Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Planning for the Enemy

I've been doing some thinking about tuning your list for a specific opponent.   Taking advantage of your strengths as much as your opponent's weaknesses.

Most of the games I've played have been with "All Comers" lists; lists intended to perform as well as one could hope against any possible opponent (I'll come back to why that is in a bit).  It's become clear to me that, while this is sometimes appropriate, maybe sometimes isn't.

Warhammer 40K

I've spent more time playing Warhammer 40K than I have playing any other miniatures game.  Far and away, the bulk of that time has been spent playing in leagues (escalation and otherwise) in the Iron Fist League, a group that's pretty competitive in the way it approaches the game... mostly because many of its members like to play in tournaments.  Lists are often refinements of tournament lists.

Tournament lists, ideally, are all-comers.  Although there's a certain amount of metagame involved (like the fact that you're somewhat more likely to face an MEQ army in any particular game or that there are a lot of Ork and Guard players out there), there's really no way to know what armies you're going to face.  Building to completely obliterate one kind of army is generally setting yourself up to take a beating from another kind.

Additionally, 40K has random scenarios and deployment rules.  You don't actually know what sort of game you're going to be playing until you start playing it.  You need to build your force to handle every possible scenario.

Discussions on the IFL forum about specifically customizing your army to your opponent generally involves universal abhorrence.  Although it'd be madness to for a company of Astartes to not recognize that they're assaulting a Tyranid warzone and equip themselves accordingly, the consensus is that it's just bad sportsmanship and indicative of low character.

I'm not altogether sure where to draw the line between specifically customizing your force to address your opponent and simply responding to the local metagame, however.  What's the difference between deliberately saying, "I'm about to play against orks.  Better load up on the flamers," and just playing against a lot of orks and coming to the conclusion that flamers always end up useful?

Warhammer Fantasy

Most of my Fantasy playing has also been with the IFL... though the WHFB culture is remarkably different from that of the 40K culture.  Almost all of the Fantasy players participate in a challenge pyramid, which is all about knowing exactly who you're going to be facing and building a list to crush them.

It feels like the magic item lists really support that approach, too.  Dwarf-Slayer doesn't look like something I'd ever take, unless I knew I was going to be playing against Dwarfs, you know?

It also makes sense in that it truly encourages a player to learn all the ins and outs of both his army and his opponent's.  If you don't really understand what you might be facing, you can't really prepare for it.

Unlike 40K, Fantasy pretty much just as the one scenario.  I've looked at the variant scenarios from the 6th edition rulebook, and they're fundamentally not so much alternate scenarios as mildly different deployments.

As I've only played in on WHFB tournament (an escalation league tournament), I don't really know how that scene works.  I'm not sure how the WHFB players make the transition from the specific-opponent army to the all-comers army that I'm sure a tournament requires.

What's interesting is that, here too, I have to wonder if there is a line: one of the more recent local scandals is when a player, on seeing that his opponent had unpacked (and therefore likely would be fielding) a dragon, put a unit back in the case and pulled out more bolt throwers.  There was a great deal of outrage over this on the forum.  Is this specific act fundamentally any different from more generally deliberately building your army to defeat your opponent's?


I'm only just getting started with this game, so in many ways I'm talking about of my ass.

One thing that we've identified is that it really feels like we're supposed to pick the scenario, look our opponent in the eye and then build our list with full knowledge of what army they'll be playing.  Showing up with a list typed up the day before that seemed like a good idea is just asking for frustration.

The mechanics of the game seem to encourage it, as do the extremely awkwardly phrased unit costs.


It seems to me that, depending on the game and metagame, it's sometimes appropriate to construct a list with a specific opponent in mind.  Given that my default setting is 40K, which discourages that, I'm likely to generally continue building all-comers lists, regardless of the game and I'm likely to continue being disappointed when I'm up against someone who hasn't.  I think that's probably my fault, though, for not tapping into the game better.

What do folks think?  Always all-comers?  Are things more nuanced?


  1. My read is about the same as your view - I prefer an all comer's list. I don't even mind a "You know I'm going to killing orks, flamers and templates it is."

    But when it comes to "Okay since you are taking X, I'll need to take Y" I'd get grumpy, because then I'll go "Well because you are taking Y, I'll take X." That just lifts the escalation.

    My "perfect world" would be to have a variety of pre-planned lists. So I wouldn't have a Rushputin list, but I could have a Dark Angel's or Skaven list.

    Even that strikes me as slightly off, but strikes the best balance IMO betweek tweaking for a specific army, and getting hammered by a specialist army.

  2. I will support Arashi here. In a "perfect world" if an opponent had maybe 3 or 4 list design to face a variety of foes that would be fine with me if they picked the appropriate one when they found out what army I was playing.

    If, upon seeing that I am running 3 units of 30 boyz in my ork army they start crossing things off their list to add flamers and heavy bolters to their army I would get a bit annoyed.

    Building to your opponent for theme games is about the only time I am cool with people picking choices specifically to counter choices I have taken in my army. Now if you already know what type of army I play, in say a challenge Pyramid, and you show up with a list to beat Orks, cool. However that is also a one off circumstance.

  3. As far as I know, the specific "Oh, you're taking X? I'll take Y instead..." only happened the once, and with a person generally reviled at the store (let's call him... "Pumpkin Head").

    I'm less concerned about specifically doing that, because everyone really appears to frown upon that. I'm mostly ruminating about the somewhat more general practice of customizing your list to a particular book and where that appears to be appropriate or inappropriate.

  4. I think it's reasonable to use strategy and tactics in wargames. Strategic planning is just another part of the game. I also think it's entirely in line with formulating your strategy to consider everything you know.

    40k style scenarios throw a lot of 'what you know' up in the air. It was kind of the same thing in War of the Rings. You had to either build your list with the capability to win all the scenarios or know that you were likely to lose some percentage of the games regardless of how well either you or your opponent played.

    In a Fantasy scenario where you know that you need to kill the other guy, and you know what army he is playing, I don't think it's bad form to bring a list based on what you expect to see across the table. I do think it's bad form to show up with one list, actually lay eyes on what the other guy brought, realize that you planned for a different build, and then change on the fly. That's a bit like seeing how your opponent moved their troops in the first round and then trying to pick up and re-deploy yours. You're just past that phase of the game and there's no going back.

    I might just be spoiled in that my Fantasy army has a few different builds that 'work' and so I always have the potential to try something different and throw off my opponent's expectations, as I know that that's not a common situation across all the armies. But that seems, at least for the challenge situation, to be a part of the game. It's a bit of a mind game before you even show up to try to guess what the strong and weak points of your opponent's list will be and plan accordingly.

    This may be a bit of an outsider's perspective, but more of the 40k armies seem like they have more flexibility than the Fantasy armies, perhaps by necessity.

    I'll say that for myself I have a few pre-built lists around a theme of some sort and I'm trying to stick with/refine those as much as possible. Themes include All-Comers, Anti-Armor, Khanite (which is basically a close-combat list), Heavy Magic, and Anti-Magic.


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