You hear a lot of people complaining about games. One of the most common thing you hear is that certain units or models in a game are “Over Powered” or they are “Unbalanced”. But does balance really matter in Wargames? Well, the real answer to this question is obviously t depends on the game and how you want to play. A bit of a cop out, I know, but I do think there is a deeper answer though.
Games Workshop recently released Shadow War: Armageddon, a narrative skirmish game set in the Warhammer 40,000 universe based on their classic Necromunda game. It’s been a surprise hit for the company – the initial boxed game selling out in minutes – and the online community for the game has been thriving. The most common complaint I’ve seen online though is certain factions are “unbalanced” but I feel that these people may have missed the point of the game. I don’t think Shadow War was ever intended to be used for a tournaments and heavy competitive play. I think it’s a great game for creating exciting stories on the tabletop, yeah your Imperial Guard (or whatever they are called nowadays) might get butchered but it was bloody fun playing it out right?
I think the same can be said for a lot of games but not all of course. There are games that are designed for competitive play. Games like Kings of War and Warmachine rely on balance to make the game work. Nothing can ever be perfectly balanced of course (unless both players use the exact same models and army lists but where’s the fun in that) but I think wargamers make too much of a big deal of balance.
Just look at what happened when Warhammer: Age Of Sigmar was released. When the Warhammer reboot came out neck beards around the world were outraged by the idea that none of the units had point values. The game encouraged people to use what models they had in their collection and create a cool narrative. It was fun and reminded me when I started playing wargames and would just put any old thing on the table and would have hours of fun...the LAST thing we thought about was balance! I remember seeing on a forum online someone complaining that “people could just take an army of giants!!” My first thought was “that sounds AMAZING!”
Some people embraced it and loved the idea but it seemed most gamers couldn’t get on board. I understand this though because army list building and the like is one of the most fun parts of wargaming for many people. It was certainly a statement of intent for Games Workshop though. Warhammer Fantasy Battles was always a game that had an active competitive scene and releasing the new version without points was certainly a kick up the arse for some. After a year GW put out the Generals Handbook which had rules for “Matched Play” which used Points Values and balancing mechanics. Some people saw it as a back tack from GW but I would be very surprised if that wasn’t planned that way.
I think GW have stuck the nail on the head with how they present Age of Sigmar – and the forthcoming 8th edition of Warhammer 40,000 – with the “Three Ways To Play” thing. Open Play being the version where you can use whatever you like to play games, Narrative Play which is more scenario based and Matched Play which is the more balanced version. It shows people that when you buy a new game it should be used as a frame work to do what you like with, there is no right way to play a game, as long as you are having fun then you are playing it right! It’s very refreshing for a company like Games Workshop to embrace such a thing.
It does seems that balance is more of a recent obsession that has snuck into other types of games as well. I remember seeing people complaining about balance issues in Dungeons & Dragons. Since when did we want balanced roleplaying games? For me a good RPG should be all about story. There should be monsters in a dungeon that my first level character can’t out fight! If I can out fight everything where is the danger and drama? The fear of death should be the crux of any good dungeon dwelling adventure!! A good old school RPG should feel dangerous and scary.
As I said at the start of the post there is not really yes no answer to the question of does balance matter? It all depends on the game and how you like to play. I do think everyone should just have a go at playing their wargames with an eye on the style of an Old School RPG. Just make up a story, bend the rules to fit that story, choose some cool miniatures and throw some dice, you know, like we used to as kids.