Sunday, March 30, 2014

Data Slates and Data Sheets and Formations - Are We Doing It Wrong?

I've been playing games concerning the 40K Universe for nearly two decades.  I add to my knowledge and model collection and skills at a pace akin of how the Adeptus Ministorum must make decisions.  Slowly, through the warp, and sometimes twisted by Chaos.

I've been listening a lot to podcasts for the past 6 months or more, place like FTN, 11th Company, Turn 8, etc., and especially those guys at Frontline Gaming.  I've been reading much of other people's blog posts and infomercials, and as you know, I try to get about a game a week in (although that slows further in ski season).

In February my wife and I decided to split the cost of an i-pad, with her goal of enriching our house with more music, and with my goal of going electronic instead of buying more paper-based codexes and rule sets for my favorite game system.

It was not until this past Friday night that I decided to go to the i-store and make a purchase. I was bored, and tired of waiting for a real, new, Imperial Guard Codex.

I picked up the "Tyrannic War Veterans" 23-page i-book (TWVs), and it was an interesting read.  In particular, I gave particular attention to the wording on pages 2 and 3.

I compared that to what I think I had heard on the podcasts and other blog/news/etc posts, to see if it made sense.

Considering I have yet to see GW's own "experts" use data slates and formations in detailed battle reports, it makes me wonder, short of one of the GW staffers coming on my blog to explain what was intended, that maybe the gaming community has mis-interpreted things.  So let me explain, before you go on a bender about what I mean (let's face it, I get very few comments on my posts, so even a rant telling me why this thread is wrong could be welcome just to spice it up over here).

So, going by what I thought I'd heard, using the TWVs as an example, was that the TWVs were a totally new unit, that I could just add to my (say, eldar army) as a formation, and play them as an add-on outside the force org chart, or even more, take the "formation" of a TWV unit, Cassius, and a Storm Talon.  So, maybe my army might look like, a primary detachment of a Spirit Seer and 2 units of guardians, then a Formation consisting of a single TWV unit, then my dark eldar allied detachment.  Hmmmm.  Busts the force org chart by adding some random element that I bought off the internet that my opponent may not have access to.  [Overall of course, my internet sources are talking about some pretty off-the-hook, over-the-top combinations using formations not involving TWVs.  I'm just keeping to what I have]

Now, after reading the preamble for this e-book(let), I'll try to explain what I think the wording (as written?) seems to postulate.  Now since this is my (only/first) e-book for 40K, I don't know if their preamble is standard in every one they have published to date, or if the wording is identical.

1.  The e-book is termed a data slate.  This is neat, they created a term, and since it is read on my "slate", it ties me to the 40K universe.

2.  The TWV data slate contains data sheets for the TWVs (a unit), and a separate datasheet for the St. Tylus Battle Force (a formation).

With me still?

The preamble says that each data sheet identifies the codex (and more details) that the sheet becomes an expansion for for all rules purposes.

So, what does this mean at the moment?

TWVs are an addition to the Space Marines Codex as an Elite unit that have Chapter Tactics Ultramarines.

This means, by extension, when I currently use Sternguard for my Ultramarines, I now have the OPTION of now playing TWVs as my elites instead.  Within my force org.  Not in addition to it.  TWVs ARE NOT A FORMATION.

OK....deeper into the rabbit hole we go...

3.  "A formation presents a collection of two or more units that fight alongside one another in a particular way..." and this is where some of the wording gets wonky.

In the current force organization in the rulebook and codexes you have a primary detachment and then if you want an allied detachment. The force org can be doubled if the game point size exceeds a certain level.

In the data slate, formations are introduced as a "special form of detachment".  And then the wording goes off the grid from there under a heading of "Allied Formations", which says formations do not count as your army's allied detachment (which has its own force org requirements, you may recall).  Everything at this point in the wording does not make total sense.

After reading this all, I'm wondering if something was lost in the writing or translation.

If I understand what I've been told on the internet, the example could go like this: I'd take my primary detachment of say, an Ultramarines Captain (HQ and warlord) a librarian (HQ) and 2 scout squad troop choices.  Then grab, say, an allied detachment of a Tau commander (HQ) and one Tau troop choice as my allied detachment.  Then, on top of that, I could take the Formation titled St. Tylus Battle Force consisting of the Chaplain Cassius (HQ), 8 TWV squads (Elites, the Formation says 1+ with no cap) of up to 10 models each, and 6 Storm Talons (the formation says 0-6).  So, I'd have some ridiculous force of 4 HQs, 3 troops, 8 elites, and 6 fast attack choices.

4.  Formations as a concept have been around the game system for a long time, probably pre-dating Apocalypse, but certainly the original Apocalypse rules brought the concept into somewhat wider use.  One of my favorite Apocalypse "formations" had a landspeeder and 3 whirlwinds.  The combination allowed the Whirlwinds to be able to shoot at any unit the landpseeder could see, regardless of range.  If I had that old "datasheet" in front of me I'd give you more details.  Regardless, it was like a 50 point upgrade.  If you took a speeder and 3 whirlwinds, for 50 point more, you gained a special rule.  Cool!

So what if we are doing thing a bit out of the way it was intended.

What if the new dataslate "formation" was just as originally intended in earlier variants of the game, in that if you used the minimum number of required units in your detachment, you gained (or could upgrade for points) a special rule, and that the formation was NOT outside the force org chart of a primary detachment or allied detachment?

So in the example above, in a 1999 (or less) point game, my army list would look more like:

Primary Detachment (Ultramarines):
Chaplain Cassius*** (Warlord)
3 TWV Units (capped at 3 elites)***
2 Scout squads (2 troops are the minimum)
3 Stormtalons (capped at 3 Fast attack)***

(I could not exceeed 2 HQ units, so the Librarian could be cut, and I'd never be able to reach the formation cap of 6 stormtalons unless I was in a double 2000 pt+ force org situation.  I'd never be able to have more than 6 elite TWV units as well, since the primary detachment is capped at 3 elites).

Allied Detachment (Tau)
Tau Commander
1 Tau troop choice

In the above, the selection of the formation units causes the formation special rules to kick in (aerial superiority and pummelled by fire, which impact only the TWVs and the Stormtalons).

Interesting concept? Does this release some of the angst over adding formations?  Are there any formations that cannot fit within the normal force org requirements?

So, in summary:

Some dataslates contain units that clearly are single units that are additions to existing codexes, and for all purposes, have to be used as such fully within the rules.

Some dataslates contain multi-unit formations, which if taken, add into your army special rules that apply as indicated.  I'd argue that the formation special rules could apply to either the primary detachment, or to the allied detachment.  Interestingly the formation construction limitations lend credence to that concept.

In the case of the St. Tylus Battle Battle Force as an allied detachment, following this logic, it might be capped at something like:

1 TWV Unit
1 Stormtalon
PLUS you'd have to add for a legal allied detachment:
+1-2 troop choices (Ultramarines chapter)
0-1 heavy choices.

So anyway, I hope this discussion helps to illustrate my point.  Overall, I'd have to say that since White Dwarf stopped being what it was with battle reports, I'm not familiar with a "official" battle report that showed GW itself going on a bender with the formations to show how they used them to illustrate what they have done. So I can be very wrong with the whole thing.

Thoughts? Interesting idea?

So in the mean time, I guess I'll have to look at the other dataslates and see what I want to use, if any.  It would not surprise me to see (eventually) some form of clarification in the future by the game designers.  Until then, I'll keep my eyes open and see how the community is applying these new options at least on the local level.  I have only had one gave where an opponent used a formation - they added Cypher and his required retinue/choices, in addition to a single primary chaos marine detachment.  It was a fun game.

Lastly, it looks like TOs are considering in some events to cap your access to units in your army list to two sources.  My application and assessment of formations in the above manner, if adopted, would still be consistent in a two-source rule.

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