Monday, January 24, 2011

5th Edition/6th Edition Transition - Balancing, Etc.

Fritz has posted some thoughts about 6th edition over on his blog.

His basic argument is that with every edition change comes, well, change.

Good so far.

With this change (historically) comes a pretty dramatic shift in the balance of power between codices. While some old codices escape with some pretty powerful options (Eldar are built very well for drawing or winning most any 5th edition base scenario, though they have relatively limited options), the general trend is that "new" codices written "for" the edition are better than older codices written for older editions.

This is inarguably true, historically. Note that this is irrelavent to the discussion of codex creep, the theory that new codexes are intentionally designed to be slightly more powerful than the previously released codexes, to incentivize players to buy the "latest and greatest." No, this is a simple observation that the codexes released with a particular edition in mind work better for that edition. No argument here.

But sometimes observation of past tendencies does not adequately prepare us for future outcomes. I posit that there are indications that GW may change the way they make the next edition transition, and it seems that Fritz agrees but for different reasons. He points out that dropping a radically different edition that would invalidate older codexes anytime before about 2016 would severely hamper their flagship line, the Space Marines. He doesn't think GW would do that, and so thinks that 6th will be, mechanically, very similar to 5th to allow older codexes to work.

I agree with this analyses, and see other indications that GW would do this, beyond protecting their precious spesh mareens.

For one, the 8th edition Fantasy drop was accompanied by sweeping Erratas of all existing army books to make them "work" under the new edition. The second point of evidence is the increasing attention to Frequently Asked Questions and the updating of older codexes unlikely to receive attention in the near future. These point towards a different attitude at GW. It shows that they are at least paying attention to the balance of power amongst the various codices. This is a good thing.

So I present to you a thought.

Any new edition will bring with it changes. This goes without saying.

What *I* would like to see are changes in the WAY that armies are built and played, and NOT shifts among which codices can and can't compete. By that I mean, if you are playing Codex: Space Marines, under 6th edition you might use lots of foot-slogging Tactical Marines and Scout Bikers (it's a thought experiment, ok!), and not as many vehicles. Or whatever. Something would be different, get it?

But you would NOT say, "well, I can't use Codex: Space Marines now, they are out of date! I can only use my Codex: Chaos Space Marines, because they just got released and have options that work with this edition!"

Now, this is an ideal, and you can never meet an ideal. It's an ideal in the way that true codex balance is an ideal. It has been pointed out that even in chess, the white player has a minute advantage, even though they both have the exact same armies. How much more difficult would TRUE balance be to achieve in a system where every army has different units, different costs, etc. Impossible to truly achieve.

But that doesn't mean that we simply ignore this ideal. We have to constantly keep it in mind and strive for it, and when we fall short (and we will) honestly assess by how far we have missed the mark and ask "could we do better."

My hope is that indeed GW WILL do better this go around. I love 5th edition. I think it has great tactical depth as a basic game, and the system itself allows superior generals and lists to perform well without the outcome being totally random.

As we move further into the "heart" of 5th edition, where the majority of codices are updated and competitive, I see nothing but good things.

My hope is that when the time comes (years down the road and after a FULL codex cycle, I hope), for an edition change, they will consider this ideal. There are ways to sell models that don't involve relegating old codexes to the ash heap of history, and driving players out of the hobby who have their chosen army suddenly made shit, is not good for anyone.

"Yeah buddy, sorry that army you have been working on for 15 years sucks balls. I'm sure they will update it sometime this decade. But don't you want to buy the newly released SPACE SQUATS?!?" (To be fair I would jump all over re-released Squats... just sayin).

Fritz thinks that they may introduce a fundamentally different "Attacker" and "Defender" role into missions, with the players bringing different lists for each role.

This is a pretty brilliant move, imho. It makes a complete "army" essentially Ard/Boyz or even Apoc size in terms of the actual number of models you need, so sales would go up. Sure casual players might only sub out a few models but I could see some players with totally different model selections based upon role.

But they could do this without wrecking older codexes.

Additionally, I would love to see GW release more "one-off" units as supplements to existing codexes. They don't have to be "better" than the old stuff, just new and different, or perhaps filling a gap in the Dex that needed filling. In that way they could "fine tune" codexes and keep them exciting without the intense cost of a full release and without invalidating their basic release strategy.

Just think of the excitement caused by the Dark Angels/BT FAQs for an example, and all those bastards got was basic Space Marine gear! Lol.

Anyways, just some thoughts bouncing around for me. I would love to hear from you on the matter.