Wednesday, 26 June 2013

The effort of army selection

Like it or hate it, army selection is a major part of Warhammer. Some people consider this a fun part of the hobby, and fiddle endlessly with lists in their spare time. These people can produce a list at the drop of a hat, which makes preparing for a game easier. Others find the selection of an army an almost insurmountable hurdle; they don't really know what they want in the army, and making a list without even a vague direction in mind is an inefficient process, to say the least. The problem is made worse when the player is hoping for the list to be competitive, or knows that they're in for a tough game. I know a few people who are capable enough players, but who find the list selection step a real stumbling block.

There are a few main factors that affect making an army list. I would group them roughly as follows:

Playing experience with the army
There is no substitute for gaming experience, ideally with the army in question. How are you going to know what you want in your army if you don't know how each thing performs (and whether they suit your preferred style of play)? If you want a dangerous regiment of combat troops and field Dwarf Warriors with hand weapons, where is that going to leave you? Disappointed, most likely. Experience with the army will teach you what units are best suited to what roles, and what works well together. Some players may be able to work these things out just from reading an army book, but there are plenty of others who actually need to try things on the table before they really understand what they're dealing with.
One of my first Empire tournament armies, from over 2 years ago. The army has shifted and evolved over time as I painted new things and tried different units.
An overall vision for the list
An average game of Warhammer tends to be somewhere between 2,000 and 2,500 points in size. At this level you get a force that feels like an army, but you don't have limitless points to play with. Making a list of this size means that many options in the list will be left out – there simply isn't room for one of everything in the army. You need a way to decide what to include and what to leave out, and the easiest way to do this is to have an overall vision for your army. Do you want a balanced list with a bit of shooting, a bit of magic, some cavalry and some infantry? Were you after a fast-moving sledgehammer of an army (shooting is for wimps and girly-men who are too scared to get stuck in)? A rough concept like this will help focus your choices. You probably still won't be able to field everything you ever wanted in the list, but it speeds the process up and will probably result in a better thought-out list than picking units at random and forgetting to include a Battle Standard (hey, I've seen it happen. The result was both unfortunate and predictable). I've talked about this before, in the “Warhammer: Where is the Skill?” series.

Nobody is fast at making an army list on their first attempt. When everything is unfamiliar and you don't know how much anything costs, the process is always going to take time. Practice is the only real remedy here. Once you've made a few lists for a given army, you start to get a feel for how much you can expect to fit into the list. You'll get a gut feel for how expensive a certain size of unit is, and it will save you from coming up with army concepts that are simply impossible at the points level you're looking at. You may start with a common pattern in your list development – certain units or characters that are always in the list, so are the first things on the roster (or don't even need to be, because you know how much they cost and know to leave room for them at the end). All of this familiarity serves to speed up the process of army selection.

The right tools
When I started playing Warhammer, electronic devices had not yet taken over the way they have today. The internet was barely a thing, and mobile devices that could run “apps” were nothing but a distant dream. Back then, everyone wrote their army lists using pen and paper. If you were lucky, you had one of those newfangled calculator thingies. OK, maybe I'm not that old. Everyone had a calculator, but not everyone bothered to use them. Things have changed. Nowadays there are a lot of things you can do to make constructing an army easier.

I used to dislike Army Builder. I found the printouts people produced to be largely unreadable, and early on it was renowned for having bugs that resulted in illegal or misleading lists. Those days seem to be behind us now, and it is hard to deny its usefulness as a tool for fiddling with armies. You don't need an army book on hand, you don't need to know the values of units, you don't even need to make sure you've spent the minimum 25% on Core units – Army Builder helps with all these things. It is much faster to tweak lists using a tool such as this than it is to use a pen and paper. Other tools are also available, such as Battlescribe. Failing all this, I have been known to load up a spreadsheet with the unit and option costs, which provides a quick reference and allows you to use the spreadsheet to do all the calculations for you.

If you're a creatively challenged individual, you could get on the internet and simple steal someone else's “net list”. Whilst there is not really anything wrong with this, if it's the only way you ever make lists then I think you need help. If you're determined not to do the bulk of the work yourself, I think it would be better to jump on a Warhammer forum and ask for advice in tweaking your list. That way you're actually involved in the process and the whole thing is not quite so much of a cop-out.

On a slightly related note, if you're a younger gamer or the parent of a younger gamer, it might be worth considering making a point of writing some lists in the old-school, pen and paper fashion. It might slow things down, but it's pretty good for mental arithmetic.

A knife to a gunfight
One other factor I should mention is that it's important to bear in mind what the list is for. If you're making it for a tournament, you need to abide by any composition restrictions that might be in place, and take into account what sort of comp score you're hoping for (ie are you hoping to avoid being slammed on comp). I've written a number of times before on composition, generally from a tournament perspective (where the topic comes up a lot). If you're not entering a tournament but have a particular opponent in mind, make sure you're on the same page in terms of how hard your lists are going to be. It doesn't matter if you're fielding a filthy lists that stretch the limits and offend the sensibilities of all good Warhammer players everywhere, just so long as you and your opponent have a similar goal in mind. Extremely lop-sided games between soft lists and heinous abominations are not much fun for anyone involved and are to be avoided.
A more recent list, where I knowingly took a knife to a gunfight. Went alright until it (rather predictably) ran into a wall. And then got hit on comp, to add insult to injury. Know this: comp judges can find special characters confusing, young padawan.
So where to now?
We've looked at the main factors that affect constructing an army list. How does this help someone who has trouble making an army? Well, I guess it can serve as a starting point to ensure you're on the right track.

  • Get familiar with the army. Play with it, come to know what you like to use. And if you're borrowing the army from someone else, ensure you know what models they have available before trying to make a list.
  • Decide on the general style of play you want from the list. Will it be a balanced army with a bit of everythng, or will it be more focused?
  • Make use of the various electronic tools available, as this can really speed up fidgeting with units and tweaking lists.
  • Establish what sort of game you (and your opponent) are looking for, and bear it in mind when you're putting things into your list.
  • Practice. The more lists you make, the easier the process becomes. 

1 comment:

  1. Nicely written. I share your thoughts, I started playing when this tools where not available and army builder & co help a lot. Also using comps (even in friendly games) because it gives you a frame for the toughness of your army aside from "be no a-hole".