Monday, November 23, 2009

On list building and how many units to take.

Blaine over at The Lord Commander Militant recently did an interesting look at the current victory conditions and how they shape the army building metagame. Post found here.

The short version: An army with less units will have an advantage in Annihilation battles that outweighs the disadvantage of having less Scoring units in Seize Ground.*

My response as to the reason for this? Control.

As it currently works, you only need 1 unit to control or contest an objective. Heck, if the objectives are close, one unit can even control multiple. In return, it only takes 1 unit to contest an objective too. Additionally, you only need to control 1 more objective than your opponent to score a "win".

Thus there's no real incentive to take more units for objectives games while KP benefits those armies that take less. What could balance this?
1. Stacking control/contest checks. Example: An objective has 3 units on it, 2 for player A and 1 for B, so control goes to A for having more units total.
2. Make winning an objective mission harder. Rather than only needing 1 to "win", require holding half or more. Thus Capture & Control still only requires holding 1 objective, but winning a 5 objective Seize Ground would mean you need 3. (Or do a tiered win system, but that only tends to matter in tournaments.)
3. Add in more missions/victory conditions. Table quarters, Loot, Assassination... there's lots of things that could open up the scope of missions beyond 1 KP and 2 objectives.
4. Go back to VP. KP was a cute idea to simplify victory calculation, but the reality is that it is a failure. There's just too many ways to exploit the rules advantageously.

Of course, the problem with any of the above is that they require a deviation from the main rulebook missions. This means they're relegated to the world of house-rules, tournament organizer choice, or 6th edition. Still, maybe if enough of us call foul, GW will listen. I'll be over here not holding my breath. :-p

*80 battle results isn't exactly a huge sample. Also, there's no mention made of special rules like Combat Squadding. Still, I think the findings show more deviation than these can account for... I don't think the final margin of advantage is exact, but it certainly exists.

**Image chosen in honor of Neil Gaiman and American Gods, where Anubis likes to use "a really heavy feather". A reminder that the system itself can have bias...

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Playing fair with conversions

Modeling to advantage. Ah, what a loaded concept. Want all your Fire Warriors to be able to see under a tank? Just model them all with kneeling legs! Want your Wraithlord to be able to get cover saves from Guardians? Just model him crouching or kneeling! Want to stop playing 40K? Just start modeling to advantage and watch yourself get banned from tournaments and lose all your opponents!

Yes, we know it happens anyways. It's sad the lengths that people will go to compensate for bad tactics. I'd think it easier to just learn how to play the game...

But what about the other side of the coin? What about those people who want to do something different, but are worried about being accused of modeling for advantage. A few days ago Enter the Nurgling was contemplating a certain problem: wanting to do a properly heroic base for a champion without people thinking it was modeling for advantage.

Being a rather avid fan of conversions myself, I shared my thoughts over there. Still, I thought it might be good to share here too with a few updates.
When doing a major conversion or base work:
1. Try not to increase (or decrease) the vertical height of the model's head by more than 1-3mm. So for example, a large rock can offset a partial crouch. After all, it's the final position that matters and not how they got there. In the same sense, also try to keep true to the general bulk and displacement of the original figure.
2. Having the base decoration extend off the normal circle is fine as long as it doesn't interfere with gameplay. Overflow shouldn't be anything too overly elaborate and the original base should be visible. It's also good to overflow in one direction only and to follow base overflow of the model itself.
3. Base decorations shouldn't be higher than mid-shin unless the model is interacting with it. The model should be the focus and not the base. (So a column just sticking out of the ground is bad. But one they're stepping up on, leaning around or otherwise "doing something" with is fine.)
4. Even if the base or conversion isn't that extreme, always be willing to swap the model out for a normal model of the same size. I've never had anyone ask me to do this, but the willingness is there if they do.

As an example of this, I offer up the conversion I did to my Farseer's jetbike. Even though it's a custom built conversion, it places the guy at exactly the same height as he'd be sitting on a normal jetbike.

Cheers and enjoy! More Space Wolf unit reviews and maybe actual content posts when I get back from a brief vacation!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Tactica: Reserves Denial

Yesterday I mentioned "An Autarch's Master Strategist making Reserves Denial more reliable" and Warhammer 39,999 rightfully pointed out that I was talking about something I've never mentioned on here. (Well, except maybe by inference.)

Reserves Denial follows a simple tenet: That which cannot be attacked cannot be killed.

I'd toyed with the idea in 4th edition, but the Reserves special rule was too irregular to really base a strategy on. It was one of those things that was situational and sometimes annoying, but not reliable.
Then out came 5th edition with Reserves in every basic mission. Reserves was suddenly reliable as more than just a tactic of opportunity. When combined with an Autarch's cumulative +1 on Reserves rolls, you could even base strategy off the idea...
At about the same time, the Space Marines codex had just released with the "new" Drop Pod Assault rules. Eldar have always been better at hitting hard but not really so much for taking a hit. Pods gave Marines a way to hammer Eldar lines up close and personal before the Eldar could whittle them down. There was a lot of debate on how to respond.
I'm sure I wasn't the first to talk about this idea, but I was certainly one of the early birds with this post. Rather than putting all your guys on the board to be slaughterd, why not hide them in Reserves for a couple turns? I called the idea Reserves Denial. Even though an Eldar list geared for this will be the master of this type of play, it can be a viable and even beneficial choice for any army. It's certainly a good tool for a player to have in their repertoire.

The advantages:
1. While in Reserves your units cannot be shot.
2. When everything is in Reserves, your opponent has nothing to deploy based on nor react to.
3. When entering from Reserves, you can react to the enemy deployment as you move onto the table. This allows you to match units to their best targets, concentrate firepower and generally take the initiative in the battle.
4. When entering from Reserves, you have the opportunity to strike before being struck in return. Heck, you might even have a chance to charge on the same turn.
5. It times perfectly with Outflanking forces.

The disadvantages:
1. You have less turns to accomplish your objectives.
2. You have to rely on Reserves rolls. Bad rolls can mean your army enters the board piecemeal.
3. You rely heavily on speed or having an opponent that comes to you.
4. It's usually pretty obvious when your army is geared to do this. There's several ways to counter it, especially by mirroring.

Why are Eldar the best at this?
1. Autarchs. A cumulative +1 on the Reserves roll is nice.*
2. Move & Fire weapons. Few things in the Eldar list cannot move and fire at full effect.
3. Speed. Eldar have Fast Skimmers, Fleet, Jetbikes and many other mobility advantages.
4. Anti-gravitics. It's theoretically possible to run a conga line of units down an entire edge and make someone unable to enter the board from Reserves due to the 'may not move within 1" of an enemy model unless charging' rule. Skimmers, Jetbikes, and Jump Infantry get to ignore this rule and can jump OVER enemy models.
5. Theme. Eldar are often referred to as a "glass hammer" army... that they hit really hard but shatter when hit in return. The background also supports a highly mobile form of warfare. This kind of play really is the Eldar bailiwick.

*A unit's cumulative chance to arrive is:
Normal: 50% Turn 2, 83% Turn 3, 97% Turn 4.
1 Autarch: 66% Turn 2, 94% Turn 3, 99% Turn 4.
2 Autarchs: 83% Turn 2, 97% Turn 3, 100% Turn 4.

***Image courtesy of r7ll's DeviantArt. Go check out his other stuff, it's NICE.***

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

FTW "Must Have" Unit

The bandwagon's usually where the beer's at, so I'll jump on! My "must-have" unit? 2 Troops and 1 HQ. That's it.

Say it with me: 2 Troops and 1 HQ. No, I'm not trying to cop out here. Yes, I know the request was for "[not] the compulsory choices we all have to take... [but] the one unit you always find a way to squeeze into your army, regardless of how well it does or how points effective it may or may not be."

When I'm designing an army list, I'm trying to make it as competitive as I can. That Chaos Lord I spent 60+ hours converting? That Autarch with the spiffy free-hand but sub-par wargear? Those Thousand Sons with the awesome background? All meaningless. I love the modeling, the Fluff, the stories, the camaraderie, and all of the other bits of this hobby... But at game-time, it is only about the logical exercise that it the game. When a unit goes into a list or is set on the table, it is nothing more than a playing piece.

Cold? Yeah, probably. But if I want narrative out of my 40k, I'll go play Apocalypse or Inquisitor. Would you play a game of chess and replace your bishops with pawns because pawns they have cooler background? Would you pass a good chance to checkmate because you don't want to risk your nicely painted rook? Making logical decisions based off emotional expectations is a good way to lose games.

Notably, this works both ways... you can manipulate emotional players by finding that "must-have" unit and defeating it. This is something I've talked about before on other sites, but can't find the article. So I'll just link you to Fritz's take instead.

Coming back to the original question, a different way to look at this would be as a strategic question rather than emotive. I'd originally written from this view, reread the request again, and decided it was more the emotive connotation. But since I'd written a bunch anyways, you're getting both non-answers. From a strategic bent, there's one thing that makes a show in all of my lists: Force Multipliers.

What is a Force Multiplier? Terran Forge touched on this recently, though classified purely within the aspect of HQs. Warhammer 39,999 comes from the other side, in the idea of units that balance out your list by creating a counterpoint. To me, a Force Multiplier is either of these, both and more. They are the catalyst; units or upgrades that creates an army gestalt and makes the whole greater than the sum.

Some examples:
1. A Farseer casting Fortune to buff defense while Doom and Guide increase offense.
2. An Autarch's Master Strategist making Reserves Denial more reliable.
3. Logan Grimnar for his unit buffs and change to the Force Org.
4. A Commissar stuck into a unit of Conscripts to mitigate their low Ld.
5. A Fire Dragon Exarch with DB Flamer, shifting the unit from pure anti-tank to something capable against infantry too.

Meh, there's more I could probably go into on this, but I'm easily distracted. So instead, go make yourself a better 40k gamer and human being by reading Danny Internet's latest articles.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Space Wolves: Logan Grimnar

Logan... a name simply synonymous with asskickery. Grimnar... what better name for the grim, dark, grimdark future where there is only war? The man, the myth, the Great Wolf. But does he stack up to the hype?

Right off the bat there's his cost: 275 points. One infantry model... that costs more than a Land Raider. He'd better do something pretty damn special for that level of investment.

Well, what can he do?
1. Take a hit.
Yeah, he's only T4... so it isn't THAT hard to hurt him. However, he also sports Terminator armour for a 2+ save and a Belt of Russ for a 4++ Invulnerable. Eternal Warrior keeps that pesky Instant Death at bay, so anything beating his armour will have to do so three times. Overall, not bad for an old guy. Throw him in the middle of a decent bodyguard and he's going to be a pretty tough KP to net.

2. Say hello at range.
A Storm Bolter and BS5 isn't flipping up many skirts. Still, every bit counts and it is good to note and remember.

3. Annoy Psykers.
His Wolf Tail Talisman gives that extra chance to shut down Mind War and other such annoying psychic attacks.

4. Maul entire units in CC.
His WS 6 is really just for show since the Wolftooth Necklace makes him always hit on a 3+. Throwing 5 base attacks that ignore armour is spiffy too. But the jewel is his versatility, given by having a choice to split any of his attacks between S5 I5 or S8 I1.

5. Acts as a force multiplier.
This is where he starts being more than just another pretty face.
a. Grants Stubborn to himself and any unit he's attached too. You shouldn't need it too often with his Ld10... but it certainly helps in CC or against pesky things like IG Psyker Battle Squads.
b. "The High King", allows him to confer Fearless, Tank Hunters, Relentless, or Preferred Enemy to himself and any unit he's attached to. Oh my, the options...
c. Saga of Majesty grant his unit and anyone else nearby gets a re-roll on failed Morale tests. Now we are talking Space Marines... actually paying for this upgrade may be of limited benefit. But you might as well use and abuse it with Logan as it comes as part of a package deal!
d. Then there's Living Legend giving an +1A to all friendly models within 18". Yeah, it only lasts the one CC turn, but a timely application can sway the course of an entire battle.
e. Last there's the one rule to ring them all: "The Great Wolf". This is just a small blurb sub-box only in the Army List section and is almost easy to miss. But the effect is a fundamental change to the army structure: allowing Wolf Guard as Troops. This opens up a whole field of options including WolfWing (Terminators as Troops ala Deathwing), Veteran Troops, Scoring Jumppackers, and many, many other things.

Some thoughts on when and how to use him:
1. When should he hit as a Power Fist instead of a Frost Blade?
a. When the enemy is going at I6+. If you're hitting last anyways, might as well hit harder.
b. When the enemy is at I5 and they're unlikely to kill him. If he can't kill them before they attack, then try to kill more of them.
d. Versus T5+ opponents. The only exception is when you need to risk getting lucky to kill them at I5.
c. Versus multi-wound models that are T4 base or less and don't have Eternal Warrior. Instant Death is your friend. Again, this is optional if you need to risk killing them at I5.
e. Against vehicles. Those 3 extra points of Strength make a huge difference to beat AV.

2. What skill should I get with "The High King"?
You have 4 options... let's look at each:
a. Fearless. Now any unit he's with already has Ld10, Stubborn, ATSKNF, and a re-roll to failed tests from Saga of Majesty... the advantage gained is minimal and/or situational only. It's an okay default if the other skills will do you nothing in your or your opponent's turn, but honestly kinda meaningless. It's actually a drawback in Close Combat, as if you lose the combat you'll suffer automatic No Retreat! wounds rather than testing versus Ld. Still, this might be nice if you're getting his with a bunch of negative Ld modifiers or other Ld test, such as against Psyker Battle Squads or Tyranids.
b. Tank Hunters. This one is fun and even worth strategic consideration when building your army. Some people advocate putting him with Long Fangs for this, as he can make them better anti-tank. Me? I say the Long Fangs should just pay for Lascannons or get melta weapons. The Chapter Master has better things to do... like get into CC. Now this ability paired with a nice squad of Termies sporting a couple Assault Cannons or Cyclone Missile Launchers? This is good family fun. Definitely worth using if your attached squad is opening up a tank. Don't forget, this bonus applies in Close Combat too.
c. Relentless. One gimmick advocated with this is putting a unit of Multi-Melta Fangs in a Drop Pod with Logan. Drop in, blast 2 tanks, enjoy! Downside? You're talking about quite an investment in hopes that your opponent gives you two tanks worth blasting. This is too situational for me. Plus, the legality is questionable. Logan's not in play at the start of the turn, so how can he choose an ability? I think it will get FAQ'd that it can be done, but be warned until then. UPDATE: The new FAQ does specifically allow this now. I think this skill is nice, but most units I'd want him with would have it anyways or won't benefit it. Still, it might be a nice trick to use with a bunch of Rapid Firing Grey Hunters, allowing them to still assault afterwards.
d. Preferred Enemy. He and his unit can re-roll to hit in CC with all failed to-hit? To quote the Kool-Aide man... OH YEAH! Using this ability on a nice sized CC unit is just brutal, especially with his other benefits. This is the skill I expect to see used and abused with regularity.
Now the nicest thing about The High King: "choose... at the beginning of each turn" and "[lasts] for the duration of that player turn". A quick check of the main rulebook, page 9 shows "Whenever a rule uses the word 'turn'... it means 'player turn'". So you get to declare The High King at the start of every player turn as best fits your objectives and who he is attached to. This kind of tactical flexibility can be priceless.

In the final analysis? He's a flavorful unit that really does bring a lot to the table. His cost is certainly still an issue. He'll be of limited return just slap him at the head of a normal Space Wolf force, especially at lower points values. However, if you craft a force knowing that he'll be in charge? He can be a major force multiplier and a sound investment. I expect him to be a common sight in the years to come.