This one weird trick will keep your army going all night!

This is something I’ve been thinking about ever since I started clambering back onto the old 40k warhorse maybe six months ago. I’ve been lurking on hoary old forums and certain disreputable mega-blogs, as they were the best places to get news and community discussion about 8th edition once that ball was rolling. Needless to say, the tone of these places is generally not as positive as on your smaller nicer blogs like this one.

To be honest I’ve noticed a bit of edition fatigue in the air. Or perhaps edition rage is a better term. People get angry, sometimes quite angry, when models they relied upon in previous editions to kick ass suddenly aren’t quite so effective. They rail at Games Workshop for changing things up and “making” them buy new things. I’ve been playing this bloody game on an off for like a quarter of a century now, so I thought maybe I should do my bit and help out with this. Even if it’s likely that the only people who will read this already agree with me. Maybe somewhere, someone who needs help will see this and save themselves hundreds of dollars and a lot of needless stress.

So here it is, the magical secret to making your army edition proof, forever, in two easy steps:

STEP ONE: STOP TRYING TO WIN IN THE “LIST-BUILDING PHASE.”

STEP TWO: THERE IS NO STEP TWO.

So I’m not just going to leave you hanging with that blindingly obvious pearl of wisdom. Let me unpack it a bit.

First of all, the reason I scare-quoted “list-building phase” is because I don’t think it should be a thing, at all. List building shouldn’t be considered a legitimate phase of the game by the community. The idea that it’s a phase as much as any other isn’t self-evident, nor does it even have a long pedigree. “List-building phase” is a neologism from around maybe 2009, if I remember rightly. To be sure, list-building can be a fun activity in a nerdy sense, tweaking and calculating and forecasting. I like to vacillate over whether my sarge should have a power sword or plasma pistol (or both – how outrageous!) as much as the next guy. But thinking about what is most likely to win, and then buying those models with like, real money and using them, isn’t an inevitable part of playing the game; it’s just choosing to play the game on easy mode. And ooohhh boy will it cost you in the end. Assuming you want to play for more than one edition.

Planning your collection for literally any reason other than “this will win more easily” will edition-proof your army. It will also provide you with a different set of challenges besides “am I smart enough to read a set of rules and then work out how to win?” Which to me is a boring challenge, but each to their own.

Speaking of which, if you are a person whose favourite way to approach the game is to work out what will win, buy it, and then er… use it to win, then I have two suggestions for you.

The first is play something with less of an opportunity cost, like Magic. I mean it’s just common sense. Assuming that you have disposable income, why would you fork out lots of it every few years for super-complicated models that you then have to build, and maybe even paint, only to have to sell them or pack them away in storage when their effectiveness is arbitrarily (or not so arbitrarily) altered? Games Workshop is, in fact, trolling you my good fellow. They make stacks of money I’m sure from “masters of the list-building phase.”

My second suggestion is, stop f-ing complaining about it! Seriously. If that’s how you choose to approach the game, recognise that there are costs involved and that the company would have to be stupid not to change things up every edition just to get your money. Pay to win is how it is these days with lots of games, and 40k is one of them. They hope you’ll pay to win, and you know they’ll make you pay, so either don’t do what they want you to do, or stop snarling about it. Don’t think of it like they swindled you (which is seriously how I’ve seen some people interpret it): think of it like you’re paying them for the pleasure of having a temporary advantage over someone who isn’t willing to pay. You’re paying to play on easy mode.

Some people might doubt that what I’ve said will in fact edition proof your army. I mean, there are no guarantees. But I can pretty much guarantee that it will. Games Workshop makes most of their money selling models. It’s in their interest to keep models around for as long as they can, and also in their interest to keep elements of strong visual branding active. You’re not going to see an edition change decree that Space Marines suddenly don’t have bolt guns, or Ork Boyz no longer have choppas. What you might see is something like grav-guns going from amazing to mediocre. Or Sanctioned Psykers going from poor performers to being must-haves in multiples to back to mediocre. Trust me, I saw that one with my own eyes. To continue with Astra Militarum as an example, it’s no co-incidence that Leman Russ Battle Tanks are not as strong as they have often been in the past. Clearly everyone who wants them already has heaps of them, and GW wants to emphasise something else like oh I don’t know, the suddenly amazing Scions. When sales of Scions slow down and it’s evident that everyone who wants them has enough of them, then the edition after that I predict their effectiveness will be diminished and something else will be improved. I just… it just seems obvious to me. So when people bitch about it I kind of just want to facepalm and close my laptop.

Of course it’s OK to try and build a list to win a bit. I’m just saying that if your sole or even main aim when you build a list is to make one that wins easily, don’t come crying to the internet when a year later something changes, your easy mode is deactivated, and you “have to” buy more models.

I think I’ve explained enough. But the rule is good. Use it if you are wise. Comments and discussion welcome as always.

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12 responses to “This one weird trick will keep your army going all night!

  • Jon

    “So when people bitch about it I kind of just want to facepalm and close my laptop.”

    That’s a lot nicer than what I want to do. People who can’t read the problem in front of them – or refuse to do so because it gives them an opportunity to rant by numbers – really do my crust in these days.

    I’ve done my share of this, of course, but… we learn. We grow. We admit we were wrong and we move on.

    When someone claims to have been wargaming for forty years and still talks about ‘codex creep’ in a product line that’s not structured around the all-in ‘codex’ model, or how they ‘need’ the new edition, or how a game with a winner and a loser isn’t ‘competitive’… I can’t see how they can have been around for that long and not worked out the obvious and become as tired of it as I am.

    • Jimmy S

      Yes, I think one of the side effects of wisdom from experience is impatience. Not with the people who don’t have the experience yet. With the people who do, but didn’t learn for some reason.

  • Thor

    I agree and well said.

    When you stop treating this like the game and hobby it is, choose to buy your way to victory instead, you are not allowed to get pissed off when it backfires. End of story.

    • Jimmy S

      Damn straight. The thing that worries me is the idea these people seem to have infected a fair bit of the community with: that this is just what you do. You want to win, so you learn what wins, and you buy it. Rinse and repeat. If there’s one thing I always want to get across to people when I’m pontificating about their hobby it’s that we always have a choice in how we play.

  • WestRider

    Truth. I build my Army for any given Game with the intent to win, but the collection that particular Army is drawn from has been put together (and keeps getting expanded) on the basis of what seemed cool in fluff, art, models, or conversion/painting opportunities. And that’s kept me in this game for 20 years and 7 editions so far.

    • Jimmy S

      Exactly. You can make lists to win, but don’t make a habit of buying models because you need them to make your winning lists. That way lies madness.

  • Aussiemandias

    Space marine sergeants with plasma pistols and powerfists are the most edition-proof choice there is. Period. Look at how many are released/special ed minis, etc.

    I build an army with fun in mind- units I want to use are in, more so if I like the look of them. Bloat drones? Hell yeah! Death Guard termies? HELL YEAH. What strikes me is that the whingers seem to want to have that -one- list. Undefeatable and ultimately unchanging. Those people are bad for the game, as once they buy that list that’s it. Not only that but the tactics involved would devolve from learning tactics and strategy to ‘rote playing’ the army. It’s almost as if tactics and learning is anathema to these people.

    Like today on dakka, most of the death guard hate is the lack of oblits, bikers, havocs and raptors. None of which are actually common in the fluff or suit the slow plodders. But it’s what you saw for 2-3 editions as the mark of nurgle in a generic chaos codex was the most powerful mark available.

    Your post from a while back links to this- basic loadouts seem the mode edition proof. Sergeant, mooks with basic loadouts and maybe tailor special weapons to your army fluff/style of play. So for Salamander marines, sergeant with combi flamer, 7 mooks, flamer and multi-melta.

    • Jimmy S

      “What strikes me is that the whingers seem to want to have that -one- list. Undefeatable and ultimately unchanging.”

      Exactly. I don’t know what they’re thinking, it just seems like an unreasonable expectation. This game is (and always has been for 35 years) designed by people who are first and foremost fans of the GW mythos, and who like building, painting and playing with miniatures. It’s aimed at people like that too. People who want to keep collecting more and more cool models.

      Someone who mostly wants to win the game part of the whole thing, and who’s choices about which models they get hinges on that, and who gets cranky when they discover that they might need to keep buying these annoying expensive creative projects in order to keep winning, is just… not the target market. It’s not a hobby that’s ultimately going to make them happy.

      • Aussiemandias

        It’s why Magic: The Gathering enforces a ‘standard’ rotation- it keeps things fresh and shakes up the meta with each block. Plus a hefty ban list that neuters loop exploits.

        Sometimes I feel that the online hobby is skewed very much to those who think 40k -must- be a competitive game, as if having a day with mates and chilling out is alien to them. Going back to MTG having fun is precisely the reason I don’t ‘cut’ often. Cutting an opponents deck is something for tournaments and if my opponent feels the need to cheat in a card game (against me no less, the self declared ‘Reigning Chump’ :P) then let them.

        On a brighter note though, Astral Millipede codex is out soon! I’m intrigued to see how they fare. Most of the Death Guard stuff is out so I’m happy- the stuff I want is not much, but it’s something I want for the army. Slug tank and termies, yum. Not going to pick them up for a while, but that’s the army plan

  • Raymond William Matthews

    Nicely said. I actually enjoy the mix up. I’ve played for 20 years and sometimes I just take what I feel like in an army (and play on hard) and other times I’ll pick out what units in my collection are doing well in that edition and try them out. Sometimes some units are just abysmal on the table so they get used less. When the rules mix it up and they are useful its great. Its like catching up with an old friend putting them on the table again.

    • Jimmy S

      Yeah I love that feeling of bringing out someone you haven’t used for ages!

      I think what we all seem to be getting at here is that distinction that was in the foreword to one of the old Forgeworld books: collection versus army. If you think about having a collection, and then making armies from that as editions change or when you feel like mixing things up, you’ll have a great time and a satisfying hobby for years.

      If you just want to make armies, and the idea of something you paid money for not being used right now annoys you then… not so much.

  • Aussiemandias

    Also, Jimmy, finally got around to adding Warp Signal to the blogroll. Took a while to navigate the links.

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