2015-01-26

Optimizing without optimizing, Part 2

This army can get things done, but is pointswise terribly inefficient.

In my first part on optimizing without optimizing I was discussing four different approaches on what type of army to bring to a casual game. In this second and concluding part I would like to discuss the topic based on a few exemplary army lists.

When deciding what army to bring to a casual game, probably the only save answer is to look at fully optimized tournament lists as an example on what not to bring. Let's consider the following list posted by Ender on BoLS:

1850 pts – BAAL STRIKE FORCE – PRIMARY
90 Sanguinary Priest (60), The Angel’s Wing (25), M-Bombs (5)
55 Scouts x5 (55), CCW
55 Scouts x5 (55), CCW
207 Death Company x9 (180), Jump Packs (27)
207 Death Company x9 (180), Jump Packs (27)
135 Death Company Dreadnought (125), Talons (10), Grapple
135 Death Company Dreadnought (125), Talons (10). Grapple
220 Commander Dante [WARLORD]
ANGEL’S FURY SPEARHEAD FORCE
140 Tacticals x10, Locator Beacon (Free)
140 Tacticals x10, Locator Beacon (Free)
140 Tacticals x10, Locator Beacon (Free)
200 Stormraven (TL Las, MM)
200 Stormraven (TL Las, MM)
200 Stormraven (TL Las, MM)
The basic idea of this list of throwing everything into the fray on turn 1 and 2 latest to tie down the enemy as quickly as possible. It is a very fast and hard hitting list, optimized for total point efficiency at 1850pts. As one of its symptoms, this list has many copy and paste units because once you have determined the most efficient units, you want to use as many of them as possible. Definitely a good list, but probably not the one you want to bring to a casual game as it could be both too strong and too boring for your fellow player.

Custom kitbash Librarian WIP

On the other hand, this is what I brought to my casual games lately with all models painted as the primary reason for their inclusion:

Blood Angels (Combined Arms detachment, Primary detachment)

---------- HQ (1) ----------
Mephiston (175 points)

---------- Troops (3) ----------
10x Tactical Squad (190 points)- Flamer, Multi-melta- Sergeant (Veteran Sergeant, Bolt Pistol, Melee Weapon (Power Fist))

10x Tactical Squad (190 points)- Flamer, Multi-melta- Sergeant (Veteran Sergeant, Bolt Pistol, Melee Weapon (Power Fist))

5x Scout Squad (94 points)- 3x Sniper Rifle, Missile Launcher, Camo Cloaks- Scout Sergeant (Veteran Sergeant, Sniper Rifle, Bolt Pistol)

---------- Elite (3) ----------
11x Death Company Squad (313 points)- 11x Bolt Pistol, 8x Chain Sword, Thunder Hammer, Jump Pack- 2x Power Weapon ()

Lemartes (130 points)

Furioso Dreadnought (125 points)- Pair of Power Fists, Storm Bolter & Meltagun, Smoke Launchers

---------- Heavy Support (2) ----------
Baal Predator (140 points)- Twin-linked Assault Cannon, Heavy Flamer sponsons, Storm Bolter

Baal Predator (140 points)- Twin-linked Assault Cannon, Heavy Flamer sponsons, Storm Bolter
______________________________________________
1497 points

This army list has a couple issues that immediately pop out when playing against a better player:


  • Mephiston spends most of the game doing nothing because he has no dedicated transport. If you are lucky, you may pull Wings of Sanguinius, though.
  • The Powerfist on the Sergeant is useless whenever an enemy character with a Powerweapon challenges you for a duel. The Veteran Sergeant upgrade is also mostly useless as you can't really hide sergeants in your infantry blobs anymore, so they have become just an additional wound you want to keep cheap.
  • The Multi-melta is probably only going to fire Snapshots all game.
  • The Death Company blob is too big and costly against an opponent with serious fire capacity, plasma weapons surely being the deadliest rain of death here. Basically it means to invest 450pts to be shot into pieces.
  • 40K 7th Edition has become a game with many fast moving units combined with easier To Hit rolls against vehicles, so rear armor 10 on the Baal Predators makes them very vulnerable targets in close combat.

So what to do with these issues? Simply ignore them and continue to play casual? Or optimize one's army for 7th Edition to a certain degree, but what degree exactly?

Old School Techmarine WIP

As I was playing along with myarmy I eventually came up with this list idea:

Blood Angels (Combined Arms detachment, Primary detachment)

---------- HQ (2) ----------
Librarian (125 points)- Psyker Mastery Level 2, Power Armour, Bolt Pistol, Digital Weapons, Jump Pack, The Crown Angelic- Force Weapon (Force Sword)

Techmarine (95 points)- Warlord, Servo-harness, Boltgun, Bolt Pistol- 2x Servitors ()

---------- Troops (5) ----------
10x Tactical Squad (210 points)- Meltagun, Multi-melta- Sergeant (Boltgun, Bolt Pistol, Melta Bombs)- Rhino ()

10x Tactical Squad (210 points)- Meltagun, Multi-melta- Sergeant (Boltgun, Bolt Pistol, Melta Bombs)- Rhino ()

5x Scout Squad (89 points)- 3x Sniper Rifle, Missile Launcher, Camo Cloaks- Scout Sergeant (Sniper Rifle, Bolt Pistol, Melta Bombs)

5x Scout Squad (89 points)- 3x Sniper Rifle, Missile Launcher, Camo Cloaks- Scout Sergeant (Sniper Rifle, Bolt Pistol, Melta Bombs)

5x Scout Squad (90 points)- 4x Close combat weapon- Scout Sergeant (Veteran Sergeant, Boltgun, Melee Weapon (Power Fist))

---------- Elite (3) ----------
5x Death Company Squad (130 points)- Bolt Pistol, 4x Boltgun, 4x Chain Sword, Jump Pack- Power Weapon ()

5x Death Company Squad (130 points)- Bolt Pistol, 4x Boltgun, 4x Chain Sword, Jump Pack- Power Weapon ()

5x Death Company Squad (130 points)- Bolt Pistol, 4x Boltgun, 4x Chain Sword, Jump Pack- Power Weapon ()

---------- Heavy Support (1) ----------
Stormraven Gunship (200 points)- Twin-linked Assault Cannon, Twin-linked Multi-Melta
______________________________________________
1498 points

Now this list has a couple optimizations for 7th while it avoids to optimize everything like in the first tournament list above.

You can't have too many...

...Scouts in 7th Edition.

The Librarian was picked because point for point he is a very point efficient character. In the 7th Edition's Maelstrom Missions I can also get points for certain psychic goals, so it's nice to get them, too. Finally, with a lucky pull he may also beef up one Death Company squad considerably and thus mitigate the lack of Astorath (who is basically a must have by giving rerolls to hit and to wound to the Death Company and in the current codex you always want Death Company).

The Techmarine was picked because for the last three codices he was voted the worst and most pointless character model. However, when I read Black Library novels, I always feel great respect for the Brothers Techmarines. He is going to ride in the Stormraven with his two Servitors repairing the Stormraven on a 2+ roll. I hope this will be enough to boost the survivability of the Stormraven, although I may be unlucky and see the Stormraven crash on turn two including the Techmarine and his Servitors. However, in my game against nu55kill I learned that one Stormraven may be your only hope against getting tabled. Also by making my Techmarine the warlord, I may pull off some warlord denial and prevent my other player from getting precious victory points. Last but not least the Techmarine may reinforce a ruin where one of my scout squads is hiding.

The Tactical Squads have three different requirements: to be fast (Rhino), secure objectives (Combined Arms), and tank killers (Melta weapons).  For further optimization I would either have to pick a Heavy Flamer (more effective against incoming troops) or a Plasma Cannon/Las Cannon (additional long range fire support after combat squadding), but I'll leave it there. For some reason I find combat squadding odd - if Tactical Squads are supposed to be the well trained allround units, it makes sense if they fight as a unit of 10, no?

The Scouts are pretty standard except for the Sergeant wearing the Powerfist, which once again is probably a total waste of points in 7th Edition. However, I once read a battle report in White Dwarf where a Sergeant with Powerfist saved the day against a Greater Daemon. He is probably going to be shot into pieces most of the time, but maybe he'll have his short moments of glory when he kills a Leman Russ tank or something.

With Death Company I mostly had the idea of getting away from the one big expensive blob that may kill anything, but easily can get shot into pieces as well. Virtually everyone plays the Death Company as a dedicated close combat unit, but a couple voices on Bolter & Chainsword say that running them with Bolters is very effective, too. They are relentless and ideally fire their Bolters twice before charging in with still 3 attacks each. If the Librarian has the spell to give them rerolls, they are still a considerable CC threat.

So in conclusion, this is my idea of optimizing an army list in order to prevent it from being too dumb without optimizing it too much and have my fellow player roll his eyes on every turn. This list incorporates rarely seen ("bad") units that still have a purpose with strong units selected for specific tactic goals in mind. That way I hope to give my fellow player a fun yet challenging game at the right level. Now play testing has to show if my assumption is right. ;-)

2015-01-23

Optimizing without optimizing, Part 1

How do you decide on what army to bring for a casual game?

I have been procrastinating on this blog entry for a long time because I am torn on whether I should write it or not. On the one hand I need to write this to present my thoughts and get feedback on the issue, on the other hand this post is probably pointless as it opens a discussion that has no bottom line.

So what approaches are there to decide on what army to bring to a casual/fun/narrative event? Basically, I see these four attempts:

Approach #1 - Beauty Contest.
You are a "fun" gamer (whatever that means exactly) and you pick models/units for reasons like for example their looks, their background story, etc. However, as soon as you have lost one or several games with this army you start wondering if you couldn't turn the odds to your favor if you took units xyz instead.

Approach #2 - Blood for the Blood God!
You are a fluff/narrative player and you simply pick models/units based on how they fit into a certain story arc. This is especially great if you play in a campaign with a detailed background story. The advantage of this method is that you don't have to consider your models' and units' strength, you simply stick to the story. If the story is about your renegade warband Uber-Sons of Death battling it out with the Meek Daffodil Schoolboys, so be it. War in real life is not fair after all either. If the campaign is well done, it could be even more fun to play the MDS although they get brutally slaughtered in every game. Nevertheless you need mechanisms in your campaign to compensate for the player at a disadvantage if you want to keep him/her interested in continuing the game(s).

Approach #3 - I try to be silly but I fail.
Most frequently I observe this approach with tournament players when they attempt to play a casual game. Playing a casual game means for them to swap units in their perfectly optimized army lists for other units that are "known to be not good" in the current meta. Well, since the other guy with his tournament experience still beats you with the "bad" units, all it will do is make you feel even worse. The only solution to this is to play with handicaps. Gergely likes to give weaker players a head start by allowing them more points on their army lists, but once they start to win a certain number of games, that point advantage is being reduced again.

Approach #4 - Optimizing without optimizing
This is probably the most difficult approach as you try to think of what army won't exactly play like the MDS, but won't roll over your opponent like the USD either. In other words, you try to optimize certain aspects while there is a certain point where you decide you won't go with your optimization any further. However, the big question is where that point is reached - and that's where the bottomless discussion opens. Some tournaments try to solve this problem with a truckload of houserulings to ban the most devastating combos, but in the end it just leads to optimization within altered conditions and frames of reference.

By discussing advantages and disadvantages of the four different approaches I hoped to point out there's no such thing as the "correct" approach, but rather a matter of preference combined with a certain care of setting up a game.

Part of this careful game setup is to talk with your fellow player (in this context I rather use this term instead of opponent) about the expectations for the game, but a problem here is that it ain't that easy. If you both agree on a casual game, does it mean the exactly same for both players? I once had a fellow player bring the Doom of Malan'tai to a casual game when it was fresh in the Tyranids' codex and everyone went crazy of how overpowered it is. His explanation for bringing it was that it's pretty harmless as long as I stay out of its range, which was true indeed. Yet when I made an appointment for a casual game the Doom wasn't exactly the first unit I expected.
Most players try to mitigate the blow suffered from their strongest units by explaining their army to you before the game. Honestly, that's good sportsmanship, but at least in my case totally useless as when you give me a five minutes run down of your army I will have forgotten in the end what the first unit was supposed to do. Part of this problem can be mitigated again by sharing army lists way in advance. Once again, this is great sportsmanship, but do you really think I am going to research your units for a casual game?

So what's your handle on bringing just the right list for a casual game?

In the upcoming second and concluding part I will discuss the topic optimizing without optimizing based on a couple army lists.

2015-01-11

Back at LoG

You know you're having a bad day when you wake up and the first thing you see is a Raider down the street coming at you.

After years of absence from the League of Gentlemen, an uber-secretive gaming club in the heart of Z├╝rich, I finally went to their gaming lair again for a game against nu55kill's Dark Eldar. My yearlong absence simply can be explained with my 40K abstinence while playing WM/H instead, which isn't really the LoG's game, but I always enjoyed playing with those guys.
Nu55skill also happens to be the captain of Switzerland's 40K team, so I was kinda nervous about both facing an excellent army paired with an excellent player.

My Blood Angels at 2'000pts - pretty comparable to what I played in the final stretches of 5th edition when I last played nu55skill. I also started to paint the Stormraven in 2011, but never finished it because of Warmachine.

nu55kill's Dark Eldar at 2'000pts.

Obviously, nu55kill is awesome at painting battle damage and freehand patterns.

When we rolled for the Maelstrom mission, we got the one where you can only draw one Maelstrom mission card for every mission objective (MO) you're currently holding. This proved to be crucial to the progress of the game.

This is how I set up. I deployed everything knowing that from the DE pretty much everything will arrive from reserve. I tried to stay as compact as possible while still occupying MOs early.

nu55kill had his Jetbikes and monstrous creature (MC) deployed behind buildings giving me no LOS to them.

On my turn 1 I tried to occupy the center and stay compact there so I could quickly react to whatever location he was going to deepstrike to. My Furioso, the Baal Predator, the two Tactical squads (TS) and way in the back...

...my Land Speeder flying up the left flank behind the ruin occupied a total of 5 MOs, meaning I could draw five cards on my turn 2.

On nu55kill's turn 1, nothing really happened because he had to wait for his reserves on turn 2, so he just used the existing ones to move and shoot a little.
On my turn 2, the Assault Squad (AS) moved ahead into the center of the DE deployment zone and took the MO there for a total of 6 MOs.

At the end of my turn 2, I had 4 victory points (VP) with nu55kill sitting at none.

Because of his warlord trait that gave him the necessary rerolls, everything else the DE had arrived on nu55kill's turn 2. This Raider dropped close to the Death Company...

...this one close to my TS on the left...

...this one had a DS mishap and I placed him way back in the left corner...

...and this one deviated into the front of the ruin where my Furioso was sitting in on the right flank. On the DE's table edge, the DE warlord and his band walked in right into the front of the AS's noses.

Last but not least, the Voidraven Bomber also appeared on the left flank.

The DE shooting phase turned out to be brutal for the AS, but they actually did quite well with their 3+ armor save...

...and stood their ground in close combat (CC) with the Jetbikes. nu55kill still had no VP if I recall it correctly.

On my turn 3, I managed to bring down the raider and the Warriors had to disembark, but they did at the back (within three inches of the hull) and my Death Company (DC) was not able to charge them although the DC saved their Jump Packs (JP) for the charge. I needed 11", but rolled a 9 twice.

The AS killed off the Jetbikes and scored this MO for another and final time.

With my turn 3 over, I had a total of 8 VP while nu55kill still had none or one...

...and a view of the battlefield still showed me sitting on five MO with the storm of the DE right at my front door. Will turn 3, 4 and 5 be enough for nu55kill to turn the game, though?

The Incubi unloaded on my TS to the very left.

The Bomber aimed at my remaining Baal Predator, but failed to do any damage.

The AS was finally wiped out by the warlord and his gang...

...while this Raider tried to bypass the Furioso.

The DC payed a bitter price for not making that charge on my turn. Though they did ok with their armor and Feel No Pain (FNP) saves, they were down to two men by the end of the turn because nu55kill pumped all his firing capacities into this squad. The DC was all but gone and still hadn't done anything throughout the entire game, although they were right in the center of the table - which turned out to only be better for the DE's shooting.

Mephiston and his TS at the center of my deployment zone also had an unwelcome Raider approaching.

At the end of the DE's turn 3, the battlefield had remarkably changed. My MO on my left flank (upper left corner) was lost, Mephiston (table edge center left, right next to the psychic cards) had one turn until he'll be hit as well, the Raider bypassing the Furioso ended up challenging the Ball predator for his MO and the center with the DC was all but totally lost. My biggest asset right now was my Stormraven that flew unchallenged after the bomber left the battle field. (good eyes will notice the bomber is still on the field near the DE table edge with his nose facing outwards; that counted as having left the table for the purpose of our game)

On my turn 4, the Baal predator backed away from the MO to fire at the Warriors and to hopefully prevent them from charging and taking advantage of its weak rear armor.

The DC proved to be a major threat still with only two men left. Their charge finally connected, they won the CC, the DE failed their Ld throw, and because of Lemartes' high initiative got wiped out from the table.

On the DE turn 4, this unit of Warriors previously shot at by my Ball Predator (see two pictures above) moved away from the MO and right into the center of the right flank. I don't remember why nu55kill did this, but I believe the reason was to avoid having the Baal's heavy flamer sponsons on this unit on my turn 5.

Nasty things happened to the DC...

...and to Mephiston...

...and his TS...

...until only a single Marine from that TS was left.

On my turn, my Stormraven reappeared again after it left the table on turn 4...

...and finally managed to shoot down the Bomber with its twinlinked Multimelta.

Because I had a matching card ("score 1 if you kill one flyer") this finally brought me up to 10 VP.

At the end of my turn 5, the Furioso also mopped up the Warriors fleeing from the Baal Predator's Assault Canon fire.

On the DE's turn 5, nu55kill didn't really do any damage other than taking one HP off my Baal Predator. However, he moved his fast flyers and with my army all but gone and could now easily sit on the derelict MO and draw mission cards while I effectively didn't get to draw any anymore. Also, nu55kill went up from 1 to 7 VP, yet had the game ended on turn 5, I'd still have won. However, the dice said that we were going to play also turn 6 and 7.

My two last turns didn't really see me do anything other than flying around with my Stormraven and successfully performing jink saves in order not to be tabled (which would make nu55kill automatically win the game).

My last moment of glory was when the Baal Predator rolled back again and unloaded both his Heavy Flamers on the Incubi - that felt very good.
However, the game was lost. On turn 6, nu55kill equalized my score and we had both 10VP. On turn 7 nu55kill drew a mission card giving him D3+3 VP if he controlled *all* MOs by the end of the turn, he had enough fast units left to do so, I wasn't close enough anywhere to challenge, and he rolled a 3 on the D3, giving him 6 VPs on turn 7 alone.

Therefore, the final result was 16 : 10.
Impressions from the game:

It was a blast to play and nu55kill always is a great opponent. Although he is a competitive player, he's forgiving about mistakes and even gives you tactical advise, but he also strikes you hard when the opportunity arises. He is a highly skilled tactician moving everything to his advantage which can be impressively seen in his come back from 1 VP in turn 4 to 16 VP on turn 7.

This game also showed to me that my fears about 7th Edition were pointless and that it turns out to be the best edition for me so far. In previous games I'd have left the game sort of sad with my models all but evaporated, but with the new Maelstrom mechanic I could actually have won the game with a bit of luck. Evidently, this game mechanic creates much closer races between players to the enjoyment of both. (of course, the army also plays a role in this, with Tau and Imperial Guard this game would have been very different)

In terms of units review, I can't help but notice that the Furioso did well again, although everyone and their grandmother say that Dreadnoughts have become pointless. There is certainly truth to that, but with so many regular infantry units stripped to the minimum running around the fields these days, a Furioso can reliably kill them while they have no means to break his AV 13.

The DC happened to be a waste of points, but there I see the mistake mostly with myself since I put them into a bad spot. Nu55kill adviced to reduce their size in the future, but I think for now I am still running a 10 man squad and try to play them better again, just like I did against the daemons. Furthermore, even if they are shot off the table, they soak up much fire that would otherwise hit my other units.

I have mixed feelings on the TS as they just sat on their MO doing nothing, so I am not sure if the glass is half full or half empty. On the one hand, they gave me valuable VP and with the Objective Secured special rule even when the DE were close by, but on the other hand their weapons were ineffective except for one round of shooting Bolters at Raiders - and even then the Bolters didn't do much because I had to roll 6s To Wound and then the Raider's jink saves nullified any wounds I have scored. Evidently, Scouts can sit on MO with a cheaper price tag while the freed up points can be invested in harder hitting or faster moving units. The current 7th Edition clearly is a game that favors fast and cheap standard troop choices, so you wanna bring as many as possible. In 4th edition, everybody only brought the minimal two, now four seems to be the minimum advisable.