Monday, 23 May 2011

Should 40k be more like Magic: The Gathering?





A difficult question but one that could lead to interesting solutions to the fluff v. competition dilemma. In its current iteration 40k's natural habit is to divorce, sometimes dramatically, what is "fluffy" or "cannon" with what the player perceives as effective on the tabletop. Essentially playing according to any given "historically accurate" constraints is a handicap as it places even greater restrictions than those that exist within the existing rules.


In RP games following the rules to the detriment of fun or story is strongly frowned upon - it goes against the very spirit of what the player group is trying to accomplish. Of course pen-and-paper role players are seldom competing with one another which is where the tabletop diverges significantly from the escapist goals of the GM's and their groups. In 40k the object is to dominate the enemy force albeit we are sometimes inclined to do so as we believe our faction would have done (i.e. an Ork player might prefer to play for a wipeout than keep objectives). 


A few days ago Mike Brandt of Nova Open fame gave us this list to consider:


Grey Knights:


Inquisitor Coteaz - 100
Ordo Malleus Inquisitor w/ Psycannon, TDA - 80

5 x Purifiers w/ 2 Psycannons, Psybolt Razorback - 190
5 x Purifiers w/ 2 Psycannons, Psybolt Razorback - 190
5 x Purifiers w/ 2 Psycannons, Psybolt Razorback - 190

3 x Warrior Acolytes, Plasmaback - 92
3 x Warrior Acolytes, Plasmaback - 92
3 x Warrior Acolytes, Plasmaback - 92
3 x Warrior Acolytes, Plasmaback - 92
3 x Warrior Acolytes, Plasmaback - 92
2 x Death Cult Assassins, 2 x Warrior Acolytes, 3 x Warrior Acolytes w/ Meltaguns, Chimera - 135

5 x Interceptors w/ Psycannon - 140
5 x Interceptors w/ Psycannon - 140

Dreadnaught w/ Multi-Melta, Psybolt Autocannon - 125
Dreadnaught w/ Multi-Melta, Psybolt Autocannon - 125
Dreadnaught w/ Multi-Melta, Psybolt Autocannon - 125



Now Mike is obviously a highly competitive player with a great understanding of 40k game mechanics and how to make them work for him. 


But his lists make me throw up in my mouth a little. 


There is nothing "wrong" with the above list. It complies perfectly to the regulations and restrictions outlined in the rules. It may even translate to a masterfully painted army further legitimizing itself as a "correct" way to pursue the hobby.  


The reason this list might be unpalatable to someone with a more intimate connection to the 40k canon is that if follows none of the restrictive sub-texts of the Grey Knight lore. Identical unit entries in every FOC slot; An unapologetic mining of the codex for small hyper-efficient units that would in no way be practical in the fictional setting that the hobby is centered on.


Mr. Brandt has absolutely no obligation to follow his codex's, admittedly fluid, narrative and to align his army lists to it; nor would it be desirable for all of us to have to follow a volatile and vague set of meta-rules excavated from the fluff and processed for balanced gameplay. There must, however, be a middle ground. Something between the core gamer metagaming and the loremeister's "I don't mind getting my nether regions smashed by Space Wolves over and over." 


I play just such a "hybrid" army. It's competitive in the sense that I add Vendettas and use Straken's rules to represent my Inquisitorial Storm Trooper captain. It's also "fluffy" in that I use the less-than-kick-ass Vultures for Heavy Support and take an overcosted Inquisitor Lord to lead. This necessitates the use of Forgeworld's rules updates which complicates things a little but typically gives me an enjoyable army to play and for my opponents to play against - competitive with a theme. 


But why should playing to a theme be such an obstacle? Shouldn't forces become more intuitive and synergetic when composed with "fluffiness" in mind? Warmachine gives players incentives to play within a given theme by applying bonuses and points discounts when certain prerequisites are met. But even this solution is retroactive to a degree - it is not a part of the core ruleset but an addendum to it. 


Now let us consider Magic: The Gathering. MtG has plenty of flaws and I'm no expert in the field of collectible card games but I do want to focus on Wizards of the Coast's approach to theme incentives. In MtG cards are typically categorized into types (the text found directly beneath the illustration). This ties cards to each other thematically. 


With basic categorization being part of the card or "unit" itself there is no need to force cards together into a single rules sub-document (i.e. codex). There are, therefore, no restrictions beyond a very basic set of rules relating to "restricted" or "banned" cards and applying a cap on how many cards of the same type are allowed in one army or "deck."


This opens the game to a list of incentives - reasons for including cards of similar or overlapping types in a single deck often with the goal of implementing a very specific (and therefore unique) winning strategy. Many of these are simple buffs to units of a similar type:


In MtG the numbers at the bottom right of the card represent the attack and defense values of the creature. This card's ability augments the attack values of creature cards with the keyword "Stormtrooper" in their 'type' section. 
While others might contribute to winning strategy that is a natural extension of the theme the army or deck is subscribing to:


Creatures with 'flying' cannot be blocked by defending creatures without 'flying.' That makes this card useful for equipping almost any creature but in order to justify its cost (a total of 6 mana) the player is more likely to use it with the Stormtrooper cardtype it was designed for.


It's easy to imagine applying a more "free-form" army composition approach to the game of 40k. One in which you could field both a Carnifex and a Fire Warrior in the same "deck" but wherein one is unlikely to do so because of all the buffs and special abilities those cards have been costed (in mana or points) to account for.


Of course this would lead to instances where players will construct unlikely alliances with a view to making a more powerful combination of abilities (Eldar psychic buffs on cheap Ork frontliners for example). This is inevitable to some degree but can be mitigated by differentiating game mechanics and adding depth to same-faction bonuses. 


To put forward an example Stormtrooper decks or armies might seek to gain more ground (objectives) as a victory condition where a Chaos force might seek to "corrupt" units, compelling them to switch sides until the opponent has no units left under his command. Mixing the two might still make a powerful combination under certain circumstances but will likely weaken the army's ability to pursue their comparative advantage. 


Whatever unexpected alliances do occur it can give rise to interesting themes and scenarios. Mixing a Dark Angels "deck" with a Chaos Space Marine one would be one way to represent the Fallen and so on. 


I'll be giving this idea a lot of consideration over the coming weeks and see if I can improve on these initial thoughts. 






I want to apologize for my continued hap-hazard posting cycle. 95 hour work weeks simply weren't part of the plan when I started this blog and I'm doing my best to make it work. I want to thank everyone for their patience and I'll try to make more regular contributions. 


-Atrotos

12 comments:

Master Bryss said...

Stop worrying about your schedule, when your articles are both longer and less hit-and-miss than mine.

I don't understand Magic at all, but I played a lot of Yu-Gi-Oh when I was younger, and the general theme seemed to be (just before I gave up) that 'theme' armies were groups of cards that weren't that great and the good players only got 1-3 good cards for their metagame deck per new pack.

Looking at the above list, I get the same feeling. I love lists like that....at <750pts because at that level its better to have more squads. Minimum org. battles are no fun. Generally I prefer good tactics, but so-called 'subpar' lists.

I'd love to see an official 'banned list' for 40k units just to watch the ubermensch 'everyone be competitive or you're not a proper 40k player' people vomit, rage in their usual childlike profane way and then self-destruct for good. (this is hyperbole)

Oblivion_Necroninja said...

Alright, so there seem to be two major ways that you want 40k to be more like magic: Fluff-rules integration and free-form army building, yes?

(quick disclaimer: I used to play magic. I got in during the Alara block, then quit when Zendikar rendered my playstyle moot. I've never looked back since).

1. Fluff-rules integration: Magic's got a BIG advantage here, in that they build an entire new world for each "block". Even when they return to familiar ones, they've changed drastically. Still, for Xenos and IG, the rules can easily be changed to reflect the fluff. The problem is Space Marines. The SM fluff is flawed in two DRASTIC ways that make representing it basically impossible:
A. Fluff-Marines are WAY too powerful. This needs to be drastically toned down.
B. Official chapter organization is too heavily focused on Tacticals. When your manpower is as heavily limited as the Space Marines' is, one would assume that you'd have more specialist units.

2. Free-form army design causes HUGE balance problems, as new cards interacts with cards from other sets. As far as I've seen, Magic "solves" this problem by IGNORING IT. THis is obviously not going to be acceptable to 40k players. While I DO think there should be some kind of "Desperate Alliance" supplement for mixed armies and/or 3+ player games at normal point levels (without D-strength weapons and Structure Points and Flyers), I don't think it should be a major part of the "core game".

Atrotos said...

@Necroninja: The fluff demand doesn't have so much to do with getting units to play according to BL novel standards. Rather it's about making army composition match what you might find in the 40k universe.

In Magic the player is rewarded for choosing to stick to a theme whereas in 40k that is only a handicap. The less fluffy your army is in 40k the more competitive it is likely to be. That needs to change if the game is to remain interesting.

Free-form army design only creates "huge balance problems" when there isn't enough variety. If you gave everyone the option to take any units they wanted in 40k it's possible you would end up with a limited number of power builds (but this is already the case isn't it?).

In order to fully realize the potential of free form army building you would have to add a significant amount of units in order to flesh out all the myriad factions that exist in 40k. This increase the amount of build options at least 20-fold. Of those many will not be as competitive but there are so many possible strategies that one could never run out of viable options (just like Magic). That's why Wizards of the cost can afford to ignore the powerful combos - everyone has access to an endless supply of combos and counter-combos so it evens out.

C'nor (Outermost_Toe) said...

Hmm. I don't know that Eldar buffs on Orks would be that unlikely, form a fluff point of view. Orks can, after all, be mercenaries, and if they were the Eldar would have a pretty good reason to hire them (the fact that they're pretty scattered, and their Craftworlds are individually vulnerable to a concerted attack).

(Sorry, I can't make it pretty. If you want to set it up as a card like the ones in the post, feel free)

Reaver (1 Black, 1 White, 1 Any)

Creature - Dark Eldar

Power from Pain:

Whenever this unit kill an enemy creature, it gets +1/+1.

1/1

C'nor (Outermost_Toe) said...

Note: Adjust values as needed.

Lexington said...

It's sort of stalled out, due to conflicting schedules, distance and exhaustion, but a friend and I were trying to work out a set of "Veteran's Edition" 40K rules, which had an army building technique similar to the one you're suggesting here. Glad someone else thinks this could be a good way to manage things.

Ours was a little more restrictive than you're suggesting here - there were still distinct "armies," but mixed Imperial and Chaos factions could still work together cohesively, and both could pull allies from various Xenos. The catch was, we added a command mechanic, and unless you had a commander of the right "type" on the field, your units would have trouble activating or fighting as effectively. Psyker powers and the like were restricted to in-faction only models to keep any of that kind of abuse out, but I think the basic form and structure of it was starting to take some promising first steps. At least 'till it sputtered out, anyway. ;)

Love the blog, and I'd love to see you develop this idea more in the future!

Atrotos said...

@C'nor:

I would adjust the card a little:

Add 'flying' if it's a Reaver.

Power from Pain: Whenever a creature that was damaged by this card is put into the graveyard in the same turn place a +1/+1 counter on Reaver.

There's plenty of freeware out there for creating your own cards. A quick google search will get you started in under a minute.

@Lexington:

I don't believe a restricted list will be easy to control. Better, I think, to only use the most basic restrictions and let the rest take its own course. A non-restricted list will give more players access to really powerful combos which is one way of achieving balance. Restrictions are what makes it so difficult to balance one codex against another.

C'nor (Outermost_Toe) said...

Okay, here's the "prettified" version. It wo't let me just copy the image, but copy-pasting the URL it should work.

http://shenafu.com/magic/cc.php?save=true&frame=classic&border=&color=w&cardname=Reaver%20Jetbike&supertype=01000&cardtype=00001000000&subtype=Dark%20Eldar&powertoughness=1%2F1&manacost={1}%20{B}%20{1}%20{C}&rulestext=Flying%20%0A%0APower%20from%20Pain%3A%20Whenever%20a%20creature%20that%20was%20damaged%20by%20this%20card%20is%20put%20into%20the%20graveyard%20in%20the%20same%20turn%20place%20a%20%2B1%2F%2B1%20counter%20on%20%60.%0A&flavortext=&arturl=http%3A%2F%2F1.bp.blogspot.com%2F-OtW3NSZ0irg%2FTV2tRsF4AHI%2FAAAAAAAABLk%2FqZUhQatlHnE%2Fs1600%2FCIMG0824.JPG&artist=Kirby%3F

Atrotos said...

Nice, careful with the copypasta though.

C'nor (Outermost_Toe) said...

Thanks! Never mind about the copy-paste thing though. I figured out how to do it. All it takes is opening a blog post, clicking back to the card creator tab, and click-dragging the picture in, rather than actually trying to copy it. Then you can copy the HTML. If it doesn't show up as an image, enter img src=(all the stuff you just dragged) alt="" /> (But put a "<" before the "img src=" bit. It won't accept img tags in comments, so I had to take it out.)

Oblivion_Necroninja said...

Alright, so there seem to be two major ways that you want 40k to be more like magic: Fluff-rules integration and free-form army building, yes?

(quick disclaimer: I used to play magic. I got in during the Alara block, then quit when Zendikar rendered my playstyle moot. I've never looked back since).

1. Fluff-rules integration: Magic's got a BIG advantage here, in that they build an entire new world for each "block". Even when they return to familiar ones, they've changed drastically. Still, for Xenos and IG, the rules can easily be changed to reflect the fluff. The problem is Space Marines. The SM fluff is flawed in two DRASTIC ways that make representing it basically impossible:
A. Fluff-Marines are WAY too powerful. This needs to be drastically toned down.
B. Official chapter organization is too heavily focused on Tacticals. When your manpower is as heavily limited as the Space Marines' is, one would assume that you'd have more specialist units.

2. Free-form army design causes HUGE balance problems, as new cards interacts with cards from other sets. As far as I've seen, Magic "solves" this problem by IGNORING IT. THis is obviously not going to be acceptable to 40k players. While I DO think there should be some kind of "Desperate Alliance" supplement for mixed armies and/or 3+ player games at normal point levels (without D-strength weapons and Structure Points and Flyers), I don't think it should be a major part of the "core game".

C'nor (Outermost_Toe) said...

Okay, here's the "prettified" version. It wo't let me just copy the image, but copy-pasting the URL it should work.

http://shenafu.com/magic/cc.php?save=true&frame=classic&border=&color=w&cardname=Reaver%20Jetbike&supertype=01000&cardtype=00001000000&subtype=Dark%20Eldar&powertoughness=1%2F1&manacost={1}%20{B}%20{1}%20{C}&rulestext=Flying%20%0A%0APower%20from%20Pain%3A%20Whenever%20a%20creature%20that%20was%20damaged%20by%20this%20card%20is%20put%20into%20the%20graveyard%20in%20the%20same%20turn%20place%20a%20%2B1%2F%2B1%20counter%20on%20%60.%0A&flavortext=&arturl=http%3A%2F%2F1.bp.blogspot.com%2F-OtW3NSZ0irg%2FTV2tRsF4AHI%2FAAAAAAAABLk%2FqZUhQatlHnE%2Fs1600%2FCIMG0824.JPG&artist=Kirby%3F