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Welcome to the 11th Company BLOG. The 11th Company is a Warhammer 40K podcast dedicated to players, strategies, and tactics.

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Friday, February 24, 2012

Game Play Tip: Knowing The Enemy

Intelligence in the key to victory. Fortunately, in Warhams, it's really easy to gather some great intelligence! All you need to do is read a few internet sites, read a few codices, and presto, you are in very well informed about the capabilities of the enemy.

Really, though, the internet is generally an even better resource than a codex. Often, you can find BLOGs or forum posts where the "enemy" will tell you not only what he likes to take in his lists but also how they are intended to be used.

Now, for those of us who want to grow the 40K Community, we don't worry about offering up free information. (Honestly, it's ridiculous to even think that top players don't "get it" already. So, don't think you are going to benefit from HIDING your knowledge.)

What you can do with this information, though, is the age old thought experiment.

The thought experiment is the idea of trying to play out a game in your head with what you know about what the enemy wants to do and what you would do in response.

This is also known as what you do when you are sitting in a boring meeting at work!

It is a fact that many seemingly good players rely on your lack of knowledge to win their games. Lack of knowledge about what their units are and what their tactics will be are the common points of abuse.

I know that most people out there will never take the effort to learn unit stats, special rules, etc. That's okay! This article is for those people out there who might want to know "how is it that some people are better at this game than others?"

No, we don't sit around and drill this info like we are studying for a spelling test.

Most players learn those stat lines and rules through endless thought experimenting. (We get bored at work, a LOT!) And rather than spending that time thinking about the latest episode of The Walking Dead, they spend it thinking about how games of 40K will play out. That continued repetition is what drills those things into their heads.

Long story short is, I cannot tell you how many times I have played against people who think they got the "answer" to my army because they honestly believe they can "out fox" me with their "special combo". It's usually about Turn 2 where they realize that not only am I not falling for it, I'm actively countering it! What's worse, they haven't thought about what would happen if someone actually knew about their "secret" and started an effective counter! OOPS!

Here's an example. A guy who would give his opponent first turn and then rely on reserve and especially some Dread Drops to strike the enemy. "Gee... ", I said...

"Option A: Deploy me army and take it to the face exactly like my opponent wants me to..."

"Option B: Reserve my army even though I'm the one with first turn to force him to potentially drop and then counter when I come on the board..."

Not hard, really. But, if I hadn't over already known the rules of that army and the thought process behind how it was used, big mistake!

Another example. A guy who brings a Tau army to an objective mission, with 9 Broadsides all with Target Locks, just waiting on you to set up all your stuff on the board so he can blow it away. "Gee... ", I said...

"Option A: Set up my shooting army and get tabled by Tau."

"Option B: Come in from reserve behind LoS blocking terrain, sit there for 4 turns, and then grab objectives/contest on Turn 5 while creating an assault threat bubble to keep him out of board mid."

There's always an answer, but in a tournament, it's already to late to figure out what to do in most cases.

Friday, February 17, 2012

The RAW argument, tunnel vision, and willful acceptance of absurdity

I've been involved in a few rules discussions in the past week or so. Normally, I try to avoid these at all costs, but I don't know what struck me this week to get into it. Most likely, it was the post on BoLS about trying to claim that you do not move a vehicle by pivot, measure, move.

I then got involved in discussions on Dakka, oh boy, then I remembered why I don't engage in rules arguments where the first tenet of the argument is:

*** The only correct answer is the one that can be shown via RaW. ***

The rest of this article has nothing to do with the argument on BoLS. I think that Caldera is exactly in the spirit of trying to play the game correctly by noting that something doesn't "look right", seems to violate some books rules, and expressing a valid opinion.

Likewise, detractors express theirs as well.

This is more directed at the people in the argument who keep saying, "but RaW, the rulebook doesn't say... support... prove... etc."

The purpose of this article is to describe why taking the RaW approach to arguing rules for Warhammer is inherently flawed.... by RaW of course!

Proposition #1: Arguing that something isn't "RaW" as a dismissal is an argument using a vacuous truth, one which can never be proven contrary. Why? Because you have set the bar for required evidence of proof above and beyond the tool which you will use to measure it.

Watch this hilarious episode of the Boondocks....

You can fast forward near the end where Riley takes the stand. The prosecution plays the Video of R. Kelly doing a crime, and then Riley starts to state "that ain't R Kelly" even though R. Kelly gives up his social security number, has his grandmother on the video, and on and on as part of the gag.

What's going on here? The person whom the prosecution is trying to convince is setting the bar for required evidence above and beyond what is actually provable. Thus, he is create a vacuous truth, a truth who can never be disproven.

Asking this rule book to prove something beyond a SHADOW OF A DOUBT is flawed at its core. You are asking that the book explicitly state the exact words you need in order to believe something true. The absurdity here is of course this is known to be impossible.

However, we can just then try to rest and say, "well if it isn't written down explicitly, it can't be accepted as truth."

Proposition #2: RaW places an absurd value on the writing within the rulebook. What, why? After all, in the rules discussion, the rulebook defines our Universe, so nothing else should be acceptable in terms of understanding the rules?

Do you want the rulebook to look like that?

You do if you want to use the rulebook's RaW as the only way to determine the correct answer to a rules question.

Truth is, we all know the rulebook itself isn't very technically written. Placing the value of a rules argument solely on if something does or does not exist in the RaW is fundamentally flawed because the book itself is not written to withstand such scrutiny.

This is why we have a Supreme Court in the US, to interpret what is fundamentally flawed, the Law. Written as best as it can be, relying on it as "RaW" sometimes makes you right and sometimes makes you wrong.

The bottom line is, it's not the only path and relying on the written word alone is absurd.

Proposition #3: Demanding an RaW explanation is often an unwillingness to except proof by implication and proof by contradiction, usually because the rules lawyer in question doesn't understand them.

I'm not going to get all philosophical on you, but here's the quick definitions.

Proof By Implication: This is when something doesn't need to be explicitly stated but is rather implied by the existence of other evidence. (If you are into astronomy, this is basically the theory behind Dark Matter. You can't see it (RaW), but you know it's there based on the evidence provided by things around it. (Proof by Implication).

Point: I don't need the Rulebook to explicitly tell me that units move in a path, the existence of difficult terrain rules implies it. (this is in regards to arguments on BoLS)

Proof By Contradiction: I can show that you are not correct by coming up with a scenario which invalidates the assertion. With a Proof By Contradiction, I don't need to give you the right answer, I just need to show you that the answer you have given is wrong. The rulebook does not need to prove an assertion if I can disprove it using other rules.

*** The Bottom Line ***

The temple of "RaW" really needs to topple. It gets old.

You realize that by "RaW", the game of 40K is mostly unplayable. Why? Exactly because of Proposition #1 and Proposition #2. By "RaW", we are placing an unreasonable burden on a flawed document.

And no, I'm not arguing that everything should be ruled RaI.

What I'm stating is that using common sense, reasoning, and simple proof tools, are all acceptable ways to resolve a rules discussion. RaW is not the only way, and in fact, is probably the worst way to approach the discussion.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Thoughts about Grey Knights and Tournaments

I used to play a game about a decade ago called Natural Selection. That game was totally awesome! They are supposed to be working on a sequel but have been doing so forever.

Anyways, Natural Selection was popular enough at one point where groups began to spontaneously involve themselves in league play. The developers encourage this level of play.

Long story short, there become a clear division on the development forums between what was called "Pub play" and "Clan play". The differences are really simple.

- Pub players were just the average public playing the game. They logged into random servers for a game and played to their heart's content. (I was a pub player by the way).

- Clan players were guys who organized themselves into clans and participated in league play, matches, etc. These were the guys who would have schedule practice times, matches, and so on.

Now, most of you would probably relate to this story better if I mentioned Counter Strike which also had the concepts of "Pub play" and "Clan play". I would have just said Counter Strike, but Natural Selection was SOOOOOOOO much better!

Anyways, I digress.

The point is, there were two distinct groups of players.... those who played in unorganized, unpracticed games, and those who trained to compete.

Now, at face value, there isn't an issue here. However, an interesting phenomenon showed up after a while.

You see, when the devs were making adjustments to the game, the Pub Players and the Clan Players wanted different things, sometimes entirely opposite of each other.

One example I explicitly remember were that Clan Players felt Fades were terribly over-powered in clan matches and wanted their skills trees reworked and blink effects altered.

Meanwhile, Pub Players felt that Fades become almost completely useless when they lost their rocket attacks.

What gives? Well, practiced Clan Players could wreck your face with a blinking, assaulting Fade which were over-powered but required a ton of skill to really leverage. Pub Players (including myself) didn't have that kind of skill and wanted our easy to use rocket attack back.

I really believe Natural Selection's downfall eventually came from this type of discussion because the Devs almost continuously catered to the clan players.

Anyone out there play League of Legends? Of course you do! Next time you want to see a good analogy to what I'm talking about, read the dev boards. You'll notice that top "clan" players have entirely different opinions on what in the game is OP, UP, needs fixing, addressed etc.

Hai Grey Knights!

There is just a ton of vitriol surrounding the Grey Knights dex. Moreso than there was against the Space Wolves and Imperial Guard last year? Hard to say, but I think so!

I think so many think that the Grey Knight codex is so horribly broken that it's been terrible for the game of 40K.

Yet, others, including myself, think there are plenty of ways to overcome it. Powerful, YES. Broken, NO.

However, who do you think is in the majority opinion here?

If I were to examine the Codex from the eyes of person who is not an avid competitive player, would my opinion change?

I think it would. I think, if I looked at it from the perspective of someone who doesn't play overly competitively, who doesn't study the game, who doesn't spend hours and hours reading about, blogging about, podcasting about, 40K, I might think Grey Knights are a little broken when compared to books like Tyranids, Dark Eldar, Space Marines, Eldar, and so on.

What does everyone else think here?

And of course, the next logical question then is, if we think we would think it over powered if we were a "pub player" rather than a "clan player", would we do something about it?

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Game Play Tip: Absorbing Assaults

The Rope-A-Dope is a boxing strategy most famously known for being employed by Muhammad Ali in many of his well known match-ups like the one depicted above versus George Foreman. The Rope-A-Dope relies on using an opponent's aggression to tire him out so that later on, you can finish him off when he is to tired or weak to resist.

In boxing, to make the Rope-A-Dope work, you have to set yourself up in a position where your opponent will effectively "punch himself out" on you while you "turtle" up against the ropes, hands up, to deflect or absorb the punishment he is dishing out in such a manner that will leave you largely undamaged but cause the opponent to expend a ton of energy trying to penetrate your defenses. They call it the Rope-A-Dope because, as Ali shows us above, you lean into the ropes to rest while protecting your ribs, sides, and face with your gloves and arms. Foreman wails on you with punch after punch which just largely get glanced off your arms and gloves. When he is tired from punching, you come out of your "shell" and land those famous Ali well-placed jaw hits.

The analogy is great for 40K because this idea of "letting your opponent get his go" and then "you retaliate" is a great model for how the assault and counter works in 40K.

Assault Armies in 40K can seem to be utterly crushing. Indeed, many heavy assault lists like Blood Angels DoA lists, Demons, Tyranids, Thunder Cav lists, Terminator Hammer lists, Ork Battlewagon Lists, and more rely on charging directly at you, as fast as possible, and wiping you off the board in a turn or two of heavy assaulting.

It is also worth noting that these fast moving assault threats are not the only ones of their kind. There are also deep striking or drop podding lists which will seek to achieve a similar goal. DoA lists are the most famous of these where the Blood Angel players reserves and tries to come in on Turn 2 as close to you as possible to melta away your transports and set up the crushing assault on Turn 3.

So, let's get to the meat and potatoes here. The truth is, Assault Armies in 40K are generally the weaker builds. The problem is that this reality can largely be obfuscated because:

- Assault Armies are very easy to play and thus less prone to critical mistakes.
- Assault Armies work extremely well against players with weak rules knowledge and/or tactical skill.
- Assault Armies make it very easy to capitalize on opponent mistakes.
- Properly absorbing assaults and counter attacking requires forethought, even pre-game, which most players don't do.

These factors combine make the power of assault based lists largely misconstrued. All to often, better players with better rules knowledge can leverage easy to play assault armies to dominate a local scene. This makes the assault based armies appear very powerful to many people. (In fact, I think even the GW game designers think that Assault is the power house of 40K because they are always more expensive than shooting based lists.)

However, when paired against a player of equal tactical expertise and equal rules knowledge, you will find that things fall apart quickly. The major reason for that is that players with excellent rules knowledge and forethought have found ways to utterly absorb and/or blunt an assault to shove it aside.

Now, if you play Tau, you are probably already very familiar with bubble wrap as a way to absorb assaults. The concept is to place units between your major shooting elements and the enemy to stall their assaults. For example, use Drones, Kroot, Devilfish, and any number of other means to create "layers" of units which the opponent has to fight through.

Eventually, as he kills one unit, then absorbs a round of shooting, kills another, absorbs another round of shooting, etc., he finally tires out and you finish him off. The Rope-A-Dope!

This is one means of absorbing assault and is probably the most commonly understood. Tau are not the only army, by the way, that do this well. Imperial Guard also excel at this by using their own Chimeras or Infantry Platoons to create bubble wrap layers.

Tips for bubble wrap:

- You really want to ensure that whatever you are bubble wrapping with will die during your opponent's assault. Otherwise he gets stuck in and you can't shoot him!
- Vehicles are ideal for bubble wrap because you can never be engaged with them, and FURTHER, the enemy has to clump around them to attack them leaving them very vulnerable to template attacks.
- Vehicles also block other vehicles, like a Land Raider for example. You have to drive around my vehicle and can't use your front ramp if I parked a Chimera right in front of it.

Bubble Wrap is a useful concept, but it's even better applied when your army has a very strong counter-attack element, which Tau and IG do not really have.

Let's use an example of a squad of Lightning Claw Terminators. Now, on paper, LC Terminators kind of suck (and I'm not really defending them here). However, let's examine them in a counter-attack role versus some common hammer units like Thunder Cav for example.

You are a Marine player, you got a bunch of Wolves barreling straight for you. You set-up the Rope-A-Dope by parking your cheap transports (the way you will absorb the blow without taking much damage) in the path of his assault. Your opponent now must either assault the bait or just stand there and get shot.

Once he takes the bait, he will assault and probably even kill the transport. Now, we finish the Rope-A-Dope. The LC Terminators standing behind the Rhino charge around it into the Cav. Since most Thunder Cav either carry PFists as their Power Weapon of Choice or are all going to be I4, your LC Terminators can chop them to pieces on the counter attack, even if they die, causing more damage than you took. The Rope-A-Dope is complete.

The more you think about how to blunt assault lists, you'll start to see that the options are nearly limitless. Then, start thinking about how you will counter-attack decisively. If your army has access to some assault units that could fill this role, use them. If your army doesn't, like Tau or IG, think about how you prep all your shooting to deal with the threats. (Like dog pilling melta, plasma, and flamers on the assault threat during your turn!)

Here's some thoughts to help you think about how to set up the Rope-A-Dope:

- Really, to pull this off, you need to think about the variety of scenarios that you will run into and how to counter them BEFORE you show up to play. This way, you can execute. It's to easy to make a mistake or not set up properly if you don't already have a plan.

- Lots of assault based armies don't have grenades like Demons and Tyranids. Use that plus bubble wrap to ensure that your opponent has to assault over cover, maybe created by destroyed vehicles, into what would otherwise be a weaker assault unit to crush them.

- When facing an all deep striking army, especially one with melta guns, bubble wrap such that weak targets like Rhinos are on the outside while the rest of your army is surrounded by them. This will largely put more valuable vehicles out of the 6 in range and give them a cover save should your opponent want to target them. (For example, if that saved vehicle is a Leman Russ, you can annihilate a DS'ed unit that is close to your lines that tries to shoot because they are clumped).

- Constantly move your bubble wrapping vehicles which makes it very hard for the opponent to hit them in assault.

- Learn the assault rules like the back of your hand. This includes how units must pile into assaults, how charges occur, and most importantly, allow you to see that assaults occur on a "Vector", meaning a line that the opponent will have to assault in from. Use that knowledge to set up the easy blocks.

- Always think about what you will do to counter, and MAKE SURE YOUR COUNTER HURTS! It needs to hurt BAD! Crushing the heavy assault units in an assault army usually wins you the game, right then and there.

- You can't absorb and assault and counter unless you bring a credible threat to your opponent at range. Otherwise, he'll just not come to you.

- Think about a useful counter-assault unit in your list and how you would set it up.