Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A Level Playing Field

We are now 14 months into the brave new world that is 8th Edition. Now I've drunk the Kool-Aid and I enjoy Warhammer far more under the current rules than I did under 7th Edition. When I look back now those rules look more and more like a poor man's DBM - trigonometry and spatial estimation being the key skills.

However today I want to blog not on the rules but on the Army Books. Games Workshop released the new rules in July 2010 and there was a seven month wait before the first of the army books was released. During this time there was considerable disquiet in the Warhammer "press" (read forums and podcasts) that this gap was too long - some even used it as a reason why people were quitting the game. I never subscribed to this view. My take was GW had done a reasonably clever thing in allowing the new edition to bed down probablt (supported by frequent FAQs) before new content was released.


In the seven months since February, GW has released three new Army Books and what a breath of fresh air they have been. In a hobby that makes an industry of whinging, the reception to these three books has been overwhelmingly positive. Click on any forum or blog and you'll struggle to find any comment that suggests that the power creep of books evident under 7th Edition hasn't been arrested.

Most comment centres around how all three books are at a similar power level - less than that of the Daemons, Dark Elves, Lizards, VC and Skaven - and how wonderful the playing field will be once all the 6th/7th Edition books have all been revised.

So where has this new balance come from?

Well I think that there are two main contributors. Firstly, there is the expanded Common Magic Items list that all but Dwarfs and Daemons have access to. This has meant that if you want +1 Str for your character you can get it. Similarly, need a Wd Save then you have access to at least five different types. This has levelled the playing field between the three books AND between those books and previous books. The environment is at a headline level far more utilitarian.

The second contributor is the condensed number of race-specific magic items. The Orcs & Goblins and Tomb Kings books had 8 unique items each. Ogre Kingdoms had 10. Importantly, these items were more flavoursome than effective and generally you were better off sticking to CMI. My only unease is the increase to 10 items in the latest book. I hope it is not evidence of the start of a creep - by the time we get to Dark Elves that number is 34!

What are the benefits of this strategy by GW when it comes to balance? Well it means they can playtest against a known set of variables - CMIs - and only introduce a limited number of unique items. Check the FAQs and you'll find that the majority of questions/conflicts arise from race-specific items and how they interact with 8th Edition rules, each other or CMIs.

So looking out to the horizon I can see a golden time for the Warhammer rules if GW sticks to the modus operandi they have employed with the first three books. Will it attract back the "Departed"? I don't know. But to be honest it is them missing the fun!


  1. Interesting viewpoint, that giving everybody the same magic items leads to a level playing field. But could it also lead to the same items being used all the time? I can remember back in 6th (or was it 5th) when every general nipped into the local Crown of Command shop prior to a game, every hero packed away his Heart of Woe with his sandwiches, and War Banners were the new black. It's fair in some ways, but it's also depressingly boring. Already you can see that virtually every army takes the flaming banner, the 4+ ward item, etc.

    There is also the argument that these items are inherently unfair. A +1S item is more potent in the hands of a chaos lord than it is in the hands of a goblin boss, but the cost to them both is the same.

    I like fairness in the army books, imbalance is bad. But I remember the cheers that went up in previous versions when it was announced that common items were to be scrapped in favour of the greater variety and choice allowed by army specific items.

    Swings and roundabouts?

  2. Interesting points. But if I had the choice I would side on the removal of CMIs and be in favour of an all army books approach - that's because I'm a fan of fluff and character.

    My gaming group keeps coming back to the same point though: the level playing field needs to be set at the scale of small unit sizes. That's why we've started using maximum unit size house rules - no more than 25 if the basic points per model is higher than five.

    That way we hope to avoid the mega-unit battles that are stupidly dull, without losing the only advantage that, say, Night Goblins have, which is strength in numbers.

    Others my balk at this and that's fine - each to their own - but we find it makes players think tactically, cautiously, and makes objective-based play so much more enjoyable.