Unit Creation Mechanics- With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility

No pictures today folks, just my musings on unit creation mechanics...

Promethean Fire or Pandora's Box?

I was recently interacting on the One Page Rules (publisher of Grimdark Future, my choice for gaming in the 40k universe) Discord and I noticed the questions people have about unit creation. Though OPR does provide extensive army lists for all its games, they also make their unit creation formula available to the public.

Unit creation is old hat to the members of Chicago Skirmish Wargames who began creating our own units for Song Of Blades and Heroes over a decade ago. However, for those coming from (and having the mindset of) games like 40k, it can be bewildering. What is a player to do when they are handed a tool that can build the house they always wanted or knock it to the ground?

On the one hand it's probably best not to worry quite as much about what "people generally" do. The whole point of indie rules and unit creation mechanics is to work with your opponent to create together the game you two want to play. However, as someone who has played and enjoyed many games with unit creation mechanics, the following guidelines may be helpful:

  • Every unit creation system can be used to create game breaking combos. Accept from the beginning that this is a fact. A unit creation mechanic does not create a balanced set of units.  That only comes with playtesting. I've never read a unit creation mechanic where it wasn't quickly clear how to create the near-unkillable, game-breaking unit. The onus is on the players not to. That's right, you now have the tool to break the game and it's up to you not to do so.

When you come across something that seems like it would either imbalance the game or become a "must take" to avoid imbalance, consider not taking it.

  • If you're looking at unit creation as a way to gain in-game advantage, you are doing it wrong. You can't approach a unit creation mechanic in the same mindset with which you might approach your 40k Codex or a stack of MtG cards... Certainly not if you expect your opponent to have an enjoyable game. Unit creation is not intended as a means to creating an unbeatable game-winning combo. What's the point of unit creation?  Read on...
  • The point of unit creation is to accurately stat up a unit that doesn't have an entry. If you can create a statline based on the miniature or the character it represents you are more likely to build a representative unit and less likely to create a game-breaking monster.

A created unit should first and foremost be descriptive of the figure or unit in question.

  • If the game includes a statline that reasonably represents the unit you have, use it! This should be common sense. Give the game designer the benefit of the doubt that the statline they created is best starting point -perhaps to lightly modified- for a balanced unit that will function well within the game.

I include Warjacks in my Kings of War Varangur army as Trolls.  Might sound odd, but they're both big, slow and killer in close combat.

  • Make time to discuss the game afterwards with your opponent to honestly find out if you both enjoyed the experience and whether you should change things next time. This is perhaps the most important and most overlooked practice in wargaming. The game may be over, but you won't know if the units you created or modified were good additions until you've seen them through your opponent's eyes.

Consider your opponent the most valuable resource as you create and modify your own units.

  • Be open to making changes.  Don't get too attached to a given unit build. Being willing to abandon a given unit or combination of stats is often the best way to ensure that you and your opponents continue to enjoy the game. At many times over the years CSW players have given up units or limited or outlawed particular combinations in games we play. As soon as we discover something that might break the game we generally move to remove it.

In the early days of our club we realized that the Song of a Blades and Heroes "Savage"special rule had to be strictly limited or eliminated to keep it from becoming an imbalancing factor.

  • All of the above goes out the window if your opponent agrees. The preceding rules are conventions that have worked well for Chicago Skirmish Wargames. We're generally casual and moderately-competitive players and we value balance, narrative and tactical play over list-building and hyper-competitiveness. However, if you and your opponent are Win-At-All-Costs (WAAC) gamers and you both agree to stretch the system to it's breaking point, have at it! It's your game!

Unit creation is a powerful tool for creating a unique, tailored gaming experience. Remember though that "With great power comes great responsibility" and "To whom much is given much will be expected".  You hold in your hand the fire that can bake up delicious games or burn them to a crisp.

Happy Cooking,


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