To Do: Discuss Gaming Balance (with a Focus on 40k)

This evening, on my way home from work, a fellow gamer from my local shop linked me an article from a competitive 40k blog. It was an interesting read; the author was certainly, ahem, passionate about the material. And by passionate, I mean a multi-paragraphed swearfest that’d make Cartman seem angelic in comparison. In it, he discussed Games Workshop’s gruesome fall from grace, painting a picture of its apparent eventual demise that coincides with its lack of balance in the game. This was all through the lens of a competitive player, mind you. A player who looks at a game and formulates strategies specifically to win. While this isn’t my cup of tea, I certainly won’t bash this type of gaming. “Whatever floats your boat,” as my grandpappy would say.


Beyond a few very common pitfalls that many blogs fall into (here’s a hint for all human beings; just because someone doesn’t agree with you, it doesn’t make them an idiot…unless they disagree with Tony Stark), the article seemed to miss a very big point. He laments about flyers being broken (a point I may not disagree with, actually), and the complete lack of balance 6th edition has wrought.

Thing is, balance is never obtainable. Feel free to gasp now.


I should probably clarify that last statement. Balance is hardly obtainable while adding variety to a game. The more variables introduced into a game, the more imbalanced it becomes. The less flavor, the more easily balanced it can be. “Dude’s getting all philosophical on us and stuff, dawg.” Let’s examine what I mean, home skillets. Come with me to the land of video games!

Halo 4 is a fairly balanced game, as far as video games go. Players are separated into two teams and told to duel to the death. No player is given any sort of advantage that the others don’t have, from character abilities to weaponry. Everyone is the same. Thus, the only thing separating the two teams is actual player skill. That is the epitome of balance; anyone can win with what’s given to them, and win against any opponent, so far as their skill allows.

The issue with Halo 4, though, it it’s vanilla. Bland. Boring. Jessica Simpson. Non-Masters Golf. The thrills to be had are from striving to win, not from anything special about your character or team.

Now let’s look at a game with flavor, meaning story elements, differentiating abilities, et cetera, et cetera. Hmmm. I know, let’s look at World of Warcraft. I know, really imbalanced right? But why? They have developers constantly tuning the game, looking over spreadsheets and adjusting numbers, considering environment issues, attempting to free baby dolphins from the clutches of evil scientists. They’re good guys. But balance forever eludes them. That, and recognition from their fans outside of the game. Poor blokes. Have you ever seen what happens when you try to perfectly balance things with flavor?


Abominations straight from the pits of Hell. The reason balance is near impossible to nail in WoW is because no two characters are alike. A rogue uses quick attacks and stealth to kill opponents, a mage blasts them with magical spells, and a warrior bears the brunt of these attacks in hopes of getting into combat. Out of these three, there is bound to be some ability that the others don’t have. They’re unequal, and one has a better chance of killing the other two. Now, you could give the other two that ability, but you’ve just removed some of the flavor from the game. Why be a mage if they’re the exact same as a rogue? So the idea is to give the others abilities that the mage doesn’t have to counteract that. But egads! We’ve got another ability that a class doesn’t have. Like washing your hair, you lather, rinse, and repeat. Simply put, the more different characters are, the more imbalance that will exist.

With this idea, it’s fairly difficult, maybe even impossible to fully balance 40k. In 5th edition, Necrons, Space Wolves, and Grey Knights ruled all. Matt Ward, in his infinite, Emperor-like abilities, graced these armies with broken combos, making them wrecking ball forces that few could match. Coincidentally, these were the armies most competitive gamers played, because, well, it gave them the best chance to win, which gives them the best chance of getting cookies. Only winners get cookies.


I’ll agree with competitive gamers that flyers are a bit of a pain right now. Until all codexes are released, many armies will have problems taking down a flyer. Hell, my Chaos army has a new codex, and they still struggle to take down flyers. But, realistically, that’s how jets are in real life. There’s no way I’m taking down an F22 with a handgun, or a hunting rifle…or a machine gun. Maybe a carnifex, but she’s still a pup. Flyers shouldn’t be easy to kill, and you should have to give careful thought on how to take them down, because real generals would have to do the same. Additionally, with the exception of the heldrake (much love, dragon boy *smooch*), most flyers will, at best, take out a couple of models and a tank or two before the end of the game. A couple of bad rolls and they’ll fail to even pay for their points. Make it too easy to take down a flyer, and you’ve ruined the reason to even take them, and an interesting unit choice has gone up in flames. Flames, I tell you!

So what’s to be done about balance? Well, from a competitive gamer’s standpoint…hell, search me. I’ve never competitively gamed. Only play armies that have a released codex? Ignore flyers, since they can’t hold objectives? From a fluff-player’s perspective, the idea is to simply not worry about them. Tailor a unit that can go hunting for flyers and give it a go. So what if you don’t kill it guaranteed in one turn or your money back. This upcoming week, I’m going to give a four autocannon Havoc squad a shot. Eight shots at Str 8 should may tag off a hull point per round, and if I get a real lucky roll, wreck one with little issue. Personally, I’ll take an imbalanced game with flavor over a vanilla balanced title any day. Just look at this gentleman enjoying his flavor!


In fact, that’s one of the reasons why I love playing/modeling from a fluff, or as I call it, fun perspective. I don’t care if my opponent has an uber combo that tears face. My favorite opponent at my local shop, Eric, used to trash my old Chaos army with his Tyranids every game (coincidentally, he’s started to do the same with my Black Templars…I need to buy more units). I enjoy every game against him, because we have some pretty epic battles, and he’s a blast to game with. He’s also so damn cheerful. That helps. It’s not about winning, it’s about doing the best with what you have, and fielding a damn good looking force. Oh man do I love painting. Remove the stress, remove the fuss. Fluff is the super hero to my chaotic world.


To quickly address a few other points I read:

1) Close combat is just as fun in 6th as it was in 5th, more so now, since it’s not as simple as equipping your squad with power weapons and wrecking face. It’s still my favorite way to win games.

2) If 40k feels too much like rock, paper, scissors, it’s because most games with variety tend to be. Poke’mon, a beloved video game, was literally rock, paper, scissors. With cute creatures. I choose you, Tyranitar!

3) Games Workshop isn’t losing money by any means. According to their last earning report, they’re actually up. Along with this, while prices for products may be up, they’re not much more expensive than they used to be, considering inflation and the amount of bits one gets. Heck, my original Black Legion army paid $66 for three Obliterators, and I bought a box of three finecast (admittedly, ugh) models for $55. That’s actually cheaper.

4) It’s not the size of your ship, but the motion of your ocean.

size-doesnt-matter(Where’s the beef?! Ha! Couldn’t resist)

5) If you have an issue with Death from the Skies being direct only, just get the rules from your friends or steal them off the internet. I don’t see the book as being a major enough thing to ship out in mass. And if I’m reading correctly, none of the armies represented in the book have a 6th edition codex out anyways, so they’ll most likely be wrapped up in there. DftS was simply a publication for extra money and easy-to-access rules for those who didn’t want to track down White Dwarf magazines, and didn’t want to wait for their army book.

6) Just because people disagree with you, it doesn’t make them idiots. I know I said it above, but I said it again. It’s true. I asked my mom, she agrees.

7) Contrary to less-than-optimistic discussions on some blog sites, 6th edition is well received by a majority of players. Many I have talked to, both in store and online, have said glowing things about it over 5th. Personally, I have been playing since 3rd, and think 6th is the best set of rules so far.

8) If you’re having issues customizing your army, the issue lies with you, not the rules. With allies, doubled force organization charts, and official “counts as” rules, one can build an army worth of Mordor, er, *cough*, their imaginations. Anything’s on the table, so long as you let your opponent know.

*puts on a monocle* So, in closing, I hope I was able to talk a few people from the edge of their painting tables. While there are issues that need to be addressed in 40k, it certainly is not the rubbish table top game that others make it out to be.



To Do: Discuss Gaming Balance (with a focus on 40k)

P.S. Also, please don’t mention that one can buy a new video game for the same price as a new GW model. A GW model is something you can craft yourself, take pride in finishing, and potentially sell to someone else when you’re done. Video games will distract you for a week at best, and typically get $5 from Gamestop. Can’t even sell PC games.

To Do: P.S. some mofos.



About Onshava

I'm a writer who grew up a total geek. I attended the University of Florida (Go Gators!), graduated, and set out to make my place in the world in the great city of Chicago. I'm married (still not sure how I suckered her into it), have two dogs, and think subway trains are the devil's magic. Also, I'm a horribly addicted hobbyist. Warhammer 40k, MMOs, Xbox gaming, writing, reading, playing guitar, painting, modeling (not the sexy GQ kind) name it, I probably do it. I also like to talk, a lot. So, to quote Deckard Cain, "Hello, my friends! Stay awhile, and listen." View all posts by Onshava

2 responses to “To Do: Discuss Gaming Balance (with a Focus on 40k)

  • steve

    classic as always

  • Eric E. Frisch

    Yeah, that one got pretty far into the 40k weeds. Still a good read, and thanks for the nice things you said about me. You’ve beaten me several times, btw.

    I like a lot of 6th. I’ve had more fun playing 6th than 5th. It’s an infantry game now and that’s what combat has always been. More terrain (though I don’t think it should be “mysterious” so often and the same goes for objectives — usually you’re told to take the tractor factory and you know what’s in it: tractor parts), allies and warlords are cool. I think challenges need tweaking and they really should let flying monstrous creatures melee flyers (that would help fix Chaos and Tyranid anti-flyer problems). What’s more cinematic than that?

    Some of the bitching is simply the extra randomness that makes mathhammer less effective.

    It’s still a lovely hobby. There’s the collecting aspect, the artistic, and then there’s the NFL General Manager part where you try to put together a good team. The fluff is outstanding and really helps you get into the game (with me, it’s to the point where I have a hard time playing an army if I’m not into the fluff). In the end it’s just a game. So it throws some curve balls at you (like how to deal with that damned Helldrake). Just more of a challenge.

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