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Friday, March 23, 2012

Back-to-basics: Gameplans


One of the most game defining aspects of most tactical games, and 40k is no exception, is devising a game plan. Along with deployment (an extension of your game plan), this is perhaps one of the most important aspects of the game we enjoy. If you're going into a game without any idea of how to beat your opponent or how to simply win the game (i.e. kill more, claim more objectives), you're going to have a hard time playing well.

A battleplan gives you a framework in which to base your actions upon and you should often have a basic battleplan for your army before you even see your opponent. The opponent and mission simply adapts the plan to what is most suited for that particular game. For example, an army list based on 24" firepower will want to get to midfield more often than not, particularly against ranged opponents. Against an aggressive opponent though, moving to midfield and then retreating or simply not moving into midfield dependent upon mission, is going to be an adaptation of this generalised strategy.

This therefore means to have effective battleplans you need to understand the strengths and weaknesses of your army. Without this understanding you cannot accurately identify the best ways to win for your army or how your opponent might exploit your weaknesses. Remember, a battleplan isn't just about getting the best out of your army but limiting your opponent's effectiveness as well. The individual who often creates the best differential here is going to come out on top, dice being equal. Applying these strengths and weaknesses to basic outlines of missions and army stereotypes will also limit the amount of pre-game thinking each time you sit down across an opponent. If you have basic batteplans for how your army deals with each mission type/deployment combination (and this is why it's important to practice before tournaments with different missions) and basic army types (i.e. combinations of mech spam, foot horde, hybrid, aggressive, shooty, really fast, high armor vs low armor, etc.) - you'll be far better suited to adapt a battleplan specifically to your opponent and thus have a better chance of doing well.

Now it's important to understand that no game/battleplan survives contact with the enemy (i.e. you start playing). I'm sure most people have heard this hundreds of times and it's certainly true. This means you need to be able to adapt on the go - your end goals are usually going to be the same (i.e. kill more than your opponent, capture more objectives, etc.) but how you go about them or how you stop your opponent from going about them will evolve. That's part and parcel of playing against another human - things change and you need to be able to change with them or be left behind. This is generally why battleplans are their most important in the beginning stages of the game and why deployment is so crucial. If you mess up your early movement or deployment or your opponent sets up to perfectly counter you, it's hard to recover. If you don't mess up early game however, that's when you have the greatest ability to put your battleplan into motion - the opponent is on the far side of the board from you and the opening moves can set up your own battleplan whilst dismantling theirs. The longer an engagement goes, the more adaptations your battleplan will undergo but for the initial turns and deployment, it should be defining what you're doing.

This is why battleplans need to be as simple as possible. Get to point A on the table. Neutralise portion X of opponent's army. Deny opponent point B on the table. Simple statements without specifics are more likely to be achievable with your opponent trying their best to stop you whilst also being adaptable. Rather, if you had complex algorithms which your army needs to achieve, it's far more influenced by poor dice, harder to adapt and easier for your opponent to disrupt. All bad things which are likely to give an advantage to your opponent.

Which brings us to predicting your opponent or reverse battleplans! If you are capable enough of to create a battleplan for yourself by identifying what's going on with your army and your opponent's army, you should be able to do so in reverse. By doing this you can integrate what your opponent is likely to be wanting to do into your battleplan in a way that best stops that. At the same time though, you don't want to be butchering your own battleplan unless you can completely neutralise your opponent's army. For example, if you're a shooting army and your opponent is a midfield army, move a unit or two forward to keep them out of midfield whilst the rest of your army keeps shooting. If you only had three shooting units though, running forward one or two as a block is going to give your opponent an advantage regardless.

The importance of a battleplan is also seen in how you improve yourself as a player. Being able to look back at your battleplan and how the game unfolded is often when you'll be able to pinpoint areas for improvement (or give yourself a pat on the back). If you completely abandoned your battleplan and got smacked around, more focus on maintaining the battleplan in the initial stages of the game would be the targeted area to work on. On the other hand, sticking to your battleplan and getting hammered would identify more work needs to go into pre-game analysis (or your list). That being said, all this needs to be taken into account with the dice as a factor. If you roll nothing but ones and lose dramatically, you don't need to go down to the foundations and re-write everything whilst if you roll nothing but sixes and clobber your opponent, don't get too cocky. Everything needs to be appreciated over a series of games and multiple opponents/armies. This will truly test your ability to devise battleplans, stick with them in the initial stages of the game and adapt them as necessary.

All in all - battleplans are pretty basic but will help you identify how your army wants to win against varied opponents in multiple situations. Keeping them simple and open for adaptation whilst attempting to limit the opponent's battleplan will result in an effective opening few turns and provide a point of reference when undertaking post-game analysis. These should be second nature, particularly once you are familiar with an army but when first starting out, go through your battleplan and what your opponent might be attempting to do each game and you'll see a marked improvement.

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