Wargames and their ruleset go through cycles. They usually start out just complex enough to get their basic theme (melee combat, tank battles, etc) going in a proper and enjoyable manner. Then, if they are successful enough to make it into a new edition, more rules and options start appearing and the thing compounds itself.
Those of us who played tabletop RPGs can relate. First we had some six attributes to modify a dice roll that told you if you succeeded or failed at something. Then different armor values against slashing, piercing or impact weapons, and a separate stat for pushing weights, dragging weights, lifting weights and a vector for your bonus/penalty when carrying said weights up an incline of specific angle.
When that gets heavy enough to turn off newcomers or bog down games, the great Simplification is at hand. Whole chapters of rules are cut, things get condensed and made quicker and easier until the system is a sleek, mean machine of solving stuff. And then that feels boring and flat for some, and the cycle begins again.
But even rules that are gone or changed keep affecting the game. Models that were amazing under the old ruleset suddenly become awful or even completely nonfunctional (Ork Kommandos from 5th to 6th, anyone?). Unremarkable units suddenly become auto-includes because they were priced under inferior rulesets that don’t reflect their new abilities (Vendettas from 5th to 6th, again).
That can often be made at least a little bit better by frequent updates, revision, or wider releases across all armies/factions. When you have books from three edition shacking under the same roof and/or lazy FAQs and Erratas…well, we’ve all been there.
Useless or Poorly Priced USRs and Gear
Let’s take a look at Fear. It’s a great concept for a rule; entire board games and RPGs hinge on how terrified you are while trying to save your hide. That said, the current Fear rule is not only bad, but badly designed. Over half the armies in the game are straight-up immune to it, or so close as to make no difference.
|“My whole focus is causing fear. Totally worth it to cause the enemy to lose 13% of his melee skill, about 5% of the time!”|
Another respectable chunk of those who are not immune couldn’t care less if they are affected: Tau Fire warriors and Eldar Guardians will shed no tears for needing a 5+ instead of a 4+ to hit when your melee specialists finally get to them. And even so, they’ll make the check more often than not. It will be a factor so rarely it might not even exist.
And don’t get me started about Soul Blaze. If there is a USR that only adds more rolls and empty book-keeping to the game for no actual benefit, this is it. If you add all the models killed by Soul Blaze across the world since the rule appeared into a pile, I’ll bet you my imaginary 2-year-old nephew can run over it on his tricycle and not even feel a bump.
So we have an expensive rule/upgrade that rarely comes into play, and even when it does offer little benefit. Extra Armor is roughly in the same boat. It actually has some utility, but at its usual price it’s still safer to just skip it, since few bother to ‘shut down’ vehicles anymore; players who fail to blow up a tank will usually keep shooting it until it is glanced to death. The same goes for Daemonic Possession (which is even more dangerously useless on transports).
Solution: Give it teeth enough to matter or toss it out. Not every rule needs to be game-changing, but they should at least be reliable about the benefit they offer. Astartes may know no fear and all that jazz, but even they can take a moment to adjust after being attacked by an unearthly/overwhelming enemy.
Fear could be a flat bonus to combat resolution against regular enemies and a simple -1 to Leadership against ATSKNF and fearless for a turn. Or force successful Overwatch hits to be re-rolled against the unit as the defenders are too shaken to mount a proper stand. Or maybe even add an extra d6 to the Fall Back move a target does after it loses combat. Extra Armor could cancel the first Glancing Hit a vehicle takes and scale in price with the unit’s AV. Lack of options is not a problem; 40k has more than enough depth to allow fun, fluffy effects.
As for Soul Blaze…beats me. Make it add +1S to the weapon when firing at targets in cover, maybe, to reflect it setting stuff ablaze, or count as causing +1 wound for the purpose of checking Leadership when you are being shot at.
Charging into Cover:
Even bad rules often have good justification. Units can get defense from shooting by hunkering down in cover, so it figures that there would be an option to defend your guys from being easily charged and wiped.
The complication here is twofold. First, cover in CC factors twice, against only once in shooting: you get a shorter, possibly failing charge range AND have your initiative tossed down to 1. One of those effects can be mitigated (with assault grenades). The other cannot.
Combined with other rules (or lack of thereof), this makes things…unrealistic, and stilted. You’re telling me that Murderfang gets bogged down when charging cultists because they are leaning against a chest-high wall? It’s what he’s for! That the Avatar of Freakin’ Khaine has to hike its skirts like a cartoon matron that just saw a mouse and tiptoe around rubble at Initiative 1 while necrons laugh about what a sluggish bloke he is makes. No. Sense. So many units lose their whole raison d’etre over this: Incubi. Possessed. Warp Talons. Assault Dreads.
|“Yeah, we thought he’d be good for storming trenches, but turns out he can’t assault at all unless the place has a handicapped access ramp…”|
Solution: Divorce the whole things from the presence or absence of grenades. Offer choices. For example: Models that are assault specialists (name the rule whatever you want), Monstrous Creatures and Walkers get to ignore one of the charging into cover penalties. They can either have their full charge range OR strike at initiative. Or make it a defender’s choice: you can force the enemy to strike at lower Initiative, risk a shorter charge, or fire overwatch.
Or, for a simpler but lamer fix, just let Move Through Cover serve as Assault Grenades
Weird, Static Conventions:
At some point in time, a boardroom full of GW designers and table-crunchers gathered and the word was passed from here to the lowly writes toiling in the text mines: Daemon engines are all BS 3 and WS 3. Doesn’t matter how much they cost. Doesn’t matter if they’ve been shooting since the Emperor had pimples. Doesn’t matter if they don’t have a gun and all they do it chop dudes. Wanna make a daemon engine? WS 3, BS 3, slap on a 5++ save and daemonic possession, done.
Same thing for the Heavy Bolter. Bit stores must wade through unsold heavy bolter kits that come in nearly every box and are outshined by every option under the sun. It’s Heavy, it fires a grand total of one shot more than the regular bolter at a slightly better strength, and all it costs is not moving your unit or wasting a slot on a relentless model for it. Can it get a decent ROF? No. Maybe shoot different ammo (Say, S6 AP 6 shot for light anti-armor duty, and S3 AP3 bolts for threatening power armor)? Nein. An overwatch bonus for point-defense ability? Nyet.This weapon has been like this when I was an intern in this company, dammit, and it will stay that way long after I am interred in my CEO sarcophagus!
The plasma pistol goes here as well. Iconic, cool-looking, pricey as all get out. And no one would ever pick it if it didn’t come mandatory in a few HQs. Bad range, pitiful ROF, no benefit in CC that a laspistol doesn’t also offer, will kill your guy now and then. And since the model that owns it is meant to be in close combat, it’ll likely not get to fire more than twice a game.
There is a thing in design called space optimization. Basically, you only have so much room in a release to toss out what your system does. Everything takes up space, and I’m not talking about just physical space on the page, but in the overall scheme of what does what. When you fill it with lackluster, boring, nigh-unusable stuff, you are adding dead letter to your system, taking up real estate that could be used for something fun that hooks people. Might as well have put another picture, or left it out and gone for a leaner, lighter selection of stuff.
In a miniature game, ‘dead’ rules often have further investment sunk in them, in the form of actual models. It only compounds the issue.
Games Workshop is famously awful at this. Whenever my friends go “Damn greedy GW, nerfing old power units so the new, broken models sell!”, I point them to the 6th Edition CSM book. Specifically, at the Warp Talons, Mutilators, Dark Apostle and Warpsmith. All new models that likely cost a fair penny to design, assemble and ship. And uniformly terrible. Had they read their own book, they’d likely have given Plague Marine models a reworking, as well as Chaos Lords on bikes, because those would sell like hotcakes, as happened with the Helldrake. But the thing is, they care too little to actually put effort into that particular gambit.
I guess we should be thankful, in a way. I’ll take a lazy, aloof meth dealer who barely tolerates my presence over a Walter White savant who pours endless genius and charisma into converting my assets and spare kidneys into cash for Macragge Blue meth.
Solution: Mix it up. You have the means to do this already. Release alternate stalines for exisiting units in supplements or dataslates. Make different thing s different. Newsflash: someone who buys a Pyrovore because you released a supplement with “Xernian Pyrovores” that cost a bit more but actually do something? They make you money too. Without you having to pay storage on the mountains of lame models clogging your warehouses or having to make new stuff from the ground up.
Wouldn’t you guys at GW like to sell some Mutilator kits and recover that half of your parking space taken by piled-up models no one wants?
|One day I will create a game called Peacehammer, all about harmonious conflict resolution. And it will have the SWEETEST gun supplement ever.|
Release a wargear-only supplement with alternative, fun rules. We bought all those Shadowrun books about future guns (An aside: You live forever in my heart, Ares Alpha combat gun!), and we didn’t even have the toy plastic men to use them with! Some day, there will be a book out there letting me tool up a Chaos Predator with Hades Autocannons, give Trueborn Kabalites new and fun poisons on their splinter weapons, crazy Ork gadgets that steal Warp Charges from the enemy and give them to the Waaaagh!. And have Heavy Bolters and Shotguns that actually offer attractive options.
And then the effect of the Macragge Blue meth will fade, and boy won’t I feel silly.