Monday, October 5, 2009

Thoughts on SW, part I: The 5th Edition Codex

Theme of the month/season seems to be Space Wolves, either calling pepper jack (extra spicy!), bashing people who want to switch over, cursing GW for wanting money or (very rarely) not running around with your head cut off. So I thought that I'd like to jump on this particular bandwagon and share my own thoughts and experiences.

Let's start this thought exercize with a discussion of what GW has been doing with 5th ed codices. There are four basic themes: mobility, flexibility, price fixing and special characters. All of these play into standard wants and needs of gamers, but some are more warranted than others.

Mobility is the GW push for more mech. Now there is of course the economic angle for this, as it doesn't take a genius to see that a couple hundred $35 tanks will help any company look towards the black, but that isn't the only angle as far as I'm concerned. Mech plays into the basic gamer desire to not have your precious army obliterated before they get to do their 'thing'. This theme is compounded in the 5th edition push for ubiquitous 4+ cover saves, yet another nod toward the basic survival instinct that most players (and especially new players) appreciate. Tanks offer a solid barrier between your soldiers and enemy firepower, as well as offering them a quick way to get to the front lines.

Flexibility is the tendency of the new codices to allow many different viable strategies. I'm not 100% certain on this, but from looking at the various army books it seems like more units in 5th edition codices are viable than in older books. By viable I mean that they aren't relegated instantly to the role of the 'fluffy' unit that you only took to give your army character- they can hold their own and you won't be laughed off the table when you field them. Once again, this plays into popular gamer mindsets. If I see a cool unit in the army book, I want to be able to play it and for it to be useful, or at least not a hindrance. Increasing viability across the board also (hopefully) leads to a greater variety of army lists, as the number of working combinations increases dramatically.

Flexibility also ties into new units. Since they are new these are the units that garner the most attention and are the 'shiniest' GW also often prices them into the viable range and/or gives them ridiculously splashy abilities. Here's where flexibility runs into the BoLS idea of spectacle, which I personally am all for. If you want to play a serious wargame, picking the one with the gothic space knights and undead robots was probably the wrong call.

Price fixing is the changing of different units' prices, most often in the downwards direction. This is the area that most people call codex creep on, and in some sense they are right. It is completely logical that if a unit retains the same functionality or receives increased abilities at a lower price the new version of the unit will be more powerful than the old unit. While it is unfortunate for older codices that still retain archaic pricing it has become necessary to grant all new codices the same pricing schema. In some cases this fixing goes too far, especially when extra functionality has been added to a unit- the new and improved Chimera being a sterling example. This plays into the gamer mindset again with the theory that more cool stuff = better.

And finally there are the special characters- each book has plenty of them, and they help play into the flexibility element as well, allowing you to switch you army's theme by spending a few points. The characters are uniformly ridiculous in nature (as befits the setting) and offer either unit or army-wide changes in composition. The part of the gamer mindset that this plays into is the hero- here is the big badass who is going to ruin your opponents day. Why does he have an instant death power sword? Who cares? He's awesome!1!!!1!

This is probably the part of the 5th ed codices that I like the least as it takes away from the 'ownership' of armies. You make up your own chapter/regiment/hive fleet but in order to have it operate other than a bog standard army you need to take a special character who belongs to another force. For instance, for my (mostly) light infantry Guard force there are three special characters that add the requisite sneakiness necessary for them to be light infantry: Al'Rahem, Harker and Marbo. These are legitimate choices in my codex that add a fun little bit of tactical flexibility, yet every time I take them outside of their specific regiments I feel like I am committing a grevious sin. And even if I greenstuff up a character I will still refer to him/her by the codex name just to have people understand what I am using.

These four things- mobility, flexibility, price fixing and special characters- are the reality of the 5th edition codex, so judging a new codex must be based on these principles. Next time I'll take a look at the Wolf codex and see how it stacks up to this (exceedingly unofficial) rubric.

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