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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

Friday, December 9, 2011

Don't Trade Power for Perception

One of the things that I see done all the time that really bugs me is people making a really, really weird trade-off. Now, I am no stranger to making trade-offs in lists; in fact, that's basically the entire point of optimizing a list, because you are always trading one thing for something else. Maybe you give up anti-tank for mobility, or resilience for scoring presence, or whatever. In every case you have to weigh the benefits and drawbacks of each choice and what your list already possesses and try to determine if it's really a good idea or if you'd be better served with something else.

But what I don't understand is people trading something real for something imaginary, as in the case of "Sure I lose a bunch of attacks and can't move as far, but my opponents won't find the unit as threatening." Guess what? They're right; the unit is less threatening. It's a worse unit. Making your army worse is not a good thing.

There is value, certainly, in diversifying your threats- that is, avoiding putting all of your eggs in a single basket. You want every unit in your army to be threatening because that forces difficult target priority decisions on the enemy. But that's the key: you want EVERY unit in your army to be threatening. When you make a unit suboptimal "so the enemy sees it as less of a threat," unless you are making a major gain in threat elsewhere, you aren't helping yourself, you're hurting.

Balance your threats across an entire list, but make each of them as threatening as possible, and don't sacrifice raw power to do it. Never, ever count on psychological factors like "my opponents will underestimate this" or "most people don't realize how far the charge range is" or "the unit is surprisingly good." All of these are making one basic mistake: they're assuming your opponent is dumb and will play wrong. You don't need help to beat dumb opponents; you should be able to do that already. Maybe opponents will make mistakes, but you can't rely on this, because if you do it will come back to bite you in the ass fairly often. Leave room for your opponent to screw up, but don't count on it.

This is also often the case for classic "overpowered" units like Long Fangs, Psyflemen, etc. I've seen lots of people minimize, eliminate, or alter these units to be less effective because "everyone knows how good they are and goes after them." If you do this, you're only hurting yourself- you have no lessened your opponent's ability to "go after" your units, you've just deprived yourself of things worth "going after." If you have pre-killed three of the six members of your Long Fang squads because you only took two Missiles in each squad, I'm already on easy street because you've done most of my job for me. Did the 50pts you saved buy you something that was worth losing half of your long-range firepower for? I bet not. Are people going to choose to not shoot the remaining units? Nope, they're still gonna kill them off, they'll just be a little lower priority. You've only shot yourself in the foot to deny the enemy the chance to do so.

Unit effectiveness should always be your first and foremost concern. This can take lots of forms (mobility, toughness, firepower, flexibility, etc), but you should always, always prioritize this over imaginary effects. A powerful unit will always be able to exert its influence on the battlefield; it is a constant you can rely on. An opponent's perceptions, on the other hand, are largely out of your control. Don't weaken your list to try and change them; instead, rely on changing them by virtue of what your units can do in the game and you'll come out much better.

12 pinkments:

JTA said...

Don't take stuff that's not good. Got it.

BdaGamer said...

(I had a lengthy comment, but it would not post)

I will have to slightly disagree.

A units perception will and can effect its role of the battlefield. Deception is often an overlooked strategic asset not used. To acheive your lists aim sometimes you will have to take less "optimal" units, as the fit the specifi role of your army and its mantra.

But then again, I play Eldar and have a whole codex of sub-par units.

Chumbalaya said...

You wouldn't understand, AP, it's a finesse army. You just have to use it correctly.

willydstyle said...

@BdaGamer: you missed one of the major points of the article: an intelligent, experienced player will almost always be able to realistically evaluate the value of the units in your army, so deception fails to be a strategic asset against the players that you should be striving to do the best against.

AbusePuppy said...

>Deception is often an overlooked strategic asset not used.
>To acheive your lists aim sometimes you will have to take less "optimal" units, as the fit the specifi role of your army and its mantra.

Your second sentence is correct; you do need to match the units you pick to the roles your army needs to fill, not just take the "best" unit and assume it works. However, this does mean realistically assessing your options, and in the Eldar book that leaves you with... about two choices per FoC slot, at best.

Your first sentence there is why I wrote this article; you aren't fooling anyone when you do this. Deception is good. Making your army weak is bad. Taking Swooping Hawks instead of Fire Dragons "for the surprise value" is stupid. Please don't do that sort of thing. Your opponents will still be able to assess the threats your army poses to them and respond accordingly, which pretty much negates any advantage you might have gained.

Went Aqwer said...

I would say what BdaGamer is describing when he uses the word "deception" is actually "ignorance". I see the same word switch in chess all the time when discussing games with beginners.

To follow the Swooping Hawks/Fire Dragon example. No one is deceived by Swooping Hawks, but there are plenty of people ignorant about what they can do. Ignorance is usually solved with little effort.

SinSynn said...

LOL @ Chumby's comment.

I'm not sure how 'deception' really applies to 40k. If I know you're list, how are you going to deceive me?
Am I not gonna see those fast movers heading towards my flanks, not take steps to minimize the damage units arriving from reserve can do?

Throughout the game, I will choose my targets based on their threat level, and/or in order to enact my own 'plan.'
I appreciate it if my opponent chose lightweights over heavy hitters, fer sure!

Chapter Master Ignus Domus of the Iron Flames said...

Having a gameplan that's reliant on your opponent being stupid is normally a bad idea. If you encounter someone who's remotely experienced in your army, you enter the one trick pony problem, where they can counter it then destroy you. This is especially unhelpful in the top tables of tournaments, where it's pretty likely that your opponent knows what they're doing.

Luke Licens said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Luke Licens said...

Thank you, Abuse Puppy, for pointing out the elephant in the room. Sometimes, it takes Captain Obvious to oust Commander Oblivious.

My only truely 'regular' opponent is a statistician with about 5 more years of experience in the hobby than I have. He reads every codex, knows the strengths and weaknesses of almost every unit in the game, and is a great strategic thinker to boot. It's always an uphill battle, and the only times I've ever massacred him have been due to incredibly improbable rolls. (A lone Jump Cannoness shouldn't be able to take on a full seer council and survive, let alone win. That was a hell of a game.)

Needless to say, taking sub par units is just handing him a victory. He doesn't need the handicap, and I wouldn't insult him by bringing anything but my A game to the table.

algesan said...

Agreed, deception is part of the game, but it isn't funky units or concealing anything since your opponent has your list and can see where your toy soldiers are... it is how you deploy and move. Sometimes it is how you take your losses and time your assaults.

Good article AP.

Went Aqwer said...

People are substituting the word "deception" when the proper word is "ignorance" and ignorance is never a viable tactic.

Using less optimal units is not deceptive people, at best you make be taking advantage of their ignorance.

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