Saturday 8 April 2017

Why 40k needs a General's Handbook

This week on "A Man And His Dog"...
Okay, so one thing before we start: this whole chain of logic is based on the idea going round that a General's Handbook 2nd edition is coming sometime this summer. The whole idea I'm about to lay out pretty much relies on the idea that the Handbook is going to become an annual-ish release.

That said, let's talk about the single greatest gift to game balancing GW has ever created.

Let's look at the customer experience of buying a Codex. You buy your Codex, which in itself is £25 or £30 on top of the cost of the main rulebook, the miniatures, glues and paints and such. You can't really cut down that list much except in terms of the books and the most expendable of the two books is the Codex.

Add to that the fact that every edition is basically honour bound at this point to produce a new Codex for every major army with a few small timers getting a book every other edition.

So every edition you're in for an instant cost of the main rulebook/starter set and sooner or later you're expected to fork over another £30 just to keep using your army in most settings. Yes, there are places you could play older versions of the rules but most gaming clubs, certainly the most accessible ones that GW runs on its own premises, is going to insist on current rules so everyone is playing the same meta.

So let's talk about limiting that cost and doing a favour to game balance at the same time.

In AoS, buying a Battletome is an incentivised purchase. Yes, there's stuff in any given Battletome that isn't available for free: Warscroll Battlions, Allegiance rules and Battle Plans for the rules side, background sections for the fluff side. Essentially, though, those are all add ons as full rules of every unit and characters, aside from points cost in Matched Play, is available for free download.

Because the points costs are available in a seperate (and relatively cheap) book, I don't think we'll see a second edition of most Battletomes any time soon. Oh, Stormcast Eternals will definitely get their fourth book, fat golden poster children that they are, and maybe some other housekeeping exercises like smooshing Khorne Bloodbound and Khorne Daemons together to match Disciples of Tzeentch's formatting. However, I don't think a new Ironjawz or Flesh Eater Courts books is on the horizon.

Because there's very little reason to create it, let alone ask for the player for fork over the cast. If GW has a sudden inspiration to add a unit to, say, Clan Pestilens they can just release the free PDF and lay out its background in White Dwarf. They give it a provisional points cost on the Battlescroll and codify it when the next General's Handbook comes out. This way new model releases don't have to be tied to book releases.

And what's more, as points costs are the main game balancing strategy of these games, if they can be updated once a year that gives GW a lot more chance to both shake up and rationalise their meta.

There was a problem once where Space Marine tanks were massively over-pointed for what they did and the rules designers committed to lowering the points cost in new Codexes. However, for some Space Marine factions this took years because they had to wait their turn and so you had one army spending peanuts on their Razorbacks and Predators whilst others were paying through the nose for them. Instant imbalance and a years long wait to see it fixed.

With a General's Handbook it could have been done in one release.

Honestly, this is all motivated by the fact I've been playing this old game for four editions now, soon to be five, and one version of Codex: Space Marines doesn't read much different from any other. Maybe its time to just release one version of the thing and let it sit, a background resource supplemented by PDF downloads and whatever campaign book system rises from the ashes of The Gathering Storm. I also think it would be of benefit to GW to de-empahsise buying books over miniatures, especially with how short these editions are getting. 

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