Let’s take a look a the return of formations to Warhammer 40K.
This week Games Workshop has been showing off some rules from the upcoming War Zone Charadon: Act I The Book of Rust. Among the rules shown off are new rules for fielding so called “Armies of Renown”. These rules allow you to field “historical”/fluffy armies, built with certain restrictions, but adding extra rules and options to your force. While not called the same thing they are pretty clearly the next step in the evolution of formations. And they might be broken. Let’s take a look.
Formations first came on the scene way back with the original Apocalypse book. The idea was simple. Take a specific set of units, sometimes with minor options sometimes not, that represents a historical way of fighting in 40K. You then pay some extra points and get some cool and fluffy bonus rules. This is a pretty cool idea at its core. Play something fluffy and get some cool unique rules. It also allows game designers to “steer” players towards using armies that make sense. Now were these all balanced? No, not at all. But most of them were and it was Apocalypse anyway, balance was never the points.
7th Edition- Dawn of Formations
7th Edition really saw formations get their big break. Formations sprung up everywhere and were a major part of the game and army building. Indeed it is fair to say that rather than being an optional thing to use in your army, they became something you built an army around. Formations in 7th were very flexible and for relatively little cost could give you huge benefits. The Space Marine Gladius Strike Force/Demi-Company/Battle Company was one of the real offenders here. Not only was this formation filled with things you were probably already taking, it also gave you some great special rules and you could get 400-500 pts for free units out of it. When people look back at 7th, one of the things they talk about most was how crazy, and how broken, formations were.
Initially, 8th Edition did away with formations entirely, opting for a more simple streamlined game. However as 8th aged, it, like a fine wine, grew more complex. Rule after rule was added to the game until it seemed almost inevitable that at some point it would revisit formations. They came back new and transformed in the two Vigilus books under the new name of Specialist Detachments. Maybe formations was such a loaded name after 7th that GW didn’t want to use it again, who knows. Names aside, the idea was the same, take a specific set of units representing something historical/fluffy and get some bonuses.
Now Vigilus worked hard to tone down formations in the guise of specialist detachments. The detachments were very limited, and could only affect a very specific set of units. While they didn’t cost points, they did cost CP and in and of themselves the detachment didn’t give any benefits. They mainly served to unlock new, and often powerful, warlord traits, relics, and stratagems, that could normally only affect the units in the detachment. These were very toned down, but still not always balanced. A number of them, if not overpowered, did feature in powerful meta lists. Moreover, they weren’t fairly applied, with some armies getting several detachment options and others none. It was better than 7th Edition, but not great.
9th once again started off formation-free, with the Vigilus detachments getting phased out. Yet here we are, less than a year into the edition and GW is bringing back Formations in a new way. This time under the name Armies of Renown. Name changes aside, the idea is once again the same, field a specific type of thematic force and get some benefits. So if this third time the charm, have they gotten the Formation right? Well, let’s take a look at the two we’ve seen.
The first is the Terminus Est Assault Force. For some, maybe not minor, list building restrictions, you get a free army-wide rule, access to new psychic powers and new stratagems, relics, and traits. As far as we can tell this doesn’t cost you anything at all.
Secondly, we have the Mechanicus Defense Cohort. This one also has restrictions, but they are arguably far less than the prior one. If you do take it however you get access to a very powerful army-wide rule (-1 damage to a huge portion of your army!) new relics, traits, and stratagems. This seems really powerful.
Now look, we don’t know all the details of these yet, so it’s hard for me to say if either of the Armies we’ve seen are broken, but I can easily see how they could be. Free rules for nothing is really powerful, and access to more relics, traits, and stratagems, especially good ones, can turn battles. Outside of having to build to fit the conditions, there doesn’t seem to be any real cost for taking these. Moreover, the conditions we’ve seen are really flexible, indeed they don’t require you to take any units, so far they just require you to not take certain units.
If you were already going to build an army that fit in with the restrictions there is no reason not to make it an Army of Renown. Right now these sure seem a lot like the 7th Formations, free, easy to take, and potentially very powerful. To make things just a little worse, they also have the Vigilus issues of not being evenly applied right now. So far we know 4 armies, and in some cases, only sub-sections of those armies, get access to Armies of Renown. We have no idea how fast or when more will come out, but any time only a few armies have access to a new type of rule it can cause issues. It’s a really cool idea, and I want to see how it plays out, but GW needs to be pretty careful with it, because past editions clearly show it has serious potential to end up being broken.
Let us know what you think about Armies of Renown, down in the comments!