So there’s a new edition of Warhammer out (you noticed huh?) and there’s a lot of discussion about how the game will change as a result. This is of particular interest to a tiny sub-group of the Greater Warhammer Community – tournament organisers. These foolhardy brave souls have spent the last four years carefully tuning the house rules for their tournaments to provide what they consider to be the fairest and most even playing field possible. Underperforming armies have been buffed, strong builds have been neutered and cheese has been defromaged. And now, at the stroke of Matt Ward’s pen, all of that accumulated knowledge is obsolete. These sets of house-rules are known to tournament goers as ‘Compensation’ or, more commonly ‘comp’. Generally they seek to limit what are seen as the most overpowered combinations and sometimes to throw a bone to players who bring along an army considered to be uncompetitive. Most common comp restrictions include a ban on special characters or limits on certain magic item combos. If you’ve been to an independent tournament, I’m sure you’ve seen these rules in action.
I’m not going to get into the argument about whether comp is or should be necessary, almost all of the tournaments I go to are comped and it’s rare to find a zero-comp event outside of the official GW Grand Tournaments. Rather I’m going to talk about the scramble to re-evaluate comp in the wake of the 8th edition release.
Right now, most players are still using 7th edition armies. By this I mean that not only are they using an army book designed for 7th edition balance, but that in general, most lists I’ve seen in 8th have been the same lists that they’d have brought along to a 7th ed battle except that they might have combined some units into one or two really big blocks to have a go with the Horde rule. The army book issue is one that isn’t going to be solved in a hurry. The .pdf updates bring the rules into line with the new edition but the internal balance is still using 7th edition design assumptions (Fear is really good, US5+ monsters break ranks and so forth). Eventually the army books will be rewritten but this is obviously something that will take a while at GW’s normal rate of 3-4 army books a year. Some armies will still have 7th ed books several years from now. Lists on the other hand are far more reactive. Those people who are playing a lot of WFB (sadly this doesn’t include me) are experimenting with new setups, trying out new combinations and giving a new shake of the stick to units that they had previously left on the shelf. Old favourites are being tested in this crucible and their efficiency re-evaluated.
All of this is not an exact science. We are playing a game that is inherently random, where judgement and circumstance play a major role. We can calculate the mathematical odds of various events but these simple simulations are rarely to be found on the actual battlefield, our live games provide more variables than we can reliably account for in the theory stage. Even at this early stage some things seem to be evident; most people agree that magic is particularly powerful now, more so than in 7th. Oh, wait! Except when it bites you back and of course a lot of things that made 7th edition magic powerful have been scaled back – no more 15 dice magic pools or multiples of the same spell in an army. So, is magic ‘better’ now than it was? If spells are better but the magic mechanics are more limited how does that affect the overall picture?
Archery is another example. Previously shooting was effective because it was a reliable way to kill guys before they got to you. If you knew what army you were up against, you could reasonably accurately predict the number of dead guys they’d suffer per round of shooting. You could be assured of two rounds of shooting and probably three before your missile units would be in combat. Now it’s possible to only have one round, especially if you are playing one of the scenarios that start the two armies very close together. Even with the standard ‘line up twenty-four inches apart and run forwards’ pitched battle it’s possible even for infantry to cover that distance in two turns. So are gunline armies now worthless? Well, again there are a lot of variables to take into account. The new rules recommend a lot more terrain than previously but line of sight rules have changed to be more forgiving to the shooting unit. This is an area where the rules as a whole (including scenarios, random terrain and many of the other aspects that generally get ignored for tournament play) need to be considered and weighed up.
Right now I see a lot of discussion on comp which is entirely right, I’m also seeing a lot of comp systems based on initial impressions of the new rules which I believe is wrong. Too much has changed in this new edition to simply slap on a new coat of paint and call it balanced. The more tournaments that are held in this post-release period with heavy comp, the less we will learn about the new rules in a competitive environment. It’s important that we now only get a grip on the new rules but also get a grip on new lists and it’s not possible to do that if every tournament is using a different set of rules. This will necessarily require something of a leap of faith from tournament organisers, they will after all be giving up a lot of control however they, like the rest of us are looking into the unknown and everyone has to learn the system anew,