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Sunday, March 28, 2010

Armies in 5th: Basics Part 1: Army Composition


Army comp to the majority of people means how un-hard or un-cheesy (or how cheesy/hard) your army is. It's generally a bad system because it's taking GW's rules and placing restrictions on what armies you can build to make it "fair." For the majority of people this is what army comp does but in reality it doesn't; all that's changed has been which lists are ‘broken‘. Good job on changing the game of 40k. So what does army composition really mean?

List building is very important in Warhammer 40,000. Games can be lost before a die is even rolled because you don't have the tools for the job. I've been asked quite a lot what my starting point my an army list is and I generally pick a theme, idea or unit I want to base my army around (i.e. Space Wolves = TWC, BA = fast preds, Tyranids = what I already have/Tervigons, etc.) but from there my competitive army evolves around that idea to still be balanced and be able to deal with everything. So what types of units do we need to be able to handle. A list needs to be able to handle a whole army comprised of such units to be able to reliably deal with the balanced lists (I.e. you may never see 20+ tanks or MCs or 100+ bikes or 300 infantry but if your list theoretically deal with those extremes, you can deal with the balanced armies). These unit types include:

1) tanks = anything with an armor value and thus uses the damage chart
2) MCs = anything with the MC status, high T (5+) and multiple wounds
3) bikes/cavalry = anything that augments toughness and movement ability
4) infantry = the basic guys with saves

So to have good army composition you need multiple units which can handle units 1-4 and units which can handle 3 or more of these groups are better than units which can handle less unit types. However, there is a trade-off when the unit which can handle less unit types but handles the specific units at a better rate. This trade-off needs to be considered and such units like broadsides which aren‘t that great at anti-infantry are very much worth it for their ability to damage tanks. So this means your anti-infantry (which generally includes anti-bike/cavalry) and anti-tank (which generally includes anti-MC) needs to be spread across your army and generally the more units who can deal with both, the better. This is simply called duality and duplicity and something that army comp from tournaments frowns upon even though it makes the best lists which are balanced. Having an army maxed out on duality units means you can lose some units but you still have more (duplicity) and no one unit is ever going to be useless if you face extreme armies where they then become inefficient point sinks.

For example, a trip-las pred is very expensive and pretty decent against armor/MCs but if you face an Ork horde or BA jumper army… well you're killing a max of 3 guys out of 60+ a turn, that's not very good efficiency. However, for a significant reduction in cost and a minor reduction in anti-armor ability you gain more anti-infantry ability with an AC/LC pred and for a further reduction in points but a more significant reduction in anti-tank ability but a significant increase in anti-infantry ability, you can take an AC/HB pred. Here the trip-las pred is the weak link for it's related point cost and efficiency ratios whilst the AC/LC and AC/HB preds can shore up either anti-tank or anti-infantry whilst not being a points sink and sacrificing little duality.
So the best armies have multiple options at every FoC slot to deal with multiple threats and more often than not this can be included in a single unit. Armies that are weaker don't have those options (and thus generally have mono-builds) or can't build as much duality into their lists. This means other armies will generally be able to target what the biggest threat to them first and thus neutralise it compared to an army with duality where no such targets can be picked out. This becomes target saturation.

What I explain here to many will sound like dealing with the metagame but since everyone has access to the internet and 40k can build balanced lists which can beat any other list out there...well there is not metagame because there is no advantage by knowing what is commonly strong. If you do it to your local area to counter marines or Orks for example that's tailoring.

So outside of these basic principles what else does an army in 5th edition need to account for? A concept I’ve touched on a lot with this blog is fire suppression. This is a concept which is often underappreciated online particularly with armies who don’t have good pure anti-tank (such as Tyranids). Fire suppression in 40k 5th is all about stopping tanks from damaging you next turn whilst anti-tank is all about stopping the tank. The difference here is anti-tank generally uses higher strength and AP1 weapons whilst fire suppression uses weight of fire. Whilst fire suppression will inevitably kill tanks, it’s all about minimising your opponent’s ability to affect the battlefield. Whether this is simply shaking them to stop them shooting, destroying their weapons or stopping their movement through stunned/immobilised results, by slowing your opponent’s tanks, you are more able to enact your battle plan as you are more able to control the board.

So how is this done in an army list? Some armies do it better than others (I.e. Tyranids) as it’s built into their army books but what you are looking for is medium strength weapons with high rates of fire, good ranges and which are reliable as possible to hit. Such units include MP/PR crisis suits (which are also very good anti-infantry units), Riflemen dreads (who are functional as anti-infantry units), Hydras, etc. They either have so many shots or they are TL’d with good moderate strength weapons which are therefore very likely to do SOMETHING. Your meltaguns are your primary anti-tank but things like auto cannons/missile launchers/etc are there to slow your opponent up from T1.

Another uncommon concept is sacrificial/bubble-wrap units. Bubble-wraps have been covered on this blog before here but little has been said about sac units. In a good list built around duality and duplicity, every unit is expendable (there are obviously more important units than others but a single unit dying shouldn’t change your game plans drastically) but in most lists there should be units you are happy to lose to gain a turn to affect the board. Whether this is a speedbump against assault units, a blocker to slow down an army/unit or simply a screening unit, an army which has the ability to sacrifice a lot but still win is going to come out on top more often than not against an army which relies on a lynchpin.

A concept fundamental to mech is mobility and due to its inherent nature within mechanised lists, is often over-looked during army composition. This is another reason why I believe armies like Tyranids are un-appreciated online. All mech lists are obviously fast so when you are not meching up (I.e. Tyranids, hybrid, BA jumpers, cavalry, etc.) if you aren’t fast (I.e. Pods) you are on the backfoot. This is why lists such as non-mech BA and SW can be very competitive, they can keep up with the mobility of mech’d armies. These are generally the type of armies that also place more importance in fire suppression (I.e. Long Fangs) so they can reduce the advantage mech enjoys until they get start bashing in their grills.

Finally a concept that should be familiar to everyone, Troops and scoring. Two thirds of 5th edition missions are objective based and only Troops can score. I’ve given a common rule of thumb of one troop per 500 points but this is obviously flexible, certain lists can do with more and certain lists can deal with less. But it again becomes a trade-off. Troop choices often have worse point efficiencies in terms of damaging output compared to other FoC slots. You therefore need to consider the trade-off between potential output and scoring ability. The 1 Troop/500 pt guideline is a good rule of thumb for this trade-off but it obviously depends on the army and army type.

So when taking all of these concepts into account and making a list that maximises them to the best of the book’s ability whilst maintaining a balanced theme is going to give you a good list. It seems like a lot to take in early but once you use these guidelines whilst making your own lists a few times, you’ll get used to them. Look at certain lists where I explain my reasoning behind my choices (Stelek does this too at YTTH and some others like GWvsJohn have done it here). It highlights some of the concepts used to make better lists.

6 pinkments:

Messanger of Death said...

Great article that is something worth pointing out to those entering the hobby or interested in improving their army lists. However:
"Two thirds of 5th edition missions are objective based and only Troops can contest."
Don't you mean only troops can score ;)

Messanger

The_King_Elessar said...

Good article, I'm adding it to the 'Further Reading' of my 'Making the FoC work for You' post. :)

Chumbalaya said...

Awesome post. Now if I ever want to hop on the "how to build your army" bandwagon, I can just link to this :P

Kirby said...

>.< thanks Messenger, my yesterday posts apparently were riddled with silly mistakes like that! lol.

What bandwagon? lol

GWvsJohn said...

Great post Kirbs (funny how it has the same # of letters, but feel shorter, even typed)

One other thing I always try to work into a list is "forced choices" I try to include units with different roles/threat levels, but similar levels of defense. Having 2 Riflemen and 2 Tactical Rhinos is a perfect example. Now my opponent needs to think about where to send his s7-8 weapons. The Riflemen are more killy, while the tacs are more claimy (and more killy against things like genestealers in the open) Any time I can force my opponent to make a non-obvious choice, there's a chance he'll choose wrong. That's more chances for me to gain an advantage.

These forced choices are why the new "hybrid" marine armies work. Regular Assault Marines are anti-infantry fodder while AT can hit the rhinos/dreads speeders. FNP Assaults are a different story. They draw more high str, low ap fire than a regular squad, forcing choices :)

Kirby said...

Damnit GWvsJohn don't give away my next posts! lol

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