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Thursday, November 18, 2010

Foot/Mech (pure) or Hybrid Armies?

As another new codex settles into our 5th edition love-fest I’m sure many of you have realised GW has given us another book which not only has multiple options in each FoC slot which leads to multiple army builds but multiple army types. Since 5th edition has been unleashed, each codex GW has released has been generally quite adept at doing particular army styles but also highly capable of doing divergent styles effectively. Highlighting the examples of the “worst books” would be SM (1st released) which is really Mech [Hybrid being very limited], Bikers or Drop Pods (which is still 3 completely divergent styles each with multiple armies beneath them) and Tyranids who are basically foot and reserve based armies only (and do we really expect Mech from an organic army...?), again with multiple lists under these headings. These are still good books who can produce multiple armies which compete very well. So the take home message is this: GW has now given us six new books to play around with and waste our life savings on, all of which offer up a very extensive amount of viable lists but importantly, a wide range of army styles.

What then does this mean and why the hell am I talking about this? It means you’ve got choice. Lots of choice which raises the age old question; what’s best? Should I go pure-mech to take the maximum advantage of armor in 5th edition and essentially have ‘two armies in one?’ Pure foot to get the maximum advantage of assuming my opponents are gearing for mech armies and having more models than my opponent can even contemplate? A mix of both which leaves me somewhat vulnerable to all shooting from an opponent but when done properly offers me the greatest flexibility? Heady questions indeed; let’s see if we can provide further information on them (incoming long article).

Before we go further I’m going to pre-face this. I think every list style, hybrid, foot and mech, are all excellent choices when done right and can be done right by multiple armies (including some older books like Tau, Eldar and Witchunters; but let’s not get into that argument). I’m also going to assume all army styles are good, balanced and competitive armies unless otherwise noted and I don’t want this to dilvuge into “no my army is better” or “this army is competitive” hullabaloo. The article is looking at very general and over-arching army styles (so no mech versus foot arguments either please!).

And this leads me to my definitions. Whilst we are assuming all lists are balanced and competitive (and both mech, foot and hybrid lists can do this) and we’ve covered what I mean by this before, what are pure and hybrid armies? This is my definition and you may find some variation across the internet or disagree yourself. Effectively hybrid armies combine units with an armor value and units with a toughness value who are not always shacked up in a transport in the same army, whilst pure armies focus on one particular aspect of 40k (i.e. all armor value units [this includes units shacked up inside transports] or all toughness value units). No I’m not calling mech anything that moves fast or has a high toughness value, it’s clean and simple and whilst some pure lists such as Tyranids have quite a few critters akin to tanks in terms of target selection, they operate differently and thus I define them differently.

So, pure lists have one major advantage over Hybrid lists. In order for any list to be balanced, it must be able to deal with both extremes of the pure list. That is to say it must be able to deal with a lot of tanks on the table and a lot of infantry on the table and anything in between (i.e. popping the tanks and dealing with the infantry army within, Hybrid, etc.). This means a balanced list needs both extensive anti-infantry and anti-tank (amongst other things) whilst not handicapping the other; otherwise it is unable to deal with a particular army style. If it gears towards extensive anti-tank or anti-infantry in an attempt to be fluffy, metagame/tailor, etc. it becomes inherently imbalanced and although it can deal with the specifically tailored pure list, the opposing list will have a field day with it. This gives pure lists an inherent advantage in that some of the balanced lists’ guns are essentially useless and it is unfeasible to consider a balanced list has the firepower to reliably table a pure list. In the end there are just too many tanks or infantry to actually kill every single one. Yes balanced lists can still beat pure lists (obviously) but pure can create a larger army efficiency discrepancy depending upon what list they are playing against. For example, an Ork horde couldn’t care less how many lascannons you have whilst an Eldar mech army just laughs at the expense you paid for flamers. Sure both of those guns can come in use (lascannons can instant death things and cause wounds; flamers are very efficient at taking down those 5 man squads of pointy ears) but they are less efficient than versusing a hybrid list or a pure list of the opposite demeanour.

However, pure lists have the same issue against other pure lists; some of their weapons are less useful as they also have to run both anti-infantry and anti-tank weapons. Furthermore, some pure lists don’t exemplify this discrepancy as effectively (i.e. most balanced Tyranid lists have prime targets for anti-tank called big-bad-assed-dudes). However, overall pure lists do gain some advantage out of this due to efficiency discrepencies but when those lascannons and flamers are still killing units, I don’t imagine one will console oneself with “well at least it didn’t kill a Land Raider/15 guys.” Your guys are still dying after all (we all have deep empathic connections with our minis right?). This is all about playing what's on the table and the real advantage for pure lists in this sense is they aren’t Hybrid and have much easier army composition (easier to make lists for).

Again, this isn’t to say Hybrid lists are bad but target priority becomes easier in both directions. For example, some units have duality but are mediocre against one type of unit (i.e. Dakka Preds are good anti-infantry but so-so anti-tank) and against a pure list, these units can sometimes be weak links in an army (i.e. Dakka Preds against Mech Eldar). Although they still perform some role, they are generally well down on your opponent’s target priority list. However, a Hybrid list offers up targets to everything from the word go. The same Dakka Pred can target infantry from T1 if it wishes or can use its duality function to lend weight of fire/suppression to the anti-mech firepower of the list. This not only means its offensive output is greatly improved but the target priority of the Predator has increased and it can become harder to discern what order the Hybrid army should aim to eliminate threats in. Not a huge problem but certainly something to be considered. Remember also Mech lists ‘suffer’ from this issue as the game develops and their juicy insides get exposed.  

So army composition. Pure lists are just easier to build. You don’t have to manage your infantry or mech numbers and make sure you have saturation in both. You’re simply foregoing one aspect of an army to maximise numbers in the other. Easy. Whilst this might seem a minor thing for a new player it’s a lot more attractive to simply build an army around 100 Orks or 6 Predators than combining the two (yes Orks and Predators). When building a Hybrid list you need to make sure you have enough infantry and mech to make it a worthwhile investment (60 infantry and 2 tanks means 2 dead tanks whilst 10 tanks and 5 infantry means poor scoring in a mech list). You’re paying points and FoC slots to diversify so you must take advantage of this and when you do, you will pretty much always have the tool for the job. Whilst balanced pure lists are also obviously flexible, Hybrid lists, although vulnerable to problems with target priority, have a lot more options available to them and this is where Hybrid lists ‘sell.’

This gives hybrid lists the best of both pure world’s; they have the survivability and often mobility of mech combined with the ‘cheapness’, lack of shake-locking and combat ability of infantry (yes that’s very simplified). The trade-off as discussed above is that Hybrid lists have easier target priority against them and can find it harder to prioritise targets against them. Whilst experienced players may not have as much difficulty with the latter, the former is still viable for opponents. For example, a Hybrid list is more likely to have appropriate disruption due to access to both vehicle disruption (i.e. blockers, deepstriking tanks) and foot disruption (i.e. outflanking units) whilst a pure list has only one or the other. A Hybrid list has more deployment options thanks to more unit types and therefore has more movement (i.e. LoS blocking to infantry) and shooting options. A Hybrid list is also a lot harder to suppress than a pure list as you need to shake-lock tanks as well as engage in infantry units in combat whilst a pure list is vulnerable to one or the other happening to them against the appropriate lists. Etc.
So what does this long block of text mean? Well basically neither army style is better or worse than any other. Yes pure lists have advantages depending upon their specialisation (mech or foot) which can give them advantages in efficiency and target priority compared to hybrid lists as well as inherent bonuses relating to their specialisation (mech versus foot arguments). On the flip side, whilst Hybrid lists are a bit harder to build/use and can provide easier target priority to your opponent, they are generally more flexible and can combine the strengths of both pure army types. Ultimately, these sets of advantages and disadvantages are just the tip of the iceberg (remember, we basically boiled down every single list in 40k to two labels and do you get the picture now huh?) in 40k army list analysis and design but should provide more information and help with list-building in general. 

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