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"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

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Space Wolves - Asking the Questions That Matter In List Design, Part 2

Note: I use a lot of very dominant wording in my articles, as ever these articles reflect my own views of the game just as every author out there does through their own work. There is no right or wrong way to play, there are better ways and there are alternative ways to achieve the same goal. If you have issue with how I am presenting the articles, man up and look past the wording to the core concepts being communicated and extrapolate them to your own game. Note 2: Some people demanded a better scale of picture of me, hence this one from 3.5 years ago with me slouching in front of a tank of some sort at paintball.


In my introductory article, I presented two differing excerpts from a Space Wolf army and how they were written in the army list. The difference being the player who splits their Wolf Guard (WG) off to several units in the list itself and the player whom keeps the WG as a single entity. The point which all of one commenter got with this was that on the one hand you have the player who splits his Wolf Guard off to all the units as standard without variance in that list all the time regardless of whether or not those roles and those combinations are actually the best suited roles and combinations for the army against the enemy army. The Player who keeps his WG in a single unit is more inclined to look at the army in a flexible mindset allowing for adaptation from game to game in how they assign their WG to best counter the enemy army list. It is true that some armies have but one way to set up and displace their Wolf Guard, but these armies are bland and predictable, I look at them and know what to target with my target priority off the bat, how to best counter them because they are 2-dimensional and predictable. As an opposed general you will know where the WG go in any case, but the Space Wolf Player gets to make their mind up at the start of every game based on what their opponents list is comprised of (explored more below). We're not playing another marine list where units are fixed in stone, we're playing space wolves and space wolves are an ever changing force allowing the general at their head to play a much more flexible army off of the same army list time after time without change. This is essential in a Tournament Setting. In this article, I look at Wolf Guard in a bit more depth, in particular focusing on the multiple roles that each individual Wolf Guard model should be able to perform during a game and how each role that particular WG is assigned to will affect the play style and approach to each individual game despite being the same army list.

But First, Some Abbreviations!

People complain about the length of my articles, I've limited that somewhat by splitting this into many shorter articles, but without the abbreviations it starts to get longer and longer really fast. As AbusePuppy stated previously, when you play 40k long enough and you start to know what other amries can use, youc an predict the shorthand and more, shorthand becomes an easy an acceptable norm of list writing. People will complain either way so you all get stuck with Abbreviations.

Grey Hunter = GH
Wolf Guard = WG
Long Fang = LF
Rune Priest = RP
Meltagun = MG
Combi-meltas = CbM's
Power Armour = PA
Tactical Dreadnought Armour aka Terminator Armour = TDA
Cyclone Missile Launcher = CML
Power Weapon = PW
Power Fist = PFist
Storm Bolter = SB
Bolt Pistol = BP
Close Combat Weapon = CCW
Chooser of the Slain (CotS)
Living Lightning = LL
Jaws of the World Wolf = JotWW

Where Do We Start?

So this is where we want a game of Warhammer 40,000 and we have a space wolf collection and want a game, so sit down and start writing an army list. We're aiming to make a very flexible all comers list that is competitive and can compete with anything the enemy throws at us, so making a list that is MSU Mech minded isn't going to necessarily be the best solution. Whilst several reputable sources on the internet would have you believe that MSU unit spam redundancy is a core and unyielding principle to good list design, and whilst in many cases it is, this is not the case as a whole and most certainly not as a definitive model for list construction. What does MSU Mech spam do Vs a massive horde army for example - many people laugh it off and say they can handle a horde army with all their flamers and can't be touched in their metal boxes, and if this is the case why do people like Kirby win with Tyranids or Orks where they have a horde force either at the start or as soon as the Tervigons start crapping out termagant units? In a nutshell, it's because a lot of these so called epitomes of list design that the internet proclaims as the be all and end all of an army are predictable. Everybody runs them and so the odd player who looks at the game differently or plays outside the box will beat these armies with armies which 'shouldn't' beat them. Predictability in an army is a weakness.

I've digressed somewhat. We've sat down and we want to make an all comers competitive list because we don't know what our opponent is going to be bringing. We've settled on a points limit and from here we have certain expectations as to what to expect - 2,000pts we're facing armies that get their cake and eat it too and have pie as well, whereas at 1500pts we've got many armies which have pie and cake but neither are very good or armies which are just cake and not pie based as well - and knowing this as a broad generalisation we are able to build a list accordingly. So where do we start is the first question? What do we want or does it matter what we take? How flexible do we want the army? What is our army's focus going to be if any? And as we sit here, more and more questions pop up, and for Space Wolves as players we get to start at some very common basics. We want a Rune Priest almost always and we are taking at least 2 units of GH's, and preferably a unit of WG. And then we start asking ourselves more questions, specifically 'Well, I have a wolf guard unit so I can assign 2 to the GH's but if I take 3 more I can unlock a heavy weapon and a CML is quite nice and so are Combi-meltas (CbM's) because this gives me lots of melta redundancy, so how is my unit going to be set up to maximise the effectiveness of it and indeed do I want to or need to split it off to the other units?' What type of transports if any is usually the next question that springs to mind, but this falls back to the question of what is the army's focus?

Continuing this theme, we will look at the TDA (Tactical Dreadnought Armour aka Terminator Armour) Wolf Guard (WG) with Cyclone Missile Launcher, Power Weapon and Storm Bolter (CML+PW+SB). Why are we taking this guy? Generally for more mobile fire support. Being in TDA he is able to move and fire both the 2 frag or krak missiles and his SB each turn and so he becomes very flexible and indeed assault driven in his movements at times. But then we need to ask where are we going to assign the CML WG? What army are you facing? Is he better in a GH unit that deploys on the board and acts as fire support? Or is he better off in a Pod dropping into a ranged fire support role on a flank? Do you have 2 TDA CML WG? If they have a Pod with their WG unit they can drop on a flank as an example because your opponent car park refused flank deployed and you have 4 krak missiles that can fire off the drop from the other end of the board where you dropped into their side armour (it's like a 4th Long Fang unit that can fire on the drop!). What about if you are facing very heavy artillery guard for example, you get the first turn or second, is that CML guy better in a DP with the GH's dropping in at point blank for a melta shot/2 Krak missile shots into the enemy armour up close? Or is he better with a pure WG unit doing the same thing except with more melta? At all points of levels, I do not recommend you putting a CML in with your long fangs. If you want to listen to stupid players then do that, plonk your extra fire support in with all your eggs and don't complain when the LF's get wiped out first or second turn and you have no missile support left. The Character Assignation amongst units is VERY Important. It is the flexibility that makes SW's as an army so horrendously powerful because you can assign your support elements anywhere in the army that allows you to have a WG, so use and abuse this according to who your opponent is.

Now, in the past Kirby has touched on the use of WG within a Space Wolf army, looking at the importance of getting leadership 9 within your Troop units as well as the option for more special weapon shots within units such as GH's as well as being a better body for close combat weapons within these squads due to the cheaper cost price as well as the extra attacks. For many, the standard Wolf Guard load out is Power Armour (PA), Power Fist (PFist) and Cbm, because in many cases it is the best bang for the buck. But this isn't true all the time and certainly whilst the flexibility of a PFist for combat punch and another (one use) melta shot for a unit with one or more meltaguns is great, a melta role is just one of many a WG can and does fulfill.

In the introductory article within the comments, one poster responded that the PFist+CbM WG in PA is the standard that WG are taken at 90% of the time. So let's look at this guy - is he good in a Scout unit with an MG? Yes, he's quite great there because it gives the unit that option for double melta on the turn they arrive but sometimes double melta isn't as handy as having a good charge with massed Bolt Pistol (BP) & Close Combat weapon (CCW) attacks alongside 3 PFist attacks to murder units or support elements not armoured vehicles. What about in a GH unit with an MG? Again, quite useful with larger squads benefiting more from the combat punch and survivability he adds. Is he good in a GH unit with a flamer? Well yes for the combat punch but his CbM has no redundancy in the unit and so loses a heck of a lot of the striking power that a unit with 1 or 2 melta weapons already in it would gain from this guy. Is he good in a Long Fang (LF) unit as a bullet catcher? At 43pts that's pretty steep where a naked 18pt WG in PA would fulfill that role far better and where a WG in TDA with SB+PW fulfills the role massively better because of the survivability of the 2+ armour save against ap 3 weapons which the LF's die instantly to (e.g. Krak Missiles) and so the 33pt naked TDA WG is a far better choice here then the 43pt PFist+CbM PA WG, and okay, the LF unit has a Rhino to move in onto the board in some missions, as a bullet catcher the naked PA WG at 18pts is far better than the CbM+PFist WG in PA. What about in Blood Claw biker units (Swift Claws)? They aren't used often it is true but some people do like to pull cover shenanigans with a character with Saga of the Hunter attaching to a Turbo-Boosted Biker Unit to provide a very nice 2+ cover save fodder unit for a flank attack push or to bubble wrap their main advance providing cover for the entire main line advance whilst still having a superior cover save themselves. The CbM+PFist WG makes the Bikers completely unable to move more than 6" a turn and so no turbo boosting to gain that combo-turbo boost fun. The same can be applied to joining this chap to a sky claw unit (look, at 180pts they are a fast fodder unit which do have uses, they aren't used often, but on occasion they can be handy in the right list). What about in a unit of WG with CbM's and PFist because well this guy is used 90% of the time and is the best bang for the buck the WG can offer. On foot it's a unit of guys that pack the survivability of a Space Marine with the cost of a Terminator each, in a Rhino that's cool but once those meltas are gone (one shot weapons and all) they have to hop out and do damage in combat but oh no PA and striking last, how long will they last? What about in a suicide melta role with a Drop Pod (because mobility isn't just about tanks you know - mobility is all about delivering your unit to a point where it can maximise its' damage, and drop pods do that fantastically well with one use weapons!)? Well you drop in pop off the melta shots then instead of being an annoying side unit to throw some grunts at and kill off over the next few turns your guys have PFists and are an ongoing threat rather than a thorn that can be forgotten and used later on in support and so they should die in your opponents turn. I think we can all recognise by now that whilst the CbM+PFist WG in PA is a nice character, he isn't the be all and end all of the WG. He can jump into many roles within a list but he won't fulfill them as well as others. But this begs the question what then is optimal? Like definitively what is optimal for WG? And on the flip side what is Sub-optimal?

Once you have YOUR optimal load out, can that WG be used in multiple roles within your army to suit multiple different units and different roles to at the least a good degree and are they worth the points then or is there another WG load out you could take for that role that is better optimised and can also fulfill other roles within the army as a whole as well? What about points cost factors for this optimisation of roles? Each army is different, and at smaller points levels especially you don't have the luxury of always taking all the WG you want, so building in layers of flexibility is especially important here and why the WG w/CbM+PFist in PA isn't always the best tool for the job and definitely not 90% of the time either.

Lets jump to other characters. The same approach of questioning can be applied to your Independent characters, such as a Rune Priest - is it better to be in a rhino unit closing the range with the rest of the army such that the staff can dispel any powers directed at your force as it closes the range? Or is it better to sit back in a rhino in support and popping off Living Lightning (LL) every turn as yet another source of long range fire suppression? Is it better to stagger the movement a bit slower to allow you to use LL from the top hatch whilst gradually pushing your force as a whole into the enemy? Are you game enough to try a first turn pod dropping with Jaws of the World Wolf (JotWW) because your opponent lined up all their monstrous creatures in a neat row and if you are lucky your Rune Priest is going to kill at least one critter worth at least 160 points and up to 265pts or more which would otherwise be a huge threat to your force overall for the rest of the game (also, very handy against rows of Hive Guard who aren't Monstrous Creatures but are a mere Initiative 2 and so 2/3's of the time are removed from the board when hit with JotWW)? Is your Rune Priest wearing Terminator Armour and carrying a combi-melta alongside a Chooser of the Slain (CotS) because sometimes LL just doesn't cut it but an additional BS 5 melta shot does? If so is this RP being podded in with a GH or WG unit? Or what about in a less seen set up attached to support Long Fangs dropping in with a second or third pod to start to wipe out the units deployed on the extreme flank with a CbM from the RP+WG attached to this unit of LF's where the Pack Leader also has a Meltagun thus allowing the unit to fire off 3 melta shots on the drop then support the army in future turns by acting as a distractionary force or fire support for the rest of the army moving in to support them? What role is your Rune Priest playing primarily and what roles can he play as secondary or otherwise? In what way will each of these roles and where you assign him affect your army as a whole? In what ways do the differing WG attachment load outs then determine the effectiveness of your RP placement?

This is the key underlying principle of the SW codex and of space wolf list design to my mind - the questions of flexibility of roles within the army of each character whether an Independent Character or an attached Wolf Guard and how these differing roles in differing combinations will affect your army as one body during that particular game. It isn't an easy thing to do but the ultimate aim is to build in multiple layers of uses and strategies that your army can perform off of the same basic army list every single game, combining together into a multi-layered, tactically flexible and cohesive list. The word predictable should not be able to be applied to your army. Flexibility and redundant unit roles across multiple locations on the Force Organisation Chart though should be paramount words you can use to describe the army. And we'll look at these in more depth next article.

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