Tuesday, April 2, 2013
Why Can’t We Be Friends? Before getting to the meat and potatoes of my article, I’d like to give a quick refresher on the main tenets of Warhammer 40,000. My army starts on this side of the table while yours starts on that side; we commence a game of attrition (shooting). My army shoots and then yours shoots. If one can’t shoot as well as the other, then that one is going to lose, barring a couple of intervening factors. If the deficient shooter (or non-shooter) is mobile or resilient enough to avoid or withstand the shooting attrition imposed upon them, then it has a chance to sway the advantage back into its favor with close combat-based attrition. Occasionally there are secondary rewards that cannot be directly accomplished through attrition and players have an opportunity to snatch victory from the jaws of the world wolf by occupying various locations on the playing field through clever positioning tactics. Now on to the juicy bits... Let me start by saying that I premise most of what I’m writing about upon the idea that the accepted way to play 40K 6th Edition (at the moment) is the 1999+1 format. Given that this is the primary configurative framework within which the game operates, the main point that I’d like to make is that allies are a huge change in 40K and are massively important. The first and most important benefit allies give your army is the ability to increase the number of force organization chart (FOC) slots available to you. With the addition of an allied detachment, you can take four choices each of heavy support, elite, and fast attack, plus an additional HQ and up to two more troop selections. While the real benefit, in most cases, of potentially taking up to eight troop selections is the increased capacity for holding objectives, the marginal benefits of troop selections seven and eight are minimal (in actuality, decreasing marginal benefits begin around troop selection four). After all, what are they going to do for you that the previous six troop selections couldn’t? The ability to take extra HQ, Elite and Heavy Support units is much more significant. For instance, when you look at the prospects of a Space Wolf force taking an allied Space Marine Devastator squad in addition to the three Long Fang squads it already has, the marginal benefit of adding that fourth unit is pretty large (+33%). Perhaps it’s best to just say that the repetition of functions amongst allied contingents (in this case additional shooting), is highly desirable because it speaks to the main objective of the game – winning the shooting attrition war. Getting the marginal benefit of a fourth heavy choice is great, but the benefits of unit repetition (spam) in list building are going to vary from army to army. Some armies are going to benefit greatly from a fourth heavy choice, while others are going to get a big boost from an extra elite choice. This brings us to reason number two that allies are desirable: special rules (or sometimes universal special rules - USRs). Both special rules and USRs come in the form of army-wide rules, unit-specific rules, or rules possessed by specific characters. If your army takes an allied contingent, and you’re not specifically looking for an edge from the extra FOC slots, it’s often because you want access to a special rule. Sometimes you just need an army-wide rule. For instance, if a Tau army needs a close combat contingent with versatility, foot troops from Codex: Space Marines definitely fits the bill; you want units with the ‘hit-and-run’ capability of ‘And They Shall Know No Fear.’ Space Marines can stand in front of advancing enemies, take charges, fall back at will, and rally to reinstate a buffer zone to protect your firing line. Space Marines are also resilient enough to avoid being completely wiped out when this sort of thing happens, and so they usually do survive the brunt of enemy charges in some capacity or other. But perhaps your Tau require a more subtle benefit from C:SM, and so they take a unit of Vanguard Veterans for their Heroic Intervention special rule. And just maybe your Tau want a Space Marine Captain on a bike (with Artificer Armor, a Thunderhammer and Stormshield) to lead a giant unit of Kroot, Krootox and Kroot Hounds – a horde with the ‘And They Shall Know No Fear’ rule is absolutely frightening. That last mention of a SM Captain warrants further discussion because there are multiple reasons why characters are one of the most important parts of an ally ‘package.’ They possess army-wide special rules, their own special rules, and finally the ability to, in the case of allied Battle Brothers, impart the benefits of their own special rules to the units they join. Additionally, if the character is a psyker, there’s the chance that they’ll have another set of abilities available that are, while less reliable in nature compared to fixed special rules (psychic powers must be randomly generated), potentially more powerful. A Tau player with access to Telepathy powers certainly has a lot to gain. But let’s get back to that term ‘ally package.’ Yes, it’s really called an ‘allied detachment,’ but ‘ally package’ seems, for some reason, to be more appealing. Perhaps it is more than just catchy terminology. Perhaps ‘ally package’ is a categorization of more than just an allied detachment. Perhaps the package terminology is indicative of a greater level of coordination between your primary detachment and your allied detachment... which brings me to the next part of the article. What are the factors that make two armies compatible? What are the reasons that Necrons and Orks are compatible? How does that compatibility measure up with the compatibility of Space Wolves and Imperial Guard? What are the overall contributing factors that make up your ally package? Of primary importance are the issues of cost. You have a fixed number of points with which to satisfy the rules of army construction, and those points must be allocated in ways that have the best chance at satisfying the game’s victory conditions. Since the main avenues to victory involve keeping your units alive, eliminating enemy units, and controlling objectives, these are the goals your purchased units must be best at accomplishing for the lowest number of points spent. The reason that price is such an issue is that the more expensive the units you pick, the greater the number of roles each of those units must take on. A unit of ten Grey Knight Paladins is pretty expensive compared to a unit of ten Chaos Cultists (ten times greater, sometimes more). Since the purchase of Paladins denies you the ability to purchase multiple other units, the Paladins must fulfill the roles of those units not taken – occupy objectives, killing enemy units, and being as resilient as possible (in order to continue occupying objectives and killing enemy units). Since those ten Chaos Cultists are comparatively inexpensive, and since they don’t have to fulfill the roles of other units, they only have to be a ten-model scoring unit with no exceedingly reliable way to be resilient or kill enemy units. You have other units with which to accomplish those objectives. So isn’t this the case for every army, even without trying to utilize an allied detachment? Of course it is. So why is cost such a big issue? This really boils down to something economists call ‘opportunity cost.’ Opportunity cost is, as I stated earlier, the real cost issue afoot. If you try to mash two armies together whose opportunity costs are similar, they get no real benefit from their conglomeration. Perhaps you might gain from the exploitation of the force org chart, or from some special rule, but you won’t really gain the maximized potential benefits of a truly exploitative ally package. For instance, if you were to use Codex: Space Marines and toss in allied units from Codex: Space Wolves, you’re getting a big benefit. You’re getting two extra HQ choices, a unit of Thunderwolf Cavalry, a squad of Grey Hunters and some Long Fangs. They’re all fantastic units that are better than their Codex: Space Marines equivalents (whatever those equivalencies may be). But if you really wanted to use those awesome Space Wolf units, why not just use a Space Wolf army for your primary detachment? If the tables were turned and Space Wolves were to be the primary detachment, what units would be good to ally with from Codex: Space Marines? Neither Scouts nor Tactical Squads are better than Grey Hunters. Marine Captains are nowhere near as good as Wolf Lords. In fact there’s probably no reason to take C:SM allies for a SW primary detachment simply on a cost basis. For a Space Wolf army to truly gain from taking allies, it must be able to access units from a completely different type of army or it must be able to take cheaper units with similar or greater capabilities than the units the Space Wolf player gives up to take those allied units. It is probably important that, in addition to cost vs. capability, we take the time to define capability. If you remember from earlier, I mentioned the concept of unit roles. This is an aspect of cost that is more often implied than it is actually discussed because we usually just assume that it’s something that everyone understands. We say “Those Chaos Cultists are decent for their cost, but they aren’t amazing,” and leave it at that. We all know that this means the Cultists are good at soaking up some firepower, providing a wall of warm bodies, sitting on an objective, and possibly acting like a speed bump. They’re cheap, their upgrades are cheap, and if given a mark of Chaos and joined by certain characters, they might possibly dish out more of a beatdown than their cost would otherwise imply were possible. Let’s take things a little further. Let’s go ahead and assume that, according to the way I described Warhammer 40K (in the first paragraph of the article), that there is a list of functions that are necessary for a unit to possess in order to be considered for inclusion in a winning army. Here this is a simple list of functions available for units to possess: 1. Stay alive 2. Kill 3. Occupy 4. Contest We can categorize any given unit in the game by their ability to perform one or more of these functions. A Chaos Marine Daemon Prince can accomplish 1, 2 and 4. A unit of Paladins can accomplish three (if not all four when used with Draigo) of these functions. A Night Scythe can only accomplish 1 and 2, while a unit of Gretchin might only realistically be able to accomplish 3 and 4. You get the idea. Let’s imagine that we can dissect all the units in an army into their constituent parts, recombining them at will to be the units we want them to be, for a given price. Let’s also assume that each function has a relatively similar power level. If each function costs 30 points, we could have a 120 point unit that does everything, or we could have four units at 30 points each, all with their own function... or some other permutation. Now, let’s suppose that instead of a flat cost, these abilities are priced differently, as follows: 1. Stay alive = 50 2. Kill = 35 3. Occupy = 25 4. Contest = 10 Does it really make a difference if costs are changed within the structure of an army? It just means that the four unit army will have exceedingly cheap units that contest objectives, and some exceedingly resilient units at the other end of the cost curve. The different price structure doesn’t mean much when it exists within a vacuum. But if you combine it with another price structure, things change a lot. Here are the price structures of units in two armies shown side-by-side: Army A Army B 1. Stay alive 50 20 2. Kill 35 45 3. Control 25 35 4. Contest 10 20 If you’re choosing functions for your army, and you can freely choose units according to function and price, you’re going to take Stay Alive functions from Army B and all other units from Army A (they have lower costs). Those Stay Alive units from B are more than twice as cost-efficient as those from A. Having laid out the issue of opportunity cost as well as the issue of subdivided functions, I think it’s worth summing things up by doing two things. The first thing is blatantly stating that when you build an army with units from a single codex, you have to pick the best, most efficient units from within that codex. When you get to pick units from two different armies, you can choose units from the second codex that allow you access to functions for cheaper prices than those functions might cost in the first codex. The second thing is bringing this article to a head by providing a good example of an army that capitalizes on the ideas I’ve put forth. Here’s a legal 1999+1 list that I’ve used several times to great effect: Primary Detachment - Codex: Chaos Space Marines Daemon Prince - Mark of Tzeentch, Power Armor, Wings Daemon Prince - Mark of Tzeentch, Power Armor, Wings Chaos Cultists (10) Chaos Cultists (10) Chaos Cultists (10) Helldrake – Baleflamer Helldrake – Baleflamer Helldrake – Baleflamer Aegis Defense Line - Comms Relay Allied Detachment - Codex: Necrons Necron Lord - Warscythe Royal Court (1) - Harbinger of Despair Deathmarks (5) - Night Scythe Necron Warriors (5) - Night Scythe Necron Warriors (5) - Night Scythe Doom Scythe For the sake of congruence, I’m going to discuss this army using the example functions I mentioned earlier. First of all, the list maximizes the ‘Kill’ and ‘Stay Alive’ functions. Flyers are particularly inexpensive when it comes to ‘Stay Alive’ but pay for it in their complete lack of ‘Control’ and ‘Contest’ functions; as a result the army uses an entirely separate group of units to accomplish these functions. The rest of the army’s units are taken almost completely by necessity – you must have one HQ from your allied detachment (Necron Lord), you must take units of Necron Warriors and Deathmarks to gain access to Night Scythes, and in order to have three Helldrakes, you must have at least one HQ and two Troop selections from C:CSM. Obviously the Daemon Princes are not a necessity, but they certainly have a level of ‘Stay Alive’ that makes target selection a more difficult task for your opponent. The rest of the force (third Cultist unit and Harbinger of Despair) are simple but effective filler. Why does it work? The army focuses almost all of its ‘Kill’ and ‘Stay Alive’ functions into one group of units (Flyers and Flying Monstrous Creatures) while segregating the ‘Control’ and ‘Contest’ abilities almost completely within another group (Necron Warriors and Chaos Cultists).