It’s the great “Chicken or Egg” question of Warhammer 8th Edition. Which culprit is the bigger problem: Battle Brothers, Command Points, or Stratagems?
Looking at the results of NOVA and the weekly Best Coast Pairings Competitive List Round-Ups, it’s pretty easy to see a trend start to form. The two most played factions are Imperial Knights and Astra Militarum. Based on the data those two factions (who are both Imperial) show up more than any other and have easily become the new “boogeymen-list” of 8th Edition 40k. That means if you’re going to a competitive event you better have a plan to deal with them in some way.
Now I personally don’t have a problem with these factions being at the top even though I don’t play either. In my mind there will always be a “Top Army” in every edition and trying to fight that is like fighting the tide from rolling in. I don’t even think that the factions are the problem – but it’s ultimately the combination of both that makes them so powerful. The core rules of the game allow this to happen, but which rule is the one that the biggest culprit: Battle Brothers, Command Points, or Stratagems?
It’s Battle Brothers, Right?
Battle Brothers seems to be the most likely culprit on face-value. “If you couldn’t combine the different factions into one army, then this wouldn’t be an issue.” Yes, that is very true. But what’s the root cause – why are people opting to combine those factions together in the first place? If there wasn’t some benefit of doing so, then folks would just make a straight Imperial Knight list or Astra Militarum or Tyranids or [Insert mono-faction here].
Players are combining these factions to give themselves more Command Points. Those Command Points are then used to use Stratagems. So by that train of thought, it’s Stratagems that are the problem then, right? That’s not entirely accurate either – but it’s also not wrong. It’s a perfect mix of additional synergies that are creating a feedback loop that creates this powerhouse effect.
So Do We Need A Nerf To Stratagems?
Stratagems aren’t inherently the problem because they cost a resource to use. They can be powerful abilities and even the core rule book Stratagems are pretty stinking handy. Stratagems can feel a bit like a “Get Out of Jail Free” card for sure as you can use them to help mitigate bad dice and even bad play. While they can be game winners, it’s the fact that they are limited by Command Points that keeps them in check…until you have a way to create more or start with so many it doesn’t really matter anyways.
For example, let’s say you have a 2 CP “Game Winner” Stratagem but it can only be used once per turn. Well if you only have 6 CPs, you can only use that 3 times in a game. But if you start with 12, now you can use that 6 times – which means it could last you the entire game. What if you get back CPs on a 6+? Well, if you’re getting to make that roll for each die, statistically, with 6 CPs you should get 1 back. But with 12, you should get 2 back. While that might not make a huge impact on using you “Game Winner” Stratagem, it does allow you to be a little bit more loose with your CPs. Maybe you use that re-roll Stratagem in hopes of getting it back now.
When the Command Points are a scarce resource, Stratagems are in a good spot. When they become abundant, they suddenly become over powering – that’s not good for the health of the game.
Clearly It’s Command Points That Need A Tweak…?
They DID get a tweak. And that tweak was to add MORE Command Points to the game. Look, Command Points are cool! Everyone likes to spend them on that cool thing your army can do. It’s a resource that has to be managed and it allows you to play a bit of a meta-game of “how can I use the Stratagems in my toolbox to get out of this one” – which adds a lot of depth to the game. Certain armies did need access to MORE Command Points. However, it’s when you get on the extreme end that it really becomes a problem.
Having access to a “cheap” Battalion or Brigade Detachment that you can just slot-in to an army and go isn’t inherently bad. Honestly, it’s a gateway to new army building and collecting. For casual players, it’s great to have that Battalion of Astra Militarum and go “cool, now I can run that Death Watch Patrol with them and have a good army.” You could apply the same logic to a Genestealer Cult/Tyranid force. Or a Chaos Daemon/Death Guard army. But we’re not talking about it that context – we’re looking at this from a competitive angle.
Min-Maxing is a thing players will do. Having that cheap Battalion/Brigade means players can use it to get entirely too much bang for their buck – it’s an unforeseen consequence of boosting the number of Command Points available to armies.
So What’s The Quick Fix?!
There really isn’t one. Could you try and re-write Battle Brothers so that all units across the entire army need to share a Faction Keyword that wasn’t Imperium, Chaos, Aeldari, Ynnari, or Tyranids? Well that would just kill the entire faction system. Could you simply nerf all the “Game Winning” Stratagems into the gound or make them so expensive no one would use them? I suppose, but every army has good Stratagems and how you actually build your army impacts which Stratagems are you good ones. Can we just revert the CP change back to original levels? That’s another possibility, but that also penalizes the armies that DID need a boost and actually hurts them more.
This is a really complicated and ingrained issue with Warhammer 40,000 8th Edition. It’s a complicated feedback loop and it’s not as simple as just removing one link to the chain. This is one of those design challenges that GW is going to have to tackle in some way moving forward. What that change will be, we don’t know – but something will have to give.
What do you think? What’s the REAL culprit and how do you propose to ‘fix’ the issue? Or is everything ‘Working as intended’?