Friday, 11 June 2010

Spearhead ... you what?

Grab yourself a cup of tea, turn the brain on,
and prepare to delve into the nefarious minds of GW...

What's GW up to? Apart from trying to ship more plastic crack (that's a given), it seems a little unclear. Alike to other bloggers, I usually eschew the expensive advertising that is White Dwarf and get my kicks from the tinterweb... however the new Spearhead release had me (and I suspect a lot of gamers) sneaking into WH Smith's for a sneaky Dwarf.

My excuse was that "I'd been asked to pick up" - and hence why I couldn't find it on the shelves... what's your?

SPEARHEAD - First Impressions

Well, its a bit odd really isn't it? Apart from the aforementioned plastic crack reasoning it pretty much grabs the whole 40k armylist rules, shakes it about and then drop kicks it into next week. As far as I can ascertain (and this is written in the best GW 'vague-o-vision'), you can run a 'Spearhead' game and thereby take 1 or more (read more) spearheads, which allow you to take many many many many tanks, with APOC type squadron upgrades.

Interesting? Yes. Weird? Definitely!

On first glance, I like it. It's weird, but quirky. It's cleverly bridging the gap between APOC and 40k. Allowing Superheavies on the small scale etc. We've mostly been doing this anyway, but this legitimises it.

If you were expecting a more in depth analysis than that, well sorry, no. I'm far too busy and have Malifaux to learn for Tuesday. Apologies ... but here's the payback.


A few years ago I was a steady user of forums. IGMB (Imperial Guard Message Board) was literally hunted down by the ubiquitous suneokun, and at the time the 'we've git a crap codex' was in full flow. But I digress... another comment discussion which frequently comes up but online and live is the 'rosy tint' argument. "40k ain't what it was", they say. "Good." I say, "The psychic round was more like a pokemon battle, every round lasted an age and remembering everyone stats (like MOVEMENT, INTELLIGENCE etc) was deadly dull. Too much information.

And running, TLOS and cover saves rock.

But I do miss the 'story' of 40k. The rules had become maybe too balanced while the codexes got dull. Since then two things have happened:

1) Codex release has increased ... but codex creep has too, and;
2) APOC has demonstrated that fair doesn't always equal fun!

There's something particularly British about the notion of a fair fight. Just ask Michael Caine in Zulu, no scrub that. Or the Crimean, no not that one either. Ummm ... the second World War, we Brits love to think ourselves plucky and backs to the walls and 'fighting on bridges' etc.

All cobblers really. But we are obsessed about 'fair play', hence why the English codified nearly every mainstream sport in existence. Cricket, football (not gridiron), rugby, tennis, badminton, crochet, golf etc etc etc. Fair, fair, fair, fair, fair... which is good.

If I was allowed a machine gun, even I could beat Nadal (alright ... I could wing him). Just look at Formula One, an intrinsically English sport. Ok, its more international than anything else (although Button, webber and Lewis are kicking butt), but the mindset is very English. Cars get too fast, slow them down, cars get an advantage, chop it off ... its all about skill.

Which is where it should be.

But 40k ain't tennis. It requires little physical training (watching youtube batreps speaks volumes... the skinny dude always gets pawn'd!) beyond beer drinking and fine hand-eye coordination. Hence the 'britishness' (or englishness) of 40k has led with a high focus on 'level playing field'. Now I'm not arguing that 40k is balanced, no no no. It has many problems, but the ruling ethos is very much focused on keeping balance in the game.

A slight loophole and the players scream "BROKEN!" - I won't even go into how many guns can fire from a chimera (it's 5 by the way, any gun I want, even lascannons). This commentary on 40k balance has become more and more feverish ... until GW stopped listening.

Allesandro did (I think) a great job with the 5th Edition rules. It's a neat system and great fun. But it was born old. You see the Ethos has changed. The old rule was 'fair', the new rule is 'fun'.

This is influenced by three things:

  1. Hordes and Warmachine ARE balanced, but the combo's are all about pimp-slapping your opponent in turn two to three... the hyper aggressive american influence frankly rocks. The game system is dynamic and intricate in a way that makes GW seem a little 'stilted' ... GW are aware of this and the march of Hordes/WM on the interweb and sales figures...
  2. Apocalypse demonstrated to GW that players actually care LESS about fairness than they do about getting the latest pimped out superheavy or squadron. Fairness IS important in a tournament, but if you go there with a 'weak' list you'll get bitch slapped.
  3. Fairness doesn't sell models. Build cool models, make a bitchin' list, watch the money pile up. GW are heavily into the 'plastic crack' version of an arms race now. Models will hit the shelves and hit them harder than the previous generations ... codex creep is here to stay. The Space Wolves/ Blood Angels are clear and unequivocal examples of their fast production turn around UBER PIMPED codeci money making plans.
So what does this mean? Well actually it means that GW of the teenies (2010-2019, what would you call them?) will actually be closer to the GW of my childhood ... and here's why!


First up, the interweb has chewed out whitedwarf's monopoly of GW related stuff. It's faster, more up to date, nearly as official and actually more effective. The hype generated for the latest edition and the codici's was all about the web. GW are tied into this now, feeding information to BOLS and elsewhere and pricking the hype to feverpitch. WD doesn't deliver this.

The only readers of WD are those with that habit. Otherwise why bother?

As such, Spearhead gives a wonderful indication of how they CAN increase sales of WD and the first 'step backwards' for 40k. In the olden days (1980's-90's) batreps were rare, but WD was all about rules, stories and inspiration. An article the size dedicated to Spearhead and 6 new tanks available would be waxed about ONE new metal cadian SQUAD available. Woop!

On the up side, rules for 'Confrontation', or Genestealer Cults, or new vehicles would be a frequent addition. This 'build your own' stuff meant that WD was an essential part in keeping your army fresh and getting the latest Psychic abilities for Ork Weirdboyz. GW lost this years ago, changing from fan mag to pretty advertising (and pretty pointless) magazine. An OK read, but no tactical use (beyond a rolled up striking action).

Now we see a full circle ... which is intriguing.

My second point is GW's abandonment of 'balance' in favour of fun. The Orks, Guard, SW, BA all pushed the bar out on counter-balance. There's an arms race going on out there and its real fun. 40k is now less about fairness and more about fun. Lets face it, 40k is half a game (read sport) and half a narrative or story. We're seeing a 'healthy' move towards the 'narrative' flavour of 40k. I don't actually really care that much if my Tau are rock solid, but if I beat you with them ... you'll know!

So what do you think? Is 40k soaring away from the balanced 'tabletop' game and back to basics with the more 'RPG' narrative elements of the game. Battle Missions was straight out of Rogue Trader ... are they fabricating these elements to rock the old 'fairness' boat? Spearhead effectively throws the core 40k army list rules away and buffs everything ... but it'll be fun, won't it?

Is the obsession with balance over?