A Little History
Read that? Great. Now onto what I think. Like Nick, I want to look at some of the popular attitudes to Formations and explore why I disagree.
What's wrong with the CAD anyway?
The CAD has been around for a very long time (back to 3rd edition). We never really knew it as that until recently though. Before then it was simply the Force Organisation Chart or FOC. The main issue that most people had with this was the so-called "Troop Tax" where you had to take two units of troops before you could add anything else. You also needed a HQ but most of the time you wanted one of these anyway.
The main problem I had with the Troop Tax was that you were basically fine if you codex had decent troops. For example, I had no issue taking Grey Hunters for my Space Wolves. For a long time they were considered the best troops in the game by a lot of people. Other armies weren't so lucky though so you'd often sunk a decent chunk of points into some near useless units before you could spend money on toys. To me though, it did at least mean the armies were reasonably fluffy. Rather than a Space Marine army composed entirely of dreadnoughts, you'd need a couple of tactical squads in there. We can argue about whether that's much different but it always felt like at least the armies weren't too outrageous.
The other issue with the CAD is that you were limited to just 3 of each of the special units. That meant you couldn't totally spam the insane units. I'm aware there's a little nostalgia going on here though. I still remember those Grey Knight armies in 5th edition with 12 psyfleman dreadnoughts and about 25 razorbacks (maybe an exaggeration). Still though, there was structure and you knew roughly what you were getting when you faced a particular army.
Looking back now, I don't think the Troop Tax is a problem. I mean, these days they get Objective Secured which can be very powerful in what are often Maelstrom missions. The other thing is that at least there's a drawback. Granted for some armies the points cost is low but you'd need to spend some on troops before you got what you really wanted.
Where are the "taxes" now?
Looking at the formations today there are still some which require you to take units that you wouldn't normally take. The Tau Optimised Stealth Cadre gives you a reason to take both Ghostkeels and Stealth Suits which outside of the formation are only of limited use. Where's the tax though? Yes you're taking units you wouldn't necessarily want to take but the pay off is so great that you don't care. In fact, I doubt anyone would run either unit outside of the formation. It's just that good. My issue is there's very little downside to it.
It's a criticism I have of 40K in general. Some armies seem to have been given powerful units but at a cost. For example, Thunderwolves are great but each model is a minimum of 40pts and with TH/SS is 85pts. That's a pretty hefty chunk for something with two T5 3++ wounds but those S10 AP2 attacks on a fast platform make it worthwhile. In other armies the downsides are different. A Dark Eldar Venom is pretty powerful, 65pts for 12 poisoned 4+ shots at BS4 on a fast skimmer is fairly awesome especially with a 5++ save. However, AV10 and two HPs mean that they're pretty straightforward to take down for most armies. So you're getting something powerful but flimsy. I think in general the Dark Eldar codex is pretty well balanced. If everything goes right and you play the army well it could be devastating. Well, that used to be the case, I think in the current game they're just too weak and unreliable. There are also certain units in there that are pretty much totally useless such as Wyches and Hellions.
Compare that to something like Tau where pretty much every unit in the book is useful. It's difficult to see how any formation based on the Tau codex could have something considered a tax.
Formations aren't bad at higher points levels
I hear this argument quite a bit. I think for the most part it's probably true. The same can be said for certain units too. An Imperial Knight in a 1,000pt game could be devastating but a single Knight at 2,500pts probably isn't much of a problem. If that's the case, why not limit Formations (and superheavies for that matter) to Apocalypse games like they used to be. Obviously no one is forcing you to use formations in your games (and we rarely do) but there's a temptation there that means in tournaments it's hard to resist. You want the best army you can possibly put out there and that means formations most of the time.
The problem is that events have to restrict army selection to prevent people taking a shopping list of the best formations in their codex. Being told in great detail what you can and can't bring puts people off a tournament.
Are formations just part of a bigger problem?
To me, formations are just a symptom of what is already a bloated game. I used to be able to show up at a tournament, look across the table and have a pretty good idea what my opponent's army is capable of. I'd probably know most of the units, their rough statlines and their special rules. There was a time around 5th/6th where I genuinely felt I knew the rulebook and the vast majority of the codices inside out. This was partly because Matt and I owned most of the armies between us but also because I was running Blog Wars and had read through most of the rules for most of the armies and even the FAQs.
It was about the time that GW switched to a weekly release schedule that I started to struggle. I'd been doing codex reviews on this blog up until Skitarii hit. That was the first book I didn't really dig deep into and I still don't really know enough about the army today. There's the odd unit I've come across in tournaments that I'm more familiar with but generally speaking I know nothing about the army. The same is true for Genestealer Cults and Deathwatch.
The trouble is, I think it'd be nearly impossible for me to find the time to read and digest all the material that's out there now. In fact, when I'm playing my armies now it's already difficult to remember where the rules for a particular unit can be found.
Formations are probably the worst thing in this respect. Obviously there's a lot of them in their respective codices but there's also some from Start Collecting boxes, campaign books, White Dwarf, supplements, etc. There's even some that are only available direct from GW when you buy a particular bundle (although admittedly they seem to have stopped doing this).
Where on earth would a new player even start? Some of the books that these formations were published in aren't even in print any more. I used Wulfen for the first time at the weekend (battle report soon hopefully) and their rules are in Curse of the Wulfen which you can't get a copy of outside of an eBook. Fortunately Matt has a copy of the book itself but it's still frustrating.
I could say a lot more about this but I think I'm starting to ramble. My main issues with formations can be summarised as follows though:
- They're basically shopping lists to encourage sales of new units - I'm not naive, I know GW is in the business of selling models but some aren't even subtle.
- There's no real downside most of the time - units you would probably take anyway just get better for no really good reasons. Why not make the units themselves better instead?
- They over-complicate an already complex game - it's hard enough to remember the standard rules for yours and your opponent's units without remembering formation rules. How often do you forget your warlord trait for example?
- They don't actually add variety - they might mean you see some units you wouldn't normally see on the table but they fast become the norm. They're too auto-include for some armies. Would you consider writing a competitive list for your army without certain formations?
Ultimately I'm not a fan of the direction 40K is heading. It's all well and good saying that they're just giving you lots of options and you can play the way you like but it's getting out of hand now. When I'm considering running tournaments I'm put off by thinking about all the possible lists and whether some of them are too strong to permit. I hate telling people what they can't run but equally I hate the idea of someone having a miserable day at my event because they came up against something filthy.
Again, I know this is GW trying to sell models but if people wanted to use Formations and Super-Heavies they could do some in Apocalypse. That means games over a certain points limit could include whatever they wanted. Apocalypse should be no holds barred 40K.
Is it a case of don't hate the game, hate the players though? There's nothing new going on here. 40K players have always tried to find the most powerful stuff and spammed it. Taken the most filthy combinations and shoe-horned them into a legal army list. One the one hand it's impressive that people can find these combinations in this sea of rules but I can't help but wish for a simpler time.
I'm planning on playing in the Doubles at Warhammer World in April where people can take pretty much whatever they want (including Unbound). It'll be five games against random opponents and will hopefully give me a chance to gauge just how bad the problem actually is. These events aren't normally overrun with power gamers so if the average players are using dirty combinations then I think it's safe to say it's a problem.