Tuesday, December 30, 2014

2014 End of the Year Rant: 40K - "Earning Back Your Points"

Refitting my armies for 7th edition has led me through a ton of internet tactics articles and forums for various factions and one thing I still see regularly when discussing a particular unit is "making their points back". This is a ridiculously outdated concept that needs to disappear.The real way to judge a unit's effectiveness is to look at how you win the game and determine how a unit can contribute to achieving this goal.

For a long time, most 40K games were "kill point" games - points were scored by eliminating units. Doing this faster made gave you a points lead and made it harder for your opponent to score points of his own. Every unit needed to contribute to this goal. If a unit could "make its points back" then it was breaking even in the game and any additional points it scored were contributing to your win. Units that could directly remove enemy models from the table were clearly achieving this.That was a worthy measure for that kind of game.

Unfortunately that pretty much died out with 5th edition's demise in 2012.

Beginning in 6th and now fully formed in 7th edition, the standard game pretty much revolves around objectives. You still score points to win but those points do not come from killing enemy units, they come from controlling certain locations on the battlefield.
  • For 6th only troops were "scoring". Now with 7th everything is scoring but most troop units score better than everything else so there is still some extra benefit there.
  • With 7th there are typically six objectives in play - older editions usually had fewer - so there is an increased number of places to cover.
  • Also with 7th points are no longer scored once per game at the end. Now points are scored every turn. Before in a typical 5 turn game if you held an objective for 4 turns and lost it on turn 5 then you saw no points for that effort. Now every turn counts. 
  • On each turn the available scoring options may change as well. This turn Objective #4 might be in play, while next turn it might be Objective #2
  • Since my opponent and I have different sets of objectives in most games it's not just about where I need to be to score - it's also about where I need to be to deny his scoring. If I get points this turn for Obj #4 and he gets points for Obj #6, then the ideal situation would be to get scoring units onto both.
To cover more objectives over more turns mobility is a major asset. Offensive power is important, sure, but it is not the only, nor is it even the primary, consideration anymore. The ability to get to an objective in one turn, and the ability to hold that objective, is at least as important as offense today.

Example: Space Wolf Grey Hunters were considered the best basic troop type in the game at one time, due to their combat power, cost, and all-around capability. Now I'd say Eldar Jet Bikes are the best, but not because they can beat an equal number of points of Grey Hunters - I'm not sure they can. It's because they are the fastest basic troops in the game yet tough enough to take some punishment. Offensively I'd call them middle of the pack at best. 

The same environment has led to space marine bike armies becoming ever more popular - once they become troops their increased mobility and enhanced scoring options along with better toughness makes them a preferred option for many players. Their ability to carry interesting weapon choices didn't change - their ability to win games did. 

The increase in drop pod armies is following the same trend. Why walk or ride a conventional transport vehicle across the table when I can drop an objective secured vehicle AND an objective secured squad right onto the objective - on turn 1!

Now offense does still have a role. For one, I need to protect my own units and the best way to do that is to blow the enemy units off of the table. Also, I need to remove enemy units from objectives. This still does not justify the "making their points back" attitude I see though. 
  • If a unit of assault marines clears the enemy fire warriors off of an objective, scores a VP or three for holding it,  then dies to supporting fire the next turn I don't care about the relative points cost of either unit - I care that I scored those VP's. 
  • If a vindicator trundling up the middle of the field draws enough fire that my 5-man tac squad gets to sit on an objective for another turn and score another VP or two then I don't care that it never fired a shot - it contributed to my win, even if it was not by blowing a unit off of the table. 
  • If a sternguard squad comes down on an objective in a drop pod for a VP, moves out, guns down a unit of fire dragons to preserve the pod for another turn, incidentally killing a warlock for a "kill the psyker" VP, and also has moved into the enemy deployment zone achieving "linebreaker" for another VP, then sure that's great and that's where offense can still make a difference. Note that none of it is tied up in relative point costs though.

Hopefully, in 2015 the whole concept of "earning its points back" will finally die out and a focus on how the game is actually won will return. Remember in a Tactical Objectives game 24 of the 36 entries (and Linebreaker) are tied to objectives and positioning, not killing other units. Instead of focusing on points ask your self this:
  • How quickly can this unit get to it's first objective? (i.e. can it score points on turn 1? Drop pods are great for this.)
  • How quickly can it get to a different objective? (i.e. when I draw a new card on turn 2 can it shift to that new objective in one movement phase? Eldar jetbikes are the kings of this while drop pods are a bit less effective.)
  • How well can it hold an objective through an enemy turn? (Usually some combo of toughness 4+, armor save 3+, stealth/shrouded/cover save bonuses or a jink option all are good here)
  • How quickly can it kill other enemy units? (A 5-man tactical squad with a flamer is not great in this regard. A vindicator is slow and vulnerable to side and rear shots, but it can blow a squad off of the table in one shot. That's a useful ability to have somewhere in your army.)
  • Does taking this unit prevent me (though point costs or force org slots) from taking another unit that is more likely to help me win the game? (A 3-man unit of jetbikes is great at taking an unoccupied objective, but has trouble taking one from a 20-man unit of ork shoota boys. Spamming 6 of them is going to leave you some weaknesses like this.  A unit of d-scythe wraithguard hopping out of a wave serpent can clean that right up, possible in two different locations on the same turn - serpent on one, wraithguard on the other.)

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