Fast Movers in 40k

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Last Thursday I got a game of 40k in using my new Ork army. As it was their second outing I thought I’d mix it up a bit and give the Dakkajet a try because, well it’s freaking cool. For reasons passing my understanding, I told Lee I’d be taking a flyer which prompted him to tweak his army list to cram in a Strom Raven. I can’t blame him, I just wanted to be a sod and spend all game strafing him with impunity.

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I was my usual jammy self and managed to get my Dakkajet on the board at the start of turn 2 and immediately set about hosing down an Imperial Guard squad. The Storm Raven came on the following turn and turned the sky around my Dakkajet into a swirling storm of explosions and hot lead in an attempt to turn the Howlin Git into a big cloud of tin foil and fire. But as I mentioned, I was jammy. Passing 6 out of the 7 Jink saves forced upon me resulted in me breaking off and attacking a second Guard section with the Raven in hot pursuit. The Dakkajet’s number as inevitably up but it struck me how (a) cinematic it all looked (b) how flyers didn’t break the game as I feared and (c) how introducing flyers is a natural evolution in army selection and encourages gamers to take ‘all comers’ lists rather than tailoring them to suit a specific force or army composition.

Lee had a tactical advantage in so much as I’d told him I was taking a flyer. However ‘best practice’ as it were suggests that he should allow for that likelihood anyway. With pretty much every army having a flyer of some sort it’s reasonable for us as gamers to have a contingency to deal with them should we find the sky filling up with fast movers. Units with skyfire rules or an upgrade or ammo type. A flyer of your own is not unreasonable and if it turns out your opponent hasn’t taken one then you get to dominate the skies. It’s not exactly a lose lose situation other than the often heavy point investment required. Or you make the decision to ignore it and hope for the best. Having witnessed what my piddly Ork flyer can do I don’t necessarily recommend that option. A flyer will rarely win you the game, but it will give your opponent a headache whilst the rest of your army does the business.

But the point is this: Flyers were an important missing piece of the 40k puzzle. I was quite possibly the biggest sceptic (well joint first with Lee) when they first started to appear in 40k. It was a combination of things as to why. Firstly it was how simply flyers worked in Space Marine – that was never going to translate well in the creaking behemoth that is the 40k rule book. Secondly, the rules seemed reminiscent of Epic 40k. Which was such a wallowing turd of a game I was immediately concerned. And finally my feeling was that they would unbalance the game and give Space Marines, Chaos Space Marines and Necrons an insurmountable edge.

Whilst the latter is partially true it re-emphasises the point that 40k is at its best when armies are interesting. Built around combined arms rather than designing a power list to spank the living shit out of your opponent in three turns or less. And then hit on their momma. Solid cores of troops, elite units, assault elements, armour, artillery. All working together to the greatest effect. Add in aircraft and it all suddenly makes sense. It adds an extra layer to the combat, adds a new threat to the previously tame skies. It forces gamers to think in three dimensions beyond vantage points in buildings.

Plus it’s outrageous amounts of fun. Building the kits is awesome. It takes those early days of building Airfix F14 super Tomcats to a whole new (and way cooler) level. And using them is ace. They look great on the board, the rules make for new and interesting tactical decisions for both players. And board set up too has never been more important. Playing hideously open boards that have no place being anywhere other than Warhammer Fantasy or Lord of the Rings will spell doom and misery for any units that fall under the guns of a flyer. But I suppose that could make for interesting scenarios too and allow you to recreate the odd scene from the Gaunt’s Ghosts series. No bad thing there.

In short – flyers have changed the game of 40k far more than I ever realised, and for the better. The potential for aerial shenanigans encourages gamers to write more flexible army lists. Tactics have to be rethought and adapted. The space has never been more three-dimensional and board layout is vital to affording your troops the protection they’ll need. It doesn’t mean flyers are overpowered because they’re not. They’ll still get shot to bits by one another and even without skyfire, it’s not as hard as you’d think to shoot something down, because I’ve done it. Of course there’s a commercial argument. If you have a flyer I have to buy one too. Little bit of yes, little bit of no. No one forces you to do anything and there are alternatives. But I struggle to entertain the financial point of view because chances are we’ve already spent a couple of hundred pounds on our armies already. What’s another thirty? Flyers represent an opportunity to bring some of the excitement, dynamism and scale from the artwork to the board. And that cannot be a bad thing.

-Phil

Game Theory with Adam Tremblay

Welcome to the first of many Game Theory articles that will take a detailed look at some of our favourite miniature table top wargames and video games (Interactive visual game entertainment/experiences). I love games and how they work, but I also love to interpret the artistic value of a game as I attempt to get a glimpse of what the creator had in mind as they built these games.

Today we are going to take a look at the notrious victory points system for the games Warhammer Fantasy and Warhammer 40K from Games-Workshop.

1) Why do Victory Points Exist?
The majority of miniature wargames assign a specific price tag or point value to a single/group of miniatures. Within the context of the game world this is supposed to symbolize the differences in quality and quantity between models. Points have a duel purpose, first by being a game balancing agent by creating a disparity between models. With weaker models costing less compared to the more powerful, yet more expensive elite miniatures. Secondly, it allows the game designer to develop a deeper sense of thematic identity for a group of miniatures. For example: the elite powerful Chaos Knights are imbued with the gifts of their Gods, therefore they should be extremely powerful; yet rare because the Gods are fickle about who they bestow their gift upon. Compared to the numerous and weedy goblins, which are weak on their own, but together in a horde can be a greentide of death and misery.

Victory points, are the direct side effect of this system. Miniature wargames, by their true nature need to have a victor and defeated opponent. For a designer, victory points are the most simplistic and rational way to force a victory condition. Each model is worth a point value, every model I remove from my opponent’s army nets me those points and if I can prevent my opponent from doing the same, then I am the victor. Really simple and effective, but is it thematic? To an extent perhaps, because history has shown to contain brutal massacres and drawn out stalemates. However, here is where some of the many problems with victory points begin…

2) The Consequences of the Victory Point System
The primary issue with victory points is how they are utilized within a game system. For starters in Warhammer Fantasy, whenever you run down or completely destroy a unit you gain its combined victory points value. Seems all right so far. Until you begin to notice that this begins to promote two different extremes within the game. Units that are large and full of powerful models (expensive in points because of their improved stats) and dozens of smaller redirecting units (small size and cheap cost) for repositioning these larger more powerful units. Essentially, the larger “death units” are used to clear out other models, while the smaller cheap units/models are used to keep these more powerful models from earning their points back.

Why is this such a big deal? Well the issue is that this system promotes these two extremes and armies will have no middle ground units that offer alternatives or tools for varying the army playstyle. Because the playstyle of an army, is so connected to its theme, you soon get this homogenised effect of armies feeling too similar. Once armies are playing the same style, pretty soon it becomes a min-max game that alienates models/armies that are just under the radar.

Also how people approach the game is altered as well, because now its more about a model’s points value (is a model cost-effective, super cheap or really powerful), instead of a model’s potential tactical value or toolbox nature. For instance: High Elf Sea Guard, have bows and spears for weapons and can switch them on the fly. A fairly flexible unit that can perform a variety of roles, however because of the victory points system, you would be at a disadvantage for taking them. They are more expensive compared to spearmen and bowmen, and even though being flexible is nice, it does make them lackluster, by not being truly great in one particular area.

3) Fixing the Mission
Victory Points often promote a “Kill or be Killed” mentality, but here’s an effective way to change-up this age-old formula. Missions! Simple right? Now I want to clarify that missions that award additional victory points don’t really count, because they haven’t actively solved the problem.

Instead missions should take the focus off the individual models/units (thereby removing emphasis on points values) and focus on tactical play and objective based games. With regards to Fantasy, this could be done with missions that rely on units with banners holding key points on the map. It works thematically (armies smashing face full metal style) and in-game as well because all the models still retain all their roles. Smashy units still smash, redirectors still distract, but now tool box units could potentially have more value. Using the High Elf Sea Guard example; they still lack a defined role but now they can adjust to what the army would need during the game. For instance in a take and hold mission the can offer support by providing additional firepower and break into the zone with the rest of the hammer melee units on that crucial turn.

For more examples of awesome and interesting Warhammer Fantasy Missions, make sure to checkout the Uk Tournament: Blood and Glory! Which is run by Ben Curry from the Bad Dice Podcast for more information on the event and how it played out.

Are these absolute answers or permanent examples of how to change the game? No. But I found that they are a step in the right direction to promote more interesting competitive and casual play in Warhammer Fantasy!

Until next time!