This weekend, my friends and I were sitting around assembling miniatures (the “Pink is the New Black” build continues), and the subject of game point levels came up in conversation. Then, coincidentally enough, I discovered that Blood of Kittens has recently started a series of articles titled “In Defense of 1500“, putting forth arguments supporting the adoption of 1500 points as the “standard” game size. As I stated when I discussed our local metagame, 1500 points is the standard in our gaming circle. The reasons why came up in our around-the-table discussion on Saturday, and I figured I would share my thoughts on the subject.
It’s no secret that Warhammer 40K is designed for and balanced at 1500-point games. It’s one of the suggested point sizes for a balanced and reasonably-long game in the 5th Edition rulebook (as is 2000 points). This is nothing new; look back at a 2nd Edition codex, and you’ll see the same point totals touted as appropriate for a balanced battle that will last a few hours. Of course, a 2nd Edition 1500-point army looked a bit different than its 5th Edition counterpart. Point costs have come down noticeably over time. Take one of the standard Chaos Marine squads in my Slaanesh list. In the current Chaos codex (technically a 4th Edition codex), that unit costs 265 points. That same unit, or as close an analog as I can get given the options in 2nd Edition, costs 358 points. There are just more minis on the table these days, but the game’s also been streamlined to account for that.
This brings me to one of the main issues I see raised against 1500-point games. “I don’t like 1500-point games,” the argument goes, “because it limits what I can bring to the tabletop. I have to pick and choose units, and I can’t make a well-rounded all-comers list.” My response: you’re absolutely right. It does limit what you can run in your list. You can’t run every neat toy your army can have; instead, you have to decide your army’s strategy and carefully pick units to help fulfill it. It’s a format that rewards the efficient list builder. I will concede that this can result in a rock-paper-scissors environment to an extent. Since you can’t build an army that can take on everything equally, you will have weaknesses that an appropriately-built army can exploit.
There are two reasons that this doesn’t bother me. The first is that this forces you to deal with those deficiencies with tactics, rather than with list building. With the lower model count compared to, say, a 2000-point game, it’s easier for a game to turn on a single round’s worth of shooting or assault. I personally feel that this forces you to play a bit smarter, as there’s less margin for error or loss. The second reason that I’m fine with the more restrictive point total is that my friends and I come from a collectible card game background. Before any of us were mini-pushers, we were card-floppers, and part of CCGs is deckbuilding. Usually, decks are built around a standard deck size, like Magic’s 60-card decks. 60 cards doesn’t give you the room to throw in everything and the kitchen sink; you have to carefully decide what to put in, acknowledging that there will be other decks out there that will be the counter to yours. With that thinking solidly embedded in our brains after years of CCG playing, building army lists and playing 40k with a similar mindset just comes naturally.
Finally, there’s another reason why our group has adopted 1500 points as our standard size: pragmatism. We don’t always have a lot of time to play, and some of us don’t have terribly large collections. However, 1500 points is a reasonable army size to collect, while still having some fun options to play with. The games can also be completed in a couple of hours, which fits our schedules well. That’s not to say that we wouldn’t enjoy playing a larger game; I’m sure Richard is still itching to bring his Stompa (the one superheavy across all our collections) onto the table in an Apocalypse-sized game. However, it’ll still be a while before we raise our de facto point standard.
With all these arguments made, though, I want to be clear: I don’t believe that 1500 points is the One True Point Level or anything. I prefer it, and I think there are some solid arguments for having it as our standard, but it’s just that – a preference. I know other people like larger games, or games with more well-rounded lists, and that’s totally fine. As I said earlier, 2000 points is also listed in the 5th Edition rulebook as a balanced, reasonable game size, so it has just as much “official” support as 1500 does. If anything, it could be argued that 2000 points has more support, as many of the battle reports in recent issues of White Dwarf feature 2000-point armies, although that could be argued to be more of a marketing ploy (show off more minis on the table) than a game balance measure. So, in the end, play how you want to play. We do, and it’s working just fine for us.