Most of Warhammer 40k’s new Leagues of Votann model range is still unreleased – in fact, most of it doesn’t have a release date. Eager explorators who grabbed the limited edition army box last Saturday may still be sitting with a pile of grey sprues and a shrink-wrapped special-edition codex. Nevertheless, the Games Workshop nerf-bat has descended on the Leagues with the pre-emptive prejudice of an Inquisitor calling down exterminatus.
The September 29 Leagues of Votann balance update notably jacked up the points costs of Votann units across the board, as well as knocking back the power of their Judgement Tokens ability. This move to update the Votann so soon after release is more or less unprecedented from GW. Are the Leagues of Votann really extraordinarily powerful, or was the outcry extraordinarily strong, to force GW’s hand?
The over-powered Leagues of Votann codex launch
As soon as early copies of the Leagues of Votann codex were out in the wild, it was obvious that it had powerful synergies. Prominent community websites, podcasts, and YouTube shows have rounded up the strengths of the Votann.
Competitive 40k site Stat Check catalogued examples of Votann units outperforming analogous choices in other armies for similar or lower points costs. Goonhammer explored the mathematical side of the Votann’s advantages, explaining how the Judgement Tokens’ ability to inflict automatic wounds on certain to-hit rolls increases the odds of wounding a target by up to 500%.
Why was such an overpowered design released? According to GW’s statement in the September 29 Warhammer Community article announcing the balance update, Votann were playtested in a pool containing other over-potent codexes, including Aeldari and Tyranids.
Those Warhammer 40k codexes released ahead of the Votann, and have since had the stuffing knocked out of them by balance dataslates and Chapter Approved points updates – leaving the puffed-up Votann well ahead of the pack. Perversely, this means the Votann launched in such an OP state partly because of the design studio’s efforts to pull down the power level of other over-performing codexes.
Leagues of Votann fan outcry
Warhammer 40k fans’ second-favourite hobby is complaining about everything wrong with 40k, and new armies are no exception. Codexes Adeptus Mechanicus, Drukhari, Adeptus Custodes, and Aeldari all received opprobrium shortly after release for their disproportionate power, and in due course were edited with Chapter Approved points changes and balance dataslates.
The mighty Leagues of Votann were memed, reddited and YouTube commented as you’d expect. But, perhaps for the first time in internet history, nerd backlash seems to have achieved something.
A group of at least seven German tournament organisers (TOs) got together and decided they would preemptively exclude the Votann from tournaments until they received an FAQ.
Banning a faction from a tournament isn’t an unprecedented reaction in Europe, as a poster in the (publicly accessible) competitive 40k Discord community ‘Target Priority’ explains (in German – my translation follows):
“I think though, the word ‘ban’ was a bit sensationalist on Reddit & co. The decision to not allow a Codex without an FAQ is neither new nor extreme.
“In the Prague Spring [a 40k tournament] the new Tyranids weren’t allowed on the exact same ground. No FAQ = not in the tournament.
Even the WTC didn’t allow the Chaos Marines Codex: No FAQ = not in the tournament.
“Why no Nids? Why no CSM? Etc. Answer: No few tournaments have done it just like that with Nids and co. and this is no different than the others.
“Clearly, given the problems of the Votann, more tournaments decided to use the ‘No FAQ, No Play’ rule, but insanely new it isn’t.”
But, despite the ban not being strictly unprecedented, the message that made it to Reddit and social media gave the impression that the Votann had crossed a new threshold – a codex simply too powerful to ever see the light of day in competitive play.
That story is the one that spread on social media, and it may be the power of that story – rather than the actual bans in the German tournaments – that had the impact on Games Workshop.
What does the Votann nerf mean for the game?
Codexes releasing with unusable information isn’t new for 40k – the vehicle rules in the game’s first edition Rogue Trader were so incomprehensible that they had to be overhauled in the Vehicle Manual.
But, while wargamers accept a certain level of change in their rulebooks, it never feels good to watch a luxury codex turn into a folder for various FAQ printouts.
Day one updates also put a barrier up around the game. While most people have access to the internet, not everyone will be as tuned into the day-to-day changes in 40k. 40k’s release schedule of expansions is packed already, and FAQs add another layer of information that players must digest to engage with the scene.
The sense of winning a ‘victory’ over GW by securing a rapid FAQ may also be unhealthy. The relationship between fans and GW is profit-driven, but it’s not adversarial – no matter how much it can feel like that when the company makes a decision we don’t enjoy.
The videogame industry is rife with examples of fans sending abuse to developers because they feel entitled to control over their product, and it would be awful to see that extend into the 40k community.
The fact remains that the Leagues of Votann codex was over-tuned and the models under-costed. Letting them out into the wild in that form would result in a monotonous tournament environment and a spate of extremely un-fun games for any casual players luckless enough to run into them.
A change now seems better than a change later, but – for good or ill – we may soon be looking back on this as a turning point in how GW relates to the community and deals with rules in its games.