Monday, March 24, 2014

Why 40K is Becoming Better for Social Groups and Tournaments ... But Worse for Pick-Up and LGS Gaming

So as time goes on, more and more becomes visible and apparent about the design intent of Games Workshop.

It's probably been apparent for a while, but something Neil Gilstrap and I were chatting about further reinforces the point and I think hits the nail on the head.

Many of the chief design folks in Games Workshop (i.e., JJ) come from the original D&D / home gaming era, where things like 40K were not so much played at big tournaments or local game shops, as they were played among a group of friends with a bunch of reference books and a few brews and pretzels in the nearest available basement (or loft, whatever).

If you look at 40K now, with it costing nearly $1,200 to obtain all the core rules (not counting Forgeworld here, folks), it's a game that is nearly impossible for one person to legally be up to speed with.

Now, if any GW folks are reading this, please chime in or share in. Your competitors actually do cross blog posts and share their $.02. Community engagement and all that. You have no idea how motivating it is when the designer of a game drops by and gives his $.02. I say this because I don't think many can fathom the logic or reasonability in charging over one thousand dollars (and counting) to own the basic unit and game rules.

But I digress. A healthy social gaming club/group is going to have access to all the rules in aggregate. A tournament organizer is going to have access to all the rules via their resources, volunteers, other TOs, etc. A random gamer is not, at this point, going to ever have access to them. A new gamer is certainly not.

Why 40K Today is Good for Social Groups/Clubs
Because of the incredibly diverse and dense quantity of rules now in the game of Warhammer 40,000, any social gaming group or club can effectively sift through the mass and decide what is or isn't kosher for the weekly activities of the group. Don't want to see D weapons? Cool, make a group decision and you won't have to. Do want to see Knight Titans? Cool, make a group decision and you will. Don't want to see super battle bro deathstars (hereafter known as Brostars)? Cool, make a house rule and they're gone for good.

40K is at this point by its very nature an optional/modular ruleset game. Social groups and clubs can establish what modules and rules are and aren't OK. They can also use and ratify rules changes / house rules.

I think this is the prime target of the design studio, maybe just of Jervis. I *wonder* whether they know how much worse they are making their game for the random and new gamer, but we'll get to that.

Why 40K Today is Good for Tournaments
In many ways, Tournaments are like Social Groups/Clubs. They have an online presence, they establish mission and rules guidelines, they establish FAQs for how they're going to play fuzzy rules, etc. They're also club-like with other Tournaments, and while each TO may have his closer buddies within the club or even a couple clubmates they don't care for, generally speaking they're all roughly aware of what the other guys are doing and want to do, and thus try not to stray too far from the established understandings (while still doing what they really want to do most). You could spend an article drawing meaningful parallels.

The biggest note to be drawn here, however, is that a Tournament can and will set forth a clear understanding (or at least it should) of what will and won't be legal, how questionable things will be played, etc. Generally speaking, a TO will make these rules based upon what he believes is best for his attendees' enjoyment (again, at least he should).

So just like a social gaming group, attendees to a Tournament have a clearer understanding of what is and isn't kosher from amongst the horridly dense and divergent components of the 40K of today.

Long and Short on the Upside
If you aren't attending tournaments or joined to a club/social group that communicates well, YOU SHOULD. It's in these environments you'll be able to enjoy the game most, because it's in these environments you'll most be able to know what parameters you'll be gaming within. Yes, that means go to the NOVA Open and participate in the Narrative or the brass tacks GT, but this isn't really the point of the post. I'm just as encouraging of you to either form or join a social group or club in your local area. You'll enjoy the game far more. You'll also have a much better idea of what things you actually should spend your money on.

THE most frustrated hardcore hobbyists I see these days are the ones who aren't part of a tight social gaming group or club and tend to buy what they think looks or sounds cool from within the entire range of GW products ... from Forgeworld through Stronghold. These folks end up really frustrated when tournaments ban or outlaw certain things, or when their local game groupings do the same. They never knew what the expectations were before they made their investments (or those expectations have changed over time, that does happen, though it's not really applicable to investments like knight titans or recent forgeworld escalation units, etc), and so they end up with all manner of rationalizations for why the community (locally, tournament-wise, or just at large) is just scared to use new units or doesn't understand what GW intends balance wise, or whatever other rationalization works better than "I just didn't know I couldn't regularly find opponents to use this against if I bought and lovingly built/painted it."

This leads to ...

The People Whose Enjoyment Games Workshop is Directly Harming
New players. People who lack the social interest in or local group availability for joining a social game group/club. Hardcore hobbyists who spend their time buying and painting models, and game only occasionally.

You can go on with the list, but it's a large subset ... I think actually a pretty substantial subset ... of the hobby.

These people are worse off for what GW has been doing lately. While TOs have a little more work and stress on their plates, attendees of tournaments are going to have just as much fun as ever. If any part of GW hopes to negatively impact tourney success, sorry ... that goal has failed miserably. If any part of GW hopes to increase the fun of beer and pretzels weekly game night folks ... that goal has succeeded admirably (there's more stuff from which to choose when establishing acceptable list building protocols for the group).

It's the people who don't exist within a group that has already-established frameworks of acceptable use who are harmed here. They often end up buying the coolest, newest thing, then end up subsequently frustrated at the community at large (or probably, eventually, GW) for not letting them routinely find playing opportunities.

So the point here I think is (if there is one beyond simple observation and opinion sharing) ... any game that requires veteran players to lead you by the nose into it is not doing its job well from a "find new customers" vantage point. Any game that punishes more socially introverted hobbyists could arguably not be doing a good job ... but, it is a social game by nature.

Regardless, rather than hate on Games Workshop for whatever rampantly short-term, short-sighted "meet the quarterly report and don't lose our jobs to the customers we REALLY care about - shareholders" business decisions they make (and who knows if it's that or just beer/pretzels-home-hobby-focused-at-the-cost-of-all-else decision making within the design studio) ... either fix the problem by playing in more tournaments and joining social game groups / clubs ... or fix it by finding a game whose balance and design by nature levels the playing field for all player types (whether you're fluff/paint-first, competition-first, or somewhere in between), like Malifaux.

There's a lot of doom and gloom out there about 40k ... I don't think it's actually warranted. As always in life, take a look at what's really in front of you, find a solution, and carry on.

In fun news ... we had THIRTY people at the Terrain Build this past weekend, and it was awesome. Here's the prototype for the Lunar/Asteroid tables for this year's Narrative.

It's also a good sneak peak at the layout with double the center LOS blockage. This layout will be in play at all the 40K events ... so expect a lot more LOS blockage than last year, where Tau and Eldar gunlines/serpentlines had a field day in the alternate layouts, etc.


  1. I concur with this completely. If you have a well-established group of people to play with and have a stable "social contract", then this is a golden age. GW is putting out tons of amazing models and fluffy rules to do almost any type of scenario game people could imagine. But without that framework, pickup games and tournaments can run into problems with managing expectations.

  2. Yeah, makes sense.

    As for seeing that lunar base table with all that Infinity terrain on it... you know what? I really like it and I think we're just going to steal that whole idea to cover the last three Infinity tables needed to fill out our quota.

  3. Essay 40k! Love it.

    Srsly tho - brevity, Mike. Brevity.

  4. This is exactly what I'm experiencing with my extremely limited time Mike - great article.

  5. If you had told me 5 yrs ago that codecies would be dropping every month, that chapter approved would be back and that awesome concepts like flyers and knight titans were in the game I would squeal with glee.

    And yet the final product is lacking.

    A "golden age" for social 40k but I can't help but feel that the gw design team has reached insulting levels of incompetence; it feels wrong to reward this trend.

    If we had a community driven resource for rules (hint hint Mike) the game would truly flourish since we could all invest safely in the models we love

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  7. I'm not sure our friend Chucky is a real person...

    I'd never thought about the cost of owning the core rules before, at least not explicitly. Selling rules is a significant part of the GW business model and I'm not sure how they would even start to move away from that. They've invested a lot of effort in persuading their customer base that the army books and codexes are worth the RRP and when you've developed a brand like that the last thing you want to do is devalue it.

    I like the 'it's not about good or bad' approach you've taken. While many people question the GW model the fact remains that they sell enormous volumes of miniatures and those miniatures are of fantastic quality.

    I just wish I knew where they were taking us, their customers.

  8. Seems Jervis has heard you mike his latest column in the dwarf is talking about gaming groups too...Mentionning ETC too, not NOVA or Adepticon tough, sorry yanks ;) ;)



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