Tabletop: Who’s to Blame for SPAM

From 40K, to Warmachine, X-Wing and more, SPAM is either reviled or accepted – but why the difference?

We’ve all heard the arguments about “cheesy lists” and spamtastic builds. It comes and goes over the years as spam rises and falls like the tides.

But today I want to step back and ask some fundamental questions:

Is Spam inherently bad?

Why do some games accept it while other struggle?

Is is the game’s fault or the players?

Let’s take these in turn with examples:

Is Spam Inherently Bad?

That’s a tough one and it seems to depend on who you ask and what game and genre you are talking about.

I have a feeling the real culprit isn’t spam itself but the overall fear of change within a game system.  If a game was designed from the get-go to support large number of identical units (say you are playing Napoleonics), no one cares.

Little known fact: Napoleon was soundly defeated with a spammy army.

 

It is when a game previously used a variety of units and NOW allows lots of spam that folks freak out.

 

Come at me Cyngar!

 

Why Do Some Games Accept it While Other Struggle?

Again it’s difficult to explain the difference, but the difference is there.  For example, 40K has certain unwritten rule of exactly how many of a unit constitutes a spammy list.  If your 2000pt Marine list has 3 Tactical squads in Rhinos, no one will bat an eye – but if you show up with 4 Stormravens – you’re asking for it.

Warmachine Mk3 is wrestling with spam as the new edition is allowing builds with large potential for Warjack spam, something not seen in earlier editions.

While in X-wing, you can show-up with a TIE swarm of Howlrunner and as many Academy pilots as you can jam into your squadron and no one will care at all.

We fly TIES – spam is what we do!

Who’s at Fault: The Players or The Game?

I think this is really a chicken and egg argument.  I would argue that the only time the rules can be faulted is if the spam is unintentional and the manufacturer has to FAQ/errata the rules to keep it in check. That is a clear case of unintended consequences.

In all other cases, I think spam is clearly in the realm of the playerbase and it is up to them to decide what level of spam is acceptable.

Again, I think games face the combination of rules change and genre in this case.  If a genre supports hordes of identical units and the game has always allowed it – spam tends to not be seen as a negative.  If the game previously did not allow spam and the genre makes no strong case for it – players tend to freak out when it arrives.

40K is an interesting example as it originally grow out of a very small model-count anything-goes skirmish game and has steadily grown in model-count over the years. At the other end of the scale is X-Wing which supports swarm lists often seen on the silver screen since it’s inception – and the players completely accept it.

 

~What do you consider “spam” and why? Also how does your definition change from game to game?

 

  • gordonshumway

    Oh boy, this tired old gem again.

  • ILikeToColourRed

    its only an issue when it leads to rock-paper-scissors
    tie spam doesnt need a list specifically made to counter it, some forms of spam do

    personally, I don’t care about spam – a list consisting of nothing but berzerkers is fun

    i’ve run lists of mostly spawn and others of mostly cultists – are they spammy? sure – but neither unit is especially hard to deal with

  • Heinz Fiction

    At least in 40k the problem is not that you spam something but that you spam something which is overpowered. This game historically always had the problem that it is very poorly balanced and spam lists usually take full advantage of this.

    • Jaime Corona

      That. The problem isn’t spam per se, the problem is to spam the best without caring about anything else. I’m sure no one would care if I spam Kroots.

      • Iconoc1ast

        Or if i spammed guardsmen….

        • Jabberwokk

          Rippers. Rippers everywhere.

          • Iconoc1ast

            Yeeeeeaaaaaaauuuus!!!!

    • Arcangelo Daniaux

      He doesn’t always had the problem. Remember the time were Death Company was limited to 0-1 maybe ?

  • David

    So in otherwords your answers are

    Spam isn’t inherently bad
    It’s only a problem if designers didn’t intend it

    GW rules writers clearly intended spam or else they wouldn’t have made the 6 heavy support detatchment and told you that you could take multiples

    Therefore the problem is many dinosaur’s stuck in the dark days of single CAD trying to tell other people how to enjoy the new game

    I like your premise and conclusion but feel your article could criticise fluff players more directly as some may not get it

    • ZeeLobby

      I mean the real simple answer is spam is financially beneficial for any company. So rather than do anything to prevent spam, they will instead attempt to curtail it’s effects. Even better, if they can make broken spam, and then fix it. Then you generate those sales, while eventually looking like a hero.

      Personally I’d love more systems with 0-1/0-2 restrictions. It makes the game a lot more interesting, both in list building, and on the table. The downside is that you can no longer sell 5 Imperial Knights to someone.

  • ZeeLobby

    Spam is only bad when it creates a question that a single faction can’t possibly answer. When this happens it is 100% the designers fault. Designers can do all kinds of things to promote non-spam lists, but it isn’t inherently a bad thing, and in some cases is actually fluffy.

    My favorite example of bad designer made spam is Necron Fliers at the start of 6th. The majority of other factions had absolutely no answer to it, and it just ran tables. Eventually factions got the required tools, and it was easier to combat, but those periods in a game system should never exist. It’s a negative play experience when no matter what you do you can’t interact with your opponent in any meaningful way.

  • SilentPony

    Spam is only bad when its being played against another human. If someone wants to spam a bunch of stormravens in the privacy of their own bedroom, no issues. Its only when they go outside and try that with other people that issues arrive.
    Good rule of thumb for Spam: Do whatever you want, just don’t get any on the tables.

    • Iconoc1ast

      XD

    • Snord

      Deep. Very deep.

  • Paul Raymond

    The only Spam lists I really hate are ones that break immersion. I’m a 40k player and I usually don’t look at an army from a mechanics point, I have a plan and I use the rules to make it happen. It’s when the spam breaks that, like with character spam and individual model units that the immersion breaks down and I have to fight between the RaW and tactics.
    I’d like it if local meta’s policed themselves, such as not allowing the Supreme Command Det in the above or limiting the number of detachments.

    • David

      Or about trying the impossible and shock horror letting people play want they want to play without moaning at them

      • ZeeLobby

        I’ve never met a casual player who enjoys losing continuously forever…

        • David

          You have clearly never played a Nids player in 7th they do exist

          • ZeeLobby

            I knew several, but most just shelved or sold their armies and moved on to other things. That’s why some restrictions are good. If it becomes like our local meta where it’s all SMs and Eldar, it gets to be a very boring game. I just wish GW understood these things better.

          • Red_Five_Standing_By

            I don’t think they are really aware of it since the way they play and the way we in America play is just so different.

          • Khelban Blackstaff

            Agreed. They come from a time of RPG’s and historical simulations. Which creates a more diverse and fun game, if everyone is onboard. Here in America, the land of card flopping games. If you don’t win fast and table your opponent in the first turn, you need to “L2P newb”.

            It would be nice to have an enjoyable movie/book gaming experience. Where both people have fun creating a battle. Instead of facing the “I win” button folks. Ahh, to dream, ehh?

          • ZeeLobby

            Hmm. This could very well be true. AoS seems to be a huge hit in the UK, while it’s very slow here, at least where I am.

  • DoctorBored

    This argument really only matters in a select few situations.

    It doesn’t matter when you have a clear discussion of the games you want to play with your local gaming group. If THAT GUY brings his 4 Stormravens or 400 Conscripts, then it’s up to you if you want to play him or not. If the only army that THAT GUY has is Tie Fighter spam, it’s up to you if you want to take it on with your Fat Han.

    In tournament settings, this argument doesn’t matter either. You either win or lose. If you didn’t prepare for someone’s spam, that’s your loss, welcome to the game. If you bring the spam and win, so be it, you won, congratulations. That’s as cut and dry as tournaments get, unless there are ‘comp’ rules, but even then there’s people that work around those too.

    The only time that spam matters is in theory. It only matters to people that aren’t playing in those tournaments or that foolishly let their friend bring the cheese and spam and lost against it brutally and are wondering how best to combat it. It only matters to stir up the salt in a community but little else.

    Clear communication with your opponent and avoiding tournament settings will see you avoid almost all cheese and spam entirely.

  • I_am_Alpharius

    How come blame has to lie with gamers OR the rules? Evidently it is a product of BOTH.

    Make a game that clearly has strong units and is open to having lots of those units; then gamers will soon exploit it. Make a game that has rules that are exploitable and gamers will soon seek to make that rule work for them. When it comes to gamers, people’s natural tendency to be the best and win will drive them to whatever to win – no matter how well written/balanced a set of rules is; these players will find away to break it and gain an advantage.

  • rtheom

    Spam is one of those things that’s mostly unfun to play against because you’re just getting pounded again and again by the exact same thing. After the 7th time that your opponent shoots you with Grav Cannons and it’s practically the same result every time (another 15 gaunts dead), you just give up mentally and start pulling models off the table before he even rolls, knowing that you’re guaranteed to suffer the exact same painful results as last time. And as others have said, it really only becomes unfun when it’s destroying you, but the fact that it is spam makes it A LOT easier for you to pinpoint your ire. When I’m rocked by a diverse list, I begin to question if my tactics were way off. When I’m rocked by a spam list, I just start blaming the Grav and thinking “If I had taken an all grav army, then I’d be destroying you too.” which may not be the actual truth, but it’s far easier to come to that conclusion.

    • euansmith

      “Give me a squadron of Spitfires!”

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hjz8pAGRvsg

      • Simon Chatterley

        I was thinking similar. Nobody wrote a moaning newspaper article complaining that Rommel was spamming tanks and not playing the war in the spirit of desert warfare….

        No they found a way to beat him…

        Sometimes I think people forget we play Wargames….

        • Nwttp

          “Games” is the key word.

          Germans weren’t using some sort of unfair alien metal. When there’s literally no way to beat an op army with one of yours, then there’s no wining way to find… ain’t no parallels to find there

        • Snord

          That’s a terrible comparison, but one which is continually made. For a start, historical commanders did complain about the historical equivalent of ‘spamming’ – the Germans in particular felt that it wasn’t fair that the Allies had such an enormous material superiority over them. But more importantly, we’re talking about a game, in which, to be enjoyable, the two players expect to begin with reasonably equal prospects of winning (that’s the “game” part of “wargame”). Then, in theory, the more skillful player should prevail. There is also a big luck component. The problem with spam lists is that they involve trying to reduce the importance of both skill and luck. Essentially, the spammer wants to rig the deck as much as possible.

          • euansmith

            Yep, there is a difference between taking several of the same unit, and spamming, isn’t there.

            When I take Four Tac Squads, that is a realistic force; when Goatboy takes Four Murder Lords with matching Murder Maces, riding Murder Beasts with the Icon of Murder and a side order of Murder-Death-Kill, because it is an effective abuse of the points, that is Spam. 😉

        • euansmith

          I think that it is a bit different when someone turns up with some broken nightmare of a list. Hitler might have wished for a War Winning Weapon; but he only got over engineered tanks and a few fast movers that failed against cheap horde armies.

          • Jabberwokk

            Hitler had many war ending weapons. He was to incompetent and idealistic to see them such as the Me-262.

            WW2 was won with spam armies.

            Now that makes them neither ‘good’ or ‘bad’ but war is WAAC. The winner lives the loser dies. If tactics are successful their they will be successful here.

            Anyone who has an issues with that and wants to puss out of the argument by resolving to “but muh gamez” well then, may i recommend Hungry Hungry Hippos, Uno, or Monopoly may be more you speed.

          • euansmith

            I think that Wargames (especially something as patently ridiculous as 40k) are games first and a simulation of warfare second; Harpoon it definitely isn’t. As such, any contest should contain an element of game balance.

            There shouldn’t be an option to turn up with something to which the opponent has no counter. At that point it stops been a game and a Bullying Simulation. 😉

            Whether that control comes from the rules or the players is open to discussion; though I think it is important for the game designers to do all they can to help out.

          • Jabberwokk

            More like you beat the game. But if that ever happened the game would be over. Can’t have that now can we? 😀

  • John Garside

    Stupid article reasoning, if a guy brings 3 tactical squads or 6 tie fighters, he is playing within reason and fluff, And an ingame realistic force. Bringing 4 stormravens is being a d*%*k to win, and ignoring in game fluff, that’s why people hate it.

  • I find its really using the wrong intent of the word. Spam means “duplication”. Duplication is not something people care about by itself.

    As stated in the article, duplicating troop choices is fine. Thats what is expected in the narrative version of the army… a lot of the troop choice.

    Duplication of high powered units is min/maxing. The real issue people have I feel isn’t with spam. Its with min/maxing.

    • Jabberwokk

      Agreed. Someone was saying that 6 tac squads was fluffy but taking 4 stormravens was not. Why? Are you saying that in all of the 40k galaxy that there wasn’t a world that had 4 stormravens on it? We see fighter squadrons in history as a fairly established and proven function of war fighting why is this unfluffy? Because it has nothing to do with the fluff and everything to do with I personally don’t like how you personally do things so let me fabricate excuse X and why you should move from your position and not me.

      Fortunately I play Nids. The Hivemind has no time for silly human hubris or idealism. We’re hungry and were going to do what it takes to eat. We spam everything. The strong evolve and the weak perish. How’s that for fluff?

      • Yeah – I can pretty much justify any force narratively. Thats why when someone says stormraven spam or whatever-spam is not fluffy, you can point out that they are incorrect because the stories are full of that kind of thing.

        Their real complaint is that there are all these cool models in the game that you never see because they aren’t optimal. Which is a shame…

        • Jabberwokk

          Blood ravens working with Necrons. Fluff.

          Agreed on all counts.

  • Who’s to blame for spam? Goatboy!

    • kobalt60

      /thread

  • sniperjack

    Fact check please: Napoleon was beaten by a multinational force consisting not only by infantry or guns. They had cavalry too. And he was beaten by his overconfidence. Actually he had more guns. Oh and dont ferget the pirates 😉

    • Nwttp

      Three types isn’t exactly a Smörgåsbord, and he had a fair amount less troops.

  • AnomanderRake

    Spam is a consequence of hard rock-paper-scissors in unit design. If you bring an all-comers list with weapons designed to deal with a wide range of targets and someone else brings all one type of target it doesn’t matter what it is, you don’t have the stuff to deal with it.

    It’s more of an issue in GW games than most because the points-efficiency of units varies more widely and there aren’t any built-in controls to spam, whereas in X-Wing there isn’t really an optimal spot on the quantity/quality graph (and the more ships you have the more difficult it is to get them all to bear on one target), and in Warmachine the Focus/Fury mechanic puts some limits on how effective a spam list can be (and the melee focus and the positioning game make warjack-spam relatively easy to stall/get out of position).

    • Damon Sherman

      yeah, 40k isn’t the deepest wargame out there. So, in that case there isn’t any incentive to NOT spam certain units.

      Like in Warmachine, there are the hard counters to any strategy. Running a dude-spam list, all it takes is a good Fiona or Fiora player to just… wreck you hard.

      But, even if there was a good balance system, what makes it frustrating is that 40k becomes one of the most expensive ways to play Paper-Rock-Scissors.

  • euansmith

    The answer to the headline is, “Hormel Foods Corporation”. Next question.

  • Just a player

    I love spam, it makes your army look like an army. Highlander armies are kinda odd looking. The exception to this are armies that don’t look like an army even if you spam stuff, but this is usually the result of poor balance and a tournament mindset, not the result of spamming.

  • Stuckinabox

    You are wrong in literally every aspect, spam is the fault of the spammer, any game let’s you take multiples, but it’s up to you to not be a dick and spam units, no game “Accepts” it, it’s just how easy it is to spam in some games vs others. To try to justify as a hate the game not the player mentality is a joke, hate the player, ostrasize the player, that’s the only way to show them that isn’t acceptable, if you tolerate it, it will just keep happening, and eventually it becomes the norm and ruins the game

    • Simon Chatterley

      Get over yourself

    • euansmith

      Mantic’s Kings of War has a neat system to make players bring something vaguely like a “proper” army. You need to take rank and file units to unlock slots for heroes, monsters, warmachines, and even small, elite-ish units.

  • dave long island

    Anti-Spam-ites!… lol

  • NNextremNN

    For me the question is does this spam makes sense?
    Stormraven spam in a game mainly made for ground combat NO!
    Assassin spam in a game mainly made for armies NO!
    Conscript spam well it fits the story and game so yes.
    If you create a narrative about a flyer or character fight that I think even the first two things are ok but then both players or the mission should decide this.

    Is it the game or the players fault?
    Well I think its not the players job to fix a game designers mistakes so I would blame the game. Players only do what they can do to win. Yes players can tone down there lists for a more fun game for everyone but you can’t expect that to happen in a tournament.

  • Jim Cook

    “On dit que Dieu est toujours pour les gros bataillons.”
    -Voltaire, probably

    • Jim Cook

      2×20 CSM and 2×14 Plague Marines come directly to mind, though I admit my bias

    • euansmith

      “I like big battalions and I can not lie.”
      -Voltaire, probably not 😉

  • ReveredChaplainDrake

    Who still remembers how GW famously said they didn’t think anybody would take two Lashprinces? That was an incredibly informative statement for its time.

    Speaking of Lashprinces, that’s another issue with spam. Occasionally, a unit will be capable of something far beyond anything any other unit can do, and that can get a unit spammed regardless of its cost. Unlike in games like Warmachine and Malifaux, where entire units can be specialized in these placement tricks, moving your opponent’s models around in 40k was (and I think still is) a shenanigan that nobody else could do. If other factions had this ability, it probably would’ve been better received.

    Speaking of Lash, psychic countering also greatly separated the haves (especially Space Wolves) from the have-nots (especially Orks). The introduction of flyers to 40k told a similar story, where IG Vendettas and Necron Night Scythes towered over other flyers because literally nobody else had the Skyfire guns that they were supposed to have to counter this.