Sunday, September 4, 2011

The Good, The Bad, and The Difficult

by Anonymous Foodie

There is something that needs to be said... that has needed to be said for a long time, really.  By and large, there aren't armies that are better than others.

There are armies that are easier than others.

There are few, if notable, exceptions.

Grey Knights against Deamons, particularly if said Knights Gris are designed to be anti-deamon, will lead to a rather one-sided fight.

Armies in transition, caught between outdated codeci and completely new rulesets, will often suffer.  Witch Hunters have done a pretty good job of being able to compete behind the hands of a competent player.  Dark Eldar could do some dirty things.  But both (and now one) were rather, if not extremely, limited in how they approached the battlefield.

But outside of these fairly rare circumstances, a well written list of any flavor is going to be, in the end, a well written list.  Put that list in the hands of a good general, and you have a good general with a good army.

Sound good?  Yeah, I thought so too.

So here's where it gets a little tricksy, and where most people get to putting ratings on armies that are "worse" than others.

Not all armies are created equal.  Before you get all flabbergasted, notice that I did not use the word "worse" there.  Some armies are simpler to use.  They are easier to play and win with.

Now.  Will this mean that a general at level X will have an easier time winning with army Y, and have a better win record as a result?  Yes, it does.  And this is where the misconception hits, and is unfortunately perpetuated.

But it is a poor carpenter indeed who blames his tools.

I'm going to focus on Dark Eldar for the next bit, and actually not because I play them (though this does lend a nice first-person perspective).

I'm a decent player.  I win more than I lose.  When I lose, I tend to learn things.  But I'm far from unbeatable.  So I'm not trying to talk myself up, or make myself sound better than I am.

Dark Eldar are, quite possibly, the hardest army to play properly.  This is not just an empty phrase.  Open up the codex and read GW's little quip in the beginning.  It's in the last one, too, more or less.  They are meant to be a veteran's army.  They are meant to take more skill to use properly.  However, when you have this level of skill, they are one of the scariest things out there.

One of the biggest reasons for this is movement and maneuverability.  The one phase in the game in which we can completely avoid rolling dice, and control every single aspect, is the movement phase.  If you can point to me an army that has more control in this phase than the Dark Eldar, I will give you something shiny.

This is still a small part of the whole, but it's a start.  This is the style of the army.  To hit hard, hit fast, but be hit harder is the motto.

Now.  Some may be falling back into the "easier is better" bandwagon.  But when you look at pure capability, actual damage potential... "easier" is not the same as "better".

Take the Ravager.  For scant over 100 points, you have a vehicle that with a threat bubble of 48" will damage a tank.
Haywire Blasters that glance any armor on a 2+.  At BS4, you're hard-pressed to find better armor suppression.

What the army can't do is be wielded improperly.  I have lost games because of one or two mistakes.  Marine armies are notorious for being able to withstand a blunder or two.

Space Wolves are commonly considered a top tier army.  I'm not about to say they're not good - it's a solid codex.  In fact, it's very, very hard to make a *bad* list with them.  You can pretty much pick units at random and have a functional army.  The same can not be said for many others.

Looking at Grey Hunters, you have an all-around unit.  You can sit and shoot, you can assault, and you can be assaulted (on purpose or on accident) and hold your own.  There's not really a bad option, so it's easy to pick a good one.

Before you jump back on the "well that makes them better" bandwagon, I advise to again remember that just because an army that is easy to play has more good options available, does not make their good options better than another army's good options.

Truth is, usually when an army in this game has less positive options, the positive option is far more positive.

Assault army gets into assault, lots of things die.  Assault army gets shot, not so much.  A simplified but fairly in-line example.

Jumping back to Dark Eldar, there's another kink in the works that, unfortunately, can only be solved with time.

For the vast majority of players, Dark Eldar are a new army.

Probably 50-60% of people who are wielding an army that is notorious for taking longer-than-usual to learn to field properly, have been fielding it for less than a year.  Most veterans of the army will straight up tell you that you will lose probably your first 20 games.  Then you'll start to tie some.

For a person who plays once a week at a gaming club, for instance, and started the army when they first came out (accounting for assembly time and the like), one could fairly easily still be in this period.

So congratulations if you're really good at beating down people just starting up an army that's far harder to master than your own.  Give yourself a pat on the back for that one.  You deserve it.

I'm not going to go so far as to say that Dark Eldar, or any other army, are the only one that has the ability to reach Power 9000.  I do think that the Dark Eldar army is designed to be harder to learn, but more powerful once learned, than most, if not all, others.

In the end, it's more about the curve.

Space Marines, and their variations, are in large part designed to get new players into the game.  They are the poster-child of the 40k universe (and pocketbook).  They are generally solid, have a definite "cool factor", and offer a base resiliency that allows for early mistakes, as well as unit redundancy that allows for easy back-up plans.
They can be built well, and played better, and can be easier than many to push around the table.

Sisters of Battle, in the hands of someone who knows how to make good use of Faith, will make you cry.  Any unit *can* become the answer to about anything else.  In the hands of someone with no idea how to throw around those fancy powers and have units that change roles on a turn-by-turn basis will pretty much hand you the game.

Eldar and Tyranids both require a synergy not seen in many other armies.  If flung about piecemeal, they'll be fairly easy to pick apart.  When used in proper conjunction, they are far more than the sum of their parts.  Such armies are harder to learn, because there *is* a way that they need to be used, a way to make them work well together, but once its unlocked, a flood will come through that door.

Easy-button armies are such because it's a hill that's easy to climb.  It's not difficult to grasp effective tactics and pick units that work well together.

But while you're sitting on your hill, I'm looking at mount Everest.  And it will take me time.  I will have to train.  I will probably have to buy some fancy rope.  Maybe even do a sit-up or two.

But when I get there.  And I will.  You will not even see the pee that is falling down upon you like rain, until it is far, far too late.

So be careful kids.  Don't be so fast to discount certain players or armies.  Because one of these days you'll wish you had prepared and brought an umbrella.


  1. Yup!

    (What? He said it all already.)

  2. One slight minor correction here:
    "Sisters of Battle, in the hands of someone who knows how to make good use of Faith, will make you cry."

    Knows should be knew as in past tense, or haven't you heard that the sky has fallen and everyone should sell of their sisters and just play BA.

    Other wise I completely agree with your article, very well said indeed. As a side note I was way past the twenty game mark before I even tied with my true kin. As a first army they were incredibly unforgiving against thee IG and Smurfs that I played against.

  3. This was a really good article!

  4. Short version: DE are a finesse army.

    LOL NO.

    Playing different than Marines =/= being more difficult. Is a different playstyle, not a harder one. And SoB, Tyranids and Craftworld Eldar are just mediocre armies. Stop patting yourself in the back.

  5. I think it's all about getting the most enjoyment out of the game for all players. A young, new-to-the game kid, with a short attention span might get hooked faster if his brand new plastic army has some success right out of the gate. While a veteran may be bored if it seems "too easy".

    Choose an army that is going to reward you with the kind of moments you crave. Styles make good match-ups, and good match-up make for good table-top wars.

  6. No one ever talk about Tau, it's like they don't exist. :D

  7. Well said, this be a good post. ButI must say that some codex's for armies push you naturally into certian selections, e.g. space marines, to some exstent Dark Eldar and Tyrinads. By Dark Eldar I mean the need to take vehicles so that you can get in close quickly so that max damage is caused. With Tyrinads it is the need to take synapse creatures, so natrually they take the bigest and hardest. Space Marines is Stern Guard Drop pods and termies.

    Now I play with Guard and like you, you need to be a vet. I say this because your not pushed to make the same old choices. For example if I wanted I could field and all infantry army which is very difficult to play with, a heavy vehicle army or a mixture.

  8. @ Chambers

    I'm a little behind on the current Sisters shenanigans... have the WD's been released yet? In any case you're right, I'm referring to an out-of-date (or soon to be) rules set.

    @ Mr Esty

    Completely correct. Marines are the poster child of 40k for a reason - most new players (the youngins, at least) start with Marines. Who doesn't want an army of super soldiers? They sell. By doing so, they keep our hobby alive, so I don't mean to complain about it (at least not too much). They are built to be well rounded, and fairly forgiving.

    Other armies and/or playstyles do offer more of a challenge (to master, not to be competitive with), which can appeal to older or more veteran players.

    The game as a whole has many, many aspects. Competitive gaming vs Beer and Pretzels. Straight out of the book rules vs house rules and home-brewed scenarios. This is just one more example of how to cater to a wider audience.

  9. Great read. I concur with what you said and Dark Eldar are in fact a great example.

  10. I like your article but will disagree with,

    "Easy-button armies are such because it's a hill that's easy to climb. It's not difficult to grasp effective tactics and pick units that work well together."

    This might be a generalized statement in the fact that to most players that use, 'Easy-button armies', aren't always just point and click without any tactics. I also realize all players aren't equal. Some players do use tactical experience learned from playing a variety of armies such as Guard, tyranids, basic space marines, etc.

    In addition, some players don't play traditional net lists and spam 5 of the same thing. I would say in fact I had multiple experienced players at nova tell me my list was crap. :) Kind of funny. But you are correct in that players that take other's ideas and only spam good units that don't have the tactical experience to back it up will eventually fail.

    I will say I saw the power of the Dark Eldar elite at Nova, and they are something to be feared! I have rethought my list building because of your codex.

    Good Article.

    Everyone can loose!
    No one is perfect!
    We are all human!

  11. >_< I enjoyed the article and the way you expressed your opinion. It was concise and had evidence to support your argument.

    However GX1080 poses a good point it does come off like you just pat yourself on the back. Truth be told there are bad armies. Statistics from tourneys show it. The first round of 'ard boyz showed almost no xenos armies advancing where marines were spearheading the advance.

    There's no changing your opinion because honestly you just aren't open to hearing any other side of it. As I said before though your opinion was well constructed and very thorough which I do appreciate.

  12. @ Rionnay

    Honestly, you saying someone else won't change their opinion is pretty laughable. You are quite possibly the most opinionated and stubborn person I know when it comes to this game.

    Though since it's the second pat-on-the-back response, I'll address it.

    This is definitely not what I was trying to do, and if it came off that way to some, then that's my bad.

    There's a line I don't want to cross. I do have some confidence in myself as a player. As I said, I win more than I lose, as a whole. I do my best to learn from mistakes and not make them again. But I'm far from unbeatable. The only reason I put that comment in the original post was to make the point of I'm not just some utter noobsauce player spouting on about "one day I'll beat you all, because my army is the awesomesauce".

    I'm pretty comfortable with my own level of play. I'm by and large a casual gamer. Competitive in the sense that no football team *wants* to lose games, but not over zealous.

    Now, I will maintain that Dark Eldar in particular are one of, if not the, hardest armies to play. My current codex is on loan to a friend, but let me pull out the first (ie, last) one.

    "In the right hands the Dark Eldar are a deadly foe, but make no mistake, they are not an easy army to use."

    They are designed, purposefully, to be a veteran's army. This was the intent by Games Workshop when the pencil hit the drawing board.

    Even if you don't think that they, in the hands of someone who plays them to their fullest, are better than other armies, it's silly to say that they're not on tier with them.

    And I'll reiterate - I am not at that level. I am not at the top of the mountain, raining down superiority on my foes. I'm decent. Maybe good. Probably good. But not astounding.

  13. Also - of those Xenos players, how many were newer or younger players compared to those playing said marine armies?

    How many xenos armies were built at an as-competitive level as the Marine armies? With people like Stelek and some of the Bols crew who preach far and wide about "the competitive build for army X", it's sometimes far easier to copy-paste certain units or ideas for those armies, instead of developing your own (which sometimes, if not usually, will work better for you).

    I'm not discounting numbers as a reliable tool, *or* even the numbers you propose as a *start*, but there is just too much missing information to pull out academic information.

  14. I agree a lot with the sentiment that when weighed against each other the positive options of any two given armies will be roughly equivalent.

    However, it should be said that there comes a time when to borrow your phrase a carpenter can blame his tools. That time is not at a local game unless it is by two people of almost identical skill both playing their armies equally well yet one of them still loses more often than the other.

    Tournaments often show that as the overall state of the game progresses forwards in lurches (new book to new book, edition to edition) any given yearly snapshot can show a tremendous hurt placed upon players of certain armies. (The absurdity of various armies from Siren's Song to a lesser extent leafblower-like armies etc). Then of course the next book comes out that changes that balance.

    Only at the top echelons of play do real balance issues start to actually matter. Before you reach that point it really is a question of mastery of army and basic game knowledge.

    The problem that new players face (Training two new players whenever I get a chance has really changed my view here) seems to be that they open a book like Space Wolves and say "Wow, everything in here looks really good I would like to play this this or this" and their friend opens there book call it... oh I don't know Tau, and says "Huh, well I guess I can use this and this but these other things don't seem as good as half of that stuff, what gives?"

    That is not a test of balance given lists ceterus paribus but rather a test of balance given books against books. This is what I think causes the problem for most players. I look at my own codices and often am happy playing whatever I want to when playing against friends, running units and compositions that I happen to like. However, I can open the same book before a tournament (before bolter beach for instance) and get frustrated when I see that the lists that are currently dominating the tournament scene have very few answers from the codex I want to play... you cope as best you can and hope that a skill gap makes up for the rest. For me usually it does.

    That was probably more rambly than most would prefer. Truncated: I agree with the sentiment for most play. But the nature of how the game evolves causes real problems.

  15. While I mostly agree, I would like to point out that 'Marines' being easier is a misnomer.

    I've played primarily Eldar for this Edition, even though I started it an Ork player, and still found it far from easy to translate that to playing well and winning against roughly-evenly-matched opponents with my Blood Angels.

    It took literally months of tweaking and re-jigging my list until the present incarnation that I'm pretty happy with.

    I am a fairly accomplished player, but I still don't auto-win, even against poor players with poorer lists, just because I play a flavour of Power Armour.


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