We recently published a detailed analysis of the 9th edition meta and the potential impacts of going first, terrain, and round on player outcomes – if you missed it click here to give it a read. Today our Goonhammer competitive crew are weighing in on the analysis, what they think of it, how they feel about competitive play in 9th so far, and where we can go from here.
The Round Table
- Liam “Corrode” Royle
- James “One_Wing” Grover
- James “Boon” Kelling
- Cyle “Naramyth” Thompson
- “Primaris” Kevin Genson
- Jon Kilcullen
- Scott Horras “Heresy”
- Shane Watts
What are your thoughts on the analysis? Was there anything surprising about it? Does this change anything for how you plan for games and events?
Jon: I was only surprised the first turn advantage numbers were not higher as the rounds went on. In all my test games so far they line up pretty well with what people have been seeing in events. The roll-off is extremely problematic, as is when you score.
Kevin: What surprised me the most was how robust the results were even with a small sample size. The overall result was very compelling, but the fact that two out of the three events showed a statistically significant difference within their own internal numbers is even more interesting to me.
Liam: I wouldn’t say I was surprised by it – our initial read of the missions suggested this was how it would go, and what basically ended up happening for me is that expectation was borne out.
Boon: In some ways it feels validating to know that our initial impressions on this are supported but I also realize it’s just a start and there’s more to test (and re-test). I think we’ve opened the door on the conversation and overturned some assumptions, but that just means the conversation has shifted to ‘why is this happening’ and that’s where the real work comes in.
As a player there isn’t a ton to be done about this but demand enough line-of-sight blocking, more on this momentarily. But if you’re heading into a tournament and your plan for going second has been to to ‘hope I don’t’, well, it’s certainly a bold strategy but you may want to consider what your army can actually do to minimize a punishing first round – including use of the strategic reserves. If excessive use of CP to save your units in round one feels like too much, you need to balance that against what you’re going to do with that CP if you don’t have one or two of your key units.
Wings: I think the main thing that surprised me was the divergence between the events. The numbers from Wizard Asylum looked disastrous, but relatively quickly they’ve snapped down to levels that are still problematic, but also not in “burn it all down and start again from the rocks” territory (at least in my opinion). There are a number of possible theories about this, and I’m going to be very interested to see if this turns out to be a trend (suggesting that army list design and adapting play styles can mitigate things) or if it continues to vary wildly from event-to-event, which would imply factors such as terrain or (maybe) the specific missions chosen are more significant – and that if TOs get this wrong, balance will suffer. Sadly, my current suspicion leans towards the latter, as looking at army compositions suggests that the best players have already substantially adapted their list design for the new edition.
Shane: I can’t say I am surprised that the results show there is an apparent first turn advantage, but like Jon said I am a little surprised the results aren’t more skewed.
Scott: Given the relatively small sample size of our data, I was very impressed with the effort and care that was taken in pointing out and proving the statistical significance and the honest acknowledgement of the shortcomings of the analysis of our big brains here at Goon HQ. As someone who had literally no idea that the article was coming, I was thrilled to see the professional approach of those lads. Frankly, we’re blessed to have them around. I’m about as much of a statistician as Norman Osborn is a scientist. Yeah, that’s a Spiderman 2002 reference if you youngin’s were wondering.
Anyways, I can’t say I’m surprised by the results. The primary missions are heavily skewed towards a first player advantage after contemplating the mission pack for even a short while. Most rebuttals I’ve seen toward top of turn scoring generally center around the idea that, given ‘proper’ terrain the second player can almost entirely mitigate the first player’s ability to kill things on the first turn. In my entirely anecdotal experience, any player who’s trying to win events is going to bring lists that are going to deliver a nearly unavoidable low risk first turn punch combined with the ability to keep the pressure on the second player. We’ve seen this in most winning lists with the grav Devastator Drop Pod/Rhino and Eradicators as an almost automatic inclusion for any Space Marines lists. Before we lay the blame at the feet of the lame duck Space Marines Codex, I’d like to point out that there’s plenty of ways for armies to press that first turn and really get up in your grill with near zero risk. A few general ideas that come to mind are: redeployment and reposition special rules, massed indirect fire, first turn charge options, and most effectively… strategies that combine the above. None of those are going away and none of them can be solved by a reasonable ask for terrain.
This doesn’t change my gameplan of how I approach this edition much as of now. For me the plan is the same as it’s been since I racked up my first game of 9e. Deploy as conservatively as possible and hope I lose almost nothing on my first turn.
Cyle: I’ll echo Jon and the others that it really surprised me how much the first turn disparity increased in the later rounds. Seeing 70%+ wins by going first is disheartening to say the least. The top line of 59% would bring in emergency patching in any competitive game with an electronic rules set.
Something we’ve theorized on is the impact of terrain. It’s clear that none of the tables meet the rulebook guidelines for terrain in 9th. Is this something events need to address? Is it a fair ask?
Jon: The terrain GW suggests is not even fine for a casual game nevermind a tournament experience. Not properly defining terrain really does not help, also with how terrain works right now, most of the terrain suggested is functionally useless. As 9th rolls on I fully expect events to evolve and come to an agreed upon conclusion to how competitive terrain should be laid out. Right now I am not at all a fan of Nova style (it is simply not enough) but I am a fan of the VT terrain setup, as well as some of the suggested tables the WTC has put out. I have been testing quite frequently on both styles; adequate terrain can help to shift the roll-off slightly if you play an army lucky enough to have units that can forward deploy and are durable enough to endure first turn shooting. I feel like no amount of terrain will solve the roll-off issue unfortunately since many armies do not have access to the type of units required to properly play from behind.
Kevin: One of the issues associated with GW’s recommended terrain approach is that it could be better defined, and not all terrain is created equal. A 44″ x 60″ table contains 15 12″x12″ squares and 2,640 square inches of area. Does 1 piece per 12″x12″ section mean perfectly spaced pieces with exactly 15 pieces? Does it mean 1 piece for every 144 square inches of surface area, resulting in 18 pieces? What is a piece of terrain in this context? Do we value a large ruin the same way as a single barricade? The intent of 9th was that terrain would almost become a third player, but the inconsistency and lack of clarity on how that should work is problematic.
Liam: Yeah, I agree with Kevin that the ‘recommended pieces’ guidance is useless right now. The number you need depends on how you define it and it’s clear from GW’s rulebook images that they consider things to be ‘terrain’ that I wouldn’t even bother putting on the board. I think we do need to see higher levels of terrain in play in 9th – and frankly I felt the same about most games in 8th, where the ‘minimum’ terrain that was offered by LGT or NOVA style layouts wasn’t really sufficient a lot of the time. I think the VT set offered sufficient LoS blocking, because I played in that event and there were multiple games where it made more sense to go second, but it could have done with 2-4 more pieces of smaller terrain of other types to bring some variety and different factors like Difficult Ground to the equation. One thing that needs to be kept in mind with terrain is that there is such a thing as too much – it’s easy to overreact and create boards where Knights or a heavily ground-vehicle focused list like mech Guard can’t really function.
Boon: Agreed on the GW recommended pieces since it’s entirely arbitrary when you don’t define what constitutes a piece of terrain – 18 rock columns on the board may as well be Iowa with the current line-of-sight rules.
I believe it’s entirely fair to demand better, quality terrain, or better placement that facilitates balance within the standard competitive environment – but I start to question a mindset that requires more terrain as the most important factor to balancing go-first vs go-second. It’s easy to say that we need more terrain but from what I’ve seen in the early going the terrain has not markedly shifted from 8th edition while the board size itself has shrunk to 77% its original size. Focusing the solutions on terrain above all else places the burden of the go-first balance on TOs rather than the mission designers who created an environment where the “standard” board can no longer constitute a balanced game. The need for more terrain places a logistical and financial burden on the people who are offering to run these events – to buy, make, build, paint, store, transport, and upkeep all of the things that makes us players happy.
The unfortunate reality is that terrain is the most easily addressed option, fair or not. But as Liam mentions, at what point does playability suffer as monsters and vehicles find it challenging to maneuver on a board? In the setups I’ve seen thus far fortifications are already near impossible to place under the GWs rules. Because of the challenge of striking that balance I think TO’s frankly need to break from the standard or recommended terrain setups or keyword placements and experiment with what works with their setups. Forests I think are the most intriguing pieces to me now – they always look good on a table but it’s been a long time since they’ve felt particularly useful – give them Obscuring (Ed: and of course rule that they count as being 5″ tall). Now you have something that is functional outside of it, functional inside of it (if Dense), and looks great to break up MDF ruin after MDF ruin. They also have the Difficult Ground component that makes them intriguing for the movement penalties – to me they feel like the most flavorful element you could put on a board. I think long, thin pieces that are Obscuring may also start to become more prominent but without them it may become necessary to resurrect the old ITC Level One LoS blocking to help with the problems created by large area footprint Obscuring blocks.
At the end of the day players will demand an answer and GW isn’t going to take responsibility for bad player experiences in games at your typical, local 32-person, 5-round event – so it unfortunately will fall on the TOs to pick up the ball. Fair or not.
Wings: There seems to be a strong suggestion from the data we’ve seen that “good” terrain can mitigate the go first effect substantially, but that kind of presents a problem for what the 9th edition terrain rules appear to be trying to do. One of the focuses, via the addition of the Obstacle terrain type, seems to have been to make smaller terrain pieces a much more relevant part of the game, so that all those small ruin pieces from Kill Team or pipes that seem to be the new vogue in kits actually do something.
Unfortunately, if we’re leaning on terrain to do a lot of heavy lifting for alpha-strike protection, they basically still don’t do anything, because for those purposes only large Area Terrain blocks of Obscuring or Dense terrain really matter, because they’re the only thing that provides a broad ability to protect yourself early on. The best numbers we saw came from the Vanguard Tactics event, which was running tables with extremely heavy coverage of Obscuring terrain, and that’s cool and all, but it isn’t really leveraging anything new, and is probably outside the range of what’s reasonable for every TO to have on every table.
In the immediate term, it looks like TOs need to do the best they can to get as much of it down as possible (such as by designating things like woods to be Obscuring when you might not naturally choose to do so), but in the longer term I wonder if Obstacles need another look, or some sort of additional Heavy Obstacle category that can provide the benefit of cover to a broader range of units might help.
Shane: In my local area events have started creeping back up, and the standard layouts are NOVA themed (2 large L shaped LoS blockers in the middle, 2 opposite corners with ruins, other 2 corners with hills, 2 forests in the middle of either sides long edge). This style of terrain setup only has 9 pieces of terrain, but mostly covers what is needed (or at least has seemed that way so far). The definition of what the 15ish pieces of recommended terrain should be hasn’t been exactly clear, but I think there is such a thing as too much terrain – if you can’t maneuver a Rhino around, that is probably too oppressive.
In regards to events and TOs, expecting TOs to scrap the majority of the terrain they already have and spend time/money on a higher quantity of new terrain is fairly unrealistic. Getting terrain ready and available for running events is one of the largest obstacles for a TO, so exacerbating that issue further is going to make events even harder to run/expand. I am not sure what the answer to this problem is, but as a TO, I would certainly like to find it.
Scott: Terrain is certainly very impactful in 9e and I believe the first turn advantage could be scaled back a bit by a proper terrain setup. That being said, I absolutely believe it’s possible to construct armies that can deliver a firm gut punch to the second player without requiring the first player to actually deploy in a risky manner. I believe tournament winners will do this, and I already spoke to this a bit in the first question, so I won’t bore you with a recap. Just as it was in 8e, events absolutely need to be sure to have proper terrain setups. It’s also worth mentioning that true LoS blockers are still just as important as they were in 8e. Functionally speaking, obscuring is a nice supplement to true LoS blockers, but from a practical standpoint I’ve found it difficult to create the required amount of dead space on the board with exclusively using obscuring terrain to do it.
That being said, I’m in agreement with some of the other authors that proper terrain is probably the fastest way to begin getting after addressing this first turn advantage. However, I would warn that we don’t want to go too far in the other direction for a number of reasons. It was already extremely difficult to run events in 8e due to terrain requirements, doubling that requirement (when many local events struggled to meet that standard anyways) doesn’t seem like a reasonable thing to demand of people who are volunteering their time and money to keep community driven events alive.
The next issue I’d like to address is that I’ve seen many folks suggest that there shouldn’t exist LoS greater than 18”-24” anywhere on the board. Creating dead space for players to approach a shooty army is very important in the game, but it’s also important that shooty armies… get to shoot. I loved the standard 8e NOVA set up for this reason. It created ways for players to approach and hide from shooty armies while not completely shutting down the opportunity for players to lob battle cannon rounds or trade lascannon shots at each other down certain angles. What’s the point of weapons with ranges over 18” if there’s no firing lanes over 18”? I’ll also second what Shane said, if we really have 18 sizable pieces of terrain or buildings… vehicles’ movement become extremely restrictive and predictable. It’s not like they’re doing particularly well anyways.
I’ll wrap up by summarizing; I think we ought to hold TOs to the terrain standards and expectations of 8e… maybe even a little north or that, but the expectation that each board ought to have 18 sizeable obscuring terrain pieces is unfair to your volunteer TOs, likely ineffective at addressing the problem at the highest levels of play, and most importantly…. Probably unfun for the average player.
Liam: Just to bring a little balance to the discussion here, I want to say that we’re not suggesting TOs need to throw out their entire current terrain collection as Shane suggested, but maybe get more creative about using what they have already, and consider supplementing it. The WTC card terrain seems like a great option here for getting low-cost LoS blockers on tables. I would also say that it’s not so much about there being no firing lanes greater than 18-24″, but that it shouldn’t be the case that you can throw a dozen hulls into a gap and see the opponent’s entire deployment – basically removing their ability to do anything other than sit there and roll dice and hope to survive.
Cyle: I’ve played almost exclusively on NOVA terrain since 9th came out and honestly other than needing pieces on the short edges it’s fine. With the smaller board coverage is good, large hills and ruins in the corners allow a player to hide a sizable amount of their army and rhinos and chimeras can actually move around the board. The terrain rules are nice to help define some ambiguous or out right bad to play on cough GW cough terrain by making them actually functional with obscuring. Otherwise the terrain rules sort of don’t matter. -1 to hit and -2 charge/move are good to make a forest something worthwhile, but practically we aren’t going to see barricades/obstacles and what not because tournaments already don’t use those pieces. Honestly the biggest thing that probably needs to happen is the continued use of the ITC “first floor blocks LOS” rule so ruins can be useful inside their footprint.
Do the faction results surprise you? How do you expect things to change over the next two months (before the new Necron and Marine codexes release)?
Liam: It’s funny to see Tau at a solid 53% when so many of their players were very negative about the edition changes; on the flipside, I was pretty bearish on Drukhari and they seem to be doing well too – although there were a third as many of them than there were Tau, less than 1 player per event. It’s also surprising to see Chaos soup being so low – Death Guard with a back-up Nurglings detachment seems like a strong combo that you would expect to be doing better than 50%, but without disaggregating all of the possible things that go into Chaos soup it’s hard to know what’s happening there.
Looking at Marines, it’s kind of sad to see that there’s such mixed results, with Salamanders, Iron Hands, and Space Wolves putting up win rates way above the odds and then everything else being sub-50%. Partly that comes down to the players who were using those lists, of course – I don’t think I helped anyone with my perfect .500 average with Imperial Fists! – but it’s a bit disturbing to see such a lack of balance between the supplements, whereas even in 8th when Iron Hands were ruling the roost you saw strong performances coming out of Raven Guard, White Scars and Imperial Fists.
Wings: Drukhari being high is a slight surprise, but realistically the sample size for many factions is low enough that a couple of especially good or bad event performances can skew them substantially away from the average. I am also surprised to see Chaos bobbing so low, but that’s partially because my role tends to be to deep dive on individual lists at the top table rather than looking at meta-wide stats, and the best Chaos lists are mean. Even more than the first turn numbers, here we need more data – really you want 20+ tournament entries for every faction before this starts meaning much.
Boon: Space Marines and all their subfactions are essentially a well-diversified investment portfolio – there’s winners and losers but in the end they’ll cover for themselves and SM players can simply adopt whatever chapter feels good in a given week.
I think I’m most surprised by Tau and Grey Knights. I agree with Jonk that Tau are punching above their weight class in the early returns and also agree that they’re going to regress to some lower mean. Their codex was built to take advantage of a type of playstyle that has not favored them in 9th and the flexibility to adapt is extremely limited – what they will shift to is unclear to me. My assumption is that wherever Tau players land on for options, other factions will simply do it better.
Grey Knights are an army I expected to perform well in 9th based on their toughness and surprising mobility. I don’t know if they’ll tick upwards in the coming months, but I suspect that secondaries do not help the Grey Knights (Abhor the Witch). Plus I think other factions can also contest their durability and board control advantages (Custodes – the most popular individual faction when you discount the millions of Marine chapters).
Jon: Some of the armies punching over their projections definitely surprised me (looking at you DE) but other armies such as Marines are not even remotely shocking, the amount of viable troop options they have available to them to take advantage of the missions is pretty overwhelming and with new units arriving seemingly every other week, I suspect Marines’ numbers will see a rise. Over the next few months before the new books arrive I believe that you will see Marines’ win rate rise, as well as mixed Imperium (with Marines). Tau numbers will decline as more events roll in, I agree with the top Tau minds, Tau is really not good right now.
Shane: Space Marines being up there isn’t surprising in the least haha, any army that is able to mitigate what secondaries it gives up and is good at board control is at an advantage in the current mission set. I think the two results for win percentage I think should be better off, are Sisters and Death Guard, simply because they are both good at the board control game.
Scott: I can’t say I’m surprised by the results. Marines were on top of the game at the conclusion of LVO 2020 and there hasn’t been too much reason for that to shift. Sprinkle in some powerful new additions to their lineup and the numbers make sense. With the imminent arrival of the 9th edition Codex, there’s a chance we’re going to see some shakeups. I can’t speak much to who might be just below Marines on the totem pole, but Custodes feel like they’re not getting more attention largely because they’re playing second fiddle to Space Marines right now. Given a world where the Marine Codex didn’t exist in 9 edition I could see them being top dog instead. Seeing my beloved Guard with a 42% win rating in our data set made me sad, but I can’t say I didn’t expect it.
Cyle: This feels like a lack of data problem. Obviously Marines have a good spread. I’ll admit I’m not super interested in the faction breakdowns at the moment. Nurglings are going to be an issue even if it’s not in the data yet and Custodes are hella strong. GK and 1ksons are going to be in the dumpster because of double dipping secondaries. Anything that relies heavily on vehicles/monsters/titanics are going to be playing 15 points down.
What do you think can be changed, by either tournament organizers or Games Workshop, to address the disparity in win rate?
Jon: As a TO myself, there really is nothing that can be done from a mission stand-point, you can not go to war with GW here and expect to really accomplish anything. It is what it is. Keep playing the missions, keep the data rolling in and give GW time to address it. They will.
Something you can do is beef up your terrain, the days of nova style are over, you really do need much more terrain in every single sector of the board so that both players can have some hope if they end up going second. It might mean you need to drop down from 80 players to 50 players to properly guarantee quality terrain, but it’s a sacrifice I would definitely make.
GW has a lot of work to do here, I personally have been a pretty big critic of command phase scoring since I first saw the rules and I have not changed my feelings on this matter. Command phase scoring is not good, it is skewing the roll-off advantage and needs to be addressed before anything else is looked at. If we are committed to this scoring system I think GW needs to consider allowing the player going second to score turn 1 and score end game. Right now with only 5 turns and the massive advantage you can accumulate using forward deploy units like Nurglings or Infiltrators, the player going second has very little hope of catching up. Yes, you can still win, but as the skill gap equals out the roll-off advantage increases, that is an extremely concerning trend, and a sign of an unbalanced game.
Secondaries as others have discussed definitely need some minor additions and changes, Abhor the Witch needs to be looked at, it has the power to shift the entire meta, which is a sign that a secondary is too powerful. Please add Gangbuster back in.
Liam: I think there’s some amount to which TOs need to face to the reality that there needs to be more terrain on boards to make the game into a game and not just an exercise in re-proving the same points. My suggestion here would be that, particularly with covid still in mind, people should focus on smaller, higher-quality (and probably more expensive) events with more terrain, rather than compromising the tables to fit out for 100 players.
That said, the major problems lie with GW and it’s on them to fix them. Frankly I think we’re stuck with these missions for a while – I doubt there’s going to be a wholesale change until Chapter Approved 2021 – but I think there’s two key points to address. Firstly primary scoring; this is modelled on the NOVA Open but the version presented here lacks two key controls that helped it work in that format – firstly, one fewer turn, so a player on the back foot has less chance to catch up, and secondly the complete absence of an endgame scoring option where a player could choose to gamble on being slower through the middle and strike decisively at the end.
Turning to the secondaries, there are some huge and obvious flaws here. The complete absence of a gangbusters/marked for death style secondary is very noticeable. Thin Their Ranks is to my view a very big misstep – at the same time as making the game size smaller in terms of model count, you introduce a secondary which anticipates there being 150 models on the table? Or 100 and 5 vehicles, or whatever else. The only time I’ve taken it so far is against a Guard player who had 12 10+ wound hulls on the table and then a pile of infantry squads – which I doubt is the use case being envisioned. On the opposite end, Abhor the Witch and Bring It Down are two big gimmes that can really swing points hard against armies that are built in a fairly ordinary way. What this means is that a significant strength of armies in 9th is not giving up easy secondaries – and while it’s legitimate to have army design around the missions be a consideration, right now it’s too far in the direction that some factions played normally (Nurgle, Harlequins, Custodes) give up very few or no secondaries, while something like Guard or Eldar which has a more ‘traditional’ mech or combined-arms build bleeds secondaries very easily. It becomes a very binary game where against some opponents killing is hugely important as you feast on secondary points from routine play, while against others it barely matters for points as you grimly try and pick up the few points available.
My first steps here would be to change Thin Their Ranks to work on wounds rather than models, and restrict it to SWARMS, INFANTRY, BEASTS and BIKERS – no more double punishing monsters and vehicles, and an immediate solution to the game plan of ‘dump 25 Nurgling bases on the table.’ Add in something like the ITC Marked for Death or Gangbusters – maybe you can pick up to 5 units of multi-wound models or something. I would also consider a general rule that you can’t score multiple secondaries from the same model. Right now killing a 2-wound Warlock can be worth 8 points while killing the block of Shining Spears next to him is completely worthless, which feels off.
You could also potentially approach Swarms by looking at a ‘counts double for Blast’ rule on them – this used to be how it worked with blast weapons against them, and it would resolve the weirdness that a big block of 20 wounds representing dozens of Nurglings swarming across the table is somehow less vulnerable to explosions than 6 Guardsmen are.
As a final thought, probably look at Custodes’ points again. It feels like they have ever so slightly too much on the board right now for how effective they are in every phase. Salamanders also seem like they could do with some reviewing although we kind of have to wait and see on that one with a new codex coming out.
Wings: Right now, were I in Games Workshop’s shoes, I’d want more data before committing to a core change to the rules. With that in mind, one of the most important things that the community can do is to help to gather that data. The numbers we have already provide good evidence that there are definitely situations where the 9th Edition rules and missions can create a significant advantage for the player winning the roll off. We need to get a better understanding of which factors are the key contributors to it because that’ll inform what a successful fix will look like. Is it Terrain? Maybe clearer guidelines and rules designed to make Obstacles matter more will help. Are some missions substantially more skewed than the others? Then you can look at what those particular missions are doing well or badly. Are some factions consistently on top? Then we can look at targeted nerfs or whether there’s a gap in the Secondary system they’re exploiting. Good data in these areas is something that’s a reasonable goal for us to acquire, and will be tremendously helpful.
The (arguably) good news is that while the data does show a significant effect from the first turn, the magnitude of the problem is within the range where some relatively light-touch changes could be tried. If we see another month of sustained data in these ranges, I would suggest we’re looking at:
- Some sort of minor Primary scoring boost for the player going second. My favoured option here is allowing them to score the primary at the end of their final turn instead of in the command phase.
- Some clear guidelines for where TOs should be prioritising placing Obscuring terrain on the table. It’s reasonable to assume that most events will have two large LOS blockers per table, so with fixed maps you could literally issue guidance saying “if you have two large L-blocks, place them here and here” for each one.
- A couple of secondary changes to address the overperformance of durable non-VEHICLE/MONSTER units and the excessive skew caused by the Abhor the Witch secondary.
My belief from the data we’ve seen and my own trawls through how 9th-adapted the best lists are is that given that extra month or two of data, there will be sufficient justification to pull the trigger on some sort of change, but I’m not certain enough to say something should be done right now.
In the meantime, the absolute best thing that TOs can do is get good terrain onto the board by any means necessary, especially large Obscuring pieces. The traditional “double-L” doesn’t seem to be enough by itself, and giving players stuff they can actually hide behind in their own deployment zones is the order of the day.
I will offer a counter point to some of the thoughts of the others here – for scaling, progressive scoring I firmly believe that start of turn scoring is a better “main” component than end of turn, as my impression is that it breeds more balanced army design and puts a wider variety of options on the table. It also creates more counterplay turn-to-turn, and with the right other ingredients will create a more dynamic experience. I think centering the GT missions on this was the right call – but there just aren’t enough elements in the pack to counterbalance the downside of start of turn scoring, which is that it favours the player who goes first by giving them the last touch on scoring as well as the first chance to kill stuff. There are plenty of things that can be included in mission packs to balance this, and my feeling is that we probably do only need a relatively small balancing factor to get things back on track.
Boon: To bottom-line my previous thoughts, I think the near-term fix will fall to the TOs. Fortunately the TO community is rather strong, being both collaborative and communicative, ideas are exchanged quickly and often.
But like the others have said, GW has more to do. I’ll go a different direction since they’ve covered the go-first angle, but right now the game feels extremely, surprisingly, one-dimensional. Despite all the changes that make the game a bit more tactical the objectives of any given game are frankly kind of boring, repetitive, and the types of armies that take advantage of them in competitive play are also fairly boring. Secondaries are extremely restrictive, especially for certain armies, and it leads to games where players put 75%+ of their effort into simply moving somewhere and then not dying.
Still, I strongly believe that GW has built an excellent core, and as I’ve said before the Actions mechanic is fantastic – I look forward to future updates because I do think GW is taking multiple steps forward every year, even if they sometimes take a step back (lol Iron Hands). I want to echo Wings’ sentiments that community collection of data will only improve the overall capacity to accurately and effectively make positive changes.
Shane: As the others above have said, there needs to be some more secondaries, like something targeted at elite multi wound units, like Gangbusters and Marked for Death from the 8th edition ITC format.
Additionally, I think bringing back the old end game NOVA format Primary objective choice would be beneficial. At NOVA for 8th edition, when you chose secondaries, you also chose your primary objective. To either play for progressive or end game scoring, so with end game scoring back (score X number of points for each objective you hold at the end of the game), if the player going second had chosen this beforehand, their last turn would actually have an impact on the game overall.
Scott: First off, I want to wholeheartedly agree with the secondary objective criticisms mentioned above by my fellow authors. They currently very sternly gate keep many well rounded and thematic armies off of the tournament table and arbitrarily award certain army compositions relatively easy points. Terrain, as always can be improved to help mitigate some first turn advantage, but like I mentioned above… I don’t think that’s going to change the first turn advantage at the highest levels of play.
Outside of secondaries, there’s a number of things about the current mission pack that I…. generally dislike and I feel, in combination, may be resulting in this first turn advantage that we’ve observed so far: (1) exclusive Command Phase primary scoring (2) roll off after deployment (3) “unavoidable” turn 1 gut punches. I’m going to swim against the current and say that I don’t like the option of endgame scoring that my fellow authors have put forward as I’m a big fan of the back and forth nature that progressive scoring brings to the table. If we see first player advantage continue to be a trend as the meta develops I would suggest the following five small changes to mitigate it, in increasing order of severity: (1) Change the third primary scoring condition, “hold more”, to trigger at the end of the Battle Round. (2) Whole army deployment style, allowing the second player to more effectively counter deploy while having the added benefit of reduced deployment time. (3) Introduce global stratagems or free benefits for the second player to increase army resilience on the first turn, akin to Prepared Positions. (4) Disallow charging from units that did not start the first player turn in the deployment zone from charging during the first player turn. (5) Disallow ‘repositioning’ or arriving from reinforcements whatsoever during the first player turn.
Obviously I would not suggest implementing those all at once. Rather, I would implement them iteratively until you get acceptable first and second player win percentages. As many of my other authors have noted, I have an unwavering belief that GW has delivered a good core experience with 9e and has a very good starting point to bring the game forward. Furthermore, I truly believe GW will address first player advantage in the 2020 GT Mission Pack if it continues to present itself as the global meta begins waking from its COVID induced slumber. As pessimistic as I am about the likelihood of this happening, there is still a possibility that the first player advantage is nothing but a fond memory in two months because the meta has adapted and we can all laugh about this in hindsight.
Cyle: The game has always been stacked with a first turn advantage. Turns out when one player can act with their entire army in a shooting game, picking up objectives, holding space, and removing the opponents army before they get to act is helpful. Adding top of turn progressive scoring without an end game option and secondaries that are mainly about occupying space and holding objectives on the board exacerbates the problem. I wrote this in our office internal discord: “The games don’t feel as thoughtful. Some of that is lack of pregame decisions, some of that is the secondaries. In a way I don’t hate the top of turn scoring only because it does force action but the practice of it is so bad and is possibly unfixable. I really hate that the bottom of 5 just doesn’t matter. The game wants to devolve down to a midfield scrum and I’m certainly ok with that because that’s exciting but it does leave a lot of maneuvering off the table. I’m not super sold on set maps for the set objectives. Different maps for each mission forced you to be thoughtful on the table during pre game and deployment. Honestly It feels like a regional packet from 2015. A small group didn’t consider all angles while trying to be clever and the packet wound up with some strange design decisions.
I’m going to quote myself: “The missions are garbage. Scoring at top of turn? What is this, 2015?” Good job, past Cyle.
What’s Next: More Data
That wraps up our discussion of the results from early tournaments. It’s still early days and there’s a lot more work to be done and data to be collected before we can have final conclusions and better yet, recommendations. In the meantime, we’ll continue to report on tournament results as we have them and analyze the meta as we get more data. And if you have any questions or feedback, drop us a note in the comments below or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.