40k Word Association, where we take four opinionated players from the across the country and pick their brains to tackle current 40k topics.

First up is  Nathan Fluger blog commentator and devastating Ork player from the Pacific Northwest who can be found at the Fire and Sword Gaming Center in Seattle WA.

To me, a balanced list is what we should all be striving for if we want to make competitive lists.  First, having a list that is versatile enough to handle any situation also means you have a powerful list; second of all, if everyone has a balanced list, the playing field is more-or-less equal, and games should be close-fought.  One thing that I hate is the rock/paper/scissors (RPS) nature of some armies that rely too heavily on one element of their army and leave the others behind.  For instance:  a 4 Land Raider list.  Awesome against Orks and Tyranids for the most part; but an absolute push over against Dark Eldar or any army with lots of AT shooting.  So either you have a game in which you get rocked hard, or a game in which you roll over your opponent.  As was discussed on Bald and Screaming; closely competitive games are what makes 40k fun, so these type of RPS armies need to be avoided.

How do you make a balanced list? I’m sure lots of people have different formulas; but this is mine.  It’s a check list making sure I can handle various situations.  Any list I design has to have:  anti-infantry, anti-tank, resilient troops, long-range firepower, melee potential, and speed.  Those titles are obvious, but let me break down how I get them in my Ork army and why.

Anti-Infantry:  Despite the new love affair with Mech; infantry are still what win the games and you need to kill them in droves with either shooting or melee.  Fortunately for me, Orks are CHALK-FULL of anti-infantry units.  In my AI role, I have shoota boyz, battlewagons, stormboyz, trukk boyz, lootas, and lobbas.  Some of those are melee options, some ranged, and some dual-purpose; all can take out infantry in large numbers.

Anti-Tank:  Oh noes!  You’re in tanks!  Big deal!  I have Killa Kans with rokkits, shoota boyz with rokkits, Battlewagon with boomgun, PKs on my Stormboyz and Trukk Boyz (and in my regular boyz squads), lootas, rokkit buggies, and lobbas.  The lobbas may seem like a strange thing to include, but they always hit side armor, and S5 against AV10 isn’t THAT long of a shot.  Again, it’s a mix of melee and shooting; but I have enough to take down most mech spam armies, and enough PKs to crack open those pesky Land Raiders.

Resilient Troops:  Big mobs of boyz in range of a KFF and Trukk Boyz that can stay in reserve, as well as a tiny gretchin squad inside the battlewagon with KFF.  It takes a lot of shooting to bring most of those down, and they can usually get where I need them to claim objectives.  Plus, I have so many immediate threats on the board that they sometimes get ignored.

Long Range Firepower:  This was a tough one, as I only REALLY have lootas and lobbas.  Fortunately, they are both really good at what they do, and consistently over-perform.  They both can take out either infantry or tanks if need be. Once my shorter range units get up close, I dish out a ridiculous amount of shooting that can’t be ignored by most armies.

Melee Potential:  Well, this IS an Ork army, even the Lootas can charge something and do well!  This is why I like shoota boyz the best, they are both great shooting and melee troops.  The specialists are obviously the Trukk Boyz and Stormboyz who both have the speed to get stuck in on turn 2 or turn one if my opponent is aggressive.

Speed:  This is critical for when dealing with armies that out-shoot you and you need to get close or counter other fast armies that might be staying out of the range of the rest of your force.  For this, I have stormboyz, trukk boyz, and rokkit buggies.  They can all zoom around and contest/hold objectives if needed and also threaten things that are trying to get away. Any time I build a list, I have these concepts in mind and I usually come up with a well-rounded list that can handle any opponent at any time!

Second is Jwolf from Bell of Lost Souls and regular at Battleforge Games in Austin TX.

Balanced Army is one of the good concepts that has been hijacked by the Whine Police to mean “Army That Doesn’t Have Any Current Tricks I Don’t Like In It,” rather than what it actually should mean – an Army built to do well against a variety of threats under a variety of circumstances, using every Force Organization slot to support that goal.  Since Balanced Army was stolen to be a complaint rather than a description; rarely do you see “my opponent had a balance army” usually it’s “my opponent was a WAAC bastard with a totally unbalanced army” because no one ever seems to lose because they were over matched by the opposing player or made critical errors in their play…

A good example of a Balanced Army is a Space Marine Force lead by a Librarian (for the Psychic Hood and tricks), with Assault Terminators (for dealing with enemy assault forces), multiple Rhino-mounted10-man Tactical Squads (to claim objectives and shoot things), a Scout Squad (to shoot Monstrous Creatures or Outflank towards far objectives), a couple of Assault Bikes / Speeders (to perform close-up Multimelta work), and a Thunderfire Cannon, a Predator, and a Devastator Squad (to provide long-range fire support).  All of this fits easily into an 1850 point force and can face any opponent with confidence.

I guess the term we use to describe a Balanced Army now is an All Comers List, because of the Whine Police stealing the original term.  I’m announcing a move to take the term Balanced Army back – no more will it be used only in the negative.  Join me in the Holy Crusade to knock the Whine Police out-of-the-way (so they have something else to whine about – a win all around!) and use Balanced Army instead of All Comers List today!

Now for some Miggidy Mack, host of the great weekly Podcast Dice Like Thunder

The phrase “balanced list” has a lot of weight and baggage in our little corner of the world.  For many people it means “troop heavy” for others it’s having units that fill a variety of rolls.  Many people will claim to prefer “balanced lists” which usually means they are skilled at target priority and they want their army to have the needed options for that play style.

I’ve ranted a lot lately about comp scores and “fluffy” lists.  Typically players who want “fluffy” lists are good at target priority.  They know what to deal damage to and in what order.  The other type are military gamers wanting to see armies that are realistic when compared to a modern military.  Unfortunately this game isn’t realistic… Montgomery didn’t have to pit his 8 foot tall super soldiers against Von Kluge’s swarms of bugs the size of buses.  If that fight did happen… the history channel owes me an episode!

Rather than rant on again about how they just want everyone to conform to their play style (maximizing target priority and positioning instead of other list building options). I’m going to list some of the common errors players make when building a “balanced” list.

1) Stop taking so many Rocket Launchers! Strength 9 is needed to penetrate AV 14. Try running 6 strength 9 weapons in no fewer than 3 units.  Rockets are not a substitute.  Many list players seem to think that Rockets are great because they have flexibility”… they do not.  If your opponent has placed his models 2” apart then you will only ever hit 1, sometimes 2 with a frag rocket.  It’s ok to specialize.

2) Not enough Assault! Your opponents are going to have assault units and so should you.  The definition of balanced means taking some of everything.  Don’t take a bunch of tactical squads and expect them to hold down the fort in an assault.  Find the points for assault terminators or something else that hits hard.  Protect your shooting units with a strong assault base.

3) Take More Transports! Every unit doesn’t need them, but it never hurts to have a chimera full of veterans in reserve with some flamers for taking and holding the objective in your deployment!  Plan to reposition and use reserves to manipulate game tempo.

4) Not enough models!
10 Marines are very unlikely to hold anything deep in enemy territory on their own.  Commit 2 units if you really want something done right.  Nothing says “dibs” like 20 marines.

5) Accept that your “balanced list” is tailored to your play style. Don’t expect others to play the way you do.  You’re going to have some hard match ups.  Balanced forces suffer the most from.  When you win it isn’t because “that’s the way it should be”.  Throw your hubris away.  Don’t claim your losses are due to cheesy lists and your wins are the natural order of the universe.  Take losses like a grown up and adapt!

Finally Blackmoor, recent winner of The Wild West Shoot Out in Mesa AZ. You can find Blackmoor on his blog as well playing at Empire Games in Mesa.

To oversimply things, there are 2 ways to build winning lists. The first is by taking a balanced list, and the other is to build an unbalanced list.

To demonstrate what a balanced and what an unbalanced army is, think of a scale from 1 to 100. The 1 represents a pure assault army and 100 represent a pure shooting army, and a balanced list would be close to 50. The farther away you get from the 1 and 100 the more balanced your list is.

Now if you think about it unbalanced lists are generally more successful than balanced lists. The pure assault armies like World Eaters, Orks, and Tyranids are good armies. Also the pure shooting armies do well also, like IG and Tau. The thing also about the unbalanced armies is that they are pretty easy to play because they do one thing, and they do it well, and it is up to your opponents to figure out a was to try and stop it.

The down side to these armies is that they have one trick and what happens if they can’t do it? They lose because they are not balanced and can’t change or adapt. To give you an example of this Bill Kim won the Adepticon Gladiator in 2007 with a genestealer horde because he did one thing, and he did it well. Now what would have happened if he went up against a skimmer army? He might have lost. Another example is Nob Bikers. When they first appeared they were winning a lot of tournaments, but once counters to them were found they quickly died out because they can only go forward as fast as they can and get into assault, and that is it. To give you some other examples, what happens if an IG army or a mech eldar army can be out shot? Bad matchups are the weaknesses of unbalanced armies, that is why when you hear someone talk about the rock-paper-scissors nature of 40k they are playing an unbalanced list.

Now let’s take a look at balanced armies. They are not going to overwhelm anyone in assault, and they are not going to shoot anyone off of the board, but what they can do is shoot the assault armies, and assault the shooting armies.

Balanced armies are a lot harder to play than the unbalanced armies, because they are very hard to construct. It is hard to get an army that has an answer for just about everything, and fit it into whatever your point total is. If you are able to balance the points, and the units, they can be quite formidable. They work like a counter puncher and they react to what your opponent is doing instead of act.

Balanced armies can work very well in the hands of a good player because the army has to be well built, and the player has to know what they are doing. Balanced armies are a lot less forgiving than the unbalanced counterparts, but where the balanced armies shine are in tournaments because they are not susceptible to the bad matchups of the unbalanced armies, and are better at taking 5 random armies.

Questions for Comment:

  1. What do you consider as a balanced list?
  2. Do players take the RPS nature of 40k too serious?
  3. Is their a difference between an All-comers and Balanced List?