Friday, March 19, 2010

Making a good list

What makes a good list? I define a good list as a list that can win battles.

I've always viewed games as this: The point of the game is to have fun. The objective of the game is to win. Now since I come from a strong RTS background, there's only one outcome at the end of the game: You either win, or you don't. Victory or defeat. Winner or loser. There's no other way to really play a game with objectives otherwise. Now, I understand that wargaming is all about throwing dice, drinking a few beers and having fun, and I do that. But in the end of the day, you want to see your army victorious on the battlefield. You want to see that one Marine raise that flag ontop the corpses of your enemies. That's what the gaming aspect of Warhammer is all about.

Now, how do you accomplish that? How do you make a list that can slay your foes, capture objectives and emerge with enough collective bodies at the end of the game to claim victory? There's a method to that. Below, I will show you my mentality when constructing a competitive army list.

Before we start, these are some qualities that will help you in the long run:
  • A strong understanding of your army book.
  • A solid understanding of other army books.
  • A competitive spirit; the urge to improve; the ability to lose and learn.
Once you've got those things down, let's run through my checklist:

1. Pick a theme for your army.

Do you want shooty, CC or balanced? Let's look at the balanced 1750 wolf list I have posted before this. It's a very balanced list; with elements of shooting and CC mixed together. You want to make an army that fits your needs, that you're happy with and that you enjoy playing. No point looking at some army list on the internet and say.. "Oh! it looks like that'll win some games, let's play that!" No no, you don't want to go down that road. You want an army that defines you and your playstyle. Once that's decided, you'll have a much easier time focusing on the specific elements that'll make your army work. That's why balanced lists are often harder to construct: You can't just pick all the CC or all shooty stuff, you have to find a centerpoint where you have points left over for both.

2. Take advantage of your army's strengths.

You have studied your book well enough that you know what the optimal choices are.  Now let's make those fit into the theme for your army.  I know that Grey Hunters are amazing, but what do I want them to do?  I need them to hold the line once my opponent gets close enough to me.  I need them to be my jack-of-all-trades (which is a common thing you'll notice in Space Marines), so I configured them for that purpose.  Looking at HQs, I need someone who can support my army from afar and up close, so I chose to go with the Rune Priest.  If was playing Eldar, I would certain like a Farseer for that purpose as well.  Psychic abilities can only help you in battle.. especially against those armies that no protection against it.  Now I have my HQ and my Troop choice, I need some shooting.  What are the best shooters in my book?  Long Fangs.  Give them the optimal 5x ML layout and we're good to go.  No need for Heavy Bolters or Plasma Cannons, my 3x packs of Grey Hunters have so many Bolters for a reason.  Lastly, I need a CC anvil.  Someone that my opponents will rightly fear in combat.  I look up (or down rather) to Arjac to fulfill that role.

3. Minimize your army's weaknesses.

Space Marines are not very a very mobile list generally.  They like to stay together and use their weight of power rather than spread out and carry out specialist duties. All elements of your army must have synergy with eachother in order to work properly.  I need to make sure none of my army gets separated and that everyone can support eachother if necessary.  A vital part of my army does not like to move.  That is a weakness in a list that's otherwise fully mechanized.  I need to overcome this weakness via smart deployment or violently force the game's outcome through sheer weight of power.  This is something that Space Marines can do very well and I intend on doing so every chance I get.  I intend to do this by letting loose 10 missiles a turn and position my army in a way that'll eventually lead to close-ranged combat; something that Wolves excel at.

4. Maximize the amount of threat you present on the table.

I like to count up the amount of threats I have on the table in clusters.  The Rune Priest in the Grey Hunter pack and the Rhino will be a threat to my opponent.  He provides annoying psychic abilities and has the ability to shut down enemy magic on a 4+ (1).  My other well-configured Grey Hunter packs will be a threat as well (2).  Arjac and his squad of Grey Hunters in the LRC will be two huge threats that my opponent will be wary of (3, 4).  The Long Fangs will be a fire base that needs to be silenced, so my opponent will have to deal with those one way or another (5).  I have presented 5 key areas of threat on the table and my opponent's decisions for moving, shooting and assaulting will have to be based on those.  The more decisions you force your opponent to make in any given game turn is an important facet in a well constructed list.  He shouldn't ever be doing something without fear of consequence.

5. Stay away from the all-eggs-in-one-basket approach.

By spreading your points across the army evenly in terms of areas of threat, you avoid the deathstar approach that a lot of players tend to do.  They throw their uber lord in a unit of expensive Terminators and a Land Raider and that's all the serious threat they have on the table (because they don't have points for anything else).  3 threats located in 1 unit is an easy way for a good opponent to make his decisions.  Note that this scales directly proportional to how large the game is.  At 2K points, this is something you can get away with but at 1750 or 1500, this is not really do-able.  For example, Ragnar, 5x WGT in a LRC costs ~740 points.  Is it dangerous?  Hell yeah.  But if you're playing a 1500 point game, that's half of your army right there.  All of which are not scoring, so where do you get the points for enough mans to reliably hold objectives?  This is something to think about when constructing your army list.

Once you get these things down in your list, you should go out and experiment (playtest!) with it.  Note the type of game that you're playing and at what point level.  See if your army preforms well at capturing points, obtaining kill points or seizing objectives.  Note what the army excels at, what areas it needs improvements in and what you can do to make it better for the next game.  Don't be afraid to lose a game or two, I know I lost my first couple of games with Space Wolves.  As long as you learn from your mistakes and improve upon them, you will become a better player.  This is a guarantee.


rpthomps1111 said...

Good tips. I would add that theme can be more than just shooty-army, or assaulty-army but can be a "look" as well. This would certainly tie into your "have fun" requirement and would make it more fun to paint as well.


twitter: rpthomps

HERO said...

I certainly agree that aesthetics add a lot of "feel" to what you're playing. Cheers.

N+S+n said...

enjoyed, thanks

Jay said...

I disagree that, "a good list [is] a list that can win battles." Any list can win battles. That's more a function of the players and his understanding of the rules and units involved. No doubt you or I could come to game night, hand our army and list to another player and beat them with their own crappy list. I suspect if I played your space wolf list against you, you'd probably win, too. You know it, and you know (most) of the rules. That doesn't make the list good: that makes *you* good.

A good list is one that gives a good player the tools he needs to win against any opponent. Necron, Iyanden Eldar, Nidzilla, Steel Legion IG, Mech Tau, Ork KFF+battlewagon, Space Wolves, and dual-LR assault Daemon Hunters. All different challenges, fight types, and requiring different tools. A good list give you a fighting chance against all these.

Love the point about making everything dangerous so no one target stands out. Avoiding the one-unit-to-rule-them-all is a good step towards having a flexible and capable list – and getting your personal ego out of the game.

Derrick said...

I absolutely agree with the balanced threat approach. It's why I generally avoid land raiders, actually: They cost so much, and then it's so easy to throw so many points into what they are carrying. With a cheaper unit being carried, it's much easier to just use a Rhino. Alas, that's the pickle if you want to field terminators.

The only thing I find missing from your lists here are fast hunter-killer units. This depends more on your local metagame and terrain, of course, but in my experience longfangs are tremendous but no matter how cleverly deployed their fields of fire are always going to be limited by terrain - and if they are moving, they're not firing.

That's why I never leave home without at least one landspeeder - typically a MM/Typhoon speeder, so it's more than a one-shot tankbuster. I roll ones for my MM shots whenever I do that, so it leaves the MM/HF speeder largely useless for me.

The Speeder allows me to increase my rocket barrage from the longfangs, presenting solid flexible firepower over very long range from a highly mobile unit, as well as the ability to dart up closer vs. harder targets (such as a pesky landraider). Most importantly, though, this provides effective firepower from whatever angle I want, allowing me to better react to particular battlefield circumstances.

Thunderwolves and other FA units also do this well, of course, as do drop-podded troops, but in my experience Thunderwolves are very pricey and still vulnerable; bikes are just ugly (I hate how SM bikers look and just find them silly, so I've never used them); skyclaws cannot be led by a wolfguard and headstrong makes them too easily manipulated; and finally Fenrisian Wolves aren't flexible/powerful enough to reliably threaten a wide enough range of targets.

Of course, your rhino riding hunters can often accomplish this so it's not always a big deal, but I find my hunters tend to be very busy dealing with the bulk of my opponents army, holding objectives and whatnot else.

HERO said...

Agreed at the mention of Hunter-Killers. They are often speedy elements of your army that pose a threat you can't ignore. A book that allows many of these choices is typically a strong book.

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