Thursday, June 19, 2014

Games Review (sort of): Warhammer 40,000: 7th Edition

Gosh, it must be "games week" here on the Rambling blog, but its probably a fair enough representation of out time at the moment. But for a games-mad household, Warhammer 40k is a odd bird, a large-scale, long game with a lot of plastic miniatures bought at high prices. But that said, its starting to eat up a fair bit of my free time at the moment, and I even got a chance this weekend to head down to their HQ in Nottingham where you can book out tables to play on. Which was pretty cool. So, what's it all about, and what the attraction?

Warhammer 40k is a old-school wargame. You have an army, and your opponent has an army, and setup on a large table and push your little men around until all of one side has fallen over. Well, it's a lot more complicated than actually, but thats the general sense of it. Your table is usually full of cover (trees, ruins, etc) that inhibits line of site and movement, and different units have different weapons, armour and special abilities. Add on top of this that there are many different armies in play, each designed along different lines, then there is a pretty impressive range of forces you can field. Add onto this the universes depth of "fluff" - the Lore behind the world, its a game that developed a long and strong following over several decades that is actually quite unique in the gaming space.

It's actually an odd beast though. For a start it's scale seems un-intuitive - too many units for a proper "skirmish" game and on too tight a scale for a strategic game, it sometimes feels like it's war with itself. You do get some vast games with even vaster units (which look fantastic on the battlefield) but at both ends of the spectrum the system strains a little. It seems to play best at the sort of size that takes a couple of hours to play, you have make some hard choices in unit selection, and the turn order cycles quickly. It helps if you like rolling a lot of dice, too.

Anyone order some Tanks? Tanks Here! 
Over the last couple of years I've got a lot of value out of developing a painting habit, which I can dip in and out of and have steadily got better at (I hope). The figures produced by Games Workshop for their games lines are really impressive, both in terms of their look and in terms of the variety on offer. I've a smattering of figures for other systems but to be honest, nothing comes close - you do pay a premium of these miniatures but you really do get something for that, especially if the primary focus of your hobby is the modelling and painting side.

 One of the questions I've been asked this year, as I've played a few more games, is "Is it Balanced". Certainly its a long running issue in the community. And after some thought, I think the answer is "no, but it's balanced enough", which may be all you can ever hope for. One of the attractions of 40k is the vast diversity of forces you can slug it out with, even within any given faction, and that's a huge amount of moving parts. It's also pretty clear from just reading the Rulebook that Games Workshop wants this to be a game that you don't take hugely seriously, where the fun is the playing, not the winning/losing, and wants you to field armies at least in part based on the "cool factor".

Someone forgot to put out the
"No Parking" sign on the Tower
I don't really see anything wrong with this approach either. The system has been around a long time, and despite 7 editions still holds some mechanics that are pretty clunky but "grandfathered in" from older editions. Newer games are certainly a lot more elegant in places but I think the price of change would be pretty high for GW. In my experience dice luck and tactical choices are far more significant than any game imbalance issues that it may have, and that's as it should be. I'm happy to pay that price for the diversity you see available on the tabletop. (Some people aren't, of course, and thats cool too).

In the end, I've developed quite the affection for this corner of the gaming world. It's far from perfect - I'd like to see smaller, skirmish version properly put together, for instance - but it is a lot of fun from the assembly all the way to fighting them out in the ruins of a once-grand empire. For the Emperor/Greater Good/Craftworld/Dark Gods/Hive Fleet!!  (*delete as appropriate)