Kirb your enthusiasm!


"Pink isn't a color. It's a lifestyle." - Chumbalaya
"...generalship should be informing list building." - Sir Biscuit
"I buy models with my excess money" - Valkyrie whilst a waitress leans over him

Saturday, June 11, 2011

What makes an army good?

Inspired by a thing by Dave over at Gone to Ground and his (her?) musings recently after tromping an Ork army and posting a battle report about it.

So what does make a good army? I admit, I am something of an elitist snob in this respect. I'm not of the belief that there are any one (or two, or three, or fewer than a dozen or score) "best army" in the game, but at the same time that doesn't mean that there aren't quite a lot of armies that are simply head-and-shoulders above the others. Most Warhammer 40K players simply don't play good armies, and that's the simple truth of it. There's nothing wrong with this, because quite a lot of people aren't interested first and foremost in making their army the best it can be- they have other objectives for the game, and I have absolutely no problem with that.

However, that doesn't magically make those armies good, even if they've won. Even if they've won tournaments. Even if they've won 'Ard Boyz. I've said many times, but good generals can take an okay, mediocre or even bad army and win with it. Bad scenarios can reward otherwise-underwhelming list design. And even just plain ol' good (or bad) luck can bring a non-optimal list to the top of a competition. Good armies are born out of good list design and proper understanding of the way the elements interact; it's not simply whichever army happens to win a given event.

So how do we determine these mysterious "good armies," then? Well, if that were easy this game wouldn't be much fun, now would it? However, there are some good guidelines to assess an army and that can be used as criteria when making an argument on where a particular list ranks.

First up is the ability to complete missions. "Derp," one might say, but how many times have you seen a 2000pt list with only two troop units? More than a few, I'd bet. Good lists have the ability to score objectives, contest/deny enemy objectives, and compete on kill points- the fundamentals of winning a game in 5th edition. Note for the third part that simply having more/fewer KP than average does not tell us anything about a list-; minimizing KP often cripples a list in other ways, hence why MSU is viable- its ability to engage large numbers of targets and absorb firepower without loss of functionality trumps low-KP lists easily when played right.

Second is versatility. A good list should not have an auto-lose against any opponent, bar something unusually obscure. While it is normal for lists to have weaknesses (to varying degrees), one should try to avoid any particularly crippling or glaring ones and should especially avoid such vulnerabilities to commonly-seen opponents (such as major builds from the 5E books, etc.) Take-all-comers is the name of the game, because you never know what you're going to be up against.

Third is synergy. Does everything in the list work together as a cohesive whole? Does the list have a strong plan and several backup plans? Can it changes tactics to deal with different setups and opponents while still retaining its functionality? Good lists do not rely on any one "linchpin" unit, because such a weakness will be obvious to any competent general and consequently attacked and broken.

Last, but not least, is power. Some units, tactics, and wargear are simply better than others, and good lists take advantage of this where they can. Each codex has its own weak and strong points, and it is always advisable to play to these where possible- for example, most BA lists want to include Sanguinary Priests because they enhance both the offense and defense of your infantry models. Similarly, virtually every Ork player takes Nobz and Klaws wherever possible because they are very efficient upgrades that add greatly to the unit. Making best use of these "strong" options can be key to creating a good list.

These are universal list-building guidelines; they worked in 4E, the work in 5E and they will work in 6E once it comes out. More specific guidelines are also possible- for example, in 5E it is exceptionally important to consider how a list will deal with enemy vehicles, especially in large numbers, and how capable it is of maneuvering and countering enemy maneuvering.

I said earlier I'm a list snob, and I am. Browsing over any given blogroll, I'm usually lucky if one list in five that I see falls into the "I suppose I would be willing to take this to a tournament" category, not because I am picky about which armies I would play (quite the opposite, rather) but because many of the lists are, to my eyes, revoltingly unoptimized. When giving advice I tend to restrain this reaction because simply telling someone "your list is terrible and will never win" is not going to win any friends nor help them improve. Just as importantly, I try to consider what level of player (and play) I believe they are likely at- someone who is just starting out will have very different ideas of what "good" is (and will play very different opponents) than someone who is going to play at NOVA or another large tournament. Again, though- this doesn't change how good these lists are, only how I couch my suggestions and recommendations.

Some lists are just better than others; "preference" and "playstyle" have nothing to do with it. For the 5th Edition books, these lists are not terribly restrictive, all things considered- there are easily a dozen "good" builds or more out of each of the SM, BA, SW, IG, DE, and GK books. (Tyranids... has a few, but is pretty far behind the others, and it has only gotten worse over the past year thanks to a variety of factors. Sorry, 'Nid buddies, it's the truth.) Of these, perhaps 2-5 from each book could be considered "top" builds, incrementally more effective than the others, but not overwhelmingly so. The older books are more varied- some can field as many as half a dozen good lists, while others have one or none. Virtually none of the older books have more than one "best" list, although those that have one (not all do) are generally par with the 5E ones, just with less room for changes and tweaks. Below the "good" lists there is a huge ocean of possible builds, ranging from shit-terrible all the way up to lapping at the edges of good and all points in between; however, these gradations are definable and absolute rankings (within the purview of 5th edition play, as defined in the rulebook, FAQs, etc) do exist, even if there is not always agreement over exactly what they are and how everything is divided.

Follow us on Facebook!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...