Friday, July 8, 2011
Warhammer Mythology: One Meta to Rule them All
I have talked about this briefly before here, but the idea of what is and is not competitive is quickly becoming my soapbox. If I were to describe myself as a gamer, I would have to say that I am a fluffy competitor. I love Warhammer 40k for its expansive story and character, but I also like to play and win the game. Besides, this is MY army and it should be able to crush all before it. It's my opinion that if a person gets into Warhammer 40k, they aren't doing it simply because they saw the ruleset and like it. Generally, it's the fluff element that draws in players. As such, most players also play and customize their armies based around their ideas and preferences as to what their personal army should be like.
That leads us to the variety of lists built daily by thousands of players worldwide. Enter "the internet". The internet is a great way for players from all kinds of places to talk about the hobby and the game of Warhammer 40k. Eventually, popular opinion and playtesting has distilled each army into what makes the most successful army on the board. This has become universally accepted around the world as the end-all-be-all of what is and is not competitive.
Phew....still with me?
So is the general opinion of the internet and overall community the definition of what is competitive and worth playing (i.e. necrons and tau suck. BA, GK, and IG rock. Blah, blah, blah.)? I don't think so. We are getting into the realm of the metagame here. For those not hip to the meaning of metgame, you can see a good definition here.
We have to ask ourselves then, is there an overarching metagame for 40k? Are Necrons always going to lose to Space Wolves or Imperial Guard? Does MSU trump large units the majority of the time? The defined metagame of 40k seeks to answer these questions and consequently forces players, new and old, to make decisions about which armies they choose to play and how they field those armies. And this is where I get a little annoyed. For a couple reasons really. #1 is that GW makes an unbalanced game where not every army can compete on a level playing field. #2 is that the general population of gamers come to the realization thanks to #1 that there are only a few ways to competitively play (I'm using the term competitive losely here to mean win regularly.) with any army and so we have decreased creativity in army design and thus the game itself becomes a bit like the back of a shampoo bottle: lather, rinse, repeat.
I, however, think that the community can influence gamers to branch out and be more creative with their army lists based on a few variables that make it possible to say that there is no set metagame.
1) Army sampling, rules interpretation, and competitive level is regional. What I mean by this is the fact that in one area of the world or country, players could vary in the armies they regularly play, the way they, as a group, interpret the rules, and how many players are truly "competitive gamers". For instance, in the northeast United States, there appears to be quite a robust competitive gaming scene with many large tournaments offered yearly. However, gaming in Montana and the Dakotas probably is a bit more casual (there are more head of livestock in the mentioned states than people).
I have also heard many accounts of different rules interpretation from state to state, region to region, or even country to country. One of the big things that Team USA mentioned after last year's ETC was that understandings about things such as terrain were a bit different to how they are generally interpretted here in the US.
Army sampling can also change. For instance, one club might have a strong sampling of Tau and Tyranid players with relatively few Space Marine players while another my be exclusively Marines and their variants.
2) Experience plays a huge part in what you can do with an army. Again, an experienced player can play far more competitively with a sub-optimal list that they know inside and out than an inexperienced player can do with a fresh-off-the-line, optimized list. Experience and tight gameplay trump lists. Check out my post on that here.
3) Imposed norms and comp can play a huge part in what an army can do. If it is understood in a local club that MSU razorspamming is cheesy and powergame-ish, then fluffier armies might abound and do well. Comp at larger tournaments does this as well. Points size at tournaments can do so as well.
So, the point here is that there are simply too many variables to consider in order to make one overarching metagame for 40k. You can try to base your army preference and list building on the general consensus, but that doesn't mean that your local metagame or the metagame of tournament won't make all of your prep work for naught.
That is where I just say, play the army you want to play. If you really want to get to a point where you win games regularly, know the rules, play tight, and build lists that you like that have some competitive elements to them so that they are as balanced as possible. You don't have to go out and get a hot of the presses netlist to enjoy the game and win. Play the way you want to. Don't be intimidating into thinking that an army design or strategy won't work until you have tried it and proven that it does or doesn't. Play on your own terms.
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