Putting the Freeze on Plasma Cheese

The Warhammer 40,000 setting is vast, sprawling, crazy and at times incomprehensible. In 9th edition, we finally have a set of rules to match it. The hobby and gaming scene is equally astronomical. In this post I continue to give my thoughts on it as a returning player preparing for his first tournament. If I come across as critical or overly nostalgic let me qualify everything below by saying this: I am overjoyed that the game I loved so much as a kid is now so popular, and that I get to play it again, and tell the stories I always wanted to on the table with tons of new rules, models and players.

During last year's lock-down, while painting a new army, 9th edition was released and I learned the core rules – as well as I could without actually playing – then turned my attention to the codexes, factions and army lists. My sources were Battlescribe, the Dakka Dakka forum and Youtube battle reports such as Tabletop Tactics. At first the army list part at the start of the battle was just gibberish to me: 'my exalted battle monk has the mankini power armour relic, giving him a 7 inch bubble of feel no shame' etc. However these intros did give me a clue as to how important list building is, and with so many units and combos, as well as new codexes dropping all the time, I started to understand what people meant when they talked of an 'ever-evolving meta'.

At the first Warhammer Grand Tournament in 1995, points were awarded not only for victories, but also army composition and sportsmanship. If you bought along a skewed list – especially one that did not fit your army's background – you were unlikely to do well on either front and it would hurt your chances of winning the tournament. It seems there are no such arbitrary restrictions in today's events, and although a Sportsmanship award is often given (and the Warhammer-Tournaments.com events put an emphasis on spreading awards throughout the field), it's a separate trophy. The people we would have called power-gamers back then are now top of the leader-boards and widely respected. I get the feeling that it's possible still to win with a balanced and thematic list but probably not without exploiting some of the most powerful special rules and combos your codex has to offer.

In my opinion chapter tactics, clan rules and regimental doctrines should be the icing on the cake for your chosen sub-faction, not something to build a list around. If you have painted your Orks in neutral colours so you can pick which clan to use on any given day, I get it, but I can't help feeling it's missing the point. Don't get me wrong, the first army lists I wrote were 'top-down' and exploitative, featuring such cheese as plasma spam and commanders without command squads.

The feeling of being given permission to power-game by a community that seemed to see it as somewhat of a virtue sent a rush of blood to the head. Only last month in this blog I was talking about running a Krieg/Tallarn/Lambda Lions triple detachment, to get all the special rules I wanted (such as a warlord trait to re-roll ones for all that plasma). However I had nagging doubts, and none of the lists I wrote looked right on the table, or felt right for my army theme. So now I am writing lists from the bottom up, a platoon at a time. I will be spending points on non-optimal choices like regimental standards and dozer blades, because they are cool. I may even bring some sharp shooting space hobbits.

Here's my latest list in brief:

Tallarn Battallion

Tank Squadron of 3 leman russ demolishers including a tank commander, all with heavy flamer sponsons.

Firebase Platoon of three infantry squads with missile launchers, led by a warlord commander and command squad, supported by two squads of mortar teams.

Assault Platoon with two veteran squads in tauroxes, sporting flamers and shotguns, operating independently and supported by two hellhounds.

Stormtrooper Platoon of three squads, each with different special weapons, led by a tempestor prime and command squad.

It’s not like I won’t be thinking about how to be competitive, and trying to find an army that wins, but Warlord traits, tank aces and relics are somewhat incidental and can be added after the list is decided. Also I do not have any particular stratagems or secondary objectives in mind. Not that I won't think about and plan for them, but cohesive army composition comes first and must ‘feel right’ to me (having said that I wouldn’t dream of sitting in judgement on anyone else’s list). That list above will change of course, because list building is fun, and how much more fun it is now than it was in 2nd edition, as there are loads more options; although one enemy of customisation could be the 'no model no rules' thing that's creeping in. I hope this is checked before it reaches the codexes I am going to care about. So I'll carry on making lists and I may even change factions, but what I won't be doing is constant tweaking and optimisation. It's taken me a while to realise it again, but I was never a fan of min-maxing.

The winner of that first Grand Tournament and the first Warhammer World Champion was a chap called David Cain, and he would later write an article in White Dwarf entitled Spirit of the Game. In it he says that the army lists allow a lot of freedom for players to be creative and build themed armies, for scenarios and such, but complains that 'this does allow certain individuals to produce armies that are created simply to win games'. Can you imagine?! The article features contributions from all the prominent people at GW at the time, each giving their personal philosophy on how to play the game. The most stringent view is unsurprisingly from Nigel Stillman, who advocates writing an army list before even buying any models and never changing it for as long as you play with that army. The one dissenting voice is Graham Davey who played with a group that always tried to out-do each other, and pick lists to win against what you thought your opponent would bring. As long as everyone expected it and were on the same page, he said it could be fun. A competitive meta in miniature, that would probably be seen as 'tailoring' at a club these days but which from what I have read pretty much describes the tournament scene now, at least at the top tables. Right now I would like to try and tread a middle path between these two extremes, and have an armies that can evolve, have a passing acquaintance with the meta, and tell a story with their very make-up. Mostly I just want to get my big squad of metal Ogryns charging across the battlefield and I am very happy they had recent points reduction as I may be able to fit them in somewhere now.

So by now you could be thinking 'who is this guy to be so judgemental about the scene when he's not even played in a tournament himself yet?' I am very open to revising my opinions once I have actually been exposed to other gamers, and how they play the game, in person. I am merely giving my first impressions and current thinking about how I want to approach it. If I bring along an army I love, I am going to enjoy myself – win, lose or draw. Your mileage may vary.

Off the field I am making steady progress, with just a couple more units to add to the Eolian Desert Fighters until I have a force I am happy with, and a few vehicles to do for my space marines the Brotherhood of Malal, which should not take too long – the black colour scheme is very forgiving. In fact I have already bought and started assembling models for my next project. This one I will slow down for and take my time on, since it will be a labour of love. I am putting together the Blood Axe army I always wanted as a kid – I’m a Warboss at heart – and it will be a mixture of old lead infantry and modern vehicle kits. Have you noticed how the Genestealer Cult’s Goliath Truck is one letter away from being misspelt in an orky fashion? The army will also include some non-standard units that were available to Blood Axes in the very first ork list from the Rogue Trader era: human mercs, ogryns, and a human advisor (I’m thinking a Xenos Inquisitor), plus my own idea, ratling slaves. Apart from the ratlings, I will struggle to get these to ‘count as’ anything in matched play (depending on the new codex) but they should be fine in Open Play.

I have yet to get a first game in, but have found two local gaming clubs which both seem really friendly, and I have possibly lined up some people to play withnow things are fully re-opened, and I have the time. Hopefully next month I can report on how that goes. It seems I am not alone in returning to the hobby at this time and since we are in Leicester, which has been in lock-down forever, we may all be learning 9th edition together. I can’t wait to get stuck in. See you next month, when I will make the case for platoons of Tactical Squads backed up by Predators and Dreadnoughts without a pre-fix to their name.

Kieran Lyons

AKA PaddyMick on Dakka Dakka and other places

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