Thursday, April 16, 2015

Centaur Tactica Post: Army List Building, Part 2

Hey Reader!

This is Glenstorm with another tactical post, picking up with Part 2 of our Army List Building blog series.  I'm hoping to get a recorded video version up later on this, but we will see how long that takes (as I'm still trying to video my army review posts as well for Grey Company, Rohan, and Shire).

As the guiding light for this post, I'll be hearkening back to a tactical post from my favorite YouTuber for Warhammer Fantasy, OnceBitten.  OnceBitten has a tactica post on army building for Warhammer Fantasy (which you can find here), and I've found it very useful in my army list building for both Fantasy and LOTR SBG.  In our last post we chatted about mindsets behind army list building, and the seven common list building philosophies.  In today's post, we want to look at the seven things to think about when building a list, set within the context of the two types of army building schemes we use here at TMAT: Warbands (the official army building rules as of this writing) and the modified LOME scheme (for all the "old school" players, which happens to include us).

1.  If you want to win games, how do you win with this list?

As always, Centaur will repeat the (very true) sentiment that winning isn't everything, but let's face it: it's also not fun to devote a Saturday (or an entire weekend if you go to a multiple-day tournament) to losing a ton of games.  So one of the first questions we should ask when building a list is how we will win games with this list.

For some people, it will be the 3" Scoot-and-Shoot archery strategy, where you move as little as possible, fire as much as possible, and pray you get lots of wounds in the Shoot Phase (linchpin wood elf and Haradrim armies, for example).  For some people, it will be overwhelming melee combat firepower (most dwarf armies, virtually all Isengard armies, most Gondor armies), and for some it will be heavy, successful magic phases in the Move Phase (ringwraith and Angmar armies especially).  There's no "right way" to attempt to win, but you should have an idea of what you need to do to win with a given list.

The second extension of this question is to ask, "What kinds of things will contribute to victory?"  This may seem like a similar question, but it should be considered separately.  Will ending the game early contribute to victory, as your army moves faster and can claim objectives faster than an opponent (we'll discuss this further under Thought #7)?  Will getting Hero X into combat as soon as possible contribute to victory?  Will keeping Hero Y (say, a shaman, caster, etc.) out of combat as long as possible contribute to victory?  All of these are important questions, and they affect your strategy in-game if you know what you need to do to win with a given list.

2.  What role does each unit play?

This is key: if a unit is supposed to play a certain role within our strategy for winning with a given list, you want to make sure that the unit is doing what you want it to do.  If the goal of an uruk marauder is to wrap around, flank, and trap models (so as to help the kill count) and the goal of an uruk warrior with shield is to be the D6 "anvil" for your opponent to wail on while the marauder kills stuff, you'll want to make sure that your marauders don't end up being the "anvil" against a set of enemy models, and your uruk warriors are bogged down with people who they are not killing.

This is especially true for models where you pay extra points to give them a certain bonus or advantage.  If your 2Her weapons are not dealing damage, you have a problem.  If your banner is not helping you re-roll dice in fights, you have a problem.  If your shaman is not providing Fury for models in your army who desperately need to make a charge or need a chance to save against a wound, you have a problem.  So make sure that each warrior selection and hero selection is contributing in accordance with the overall strategy.

Now if your opponent is any good they will try to thwart your strategy and make poor match-ups for you.  That's fine - but inasmuch as we have a Move Phase and the chance to get our units where they need to be, we should be keeping this question in mind: what role does the unit play in the army, and how do we get them to do "their thing" for the army?  Keeping this question at the forefront will help us to better utilize our forces during the match.

3.  How do the units work together as an army?

Does your army have synergy?  Do any of the units require other units near them/interacting with them in order to be more effective?  So for example, do you use spectres (who wound against the target's Courage value instead of Defense) with spearmen (so that the chance at wounding goes up)?  Is it a problem if the spearmen are not supporting the spectres?

Depending on your army strategy (tying back to the previous post), this question can also play into how you approach your list.  A Min/Max army may decide, for example, to use orcs without shields (so they are only 6 pts/model) to support spectres and lead the unit with a ringwraith (so that not only are the spectres receiving an extra dice to win the fight, but they are wounding the target with a -1 to their Courage while within range of the ringwraith).  Generals who are even more Min/Max will use the Dwimmerlaik so that it will not only affect the Courage of the models, but will also make Fate Points and Might Points less successful within that same range (but not that we've thought about this, :) ).

This question also means asking the question, "Is there a reason we have X and Y in the army?"  That is to say, if a general is having trouble winning with a given force, it may be because they have X present in the army, and that dedication of points is keeping them from obtaining another objective.  By way of example, I've been asking the question recently why I was running uruk scouts with orc bows in my army (10 of them, costing me about 90 pts).  As I started working through this question, I began to realize that I was doing it primarily so that I would have a chance to shoot back at other volleying armies, but I was rarely getting any wounds out of it.  So I instead decided to drop the models, take a ballista instead (for 65 pts), and dedicate those 25 pts to another segment of my army (in this case, rush infantry).

4.  How should I use the terrain to my advantage?

This is an important question, and is one of the questions that, when asked before arriving at a tournament, becomes an integral thought for deployment.  If a player shows up and has not thought about what terrain will work most to their advantage, pivotal mistakes can be made in deployment.  A few examples for you.

At THRO 2013 I took my Halloween Army, and in Game 2 I was up against General Will's Isengard force, and he had a serious number of crossbows in his force.  For whatever reason (must not have been thinking) I placed my force in a position where we had no chance at cover, we had difficult terrain blocking us from hitting his archers, and a clear path that would have been covered and protected had we simply lined up on a different side of the board edge I elected for my deployment.  So there was no reason for me not to go there - I just hadn't thought about it, and I placed my troops poorly.  Result?  I got torn up (and lost a troll among other things) before hitting his lines, and I lost that game.

Fast forward to THRO 2014, and my Shire/Dwarf force was up against Red Jacket's Isengard forces.  Before coming to the tournament, I took some time to think about what my list required in terms of terrain for it to remain competitive.  I had a short list: an open space for melee (as I was fielding 56 models with no spear support, so we need space for guys to wrap around and overwhelm an opponent), a patch of difficult terrain to buy more time for my 4" move archer core, and a solitary rock for protecting Farmer Maggot (as he anchored my fast attack core, namely his dogs).

So I looked at the board, and I had a good patch of difficult terrain (about 6" wide, which was plenty wide enough for my 12 archers), a large fighting space near the center objective (which, in a Hold Ground game, is really nice), and a few isolated rock outcroppings on approach that I could use to protect Maggot.  Deployment was random, and it worked out that I was able to take advantage of all three.  Result?  The archers were never touched, Maggot survived all game, and we even got a flank charge in during the match.  Terrain was used to boost our chances of victory, and it gave me the security and protection that my list needed.

So ask the questions about terrain.  Do we need firing lanes for archery?  Do we need room to maneuver a phalanx?  Do we need cover for the cavalry as they make their approach to the enemy's flank (or front)?  Does difficult terrain help us at all by anchoring the flank of one of our units?  All of these are good things to know as you approach a game, and are best asked when building your army as opposed to day-of at a tournament.

5.  What match-ups do I not enjoy?

I've seen this play out at tournaments a lot - people show up and once they see who the other teams are they start thinking, "Okay, I really don't want to fight So-and-So today."  While this is not bad, 1) it means you have no time to adjust if you do face that person, and 2) and probably more important it retrains the focus of our fears regarding lists toward players, not lists.  As a good example of this, I've heard a lot of guys before a tournament mention how they don't want to face Zorro (as he has a good record at tournaments), which I find ironic because 1) I enjoy facing Zorro, 2) I've traded blows well with lists that Zorro brings to tournaments, and 3) why in the world would I fear playing against a player?  Think about it: players roll 1s.  Players forget to claim objectives.  Players take daring risks that can get their army leader killed (and I say all of these things because I've done all of them, :P ).

No, we need to not fear players and instead start realistically evaluating lists.  Put another way, we need to know the match-ups listwise that we will not enjoy facing, especially when we build a list.  So for example, from the last tournament (GT 2015 as of this writing), I declared that I'd be running a Shire list.  There were a host of lists that I knew I would not enjoy facing, and I knew there were some that would be hard to beat, but not unenjoyable.  So for example, I knew it would be hard to beat a dwarf list (because most of my army, including my archery, needed 6+ or higher to wound).  But facing dwarves was not something I wouldn't enjoy - what I wouldn't enjoy playing against is a Rohan army with lots of S3 throwing weapons, as they wound on 4+ against most of my army, they've got 8" range, and with 4-5" move for the vast majority of the army, it's frankly unlikely that I'd be able to catch anyone.

Even more unenjoyable would be a fully mounted force (let alone a fully mounted Rohan force with S3 throwing weapons, :P ), as I didn't have a good answer for the mobility, the wounding, or the range.  And I knew this going into the tournament: armies that sported lots of S3 ranged options, high mobility, and decent Shoot values would not be fun to play against.

As it happens I didn't need to face either of the two Rohan armies in the tournament, but suffice it to say I knew this going into the tournament as I built my list and I was okay with this.  Knowing that there are certain lists you don't enjoy facing with a given list is fine - we know this in advance.  It also means that if we have to face such a list we know in advance that it will be hard, and we will be mentally prepared before the tournament starts if we face it.

So as you build your list, ask the question of which lists you don't enjoy facing.  If you're running an elf army, do you enjoy a match-up against an Isengard army?  Does our feeling change if they take a drummer?  Does it change if they bring siege equipment?  We'll be coming back to this one again under Point #7, but suffice it to say for now, we should ask the question of which match-ups are less-than-ideal for us, as this will help us to mentally prepare for the tournament in advance.

6.  How will I counter common threats?

This question plays to the meta of your local gaming group, so the answers to these questions will vary based on the group.  That being said, these questions are also very important for us to answer.  We'll touch on four major questions here.

Do you commonly play against Isengard?  If so, how do you deal with S4 and S5 wounding you?  Some people (dwarves, Bunker Captains, etc.) simply say, "Eh, we'll pack on the army and for him to roll 5s/6s to wound," while other people (Shire and Grey Company, for example) simply say, "Oh yeah: if they get into melee with us they'll likely wound us as they wound on 4s, but our plan is to either kill them before they reach us or be wise in how many melee combats we fight each turn."  Both are good options, but teams should think about this.

Do you commonly play against Haradrim/Grey Company with lots of shooting?  If so, how do you deal with the hail of arrows (or S3 archery in the case of elves)?  Some will go the "everyone has a shield and everyone takes the beating as we advance" approach, some will bring a utility hero or warrior who increases movement so that they can close distance faster, and some will take a "we can pound them with our archery/siege equipment more than they can pound us" strategy, and all of these can work.  None of them are "right" or "wrong" per se: they just play to different play styles.

Do you commonly face terror-causing models (be they casters/undead/monsters)?  Think through how you can boost your Courage rating.  Some Forces of Evil will take a shaman and use Fury to keep their models capable of charging.  Most Forces of Good will trust to generally high Courage and/or a horn for an extra boost.  Some armies (like elves) just don't mind because they are innately high-Courage.  So for your force you'll want to think about this as you build your list.

Do you commonly face high-Defense enemies (D6 Gondor/Easterlings, D7 Dwarves)?  How do you crack through the armor of the enemy so that you can break their force?  Some trust to S4 (which is generally good enough to get the job done) or two-handed weapons (and for those few - and happy few - lists who get access to S4 2Hers, we give you a shout out here) to crack the armor.  Some will go the crossbow/siege weapon route to crack the armor from range, while others will grab monsters and crack the armor with S6 or so in close combat.  However you choose to approach it, have an idea of how you'll deal with the threat.

It is worth noting that we want to be considering the common threats here.  At almost any tournament someone is going to bring "that list" that totally works outside of the norm - Shire, for example - and they are going to be totally different from every other army you face.  And that's fine - we don't need to micromanage the list to "plan for everything"; we want to make sure we are at least planning for the common threats, though.

7.  Who in the army must survive the fight?

The more time goes by, the more I'm coming to realize that this is key, and more key than most people think because there's a whole half of this discussion that I'd be willing to wager people are not thinking about at all.

When you first read the tag line for this point, I'm betting you all were thinking, "Okay: who in my army cannot die in this fight or I'll lose," and I'd bet everyone thought, "well, the less units I lose the better, but if I could avoid losing my Army Leader that would be great."  This is an important consideration, and it's true: I don't know a single person who is ever glad that their army leader dies.  But there is an even more important question we should be asking, which is who must survive the fight over and against another of my models - that is to say, who we are okay with allowing to die.

Now I'd be willing to wager that no one thinks about this when they build their armies (except me, sometimes), because we all think, "Hey: if I don't reach my break point, I have a lower chance of losing the fight, so I want to lose as few models as possible," and while this is sometimes true, I am coming more and more to the conclusion that there are certain scenarios where it is actually to your advantage to hit 25% as soon as possible.  To illustrate this, I'll hearken to two fights that I've fought recently (as of this writing): a game between my Isengard uruk army and Tiberius's Wood Elf army, and my third game at the TMAT GT 2015 against Red Jacket's Isengard army.

Case Study: Isengard (Centaur) v. Wood Elves

Tiberius was testing out a new wood elf Linchpin build (big ole' "Death Star" of super shooty wood elves that can cause terror for a turn, move you if you fail a Courage test, augment each other - it's nasty), and I brought a heavily D5 uruk scout army.  As you can imagine, a 2+ Shoot Value from bows and a 3+ Shoot Value for throwing daggers followed up by 5+ wounds (including on my heroes) did a good number on my frontlines, but I had one thing working in my favor.  I was approaching this scenario (a Domination scenario) with the understanding that I didn't need to have half my army left at the end - in fact, I didn't even need 25% of my army left.  All I needed was one guy on my starting objective, the only guy on another objective, more guys on a third objective, and one guy in the middle - which means I can do it with as little as five models (more likely 9-10).  And with that split I'd get 8 pts from objectives, while my opponent gets (likely) 2-5 pts from objectives and 3-5 pts for breaking me - that is to say, a chance at a Draw or Minor Win, even though my army is hitting 25% first.

So I rammed my main body of infantry (about 25 models) straight ahead and planned on everyone dying save one.  On the sides we piled into the two objectives, won complete control of one, and were contested at the other, and we left a Feral Uruk-Hai at the starting objective (because he's Courage 5, so he'll stick around when the fighting gets tough).  As it happened he also kept the Death Star together, so he left the back objective open (0 pts for that one), and I decided now was the time - I threw a ton of my models into fights they could not win, ran my banner into combat, and prayed I lost everyone save Ugluk in the center.  Sure enough, I took a ton of casualties, the army started breaking, and Tiberius realized as we went into the next round that I was 3-4 models from game, and he was losing in Battle Points.

Now I ended up losing the game (my feral holding the back objective ran, the elves at the far objective held on, and we lost the match by a few points), but the lesson was well-taken: we had a really good chance of actually winning the game because I realized what units could die without us losing the game.  There were other units that we had to not lose (like the feral), but there were a number of expendable models that I could lose and use the speed of losing models to help me win the game.

Case Study: Shire + Dwarves (Centaur) v. Isengard

Red Jacket brought a very traditional Isengard army to the tournament: Drummer for movement, D7 Bunker Captain for defense, Vrasku for heavy fire support, tons of D6 frontline fighters, pike support, and some marauders (and Mauhur, naturally) for fast attack.  Pretty standard Isengard army.

I brought a heavy shooting, heavy D7 frontline Shire/Dwarf army, and in the first 3-4 turns I hacked through a good number of his forces and almost brought him to his break point.  This then presented a problem: since we were playing a Hold Ground scenario and he had 7 models in scoring range and I was nowhere close to the center objective, if I broke him and he intentionally failed a number of tests with guys who were not in range (pulled back his heroes to keep his men out of Stand Fast! range, for example), he could have ran back to the objective, claimed all the points for having models near the center objective, and he would have won the game.  Thankfully my force was able to make it over there, but the point still remains: it is definitely possible to be the winning team even if you are the team that hits 25% first.

Now I'll caveat this point by noting that you should think about this is more likely (if not only possible) within the context of terrain-based scoring scenarios (like Hold Ground and Domination), and for those who are playing those scenarios you should seriously consider this.  One way to win the scenario is to overwhelm your opponent at more objectives (if not push him out of scoring range), but against an army that plays well against your list you may not have this option.  So I recommend thinking through, "Okay: if I'm down to 25% who needs to survive so that we can still win the game, or at least score well enough to avoid a Major Loss, and who can we lose so that we wrap up the game quickly before my opponent can tip the balance."

This framework of thinking is extremely helpful when playing against an army that is well-tailored to tackle your list, as it plays to the fact that you will lose casualties.  The question, then, is how to lose casualties strategically, protecting what you must save to win the game, and giving up what is not necessary to win the game.  And suddenly, getting gunned down by Haradrim archery doesn't hurt as much, because it's all part of the plan, and we're okay with losing models to it.  So something you should think about for you army.

Conclusion

In summary, when you are building an army list you should start by asking the question, "What is my army strategy for this list?"  If you're running a Linchpin list, build a Linchpin list and ask these seven questions about the units in the army.  If you're running a themed list, settle on a theme and then ask these questions.  Each strategy will answer the questions differently, and that's alright - we want our army list to match our strategy (so that the army plays well to our play style), but we also want the list to have a shot at doing well, so it behooves us to take the time to prepare the list well.

Watching the stars,

Centaur

"Firenze!  What are you doing?  You have a human on your back!  Have you no shame?  Are you a common mule?" ~ Bane, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone

3 comments:

  1. Great write-up, buddy, especially in talking about who we can lose to still win/not lose as badly (don't often think about that).

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  2. Excellent post Centaur. I especially liked 2 and 6. Having a good sense about who is supposed to do what, and how you want them matched up can make a big difference - especially if you can extrapolate which matchups your opponent really doesn't want, and try to keep those in place as well. ;)

    had a good laugh over 5, going into tournaments I'm usually thinking "I really want to play with Centaur, but I don't want to face his list!"

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