Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Playing Dark Angels: Building a Better Battleforce

One of the hallmarks of the very best players in 40k is their ability to bring an army that looks like a random sample of units from a codex, and continually trounce upon opponents of all skill levels. I don't consider myself quite that good at the moment, but I'd like to think I'm approaching that direction, especially with my primary army: Dark Angels. This actually isn't something that every codex is capable of, at least not in the most competitive scenes. Sure, great generals can take weak codices and do some significant things, but it's almost always due to vast amounts of player skill and an understanding of the army's strengths and weaknesses. Armies with better tools, more efficient tools, and multiple units with similar roles are much more able to pull this off. Right now, I'd probably limit just a few codices in the game to pulling this off really well. Space Marines, Necrons, Imperial Guard, and Dark Angels are the best, with Chaos Space Marines and Space Wolves coming in just behind them (in my opinion). Other codices are extremely competitive, but have very few competitive options.

So what's required to make and play one of these amazing "battleforce" armies? Let's take a look:

The most important thing to start this process is system mastery. This isn't just knowing the rules forward and backward. This is knowing how combinations of rules work together; knowing where the abstractions in the game allow clever use of positioning, unit composition, or wargear to do things that mitigate or bypass dice and game mechanics (assumed or actual) to put the game state in your favor. Some common examples of this (from basic to more complex) are: target priority, sniping w/ ordinance barrage, sniping with range bands and blocking terrain, setting up charges to deny challenges or specific wargear, etc. The point is there are many, and a palyer must have most or all of these little quirks mastered to make using a Battleforce list work. You need tactics and strategies that allow the army list to become more than just the sum of its units.

The second most important thing is mastering army composition and meta analysis. I've heard the argument before that 40k has no "metagame", but that can be proven false. The metagame is basically defined by a few things: Basic Ruleset, Codices and Updates, Missions and Goals, Lists that skilled players bring. It is pretty much defined in that order, and every time you change the mission set, or the rules are updated, skilled players will change their lists to accommodate. Certain units will become weaker as counters are found, and new power units will be discovered. The stronger players and/or list builders at a store will make weaker players' armies obsolete, and changes will ahve to be made to adapt. Two regions can have different metagames simply due to the number of skilled players or the difference in their skill levels.

Knowing this metagame, through analysis of performances and army builds, we can determine a threat matrix for any given army list, and determine how best to manage fighting it with other competitive lists. Often times, as games are played, it is discovered that a change intactics and strategies are all that is necessary and that list changes aren't as important. Other times we find list changes mandatory, sometimes due to our own lack of skill in using tactics to counter problems rather than units. A successful army list will have a tight threat matrix, where targeting a specific unit still leaves enough other same-level or greater-level threats unattended. Ideally, threat levels will be high and uniform across the army so it is harder for an opponent to correctly judge an appropriate course of action. Battleforce armies are traditionally weak in this regard, because units typically have vastly different threat levels, especially when not used in conjunction with other supporting units.

The following is my most recent attempt using the Dark Angels codex. I forced myself not to duplicate units, but that should not always be a requirement. Sometimes you need a small level of duplication, but the strongest lists can cover all threats and create enough redundancy that spamming the most efficient units is not mandatory.

Primary Detachment

  • 215 Azrael
  • 65 Librarian
    • Force Staff
  • 236 Ravenwing Attack Squadron
    • 2 Meltaguns
    • 3 Extra Bikers
    • Attack Bike w/ Multi-Melta
  • 246 Ravenwing Attack Squadron
    • 2 Plasma Guns
    • 3 Extra Bikers
    • Attack Bike w/ Multi-Melta
  • 250 Deathwing Terminators
    • TH/SS Sergeant
    • Assault Cannon
    • Chainfist
  • 126 RW Black Knights
    • Grenade Launcher
  • 198 Devastator Squad
    • 4 Flakk Missiles
    • 2 Extra Marines
  • 65 Whirlwind

Allied Detachment

  • 70 Primaris Psyker
    • Force Staff
  • Infantry Platoon
    • 30 Platoon Command Squad
    • 60 Infantry Squad
      • Power Axe
    • 60 Infantry Squad
      • Power Axe
    • 75 Infantry Squad
      • Power Axe
      • Meltabombs
      • Autocannon
    • 75 Infantry Squad
      • Power Axe
      • Meltabombs
      • Autocannon
    • 75 Infantry Squad
      • Power Axe
      • Meltabombs
      • Autocannon

Total: 1846

This list is using one of the most basic techniques for optimizing threat levels by disregarding a common unit type (vehicles). This list still has units that anti-vehicle weaponry will be useful against, but those shots are much less optimal vs ground targets, even in small squads, mostly due to good armor/cover/invulnerable saves. What it does do very well, is it makes the most threatening units the hardest to kill, and makes the smaller and faster squads slightly less threatening, so that it is not an easy choice between hitting the small and vulnerable squads vs the large and nearly impervious squads. The smaller squads are capable of combat squadding to reduce the effectiveness of units with lots of shots and to make target priority more efficient.

Each of the units in the list has the capability of dealing with both infantry and vehicles in some way (be it shooting, or close combat), and are better vs different types of units. The wargear selections make me able to deal with the extremes with board control and a small amount of redundancy on the extreme items, while I have a lot of redundancy in general application (lots of S7 and 8 for dealing with vehicles, lots of twin-linked shots for dealing with infantry, decent mix of AP1 and 2 for elites, etc). It's nto necessary for each of the units in a proper battleforce to have this level of duality, but you will want it from a lot of them, and you will want it without having to spend a lot of points. You're already disregarding the most efficient units (from a spam perspective) by taking this route, so having merely a primary and secondary purpose is enough. Dark Angels are fortunate with across the board price cuts on a lot of mainstay units and they have well-costed options, more than just efficient ones which makes building this style of list much easier.

With Prescience, meltaguns, plasmaguns, missiles, autocannons, and assault cannons become decent options for anti-air. Our volume of shots on autocannons plus Flakk missiles make them OK at it even unsupported. We can use this to take out the most dangerous flyers to the list (Heldrakes, Doom Scythes, Night Scythes, Dark Talons), and mostly ignore the rest due to good saves, large units, and board control. Against daemons, we bubble wrap the fragile units witht eh guard blob, and space out so that flamers hurt us less. Use the shooting options and multiple charges to take care of flamers, and let the guard blob pound away at screamers, especially if they get fortitude (prescience, First Rank Fire, rapid fire range, and relentless you can kill about 5 screamers in shooting from lasguns alone, and another 3 just from the lasgunners in close combat. When we include our HQs and such, you can easily manage a screamer unit a turn, even taking into consideration the fact that you won't likley get all those close combat attacks and that you will be taking casualties. The blob similarly, cares less about heldrakes, as they can use their mass to keep heldrakes from hitting more fragile units. large spacing between squad members and a 4+ invulnerable save will go a long way towards keeping your bikes safe so they can hit their important targets. Hit & Run lets you avoid enemy shooting too, so getting stuck in with the right enemy squads will be advantageous.

I'm open to thoughts and critique on this list. I'm sure it could be optimized more, but I've been pounding away on it for a couple of days before I got something I felt was worthy of showing off.

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