I feel like I’ve written this article before, or at least had this argument more times than I care. Still, it seems that amidst all the belly aching and doom and gloomery over Mad Dogs and 2Una bird flocks it’s time to drag it over the coals again and tell you all why I think SPAM is good for the game!
So, like any good thesis we’re going to start by defining our terms! First up is SPAM. What is SPAM? SPAM is the indiscriminate and repetitious use of a model or unit build to the near exclusion of all other models or unit builds available. That is to say, it’s the same thing, over and over again.
Within warmachine you can spam warjacks or infantry but not both due to the inherent costs involved and the reciprocal effect trying to include both has on each other. Spamming infantry (like banes or doom reavers) is collectively known as infantry machine or bane spam or doomy spam specifically. Spamming warjacks is called Jack Spam or specifically names after the type of warjack that is being spammed; Mad Dog Spam. Frequently specific spam lists can be named after the tier list or caster that makes them possible: EE, Bradigus or the like.
Game Balance is another term I feel needs a bit of definition. This could be an article all on it’s own so for the purposes of this article the term Game Balance will refer to: “The living, transitory nature of how models and units are perceived to perform relative to their cost.” That is to say that Game Balance is not a zen like state or ultimate goal that can or will be obtained with the right degree of design. Game Balance is what keeps the system soluble or in a relative state of equilibrium but is a system of impossibly complex interrelations and is never truly ‘balanced’. The desired outcome of Game Balance is that the system is balanced ‘enough’ to get the buy in required for players to invest in it.
WHAT CAUSES SPAM?
Spam is caused by momentary imbalances in unit or model design. They are always transitory, the length of viability is dependent on the game company and the system of errata they follow. In earlier Games Workshop games, these imbalances could last years without being addressed and result in whole eras in game life being named after them (see Rhino Rush).
In warmachine, the complex inter-relations of the warcaster to the army can lead previously unspammable models to suddenly become spammable. That is to say, prior to Bradigus’ tier in MK2, the wold watcher was not spammed but after it was spammed heavily within that specific tier. Likewise 2Una has suddenly created a scarsfel griffon spam. This creates an interesting dynamic where rules or model specific rules need not change to create a temporary imbalance and, in my experience, is unique to warmachine and hordes.
A HISTORY OF SPAM
Privateer Press did not invent spam, it’s been a hallmark of most, if not all competitively played games since a resource to unit buy system was invented. This is why video games have patches and updates, constantly tweaking and adjusting game equilibrium as data flows back to them. I can vividly remember playing orc shaman spam in WW Frozen Throne, rhino rush and las/plas min/maxing in 40K and death star, skirmish spam in Warhammer 6th Ed. It’s not new and it’s not going away anytime soon either.
Like I mentioned earlier, specific variations of spam or imbalance never last and are always invalidated at some later point by errata’s or rule changes.
IS SPAM UNIMAGINATIVE?
This is another sticky point and rather subjective. Of course spam is not as intrinsically imaginative as a balanced list with specific tools for specific jobs BUT rather it brings a single model/unit that can do multiple jobs for a bargain. What takes a degree of imagination is to recognise the inherent imbalance and find the optimum manner to exploit it. The problem lies in others copying the optimal list and relying on the imbalances to win them games.
While employing a spam list is unimaginative the fact remains that it will have specific weaknesses and that makes it easier to tech against and prepare for. That doesn’t mean a spam list will have easy counters, just that if prevalent it will be in the forefront of everyone’s mind when preparing.
ARE COMPANIES TAKING ADVANTAGE OF GAME IMBALANCE TO SELL MODELS?
You’d have to be naive to think they aren’t, their business is selling little lumps of plastic to nerd men, you can be damn sure they are looking to take advantage of it. The real issue is if the company becomes transparent in their manipulation of Game Balance to sell models. This will invariably lead the player base to become disenfranchised and possibly no longer buy into the system and divest themselves of it.
I think PP is trying to strike a balance where they understand that some subtle manipulation is good for them and the game but outright manipulation is toxic to the game. They are also balancing this by increasing the risk/reward for spammers by doing their errata in a bi-annual fashion, meaning that your investment on the spam list may have a very limited time of viability.
WHY IS SPAM GOOD FOR THE GAME?
I believe temporary imbalances in the game are actually very positive with only a few minor downsides:
- Spam actually inspires creativity: I don’t know if it’s just that I’m a masochist but I love sitting down with warroom and trying to pull together something out of the dregs of stuff that doesn’t get used to try and find a counter to whatever the prominent Spam list is. The deepest dankest tech I’ve conspired has always been under the pressure of facing imbalanced spam lists and frequently I can take that tech elsewhere. There really is something to be said about being pushed to explore all the options in your faction and allies and nothing pushes you harder to do that than Spam!
- Spam looks good: I always play painted and love the way a table looks with a horde of dudes on it. Spam paints up quickly and easily and looks amazing with even a speed paint quality job on it. Most people don’t play Spam because it’s thematic but having that many of the same jack or beast on a table looks very thematic and that is cool in my books.
- Spam draws attention to imbalance: The overuse of a model or unit or even a caster will draw attention to it and if PP does anything right, it’s staying on top of the meta and what is going on in their community. That desire to keep on top of the game and keep it balanced enough to play will only get better with the advent of the bi-annual erratas. Does that mean that spam lists won’t be viable? No, I don’t think that PP wants that to happen, but they want them to be balanced within the meta and have inherent weaknesses. 2Una wont work if griffon lights suck and they made it very public with the mad dog release that they wanted the mad dog to be spammable.
- Spam can be fun to play and play against: Not everyone will agree with this but I personally like the mental challenge of playing into spam lists. It generally requires out of the box thinking and unusual builds or play style. On the flip side, there are people that have fun playing spam lists, they are simpler to pilot and not as much information and intricate order of activation is generally required. There’s nothing wrong with that and of course there is nothing wrong with some good natured ribbing and shamming of spam players, because that’s fun as well.
- Spam is good for business: Let’s face it, if you love this game and want to keep playing it, PP needs to sell models and Spam sells models, lots of models!
SPAM lists can get a bad rap. Players using them can be looked down on for being unimaginative, win at all costs, fun killers (which they are) BUT there are many good things that Spam brings to the game and the meta in general. Keeping in mind that Game Balance is not achievable in the complete sense, spam will always be a thing, the only thing that will change will be what is spammed, how imbalanced it is and how frequently the ship is righted via Erratas.
All this means that although you are more than welcome to shame and belittle Spammers in a friendly manner, you must recognise that they are actually do an essential service to the community and the game as a whole.