Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Army composition in 40k tournaments

40k is chaos. 

Not since the heyday of 2nd edition has there been an unprecedented level of army customisation available to the 40k tournament player. 

Since 6th edition and the allies matrix hit the shelves, after four editions of no allies except for fun games, there have been all sorts of combinations hitting the tables (some of them somewhat egregious in my opinion, hello yes I am looking at you Tigurius and O'Shovah and the Riptide Collective. Unicorn levels of Shame right here).

7th edition is now here and it's only got more intense, with the new and improved allies matrix, the bound/unbound armies, rapid fire pace of weekly releases with rules published in the White Dwarf Weekly, dataslates, formations, Forgeworld 40k approved... and so on.

Even for the most well endowed people (with regards to having both financial and available hobby time freedom to spend and participate every waking hour of the day that is, what were you thinking?), it's almost impossible to keep up with whatever is the latest meta, as people seek the Holy Grail ultimate combination of units to sweep all before them by Turn 2 (possibly coincidentally this being when their first wave of flyers turn up). 

And this is doing three things - firstly, it's keeping everything vaguely fresh as no army appears to gain more than a fleeting advantage over any other; secondly, this means that being a good player matters, you can only 'point and click' so much; and thirdly it's reinforcing the GW mantra that you should be able to play with whatever toys you want. (Oh, yeah, can't forget all the awesome models that are being released too, sorry)

For playing at the local club, shop, or in a local league, or campaign, sure thing - knock yourself out. Use everything. Have fun.

For playing at a tournament, not so much. Caveat: Yes still have fun, just not the other stuff. You know what I mean...

In my experience of tournaments (and judging by the many many people populating forums and writing blogs on the hobby), the spectrum of players ranges from those that derive pleasure from wanting to WAAC (Win At All Costs) - people sometimes affectionately known as WAACers or Cheesemongers - to those who are referred to as Fluff Bunnies, or players who only take units or formations that are less than optimal because the background states many examples of this type of army appearing so they are being historically correct (? can you apply that to a futuristic sci-fi setting? Futuristically correct? Anyway, again - you know what I mean)

Composition - a short history
Army composition in tournaments, in some form or another, has been around for time immemorial (well, since 1998 at least... you know, when 3rd edition came out). And no I'm not talking about the Force Org chart or Bound/Unbound armies. 

A lot of people will remember the GW GT's and their successors that started out when 3rd edition was released - first there was peer comp marked after every game, then there was a bit of a dabbling in panel peer comp (marked before the tournament), plus attempted maths comp (or as I like to remember it, 'peer comp by umpire'). Certainly greater minds than mine have wrestled with this thorny issue.

Those people that took tricked-out lists (commonly referred to as 'That Guy’) often did not win tournaments as you had to score highly in all categories of which Battle was only 40% or maybe 50% and Army Comp made up 15-25%. They were sometimes not very nice people to play either so got stung in Sports as well. Not to say they didn't win tournaments, it was just a lot more difficult for them. And they sometimes even left before prizegiving in a bit of a sulk, saying something like: 

Maybe nobody truly understood them... (until now)

There was, I'd like to think, looking back with my rose-tinted glasses on, a general understanding, generally, of what was 'right'... or at least, 'right-ish'. I'm talking the 'if it looks like it and smells like it, it probably is...it" test.. Fluff used as a justification for taking certain units or combinations was regularly used and abused (particularly on the modelling front, things can look different on paper compared to in the flesh, a bit like Plaguecrushers of Nurgle, if you get what I’m saying), but the general composition by popular opinion or the opinion of a group of prominent gamers/cult of personality was king. I know because I was a part of it.

Then you had the problem of one person's fluff being another person's cheese... and so forums would rage with impassioned arguments to try and sway readers one way or another. People would post lists asking for a comp rating, and then take the feedback on board (maybe) and go off and tweak it to make it a little more acceptable to the 'community'. Or to surreptitiously put a rock in the proverbial sock.

Enough of that. What's the point of this post? 
I am still in a believer in Army Composition for tournaments. My view on this hasn't really changed, but how this could be achieved has evolved.

Why do I care? Well, I want to know, as a player, that if I am spending a reasonable investment (money/time/social investment with the person across the table from me) to attend a tournament, I want to go and have some good hard games against other players, not a crap shoot against goofy lists. This is under my control (as I can vote with my feet).

The flip side is. if I am running a tournament and expecting people to spend a reasonable investment (money/time/social investment) to attend, then, as a TO, I want it to be inclusive. I don't want a newbie turning up and encountering 5 games of Necron Air Force Spam (sorry Necron players, I know it's not your fault, the Society of Hidden Immortals, Tombblades and Flayed Ones for Realistic Regular Equal-opportunity Army Lists or S.H.I.T.F.O.R.R.E.A.L. forced me to write that)

What's the answer then?
Where I see 40k suffers, compared to WHFB, in that there is no simple way to gently limit choices. In WHFB, you have to meet the parameters of:
  • Up to 50% (now) Lords/Heroes
  • Minimum 25% Core
  • Up to 50% Special
  • Up to 25% Rare 

.... plus restrictions on duplicate choices for Special/Rare. 

Other limitations are determined by the local environment (see FoB Lite, or the ETC

To be fair, WHFB is much better internally balanced across the armies compared to 40k, although in my view, the WHFB ETC is an example of comp taken just that little bit too far, where they try to rewrite core rules to balance out the armies. But I digress, this is about 40k...

Now bearing in mind that this whole 40k army comp business is irrelevant when you're playing your mates - what we're looking at here is when it's a game vs a complete stranger in a setting where you have both paid money to attend... because… let's be honest… asking wargamers to self-regulate their lists and expecting it to consistently happen without someone telling them where the boundaries are is a bit like the vision of free market economics - it just doesn't quite work in reality without some sort of outside intervention. 

And even those that start out with the noblest of intentions may have their resolve slowly eroded over time until they hit the somewhat selfish "Well what about MY enjoyment? I'm going to take a list I like using and stuff everyone else".

So... if we used WHFB as a template (to show how that wouldn't work), imagine if I told you that you had to spend 465 points of your 1850pt army on Troops from your Primary Detachment. Most* Space Marine players would have a fit ("What? You mean you are forcing me to spend points on four Scout squads not two? THAT'S NOT FAIR!"). On the other hand, Eldar players with their Wave Serpent skimmerforce would be laughing all the way to the top tables as it makes no difference to them. 


No... this is trying to use a system that is not designed for it.

So I am looking for some ideas or general discussion from you, the reader, the collective mind, the gestalt consciousness... (ok yes Jeff you too <sigh>) on how to implement simple army composition for 40k tournaments in this brave new world, with some general caveats - or - as I have just coined, the Fully SIC model, that is:
  • Simple is good 
  • Inclusive is good
  • Changing rules is bad. 

But you know, the easiest way to apply composition to what people bring is to lower it to 1500 points
Yes I know people like big points values so they can bring all their snazzy stuff. But less points to play with means that, generally, people are going to have to make a hard choice or two about what units they will take and the less rules you as a TO need to put in place to encourage diversification. It encourages 'balanced' lists purely because of lack of ability to take everything.

For Tournament Composition, my opinion and suggestions are:

Core Restrictions (that should be compulsory most of the time)
  • Battle Forged army lists only
  • No 40k approved Forgeworld units or Forgeworld army lists. Sorry but these are, in general, not very balanced in the context of actual core Codexes/Dataslates/Formations. Save them for your friendly games at your local club. Nice models though, no problems for them to be used as proxies.
  • No Apocalypse (anything)
  • No Trial/Optional rules

Voluntary Restrictions (that should be seriously considered)
  • No Lords of War under 2000pts. At high points games it's not really a drama, because if you want to drop 500+pts into a single unit... well... let's just say that's fine by me.
  • No Fortifications
  • Cannot ally with same faction
  • Minimise the number of Detachments/Dataslates/Formations. For example, no more than 4 unique detachments or formations may be taken up in lists up to 2000pts. This allows some flexibility and won't affect most players, although the crowd that want to take Inquisition + Sororitas + Grey Knights + Imperial Knights + an Assassin will be annoyed... hey. That's me!
  • Maximise the number of flyers allowed (one per 750pts or something)

So examples of this might be:
Easy comp
1500pts. Core Restrictions, plus Voluntary Restrictions of no Lords of War or Fortifications, cannot ally with same faction. 

Vaguely restrictive comp
1750 points. Core Restrictions. Voluntary Restrictions 4 Detachments/Dataslates/Formations, cannot ally with same faction, maximum 3 flyers

You get the picture.

So yes - thoughts? Comments? Ideas? Improvements? Suggestions? 


  1. By using this method it is going to make particular codex (eldar) pretty much unbeatable. Forgeworld is the equalizer that gives answers to the spam

    1. Not drinking the Kool-aid on this one Royce, if anti-eldar is what you have to deal with then that is the list you design in response. It doesn't have to be MSU spam xyz unit, there are a lot of tools available.

      The other option is to ban Eldar, that's also possible ;-)

  2. I feel like flyers are long past as a boogie man.

    Ages ago, up in Auckland (i think), i was talking to Nicola about this (again, i think it was him) and he was big on missions as comp. At Conquest, i pushed a mission format (stolen from the US, from the Bay Area Open i think) that rewarded armies that moved well, and that could claim a number of objectives (whether those objectives were on the table or killing things)

    I moved away from Kill Point missions entirely, because i wanted to discourage tabling as a path to victory.

    I wonder if removing the "auto-max win" from tabling someone is worth looking at.

    I'll have more thoughts later.

  3. There's a large discussion on this blog post going on among several of the more active South Island players. They're concerned at the very arbitrary removal of whole sections of the game (FW)

    You start off so well, Hagen, pointing that the game is in turmoil, and that the Meta (which, in NZ bears no resemblance to anything on the internet) never seems to settle. This is a really good thing. The idea that there isn't a single LIST is a fantastic. Allowing FW, and multiple detachments, and single factions using multiple detachments is a great way to prevent the LIST from ever arriving.

    Some things are too "good" but keeping the points values lower (i love 1500) is a great way to avoid unnecessary house rules (aka Comp) Limiting the "unfun" superheavies (anything that removes entire blocks of your army and you have no say in the matter - 10", AP1, ignores cover blasts, etc) and you'll be fine.

    In a country as small as NZ, there simple aren't enough "WAAC assholes" that a heavy approach is justified. The fewer TO imposed restrictions, the better.

    1. Hi Wes,

      Thanks for this.

      I am yet to be convinced that allowing FW units in your average tournament is anything but exclusive. It's not equal access to players or TOs.

      For example, local newbie #1 (let's call him 'Blaise' for want of a better name) turns up for his first tournament with his garage refined Nid list (see, he's a made up person because nobody takes Nids competitively, right? Just kidding... of course they do). He thinks he's got a reasonable chance of competing, until he meets the guy(s) able to.afford the rules+models for the FW product to plug that list gap or are just costed/written poorly. Now he has to assimilate all the new rules in 5 min and then figure out what to do.

      And I'm not even going to start on some of those FW special characters!

      I'm all for using core codex allies to plug any gaps. At least everyone knows what the units are and has reasonable access to the rules.

      There should also be variety for everyone, if that is what people want to allow then good on them.

      There's a couple of good posts on this on 3++ and Dakka and Capture and Control...

      But if someone thinks they can't compete without FW units in their army I'd say that's a bit of a cop out, wouldn't you?

  4. I don't see FW as any more inaccessible than someone using rules/formations from one of the various supplements and campaign books. I suppose you can buy those at your local store or online (unless, like Shield of Baal) they've already sold out.

    There's a persistent argument that FW units are better/undercosted, and i just don't see it. SOME are, sure, but then no one will ever accuse the Wave Serpent of being accurately priced.

    Can someone compete with FW? of course they can. But why are we denying someone the "right" to use their models? i really don't see 40k approved FW units as an issue, any more than i see "netlists" as an issue. Both of those arguments, in my experience here in NZ, are almost entirely hypothetical. You could, possibly, make huge and horrible "stomp them all" lists but in practice, i've seen a handful of people across two islands try (and only a couple succeed when they do it)

    i always look at what Dakka and 3++ have to say, some of it is very valid, but when it comes to "metas" and "competitiveness", NZ is (thankful) not that interested. by and large, my experience has been that other than that handful (ok, let's say double handful, no more than 12) of people, the rest of the country seems pretty happy to play with whatever they have lying around and be HAPPY doing it.

    I think you hit it on the head in your post: Let's play smaller games, and make it hard for people to run expensive, face-wreckers.

    I'd like to see missions where wrecking face helped but didn't win it for you. having an army that could move, and accomplish any sort of goal would be the ideal, rather than one that stood still and blew you off the table in two turns.

    1. The problem is the TO says "let's play 1500pts" and the (vocal) players say "but its not fair you are denying me the right to take my models"... see where I'm going here?

      Using varied missions is a good idea too, makes people think outside the parallelogram.

    2. Agreed, they can always complain, but i feel they have "less right" to complain if they event just has a low pts limit (something within the rules written right there in the book) vs a rule i made up (no Riptides because i don't like those)

      There's no right answer, no perfect "comp". I'm just here to say that all the south island events in the past couple of years have had minimal restrictions and have been mostly successful.

      North Island events that i've seen have been restrictive.

      it's an interesting split.

    3. As long as we both agree that any tournament that restricts the points you spend, particularly at the low end of the 'accepted' scale aka 1500pts, is a form of Army Comp.

      See I am trying to steer well away from restricting actual things (Riptides) or the old '-1 for every Elites choice after the first' points system and sticking to generic stuff (Forgeworld).

      My position is the more points you allow, the more you need to consider regulating in other ways.

      And there is always room for tournaments that include many things or even everything.

  5. 1500 is now a point where you don't actually have any options in the list, it is all this is essential and you will get more cookie cutter lists. 1850 is closer to the balance point in my mind just due to the fact that it allows for the essentials and a few toys. But not to the point where you can get everything you want and you still have to make some interesting choices and where list variation comes into play.

    As for Comp I think it should go the way of the dinosaur for most events, it is too arbitrary regardless of intentions. I think a TOs veto could be brought in for the purposes of knocking back the extreme builds.

    My thinking for overall list creation is closer to what 7th ed is overall. There are 4 sources for creating lists that are Battle Forged (I think Battle forged lists are what Torunaments should be using) The Combined Arms Detachment, the Allied Detachment, Faction Specific Detachments (Inquisition, Knights, whatever is in the more recent codexes and some of the other books) and Formations. I say out of those 4 options pick any 3 in any combination. I think this allows for the greatest freedom whilst also keeping the stupid lists like 10 riptides (Not actually that good a list) from being in play.

    Capping Lords of War restricts people from taking Ghaz or from taking Logan or Draigo. None of those 3 are game breaking models and neither is the Stompa, I think possibly restricting Lords of war to being only from the codexes may be a reasonable way to go.

    I also come from the Missions are the comp camp that was mentioned earlier by Wes. Good Mission design actually forces people into taking lists that can for all intents and purposes take on all comers.

    Removing Forge World is a good thing, I prefer no FW in tournaments just due to the fact that they are designed with narrative play in mind, casual games I am fine with, campaigns I am fine with, tournaments not so much just due to FWs inability to release a PDF with where the latest rules are for things, and the time issues involved in tournaments, there isn't really time to go through the special rules and the stats on FW when they don't always have standard special rules.

    1. Hang on Christian, you say no comp but then TOs veto? Capping Lords of War? Sounds like comp (I like the idea of allowing codex-only LoW, by the way).

      Regarding vetoes, what about the TO who doesn't know the myriad of combinations and therefore is not fully savvy of what lists should be sent back? Or the TO that has a personal bias towards a particular build (conscious or unconscious)?

      Question about the max 4 sources suggestion: What happens when you choose the assassin detachment then the formation that gives you all 4? Is that two choices?

      Re missions, and bearing in mind that I agree with the idea, the issue about using missions as comp is that, a bit like Forgeworld, everyone has to have ready access to them. Are they tested missions? Are they balanced? Are they too much effort for your average tournament organiser or attendee? What is wrong with just using the BRB missions?

      All good grist for the mill.

      I also would make an observation that while people don't want to be told what is or isn't acceptable in a list (old school comp), they are happy to have tournament restrictions (new school comp).

      Maybe it should be renamed 'Standard Tournament Guidelines' or something like that... Marketing eh?

    2. One other thing about the 1500 vs 1850 points:
      At 1500 I have to decide whether to take 2 wraithknights and two units of Dire Avengers in Wave Serpents, or 1 wraithknight and 4 units of Dire Avengers in Wave Serpents.

      At 1850 I can take all of that plus another 100pts of stuff. Doesn't sound like a balance point at all! :-)

    3. I brought up the TO Veto as a possibility as opposed to traditional comp.

      If you took the formation of Assassains then it is one choice due to it being a formation. Because formations do not take up a slot on a detachment since it is its own detachment.

      Missions as comp don't need to be too out there as a mission to be balanced, more objective missions. Even number of objectives per side. Using a modified Maelstrom idea that has been played at a couple of tournaments up Auckland and in Whangerei is another option, (list of 10 missions, pick 5 winner is the one that has achieved the most). I have rewritten the scouring to force more movement and less random luck generating a static I have a 4 a 3 and the other 3 in my deployment zone and I go first and get first blood by killing a Fast Attack option. That scenario is not good where as I changed it towards people getting one of the 2s and one of the 3s and they deploy them in their deployment zone and the 1 and the 4 is along the centre line and randomly determined which one is which. Deployment happens to be forced into Dawn of War but it has made itself a more dynamic game by making initial objective positions relatively even.

      I can get 4 serpents and 2 wraithknights into a 1500 point list with points to spare. 1850 gives more options available to counter that sort of list. 1500 is really the bare essentials that are needed to try and counter only about 2 or 3 out of the following list (mass infantry, mass tanks, flyers, heavy infantry, heavy tanks, monstrous creatures) 1850 allows more like 4-5 of that list and to still achieve the objectives.