Friday, November 22, 2013

Force Organization in 40k

General hellos to everyone.  So my musing on 40k continue, and hot of the heals of looking at some of 6th edition's effects on 40k, some unique and others revisiting old rules (just for you Chris!), I now turn my gaze back a little at something that really started becoming a big thing in 5th edition.  While yes it is something that has existed for quite some time, 5th edition started something... and 6th has taken it and run with it.  The ability to swap units from one section to another, affectionately coined the Force Organization Swap.

As you can see above, the game was designed around a central balance.  I say was for a very important reason.  That time is long gone.  Gone are the days when troops were pretty standard fair, seeing many of them in your armies, with some unique units spiced in to make the army your own, and give you some powerful units amidst the troops.  Generally speaking in days past, your deadly or high powered units weren't scoring.  Their job was to protect the troops by either shielding them, or simply smashing the enemy units into submission for them.  This (to me) presented a tactical challenge for players.  How to utilize units that need to survive to hold points, vs. powerful units that are more than capable, but in the end won't win me the game.  This was an important challenge that really rewarded strategy and the ability to think in the big picture sense of a battle.

Possibly in order to make games go faster, maybe a need to shake up the game design, or most probable the need to sell more expensive models, this changed.  At some point the idea came about that players should be allowed to take units from one slot on the Force Org. and run them as their troops.  There are several reason why this could be a good idea, as some armies are based on wholly different units than the basic units.  White Scars for example love bikes, and could run them decently out of the old codex.  That said no one did because they were too expensive.  Now that they aren't... bikes are sprouting up everywhere, but that's a discussion all it's own.  But Space Marines aren't the only ones pulling the trick.  And it has been a long time in the making.

Cue 5th edition and the rampant insertion of FoC swaps we've seen.  At first I thought it would be a decently balanced move.  Pedro Kantor and his making Sternguard scoring units was at least a slightly balanced (and to be fair, a fluffy) means to make them more useful.  They were still elites, and at the time were competing against the all-mighty Hammernators in the FoC, creating some challenge in the list construction phase.  But as time kept on, we saw the balance fall away.  Logan Grimnar making any number of Wolf Guard troops... and the awfulness that followed with Loganwing missile spam.  We've seen the effect of the Tervigon troop swap, not only reinforcing Nidzilla, but actually making it go without a hitch by removing the penalty for not bringing troops.  And let us not forget Draigowing... the king of 5th edition FoC Swaps, or Coteaz with his henchmen armies.Even Dark Eldar and Blood Angels had swaps, but the Hellion and Sanguinary Guard just never held the potency, or what I felt were damning effects those listed above did.

Now we enter 6th edition... and this painful trend seems to continue.  Again we started with a decent move, and ironically it's actually one that actively removed choices and utilized the FoC Swap intelligently.  The Cult Troops in Codex: Chaos Space Marines, formerly all troops natively were moved to Elites, and allowed to be Troops if an HQ sharing their mark was taken.  This is intelligent, and smart design.  This rewards players for the fluff, and presents challenges for the player at list construction, as well as on the table.  You can bring the cult troops regardless, but you have to plan for if you want them scoring.  There is a drawback to this, but we'll hit that later.

Moving forward... much like 5th, we saw the balance of the FoC Swapping just fall apart.  Dark Angels come out... and while yes, they've always been more about their bikes and their terminators, they just made it too damn easy to make it happen on mass.  Once upon a time you needed to take a character to troopify each wing individually, now you simply take Azrael, and poof, it's all scoring.  Yes the elites "knights" of both wings don't score, but not even the wing specific characters do that.  In my opinion, they could have made the wing characters make all of that wing scoring, and Azrael only the ones he does now (the basic troop forms).  At least then there might have actually been a choice to it, but it's all a lesser evil in the grand scheme of things.  It still doesn't save the basic green armored choices from being largely forgotten.

Then comes along Tau.  Hizzah!  A codex that really doesn't have any FoC play to speak of.  It didn't need it, since the codex is pretty potent already... What's that?  A Farsight Supplement?  Oh... Suit Troops.  *insert a long, frustrated sigh here*  Coupled with the potent ability of the new Riptide, and some of the Eight who are just crazy good, as well as allying the codex with Codex: Tau... removing just about every weakness built into the choice and you start to see the issue.

Eldar show up, and suddenly Wraithguard are swappable with the touch of a button, or in this case the adding of a single Spiritseer.  Again, a swap that existed before, but 6th made insanely easy to do, and dirt cheap.  These guys are actually more than capable of replacing fire dragons, and are infinitely more survivable, if a little more expensive.  Now we move to Space Marines... and bikes.  Oh god, the bike lists haven't stopped spewing forth from the internet since it hit.  The bandwagon of bike lists which never existed before is a constant reminder of how many people play this game for no other reason but to craft the ultimate list, and win.  And if that is how they derive their enjoyment from 40k, more power to them.  Far be it from me to stifle their flair.

But as we look back on it, the Force Organization Chart is becoming more and more irrelevant with each passing codex.  The designers seem to have created this option of swapping units to troops to unlock more choices, or allow for more story-like armies.  In itself, it's a noble effort, but the results are tragically not at all reflecting that intent.  The units that inevitably get swapped are still based on the old FoC design.  Specifically, they are designed to be more potent than their troop brethren.  Because these units are more limited in their number, or competing with other choices from their native slot, they are noticeably better than the Troops.  But as they are moved to the Troops slot, they are just leaps and bounds over the competition.  Bikes are usually greater than Space Marines.  The Tervigon is purely better than Termigaunts.  etc. etc.

Almost every codex has a unit that is not a native troop, that somehow finds it's way to that section.  There are very few codexes out there with the option of FoC swaps, and probably for good reason.  Imagine if you could take Leman Russes as troops in Imperial Guard.  I would, but that's the point.  Why should anyone bring troops when GW is making Elite units troops with something so simple as taking a single character?  Are the FoC Swaps really promoting more options, or limiting the viable playing field?  While it isn't a sure thing, it's a fair bet most tournament lists out there have some swap element to them.  Having played the swap units, I can see why people want them, and how they can be a great incentive for certain choices.  But in most if not every situation, there's no cap to limit the number of units you can swap.  About the most balanced I've ever seen is the Ork Warboss making a single Nob Squad troops, which may be changing soon.  I'll be honestly surprised if Ghazghkull Mag Uruk Thraka doesn't unlock any number of Nobz as troops.  It would fit with the trend...

You need only look into a mirror.
This is where the issue I noticed in Chaos Space Marines, and with the swap system in general comes up.  Why should you take the basic troops, or even run swappable units without swapping them?  Have you ever seen non-scoring cult troops from Chaos?  How about non-scoring Paladins in Grey Knights?  You just don't see them, because it's less optimal not to have them be scoring... which is a shame.  With the option to make them troops, people never even consider them any other way, thus practically removing the unit as a choice to the player base, and limiting the overall atmosphere and scope of units taken or armies seen.  That said, it is the players who make this decision.  If it is a problem, it is we who perpetuate it by continuing to only play them as such.

So does the FoC Swap alter the game for the better or worse?  In my opinion it's a double edged sword, but sadly, from the looks of it, it's starting to tip towards detrimental.  Does the option to swap really promote balance?  Well, looking at a lot of event winning lists, it would seem that most contain at least 1 potent swap to Troops, and some are nothing but swaps (SM Bikes winning Feast of Blades for example).  The last question I'll leave on is this.

If Games Workshop introduced Allies to help sore up the weaknesses in a codex by teaming up with another army to alleviate them, then why are FoC swaps still seen as necessary to a codex and still so prevalent?



  1. Two points I want to through out there.
    1, it seems 60% elites, and the rest fast attack. I can't think of any times it is heavies to troops. Seems interesting to me.

    2, it seems like a cool idea at first, to allow for more themed armies like vangaurd forces, 1st or 8th company (or what ever). But as you pointed it out it kind of feels like it has fallen apart. I think if they made it so those units became scoring instead of troops it would be better. You'd have to still bring some troops, but not have to worry about enough to be alive to score. Also keeps the foc restrictions in place.

    I'll avoid ranting on tervigons for now.

  2. Couple points:

    First, the bike list was the open FoB winner. The invitational was won by a very simple eldar list.

    Secondly, most winning tourney lists aren't built around these 'broken' foc swaps. Of the big events, only two have made heavy use of foc swaps (the aforementioned FoB open, and a a Ravrnwing wing dakka-banner list very early). The rest of the lists utilize dirt cheap troops combined with overwhelming firepower (cults & heldrakes, firewarriors/kroot & riptides, avengers & wave serpents).

    Many of the 'powerful', as you say, FoC swaps that trade a relatively cheap and average unit for a hard-hitting and expensive unit can actually be a bit of a trap. And not even the, "Oh, you took nothing but terminators? lol" kind of trap.

    Those hard hitting units, to be effective, necessitate being used aggressively, which is counter to how an objective holder wants to operate- hunkered down and limiting returning fire. So by using the elite foc swaps, you end up either putting your objective campers into danger, or wasting all that expensive firepower. You also make the job for your opponent by removing all target priority questions. "Should I shoot your dangerous unit, or your objective holder? Oh, they are the one and the same? Why thank you!"

  3. Your point about the Dark Angles seems a bit off, fluffwise. Azrael is the supreme grand master, essentially the Lion's successor. Shouldn't anyone come at his beck and call?

    As for Eldar, that bike list has been around almost as long as 40k blogging has. One of the oldest and most reputable blogs used to be called The Way of Saim-Hann. It's a list that's just as embedded in the fluff as any Ravenwing or White Scars. Bikes have been troops since at least 4th edition, they're legitimate troops.

  4. More or less it's just a note on FoC swaps being far more abused than helpful. The way they are being managed (aka troops, instead of just scoring) really tends to throw balance to the wayside. By no means is this article preaching it's always the case, merely pointing out my observations on the matter. Gravemind hit my feelings on the head. If they just made things scoring instead of troops, I wouldn't care that much.

    Also, Heretic. Eldar Bikes have been around for a very long time. I won't question that. But they are natively bikes, and therefor I've felt the internal balancing of their use has been accounted for by GW. Point cost, weapon options, synergies, etc. It's all relative to the fact they are competing only with troops, and not ever with Fast Attack. Beyond that they compare with units that rely much on their transports, which factors in a lot of sway on what might be worth more overall, given the huge power spike that the wave serpent received.

    Both Eldar and Marine bikes dropped massively in point cost. The issue I've seen is that Space Marines on foot, vs Space Marines on a Bike is a pretty one sided affair. About the best trick foot marines have is Drop Pods, baring some really heavy transport play. Eldar bikers really aren't much better than their other troops which have some trick up their sleeve (cheap heavy weapon platforms, aspect dire avengers, etc.) It's all relative, but again it's that wave serpent that makes it a challenge in choosing the better outlet.

    Just my feels on the matter. Thanks for the input to all.

  5. Interesting post. In answer to your question, I don't think GW primarily introduced Allies to help balance out weaknesses in the main codex. I think it's more likely that the decision was made as it allows more models to be sold, enabling second/third/more armies to be build up incrementally.

    Personally, I love FOC swaps for the same reason I love allies - options. Anything that allows me to create different lists with loads of synergies and tactics makes me very happy. It also opens up a lot more variety and the possibility for characterful armies. The tricky thing is that more options makes balancing a game system harder and some companies are better than others at this!

    There will be more powerful options that others and the competitive scene in any game system will always strive to seek out and use the best of these. But this would be the case with or without extra options. I'd prefer to see more choice than less, as apart from anything else it allows more depth of options to find counters from.

    (As an aside, you can take Leman Russ as troops using Forge World Imperial Armour 2, but as they're vehicles they don't score or contest! Worth a look if you're interested.)

    Thanks for an interesting discussion. Good food for thought!

  6. Cheers mate. Glad you enjoyed the post. Perhaps it's just been too long since I've really gotten to play with a truly passive, non-competitive crowd. I'd give just about anything to find a group where optimism and cheer overruled optimization and frustration.

    My Death Korps are itching to put some of their silly units on the table again.

  7. Guess I'm lucky to have a choice! I'm enjoying the competitive side, thankfully with people who still remember it's only a game. That said, sometimes after a tough week you just want to kick back and roll some dice!