Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Riders Make The Race

There is an age old cycling adage that says, “the riders make the race.”  What this means is, the race organizers can make the most brutal course they can imagine with cobble stone roads, mountains, hairpin turns and so on; but if the racers don’t feel like pushing it, or no one takes the initiative and attacks then the race won’t be that eventful.  On the other side of the coin, a completely flat straight course could be an absolute bore, but if the racers attack, counter-attack, and ride aggressively it could be quit exciting and difficult.  In essence, the riders make the race, not the course.

Nikephoros dominating a bike race
 In Warhammer, the opposite of this dictum is true.  Since fully painted and modeled armies are time and money consuming to build and collect, there is really no metagame among players.  If radically changing your army composition-or even your entire army- was something we could do in a day or two, you’d see a real metagame as players adapted to each other’s builds.  But as it stands, people try to bring lists that are generally good against a general field and hope that the things outside their control go their way.

But just because you can’t really modify your list in a big way in order to attack a metagame doesn’t mean there are no worthwhile modifications to make.  Remember, the biggest variable you face at each tournament is the terrain and house rules.  It goes without saying that a lot of people underestimated the impact of 4++ area terrain and large LOS blocking terrain in the middle of the table at NOVA this year.   People who playtested their lists on emptier, shooting gallery tables common in the U.S. were obviously caught off guard when their long range shooting failed to replicate the successes they were used to.

So what can you do as a player to avoid this?  My hope would be that as time goes on, TO’s will do a better and better job of letting people know what to expect the tables to look like before the tournament.  Mike does a great job on the Whiskey blog of discussing this sort of thing, and I hope that level of openness catches on.  

Nikephoros dominating a 40k tournament.  Well, at least this game.
If we know, for example, that a tournament will have the same terrain and cover rules as NOVA, we can adjust our lists to take advantage; perhaps by bringing more mid-range firepower instead of long range, or by bringing more dedicated close combat units than you would normally.   And since most units will have some kind of 4++ it doesn’t pay much to spend extra points for units with 4+ (or worse) armor.  You can shave points from unnecessary armor saves and spend them on things that become better under the tournament conditions, like Dozer Blades.

Obviously, the alternative is true.  If you know that the terrain will be sparse you would be stupid not to bring good long range firepower, or at least ways to mitigate your opponents’. 

All of this is should be pretty obvious, but my thinking is that very few players take these things into strong consideration.  The difference between a 4-0 day 1 result and a 3-1 result could easily come down to a Dozer Blade or a close combat unit you could have brought to take advantage of their increased survivability.

In the end, in any type of gaming from Warhammer to Poker to video games comes down to controlling what you can control and playing around what you can’t.  Any time that we have an avenue to assert control over something (in this example, tournament terrain rules and conditions) you should take advantage of it.  The more that you control for, the less luck becomes a factor and the more successful you’ll be.


  1. Hm... I had like three different responses typed up, but deleted them all. I'm not exactly sure what my thoughts on this are. Yes, it's good to plan for the scenario, and I can't really blame people for trying to win more by tailoring lists to an extent. (by tailoring, I mean like you say - taking units that are better for the terrain, etc., not to beat specific builds)

    I guess the thing I'd caution readers of, then, is not to let those little details make you lose sight of the game itself. I have an anecdote that may help make my point:

    (because as we all know, anecdotes are conclusive evidence) :-p

    At my original store, I was kind of a big deal. :-p Heh, posturing aside, I literally hadn't lost a tournament for over a year there. Nobody saw me as beatable. So that year, for 'Ard Boyz, they arranged the terrain on every table so that I'd be as disadvantaged as possible. They tailored their lists to beat mine specifically (at the time I was running PDF Blood Angels). A loss was in the making for me.

    However, they failed to realize that a large group from out of town would play, and I never ended up playing against any of my friends. I played three people I'd never played before, and won the tournament handily, while my friends, with their tailored lists, mostly lost.

    My friends were pissed. :-p

    So, as flattering (for me) as that anecdote is, I guess the main point is that you shouldn't lose sight of what's really important: overall solid builds and solid gameplay.

    As a last remark (because this is already an essay), just want to point out that even in a tournament where you know what to expect, you may get a 'rogue' set of terrain that doesn't suit your army at all. This happened to me at the Nova, and whereas it was already over for me by that point, that game is a good example of not depending on terrain to back you up :)

    This all isn't meant to steal your thunder, Nike. I think your points are mostly valid (though I'm glad this hobby isn't like the MTG scene in its constant flux), and it's certainly something to take into account. I know I will be :-p

  2. I don't mind well reasoned criticism at all. Good insight.

  3. Great article. Some great thoughts and new ideas on things I can suggest at my local store. :)

  4. I am kind of mixed about this. People shouldn't tailor to terrain for similar reasons they don't list tailor, your army should be competitive anywhere against anyone.
    However hearing about the Nova terrain all over the internet I am inclined to agree that terrain info should be released as it allows whoever bought the random list that was good with 4th edition terrain to do better than people with normal lists.

    By the way, this is another of the great articles that keep me coming back to this blog

  5. "It goes without saying that a lot of people underestimated the impact of 4++ area terrain and large LOS blocking terrain in the middle of the table at NOVA this year. People who playtested their lists on emptier, shooting gallery tables common in the U.S. were obviously caught off guard when their long range shooting failed to replicate the successes they were used to."

    Its like you were writing this for my benefit. lol! Good article. ;)

  6. It's not just the terrain, I'd like to point out. If you know the scenarios ahead of time, that can help determine army composition.

    If there are no objective missions, and everything is straight killpoints or victory points, chances are you're best off taking the minimum amount of troops unless you have a codex that happens to have awesome troops. However, if I was playing Templars, I would bring the minimum two troop choices and lot's of other stuff.

    Alternatively, we understand how integral troops are to the NOVA scenarios and it's more or less unfathomable to bring less than the full 6 troop choices in your 2k army if you want to be competitive at NOVA.

    So yeah I focused on terrain in the article, but scenarios matter just as much if not more.