we’ll consider how much broader Allies makes the scope, and some possible ideas for resolving the issues.
The Soup in the Room…Elephant in the Soup? Either way, there’s a mess!
So yes, Soup will of course come up. Not just because I feel it is the number one cause of balancing issues in game, but also because it is a topic that dominates most aspects of conversation when it comes to building an army. If your army has access to allies or souping (NB: I’ll use the terms interchangeably within the article), you first need to account for how souping can benefit your army over remaining “pure”. As previously discussed, there is no penalty for using allies, which makes this often a no brainer choice. Whilst one can argue that having to fit any potential allies into an army by finding the points and getting them to adhere to a detachment is the penalty, the counter is of course that you get benefits for doing so regardless. This could be as simple as the so called CP Batteries used to fuel the main portion of the army (more on these later), to the utility of additional units that normally wouldn’t have been an option in an army. A Thousand Sons Psychic support detachment for a Khorne Daemon army is a great example of this.
Even after accounting for how souping can benefit your army, you must also account for what your army can do when it comes up against soup. Now this can be considered part and parcel of building an army anyways – making sure you have enough anti-infantry firepower, anti-tank methods, ways to deal with extremes such as hordes or Knights, suitable units for holding or taking objectives etc. However within the scope of a single codex, it is easier to account for what might be brought. You can reasonably guess what will be likely when someone is running Necrons, or Space Marines. But when they say they are running Mixed Eldar, or Imperial Soup…that can mean so much.
Adding in Allies makes possible opposition so vast as to make the combinations nigh incomprehensible. Ironically however, this leads to so much similarity in army design and building – why take this, when you can take this unit that’s better and deals with more things, especially those things that you will see so often? Now if you follow S.A.C.R.E.D’s teachings, it of course makes sense to have redundancy, duality and so on, and indeed at a high level of play, or even just in the hunt for an efficient army, it is something to be accounted for. Yet it has a tendency to create a vicious cycle of the same lists being seen time and time again, or at least lists so similar as to be basically impossible to differentiate, primarily due to them being so good at what they do, meaning variety and uniqueness is lost.
A change is on the horizon
However there is certainly a trend beginning in the competitive scene. Since the ITC introduced the notion that Best in Faction should actually be solely that Faction and not just a portion of it (rightfully so), purer armies have seen an upswing in attendance. Whilst this could be seen as some attendees simply wanting to take part in the individual Factions prizes rather than the Mixed Factions as they feel they have the better chance to place highly or even win the category, it has mainly had effect of enabling more mono-faction armies. As more mono-faction armies are being used, Soups are not dominating as much in terms of presence, however they are still generally doing well beyond most mono armies in terms of overall wins and placements. So we have the beginnings of a swing to more pure armies, but it still needs a nudge, especially since whilst the mono dexes can fair somewhat well against each other, soups can often edge them out.
Now I am not saying to scrap Allies or Soup completely. As I have said before, they can lead to some amazing looking combined armies and some fluffy and frankly awesome things on the tabletop. However consider them the same way as Power Level – when not used perhaps as intended, they swing too hard to unbalanced. And when the tool of Allies is available, and being such a potent one at that, with again I reiterate virtually zero downside, why should it not be used? So it stands to reason that a way to bring balance to Allies would be to give them a downside, which could be done in a number of different ways.
Draining the Battery
CP Batteries, the Loyal 32, the Rusty 17, the Disloyal 17, whatever you want to call them, these are usually barebones Battalions designed to provide as much in the way of CP generation and regeneration as possible, for as few points as possible. These are then used to the fuel the stronger or more Stratagem reliant portions of the army. There have been plenty of ways discussed on how to try to mitigate these. Even GW themselves attempted to reduce the sheer number of CPs flying about with the Tactical Restraint rule. A common idea is to limit CP to the non-mixed Faction that generated them, and some have argued further that CPs generated by a Detachment should only be usable by that same Detachment.
Personally I feel these make a bit too much book-keeping, though you could argue that if you can keep track of the numerous Codexes and FAQs needed to run Allies, you can track a few different CP pools. I would prefer a more restrictive element, either limiting the amount of CP generated similar to how Brood Brothers works for Genestealer Cults, or even outright negating CP from non-Warlord detachments and units. A third alternative would be to have Allied Detachments actually cost CP, much the same as how Auxillary Detachments do. I don’t feel a single CP would justify the power that an Allied Detachment can bring, so this would require some thought, however my knee jerk (which admittedly is something I argue against when GW do it) is a flat 3 CP would likely be a fair start, and then can be looked into with greater detail.
The Building Blocks
Something else to consider is the Detachments that are available. With the current Detachment system, we have a large amount of flexibility and choice when it comes to building a list. However, this flexibility often leads to just splitting units off, enabling the ability to spam 3 of a strong unit in a slot whilst still being able to take others, or in many cases simply running a dual Battalion to get the extra CP. This is a far cry from the more limited single Combined Arms Detachment of editions past, and even less restrictive than the mass Formation Detachments of 7th. The Detachment limitations set by GW are not really enough, as if you can fit many things into one Detachment, there is again no downside to splitting them off, only benefits. So outside of reducing the number of Detachments that are usable in a game, something already proposed by GW albeit with limited success, what can be adjusted?
A more modular system, similar to 7th’s Formations (albeit without the 4-5 free special rules for the units within) would certainly work. For example, every army could start with a Battalion, Knights being the exception of course. From there, filling all the slots within a choice would then “unlock” additional CPs. With this sort of system, you could then look at altering other Detachments, removing them altogether, or adjusting their command benefits. Whilst CP is a simple thing to provide and covers many bases within an army due to Stratagems, other things could be so much more interesting. The danger is some Detachments gain special rules or benefits vastly outstripping other armies, so these would need to be carefully balanced or considered, which is again a good indication as to why CP is used at the moment, as it’s a single factor to account for.
A further option to Detachments would be to introduce Faction specific ones again. These could give alternative command benefits to just CP, or maybe have some further limitations, but as they are Faction specific these could be more unique and tuned. A Ravenwing Detachment for example, where every model must be Ravenwing, but it gives additional CP above a standard Outrider if you want to keep it simple, or maybe a minor rules buff. This is similar in principle to the Specialist Detachments, however the fact that they cost CP almost encourages the need to have a CP Battery Detachment, just so you can have access to some unique bonuses (which cost you further CP, necessitating the Battery even more), and so are ironically limiting you further from doing an interesting or fluffy army. By having the requirements baked in, perhaps limiting them to armies drawn solely from one Faction, allows the modularity.
Reward vs Punishment
Psychological studies have shown that most people respond better to rewards and positive reinforcement, rather than punishments or negative reinforcements (I’m not giving you references, it’s been many years since I’ve had to do that!). So perhaps a better way of influencing the decision making process in building an army is to look at encouragement, rather than restrictions or limitations. This could be simply done by an army getting rewarded for being drawn from a single codex. Initially, this is the direction I thought 8th might go upon the release of the first codexes, that armies getting Faction and Sub-Faction benefits based on their Detachment must have been a mistake to be rectified, but two years in that doesn’t seem to be the case. That’s not to say it couldn’t change however, so what could be some possible rewards?
One of the simplest would be additional CP. There is a semi-precedent with Knights after all, getting more CP than most armies, ostensibly as a reward for going pure yet in practice just letting them have even CP when allied with other Detachments, and it would be the easiest to implement. A Big FAQ, or a Chapter Approved update to Matched Play, stating that a Battleforged Army has the same Faction Keyword (ignoring Imperium, Aeldari, Chaos etc), gains an additional X CP. However, the amount would be the tricky bit – it would need to be quite significant to offset bringing Allies. Only 2 CP would not really be worth it in comparison to the 5-8 you can get from Souping, but granting too many to a pure army may make any choices related to Stratagems to be close to non-existent. I don’t need to think about when I use a Stratagem if I have so many CP I can comfortably do it every turn without any worries about my resources. The alternative would need to be in conjunction with a penalty to allied units, be it them costing CP or not providing any at all, which goes against the philosophy of rewarding over penalising.
So what about additional army abilities or rules? Well this was the issue with 7th, as Formations provided so many rules for free that it became a bit absurd, especially as the balance and disparity between individual armies was often quite vast. This is where the Sub-Faction rules could be implemented a bit better, as whilst they do have some inherent balancing issues between themselves, by having them as a reward for sticking to single Faction rather than being automatic just because you are playing Matched play would make them slightly more exclusive, or up to the general to decide if losing those benefits is a fair trade for being able to gain allies. This is one of the big design flaws of Matched Play and Battle-forged armies in my opinion. To play Matched, your Detachments must be Battle-forged. By being Battle-forged, you get X Y & Z benefits. So they are automatic. Yes of course in Narrative or Open play you can have an army that is not Battle-forged, however if they simply changed the wording to indicate Battle-forged is to apply to Armies rather than Detachments, it would make a significant difference – anyone allied would no longer get benefits such as Sub-faction bonuses, Relics, Stratagems, even Objective Secured. It could be argued this would be punishment for allying, but my counter is those would be your rewards for being pure. Your reward for not taking them is flexibility in unit choice.
A look to the Realms
Age of Sigmar uses a compromise of this by allowing you to have up to 20% of your army as Allies, which do not obtain any of their unique and often powerful Army abilities – this is the reward for the vast majority of your army being from a single book. Going over this 20% removes the Army abilities from the majority force, but now allows you the free choice of units across the many allied factions available. Doing something similar for 40k could reduce the gulf between Souped armies and pure armies, whilst also allowing for a middle ground and letting people add in allies, but not getting as many benefits for doing so. Both sides have positives and negatives for their respective way of building an army.
To use AoS as an example again, they also allow you to have specific keywords that unlock a myriad of other benefits, or perhaps a powerful playstyle, but all of that Faction must be the same – there is no Sub-faction mixing. Again, it is the reward for specialising, as opposed to a punishment for mixing. Using this as an example, we could envisage a tier system of Battle-forged, let’s call them Coalition Army, Brothers-in-Arms and United Strike Force.
- A Coalition Army is an army where no Detachment has a sub-faction keyword accounting for at least 80% of the total Points. Detachments only receive their respective Army Rules, such as And They Shall Know No Fear, or For The Greater Good.
- Brothers-in-Arms is where detachments with one Sub-faction keyword being at least 80% of the total Points. These Detachments gain their Battle-forged benefits, such as Stratagems and Chapter Tactics, and any other detachments do not receive their bonuses, other than the Army Rules.
- United Strike Force is where 100% of the Detachments have the same Sub-Faction Keyword. In this case, they could gain an additional benefit, which could be as simple as some extra CP, up to more bespoke army rules (which of course would need balancing themselves).
Of course this is just a theoretical idea, but could lead to some more important decisions in the army building process – do I pick and choose, at cost of stronger individual benefits, or do I specialise for strong benefits but at risk of having a weakness in the army not covered?
But why even talk about theoretical stuff?
Well, the idea would be to help bring balance to a field that has become generally dominated by mixed allied armies. The changes in ITC have resulted in some headway as mentioned, but perhaps it is not quite there yet. Only by altering army building and the benefits of doing so, can the game incorporate a more even split between skill and list design- as mentioned in previous articles, this is a skill in and of itself, yet tends to be a bit too skewed at the present moment, at least on paper.
Recently I saw the following comment on a discussion online somewhere:
“In a competitive setting, why would anyone handicap themselves by not using the options available to them?”
Whilst I 100% agree with this, I do disagree with the implementation of these options, and the disparity they cause, again it’s coming back to no choice in resource expenditure or cost/benefit consideration.
Putting Rambling into Practice
Implementing changes or adjustments, at this stage at least, is honestly down to events and gaming groups – generally, they will need to be either self imposed, or moderated by a group or organiser. Army building as it stands is part of the core rules of course. However given the pace of changes happening in 40k with the Big FAQs and CA, it could occur sooner than expected.
There may be some that then may argue “Oh but you’d just be changing the base game!”, to which I would have (at least) three rebuttals:
- The core game is remaining the same, ruleswise – the only difference is how you would be required to build your list in order to participate. This is no different to entry requirements for weight classes in sports, ban/comp lists in various esports, and the differing types of Formats used in card games such as M:TG – they are the prerequisites, or guidelines required to participate in a particular event.
- If you play using the Rule of Three, which I believe the majority of people do, you are already technically changing the base game. It is after all, a suggestion for balance. If GW suggested to no longer use Allies, it wouldn’t be a rule, but certainly a strong indication from the game creator of their intent towards a more balanced style of play.
- If you play in literally any tournament, there are changes to the base game, and usually in game-altering means such as Mission Objectives, the extent in which you win the game, up to full blown rules changes and additions. Often these are an excellent adjustment or change for variety, or provide some better balance. As such a change to army building should not be considered any different.
Have a preview!
And so, I’ll end this here with a little sneak peak of some work-in-progress rules for the inevitable TT Events. We talk about our plans to do Events often enough, so why not give you some insight into the work going on into the rules pack as well! Now of course, nothing is set in stone here, and contrary to what I’ve spoken about above, this is more of a restriction rather than a reward based idea, however that is primarily due to a reward based system requiring a lot more investment of time and testing, and would change the game far more fundamentally than some set limitations. But regardless, I give you some of the potential rules for the TT Masters format!
Army Faction - Your army must be made for Matched Play and be Battle-forged. The Battle Brothers rule applies, with the additional keyword of Heretic Astartes
All of your Detachments must have an Army Faction Keyword in common. In addition, you may not use the Imperium, Adeptus Astartes, Chaos, Aeldari, or Tyranid Faction Keywords for individual Detachments.
For example–Stig is deciding between his Adeptus Custodes and his Adeptus Mechanicus. He decides to run his Army as Imperium, so he can use both Factions as both armies have this Keyword in common. He must however have these units in separate Detachments, as Imperium is not allowed to be used within the Detachment as a Faction Keyword, per the Battle Brothers Rule.
Chefs’ Note: This is essentially the same as making a normal Matched Play Army, with the additional caveat to prevent the fringe cases of Heretic Astartes being used to include Chaos Space Marines from different codexes in the same Detachment
The Chains of Command - Your Warlord’s Faction determines a number of factors in your Army. You only get access to Battle-forged Rules (for example Chapter Tactics), Stratagems or Relics for Detachments that share your Warlord’s Faction.
In addition, you may only have one Sub-faction per Codex. This is your choice of Trait, such as Necron Dynastic Codes, or Ork Klan Kultures.
Finally, any Detachment that does not share the same Faction as your Warlord does not generate Command Points in any way, be it from the Detachment itself, unit special rules, wargear and so on.
*Exception Drukhari - Drukhari may take a mix of Sub-factions (Kabals, Cults and Covens) in the same Army, but each Detachment of the same Sub-faction must use the same Obsession – i.e you may not have a detachment of the Cult of the Red Grief and another Detachment using the Cult of Strife. In addition, any Detachment with a Sub-faction that is not the same as the Warlord cannot use any of their Obsession rules, Stratagems, Relics or generate CP in any way, the same as if they did not share the same Army Faction Keyword as other Armies.
Example 1 – Bone wants to bring his T ’au Empire, and is planning on running a Battalion Detachment and a Spearhead Detachment. He could not choose to give one Detachment the T’au Tenet, and one the Sa’cea Tenet – he may only choose one.
Example 2 – Spider is running an Aeldari army, made of a Drukhari Battalion with the Kabal of the Flayed Skull, a Drukhari Spearhead from the Prophets of Flesh Coven, and an Asuryani Outrider from Alaitoc. He decides to make an Archon from the Flayed Skull Battalion his Warlord. As the Spearhead and Outrider parts of his army do not have the Flayed Skull Keyword, they do not gain any Drukhari Obsessions or Craftworld Traits. Spider cannot use the Prophets of Flesh Stratagems or Relics, the Asuryani Outrider could not use any Asuryani specific Stratagems or Relics, and he cannot generate CP from either of these Detachments in any way.
So that’s that, let me know what you think on these proposals. Am I onto something here, would you play with these, do you think they would lend some more balance to the game, or have I stared for too long into the abyss and gone utterly mad? As I say they’re subject to change – who knows what may differ in the game in the coming months! And as always, if you’ve any thoughts on this article go ahead and leave your comments and suggestions in the discussion below. Until next time team!
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 firstname.lastname@example.org and you might see your topic discussed in a future article!