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Friday, 26 March 2010

Part Three: Dropping the Metaphor/Making the FoC work for you.

At its most basic, this game is deceptively simple.

There are a series of things you can do to win:

  1. Control more objectives than the opponents,
  2. Kill more of the enemy's units than you lose,
  3. Wipe the enemy out.



The first two are conditional, but the third is unconditional - it will always win you the game, irrespective of other factors.  Within the confines of this, there are several things you need to consider:


  • Only Troops can hold Objectives, therefore you need a solid core of survivable Troops.
  • You must take at least 2 Troops - no hardship, as you probably want more anyway...
  • You need to eliminate the enemy's Troops, and reduce/remove their capacity to win.
  • Under 5th Ed rules, Vehicles are the toughest units, generally speaking.
  • Vehicles can't hold objectives in of themselves, but Transports with a Scoring Unit inside can.
  • You therefore need Transports for your Troops, if possible and cost effective,
  • And you need to take out enemy Transports, in order to get at their Troops.
  • Objectives are usually in midfield, and (in one mission at least) in the opponent's deployment zone.


So, we're looking at requirements in the following areas:

Mobility - need to reach objectives
Survivable Troops - in order to play for a win, not a draw.
Anti-Tank fire - In order to crack open Vehicles and get to vulnerable Troops within.
Anti-Infantry fire - to take out the Troops of the enemy, but also to deal with enemy horde armies that rely on weight of numbers to counteract a lack of armoured protection.

Now, not all armies and units are created equal...which is a shame, but not the focus of the article.  It's important here to note that not all armies have units that can fulfil all of these requirements, and so they have to adapt.  Tyranids, for example, can easily manage survivable Troops (especially in the case of Tervigons), but struggle to provide anti-tank fire in the same (Troops) - this forces them to look at the other sections of the FoC to fill the gap.  In the case of Tyranids, we look at the Elites section, to choose between Hive Guard or Zoanthropes - or else we turn to Heavy Support, and the Tyrannofex.

This is a good example of making the FoC work for you, using a different section of the chart to fill a void left uncovered by the units you are forced to take by other considerations.

If this sounds simple, that would be because it is - if it sounds patronising...well, that's just because it's the internet.  No derision of mental faculty is intended.

Now, to look at the Eldar more specifically.

Eldar have 5 Troops options (6 if you count Wraithguard) and I have already discussed why Rangers are to be overlooked elsewhere.  Because it's my blog and I can, I'm going to rank the requirements above from D (Dismal) to S (Stylish) like some sort of Konami game.

Dire Avengers:

Mobility - C.
As Eldar they are Fleet, and therefore have a modicum of mobility.  However, when on Foot they are still unlikely to Run, as they are not a CC unit, whatever upgrades you use.  As a unit who's ONLY damage output is from mid-range, they lose out bigtime by sacrificing the ability to shoot.

Survivability - D.
T3 more than counteracts the 4+ save, and there are more than a few commonly played AP4 weapons out there anyway.  This is only exacerbated by the small unit size (5-10) and the fact that they cannot have any sort of Def Nades.  Basically, if DAs get charged they're dead.  If they get shot, they're dead.  Their theme tune, is this.  Fun, reasonably proficient, but...well.  Their fragility makes them a weak choice on foot...but we haven't compared them to others in the Codex.

Anti-Tank - D.
LMAO.  What anti-tank?  Really, if you see enemy armour, and these guys are on foot...that's when you Run.  Hope you can maybe get rear shots onto AV10 and Glance to death? Not in 5th Edition buddy - just not worth it, even if it were statistically viable.

Anti-Infantry - B.
Pretty solid.  18" range with S4 is pretty good, though AP5 isn't spectacular, it's certainly not poor either.  Being an Assault weapon is great for fighting retreats, something far more likely than closing with the enemy, although it retains the option of either, of course.  Their BS of 4 allows for fairly accurate withering volleys, and, as people (not me) are so fond of saying over and over, Bladestorm exists.  Now, just like the PS3/XBox360 item of the same name, it's fairly middle-of-the-road in terms of quality (Bladestorm game reviews) - not bad, but not exactly the kind of thing you want to pay full price for.  Sadly, there's no way to pick up Exarch powers preowned or on Amazon.  :(  Paying (essentially) 44 points for Bladestorm and upgrading 2 of your BS4 S4 shots to 5 BS5 S4 shots (and adding an extra potential 9 BS4 S4 shots) doen't sound like a horrible deal, and it isn't horrible.  However, the Exarch brings essentially nothing else to the unit, and isn't survivable enough to make his highly situational ability any better.  Bearing in mind that you can afford 2/3 of another 5-man unit for the cost of the Exarch alone...is he worth another Scoring unit?  They're already fairly good at a-i fire, and are unlikely to get enough extra kills to win battles with a likely one-use ability.  In addition, the mere threat of Bladestorm's potential adds to the threat level posed by the unit - and without increasing their survivability, this is a HUGE mistake.

Average Score: C (rounding up)

Bear in mind, this comparative scoring is in the game overall, not within the confines of the Codex.  :)

As a comparison, a Space Marine Tactical Squad:

Mobility - D.
They are regular Infantry, and usually have a Heavy Weapon (ie, in good lists) - they get the lowest possible.  Sure, a unit with SnP seems worse off for mobility - but show me one without Relentless (where it matters, obvs) please.  They're equally immobile.

Survivability - B.
There are ten of them, they have T4 and a 3+...they just about reach 'B' status by the skin of their teeth.  High Ld, ATSKNF and Combat Tactics are of course factors in this ranking, as they allow them to stay in the fight much longer than non-elite soldiers.

Anti-Tank - A.
Up to 3 Melta weapons in the squad, one of which is a 'hidden' MM? Options for a hidden Fist and Melta Bombs? Free Krak Grenades all round? Yeah, awesome buddy.  Loses out on 'S' because they are immobile if popping vehicles at 24".

Anti-Infantry - B.
Free Flamer = Pure Win.  Bolters are excellent for thinning hordes, though unlikely to win the fight alone.  Free Frags then? Also great, but they're a barely functional unit in CC.  Options for ML, HB, PC?  Well, of those, only the ML isn't completely shit...and it's a fool takes a ML over a ML without some serious playtesting of the MM in it's place first.  They're able to take out lightly armoured foes no problems...but anything that can take the punishment will smash you.

Average Ranking: - B. (Rounded up, again)
It's worth pointing out that, as all these rankings don't take into account points values (directly) or Transports, the Tactical Squad is perhaps a little overstated as simply the best Troop in the game.  On foot (on paper) though - it is.  It does nothing spectacularly...but it does everything well.

It has occurred, half-way through writing this, that it makes more sense to continue the thinking process here, and study the other Eldar Troops later, in another post.  So...that's what I'll do.

All the above rankings are merely comparing Troops to each other.  What we need to do is firstly demonstrate that Troops do not provide the main killing power of the army (admittedly, this is shamefully easy.  Fire Warriors.  There, done.) and then work on filling the gaps with 'proper' units.  While the main focus of this series and indeed Blog has been and shall remain, Eldar - I think Orks may be a better example for this.

A typical Orks Troops choice:
30 Shoota Boyz;
Nob, Klaw, 3 Big Shootas, Bosspole...

So, this unit has an effective range of 24" for most shots.  It has phenomenal potential at anti-Infantry fire (9x S5, 54x S4 shots) despite a poor accuracy (average 3 S5 hits, 18 S4) and a poor AP value - though this last is largely irrelevant given the sheer volume of fire.  Having 30 Boyz makes it fairly survivable, especially given they'll be Fearless until they're reduced to a fraction of their strength - an by then their effectiveness will likely be so diminished that their death is a formality.  (Which could see a savvy player preserve them for late objective lols...but a good opponent will see thorugh this before you even finish considering if it's worth trying!)
They have NO anti-tank capacity.  A single Fist is NOT the same as anti-tank.  They also get a 'Dismal' for Mobility, despite the capacity to Waaaagh! because of the huge unwieldy unit size, and the loss of effectiveness when they don't fire.  Overall, they're a very average unit saved by their low cost per model...and the fact Orks get nothing better in the Troops section.  (Not strictly true that last, but FoC manipulation through Character Rules is another topic.)

Now, as clearly seen above, the Ork player has to compensate for the fact that his Boyz simply cannot contend with enemy armour.  Clearly, the answer to his dilemma is Lootas - but the process at which this is arrived at is an important one.

Firstly, we

  • Identify the needAnti-tank capacity, primarily to bust Transports (usually low-mid AV) in order to get Da Boyz into a scrap.
  • Focus on what PRECISELY is required ABOUT this need. - Orks have several options for close range anti-armour, but this is counter-productive against enemy Transports.  Transports are there primarily to get the enemy where they want to be, if you wait until they do that to bring them down then they have achieved 50% or more of their allotted task.  You have failed.  So, for this task Killa Kans, with their DCCWs and inaccurate Rokkit fire won't be quite enough.  You need to really reach out and stop them on the starting blocks.  You need RANGE.
  • Analyse the alternatives.  Orks have the option now of Deff Koptas, which have medium range, but a huge operational range...Buggies - again medium range, but the advantages of a large operational range and squadron chicanery...Warbikes - low/med range, large operational range, toughness...Nob Bikers - all the power and toughness of Warbikes, only doubled and then some.  Wound Allocation Shenanigans one of the strongest points for this unit.  Psychological Impact also far from negligible...Tankbustas - Perfect weaponry (in the Ork Dex) for Tank Killing...but the range is medium and they have no mobility.  And a fucked up rule that everyone (mostly) plays wrong...but it's the commonly accepted interpretation and it's not worth arguing over for the Tankbustas' sake...Lootas - The greatest range in the Codex (well...) S7 shots...it's like a squad carrying an Autocannon each.  Poor accuracy becomes irrelevant (mitigated somewhat) with (by) high RoF weapons - and Lootas are the epitomy of this.  Lack of mobility make an irrelevance by reach - though survivability an issue.  [Problems with other units: Primarily, COST, for all.  Buggies are decent value, but the OPEN TOPPED rule screws them royally.  They also have a very low RoF compared to Lootas, despite better accuracy.]
  • Playtest alternatives if possible.  Speaks for itself.  Very few players can identify the problems with a unit accurately enough without playing it - though the extent to which playtesting is needed varies.
  • Look at the rest of the army.  No part of the army should be considered to be doing it's job in isolation - you want a Combined Arms approach.  Every part of the army should be working in concert, and they should be able to step up if someone else fails at the task.  This is where Redundancy comes in.  This topic is well worth a blog post of its own...and if you search the blogs on my links you will find many, many posts on the topic.  For our purpose, it is sufficient to say that it is having multiple units fulfil the same role (eg, Transport-busting) to cover for poor luck or unexpected enemy chicanery.  You will need more thna one anti-armour unit for your Orks...and when we agree Loootas are far and away the best then the best possible option is more Lootas.  While some are sad this sees more generic builds being used, I blame older Codexes more than anything - if 'blame' can be said to be the correct phrase.  So-called 'Codex Creep' is not the (an) issue.  When you can confidently say that the army covers all these bases - filling in the gaps left by your sadly inadequate Troops choices - you can be confident in having produced a Balanced List.
  • Further things likely to need filled include: Close Quarters Specialists, Horde ControlAV14 Counters, Cover Counters, Melta, and CockBlockers.  Each of these warrants it's own topic, albeit some lengthier than others - but the principle remains the same.
  • Finally, Consider Opportunity Cost.  Troops Choices permitted by the FoC are twice as many as anything else, 3 thrice that in HQ.  This means you somehow have to find units to fulfil all of these functions from 11 total slots, provided the Troops themselves cannot achieve what you require.  Going back to Eldar is the best example here.  Conventional wisdom (ie, espoused by myself) is that the DAVU is the perfect Eldar Troops choice.  Assuming that to be true, it provides two things well - Mobility (Wave Serpent, duh!) and Survivability (I just told you...).  It provides a small but not insignificant amount of a-i fire from the guys in the craft, and the inevitable Chin Cannon for this role.  Chin Cannons are also able to take out light vehicles, though far from ideal.  To boost this power, we take the single best a-t heavy weapon available to the Eldar - the Lance.  Clearly, Lance weapons fall under the 'AV14 Counters' section...but a lonely BS3 Lance will do very little, even TL.  As a result, we need multiples, to provide redundancy and, simply, extra firepower.  At least 3, methinks, in ANY game.  This will cost us 435 points...not exactly ideal.  To then fill the other things we need the army to do, we ahve a greatly reduced points limit - forcing us to pick and choose which of the above areas we adequately fill.  Fire Dragons are amazing, if priced inappropriately for their survivability and utility.  Two squads of them is the minimum, and so that neatly rounds out AV14 Counters, and, of course, Melta.  An Exarch with DBF goes some way to covering Cover...but the Eldar simply cannot take a good Flamer-based unit outside of a Seer Council.  This leaves a hole that will not be filled due to the limitations of the army list (eg points cost) - and forces you to compromise in other areas to compensate as best you can.  This illustrates why Eldar are far from an optimal army to play.  A well-built 5th Edition army will cover those bases to some extent, or have enough of the others to compensate.  Eldar achieve neither, not able to afford a CC unit in a balanced list, and unable to outshoot even Orks.
Following this process for each hole you perceive in the army will allow you to use the myriad units at your disposal to build a balanced force of your own and thereby to counter the foe by protecting against your weaknesses and supporting your strengths.  Of course, playtests can be expensive, so try to ProxyHammer if necessary.

Oh, and models are expensive too...so skip Swooping Hawks.  They're unabashedly shit.  :)

Further reading for this post:
Spite for the Dice Gods article on Opportunity Cost...http://raptor1313.blogspot.com/2010/02/evaluating-units-honestly-opportunity.html
Back40k article on this topic by SandWyrm: http://theback40k.blogspot.com/2010/01/you-brought-what.html
YTTH article on Emotions, and their place (or not) in List Building: http://www.yesthetruthhurts.com/2010/01/following-your-heart-using-emotions-to.html
3++ Article on Army Composition: http://kirbysblog-ic.blogspot.com/2010/03/armies-in-5th-basics-part-1-army.html

Any additional material should be added to the reading list, please let me know - I can't possibly read ALL of your posts guys, so drop in a comment.  Obviously I'll be vetting them by reading before linking - and I don't want to show any special bias, for example, to any blogs with more members/posts that generate an advantage in this area and make this gargantuan (by my standards) post look bad.  lol
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