Unbound Armies are pointless in a world of Detachments and Formations – Let’s talk about the “Unbound” Problem.
Unbound Armies were the “internet-boogeyman” when the current edition of Warhammer 40,000 hit the shelves. “Wait, you can take ANYTHING in your collection? That’s SOOOO broken!” I heard countless times as players would come across the “Choosing Your Army” section on page 116-117 of the BRB. Everyone was talking about how game-breaking and non-nonsensical it was. Then came along the first couple batches of formations to hit the scene and the gap between Unbound and Battle-forged Armies started to show. That gap has been growing ever sense.
Now, personally, I still prefer the good old Combined Arms Detachment construction rules or as I like to call it: ClassicHammer. I’m not advocating a move back to that system, but that’s just my cup’o’tea and that’s what works for me. But what I don’t like to see is an entire way to play completely ignored by just about everyone – Unbound is a valid way to play…it just happens to be terrible now. So what happened? Well, let’s talk about the original intent of Unbound and see how that stacks up to today’s era of 40k.
Unbound & Original Intent
Unbound was originally intended to do a few things. It was introduced to get new players into the game as quickly as possible. “Bring what you got and start playing!” No need for complicated formations or filling out a CAD – just play! It was also a great way to try out new unit combinations or even new armies that you had never used before. “Sure, toss in some Ork Boyz and give them a whirl.” This could have led to players getting a taste for a different army or play style. But really, for veterans at least, it was a chance to create the ultimate narrative army. If you got tickled by a piece of fluff about Dark Eldar experimenting on Tyranids and wanted to mix them you could. It could have led to some cool modeling opportunities.
But now, all three of those things have been subverted by just about everything else. If you’re a new player talking to a veteran player and you ask them, “Where should I start with a new XXX Army?” They should tell you to go pick-up a starter box because you can start playing as soon as you’re done assembling your models. On top of that, each box has a “legal” formation that also nets you bonuses. New players can completely bypass the need to play Unbound.
What about trying out new units? Okay this one is still an option, but really, who’s buying new units to test out in a list? I’ve never met a casual player that said, “I think I’ll buy just one random unit from another army I don’t play and just toss it in my current army to play with.” Most of the time it was a tournament player that was thinking, “Oh wow, that unit looks good and if I grab it plus an HQ and maybe a cheap troop I can run it in my list as an Allied Detachment…” Again, completely bypassing the need for Unbound.
What about those narrative aspects? Well sure, there are still those inspiring stories on the fringe of “what could be” but I have a question for you – Which is more true to the Lore: An army that is a Hodge-podge of units thrown together to reflect some story that might have been fan-fic you read one time or Formations that are designed to represent how the army actually fights in battle? Because that’s exactly what a Space Marine Battle Company is supposed to be – a representation of how the Marines go to war. So which is more true to the Lore?
Unbound Just Doesn’t Have A Place Anymore
Unbound no longer fulfills those roles that it was originally created to fill anymore. On top of that, it’s getting weaker and weaker as an option as time goes on. With each new Codex and Supplement that comes out new Formations and Detachments are added to the game. And while Unbound lets you take a truly flexible combination of units you own, Formations and Detachments just give you FREE STUFF. There’s really nothing else to say about it – Formation Power Creep killed Unbound.
It’s ironic that Tournament Organizers were pretty panicky about Unbound (and some still are) when there are other formations out there that are just plain better. Battle-Forged armies have been getting all the buffs and Unbound hasn’t even been considered sense the current edition of 40k was introduced…
What would you rather play against: An Unbound army list of semi-random characters and units or the latest Battle-Forged meta army that is basically the same thing but with a bunch of extra rules and other free stuff just because? It’s kinda messed up that players can build the same army with the same models in two different ways and end-up with vastly different “power-levels” at the end. And here I thought Unbound was supposed to be the boogey-man.
Making Unbound Useful
So how can we make Unbound useful again? Well, that’s tricky part. I don’t think that anything you do to unbound will make it nearly as good as the free bonuses of Formations/Detachments. But that actually leads me to my first fix: Formations should cost points. Detachments should be free but if you want to run a Decruion-Style Detachment, then you’ll pay a “Points Tax” with each Formations you choose. This “tax” doesn’t have to be super expensive points-wise either. But it needs to be more than what it currently is – which is ZERO. I know I’ll get hate for it, but I think that’s one thing that Age of Sigmar does right.
The next thing I’d test out to see if it makes Unbound useful is to have it mess with the Allies matrix. Unbound Armies should be allowed to treat Allies ONE level higher than they are on the Allies chart. So, if you’re Desperate Allies normally, you are now considered Allies of Convenience. If you’re Allies of Convenience you’re now considered Battle Brothers. And so on. If you’re already Battle Brothers – sorry, you’re still Battle Brothers. If you want more of a bonus as Battle Brothers, go run a Formation…
The last tweak I’d like to see is that I’d allow both players to roll an extra time on the Maelstrom Missions chart to determine Objectives for the round. Why both players? Because it sucks to get objectives you can’t complete. If your playing against an Unbound army and they took all HQ’s and you get the “kill a Fast Attack” objective…that just stinks.
I know players already have tons of house rules in place but I’d like something actually in the rulebook to make it part of the game. Or at least some type of discard mechanic to allow you to use a default objective. So if you draw a card you can’t complete you can discard it to get a VP for destroying an enemy unit that round.
Unbound is in a bad place right now. I’m sure there are those folks out there that can’t stand the idea of Unbound Armies to begin with – I know how you feel, I was once just like you. But with the proliferation of Formations and Detachments, Unbound doesn’t seem all that scary anymore. Unbound isn’t helping to get new players on the tabletop – it’s been replaced by a better product line more so than a rules change. Unbound Armies are also becoming less and less “fluffy” compared to Formations. Which, to me, is also strange but that’s how the game is shifting.
Maybe Games Workshop just needs to kill Unbound and be done with it. Maybe in the next edition they will do something to make Unbound useful again. But for now Unbound has a problem – There is no point to play Unbound anymore.
What do you think? Is Unbound on life support and just needs to have the plug pulled or can it be revived?