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Monday, August 20, 2012

Against the Double-FoC

I don't like having two Force Organization Charts available. That's the long and the short of it. I don't think it's necessary and I don't think it's good for the game nor for the players. It makes list-writing choices less interesting, it puts a major monetary constraint on list-building for one particular format, and it magnifies many of the problems that 6E already has to deal with to the point of breaking the game.

Moreover, it's unnecessary- playing at 2K with one chart one done for all of last edition, so why is it suddenly crippling now? The answer, of course, is that it isn't and the doubled chart is nothing but an unnecessary gimmick. Adapting to the changes as the game scales upward in points is part of the challenge of writing lists and at 2000pts most armies (bar a couple of the old codices) are still not running out of good places to put points.

There is, however, another issue to deal with before I explain why i think double FoCs breaks the game, and that is the issue of hypocrisy.

It's a common accusation against competitive players- especially those opposed to comp and similar restrictions- who dislike the double FoC, and it's not entirely unfair. Why, if we've spent so much effort decrying the alteration of the game's basic rules, as we opposed to using this one? Isn't that the very definition of hypocrisy right there?

My answer would be that not all rules are created equal and it's quite clear that GW doesn't always properly balance those rules out properly. Certainly they try, but they are not always successful in their attempts, and I think the double FoC is one such example of a failure. In and of itself it is problematic, but esepcially with the mix of different codex ages and the issues with flyer rules I think it pushes the game beyond a breaking point in balance.

In many games there is the concept of a "warped environment," which is to say a metagame that is so affected by a particular strategy or strategies that they will define the entire play environment. This is almost always because of a "broken" choice that is so superior to other options that the only viable choices are to use it for oneself or to use a counter-strategy designed to defeat it. In fighting games, this might be a particular character (like Akuma in many versions of SF) that is overwhelmingly advantageous; in CCGs, it might be a particular card or deck (like Jace or Affinity.)

Warped environments aren't fun; they destroy the variety of a normal field and replace it with a very limited selection of "good" options that players can pick from. They result in a lot of luck-based matchups (did the enemy get their super-powerful thing before or in larger quantity than I did?) and they are generally regarded as simply not being at all interesting for anyone involved. Where it becomes clear that an environment has become warped by one choice/strategy, whatever ruling body presides over the game (be it an official or unofficial one) usually takes steps to push it away from that state by removing the problematic option- banning a card, making a character unavailable for use in tournaments, etc.

This, then is my answer to the accusation of hypocrisy: in 5th edition, no warped environment existed. Certainly, vehicles were heavily prevalent and dominated the top lists, but they were not exclusive (many hybrid and foot lists existed) and "vehicles" were simply too broad a categorization for the environment to degenerate into just one or two lists. While the changes to vehicle survivability from 6E are certainly appreciated, the game would still have functioned had they not been made.

Double Force Orgs, on the other hand, ARE a degenerate environment. In the remainder of the article I'm going to try to explain why I feel it does, in fact, warp the field sufficiently to harm the game and show that it is specifically the double FoC (and not flyers or other factors) that make it so.

Why Does the FoC Exist?
To understand why doubling the number of slots available is bad for the game, we first need to understand why having a finite number of slots is good for the game. In 40K, you have three constraints on the list you write: the number of points available, the FoC slots you have, and the role each unit plays in the army to help you win the game. The first two are hard limits; the third is a soft limit.

Points is a very simple concept: you can't spend more points than you have available. Likewise FoCs- they limit where you can spend your points, forcing you to make trade-offs. Thirdly, your unit roles create an additional constraint that you balance against the first two- for any given choice, you try and get the most effectiveness (role) possible for what you spend (points) from what you have available (FoC). This multi-directional balancing act is what makes 40K list-writing interesting; you have a wide variety of options in terms of how to use your points and slots to perform different jobs and the ways in which you do vary from list to list and army to army.

Moreover, these factors all change in importance as you alter their boundaries. In extremely low points values (1K and less) the FoC barely limits you at all, as points become the constraining factor. As you push towards the upper ends (2K+) you end up making very different choices because your slots are limiting you more than the points you have available- this was, to put it bluntly, the only interesting thing about 'Ard Boyz. Differing missions also do a similar thing, giving you different needs that you must fill with your points/FoC and creating some new list-building challenges.

But what happens when you remove- or effectively remove- one of these limits? The game starts to break down. If you have 10,000pts, most armies simply can't effectively do anything with them and end up just maxing out the FoC. With sufficiently absurd missions you can see similar effects (10+ objectives, KP multipliers for particular units, etc.) And, if you double the Force Organization Chart, while you may not be utterly freeing the player from all restrictions, most armies will find that points become a limiter long, long before they actually have problems using all those slots.

Again, this is bad for the game because it removes the challenges of list-writing. When you can take six of the best unit in your codex, you no longer need to balance your various needs against each other and consider how you want to spend your points to take care of various roles- you just take a bunch of that best thing for any given role. Especially at higher point totals (like 2K), the limit of no more than three of a unit is actually very important because for some codices it can strongly dictate what the army is capable of- for example, Space Wolves can only bring three Long Fang packs and thus are pretty limited in their firepower unless they dip into some secondary choices (Riflemen or Razorbacks), which have disadvantages and considerations of their own.

"Okay," you say, "But that alone doesn't prove a degenerate environment. After all, 2000pts is 2000pts, how can adding a few more of a unit be so very different?" Ah, my poor, blissful child, you underestimate the awful things that can be done in such a wide-open FoC chart. Allow me to show you a few of the more awful lists that I have conceived of and let you judge for yourself whether you think a "standard" 2000pt list with access to only one FoC could come anywhere near standing a chance against them.

Some Absurdly-Disgusting Lists
Caveat: these are not "best" versions of most of these armies; some tweaks could probably improve them to degrees, but that's not the point- they're proofs of concept.

Space Woofs
1 Rune Priest (Chooser)
1 Rune Priest (Chooser, Boltgun)
6x1 Lone Wolf (Terminator, Fist, Storm Shield)
3x5 Grey Hunter (Meltagun, Rhino)
2x5 Grey Hunter (Meltagun, Mark of Wulfen, Rhino)
6x5 Long Fangs (4 Missiles)

We start this out with a really simple list- it puts a bunch of shooting and a bunch of aggressive units on the table and goes to town. Fangs should destroy anything with an AV in short order (it averages ten HP removed per turn even ignoring melee, Living Lightning, or Meltaguns) and Lone Wolves can hide behind Rhinos fairly effectively and will smash anything but an enemy deathstar in combat. It's light on scoring units, but with a significant number of tanks to hide behind and huge volleys of outgoing firepower you should be able to silence most enemy guns fairly easily.

This is one of the weaker lists.

Imperial Guard
1x5 Company Command (3 Melta, Astropath, Chimera)
1x5 Company Command (3 Melta, Chimera)
1x5 Platoon Command (4 Flamer, Chimera)
3x10 Infantry Squad (Autocannon, Sniper, Chimera)
2x6 Special Weapon Squad (3 Melta)
3x10 Veterans (3 Melta)
6x1 Vendetta
2x1 Griffon

Guess what, the Vendetta is awesome. This list brings a crapload of Vendettas, and they're going to all but impossible to stop- sure, maybe you get your one Interceptor shot as they arrive, then they Lascannon all your anti-flyer tools right off the table. It also runs a non-ignorable on-table presence as well, peppering the enemy and rolling onto objectives as necessary; SWS and Veterans disembark from Vendettas to claim objectives late (with the presumption that Grav Chute Insertion gets fixed at some point; otherwise, you shut down all enemy firepower and then go Hover Mode or swap SWS for more Chimeras.) With side shots on most tanks and twin-linked all over, very few things can weather all of the firepower you put out.

2x1 Tervigon (Catalyst, Cluster, Toxin, Adrenal)
6x10 Termagants
4x1 Tervigon (Catalyst, Cluster, Toxin, Adrenal, Talons)
2x1 Tervigon (Catalyst, Cluster, Toxin, Adrenal)

Guess who can, though? With an average of over 220 Termagants per game, most lists are quite literally incapable of killing that many squishy little bodies, not to even mention all of the big bugs. That Vendetta list above, fighting through cover and FNP, Can just barely kill all the troop Tervigons if it magically gets a full six turns of shooting and never wastes a shot. Which is not particularly likely. So how do you kill enemy tanks or flyers or all that stuff? You don't, basically. You assault what you can, but mostly you just push little mans forward and clog up the board and get in the way such that the enemy can never ever reach the objectives. Fill the goddamn board and let them drown in a tide of T3 bodies.

2x1 Overlord
2x5 Harbinger of Destruction (1 Pulse each)
5x5 Warriors (Ghost Ark)
6x1 Annihilation Barge

Here's another list that relies on dominating the game with resilience, except it also brings a lot of shooting to the field. AV13 everywhere means that quite a lot of enemy guns simply... don't work. At all. But that's nothing new- what's new is that 5+ cover save all the time (4+ or 3+ in the initial turns when you pop Pulses) and the absurd numbers of Tesla shots it puts downrange- an average of thirty S7 HITS per turn will spoil most people's day pretty quickly and carve away at enemy firepower in a jiffy. Oh, but it can't hurt AV13/14, can it? Well, that's why you bring Gauss (sixty shots worth, in most cases, although that doubles if you get in close) and show them why Bolters can suck on it. And, just for good measure, ten Lancecannons to put some additional hurt on those 2+ saves or other tough targets.

2x1 Overlord
2x3 Harbinger of Storm
8x5 Warriors (Night Scythe)
2x1 Doom Scythe

Maybe you'd prefer not getting hit to not getting damaged, though, and maybe you'd like a crapload of troops in the bargain? Look no further, my friend. Fifty S7 hits, two Death Rays, and a bunch of pseudo-Melta to hop out and eliminate any annoying vehicles you come up against. Infantry? Oh, no, you don't need to worry about infantry, because fifty S7 hits, remember? And you're effectively immune to return fire and can drop your troops exactly wherever you need them. Two lone Overlords do the job of holding the keeping you on the table until the flyers arrive- you should be able to hide a pair of T5/3+ infantry models SOMEWHERE, yes? If you don't like it that gimmicky, drop the Doom Scythes and one Night Scythe for six Annihilation Barges instead and problem solved.

Grey Knights
1x Coteaz
1x Inquisitor (pick 20pts of gear)
2x3 Servitors (Multimeltas, Chimeras)
7x5 Acolytes (Storm Bolters, Chimeras)
2x3 Acolytes (Plasmaguns, Chimeras)
6x Psyflemen
1x Aegis Defense Line

Psyflemen cut down enemy flyers, transports, and anything else you need to get rid of at range. Servitors hunt heavy tanks; Bolter Acolytes help take down any infantry you disembark; Plasma Acolytes take out light tanks or heavy infantry as needed, as do the ELEVEN CHIMERAS. And everything rocks 4+ cover. And you have eleven scoring units and the enemy is never going to Seize the Initiative or pull other junk against you. You are the world's biggest jerk.

Grey Knights
1x Draigo
1x Inquisitor (pick 25pts of gear)
1x5 Paladins (2 Psycannon, 2 Hammer, 2 Halberd, 1 Sword)
9x1 Paladin (Hammer)
6x1 Psyflemen
1x Aegis Defense Line

Yeah, you've got that one squad with some shooting and like a fighty guy and stuff, but every one of your nine Solodins are enough to do some real damage to smaller squads and, in a lot of cases, larger squads as well. If you're worried about seeing Fists, replace some of those Hammers with Swords instead. You've got lots of anti-tank (Psyflemen, duh) and lots of anti-infantry (assaults, and also ten Holocaust markers.) Paladins behind the Aegis are pretty impossible to get rid of- 2+ armor, two wounds, 2+ cover if you shoot any real gun at them.

2x1 Weirdboy
6x5 Lootas
2x20 Shoota Boyz
2x15 Shoota Boyz
5x1 Dakkajet (Supa Shoota)
6x3 Kannons
1x Aegis Defense Line

See, here we have another list with redonkulous firepower. Sure, all those Lootas are ridiculously fragile, but they can hit the dirt (at minimal cost) for a 2+ cover save and laugh at your guns. Likewise, the Kannons are all T7 multiwound and have 4+ saves or better against everything. Once you bring the Dakkajets onto the board you're spitting out so many shots against ground targets that, to be honest, no infantry unit should be left alive. Weirdboyz are a strange inclusion, but remember: they have a chance of giving you an extra Waaagh each turn, which doubles the output of your Dakkajets (and any other HQ would be a do-nothing anyways.) Oh, and they're your only way to handle AV14 as well, not that you're terribly worried about it- just kill everything else in the army and let them disembark their silly Terminators.

Dark Eldar
2x1 Haemonculous
3x3 Wracks (Raider)
9x3 Wracks (Venom w/extra Splinter Cannon)
6x1 Razorwing (Flickerfield)

(This list has some points left over and I wasn't really sure where to go with it- you could go with Ravagers and Baron or Vect instead, to get the alpha strike, or perhaps something else. Eh.)

This one isn't hard- Lances disembark infantry, infantry dies to absurd numbers of shots. If you're doing the Ravager version you keep everyone in Venoms and add a few more.

Corsair Eldar
2x1 Void Dreamer
2x10 Eldar Corsairs (Jetpacks, 2 Missile Launcher)
2x5 Eldar Corsairs
5x1 Nightwing Interceptor
6x1 Warp Hunter

Okay, so maybe using Forge World is cheating, but screw it. Troops are really light, so hide 'em, but apart from that you have six AP2 barrage large blasts that wound on a 2+ (or, alternately, torrent flamers with the same) and five sets of Lances + Splinter on a flyer. You should be able to massacre most things pretty hardcore, bar a silly list like the Tyranid one earlier.

The Section After the Lists
All of those lists are incredibly gimmicky, but many of them bring the things you need in 6E (anti-flyer, reliable scoring presence) and do it while being either impossibly resilient, devastatingly shooty, or both. By simple virtue of being able to spam one of the strongest choices in the codex, they can utterly overwhelm most opponents' defenses against them- seriously, how are you going to shoot down six or ten flyers or eleven AV13 vehicles? How are you going to kill two hundred and fifty infantry AND fifty T6/3+/FNP wounds? How are you going to survive taking more S6/7/8 hits each turn than you have models in your army?

These are all (well, mostly) examples of format-warping lists, and they are only possible because of the double FoC; facing down three Long Fangs or Psyflemen or Vendettas is a much more doable proposition than fighting the above lists without using the same. Doubling the number of such units you bring to the table is an enormous shift in the game and, just as importantly, it's one that is not interesting (for all that competitive lists are considered "spammy" the above lists are in an entirely different league) and or good for the player base.

Does anyone have the model collection to field any of the above lists? I am rather doubtful that they do- perhaps a handful of people the world over could do so without borrowing from friends, but few others. Such insanely-specific and repetitive armies are simply not something that most people have any interest in buying, assembling, or painting, and unlike a diversified 2000pt list that features multiple different units, they aren't things you will get to use in any other type of game except maybe Apocalypse. Owning six Vendettas or ten Night Scythes profits GW and GW alone- the players, the tournaments, and the gaming communities are only going to be poorer if such a strategy becomes the only viable one, as I believe it will in double-FoC tournaments.

Expanded Force Org Charts are fine for casual play; they can provide some interesting directions for players to take in particular scenarios, especially when balanced against the mission in question. They can provide characterful representations of particular types of armies and let you do some really crazy things on the battlefield. I am not against expanded FoCs in the general sense because the goals of tournaments and casual (which is to say non-tournament) games are often very different. For narrative events and other games where the incentive to be victorious is not necessarily the driving force, increased army slots can make for good times.

However, in a tournament, where all players have strong reasons to want to bring the strongest list possible and come out at the top of the heap, I can't see it being a good thing. The game simply isn't designed- and, to be frank, probably couldn't be designed- to handle those kind of alterations without fraying badly. There is no reason to put these kinds of stress on the game when it is so much simpler to just play at a lower points value (even just 1999) and dodge the issue entirely.

Doubtless some tournaments will want to "hold true" to the rulebook anyways and play with twinned Force Org Charts, and perhaps they won't suffer crippling issues with it, but I can only imagine such would be the case because players simply don't have the models needed (or won't take the effort) to break the system; having a grievous flaw in your game that no one is exploiting yet is hardly a good place to be, because all it takes is a single person doing to to utterly overturn the apparent stability and create problems with your player base.

Having two Force Organization Charts available in large games is not good for the hobby; it is not fun or interesting for list-writing; it comes at the expense of your players' wallets and their interest in the game. It has absolutely no advantages and many significant disadvantages. If you are a TO considering whether or not to include it- or a player with input to how a tournament is run- I would implore you to oppose it at every opportunity, because no good can come of its presence.

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