A huge variety of units is a big draw for 40K, but is too many units weakening the game?
Warhammer 40K has a huge verity of units. The Space Marine Codex alone has has by my count 84 units in its. And thats one single Codex out of many. While variety is a draw of the game, and a boon for hobbyists, it may actually hurt the game part of 40K. Lets take a minute and talk about why that could be.
A Ton Of Units
40K has an absolute ton of units in it. Even if you discount units that are repeated across Codecies (such as the various Space Marine books) there are still 100s of units. While I don’t have a solid count, once you add in Forgeworld its got to be over 1000 datasheets. As I said above the Space Marine Codex alone has 84. I don’t know if its got the most units out of any game (you’d be surprised at how many units a game like Flames Of War has) but its up there. Anyway you cut it 40K has a ton of units, and it’s growing.
The last few years have seen a pretty rapid growth in the number of units in 40K. 7th Edition saw the introduction of a number of new “mini-dexs”, small new army lists with models. 8th Edition has also seen a huge increase in the number of data sheets for a couple of reason. The introduction of a few new Codices, Custodes and Death Guard added a lot of units. You’ve also got GW working to update both 30K models and some AoS models for 40K, see the Thousand Sons book. Of course the addition of Primaris Marines added a whole ton of new units.
In addition the way they do characters and data sheets in 8th added a lot of units. What once was a single entry for a Space Marine Captain, who could then chose to take Terminator Armor, a Jump Pack, or A Bike, is now 4 separate data sheets. Other units that had included a mix of characters were broken up. An old AM Command Squad, could have a Company Commander, the Command Squad, and options to add a number of advisers to the squad all in one data sheet. Now this is something like 5-6 separate data sheets. This growth shows no signs of slowing either.
All of This Is Hard To Keep Track Of
One of the results of having just so many units is that they are pretty much impossible to keep track of. Units simply get forgotten and go unused. I’ve been playing 40K for close to 20 years, and even I can’t tell you all the units in the current Space Marine Codex, I’ll have forgotten some. And don’t even get me started on Forgewold.
People Want A Lot Of Units
Now don’t get me wrong, having lots of units has its upside. It allows 40K to have a lot of diversity and flavor. Almost anyone can find a model they like somewhere in 40K. It also allows for an almost unlimited number of army builds, each one vastly different. Depth and flavor are a huge part of the draw of 40K. Being able to represent so many different things on the table top is great. Emotionally I love having a huge number of units to pick through.
Lots of Units Is Great For the Hobby
In particular the huge number of units and models is great for the hobby. From a pure hobby stand point you cannot have too many units or models. Verity and choice make the hobby great. Moreover being able to represent even minor parts of the background fluff on a the tabletop or in your model collection is great. More choice is always going to help the hobby.
So Many Units Hurts the Game
The same is not however true from a pure gameplay standpoint. Having so many units makes it impossible to actually balance the game. It also means many units fill the same or similar roles. Due to this realistically a relatively small percentage of units actually see play. Even in casual play there are units that almost never make it on the tabletop (Vespids). In competitive play, maybe 10% of all units see regular use. There are just way too many units for balance or to make viable. From a pure gameplay standpoint the game would be better with a much smaller number of better balanced units. We need more lean and mean books like the Custodes, and less bloated ones like the Space Marines.
Lack Of Updates
The huge number of units, combined with GWs want/need to always add more units also makes it very hard for older units or models to get updated. It has after all taken 20 years to get a new Ork Warbuggy, and huge swaths of the Craftworld Eldar line, to name just one, are ancient. And yet as we get more and more units added to the game, the chance that older units will get updated grows slimmer. Again, a smaller, leaner game would allow for more regular updates of models and balance.
We’ve Lost The Models Just For Fun
I think part of the issue I’ve seen is the transition of Forge World from hobby to power gaming. Back in the day when Forge World units weren’t legal in most games they where really aimed at hobbyists. You could have a huge bloat of extra units because they didn’t really impact that game at all, but they did benefit the hobby. However now that pretty much all Forge World units and model had 40K rules and are legal in all events, that divide is no longer there. They now impact the game, a lot.
Honestly I don’t think there is a right or wrong here. Ultimately a huge number of units hurts the game but helps the hobby. If you lean towards caring more about one aspect more you’ll probably support either more or less units. While I personally wouldn’t mind some trimming of fat, I also lament the slow phasing out of things like Rough Riders. I guess at some point you just have to let go. I think that the huge number of units that never see play is a bad thing for the game, hopefully we can find a way to get them off the dusty shelves and seeing more play.
Let us know if you think 40K has too many units, or if it needs more, down in the comments!