Let’s chat about the danger of too having too many beta rules.
Among the many new features that 8th Edition introduced to 40K is the idea of Beta rules. As far as I know, no prior edition has had a similar concept, or at least if they have they haven’t been used on this scale. While beta rules, in theory, are favorable for the game, they can, when used in excess became a determent to the game. Let’s talk about why.
What Are Beta Rules?
Beta rules are essentially test rules. The idea is that GW can put out a rule they’d like to introduce into the game and allow players to do essentially an open play test. GW can then take the feed back on the rules they’ve received, and either make them permanent or adjust the rule as needed. So far they’ve used beta rules to test out a huge verity of rule types, from rules that only effect certain factions, like the Beta Bolter Rules, to rules that effect the whole game, like the Tactical Restraint Rule, to an entire Codex with Sisters of Battle.
In February’s White Dwarf designer Robin Cruddace talked in detail about their philosophy behind Beta rules. On the surface it does seem like a good idea, you can preview new rules or changes and get feed back. You can also implement new changes, like the Bolter Rule, without having to wait for the release of a new Codex or rule book. In the article Cruddace talks about how GW can roll out new beta rules. He discusses that they’ve been able to put out beta rules in Chapter Approved and the two BIG FAQs, three times a year in essence. However, he also adds that they’ve now decided they can roll out beta rules in White Dwarf and does so right away with the Bolter Rule. So whats the issue here, and why is this potentially a bad thing?
Using Beta Rules Is The Standard
First lets address who is using the Beta rules. The answer is everyone is using them. Most major tournaments use the available Beta rules, Adepticon, for instance, used all the beta rules, in including Bolter Discipline. With effectively all events, big and small, using the Beta rules, they have become the standard for most games. While I obviously can’t speak to every casual game, I would say the vast majority of games use the beta rules. Rather than being used in some games to test out new rules, playing with them has become the standard. They affect pretty much every player.
A Confusion Situation
Because Beta rules are the standard, it effectively means that the rules are changing every time a beta rule is introduced or modified. Take Deep Striking/ Infiltrating. Those rules were changed in the First BIG FAQ, and then Again in the 2nd Big FAQ with Tactical Reserves. It’s like the upcoming BIG FAQ will either confirm the current rule or introduce another tweak. The take away here is that the rule, which has a significant impact on the game, has gone through three versions in less than two years. For players that kind of change can be confusing — especially players who don’t play very often. While 40K players are on the whole a smart bunch, the more versions of a rule they learn the more room there is for confusion and error.
Chasing The Next Rules
I’ve written before about how no one is playing the game right, and beta rules only make that worse. In essence, no one is playing the real 40K; we are all playing some hypothetical future version of the game that keeps changing. We are playing with Beta units and Beta Codexes and Beta rules, which can by its very nature cause effects on quality control. I’ve seen other games do a similar thing and it can get out of hand. As more and more beta stuff comes out players are regularly playing with the test versions and keeping up with the actual rules becomes a chore.
Too Much Change Is Bad
Contrary to what follower of the Tzeentch will tell you, too much change isn’t good. Games need a certain amount of stability to prosper. I’ve touched on this before when talking about the glut of FAQ’s we got early on. Changing the game too much and too often is confusing for players and leads to bloat. It can throw off game balance (one assumes for instance that units that can Deep Strike were balanced based on pre-beta Reserve Unit rules) and driver players away. No one likes buying a unit based on a set of rules that can constantly change. It makes players uncertain and undermines the points of rules.
I know some people out there are most likely rolling their eyes at me right now. After all, haven’t we asked for more transparency and responsiveness from GW? Didn’t we ask for previews of upcoming units and for GW to change broken rules. Aren’t beta rules, like FAQs, a good thing? The answer is that like most things, they are good in moderation. A slice of cake is a wonderful treat, however eating a whole cake every night for a week will cause you some real problems. Likewise FAQ’s are great, when they come out on a regular schedule and you know nothing will change over night. They are not so good when they come out every few weeks and you can never count on your rules for long. The same is also true of beta rules. A few beta rules a year is fine, and lets people have a hand in the game. Too many can muddle the rules and lead the problems I’ve described.
Beta rules in the FAQs and Chapter Approved seems fairly reasonable, given what we saw last year. In the introduction of beta rules in White Dwarfs that has me worried. GW seemed to learn from the early FAQ madness, and even admitted they had been a bit erratic with them. That’s the whole idea of the BIG FAQs. GW decided that major changes to the game should be made through FAQ’s twice a year, which Chapter Approved most doing point changes, and perhaps a beta codex. This was a regular, limited, schedule of changes. Introducing beta rules in White Dwarf threw that out the window. Hopefully GW will use restraint, and so far its been pretty tame. But things could get complicated fast is they start putting more beta rules in White Dwarfs. For now, I remain optimistic.
Let us know what you think of beta rules, down in the comments!