Pimpcron discusses game balance in 40k. Can it be done? Or is it already balanced?
I have watched the article comments for quite some time now. And some of us always complain about game balance; repeatedly. On every article. No matter what the topic is.
How Sesame Street Saved My Marriage By: Sir Joe McBloggerton.
You scan down to find a comment: “GW needs to balance the game or I will quit playing!”
And a reply: “Who is GW? What game are you talking about?”
I too have complained at length about some of the aspects of our game. But what is balance really? And is any game really balanced?
Game balance (in theory) is that both players are on even footing in reference to starting position and resources, and have an equal chance of winning at the end. Games like Checkers and Chess force this situation by giving literally the same army list and deployment to both players. Not taking player ability into account, those are two balanced games (we will discuss this part later). Most board games fall into these categories as well because they force the starting situation. Then over the course of the game, player choices and luck turn the tides in favor of one player of the other(s) and you have a winner.
Well, right there we can strike Warhammer out of the balanced column simply due to the starting position. Yes we have the same deployment area in square inches, but the way we deploy and the terrain on our side immediately make it unbalanced. And yes we start out with the same points, but our choices we take in our list immediately makes it unbalanced too. An army of all Grots has exactly zero chance against an army of Leman Russes in a Kill Points game.
So there, you have it. Warhammer is not inherently balanced. And never has been. I’m sure you all are as shocked as I was when I found this out. I took a week off of work to travel the countryside and really find myself; did some soul searching.
Choice is the Real Enemy
Wargear and unit options are what separate this game from many others. If there were different types of checkers you could take in your list that had different abilities, it would be as “broken” as 40k. And from a game designer’s point of view, the more options you give the players, the less control over total game balance you have. That’s why I laugh when people compare 40k to newer, smaller skirmish games that are coming out via Kickstarter, etc. They claim these new, small-scale games are more balanced. Of course they are more balanced than a 30 year-old game with hundreds of models and special rules and a couple hundred page rulebook. If you have 200 different units and wargear in a game, good luck making sure each of those can handle all the others in every scenario.
When you start out small, you can make sure that everything can somehow damage everything. But then spend 30 years writing, re-writing and revamping rules and adding new factions and tell me how balanced those skirmish games are. So it is the player freedom of choice that we ultimately get angry over. Which is ironic, because the freedom of choice in this game is probably one of the biggest draws for new players. Don’t get me wrong. I’m a big fan of games like Malifuax, Wild West Exodus and Deadzone. But I love the choice in 40k and the large scale of that game compared to the others.
So if the game designers sacrifice their own control over game balance to give us more choice in a huge-scale game, who has to balance it?
Now here is the part where I speak to all of the commenters who say balancing the game is not the players’ responsibility. I agree with you in theory; the players of the game should not be responsible for balancing said game. But as a player, it is your responsibility to give your opponent a good, fun game and not make him dread playing against your bad attitude. Now, your individual opinion of what a “good, fun” game is will vary widely. Some of you want hard hitting strategy, and some want laid back fluffy games. There’s no right or wrong answer here but if your opponent wants a laid back game and you want an intense strategy game, someone is getting butt-hurt.
So this is where the players come in with game balance. If you want a balanced game, you need to talk to each other before the game and find out what kind of game you want to play (hardcore take-what-you-want type or fluffy softcore type). Then make your lists together to make sure both of you know what the other is taking, and that both of you are bringing something that can handle what the other guy is playing.
As an example:
Some players in my gaming group don’t have flyers or skyfire, so they politely request I don’t bring flyers. That’s cool, so I don’t. Or if they want to take a Super Heavy, they just let me know and I will bring something that can handle it. Or if I want to bring an entire Armored Fist army of Guard, I just let them know. We talk it over and have a fairly balanced game.
Also keep in mind that a master 40k player can easily trounce a n00b if he wants to. His knowledge of the n00b’s units and abilities alone will give him a huge edge, not to mention his familiarity with the game rules and his gaming experience. So if they want a balanced game, the master has to put on his kid gloves and take it easy in his list choice and tactics. He should read my article Cheating to Lose: A Guide To Epic Gaming.
The final thing to keep in mind is that this is a dice game. By its very nature, if the Dice God hates you that day then your elite army of ancient warriors has just transformed into a herd of cats. And remember that this is a just a game people. Have fun at it and don’t get too stressed over it. If something gives you a bunch of stress when it’s supposed to be fun, then it’s not worth doing.
So in Summary
Warhammer by nature is not inherently balanced due to player choice and wargear options. Plus the dice randomness, terrain, deployment, etc. just makes things worse. So it is up to the players to make sure they are on fairly even footing to start with and then let strategy and dice rolling decide who wins. It goes without saying that Tournaments are a completely different animal and there should be no mercy there. 😀
So what do think guys? Am I spot on or completely off base?
Want to witness my slow descent into madness first-hand? Check out my blog at www.diceforthedicegod.com