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.