This is a two part post the first will be about my game Sunday and the second part will consist of the myth of fluffy lists being weak.
Part 1 - Orks vs. Ulthwe` Eldar
Sunday I played against Shawn's Ork army with my fluffy Ulthwe` list. It was an objective game with 5 objectives and pitched battle deployment. I used my 2k list mentioned previously in an earlier post against a very fast and tough Ork list. Due to focus fire and good target priority on my part, I was able to pull out a win at the bottom of the 5th turn with 3 objectives to Shawn's 1.
Part 2 - Fluff vs. Creampuff
The common stance in 40k is that if you make a list that is "fluff" that it's not going to be a tough list. I labored under this misconception for a while until I started to finally master the units that are in my list and use them effectively. Suddenly my fluffy lists are even more effective than my tournament lists. How did this happen? I spoke with a few folks and the common stance is: Experience. You learn how to use what you have, and after 10-20 games with the same list you know how the units perform and can properly adjust your tactics to suit that unit. I'll go into more detail in a moment.
Let's take a brief segue and look at some different types of armies and how they function - e.g. let's break down my 3 armies that I possess and how I perceive their strengths and uses. I'll also list some other armies based on my experiences with them and my perception of how they work.
1. Black Templars - I see the Black Templar army as a full-fledged Space Marine Assault army. Their codex and army composition supports this line of thinking as well. The troops are given the option of using bolt pistols and chain swords or a boltgun. The Emporer's Champion has a vow that increases their combat effectiveness by augmenting their strength by 1 and reducing their initiative, allowing them to reroll misses in close combat, granting them a 6+ invulernable save or the ability to nullify psychic powers that strike them. The elite choices can take Furious Charge and be equiped with all sorts of Power weapons. Templars run TOWARDS you instead of away from you when they take casualties from shooting not to mention they are also Fearless in close combat. These types of advantages built into the army makes it a no-brainer that they should be run as an assault army. They excel at it. So, as a result, I make my lists around the idea that I want these guys in close combat. I include transports that disgorge fanatical witch-hating zealots into the fray, I run them directly into your biggest knot of guys in order to kill kill kill. If I attempted to use this army like you would a normal Space Marine army - i.e. a lot of shooting, I would fail miserably - and trust me I have! As it stands now, when I play my Templars as an assault based chapter and go on the offensive during the game I win a good amount of the time.
2. Wood Elves - In Fantasy most combats are resolved with hand to hand. The Wood Elf army sadly is not very strong in this aspect. Most of the army is T3 and lacks the staying power or ranks that support your standard block-formation fighting that you see in practically every army in Fantasy. Wood elves are exceptional archers. The suffer no penalties for moving and shooting, no penalties for moving through forests and they have units that excel at hiding in forests and unleashing a barrage of arrows that can wipe out the toughest units. My Wood Elf army as a result is built around movement, archery and multiple-unit combats. My first few games of Fantasy were perhaps some of the most educational games I could have hoped for. I had my teeth kicked in six ways to Sunday because I tried to play the army in a way it was not designed. You can't effectively charge into combat with a single unit of Wild Riders and expect to win reliably. You can not hit a unit of Ogres with a group of Wardancers and expect to deal out enough wounds to kill 4 of them and suffer no respite for it. No, you have to hit that unit with both Wardancers and Wild Riders in order to get enough dice rolling to make those Ogres die. You can't have your super tough Treekin take on 10 mounted Knights of Chaos and expect them to win. Yes they are tough but they really do not have any staying power unsupported. After I figured out how this army works, I haven't really lost a game since. Well, not lost a game by a Massacre I should say.
3. Ulthwe` Eldar - This is my army of choice. This was my first army and the army I had to temper my playing with in order to figure out the game. If you thought my Wood Elves were a finesse army, you should take a good look at the Eldar codex.
The common theme in most 40k armies revolves around the stat-line. Space Marines are BS4, WS4, T4, S4, I4 and 3+ armor save. Orks are generally BS2 WS4 T4 S3 I2 6+ armor save. Imperial Guardsmen even worse BS3 WS3 S3 T3 I3 and 5+ armor save. Now if you look at an Eldar model it's going to be BS4 WS4 S3 T3 I4 5+ armor save and also be fleet. So just looking at these stat lines you would naturally assume that the Space Marines dominate everyone. 1 on 1 maybe. However each of those troops have something that makes them unique or special. Orks get more attacks in close combat and get Furious Charge making their special niche close combat. Imperial Guard have the option of numbers or even better Armor. Imperial Guardsmen can climb into a Chimera and gain protection for a relatively cheap cost. Therefore their special niche is Armored Combat. Space Marines are pretty much above average at everything and so as a result they perform above average in most capacities. In a game where dice are the determining factor of success, being above average is a big advantage.
Now let's look at the Eldar; He's weaker, not as tough, not as many attacks, doesn't really have a point effective solution for armor, hrm.... what makes them special? Fleet? I guess you could use Fleet, the ability to run d6 inches in the shooting phase and launch an assault is nice. There has to be something that makes them balanced against other armies but what is it?
Eldar have the ability to make your army not function the way you want it to.
Eldar have several advantages when it comes to their army composition:
A. Psychic Powers - They have powers that allow for rerolls on shooting hits, to wound rolls, failed save rerolls, rerolling leadership, augmenting WS and Initiatve, Heavy flamer templates, concealment, rotating armor on the battlefield and picking off any character with a psychic assault.
B. Psychic Defenses - Eldar can make it to where you have to roll 3d6 for any psyhic test and add them together where anything 12+ = perils of the warp.
C. Unique squad selections that excel at their design - Eldar can take an entire unit of WS4 Power weapon wielding Banshees, or a full unit of BS4 Meltaguns, a unit that has 48" Str5 Ap3 Heavy 2 missile launchers with a BS4. They have units that can generate over 40+ attacks at S4 and WS5 with rending. The Eldar army can also unleash a barrage of firepower to rival any army by just fielding the appropriate units.
D. Unique weapons that ignore the stat line - Witchblades wielding by Farseers and Warlocks can wound on a 2+ and are Str9 vs. vehicles. D-Cannons are Ap2 and wound on a 2+ (a 6 to wound = instant death) not to mention against ANY armor they glance on a 3-4 and penetrate on a 5-6. Their Vibro-cannons autoglance vehicles. The have lances that treat all armor above 12 as 12. They have transports that reduce your weapon if it's higher than Strength 8 to 8.
E. Unique Stat Lines - Eldar have units that have invulnerable saves of 4+ or Toughness of 6 or even worse a Wraithlord with a Toughness of 8. Eldar have by far the best transports in the game. Fast skimmers that if properly kitted can move 36" in a single turn. The Eldar have units that you just don't see in other armies because they are specialists. Also, the lowest initiative for an Eldar is 4, the average is 5. They almost always strike first which is important.
It is these types of advantages that help outweigh the disadvantages of the army - which are numerous.
A. Everything except the Wraithguard and Wraithlords are Toughness 3. You will generally wound the entire army on a 2+.
B. The average armor save for the army is 4+. Most weapons in the game are Ap4 or Ap5 which autolifts Eldar.
C. Expensive units - the average cost of an Eldar is about 16 points for an Aspect Warrior.
D. Absolutely no staying power without synergy and psychic augments.
So when I sit down to make an army list for Eldar, I figure out what exactly I want to do with this army. I play an Assault and Skirmish type of army. This means that I need to be faster than my opponent and hit him hard and fast and remove the unit I attack then run away and repeat the process. I have no ability to stay in combat unless I field something like a Seer Council and even then it becomes a rather expensive war of attrition because my opponent can keep throwing cheap troops into the fight and bog them down. I have to make lists that excel at killing fast and killing well otherwise I get boned, and badly. So I take units that allow me to ignore your toughness, or use flamer templates so I don't have to use my BS3 of my Guardians. I take weapons that wound on a 2+ or can turn your vehicles inside out because unlike most armies. Eldar armies are small. This type of army however is generally different from what you see from other Eldar players. Many Eldar players play very shooty lists that involve moving from place to place and utilizing Aspect warriors to carve out the main meat of their opponents army. Just look at my friend Mike's Eldar list. He runs Dire Avengers, Swooping Hawks and Falcons and does just fine against a variety of opponents. It really boils down to picking your fights as Eldar and disallowing your opponent from cornering you. Roy described the Eldar the best - "They are freaking Ninjas man."
Now after all of this breakdown of what Eldar are good at and blah blah blah, let us get back to my original statement.
The Fluff is a lie?
When I first decided to get into 40k and my friends tricked me into playing (I'm looking at you Roy and Shawn), I read the Eldar Codex. The Eldar codex was chock full of neat little lore bits and fluff. The Craftworld and paint scheme that appealed to me the most were the Ulthwe`. The Damned as they are call, really called out to me as "This is your craftworld". They had the colour scheme I liked, the lore was really cool and also they didn't use Aspect Warriors in large number. I remember building the list and really liking the Dark Reapers, the Storm Guardians, Maugen Ra and the idea of the Seer Council. I liked the Rangers and the Wave Serpents and how the army emphasized a fast and furious type of combat. So when I sat down originally to play I made at least 40 lists in 6 months. I think Roy saw me go through more incarnations of Eldar than Michael Jackson had plastic surgery (too soon?). After a long while, I finally figured out how the army worked and said "to hell with making power gamer lists, I'm going with fluff" expecting to lose a lot but still enjoy playing. Ah...the common misconception that fluff armies suck... how naive I was...
An army only sucks if you suck at playing it. If you look only at the stat line of a squad and base your opinion of their worth solely on that without playing them, you could and generally are overlooking a good unit. Guardians are the very definition of suck, seconded only to Imperial Guardsmen if you look solely at their statline. I would like to point out that with Guardians as my primary fixture in my list, I kicked serious ass in tournaments and also in normal games with them. Why? I know how to actually use them.
So the Ulthwe` fluff goes as follows:
They utilize Guardians as the bulk of their forces since their closeness to the Eye of Terror has taken it's toll on the Craftworld's Aspect Warrior population. The Ulthwe` also have an inordinate amount of psykers compared to other craftwords. Ergo: Guardians and Warlocks make up the bulk of their army. According to the older codices, Dark Reapers are also the only Aspect that makes its appearance on the craftworld thanks to Maugen Ra using Ulthwe` as his base of operations until he rescued Altansar.
So the issue here is - am I disguising douche bag tournament lists under the banner of fluff? Am I using Ulthwe` fluff to justify taking a Seer Council and D-Cannons and Dark Reapers? The answer is yes and no. I am not making douche lists, however due to the fact that I have a ton of experience with the units I choose for these lists - they become very, very effective.
So for an experienced player, does making an effective fluff list mean that you are disguising a power gamer list as a fluff list? I don't know the answer to that one. I compose my lists out of what I feel fits the Ulthwe` theme or any theme for whatever army I am running.
I'm getting rather long winded and sadly short on time so I will sum up this wall of text and perhaps revisit it in another post with:
Fluff or no fluff, an army is only as effective as it's general!