friday 40k humor

friday 40k humor

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Asymmetrical Advantages and Disadvantages

by Sir Bicuit


The vast majority of 40k matches (matches in all wargames, really, this is just as applicable to Warmachine, Infinity, etc.) take place between asymmetrical forces. That's a simple concept, and in a lot of ways, this will be a simple article. After all, the idea of asymmetry is so essential to the games we play that we hardly even think about it.

It's worth exploring, though, and examining on a basic level, because that asymmetry forms the foundation for all the strategic and tactical thinking that you will do during the match.
Let's start by taking a look at some of the factors we can compare across two armies. There is a difference in these factors between every non-identical list, though they can be slight. This is not a comprehensive listing, but simply something to get you started thinking:

Overall speed
Anti-infantry firepower (long range)
Anti-infantry firepower (close range)
Anti-tank firepower (long range)
Anti-tank firepower (close range)
Amount of armor (tanks, transports)
Airpower (and anti-air, obviously)
Melee power (fast units)
Melee power (strong/durable units)
Terrain use (what can you ignore? What can you make better?)
Amount of scoring.
Number of bodies.
Amount of heavy infantry.
Anti-heavy infantry.
Monstrous creatures.
Ability to precision shot.
Ability to cause pinning and morale checks.
Ability to push units off of objectives.
Ability to hold ground.
And others I have forgotten, I am sure.

You can think of each of those factors as having a cute bar that shows it's power level, like a video game. When you build a list, adding units fills up those bars. But you can't fill them all, in fact, the more you fill of one, the less you are able to fill of the others. (Points spent in one area can't be spent on another, after all.) Obviously, every unit also tends to add to multiple categories- a Leman Russ, for example, would contribute to anti-infantry and anti-tank firepower, and increase the lists amount of armor. (In addition to minor bonuses across many other categories.) At the same time, those points now cannot be spent on units that increase all the other factors in the list.
If we continue our visualization, we realize that at the end of army construction we have a great many bars at very different levels of fullness. Much of this is due purely to the way we may have constructed the list, but much is also due to whatever army we happen to be using. For instance, with Tau, it's hard to build a list that doesn't bring a ton of anti-infantry firepower, but it is also impossible to bring a list that has a large amount of melee power.

Specialists, Generalists, and Scoring

An important note about army construction is the distinction between specialists and generalists. It's important to realize that specialists contribute much, much more to their area of expertise than generalists do, however, they contribute to virtually nothing else. (There is of course some cross-pollination, Fire Dragons, for instance, are very handy against not only tanks, but also MCs and heavy infantry.) Generalists contribute to many categories, but add less to each.
It is good to have a mix between these units. However, it is an very good general rule to build the foundation of your list of generalists units that are supported by specialist units. To build and focus on specialist units is an invite to be hard-countered and crushed by many, many armies.
Finally, scoring units are extremely powerful. Always, always keep your scoring ability in mind. Scoring wins games. Period. It doesn't matter how many Riptides you have if all the enemy has to do to stop you scoring is kill two 6-man squads of Fire Warriors.


So, let's take a look again at the asymmetry between two armies. Whenever you face an opponent, you're going to be outclassed in some of these categories, and in some, you will outclass them. It's your job to maximize your own advantages, while minimizing the enemy's, in order to win the game.
That may sound obvious, but it is the basis for all good strategy and tactical thinking. Eliminate the enemy's advantages, while maximizing your own.
This is trickier than it sounds, because in general, people tend to be very, very bad at identifying their own strengths and their enemies weaknesses. I blame this on an overfocus on the self- it's easy to spend time only thinking about your own army, what you like, what you don't like, and what really seems to be working on the field. But it's just as important to be looking at your opponent.
Remember: a unit is only “strong” until it runs into something stronger. You're only the best at shooting until you hit someone who brought more guns. There is no reliance on your own list, no “general strategy” that you can adopt to run over every opponent. There is only the interaction BETWEEN lists.

So, this comparison of strengths and weaknesses is a critical though process that you should be doing constantly. Before the game, do it when you compare lists. Do it after each deployment. Do it at the start of every. Single. Turn. Because, and this is the important part: your comparative strengths and weaknesses are going to shift throughout the game, as you and your opponent lose pieces.
For instance, imagine you are running a list with a Land Raider full of Assault Terminators. That's a pretty heavy points investment and a large part of your list regardless of what else you took. It also gives you a pretty heavy investment in melee and armor potential, among other things. So, at the start of the game, you will think about how to best leverage this unit, while your opponent does their best to counter it. (With meltaguns, railguns, followup plasmagun traps, etc.)
That's a fairly straightforward example that I would imagine we're all familiar with. That's the lowest level of tactical thinking. We need to do better than this. We need to also be able to place this conflict in the strategic level of thinking; that is, that we need to start thinking about how our overall advantage in melee and armor (or lack thereof) will affect the outcome of the game. We need to think not just about how to avoid counters, but also the best way to use the unit to achieve what really matters: victory in the game.

That often means we need the unit to make counterintuitive moves. Sometimes, it may be better to have the unit advance into lightly-defended territory, or to not advance at all. Sometimes, it's better to abandon any pretense of protecting the unit and sacrifice it in order to slow down the enemy. Sometimes, the right decision is to reserve the Land Raider and deep-strike the Terminators. It all depends on the field. The important thing, however, is not that we are figuring out the best way to deal damage to the enemy with the unit, but that we are examining its overall role in the conflict and coming up with a way to use it in conjunction with our other forces. Whether or not the unit survives the conflict or takes down the biggest enemy unit is largely irrelevant. (Unless you're just trying to “forge the narrative” as it were, which is fine, but then why do you care about strategic articles?)

Geometric Disadvantage
The culmination of all this strategy and thinking is all in the effort to place the opponent on what we like to call the “geometric disadvantage”- which is, in affect, creating an advantage so powerful that it eliminates the enemy's capability to deal with it faster than they can counter it.
This is pretty easy to see on the small scale, because it's happened to each and every one of us pretty much every game. If, for instance, the only anti-flyer unit in your army is a Quad-Gun, a flyer-heavy army will do its best to eliminate it before it can cause too much damage, and thus attain absolute air superiority. While this doesn't eliminate the enemy's ability to deal with flyers, it does significantly cripple it. You could then potentially start wiping out units that have decent snap-shot ability, in a bid for total superiority. When you're eliminating these kinds of options, and increasing your superiority faster than the enemy's now-diminishing supplies can counteract it, you create a geometric advantage that becomes more and more difficult for your opponent to overcome.

Another example of starting a game with a geometric disadvantage: imagine an army that is built to include as many Lascannons as possible. It wasn't built with any sort of melee presence in mind, just to fit as many Lascannons as possible. If that army were to fight an Ork Green Tide list, it would be in a great deal of trouble. While our Las list has a great deal of anti-tank firepower, it seriously lacks anti-infantry weaponry, and really can't possibly deal with 180+ Ork bodies. In this scenario, the Ork advantage of number of bodies has become an enormous advantage, the Lascannon army will not be able to kill enough Orks fast enough, and will be overrun. As they lose units, they fall even further behind (and thus have a larger and larger disadvantage) to an opponent whose advantage just keeps on growing. We would even call the number of Ork bodies in such a fight a “decisive advantage”, as there's really no way for the Lascannon list to overcome it.
There are two things about the geometric (dis)advantage, however, that are important to realize:
  1. Not all advantages are equally valuable.
  2. While there is a potential game-wide geometric disadvantage, there are also many smaller ones that play out during the game.
In order:
Not all advantages have equal importance or value. Having superiority in armor is only valuable if that advantage can be leveraged and used to place an enemy into a difficult situation. Having brought a single Leman Russ while your opponent has elected to bring no vehicles does constitute an armor advantage, but it's likely so slight that it really doesn't even matter. An advantage only matters insofar as it can be leveraged into a game-winning strategy.
Second, it is possible and in fact very likely that you will be struggling against advantages of your opponent, while they fight against yours. Assuming you're fighting against an equally powered list, you should in fact be behind on about 50% of your areas of advantage, and ahead on the other 50%. (This is really just theoretical, rarely are competing lists so balanced that the advantages of each are split like this.)
These two factors mean that it's important to not only identify where your advantages and disadvantages lie, but also to determine which advantages are not worth pursuing. Each game of 40k has a limited number of actions and move available, and it's simply not possible in most games to utilize every advantage.

In an early example, I talked about a Land Raider and how its use may be counterintuitive to the standard “go straight down the middle and dump”. If you were playing a Land Raider against Tau, for example, who had brought several Hammerheads and Fusion Gun suits, it may not be worth attempting to use the raider in it's usual matter, if at all. While you can look at the field and think that if you could just destroy the Hammerheads and Crisis Suits you will be safe, it is probably not worth your time to do so. Yes, destroying them would effectively create an unassailable armor advantage, but so what? Will that one Raider win you the game? How many resources and movements must be sacrificed to ensure its survival until it is safe to advance and resume the “normal strategy”?
The point of this example is that while the Land Raider could potentially be leveraged into a large advantage against a Tau list, it's likely not worth the effort. That effort, instead, could be used in an attempt to gain the upper hand in other areas. For instance, you could sacrifice your tanks and instead of trying to protect them focus on eliminating Tau's weak troop choices to gain an advantage in scoring. You could use your armor as an attractive target that will no doubt die, but open up an opportunity for a flank or feint. You have options, just do not despair and do not be so rigid in your strategy that your disadvantages become overwhelming, and you find yourself deep within what seems to be a geometric disadvantage. Whenever you find yourself behind in an area, sometimes the best option is not “how do I get ahead here?” but “how do I get ahead somewhere else?
All strategy comes from the leveraging of asymmetrical advantage and disadvantage. Remember that, play to your strengths, and play to the mission, and you'll find yourself a winner.
blog comments powered by Disqus