Debate: Game Balance and Power Creep

Balance

We compare our favorite games all the time, but how much does balance play into the equation, and are we using the term correctly?

After reading an interesting conversation regarding the balance differences between X-Wing and Warhammer 40,000 in the comments of my last article on the TIE Punisher (for which I’d like to make an apology – after reading said comments, I realized that I had given it a fairly bad rap, which I will attribute to a lack of time playing the ship, not being an Imperial player and failing to make connections and synergies that I should have been able to as well as general incompetence), I started thinking.

A debate about how balance can be used between games when comparing them cropped up, and was sadly cut short by the comments cutoff. Points were raised about how a game can be sold to fans of other systems as “better balanced”, only for players within the game to complain about relative power levels within them. I think it’s a situation that needs a decent amount of thought, and with that said the following is entirely an opinion piece. I am not positing this as some sort of gospel as far as this situation goes. Think of it more as the opening to a discussion, and while some fingers will be pointed at specific games, the only one I’m going to be outright lambasting is Yu-Gi-Oh (which I’m bringing in for comparison purposes, along with a few other CCG’s as I feel the debate is going to inevitably touch them no matter what you do) and I doubt anyone here is exactly going to be upset over that. For this debate, I’m going to cover four points.

Balance 2.0

1. How important is Balance, anyway?

and…

2. The Difference between Narrative and Tournament Balance

Well, the instinctive response is “Very. Duh.”

I’m not sure that’s the case – while a balanced game is much more fun than an unbalanced one, it depends on all sorts of other contexts. Was it designed to be unbalanced in favor of one side, to try and create an ‘underdog’ sense like Discworld’s in-universe game of Thud!? Is the unit some sort of named character, which clearly has a narrative backing to be so powerful?

Was it just a mistake that can be errata’d away, like a recent format-dominating card in the CCG Force of Will? Most importantly, is the balance a selling point of the game or is it a secondary concern?

Off the top of my head, I can’t think of a game that has been sold and marketed entirely off of its balance, with the exception of StarCraft Brood War and I’m fairly certain that that game’s balance happened mostly by accident. Games are sold off of their mechanics, lore or models, not their balance. So, why is balance used as a sticking point – or ammunition for an attack, more frequently – by fans of one system against the other? Well, that’s because balance is important for maintaining a healthy tournament and competitive scene. Frequently, the games I most often see attacked for lack of balance, are those that are no longer aimed at tournaments and more at narrative wargames, like Games Workshop’s offerings. Personally, despite being a massive RPG nerd and forever GM, I don’t like narrative-focused wargames that much – but the point is, that’s irrelevant to the discussion. Balance is not the primary concern of these narrative wargames, producing models/cards/units that reflect the feel of them in the lore is, which systems like Warhammer 40,000 have frequently been remarkably successful at. As a comparison, consider historical recreation systems and how they are designed to accurately recreate a battle rather than present a fair battle between two armies.

Relative Size

3. Relative Balance Gaps

This segues into my second point – the relative gaps between power levels, and how the difference between units can be smaller yet still matter just as much as the larger gaps in other games. Look, Warhammer 40,000 in particular has always had problems with certain units and/or codicies being exponentially more powerful than others. I don’t think anyone is ever going to claim that there’s been a part of 40k’s history where the game didn’t have some form of outlier, be it the original Tau Fish of Fury strategy or the multiple waves of Eldar dominance.

The point is, these massive gaps are more noticeable, and while other systems might have smaller gaps when it comes to power levels the gaps are still there. Tournament focused games may have the best intentions and spend much more time playtesting and making sure that nothing is too broken. Narrative focused games, however, are more often trying to make the units feel like they would relative to the game’s lore. There’s advantages to both approaches, but there’s disadvantages too – in X-Wing, for example, the K-Wing was turned into a small-based ship for what are most likely balance or range variety reasons, despite being a very large ship in lore, and the end result can feel off-putting to anyone who pays attention to stuff like that like I do.

These expanded playtesting times do result in smaller power gaps, with a few exceptions that slip through the cracks because a QA team can’t possibly catch everything let’s be realistic, but the resulting gaps still exist – and since these gaps are often in tournament-centric games, can have a much larger impact than even the massive power gaps in Narrative games. Warmachine and Hordes are common offenders of this – certain units, like my beloved Cygnar Trencher Infantry, can be ‘okay’ – but why would you settle for okay when you could get something ‘good’ or ‘excellent’, like various mercenary units? My other main game right now, Infinity, also has this happen – why settle for a vanilla Nomad force when I could cut a Reverend Healer and a Spektr for a few more Alguacil or an extra Intruder and play a Corregiador sectorial army with a linkteam? Surely the latter option is more efficient and powerful, right?

Well, that’s the thing – these small changes in power level can have bigger impacts depending on how competitive the game is designed to be. And, when a game is designed to be competitive, there’s another demon that you just can’t escape no matter what…

power creep

4. Inevitable Power Creep

Okay, first of all, I’d like to say that when power creep is done properly it’s not an inherently bad thing. It makes players pick up the new models, keeping the game alive and the meta fluid and ever-changing. When power creep is done incorrectly, it completely changes the meta and often entirely invalidates entire armies, decks or what have you – Yu-Gi-Oh is especially bad about this, with popular decks from as short as a year ago now being completely pathetic in front of new ones, a situation that continues to escalate to this day. Small, incremental increases in power – especially when accompanied by frequent erratas or re-releases of older units to keep them on the same power level a few months after release, like Infinity occasionally does (there’s a major update to a bunch of old units coming up in Human Sphere N3, according to the rumor mill) stops people complaining about it too much. Power creep is inevitable, it’s what makes people buy new products instead of “just getting what you need and stopping” as I’m sure many of us have said when getting into a new game (gods know that I originally only planned on getting 300 points of Nomads and quitting, now I’m eyeing up my third faction…)

Power creeps lead to balance problems, in favor of the new releases.This is also inevitable, and it’s only a real problem if it’s a massive gap – which can be fine on occasion, don’t get me wrong! Sometimes the game needs a shift in how tournaments or even friendly local games play out, preferably for the better. Would Warmachine be the same game without the existence of Colossals (okay, most notably just the Stormwall, but my point stands) for people to plan around in their lists? Introducing new problems to overcome is a part of being in a living, evolving game – and it’s part of why games that are no longer supported will slowly die off, no matter the community’s efforts, as eventually the game will be ‘solved’ to a near-perfect level and people will grow bored. The problem is when power creep causes a massive and visible swing in one faction or strategy’s favor at the expense of everything else. Notable examples of this include the Grey Knight codex for 40k, the advent of Bradigus in Warmachine/Hordes and the Warhammer Fantasy 7e version of the Chaos Demons army book, which if memory doesn’t fail me was so powerful it was part of the factors in the creation of 8th Edition.

So, how to mitigate this? If power creep is inevitable, how do we stop people from noticing it, or at least minimizing the impact? Well, for a start, release something for multiple factions at the same time. Look, let’s be honest, virtually every wargame publishes content in this way these days – the only one that I am aware of functioning differently is Warhammer 40,000, a game where a flame war about how the newest codex is either over or underpowered compared to other releases starts immediately with a few exceptions (if I’m talking out of my ass and there are other games that follow the codex-style releases, please tell me). This also causes factions to fall behind in the power creep, not being updated for years at a time – it’s just not a very good way of releasing content anymore, even for a narrative-focused game.

Conclusion

Balance is important, but perhaps not integral – and should be a supporting point of an argument in favor of your system of choice, not a defining one. Not all games are focused around balanced and/or tournament play, and not all games have had the time or release schedule for the power creep process to really rear its ugly head yet. Should you play an unbalanced game? Probably not – but that doesn’t mean that it can’t be fun to abuse the balance differences, provided it’s not to the detriment of your opponent’s enjoyment of the game.

What are your thoughts on the subject? Try to avoid direct comparisons between systems, and instead just think about how important balance is to you as a hobbyist and your style of play.

  • “The difference between Narrative and Tournament Balance” is quite stark actually.

    A tournament player wants as close to absolute balance as they can get so that the game is based around skill. (well in theory anyway, the reality is we list build to break balance as much as we can get away with)

    Narrative balance is that the scenario can be won by either side, but one side will often have an advantage over the other through the storyline or scenario. Not always but often enough.

    Having run narrative campaigns forever, I can say that trying to introduce a tournament player to narrative campaign scenarios can often be a hard sell, because the concept of being at a disadvantage at the game’s beginning (and not because of list building) is a huge turn off, even if you can still win.

    Its kind of like playing a video game on hard mode if you are the one at the disadvantage.

    Most of my map campaigns turn into that easily through resource acquisitions, and is one of the dangers of narrative map campaign play.

    • Richard Mitchell

      I agree, the tournament and narrative styles are so different they rarely mix, which is why most companies that stress balance run a tournament format and a league format. The people that want narratives want story over balance and vice versa.

      • Exactly. Narrative campaigns are to me story over balance. If I have to play a scenario where I’m outnumbered 3:1, thats fun to me. To a tournament player, they will often say “whats the point in playing a game like that??”

        • V10_Rob

          But is there not some kind of defined goal the disadvantaged player is trying to achieve? Like holding on for X rounds until the cavalry arrives? Or punching through to destroy a key objective (the scenario is a one-way suicide mission)? And that the forces involved are balanced around the idea that the guy on the wrong side of those 3:1 odds could nevertheless achieve his victory conditions?

          I assume the scenarios are more involved than “Here’s the story of the last stand of the XYZ Marines, your opponent’s list is three times yours, play it out to its foregone conclusion.”

          • Cameron Chapman

            I vaguely remember in the LOTR rulebooks that came out as the same time as the movies (so fellowship-two towers-rotk rather than the LOTR skirmish game) that the scenarios had stuff like that – most likely because they were trying to emulate scenarios from the movies rather than present a traditional wargame. The starter for TTW actually had something along the lines of ‘your outnumbered rohirrim riders need to buy time for the village to evacuate’ or something like that

          • There is usually always a goal, its just that the disadvantaged player is going to have a harder time achieving that goal than the other player, which is where most of the issues come in when tournament style players get involved with campaigns.

            There should never be IMO a scenario where one side simply cannot ever win. However there should be plenty of games where one side is going to have it easier than the other, at least in a campaign situation.

          • Heinz Fiction

            But honestly: why putting a player at a disadvantage on purpose? If the narrative demands that his army is smaller or the terrain is against him just adjust the victory conditions accordingly. you play the same scenario but suddenly it’s 100% more fun.

          • The answer to your question is: It really depends.

            If you are playing in a resource map campaign then the player with the most resources has an advantages.

            If you are just playing pick up scenarios then absolutely you can adjust your scenarios accordingly for pick up games, but map campaigns and resource based campaigns are the biggest drivers of unbalanced scenario play due to their nature.

          • Heinz Fiction

            I see. But in this case i assume the players startet out even at the beginning of the campaign?

          • Mostly yes but not always. For example Mighty Empires, and any campaign I’ve run from Mighty Empires, your resources are randomly determined at start, as are the tiles you conquer, which means if you roll poorly for your empire in the beginning you may be starting on hard mode.

          • Muninwing

            mighty empires is fun, but it’s not really in any way balanced after round one.

            then again, most map campaigns aren’t either.

            what’s worse is the old WHF Path to Glory. it’s virtually assured that a win makes you stronger than a player with a loss. so if round one is even, round two is only even playing winner vs winner and loser vs loser. you can catch up, but only if you roll lucky and nobody else does.

            in narrative missions, you can make it more theoretically fair by balancing goal with force. fewer points means less focus on killing and more on surviving until x. or the ability to get a bonus later. or free stuff at the start. you get the point.

            i’m setting up a free message board for a campaign i will theoretically run after i finish this masters degree i just started. i’ve got an idea for a system.
            – player one gains points based on the mission
            -player two gets a set number of points (like one or two) for playing as an adversary.

            so a mission might be two killteams against each other, or it might be 1000 points of mine vs 1800 of yours, but i get points for staying alive.

            and in each 2-week round, everyone gains points for playing the same active mission… so it’s really about adapting to the requirements.

          • Yeah Mighty Empires and any map campaign is really the opposite of balanced, which in my experience has always led to a lot of bitterness from players who were expecting games to remain balanced.

            Over the years I have learned to preface any campaigns I’m running as such, particularly when I do mighty empires (and my Azyr Empires expansion states that as well)

    • Cameron Chapman

      Excellently put. Personally, I think that narrative games have a few advantages over tournament ones – mostly, in that the armies feel more unique in most cases – and that tournament games could probably learn a few things from the narrative scene, although even with that they would still play totally different

      • One thing i dislike heavily in the gaming community overall is the “meta”, or that everyone seems to take similar forces leaving the game to feel “samey” to me.

        So yes I agree – a lot of the narrative games I play the forces are totally different from each other, which is something that I tend to enjoy a lot more than having to face the same variant list over again.

        • Muninwing

          the internet has made mathhammer more accessible to those who can’t math it themselves.

          which leads to netlists

          which leads to spam

          which leads to meta

          it really is the dark side of the gaming force.

  • benn grimm

    There should be no difference between the game for tourneys and the game for people who don’t go to tourneys. The armies should be balanced because its a me vs you game ffs. If you play multiplayer games, apart from a couple of deliberate handicapped forces (which are signposted as such), you want to know that each army has a fairly even chance of winning, otherwise what’s the point?

    Perfect balance is unachievable, just like perfect anything else and if you don’t know when to say ‘ok, that’ll do for now’, then yes, you have a problem, (go join a free-hug group or something). That said, doing the very best you can to make a game as balanced as possible is infinitely preferable to not really bothering with it.

    I love Man o war, and as a game its almost perfect. Almost. In typical gee dub style they made some of the fleets super OP and some frankly slug-snot. And this was definitely an issue back when more people played, but now its fine because we know which ships aren’t fun, (or are fun, if you’re looking to put in a handicap) so we adjust accordingly. If they’d just leave 40k alone for a few years we’d be able to do the same thing.

    • standardleft

      what about if you want a game with super units that reflect the narrative.

      Monsters that are purposely overpowered and unbalanced, so that on the table they are feared and become a statement, rather than just another tool.

      • benn grimm

        Nothing wrong with that, as long as everybodys on the same page. In fact I love units like that; as long as my opponent has a counter. In which case its not unbalanced, just extreme, both in points and effect. If one army has one and the other doesn’t, not through choice, but through poor rules writing, then you’re gonna have a bad time.

        I always like to think of kids first getting into the hobby; they are the cheesiest lil beggars; for me its really as simple as Orks should be equally strong to Space marines, so that the kid who picked the army because he liked Mad Max and Lotr has the same chance at fun as the kid who chose his army because he likes Starship Troopers or Starcraft or whatever.

        • Cameron Chapman

          Yeah, that’s a fair point. Even a narrative game should have some kind of balance at smaller levels of play so that you don’t feel at an innate disadvantage while learning – and probably being put off the game for life.

        • standardleft

          I’m talking about uncounterable dudes.

          Like Nagash is in AoS.

          He’s pretty much the most efficient summoner in the game. You can kill him, but it feels like he was designed to be a baddass.

          Do you feel that children cheesing is also problems in competitive balanced games?

          I’ve noticed in xwing and magic the gathering/hearthstone they quite often ‘netlist’ or ‘netdeck’ and start off by fielding the most efficient or easiest to win armies.

          • Cameron Chapman

            There’s nothing inherently long with netlisting, in my opinion – some people just don’t have the time/patience/skill to come up with their own.
            Besides, in competitive balanced games, people who netlist/netdeck and don’t know how to use it properly continuously lose to people with worse lists/decks who know it inside out, in my experience – especially when it comes to Magic and X-Wing. I’ve met several people who heard how good the Phantom was and kept de-cloaking it into an asteroid.

          • Agent OfBolas

            netlisting is the thing that broke a lot of games as now no one tries to get his own list – everyone just wants to have the most effective performance/cost models in game and spam them as much as they can in order to win.

            Before Internet was invented (yes, I’m serious here) wasgameing was much more fun experience as all lists were done by their players so I remember WHFB tournaments with 20 players and no single “copy+paste” list.

            Now, when I go to X-wing tournament… I don’t even need to look at enemy cards on ships are the “playable stereotypes” are pushed so hard to the game that no one even thinks about taking anything outside “this ship combo is the best” and things like “why you have XX card on YY ship? It should be always fielded with CC card as it’s most effective”.

            Netlisting broke dozens of games and took away some fun from wargameing for sure.

          • Drpx

            Don’t forgot the elephant in the room: $$. Why should I spend a bunch of money and time assembling a squadron or army that turns out to suck in the current meta when I can go online and know for sure what will get me the best return for my investment?

          • Agent OfBolas

            still, this destoys the feel of the game and make most games ultra boring.

            I’m bored with Xwing just after 40 games. Why? Because no matter where I play I can see only those “most efficient” lists and game became so ultra boring… I really regret I started to play it.

          • Muninwing

            if you care about “investment” then perhaps you’re in the wrong hobby?

          • Drpx

            If you have the money to burn on random-comp lists and don’t care how they play, good for you.

          • Muninwing

            ahh… another person who thinks that the army plays the game.

            yes there are some instances of units that are just plain terrible (and they are usually identifiable pretty quickly as such). but a good player can learn to utilize units for more than just what you can learn by going online and listening to other people tell you what you should bring.

            and if your local meta doesn’t line up with what those internet people assume other people are playing, you’re at a disadvantage again.

            there are a lot of skills involved in playing any game. a hobbyist game has the added level of painting and modelling to add to the actual playing — hence why longtime players usually have ridiculously large collections they never play with in entirety, or else they have multiple armies, or else both.

            somewhere in my 14,000 points of Imperial forces, i have some units i do not expect to play well. that doesn’t mean i need to ask the internet how to be a cheez player.

          • Drpx

            If you’d stop making assumptions, you might notice that I never said army/squadron plays the game. Or that this is only about 40k.

            I said that a person building for the meta (as in competitive/tournament events) who isn’t good at crunching numbers or waste a lot of money might go with a proven list precisely so they can practice and learn how it works once they have the appropriate tools.

            My ‘local meta’ frequently runs different lists against each other for practice and to see how they work out, so I don’t see how one build being weak against another is any different at the LGS than at a tournament.

            Finally, if you hate “cheese” (whatever that is), you should be happy for the Internet since now there’s a place to go and find out how to beat it that can be accessed at one’s own convenience.

          • Muninwing

            interesting additions that you didn’t actually say in your original… the assumptions being made were that you had actually said what you meant.

            if you are building a competitive list, you can do that in a number of ways:
            – finding units with snergy
            – finding units that are cost-effective
            – finding units that you know how to play well

            “the meta” is a series of assumptions that the high-end competitive players make (hint: if you’re not placing top ten at a national tournament, that’s not you) to try to gain an edge against each other. learning how to play well is an edge that overrides this (except when balance is thrown massively off, like units or armies that enter unsportsmanlike behavior by taking for said advantages), and often can win against inexperienced or less skilled players playing power-lists.

            internet sources that analyze the meta are doing so in actuality for a very narrow selection of people to utilize well, and a lot of people to potentially use incorrectly.

            there are many ways to play the game. “the meta” (and the focus on how competitive a unit is) pigeonholes one style of play and one style of use of a unit. that’s not to say it is good at anything else, or that another unit is not better, but merely that the unit itself gets a positional reputation.

            this is further reinforced by “the meta” — whether that be local of the general concept as presented by the internet.

            a 3+ save is statistically good. it’s great if you’re an Eldar/DE/IG player. but “the meta” tells you that it’s weak, because other options exist. same with t4. result? only TH/SS terminators and bikes for troops in marine armies, except for units with access to gravcannons.

            boring.

            assault marines way too expensive for the points? never see them. even in lists not going to a tournament, because “the meta” claims they are terrible, and people who access the internet “at one’s own convenience” read it was true.

            the meta is self-reinforcing. not the word of the gaming gods. don;t treat it like it’s the be-all end-all.

          • benn grimm

            Haven’t played Nagash in AoS so can’t speak on that, but I’ve played games against Wraithknights, Knights, super grav friends, Cron air etc etc with the ‘wrong list’ so i know what ‘uncounterable’ (incounterable?)feels like.

            No, I think kids will be kids, they will gravitate to trying to test the barriers, much like orangutans in captivity constantly test the fence around their enclosure; its natural and right they do that.

            For some people the thrill is in the list/deck building, for some its purely in the game, it makes sense for them to use another persons creation; you already know it works, so if it doesn’t work for you, its because of you. You can learn a lot about the game that way, which in turn helps you to build decent decks/lists of your own, given time.

          • Charles Covar

            Considering in the new fluff he’s a god, I’d bet you’re right that he was designed to be a badass.

    • happy_inquisitor

      I agree that perfect game balance is impossible for any table-top game where the armies are not pre-defined.

      This is only really an issue for the tournament community and only because the competitive nature of tournament play has players actively seeking out and maximising any imbalanced element. That element may be a combination of two or three different sets of models each of which is costed reasonably in isolation but where the combination is out of balance.

      Tournaments, just like other competitive endeavors, are then structured to magnify the effects of any imbalance into a score so that even a slight advantage becomes a clear win. Take a look at the ITC format for example; if I win 6-5 on maelstrom I get all 4 maelstrom points and you get none. It is designed to magnify any slight imbalance or difference. This is absolutely fine until people start believing that it is some sort of measure of how “unbalanced” the rules are.

      If you want a playable fun game that a decent variety of different possible lists have a chance of winning some games then most table-top games are fine for the job. Yes that includes 40K. If you want perfect balance so that only player skill matters then chess is the game for you.

    • eMtoN

      Benn, I completel agree with you. There should be no difference and he designers should strive for balance.

      As a matter of fact a well balanced rule set would make it far easier for narrative players to put their own imbalance into the game. If narrative players have a particular situation they want to play then, in a balanced game, they can easily create the imbalance by giving one side more points or restricting certain units for a particular army.

      I’ve never understood why narrative players don’t see this.

      • “I’ve never understood why narrative players don’t see this” – or we see it and largely don’t care about it anyway.

        The same holds true for when tournament players can’t seem to see why other players would want to use expansions like city fight and fight their hardest to keep games like that out of their FLGS.

        Its a matter of approaching the game in two completely different ways. Unbalanced rules don’t bother me because I can create scenarios that modify whatever I want, whereas other players find changing the core rules abhorrent and some get downright hostile about that subject.

        • Charon

          This is because it is easier to unbalance a balanced game than the other way round. There is no chance in hell you balance a unit like Pyrovores without heavily modifying it and needing a lot of houserules.
          And as people do tend to play a lot of pickup games, handing them a list how you changed most of your units and a lot of game rules is not gonna work.

          • It is easier to unbalance a balanced game sure. I’m not disputing that. But again, the people who dont really care if the game is unbalanced are also probably not doing a lot of pickup games, if any at all.

          • Charon

            So where is the problem then? It makes absolutely no difference at all to narrative players with a dedicated group of friends and it makes the gaming experience a lot better for pickup games, tourney and other non organized players.
            So I really dont understand the notion that we do not need a balanced game because a small group of players do not need balance as they are creating their own stuff anyways so everything has to be catered to them.

          • I’m not making the problem a problem.

            “So I really dont understand the notion that we do not need a balanced game because a small group of players do not need balance as they are creating their own stuff anyways so everything has to be catered to them.”

            Couple of things – for years and years we catered to the tournament crowd. The tournament crowd enjoyed it, the narrative players were crimped by it depending on the culture of their general area.

            You’re right. It makes absolutely no difference to me. I don’t care about pick up games, tournament games, or other games where people demand tight balance.

            If there is a narrative culture in the community for that game, I’ll play it.

            I don’t go out and protest and demand non-balanced games. I never have and never will. I do, however, play games that have a narrative element to them AND to which my community follows the narrative element.

            Which is why I don’t play Warmachine. Because my WM community does not care about narrative element.

            If a game is balanced – great. If a game is not balanced – great. Those things don’t bother me at all.

            The second thing “because a small group of players” – we don’t know the player sizes of overall groups. To try to put down a group as being the “small group of players” doesn’t matter either.

            There are so many games on the market today that I don’t see why every game has to follow the niche of being tournament balanced and have a premiere world league for it. I think its ok for a few games to cater to that “small group of players” because there are so many games on the market today that already cater to the tournament crowd that its not like they have no game to play now.

        • Chumbalaya

          You really need to stop generalizing large groups of people based on your garbage local group.

  • Heinz Fiction

    If I want to play a narrative game I’d chose a Pen&Paper RPG. Its like 10x cheaper than even the cheapest miniature war games. If I choose to play a wargame, I do it because I enjoy tactical challenges. I might choose to play from a disadvantage occasionally to increase the challenge, but I don’t like to fight uphill battles all the time because the rules writers did a poor job.

    • Cameron Chapman

      I’m a DM primarily, and mostly agree with you in terms of which one works best for the narrative gameplay. But, I’ve met multiple people who play, say, historical wargames in order to tell a story – and those are rarely balanced. There’s clear evidence that an unbalanced game, if designed & advertised as such, has a market – perhaps just not one as large as a tournament game.

      • Heinz Fiction

        I don’t think that historical accuracy is an excuse for unbalanced gameplay. You can always balance the weaker force in a given scenario by giving them easier to archieve victory conditions. For example surving a number of turns instead of crushing the enemy.

        • Charles Covar

          Like having some kind of sudden death table that changes the victory conditions for a player who finds himself in a numerical disadvantage?

          • frank

            i don’t think he means a sudden death type thing like they now have in AOS but conditions the disadvantage force has to achieve to win that are set out clear from the start of the game.

        • Cameron Chapman

          If it’s a deliberate recreation where the point is to prove yourself smarter and/or just luckier than insert general here, it is. There’s plenty of battles where things appeared completely unbalanced only for the planning to change the result (both Isandlwana and Rorke’s Drift, for example)

    • Its all in what and why we play games. I play RPGs and Tabletop wargames to tell a story. They both do it in different ways. But thats my primary goal in either.

  • David Leimbach

    40k has never meant to have balance. Your “all grot” list is never going to be equal to a balanced army and on and on.

    With allies, arguably it’s easy to add a small force to offset any weaknesses your main faction may have. Barring that, everyone can just build whatever they consider the “top” army is and play that.

    I’d say the problem isn’t that there are top lists, and top factions, but instead it’s that there are poor factions and poor lists. Sometimes that list or army you love, just doesn’t fare well against the most recently updated 3 or 4 factions. This is what really bothers people after all. Lists that they think should give them a better chance.

  • Frank Krifka

    I think one thing that I haven’t seen mentioned in the comments or article, is the way we apply army construction ultimately has a lot to do with balance. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, when taken on a one on one matchup, nearly every player of every army has a near equal chance of beating nearly every list one on one in a single matchup.

    IMO, this is largest deciding difference between playing in a tournament and playing one off games; namely, the need to face multiple opponents consecutively without being able to adjust your force to match. You might do very well against one opponent but suffer when coming up against another because, largely, there just isn’t enough room in list design for every codex to face everything every other codex can bring all the time.

    Now granted some codexes fare better than others in multiple match-ups. But I would offer that this is not a flaw in game design, but rather a systemic drawback in the way we play the game when we play in the current tournament format.