Sunday, June 8, 2008

40K: The fluff or the crunch?


I acknowledge that I'm somewhat of a power gamer. I gain enjoyment out of building characters and army lists, maximizing combinations and creating "what-if" scenarios. I was in a debate recently with someone at the store about this. My issue: A game shouldn't provide bad rules choices, known as "crunch," for the sake of flavor, or "fluff". If the designers intend for a player to take a flavor option, it should be given an appropriate value to encourage this. Fluff choices shouldn't be traps that result in uncompetitive armies.

Dungeons & Dragons has done this for years, but Wizards of the Coast has moved away from it. They've declared war on flavor vs. effectiveness in 4th edition, where they've balanced character classes for combat, rather than balance for overall effectiveness. Since the game is primarily about killing monsters and taking their stuff, it's not fair to balance a class based on social skills or similar non-core abilities.

The army I've chosen for 40K, Imperial Guard, has a lot of flavor "traps" as I see them. Most doctrines are crap (doctrines are rumored to be dropped in the next codex), and much equipment and character options are just not worth the points. So if I want to play an iconic Tallarn army, for example, I need to choose one bad doctrine, a poor HQ choice, an overpriced special weapon and a mediocre heavy weapon. If I were more into the fluff than crunch of this army, I would gladly do this. But why make good fluff choices bad crunch choices?

The argument I was given was that it was alright to have bad crunch for the sake of fluff and the game was more about modeling than winning. Granted, I can see that, but why can't we have both?


  1. >The argument I was given was that it was alright to have bad crunch for the sake of fluff and the game was more about modeling than winning.<

    That's one of those full of crap lines people come up with when rules don't model fluff effectively. Seriously, if it was more about modelling, everyone would show up with fully painted models and not worry so much about exact distance and line of sight.

  2. Fluff should be something that sets your army apart and makes it unique, not something that makes it "uber" or "unter".

    The only fl;uff rule I ever liked was "red wunz go fasta" for Orks - but then again, that was at a time when Orks had been a very unpredictable and fluffy army, and the game was normally played for fun, rather than in a competitive/tournament mode.

  3. I tend to think that the best solution is one that 4th edition D&D appears to be making. Allowing you to take sub-optimal choices for fluff reasons, but not crippling you for doing so. You remain effective, just not as effective as you might have been.

    In both 40K and 3.5 taking the sub-optimal choice is often the same thing as crippling yourself. You're no longer effective at all.

  4. Here is my perspective.

    Having a fluff army/character is like bringing a knife to a gun fight. Not the best weapon of choice, but I am sure you would get an even bigger adrenaline rush out of it.

    After playing 40k for 9 years you see the same "optimal" layout or themes over and over and you know how to deal with them. But then the game becomes autonomous and you really dont have to make any real decision making.

    But when you take out the 'knife' the gameplay changes drastically. You become forced to think in ways you did not use to before. Seeing as how you are just starting out, I can understand that this is not clearly understood.

    Lastly, in a competative environment, fluff armies are not common. But if you have a close friend that you are constantly playing you can both choose to holster your guns and whip out your knives.

    This "fluff vs crunch" is also relevant to competative video games. Some fighting characters are just really good while others simply have interesting fighting styles which are enjoyable to play. Shooters have a mixed array of guns, but only a few are the best. Sometimes you have to knife a guy to prove your mad 'skillz yo!'

    Thats all I have to say about that.


  5. By the time one my best friends and I stopped playing 40k regularly, we had pretty much began 'knife fighting.' I was using my Black Templars, ditchin my other Space Marines with heavy weapons in every squad and vehicle.

    Since he was the only person I have ever played 40k against we constantly had to try new things to beat each other, and we explored the fluffy options and it was enjoyable. When we tried to powergame our games became repetitive.

    It comes down to what you want to get back from your games. If powergaming is your thing, then go for it. May you crush all before you.


  6. That pretty much defines the difference between the casual/club environment and the pick-up/tournament environment.

    When you play with the same group of people all the time you can simply agree to play in a certain way. You know that your opponents will play in the same way. This is more or less how it was for me when I first got into playing.

    However, if you play your games in a pick-up environment where you are playing different people, some of whom you may never have even met before, then you have to assume that they will be bringing the best army to the table that they know how to bring. This is more of the environment as it exists at BDG.

    To use the knife fight analogy, it's the difference between bringing a knife to what everyone has agreed will be a knife fight, and bringing a knife when no such agreement has been made and it's reasonable to assume the other guy has a gun.

  7. It can be very frustrating when you show up ready to play one style of game, and you end up playing the other style. It is a completely different (and fantastically more fun) experience when you play with friends, "for fun".
    This doesn't mean that you aren't going to be competitive on the table, or that you won't try to rip out each other's throats, just that - win, lose, or draw - the play is the thing, not the scoreboard.
    It also means that the real competition takes place on the tabletop during the "game" game, not in the army construction "meta" game.

  8. It seems to me this distinction is based on bad design. To use my D&D example again, since it's what I know best, in 1st edition or 2nd edition D&D, you might find yourself playing at a game convention with people who play very differently than you. The rules were subjective, with many, many house rules, dealing with just about every aspect of the game. Games often didn't resemble each other, which helped insulate gaming groups and bind them together, in a kind of perverse way.

    In 3rd edition, the game became more codified and there were much fewer interpretations on how to play. House rules were usually about preference rather than interpretation of rules or style.

    What I see in 40K is a lot of fuzziness with the rules in general and not much design rigor for consistency. A lot of rules decisions, such as point values for a particular ability or item, seem somewhat arbitrary. This surprises me because of the popularity of the game, and it reminds me of playing D&D in the old days.

    From what I can tell on the forums, there are certain designers who have rigor, but the majority don't. Rigor seems a new thing for them.