On Cheese

The following is a response to a post by Blood Angel Brother Edwards on GW's Warhammer 40K forum. Brother Edwards is of the "no such thing as cheese" school. He finds the game balanced. He discounts the difficulties many beginners have competing and enjoying the game.

I can see his perspective, but disagree

Warhammer 40K is balanced at an expert level. However, some armies are easier to learn than others. Certain simple brute force armies can win using simple straight forward tactics. Imperial Guard stand and shoot, Marine Rhino rush and Orc tidal waves can stand as examples. As Brother Edwards suggests, an expert player with a long tuned army list is capable of handling such brute force simplistic approaches, and much else besides. Brother Edwards is a fan of extreme armies. He defends their existence well.

Beginners are not experts. Not all beginners choose the right army and buy the correct models such that a simple set of tactics will soon bring victories. In many an isolated game store, a few players stumble onto a set of models that win with simple tactics. Another group of players, perhaps wanting to be different, perhaps limited in the money they have to spend, perhaps saving money by attempting to play the Dark Eldar models provided in the basic box, get repeatedly trod into the dirt.

Yes, with time, energy and money, the player who started out with Sisters, Dark Eldar or Tau might become really good players. The problem is that many such players are not having enough fun to continue with the hobby.

GW is not going to dumb down the hobby. They are not going to change all army lists such that beginners with any light maneuver army using simple tactics can defeat any brute force army. They might, if they cared for the experience of beginners in the hobby, propose training wheel rules. Beginners might be advised to limit the number of wraithlords, or rhinos full of melee experts, or ordinance templates. Perhaps troops mounted in transport might burn a fast attack slot. GW might force a better balance between shooty, assault and fast assault elements.

The Studio prefers to give players the responsibility to handle things on their own. Gav and Jarvis often advise that if playing an opponent isn't fun, don't play him. This is easy advice to give, assuming a surplus of opponents. They acknowledge openly that the system can be abused, but continue to give freedom (and thus responsibility) to the players. Many groups that frequently play together can meet this responsibility. Peer pressure often eliminates the worst of the abuse. Tournament and game store environments, where there is no lack of strangers coming in, makes house rules and informal understandings difficult. Am I allowed to daydream about a system where a consensus on what is abuse and what isn't can be reached without adults and kids trying to interface incompatible peer pressure systems?

The US tourney people, with their composition system, are attempting to reign in the abuse. The system's existence is an acknowledgement that the base rules are broke, and that some attempt at a fix by GW will enhance the game. It is a band aid. The fix should properly come from the studio, not from the tourney organizers. Alas, it is the tourney organizers that see what is happening on the table tops.

The Studio people - experts designing a system for experts - are not choosing that route, though the recent Sisters and Tau lists do seem to be curbing the pattern of power inflation. They do seem interested in making new armies less easy to abuse, but not interested in correcting old problems. They get too much abuse from power players when they try to curb the abuse of power players.

Yes, what Brother Edwards says is correct. The game is roughly balanced at an expert level, far more than it might seem to be as a beginner. Downtrodden beginners should try to learn rather than try to persuade GW to make their army more competitive at a beginner's level. The Studio will seem very slow to respond, and in part for good reason. However, at a beginner's level, extreme armies can reduce the enjoyment of the game. Beginners relying on large numbers of extreme units to win lots of games from other beginners are not enhancing the game.

If you are winning lots of games as a beginner, you should be careful not to ruin the fun for other players. You may not be as good as you think you are. You might just have stumbled onto the right army. If you are winning a lot, give your opponent first turn. Give him extra input as to table set up. Give him a few extra points of army. If your army has special rules, don't choose an army list to maximize the number of units exploiting special rules. Play games where both players are challenged, where both sides have a chance at victory.

Or else. Two things might happen. You might find yourself lacking opponents. Alternately, your opponent will eventually start winning with her Dark Eldar, then she will switch to Blood Angels, and take full advantage of everything she learned fighting her fragile maneuver army. Either way, you will be sorry.

Another contributor to the 40K forum posted...

Recently, I've been playing my vanilla SM's with a fairly heavy shooting element in them. The army I generally take (1 HQ, dread, 4-5 tac squads of various sizes, bikes, speeders, devs, whirlwind + whatever else I can fit) has been successful and I've enjoyed playing it. However, this hasn't stopped my opponents crying "cheese" and it's gone on so long, I'm seriously wondering if I need to find a new gaming group.

You are unbalanced. Unbalanced armies, where every unit follows the same tactics, often end up being called cheesy. My classic three classes of army are stand and shoot, fast assault and slow assault. Examples are Guard stand and shoot, Marine rhino rush fast assault, and Orc tidal wave slow assault. Ideally, shooters mow down slow assault. Fast assault rushes in before shooters can cause attrittion. Slow assault outnumbers fast assault. Depending on one's table size and amount of terrain, this balance can be broken. If shooting armies are considered cheesy, I begin to wonder if you need a smaller table or more terrain.

Your army seems to be 100% stand and shoot. This makes it no better and no worse than a lot of other unbalanced armies.

If you want close and enjoyable games, if you are winning too much, if your opponents don't want to play you any more, use slightly larger deployment zones (allowing assault opponents to get closer, sooner) or use more terrain to allow clever opponents the chance to close without getting clobbered too badly.

If you don't care about close and enjoyable games, if you just like to win, if victories are more important than both players enjoying themselves, your friends are 100% correct. You are full of cheese.

Alternately, consider a balanced army. Pull a few shooting squads. Replace them with a few assault squads. Yes, a few more enemy will reach your lines, but you'll have something potent ready to pounce on them. Learn to play and enjoy all aspects of the game rather than concentrating on doing one thing really well. You have figured out how to win using simple tactics, likely against beginners. Many an expert would recognize your army, guess the tactics such an army plays under, and hand you your head. Your methods will win against some, but not all. You might want to branch out and grow.

The Ladies of the Night

Intro - Refuge - History - Religion
Units - Tactics - Heresy
On Cheese - Hammer Bob