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40K: Balance Still A Myth Five Months Into 8th

5 Minute Read
Nov 14 2017


As I listen, read, and play, I realize that balance is, and always will be, Don Quixote tilting at windmills.

So 8th was supposed to make the concept of balance much closer to a reality.  Points, revised points, codices, new revised units, detachments, the death of formations.  All of these, and other features of the new model game were supposed to make things more balanced.  Maybe I’m missing something, but I’m not seeing it.

The game is more streamlined for sure.  At least for me, turns seem to flow more easily and the game progresses at a more even pace.  I believe the rule set is easier for newcomers as well.  It sure ain’t the four page foundation of Sigmar, but it sure as hell beats 18 pages of Universal Special Rules alone.  The introduction of detachments has also, IMO, made for a more reasonable framework in which to organize our models.  The introduction of both Power Levels and Open War have motivated me to get in over 15 games since June…about as many as I played in the previous two years!  Pick the number of points, pick a few cards out of a deck, and go!  List building is no longer a chore.  I have a set of datacards to chose from and clearly indicated power levels.  50, 75, 100, whatever works for both players.  Obviously, I am not a pitched battle guy in terms of building lists based on points, and I still thoroughly enjoy the game.

What’s the Problem?

So Stormy, what’s up with beating up on the concept of balance?  Despite all the positive changes to the game, we still have the reality that equal points does not translate to equally effective/efficient units.  I am not going to go into the myriad of examples that most 40K enthusiasts can easily list at a moments notice.  The reality is that despite the intensive playtesting that was done, there will always be those who either feel it is there calling to break a ruleset or to optimize their list building.  No consideration of thematic lists, the lore, balanced force org usage, e.g.  Make a list that will destroy the opponent, on turn one if possible, and that’s that.  Manipulation of detachments, points efficiency, etc, etc.  Same old unit choices that change the game from interesting to predictable.  Take this Primarch, that Lord of War, this mob, that artillery…you get the idea.

OK, I will state one example of lack of balance.  Let’s take the newest Primarchs, including the rumoured Lion El Jerkson…I mean Johnson.  Magnus, Mortarion, Guilliman and Jerkson.  Magnus is less survivable than any of the other three for starters.  Mortarian can take “grave guard” to act as meat popsicles; very effective ones by the way.  That does not take into account his “Feel No Pain” roll to minimize the effect of mortal wounds.  Guilliman has a number of wounds that allow him to be buried in a flock of ablative wounds.  The rumored Johnson not only has a 2+/3++ save, but again, a number of wounds that allows him to use other models as meat shields.  Magnus has, by comparision, been shot off the board quite regularly since his arrival.  Frankly, I don’t give a rip about comparing points here.  The fact is that they are all Primarchs, and should have an equal chance of survival.


The Problem With Tabling

How many times have we listened to a podcast or people talking post-competitive event, hearing about this or that army tabling someone on Turn 1 or 2?  Seriously?  That’s balanced?!  How is that even fun for the person who gets tabled?!  It is no different than it was in 7th…or any other edition.  And any person who traveled hundreds (or more) of miles, spent money on a hotel and other expenses, and says that getting tabled was fun, is simply not being honest.  I don’t care if I am playing one of the competitive scene greats, or one of my favorite podcasters, getting tabled Turn 1 or 2 is just crap.  Sure, I have more time to drink and socialize…bonus for me.  But I didn’t travel and spend hard earned cash to drink and socialize.  I came to play and game and have a CHANCE of winning.

Hard Realities

I experienced the myth of balance in my first (and only) competitive event at Adepticon last year.  I played in one of the Combat Patrol Tournaments.  Taking the advice of one of the hosts of The Long War podcast, I set my own conditions of victory.  I set my goal to finish in the top 15 (out of 30) and not get tabled.  I ended up finishing 11th, and did not get tabled in any of my four games.  But I saw, first hand, how laughable balance is in the reality of competitive play.  I brought 500 points of Space Marine Scouts, including a couple of Scout Bike squads.  One person had six Necron Wraiths.  Another had an entire list of Eldar Bikes.  Other equally crazy armies were played.  My point here is that everyone had 500pts and the same org chart restrictions.  But frankly, I did not stand a chance in Hell of winning against those six Wraiths.  The only reason I didn’t get tabled is that I was so bloody mobile and was able to stay out of reach for the length of the game.

I am NOT ranting here.  I am merely stating a fact.  To even talk of balance in the game of 40K is pointless.  No amount of point adjustments or rules modifications will be able to keep folks from finding those leverage points in the ruleset that allow for certain combinations of units to dominate a gaming venue.  Moreover, even as the meta shifts after each major event, this only moves the leverage points, it doesn’t eliminate them.  In the end, the thing that really matters is that the folks playing the game enjoy themselves and keep coming back for more.  Open, Narrative or Matched Play…doesn’t matter.  Play your way.  Enjoy the 8th edition…it is a welcome and thoughtful chance to the way we play 40K.   Just don’t look for, or be surprised, when certain lists dominate and any semblance of balance you are seeking is just that mirage in the distance.

~Is balance even possible or desirable in 40K, or is it just a mirage?




Author: Dan Bearss
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