Monday, 14 December 2015

Formation-ing an opinion: The Evolution of Formations in 40k

Formations seem to have become an integral part of army building in 40k these days. Whether that is a good or bad thing is for each individual to decide, today I thought I would take you through my thoughts on formations and how I feel they influence the vast universe of warhammer 40,000 these days.

Not a free transport in sight......
Right off the bat, it is only fair to let you know dear reader, that I rarely use formations in 40k. This is not due to some particular stance on the use of formations, I just like the Combined Arms Detachment (CAD) and find it the easiest way to make up an army and what I have been used to for many years. The second issue is that even with my vast collection of models for some armies, I sometimes still struggle to have the basic requirements for many of the formations that I can field, so am limited in this respect too. The one exception to this is the Ravenwing Strike Force from the 7th edition Dark Angels codex. Being a big fan of Ravenwing (and bike) armies, I have utilised this formation a lot in recent months, even taking an all Ravenwing army to the recent Blog Wars X tournament using the formation and having a measure of success with it in my games.
So this is where these opinions and impressions come from, a player who generally doesn't use formations, but has some experience both playing with them and against them in a competitive and casual environment.
Also, a note of nomenclature. I tend to use Formations and Detachments interchangeably when talking about them. I know that there are differences between the two, but to me, the comments on one could be equally applied to the other.
The Early Days of Formations
Force Organisation Chart
You could argue that one of the earliest instances of the use of formations in 40k was the introduction of the Force Organisation Chart in 3rd edition 40k (I certainly would argue this, and since this is my article, I can do what I want!).

Hasn't changed much at all.
Prior to 3rd edition, armies were constructed using the percentage system. Your army would be composed of units/models based on the percentage of the points used, for example; 25% or more core units, up to 25% characters, etc.
When 40k was re-launched with 3rd edition in 1998, a new mechanic for army building was introduced- the Force Organisation Chart (now known as the Combined Arms Detachment). For the first time, units in an army were separated into 5 different types; HQ, Elites, Troops, Fast Attack and Heavy Support. Players constructed armies by selecting units from "slots" in the force organisation chart and calculating their points cost for the unit until the agreed upon points limit was reached. The only compulsory choices in your army were one HQ and two troops slots. This limit still applies today in the CAD.
The idea was to allow players to build themed forces, more representative of typical armies your fraction would be likely to field. Your army would consist of an HQ unit to lead the army and two units of core troops to provide the backbone of the army. Additional troops units could be used to bolster your force and more powerful units could be taken from the other slots, though in lesser numbers to represent their more limited availability.

Even back then, modifications to the Force Organisation Chart were already in place. Imperial Guard units could field special "platoons" to allow them to take multiple troops choices and only use one slot in the force organisation chart. The highly-regarded Codex Chaos Space Marines 3.5 allowed Iron Warriors players to gain an additional Heavy Support slot for the loss of a Fast Attack slot. Certain special characters or HQ units allowed certain units to "count as" troops, allowing you to field Terminators, Bikers or Nobz in higher numbers than the standard chart would allow. Some units, mostly command squads or their equivalents, would not use a slot on the chart when purchased in conjunction with an HQ unit. Supplement codices could create new or elite armies by changing the Unit Type of existing units in the game to allow you to field a Trukk boyz heavy Speed Freaks army or Aspect Warrior focused Biel-Tan army.

So much variation in such a small book.
The lack of percentage point requirements meant that even with adherence to the force organisation chart, players could still field elite-heavy forces or tank-heavy forces, as well as creating super-powered characters to chew through the enemy army. The term "troop tax" was used to describe the penalty of purchasing the cheapest two compulsory troops choices available to have access to the "better" choices in a codex. This sort of tactic was always going to occur with any type of army selection, it probably even occurs with percentage-based systems.
Some players will always try to take an army to breaking point and beyond with "min-max"-ing army lists to create incredibly competitive and tight forces. I am not saying this is a bad thing. Many players find equal enjoyment from building "fluffy", thematic armies to scraping every last point out of a list for the most effective combinations. Both play styles are equally valid, it just depends on what you enjoy and what your community embraces.
I liked the introduction of the Force Organisation Chart. It created a very different way to build armies than was previously seen in 40k and fantasy and seems to suit 40k well at that stage and continues to be amongst the most popular way to build an army, even in 7th edition.
Come the Apocalypse
The introduction of Warhammer 40,000 Apocalypse was met by great excitement in the 40k community (at least, it was in mine). For the first time, players were provided with rules for fighting massive battles that had only been the subject of background stories in codices. It also introduced rules for Superheavy vehicles, massive war machines such as the Baneblade or Stompa that had not been seen outside the realm of Epic 40,000 before. These vehicles were presented in their own special rulebook, as the thought of using a Baneblade or other Superheavy vehicles in a game of regular 40k was absolutely preposterous.............

No need for a dining room table when you have this book on hand.

As an aside, the Baneblade was (and continues to be) an amazing piece of kit. It looks stunning on the field and creates a fine focal point for any Imperial Guard army. I was amazed when I saw the first photos and that GW was actually making a kit of this size and complexity in 40k. The number of superheavy kits has steadily increased and most of them are amazing. Still no plastic Thunderhawk though!
Not only were the battles and vehicles super-sized, the Apocalypse book was also super-sized, being much larger in dimension than any 40k book previously published. Also present in the Apocalypse book were new rules for using formations in 40k.
These were a new way of building armies for warhammer 40,000. Rather than taking what units you wanted in accordance with the Force Organisation Chart, you were given a list of units that had to be purchased and would pay a "fee" for using the formation. This would then give you access to new or unique special rules that would affect the units in the formation.  
For example, one of the most iconic of fighting formations in the universe of 40k, the Space Marine Battle Company, had its own formation in the first Apocalypse book. The battle company consisted of a Captain, 0-1 Chaplain, a Command Sqaud, 6 ten-man Tactical Squads, 2 ten-man Assault Squads and 2 ten-man Devastator Squads. The formation cost an additional 200 pts, and you gained three additional Apocalypse strategic assets for taking the formations (an orbital bombardment and some reserves manipulations).
Many of these formations were intended for use in large-scale battles. Some had requirements for a large number of units, requiring all but the most avid of 40k collectors to need several players to combine forces to get the formation bonuses. Other formations were much smaller, requiring only 3+ units to gain the bonuses. These formations cost an additional 25-250 pts for the bonus.

White Dwarf also became a huge resource for accessing new formations. New rules for formations were frequently published in the pages of GW's premier gaming magazine. These would sometimes be themed around certain historical battles from the storylines of 40k or focus on race-specific formations and rules.
When the second edition of Apocalypse was released in 2013, it signalled another chance in the use of formations. The additional points costs of formations was removed. In order to get the bonus, all a player needed to do was field the requirements of the formation. Perhaps in order to simulate that these were formations for larger scale engagements, the unit requirements for many of the formations increased dramatically in 2nd edition Apocalypse. Where before, a formation may consist of a couple of Whirlwinds and a Landspeeder, it would now likely consist of 3-4 times the number of units to access new, more powerful rules.

For many years, Apocalypse was one of the few ways to access formations in 40k. That all changed with the release of 7th edition.

The Rise of Formations

Codex Formations
The seventh edition of the rules brought about a seismic shift in the use of formations in 40k. There may have been formations available before this, but I think that the release of 7th edition and the subsequent codices have brought these into the mainstream more than ever before. I think that having these formations in the codex, rather than in White Dwarf, Apocalypse or Forgeworld, somehow legitimises them more, somehow.

The Combined Arms Detachment was included in the 7th edition rulebook and proves to be a very popular Detachment/Formation. It uses the Force Organisation Chart of old and includes the bonuses of getting a re-roll on your Warlord Trait and gives your troops Objective Secured.
The re-roll is nice, allowing you the option not to be stuck with a useless Warlord Trait, but the real bonus is Objective Secured. This is an extremely beneficial special rule and has won me several games in the past when my opponent lacked the rule.

The first 7th edition codex to feature new formations was Codex Orks released in June 2014. The "Ork Warband" consisted of:
Big Mek
A unit of Nobz or Meganobz
6 Units of Boyz
1 Unit of Gretchin

There were no restrictions on the warband, so you could have trukk mounted units to emulate a speed freaks army (with the exception of the Gretchin, but proper Orks don't care about Gretchin anyway) or could run large mobs on foot to overwhelm the enemy. The benefits for the formation included the ubiquitous warlord trait re-rolls, gaining Hammer of Wrath for the mobs when you rolled a certain value for your charge distance and allowing the Warboss to call a Waaagh! each turn.

Nothing too overpowered here. Just a nice way to field an Ork warband that encouraged players to take many units of Boyz, along with some Nobz to keep the boyz in line and some gretchin for the boyz to kick around. The formation gave Ork players some nice bonus special rules that were not too powerful and required unique conditions for the rules to activate (rolling a 10 or more on your charge distance).

The codex also included a new Detachment, giving the player access to additional HQ and Troops slots on top of the standard CAD. The Detachment gave the warlord trait re-roll and some Hammer of Wrath bonuses for certain units if they roll high enough for the charge.

The subsequent codices released provided some new formations for players, giving new special rules and abilities for specific army builds. These rules were not particularly overpowered, but did provide some nice special rules for units and formations.

Then the 7th edition Necron codex was released.

Overpowered Nonsense?
The mere mention of the Necron Decurion is enough to send a shiver down the spine of the most seasoned 40k players.

The introduction of the Necron Decurion represented another significant development in the use of formations in 40k. The Decurion was a new breed of army building; a formation of formations, if you will. Players are now able to build a detachment out of a mix of Core formations, Command formations and Auxiliary formations. Not only do you gain the benefits of the individual formations, but you also gain Detachment wide benefits, some of which are considerable.

Being the first of its kind, the Necron Decurion is a particularly powerful example. It's major benefit is gaining +1 to Re-animation Protocol saves for the units in the Detachment, though it does still give other great benefits. This makes a Necron army nigh-on indestructible in many cases. This comes at a price though; the loss of Objective Secured. In my opinion, this is one of the few things that makes the Decurion beatable.

I have come up against the Decurion three times in a tournament setting (all three games against my White Scars). Of the three games, I have won two of them- both of which were objective based games (one maelstrom and one end of game objectives) and Objective Secured was a key factor in each victory. The third game was a Kill Points mission and I was absolutely slaughtered.

In all three games, my White Scars army was decimated. In the first game, I had 6 models left, in the second game, I had 7 models left and in the third game, a solitary Rhino saved me from being tabled. In all three games, I had lost close to 90% of my models, if not more. In all three games, I would be surprised if I had killed more than one third of the opposing army.

In the two games that I won, I had to focus on achieving the objectives and ignore trying to kill the opposing army, as it proved impossible most of the time. In the kill points game, a combination of formation special rules and a resurrection orb meant that, to kill a unit of 6 wraiths, I would need to do a calculated 218 wounds on the unit to wipe them out. I wish I had done this calculation before the game as I would not have wasted most of my second turn trying to kill them (to very little effect).

I have spoken to several Necron players who no longer use the Decurion outside of tournament games. To them, using the Decurion is using Necrons in "easy mode" and victory is far too easy to come by in normal games.

I do not begrudge Necron players for using the Decurion. Most, if not all, players will choose to use the best rules available in many games. If I could use a Detachment that would boost the survivability of my army, I am sure that I would in many cases. The Decurion was just the first example of this type of Detachment and remains one of the most powerful.

The Decurion is not the only powerful one of its kind. The Eldar Warhost and Space Marine Gladius Stike Force also allows a player to build highly effective, highly competitive armies.

I am not too familiar with the Eldar Warhost, having only played it a few times, but I have come up against the formations allowing increased number of aspect warriors that boost their WS/BS and makes great Eldar units even better.

The Gladius has received a lot of attention from Space Marine players and a lot of criticism from non-marine players thanks to the free transports when using two battle demi-companies. Taking two battle demi-companies allows marine players to give free transports to all units that can take them in the two formations. This potentially gives the Gladius Strike Force an additional 660 "free" points in the army (twelve units can potentially take a Razorback as transport to make 660 pts of free transports).

The dual battle demi-company gladius appears to be quite popular in a tournament environment. The army gains the benefits of "free" points and all the units in the demi-company and their free transports have Objective Secured. This makes the Gladius an ideal Multiple Small Units (MSU) army for tournament games. The idea behind this army is that you have so much on the board that your opponent is simply unable to kill enough of your army in a standard 5-6 turn game that you can easily swamp the objectives at the end of the game or have a high number of mobile units for grabbing objectives in a maelstrom mission.

I have never actually faced this type of army before, so don't know how difficult it can be first hand. My only guide is from what others have told me about it and what I have read online.

One of the problems with formations is that it can make already very strong armies (such as Space Marines, Eldar and Necrons) even more powerful with the addition of free special rules in the Detachments, whereas less powerful armies get some decent buffs that are nowhere near as powerful.

I guess it all depends on the points of view. I, for one, would love to see a new Ork codex with a Decurion-style detachment that gave every unit Feel no Pain. I think that this would give Orks a real boost to their capabilities and help ensure the survival of big mobs to get to combat. No doubt, other non-Ork players may decry this as game breaking and overpowered.
The Ravenwing Strike Force Issue
The problem with some Formations and Detachments is when they have unclear rules that can be abused or having rules that players see as wrong.
One that was close to my heart was the issue with the Ravenwing Strike Force. As written, Sammael is the only HQ unit allowed in the Formation as he is the only HQ unit with access to the Ravenwing special rule, even though the Formation has three HQ slots.
I posted a poll on DakkaDakka, asking how players were dealing with this issue. I came up with 4 options for dealing with the problems with the Ravenwing Strike Force. At the time of writing, 102 votes had been counted, the results were:
  • 28%- Not allowing any other characters than Sammael as they don't have the Ravenwing rule.
  • 35%- Bike-mounted characters gain the Ravenwing rule.
  • 25%- Bike-mounted characters replace the Deathwing rule with the Ravenwing rule.
  • 12%- Bike-mounted characters are allowed, but do not gain the Ravenwing rule.

Straight off, almost a third of people polled decided that no change should be made to the rules of the Ravenwing Strike Force. The rules as written should be followed and only Sammael should be taken.
The other 72% of the respondants agreed that the rules were probably intended to allow other bike-mounted characters in the Detachment, but from there, opinion is split on how to "fix" it.
The problem then comes from using different solutions to the apparent problem. For tournament play, this becomes important. The rules pack for Rapid Fire 2015 (that I attended) did not allow any other bike-mounted characters in the strike force, using the rules as written, whereas Blog Wars X (that I also attended) allowed other bike-mounted characters and replaced the Deathwing rule with the Ravenwing rule (as well as making Sammael a compulsory choice in the detachment). Both tournaments were equally valid in how they chose to deal with the Strike Force, but both could lead to different armies being fielded.
So when problems arise with the rules of a formation or detachment, it is hard to get consensus on a ruling in the gaming community; not only in how to fix the supposed problem, but sometimes even if there is a problem to be fixed.

UPDATE DEC 2015: GW finally got around to fixing the Ravenwing Strike Force in an errata. Other characters are now allowed in the Strike Force as long as they are mounted on a bike. They do not gain the Ravenwing special rule.

Campaigning for Change
7th Edition also saw the introduction of a new style of supplements; the Campaign book.

GW has started releasing supplements that detail a campaign between 2 or more armies in the 40k universe. This provides players with a new story to read, some themed missions based around the story in the book and some new formations and special rules for fractions in the campaign.

The only campaign book that I have purchased so far is War Zone Damocles: Kauyon. This was purchased in order to access the new White Scars formations, special rules and Relics. The book gave White Scars access to some nice warlord traits, some amazing relics and some quite thematic, decently powered formations. I have yet to try out any of the new formations, but hope to dive into them next year and try them out.

The new campaign books allow GW to release new rules and formations for different armies without waiting for a new edition or codex update. This allows some established Chapters to receive some love and attention and for older supplements to be updated for 7th edition.

However, the release of War Zone Damocles: Kauyon also brought about a new type of codex, one that I hope will not become a trend.

Tau players were getting very excited for the release of the 7th edition codex and there were a lot of rumours swirling around the internet about the changes that would be seen in the codex and how it would be updated. Then the rumours started to appear that it would be less of a new edition codex and more of an update.

The new Tau codex appears to be no more than the old codex with the new formations from the campaign book, a couple of new units and a few wargear tweaks. I'm sure there are many Tau players who were hoping for a bit more with the new codex. There were certainly a lot of non-Tau players (me included) who were hoping that there would be significant changes to the Tau codex (particularly Marker Lights and Supporting Fire).

Even the new Tau formations were not free of controversy. The Hunter Contingent has been subject to a lot of online debate over some of the special rules. I have not been following the debate too closely, but the Coordinated Firepower rule has caused some confusion over whether or not different special rules are applied to all units in the formation due to the rule wording.

This reliance on new formations to sell the books can be a double-edged sword. For example, despite owning a sizeable Imperial Guard army, I have no intention of buying the new War Zone Damocles: Mont'ka book to access the new rules. I had a look at the new formations and found that I could field very few of the new formations with my current Guard collection. To me, the "buy-in" for the formations for the Cadians was much steeper than for previous formations and more in line with the Apocalypse formations in the latest book. How many guard players are likely to field the formation with three Baneblades in a standard game of 40k?

I would hate to see the new Tau codex become the norm, where codex updates only see the addition of new formations and a few superficial rules changes rather than the releases that we have become used to. While there are many players that would be happy for their army to stay the same and just access new formations, I think the vast majority of players would prefer "proper" updates to their old codices so that they can compete with the newest armies.

Pay to Win
Now, the more cynical amongst you may suggest that the increased growth in formations in 7th edition is simply to boost GW profits. Forcing players to take units that are generally not seen on the battlefield or are not selling well to get the awesome new special rules seems like a guaranteed money maker.

Based on my own personal experience, this may be the case. However, it does seem to work!

When the new Dark Angels codex was released, I purchased a bunch of Landspeeders in order to access the amazing Ravenwing Support Squadron formation.

When the Skyhammer Annihilation Force was doing the rounds, I purchased a new drop pod, two units of assault marines and some heavy bolters to kit out my Devastators.

When the new White Scars formations were released, as well as buying the campaign book, I also purchased some Scout Bikers and some more Landspeeders in order to access the new Formations.

However, with the exception of the Kauyon expansion book, none of these purchases were made directly from GW. Models were purchased from ebay or from independent retailers. I am not sure how much these purchases boost GW profits either directly or indirectly. Does this mean the new formations were a success or not? 

I have no doubt that I would not have made these purchases for my armies had it not been for the formations and the rules that they provided.
The Future of Formations
Some players may welcome the return of percentage-based army composition, but it appears that Detachments and Formations are here to stay.
Personally, I quite like having the option to take different Formations and Detachments for my army, even though I rarely use them for many of my forces.
My Ravenwing love the new Ravenwing Strike Force, not so much for the special rules but as the only way to field an all Ravenwing army, something that I have fielded since building one in the 5-6th edition codex. Without this formation, I would be unable to field one of my favourite armies the way that I want to (outside of Unbound).
Congratulations if you have made it this far through my ramblings! Below, I will present my own humble opinions on how I would like to see formations change in the future.
No More Free Stuff
One of the biggest complaints about the Gladius Strike Force is the ability to access free points through free transports. I think that any formation that grants a player free points immediately puts their opponent at a disadvantage.
What is ridiculous is that the minimum buy-in for the dual Battle Demi-Company Gladius is only 850 pts; Captain, Chaplain, six 5-man tactical squads, two 5-man devastator squads, two attack bikes and three units of scouts. With this, a marine player can potentially access 280-440 pts of free transports.
Alternatively, one solution to this may be to change the minimum requirements for the Battle Demi-Company to access the free transports. Forcing players to take 10-man tactical, devastator and assault squads would increase the minimum buy-in for the dual Battle Demi-Company Gladius to around 1750 pts. This would still allow players to use the force in tournaments, but without any weapons upgrades, so the army may suffer.
Objective Secured
I wonder if making Objective Secured exclusively for the CAD would mitigate the value of formations in 40k. No access to Objective Secured or limited access to Objective Secured in formations might make players seriously consider whether to use the formations over the CAD.
As mentioned above, the lack of Objective Secured is a key factor in making it easier to beat the Necron Decurion. Would the dual Battle Demi-Company Gladius formation be as popular if the units lacked Objective Secured?
Certainly, some of the later marine formations have lacked objective secured or had limited access to it. The new White Scars formations have very limited access to objective secured. Only the Scouts in the Stormbringer Squadron have inherent access to the rule.
I have previously talked about how important Objective Secured is in an army, particularly in maelstrom missions. Forcing players to choose between fancy formation rules and objective secured in the CAD may cause them to take stock and decide which to use.
More Power!
Another issue with formations is when powerful formations are given to already powerful armies.
Coming off the 6th edition powerhouse codex of the Eldar, I think most players would agree that the Eldar 7th edition codex did not need a power boost. In a similar stream, Codex Space Marines has always been a strong codex, the addition of the Gladius made it even more powerful.
It would be nice to see future formations give nice, thematic bonuses to armies without being too powerful or auto-include. This itself creates a whole new can of worms; how powerful is too powerful? Who decides? When are Chaos Space Marines finally going to get some love? (Too soon?)
Pay for What you Get
It might be nice to go back to the original Apocalypse model where you had to pay an additional cost for your formation special rules. This may force players to decide whether the cost of the formation is worth the rules or would it be better spent on more toys?
The problem with this then becomes balancing how much each formation should cost and whether there is an inherent "tax" already associated with the unit requirements of the formation.
In Conclusion
I hope that you have enjoyed my thoughts on formations in 40k. What started as a small article, quickly ballooned into a treatise on the current state of army building in 40k with lots of my opinions. I think this was inevitable. Just check out any forum or site where formations and detachments are being discussed and you will find a lot of strong opinions going one way or the other.
So over to you dear reader. If you have made it this far, I am sure you have your own opinions on formations. Are you for or against them? Do they breathe fresh life into 40k or are they the bane of your existence? Have you enjoyed this long, rambling article and would you like to see more? Comment below and let me know what you think.


  1. Great article, thanks for posting it. I am not a big fan of detachments, they seem like special rules for the sake of special rules (and selling more models) to me. Still, they are here to stay so I keep calm and carry on :-)

    1. Thanks Marc.
      Formations seem to be the future of 40k. Some are very powerful and some are not of much use. A balance in the future would be nice.

  2. I've got to say, I'm fully embracing the change, I love formations and the benefits they bring. Balance will always be an issue, the game of 40k is so big and with so many potential interactions between rules that there will always be confusion and overpowered combinations - I think the constantly evolving ruleset is part of what keeps this in line, as players have to figure out what works and what doesn't (though the internet itself makes dissemination of powerful combinations easier).

    I've seen a massive boost in the use of space marine scouts in my club thanks to the new formations including them - I think this is only good for the hobby. I myself have used the strike force ultra, and storm wing formations, which don't result in overpowered lists (in my opinion).

    As for the Tau book, I think the reason for the limited changes is because GW recognised that the book was only creaking in respect of the lack of formation support - otherwise the units within it are perfectly capable (I can even see a decent argument for the use of vespids, despite them not being particularly popular for competitiveness reasons).

    I also like the detachment method of collecting a force, it still imposes restrictions on armies but also points them in the direction of a more thematic, balanced collection (like you, I've beaten the decurion thanks to having objective secured on my marine army).

    In short, the inclusion of formations, to my way of thinking, introduces choice in army selection - even the gladius with army wide obsec still has issues of choice, and it's not an auto-include by any means, thanks to the weaker units within it that you have to take.

    Great article though, even if you did miss out my favourite army selection style (4th ed marine codex with minor and major divergences - that book inspired me to start 4 separate marine armies all at once, and when it got replaced and I was only about three units into each I was highly disappointed!)

    1. Thanks for your comments Nick, glad to see I am not the only one that has been thinking about this in a lot of detail.

      I do need to try out more formations in my games, just for a bit of variety and to try some very different armies to what I am used to playing.

      Sorry for missing out your favourite! I don't think I ever owned this codex, so am unaware of how the army selection worked. How did it go?

    2. Aww, it was beautiful - it didn't survive long though in the grand scheme of things.

      The main hook was that it allowed you to design a divergence from the codex astartes into your chapter, and these were split into minor and major divergences. for each divergence you chose you got a benefit to your army selection, but you also had to pick a drawback to balance things out.

      For example, you could design black templars by choosing a divergence that let you give tactical squads a bolt pistol and chainsword (can't remember what the drawbacks were - too long ago).

      I think essentially the intention was to allow players to represent all the classic chapters without having to produce a codex for each, but the system was pulled in 5th edition - probably because it resulted in too few people playing the classic codex style (I seem to remember another option was to have multiple special weapons in a tactical squad like the codex armageddon rules for salamanders allowed).

    3. I loved the 4th Ed Army-building systems. The CSM, IG, and Nid Dexes were amazing, too. They just needed better tweaking and balancing, not the wholesale re-construction that 5th brought.

  3. "Pay to Win
    Now, the more cynical amongst you may suggest that the increased growth in formations in 7th edition is simply to boost GW profits."

    THIS in a nutshell, is what destroyed 40k in our local group. Add to that that locally we have one or two 'That guy' types, and why bring an army to get pasted by a stupid formation where you had no chance of winning before deployment? The 'you need to discuss with your opponent beforehand...' bit doesn't work to well in pick up games as some people's idea of 'fun' it to utterly destroy their opponent to the point that there's no fun to be had. Personally, I think that if your opponent leaves mad, then you're a bad gamer. Posing that to a few of our that guys at different times I've gotten replies of 'but at least I've won' to 'Well, if you were a better player than you wouldn't have this problem.'

    Actually, I don't have unlimited budget to sink into a game to ensure victory via formation 'I win' buttons. Skill as a player has as little to do with 40k these days as it AoS. GW feeding this attitude with Decurion-style formations doesn't help either, it only encourages it.

    Clearly they're forging the wrong narrative as 40k is no longer a 'strategy' game, but rather a 'BUY MOAR marketing strategy' game. As such I now fall into what GW likes to think of their average customer, i.e.: one of the 80% who don't play, but just paint their minis (occasionally). I'd much rather PLAY the game, but honestly, it hasn't been fun at all since the release of 7th ed. Sure 6th had its issues, like all editions, but 7th flat killed it locally. Our FLGS only rarely restocks or orders GW on request as they have tons of stuff that's no longer moving off of the shelves.

    Way to go GW...

    1. That's a shame that your local game scene has suffered. I think I am just lucky with the local club. There are some players with really tough armies to face, but I would say that most people have fun with their games. We also don't tend to see too many formations being used in regular 40k games or you warn your opponent beforehand that you are taking something that may be tough.

      Don't get me wrong, I have come away from plenty of games pissed off at overpowered units or at bad match ups that result in me getting crushed, but I tend to get over these pretty quickly. I know that I don't have a lot of fun absolutely crushing my opponent with no real effort, it doesn't make for a fun game and makes a poor battle report.

    2. I think the main issue is with pick up games at stores as you may not even know or have seen you opponent before, at a club I think its very different. People know everyone and waac players tend to get marginalized pretty quick. The ones I know tend to try out their random power combinations on club nights, which can go either way, and keep the known stuff for tournaments.

    3. I'd agree - we've had a couple of WAAC players at our club over the last couple of years - they struggled to get games and don't come anymore.

      We do have one uber-competitive type guy who comes along to test his lists but he's a really nice bloke and is more than willing to play handicapped (ie you get more points) because he knows his lists are hardcore.

    4. I think that if your playing regularly at a club, your invested in the club and its future, but for pick up games poeple dont care as much as there are usually more games somewhere.

  4. Overall I like formations. They make it possible to run fluffy and thematic armies that aren't otherwise possible, as you are well aware. The trick is in the balance; ensuring a detachment/formation isn't so powerful that it's an auto-pick. For the most part they've done well by this, but having detachments and formations that do include objective secured units in them blurs this line. What is the point of CAD when formations can objective secured? At that point the only reason to not run that detachment is because you don't have the models or care for the unit choices within it. In addition, having detachments so powerful that objective secured becomes a moot point is something GW really needs to avoid.

    1. The only Formation with ObSec that I see being problematic is the Battle Company. In stuff like a Skyblight Swarm, it lets you sort of have Gargoyles as Troops at the price of a hefty Harpy Tax, and I really like it in stuff like the Stormbringer Squadron or the Emperor's Blade Assault Company, where it's representing a force that is fundamentally designed to go in there and secure Objectives.

    2. I agree with both, objective secured can be a really thematic addition to a formation when used right or in moderation. The Battle company having access to Objective secured is a problem, especially compounded by the free transports issue.

    3. I think one of the biggest problems with formations is the "tax" or core choices. Some are really cheap, the SM one, others like the infantry IG one is very expensive in comparison. If the cores were similar in price and rules, it would be better.

      Generally, I'm in favour of the new system, but its a long way from perfect yet and I really hope they don't get rid of the FoC/CAD

    4. Yeah, I was interested in seeing what the new Guard formations would be like, but they all seem so expensive to buy into for the "Gladius"-type formation.

    5. Indeed, the base cost of the nested detachments is a big thing in terms of their benefits. As you've said earlier, forcing the demi company to consist of full squads would be a good start.

    6. A full company cost about 850 but the base IG ones are either around 700 or over a 1000, and you get nothing for free.

  5. I had a big thing here, but Firefox crashed and ate it :P

    Short version: Formations are fine as a concept, but some specific ones are overpowered. Just like everything else GW does. Leave them out, and Eldar, SM, and Necrons are still going to be dominant, because they've got really strong core Units. The top US West Coast 40K players are deeply divided on whether it's better to run Necrons as a CAD or Decurion, and I don't think any of them use the Eldar Warhost.

    1. Shame firefox ate your comment, I always enjoy hearing what you have to say on an issue as it is normally quite detailed.

      Overpowered formations for already powerful armies is always going to be a problem. I still don't know what they were thinking with the Decurion, even the most cursory of playtests would have shown it to be very powerful. Thank goodness it never got Objective Secured, it would have been practically unbeatable if that was the case.

    2. At the end of the day though, a good player will always be good and a poor player will always bea poor one, power combos or not.

    3. Couldn't agree more , you can have the most overpowered hideous list in all creation but if you pick the wrong targets you'll still lose (I've seen it done, an opponent positioning a flyer so that it could only target one of my units and they then shot that unit with something else and killed it, wasting their flyer's shooting)!

    4. I was just flipping through this again, and remembered one of the points that got deleted: The minimum buy-in for a Battle Company is actually 165 Points higher, because you have to take an Auxiliary Choice as well. And to get much use out of it, it does need rather more investment. Even at 1850, I've found Points can get tight for a Battle Company really easily.

      Also, a couple of notes on the history of Formations. There was another appearance of proto-Formations in 5th, in the Spearhead supplement in White Dwarf. Then proper Formations were actually introduced about halfway through 6th, along with the Escalation and Stronghold Assault books.

      Finally, I think that initial release has significant responsibility for the widespread dislike for Formations, since the very first one out of the gate (the Firebase Support Cadre) was one of the strongest from its introduction up until it got superceded by Kauyon.

    5. I included the cost for the minimum auxiliary unit (three units of Scouts) in the minimum cost for the Gladius when I totalled it. I agree, the Gladius does need more investment in terms of wargear and weapons. I doubt the army would be as successful with just base tactical marines, devastators and assault marines (though this might be fun to try).

    6. OK, you got the math a bit wrong there, then. I get 985 as the minimum with the Scouts included.

    7. You're right, I must have forgot to include them. I'm sure I had in a previous calculation.

  6. I think formations can often be something of a red herring with the logic that a formation is intrinsically more powerful than a CAD. This is inherent in some formations certainly but not in other ones.

    I think as the Battle of Calth mainstreams 30k and thus forgeworld following in its slipstream to become a more acceptable aspect of casual and tournament gaming (forgeworld is already universally accepted in my gaming area anyway), you will see a great use of the CAD and alternative detachments as they allow a broader range of none codex specific units/vehicles to be used.

    The formations become excruciatingly restrictive in this environment when you have the potential to face fire raptors but don't have the ability to take them yourself.

    This is not to say that is an ideal situation, I just believe it will become so and you will find an overall balance between codex adherent armies with forgeworld supplementation and formation armies.

    The crux of the matter often boils down to variety, with Dark Eldar an excellent example of an army that has ) variety outside its own codex and limited variety within it compared to eldar or space marine for example.

    I wish that GW would have stuck with altered force organisation charts personally but formations are not something to be universally reviled either.

    My post began with a point and it got lost in the middle.

    You get the idea...

    1. Thanks for your comments Rob, I sort of get what you are saying ;)

      I tend to steer away from forgeworld. Not because I think it is overpowered, but I already spend enough on this hobby, I don't want to start adding forgeworld into the mix too!

    2. Thank god you know what I'm saying!

      Indeed, I rely on the generosity of kind folks and careful saving for forgeworld stuff. But then I have half as many armies as you do too!

  7. Great article and got me a good percentage of the way home on the train 😄. My opinion is it has destroyed pick up games. The current 40k rules mean a conversation is required on army selection for both players to enjoy the game. Free points is intensely annoying for any player to face. I own necron and eldar armies and got out of my way to not field the lists everyone hates!

    1. This is one of the main reasons I'm such a big supporter of large organized comp systems. Most places here on the US west coast, that pre-game conversation can pretty much just be "1500 Points? ITC restrictions?", and you're good to go.

    2. Glad you enjoyed it extremedoc1! It can be annoying for pick up games to face very overpowered formations on a pick up game.

      Generally, for a game of 40k, you want to invest a whole evening (or at least several hours) to have a fun game. It's annoying to go to all that effort and be stuck with a game that is over by turn 2 or you are not going to have fun playing.

      Organised comp is a good way to go and the ITC is really popular in the US. I don't think we have an equivalent system here in the UK, though ITC may be popular enough that it gets used over here too (though its not really talked about or used in my local community).

  8. Thanks for the article!

    One aspect of formations possibly not realized is that the versions in the campaign supplements (going along the lines of BS from GW that they prefer narrative play not tournaments) is that the formations are designed specifically to try to mimic aspects of the campaign narrative, and are not designed for general use - they are themed as one-off formations created to mimic a particular aspect of the campaign.

    I have the Mont'ka supplement, and the new Cadian tactical cards that go with it. The Cadian formations all support different aspects of the narrative - and the re-occurring theme of hand-to-hand fighting between Tau and Cadian units, large scale armored advances, and the "trio" of superheavy tanks. If anything, a Commissar would have popped the Cadian Colonel just for having these formations!

    I too also find that my model collection would have to be expanded in order to use the Cadian formations from this follow-on set to the Kauyon Campaign...As you can see over at my Blog (shameless plug - defendersofcalth) I'm using a Cadian CAD as my core force - all as veterans - and the results are mixed - I have lost more than won as Cadians - mostly against Tau player(s) using newer models and beefier formations...BUT, I'm still fresh with Cadians, and my game play improves each my veterans become better veterans...

    1. Glad you enjoyed it!

      I agree that the introduction of the formations in the campaign books is a great way to build narrative armies based around the storyline. I think a lot of them will see play outside of the campaign (if people even play the campaign scenarios from the book!) if they are powerful.

      Don't worry, I always welcome shameless plugs of other blogs (I sometimes do it myself on other blogs!).