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40K: Too Much Balance Is Terrible For The Game

6 Minute Read
Nov 16 2017

Despite asking for it, players would hate to have a truly balanced game.

Balance. The Holy Grail of game design. That elusive, ephemeral, aspect of games that everyone asks for but can’t really define. Like certain types of art work, you know it when you see it, but otherwise struggle to put it in words. It’s something players are always asking for, but I suspect don’t really want. In fact, too much balance would be bad for the game. Lets talk about why this is.

The Quest For Balance

The English have been searching for this grail for a looong time

Look at pretty much any discussion on the game and you will see people talking about balance. It’s most likely the single most discussed topic in gaming. This unit is over powered, this army is under powered. Shooting is too good, Lords of War are broken. There are a thousand thousand subtopics dealing with balance that people love to debate endlessly.

8th Edition does have balance.

When talking about 8th edition 40K in particular one thing you hear a lot is that this is: “the most balanced edition of the game.” This can also be phrased as a complaint from some: “I thought this was supposed to be the most balanced edition of the game.” Players constantly profess their wishes for balance. And yet, no one really seems to know what balance is, nor would they really like it if they got it. To illustrate this lets look at two types of balance games can use.


Perfect Balance

Sigh, another game I get tabled in by turn 3 

 A perfectly balanced game would be one where everything is perfectly equal. The only advantage would be player skill, and maybe luck (depending on how you define balance.) Checkers is a sterling example of a pretty much perfectly balanced game. Every piece is the same and both sides have the same number and advantages. The only real imbalance is that one player gets to go first. And yet its clear that checkers isn’t the kind of game 40K players want. If it was we would see hordes of players abandoning their armies to buy checkers boards. Its clear this isn’t the kind of balance players want.

Perfect Army Balance

Dear Medieval Europe, queen op plz nerf.

Another option is to go for perfectly balanced armies. Chess is a good example of this. While all pieces are not balanced, a queen is better than a pawn, each army is equally balanced against the other. Neither side comes to the game with an advantage (again aside from going first), nor can they do anything pre-game to gain an advantage. Now 40K does have its own version of this: Mirror Match Games. In a mirror match both players take the exact same list. There are even tournaments based around this idea. However, while they do exist, they are pretty rare and not very popular.  Nor again are lots of players choosing the play chess over 40K. Perfect army Balance is then also not the balance 40K players want. They could have it if they wished, but ultimately reject it.



Someday my pretties, some day. 

So if players don’t want all units to be equal, or all armies to be the same, what do they want? Well, the short answer is for things to be viably. We want things to have a point, and for taking them to be, maybe not the best choice, but also not a negative. In general many players aren’t asking for each army to have the same chance of winning a game or event, but to have A chance. We don’t necessarily need to see an exactly equal spread of factions choices at events, but we don’t want to see one faction be 34x as popular a choice. Players aren’t asking for Vespids to be as good as Guilliman, they just want to not feel like an idiot for taking them.

Players Want To Find The Best Thing

Don’t you try to tell me that the wind in your hair is just as good an answer. 

List building is a HUGE part of 40K. For many players its a big draw to the game. The ability to customize your army, refine it and design a power force is for many a key part of the game. And it’s a part where players ask for but really don’t want balance. In a perfectly balanced game, were everything was equally good, a player could basically pick a list at random and have it be just as good as the list you slaved over for weeks perfecting. I don’t think is want most players want.

Players want to be rewarded for finding good strategies, for building a good list.

Players want a certain amount of imbalance in the game so that they can find the best units, combos and list.

Too much balance kills a chance to build a better list than someone. It also kills the meta. Outside of certain tactics being in vogue or popular, games like checkers don’t have what we would recognize as a meta. With everything being so balanced there aren’t options, there’s nothing to react too. There is also no crazy combos, no hidden tricks we can find. Balance makes the games blander, less interesting.

Some Players Want To Be The Underdog


No, not that underdog…

As much as most players love winning, players also love and want a challenge. Taking an under-powered army or building a force around an under-powered unit can be a rewarding challenge. Playing as either an underdog with a worse list than your enemy or finding a way to use a bad unit in a tricky way are things many players love to do. These players embrace the imbalance in the game to test and improve their skills. With too much balance there can never be an underdog. There can never be the reward of winning an uphill fight.

Final Thoughts


Admittedly Eldar players have some odd ideas of balance.

At the end of the day 40K is too big a game and too complex to ever be balanced. Ultimately players of the game not only accept a certain amount of unbalance but want it.  While balanced games exists, and balanced modes of playing 40K can be found, players for the most part reject them. Imbalance lends a certain level of spice to the game and showcases player skill in different areas of the game, like list building. Still, while imbalance is actually a healthy part of the game, some balance is needed. There is, you might say, a balance to how much balance is needed. While not all armies need to be balanced, all factions, and at least the vast majority of units should be viable in some way.

In addition while players want to be rewarded by finding the best combos and lists, they also don’t want a game so unbalanced that only one list, or type of list can win. Players enjoy the challenge of making the best of an unbalanced game. Separating the bad units from the good is part of the game. Most players asking for balance don’t want total balance, just more. Ultimately, whether they vocalize it our not they want a level of imbalance in order to showcase their own skills. This is ultimately a part of the draw of 40K and has been since day one. Too much balance would in fact be bad for the game. Let’s hope that even while improving the game, they can keep just enough imbalance – to keep us eternally coming back for more.

So folks, how do you define balance, and how much do you really want in 40K? Let us know, down in the comments! 


Author: Abe Apfel
  • Shadow War & Necromunda Cross-play