Friday, February 22, 2013

Kelly and Ward writing the new Daemons

Looks like it's a write-off guys!

You guys probably know that I like Phil Kelly's writing and design philosophies, but I have really mixed feelings about Mat Ward writing WHFB Daemons of Chaos (again).

Let's look at their track record off the top of my head:

Phil Kelly:
3rd Ed. Eldar - Strong when they first came out, but other armies caught on quick.
4th Ed. Orks - Fairly balanced book, some questionable stuff here and there, but tame.
7th Ed. Warriors of Chaos - Balanced book that got better in 8th.
5th Ed. Space Wolves - His most "powerful" book.
5th Ed. Dark Eldar - Good balanced book.
8th Ed. Vampire Counts - Good balanced book.
6th Ed. Chaos Space Marines - Good balanced book.
6th Ed. Chaos Daemons - ???

Mat Ward:
7th Ed. Daemons of Chaos - The most ridiculous, overpowered book ever created in the 12 or so years I've been playing.
5th Ed. Space Marines - Fairly generic, tame book.
5th Ed. Blood Angels - Nice balanced book, some oddities, but his best work imo.
5th Ed. Grey Knights - Over the top. Just no reason why they're this strong.
5-6th Ed. Necrons - A good book, well-designed, but again, too strong compared to everyone else.
8th Ed. Daemons of Chaos - ???

Remember that article I wrote about the hallmarks to good book design?  Let's go ahead and give out some ratings.  Keep in mind that the entire design studio has a say, but the writer of the book at the end of the day, guides the direction of the project.

Overall Design
Kelly - A, Ward - B+

When I did this quick author review, I did it in the order of External Balance, Internal Balance, and finally Overall Design.  Overall, I think Kelly captures the transition between fluff to army the best.  Each of his books play the way you envision them to play in the fluff, and I think that's where Mat falls a little short.  Although I feel that his Daemons of Chaos book is brilliantly designed, the rest of his work always drew some eyebrows.  The biggest offender is Grey Knights.  Being my first army, I understood that army inside and out, fluff and gameplay.  When they turned into Grey Knights, he completely took out all the flavor that was Daemonhunters and gave them random grenades instead (in short).  It also made no sense how Grey Knights, the Chamber Militant of the Ordo Malleus, has a harder time killing Khorne Daemons than fellow marines.  Space Marines was just bland, but he more than made up for it by giving Necrons a guiding light.

Internal Balance
Kelly - B+, Ward - A

Ward actually does really good work when it comes internal balance.  Although the 7th Ed. DoC book was insane, all the options were equally insane.  That's when you can tell internal balance is good:  You can take many options, build any army to your hearts desire, and do well with it on the battlefield.  Phil Kelly's Space Wolves had the best internal balance of the lot, but when you look at Eldar, Orks and WoC (just burdened with too man units imo), one can argue that there are lots of bad units.  Every codex has "bad" units which are virtually unplayable unless you're a fluff bunny, but Ward's books have less of them.

External Balance
Kelly - A, Ward - C

I don't think Mat understands game balance as well as Kelly does.  It always seems to me that Mat's books tend to 1-up the previous book, and he doesn't rest unless he has the most powerful codex out there.  7th Ed. DoC was his biggest offender, a lot of people cried about Blood Angels too, but not nearly as much as Grey Knights and Necrons.  Kelly's books tend to be more tame, but a little power curvey as well.  I look at Kelly's books as the ones that are strong, but only because everyone else needs to catch up.  Space Wolves stand out the most when you talk about Kelly's "power" books, but in the end they were beaten down quite easily by Ward's books.  When it comes to busting people's balls and what generates the largest amount of complaints on the internet, it has to be this category of game balance.  People hate getting stomped, feeling helpless and generally don't know what to do vs. an army.  Most of those armies are the ones Mat wrote unfortunately.

Let me know what you guys think about this.  I really, really hope Ward redeems himself with these new Daemons.  It really was brilliantly written.. (both fluff and rules) it was just too powerful.


Von said...

I dispute the external balance part, to a point. Phil Kelly's books often rest on fundamental misapprehensions about the nature of the game for which he's writing. The Vampire Counts book, for instance, doesn't do enough to address the over-reliance that army has on magic, nor the reduced impact of the Psychology rules, nor the extent to which living Steadfast troops are more capable in a battle of attrition than undead Unstable ones.

Mr. Kelly is also notorious for writing "ill-equipped horde charges into the teeth of enemy guns" books (cf. sixth edition Ogres, seventh edition Beastmen), whether or not the rules system enables that to operate as a strategy (and pro tip: armies which play in three/four phases of a 40K/WFB game will always outclass those which only play in two/three). Look at 40K Chaos, for instance, and you see a melee-focused book which lacks a healthy Assault Vehicle option, and which locks a unit's squad-butchering melee pieces into single combat. That they're good at all is I think down to the copy/pasted elements from the previous book and Mr. Kelly's admitted flair for producing a couple of stand-out units in each slot - but look at Warp Talons and Thousand Sons and you realise that it's Aspect Warriors all over again. The good stuff is good by accident.

Say what you like about Mat Ward, at least he writes army books which synergise with the core mechanics of the game, creating armies with limitations that don't quite cross the line into out-and-out flaws. I think he's simply better at understanding the rules he's writing for, while Phil Kelly seems to start with a vision for how he wants the army to work and drive toward that, almost without regard for how that vision has to co-exist with core mechanics.

Petra Meyer said...

I wish one of those two will do the next Tyranid Codex, the last one was Crud.

HERO said...

Von, I'm going to have to disagree. Vampire Counts are a magic reliant race, just like Tomb Kings are. They are this way by design, they just had too much of it in their 7th Ed. book so everyone got spoiled how easy it was to throw out 17 PD worth of IoNs. Steadfast is a problem that multiple armies have to deal with, not just undead, Unstable ones. Bretonnia, High Elves, Wood Elves, basically any army that needed flank negation with a few units over attrition. It's a problem with 8th Ed. in general, and one of the reasons why some local stores edited their own Steadfast rules.

As for 6th Ed. Ogres and 7th Ed. Beastman, you mentioned that armies with 3-4 phases preform better than 2-3 phase one. Let me first say that I disagree with this. Some armies excel at the close combat phase of the game (Ogres, Beasts, Bretonnians), some in the magic (High Elves, Lizardmen, Vampire Counts), and some in the shooting (Dwarves, Wood Elves, Dark Elves). The point here is that all armies are designed to excel at different phases of the game; some more than others, some less than others but are later made up by supremacy in another phase. This is just how the armies are designed, or else everyone would be playing the same army with different models. Don't give me your pro tip bullshit, there's no reason to condescend upon disagreement.

As for 40K Chaos, the lack of an Assault vehicle option is really a shallow observation. What about the lack of Land Raider options in general? Or the fact that 6th Ed. rules made assaulting out of disembarkation impossible? Or what about several new assault options are now available to CSM, or the fact that CSM can ally with dedicated Daemon assault units instead? Everyone is bummed out about Thousand Sons, and to the same degree, Noise Marines. I know I would of definitely made them better, but they're not completely unusable. Not the greatest, but not trash. Especially now that Lv.3 Sorcerers are so incredibly cheap, Spawns are great, and other elements of the book got increased (Havocs, options, marks), while some things got decreased (Oblits, but added marks to them).

Even though the concerns you talked about are game design and internal balance related, I know what you mean. I just disagree with your assessment. Strictly talking about external balance, which applies to the balance of the game with all factions involved, there is absolutely no denying that Ward writes stronger books than Kelly. The biggest witness to this is the internet itself. While people complain about everything, there's definitely more people who complain about Grey Knights and Necrons than say, Space Wolves. And let's not even talk about 7th Ed. Daemonn, there's just no winning argument there.

HERO said...

Good post.

The 4th Ed. Ork boss was just GW"s general change of direction. They wanted to streamline the books, take it away from the customization heaven that was the Chaos and Tyranid codex, and go with something simpler. It was just the direction that all books took at the given time. The same could be said about Ward's Space Marine codex to bring in 5th Ed.

Now about the Space Wolves codex, I don't disagree that they're the best codex in the game. I think the book is very, very well-done. The power level is comfortably high, the options are plentiful and it's what every Space Marine codex wants to be. I think this codex set the bar for every marine codex out there. The backbone of the army are indeed the Grey Hunters, but I've gone plenty games without Long Fangs and done just fine. I do find it very odd that they're that good though, I'll give you that. Space Wolves are meant to be more close combat oriented and it displeases me greatly that every wolf list had 15 missiles. I hated that about the new Space Wolves book, so I completely understand your resentment as well.

The thing about Ward's Grey Knights book is that it's very bi-polar. It just utterly shits on some armies, completely invalidates others, or just suck greatly vs. others. To me, that's a sign of a poor book. I'll give some examples: It makes running jumper-oriented lists for BA near suicidal if the army has Purifiers, Paladins, or any 2A model with Halberds. Grey Knights should of NEVER been given rulebook Force Weapons for everything, for the sake of game balance. Mat Ward took what was Daemonhunters and completely destroyed them in lore, fluff, playstyle, and ruined everything unique and colorful about them. I could literally write a book how Ward fucked it up for them, but that's a post for another time. To me, it ruined my hobby much more than 7th Ed. Daemons of Chaos, mainly because Grey Knights were my first army ever. And do you know what the sad part is? It doesn't matter. In terms of sales, Grey Knights flew off the shelves like crazy, to a point where my rumored sources tell me they made up almost an entire year's worth of sales in a single month. Do you know what that says to the investors? A job well done. Money wise, yes, but that book is a god damn disgrace.

On the Necrons issue, I agree completely with the fact that it's a great book. The options are plentiful, the style was great, the fluff wasn't bad and it breathed life in an otherwise uninteresting, plain book bereft of character.

To close, I would say it's personal preference at this point, where the 3 categories of design, internal and external balance weigh X% from person to person. To me, personally, I weigh external balance the most (although the rest are very close). Time will tell who is the better author, but I'd rather have one with a track record of tamer books than one who consistently puts out powerful ones.

Eyjio said...

I can't say I disagree. I hate the fact that Grey Knights have force weapons as it now basically means that if nids don't get EW from synapse again, they'll always find GK incredibly difficult to beat in any capacity. It occurs to me that this is almost a certain sign that Daemons were being playtested without EW at the time it was released though, which is interesting. I wouldn't mind them having power weapons but then that makes no sense against Daemons who all have invulns. I have a friend in a similar boat to you though, who absolutely resents the changes to GK just because so many were unnecessary - especially purifiers. It's good that they're viable but I wish they'd just been done more like C:SM. Actually, on the topic of things invalidating armies, pure Ravenwing really sucks against 3 Heldrake lists. It's basically an auto-lose at this point which really sick. It works with IG allies but then that kinda defeats the point, at least for me...

I do love the new models though and if they were a bit worse rules wise, I'd buy an army in a heartbeat. As it is currently, I play Necrons and if I say "yeah, I'd love to play Necrons with GK" then I may as well throw myself out of the store for all the games I'd get. Necrons with Tau suits me fine though, people perception of Tau being weak tends to offset their hatred towards Necrons when I'm really only playing the armies because I love the models. I'm really hoping the new Tau codex is full of anti-air so the Scythe/Vendetta/Heldrake unholy trinity of death is reigned in a little.

I'm hopeful for Daemons though. It looks as though they're going to be a nightmare for foot armies but slightly worse against mech. I wonder how they'll deal with flyers, that could make or break the book. It seems like it should be reasonably similar in style to DE (everything is fast and dangerous, but not hugely tough), but time will tell. It'd certainly be nice to see things other than flamers/screamers on the board again.

Von said...

On Steadfast/Unstable: I agree that these are core mechanical problems - but doesn't that kind of prove my point, in a way? There's an issue with the core mechanics of the game, which Phil Kelly's design for the army does little to mitigate.

On Vampire Counts: I've been playing the army for as long as they've existed, so I am familiar with their development history. Again, I do agree that the seventh edition book was a bridge too far. However, I think the changes to the core mechanics of eighth edition (in particular, Psychology) may have been enough to bring them down to par on their own, and I think that for a magic reliant army, they're not actually very reliable at using magic. I'll be fair to them though; the current book -is- more interesting and flexible than the last one, at least in terms of selections (Dire Wolves as proper Core units alone makes a big difference to people who don't want to tie up 25% of their points in light infantry).

On phases of the game: When you talk about Dark Elves, Lizardmen, High Elves &c., you're talking about armies which have a meaningful presence in every phase of the game and can be built in such a way that they are overwhelming in one or two - but they still feel different. A shooting-and-magic Lizardmen army is different from a shooting-and-magic Dark Elf army is different from a shooting-and-magic High Elf army even though they have the same set of priorities and strengths. When I talk about Vampire Counts, Dwarfs, and Wood Elves, I'm talking about armies which have a very limited presence in one or more phases of the game, and the presence which they do have is often negligible. Try as you might, I don't think you're going to convince me that a few Banshees comprise a meaningful shooting phase, or that spellcasters who have to raise -and- restore -and- compensate for ranged inadequacy and do so with no guaranteed dice availability are not going to struggle.

On Chaos Space Marines: I feel you're responding to an argument that I didn't and wouldn't make, at least when you bring up 'tunnel vision'. Again, been playing them for a good long while, on and off. The fourth edition 'Legion' Codex was excellent and I think a lot of people are still bitter about the fifth edition 'Gavdex', but it's gone now; what we have here is a book which does many if not most things better and, yes, includes far more viable options even before we consider Allies. That doesn't mean it doesn't grind its gears with the core rules occasionally, and it doesn't mean that a decent Assault vehicle wouldn't be nice for an army which, well, likes to Assault things now and then.

On development: Ward does indeed write stronger books than Kelly. I'm not convinced that this is a bad thing, though, given that some of Kelly's books are awash with redundancies. I won't be drawn into a false binary comparison, though: Flayed Ones are still a thing, after all. They're as flawed a unit as the Warp Talons are; possibly worse since the Talons at least have significant damage potential in favourable circumstances.

On Daemons: no. No, there isn't. I still think any book with access to a 40 wound Level 4 Wizard as its mandatory Core is, frankly, insane.

HERO said...

For the first part of this retort on the subject of Steadfast and core mechanics, no, I would say it doesn't prove your point. The main point of this is that if you have an army book that literally broke the core mechanics and/or ignored them, you would have something far worse than just bad book design. You would have an abomination.

On VC and army phases: I won't argue that VC have no shooting phase, or that Dwarves have no movement phase per se, it would be silly to try. If I gave off the impression that these armies did, I'm sorry because it was not my intent. I will say with confidence that the reason why these armies do not these phases are for two fold. 1. They do not need them to be successful. 2. It keeps their armies very unique in playstyle and character from the rest of the armies. When we're talking about this subject, we're actually addressing the army design as a whole, far beyond the design of an actual army book. This is the type of decision that has to come from GW's design department and agreed upon by most of the designers. So far, I've been quite pleased with their design vision and I don't see a problem. VC are supposed to be a shambling, walking horde comprised of zombies/ghouls/skeletons led by an all-powerful Vampire Lord, while backed up by some really nasty heavies: Terrorgeist, Blood Knights, Crypt Horrors..etc. The simple fact is, is that they are a magic-reliant race. It's in their fluff (as when a Lord dies the army crumples), and in their magic phase (where spells are tied at resurrecting the dead). The changes to the magic system in general; 1-die casting and max of 12 PD, is what makes VC magic seem so radically different compared to last edition. It's those times that you roll a 6/1 for 7 PD that you really cringe, but when you roll that 4/4 for an 8 PD phase, you feel like your old self again.

On CSM: I think all players who own a Rhino is a little disappointed that you cannot assault the turn you disembark. I know my Grey Hunters are sad, just as much as your newly marked Khorne marines. The point is, we're subject to the core rules and its faults more than anything else. If we could still assault the turn we get out of an vehicle, I'm sure this conversation wouldn't be happening. I can push it a little further and say that the entire idea of allies is ludicrous, but I can see the effort to balance the game externally, and sell models at the same time. It's no shock to me that the stone thrown down a hill can cause an avalanche is exactly what GW is going for there in terms of sales (first you start off with a small allied force, then you buy the army). Back to CSM, while I do agree that the internal balance could of been better, I don't think it's terrible. I sure think it's fucking miles better than the Gavdex, and that should be enough for most players. It brought life back into nearly 7 years of Lash Princes, Oblits and Plague Marines being the ONLY competitive build. Now I see the popular trio Helldrake, but I also see heavy D Plague Marines w/ Havocs behind an ADL, playing a defensive game, a buttload of Khorne-marked marines rushing forward for an offensive game, a mix of the two, a terminator-heavy army instead of just Termicide, and all those new metal beasties charging forward and/or shooting stuff. I've never seen CSM more diverse, and it reminds me of the old legion dex minus the Legions (at least they brought back some pseudo legion elements). I think that's a job well done, but to each their own.

Overall, I think we can agree to disagree. Who knows what we'll see in the upcoming Daemon books? I'm both excited and afraid as I want to play Daemons for more than 3 games before I sell them off. That's what I did with my all-Khorne Daemon army when their 7th Ed. book came out. It was that bad.

Mush said...

My problem with wards, is he trashed fluff and shits all over core game mechanics. Necrons using the webway, really? The only reason why his books have reasonable internal balance is he under-costs everything. Name one Ward unit that takes skill or subtlety to use? You can't cause all his units are the same, under-costed sledge hammers.

Orks are a great army, sure they had problems with AV14 in 5th, but they were still playable, and now in 6th all those problems are gone. They are a solid codex in 6th, fun to use too. Not bad for a 4th edition codex!

As for the Dark Eldar codex, it's fantastic, it's got the best internal balance I have ever seen. The only units that are not good are mandrakes, and the court. That's it, everything else has a place and is a solid unit. The army as a whole play beautifully and there are some units that take a good amount of skill to get the most out of. It's a great book that takes tact. There's so much variety in terms of list building it's a real gem of a book.

HERO said...

Yes, Mat Ward definitely has a push-models-forward style when writing his units. Although the DoC 7th Ed. book was underpriced and powerful, the internal balance was also really good as in everything was good! However, they are still under-costed sledge hammers like you said.

venessa said...

I would say it's personal preference at this point, where the 3
categories of design, internal and external balance weigh X% from person
to person. If you want to buy a runescape account, just see my blog. To me, personally, I weigh external balance the most
(although the rest are very close). Time will tell who is the better
author, but I'd rather have one with a track record of tamer books than
one who consistently puts out powerful ones.

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