Thursday, September 30, 2010

An Interesting Point on the Nature of Competition

Honestly, I tend not to post about other people's posts. It's a principle about avoiding interweb drama. I had enough drama in high school, and I get more than enough in the way of office politics.

That being said, Black Legion Matt has an interesting point about the nature of competition. His statement is something about list variation does not mix with a level playing field. Now, I agree with this to an extent, but I also think list variation is a part of what makes 40k interesting.

Honestly, there is something to this. Games like chess and checkers involve a predictable field of battle, and give each player identical armies (and in the case of checkers, uniform playing pieces).

The only real difference between the respective forces is that one side goes first, and one goes second. Not being a chess/checkers expert, I have to assume that there are tradeoffs between going first and second, and if not, there's at least the 50/50 shot (...I suppose that depends on the playing format? I'm making assumptions here) at getting it. I suppose you could try to go at the same time, but I don't think the games are set up that way, and the difference between first/second is just something that's built into the game.

The bottom line? Since first/second is generally random and the armies are identical, it's purely a case of player versus player.

The Disagreement
Frankly, if you wanted to play with uniform armies, you'd either play chess/checkers, or you'd have some kind of agreement with your opponent prior to a game that allowed for variety in army builds. Given the cost of the game and the allowance for variation in builds, I've got to kind of say if you're playing the game, part of you is tacitly in agreement with variation in army build.

So, I'm assuming you're cool with variation in army build. Where do you go from there?

Balancing Armies
Now, this is much, much easier said than done. Ideally, though, this is the solution to varied armies. Now, all the armies abide by the same Force Org charts (3 each Elite/Fast Attack/Heavy Support, 2 each HQ, 6 ea Troops; required 1 HQ/2 troops). They also abide by the same points level.

The stuff in the game (troops, vehicles, monstrous creatures) dictates the type of destructive tools you'll need. Now, honestly, here's where I think a lot of the variation gets screwy. The easy example is the mighty melta weapon. Some armies have access to it (Tau, the Marine armies, Imperial Guard, Eldar, Witch Hunters, Daemon Hunters) and some do not (Tyranids, Necrons, Orks, Dark Eldar).

Consider the effectiveness of melta weapons against vehicles (which are good because of Vehicle Damage Rules that say a 35pt Rhino can take the same number of AP1 hits as a 250+ point Land Raider) and the prevalence of vehicles in lists that can take a lot of them (Imperial Guard and Razorback-spam being a couple of the prototypical examples) or Tyranids, who can roll with a heap of T6 multi-wound monsters. It's easy to see that the people that can bring and effectively employ such weapons are in good shape.

The codices
So, having access to the right capabilities is crucial. Now, here's where we get to the meat of the problem. How does your army handle various types of threats? Vehicles are just the easy example, since they're prevalent. If you want another sample, look for psychic powers and/or psychic defense, and the effectiveness thereof.

The simplest example here is the Ork army. What do they have for anti-tank at range? Lootas. (Ok, they can take missiles as well, but considering you get only a few per squad, want to take large squads over multiple squads most of the time, and have a mighty BS2...yeah). Problem? AV13 and 14 at range are issues. So, how do you kill heavier armor? Assault it with...power klaws. Either by having your armored kanz walk up and punch, or committing a squad full of boyz and hoping the one Klaw can do the deed. Neither of these are attractive.

The other answer involves Deffrollas, which is committing a vehicle to a 12" move and hoping it can do some S10 hits to a heavy vehicle. Full stop, end of story, those are your options. And your psychic powers? A random power of questionable utility, and no meaningful way to stop others from casting powers.

I don't want to use Orks as the buttmonkey here, but they're just a simple example. They're lacking a couple of capabilities that make it hard to build a balanced ork list. I'm not saying it's impossible, but when someone like Space Marines can drop 200 points on a troop unit that has a meaningful anti-tank weapon (BS4 multi-melta), a workable anti-troop capability (a flamer, a bolt pistol and 8 rapid-firing bolters) and a transport it can fire the anti-tank weapon out of (Rhino not moving) then, well...yeah.

Symmetrical armies?
No, we covered that; it's probably not what people are paying $300-500+ on an army to play when a chess set is probably a lot cheaper. The core, then, is to give everyone the capabilities they need. At that point, it is on the players to bring all of the tools. Let's be honest, while some people play more (or less) 'cut throat', everyone plays to derive some enjoyment out of the game, and most people don't enjoy getting monkey-stomped.

Hell, most people don't enjoy giving out a monkey-stomp; you either wanted a challenge or feel bad for the other guy (and either way, it's somewhat counterproductive, since crushing people mercilessly and just gloating about it aren't healthy for the hobby).

So, what's the answer?

SIMPLE! (/sarcasm). Symmetrical capabilities. Everyone needs a reliable way to accomplish their missions: you need both access to competent anti-infantry and anti-armor capabilities, and you need to take them.

I don't care how good a player you are, if you bring as many power-armored bolter guys as you can and I bring a couple land raiders and some tanks, you're probably screwed. Now, the Space Marine codex is a solid book with plenty of ways to get the capabilities you need; you as the player need to bring them.

The Problem
So, we've solved the game's problem: you just have to bring the right tools for the job. Now, the issue: not everyone has access to the tools. Necrons are the easy example here: no transports, one option for troops that's basically a slower tactical squad sans weapon options, and one gun with a strength better than 6. The rules for 4th edition made them fine, the rules for 5th? Not so much.

So, what's the Necron player's situation?

Honestly, pretty crappy. You either try to find a build that works while you lack some crucial tools (I'm not saying necrons need psychic powers, but a psychic counter would be nice...) and hope that your player skill is enough to make up for it, get a new army.

Considering the cost involved in starting up a new army (even using e-bay or other discount methods, that's a few hundred bucks) I think that's a pretty crappy answer. The other option involves getting an update to the rules, but GW's release schedule for codices is...sometimes slow (I'm looking at any Dark Eldar fans that have kept their armies for the past however many years...).

Even my pet Tyranids were in the same situation not too long ago, and honestly? I had a 'nid army, sold it off, and then got back into it when the new book came out. Did I lose my love for the 'nid fluff and spontaneously recover it when the book came out? Or, did I get tired of trying to kill vehicles by running melee-fexes at them or hoping to glance them to death with S6 AP-, or when my best long-range gun was S8, single-shot, BS3? (Pro tip: it was the latter, and dying a little inside when the rules said I had an uphill fight).

The Answer
And this is the part where I propose a comprehensive solution, right? Well, honestly...the best I can think of is that GW should consider updating the rules a little more often. 4th to 5th edition was a major sea change, and the armies that had access to the right tools could be more competitive.

If you give someone a few tools to tide them over and have some semblance of competitiveness, you're going to keep that player happy, and they're more likely to keep them in the game. The alternative is to have people impose artificial, arbitrary limitations on the game, which isn't necessarily going to make the balance any better, only different.

Update the freaking books more than once every few years when you radically change the rules, or it ticks people off, and keep people angry long enough and they probably stop dumping hundreds of dollars into your game...

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

On Harpies

At last, I have finished my Harpy conversions. And, of course, I feel the need to share them and to wax poetic about the care, feeding, and employment of harpies. The first picture puts them alongside some devourer-packing Termagants for a sense of scale.
They are PRETTY. YES. THEY ARE. Side view. Coat hanger bracing FTW.
Another side view.
This is probably not what you want to see.

A cookie if you spotted the ingredients already. It's not an exhaustive list.
1) Old-school Hive Tyrant
2) Dragon Wings from WH Fantasy
3) Pair o' Venom Cannons from Warriors
4) pair o' scything talons from the trygon/mawloc kit.

The limbs were generally chosen for sake of scale. The general scale of the thing was built with transportability in mind. The wings are pinned on, as I simply could not make magnets work that well. They're secured to the base at two points; there's the coat hanger and there's an additional point on the tail, be it the base or the jutting building wreckage.

First off, the Harpy is fast, as it's basically monstrous jump infantry. It can get a good 12" move each turn and then fire off both of its weapon systems. However, synapse means that you will probably NOT use it to rush across the field, and frankly there's no need to close with the enemy that much. 18" is just fine for infantry-hunting, and 36" is fine for shooting at larger targets. Use the speed not to advance, but to set up shots.

Honestly, you brought this thing because it's got guns. It starts with a twin-linked stranglethorn cannon, but I highly recommended paying 10 points to go to the twin heavy venom cannon. Why?

Simple: suppressive fire against vehicles. With twin-linked, the gun's got a base 50/50 shot of landing where you put it, just from rolling a hit with the scatter dice. More refined odds involve 2d6-3/ (size of the vehicle) and are a bit too tedious to put here. S9 has a good chance of glancing, and even with a -1 to damage from a penetrating hit it's likely to at least keep a vehicle from shooting, and will do damage 50% of the time on a good pen. Mostly, though, it's to shut those frakking tanks up for a bit. Use the mobility to line up flank shots if necessary, and you can always try to ping multi-wound T4 guys in a pinch.

In closer, you should've equipped Cluster Spines. Large blast, S5, AP-. Quantity over quality of hits, but it wounds most infantry pretty readily.

In really really close, you get the once-a-game Harpy Crap-over. You just have to move over an enemy model, and then you can barrage d3 S4 AP4 Large Blasts on top of them. Hilarity can ensue.

A word of warning: bad rolls on danger-close shots CAN hit you. As you are T5 with a 4+, it's reasonable to assume you can wounder yourself, and I kinda helped a harpy kill itself with its own large blasts.

Well, as a monstrous creature you ARE ignoring armor, and rolling 5+2d6 against vehicles. You get two base S5 hits, so pick your fights carefully: go for depleted units or go in with friends. You won't do much more than polish off a couple non-melee guys by yourself. Still, you do have Sonic Screech, which translates to assault grenades and making the enemy go at 1/2 initiative (rounded down), so if you can get buddies in there it's a good time to go to town.

Even so, I probably wouldn't try to fist-fight a dreadnought unless it's wounded or minus the Dreadnought CCW, since you'll get maybe one good penetrating hit on it in melee.

This is where some folks start quibbling about the 170pt price tag: you have four wounds at T5 with a 4+ save. At danger close, you can harm yourself with your own spore mine offal. Autocannons can ding you up, and a rail gun will break you in half.

I've got four answers for that:

1) in a pinch, hide behind another MC or grab cover if you can find it (or, say, a venomthrope).

2) there's ONE ARMY that can insta-gib you at range. One. Crap happens. Are you seriously going to make your decisions based on ONE graphic mis-match? That's being a wee bit disingenuous.

3) Make sure harpies aren't the only monstrous creatures in your army, because, um, well, they won't like the attention.

4) when you get down to it, stuff like missile launchers and lascannons will wound you on a 2+ and take away your armor save ANYWAY, so how's the T5 and 4+ change that? Other than autocannons and rail guns, you're more or less identical to other MCs in terms of heavy weapons (...excepting heavy bolters, I'll grant, but they're not too common other than dakka-preds).

Harpies are mobile suppressive fire that get nastier up close. They're snipers with a point-defense system and some assault power. Use them to suppress/harass armor at range and from the flanks (since it's one of TWO guns that fire more than 24" and can harm vehicles in the 'nid book). If infantry closes, unload spore mines and cluster spines on them, and watch the wounds pile on. Take them as part of a shooty army (IE: consider Tyrannofexes, and/or hive guard/Venomthropes) to augment your long-range vehicle-harassing capabilities.

They're not all bad, but they're not auto-includes in all 'nid armies.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Tyranid MC-Heavy with Venomthropes

I apologize as it's been a while since I've posted; the Warmachine league's been in motion and I've been busy hacking away at that. Additionally, I've gotten a little 'eh' about running the same Tyranid army over and over again. I borrowed a Stelek army, the Venomthrope list in particular. It consists of:

Hive Tyrant; 2x Devourerers, Adrenal Glands, Paroxysm & Leech Essence
10 Termagants w/ Devourers
10 Termagants w/ Devourers
Tervigon w/ Catalyst
Tervigon w/ Catalyst
Harpy w/ Cluster Spines, TL Heavy Venom Cannon
Harpy w/ Cluster Spines, TL Heavy Venom Cannon
Tyrannofex w/ Cluster Spines, Rupture Cannon
Tyrannofex w/ Cluster Spines, Rupture Cannon
Carnifex w/ 2x TL Devourers, Adrenal Glands, Frag Spines

I admit it's got some stuff I'm not used to, like spending for Devourers on the Termagants and actually running a shooty-fex. On the other hand, I'm not used to being without Hive Guard and the Adrenal/Toxin glands on the Tervigons.

My opponent was one of my old disciples (assuming he doesn't mind me calling him that) and rolled with a good ol' Black Templar double Crusader list. It was something like:

Emperor's Chump w/ Preferred Enemy Vow
Marshal w/ hammer, shield, artificer armor
5 Terminators w/ Furious Charge (4 claws, one hammer/shield)
5 Terminators w/ Furious Charge (4 claws, one hammer/shield)
9-man Crusader Squad (Fist, Meltagun, 2x Newbs); Rhino
9-man Crusader Squad (Fist, Meltagun, 2x Newbs); Rhino
7-man Crusader Squad (Plamsa gun, lascannon)
MM/HF Speeder
MM/HF Speeder
Land Raider Crusader
Land Raider Crusader

Scenario: Annihilation
Setup: Dawn of War
He set up the objective-camping Crusader Squad on a hill with a good, central shooting position, as he rolled to go first. I set up the Tervigons and the Hive Tyrant behind some cover. Since he's got the speed, I'm fine with going second. He's left his mechanized assets in reserve, because he might as well set up to react to my deployment, as my guys are much slower. I opt to not even try to seize the initiative.

Black Templar Turn 1
Fairly stock BT deployment: he puts the speeders as far downfield as he can, and keeps his troop transports in a central position. He decides that he'd rather put his objective-camping squad to use, and moves them up.

Tyranid Turn 1
Here's Tyranid deployment. I try to keep it central, angling a little towards one flank.
My shooting ends up exploding the speeder on the right, and I manage to shake up the speeder on the left. That's all my shooting does, but I'll take it. The Tervigons crap out a forward screen, as I think putting the Devourer-gants into that duty is a waste of some anti-infantry firepower.
Black Templar Turn 2
He boosts th speeder over to the flank, and gets the save. His objective-sitting squad hoofs it up the field, and that's about that.
Tyranid Turn 2
Of all things, the forward Termagant squad glances his speeder once, gets through the cover save, and immobilizes it. This is somewhat inconvenient for a fast skimmer that moved's vaguely anti-climatic as I'd positioned a fair amount of shooting to kill that thing off. My anti-vehicle shooting does crap-all past that, though my left-side squad of Devourer-gants and the Carnifex reduce the objective squad to a lascannon and plasma gun. They promptly flub their morale check, in dice luck that's going to be all too common for my opponent this time around.
Black Templar Turn 3
He moves up, popping smoke on the Rhino on my right flank. His other Rhino promptly immobilizes itself on terrain. Land Raider Crusaders disgorge their cargo and open fire, knocking some wounds off the Harpy on my right, and the Plasma gunner blows a termagant to hell.

Then, the dice make themselves known. The venomthrope dangerous terrain checks kill three terminators on their way in, then Terminators do what Termiantors do to anything they touch in close combat.

Tyranid turn three goes something like this:
Terminators on the left flank go away under a heap of devourer fire; two of them on the left flank go away. In my excitment at his ability to roll 1's repeatedly at armor saves, I forgot to take a picture. The others turn their guns on his disembarked marines, and it becomes a VERY inhospitable place as there's one plasmagunner left from one squad, and the other squad has a wounded Marshal, a meltagun, a Neophyte and a couple other space-bobs.
Black Templar Turn 4
The remaining two terminators get themselves dead because they have no Frag Grenades, and fourteen termagants are apparently angry. He puts more gunfire into my carnifex and the right-side harpy; they end up with one wound each. He's also unable to roll anything more than 1's to move his half-strength Crusader Squad; this includes the difficult terrain AND the run. Freakin' wow. He throws the other Crusader squad into my right flank and KOs the squad there. Big shock.
Tyranid Turn 4
The wounded carnifex breaks into a screaming run, finds itself a land raider, inflicts four penetrating hits on it and kills it. His commander eats two wounds and falls on a pair of 1's, and a withering barrage of devourer fire and templates kill them off.
The harpy on the right (which is conspicuously absent from this pictures) flew over that Crusader squad, took a spore mine dump on it, killed some, took a shot with cluster spines, scattered the spines onto itself, wounded itself, and killed itself. EPIC FAIL.
The Tyrannofex wanders into the survivors of that squad. It eats a couple of wounds, then steps on the Emperor's Chump repeatedly.
He has a Land Raider Crusader and Rhino left at the end. This has been one of the most comprehensive crub-stomps I've seen, and honestly? It was the dice. I've never seen that many 1's that fast for armor saves so often. He played it pretty much correctly, though when you get down to it Double Land Raider Crusader + Terminators = straightforward plan. I throw up termagant screens, hope they'll hold, try to take out Termiantors before they can do too much damage.

Thoughts on the Tyranid Army
I'm beginning to see some of the logic behind this army. The Venomthropes were inordinately effective with regards to forcing dangerous terrain checks, but costing the enemy extra attacks and giving me cover saves is nice. After the game, he wondered if he would've been better off trying to potshot them with a lascannon, but I'm not too sure, since the answer is 'go to ground for the 3+' if it's not 'hide behind something scary.'

That IS a lot of monstrous creature love. The Harpies are the least durable, and their speed is more of a 'rapid response' thing than a 'look at me I'm fast!' thing. The thing is, their firepower is somewhat comparable to the Tyrannofex, but they're only useful for the suppressing aspect on vehicles. Sometimes, shutting the guns up is enough. I have to say I'm pleasantly surprised by the Harpies. I expect to have pictures of them up eventually, as they're now on the paint bench.

Devourer Termagants are a NASTY anti-infantry shooty force. Even at BS3, that's still 30 S4 shots. THey don't go on the front lines, but since they don't have enough AP to make it worthwhile.

I can even see the point of the Carnifex; the shooting is lovely and there's that whole S10-against-vehicles thing that's nice. That's one of the downsides of thea rmy; the Tyrannofex guns are the only real way to kill vehicles at range, but that's enough Devourerers to say 'slow down a little there,' and you can punch the crap out of them in a pinch.

I'll be curious to test this army against other matchups, as I feel this would've been closer had he not rolled a crap-ton of ones. I would've had to commit monstrous creatures to close combat, and probably taken more losses. I know that's a pretty solid Black Templar build, but sometimes the dice just kill you, hard.