Tag Archives: metagame

1500 is a Magic Number

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.

What’s My Metagame?

I’m a big believer in the local metagame as a driving force for both army list creation and play style development. While events on the macro level – new army and model releases, national events, and internet discussion – can change the local metagame, it’s the day-to-day play on the micro level that shapes your gaming. Who you play against, what army or armies they play, and how they play it directly influence what you build, how you play and revise it, and what armies/builds you’re trying to counter. It’s true for me as well; who I play against shapes how I look at the game and how I approach my opponents.

Now, I’m not a tournament player; I’ve played in a grand total of two tournaments since I picked 40K back up two and a half years ago. I do the vast majority of my playing with our little gaming group of about a half-dozen people. Eventually, we’re going to branch out and go to more events, but as most of us are still in the ‘learning the game/assembling minis’ stage, our two tables (which we will eventually expand to three or four once I get a new house) serve us just fine. So, what does my playgroup look like?

  • Dennis (Eldar): Dennis was just getting into the game around the same time that I got into the game originally, about a dozen years ago, and my return to the game inspired him to get back in as well. He’s what I would call a ‘theme’ player; he will pick a theme for his army and pursue it with gusto. For example, when he first started, he wanted to do an all-jetbike army, and for the longest while that’s what he ran. Now he’s working on what he calls his ‘Undead’ army – all Wraithguard/Wraithlords – so he’s found his next theme to build towards. He’s also the kind of player that will pick a couple of favorite units and work them into every list as best he can, even if they’re not the most optimal choices, and he likes to come up with his own fluff elements. Don’t mistake his interest in thematics for a lack of ability, though. He’s a shrewd player who is constantly learning and adjusting his army lists as he discovers what does and doesn’t work. He managed to take 4th at a local tournament of 16 (and was barely edged out of 3rd), so I know better than to underestimate him. If he does have one weakness, it’s that his armies mostly footslog; he hasn’t fully embraced the goodness that is Mechanized Eldar.
  • Richard (Orks / Tyranids): Richard loves to build minis, and to scratchbuild/convert what he can’t find. Horde armies give him plenty of opportunities to make a lot of unique figures, and he’s embraced them gladly. He also likes having a large collection, preferably of everything in a particular codex (and if GW doesn’t make a model for it, he will). Thanks to his wide selection of minis, he’s usually got multiple lists to choose from that are ready to go, but he’s got a couple that he likes to come back to regularly. Thanks to Richard, we all discovered just how nasty Nob Bikers can really be – and how to deal with them – and lately we’re getting to see what Raveners and Tervigons can do. For the rest of us, we have to be able to deal with both hordes and hammer units if we want to go toe-to-toe with Richard.
  • Dan (Space Marines): Dan was our newest player until recently, and his army is a bit special; it’s entirely made of gifts. He’s going back to college, and he has little-to-no spare income, so the rest of us came up with the goal of getting Dan an army for which he didn’t have to pay a cent. Currently, he’s running with the Marine halves of two Black Reach boxes, but his birthday last year got him a few other goodies: Vulkan He’stan, a Thunderfire Cannon, some Assault Marines, and an Ironclad Dreadnought. He’s been learning to play with what he has, and does a fair job of it; his Dreadnought-heavy list can actually be pretty nasty, and Vulkan is a beast in assault. Our next goal is to get him some mechanized options, whether it’s Rhinos or Drop Pods, and to get him more options to run with. He’s also expressed an interest in playing Tau as a second army.
  • Jon (Space Wolves): Jon is our newest player, and there’s not much to say yet; he’s just now picked up the codex and is coming up with a purchase plan. In the meantime, though, he’s proxying with other peoples’ miniatures, doing research, and figuring out what he’s wanting to play. Based on what he’s saying, I’m seeing Njal, Canis, and a lot of Thunderwolf Cavalry in our future.
  • Tim (Blood Angels / Dark Angels): Tim’s been into the game almost as long as I have, and he’s loved the two Angels chapters ever since the old 2nd Edition “Angels of Death” codex. Unfortunately, his Dark Angels didn’t fare too well once the 5th Edition vanilla marine codex came out, so he effectively shelved them once word of the new Blood Angels went public. Currently, he’s like a kid in a candy store, trying to figure out what to build with all the new toys that are available. I’ve played a proxied version of his army and not fared well; now that he’s actually got the pieces to put it all together, we’re going to see a lot more assault marines and fast tanks on our tables.
  • Me (Tau / Chaos Marines): I’m the one that got everybody going on 40k, and so for the longest while I had ‘the army to beat’. My Mechanized Tau army pushed Dennis to start looking at what his anti-vehicle options were, for example, and it’s encouraged Tim to pack as much melta in his assault forces as he can. I think it’s also one of the reasons that our group is starting to skew heavily towards assault-based armies. It’s also why I play Chaos Marines on the side; I wanted something that could get into assault and not fall apart completely. It also ensures that majority of our games have at least one player with a Marine-equivalent army, so there’s a lot of focus in our games on dealing with 3+ armor saves. I also mechanize everything, so even my Chaos Marines are in metal boxes.

Something else about our group that’s important is that we usually play 1500-point. Besides being arguably the most balanced point level, it also fits the medium-sized collections most of us have, and the mid-length games fit our schedules well. It does require us to be a bit choosy about what we bring to the table, though; we can’t just load up on all our favorite models and go wild. There’s one other notable absence from our group – we have no Imperial Guard players. They do exist in the area, as I saw several at the tournament I played in earlier this year, but no one in our group has decided to run an IG army. There are two major factors for that, I believe: we’re not really military buffs, apart from Tim (who has his favorite armies already decided), and the cost of building a solid Guard army is rather prohibitive.

That’s my local metagame – a wide assortment of armies for a small number of players, played mostly at 1500 points, mostly focused on assault, without many mechanized elements apart from my armies. This is what I play against, and this is what I build to beat. What does your local scene look like?

It’s All Been Done Before

Right now, there seems to be a bit of turmoil across the 40K blogscape, and it’s mostly been kicked off by two factors. First, there’s the power creep perceived in the new Space Wolves codex. Second, there’s the big Imperial Guard win at the ‘Ard Boyz nationals. In response to these, there’s been a flurry of discussions online about the state of the game. Are people jumping on to the Space Wolves and Guard bandwagons in droves? Is the tournament scene dead for older armies? Is the hobby as we know it dead or dying and in need of yet another revamp?

Well, folks, the sky is not falling. The end is not nigh.

How do I know this? Because I’ve witnessed this particular kind of temporary panic before. It’s a regular occurrence in the collectible card game world. Any time a new expansion comes out, or a new faction/deck type wins a major tournament, the same conversations take place. Are people flocking to this new deck type? Are there any “real” players of that faction/deck left? Are the cards in the latest set overpowered or underpowered? If they’re overpowered, why do the designers want to destroy the game so much? Is there any point in playing anymore? Sometimes, it can get pretty nasty. Insults will be thrown around, people will quit the game, and it will seem that all hell is breaking loose. Eventually, though, cooler heads prevail, everything settles back down, and people get on with rethinking strategies and playing the game again. 40K isn’t that different. You’ve got new armies (or revisions of older ones) that come in and upset the current tournament balance. You’ve got players who jump from one netlist to another because they want to win. You’ve got the players who change what they’re playing just because they’re tired of their old armies just aren’t performing at the same level as they once did. It’s unsurprising that the same discussions take place here.

With that in mind, here are a few points to help you keep your head while those about you are losing theirs:

  1. The metagame is a constantly-shifting thing at all scales – local, regional, national, and international. Power lists will come and power lists will go. Often, what happens is that the environment isn’t ready for a new addition, because it’s never had to be. During that period of growing pains, it’s likely that the big new thing will dominate. Over time, though, players will adjust their strategies and tactics to deal with the new threat – whether it’s a new codex on the market, or just a new player at your local store – and learn to co-exist along with it… just in time for the next new thing.
  2. Design philosophies change. Armies designed for 5th Edition seem to be dominating right now, especially when compared to those armies with 3rd and earlier 4th edition codexes. I’m not so much convinced that this is power creep so much as it is a rethinking in how the armies are built. The downside is that older armies are falling a bit to the wayside, just because they were designed with a different mindset and for a different environment. The upside is that as these armies are revisited, they’ll be brought into line with the new way of thinking (and from the sound of things, GW has a five-year plan that includes all currently available armies getting updated codexes).
  3. People are going to play what they are going to play; don’t let that faze you. There will always be players who want to play the winning army du jour, especially in the competitive world of tournament play. For such players, it’s the win that’s paramount, rather than what they were playing to achieve it. That doesn’t mean that all players playing that army are that way, or that it’s even a bad way of approaching the game. It’s just how they play. If you have an army that you like, don’t feel pressured to jump to the latest codex if it’s not for you. That said, if what you have isn’t working for you, or if you’re just bored and looking for something different, don’t be afraid to try out something different. Trying to draw lines between bandwagonners and “true believers” is a fruitless effort, so just stick to your guns, play what you want to play, and enjoy yourself.

In the end, the landscape of the game may change, but the game, and the hobby around it, will survive. Change is often an uncomfortable process, but it’s also important for growth; a stagnant environment is a dead one. It’s true for CCGs, and it’s just as true for miniature wargaming. Just remember to play what you want to play how you want to play it, and to have a good time doing it, because that’s what really matters in the end.