Sunday, June 18, 2017

Don't Break 8th! An Appeal to the Community

So, the New Warhammer 40,000 has only been officially out for a few days, and already there is a lot of discussion on what needs to be "fixed." It shouldn't be surprising, I suppose, but it leads me to writing this, and I hope you'll hear me out:

Leave the rules alone and play it as it lies for now.

This goes for the entirety of the rules, particularly those for Matched play, including the missions. That's not to say unclear rules shouldn't be clarified or FAQ'd, or typos corrected. But it is to say that we need to be mindful of the fact that the rules were created with intention and purpose, and even if that's different, and not something we're used to, we should acknowledge that and give everything a chance before petitioning for change - preferably with evidence for why it is needed. Right now, no one has that evidence.

As a community, I think we have gotten so used to the game we love not being polished and balanced mechanically, and requiring our guardianship to shape it into a healthier and more welcoming game for veteran and newbie alike. This requirement of the players to shape the game has become ingrained in our consciousness and is almost an automatic impulse.

This impulse has become so automatic and instinctual that we do it without realizing it. I first became aware of this tendency in myself when I played my first couple games of Malifaux several years ago, and I get reminded of this moment of self-awareness every time I've played a non-40k game; I was expecting there to be ambiguities and so when there weren't, I sometimes created them.

I think many players who have dabbled or played other game systems can relate to this awareness, and the learning curve it takes to stop questioning the rules and looking for a loophole in a system, and just taking it as it lies. Before I made this realization, when playing other games, I would struggle with rules and game mechanics. Once I realized what I was doing and took the rules at face value, how they worked became clearer and I was able to play the game for what it was. No system is perfect, but they tend to run smoother when you stop trying to insert conflict.

The new Warhammer 40k is a brand new game. It is not a patch to the 40k we've been playing for years. This is a different game in the same setting. There are inherent similarities and some mechanics that were retained, but largely it is a new game.

As a group, we need to first work on setting aside our preconceived notions of what the game is and take it at face value. Part of that is to stop assuming the game is broken and looking for ways to fix it before we've tried it.

The attitude of "it's broken, let's fix it" is already playing itself out with calls for changing some core mechanics of the game as it was introduced. The biggest one I've seen so far is a call to abandon or change the first turn mechanic built in to the matched play missions. And this is a change I strongly oppose, at least for now.

In my first post touching on 8th, I mentioned that the game feels balanced differently and better than it has been before. What I mean by this is that there are clear core rules mechanics designed to balance armies at a macro scale. Certain ways rules work benefit unit types or army construction differently, and from my impression, are balanced by other rules that target that same unit type or army construction with a restriction. These balancing mechanisms are independent of Codexes and the power of individual units or factions.

The degree to which the game mechanics themselves have been used to create balance within the game is part of what has me newly excited about Warhammer 40k. The mechanic of the player who finishes deploying first picking which player goes first is an important element of balancing list construction styles.

A mechanic like this is a known quantity, and if kept, should play into list building. We've only had the rules briefly, but already in list building discussions, it plays a part; designing a list that maximizes Command Points for an army while minimizing deployment drops is an important and calculated choice.

In the game as a whole there will be armies that function better if built with a lot of units, while others will need to have points concentrated in a relatively small number of units. These armies will have to be built to consider their relative strengths and weaknesses, including whether or not they will usually have a say in who goes first.

An army that needs a bunch of drops to function will need to take into account that it will not get a say in whether it goes first or second, and so, be able to absorb an alpha-strike. Similarly, an army that has been designed in the rules to need a low number of points-intensive units or models likely has also been designed to need to go first and not have nearly the same ability to absorb damage without hampering their output.

Now, I've only played six games; I'm not an expert and I may be proved wrong in time, but as someone who sees that there is intent and design put into the rule regarding choosing first turn, I have to question immediate calls to change it. And this goes for all of the rules in 8th edition, even the missions; there was clearly an effort made by Games Workshop to use game mechanics to balance differing play styles and approaches to the game.

Dismissing any of the rules out of hand will unbalance the work put in by GW and the independent playtesters they brought in. As a community, we went through 7th edition and saw just how much careless rules tossed into the game can upset balance. It may be hard to remember, but 7th edition actually was somewhat balanced. But rules and units introduced seemingly without thought to their impact on the wider game brought 7th Edition to the mess it became.

I know it can be hard to trust the company that previously introduced unbalanced rules all over the place to be introducing balanced rules. But 8th edition offers a clean slate to work with - and so, with the new attitudes of community outreach and interaction - we should make sure we are working with the game and its designers to maintain balance, not immediately undermine the game and its design.

So that is my plea; play the game as it lies, let it play out. And then we can come back in a few months and have some data and experience of the game as it is, to see if anything could use tweaking. What are your thoughts?