Important Stuff

Monday, August 30, 2010

Balanced Army Lists: The Truth (Part 1)

Hello people, Kirby here from 3++. To kick off HOP I thought I'd 'import' an article from 3++. This article looks at what a balanced army is as I often find a lot of people throw the balanced label at the wrong army lists. With HOP and tournaments like NOVA and Centurion (Australian NOVA-styled tournament) specifically catering to both hobbyists and competitive players I thought it was important to clarify what balance really is. For the sake of writing (and my sanity) I’ve split the gaming ‘preferences’ into competitive and hobby. I know a lot of us enjoy both aspects and may or may not lean a bit towards one over the other but for this article we’ll assume there is no middle ground on the perspectives and everyone is at one extreme or the other.

When this article came in, we thought it would be a great way to kick off the blog.  It sums up our feelings on the competitive, WAAC, fluff, et al. kerfuffle that has been raging since the dawn of gaming discussions on the Internet.  I would usually take this time to tell you to go and check out Kirby's blog, but Kirby being Kirby, he's already provided you with a handful of links.  Enjoy- Dethtron

It’s an elephant. It’s huge. And it’s in the room. Balanced armies, a word tossed around by pretty much everyone on the internet in relation to Fantasy and 40k and something that is rarely understood. From a gaming stand-point, balanced lists are the epitome of list building. They are balanced (shocking...) and can deal with anything and everything with reliable success. They have few weaknesses and don’t simply roll over against other lists of any type. From a less gaming and more hobby stand-point, balanced lists are the anathema to WAAC lists where fluff and gaming are brought together. Here’s where the real problem is though. What competitive gamers call balanced, others are going to call WAAC/cheese/OP/etc. and what hobby gamers call balanced are often un-optimised or poor lists. Both of these groups are right and wrong at the same time because of their different paradigms. So this article is looking to bring some similarity to the definitions of the term to both parties by showing what a balanced list is and how it differs from a rock list and why they are commonly mixed up. The article also looks at some of the Internet myths of a balanced list and tosses them in a black hole. It concludes by proposing ‘new’ terminology in an effort to bring the extremes of both groups onto a similar footing (less e-rage FTW).

Firstly, what is a balanced list? A balanced list is focused on its name-sake, balance. There is no rock-paper-scissors with balanced lists and although some balanced lists prefer certain match-ups, there are no “auto-win” or “auto-lose” games; just easier or harder games. What this then means is a balanced list must be capable of competing in all departments of the game. That’s movement, magic, shooting and assault. This does not mean the army needs to be able to do massive damage or rock face in each phase. It does mean the army needs to be able to minimise their opponent’s ability in those phases. For example, being mobile is essential to 5th edition 40k but being able to stop your opponent’s mobility either through blocking, shooting or assaulting is just as important. What use is you claiming an objective if your opponent can tank shock you off it? Also, being good at magic isn’t a necessity for a good 8th Fantasy list but being able to reliably counter your opponent’s magic is essential or be prepared to be royally screwed over.

One of the most important parts of a balanced list is its lack of inherent weaknesses. As said above, some balanced lists are going to prefer specific match-ups over others but the key point to a balanced list is it can deal with any other type of list to some degree reliably. Whether it’s fast, slow, shooty or assautly, explodey or implodey with mass MC, mech, infantry or any combination of unit types, a balanced list will be able to deal with it in some way. We’ll use an Immo Spam list as an example. In a normal Immo Spam (no IG for arguments sake) you’ve got a lot of anti-tank and anti-infantry through massed flamers and meltaguns. Let’s change the list just slightly and bring in Exorcists and Rhinos (so less Immolators but more S8 AP1). It’s still a list that wrecks the face of MC and mech styled lists but has huge troubles against hordes (hell even 30+ Marines if the Exorcists are disabled). Whilst this list might seem good on paper because it beats the common list of the day (metagaming/tailoring), it is inherently unbalanced because it cannot deal with a horde style list. Horde style lists may not be competitive but that doesn’t mean you can’t ignore them in your list building exercise. To reiterate: a balanced list can deal with any list reliably.

Furthermore, balanced lists do not focus on a lynch-pin (see this post on super units). Lynch-pins are the hall-mark of a ‘rock-styled’ list and once the rock is papered, the list generally falls apart. Balanced lists are not rock lists. They may have rock elements (i.e. TH/SS Terminators) but have support built around the rocks which if not dealt with, are still very dangerous. Compare a double Raider list to a Nob Biker list. The Double Raider list has support in terms of Dreads/Preds/Tacs/Speeders whilst the Nob Bikers are pretty much on their own. This leaves them subject to blocking, anti-super unit units/powers, etc as well as their inherent weaknesses against mech. There is a huge difference between having rocks in an army and running a rock list and that is highlighted by being able to suffer the loss of your rocks and still win games. In terms of game-play, a rock list has specific weaknesses and against armies which can exploit those weaknesses, will lose big. As explained above, a balanced list has no such glaring weaknesses and assuming equal generalship, always has a decent chance at winning the game. This brings us to a key point for any balanced list; every unit is expendable if it helps you win the game.

Rock lists are also similar to gimmick lists which rely upon a combo or ability to control the battlefield rather than fire suppression, mobility, etc. Gimmicks are defined by their general inability to be used against all lists. Chaos’ Lash of Submission for example is a terrible power against Mechanised armies or armies with psychic defenses. The Daemon Prince which wields the power doesn’t really have a good back-up power without becoming hugely expensive and is therefore far less effective against these type of lists. A balanced list doesn’t have such point-sinks or units which are only useful against a certain army style (I.e. duality). In the case of such units, they are generally very good at what they do and have some duality (I.e. Tau Broadsides) but the army can still operate without them (duplicity). A prime example of a 'gimmick' unit which can fit into a balanced army is the Imperial Guard Psyker Battle Squad. With the combination of a Ld lowering psychic power other abilities such as shooting, neural blaster, divine pronouncement, etc. become more effective but against Fearless/mech'd armies this power has far less of an impact. However, the PBS also has the power Soulstorm which is a potent large blast attack. This makes the PBS squad capable of 'gimmicks' in forcing off/killing units based on lowering their Ld but they still have a very solid role against most armies with the ability to chuck out a high strength, large blast template. Compared to Lash Princes the PBS is a very solid choice for an army as it has utility against some armies but is still usable against all armies. This is the hallmark of a balanced list.

And finally, a balanced list has in-built redundancy. Whilst this might come across as bland and boring in some lists (I.e. LasPlas & Immo spam), without multiple multi-purpose, anti-tank, anti-infantry, defensive and utility units, your army is easy to pick apart by your opponent. If for example you only have a couple of cavalry (Fantasy) or mech units (40k), your opponent can neutralise your mobility by focusing on those units early. This does not mean you have to run exact duplicates but when ensuring army unity, it is sometimes unavoidable (I.e. ASM in Blood Angel Jumper lists). This does NOT mean the army is cheesy/OP/WAAC/etc. but rather ensures a degree of reliability by having multiple units fulfilling the same role. This is called balanced. Again, it can be bland and boring at times but ensuring your army is capable of surviving contact with your opponent is part of a balanced army.

This I think is part of the biggest divergence between a gamer and hobbyists perspective of what balanced is. A hobbyist looks at a balanced list as having a spread of unit selections and not being top-notch competitive whilst a gamer considers redundancy an integral part of being balanced. I obviously lean towards to latter understanding and consider the “balance of unit selections” to be a 'rainbow' or 'battleforce' army. However, there are still some misconceptions about the competitive understanding of balanced lists in how they play on the table-top which I will consider Thursday. Remember, we’ve covered above the distinct differences between rock/gimmick lists and balanced lists.

Well, this looks like a solid place to stop for part 1.  Tune in this Thursday when we bring you part 2. In which kirby discusses how to use hypnosis to meet women, the dangers of heart-seeking stingrays and how he saved Christmas.  - Lauby