Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Outside Avenues of 40k Knowledge for Joe N00b

When you are new at something you are forced to get help anywhere you can.  I read a lot of the 40k blogs, I ask questions down at the local shop (, and I try to apply information and knowledge gleaned elsewhere to help improve my game as well as my modeling skills.

I have dabbled in tactics and strategy and gamed for a good chunk of my life.  Back in high school, I read the Art of War and recently came across it again while unpacking from a move. After thumbing through it I thought I’d share some of what I think would be useful to other, similarly noobish 40k players, in hopes of pointing out the value of “outside avenues” like these.

Risk is where I learned a 3:1 attacker to defender ratio was usually necessary to win the territory in question.

There is a difference between strategy and tactics:
  • Strategy is typically the high-level long term plan for achieving your goal. It is your preparation before the battle.
  • Tactics are the low level, and consequently more short-term, plans that are generated during the battle. They are what single units or small groups of units use to keep the strategy on track.
Keep in mind that there is nothing new in The Art of War… it’s 2500 years old! There is a lot of stuff in there about managing subordinates and enemies eating horses that just doesn’t apply to tabletop gaming. But, what reading the stuff that does apply can do is crystallize what you already know subconsciously and bring it forward into your conscious mind to be built upon. It can make you think about how you conduct yourself at the table and what you can do to improve your game.

Furthermore, if you don’t get to play as much as you like because you have a life, a wife, kids, a brutal job, etc., resources like these (and blogs, for that matter) can help you when you aren’t able to roll dice all day down at the local game store.

Uhhh... Maybe not this one.

Here are some cherry-picked examples:

It is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles; if you do not know your enemies but do know yourself, you will win one and lose one; if you do not know your enemies nor yourself, you will be imperiled in every single battle.
This one has bitten me hard on the ass at least twice now.  I know my codex (for the most part), but not many others.  I now know that you should never, ever give psyflemen a line of sight to anything in your army.  Further, I now also know that I really want venerable dreads (or something like them) in the Chaos Codex.  Had I known more about my opponents before the game started, there would have been less “Oh, crap!” from and more from him.
Thus, what is of supreme importance in war is to attack the enemy's strategy.
In my last game (Annihilation/pitched battle) against a Space Marine list over at Frontline Gaming my opponent’s deployment told me pretty much what he was going to do: the right flank had his 2 heavy support squads on top of a 3-story building with a tremendous field of fire and LOS to 2/3rds of the table.  His 4 troops, HQ, and 2 Dreads were going to advance line-abreast across the entire width of the table.  Each of these units had about 12-18” between them.

Even though I deployed first (which is a slight disadvantage, IMO), a little left of center and in a much tighter grouping, I could see what was going to happen and could plan accordingly.

I pushed hard left onto the 1/3rd that his heavy support couldn’t reach and began rolling up his forces from that flank.  His heavy support and 2 of his attack squads had little to do but climb down and run out in the open from turn 2 on.

I lost a squad of Oblits and a Rhino early in the game to great rolling on his part and stupidity on mine, so it was 0-2 at the beginning of turn 3.  But because he got overconfident in his lead, he advanced into lash and plasma cannon range on the left.  This allowed me to vaporize one 10-man squad in each of the next two turns with the other Oblit squad and my DP, thus tying the game.  Had the game not ended after turn five, I’m confident that because half of his army was completely out of position, I would have won by just advancing down the length of the table, left to right, and picking off the single units as I went.

If you can take an educated guess at what your opponent is trying to do by studying his list/codex, placing and reading the terrain properly, and projecting where he will go from his deployment, your chances of a win go way up. 
Mentally map it out!

And therefore those skilled in war bring the enemy to the field of battle and are not brought there by him.
Do your best to dictate where and when a fight will happen.  I lost that first squad of Oblits early because I exposed them long before I needed to.  I handed my opponent that squad on a silver platter.  I could have easily kept them out of LOS but I felt it was unlikely that they were in range and could weather anything that could be shot at them.  What I didn’t consider is that in turn 2 they would end up being the only unit in range; consequently, they had 3 squads and a dread shooting at them.  They then fell to a torrent of high strength/low AP fire.  I didn’t need to expose them, but I did and it cost me the unit and likely the victory.

This passage also works for terrain placement and deployment.  Denying flanks, Null Deployment, blocking LOS, controlling the center of the board with high strength/low AP infiltrators forces your opponent to make decisions.  The more decisions he makes, the more likely they are to be bad.
The clever combatant looks to the effect of combined energy, and does not require too much from individuals. Hence his ability to pick out the right men and to utilize combined energy is critical.
A list that doesn’t rely on a single strategy, but brings to bear the synergy of diverse units can be extremely strong.  But, that mostly relies on the person directing the force.  Spam lists are generally easier because they have a great amount of redundancy and are consequently more forgiving of mistakes.  This is because you usually have another one of those units you just lost… and probably another after that, too.  Spam is an excellent strategy but it is not for the poor.

I’m poor, so I don’t get to spam unless I find a cheap way to scratch build what I want/need.  I’m also not a very experienced 40k player, so I use the basic CSM Lash DP list.  But, I only run one DP because, outside of the obvious monetary shortfalls, I want those points for other units like Raptors or a possessed Land Raider.

Raptors have a similar capability to my DP: deep strike, many attacks, a 12” move… on top of that, they can also engage armor at a longer range and generate more close combat attacks for low toughness squishy units like Eldar Guardians or Tau Fire Warriors, as necessary.

The possessed Land Raider is not only a tough transport from the get-go, but also a fair anti-armor vehicle, excellent rolling cover for the DP, and a great distraction.  It has proven very hard to kill and because it is possessed, it just keeps moving!  That unstoppable armor carrying that choppy-as-Hell assault squad is no small threat.  My opponents tend to blaze away at it while the rest of my army stays relatively safe.

Combinations of unique capabilities (choppy assault units in unstoppable rolling cover) and/or spamming capabilities between different types of units (wings on the DP and Raptors for deep striking or getting into close combat quickly) can yield a versatile and tactically strong list.

There is a similar "IC slingshot" move in Civ Rev.

To not prepare is the greatest of crimes; to be prepared beforehand for any contingency is the greatest of virtues
Have a list, a strategy based on that list (including how you think you should place terrain and deploy to make the best use of your forces), and a good grasp of the rules/codices before you walk up to the table.  In my limited number of games (14 now, I think) the guys I played who showed up prepared were far tougher to deal with than the guys who wrote their list after we agreed to play.
Those are just some of the nuggets of wisdom documented in the Art of War. The book has many applications in life; read it and as you read it think about how it applies to whatever you are doing.

When you can play, play.  Book learnin' is a pale substitute for experience.  But if you can't play as often as you want, read all the tactica, blogs, and 40k specific information you can.  When you run out of those, move on to the great works like The Art of War or Clausewitz' On War or Machiavelli's The Prince or even Tactics and Strategy for Dummies.  Apply what you've learned in other games, in movies, whatever... Like any outside avenue of knowledge, weed out what doesn’t apply and use what does to the greatest effect possible.

Biographical Information: Sun Tzu, Chinese philosopher, general, and author of The Art of War, lived sometime between the 2nd and 6th centuries B.C.  He is regarded as one of the great military minds.

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