Sunday, 8 May 2011

Necrons: living plastic?

So the Necrons are coming. Rumours are everywhere. Good news? Well, Necron players can buy new models, and be feared opponents, albeit in a community given to complaints about the power of new releases.

My question: how much will they still be Necrons?

There is a certain plasticity about army updates. Want a flying marine transport? Fine, have a stormraven. Land raider too slow? Why not deep strike it? Want Space Wolves like nob bikers? Thunderwolves. Want new units in general - no problem, although some may be the same kit.

Are things becoming samey? Look at the huge new Warhammer models. For Skaven? The hellpit abomination. Orcs and goblins? The araknarok spider. For Tomb Kings not in space? The warsphinx and, in the same kit, the necrosphinx. Aren't they all just essentially the same thing? A big monster because it's possible and we'll want it? Rather looks like it.

But do we really want it? When every army is more or less the same, what makes each unique, shapes a specific challenge for players? I like the fact that the Ork codex makes it so hard for Orks to damage heavy vehicles. Do away with that, as little as it is, and what are we left with? Should Orks be so rationalised, or aliens share universal rules, the FOC?

Every new army book or codex has new things, new options. Putting aside creeping changes in power, it needs them, or why would we agree to pay for it, suffer that possible internal conflict? But how many new things can the designers think up, or the game support? If you believe the rumours, the Necrons will have a new version of an old rule, almost but not quite the same as a current universal rule. I can believe that. Rules Manufactorum has just posted on more or less this subject.

Tied to this in my view - and I realise I'm in a minority here too - is the current approach to miniatures and design, which for me can also look rather anodyne. I look at Dark Eldar leather and spikiness and mentally yawn. I look at the Grey Knights and ponder how it can be that despite all the work that's gone in, they're just a space marine's space marine.

My first feeling is this has something to do with plastic as a material, in that the armies nowadays are generally built around plastic kits. There are thoughts on that here. Interestingly, plastic casting can impose a limit on certain kinds of detail, and it may be the extreme poseability of the modern kits is less intention than by-product. More on that here.

Although I love the options in the kits, I realise now we have to take a burden upon ourselves in exchange for that luxury. The burden of thinking like a sculptor, doing part of their old job instead of them. I'm willing to take that burden, and take it happily, and try to learn the sculpting skill, guiding that overpowering potential back down into a concrete form.

But if that's the way things work with miniatures, why not with armies? Do we need to grow there too, take on the rewarding burden of limiting the endless options, which the designers may not want to do, or which the model of a multi-million pound company doesn't necessarily allow? 

Whatever it is going on in this case, I do often feel that for a thing to be desirable - and a hobby surely ought to be - it must have limits imposed.


trollsmyth said...

It's an interesting question. I started 40k back when it was Rogue Trader, when every race had some sort of jet bike, when the IG carried their heavy weapons on their shoulders, and space marines could be found toting shuriken catapults.

Those were different times...

I think, from a basic make-the-game-fun standpoint, every race has to be able to deal with every threat. They might not have optimal solutions, but if orcs simply can't stop heavy armour than that's all that people are going to field against orcs and it's no fun for anybody.

And that said, yeah, every army should also play differently. I've always felt the core of orc army was the green tide. How is that different from the IG grey tide? It's more hakka and less dakka. How is that different from the red tide of Khornish marines? The wacky dark humor of the orcs, exemplified by the randomness of their fun toys.

I do kinda like what I'm seeing; the glass jaw of the dark eldar augmented by the idea that the more they kill the more dangerous they are seems to me to be a very nice melding of rules and fluff. But I'll also admit to not taking a good, hard, deep look at the armies. I'll also admit to being a bit worried that everyone is going to end up playing like everyone else; do the Chaos Marines really need a Vindicator? Wouldn't a demon that did something similar be more appropriate? Though, granted the nice thing is, once you know what a Vindicator does, it doesn't hurt that four (five?) different armies are fielding the things, so it is easy to play at the table. :p

James S said...

I think you're right, all of the armies do play a little closer to each other than they perhaps need to. And sometimes I feel as though the so-called meta-game of 5th edition is being built into each new 40k codex, resulting in more vehicles and basic infantry. More more more of everything and bigger.

The sad thing is that this is unlikely to change. Complaining about unending slightly different iterations of the same familiar product is pretty much complaining about capitalism. I don't think this business model is going anywhere anytime soon.

Porky said...

@ trollsmyth - I wondered if the Rogue Trader way of doing things would come up! They were certainly different times. The key point there I think is the post-Rogue Trader development of what became the major factions. Each gained its own nature, and the expectations of consistency with that nature became more of an issue.

I also agree there's a need to consider expectations in terms of gameplay, that players may want as level a playing field as possible, and that a game which is also a product will likely need to meet that kind of expectation. The point about recognition and breadth of knowledge required is also a good one. I don't think either is necessarily a limitation though. With playtesting, even radically different approaches across armies could be evened out.

I remember back at the end of second edition I put together some ideas for taking the individual armies radically away from the base rules, but keeping the mechanics for doing it simple, by second edition standards at least; what third edition actually saw was only a slight move in that direction, but to go the whole way might just be asking too much for the reasons you give.

@ James S - That point about the basic structure of relationships in the current climate does seem to be the issue. Von has written about this kind of thing at GAME OVER - this post is closely related.

The rolling releases do tend to keep everyone racing to catch up. It makes it more dynamic and exciting maybe, but I'm not sure the way it's done at the moment is the only way to get this, or even the best. It's possible to imagine a time when a more open game will appear, with the absolute basics fixed, but different tiers of engagement with the setting on top of that. We have a nascent version now with Forge World. A game like When the Navy Walked even makes unit construction tools available to the players. That's not so strange an idea really. It would be an unusually bold move for a current giant maybe, but times are changing.

Lantz said...

Good article. About a year ago I said something like this out loud at my game night without a good way to explain myself. This post has done that for me, though a little late. =P

In the mean time almost every new army has a good MC, a psyker, a Deep Striking tool and a way to remove a model from play. It's definitely becoming a common-trend type of game. Unfortunately, with every new codex GW feels the need to change things drastically along with adding in a lot more units.

That's not to say drastic changes and numerous additions are a bad thing; in some places it's an awesome thing. But, like you said, eventually you have so many units that they begin to meld together and the differences between each unit becomes less and less distinct.

Von said...

@trollsmyth - I would describe the Khorne Marines as less of a tide and more of a brief hailstorm; the Orks come at you in vast numbers, guns blazing, but the Chaos Marines come at you in handfuls, armed and extremely dangerous, each one capable of ripping four men to shreds in seconds. Whether they actually bear that out on the table is another matter, but the point is I think the Chaos Space Marines are very much the cream of evil rather than the numberless horde.

trollsmyth said...

Porky: Yeah, I'd love to see something like that, but... and the "but" is you probably don't want to move too far away from the standard stat block, where the entire range of healthy adult strength is represented by the single number "3".

And, at times, I forget what sort of game I'm playing and would love to see some truly alien aliens. ;p

Von: You're absolutely right. I'm afraid my perspective is warped by old games of Epic and RT in the '90s. :p

Porky said...

@ Lantz - That makes me feel good, and we see eye to eye it seems. While there's nothing essentially wrong with giving each player the same tools, loss of difference is sad.

@ Von - That's a clear distinction, and a good one to work from. You might like a read of Commissar Carrie's Radical if you haven't yet, parts III and IV for the beserkers. I'm not sure which side they come down on, but the fear certainly comes through.

@ trollsmyth - I see what you mean. My most recent thoughts on a rework of the basics are here. Alien aliens are very much in need, all over. As for the terms 'Epic' and '90s', they look great together. The game of the early '90s was a very special thing. For me it stands out in terms of breadth and scope, so much so we can still see it being mined today.

C'nor (Outermost_Toe) said...

That the Necrons will be arriving also raises some questions for new players - Should they wait and see what the new codex looks like before getting into it? Certainly they should if buying Necrons, but the release will affect every other codex out there, in that no-one knows how to play against them now, and if they've improved significantly, it's possible that they'll reduce other codees in competitiveness (Just like right now it isn't a great time to buy Daemons).

Porky said...

That's reasonable. Of course a Necron player, or potential player, could trust the rumours, or make a best guess, and take a leap. This is especially true of an unusual idea or approach, radically converting basic troops say, or an army themed in a particular way. It might be worth going through with then in that it will likely still be new and different even after the release, and there'll be a part of the force ready in advance. Newer elements can then be added in.

As for daemons, you can't go too far wrong in terms of models at least. The army has been built on the same basic elements for years, the standard lesser and greater daemons of the four powers. If you look at which are the most recent kits, and like them, and build around these, there shouldn't be too many surprises.

In terms of being competitive, I personally wouldn't pay too much attention to claims the army isn't the strongest, unless you plan to play largely with unfamiliar players, and care about winning, or in tournaments. It's only at the hard, squeezed edge that deficiencies would really matter. A daemon army was actually seeded sixth in the last 16 at AdeptiCon this year, and the key was in large part regular play with the army. Practice makes perfect after all.

C'nor (Outermost_Toe) said...

I think Adepticon was before the Grey Knights though, wasn't it? Or at least before they gained much popularity.

In any case, you've made some good points. It might be interesting to compare the changes, too...

Porky said...

That's right. AdeptiCon was the first three days in April and the release was on the Saturday.

As far as I can tell, the Grey Knights haven't been as overwhelming for daemon players as everyone feared, which makes sense of course, given GW wouldn't want to create an automatic win situation with such an obvious pairing. That said, it's probably still a pairing that for the daemon player is most attractive for the storytelling potential.

On the other hand, the release schedule moves on and with a dozen or so other armies out there, the match-ups with Grey Knights ought to be fairly uncommon.

It's worth looking into. Whatever anyone else thinks, you have to be happy, especially given the investment of time and money.