Miniatures Games,  Warmachine

The High Cost of Theme

The Monkey in The Room. 

Except, no one is ignoring this one. Theme lists, are getting a ton of chatter in recent days across all forms of media. Forum Posts, Podcasts, everywhere, and they range in perspective from Ban em all to whatever.

Well, I figured I’d take a few minutes and just write out about about both sides, the center and where I stand, because its a complex topic that covers more than simply the theme lists themselves. There are multiple answer and multiple depth levels to how theme lists can be viewed, even by one person. I’ll try and take a reasonable stab at getting it all out there.

The Death of Themes

There is a vocal portion of players who are calling for theme forces to be banned. Where there are variations on the theme, each one ends with the elimination of themes either from the entire game, from a single format, or from all formats except one. Most call for this to be done by Privateer themselves, but there are others calling for a player-created format as well.

This comes from the perception that themes are either unbalanced or unfun, and its easy to point out lists that exemplify these positions. Body and Soul is the current poster child for unbalanced, with specific scenarios giving her an almost instant win, and Bradigus is on scapegoat for unfun. Both of these are easy observations to make. Triggering pursuit in a B+S list on Turn one can put you on such backfooting that its almost impossible to make a comeback against an equally skilled player, and if you don’t have a way of purging spells from a model, its very possible that you are forced to play with your most valuable piece a turn behind if you know about it, or just get steamrolled if you do not.

Bradigus, on the other hand, denies you most of the game. With forests, teleportation and a near-dozen high arm, high box models, there is little left that you can actually do anything to. And, sometimes, when the dice get in your way of killing the one model that you can actually affect in a given turn, everything cascades downhill from there. Its MKI Trencher Smoke wall, all over again.

Nothing to See Here

On the other side of the line is the group that thinks that nothing is wrong with the theme lists as they are. They are a much less vocal group, but they have their champions. Its hard to argue against the strength and power of some of the theme lists out there. But that is just it, its some of the lists. A small fraction, if you will, that do fairly specific things are the ones hogging all of the spotlight. There are terrible theme lists that don’t see anyone play them except the uninformed or the Snowflakes. Most of the theme lists are either not worth taking, or not worth restricting oneself for the benefit.

Here, we have the people, too, who are monetarily invested in the theme lists, or defend those who are. Its a lot of money to have put into a Mad Dogs of War or a Evolutionary Elementalism list, and PP explicitly stated at the start of MKII that they didn’t want to invalidate any purchases made by their players. These players deserve to have their models hold their value and to continue to play the games with the theme lists they so enjoy.

Good, Clean Fun

I’ve avoided putting my opinions out there because I think each side deserves its own discussion. What amazes me about it all is the breadth of the arguments. They range from extreme to placid, and every scale in between, giving most people a warm fuzzy about where they feel, either through PP condoning it through silence, or through the echo-chamber that can sometimes generate from the higher-end players.

One of the big things that rubs me the wrong way about the current, and fairly new, call for banning the theme lists is that these were, in many cases, people who laughed off theme lists as invalid and poor choices. There were many times, prior to the most recent clamor against them, that there were great laments portraying the theme lists as some lost opportunity to make the game better by their existence. Now that we have theme lists that are completely awesome, legitimate ways to play the game and PP has gotten massively better at writing them, there are cries that are completely counter to what was once the norm. The Pendulum has swung too far.

Honestly, I think that the truth is much closer to the point of view that theme forces are fine mentality. While there are some obviously unfun and unbalanced situations you can get into with theme lists, it seems no less than tossing a high defense army against Harbinger, or trying to go all-out melee against Haley 1. I find this thought especially damning when, prior to the theme force discussion there were situations that would be discussed in which you “just loose.”

That brings me to a probably contentious point: Theme forces engender easy expertise in the list¬†because they give easy and straightforward instructions on what the army should do. Apply Debuffs. Tank with Cetratii. Ram all the Titans down your Throat. The model selection is lighter, the choices in list building less daunting and the overall pace of the game can be slowed down. I don’t think this makes this bad, as this artificial inflation happens at all but the highest levels of play, and even then, it only gets you as far as your skill allows. I think it allows more people, with more armies, a greater variety of casters to choose from. The diversity I want to see is not in the list builds themselves, but in the casters represented. If every list in Skorne would be Mordikaar and Epic Makeda except for the existence of Fist and Chain Gang, then I am all for Fist and Chain Gang existing, continuing to exist, and perpetuating. Lists like Body and Soul and Wold War, however, fall into the questionable category, though I see their point. Model Diversity is something to be sought after, and I remember that no one played Cephalyx or Wold Watchers before those lists came out.

Finally, themes are fun, and that’s what makes them attractive to many players. Titan Herds, Walls of Cataphracts and legions of Doom Reavers are the stuff that players of all types dream up in their heads, and being able to put them on the table and see them in their fully painted glory from time to time is something that should be encouraged. While there are many people who play for competitive release, giving the hobby players something to be able to shine with is a pretty glorious ideal.

Now, I’m going to go try and finish the last bit on my Rasheth T2 list for Lock and Load.