Everyone has seen them at one point or another I'd guess. Chaos counts as Space Wolves. Harlequins counts as Dark Eldar. Etc, etc, etc. Everyone has their own take on likes and dislikes on the subject. I'd like to explain my feelings on it, and get commentary from readers on their take.
As a player of a counts as Space Wolves army myself I have reasoning for what I do. Some may agree, others disagree, but this is my take on the GW hobby and counts as armies.
Lets be honest, Warhammer 40k, Fantasy Battle, and all the other Games Workshop games are expensive. Not everyone has a large dispossible income, or the willingness to buy multiple armies for their systems. I fall into the low dispossible income bracket, but that will hopefully change in time. I started playing 40k back in RT/2nd ed. times, when figs were expensive but much less so than now. When you could get a blister with 1-3 figs for less than $10, when 20 marines cost roughly $20, when 3 rhinos where $20ish. I played Eldar, all foot, and spent hundreds of dollars on blisters and boxes to kit them out. This was roughly 20 years ago. The same army I had then if I did it now would cost me on the order of $800 easily, and I didn't even have a single walker or tank in my collection then.
I can understand increases in pricing due to inflation, but lets be honest, GW reuses their molds until they fail and still increase their prices. So, counts as armies are a cost effective way to expand play options, without breaking the bank so to say. Sure I don't have a ton of actual Space Wolves plastics in my collection, but I do have a mix of vanilla marines, Space Wolves, and Dark Angels. I'm not playing Space Wolves, I'm playing a chapter which closely resembles in their way of battle, and gene-seed issues the Space Wolves. I can play them as vanilla, or as Dark Angels, or Wolves. But I've always enjoyed the Wolves, they've had the best fluff (IMO), most interesting characters, and aren't tied into the 'Smurf book of war' as deeply as other marine chapters.
The trouble now with counts as comes from a serious lack of models put out in several lines. Thunderwolf Cav, Storm Raven, Cyberwolves and Wolf models, etc, etc, etc. This I believe is a nod to what this game started as, a hobbyist system, allowing for the individual to model things to fit. A great step overall, if frustrating at times. Counts as is king for some lists, especially for us who can't afford to buy 3-5 of the far to expensive models just to put together one unit (Canis to get that mount for TWC). But then we run into an issue, some people HATE counts as. Sometimes to the point of refusing to play against them. Other times it is T.O.s that are suddenly going 'Hard Comp' to battle it (one LGS in my area seems to be going that way, after the last tournaments announcement of cracking down on WYSIWYG).
Personally, I like the idea of Counts As, as long as the figs are a reasonable representation of the unit/IC/etc in question. Sometimes a counts as army is awesome to see, sometimes it really is a head scratcher to figure out why some models are counting as unit x, y, or z. I know that my counts as will be using figs that have nothing to do with the 'wolf' theme of the Space Wolves, but in the end I think the theme will definitely be fun to see and worth the effort. (Anyone with spare cold ones and carnasaurs, feel free to send them my way... heh).
But then we run into the head scratchers, IG counting as C:SM, Orks counting as Tyranids, etc. Sometimes even being cash strapped isn't a good enough excuse. Understandable yes, but seriously sometimes a counts as is nothing more than a proxy army. And in my opinion there is a bit of a line, that once crossed is just downright silly and unreasonable. I'm all for testing out a codex with proxies, since it is a bit stupid to dump money into a line of figs that you find out you really don't like to use at all. But there are those that will go for the proxy army in everything, because they just don't want to buy any more GW product than they have. I can understand not feeling the need to put more money into GW's pockets, their business practices in the last 10 years have gone from bad to worse on a number of things, BUT proxy armies in a competitive setting is just cheese. And yes I know it has happened, and will happen again.
Counts as, it is a good thing overall, especially for those of us that want to change a theme a bit, or set a new theme that is parallel to what we are counting as. It opens the hobby to the hobbyist again, giving them reign to explore and define new ways of seeing things. And it gives the imagination a chance to really 'sell' those figs that are converted and lovingly detailed. I like Counts As. Just as much as I hate proxy armies.
Counts as good, proxy bad (Hell at least print out some paper figs and put those on bases, cheesy yes, but at least it is more in line with trying things out).
Agree, disagree, give voice to your opinions!