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Monday, October 10, 2011

Warhammer 40,000 - Playing at different point levels

This stems from this thread where Raziel asked if we could put a further emphasis on 1750 point lists. This is a general reply to most of the comments regarding 1500. It is my general opinion that 40k works best between the point levels of 1750 and 2000. Whilst 40k may be play-tested at the 1500 level or not (or may even be designed for that), the greatest balance I find is between 1750-2000 points and I prefer to play my games in that range. I will address why I believe this is the case and some misconceptions about list building at 1500 and 2000. I will preface this by saying I’m not saying 1750-2000 points is the right and only way to play 40k – I just believe the system works more appropriately at this level (regardless of whether or not GW intended for this to be the case).

We’ll start with why I believe 40k is best played between 1750-2000 and it’s a simple answer – it unlocks the most balanced builds. Think of it like a normal population curve with 1750 and 2000 points being within half a standard deviation of the average and 1500 and 2500 being more than a standard deviation away. There is balance at those levels but there is a lesser degree of balance. As I said in the previous post, what I generally mean by this is it’s easier to build a list at those point levels that can take advantage of your opponent. Again, in extreme cases such as 500 or 1000 points, taking something like ten tanks or 100 infantry is going to be impossible for some armies to deal with, whilst a cinch for others (who will have issues dealing with the opposite number). This is where rock-paper-scissors comes into play as well as an actual metagame – you can’t build balanced lists whilst you can at the 1750-2000 range.

Let’s look back at the Force Organisation Chart. The vast majority of lists many authors on this site build max out the FoC between the 1750-2000 range. Some armies such as Imperial Guard are ridiculously good at maxing out the FoC and then improving their army (thanks vehicle squadrons and Infantry Platoons) but most other armies max their FoC and stop scaling well. This is personal opinion but to me that’s good game design. The rules give you a set of parameters and a vast majority of good lists reach those parameters between a set points limit. To me that indicates that points limit (which is generally between 1750-2000) is where you want to play your games. Again, this isn’t to say DO NOT PLAY OUTSIDE OF THIS RANGE but rather that 40k works best at this level. Obviously if you don’t believe in the type of list design the majority of us do here at 3++ you’ll find lists don’t max out the FoC until very high point levels but a combination of MSU and larger squads will generally see you nearing full FoC by 2000 points if not earlier (see my Mech Marines again).

Again, at the 1500 level this concept of balance is still possible, but to a lesser extent than the 1750-2000 points range and you can see this in how different point levels affect different list types. For example, rock lists become much more “win big or lose big” at 1500 because you cannot double up the rock. Take a double TH/SS + Land Raider list. The basic premise of the list (10 Terminators, Librarian, 2x Land Raiders) takes up over 1000 points of your army. At 1500 this leaves you just under 500 points for support and Troops – not going to work. Even at 1750 this isn’t really going to work. At 2000 points this leaves you with just under 1000 points for support and Troops – workable. This is where list scaling comes in and whilst some lists can move up and down point levels quite easily, some cannot and you’ll find the vast majority work at the 1750-2000 point range.

This brings me to a point I’d like to counter in that “building lists is harder at 1500 as you have less options.” Not really. It’s harder to build certain lists, such as rocks, and build them well but this can be said of any point level in reference to specific builds. If I max out the Force Organisation Chart at 1500, how am I supposed to build that list at 1750 or 2000? Same with maxing the FoC at 1750 in relation to 2000? If I’m taking nine Carnifexes and five Tervigons at 2500 and looking to overwhelm my opponent with T6 monsters and lots of little gribblies and simply forego shooting, how am I to scale this down? Otherwise it’s pretty much the same concepts applied differently or with difference weightings. Let’s take my 1750 Mech Marines for example. A very easy list to scale down – drop a Dread, Pred and Speeder and you’re at 1470 points with your Elite, Fast Attack and Heavy Support choices being dropped from 3/3 allowances to 2/3 allowances used but you've maintained your Troop numbers. Scaling up on the other hand – well that’s more difficult as you only have extra Troops and an HQ slot to fill. You can expand the Speeder squadrons or grab another Tactical squad and that’s about it so you generally have to make some changes (i.e. Devastator squad in place of a Predator, Terminators in place of a Dreadnought). What about my 1750 T6’R’Us Tyranids? Drop a T-Fex and bang – 1485 points and hell, it’s probably a better list at that level as the Tyranids have only lost one MC whilst most lists will have to lose a fair amount of lascannons/missile launchers which hurt Nids a lot.

Yes you have to be frugal at 1500 and have less toys but the same can be said of higher point levels. You can’t have every goodie in the codex or you just get a bad list. At 2000 points for example I can say I’ll have three of those, three of those, three of those, one or two HQs and however many Troops I want (the more, generally the better). At 1500 I say the exact same thing but replace the number three with two. Yes this is way over simplified and anyone who builds a list like that should be spanked but I hope you get the gist. The major difference between 1500 and 2000 points in terms of list building is taking less optimal units has a greater impact upon your table-top play and sometimes you cannot build a list - you just don't have the points to do so (the most common concept here being rock lists generally just aren't viable at lower points as they are expensive units).

And this brings us to another point I’d like to counter. “1500 is more tactical.” No, just because you have less units doesn’t make the game more tactical. You may have less units to do certain roles but your opponent also has less units and therefore less targets and in return, less units which can hurt you. Yes tactical mistakes can have bigger impacts (i.e. you lose a squad) as killing whole squads/vehicles at that level is more difficult at higher point levels but at the same time, at higher point levels the opponent has more units with which to punish your tactical mistakes. Certainly you also have to maximise your usage of those units more so than at 2000 but not maximising your usage of units at 2000 points is just bad play. It’s an endless tug of war in relation to how things interact on the tabletop and the simple fact of the matter is – you’re playing the same game, it doesn't become more tactical at lower points. You may have a greater safety net and/or ability to recover at higher point levels but that doesn't make the game less tactical - in fact you could argue it's more tactical as your opponent has more chances to recover and thus force the issue more readily (and here we go back to the endless tug-of-war between the two).

Furthermore, there are some design constraints which are not changed between 1500 and 2500 such as board size (6’x4’) and missions. At 1500 6’x4’ is pretty damn big whilst at 2500 it’s pretty damn small. 1750-2000? Seems to fit better! Five objective missions at 1500? Many objectives are left all alone whilst at 2500 it can be hard to clear a space around any single objective. 1750-2000? Seems to fit a little bit more – there’s enough units to potentially hold all five objectives and enough units to contest objectives whilst not overwhelming the tabletop. This is particularly true of NOVA style missions and whilst they aren’t canon Games Workshop, they were certainly designed with a higher points total in mind.

All in all we get a system where design constraints such as the FoC, board size, missions, codex design (which leads to army design), etc. seem to encourage play at the 1750-2000 level. That's not to say playing at 1500 is bad (though I do believe anything below that really starts to get skewwy unless everyone is looking to take balanced lists) or even at higher points but rather I think a combination of factors end up making 40k games work the best between 1750 and 2000 points. That being said, I will try and place more emphasis on 1500 during my list building exercises and ensure I add in my 1750 thoughts. Even on lists which don't scale, I'll at least mention this and why and see if I (or someone else) cannot do list building exercises at 1500 and then work up, etc.

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