Getting your game on: Redundancy and Reliability and flexibility
The aim of this article (and possibly some that follow it) is to reflect on my own gaming experiences and use the findings gathered to provide input to hopefully help other players improve their own game too, as well as inspiring them to also take a step back and reflect on their own gaming style. As I am personally a gamer in a casual environment and not a tournament player, it is aimed at people playing this type of games. It does not aim towards the competitive crowd where other skills such as meta-game analysis or psychological warfare come into play to. Rather I intend to highlight how you can improve your gaming skills and thus your chances of winning without losing friends or creating a negative experience for yourself or the other player.
In this article, I am going to focus on list building and how to create armies that can handle different scenarios and opposing armies. In latter articles, I am going to move on to the battlefield itself and how you can improve your performance there. The two key concepts I am going to discuss are redundancy and reliability and their role during list-building.
Redundancy is an often-mentioned concept that deals with having a sufficient number of units to deal with each category of threats and fulfill multiple battlefield roles, which we are going to discuss in the next point. In essence, redundancy deals with not having to put all your eggs into one basket, but rather making sure that you can handle the different categories of enemy even after taking losses. As we are going to see in a future installment, target priority is a key to winning and eliminating the units that are most dangerous to your own units is a major part thereof. By creating redundancy, we can counteract our opponent’s target priority by giving them too many targets to take out at once.
Reliability in this context means making sure that the units supposed to fulfil each role are also up to that role and thus can be relied upon to do what you intend it to do. This might involve a certain amount of math-hammering, so calculating how high the odds are of a unit dealing x damage or being able to survive y damage, depending on what you intend it to do. This might seem to be an obvious thing to do, but how often do you see people fielding units that end up doing nothing or not contributing to the overall performance of its army? By taking a moment to reflect on how efficiently you think a unit can perform the task you intend it to perform, you can ensure that your army overall performs better.
Different battlefield roles
In this part, I am going to outline the different roles a unit can have on the battlefield, as well as which other roles it might have overlaps with. As we endeavour to create a list that has built-in redundancy, we need not only make sure that we have multiple units to face each type of threat, but also be aware of the different threats types themselves. For example, if our army contains no mobile scoring units, we put ourselves into the awkward position of having to deal far more damage to the opponent than we would have to if we could also take forward objectives. The main roles on the battlefield are:
a) Objectives (defensive)
These units are usually Troops, as they have to be scoring in as many missions as possible. Other than that, the most important criterion is resilience. These units are the ones that are going to stop you from losing and your opponent from winning by holding the mission objectives in your own deployment zone or close to it, thus giving you points and denying them to your opponent. Other factors are secondary to them being hard to shift, but are of course welcome, provided that they do not become too expensive. These units often come with the option to include some mid- to long-range firepower such as missile launchers, plasma guns or other assorted special and heavy weapons. These weapons enable them to contribute to other areas such as anti-infantry or anti-tank (thus helping with redundancy), but you should take into account that they will rarely be able to significantly affect the enemy army (and here we talk about reliability). In other words, your Tactical squads might take out a Rhino or put a wound on a monstrous creature, but they cannot handle those threats all by themselves nor should they be expected to do so.
b) Objectives (offensive)
If defensive objective units keep you from losing, offensive objective takers are there to win the game. Those units also need to be scoring and resilient, but they will also need to be either mobile or very resilient in order to do their job. Examples are Blood Angels Assault Marines with Jump Packs or Rhinos, Grey Hunters in Rhinos (or any Marine Troop choice in a Rhino) or Eldar Windriders as mobile units or 30-strong units of Shoota Boys as a unit that is difficult to remove from the field. Again, these units might have other assets or strengths, but being able to move quickly or survive significant amounts of enemy attention are the only reason why they are there and anything else is just a bonus.
c) Mobile assault or counterassault
Now we have our objectives covered and send our mobile troops to take our opponent’s ones, we need someone to make way for them. Some Troops choices are able to make their own gap into the enemy battle line, but most of the time, you will need someone to break the line for them. Likewise, you need to keep enemy line-breakers from getting to your own squishy Troop choices in the back. Finally, if you wish to table your opponent, which is always an option, those guys will do the job. In essence, the mobile assault units of your army will do the heavy lifting. Don’t be misled by the assault moniker, they can be close combat specialists, but they can just as well be mobile firepower units, tanks, walkers or units capable of all these things, such as Greater Daemons or Paladins.
d) Ranged anti-tank/anti-monster
Tanks are, for lack of a better word, cheap. As tanks have the disadvantages of being unable to score (and thus win games) in most mission and possibly dying to a single lucky shot, they usually bring a significant amount of firepower to the table compared to infantry on a point-by-point basis. Moreover, their firepower is usually operating on a longer range than that of infantry, as well as being more efficient on the move. This means that tanks can reach out and touch your units from the get go and thus have to be dealt with as soon as possible. Therefore, being able to destroy them in an assault is always inferior to killing them at range before they have the opportunity to use their weaponry. Dealing with monsters is also best done at range, as the majority of monsters can dish out far more damage in hand-to-hand than at range. Even those who are weak fighters like Riptide suits or Tervigons are best dealt with at range, as they can be tremendously destructive in a direct or indirect way and have to killed the sooner the better. The criteria for a tank-busting unit are thus firepower and range or mobility, depending on the army. It is also worth noting that being AP 1-2 is desirable, as it influences rolls on the damage table and robs monstrous creatures of their armour save. If you army lacks such weapons (such as Orks or Tyranids), you need to look into rate of fire to overwhelm armour or strip hull points quickly.
e) Ranged anti-transport
Most of what was said in the last point can also be applied here, but rate of fire becomes more important in this field, as transports can turn up in larger numbers as dedicated gun tanks and also tend to have lower armour value. There are of course overlaps with c), as a unit capable of reliably killing a Land Raider should also be able to kill a Rhino. Likewise, a Tactical squad on an objective has a good chance of downing a Rhino, but should not be relied on to do so. In some cases, even your basic infantry can play a role here, either because of their weaponry (Tau Firewarriors or Necrons with Gauss Flayers spring to mind) or their target being AV 10 and thus vulnerable to boltguns.
f) Ranged anti-MEq
Like it or not, most people you will encounter will play Space Marines of some kind, be it loyalist or Chaotic. This means that taking out models with a 3+ save is something that your army should be able to do well. Again, there might be some overlap with other areas, especially anti-tank and anti-monster, but in general, you should have one unit with AP2-3 weaponry and reasonable rates of fire or units generating high volumes of S5+ fire to skim down those Marines and Terminators.
g) Ranged anti light infantry
Killing Marines is one thing, but sometimes you will face 100+ Orks or Gaunts all looking for blood and your few high-powered shots cannot put them down quick enough to make a dent into their ranks. For those cases, you need guys who can bring the dakka-dakka and send those mofos back to where they came from. This area overlaps with anti-transport as well as your scoring units sidearms or standard guns. Although most armies cover this area very well by just picking standard Troops or the units mentioned above, you should always consider how many Orks or similar troops your army can remove per turn.
I left anti-air till the end of this segment as flyers are a bit of a controversial topic on the non-tournament table. To put it mildly, they are ridiculously hard to kill for an unprepared opponent and this might leave a sore note in a friendly pick-up game. Facing double Heldrakes is fine in a tournament where anything goes, but dropping them on the chap looking for a beer and pretzels game might reduce your chances for a second game. Some groups I’ve seen limit them or to the least ask if people plan to bring them before the game, using a modified list that includes at least a smattering of AA to deal with them. As they are thus not seen as much on the kitchen table as on the tournament floor, preparing for them might not be as vital as the previous areas, but including a Quad Gun or other AA unit that won’t break the bank never does any harm and will also help you open out transports or kill tanks. You should however keep in mind that some units have Skyfire, but not Interceptor, which means they can only snapshot non-flyers/non-skimmers and only shoot after the flyer had the first shot, making them dubious to say the least.
i) Final thoughts
It goes without saying that it is very difficult to include all 8 elements into an army with redundancies added, especially in armies of 1500 points or less. In these cases, you should decide which areas to dedicate fewer points to and which to emphasize. Knowing what kind of armies you might face in a broad sense can help here. If your local shop is marine-heavy, you can go easy on the anti-horde units. Likewise, if a lot of people run Mech armies with multiple transports, you should buy those autocannons by the bucket load.
1 + 1 = 3
A concept I would like to discuss next is 1+1=3 which is based on a quote from the first Apocalypse book, though it is probably ripped off from a historical source. Imagine playing a game. Both players field a single anti-tank tank (such as a Predator Annihilator). Thus you have a 1-1 parity, where each player has one tank to kill and one to kill it. If however one player brings two anti-tank tanks, the odds shift to 1-3 because you need to kill two tanks with your one tank, while at the same time taking fire from two, thus meaning your tank is outnumbered 1 to 3, not just 1 to 2. This concept is equally applicable to all other sort of unit. For example, if you have 2 linebreakers to one, you can either use both to overrun the one linebreaker or dispatch one to deal with the enemy or at least cripple it and the other one to kill scoring units. In this case, your two units are worth more than double of the enemy’s. And finally, two targets force your opponent to split fire, thus increasing the odds that one or both units manage to survive relatively intact whereas a single unit might be obliterated by the same amount of fire. Again, this reinforces the notion of redundancy, by giving you more tools to deal with certain enemy units and boosting the resilience of these units.
How much is too much?
A common flaw seen in non-tournament armies is that people tend to over-emphasize on one area and thus neglect others. This is particularly true for Troops choices. As 5 out of 6 missions are won on mission objectives, players often spend a significant amount of their points allowance on Troops, thereby reducing the points available for your assault and support units. As mentioned before, Troops often have a weak offensive ranged (a heavy and a special weapon or so) or melee (most of them have a single attack and only the champion has a melee weapon) output. Too many Troops thus hamper your ability to do enough damage to keep your enemy from winning. The truth is that even in the Scouring with its 6 objectives, you don’t need 6 scoring units, as a matter of fact; a single surviving scoring unit can easily win you the game, provided you can keep all the other objectives contested or empty. In addition, 2 missions make Fast Attack or Heavy Support units scoring, thus increasing the number of scorers without going overboard on Troops. You should therefore avoid spending too many points on Troops, as a rule of thumb, more than a third of your points might be too much.
Garage vs Bling
As we look into improving the quality of army lists, we need to take a look at upgrades. I personally favour a Garage approach (like Garage rock, so no thrills and just the basics) to army building, so I like to limit the amount of points spent on anything other than miniatures to the bare minimum. Adding upgrades to each unit will end up costing a lot, maybe even as much as another full unit or so. In a recent game, I played against a Space Marine army in a 2000 points game. The army included amongst others a Librarian with a 50 point level upgrade, three Rhinos each with Dozer Blades and Extra Armour and Meltabombs and Power weapons/fists on each sergeant. In total, he spent over 350 points on upgrades, where 150 would have probably been better, netting him another 10-man squad in the process.
This can be attributed to the flexibility trap where the player thinks that there is no harm adding a 5-point meltabomb and a 15-point power sword to a devastator sergeant just in case the unit ever gets charged by a dreadnought or an assault unit. However, this adds up quickly without doing much to help the unit. If your devastators get charged by Genestealers, they will die anyway, even if your sergeant kills one with his fancy sword, so why bother with it? By the same token, a character that is meant to play a supporting role like a Divination psyker should stay away from close combat as he will most likely die as soon as he faces serious opposition, so there is no need to give him an invulnerable save or an expensive weapon upgrade. As a rule, spend some time at the end of writing your list to look at the different upgrades and see which ones you could do without, then total up those points and see if you could include another small unit or even a tank with the savings. In the aforementioned example, dropping the level 2 upgrade, the swords and bombs alone would net you 110 points, enough to buy a predator or a scout unit.
A note on math-hammering and reliability
As I feel that I might not have given reliability the same attention as redundancy, I want to take a minute to look into it. In short, reliability looks at what your unit can be expected to do with average rolls. Sure, we all hope that our Gretchin gun down Terminators like it was no thing, but let’s be realistic for a moment. When selecting your troops, take a moment to run the statistics to see how well they can do their job, as you should also do on the field later on. If your two dedicated tankhunters both need 5s to glance AV13, you might need to reconsider if there are no better choices available to you. Likewise, you should be aware of how many bolter shots it takes to kill a Marine (9 by the way) to see if you can reliably handle MEq or not.
This is my current 2000 points Eldar list which I have steadily modified ever since the codex has come out and is still undefeated. I will use it to illustrate the concepts of redundancy and reliability.
Farseer: Jetbike, Runes of Witnessing: 130 points (support)
Farseer: Jetbike, Runes of Witnessing: 130 points (support)
5 Warlocks: Jetbikes: 250 points (counterassault or assault, anti-tank or monster)
5 Dire Avengers: Wave Serpent with Holo-Field, Twin-linked Scatter Laser and Shuriken Cannon: 210 points (anti-MEq/infantry and offensive scorers for the Avengers; anti-transport, anti-air and anti-MEq/infantry for the transport)
5 Dire Avengers: Wave Serpent with Holo-Field, Twin-linked Scatter Laser and Shuriken Cannon: 210 points
6 Windrider Jetbikes: 2 Shuriken Cannons: 122 points (anti-MEq/infantry and offensive scorers)
6 Windrider Jetbikes: 1 Shuriken Cannon: 112 points (idem)
5 Rangers: 60 points (defensive scorers, monster hunters)
5 Rangers: 60 points (defensive scorers, monster hunters)
5 Warp Spiders: 95 points (anti MEq/infantry and transports, assault unit, scorer in Scouring)
5 Warp Spiders: 95 points (anti MEq/infantry and transports, assault unit)
Fire Prism: Holo-Field: 140 points (anti everything and mobile scorer in Big Guns)
Fire Prism: Holo-Field: 140 points
Wraithknight: 2 Heavy Wraithcannons: 240 points (anti-tank, mobile scorer in Big Guns, generally badass and fire magnet)
As you can see, this list is far from the most overpowered list you can do with Eldar, but it is mobile and highlights the points made so far. There is no area where only a single unit has to carry the whole load and each unit can fulfil multiple roles. In addition, only 120 points are spent on objective babysitters and 255 points on upgrades, if you include 105 points for jetbikes.
What should you take away from this article? If nothing else, halve the points spent on upgrades and make sure you don’t go overboard on Troops. If you wish to go in deeper, you should check each of your armies to see how many of the roles on top your army can fulfil reliably and how much redundancy you have in each area.
Of course, the aim of this was not to create the uber-tournament list of doom that will annihilate each army by just being put on the table, but simply to provide you with some basic tools to get the most out of your army in a friendly and casual arena.