Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Tactica: Redundancy vs Utility

by Spaguatyrine

As super mega lists fly off of every computer keyboard on the inter webs including mine, and people pick apart lists to make the most optimized list possible I have come to a conclusion about some "advice" I hear.........

Building lists in 40k is fun.  We get to put together ideas in our heads and imagine them working together in a specific way to obtain a specific goal. To win!  Some of us look at the math and calculate how many hits and wound in close combat per model, or how many melta shots with re-rolls we can make in a game.  Some of us look at certain type of units and just love them because they have cool special rules, or like to use them because we have painted them to an amazing level.

The Internet personalities such as Stelek and some on Bols, as well as random people who tend to stop by our blog have responded to some of my list suggestions with distaste and comments such as:

Your lists aren't good because there is not redundancy
There are too many Thunderwolves
You have a rock army
You should have 5 longfangs instead of 4

It seems funny to me that people harp so much on redundancy when making lists.  I went into my army builder file to check this theory and looked at the 40 or so lists I have saved and found a theme. 


So then by the standards of half the Internet I shouldn't be very good.... :) I have also heard from some other writers such as Kirby who wrote about optimizing lists that this is a game and people should make their lists to have fun.  I totally agree and believe I have proved that you can build what appears to be a "rock" list or a list that is not as "optimal" as Joe Internet thinks and still have fun, be successful, and win. 

Let's look at some definitions of redundancy and utility. (There are multiple definitions. I used these)

redundancy - repetition of an act needlessly
repeating, repetition - the act of doing or performing again

utility - capable of substituting in any of several positions on a team; "a utility infielder"

Some writers and players believe having several of the same unit, such as 4 x Grey Hunters in a Rhino with a melta gun, and wolfguard with combi melta and powerfist, or 5 x melta vets in chimeras is the best option. Even though these are a good basis to start an army list, it doesn't mean it is the best option for every player.

You don't have to repeat every good unit in your codex to have a great army list. I would in fact counter that argument with one of my own that states if you only take these units then you are taking the easy way out and possibly are not as strong of a player as you could be. 

Using utility units that are capable of substituting in several situations is what I prefer when building an army list.   Let's give some examples of units I use in my Grey Knights and Space Wolves that would count as utility units.

Grey Hunters are great utility units as they are:
Great at close combat with 2 base attacks and 3 with counter charge
Great at shooting as they can rapid fire and then still get 3 attacks when charged
Have great options with a wolfguard attached

Thunderwolves are good utility units as they:
Are Calvary so have a 12" charge
Have fleet
Are a magnet for high strength and low ap shooting which takes the focus off other elements
Provide cover for Rhino and Razorbacks
Are monsters in close combat with strength 10 CCW and rending and base 4/5 attacks

Grey Knight Terminators for grey knights are great utility units as they:
Are scoring
Are terminators, 2+5++, deepstrike, etc.
Have multiple weapon choices to make them Init. 6, 4++, Thunderhammer, psycannon, etc.
Can combat squad

Now with these 3 units being examples of great utility units that I could spam to make a redundant/utility army, I would never do that.  As I have stated before this is a game that we all take serious but one we should enjoy playing.

I love professional football. My favorite team is the Dallas Cowboys. I would hate to have 11 Tony Romo's, or Miles Austin's, or Demarcus Ware's out on the field. They are all great players, but there is nothing special about having the same player doing everything. 

The same with 40k for me. I love Thunderwolf Cavalry, and have played a 1500 army with 11 TW models. It just isn't as fun or challenging as 5 with a bunch of other units doing different things.  Don't get this misconstrued with not wanting to win. Anyone who knows me or has played against me understands the type of competitor I am, but winning at the cost of having 1 HQ and 50 grey knight terminators on the board is not for me.

Can you win with a redundant army?  Yes
Can you win with a utility army? Yes

The list doesn't make you a winner in 40k. YOU DO! It's the player that makes the difference. Ever wonder why someone can pick up another army and still win when others can't?  It is the player who has practiced his skill, his trade in battling on the table top with a variety of different army lists and tactical choices. 

And here is the moral of the story...

Just playing redundant army lists will not help someone learn how to play well. It will not help you beat someone who is more skilled than you.  Great players find ways to win even when the odds are against them. Whether it is a bold daring tactical move that only a crazy person makes, or taking an assault army and playing the opposite to beat an over aggressive opponent.  We learn to play better by loosing, trying different things, and learning from our mistakes.

So for all the "redundancy police" out there. Bite it!


  1. With IG and WH, I tend to build mirror lists. There's a lot of bodies to play with, and I typically will take my halves to use for pincer tactics. I suppose I do similar with BA razorspam. It's a lot of small units swarming the board.

    I'm finding with GK's, since they're an elite army, it's much tougher for me to make my usual mirror lists. It's a tough habit to break!

    It's also tough for me to live with spending 240+ pts on a unit and transport. Like my beloved GKT's with Psycannon and Thawn clocks in at 300pts! And that's just the unit. Then you need a Raven or Raider to get them where they need to go.

    Redundancy can also be found not by taking more of the same thing, but by overlapping purposes.
    for instance...
    an Inquisitorial Warband with 3 meltas is good at close range tank-killing.
    A Librarian with Might of Titan is Also pretty good at close range tank killing. Add in a squad, and you're Libby's going to make quick parking lots.

    see? redundancy of purpose, not redundancy of units.

  2. Actual skill is required to win games? Say it ain't so Charlie Brown! (Ok so I am showing my age) This is an argument that I think is long overdue. Human error is capable of losing even with the best mathhammered internet list. Add random chance (ie dice) and the results are likely to be even more uncertain.

    In my opinion the best list is the one that best fits your mindset and play style. I appreciate the write up Spag.

  3. "Can you win with a redundant army? Yes
    Can you win with a utility army? Yes"

    Any army can win. The dice can take care of it:)

    The real question to answer is whether the army wins consistently.

    Also notion that taking multiple very good all-around units is an easy way out and a sign of not a strong general is funny indeed. Any good general maximizes his chances of winning before battle has even begin, before he even knows what army he will face.

    As to playing against odds, I do it the best way possible. I play two battles whenever possible - one as usual, and the second with our armies switched.

  4. lehycfer: im sorry but saying that spag is not a good "general" is like saying Hitler was a nice guy. It just doesnt fit. A lot of people play lists their own way, and no way is perfect.

    Ironweevil put it best plain and simple: In my opinion the best list is the one that best fits your mindset and play style

  5. I absolutley agree with the sentiment of this article. At certain angles, the blogosphere acts like the forums do in terms of armies. There is a tendancy to critique lists or even just write them off because the person critiquing them is imagining some static situation in their head or they simply are trying to prove how awesome they think they are by throwing around terms like redundancy.

    The truth is, as I have seen it at local events and at the few GTs I have been around, that the top tables tend to have quirky things in their lists or builds that the internet would have a spasm over if we posted them on the blogs or forums. The truth, as you stated here, is that a general wins the battle by matching his style with units that he understands and has experience with, not by throwing together some internet list and trying to match his playstyle to that army.
    Sometimes the internet pundits just need to quit sipping their own kool aid and take a look at why they win ... I bet it isn't some pre-determined list-craft (no matter how awesome they think they are), but a combination of list, tactics, reactions to table-top results (good/bad dice ect) and experience.

  6. "redundancy of purpose, not redundancy of units."


    I'm and IG player, but I don't cotton to redundant units. I tried a few builds where I had more than one of a unit to cover "when that threat gets smoked by lascannon fire." (see "Vendetta")

    But at my current 2K build, I've actually spread around the points love. I still have lots of ROLE redundancy in things like scoring, long range AT, short range AT, ST6/7 dakka, etc., but I don't have even one unit repeated. Why? I found it more fun to play and it actually makes my opponent's target priority harder.

    I get that some feel that 3 squads of nasties charging you might "feel" more dangerous, but the same can be said for killing one nasty unit, only to have 2 others still be able to perform the tasks of the one you just killed.

    Good read.

  7. Really, I mean really?

    I don't like the list you use. There I said it. I'm not attacking your ability to use them, I just feel that those list wouldn't work as well for me.

    I build my list from the standpoint of what can go wrong because in my case it usually does. If I play one Land Raider then it will get destroyed on turn 1 to a single las cannon shot, and the squad inside will get pinned after loosing 2 of 5 terminators.

    You build your lists from the standpoint of what can go right because it usually does for you. You take 5 thunder wolves with one armed with a Storm shield and make 10 3+ saves a turn and roll all 6's for your runs.

    You do run rock armies. You like to take a big combat unit that can wreck face and run it through your opponents army. It works because most people don't have a counter, or panic when they get assaulted on turn 2. I've played you in games where your big combat unit has folded, and your army couldn't do anything else. I've also played you in games where you've made every invul or cover save and I got tabled.

    You've heard of the housing bubble right? Think of it as the Rock Bubble. It's very powerful as long as the luck keeps going in your favor, but as soon as it burst, you're chances of winning crash. I don't like to play games that way. Maybe that means I loose some games I could have won otherwise, but I'd rather loose the game because of my own stupidity than dump luck. I can always get smarter, but I can't ever control the laws of probability.

    You should save the trash talk until you've left the small pond and went 7-0 at Adepticon or Nova.

  8. Not to try to nitpick but redundancy is needed. You can quibble about which definitions of terms you wish to use, but tactical redundancy is essential.

    I always thought that most people meant tactical redundancy in the fairly technical sense of it (so probably most dictionary's 3rd or 4th definition). I.e. a part that can be replaced if the primary part fails.

    So yes having two of the same unit is redundancy in this sense. But one could also have a second unit with roughly the same chance of accomplishing the task as the first unit but in a different way. (Melee tank destruction on fast units in case your anti-tank squad gets fragged.

    Pure utility is fine but it is prone to falling apart. If your primary av 14 killing unit is killed and your backup is not quite as effective that discrepancy can matter, and can be exploited.

    I'll say this, there is a reason that all hardened systems have redundancy, and that real armies don't just have one group of artillerymen in an any engagement.

    Really I guess I am upset over your cherry picked definitions, because redundancy DOES NOT have to be needless. In writing, or most uses in language redundancy of course is, but strategic redundancy or redundancy in engineering? Hardly needless. It really bothers me when people do that to start out an argument because it sets a horrible tone. Would you say that the redundant power supply in a hospital is needless repetition? No, but you choose to use that definition here. You intentionally chose the worst possible definition for redundancy in this instance, and a very favorable definition of utility.

    Had you instead used fair definitions and instead phrased your argument such that pure repetition is not necessary for redundancy that would have been much fairer to both parties.

    It bothers me because you are in large part correct yet your phrasing will make a lot of people upset and likely to disregard your entire argument. The core of your post seems to be that you don't have to spam the same unit for the sake of redundancy. You simply need to have units that can do the same or similar job almost as effectively. You can have a fairly varied list with some tactical redundancy. You choose to call this style of redundancy utility.

    However, given that not all units can perform the tasks of others as well, there is reason to do the style of spam we see winning tournaments, sometimes there are no other viable options if one wishes to maintain a very high win percentage over a lot of games. If this were not the case we would see strikingly different lists coming out of the top tournaments.

  9. i very much agree with CaulynDarr i'm afraid. its all very well to beat everyone in your local area time and again, and even win local tournaments. its another thing entirely to go to a large event and play people with entirely diferent ideas which are outside your comfort zone. for that to work, you have got to have lists which can RELIABLY (key word) take on all comers, all of the time. the lists of yours i have read on here are anything but reliable, precicely because they do lack redundancy. they depend on a single trick working every time, and if it fails, you are doomed.

    i'm sorry, i am not trying to put you down, but i used to be like you, until i got smacked in the face at a big tourney and realised there are other people out there who know how to play 9and build lists) better than me.

  10. As an old teacher of mine once said: You have to learn the rules before you can break them.

  11. @uberdark: I'm sorry but I'm confused - where did you read in my comment that spag isn't a good general?

  12. lehcyfer: Also notion that taking multiple very good all-around units is an easy way out and a sign of not a strong general is funny indeed

    did i read it wrong? im not sure if you were inferring that spag was like this now. sometimes the web and typing can be interpreted differently. :) no disrespect. :)

  13. I got a mention :).

    I agree with Sandwyrm here and the reference in the article. There really is minimal difference between a plain old good list and a super duper optimised list and as long as the army is capable of operating on the table-top and dealing with whatever your opponent fields, what's the issue?

    *insert some caveat about enjoying the list too*

  14. Great article! and I have to agree with OST that locally the top tables at several events are never really net lists. They tend to have a bit of flavor thrown in that the general enjoys using vs the copy pasted versions online.

  15. @uberdark: I was responding to this fragment of spag's post:

    "You don't have to repeat every good unit in your codex to have a great army list. I would in fact counter that argument with one of my own that states if you only take these units then you are taking the easy way out and possibly are not as strong of a player as you could be. "

    If you were to lead a real army against a real opponent you would laugh in the face of someone who would said that to you.

    The method I wrote about lets me see weak and strong points of my army as well as those of my opponent's. That's a priceless lesson.

  16. @Caulynn Darr,

    I am suprised by your tone but ok...here we go..

    "You build your lists from the standpoint of what can go right because it usually does for you...."

    No I build lists on what their potential damage output is in close combat first, and shooting second.

    "You do run rock armies. You like to take a big combat unit that can wreck face and run it through your opponents army. It works because most people don't have a counter, or panic when they get assaulted on turn 2."

    I play armies with more than 1 rock. I play a few smaller rocks that will not roll over everything but form a better damage output because my 3 little rocks end of taking out more than 1 large rock can. Our last match at Saltire had really nothing to do with close combat if you remember correctly. The longfangs, runepriests, and wolf scouts pretty much took care of your army.

    "I've played you in games where your big combat unit has folded, and your army couldn't do anything else."

    Correction, you played me in 1 game where my Thunderwolves were erased by your eldar tanks, and I ended the game on turn 2 or 3 I believe. After I got my head out of my a$# and we played again .....

    "Think of it as the Rock Bubble. It's very powerful as long as the luck keeps going in your favor, but as soon as it burst, you're chances of winning crash."

    Do you honestly think my winning is based upon luck? ...Really? I mean really?

    And I wouldn't be so brash as to call the Indianapolis area "a pond". There are a lot of very good players here, and I don't claim to be on top.

  17. @leheyfer,

    "..if you only take these units then you are taking the easy way out and possibly are not as strong of a player as you could be. "

    I did say if you only take these units and possibly are not as strong.

    And I do agree with you about consistancy. The true measurement of success is consistancy :)


    I stand corrected as my intention was redundancy of the same units over and again. 5x melta vets, etc.

    "Had you instead used fair definitions and instead phrased your argument such that pure repetition is not necessary for redundancy that would have been much fairer to both parties."

    I did intend to use the definitions I chose to better support my argument then the contrary, hence the ( ). I thank you for your thoughts as I am fairly new and learning to write better articles. I am encouraged to see that you stated;

    "you are in large part correct yet your phrasing will make a lot of people upset"

    It is my intention to provide tactical ideas based upon my own experiences. Thank you for your suggestions.


    Could you please expand on your post?

  18. I think Wineshark and Zeta have it, to be honest.

    Redundancy of role > redundancy of choices. Where the transport suppression, tank cracking, anti-infantry dakka, combat retaliation, mobility, scoring, blocking yadda yadda yadda come from in your list isn't necessarily as important as their being there in the first place and being on appropriate platforms.

    Sometimes the range of platforms is limited and you're forced to spam to cover all your bases (viz. Necrons); sometimes a particular platform isn't quite The Best For The Job but it'll do if it's variety you're after (viz. Chaos); and sometimes you have adequate platforms but are limited in what you can put on them (viz. Orks).

    For whatever reason, I'm drawn to books that suggest a 'take two of these in that slot, then pick something you want for the rest' approach - Chaos, Orks, even Eldar to an extent, all seem to operate within that paradigm. That just seems to be the way the fourth/fifth transition period books have settled down...

  19. Where's the fire? Just wondering because a few folks sound a little butt hurt.

    I agree with some points of this article.
    I'm glad that everyone is exercising their freedom of speech and beliefs.

  20. All this debate on redundancy is pointless. If you have a list and you win, agaisnt everyone, guess what, that list was perfect for you,e ven if you only had one model left. Most long-time tourney players know what their army can do.

  21. "You should save the trash talk until you've left the small pond and went 7-0 at Adepticon or Nova" lol I love bullshit statements like this, usually from guys who could never duplicated the feat twice. Next he'll be saying to shut up unless you ahve WON one of those events.

  22. So just out of curiosity, I looked at some of the lists that Spag posted on this website. Basically it looks like the following:


    Then I reread Spag's post above. Conclusions:

    (1) If you're going to stand in front of the Internets and say "I am awesome RAWR and y'all can suck it", it shouldn't be surprising when people poke you in the eye. Duh.

    (2) Spag's actual army lists *do* have a huge amount of redundancy. Saying that you don't have any at all RAWR because you have one or two models different in otherwise identical units is kind of pedantic. I mean, the core of one of his lists is:

    4xGH, 2xTWC, 2xLF, plus WG scattered through

    But you're right, that's not redundant AT ALL. And my left hand isn't a *perfect* mirror image of my right hand. Sheesh.

    (3) If Spag's point is that fielding an army with twelve IDENTICAL units is kind of boring, then...uh...okay. But strangely, that's kind of a strawman.


  23. (4) Having not seen a Spag list that's a "rock" list (he doesn't seem to have posted one, although I'm guessing the 12 TWC list is what people are talking about), I can't comment. But a 12 TWC list is a "rock" list just like a Command Biker list or a Nob Biker list, and I know for a fact that I've trashed all three... and also lost to all three when the dice rolled less well for a turn.

    When people say that you're relying on luck to win with a rock list, that's actually a fact. Complaining that you're actually the awesome RAWR is beside the point -- you still are engaging in the same basic strategy: **COMPRESS** the time within which your opponent has a chance to hurt you from four-five game turns, to just one or two. In other words, you're giving your opponent less time to react, meaning they have a greater chance of f'in up, AND a greater chance of rolling Not Average in the bad way.

    That's definitely a viable (and potentially entertaining) way to play, and I've certainly put together many "Rock" armies myself. But to believe that this is a reliable strategy against a well-constructed Utility army used by a skilled player is, um: wrong.

    (5) Obvious: You can still be a good player and use a lousy army list. Being a good player who wins games doesn’t mean that your army list can’t still be tweaked. In fact, Spag’s own article seems to suggest that HE IS AWARE OF THIS, because he appears think that playing non-optimized lists makes you a better player, because you then have (I imagine) a greater chance of losing, so have to play better/smarter/harder.

    Uh, okay, sure. But do you notice how your argument is then logically inconsistent?

  24. @Spag

    I'm just talking BS theory because my BS theory skills are much better than my table top ones. I don't think you rely on luck to win. I consider you the top tournament player in the city, and you can't be that on luck alone. That's why you should get out of the pond, you need to go to some of the big tournaments to find players of your skill level. I think you'll learn things about your army you don't see playing against the same opponents over and over. Maybe you are the best 40K player in the country, and I'll have to eat my words.

    Actually that would be pretty cool because then I could say that I've beaten you before. I won't mention that it's only like 1 in 10 times I can manage that ;)

    I do think your lists have the potential to be crushed by a turn of bad luck. The fail one save and have 300 points run off the board first turn situation. It happens in only 1 in a 100 games, but that game could be the championship game in a 7 game tournament. I'm not a risk taker by nature, so I can't ever bring myself to play a list like that.

    So your philosophy works for you, but it wouldn't work for my play style. Maybe I could do better otherwise, but I think I can eventually get my lists to work.

    Didn't mean to come off as harsh. Friends?

  25. anyone else been in the alley and heard the cats hissing and spitting at each other last night. cause wow......this isnt a stelek site. lol.

  26. I really enjoyed the article; especially the role redundancy > unit redundancy point; I made a similar point but more towards flexibility (for Tyranids) in an article I wrote a few weeks ago. Surprised to see so much negativity; also nice to see such erudite comments - even if negative =)

  27. @caulynn darr,

    Or course we are friends. Everytime we play I learn more from you which makes me better. A few times I knew I was going to loose and pulled out a win. All good.

    @fabulous orcboy

    Maybe I am new at this but what is a RAWR?

    "(2) Spag's actual army lists *do* have a huge amount of redundancy "

    I guess if you consider 3 or 4 troop choices that all have different special weapons and wargear, numbers of models, vehicles of transport, etc redundant units then...ok...

    I do have to have troop choices and I think a lot would agree that GH are much better than bloodclaws. They are really very rarely the same. They even have diffent roles as I build them. The drop pod unit obviously drops to pop a vehicle, create a distraction, and provide cover for the thunderwolves. The flamer GH unit in the Razorback is meant for orcs, guard, and objective sitting, etc.

    Point #4,

    I really don't feel I play rock lists as suggested by others. 3 or 4 thunderwolves in a 1500 or 1750 point army isn't a big rock. Ragnar with a small unit of GH isn't a big rock, but these are little rocks with good to great damage potential. Big rocks have massive damage potential. A la, 10 thunderhammer storm shield terminators.

    Thank you all for your comments.

  28. @ghostin, old school terminator, wineshark, ironweevil, drkmorals, and Scottydont (the guy that helped make me successful)

    Thanks for comments!

  29. Your argument seems odd to me. It's confused all of the way through, but then finishes with the best sentance.

    Redundancy of purpose, not redundancy of units.

    It should be... redundancy of purpose, not REPETITION of units. Redundant lists don't have to be repeated units. I've said this SO many times before and even made a post about it on 3++. I want to make sure I can carry out a function. I want to make sure I have more than one unit that can carry out said function i.e. redundancy. This doesn't have to be an identical unit, but that is the easiest way to go about obtaining redundancy.

    Utility in my opinion is a different thing all together. It's relating to what a unit to do... i.e. it's utility. Taking multiple (different or not) utility units, you will end up getting redundancy in several different areas. TWC are a utility unit as they can do several different things. Taking one unit doesn't give your list redundancy. Taking them in a list with some long fangs, some CC GH/WG, some light armour, then there is redundancy. Meltavets are a speciality unit (almost the complete opposite of utility units). They are good at popping armour, but I wouldn't rely on them to do much else. Taking them with a Chimera with HF makes them more of a 'utility' unit. Taking multiple of these could provide redundancy, but taking different units that can pop (heavy) armour would also provide redundancy.

    But to say utility INSTEAD of redundancy seems stupid to me. Redundancy and utility are different concepts.

    Utility - what a unit does for you.
    Redundancy - having multiple ways of dealing with the same problem.

    I do agree with Sandwyrm's next post that you have obviously developed a great knowledge of the rules to be able to write lists with utility units providing redundancy rather than taking multiples of the same unit.

  30. Sorry... just noticed that was the last line in Farmpunk's first comment, not your article. Serves me right for reading Sandy's post before coming back and commenting.

    If I didn't explain myself properly... let's look at your football analogy. (I don't do NFL so forgive me for some football(soccer)isms. The Dallas Cowboys take more than one player for each position. This is redundancy. If I cloned somebody or had a player that played the same game (i.e. brought nothing new to the team) then that would be repetition (spam (ack!)). If I took several outfield players that could play in multiple roles, they would be utility players. Taking utility players gives me redundancy in several positions not something INSTEAD of redundany. Hope that helps.

  31. @Bro Lo- "Sorry... just noticed that was the last line in Farmpunk's first comment, not your article. Serves me right for reading Sandy's post before coming back and commenting."

    hee hee. I'm glad you credited me with that. I almost put my reply tacked onto the article as an editor's explanation.
    We're all on the same team here, and talk theory and tactics back and forth.

  32. Aye, I agree Farmpunk. I do completely agree with Spag (I think), I just think the definitions we are using are slightly different. Probably a common problem in the theoretical world of plastic dudes men, with no definitive dictionary.

    Hmm... maybe a gap in the market.

  33. And the fact I am probably the least intelligent of the smart guys that write here. They just keep me here for my good looks! :)

  34. And because you beat us regularly. :)

  35. I enjoyed the analysis & mutual respect in the end. Great example of what I love about 40k


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