Thursday, 11 August 2011

Warhammer: Where is the Skill? (Part 2: Knowing)

Continuing on from my previous post, we look at some more of the skill involved in the game of Warhammer...

Know the odds
It is very difficult to stack the odds in your favour when you don’t know what the odds are in the first place. You can’t make an informed decision without knowing what is likely to happen.

I saw a post on WargamerAU recently, asking what the odds were that a Warhammer player needed to know. It was an interesting question. The most common response was along the lines of:
  • The average roll on 2D6 is 7
  • The average roll on 3D6 is 10-11
  • The average roll on 4D6 is 14
  • The average roll for 3D6 discarding the lowest is around 9
These numbers (especially the first two) would be well known to most Warhammer players. 2D6 is used a great deal – leadership tests and charge rolls both use 2D6. The odds also become important for casting spells and dispelling. Once you know how many dice it will take to achieve the target (on average), you can decide how brave or conservative you’re feeling. Do you feel lucky, punk?

Of course, for all that leadership tests use 2D6, the numbers you’re worried about are not really the averages at all. You want to know things like:
  • Leadership 2 will fail 35 in 36 times
  • Leadership 3 will fail 11 in 12 times
  • Leadership 4 will fail 5 in 6 times
  • Leadership 5 will fail 13 in 18 times
  • Leadership 6 will fail 7 in 12 times
  • Leadership 7 will fail 5 in 12 times
  • Leadership 8 will fail 5 in 18 times
  • Leadership 9 will fail 1 in 6 times
  • Leadership 10 will fail 1 in 12 times
I suspect these sorts of odds will not be news to most players. Knowing the actual chances may not change a lot, but it helps set expectations and lets you plan accordingly. It also lets you know when you should be being gracious about an unexpectedly good roll, or accepting of a failure that was statistically what you would expect. It gets a bit old when a player complains about failing rolls that they had no right to expect to pass anyway.

There is a difference between knowing the odds and playing “Mathhammer”, as it is derisively termed by some people. This is where a player calculates exactly what results average rolls will yield, before deciding upon a course of action. To be honest I don’t see anything wrong with doing these calculations in your head before you commit, so long as you’re not bogging the game down. We all have to base our judgements upon something. The only real alternatives to doing a rough sum in your head are to either charge in, heedless of the consequences, or to compare the quality of the units (ie their stats) and going with a simple “who is better” or “who will win” approach.

Know the rules
A comprehensive understanding of the rules is one of the surest ways of becoming a capable Warhammer player. Or perhaps I should say: it is extremely unlikely that you will become a good player without knowing the rules well.

There are a great many details to the Warhammer rules that not everyone is familiar with. Most people have a good grasp of the basics, and often they also have a firm understanding of some of the finer details that commonly apply to their specific army. However, it is often a minor detail of a rule that will catch someone out – some wording that they failed to notice, or have forgotten since they first read it in the rulebook.

I am going to grab some random examples. Hands up if you already knew all of the following:
  • Units with the majority of their models in a forest lose Steadfast, but Skirmishers in a forest gain Stubborn
  • A unit moving sideways or backwards may not wheel at all as it does so
  • You can wheel the butt of your unit off the table, so long as it doesn’t end its move that way
  • A model may never have better than a 1+ save
  • A charging unit can travel an unlimited distance, using its free 90 degree wheel to reach a target that it could see and was found to be within the unit’s rolled charge range (from any point to any point, even if that measurement went straight through a house or other impenetrable object)
  • Units that have the Stupidity rule are Immune to Psychology, regardless of whether they pass or fail their Stupid tests
  • Stomps and Breath Weapons will always hit the engaged unit (distributed as shooting) unless you’re in a challenge, in which case the attack can only hit your opponent in the challenge.
  • Chariot crew now fight in a challenge, and even once the character riding it is dead, a chariot or monster will continue fighting, locked in the challenge
  • A character may not use the Make Way rule to shift to engage new enemies if it is not the first round of the combat*
*This one may be contentious. I don't think it was necessarily the intent of the rule and it's not in an FAQ at the time of me writing this, but it does say "at the start of a combat", not "at the start of a round of combat". GW need to clarify this one, one way or another.

Apologies if my examples were not obscure enough, however I have simply chosen examples from things I have seen people get wrong. So even if you knew all these things already, rest assured there are others who did not.

Not knowing a rule is a great way to get destroyed by it. An opponent who knows the rules comprehensively knows all of the options available to him – potentially including options you might not see yourself. A number of times I have watched a beginner try to spread a net for a unit, only to have it slip through his fingers because he didn’t fully understand the options available to the unit in order to make its escape.

Know thine enemy
General rules knowledge is very important, however you also need to know what your opponent is capable of. This is two-fold: you need to consider both the army, and the player.

Anyone can look up the profile of a Goblin Wolf Rider and see how potent it is in combat (or impotent, as the case may be). An experienced player can also tell what that unit is likely to do. Light cavalry units are often used to block or divert charges. They are also used to deal with artillery, lone weak characters, and fleeing troops. In the past they were used a lot to march-block enemies, however this is less effective than it used to be. With this knowledge, the player has a better understanding of how his opponent is likely to use the unit.

A very experienced player may be able to expand this principle to the whole army – the composition of the force, the items on the characters and the spells chosen will tell you a lot about how your opponent is planning to go about the game.

For inexperienced players: when you line up against an army you are not familiar with, you should make a point of finding out what everything does. Ignorance will be your downfall. I you ask what something does and then forget, ask again. If you don’t, you are playing with a handicap when compared to experienced players who are familiar with the armies. The capabilities of units and the effects of magic items are not meant to be a secret in Warhammer.

If you’re playing with closed lists, you can still assess the items that a character could be carrying. As the new books come out, the trend is for them to have a mere 8 magic items that are unique to that race. Learning these will mean you can consider the possibilities before your opponent whips out that Fellblade and cuts your general up into a thousand tiny pieces.

On a slightly cynical note, if your opponent explains something to you and it seems too good to be true, ask to see the book. You would not be the first player to get burned by an opponent who doesn’t know his own rules. Trust me: when you put him straight, you’re doing him (and all his other opponents) a favour.

Knowing your opponent is much harder than knowing their army. A player’s abilities are not laid out nicely on a piece of paper for your assessment. It may be that you know your opponent already, in which case you will be on a level playing field – you should each know what the other is capable of. When this is not the case (as often happens in tournaments), you may be able to learn what your opponent can do as the game progresses, and plan your actions accordingly.

Know thyself
I am going to go out on a limb here and assume that you know yourself pretty well. This is really not what I’m talking about here. Now I am talking about knowing your own army. The principles here are not dissimilar to knowing your enemy. In each case, it’s about knowing the capabilities of everything in the army, and planning accordingly. If your army has strengths, play to them. If it has weaknesses, compensate for them (more on this later). Plan to use units for appropriate purposes. 

If you’re going into a game not really knowing how your army plays, you’re at a disadvantage. This can happen even if you know your army book back-to-front, as it comes down just as much to army composition. The elements of an army will mesh together in a certain way, which will affect how you use them and where they need to be deployed. If you haven’t used your army in its current configuration before, chances are you’re going to do things in a less than ideal way. You’ll realise you should have put a different character in a different unit, or should have kept something on the flank instead of putting it in the centre. 

The only way to master these things is practice. The more frequently you use a particular army, the better you will naturally become with it. Use of the army will become easier, and you will start to have more time and attention to spare on other parts of the game – picking apart your opponent’s mistakes instead of trying to prevent your own.

That will do for this post, but I'm not done yet. I'll be back with more on this topic next post...

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