On the subject of theme forces

I touched a bit on the subject in my report from The Battle of Lund, but I think this topic deserves some more attention. In 2012 Privateer Press introduced character restrictions, presumably in response to a large number of complaints about always facing the same models/builds in tournaments, and with the Active Duty Roster they’ve tried another – and in my opinion better – solution to the problem of similar/identical lists.


The problem is that while they’ve been doing this they’ve also been trying to fix old – and rarely used – models by releasing theme forces instead of erratas. Initially I thought this was a great idea but that’s because I, and presumably everyone in charge, failed to see the consequences of these theme forces. The problem is that theme forces work because of two primary facts.

  • They only allow certain models
  • They grant certain boons

The warning flags should have gone up the second a theme force became the best choice in a faction, simply because it should be obvious that limited choices would create identical lists. I don’t remember the last time I faced a serious Trollblood player that didn’t have either Runes of War or Evolutionary Elementalism, and most of them have both because ‘why not’. The choices in these two lists are so limited that it’s basically like fighting the exact same list every time, which is what Privateer Press (presumably) wanted to avoid with character restrictions and Active Duty Roster.

The second issue is that these theme forces rely on certain benefits to boost the usefulness of the models they’re supposed to be promoting. This means that in most theme forces you’re not only fighting the same models but also the same ‘gimmick’, which makes the games quite similar as well. I know what I’ll be doing every time I face up against Force Wall, because I’ll be walking on the first turn, running on the second to avoid losing on scenario, and then if I didn’t lose I get to play two turns of game.


I’ll begin by saying that my solution would piss off a lot of players, and probably cost Privateer Press a bunch of players in the short term. I understand it, but I also see a lot of players – myself included – getting bored by the repetitive nature of the current tournament lists, which I think will be worse in the long run.

Privateer Press should begin this process by putting all their energy into erratas of the old and rarely used models. They should halt the release of new models for a year, which would allow their production to catch up with all the unreleased models, and instead focus on redoing the old options we don’t actually use – and in many cases don’t even own. We know they’re not opposed to nerfing models though the use of erratas, so why shouldn’t they spend some time buffing models as well.

This would allow them to clear out storage, catch up on production, and increase diversity in lists. Every single errata should be accompanied by a printable card, so players can print the new rules and get to playing with as little confusion as possible. If they want to make some money on these cards they could be obtainable only through Warroom, which might convince the last few people – myself included – to actually buy the damn thing.

Once the year is over every single theme force becomes obsolete. This will cause a tsunami of rage and cost PP a noticeable percentage of their player base,  because so many of us have invested a significant amount of cash in models that will no longer be needed. From that point on every faction would get a new batch of theme forces every season, rotating between casters like the Active Duty Roster, preferably using casters that are not actually on the ADR. This would let fully half of the casters in a faction be either ADR or Theme Force in any given season, which would seriously increase diversity.

I don’t know how to implement this, or if it’s even possible, but they have to do something to avoid the mindbogglingly repetitive use of theme forces on the tournament scene. The last batch of nerfs have shown me that Privateer Press is willing to tank the rage and do what’s right for the game, so here’s to hoping someone reads this and considers my proposal. It’s quite possible that the eggheads at PP can dream up an even better solution of course, but this might get them talking.




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12 Responses »

  1. I see this being able to work, but it has to be done right:

    1.) When they do the erratas, certain models need increased FA. This avoids one of the bigger problems with ridding the game of themes, as you wouldn’t have people wailing about having bought models they now literally cannot use. Continuing with the Force Wall example, if Arcanists were always FA:U (and maybe could still do the power-boosty thing to jacks with focus) then I think nobody would mind so much if the tier got wiped. Has to be done carefully, but this reduces the possibility for obsolete ownership of extra models.

    2.) If they get rid of themes, a good way to do it is simply around a new edition (even if only a Mk2.5). You could release the new edition with a whole new batch that are better balanced than the ones that have gone before, and of course errata models that need it at the same time, reducing some of the imbalance.

    3.) Clearly, some themes are a lot worse than others, and this is what really has to go. While I like many of the ideas in principle (especially the more thematic ones) I think most agree that auto-include tiers aren’t exactly smart for the game. Rather than doing any of the above, the other option might be to literally errata some of the worst offenders. Avoid touching FA or point costs where possible, but focus on maybe changing them in other ways to make them a little less point and click – whether we’re talking steeper requirements, toning down other benefits or maybe even harsher penalties (the tier is otherwise amazing, but has this one sucky feature?) to induce some thinking.

    Interesting topic anyway.

    • Also possibility #4, as MidnightCarnival and I were chatting came up – just do a single book release which rebalances ALL the theme forces at once. The version in the book would replace all predecessors, Warroom would of course update, and things could be tinkered with across the board to keep them interesting without being OP/UP.

      Sounds like a lot of work, but I also see this as being still the easiest to implement and the least likely to cause a rageplosion.

      • Rebalancing theme forces is a solution of course, but at best it would turn the clock back to before they arrived, where time limited theme forces would ensure continuous renewal.

        A possible solution could be combining them of course. They could put out a book with all the current theme forces in rebalanced versions, and then never release another permanent theme force. That would deal with both model issues and rage quite nicely, assuming the balancing is done right.

        • A guy I play with was kicking around an interesting idea recently of “partial” theme forces to replace existing broken ones (overly strong or weak), while still promoting the under-used models and allowing people to play with the extra stuff they bought.

          As a for-instance, say you discontinue Runes and replace it with a thematic option:
          “War of Runes: You may claim this benefit if your caster is Doomy1 and your list includes Janissa. Runeshapers are FA U and you get a wall for every two Runeshaper units”.

          So you still get a benefit for spamming the weak “”thematic” unit with their designated caster, but the rest of the list isn’t restricted. And of course, hopefully they rebalance the broken theme lists in the process.

          • Hmm, I think the core issues might remain the same.

          • Perhaps. The idea was less about power (although it’s a consideration, certainly), and more about maintaining the option to spam fluffy choices (like Shapers with pDoomy) without forcing the rest of the list to be so stagnant.

            As I understood it, a theme-list-component like that would just be an expansion of the Elite Cadre concept that already shows up on a number of caster’s cards.

  2. If you look at most of the “tournament viable” theme forces, you’ll notice that the skew really comes from spamming the cheaper options and thus earning “free points”. Chain Gang, Fist of Halaak, EE, Runes of War, Machinations of Shadow, Mad Dogs of War, Infernal Machines, Sustained Attack, Hit Squad and Body and Soul are all guilty of this.

    Honestly, the only troublesome themes that don’t have such a point spammy mechanic are Force Wall, Will of the Nine Voices, The Great Machine and Wold War.

    I think an elegant solution would be just to change those themes to give one free point for every 2 of those models or units or fraction thereof. For example, you get a one point discount off the first, third, and fifth unit of Runeshapers (still need 2 units for the tier). This tones down the force and avoids FA problems for “unplayable models”. The tier bonus goes down to about a 3 point bonus or so rather than 5-6+ in some cases, which is about in line with what I think was intended. It would cull some power while still keeping forces powerful, if not dominant.

    • Though that also hits lists that are good but don’t win tournaments, like Pirate’s Life (basically doesn’t work without its 5 free points) and Nature of the Beast (which traditionally runs with 12 free points of razor boars). Those aren’t exactly rocking the tournament scene, though that’s more of a faction issue. PP has really written themselves into a corner with their theme forces.

  3. How about you can only use Theme Lists for casters that appear on the ADR? The roster changes every 6 months, and using a Theme List in many cases zeroes your ability to seriously alter your build by switching in your Vanguard choices.

  4. Personally, making Theme Forces something akin to ADR might be nice, where they swap out either benefits or just tier requirements entirely. This would allow for a literally ever-changing meta, and it just means that a NQ article once a year, perhaps happens to be an article just FILLED with theme lists.

    • It would be the event of the year/season as well, where everyone scrambles to create/adjust to a season that might be radically different from the last one, and any broken lists are limited to disrupting the game for a limited time. I really think it’s the way to go.

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