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40K Deep Thought: The State of the Grimdark

6 Minute Read
Aug 2 2015


Keep your hands and d6s inside the ride at all times…  Sudden drop ahead.

A matter of  Balance

In  one  of  my  past articles, I said that  I didn’t even trust GW to pull off a  pay-to-win design for their games; if that was the case, recent models like Warpsmisths, Gorkanauts, Warp Talons, Dark Talons and Haemonculi would be top-tier  instead of sad  jokes. Well, it seems like someone there is  learning, or  at  least stumbling closer to that general direction.

It’s not a  hard math to consider, when you think of  it. Space Marine players are the ones who buy the most stuff, so let’s make more and better stuff for them to buy. At first  it was stuff like Centurions, IG and Inquisitor allies, then Imperial Knights. After those, it seems, the dam broke, but rather than putting  out  models, which cost a lot of money to make, formations became the new thing to hype. Buy 2-6 more of X, Y or  Z than you normally would, and you get these rules. Some amazing, some crappy, some merely adequate. We’ll churn them out by the bucketload and  some will stick and bring in cash. Heck, just fill out this formation and we’ll throw in the transports for free, since they cost  cheap in  points but dear  in cash!

Doesn’t matter if Kharn’s  Butcherhorde costs  900+ points of  lackluster stuff for awful rules and the Canoptek harvest costs far less  points worth of great stuff that then becomes amazing. Doesn’t matter if  Imperials, Eldar and Tau currently have more and better big beasts than Orks, Tyranyds and Chaos, the guys who, you  know, are all about unleashing cataclysmic monsters. And don’t even get me started about the glorious, giglging insanity that is the new Skyhammer Annihilation Formation.

It’s not all strictly about marketing to the eager  pockets  of  Marine/Imperial players, of course. Eldar and Necrons are there to prove that there’s enough recklessness to go around the roster. But when you rush a  new edition, then rush Space Marines, Dark Angels and who knows what other codexes, one  starts to notice certain…trends.

The Cart and the Horse

A this  point, I’m not even frustrated with a lack of balance  of the releases. I’m actually worried about the fact that beyond having no balance or schedule or communication, it’s now a game that makes no sense.

I asked a friend  of  mine who has a ton of armies and  plays tournaments a  lot what was the  main weakness  of  the new Necrons (which he also plays). We  basically  just drew blank stares at each other trying to reach any answer. Speed? They  have  it i spades, being able to place troops almost anywhere  on the board within the turn. Durability? Holy crap, yes. Firepower? The best in the  game before Eldar brought the D to the  masses. Melee, the old stumbling block of the skullbots? Even if  it wasn’t mostly underpowered  in this edition, Wraiths, pimped-out overlords and even the  once-bland Flayed  Ones can more than handle wrecking stuff.  Flyers?  Yup. Anti-air? Yup. Anti-armor? Basically the whole army.

Turning that around, we started pondering what Dark Eldar  had that was strong and/or  unique to them. Speed?  Eldar, Tau, Necrons and even Harlequins do it better. Firepower? They  have nothing past 36  inches and what lances they do have, regular Eldar do better and more reliably. Melee? Holy crap, no. Air power? Their flyers are stunningly mediocre. Durability? This army will have half of its troops being  killed by their  own transports exploding on a good day, and by the time your Power from Pain amounts to anything you’ll have almost nothing  left on the board. Anti-air? Nothing.  Basically, they have  poison, and against T3 infantry that’s actually a negative. Sure, it’s good for T6+ monsters and such, but for those the armies that are actually good have stronger weapons that also negate tons of saves (Grav-stuff, D-weaponry, etc).


The Merit of Consistency

I could actually deal with a system in which all factions/supplements were crazy and murderously strong. Likewise, I am fine with games where everything  is  mostly similar and the differences  amount to some  tactics and gear to orient how you  play. But doing both in this manic-depressive rollercoaster is disheartening. Codex A will be bland, Codex B will be  game-breaking, Codex C will be bolter fodder, Codex D then comes along and  makes B look like a bunch of  anemic grots.


Granted, some rollercoasters are more fun than others.


It’s not so much a case  of favoritism as a case of knowing who your meal ticket  is. Marine/Imperial books and  models have a  larger customer base, so they are  likely to get  more attention (Never mind that when other  lines are  paid  more attention to, like the Dark Eldar revamp of  5th edition, their sales actually  increase).  Every Sisters  of Battle  player could quit the game and Games Workshop would  likely lose zero seconds of sound sleep; 10% of Space Marine  players putting their armies up on eBay and going to play Bolt Action is a five-alarm catastrophe.

So we’re seeing a two-tier system of releases  taking shape. Space Marines, IG and Knights are  likely never going to see a book that is less than good. As for the rest, it’s a crap shoot; some stuff will be great, some will be abysmal, most will be passable/mediocre.  It will just not receive the  same  level of attention.

Careful what you Wish For

The worst  part  of  it  is that I feel I asked for this. While I was waiting  the  5-12 years  it took for codexes to be updated back in 5th, I’d  often tell my friends about how  cool it would be  if Games Workshop had a  more active release schedule, gave supplements  more  importance, and so on. Books for Iron Warriors, Night Lords, Harlequins, the Mechanicum, Speed Freaks. And  of course, I got what I wanted, to my current regret.

Of course, that’s just the way things are  meant to be, as far as some  players are concerned. It’s not a competitive  game, forge the  narrative, we’re just mad because our codex  is not broken anymore, this crap army ranked 3rd at DerpCon, etc. There are a thousand arguments and we’ve all seen them.

And if you’re  having fun with the status quo, I can’t fault you. I’ll say this, however. My gaming group has some very accomplished  players, who’ll travel a  long way to attend a tournament and  put  lots  of care  in  making their armies and  painting them. One such player has been winning pretty much every 40k tournament he comes across for a while. Our schedules used to match, so we  played each other  often. Every time he bought his beloved Dark Angels to bear,  he’d lose. He tried tons  of variations, Deathwing, Ravenwing, Doublewing, you  name  it. Whenever he’d bring something else,  he’d nearly wipe me off the board.


That upsets me. The deciding factor for  victory or defeat should not be which army you  packed before  leaving home. And nothing is more of a joykiller for me than feeling that I wasn’t even the one responsible for  my own victories. Its  half a step above  just building a pretty diorama, then flipping a coin to determine who won that battle in the fluff. And  barely a step above bringing your army  men to a friend’s house and smashing them together making  pew-pew noises.

As much as we  like to think that  path will lead to the company’s downfall, these things  happen slow (until they happen fast, that  is). Wargamers  might  actually give  Apple cultists a run for their  money when it comes to brand loyalty. For all of their problems, Games Workshop does good enough models and retains a strong enough brand that  it will take quite a few bad screwups in a row to really put them in emergency mode. I’m not saying  it cannot  happen; there are   other companies  making gains with cool products, great communication with their customers, and  just  putting  out  rules and army builders out for free online. But the power of brand is a hell of a thing.

So enjoy it, if your army  is currently on the gravy train. As for the rest, hang on tight, and hope the rollercoaster has more ups and downs for your  favorite plastic dudes.

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