Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Being Gamist: How and Why of Counts As

I've been sitting on this article a little bit, as it's taken me some time to get it all written out. Let's see how this goes and if I've managed to present everything as clearly as I originally intended.

When someone normally mentions the words “Counts As”, what image pops into your head? Do you see a wonderfully converted army of kit-bashed miniatures wonderfully painted and modeled to represent the forces of the Adeptus Mechanicus? Do you envision Space Marines in robes and Dark Green armor being used with a 5th Edition codex, being led by Pedro Kantor, Logan Grimnar, or Mephiston? Do you envision a swarm of tyranid creatures and monsters deep striking onto the planet below coming in waves using the rules from Codex: Chaos Daemons (or vice versa: using Chaos Daemons with Codex: Tyranids)?

This post is going to discuss the various opinions I have seen on the topic as well as give you my opinion on the subject. I’ll tell you straight up that most of you will absolutely disagree with me, and I can’t fault you for doing so. As with all articles in this series just realize that these ideas are coming from someone whose greatest enjoyment of Warhammer 40k comes from playing the game and mastering the system. I don’t want to deny you what makes the game fun for you, I just ask you give me the same courtesy.

I am gamist. Some would even say I play to win at all costs. In a competitive setting they are entirely correct. I will use the rules in every legal way possible to defeat my opponent. I will be gentlemanly and courteous. I abhor bullying (and conflict), but I thrive on competition. You see, being WAAC doesn’t make you rude or a cheater. Being rude and cheating do, and I personally don’t like much of either of them.

Keep that in mind as you read this post. What I am going to say will rub some people the wrong way, but it needs to be heard. For too long has this voice been silent, and with the sweeping changes to tournament formats the world over, this idea may just be able to gain some public acceptance.

Why Use Counts As?

Players have many reasons for why they might take the route of “Counts As” for their armies. There are too many options to list here, but a few stand out as the most obvious reasons, and I believe each one has merit.

1) The Army Doesn’t Have Rules

This is the “socially acceptable” purpose for creating a Counts As army, at least from those who thrive on fluff and storytelling. You see, in these armies, the subject matter doesn’t have an official codex to go on. It is usually the case that each model in the army will be converted to best physically represent the theme of the army (We’ll go with AdMech here. They’re pretty popular for CountsAs). Frequently these armies will use weapons that already exist in another army, and so bits for those weapons are used. Sometimes, something else is used to stand in for the specific weapon (for instance, futuristic laser rifles in place of bolters).

If this army shows up to both a league and a tournament, not many people would have any objection. It is obvious the creator of the army is passionate about the army and is willing to put time, money, and effort into making it accurately represent his chosen force. It does not matter if the profiles for some of the vehicles or models are off slightly, he gets a nod of approval from his fellows for his creativity. Even though confusion may exist, it is ok because this player has shown “creativity and effort”. Sometimes picking an appropriate ruleset is necessary for this force (usually something Imperial based). Sometiems someone will want to be a little more exotic, and trouble can arise, but for the most part this approach is ideal for both casual and competitive play.

2) The Army is Outdated but Similar to a New Codex

The hobby has seen a huge rise in this type of Counts As army recently. Multiple variations on this theme exist, but there are 2 that stand out here. The first is creating models for an army such that it physically resembles models from multiple codices. The other is just straight up using those similar models with newer rules for a similar army. What that means is that this almost exclusively applies to Space Marines. Fully half of the armies in 40k are in Power Armor and share the same overall design aesthetic.

The most common thing we see here is players of Chaos Space Marines and Dark Angels using their models with updated codices. In a league setting this would be frowned upon, though is marginally acceptable by some. In a tournament setting there is almost no problem since the models all use the same physical profiles and dimensions. There is likely to be more friction from the league and storytelling side if the models are painted with a scheme that usually has certain rules backing it up (such as Dark Angels using Ultramarine rules). Yet strangely, if the paint scheme is made neutral a lot of those objections are set aside.

3) The Army is Outdated and the Player Can’t Afford a New Army

This problem is likely to happen with the myriad of Xenos players currently in the hobby. While this motivation might be true for some (or even most) in the previous topic, these players do not have the luxury of having 7 or 8 rulesets where their models are physically “appropriate”. This is when you start seeing some weird ideas such as using Chaos Daemons with the Tyranid Codex. This idea is going to receive huge opposition both in the tournament and league environments.

What I have noticed on this front is that those arguing against these ideas have typically been using the wrong arguments for why they are upset. There are some valid concerns, and this is where the heart of my argument is going to stand. I will dissect each of the reasons both for and against this approach and hopefully let you all leave better informed. I don’t expect to convert you all to my side, but I do expect you to at least respect where I am coming from. You will notice that I am respecting the opposing viewpoint by accurately portraying their argument, usually with better words than they have given to me to defend their position.

The Arguments

1) My Opponent Just Wants to Win/Use the New Shineys

This is the first “knee jerk” reaction you will see someone make when his opponent wants to use a different codex with his current models. For this entire argument we will assume this model swap is variations on Space Marines. Using models that are drastically different is a bit of its own argument, and discussing them under this heading will only confuse both sides.

For casual gamers and hobbyists, it is anathema to only care about the rules. To them the story and the physical models are more important than who knows some obscure reference in a rulebook that can give an advantage on the tabletop. They are usually entirely correct that their opponent is using the ruleset to win or even just to have access to the most recent collection of toys. They might even be OK with the use of the new rules for a few games, expecting their opponent to eventually “buy in” to the actual army once they understand how it works. Their attitude may sour a bit when the opponent continues to play with his Dark Angels using Codex: Space Wolves.

I object that this argument as set up is even a valid argument. In my eyes, it is a simple form of bullying where those who enjoy the “hobby” side of 40k more are enforcing their mindset on their opponent without respecting his position. Some people (such as myself) enjoy mastering and testing the ruleset. Even in a league or casual setting, the models are so similar to their Counts As that suspension of disbelief should be a non-issue.

Taking advantage of new, better, or just plain different rules should not be considered an act of evil. There are very many players out there who do just that only have the income and desire to physically purchase a new army. For example, I have the financial means to build whatever army I really want, but I don’t have the desire to do so. I have purchased enough models from the various Space Marine chapters that I can use just about any Space Marine codex and have a completely WYSIWYG army. That’s just about 13-14,000 points of Space Marines (or 6-7 full tournament armies).

Why is it more appropriate for someone who paints his marines the “correct” color scheme to jump on those rules, yet because I don’t want to strip and repaint my army constantly I am seen as a bad person? I haven’t had anyone tell me that explicitly, but many times on the internet I have seen this attitude get leveled on another person. There is no justification that this is an actual problem. If you are worried that you will lose more games because you no longer know what to expect and will have to adapt, then just adapt already!

2) The Counts As Are Confusing

This is a position I can truly understand, and in a casual setting I can almost see some sort of enforcement taking place here. When you show up to a game “for fun” with no tournament fees or prize support on the line, every model should definitely be WYSIWYG and match the codex being used. This helps new players quickly learn how to differentiate models and assign specific wargear and rules to a specific model.

However, in a tournament setting, confusion should not be a very big issue. While it may slow the game down a little bit, it should add at most 5 minutes per hour played, and that is for those who are VERY confused. Here is my reasoning:

In a tournament, your army must be completely WYSIWYG and you must hand your army list over to your opponent before the game. He gets to keep this copy of the army list, so he has a permanent record of the units and wargear available to you. Since each of your models are WYSIWYG, you can clearly show what each weapon and unit Count As for the reference. Once you have the army list in hand, there should no longer be any confusion about which army rules are being played (It should be printed right on the army list). From that point on it is just a matter of keeping each unit referenced on the tabletop. Special methods can be taken to streamline this process for your opponents, and they will be explained later.

My simple point here is that in a competitive environment, mental focus is one of the attributes being tested. Keeping track of each unit when it is in a transport is not noticeable different than keeping track of which collection of miniatures represents that unit. If you can’t keep up that mental focus, you’re going to lose anyway, so don’t blame it on your opponents’ Counts As armies.

3) The Models are Not the Appropriate Dimensions.

This statement right here should be the ONLY problem rules-wise with doing a physical model swap. For instance, in my recent conversations I have discussed using my Craftworld Eldar models with the Dark Eldar codex. Certain aspects of doing so can create discrepancies in the expected mechanics of the game, specifically when vehicles and monstrous creatures have profiles that are too large or too small from what the official model would give.

I cannot deny this fact, and I even agree with it. If a stance was made that official vehicles and MCs had to be used where appropriate, then I could live with it. But that would shut out absolutely every aspect of Counts As from ever being used, as then forces without actual models would have to break immersion and use the vehicles their rules depict.

The reason this happens for vehicles and not infantry is that the profiles on infantry are largely similar. While any given unit might be drastically different from any other unit, they block pretty much the same physical space and groups of them behave similarly when actually used on the tabletop.

The key here, however, is that the person using Counts As can give special liberties to his opponents to mitigate any possible advantage he has. In fact, if done properly, a Counts As army should behave less effectively on the tabletop than an army built with the official models for that codex. I will explain this in the “Mitigating the Issues” section.

4) My Opponent Didn’t put in the Effort

I have seen this line referenced by multiple people and it makes absolutely no sense to me. The basic idea is that by taking the effort to customize and convert an army from scratch it is then ok to use whatever rules you want. This mirrors the first argument’s mindset exactly in that “hobby” is to be rewarded.

I understand admiring someone’s hard work, and I also understand reveling in one’s accomplishments (I have a 34-man terminator detachment to my army with each one converted except for the metal chaplain. All are fully painted and on custom bases)

What I don’t understand is penalizing someone else for not having the finances, time, or desire to do any of those things. If the mechanics and rules of the game don’t care if that model is a space marine or a chaos space marine (or a Space Goat or a Corsair Eldar, or Stelek’s Ghost Wolves, or anything else you can think up) then why should it matter to you? If the model can represent its ruleset accurately enough that it works properly, you have no valid reason for complaint and it should be allowed. Simply “putting more effort into it” is meaningless except to show how biased you are against differing viewpoints.

Mitigating the Issues

If we take a step back and analyze the system, we can find a ‘Counts As” system that benefits all categories: hobbyist, fluff bunny, thrifty gamer, and WAAC gamer. Most of these ideas came from the discussion over at Whiskey & 40k, and I think if we establish this as a standard everyone can be happy.
League Play Rules

In all aspects of League play, Counts As should be severely restricted. It should not be possible to use an army with a different codex. If your army’s models does not match a codex, you should register the army with the league coordinator and stick with a specific codex, at least for a given period of time. If money is collected for prize support, support should be distributed based on participation or random factors, and should NEVER be given out based on army or general performance. You cannot reasonably ask your players to handicap their ability to compete and then reward competition. To do so would be ultimately unfair.

Competition Rules

In competition, the availablility of Counts As should open up, but there should be clear and strictly enforced guidelines. This will make the setting the most fair: those running official models for their armies will be at a very slight advantage, and in the case of two (relatively) equally skilled generals the result should have almost no effect on the outcome.

1) All models should be appropriately based.

Monstrous creatures, infantry, bikes, and the like should all be on the same size base as the official models. This will mean that they move exactly as the intended models do.

2) All Vehicles must be represented by a “similar” vehicle.

What this means is that skimmers need to be on flying bases and ground vehicles need the appropriate tracks and/or wheels for ground movement. No using ground vehicles as skimmers or vice versa. This creates the appropriate amount of height below the model for skimmers so units can shoot under them.

Also, dimensions should be relatively close for the purposes of measuring distances to and from the vehicle. Ground vehicles will need to be a little more strict as creating a footprint template for them is more difficult.

Skimmers should have a custom flying base that functions as a footprint template based on the vehicle it is representing. This gives an accurate measurement tool for disembarking, targeting, and movement. If ever an opponent’s weapon can “break the plane” of the custom base or hit the physical model, that weapon can fire. This gives the player using the Counts As a noticeable disadvantage.

3) Questions regarding cover saves for vehicles should default to the opponent

If your opponent has a question on whether a vehicle provides cover for another vehicle or if that vehicle itself has cover due to its difference in profile, you should always rule in your opponent’s favor. Because you are not using the exact model, you must accept issues where your current model might present incorrect mechanics. This is another obvious disadvantage for the Counts As user.

4) Vehicle Weapon Ranges must default to the opponent

The position of the weapons on your Counts As model can confer no advantage. Weapons should be fired from the center of the vehicle or the barrel of the gun, whichever is in your opponent’s favor. It is best to make sure you are in range by a few inches. This is another obvious disadvantage for the Counts As user.

5) Weapons and squads must be clearly distinguished

If you have a weapon intending to “Count As” a specific weapon from the intended codex, every weapon in your army must be the same. If the weapon physically modeled onto the units is available to that codex, you must use it as that weapon. (You can’t use your lightning claws modeled on your sergeants as power weapons) Each squad must be clearly marked for uniqueness, and the squads must share the same aesthetics. For example, you can’t mix fire dragons and dire avengers into the same squad to count as Trueborn. You could, however, have Fire Dragons be Trueborn with blasters and Dire Avengers be Trueborn with Shardcarbines, as long as they are in separate squads. The design aesthetic is almost identical across the units, but mixing them together creates unnecessary confusion.

What it Means

With all of the above practices in place, the environment is equal for all parties. Units are WYSIWYG and match the “theme” of the army, so narrative types should be able to tell an appropriate story. Rules don’t matter to the narrative. The WAAC gamer now has access to more tools to build his army, though if he uses Counts As to get there, he limits his own effectiveness a little bit. Confusion is mitigated by clearly marked squads with proper markings and should be accompanied by a clearly readable (typed) army list, possibly with pictures for the counts as to help limit confusion.

This means that you can run Orks and Daemons as Tyranids or Tau as Dark Eldar if you somehow make the appropriate WYSIWYG distinctions. This is where some of you might have more pause or objection, but if all the rules above are being followed, it shouldn’t really matter. This gives players with limited funds and outdated armies an ability to compete in 5th edition with a wider range of models, which can only be a good thing (at least in my eyes).

I will be honest that I have a bias towards allowing this sort of thing. I want to run my Ulthwé army at Nova Open 2011, but I also want to win. I planned to run them with the DE codex. I understand things might not be in place by then to allow such a thing, but until all the armies have the ability to compete on an equal footing (meaning each of them has an equal shot at taking the top 4 positions) something has to be done to level the field a bit.

I’d like to see some discussion on what you like about these ideas, what you don’t like, and most importantly WHY. I want well-reasoned responses and not just a plain statement of dislike. If you can’t tell me why you don’t like it then you don’t need to respond until you can. Other ideas for viable Counts As options and points I may have missed are also more than welcome.


  1. I concur that if you're going to use the army-wide counts-as approach, you ought to be bringing a typed list, with pictures. It would also be useful to have that list clearly state both what each unit is in rules-mechanics terms, and what the owning player will be calling it during gameplay (if they're calling it by a name that isn't the name of its statline, a reference should be provided).

    I still don't like doing it myself; if I'm using Ork models, I try to play them like Orks, and no amount of telling myself that they're really Tyranids is going to stop me making mistakes. It's a cognitive limitation on my part, rather than some sort of moral principle.

  2. I don't have much more to say about this issue other than what was already posted on Whiskey and 40k, but I think the 40k community can accept counts-as armies 90% of the time in tournaments and elsewhere, as long as you're not modelling for advantage. I prefer to see them be hobby-projects, but gameyness is acceptable in my opinion...after all, if you collected Dark Angels when they came out, you shouldn't be punished with GW's horrible Dark Angel Codex for eternity, should you?

  3. P.S. I guess I've come around on this issue, I know I posted some arguments against this but I jsut asked myself, if you were in my circle of friends, would I allow you run your craftworld eldar as dark eldar? The answer is yes, definitely, because I want you to have fun in the game (and I think most people would say yes), so why would it be a NO against someone I don't know...no reason. The only reason I would say no to this, is if I feel you're trying to gain an unfair advantage, which you're clearly not. Maybe if you just put your wave serpents on taller flying bases that might appease the nay-sayers.

  4. I agree with you completely on not modeling for advantage, which is why I suggest specifically giving a disadvantage to those Counts As vehicles and such that are not appropriately sized.

    The intent that started everything here was to use better and more balanced rules with my force. The Dark Eldar codex with the disadvantages provided by the points above is going to be much better than anything you can do with the actual Eldar codex. I'm not 'getting better' because my models are larger, I'm getting better because the rules just work. My larger vehicles should be a hinderance (for opponents shooting and assaulting me), but I should be required to use some sort of template to ensure I am only using the intended vehicle's dimensions for my own measurements.

    Using the DE codex in that manner for counts as is specifically gamist, but it is not dishonest. That's basically the point I'd like people to see. Even using Orks as Tyranids can be done in a manner that is appropriate to the rules listed above, though you have to discard vehicles and such to do so and make some sort of orkish monstrous creatures.

    Dreadnoughts are useful for some of the MCs, but conversion is necessary to meet the requirement that the MCs are uniquely identifiable and WYSIWYG. Most of the infantry models are fine for straight up swaps. Mega-Armor Nobz with fancy weapons and jump packs can fill pretty much any medium-based creature.



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