Thursday, February 23, 2012

40k Metrics: The Data We Want Versus the Data We Have

Warhammer 40,000 has a lot of aspects that can be reduced to numbers through basic probability and algebra.  While analysis of in-game unit or army statistics definitely has a place and plenty of good uses,  and the end result is  (hopefully) a more accurate prediction of army performance on the table top.

But why are we doing all this mathhammer?  To help us make better choices, in order to win more often.  Duh.

It's still all about the numbers.

With that said, doesn’t it strike you as hilarious that we don’t have even rudimentary statistics for some of the most basic things that other competitive sports or games take for granted?  We are woefully ignorant about decisions that other competitive activities have put to bed. 

Let’s talk about the most important one first, the giant elephant in the tournament hall: who should take the first turn?  In chess the player going first wins about 56% of the time.  Why don’t we have this basic statistic for 40k?  It wouldn’t be hard to determine.  On your tournament score sheet, have the players check a box to determine who went first.  Once we have the raw data for who went first, and who eventually won, the data mining potential is endless. 

Just knowing whether or not the player who went first won more often doesn’t actually help you make a choice, actually.  Let’s hypothetically say that the player who goes first in the NOVA Open wins 55% of the time: great!  I choose to go first. 

But wait!

Let’s say that an army like Eldar happen win 60% of the time when going second due to different unit capabilities for codex.  Knowing that overall the first turner won isn’t relevant to an Eldar player.  And by the same token, a Guard player might win 70% of the time when going first, making it even more of a no-brainer.  So clearly, once we have the raw data, the first order of business is to sort it by codex.  Having access to the results of taking the first turn on a codex by codex basis is data worth having.

And that is just the surface.  The next level is to sort the data by player record.  How often did the top 10% of finishers play first or second?  Was that number greater or less than the tournament or codex average?  Knowing this would allow us to see if the first (or second) turn has greater predictive power for highly skilled players.  If the tournament average says 55% of first turners playing Space Marines win, but at the top tables the average skews to 65%, it would be quite clear that overall success is highly correlated to the turn decision.  If it turns out to be less, it would be relevant to know that among the top players, turn decision is less important.  Either way, the answer is worth knowing.

This wouldn’t be too difficult to do, adding a single check box on a results slip, and a line item on the Excel spreadsheet or database program.  In a day and age were sabermetricians can tell you the precise amount that home field advantage benefits a high school basketball team, it is fairly egregious that 40k players (for whom nerdy things like statistics and spreadsheets ought to be second nature) don’t have a definitive answer for the simple question, “should you take the first or second turn?”

So who is going to be the TO who wants to give the community this huge gift?

Thoughts?  Comments?  Questions?

Monday, February 20, 2012

Email In: Dark Elves @ 2,999

mDz writes, “Hi there,

long time mostly-lurker of your site, I find your DE articles really helpful, which is why I thought you might able to assist me with a matter of not-at-all grave importance.  There is a big local tourney coming up in a few months time and I've been wracking my brains as to what to bring.  The problem is the points level - it's 2999 which is really fucking stupid.  At first, I thought about bringing 3 units of Blackguard which, to be honest, is still definitely an option but I just can't make it work, it seems like they will just die to a breeze. I thought about bringing 3 Cauldrons to assist them, but I'm not sure if that's a good idea.
The other thing I thought about was basically beefing up your 2500pts chariot list with some Cold One Knights, since they would be able to easily keep up and I could bring in quite a lot of them ( is it just me or are they sorta cheapish? ).
What about Hydras? I mean, at 2999 two of them seem like they would die quite easily but at the same time, people are so scared of them, they could draw a lot of firepower from the rest of the army. 
Should I just drop them and bring 4 Reapers instead?

As you can see, I'm in a bit of a rut and would really appreciate your input.




2,999 is indeed stupid.  The TO should just run 3,000 points without Grand Army rules.  But that would be simple and easy, but what do I know?

So since you don’t get Grand Army rules, we have to look at what we can best exploit within that framework.  Clearly, 750 points is enough of a Lords allowance to bring two Level 4’s, which I would most definitely do.  One Shadow, the other Metal.  Those would be a given.

At this points level, someone is going to bring a badass wizard in a magic bunker.  I think Shadowblade is worth bringing.  Sure, he will almost certainly get killed, but how valuable is killing Teclis or enemy Slann or Vampire Lord turn one?   Invaluable.  I haven’t played against an opponent where he wouldn’t be useful in a long time, the problem has always been having enough points to make use of him.  I would bring a Cauldron BSB for the rest of the hero points.

Spearmen magic bunker in Core, and the rest in Crossbowmen to fulfill requirments.

Max out Hydra and bring 3 Reapers for Rare.

For offense, two units of Black Guard, 3 chariots, and the rest of your points in a rather beefy unit of Cold One Knights seems good. 

It’s a very “mixed arms” type list, but without Grand Army rules and this amount of points, it’s hard to do otherwise.  I think it gives you the tools to beat anybody, and presents a ton of must deal with threats.

Thoughts?  Comments?  Questions?

Friday, February 17, 2012

40k Theory: Historical Perspective

Abuse Puppy says, The lists you mentioned "going away" went away because they were bad, not because they were somehow trumped by SW. SM, BA, GK, IG, Tyranids, SoB, Tau, DE, Necrons, and BT all smash those lists easily as well.

SW may be prototypical for a Marine army in some ways (though not in others), but they are hardly the defining factor for armies these days."

Long Fangs before there were Long Fangs

I have to disagree with this analysis, because it’s looking at lists of the past based on current understanding of the game.  You have to remember what the game environment looked like prior to the SW Codex, and I’ll sum it up with my next sentence…

Plague Marines were the best troop choice in the game, bar none. 

Plague Marines in a Rhino with 2 Meltaguns and a champ with a Power Fist were Grey Hunters before Grey Hunters.  Even at that time, Dual Lash Sorcerers were probably better choices than Daemon Princes, but the strength of Plague Marines was so overpowering relative to what other codices of the day could play that it they could compensate for the inefficiency of people taking Princes instead of Sorcerers. 

Compared to Long Fangs and Psyflemen, Obliterators pretty much suck.  But what was the other best shooty Heavy Support choice before Space Wolves that people actually played?  Broadsides?  Fire Prisms?!  Nobody played Devastators.  Nobody played Riflemen dreads.  Nobody played Dakka Preds.  Long Fangs didn’t exist.  The IG codex and the “Leafblower-enabling” heavy support choices didn’t exist, either.  So prior to Wolves and IG, Obliterators were the bees’ knees of Heavy Support choices.

By today’s standards, Chaos’ troops are good but overpriced, have expensive and bad HQ choices, and their other slots have poor synergy.  But back then every other codex also had the same problems

Remember before Space Wolves, GK, and BA psychic defense was more or less non-existent.  That had a huge effect on Eldar.  In 2008 and 2009, with Eldrad and another Farseer, you could plan your entire gameplan around Fortune and Doom every turn.  And relative to the prevailing strategies of the day, that was a big deal.  Jet Councils and Nob Bikers went away as people caught onto the fact that new (or previously under-utilized) units could trump them at a fraction of the price, not because they were weak at the time. 

In a world where the best units in the game are Plague Marines and Obliterators, Nob Bikers are pretty great.  In a world no one could shut down Fortune, and no one brought Autocannons or missiles en masse, Jet Councils are actually pretty good.

The final thing I want to touch on is that before Space Wolves, your troops choices sucked (except Plague Marines) and 5th Edition was a balancing act of bring enough Troops not to get blown out of objective missions put against actually having effective units.  This is the result of 4th Edition codex design, ofcourse, and the fact that 5th Edition Tactical Squads weren’t good enough to change the paradigm.  But Grey Hunters changed all that.  They were effective, cheap, and had synergy with the rest of the army.  Suddenly all the old codices using the old lists couldn’t win objective matches at all.  That, more than anything else, is what forced out the old lists.  When it was 3 shitty troops against 3 shitty troops in an objective mission, the old lists were actually good.  When it became 3 shitty troops against 6 good troops, the old lists were pretty bad.

You can disagree if you like, but I strongly feel that if for some reason were were forced to turn back the clock and play 5th Edition with only the 4th Edition books, those same “bad” lists would win again.

Thoughts?  Comments?  Questions?

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

40K Theory: Climate Change

What follows is a theory that's been kicking around in my brain for a while, maybe it's valid, maybe not.  But it's the start to the conversation...

It isn't the BT that have changed (except the FAQ) it's everyone else

There is nothing in WH40K that is any where close a Magic the Gathering style metagame which shifts week to week or even day to day.  Change in 40k is glacially slow, partly as a result of the incredibly slow release schedule of new codices, but also because of the time needed to model and paint new units.  If changing your tournament list (which usually must be painted and based to a non-embarrassing standard) was as easy as sliding two new cards into a sleeve, 40K might see the glacial changes accelerate somewhat.

So there is no metagame, most people accept that now and we can move on.  There might not be a metagame, but there is an environment.  Just because you can’t tailor your list to attack a perceived hole in the meta doesn’t mean you don’t consider what other people will (or can) bring as important.  There IS a tournament environment. 

And it revolves, for the most part, around Space Wolves.  Essentially, the units you bring- or don’t bring- to tournaments these days are in a very large part dictated by what Space Wolves can and do bring.  Not to say that we tailor our lists to beat Space Wolves, but the simple fact is that certain strategies are not viable for a tournament list because they are weak to Space Wolves.  Some of these things would also have been invalidated by Blood Angels, IG, or Grey Knights eventually had Space Wolves not been printed, but Space Wolves came first and the story ended there. 

Don’t believe me?  Let’s take a trip back in time to Summer 2009, on the eve of the release of Codex: Space Wolves.  What are the top lists winning tournaments back then?

Nob Bikers.  Dual Lash Chaos.  Eldar Jetlock Councils.  Nidzilla. 

All of these strategies are, for the most part, completely stopped in their tracks by a balanced Space Wolves list.  Nidzilla was stopped by both Space Wolves AND their new codex, but I digress.

Let’s talk 3+ saves.  The best army, at the time, was Chaos Marines.  Vanilla marines had Vulkan and Pedro and TH/SS stuff, but it was considered decidedly 2nd tier at the time.  A lot of the most efficient units (dakka preds, typhoons, rifleman dreads) were either not ‘discovered’ or not yet popular.  The best close combat 3+ army you could bring were Black Templars.  At the time, a 10 man Crusader Squad with AAC was the best close combat troop choice in the game.  The only basic troop choice they couldn’t beat in CC were Plague Marines and Genestealers, everything else they filleted in close combat.

Space Wolves ended the BT close combat reign by introducing a Troop choice that was cheaper, better equipped, and better in close combat.  Blood Angels just further cemented it.  Once BT could no longer win close combats against a significant portion of the tournament lists, close combat was no longer a viable strategy.

While my example is BT specific (since that is most of my experience) this scenario was repeated with every 4th Edition codex in some way.  Chaos Marines got owned by Rune Priests, and Lash Princes got owned by Long Fangs.  Nob Bikers owned by Thunderwolves and Long Fangs; basic Boyz are stopped by basic Grey Hunters.  Jetlock Councils shut down by Rune Priests.  On and on. 

Almost all of the late 4th and early 5th Edition tournament lists were abruptly discarded when SW hit the scene.  The codices that were released after the SW codex not only reinforced this by producing similar threats as the Wolves (BA Assault Squads, GK Psyflemen) but also by having their own strengths occupy different design space from the Wolves.  The IG and GK are both powerful armies, but they would fail if they try to out-SW the SW.  They occupy their own niche, mostly because the Space Wolves have their niche carved out so definitively.  If you took away the SW and BA codices, GK would be the best close combat army in the game.  Add those codices into the mix and a GK close combat army isn’t even considered nearly viable.

Even if you agree with my analysis you’re probably asking yourself, ‘what practical lesson am I supposed to draw from this?’ 

Properly identify your niche.  Regardless of your codex, if you try to occupy the same battlefield space as Space Wolves (centered around aggressive close combat capable troops) you will probably lose since they will trump your plan.  So you have to identify the space where your codex thrives, and engineer your list around that gameplan.  Note that this isn’t “figure out what you do that is unique” since I already attempted to debunk that.  This differs because we aren’t talking about quirky units or special rules.  We are talking about general battlefield roles.  It is rather easy to identify the battlefield role for a good IG army, and once you have that space identified, picking the individual units becomes easier.  To stick to my BT, I’ve indentified that the battlefield role of aggressive close combat troops is already occupied by several superior codices, so my choices are either find a different space to play them, or bring the same CC based list from 2009 and lose regularly. 

I’ll choose to adapt to the changed climate.

Thoughts?  Comments?  Questions?

Monday, February 6, 2012

Warhammer Fantasy: How To Win The Game Part 3

Most army books in the game have the capability to make lists that are designed to win the game in the Close Combat Phase, which is what you’d expect from a game based around close combat.  A fewer –but still significant- number of books are capable of crafting competitive lists that are built to do their dirty work in the Magic Phase.  The topic for today will be the armies that are built in order to dominate the Shooting Phase.  The few, the much maligned.

...and fire!

Army books with shooting lists are primarily war machine armies, which is to say that they are armies that have a plurality of war machines in the Special and Rare slots sufficient enough to saturate the enemy with high powered shooting.  While having shooty Core choices is desirable, it isn’t obligatory for these lists and having a shooty Core won’t make up for a lack of good heavy shooting elsewhere in the book.

The first consideration for a shooting army is, as I said, war machines.  Max out your war machine choices before you buy anything else.  Some armies are blessed enough to have so many options that they can’t just bring them all.  Engines that do not have to roll to hit are the best, and cannons are king.  Always bring the maximum amount of cannons you can.  Stone throwers are incredibly good in 8th Edition, and you should bring as many of them as you can.  Bolt throwers have to roll to hit, but usually they are very cheap and/or allow you to bring lot’s of them.  Since they have a powerful effect when they hit, and you can bring several of them, you should be able to get some hits in.  Most of this is something most of you already know.

Smalls arms fire is not integral to a gunline list, but is definitely a great bonus
When selecting your Core for a shooty list, small arms choices aren’t bad.  Thunderers, crossbowmen, archers etc. all make good choices.  They can protect anyone who wants to attack your engines and are usually quite effective at short range.  But as I said, they are not obligatory.  If you have high leadership fighty dudes, or otherwise difficult to break units, they can serve as a deterrent to enemy warmachine hunters.  Lastly, it helps to bring counter charge units, because your machines won’t be able to kill everything, and quite often you will need to beat the remnants of your opponent’s army in close combat.

For a variety of reasons, Lore of Heavens gets there for a shooting list
The next step is to figure out how you are going to slow your enemy down.  Units in Fantasy cross the board really quickly, and unless you take care to slow them down, you won’t get many shots off before you’re dead.  Happily, there are several ways to go about this, which allows you to select the one that is most copasetic to your book’s style.  Fast cavalry can get in the advancing unit’s face, retreat from a charge declaration, and then reform next turn.  Scouts can deploy on the flanks of the battlefield, or the enemy backlines, which will divert attention away from your gunline.  Every unit of your opponent’s that doesn’t advance towards you in order to deal with the pressure on his own backlines is a unit you can ignore for a couple of turns.  As I touched on the Core section, you can bring incredibly difficult to break units, advance them to the midfield and force your opponent to get out of the tarpit before he can continue onward.  Lastly, magic can be used to slow an advancing foe.  Wind Blast in Lore of Heavens is the all-star spell in a shooting list, since it allows you to physically move the enemy units backwards.  Additionally, the Lore has spells to protect you from shooting.  Additionally, Iceshard Blizzard helps you win the gunline vs gunline mirror match.  Lastly, don’t discount the ability to control the movement of enemy units with a Comet of Casandora: the spell functions best as a defensive spell that can close off a movement choke point, or to force a unit out of cover and into line of sight.  Lore of Heavens simply gets there for a gunline army.

As far as the army commanders go, you obviously do not need to buy fighty characters, but a BSB is advantageous because you never want your crew to be cowering under their engines when they could be shooting.  Magic defense, even if you aren’t planning to do the Lore of Heavens route, is key and the best magic defense is a level 4.  You might also want to bring a level 1 (for the extra Iceshard Blizzard goodness!) to carry a scroll.  The goal of a shooting list is to have several unmolested turns to fire at the start of the game, and a well timed dispel scroll can act like a “skip your turn” card to an opponent, freeing you to shoot him up for another turn.  Dispel Scrolls will rarely be a wasted item in a shooty list.

So that’s a wrap on shooting armies.  I will admit, I am not a Dwarf, Empire, or OnG player, so I may have missed some of the finer points of blasting my opponent off the board so please chime in if I left anything key out.

Thoughts?  Comments?  Questions?