Monday, April 5, 2010

The Importance of the Army List

As interwebz players, we have all seen countless army lists and the discussions which revolve around them. I would actually say that I see more discussion of army lists than tactics. This is interesting because, for the most part, I would say tactics are much more influential in the outcome of a game than lists are. I don't like to toot my own horn, but I do very well in local tournaments with my Necrons against tough lists. Furthermore, I rarely come away from a game thinking I played perfectly but I lost solely because I was playing Necrons.

Yet, we still discuss army lists much more than tactics. Why is that? The answer is quite simple: it's easier to talk about army lists than it is to talk about tactics. With army lists, you have the list written out in front of you, and you have your codex which tells you your alternative options. There is no abstract thinking required. Now, I'm not saying building good lists is easier than playing, I'm saying they are easier to discuss. Tactics, on the other hand, require abstract thought in order to talk about. You need to be able to imagine and visualize the models on the table, the distance between units, and the terrain. This can be very difficult if there are no pictures provided, especially when you get into complex situations.

I like to think of the player and army list as a contruction worker and his tool kit. Take Mike Holmes from the TV show Holmes on Homes (if you haven't seen it Mike Holmes is a beast at renovation) for instance. Now let's say someone gave me a brand new, top-quality kit of tools, and gave Mike Holmes an old crappy one. I'm sure Mike Holmes could still do any renovation job ten times better than I could. This is because he knows how to use what he has to build something.

But where am I going with this? Think of Necrons as the old crappy tool kit, and Mech IG as the brand new one. They both have similar tools (anti-tank, anti-infantry, counter-assault etc.) but the IG list's tools are newer and better. However, a good player will make due with what he has, and the difference between the IG list and the Necrons is actually very small IMO (maybe 10-15% in power).

There is one big exception to this, however. That is if the list is entirely lacking in one area, or it has so little that what it has can be killed very easily. Let's say it has no anti-tank, then that makes a huge difference. Again, going back to the tool kit metaphor, if you give Mike Holmes a tool kit but you don't give him any nails, he won't be able to build much, no matter how skilled he is. Similarly, if he doesn't have any spare tools and one of them breaks (killed by your opponent in 40k terms), he won't be able to do what that tool did.

Every codex in the game is able to build a list with enough tools to compete. Some have very few tools for certain jobs, and some have only one good set of tools (Dark Eldar). Some have extra 'bonus' tools (psychic hoods, RoW etc.) but in the end I think too much emphasis is put on the army list. Some people build a list and don't playtest and then go to a tournament expecting to win with it. Then they get owned. This happened a lot at Adepticon with people using the SW Razorback spam list. Ignoring the fact that that list is not nearly as good in real games as it is on paper, people just took it without practicing and tweaking their list (it's always a good idea to try out different things in lists), and they got destroyed as a result.

So what do you guys think? Am I just crazy and the army list is more important than I believe? Does it depend a lot on luck? Also, do you have experiences of you or others using lists that everyone thinks is gonna get smashed and then does really well?


  1. I think you've hit that nail...

    Well, I think you're mostly right.

    I think the difference is more than 10-15%, I'd say it can be as much as 25%...but otherwise, yeah. Why am I not on your blogroll? :p

  2. Yes, there are a few blogs that I intended to put up but never got around to it; yours is one of them. I'll put it in now. :D

  3. I can definitely get behind that. Lists are about the only constant, objective variable when discussing games, so naturally they get the most air time. Player skill, dice, matchups, missions, and a ton of other less quantifiable things make up a huge portion of the results.

  4. I thoroughly agree.

    I think so much effort is required for a good post on tactics and even with all of that effort it can still become very scenario specific rather than have broader learning points.

    Lists on the other hand are easy. Throw some names on to your screen and some numbers into your grey matter and you have a 'list'. It's not necessarily a good list, but people feel it engages them in the 'broader community'.

    I would say truly good advice on list building is almost as rare as good tactica. I for one often give my 'opinion' on a list/option, but always with a public warning if I don't have a reasonable amount of experience with said components.

    So... I can assume we shall be seeing some tactica in the near future? Shame your following post was you Necron list lol!

    Nice post!

  5. This is a great article and will help players to think beyond their lists. When I first started to play there was no Internet so I had to learn everything by experience taken from the table. There were definitely some hard lessons to learn but I knew that:

    Tactics > List

    Great article. : )