Battle Brothers – Good or Bad?

.... uh, wut?
Brace yourselves…

Hey there, Wargamers!


Captain Morgan here again with some 40k thoughts. Recently I had an opportunity to play in a tournament with several good gamers. I had a great time, and as you know I am a dyed-in-the-wool Blood Angels player, so I had/have no delusions about coming out on top, but I still manage to have a good time playing in tournaments and hanging out with like-minded gamers across the length/breadth of the gaming spectrum. While I was there I took some time to chat with a local friend and current top 10 contender in the ITC, Thomas Hegstrom Oakey. While we talked, a question came up that I haven’t heard in a little while: “Would 40k be better without the use of Battle Brothers?”


I got this Bro! Thanks Bro!


Thomas – A Space Marine player – thinks it would be, and I found the conversation interesting enough that I’d like to open it up to all of you guys on the Internet. I heard that you have opinions sometimes…


Just on a note of context, this is mostly directed at the competitive side of the game, and how these rules affect competitive play balance. Narrative will do what narrative has always done, and it is rarely an issue in that context without deliberate skulduggery.


Battle of the Battle Brothers


When 6th Ed 40k first came around and we had the chance to take allies in the game for the first time, the allies chart and the possibilities opened up to certain factions who could benefit the most from their relationships on the then-new allies matrix started shaking up the 40k scene drastically. Some of the combos from then are still mentioned with distaste today by their married names – such as “Taudar” – and they left a bad taste in the mouth for many a casual tournament goer. When battle-brothers were new, it was often mentioned as the biggest problem in the game. Many people – myself included – looked at them as the gateway to filling holes left in outdated or underpowered armies’ strategy and composition.


Looking at the intent, it is fairly clear that the ally matrix was a tool that was put in the game not to create these powerful combos, but instead to allow players to mix collections and tell more narrative stories in dynamic ways on the table. It goes without saying that it also was a great tool to encourage players to buy small forces of other factions that I’m sure that Games Workshop hoped would turn into full army investments. In many cases, I’m sure that it paid off. At the time, as a FTN listener instead of contributor, I remember listening to the various podcasts (FTN included) and getting varied opinions. For the most part, people wanted to give it a chance and see where it went. It was, after all, new and we should at least take the time to see where it is going before jumping to conclusions, right?


For now...
For now…


Now we are about 2 years into 40k 7th Edition, which saw an even more dynamic approach to list composition. The chart changed in some cases in ways that made sense (such as eliminating Tau as BB for Eldar and SM alike), but opened the door for what TPM has termed as Imperial Soup, where all of the Space Marines, Imperial Guard, and various other forces of humanity can all be battle brothers. As a result? Shenanigans. Major, undeniable shenanigans. However, are all of these shenanigans any worse than the powerful single-source combos that can be pulled off by the current top dogs in 40k? Let’s take a look at two perspectives.


Why We Need It


picture courtesy of Tydanubus
picture courtesy of Tydanubus


As a dabbler in the competitive community, I have to take responsibility with every other competitive player for taking that above-stated intent and adapting it for more competitive uses. Why is that? It’s because I wanted to do more than show up to a tournament and pick up my models. Winning isn’t everything, but winning IS something, and just because I don’t win all of the time doesn’t mean that I want to lose most of the time. Allies, and the tools provided via battle-brothers, provided a way for me to add that little bit of extra to my army that made my opponent at least pause.  Sometimes it took as little as an Inquisitor to make the difference.


And yes, dear internet commentators, a great player will do well with any army. That being said, why aren’t there any top players playing with low-tier armies, even though many of them like their favorite factions more than what’s on top right now? I’ve spoken to many of these players at events, conventions, online, and on the show. They aren’t always playing their favorite army. I think that merits at least a mention before anyone out there starts telling those with weaker rules to get better at playing 40k. Great players with bad factions win games, but great players with great factions win GT’s.


Revolutionary, I know!
Revolutionary, I know!


Lists that made the best use out of battle-brothers were created to combat the single-source powerhouses that are on top of the effectiveness pyramid. Superfriends was a direct response to the effectiveness of Tau shooting. That list type has gone through a myriad of changes and variations but the key elements are the same. Combine as many rules as possible to create a unit that can survive long enough to get into combat and win. Winning with these armies is not a simple matter of point and click. It is a complicated unit that requires a lot of familiarity with the rules, how they interact with various unit types, careful positioning, and good decision making when it comes to splitting them off. With how often people run into snags creating these lists, it’s almost reasonable to require some kind of formal training so as to avoid list building quandaries. Unfortunately with the varying list format restrictions, that sort of mandatory learning could not really be enforced. It’s the Internet, so I’m just going to point out that the last two sentences were layered with heavy sarcasm, but I think you get the point I’m making here. These lists do require – and reward – skill. Isn’t that what we should want or expect from tournaments?


By getting rid of battle-brothers and subsequently punishing the Death Star build as a consequence, we are essentially accepting that the lists and factions that are really strong by themselves will be the top dogs. They certainly won’t be punished by the change. It’s an attempt to bring back the old days in 40k, where single sources were dominant. Of course, we’re not talking about eliminating allies completely, we’re talking about making battle brothers into allies of convenience, so hybrid armies will probably be there, just not in the same way and arguably not as effective as they are now. This will undoubtedly serve to make the weaker books that rely on BB to compete at all even weaker, and punish those players for at least wanting to have *some* of their favorite army work in a list in a competitive setting. In that case, it’s not just GW pushing these players to buy different armies at that point, it’s the players too. It’s unsurprising that this can be a major cause of players switching game systems completely.


Pictured: Sincerety
Pictured: Sincerety


The more we try and enact some kind of artificial control over the game, the more we are going to end up getting our worlds turned upside down by GW. Just look at how Death Stars have gotten better since the new Space Marines supplement came out. Using the Iron Hands rules, you can take a single-source army and create an nigh-invincible bike star without anything outside your main detachment. Getting rid of battle-brothers doesn’t stop that from happening. Also, good luck finding a list that can withstand Tau or Eldar quality, quantity shooting. They’d be mostly unaffected by this rule. Why should we cast a ruling that really doesn’t solve the problem? We may as well just rewrite the rules with every release while we’re at it. The pond will never be still, GW will continue throwing rocks in it, so it’s better to  ride the waves. What else are we supposed to do when we are given a bag of screwdrivers and asked to drive in some nails? Do we buy a hammer or do we continue screwing in the nails?


Why We Should Get Rid of It


Pictured: The Internet


Let’s take a moment to be 100% honest: these units are in no way, shape, or form narrative-driven or true to the creator’s intent. While we are being honest, let’s also ask ourselves if it is bad to have that kind of threat in a purely competitive setting? No. I don’t think it is inherently wrong. I also don’t think that it’s a lot of fun to play with or against, and I don’t think that it looks good on the table either, or that it makes a lot of aesthetic sense. It’s also very easy to be confused, both as the player and as the playee, which the myriad of unit types, wargear, and special rules crammed into the smallest space possible. Many players just assume that their opponent is right about what these units do without truly understanding why because it would take an entire game to stop and say “how does that work?” and “how did you do that?” As if all of the maddening look out, sir! attempts didn’t take long enough already.


“But Captain!” You say, “You’re talking about Death Stars, not battle-brothers! Shouldn’t we just ban Death Stars instead of battle brothers!?” Well, it’s impossible to talk about one without the other, because the most powerful Death Stars are a direct consequence of the allowance of Battle Brothers. I would also put a challenge out there to determine what qualifies as a Death Star anyways – Centurion Star, Wolf Star, Bike Star, Fluffkilller, Draigo Star, even Canoptek Harvest – all of these are combo units that operate under the same premise of stacking rules but are fundamentally different in tabletop execution. Most are enabled by battle brothers. The ways to build them are so varied and definitions so loose that we can’t just say “no Death Stars” and be realistic.




Death Stars aside, let’s look at some other Battle Brothers combos that ruin people’s day. Coteaz in a squad of Rapier Quad Mortars. An inquisitor with psyk-out grenades or rad grenades in a massive guard platoon. Azrael in a squad of conscripts. Gabriel Seth’s motorpool (now on the verge of bankruptcy courtesy of the new FAQ) has had a tremendous impact on the competitive scene, especially with Adeptus Mechanicus War Convocations. Warp Gate Archons with D-scythe wraithguard. All of these things have ruined someone’s day at one point or another. All are the result of Battle Brothers. By getting rid of these lists, we are at least preventing some of these bad game experiences, and if we are to hope to provide the greater number of good game experiences to the maximum number of players (especially those of us running events), that is a change that will undeniably cull at least a portion of these troublesome lists.


Pictured: Unemployment
Pictured: Unemployment


So What’s the Right Answer?


That’s a good question. I am not sure what the answer is. On the one hand, I like being able to bring Hector Rex into my BA terminators to help them be more survivable and get some extra psychic dice to go with the conclave I can ally in for invisibility, which still leave about 65% of my points in BA. On the other hand, I feel my opponent’s pain when looking at that unit and saying “I can’t possibly kill this, this isn’t even fun.” We at FTN have always traditionally pushed the idea of RAW and no restrictions, just to let the system balance itself out. I honestly feel that with the idea of the Type 1 (Heavy Comp), Type 2 (Some Comp), Type 3 (RAW) play system that we have talked about on the show we could create an environment where people could play what they wanted and maximize the amount of fun we can have for the most players within the various format levels. So, now we have to decide if it is harder to get the community to ban Battle Brothers, or to get the community to agree to a unified format system.


Enough about what I think. What do YOU think? Does Battle Brothers break the game, or do you think that it levels the playing field. More importantly, what are you going to do to see whatever changes you have in mind applied to the game? Seek out your TO’s, talk to the people who make decisions in your competitive scene, and be a voice for what you think is best for the game.




Captain Morgan