Archive for the ‘Theory’ Category

Offence/Defence Equilibrium in List-Building and Unit Composition

Greetings, fellow Survivors, Wolves and Saviors! An article for you today on offence/defence balance in list/unit composition. This article is aimed primarily at newer players, but it may put words on notions that more experienced players have come to instinctively apply without necessarily fully understanding. Indeed, one of the key concepts to implement when building a list is to seek balance between resiliency and damage output, both on an individual unit level but also across your army taken as a whole. What I mean by the is that you have to ensure your army is able to deliver punches but is also able to withstand them, and vice versa. If you concentrate too great a portion of your points on high-damage but fragile units, you will be able to deliver a mean alpha strike, but your ability to be alpha’ed yourself and not fold right there and then will be poor. Conversely, an army composed uniquely of units that are extremely efficient tarpits like Brimstone Horrors will be nigh unkillable, but will hit like a wet blanket.

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Understanding your Weaknesses

Warhammer 40k list building in 7th Edition is not an easy task. Detachments, Formations, and unlimited access to any Faction make for an infinite number of combinations usable in your force. Not only that, but you’ve got to plan for EVERY permutation available for your opponent, right? Well, I think there’s an easier way to go about building your army, and it starts by identifying the weaknesses in your chosen Faction.

I’ve started this off with a contradiction – you have infinite choices, but you have to pick one Faction? This seems to make zero sense… Let’s assume that you’re playing 40k because the background is freaking amazing, the models are sweet, and there’s a particular army that has your interest. I would hope that this covers a large majority of players.

Every Faction in Warhammer 40k has deficiencies. In the past (before multiple factions/allies were allowed), building a competitive list involved finding the race with the least number of negatives, taking the best units, and rolling dice. In 7th Edition, it’s possible to use any Faction and expect to win – of course, you’ll still have your good and bad match-ups. If I were to analyze Eldar’s weaknesses, I would point out the following –

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“How do I Optimize My List?”


I want you to take a look at the two following Necron lists and tell me which of the two is stronger. I’m going to guess that if you have any knowledge of Necrons and how their lists tend to be built, one will immediately jump out at you:


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Killing Flyers in 40K Part 3: Orks and the Art of DAKKA!

dakkajet.jogWith the Crimson Hunter added to the mix, AV10 flyers are suddenly being taken seriously again. I’ll be doing a comparison of Flyers in an article soon, but in the meantime it is time for a look at the Orks and their own AV10 flyer, the DakkaJet, and their other best hope at AA firepower, Lootas.

“Death from the Skies” gave the DakkaJet a upgrade called Flyboss that gives them back the chance to buy BS3 against flyers that was taken from them when their previous ‘Fighta Ace’ upgrade was limited to working vs enemy skimmers. With that back, DakkaJets return to the air as a surprisingly effective anti-flyer unit -and that’s not a bad thing for a codex with no other Skyfire options!

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Mission Design – What to do

Missions are the single most important thing any tournament has control over. We’re going to assume you haven’t changed rules such that you aren’t playing 6th edition anymore (things like placing your own terrain, not using mysterious terrain are all generally accepted practices which don’t change the game mechanics fundamentally). The missions are what takes these fundamental game mechanics and translates to how the two people opposite each other on the gaming table end up playing. Do this right, and yay, you’ve done a great job. Do this wrong and you’ve probably pissed off lots of people (don’t worry, you’ve pissed off people if you’ve done it right as well; just less).  Read more »

New Eldar Tricks and Tips

250px-Dragon_Warrior_vs._Space_MarineWhenever a new ‘dex comes out, I try not to jump immediately into a mode where I start judging the value of units. More often than not, some of the strongest units in a ‘dex are initially panned, or simply looked over. I’ve written before about winning armies, and how things on the table are often different from what we see as excellent in theory. The power gradient that’s in our mind is usually a bit different than what’s winning games on the table.

I’ve been talking with a lot of my of my Eldar-playing friends, (special shout out to Way of the Eldar) and played a few games against the new ‘dex, and I feel like I’m ready to give some general advice on how to handle the new ‘dex.

First off, your new Eldar strategy, which I’m going to coin as:

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Deal With It (If You Can)

When you’re writing lists for a tournament, there’s a ton of considerations. You have to look at the balance of killing power versus scoring power versus survivability, your mobility and reach, the different types of firepower you have against different targets, your ability to fight off enemy melee and shooting units, how you fare in different deployments and missions, etc, etc, etc. It’s a nigh-infinite list of things to worry about, and it’s easy to get lost in considerations and counter-considerations.

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Winning 40K – What if it’s just not that complicated?

Winning 40K – What if it’s just not that complicated?

Today’s article is all about dispelling a popular myth about 40K, and hopefully getting a vital principle of army design and game planning across. This came out of a forum conversation started by Stelek (author of ‘Yes The Truth Hurts’ 40K blog) yesterday, and since my reply was subsequently quoted by several other people I thought I’d drag it back here to 3++ where I have more space to expand on it.

Many people act like winning at 40K is extremely complicated, and that can cloud their approach to army building and playing the game itself. The truth is 40K is really a simple game, with a huge amount of window-dressing and obfuscation around it.

While I enjoy 40K very much, I’m not so much a 40K player as I am a very competitive (but hopefully friendly!) ‘tournament player’. I play to win tournaments across multiple systems and that means I might have a different perspective than some players, and here it is.

Strip away all the rules and codexes and armylists and you will realise that all 40K is about is 3 things:

  • Having more Scoring units in certain locations at the end of the game than your opponent does


  • Removing more of your opponent’s entire individual units from the board than she does of yours


  • A combination of both

Everything else, all the armour, characters, ballistic skill, invulnerable, special rules, hull points, ‘metagame’, weapons, toughness, fluff, background, chainswords and forging narratives is the great big spectacle that distracts from how simple this game is.

In 5th edition the game was dominated by Mech, Shooting and Multiple small units because these could best achieve the simple objectives listed above. YTTH deserves credit for helping champion those concepts, especially since some people never seemed to really understand it even to the day the edition’s rulebook was phased out.

In 6th edition, many rules and codices have changed, but believe it or not in 6th Edition, 40K is about is 3 things:

  • Having more Scoring units in certain locations at the end of the game than your opponent does


  • Removing more of your opponent’s entire individual units from the board than she does of yours


  • A combination of both

And frankly after the big shake-out adjusting to the new rules is likely to cause, Mech, Shooting and Multiple Small Units are likely to be the best ways to achieve them, because even with all the changes and the new hull point rules mobility remains paramount, shooting trumps assault, and a larger amount of small units are more versatile, adaptable and efficient than a smaller amount of large ones.

40K is just not that complicated. Seriously.

The first tournament ‘system’ I won trophies in was Chess, which is an even simpler game but has a certain elegant purity of purpose. This isn’t going to be breaking news, but to win at Chess,

  • You take your opponent’s king

Nothing else matters. Absolutely nothing. Despite that I’ve played plenty of people who try take every piece on the board, and those are the ‘Pawnloving’ noobs of the game. Comparing 40K to other game genres, real life battlefield tactics or even Sun Tzu is popular with 40k authors but rarely works as well as they hope, but here we have one possible exception; for all its lack of cinematic experience, Chess teaches you to focus on the goal and achieve it, and that nothing else matters.

If you aren’t willing to sacrifice every other model in your army, no matter how well painted or heroically named, to get your scoring units where they need to be in 40K, you’re the ‘Pawnlover’ of this game. 

Actually achieving the objectives against an equally good opponent may not be easy, but by taking on board the stark simplicity of them should help us move the conversation along from the flourishing industry of posts and forum arguments comparing codices as if the most important thing is that units have equivalent chance to ‘make their points back’, as if that mattered. It doesn’t.

To put it in the terms of Brad Pitt in Moneyball, all that matters is that your units need to be able to get on base.

Because 40K isn’t that complicated.

Self-imposed Restrictions – The Competitive Player

Hello, Nikephoros checking in.  Most people who consider themselves to be competitive gamers, whether cards, wargames, or video games and so forth have heard of and read the articles by Sirlin.  They are justifiably classic and well worth the time to read.

One of his topics was the difference between competitive gamers and “scrubs.”  Most people associate the term “scrub” with bad players or newbies or some other pejorative concept.  However, Sirlin defines it differently, in a way that I think is very illustrative, especially in regards to our hobby.
He says, “A (Scrub is) player who is handicapped by self-imposed rules that the game knows nothing about.  The scrub would take great issue with this statement for he usually believes that he is playing to win, but he is bound up by an intricate construct of fictitious rules that prevents him from ever truly competing. These made-up rules vary from game to game, of course, but their character remains constant.”
This applies to so many 40k players who consider themselves “competitive.”  Myself included in that.  I am 100% guilty of setting artificial rules for myself. 
For starters, I will only play with painted models.  This means that any lists I take for a tournament have to be settled far in advance, and leaves very little room for last minute changes based on new information.  This is probably the result of an OCD thing, but I would rather play a suboptimal list than play an army with one unpainted unit sticking out like a sore thumb.
Secondly, I will only play Codices and units that I find aesthetically appealing.  In relation to the painted unit concept, if a unit or army doesn’t look cool, or isn’t fun to paint I will have a great difficulty playing them.  I think this particular precept is applicable to most 40k players: we all play the armies we play because we like the ‘cool factor’ of the models, paint scheme, or simply the feel of the army’s rules.
Third, I really enjoy symmetry in my lists and I will go out of my way to play a list that has a symmetrical aesthetic.  This means no random one of units and no allies that appear out of place.  In 5th Edition, this wasn’t a big deal, since maxing out your FOC with the best units in your codex was usually the right thing to do.  In 6th, it appears that choosing not to play allies results in a sub-optimally competitive list for the vast majority of armies.  Frankly, I would rather play a suboptimal Space Marine list than playing a list with, say, Eldar allies that stick out like a sore thumb.
These rules are entirely self-imposed, and judging by Sirlin’s standard, it means I could never be a truly competitive wargamer.  The player who, in the interests of playing the best possible tournament list, is willing to play unpainted units, or play with armies that he doesn’t even like, with allies that appear out of place will always have a built in advantage going into the tournament.
And I’m OK with that now.  I realized that while I do get a great deal of pleasure in winning in a competitive setting, I’m willing to trade a win or two in order to play a list or army that I love.  My net happiness at the end of the tournament will be greater if I go 6-2 with an army I enjoy than 8-0 with an army I hate.  It did take some introspective thought to get there, but once I did I was able to make peace with that and be happier in my knowledge that while I am still trying to play as competitive as possible, I’m not doing it in a way that will compromise my overall happiness.
Since I feel like the artificial restrictions and self-imposed limits are something that a lot of wargamers have, I imagine it would help others to think about that topic introspectively, and perhaps reconcile in their head the competing desires to win and to play an army they completely enjoy.  Or conversely, to decide they want to be truly competitive; determining which self-imposed limits are holding them back which they never considered, and removing those mental blocks.
So what camp do you fall into?  What self-imposed rules have you established for yourself?  Are you happier playing one way or the other?

Making Cassius Work

Greetings Ladies and Gentlemen of 3++!  I know you are all so fascinated by 6th edition right now (and I was too, initially) but the Steam-Powered Gamer is here to distract you with a belated Warmachine/Hordes article.  Today’s topic?  Cassius the Oathkeeper.  This guy is probably one of the most maligned of Circle’s warlocks and with the recent releases that came from Hordes: Domination, Cassius actually had a little bit of a boost to his effectiveness.  Before we begin, I do have to say that Cassius is not a very popular warlock because he has some glaring weaknesses and is the “rock” in a meta full of “paper”, and that doesn’t help his popularity much.  The fact that he also has a bit of “Skornergy” (see my Warmachine/Hordes Glossary for the definition) with one of his spells and one of his most popular abilities doesn’t help either.  That said, let’s try and find a way to make this guy work by first taking a look at his special rules, since they’ll inform the rest of your list and decisions.

The Strengths

First, let’s understand what makes Cassius so different: Wurmwood.  So as the story goes, the actual ‘warlock’ is technically Wurmwood, and Cassius is just its pawn to do its bidding.  On the table, however, you treat Cassius like the warlock, just for simplicity sake.  That means that any damage suffered by Wurmwood gets “transferred” to Cassius.  This does not work like your usual transfer mechanic, just think of both models sharing the same damage pool (meaning you can still transfer the damage to a warbeast).  This does mean, however, that your opponent will have an easier time killing you off, since they have two targets – one of which has a large base.  This means it’s imperative that you keep Wurmwood safe.  Fortunately, Wurmwood has Prowl to help keep it relatively safe from shooting attacks and it gains +1 ARM for each soul it collects (max: 5 souls), but it’s still automatically hit in melee and that can be a problem if you’re not a careful player.

There are some perks to having Wurmwood, however.  First, Cassius has an ability called Black Roots which lets him ignore the ‘in-melee’ penalty when casting spells within 10″ of Wurmwood.  This doesn’t mean that you should be getting that close to your opponent, but just that you can get yourself out of a sticky situation if you need to.  Cassius can also advance through models and obstructions if they’re inside a forest (useful during feat turn) as well as giving you a much more respectable DEF 16 in melee while in a forest.  Again, this does not mean you’re unstoppable, but it’s helpful.  Oddly enough, you don’t ignore Concealment inside a forest (Hunter would have made Cassius awesome!) so your spells will need to be used carefully.

Cassius has a pretty awesome spell list considering its size.  One of the challenges of playing with Cassius is deciding which spells you want to cast, since it’s doubtful that you’ll have the fury to cast all of the awesome spells you really want to use.  The spell that everyone should notice first is Hellmouth – the infamous spell also found in Cryx.  What makes this spell so powerful is that it’s a super-AOE spell because when you score a direct hit, models within 3″ of the model hit immediately get pushed 3″ towards the model directly hit, then the 3″ AOE is placed and everyone gets hit with a POW 12.  It’s perfect for removing infantry and clearing out charge lanes, but this is also where “Skornergy” comes in: models boxed are removed from play.  That means no soul tokens for Wurmwood.  The other downside to this spell is that it’s very expensive and that both means that Cassius won’t be casting it often and also that it can’t be used via Geomancy.  We’ll get back to that later, though.

The other spells that Cassius has are pretty fantastic as well.  Stranglehold seems uninspiring at first, but it can be useful when Geomancied by a Woldwarden to completely shut down a target if they’ve been knocked-down, or making your opponent invest more resources into a model that’s immune to knock-down (since they’ll still have to forfeit their movement or action with this spell).  Next, we have Curse of Shadows which is another solid spell when used via Geomancy by a Woldwarden since it effectively makes them P+S 17, let alone allowing your models to move completely through the targeted model/unit and prevents them from making free strikes.  You’ll ideally want a unit with a relatively high SPD to charge clean through this unit or can get into some good positions to take full advantage of this spell.  You’ll also be able to cycle this spell, thanks to Geomancy to give you a solid positioning advantage.  The last spell, Unseen Path, allows you to teleport Wurmwood.  While Unseen Path allows you to reposition yourself, you’ll want to find an ideal position early so you can save the fury for your other spells.

So now that we have some context, let’s look at Cassius’ feat.  Within 10″ of Wurmwood instantly turns into a forest and models which are knocked-down in the forest take an automatic point of damage.  The auto-point is not something you’ll have an easy time of spamming, but it’s nice for enemy models who pass their Tough rolls (well, those who aren’t immune to knock-down anyway).  This means that Wurmwood will have Stealth on feat turn, Cassius will have DEF 16 in melee, he can ignore the in-melee penalty inside the forest with his spells, and he can advance through models and obstacles (but can still get free-struck).  Most importantly, against a lot of lists out there, this 21″ diameter forest will block huge chunks of LOS and slow their movement unless they have Pathfinder.  There are some serious weaknesses to this feat, but we’ll discuss those at the end of the article.

The List

So what are we going to look for when building a list for Cassius?  Well we want models which will both take advantage of his feat and not be hindered by it.  Unfortunately, that means that non-Pathfinder models will either need to be used cleverly (see: activated before Cassius) or avoided completely.  We also want models which can protect Cassius (specifically: Wurmwood) from ranged attacks that can ignore Stealth.  Fortunately, most of those are low-POW attacks but we still need something which will help keep you safe.  You could also benefit from models which can generate forests throughout the game so you don’t have to rely on your one feat turn to keep yourself safe or use your tricks.  You’ll also want ways of casting as many of your spells as possible or extending your spell range while keeping Cassius and Wurmwood as far back as possible until you really need them.  Here’s what I came up with:

I know this is what you’re thinking…

Cassius (+6)
– Woldwatcher (5)
– Woldguardian (9)
– Woldwarden (9)
Tharn Ravagers (full, 9)
– Chieftain (2)
Tharn White Mane (3)
Shifting Stones (2)
Gallows Groves (1)
Gallows Groves (1)

Now, I’ve received a lot of criticism for a list like this in the past so let me first preface by saying: making a list for Cassius at 35 points is very difficult.  We’ll revisit the weaknesses shortly (I promise!), but for now let’s look at what this is capable of.  First, the oft-maligned Woldwatcher will be handy for two reasons: Shield Guard and Fertilizer.  While Cassius also has Fertilizer on his melee weapon, you don’t want to get that close to use it most often.  On the Woldwatcher, however, he can use it at range or melee to kill a model and generate a forest.  This is good for keeping your models safer, but you can’t really rely on it too much.  We run into some “Skornery” issues again where Fertilizer means no souls, but seeing as you can only absorb 5 souls anyway, it might not be a problem.  The main reason for taking the Woldwatcher, though, is for Shield Guard to absorb a ranged attack on Wurmwood, should it get shot at.

While most will say that the Woldguardian is not a good choice for Cassius, I actually like him for two reasons.  First, if you’re careful, you can keep Wurmwood safe from ranged threat (via the Woldwatcher) and using the Guardian’s animus on Cassius can keep him safe too, so your opponent can’t really shoot either of them, and that’s a good place to be in.  Additionally, the Woldguardian is a heavy hitter and is even better with Curse of Shadows – hitting an effective P+S 19.  Additionally, the Woldguardian has auto-knockdown which can add some extra damage during the feat turn.  It’s not much, but sometimes you just need 2 or 3 more points and you’ll be glad you have it!  Lastly, you’ll notice that this list lacks a bit of fury and you can feel free to load up the Woldguardian and you can still use it as a transfer target – very handy!

The Woldwarden is nearly an auto-include with Cassius and you could make an argument for dropping the Woldguardian completely for two of these guys.  With the ability to Geomancy Curse of Shadows or Stranglehold or generate a forest with their animus, the Woldwarden hardly needs justification for Cassius.  It is important, though, that you take Gallows Groves in addition to the Woldwarden, since they can’t cast Hellmouth and you’ll want to throw that spell out there from a safe distance.  Since the Gallows Groves need the same protection as Wurmwood, they’ll love the extra forests everywhere too, as well as helping you get rid of Tough models or even preventing an opposing warlock from transferring damage – if you can get close enough.

Lastly, the Ravagers and White Mane seem like quite the expensive unit but have incredible utility with Cassius.  With the potentially prolific Curse of Shadows these guys can literally run rampant through your opponent and even have the potential to wreck heavies.  With all of the forest generation and your own feat, the Ravagers (with help of the White Mane and CoS) can charge through your enemy’s lines and just go straight for their warcaster/warlock while sitting at DEF 15 in the woods – enough to keep them annoying for your opponent to dislodge for a turn.  Also, with the way the mechanics work, you can get a little bit of a “double dip” from Ravagers killing models – they’ll get corpse tokens and Wurmwood can collect souls!


So, finally, let’s discuss the major weaknesses for Cassius and this particular list.  First of all: collecting souls is a tricky business.  While it’s a potentially powerful mechanic (especially collecting them from 10″ away from Wurmwood, where most need to be within 2″), it’s also really easy to shut down and lots of players know how to do that.  RFP (Remove From Play) effects can shut you down as well as the obvious Soulless, Undead, and Construct rules.  This, however, is not a reason to not field Cassius!  He can operate fine without lots of souls and should be viewed as an optional (and useful) ability when it does come up.  In a similar way, Ravagers will have a problem collecting corpse tokens from certain models they kill, but at least it’s less restrictive than souls, so you can still get some effectiveness from them.

The second major weakness for Cassius is that a lot of forces out there feature models with Pathfinder, Hunter, or Eyeless Sight – let alone other forms of terrain or Stealth mitigation – because not having it can shut you down if you’re not ready for it.  The fact that Cassius relies on generating a huge forest can be huge against those models that aren’t prepared, but it can be nearly worthless if your opponent has a certain combination of abilities.  That said, few armies will be able to ignore all of the effects of your feat, so you should think of it as a multi-tiered feat that can be effective at something against a wide variety of targets:
1) Blocks LOS (to non-Hunter/Eyeless Sight)
2) Slows movement (to non-Pathfinder/Flight)
3) Provides Concealment/Stealth (to non-Eyeless Sight)
but also, with the list generated, there’s two extra benefits that cannot be easily ignored:
4) +2 DEF in melee for Cassius and Tharn
5) Cassius and Tharn can move through models and obstacles
If anyone had a feat that gave +2 DEF to friendly models and the ability to move through obstacles, models, you’d feel pretty awesome about that, right?  Well those two abilities can’t be mitigated very easily (especially with Curse of Shadows, again), so Cassius isn’t actually as bad as you might think otherwise in the list presented.

Even still, the meta where I am in the states features both Legion and Cryx heavily and both give Cassius an uphill battle, meaning he’s not seen much in the tournament scene.  If your particular meta sees an absence of either of those factions, or you’re up for a challenge, Cassius isn’t nearly as bad as you might think.  Circle is a challenging faction and requires you to think differently about how you engage your opponent.  Cassius is no exception to that, but that also doesn’t mean that he’s bad either.