Tuesday, 15 August 2017

List writing in 8th edition 40k

Greetings all - welcome to a bit of a thought-provoking piece today (I hope!)

As you probably know, I like to keep an eye on the various blogs out there and am sometimes inspired by what I read to write an article of my own on a related topic. As much as I love seeing hobby updates etc I think this is one of my favourite things about being a blogger - the way one article can inspire others and a whole discussion results across several blogs.

In this instance, the article in question was on Creative Twilight, a blog where I have been known to post the odd article, and it related essentially to the growing disappointment of the author in respect of 8th edition and their games.

Now, I don't want to go into any detail on that article specifically (you can of course read it yourself) but what I was inspired to do was to write a post on writing army lists in the current edition.

The hangover of 7th edition

There's no doubt about it - 7th edition of 40k was a system overflowing with rules, extra rules and supplements, and steroid supplements for your rules supplements and rules. As a result, 7th edition really rewarded those people who a) had time, b) had the inclination and c) had the funds to examine not only the basic codex for their army, but also the other codices from the factions that could ally with their armies, and the imperial armour books that added yet more layers of rules and exceptions to an already overstuffed book bag. The result was that if you ended up playing one of these players without realising, what you saw on the other side of the table bore no resemblance at all to any kind of stereotypically cohesive 'combined arms' force, but in fact looked something more like a collection of individuals, backed up by repeating elements of units bearing the best 'all-round' weaponry in the codex.

Deathstars and spam, in other words.

Now I like deathstars, they're a very cool idea, and the guy who designed it with one glaring weakness allowing a pair of photon torpedoes to drop into a hole that leads right to the reactor core was either a rebel genius, or a total idiot.

I also like spam, especially fried with beans for breakfast.

I don't like either of them on my gaming table though.

I think that 8th edition fixes this problem. Sure, the keyword system isn't perfect (does anyone know what the jet pack keyword in the Tau section of Index Xenos 2 does?) but it certainly results in your buffs only affecting the units that are intended to be buffed (once you take out the people who decide to name their Imperial Guard infantry regiment the Blood Angels! More genius/idiots!).

What I really want to talk about though is the process of list writing in 8th edition, and if 7th taught us anything it's that finding the best gun and putting it on everything you can in your army wins you games (cough, scatter laser, cough).

Now, speaking from the perspective of the Adeptus Astartes, I've had enough games now at my club (ok, NOT the most 'competitive' environment I accept) to understand that this is no longer the case. Sure, I can take nothing but assault cannon armed stuff in my army (except HQ's of course) but even then, the sheer number I would need to take to do the job of a single lascannon gets silly (it's more likely to cause a wound than the lascannon, but the damage caused by the lascannon makes up for that) especially given their relative costs. So what you end up with is an army that ends up taking specific tools for specific jobs - the aforementioned assault cannon is great for taking out infantry type units, whilst the lascannon deals with armoured targets. Specifically in that army I have missile launchers and lascannons for armoured targets, grav for heavy infantry and armour, assault cannons for infantry and missiles for flexibility against all options, whilst I then also add in sniper fire for picking on characters, and some close combat elements to take on those lists I don't want to stand back and shoot at.

Moving into 8th edition

So, when writing your lists in 8th edition, where do you start? If there isn't a 'best' unit to spam, how do you possibly construct your lists?

Well, my method is first to start with the fluff. GW have told us that they've tried hard to make every army fight according to its fluff, and so far I think I'm going to have to conclude that they've got it right. My space marine lists that have focused on one element to the exclusion of others have shown that specialist troops are very effective in this edition, whilst general purpose units are less so. Think about the character of your army therefore and try to write a list that fits that. Now I'm not saying don't include Lootaz or Flash Gitz in an Ork list, but realise that an Ork army that relies on shooting in 8th is going to be an ineffective Ork army (unless your dice roll hotter than boiling plasma).

Keep this fluff in mind then when you start to write your list and look at where your focus needs to be. In the case of my Adeptus Astartes, that is mainly around a strong shooting threat, but with sufficient combat elements to pose a problem for my enemy if they're better at shooting than I am. On the flip side, an Ork army is naturally more powerful in combat than at shooting, and so that's where your focus should be. That's not to say there aren't powerful shooting units in an ork army or powerful combat units in a marine list, but the odds are that those units will be outperformed at those tasks by the specialist units of a force that tends towards that particular focus. Let's take lootaz as an example. Lootaz were everywhere in 7th ed Ork lists. Are they still good? Yes. D3 S7 -1AP D2 shots are still very effective, but - when your unit puts out 10 shots (average), only hits with 3 of them, 2 of which wound and only 1 does any damage, killing a single marine, you realise pretty quick that you might want to look elsewhere to spend the majority of your points.

Ok, so let's get back on track, we know have our fluff theme. Next step is to decide your strategy and style of play, which is different, and can best be described as 'how am i going to win my games'.

For combat focused armies, this means how are you going to get your units into combat, whilst for shooting armies it's how are you going to maximise the effect of your firepower. One other thing to remember is how you are going to score objectives. Even for armies that focus on firepower, mobility of your units around the board is key - granted 8th edition games tend to be bloodier than 7th, but you can't expect to table your opponent every time, so you will still need to get around the table to score your maelstrom cards or grab enemy held objectives.

Using my marines as an example, I developed my style to focus on a strong core shooting group, with an advancing threat to provide focus on the table, and then a reserve element that could maximise the effect of any missed moves by my opponent. The army then plays the triple threat to my opponents, they have to deal with my core shooting because it's strong enough to hurt them badly, but they also need to deal with the advancing elements on the table (usually my contemptors) because if they reach the enemy lines then stuff is going to get crushed, but they also can't commit too much to advancing to meet them because then my vanguard unit and jump pack characters will arrive and cause havoc in the rear ranks.

Now that strategy won't work for all armies - Tau units for instance have very little combat threat, and so when they advance up the board it's to get the enemy in range of their powerful guns. But when they do that, they risk being counter charged, so in a Tau list you need to focus far more on the longer ranged punishing fire, whilst your shorter ranged stuff becomes a harassment to the enemy, or bait, but you'd still want to keep reserve units off the table to deal with specific threats or grab objectives as necessary. Genestealer cult who I've been looking at more recently seem to be at the other end of the spectrum, most of their genuine threat units being combat focused - as such, they want to be able to close the gap quickly to their enemy, but the cult ambush deployment style would lead them to being a little too unreliable for my taste, so sprinkle that deployment method in with other units that can quickly support them. They do have ranged firepower, but when you assess those units, they aren't strong enough to build your whole strategy around them.

Putting it all together

So, how do you write the 'perfect' 8th edition list? Start with the fluff - it gives you an idea as to how the units and the army as a whole should play on the table. Critically assess what each unit is capable of - do a little mathammer here if you want to work it out, and understand the strengths and weaknesses of the weapons. Just because a gun happens to be the most powerful anti-tank weapon in your arsenal doesn't mean it's necessarily the right fit for a particular unit. Once you have that in your head, look at building a strategy that plays to your strengths, how do you do what your enemy least wants you to do? Build redundancy where possible, taking multiple units that can achieve the same goals, perhaps even through different methods, and then playtest it. I don't care who you are, even the most effective and capable players can be surprised by a unit's tabletop performance. Don't believe me? Watch some youtube battle reports from guys like tabletop tactics. These guys know how to win games of 40k, but even they are sometimes surprised by what something is capable of.

So there you have it, is 40k 8th edition the perfect system? No, probably not, but it's pretty damn good and more than ever, you need to put serious and careful thought into the list you take and how you plan on winning the game!

Till next time,