friday 40k humor

friday 40k humor

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Force Organization in 40k

posted on Rites of Battle

General hellos to everyone.  So my musing on 40k continue, and hot of the heals of looking at some of 6th edition's effects on 40k, some unique and others revisiting old rules (just for you Chris!), I now turn my gaze back a little at something that really started becoming a big thing in 5th edition.  While yes it is something that has existed for quite some time, 5th edition started something... and 6th has taken it and run with it.  The ability to swap units from one section to another, affectionately coined the Force Organization Swap.

As you can see above, the game was designed around a central balance.  I say was for a very important reason.  That time is long gone.  Gone are the days when troops were pretty standard fair, seeing many of them in your armies, with some unique units spiced in to make the army your own, and give you some powerful units amidst the troops.  Generally speaking in days past, your deadly or high powered units weren't scoring.  Their job was to protect the troops by either shielding them, or simply smashing the enemy units into submission for them.  This (to me) presented a tactical challenge for players.  How to utilize units that need to survive to hold points, vs. powerful units that are more than capable, but in the end won't win me the game.  This was an important challenge that really rewarded strategy and the ability to think in the big picture sense of a battle.

Possibly in order to make games go faster, maybe a need to shake up the game design, or most probable the need to sell more expensive models, this changed.  At some point the idea came about that players should be allowed to take units from one slot on the Force Org. and run them as their troops.  There are several reason why this could be a good idea, as some armies are based on wholly different units than the basic units.  White Scars for example love bikes, and could run them decently out of the old codex.  That said no one did because they were too expensive.  Now that they aren't... bikes are sprouting up everywhere, but that's a discussion all it's own.  But Space Marines aren't the only ones pulling the trick.  And it has been a long time in the making.

Cue 5th edition and the rampant insertion of FoC swaps we've seen.  At first I thought it would be a decently balanced move.  Pedro Kantor and his making Sternguard scoring units was at least a slightly balanced (and to be fair, a fluffy) means to make them more useful.  They were still elites, and at the time were competing against the all-mighty Hammernators in the FoC, creating some challenge in the list construction phase.  But as time kept on, we saw the balance fall away.  Logan Grimnar making any number of Wolf Guard troops... and the awfulness that followed with Loganwing missile spam.  We've seen the effect of the Tervigon troop swap, not only reinforcing Nidzilla, but actually making it go without a hitch by removing the penalty for not bringing troops.  And let us not forget Draigowing... the king of 5th edition FoC Swaps, or Coteaz with his henchmen armies.Even Dark Eldar and Blood Angels had swaps, but the Hellion and Sanguinary Guard just never held the potency, or what I felt were damning effects those listed above did.

Now we enter 6th edition... and this painful trend seems to continue.  Again we started with a decent move, and ironically it's actually one that actively removed choices and utilized the FoC Swap intelligently.  The Cult Troops in Codex: Chaos Space Marines, formerly all troops natively were moved to Elites, and allowed to be Troops if an HQ sharing their mark was taken.  This is intelligent, and smart design.  This rewards players for the fluff, and presents challenges for the player at list construction, as well as on the table.  You can bring the cult troops regardless, but you have to plan for if you want them scoring.  There is a drawback to this, but we'll hit that later.

Moving forward... much like 5th, we saw the balance of the FoC Swapping just fall apart.  Dark Angels come out... and while yes, they've always been more about their bikes and their terminators, they just made it too damn easy to make it happen on mass.  Once upon a time you needed to take a character to troopify each wing individually, now you simply take Azrael, and poof, it's all scoring.  Yes the elites "knights" of both wings don't score, but not even the wing specific characters do that.  In my opinion, they could have made the wing characters make all of that wing scoring, and Azrael only the ones he does now (the basic troop forms).  At least then there might have actually been a choice to it, but it's all a lesser evil in the grand scheme of things.  It still doesn't save the basic green armored choices from being largely forgotten.

Then comes along Tau.  Hizzah!  A codex that really doesn't have any FoC play to speak of.  It didn't need it, since the codex is pretty potent already... What's that?  A Farsight Supplement?  Oh... Suit Troops.  *insert a long, frustrated sigh here*  Coupled with the potent ability of the new Riptide, and some of the Eight who are just crazy good, as well as allying the codex with Codex: Tau... removing just about every weakness built into the choice and you start to see the issue.

Eldar show up, and suddenly Wraithguard are swappable with the touch of a button, or in this case the adding of a single Spiritseer.  Again, a swap that existed before, but 6th made insanely easy to do, and dirt cheap.  These guys are actually more than capable of replacing fire dragons, and are infinitely more survivable, if a little more expensive.  Now we move to Space Marines... and bikes.  Oh god, the bike lists haven't stopped spewing forth from the internet since it hit.  The bandwagon of bike lists which never existed before is a constant reminder of how many people play this game for no other reason but to craft the ultimate list, and win.  And if that is how they derive their enjoyment from 40k, more power to them.  Far be it from me to stifle their flair.

But as we look back on it, the Force Organization Chart is becoming more and more irrelevant with each passing codex.  The designers seem to have created this option of swapping units to troops to unlock more choices, or allow for more story-like armies.  In itself, it's a noble effort, but the results are tragically not at all reflecting that intent.  The units that inevitably get swapped are still based on the old FoC design.  Specifically, they are designed to be more potent than their troop brethren.  Because these units are more limited in their number, or competing with other choices from their native slot, they are noticeably better than the Troops.  But as they are moved to the Troops slot, they are just leaps and bounds over the competition.  Bikes are usually greater than Space Marines.  The Tervigon is purely better than Termigaunts.  etc. etc.

Almost every codex has a unit that is not a native troop, that somehow finds it's way to that section.  There are very few codexes out there with the option of FoC swaps, and probably for good reason.  Imagine if you could take Leman Russes as troops in Imperial Guard.  I would, but that's the point.  Why should anyone bring troops when GW is making Elite units troops with something so simple as taking a single character?  Are the FoC Swaps really promoting more options, or limiting the viable playing field?  While it isn't a sure thing, it's a fair bet most tournament lists out there have some swap element to them.  Having played the swap units, I can see why people want them, and how they can be a great incentive for certain choices.  But in most if not every situation, there's no cap to limit the number of units you can swap.  About the most balanced I've ever seen is the Ork Warboss making a single Nob Squad troops, which may be changing soon.  I'll be honestly surprised if Ghazghkull Mag Uruk Thraka doesn't unlock any number of Nobz as troops.  It would fit with the trend...

You need only look into a mirror.
This is where the issue I noticed in Chaos Space Marines, and with the swap system in general comes up.  Why should you take the basic troops, or even run swappable units without swapping them?  Have you ever seen non-scoring cult troops from Chaos?  How about non-scoring Paladins in Grey Knights?  You just don't see them, because it's less optimal not to have them be scoring... which is a shame.  With the option to make them troops, people never even consider them any other way, thus practically removing the unit as a choice to the player base, and limiting the overall atmosphere and scope of units taken or armies seen.  That said, it is the players who make this decision.  If it is a problem, it is we who perpetuate it by continuing to only play them as such.

So does the FoC Swap alter the game for the better or worse?  In my opinion it's a double edged sword, but sadly, from the looks of it, it's starting to tip towards detrimental.  Does the option to swap really promote balance?  Well, looking at a lot of event winning lists, it would seem that most contain at least 1 potent swap to Troops, and some are nothing but swaps (SM Bikes winning Feast of Blades for example).  The last question I'll leave on is this.

If Games Workshop introduced Allies to help sore up the weaknesses in a codex by teaming up with another army to alleviate them, then why are FoC swaps still seen as necessary to a codex and still so prevalent?
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