Something's been on my mind for a long time now. It finally coalesced into a coherent thought after I flipped through the new Battlehosts book for War of the Ring. Last year we'd been playing WotR in the FLGS for several months and most people were having a great time. It seemed like every week someone else would take up the game. Enthusiasm was riding high! Then a couple guys figured out one or two army builds that literally 'broke the game'. Those armies were only beatable by one or two other lists that were just as nasty. Themed and balanced armies were left dazed and confused and interest in the game crashed almost overnight. Now, you can't pay someone to play, and all because of a couple lists. Oh, there were one or two attempts to house rule the few issues that made those broken armies possible, but despite most people agreeing on the solutions, nothing much came of it. It's a shame. After spending so much time, money, and energy on a game that most people really enjoyed, everything was ruined because of two or three issues that could have been easily fixed with house rules. Hopefully they will be fixed in a future Errata, but no one is holding his breath.
War of the Ring isn't the only time I've seen this. I have one friend who has played 40k for years, but with the increased power level of the codices from the last year or two, he is questioning whether he wants to stay in the game at all with his older, weaker codex and no immediate hope of an update. Another gentleman I know is about ready to quit Flames of War because he doesn't feel the Americans can reliably defeat a German Panther or Tiger army in the hands of a skilled player. I have had my own doubts about Warhammer Fantasy over the last few years. I started out with WHFB. I love my High Elves and my Skaven. I have far too much money sunk into the game for my own good. But I don't enjoy the "deathstar" playstyle that currently dominates the meta game. I really don't have fun playing against that sort of army. So much so, that I can count the number of WHFB games I've played in the last year on one hand. I've been keeping a wary eye on 8th Edition, hoping that somehow the meta will change. Last week I found myself actually considering what I would do if it doesn't. I'm sure many of you have had similar feelings about some game over the course of your gaming career.
So why do we do this? Why do we let one army build or a couple of small rules undo years of love of the hobby? Lets be honest, it's not because none of our friends would go along. If you're like me, you probably know the other players in your local gaming community pretty well. If I put a post up on the local forums asking for a Warhammer pickup game that didn't have deathstars, or a FoW game against something other than a Panther or Tiger company, I bet most of the other guys would be more than happy to oblige! In the same way, I would have no problem if a Tau player asked me to tone down my Tyranids. But I have never once made that sort of request, and I don't think I've really ever seen it from anyone else.
I can already hear some of the retorts- that learning to play against strong units/lists is a part of the game; that people should 'man up'. I appreciate the skill it takes to figure out the "good" units and make a strong list. I've done my share of it over the years. But why does every game need to be a demonstration of your list building skill? Once you've figured out a good list, is there any list building skill involved in playing that same list over and over? What if your opponent doesn't have fun playing against that list, shouldn't his (or her) enjoyment matter? Maybe by playing with "weaker" models every so often and learning to use them well, we'd become better players.
Why is it that we all yell and scream for an FAQ or Errata instead of agreeing on a house rule amongst our local group? And yet, how many of us really make that small effort? It's as if we feel the need for an "official" ruling in order to justify our own play experience. I understand that tournaments are a different story, and I wholeheartedly believe we should expect clear and timely FAQ's and Errata's from game companies, but honestly, when was the last time many of you played in a tournament? I guarantee no one forces you to play in them. I'm also willing to bet that you play many many more pick-up games than tournament games. Instead, we decide to pack up or sell off an entire game often because of frustration over one or two little things we might face in a tournament somewhere, someday, that we may or may not choose to attend. Heck, down here in Austin there are even regularly scheduled "Hobby" Tournaments, specifically designed to reward "weaker" lists and painting in addition to the normal tourneys. The possibility of playing against "outsiders" from different areas who don't know the local rules is another argument against house rules, but again, how often does that really happen? The Doom of Malantai was debated over and over for weeks, and then the INAT ruling popped up and everyone at the LGS accepted it, even if they weren't happy. Why? Why is it that even when there are house rules, they are often not accepted by anyone until a "higher power", such as GW, PP, the INAT, Battlefront, or even the LGS owner ratifies them? What makes their ruling better than ours?
I'm not sure I have an answer for any of these questions. I can understand dropping a game because of a dislike of the core rules and overall game play. But why should the problems in one codex or one army list prevent us from enjoying a game? Perhaps it's preconceptions about what our friends will go along with. Perhaps it goes back to that idea of our need for an "official" rule for everything. Maybe it's the idea that once something is in the official rules it cannot changed. What I do know is that there are armies and games I spent a lot of money on and had a lot of fun playing that now languish in my closet because of some rule created by some guys I've never met from a game company headquartered more than a thousand miles away. I think we as players can fix this.