I was thinking as I drove home from work yesterday (commutes are good for that type of thing), and a thought occurred to me. Would the game of 40k be better if their were fewer Space Marine armies? Lets face it, at most events, at least the ones I go to, I see maybe 70%+ of the field running some sort of Marine army: Grey Knights, Space Wolves, Blood Angels, Dark Angels, Black Templars, Chaos Space Marines, or Codex Space Marines. Power armored armies are undeniably popular, I mean who doesn't want to play super humans in the 41st millennium. Now I don't want anyone to think that this is just me hating on Marines/Marine players, I have 3 marine armies, and they are the armies I play most frequently. My thought was simply this do we need to have nearly half (7/16 or 43.75%) of all Codices to be Marine Books? What this means is that even if we assumed all the codices were equally popular (they're not) that you would still play against power armor in 4-5 out of every 10 games, or about 2 times in a 5 game GT.
Now what many people will argue (and they are not entirely wrong) is that many of those books are for "unique" chapters. I mean Grey Knights are the super elite, Wolves have their own Norse flavor (theoretically), and the list goes on. To these people I would argue the following, if Marines themselves were unique, would we really need separate books for so many chapters. In other words if there were not so many Marine books would we need marines to differentiate themselves so much. I know the fluff says x-chapter acts like this, and y-chapter specializes in that, but what if there was some way to add a little flavor to your own marine army (though modeling, painting, upgrades, and unit choices.) that would set your own force apart. Would this be enough? Or do we really need 7 Marine books.
What I think further amplifies this problem is the "counts as movement". I'm not against this movement in general as I believe that it provides players the opportunity to be creative with their models to design a force that is unique looking. I've seen Skaven count as Guard, and Dark Eldar for instance, and both armies were cool and different. Where I think this runs into a problem is with marines (and this is a GW created problem), if you own a Marine army, and paint it up in your own paint scheme (i.e. not Wolves, or Angels, or Ultras.) you now just bought not 1 but 5 armies. On top of that if you keep with that paint scheme, with a little extra purchasing you can move into the other 2 marine armies (chaos and Grey Knights) as the vehicles essentially all overlap. Heck if you designed a renegade Marine chapter you could probably pull off using the Chaos Dex with no further purchases to speak of. For me this is where I think a major part of the popularity of Marine dexes comes from. Why buy models for one Xenos race (Necrons Counting as Orks or Nids is proxying in most circles unless you did some major converting, and any such army would probably not be a functional necron army. I mean I could see a Flayed one horde being used for say a Genestealer army, but no one is running tons of Flayed Ones in the Necron book) when I can buy marines and get 5-7 armies in one. Whats more is that because I now own 5 armies it is far more likely I will get a set of updated rules. Dark Eldar went what 10 years, Crons about the same, in that time how many updates did marines get 10? More than 10? Why chance my army becoming obsolete(competitively) when I can play marines a basically guarantee I will always be able to compete on some level.
SO all that said let us consider what the land scape of 40k would look like if Marines had say only 2 codices Loyalists and Chaos (I don't really see these books working well as one army book). This would drop the army count from 16 to 11 and Marine books would make up 2 out of 11 or 18%. I'm not going to go into what I think each dex should contain (at least not in this post) so lets assume for the moment that we are looking at the current books. Would the game be overall more balanced if you took Blood Angels, Dark Angels, Wolves, Templars and GKs out of the game. Well IG would still be on top, probably followed by Dark Eldar, but I think the rest of the books would be incredibly well balanced. With a few tweaks to these dexes I think you would end up with a larger variety of armies (less marine players because fewer books, and as such more xenos armies), and a more balanced game. If GW did not need to update 7 Marine armies then other armies would hopefully get updated more quickly. Just look at releases for 5th edition, there have been 4 marine armies released (Codex Marines, Wolves, Blood Angels, Grey Knights.) and 4.5 Non Marine (IG, Nids, Dark Eldar, Crons, and Sisters). Dark Angels and Chaos Marines were released just prior to 5th ed as were Daemons. SO if we assume those as 5th ed updates we have 6 Marine Books and 5.5 Non Marine Books. What this means is that we have had 11 full updates (and one White Dwarf article) or the same number of updates as the total number of books I have proposed, which means that every book would have been updated in the 5th ed cycle. Which would mean no terribly outdated books, which in an ideal world would be more game balance.
My last thought on the subject is this: would having fewer marine armies make marines better. Space Marines are supposed to be the best of the best, super strong, super tough, and highly skilled. Does the game make it feel that way? Now I know we will never have space marines as they are in the fluff where 5 guys kill whole armies, but at the moment the Space Marine Stat line (4s across the board) really just feels average. Part of this issue is that a D6 system only allows for so much variation (BS 5 is twice as good as BS 4, so it would be a huge upgrade), but part of them feeling average is that they kind of are when half the armies in the game boast the same stat line. Would that stat line not feel a bit more elite if only 2 (plus some necrons) armies boasted those kind of stats? Would marines (with a few tweaks) not feel a whole lot stronger in shooting and hand to hand, if they were not always fighting against other marines. Bolters are a whole lot scarier for a bunch of Guants, Orks, or Guardsman, then they are for other marines. Marines might actually be ok in combat, if not for the fact that they don't get enough attacks to kill other marines with a 3+ save (they actually do pretty well against guardsman or eldar guardians.)
Just some food for thought. I know it will never happen, because GW wants to sell models, but what do you think? Would 40k and Marines be better if there weren't so many of them?