Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Bringing a Knife to a Gun Fight.

Bringing a Knife to a Gun Fight.

One of the topics of last night’s podcast (Episode 3 of The Deployment Zone podcast) was list building and themes. After we finished recording and I was seeking the slowly diminishing solace of a good night’s sleep, a nagging thought was bouncing around in my head. There was a comment that Bryan made which was “Bringing a knife to a gun fight” which referenced when you bring what are considered sub-optimal units in a list.

That comment managed to bounce around in my head for good thirty or so minutes until I finally fell into what could be considered an exhausted slumber. After waking up this morning, which took longer to get out of bed and to wake up than I care to admit, that same comment resurfaced in my thoughts as my brain began to finally work.

I think the comment itself is brilliant because it really encompasses an idea that I feel should be used more and more often in war gaming. People get so caught up in what is the most competitive and efficient build for whatever army they play. They are more concerned with the easy win with minimal effort rather than exercising tactics and strategy. You don’t need to bring a bazooka when all you need is pellet gun.
I listen to a variety of podcasts through out the week; many of these podcasts concern themselves with covering the American, Australian and European tournament scenes. The reoccurring theme with many of these podcasts is the best build, the most optimal composition, or the best units to take in your list. While it is always fun to perform an analysis and state your opinion on what you think is the best unit or set up for this or that army, too often these opinions become the accepted standard for how that certain army should work. When this happens you then begin to see cookie cutter lists spring up with little or no variation in their composition or play style. I feel that this problem has only been exacerbated by the epidemic of “netlisting” where people go online and post the most recent tournament winning list for everyone to replicate. From an analytical standpoint this is an interesting method of seeing how well an army can perform with the most “efficient” build, but from a personal standpoint I find that this is a serious problem because it defeats the entire purpose of self discovery and inspiration. You no longer have to be an excellent player or even learn to play well, just download the most recent Adepticon, ‘Ard Boyz, Tournament of Skulls or list for your army and terrorize your FLGS. The netlisting issue seems to be more prevalent in Warhammer 40k rather than Warhammer Fantasy but I believe that is because there is a larger Tournament scene for 40k and a larger player base currently. While some may argue that this netlisting method “levels’ the playing field between the really good players and the not so good players, - you’re an idiot if you think so and please die in a fire. If you want to play a game where you don’t have to make your own list or put any thought into composition then go play checkers.

Creating your own army list is one of the most core principles of war gaming. Looking at an army and feeling inspired to collect, assemble, paint and play it for months or even years is what this game is all about. Using the units that you enjoyed assembling and painting should be personally rewarding because there was something about them that made you choose them in the first place. You should be able to write an army list and look at the finished product and feel pride that it is your creation and not something you downloaded off Warseer or Dakkadakka.

Now we get to the very meat of my post, bringing the proverbial “knife” to a gunfight.

First and foremost, I am a competitive player who regularly attends and competes in tournaments. I do very well and take pride in my performance at these events. I would also like to add that I do very well and win at these events using lists that contain what are considered sub-optimal units. Last night was an excellent example when Bryan and I were discussing my Eldar army and he said that he thought I would have a lot of trouble against heavy armor armies like Imperial Guard. He had a hard time believing me that I had no problem against those types of armies with the units I listed that make up my 1500 point list. It is examples like this where the bringing a Knife to a Gun fight analogy works brilliantly. Another example would be my choice to run with the Wood Elves as my primary army in Warhammer Fantasy. The common opinion both here in the US and also in Europe is that the Wood Elf army is the weakest choice to play. People do not regard the army very highly and really tend to underestimate it all the time. It is this misconception that really strengthens my belief that regardless of what the army being played is, the player is the determining factor. I have had people bring their “netlists” to the table in both Warhammer Fantasy and 40k and they were beaten soundly. The reason why they were defeated so easily is because they did not design their list, they did not formulate their own strategy when their list was being created, and they also tend to have their entire army fall apart when you negate how the army was intended to work.

Players that create their own lists and themes using models they like and play those lists a lot tend to become almost tournament level proficient with their army. I think that players do themselves a disservice when they don’t exercise their own creativity and fail to branch out with the army they have chosen. Just because the internet says that this unit isn’t optimal doesn’t mean it’s not worth taking, it only means you need to figure out if that model fits your theme and play style. You don’t really learn anything new about your army if you use someone else’s list.

I think players develop and become better by playing the armies that they design. I also think that a player that plays their own list and becomes proficient at their list will perform better than even the best “tournament” lists out there - even when they bring what are considered “knives” to a gunfight.

Now there is another topic that I could address in this post which is the difference between what people consider “Douchey” and “Friendly” lists but I’ll address that another day.

I will now spend the rest of my freetime today attempting to make a Beastmen list that I like.


  1. Great post.

    I created my initial Wood Elf army list based on your list and unit advice — I didn't really know how else to begin — and actually did quite well my first game. However, I realized afterward that I was doing just what you've said here, using a winning net list without thoroughly understanding how it ought to be used.

    So now I'm going through the codex again with a more creative outlook, looking for interesting combinations of units, equipment and magic that might allow for some interesting and surprising strategy. I'm looking at units and magical items people don't usually use, and realizing that they could be quite strong if used in synergy with certain tactics.

  2. Hey Paul, whenever someone wants to use my list then I allow the double standard rule to take effect which states that whatever I do is awesome henceforth everyone should copy it! =)

    Seriously however, I'm glad that you got that from the post and I look forward to having you comment on what list you came up with, that would be interesting to see!

  3. Thank you for that great post.

    I feel you are right, but in my experience it can be quite hard to ignore all the "internet feedback" thrown around. If I've once seen the internet list or some build that is supposed to be great, it becomes harder to not copy it when trying to design my own list, since I'll unconsciously compare every build or combo I make with "the best", and end up with scrapping all my ideas in favour of the netlist build.

    I've recently bought a Wood Elf army to compel myself from making some powerhouse list, but having seen your battle reports I think my list will end up very similar to yours. I have your way of playing Wood Elves imprinted and that will probably influence my way of thinking now.

    That and Waywatchers are just too awesome not to use.

  4. Heh they are so dang awesome to use. If my playstyles methodology works for you then that's great as long as you enjoy the game. I just get so annoyed at netlisting and spamming and honestly that's mainly a 40k issue more than anything.

  5. That's a well-written post, thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    Although there are some units which are 'better' than others, you still have to use them right. If I took a 'net-list', I'd struggle to play it well because to do well at Warhammer you have to play the strengths of your army and use different units in concert in specific ways. Even with Beastmen (an army I know fairly well) I doubt I could take someone else's army and succeed with it, simply because I wouldn't know how it was intended to work.

    Another part is that, for me at least, making up an army list is part of the game, just like painting, moving armies round a board, drinking beer with friends. Why miss out on part of the hobby?