Wednesday, 22 February 2017

What is OP? And do we really know it when we see it?


Tackling one of the big subjects today - OP stuff (and no, I don't mean out of production).

It's a term that gets thrown around a lot, and the thing is, I'm not really sure a lot of people genuinely get what it is or why something might be OP, and they simply use the term to mean something they haven't anticipated facing or don't know how to beat.



For the uninitiated, when used in this context, OP means overpowered, effectively a unit that is capable of having a bigger effect on the game than its points cost would indicate. An alternative term would be undercosted, but overpowered is more appropriate as it has a wider scope to include synergistic elements of rules.

Now I'll be perfectly honest here, GW doesn't have the best track record in balancing its factions (though I do believe that's a much harder proposition than a lot of people seem to think) and some of the arguments about units and combinations being OP are perfectly valid. Many however are not, so today I'm going to look at what I consider to be a reasonable definition of OP, and some of the units that do qualify for that, along with a few examples of units I've heard claimed as being OP that I think are perfectly reasonable given the right attitude to building your list and playing the game.

So, what do we need to consider then if we're going to define what actually constitutes an overpowered model.

First, I think it has to be something that 'breaks' the basic rules of the game, that not only does something no other model is capable of (that after all could just be a unique ability) but something that no other model is capable of and has no basis for the rules that are being attached to it. I'm going to look at the Tau Optimised Stealth Cadre here. For the uninitiated who wander along in a blissful state of ignorance about this rule, it states
"At the start of your shooting phase, this formation can network their stealth fields to create a wall of mirrors. If you do so, then the weapons used by the formation's ghostkeels, and by any unit of stealth battlesuits from this formation that are within 6" of a ghostkeel from this formation, have the ignores cover special rule, and these models add 1 to their ballistic skill for that shooting phase. In addition, their weapons are assumed to strike the rear armour of any vehicle that they hit, no matter what its actual facing."
Now you can see why people really don't like this formation and cry OP. In this case I would agree, it is overpowered, not because of the effect as such, but because of the conflict between what the rule is telling us happens, and what the rule actually allows. It would seem to my mind perfectly reasonable if this rule worked exactly as described provided one of the units from the formation was located within the rear arc of the vehicle in question. At that point, the presence of a wall of mirrors could easily be considered to redirect the energy blasts of the other models from the formation into the rear armour of a vehicle. Equally in game terms, working a unit into the rear arc requires an element of risk and therefore the reward of being able to benefit from lower rear armour values is reasonable. Plinking away from 24"  on the edge of your deployment zone and still hitting the rear armour however, doesn't make any sense.

Similarly, wind rider jetbikes break several of the fairly well established codes of the game. First, whilst their T is increased by 1 as per the usual method of dealing with the model being mounted on a bike, they get a bonus +2 to their armour save, where most instances only increase armour by +1 (or none at all in the case of marines). They then have the option of arming every single model in the squad with a much more effective gun than standard, where again convention usually limits the changing of weapons to a proportion of the squad where the altered weapon is considerably more effective. That in itself to my mind is sufficient to argue that windriders meet the definition of OP, but then added to that is the ability to jump into weapons range and then move back out again fairly consistently, and being objective secured in a standard CAD just adds to the long list of reasons why this particular unit is probably more overpowered than just about any other standard 40k unit out there. One particularly good indicator is to see if a unit is included in the majority of armies you face from a particular faction. Since the latest codex dropped I've never faced an Eldar army without quite a lot of windriders, and it's rare to see a Tau list without the OSC.

Ok so there's a couple of examples of how I think some of the formations and units around are overpowered, now let's look at some that aren't shall we, and why I think that's the case.

White Scars bikes are first up, and the suggestions that they are 'cheesy'. This is mainly due to the fact that white scars chapter tactics allow their bikers to gain skilled rider for no extra cost, meaning that any kind of terrain is basically ignored by them for almost all purposes (they can still claim cover saves though!).

Yes, I can see why people facing these guys consider that to be a huge benefit to the army, at no additional cost either!

Except, they do have that additional cost, it's built in to the cost of the bike in the first place, because any unit of bikes is capable of having that rule - essentially the cost of chapter tactics is figured into the cost of the unit, it's just that white scars tactics benefit bikes in particular. The same could be said of the benefits to shooting and combat from the doctrine system for ultramarines or the 17% extra resilience of Iron Hands units, but you don't see those labelled as cheesy in the same way.

Additionally, if you've ever played a full on bike list, dangerous terrain (especially since all difficult terrain is dangerous for bikes) has the ability to completely wreck your entire day, all on its own, and regardless of that being one of the balancing factors in choosing to use bikes, no-one should be put in the situation where their own battleplan can be completely ruined by a couple of bad rolls when their force was simply moving around the table.

The final reason why I don't think bike list are inherently cheesy is a simple one - there are ways around it, to deal with it without recourse to cheese of your own. Things bike lists hate more than anything else - AP3 ignores cover, and massed fire (particularly with rerolls). They are by nature an elite army (they cost 157% of a normal marine) and so anything that takes away models has a disproportionately greater impact on their ability to fight back. If you take away their jink and are already ignoring their armour then you can cripple a bike army in short order - Heldrakes in particular make mincemeat of them. Equally, anything that is capable of throwing out large quantities of shots - either serious amounts of normal fire or a lot of high strength fire, is going to give them a bad day - even with jink, they will fail on average one wound in three, meaning the old adage of 'everything counts in large amounts' most certainly applies. Autocannons, ion and pulse weaponry, shuriken guns - all of these are going to give bikes a bad day.

The example I'm going to use for a formation that's considered OP may be a contentious one - the skyhammer.

This very quickly did the rounds when it was first released, and allowing relentless to its devastator squads and a charge for the assault unit the turn they arrive was seen by most if not all to be a step too far - not that it stopped people using it!

However, whilst this formation most definitely can be OP, it's not true to say that it always is.

My point here is a matter of context. In a 1500pt game, the two devastator squads in the skyhammer will be a significant proportion of the army, probably 1/3 or so if they're kitted out how they normally would be (grav cannons). The likelihood is they'll delete a couple of enemy units when they arrive, and can then proceed to make your opponent's life a misery. Very true, and all very OP so far.

However...

Put that same formation into a 3000pt game and all of a sudden things aren't so gloomy - yes of course they'll still arrive and delete the same units, but in this context, your own ability to return the favour in kind with the rest of your army is proportionately increased and consequently the impact the skyhammer has on the game is much reduced.

Conclusions

There's a lot we can learn about how we react to things in here - units and formations most certainly can be overpowered, but the term gets used a lot more widely than is probably appropriate.

These two articles on Elite 40k (Rant - a diseased community) and (Rant - Building a competitive community) illustrate the point pretty effectively, even if they are written from the point of view of a competitive gamer who likes to be challenged on the tabletop.

We can also conclude that the relative power level of a thing is entirely dependent on context, and there are ways to neuter even the nastiest, most horrible big units in the game (MSU army list design).

Let's stop calling everything we've not played before OP and start being a bit more rational shall we? As Charlie over at Elite 40k says - stop whining and become a better player!

Till next time,
TBE