Wednesday, 15 November 2017

State of the game - my thoughts on the factions so far...

Greetings all! Back in July, I wrote a post about my initial thoughts on 8th edition, and it was pretty well received (it's actually my third most viewed post of all time). Well, we're a few months down the line now, several codices into the new edition and I've played a lot more games, so I figured I'd do a kind of update to that post, though in a connected fashion rather than a direct follow-up.

What I think I'm going to do therefore is have a look at a few issues I have, take a look at the factions I've played and how I feel about them in narrative terms compared to their tabletop rules etc.

Right, so first off let's have a think about the game itself and some of the things I raised last time.

List building.
So much more important now. In 7th, I think you could get away with an average list in most games and still come away with a decent record against all but the top competitive lists. Across the board however, I think these days that a good list is a much more important part of being successful, and understanding how all your unit abilities and specialisms interact is more important than ever.

I'll give you some idea of what I mean. At the weekend, I attended Never Mind the Blogwars. I finished in 17th place, but across the 3 games, only 2 other players killed a greater percentage of their opponents armies than I did. I had some pretty appalling card draws that let me down in terms of actually winning my games, but my list was balanced enough to take on a Nid horde, a Dark Eldar mixed force and an Alpha Legion infantry based force. I've yet to go up against an armoured list with it, but I figure with the amount of lascannons and other anti tank weapons I've got, that kind of list wouldn't pose any greater threat than loads of little gribblies. Even some of the top lists we're seeing taking event titles are very well balanced (in terms of having the tools to deal with the various threats), if a little spammy in places.

Definitely slicker than 7th edition, but my games are slowing down a little at the moment as we all adjust to learning new books and abilities. At the aforementioned tournament however every one of my games got 5 battle rounds in or came to a natural conclusion (even if the last one we squeaked in the end of battle round five with a couple of minutes to spare).

I'm pretty comfortable with the new system for re-rolls now. I still wish they'd adjusted the system to allow re-rolls of natural 1's regardless of modifiers, but on the whole it seems to have bedded in nicely.

One thing I'm still seeing played wrong however is that I still see players taking cover bonuses for models that aren't in or on cover. Can't quite understand how this is so often wrong as the rules are pretty clear.

Command points.
Gimmicky? Maybe, but they also add a wonderful layer of tactical depth to the game, particularly for those factions that have their own book now. What I am disappointed with though is that the marine book (this will become a theme I'm sure you'll realise) is a bit bland in that regard. Damage values going up in general means that now the superhuman defenders of the imperium seem to get scraped off the table quite quickly, and as the first codex out of the blocks, Marines don't seem to have anything that really defines them as a faction anymore. 3+ armour isn't as good as it used to be, and whilst they still have And They Shall Know No Fear, it doesn't really come across as a faction defining trait anymore, particularly with the effectiveness of many other armies in ignoring morale or reducing its effect in the game.

That indefinable thing that makes an army truly feel like how you imagine it should when you wield it on the table. Codices have, in general terms, been bringing that feel back much more than was evident in the indices (obviously). Inevitably I think with such a punishing release schedule, even though much work has evidently gone into these before the release of 8th edition, we are seeing some books hit the spot much better than others, and the same seems to apply for the relative power levels of the mid range lists coming out of the book. I've already mentioned above, that my space marines don't exactly feel 'superhuman' most of the time. Firepower levels have increased across the board but marine survivability doesn't seem to have translated with it. Vanguard Veterans would be my most obvious example here, but the same can be seen across the marine range, and despite the changes to the way wounding works making T4 more significant against S6-7 weapons (like scatter lasers) the increased damage from the changes to armour saves means in a lot of cases, marines feel more vulnerable. This is only exacerbated against weapons like the Exocrine or the Whirlwind Scorpius, where -2AP seems to hit the sweet spot between rate of fire and armour penetration. Good players exploit such issues. I've taken a unit of vanguard veterans in most of my games to provide mobility and some combat punch to threaten enemy artillery units etc. The problem is, very rarely do they actually make it through a battle. These guys are supposed to be the veterans of hundreds of campaigns and many decades of service at least, yet in my games, they only have a single wound and so even the slightest sub-par roll sees them swept off the table into the dead pile with no redundancy beyond using a command point to re-roll a single save.

The same would apply to my old favourite, the chainsword. That whirling dervish of adamantium cutting teeth, rending armour and flesh apart with equal ease, and what is it's armour penetration value? -. What? I'm sorry, but isn't the very concept of an armour modifier designed to apply in game terms exactly the effect of a chainsword in the fluff? Wearing down armour, reducing its protection but not necessarily carving through it with the same ease that a power sword would exhibit. Instead, they get an extra attack, in exactly the same way as a knife wielded by a marine scout, or (borrowing from MOARHAMMER here) a piece of lead pipe wielded Professor Plumb the Chaos Cultist in the sewer vent!

Right, enough of that, let's have a look at a few factions shall we? And maybe I'll tackle that old chestnut, the tome of all things balanced and value for money - Forgeworld.

Chaos Marines
Looking at my results, I've played this faction more than any other, (although some of those games were under index rules). I have to say, I think this is a pretty decent piece of work. Prescience irritates me since loyalist marines can't access it (and their powers in general are pretty lacklustre) and warptime is a potential game-changer against the unwary, but these powerful elements are also balanced out by the rest of the book. The unit I feel most sorry for from the Chaos pantheon however is the Heldrake. I know, who'd ever have thought someone might ever feel sorry for the Heldrake??? It's just not scary anymore I'm afraid, heck I played one that charged my Stormhawk Interceptor and the Stormhawk did more damage in combat than the Heldrake could muster.

Interesting one here, I've played a couple of games and in both instances I felt that the issue for Orks is that their mediocre BS is made up for my volume and damage, but both of those factors lead to a horribly evil list in the hands of someone who's rolling hot that day. My Imperial Fists marine list has been out-shot by Orks. On the flipside however, I don't think that Ork strategy (haha) has really permeated my playing group yet - I think there are actually some really subtle depths to the Ork index and rules that players haven't yet picked up on, and my opponents have simply seized on the obvious (lots of Orks, da jump) and are suffering because of it. I've actually sketched out my own Ork list that I think would be much more balanced and capable because it works on the basis of not using da jump to throw a big unit of boys across the table into combat unsupported. Overall, I think the book is pretty balanced, but players (from what I've seen) are not making the best use of it. Equally, I don't like that I see Ghazhgkull in just about every list - how does that make him 'special?'

I've not played or seen much about the new book, but I think Nids are in a good place overall from the Index. Some units felt a bit over the top (exocrines) but there are ways to address them without needing to resort to cheese in most instances. I think where Nids fell down was in the upper levels of competitive play, because really good players understand the threat from units like that and can deal with them, whereas more casual players don't (because they don't usually need to).

Poor T'au. Top dog in 7th (almost), they now seem to be really suffering. And they shouldn't, because firepower is just as effective as ever in this edition. Once again, I think the Index lacks the flavour and synergy that some of the codices are exhibiting so I have no doubt that when their turn comes, we'll see a much improved army. The suffer very much the same issues Eldar did, in that the nerf bat hit them hard, perhaps a little too hard in places, and only the codex will restore that.

Astra Militarum
Wow, these guys are very much the top of the current pile - Never Mind the Blog Wars saw 5 of the top 6 lists using AM, and that's no coincidence. In a reverse nerf bat these guys got bumped up to the top of the pile I think, with their low points investment meaning that brigades are easily achievable, and with that a really good mix of stratagems and warlord traits etc meaning that Guard have all the tools to beat anyone readily available. The favoured strategy seems to be tanks, but an infantry horde can be equally effective.

Dark Eldar
Another faction that went from the bottom of the pile to very powerful indeed. I've faced a mixed list of these guys and it was very fair, strong but not spammy and quite flavourful, mixing all the different elements of Drukhari society into a single list. My issue with them though (speaking as a former player) is that they are always pictured as being the quintessential 'glass hammer'. And yet they're not. With invulnerable saves all over the place and power from pain granting the ability to ignore wounds, these guys actually come across as really quite resilient. Personally I think they've missed the mark therefore, and will need a lot of work into a codex to get them feeling how they should. I think reducing the ability of enemies to hit them would actually work better than giving them the chance to ignore wounds.

I'm going to throw this one in there too because I've played a list built using the Imperium keyword. And it felt pretty cheesy to be honest. Yes, I understand that the various fighting forces of the Imperium are designed to work together in the background, but when you're facing a list containing Pask, St Celestine, Imperial Guard Troops, a Vindicare assassin and a big unit of Custodes, it very much comes across as an opponent picking the best bits of everything and calling it an army. Sure, it doesn't gain the benefits of other keyword detachments but with that many solid performing units it doesn't need to. Equally, I've seen lists consisting of multiple Imperial Knights and several assassins. That's not an army, that's a collection of models representing rules you want to use. It'll be interesting to see if GW actually do anything about it.

Just as a final thought - what do you all think about the idea of filling every slot in a detachment before a player could take another? Fair? I've exploited the multiple detachment list myself to get the most command points possible, but with different factions having access to different costed units, some will find it very much easier to achieve that than others (and does this matter as it's already the case?)

Till next time,
hope you found my thoughts interesting!


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