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Faction Dissatisfaction

Please forgive the lame title, trying to be clever is one of the pressures of being a blogger 😉

Allies are so OP, just ask Hitler.

Allies are so OP, just ask Hitler.

One of the more controversial topics in gaming is the concept of allies. This isn’t a new idea, as I can remember buying a Falcon grav tank for my Ultramarines at one point just as I was starting 40k around 1997-98. There’s also the real world examples, including just about every war in the modern era. Historical precedent aside, there are some issues with allies. Let’s take a look at how they work in a few different systems and compare. Not to criticize, but merely to see how things work in games you might not be familiar with.

Warhammer 40k

The fact that 40k is entering its “take whatever the hell you want in your army” phase is well documented at this point. Between multiple detachments, formations, multiple allies, and conjured units you really can throw down just about any 40k model on the table that you feel like using.

For the most part, the allies matrix got more restrictive in that there are fewer battle brothers who can join each other’s squads and share special rules. The obvious exception here is the Imperium; all Imperial armies are battle bros, so it’s nice to hear that the Space Wolves and Dark Angels have patched things up after 10+ millennia of bickering. Eldar and Dark Eldar remain tight, which I am OK with for the most part, except for when Baron decides to hang out with a Wraithstar. That’s not much fun for anybody.

Allies are one of those things for 40k that inspires many mixed feelings for me. Sure, you can create some really thematic and fun lists, but you can also do some really stupid crap purely for the sake of making a face-melting army list of doom. Allies clearly aren’t going anywhere, so I guess we’ll just have to learn to deal with them.

Warhammer Fantasy

Allies in Fantasy are technically a part of the game, the main rulebook has a few pages on them, but in practice you just don’t see this option being used anywhere. With rumors of a possible 9th edition coming out this year, I fully expect Allies to become more prominent in the game for the simple fact that they encourage people to buy new models. While I hope they remove the option to join each other’s units, as this is what leads to most balance issues, I expect the floodgates to be opened much like they were with 40k, for better or for worse.

In a lot of ways, it would be really cool to field an army using multiple races, as I have a hard time finishing the number of models required for a proper Fantasy force. If I could do half and half lists that let me combine Elves, Dwarfs and Empire, this would save me a lot of hours at the painting table and make my Warhammer Online themed armies more viable. I’ve said it a hundred times, the concept art alone was worth the price of admission for that (now dead) game.

An interesting historical note for Warhammer Fantasy is the Dogs of War faction. They have been severely neglected since 5th edition (the last time they had a proper army book), receiving a few White Dwarf lists since then but not much else. They have always been one of my favorite factions, combining humorous Italian (Tilean) cultural references with outcasts from all the other races (elves, orcs, humans, dwarfs, ogres and even the lizards). It’s a shame that the design team had a hatred for Dogs of War, as they still enjoy a bit of a cult following. And unlike the Squats of 40k, they were actually pretty cool and not just something to laugh at.


When talking allies in Warmahordes, you’re typically talking Mercenaries and Minions. My proximity to this game means I know a little bit about a lot of things, but since I don’t actually play myself, I’ll throw up a link to the Mercs page on Battle College. Slightly more reliable information than myself if I’m totally honest.

In a lot of ways, including their treatment of allies, Warmachine seems more balanced than 40k for competitive/tournament play. This is clearly something the designers support and encourage, whereas GW doesn’t like to admit that tournaments a thing. Just buy all the models, and everything will be fine…

Back on topic, I have friends that play Mercs, and others that play Minions, and they are both a pretty cool addition to the game. With the way they are implemented here, you can either add a unit or two to an existing army (assuming they are willing to work for you), or you can take them as the core of your army in one of two ways: tiered lists and pacts/contracts. Tiered lists are all built around a specific caster, and the more hoops you jump through in terms of unit selection, the more bonuses you get. In some ways, it’s kinda like Bound armies in 40k, but with many more tangible benefits. Pacts and contracts dictate how the broader Minions and Mercenaries lists can be assembled; these are basically a lot like any other faction, just smaller. Some also allow limited mixing with main factions.

One of the things to consider here is that many abilities specify they only work on a certain faction or battlegroup. For example, some feats won’t work on mercs or minions that are added to another army. As always with Warmachine, close reading of the rules is required to ensure you’re combining abilities correctly. This is a big difference between Warmahordes and 40k, where many armies have no problem sharing all of their best abilities with each other…

Star Trek Attack Wing

Like 40k, you can technically mix factions to your heart’s content in Attack Wing. The TV shows are rife with examples of temporary alliances, kidnappings, officers serving on allies’ ships as a cultural exchange, etc. The rules allow you to take any upgrades on any ship, with very few exceptions (some cards specify that only certain vessels can take them). The cross-faction penalty is 1 pt per non-matching upgrade put on a ship. So putting Picard on a Klingon vessel costs 6+1=7 pts, instead of just the usual 6 pts.

“Faction pure” armies have taken off in a lot of areas for one simple reason: given the opportunity, just about everyone would want to take the best upgrades regardless of which fleet they come from. The game isn’t the most balanced one out there, which frankly isn’t that big of a deal for many players, but nobody enjoys seeing Picard in every list. Some factions have really distinct strengths and weaknesses that you can shore up with a couple of choice upgrade cards (including Mr. Tea-Earl Grey-Hot). To prevent things from getting too wacky, many players coming from other systems have embraced the idea of voluntarily restricting army selection to keep things under control.

As more factions are added to the game, many of them with a very small number of ships at their disposal, I am moving my support away from my “pure faction”. It just makes more sense to go “ship pure”, which means each model must stick to its own faction for upgrade cards, but you could have a Klingon vessel fighting alongside a Federation ship without issue. This opens up a lot of flavorful options, and yes some pretty powerful ones too, but it makes the minor factions a lot more viable. If playing in an Organized Play event or league, there are options for more house rules on who can ally with whom, or maybe even just specify how many allied ships can be in your fleet. Doesn’t have to be complicated, just something to keep things open-ended but sensible.


Currently X-wing only has two factions, and no mechanism at all for mixing them. Basically you have your Rebels and your Imperials; there are no cross-faction ships, and pretty much all the named pilots and upgrades specify which faction they can be used with. For example, the generic crew members (like Weapons Engineer or Recon Specialist), various upgrades and modificaitons (Shield Upgrade, Push the Limit) and munitions (Proton Torpedo, Ion Cannon) can be purchased by either faction, but Han and Luke will never fight for the Empire.

Sign me up!

Sign me up!

As they are running out of canonical ships to add to the game, some folks are speculating on whether they will add more random expanded universe ships, or maybe another faction altogether. Would they expand the licence to include prequel races, such as the Trade Federation and their droid fighters, alongside Republic fleets of Jedi and clone troopers? There may be some room for adding a cross-faction unit or two; I mean there are certainly some characters that switch allegiances in their story lines, as well as all kinds of pirates and bounty hunters who aren’t picky about who they work for.

I’m curious to see what other ships FFG will be releasing in the future, as most of the announced ships have been released at this point. Once wave 4 hits the shelves in the coming weeks, we pretty much only have Rebel Aces to look forward to…

In the meantime, I am curious to see if there would be any interest in a one-off event where you could take one turncoat ship in your fleet, and that model could then take upgrades from either faction. Boba Fett pulling a job for the Alliance, Howlrunner leading a squad of X-wings, there’s plenty of unusual things that you could try out just for fun. Since there aren’t really any other alternate missions worth playing for X-wing right now, this would be a breath of fresh air for sure. I may need to talk to one of my friendly neighbourhood gaming stores about picking up a gaming night prize kit for this very purpose…

So what do you think? Are you a fan of allies, or would you rather just have everybody stick to one army? Let me know in the comments below, or join the conversation on the Facebook group.

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