Monday, May 4, 2015

The Codex Problem

By CaulynDarr

"Codex Féjervary-Mayer (Lacambalam 2014)" by Lacambalam - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons -

No, this isn't about the new Eldar Codex(not directly) or possible titles for Dan Brown's next book.   Most miniature game companies still update their game through periodic book releases adding or replacing existing rules for creating armies.  It's a dated approach, and it's time to come up with a better way.

I recently got back into a Flames of War after being out of the game for a few years.  I stopped playing pretty soon after the release of 3rd Edition, and, now that there's a store that promotes it on the north side of town, I've jumped right back in.  I was faced with a bit of a problem though; all my army books where from late 2nd Edition.  They have all since been replaced by updated compilations.    

Fortunately, Battlefront has started selling their lists individually though their Forces of War website,  I could go buy just the one or two lists that I needed to get me going.  Otherwise I have to buy the mid and late war compilation books that are 98% irrelevant to the models I own.  It's not perfect.  A few of the lists I was interested in are stuck in limbo between the old Easy Army site and the new official copy.  Execution aside, it's a good approach to providing rules content for FoW.  But this got me thinking: How many variants of a German infantry list does Battlefront really need to have?  

Despite Battlefront taking a step forward and offering individual lists online, the lists are still taken from army books that are released every few months.  Not much changes from book to book really.  Usually one or two new pieces of equipment get added to the axis and allied arsenals, and you get some lists to go with them.  The end result is you get dozens of lists that differ in mostly minor details.  Why?  Are the gognards that have to have their company exactly as it was fielded in January 8, 1945 at 4:16 PM that important to their bottom line?  What you really end up with are tournaments where you see more of a tank on the table than actually saw combat in the war.

When you offer 200 options to gamers, they're going to take the best one.  Even if the efficiency boost is only minor.  And when you have that many options, you can't keep them all equal in viability.

There's a big contradiction at play in the way miniature games are developed and sold.  Balance is easier to maintain with a smaller selection of choices, but the business model is based around growing the available choices.  It's simple math, really.  Each addition to a game causes an exponential growth in interactions.  A linear release in new units for a game is going to quickly outpace the developers ability to balance that game.  

The worst part of this situation is that it's always misdiagnosed by the game developers.  The game gets bloated by too many units, but the developers see it as a quality problem with the core rules.    It's like sending too much traffic over a bridge.  The extra weight is going to show the structural problems in the design of the bridge very quickly.   The solution that developers often take is to redesign the bridge instead of questioning whether sending tanks over a bridge built for cars was the right call in the first place.

We've called this phenomenon codex creep for a long time.  Mostly out of our need to ascribe malice to every bad thing GW does.  Things aren't getting more powerful to sell you models.  Things are getting more powerful because GW doesn't have the development capacity to keep an edition balanced out past 2 or 3 codex releases.

Privateer and Battlefront fall into this trap too.  I quit Warmachine because MK II was a big band-aid that left the root cause untreated. They got rid of the clunky bloat, but didn't decrease the rate that they add units into the game.  Things will just end up getting bloated again.   For Flames, Mid War is often universally considered more balanced than Late.  That's because they aren't adding 20 list every three months to Mid War.  You don't even need to have codexes to fall prey to this cycle either.  X-Wing will get there.  Especially with their tendency to fix units by way of title cards and upgrades in later releases.  Entropy is inescapable. 

Companies other than GW mitigate it somewhat.  They actively FAQ and Errata bad rules, and at least try to balance things.  Again, this is treating the symptom, not the disease.

There's one game that has figured it out.  And that's Magic.  By having internally balanced cycles, they can continuously expand the game while not bloating it completely.  This is the pattern that miniature game companies need to adopt.  

Games played in a competitive and active capacity need to have a core of basic units.  Then, in addition, a revolving lists of formations and special units that change up every 3-6 months.  If option A and B can't coexist int the meta at the same time, then alternate them.  Keeping everything in the pot at once and even remotely balanced is a pipe dream.  It would be much nicer if a unit could come in and out of competitiveness regularly instead of sitting on the shelf in hopes that next edition maybe it won't be overshadowed by some other option,


  1. I was writing a post very similar to this, but in a different way... I feel like Formations and Detachments are slowly working out Spammy type lists and forcing you to get more variety out on the tabletop, which is better for everyone.

    I'd rather face a Decurion than a Necron Flying Circus.

    I'd rather face a whack of aspect warriors than Serpent Spam.

    It's variety, and it's GOOD.

    1. I like formations. It's basically how FoW has been organizing their game for like 3 years. Check back when there are 150 formations all legal at the same time. Then it's not a question of who can spam the most, but who happens to have the slightly more efficient formation.

      Adding more total choices sometimes reduces the amount of viable choices.

    2. When playing Germans in a Mid-War tourney, I have two choices: 1) Use the North Africa book, or 2) Use the Eastern Front book that has 98% of everything in the NA book, but also about 30% more options.

      I really feel like Battlefront needs to move away from its Early/Mid/Late game periods and concentrate more on specific battles and campaigns. Promoting the idea of an "Africa" or "Eastern Front" or "Invasion of France" tourney/event instead.

    3. And even then, there's a big difference in "Early" Africa, Tobruk, the Alamein battles, and Tunisia. If I want to be competitive at all, I have to build for Tunisia. Because otherwise the Americans (Tunisia-only) will roll right over me. Hence you never see those early German-British battles recreated.

    4. I think most Brit players don't bring the early MW tanks because of No HE. That one rule seriously hampers what a brit player can do in a game.
      Aside from Crusader 1 and 2's having only a 2lb (at7) gun. If the Germans are fielding similar 5cm (at7) guns it's not such a terrible difference.
      I'm working on getting enough Lee's and Stuarts I could possibly field an Early MW force.

      I have seen people bring Dieppe raid forces to tourneys, Commandos supported by Churchill III's (at10) and some arty. That was an Aug 1942 battle.

      The only other true El Al force I saw was mostly Brit infantry. It dug in and defended.

    5. The only time I've seen early PzIII's against Crusaders was during our demo games at Gencon. Where the PzIII's were like Tigers. But any American list from Tunisia would wipe the floor with both. So you'll never see those early-Africa lists in tourneys.

    6. I first started playing FoW in first edition when the only lists anyone played where North Africa Brits and Germans. Of course early Brit armor had the opposite problem then. It was crazy stupid good. Their light tanks got to move like 32 inches a turn and generate smoke clouds that gave them all concealment.

    7. The Sherman was made available to the Brits in August '42. The Lee/Grant first saw battle at Gazala on May 27th of '42.
      MkIII Crusaders also appeared that same month (Str 10 gun)
      Interestingly, the long barrel PzIV F2 arrived in Africa at around the same time.

      Both Shermans and Pz IV F2's were present at 2nd El Alamein. A few Pz IV F2's might have been available at 1st El Alamein.

      Then on Nov 8th, the Americans landed in Tunisia, bringing Lees and Shermans with them as well.

      For the first half of '42, The battles were various PzIII's, and PzIV F1's against Crusader II's and III's, with Lees, Honey Stuarts, Matildas, and Valentine II's and VIII's

  2. I think the myriad of options reducing to one or two preferred lists to chose a force from is part of why many FoW guys tell you the books are well balanced withing themselves.
    The books give a lot of options for the setting of the book, and those are balanced within the book. They are not totally balanced with other books of the same period necessarily.
    Even in MW, there's some disparity between German Eastern Front and Africa/Italy. Most of the Eastern front gets a little better options than Africa.

    Overall, I sort of like the formations concept. I think it fits well within FoW, where you have a parent force, and variety depending on what armygroup you're representing.


out dang bot!

Recent Favorites

All-Time Favorites