Friday, 15 May 2015

Mini codexes - good, bad or ugly?



Hi all,
The Burning Eye here again for a little opinion piece I've been working on - relating to the appearance within the game of several mini-dexes, or codices for 'sub' factions within the Warhammer 40k universe.

Now I'm a grizzled old veteran of this game system, having played (or at least been a collector) for over 20 years. Things come and go, but one thing tht has always been fairly consistent in my time with the game has been the limitation on numbers of factions (as they are now commonly referred as). Sure, every few years we'd see something new and amidst great fanfare a new race (as they used to be called) would be released upon the galaxy. Since I began playing this happened with the Dark Eldar, Necrons, Tau and Sisters of Battle.

This is all good, I hear you say, more choice means a better game, and in that respect I would agree with you.

More recently however we've seen a massive shift away from this policy of only releasing new factions as complete armies, and the introduction of first the supplement and then of the mini-dex, detailing a sub-faction.

To my knowledge these comprise the following:
Assassins dataslate

Black legion
Sentinels of Terra
Clan Raukaan
Champions of Fenris
Waaagh! Ghazghkull

Militarum Tempestus
Inquisition
Harlequins
Skitarii
Imperial knights
And soon to be released Cult Mechanicus.

This takes the factions up to 23, from the good old days when I first started collecting, when there were (I think) 9.

And that's what brings me to the point of the article. Is all this expansion actually a good thing?

Choice

The increase in the number of factions available, alongside the associated increasing variety of ways to play the game can only be a good thing - there are now very few holes in the range in terms of tactics and style of play (I can still think of one or two, including my own personal favourite idea of mine, the blast army, which incorporates fast transports to deploy troops armed with heavy blast weapons designed as area denial weapons).

Rating: Good

Cost

Inevitably as the years go by the cost of the hobby rises, alongside everything else (I still remember the fuss people made when petrol rose above £1 a litre!) but more specifically here I'm talking about the cost of building an army. Some of the newer codices are quite limited in terms of options, so building a larger army is likely to mean allying more than one faction together, meaning more codices need to be bought. In that respect, I think GW are playing a shrewd business game, bringing out mini dexes now that may be rolled together in the future if they prove successful, as was done with the expansion of the imperial knights codex.

I, unlike a lot of people I see commenting online, accept that GW is a business and needs to make a profit to keep running, but I'm not so keen on this latest trend.

Rating: Ugly

Knowledge

I've seen this raised plenty recently, and it may actually hit GW in terms of their codex sales. Staying on top of all the codices in rules terms is becoming more and more difficult with the cost and pace of releases. As such, there are people who previously would have bought every codex to ensure they knew all the rules, who will now stick to just those factions they are collecting. If this pace continues it won't be long before knowing the whole range will be nigh on impossible.

Rating: Bad

Model Range

Undoubtedly the expansion of the number of factions has increased the variety of the model range available for 40k, from my early days when you basically had men, men in pointy helmets, and two kinds of monsters, to the current range incorporating the heavily modern and stylised Tau, the skeletal but still humanoid Necrons, Dark Eldar who bring a very different aesthetic to the humanoid form, and again the stylistic and distinctive skitarii and cult mechanicus units recently released.

Now in reality, what that means is that there's an increasing likelihood that you'll end up facing an army for whom you dislike the aesthetic, but it also brings in more people by bringing in those who previously didn't like the 40k grim dark gothic look.

Rating: Good

Gameplay

Again here, we're looking at different ways of doing things, introducing options into the game. Traditionally speaking the fastest units in the game for example have always been some form of transported units (Dark Eldar, Eldar spring to mind) or limited to certain units within an army (anything with the Beast type).

The expansion of the factions however allows different army wide traits to expand the styles of play - Skitarii for example are a very mobile force without the use of transports for their units, whilst the cult mechanicus appear to be redefining the term 'implacable'.

Where this does cause a problem potentially is the tournament scene and the Take All Comers (TAC) lists. with a limited number of playstyles it is comparatively easy to choose a list that performs well against those styles, even if different units within your force come to the fore in different games. Now however, how easy is it to write a TAC list that you'll use to face 4+ Imperial Knights in one game, then an endless horde of Orks in the next?

There's only really one solution to that - and that's to take in allies and (realistically) super heavies of your own to address the matter.

Superheavies with their ability to spread shots around at different targets bring a whole different kind of utility to the game, and allow your conventional troops to focus on one thing whilst the superheavy brings tools for the other jobs - consider the imperial knight crusader - able to bring 6 different weapons to the fight, two of which are large blast (one with two shots) alongside a high rate of fire rending cannon and three support weapons. No horde army is going to want to face that due to the sheer damage potential, but its presence allows the conventional troops in the rest of the force to focus on taking down armoured units.

Rating: I'm honestly struggling here, I love the idea of choice and variety for players and collectors, but I'm not so keen on the route it's taking things with the nullification of TAC style lists (I'm not saying they won't stay, just that they'll see more extreme matchups causing problems).

In the end though, the hobbyist wins out so I'm going to rate it Good.

On those topics therefore, I think the introduction of the minidex is a good thing overall. I'm not saying it's perfect, or there aren't unpleasant motives behind its introduction (for the hobbyist at least), but I'm very firmly in the camp of 'a bigger hobby is better' and the prospect of facing a wider variety of opponents and armies is a good thing in my mind. My only real concern is how long it will take to balance everything out - at present there are some definite losers in the balance arena, with Eldar not only having banked the cheque for first place, but they've also mugged the 2nd and 3rd place guys and nicked theirs too.

Till next time - watch out for Bear Cavalry.
TBE