Friday, August 24, 2012

Extended Absence: Guild Wars 2

Hello.  Short but sweet: Guild Wars 2 comes out tonight and I'll be playing that for the next few weeks hardcore enough that I don't anticipate writing anything for this blog, though maybe I'll write about GW2?  In any event, I'll see you on the other side.

If you are playing GW2 I'll be on Stormbluff Isle server with my guild doing what you'd expect: crushing faces in PVP.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

40k Theory: Power vs. Synergy

I decided to post this on the weekend because it's too short of a thought for a full article, but the theory is interesting so I thought I'd share.

It's clear to me that the Grey Knights codex is made of up pretty darn powerful individual units, even when you take their high costs into consideration.  It's equally clear to me that there is a lot of synergy missing from the codex, which is a hugely limiting factor which keeps the codex from being absolutely nuts.

For example, the HQ you'd love to take in most GK armies, a Librarian, has terminator armor which means that he can't be put in the units you'd want him with, namely MSU guys in Razorbacks.  So a list with the best possible troops can't have the best possible HQ without some awkward, non-synergistic changes.  Another great example would be Crowe.  He cannot join a unit, so the most obvious build in the codex, MSU Purifiers suffers from his awfully awkward HQ choice.  

On the other hand, some codices are nothing but synergy. IG and Dark Eldar jump out to me as the 'dexes where raw power is least, but due to special rules and the ease of army construction, the armies are often greater than the sum of their individual parts.

In other competitive strategy games this conflict between synergy and power ebbs and flows.  Sometimes the tools are there for synergy to trump power, other times it is reversed.  While your mileage may vary, my experience in this game and others tells me that Power trumps Synergy when they are around equal to each other.  

Do allies change that?  I'm not sure.  Allies can create insane synergy.  Allies can also provide very awkward additions that have no synergy but have tons of power.  I'm anxious to see how NOVA goes to give some insight as to which way the wind is blowing.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Better Playtesting: Cross Training

At least some of you are aware that I am a competitive cyclist and I train like a zombie.  As far hobbies go, bike racing is about as far from Warhammer 40,000 as you can conceivably get.  While they are very different activities from a physical and mental standpoint, a very lot of the lessons you learn from one can help you get better at the other.  I’d like to focus on some of those similarities today.  While your mileage may vary (pun!) I hope that some of the concepts resonate with you.

Cycling: Ride a lot
40k: Play a lot

The first step in training for an endurance sport is to build up a base.  This means simply riding a lot of hour and miles so that your body becomes accustomed to long distances.  It builds up a base of fitness and helps get you into shape.  This is a step you cannot skip.  If you go straight into practicing sprints or trying to race without having a base fitness built up, you’ll fail spectacularly and possible hurt yourself.  Therefore, it is essential to put in the long hours establishing a base.

In Warhammer, you have to play a lot to become good.  This doesn’t mean focused playtesting or list building.  It means just playing the game, regardless of competitive level of your competition or points levels of your game.  You have to do this for a few reasons; first is learning the rules.  You never want to lose a game because you were wrong about the rules and made plays that only worked if you were right about the rules.  Learn the rules until they are second nature.  Second, you have to establish the concept of the possible.  Playing a lot and experiencing the range of the game will give you a good idea of what is and isn’t possible.  Knowing the possible allows you to know what you have to do, or what you can do, in order to win a game.  This is fairly basic, but knowing your own codex and the other codices is important in establishing the possible.  How can you expect to be competitive if you have huge gaps in your knowledge about the game?  You can’t, and the only way to do it is to play a lot of games.

Cycling: Focused Training
40k: Focused Playtesting

In cycling, once you have a base in order to get faster you have to do high intensity interval training, and there is no way around it.  There are dozens of different types of intervals and the specific program you do should be catered to the type of skills you want to develop.  Need to work on your 40k time trialing? Nothing beats 2x20 intervals for that.  Want to get faster at criterium racing where there are tons of sudden accelerations?  Do tabata intervals until you puke.  The lesson here is that if you want to get faster you have to focus on that particular skill and do focused training to grow it.

In 40k, I’ve written a lot about the benefits of playtesting as well as how to do it better.  The bottom line is that when you playtest, each session should be focused on learning a particular lesson.  One playtest session might be about “how does my tournament list fare after I switch all the missile launchers to lascannons,” or, “can my current list beat a Necron flier list without radical changes?”  The point is you test for something.  Scientists don’t just random mix chemicals together just to see what happens.  They make a hypothesis, and then they test it.  Cyclists don’t just go on random bike rides and then expect to dominate sprints in races.  They train for sprinting to maximize their 20 second power output.  Competitive 40k players shouldn’t “playtest” by smash two armies against each other with no goal.  Rather, they should play games to see if particular concepts work in practice to confirm or reject their theory.  Focused training leads to specific results.

Cycling: Don’t innovate on race-day
40k: Don’t change your list the night before a tournament

One of the first lessons a cyclist learns, almost always the hard way, is not to change your diet on race day.  If you normally put watered down Gatorade in your drink bottles during training, that’s what you should do during a race.  A race is not the time to experiment with new foods or drinks.  Many an otherwise fit racer has been sidelined by an upset stomach resulting from trying a new energy drink, or eating a special energy bar, during a race.  It seems like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how tempted people are to try some new type of energy drink on race day “for a boost.”  The reward, maybe an extra 1% better output, is hardly worth the potential risk of getting totally blown out by an upset stomach. 

In 40k, players will playtest for weeks, get a tuned list ready, painted and modeled.  …and then they will get to the hotel the night before the tournament, see a guy carrying 5 Vendettas, panic, and then hastily change their list and have to stay up all night painting and modeling the changes to their list.  Like in the cycling example this seems to be a no-brainer, but we all know this happens.  People second guess months of playtesting only to panic at the last second and make irrational changes.  This is so obviously wrong that you don’t need me to tell you why it’s wrong.  The night before a tournament is when you should be getting plenty of sleep, not panicking about your list.  Leave the panicking and hand-wringing to the guys who didn’t playtest enough.  You playtested enough, so be confident that your hardwork will be rewarded.

Cycling: There is always somebody faster
40k: Set realistic goals

No matter how fast you are, there are people faster than you.  Lot’s of them.  You have to accept that no matter how hard you work, there are always going to be guys who are either genetically superior to you, willing to work harder than you, or often both.  If you’re ever totally satisfied with your current fitness level, or your current results, you need to seek out tougher competition.  So on one hand, you have to reconcile that you’re often going to lose to people who are just plain faster than you and you have to learn to accept it.  But on the other hand, you have to learn not to accept the status quo and keep pushing yourself.  It seems paradoxical to say “learn to like losing, and learn not to be happy winning” but it’s true.  If you ever get satisfied with your good results, you’ll get lazy.  If you get too discouraged by your defeats you’ll lose motivation

In the Warhams, much the same is true.  Unlike cycling where there is a category system and ways to rank riders, there is nothing so formal in 40k.  So you have to determine your own goals.  If you’ve never played in a tournament before, you should probably have a different set of goals before your first NOVA than a guy who has top 8’ed NOVA two years in a row.  Managing expectations properly will set you up for happiness.  If you’ve never played in a tournament before, and you end up going 4-4, I’d say that you should be pretty happy about that finish.  On the other hand, if you’ve top 8’ed two years in a row you have to avoid growing complacent.  You can’t test less than previous years, and you can’t take your competition for granted.  If you feel like you lost the competitive fire, don’t be upset when you get knocked off the top.  Resting in old laurels is not the best way to maintain continued success.

Cycling: Ride with faster people
40k: Play against better players

This is somewhat related to the above concept, but a key turning point in the development of a bike racer is when you realize that the fastest way to improve is to ride with people faster than you, who will push you to your limits and beyond.  If you ride with guys who can drop you, eventually you’ll stop getting dropped as you get stronger and able to handle the pace and intensity.  Plus, it’s great motivation.  On the other hand, if you are the fastest guy in your group it’s time to seek out a new group.  Riding with those slow folks because you’re friends with them is fine, just don’t consider it a work out or part of your training program. 

In 40k, you have to find players who are better than you if you want to get better.  Beating up on the same scrubs at your LGS is only going to teach you so much about the game.  Playtesting with guys who aren’t on the same level as you will hold you back.  You need to find a group that will push you.  If you can beat your normal crew without breaking a sweat, you will get lazy.  There will be nothing to force you to properly tune your lists.  There will be nothing to get you to play with perfect technical skills.  Playing with players better than you will do the opposite; you’ll have to bring the best lists possible and you’ll have to play without making mistakes.  The big obstacle is that you’re probably friends with the scrubs at the LGS and dumping them to go hang with a new crew is probably unappealing.  Without delving too deep into hypothetical issues I just hope you have enough social skills to maintain multiple groups of friends at the same time without alienating them.

Cycling: Train heavy, race light
40k: Playtest strictly, have fun at the tournament

If you’re rich (or insane) enough to own a $4,000.00 set of feather-light race wheels for your bicycle, you should only use them during races.  For starters, the lighter your wheels, the less durable they are and every day training rides will beat them to hell quickly.  But the main reason is the age old dictum in cycling, “train heavy, race light.”  What this means is, if you do your training rides with heavier equipment and you are used to going fast on a heavy bike, when you race on a lightweight bike you’ll go that much faster.  Not everybody has the option to flip between two bikes or two wheelsets, but you’ll find that among those that do this is a rule that people tend to stick to.  If you switch to a bike that’s 3lbs lighter than your training bike the day of the race, that’s like 3lbs of fat being sucked out of your body, and not an advantage to be scoffed at.

In 40k, this translates to you being strict with yourself during playtesting.  Don’t allow yourself take backs.  Be a rules lawyer… with yourself.  If you playtest strictly, your technical play will be tighter and you’ll make fewer mistakes.  During the tournament, the strict playtesting will pay off and you will play tightly while feeling at ease and having a casual demeanor.  Not being oppressed by your nerves, or by being obsessed with trying to maintain technical play you aren’t used to will let you appear to be playing casual, which goes a long way to both players having fun, and for you to be considered a good sportsman.

Thoughts?  Comments?  Questions?

Thursday, August 9, 2012

40k Metrics: Building a Better Devastator

In 5th Edition, if someone said they were bringing Long Fangs, Devastators or Havoks you could safely assume that they were going to be armed with missiles.  It was a no brainer for the most part because they were simply the most points efficient weapon available.  Does this hold true in 6th?  The way we go about killing vehicles, and to a lesser extent Monstrous Creatures, has changed quite a bit.  The old paradigm might not hold true at all anymore.

It's all about the numbers
A long while ago, I put forward some 40k theory that said it’s better your unit does something, at any cost, than doing nothing for cheap.  For example, if your only Troops choices were the following two units:

5 Space Marines with bolters for 50 points or

10 Space Marines with two lascannons for 225 points

What would you bring?  If those were your only two choices, the answer would be to bring the 10 marines with two lascannons by a mile.  The first unit, while extremely points efficient, does nothing.  It will not advance your position in the game one bit.  The second unit, while way overcosted, at least does something.  It has a chance to impact the game.

We have established that you would, and should, spend extra points when necessary to bring a unit that will actually be effective rather than one that is points efficient but doesn’t help you win the game.

Let’s look at some easy to compare units then, Long Fangs, Devastators, Havoks.  First we will look at them with the old standard loadout, 4x Missile Launchers.

Unit Cost

Fangs: 115
SM Devs: 150
BA Devs: 130
Havs: 155


4x missile
Ave. by HP
Ave. by Insta
Ave. Total

This will be our baseline.  Clearly Havocs are so inefficient as to be unplayable.  I know said before that you can play inefficient units, but there has to be a reason to.  Obliterators and Predators and Vindicators are pretty efficient so there is no reason to bring a pretty trashy Havoc unit.  Same for vanillas.  Blood Angels are definitely playable, but Wolves are clearly undercosted.  Let’s see what Lascannons are up to…

Unit Cost

Fangs: 175
SM Devs: 230
BA Devs: 190
Havs: 215

4x Lascannon
Ave. by HP
Ave. by Insta
Ave. Total

Wow those are expensive.  But look at those stats, they pack a punch.  Against AV11 and 12 they are almost a full dead tank better per game, which is a huge difference.  But the real selling point is how strong they are against AV13.  2 dead AV13 per game is no joke, if you team can drop two Predators per game you are pulling your weight.  These will definitely attract enemy attention, which is why I would say that BA Devs do these the best thanks to a FNP priest nearby.  Point for point, the SW are probably better off with Missiles.  Vanilla marines shouldn’t bother with these.

Lastly, how about a reason to take Havocs at all?  Glad you asked…

Havocs: 155

4x Autocannon
Ave. by HP
Ave. by Insta
Ave. Total

Yep you are reading those stats properly.  They are better than missile devs at every light mech killing task.  Almost a full Rhino per game ahead.  Almost half a Chimera ahead.  That is big game, and a reason for this unit to exist.  While not as cheap as a Long Fang unit, these actually do more, and like I said above, paying more points for something is fine if you get more value from it.  If you’re playing Chaos Marines you could do a lot worse than bringing these.  Where I see these shining, though, is as an ally for Daemons.  Daemons want can openers, these are can openers.

Conclusions?  Space Marines should be playing AV13 heavy support units, or Rifleman Dreads via MotF.  Space Wolves can spend an extra 50% points on their unit to upgrade to lascannons to gain around 50% value, so it’s debatable which to bring.  Blood Angels gain more than they spend to upgrade to lascannon Devs, so it bears serious consideration.  And Chaos?  If 4x autocannons are a joke, I’m not laughing.

Thoughts?  Comments?  Questions?

Monday, August 6, 2012

40k Metrics: MEQ Vehicle Busting

I've pushed the commonly seen MEQ heavy support choices through the my vehicle kill calculator and some things jumped out that may or may not interest you, but I thought I would share.

First up are Long Fangs with four Krak Missile Launchers.  Blood Angels often take 4x missile Devastators and you sometimes see vanilla marines bring them too, but much more rare since they cost significantly more.  These guys were in almost every 5th Edition SW list, so lets see how they stack up in 6th.

4x Long Fangs w/Missiles - 115 points

Kills                             AV10               AV11               AV12               AV13               AV14
Ave. by HP                  3.4913             1.876               1.4349             0.9523             0.1684
Ave. by Insta                0.5651             0.6725             0.4751             0.2559             0.0
Ave. Total                    4.056               2.549               1.91                 1.208               0.168

As you would hope, these shred AV10.  They can kill a Rhino a bit better than every other turn.  They almost kill two Chimeras per game.  The jump to AV13 isn't nearly as bad as AV14, but killing one Predator per game is not what you want to be spending your time doing.  Lastly, you barely have a chance to hurt Land Raiders, so your best bet is to shoot at literally anything else.

Next up we have the Space Marine Rifleman Dread.  While not technically a heavy support choice, they fulfill the same role and it should be taken into consideration.  These guys are very common again in 6th, since they take on fliers.  They are not exactly amazing at taking down fliers, but they are better than most alternatives.

Rifleman Dread - 125 points

Kills                             AV10               AV11               AV12               AV13               AV14
Ave. by HP                  3.5365             1.7968             1.2385             0.5806             0.0
Ave. by Insta                0.53                 0.5643             0.3029             0.0                   0.0
Ave. Total                    4.067               2.361               1.541               0.581               0.0

So what does 10 more points than a Long Fang Squad buy you?  First, you lose any hope against AV14, which is hardly worth mentioning anyway.  As you can see, against AV13 the single point of strength lost translates to half effectiveness.  Since a lot of MEQ armies are bringing more AV13 and Necrons love it as well, this is a painful loss.  You're half a Chimera worse than Long Fangs.  Against Rhinos, you are at virtual parity and against AV10 you are at even more of a parity situation.  So what are the advantages of Riflemen?  Two things: game against fliers, and the fact that they come from Elites rather than Heavy Support.  Those are definitely assets in their favor.

Up next, their more feared Grey Knight cousin...

Psyfleman Dread - 135 points

Kills                             AV10               AV11               AV12               AV13               AV14
Ave. by HP                  4.0199             2.3237             1.8023             1.2341             0.3076
Ave. by Insta                0.6171             0.785               0.5708             0.3102             0.0
Ave. Total                    4.637               3.109               2.373               1.544               0.308

Fairly obvious looking at these numbers why these are so justifiably feared.  They have the same game against fliers as the Rifleman, but they gain half a Rhino, almost half a Chimera, have significant game against AV13, but like the others they have no business shooting at Land Raiders.  This is a hefty 5 point upgrade indeed.  The superiority of these are such that it makes GK with Marine allies a much stronger consideration than Marines with GK allies.

The next two saw little play in 5th Edition, but are seeing a resurgence in 6th thanks to the AV13 numbers we've been seeing above.

Predator Destructor - 120 points

Kills                             AV10               AV11               AV12               AV13               AV14
Ave. by HP                  3.2828             1.5964             1.2486             0.8354             0.0976
Ave. by Insta                0.8751             1.1639             0.8665             0.5534             0.3467
Ave. Total                    4.158               2.76                 2.115               1.389               0.444

This guy has some serious game.  Not only is he tough to kill, but he is competitive against AV10, better at killing Rhinos than everyone so far besides Psyfleman Dreads.  His Chimera game is quite superior to most, especially in the above the rim odds to Explode one thanks to two Lascannons.  Against other AV13 the Lascannons show their worth.  I sound like a broken record, but don't waste shots against Land Raiders.

Vindicator - 115 points

Kills                             AV10               AV11               AV12               AV13               AV14
Ave. by HP                  0.886               0.3611             0.2608             0.1776             0.014
Ave. by Insta                1.2233             1.2269             1.191               0.7725             0.5501
Ave. Total                    2.109               1.588               1.28                 0.95                 0.564

Simply put, these are brought for their ability to kill elite infantry and deathstars.  Only a foolish opponent would parking lot his vehicles against these so I only assumed one hit per turn.  So the big selling point of these guys are killing Paladins and Nob Bikerz really, not to fight against vehicles.  One thing to note though, being Strength 10 AP2 Ordinance means they have a much higher ability to pop vehicles in a single volley than the others.  While this isn't something you really need to consider during list building, it should be something you have in your pocket tactically.  Sometimes you absolutely HAVE to kill a vehicle this turn, or else.  And the ability to one shot with this guy is worth knowing.

Lastly is something that nobody is bringing, but perhaps these numbers will surprise you?  

Land Raider Godhammer - 250 points

Kills                             AV10               AV11               AV12               AV13               AV14
Ave. by HP                  3.2872             1.5378             0.953               0.712               0.1892
Ave. by Insta                1.2585             1.3177             1.0029             0.6948             0.4268
Ave. Total                    4.546               2.856               1.956               1.41                 0.616

The Godhammer Land Raider is much maligned, but as you can see it is insanely hard to kill with anything short of Lance weapons or Melta.  It certainly trumps the others on this list.  It also has very, very good game against fliers since it can shoot them dead and is very tough for most fliers to kill in return.  The small price you pay for this?  Double the points.  From looking at these stats, you aren't bringing a Godhammer to kill AV10.  It's good against Rhinos and Chimeras, but you can easily fall into a trap where you ignore Rhinos to have the Land Raider "earn its points back."  But honestly, as we can see you're aren't bringing it for those purposes.  What it DOES do well is going over the top of AV13.  If everyone is bringing Predators, the guy with Godhammers is king.


These choices seem very balanced against each other... except the Psyfleman which is in a class by itself.  When in doubt, take a Psyfleman against any comers.  Lastly, you may laugh at the very idea of the inclusion of a Land Raider in this list, but consider what it is very strong against: AV13 and fliers.  These were obviously big winners in the new edition.  If the worst case scenario happens and 6th Edition becomes Flierhammer (and we don't get a Flakk FAQ boost) you could do worse than bringing Land Raiders.  They shoot the fliers out of the sky and those very same fliers are going to struggle to do more than scratch the paint in return.  While Land Raiders are somewhat a joke now, if AV13 and fliers become what Rhinos and Razorbacks were in 5th Edition the joke might get a lot less funny.