Hello, ladies and gentlemen and sundry additional genders, my name is AbusePuppy; you may remember me from such websites as 3++ Is the New Black or the comments section of just about every damn site in existence. Tasty has tapped me to start doing some sporadic articles for him and I agreed, since clearly the one thing I need to do is spend more time on this game. Thus: here I am. I’ll be writing about a variety of things, but first and foremost amongst them will be Orks (to play Devil’s Advocate to our good man Nathan) and Tyranids (because for some reason people still think they’re bad an one-dimensional.) The former will be focusing on the competitive side of things; the latter more on the casual, so as to avoid doubling up with my content on Kirby’s site. But enough introductions, let’s get down to business.
Orks are an army with strong divergences in opinion; some people regard them as a strong competitor, while others see them as being almost helplessly weak. My own thoughts on the subjects are a bit more… complicated, and I’m going to use this article to try and lay down the foundations of what I think and why; future articles in the series will focus on more specific areas and units. However, to sum things up succinctly: Orks are playable, but not great. For 95% of the 40K population, Orks will be an entirely usable army that performs somewhere between acceptably well and outright amazing- these, I think, are the people who say “Orks are fine, I don’t understand why people say they are bad.” For them, Orks are fine; the problems with the army simply don’t manifest themselves because they aren’t facing players (and lists) that split the cracks in the list open to expose the problems. I want to make clear: many of these players are quite capable, and I don’t have anything against them. I may disagree with Mr. Fluger, but that doesn’t mean I have any problem with him; he and I have talked many times, played each other, and exchanged correspondence. I think he is a good player with a strong grasp on his army. However, I disagree with him on a lot of points and I don’t feel that all his choices are fully optimal. Dissent is not- and should not be- the same thing as personal enmity, and I’m going to strive to keep this whole thing on a level of rational discussion.
Orks are, at the heart of things, a very easy army to get started with- I think this is one reason they often get regarded as strong, as biases from when players have started the game can be hard to let go of. It is very easy to assemble an Ork army that is effective when one first starts out; a basic Warboss/Mek + Boyz army can be a significant threat to most opponents if they don’t understand how to fight it, and it has the bonus of being very resilient to most kinds of firepower by virtue of having tons and tons of models that can be taken as casualties without drastically affecting its strategy. (Compare to a Marine or IG list, where loss of key “firepower” models can render whole units for all intents and purposes worthless.) Most units in the Ork codex are at least reasonably effective early on, as they have good stats and (mostly) useful options. With a few glaring exceptions, an Ork list can be built out of almost anything in the codex and work just fine in the vast majority of games.
We are, however, not looking at casual games and low-level play here; I intend to discuss the viability of Orks for top-level tournament play. I am not ignoring casual play out of disdain, but rather out of focus: what is “good” and “usable” is very different in casual play, and in fact is largely dependent on what kind of group one plays with. Moreover, casual play does not have any one, focused objective the same way competitive play does; it is, rather, a style of game defined by its lack of focus, an alternate box that must exist in counterpart to competitive play by definition. It is not inherently worse, less fun, less interesting, or any other epithet one might wish to lay on it, but it is different and trying to discuss both of them at once is rather futile.
So what IS wrong with Orks, then? Poor anti-tank, poor flexibility, and general strategic inferiority are their main problems. Secondary to this are a host of other issues: units fighting for certain slots, problems with their transports, and rules issues all work to compound each other and intermingle in a way that, all things considered, is rather crippling to the army.
Anti-tank is an easy one to look at. It shouldn’t have to be said, but mobility is critical in 5E and the way most armies achieve mobility is through transports. Just as importantly, vehicles in general are extremely resilient in this edition and it can take a lot of firepower to bring down even a simple AV11 tank. Unlike some other armies, Orks actually have some very good anti-tank units; Lootas are, by any standard, fantastic; they put out a high weight of mid-strength fire that can easily obliterate light armor and have excellent utility against infantry, MCs, etc as well. However, like any unit, they have weaknesses of their own- they are rather fragile and completely static, leaving them vulnerable to infiltrators, outflanking, DSing, etc. More importantly, however, they are the only real AT in the codex. The only other options are Rokkit Buggies/Koptas (which are fairly fragile and expensive for what you get), Rokkits in squads (extremely unreliable), and Power Klaws (strategically nonviable). This is something we are going to go over in a lot of detail in the next article, but I think it’s the crux of their problems; if Orks could reliably crack transports, their other problems would all be mitigatable, but as-is they suffer from severe problems. A melee army MUST be able to get to its targets, and that isn’t possible so long as they’re inside metal boxes.
Poor flexibility is largely an issue of the age of the codex; unlike the 5E books (and like its 4E brethren), Orks basically only have two possible builds: Speed Freaks and Green Tide. (Yes, Nathan, I know you advocate a hybrid build, but I think that is a dangerous kind of split and one that doesn’t work all that well. Hybrid armies need synergy between their distinct elements or they fall into the trap of being two smaller, less efficient armies crammed into a single roster; the Ork codex, I feel, does not do a good job of cementing these two parts together the way some other books do. It is viable to run a squad in the backfield to screen Lootas and capture objectives, but I think that’s the limit of it.) Even within these two archetypes, there is very little variation- both of them require a Big Mek with KFF. Both of them need Lootas to provide shooting support. Both of them rely on assaults in numbers to actually win the game. Neither list can really adapt to the opponent’s tactics; their only choice is to charge forward and try and overwhelm whatever plan the enemy has, because they cannot afford to hold back (Ork shooting is short-ranged and their melee is middling if they don’t charge) and they can’t play reserves games (they have no reserve manipulation and thus are totally at the mercy of the dice.)
Strategic inferiority is somewhat a consequence of their inflexibility, but is larger than that. At the heart of it, it means that the plan Orks have (move forward, charge things) is not all that great a plan in this edition of the game. Hordes can be outmaneuvered; vehicles can be blocked or suppressed, and as noted above, Orks have no backup plan. What happens if your Speed Freaks army loses 2/3 of its transports in the first turn or two? You lose, plain and simple. Guard can continue shooting when they lose their transports, Marines can run for objectives, Tau can cower behind their screens, but once the heart of an Ork plan is broken, it has no other options. And its plan isn’t even a strong one- AV10 open-topped vehicles are notoriously easy to break, and there is absolutely no guarantee you will end up where you want to. If can’t reach the enemy quickly enough (Dark Eldar, anyone?)- you lose. If you can’t get them out of their boxes, even if you reach them- you lose. If you’ve taken enough casualties, even if you reach them and they’re out of their boxes- you lose. There are simply too many strings attached to their win condition to easily beat people, because the likelihood that the opponent’s strategy will cut at least one of those strings is very, very high.
FOC crowding is another issue for Orks- their Elites and Heavy Support slots especially suffer from problems. Elites has the classic Tyranid dilemma- while you would like to take some of the cool things there, you need to fill up on anti-tank in order to make the rest of your army viable. HS is actually fine… as long as you aren’t running any transports. And running transports is basically how Orks have a chance of winning. Battlewagons are so mandatory in that army that you can’t fit anything else helpful (Big Gunz , Kanz, etc) without giving up on your primary plan. This crowding is not uncommon in older books, but combined with sparse AT the two issues cross-breed into a much more dangerous strain.
And while we’re talking about transports: Trukks. Contrary to popular belief, AV10 open-topped is not what kills them. The Ramshackle isn’t, either, although it certainly doesn’t help. (It was something of a boon in 4E, when destroyed vehicles often killed their passengers, but in 5E it is purely detrimental.) No, the nail in the Trukk’s coffin is actually its small transport capacity. Twelve Guardsmen is a fine number- eight guys in each squad are just wound markers for the HWT anyways. Ten Marines is likewise enough- few units in the game want to engage Marines of equal numbers. Twelve Orks, however, is not a good number. Orks rely on overwhelming piles of dudes to take care of problems, and a baker’s dozen (since you can take a Nob, who counts for some extra) is hardly what most people think of as “overwhelming.” You’ll lose four wounds when your Trukk blows up (and it will) and, if you charge some SW or BA, you’re looking at losing five to eight more- that means that practically the entire squad is dead before they get to swing. Yeah, you kill a dude with the Klaw- and then lose combat, run like girls (not Fearless anymore!) and get cut down. Good job on killing one random Marine with your entire squad.
Last but not least, Orks are suffering from a variety of rules changes from the new edition that have hurt them. No Retreat! wounds can quickly cut a mob down if combat goes against them; the new vehicle damage table makes Ramshackle actually work against its initial purpose; the strengthening of template and blast weapons also hurt their large numbers a lot.
Again, I would like to reiterate: Orks are not unplayable. Many people have achieved significant success with Orks, and I congratulate them. However, tournament results alone are not convincing for the same reason that the entire state of Kansas deciding that pi is equal to three does not make it so. By the same token, theory alone does not make an army bad- however, my aim here is to present a strong enough argument (and strong enough examples) to show why I feel Orks are not a top-tier choice of armies. They work just fine- indeed, more than fine- in casual play and in tournaments where players are not really adjusted to 5E. (In my experience, this is most places; indeed, my local tournament still only has a handful of players who are fully meched up.) If you are playing in games like this, you will likely find Orks to work for you. But if you are attending tournaments like NOVA, Battle for Salvation, etc, where the aim is explicitly to play strong armies against strong armies, I think you will find that Orks simply do not measure up to par.