Saturday, January 28, 2017

Visions of 40k 8th Edition

Stormcaller over at Bell of Lost Souls has some “safe bets” for 40k’s impending 8th edition. I’m not terribly impressed. His first two statements, that many will like it and some will hate it, is about like saying that grass will be green and Ultramarines will be blue. (Yes, that pun is front-and-center in this game. That tells you so much about its origins. ;p )

Stormcaller also brings up the bonuses you get if you max out the number of units in certain formations. Clearly, this is a call to buy more miniatures. Only, who the heck has time to play with armies that size? Adam Harry (also at BoLS) points out that maxing out some of the units in Fall of Cadia and Wrath of Magnus would mean armies over 3k (and possibly close to 4k) points. The “standard” game of 40k in the US runs between 1-2k points and takes something in the neighborhood of three hours to play. Eventually, as Harry points out, player fatigue becomes an issue, even if you’ve got six hours to play (and if you do, I think most would prefer to play a pair of smaller games).

Now, everyone is assuming that 8th edition will be “streamlined.” That, after all, is the buzzword these days. But goals and achievements are two different things. And there are practical limits on what GW can do with 40k. Just as everyone knew WotC had to use the classic six stats when they published 5th edition D&D, you can bet that GW will include the multiple-rolls-per attack thing that is the hallmark of 40k: roll to hit, roll to wound, roll saves, remove casualties. This cascade of rolls incentivizes big armies; the more shooting you’re doing, the more you’re likely to hit and wound, and the more likely your foe is to fail some of those saves. And GW is all about selling the minis.

But all that takes time. You’re rolling handfuls of dice, pulling out the hits, rolling those, pulling out the wounds, and then your target gets to roll those dice or an equal number of their own. Sitting there counting out how many of 40d6 rolled 3-or-above takes time. So does picking up and re-rolling the few that went off the table. As does re-positioning units or terrain knocked about by the flood of dice.

7th edition did a decent job of streamlining the rules already by simplifying how you adjudicate things like charges and cover. Granted, they did make things like the psychic phase more complicated, so there is room for streamlining, but not that much outside of what some people would consider sacred cows of 40k.

Granted, if GW is willing to go after the sacred cows, especially the you-go-I-go aspect of the rules, then yeah, there’s tons of room to streamline and make play faster. I just don’t think they’re going to do it. If you want a quick, simple game, you’ll have Deathwatch. But 40k is still going to clock in at 20+ minutes per turn between 1k and 2k points.

That said, I think we’ll be seeing a LOT more of these grand army formations. You just won’t see many maxed-out formations. This is because your FLGS really dislikes the way wargames are made and sold.

Why do I say that? Because wargames eat obscene amounts of shelf-space. For example, your average wargame has five or more factions and each faction has a handful of troops types, leader types, and special units, possibly with vehicles on top of all of that. This is part of the fun for players; you identify with your “side” and the way it plays, and you eschew the other factions for their failings. If the publisher does their job right, every side has its features and bugs, and seeing how they interact is part of the fun.

But all of these units eat up shelf space like a horde of ravening locusts goes through crops. And, on top of that, play space for wargames is expensive; the six-feet of table two 40k players use could host 5+ RPGers, 6 CCG players (each of whom probably paid an entry-fee for the privilege of playing; there are reasons your FLGS bends over backwards for M:tG and its ilk), or possibly 8 folks playing a board game. This is one reason you’re likely to see someone pushing Frostgrave get exceptional support from your FLGS; the game uses the same minis that the store already sells to RPGers, uses less tablespace, and easily expands to more than just two players in a game.

(Someday, someone is going to produce a wargame where players build their units from a standard box of parts, like robots or some such. If they do it right and it becomes successful, FLGS owners will weep tears of joy.)

Anyway, point is, if each player plays only their faction, and there are lots of factions (I think 40k has something in the neighborhood of a dozen now, and that’s not breaking out chaos into its four + unified or all the different flavors of space marine), that’s a lot of shelf-space for a fraction of the players of a single wargame. This is why it’s so tough for a new wargame to gain traction at an FLGS.

But GW already has traction, and by getting players to embrace building armies from multiple factions (Guard + Marines + Mechanicus, or, as we’re seeing now, Dark + Vanilla Eldar) they increase the efficiency of the shelf-space they’re demanding. Mechanicus might not have enough fans to warrant much space on a store’s shelves, but if marine players are also buying those minis, now it might make a lot more sense to give them more room. And, of course, that means more minis sold, especially if the marine player likes what Mechanicus does and decides to expand his “allies” into a full army to play as a change of pace.

So, my predictions for 8th edition: there will be all sorts of talk about streamlining the game, but it won’t do more than shave a few minutes here and there, and won’t be dramatic enough to change how people play the game. There will also be a lot more support for building huge mix-n-match armies via formations and allies rules, which will royally piss off the competitive players but make the narrative gamers much happier.


shlominus said...

you do realise that it is exactly the other way around, right?

"mix and match"-armies are what competitive players love, cause it gives them more options to min/max. these players create armies that would give narrative gamers a stroke. formations do little for fluff-gamers, while most competitive armies are based on them since they were introduced.

fluff-gamers focused on narrative play have never been hampered by list-building restrictions, cause they simply use whatever they like and ignore any army-organisation rules that might get in the way of their fun.

trollsmyth said...

shlominus: when I speak of "competitive" players, I don't mean the win-at-any-cost sort, but their foes in the tourney system, the folks who sweat and argue over ITC rules designed specifically to keep the multiple-faction Frankenstein's-monsters off their tables. It's easy to get the idea that GW doesn't care as much for them as they do the narrative players, and the current cross-faction army-building rules only feeds that perception.

Mujadaddy said...

(Someday, someone is going to produce a wargame where players build their units from a standard box of parts, like robots or some such. If they do it right and it becomes successful, FLGS owners will weep tears of joy.)

I have a working version of "that old Epic flavor" set up for utilization of Lego bricks. I call it "Brick Trader: Armageddeon" or sometimes "bbEpic". Ex: a squad of troops is a 3x1 plate colored for your army with the 1x1 round plates 'showing' 3 troops; a troop transport is a 2x3 brick, that kind of thing. Then you can build the Titans in the same scale that they used to be sold in.

One day I'll finish typesetting it.

trollsmyth said...

Mujadaddy: sounds intriguing. Be sure to let us know when it's done. :)