Saturday, August 11, 2007

OPINION: Optimizing army lists, part two

In my last post I explained the design philosophy behind optimizing units and army lists, using the six man las/plas squad as an example. I stated that it's strengths were:
  • Small squad size maximises the number of special and heavy weapons across the army
  • Even squad size helps with victory points and scoring status
  • Lascannon has good range, high strength, low armour penetration
  • Plasma gun matches lascannon well
  • Good redundancy if similar squads are also selected
It did however have some weaknesses:
  • Poor in combat
  • Fragile
  • Slow
  • Cannot adapt to other battlefield roles
  • Encourages a rock/paper/scissors mentality in 40k
My plan was to utilise a different design philosophy to put together my Blood Angels army. Instead of optimizing each unit to perform one narrow range of tasks, I would expect each unit to contribute something to a wide range of tasks. Here are the tasks I identified as being required of each unit:
  • Good mobility (at least 12" per turn)
  • Tough target busting firepower (vehicles, characters, monstrous creatures)
  • Infantry killing firepower
  • Ability to threaten hordes in close combat
  • Ability to threaten tough targets in close combat (vehicles, characters, monstrous creatures)
  • Decent scoring potential
With just this one change a wide range of units swap places in the pecking order for army list choices. Take the Land Raider for example. This would be rarely taken in an optimized list because it has a confused battlefield role. It can carry 10 models but if it does so it would be expected to move it's full 12" every turn. That means it cannot shoot it's twin-linked lascannons. In an optimized list you would take a Predator annihilator (with three lascannons) if you wanted to shoot, or a Rhino, Drop Pod or Land Raider Crusader if you wanted to assault. In my all-rounder list the Land Raider would be a good choice. It can shoot if required, it can assault if needed, it has good mobility and it is a scoring unit.

So if a six man las/plas squad is the pinnacle of optimized unit design for a Tactical squad then what would it look like when chosen from an all rounder viewpoint? To begin with it would need to have more members, to help it be able to capture objectives and preserve it's scoring status. I would recommend the full ten marines so that you have the in game flexibility of using combat squads (splitting the squad into two five men squads). Ten marines also make more use of the carrying capacity of the Rhino you will want to buy for the squad. The transport is needed to provide mobility to the unit. This will help it to advance upon enemy units and capture objectives. A Razorback is another useful transport option. It can only be used if the unit stays at six models but it does carry a twin-linked heavy weapon. A Drop Pod would give the unit an alternative type of mobility.

So, we have now two of our tasks accounted for. The squad comes with built in infantry killing firepower with it's bolt guns. They can use these dismounted and at range, up to 24" or when leaping out of their Rhino at up to 12." This could be augmented with a special weapon such as a flamer or plasma gun. A plasma gun could also help out with shooting at tough targets. Melta guns would also work. I would also take a missile launcher for the squad. This weapon is usually overlooked in favour of the lascannon, but it is perfect for an all rounder list. It's krak missiles can threaten tough targets while the frag missiles can help with hordes.

The large squad size helps in close combat against hordes, but the squad's main killing power will come from it's sergeant. The obvious choice of weapon for him is a powerfist. This works well against hordes but is perfect for pulling down tough targets.

This philosophy has an added benefit in that it keeps redundancy in the army list without having to duplicate unit choices (often referred to as cookie-cutter lists). Because each unit can perform a wide range of tasks it is very difficult for the enemy to cripple your army in a certain area. In an optimized list, for example, you may have four las/plas squads to act as your vehicle killing power. A canny opponent with a mechanised Tau list may identify those squads as his priority targets and go all-out to destroy them. That would leave the rest of the optimized player's list to take out the opponent's vehicles; units that are optimized for close combat, mobility or other tasks.

To recap, then, we have a ten man squad with a veteran sergeant with a powerfist, a plasma gun and a missile launcher. The squad is mounted in a rhino. This is a squad that can fulfill a very wide range of battlefield roles.

An alternative would be a six man Tactical squad in a Razorback. You lose the heavy weapon in the squad but you get a twin-linked one on the vehicle instead. The squad is a bit smaller, but it is a bit cheaper. It can still achieve a lot of in-game tasks.

All-rounder lists help to stop the list from being extremely boring, which many optimized lists are. Instead of this:
  • Six man las/plas
  • Six man las/plas
  • Six man las/plas
You get this:
  • 10 man squad, vet sergeant with Powerfist, flamer, missile launcher, mounted in Rhino
  • 8 man squad, vet sergeant with Powerfist, plasma gun, missile launcher, mounted in Drop Pod
  • 6 man squad, vet sergeant with power weapon, melta gun, Razorback with twin-linked heavy bolters
I know which one I would prefer to play with and against.

The key to playing an all rounder army list is in assessing your opponents army before the game and coming up with a plan to defeat it. This can be a challenge, but surely this has to be better than coming to the table with an army that can only be played in one way as optimized lists often do? Once you have decided how your enemy will approach his game, your list has the flexibility to exploit his weaknesses.

Say your opponent has an Imperial Guard gunline army. You can mount up all your units and use your mobility to engage them in close combat and short range firefights. Against a Tyranid assault force you can split your squads into combat squads to utilise their firepower and stand off with the vehicles, using them to shoot, corral and stall enemy attacks. In every game you play, you will have options. Your games should be more enjoyable, both for you and your opponent.

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