Actually, Let’s Not Talk It Out

by | Feb 17, 2023

As I walked the floor at the start of Round one of the Las Vegas Open 2023, I saw so many excited players high on the fantasy of actually thinking they could win the event, but by Round two, those dreams were quickly dashed. As the event progressed, more and more players entered into the “just have fun” zone, where a beer and pretzels level of competition took over. Once the fatigue started to settle in, many games stopped coming to natural conclusions, and the inevitable phenomenon of talking out one’s games became more and more prevalent.

Talking out Warhammer 40k isn’t new and certainly has its place in the game. In the past, talking out the game was simple as conceding and figuring out who scored what. Especially in an age before things like Battle Points, win or lose was the only outcome. As Warhammer 40k, though, has become more and more competitive, things changed, as it became important to track your exact points to make sure placements were correct.

This, of course, led to crafty players and teams rigging scores for their benefit or “chipmunking” an opponent. We even have had top players purposely take fewer points to avoid bad matchups in future rounds. Today, though, it has become harder for players to do these types of blatant shenanigans; instead, maliciously or not, players have resorted to “talking out games” to save time and energy, especially when the win and loss outcome is not in question.

Where, in the past, you wouldn’t enlist your opponent in these types of manipulations, it has become commonplace for almost everyone to at least once talk out a game, especially if time is running out. By having your opponent join in, it has created cover for many players to manipulate their score without actually knowing what the score is going to be. Sometimes this can even result in players bullying a losing opponent into accepting a score that might not have been the correct one if things have played out.

I have watched multiple matches where the winning player was completely wrong about the final totals when forced to play things out, even to the point where they lost the game. For the most part, though, these experiences end up with little point variance, but even then overall standings can be easily affected, and future matchups for all players are changed.

The policing of this is amazingly difficult, and forcing a player to complete a game is especially hard when they are just not having fun and really don’t care about rankings or placings in an event. Still, “talking it out” has seemed to become more and more prevalent over the last few editions of Warhammer 40k, so why is that?

Well, I have a theory why this is happening.

Competitive Warhammer 40k since 8th edition has dived deeper and deeper into progressive point scoring for determining games. Where each turn, you can score a number of points that added up by the end determine a winner or loser. Gone are the days of missions where one victory condition determined an outcome, gone are even missions where a few victory conditions determine an outcome. Now we have missions where each round, there are multiple ways to score points, and objective and board control are now paramount.

This has added an additional layer of complexity, that top players have to math out. I can remember watching one game recently where a top player knew he had won by turn two because he had stopped his opponent from scoring a certain secondary while his were unstoppable. This made for a quick game, but it also meant the top player took about 15 minutes to calculate the final score three rounds before the game ended and explain to his opponent politely how things were going to play out. This opponent, for his part, still decided to play the game out because of the amount of time left, and the score ended up being two points off what was predicted.

This one extreme example illustrates just how unnatural many Warhammer 40k games end up. While we have fewer turn-one alpha strike unhappy endings, we do have this new version where the playing happiness is just sucked out over time. This makes the game much harder for comebacks, as a player can get out to unassailable early leads. As well, when most games take three hours to complete, a lot of players just find it easier to talk out the game than continue to roll what looks like pointless dice.

The imbalance of the secondary point system is also a big problem as certain factions are still not balanced with other factions in the secondary game. It was a bad idea when it was first introduced and still a bad one.

So how can we fix this major problem?

As I said before, policing players and telling them to play out games is hard, and often players want to talk out the last rounds if they are up against the clock. I am sure many people have seen tensions rise at events when a judge enforces dice-down rules too. Instead, we need to create a environment where talking through the game just isn’t a viable option.

Thankfully, we have a new Warhammer 40k edition just around the corner, so this would be a great time to fix this growing problem. Of course, the low-hanging fruit is to just make the game quicker, but even if the game was one hour long, especially manipulative players would find a way to “talk things out”.

The answer is in the mission structure of the game. One solution, as an old head when it comes to Warhammer 40k, would be adding back in end-of-game victory conditions for a portion of the missions. One-third of the missions having old-school victory conditions would do the trick as most RTTs would have one mission with it in, leaving players to design lists and strategies with this potential. We can still leave out the trigger-inducing missions like the Relic and Purge the Enemy out of the equation. This solution, though, doesn’t stop players from talking it out for the rest of the missions.

Another solution for Warhammer 40k 10th edition could be for our current missions to have more ways for players to lose Victory points. The new Arks of Omen mission pack has a few such instances, but not enough. If all the missions had this back-and-forth, it would make it much harder even for even the best math hammer players to predict the outcome of a match. It would also create a dynamic where many players would feel like they can come back in a game by having their opponent’s leads get cut down by point removal and not just point denial, which is what we have now.

A third option is to have Warhammer 40k 10th edition fully adopt the Tempest Mission pack. This pack takes the old 8th Maelstrom rules and removes the bloated randomness, replacing it with predictable randomness that adds dynamism to the game. Each turn, a new set of secondaries is revealed that must be completed, while the primary objective is still determined by the number of objectives you hold.

The fourth option, and frankly the most likely direction for Warhammer 10th edition, is to adopt the Age of Sigmar mission structure. This structure allows you to pick your secondary mission each turn in the form of a battle tactic from a list. Imagine taking Warhammer 40k universal secondaries and having to pick one to complete each turn. In addition, you must pick a grand strategy as a third way to score points, which is locked in at the list building stage. All of this is in addition to your typical objective holding.

None of these solutions are perfect. Personally, the Tempest Missions seems the easiest to implement and the most balanced. But, of course, if Warhammer 40k 10th edition missions used all options, games could be much more unpredictable without feeling random and unbalanced. Ultimately, the goal is to have a game where each player is engaged for the most amount of time, and the game is quick enough to be completed easily within 2.5-3 hours, without the need for a chess clock.

I know that this seems just wishful thinking. Overall, we need to leave the complexity for the actual codexes and not add an unnecessary layer of complexity to the missions. Simple solutions seem so close.

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