Friday, 7 March 2014

The Problem with 40K

My first experience with 40k was Epic, with a buddy in primary school who was a horrible cheat. He had all the miniatures and knew the rules (wrote all the army lists…). I always played Orks and he always played Imperials and I always lost. The game sucked. I told him so after a couple of games and he let me change sides for once (I wasn’t allowed to use the Imperator Titan, it was HIS). I’m sure the points were skewed against me but I won through superior tactics, no doubt garnered from using dodgy outnumbered (!) Orks for such a long time. I still remember that the hero of the day was a Knight Castellan (below) that pulled off a great ambush and punched way above his weight.

May first crack at 40k proper was during a Christmas holiday in 1995. I met up with some friends that I hadn’t seen in a while during a camping trip. They had brought a few sets of Dragon Dice with them as well as the Space Wolves, Eldar and Angels of Death codices. I had brought all of my Battletech stuff with me, so we had something of a cultural gaming exchange. Apart from playing a lot of Dragon Dice, I copied the Angel of Death Codex out by hand and created 2000 points worth of paper fold up miniatures. I still have great memories of that time, such as Ragnar Blackmane howling so hard he ran off the board and shooting Jain Zar in the face with Brother Captain Tycho’s digi-lasers. When I got back home I introduced the game to my mates at school and we started playing, mainly on the weekends. White Dwarf (below) in those days had a narrative that blows the current rag out of the water.
The games back then were carefree and cutthroat. WYSIWYG didn’t exist (neither did Tau: ha!), so painstakingly drawn paper space marines walked next to poorly painted plastic versions. Cheesy spam was everywhere but we had a great time when we weren’t arguing about line-of-sight and army composition. After one particularly gruelling gankfest, I refused to ever play a game against two Bloodthirsters ever again. EVER. 2nd Ed., as we found out, was a beautifully broken beast.

When 3rd Edition 40k rolled in, we were all shattered. I stuck with it though, keeping the dream alive for far longer than I ever imagined possible. It has only been recently that I have looked at the game that has taken up so much of my time/energy and thought “what ever happened to the good old days.” Looking for the first time at my collections with a critical eye, it is easy to see that I have been resisting change since about 4th Ed. The new Tyranid codex was the straw that broke me. I could drop $500 or more to make my collection competitive, or…..what?
So, what is the problem with 40K? There is an awful lot of net-rage about Games Workshop, with a seemingly equal amount of “climate-change deniers”. Their most compelling argument is that people love the edition they started with the most. It attains almost mythical qualities that don’t stand up to close scrutiny.  I can understand what they are saying, but I think there is more to it than that. For many crusty old players, the Edition that drew them in was 2nd Ed. As I have stated before, it was very different to the next and subsequent editions. It definitely had problems and needed an overhaul, but what we got was a completely different game. To draw a familiar analogy, 2nd Ed. was like Classic Battletech, whilst 3rd Ed. was Alpha Strike. 2nd Ed. was complicated and wholesome, whilst 3rd Ed. was like 40K lite, designed for bigger armies with far less intricacies. Some people loved this and many people know nothing different now. The difference is, when we play Battletech we get to choose, Classic or Alpha (arguably, the Classic rule-set stands the test of time far better than 2nd Ed. 40K). What if we had a “Classic 40K’ to go with the 6th Ed. ruleset. A set of rules that delved more deeply into each unit/character (albeit with less of them in each game) and really laid the spotlight on tactics/strategy in an inclusive way.

What do I mean by “inclusive”. Well…at it’s heart, 40K is a prohibitive game. It is far more about what you can’t do, than what you can do. Stop and ask yourself, “How many tactics do I use that work because they deny the opponent something?”. FOC’s, AP3, high initiative instant-deathing no-save weapons, no assault from deep strike, first turn shooting, blast weapons in overwatch/movement, no shooting into close combat, lame grenade rules, flyers in general: I could go on for quite a while. It is restrictive to the point of being constrictive. Battletech is not, so we don’t complain. GW requires you to have the correct Citadel attitudeTM, and we hate them for it.

I propose turning our gaze back to 2nd Ed. 40K, fixing the old problems and adding some new mechanisms. What I want is a skirmish type game that depicts the moment when the nucleus of two massive armies, including their greatest heroes, finally crashes together in decisive combat. I say we throw the gates open and let people do things for once. What is there to lose?

I name this project Warhammer 40K: Cataclysm, and look forward to play testing it with you.

See you across the table,