Thursday, 15 October 2015

40k Army building - list writing overview - winning and mobility

Hi all, and welcome to the first of my new series of posts - 40k army building.

As you have (hopefully) figured out from the title, this post is an introduction to writing your army list. I'm going to start from first principles though so those of you who have some experience in this area please bear with me (or skip down the page a bit to look at the pretty pictures). What this article won't do is tell you how to create the uber death star of death that will sweep all before it in a competitive setting. Aside from finding that very boring, I don't think it's really in the spirit of the game and the 'social contract' between two players whereby you are both trying to have fun. Quite frankly I don't think it's overly harsh to say that if you do put down the uber death star of death on the table against an unsuspecting opponent, then you deserve to have your hair pulled, your underpants stretched over your head to act as a blindfold and to then be summarily gaffer-taped to the nearest lamppost with your trousers round your ankles by the attendant members of your gaming club.

What this article is going to do however is explore the basics of constructing an army list - what do you need to include, what problems do you need to have an answer for and how are you going to go about winning.

It's safe to say that prior to the release of 7th edition 40k and the codices that followed this article would have looked very different had it been written then, and with the advent of formations and the dreaded 'unbound' (no, it's not a mummy whose wrappings have come unstuck) there are a greater variety of ways to build an army list than there ever have been. There are still a few fundamentals that you need to address in your list however if you fancy having a go at actually winning a game or two.

Question 1. How do you win a game? 

Seems obvious, doesn't it? But let's face it, if you don't know the answer to the question you aren't likely to be very successful.

Answer. There are two ways - either by destroying or wiping from the table every unit your enemy controls, or by scoring more victory points than them. 

We'd all love to be able to achieve the first of these, but in practice a 'tabling' is very rare over the 5-7 turns of your typical game of 40k. I've had plenty of games over the years where after a couple of turns I was in a position to try for the wipeout only for the dice to turn on me, or my opponent to find a strategy that kept the game going.

Whilst it would be nice therefore to have an army that would just smear the pasty remains of our opponent's army across the table, in all likelihood most of your games will be won or lost by victory points. Hopefully you're familiar with this concept but for those who aren't, the idea is that you are awarded points for achieving certain things in the game (like being the first player to kill off an entire unit, your enemy's warlord or stealing the party rings out from under Ryan's nose without him noticing. Ok maybe not that). Different game types award victory points for different achievements, and they may also award different numbers of points for different objectives.

Building your first list therefore becomes an exercise not just in getting the biggest number of big guns into it, but a slightly more esoteric blend of firepower, flexibility, mobility, and resilience.
Guns. Lots of guns.
The introduction of maelstrom of war missions has further complicated the list building process, because of the additional variety of things for which victory points are achieved, which can be then further expanded by the army-specific tactical objectives decks.

Your army not only has to be able to deal with all sorts of potential opponents, from horde armies to elite heavily armoured infantry lists to vehicle-mounted lists, gun lines and all points in between, but it also now has to have the ability to go and capture specific objectives across the tabletop in short order to pick up additional victory points.

Amongst all this, the elaborate weapons and tactics that individual units can employ, one particular thread runs through everything. Mobility. If your army gets outmanoeuvred then you will lose. That's not to say that every unit has to be able to move around the table quickly, but more that you have to have thought about how your army is going to manoeuvre on the tabletop, which units aren't mobile and how you are going to prevent them from being picked apart by those units that can outmanoeuvre them. A particularly topical example at present would be the Tau Riptide. It brings a very big gun to the fight but its key asset is its mobility - players the world over hate to see Tau on the opposite side of the table because of their jet packs, enabling their units to gain a clear line of sight to yours, then jump back into cover before you can return fire.

This point regarding mobility is particularly relevant when considering the maelstrom of war missions. The placement of so many objectives around the tabletop and the potential to need to move from one to the other without leaving yourself over-extended and isolated means that to put together a viable army you need to have a significant portion of it that is capable of moving at speed, all together, preferably without too much reduction of firepower on the way.

This neatly brings me on to the different types of mobility that are exhibited by the units in the game (honestly, it's almost as if I planned it this way).

I classify mobility into three categories (listed in order of effectiveness):
1. Innate mobility - units that are capable of traversing the battlefield quickly without any need to reduce their outgoing firepower, such as the aforementioned Riptide, or Eldar scatter laser jetbikes.
Astartes assault bike Mark 1
2. Patient mobility - these units bring substantial firepower to the table, and are extremely mobile, but are slightly less effective because when they move their firepower is either reduced or removed. Many fast skimmers fall into this category, as they can move extremely quickly, but the vast majority of that movement comes at the expense of shooting in the shooting phase. I refer to is as patient mobility therefore because the player has to wait to unleash their firepower until the following turn.
3. Assisted mobility. No, I don't mean putting your models on a motorised scooter (well, not exactly), this is all about units that have transport options in their codex. I don't necessarily categorise all units here, just those that can take a dedicated transport, since without that option a unit is reliant on the transport being available from elsewhere.

If at all possible, it's clearly best to include innately mobile units as part of your army, since they bring the benefits of being mobile whilst not suffering from reduction in firepower, or being potentially stranded if their transport is destroyed. Not all armies have such units available to them however, but its important when you look at your codex to start with that you identify those that do. What you are looking for with an innately mobile unit is (preferably) something that is able to move in both the movement and assault phases of the game, or one that can both move and shoot in the shooting phase. Such units are able to constantly keep the pressure on their opponents and have to be dealt with as a priority.

I should note that mobility isn't always about having a high rate of movement either, and I just want to touch on the concept of 'Tactical Mobility'. I've not included it above because it's a more advanced tactic than this series is really aimed at providing at this point, but units that are tactically mobile are those that can't necessarily move very fast or very far, but are capable of arriving exactly where they are required. Drop pods provide one such solution, as do Dark Eldar webway portals and a few other things in the game.

The first principles on list building are having a list that is capable of winning you the game, by which I mean it is capable of putting you into position to claim objectives, and to apply your firepower to the enemy in a more efficient manner than they can apply theirs to you.

This is achieved by identifying units within your codex that are capable of moving around the battlefield to apply their firepower. Not all of them will necessarily make it into your list, but knowing which ones they are will help you write a balanced list when we get to the next stage. These units will likely be the troubleshooters of your list, as they can not only threaten enemy positions, but re-deploy to protect less mobile elements of your own lists from being outmanoeuvred.

The next article in the list building series will look at how to critically assess each of the units in your codex, picking out their strengths, weaknesses and where they can support other elements of the list.