Valerian's Guide to Army Building, part I - Warhammer 40K Fantasy

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    Senior Member Valerian's Avatar
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    Valerian's Guide to Army Building, part I


    Since I posted my guide to Army Building, part II, it has become clear that I should probably repost part I, so that there is some coherency, as the two really go together to compliment one another. This version has been edited, so it has been improved since my original posting a month or two ago. Please forgive the double posting, but I figured it was worthwhile, given some of the recent questions and posts I've seen on the Space Marine forum, and the SM army list subforum.

    Your comments are always welcome.

    Your humble servent,


    Battle Planning:
    The battle plan that you formulate, and the method that you intend to use to defeat your opponent should vary greatly depending upon your Mission, the Enemy you are facing, and the Terrain upon which you will fight. I caution you against buying units for your army with a presupposed plan on how you will use them before you have analyzed, and fully understand these three critical factors. I often see newer players submit an army list for critique, who will then describe the tactics with which they will use their forces, when they don’t even know what enemy they will be fighting, or what the scenario will be. Instead, I recommend that you make choices that give you effective fighting forces regardless of the situation at hand. Unit selections that are inherently versatile will be the most effective in any given situation.

    Although all players will come to the game with a few ready tactics and trusty techniques in mind, most battle planning will occur very rapidly, during the deployment of units prior to starting the game, when both players learn their Mission (and the opponent’s mission), analyze the Terrain, and observe the disposition and composition of Enemy forces. Only then can you truly begin to determine how you intend to defeat your enemy.


    Foremost, an effective commander must know his or her enemy. This begins with a detailed familiarity with the codex for all opposing forces, particularly if you plan on conducting open, or tournament play. For friendly games, you must at least be well versed in the codex of your regular opponents. Look carefully through your opponent’s manual and try to determine how you would fight with his available forces. You should lurk around the forums for that army type and get a feel for how others play with those forces, and perhaps even submit an army list or two to elicit feedback. Once you’ve gained some degree of mastery on the subject of your enemy, you will be well armed to use your own forces to defeat him.

    Analysis During Deployment:
    The initial phase of deployment provides your first opportunity to observe some, if not all, of the forces that the enemy is bringing to bear. Understand first that your enemy will place forces in response to three factors: his mission objectives, the terrain, and your own placement of forces. Your goal in this phase is to try to determine from the placement of enemy forces what the enemy commander intends to do with them. Understanding the Intent of the enemy, and conceptualizing his likely scheme of maneuver (his plan for implementing firepower and movement to accomplish mission objectives and to defeat you) will better allow you to deploy your own forces in a manner which is more likely to disrupt his plan, while at the same time developing your own scheme of maneuver for accomplishing your mission objectives. If, at the end of the deployment phase, you haven’t reasoned out why the enemy forces are placed where they are, or what he intends to do with each unit, then you are already in trouble.

    Scheme of Maneuver:

    In general, you will usually want to adopt an offensive scheme of maneuver against a “shooty? enemy, such as the Imperial Guard, the Tau, or certain Eldar builds. These are armies that will attempt to fix you in place and destroy your forces with ranged fire. They are also, however, typically weak in close combat, thus you will do well to come to grips with them as rapidly as possible.

    Conversely, you will usually want to be defensive when opposing “horde? armies, such as Orks and Tyranids, that are vulnerable to ranged fire, stronger at close combat, and bring strength in numbers.

    Neither of these are hard and fast rules, however, and sometimes the Mission will dictate that you do otherwise. Several of the mission objectives will force you to go on the offensive, to secure a table quarter, or a loot counter, or to simply get into the enemy’s deployment zone.

    If you know the Enemy you will face before-hand (usually in “friendly? non-tournament games) you can tailor your forces to take advantage of either the best offensive, or defensive capabilities offered by your unit choices, depending on your needs. If, however, you do not know the enemy prior to the battle, then you must choose forces that can be effective in either role, which I will discuss later.

    If you closely examine the Mission choices themselves, you should see that some missions are more advantageous to certain forces. For example, the Take and Hold mission may preclude you from being able to maintain a Defensive posture (you will not win this mission if you defend your deployment zone, as you must get more scoring units with 12? of the center of the table). Thus, if you are commanding a Space Marine force, and you are opposing Tyranids, you should probably avoid playing a Take and Hold mission (you will similarly want to avoid Recon, Secure and Control, and perhaps also Cleanse). In this case, the mission that would give you the best advantage would be Seek and Destroy, which doesn’t penalize you for “pulling in the wagons? and blasting away at the enemy as he surges towards your lines.

    Depending on how you and your opponents pick missions, you might occasionally be able to influence Mission selection via the Strategy Rating roll (remember that Marines have a strategy rating advantage over several other armies). It should go without saying, but when given the opportunity, pick the mission that gives your army the advantage.

    Although you may not be able to influence the Terrain upon which you fight, you must understand how it can, and will, affect the battle.

    Open Terrain:
    Open terrain, that offers plenty of long-range fields of fire and line-of-sight across the battlefield will generally favor the defender, allowing him to cause casualties on the approaching enemy force at the maximum ranges of his weapon systems. Any available cover in the defender’s deployment zone would only add to this advantage by offering protection from incoming fire from the attackers, and it would force the attackers to assault into cover to come to grips with the defending troops, which can affect the order of close combat, making a huge difference in the outcome of an assault.

    Closed Terrain:
    A cluttered battlefield that offers a variety of cover or concealment across the board generally favors the attacker, offering him a protected approach to the opponent’s positions. Any difficult terrain may hamper mobility somewhat and slow the advance, but the protection offered by area terrain is usually more than worth the costs of a slower paced attack. When you are fighting a mission that dictates you use an offensive form of maneuver, do your best to ensure that your opponent doesn’t shirk you on the proper amount of terrain on the table.

    Your Forces (Troops):
    Now that we have examined a few important facets in understanding how the Enemy, Mission, and Terrain will affect each battle, let’s discuss the one variable to the battle that we directly control – our choice of troops.

    One should buy, assemble, and paint (have available for use) units that are versatile enough to be effective regardless of the situation fate and the vagaries of war offer you. This is particularly true of the tournament army, in which you will likely face a variety of Enemy types, and perhaps also conduct a variety of Missions, using a single, fixed, army list. However, even if you do not intend to fight in tournaments, most players want to buy, assemble, and paint as few units as possible, and still have an effective fighting force. Having thousands of points worth of units to select from is very resource intensive, in terms of both time and money. Therefore, whether you intend to use your army for tournaments, or just friendly play, you still want to build a comprehensive list that is effective in both the offense and defense.

    Army vs. Unit Versatility:
    It is important to note at this point that I am a proponent for versatility of the entire Army, rather than for each individual unit. Please allow me to explain. The Army, as an entity, should be built in a manner that it has such inherent versatility that it can easily adopt either an offensive or defensive scheme of maneuver and be successful. To put it simply, every unit must ably fulfill a role in either scheme of maneuver. For example, for Space Marines, a Land Speeder Tornado (with Assault Cannon and Heavy Bolter) is an extremely effective, and points efficient, light support vehicle that can provide a significant contribution whether we are attacking, or defending. Likewise, an Assault Squad (with two Plasma Pistols and Veteran Sergeant with “hidden? Power Fist) is almost essential in an attacking force, but also fills a vital role of a counterattacking or reinforcing unit in a the defense.

    I don’t want you to make a mistake and think that I recommend that each individual unit be built for maximum versatility, as that is not the case. It is the army that must have flexibility, not each individual unit. When a commander builds a unit to be effective in long-range fires as well as close combat, the unit will be both less effective and less points efficient (when the unit is stationary and firing, points spent toward assault capability aren’t being used). It is okay to have units that are specialized; when they are used in a way that they support one another and combine effects on enemy forces, they will be much more deadly.

    Another point that I would like to highlight is the importance of mobility. A casual inspection of the Mission scenarios once again should demonstrate how critical mobility is in the game; 4 out of 5 mission objectives require each player to move his forces to specific points on the battlefield. Even when adopting a defensive posture, some mobility is required to allow your counterattacking forces to reinforce threatened positions in your lines, or to allow reserves to exploit opportunities for advantage.
    An entirely “foot-slogging? force may well have a very difficult time under most scenarios.

    Operational vs. Tactical Mobility:
    Mobility can be categorized in multiple ways, but I will describe two of them here. Operational mobility encompasses the manner in which a commander can deploy his forces to the battlefield, to dictate the terms by which he will engage the enemy. A Space Marine commander’s ability to Deep Strike a large portion of his combat power, via Drop Pod or Teleportation, regardless of Mission scenario (for standard missions) offers him a tremendous degree of operational mobility. Operational mobility is particularly important in the attack, and Space Marines are, therefore particularly well suited for that scheme of maneuver.

    Tactical mobility describes the degree to which forces are free to move about the battlefield. Forces with a large number of “foot-sloggers? have low tactical mobility, whereas bikes, jump infantry, and transports provide a great deal of tactical mobility to our forces. Tactical mobility is vital in allowing our forces to seize objectives, assault the enemy, or to reinforce threatened positions.

    Rule of Thumb #1: Avoid excessive “glitter?. By this I mean, don’t allow yourself to feel compelled to get all of the attractive, cool, flashy units and vehicles. If you do have to have it all, please avoid the temptation of putting it all in your army list at once for a given battle, at the expense of the cheap, reliable, and effective standard troops choices that you could otherwise get. I am often humored by army lists offered for review that max out on HQ and Elite choices, while containing the minimum number of two Troops units. Although battles can be, and are occasionally, won by such a force, they are usually inflexible and quite fragile. I almost never use both HQ selections, and try to keep the cost as low as possible for the one mandatory HQ choice I do take.

    Rule of Thumb #2: Avoid the “points sink?. The points sink is usually an Independent Character, but can be a vehicle, or other unit type that you continue to invest points in to max out in every way. Many players feel compelled to make HQ choices into “combat monsters?, loading up on weapons, offensive wargear, and Terminator Honours. Then, because the individual has become an investment that they can no longer afford to lose, they become obligated to further sink points into the model to protect it, and buy such items as Articifer or Terminator Armour, and an Iron Halo or Adamantium Mantle. Very easily a player can sink 10-20% of their available points into a single model.

    I have attempted to make it clear that one should pick forces for his or her army list that are effective in both offensive and defensive tasks. That is not to say, however, that every individual unit needs to be built to maximize firepower (for the defense) and at the same time close combat capability (for the offense), as such a unit is individually versatile and effective, but it isn’t efficient. Instead, my recommendations are that every unit chosen can effectively (and efficiently) fulfill a role in both offensive and defensive scenarios.

    This versatility is necessary as we cannot create our battle plan, determine our proposed method for winning the battle, and choose our scheme of maneuver (either offensive or defensive) until we are able to examine, and gain an appreciation for 1) our Mission, 2) the Enemy we are facing, 3) the effects of the Terrain, and lastly 4) the capabilities and limitations of our own Troops. Any of these may advantage either a defending or attacking force. Each of these four variables will combine and influence the game, and should assist us in identifying the appropriate scheme of maneuver in our battle plan.

    We, as players, will only be able to affect in any real way the final variable, our Troops, based upon the choices we make when creating our army list. Thus, I offer my final recommendations for Versatile, Mobile unit selections that avoid the pitfalls of "glitter" or the "points sink". In this way you will build an army list that can be effective when defending or attacking, as the true test of a formidable army list is one that can excel regardless of the given situation.

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  3. #2
    LO Zealot Ezekiel1990's Avatar
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    You should send this to LO as an article. Maybe you can get it put in the SM articles and tacticas section.

    I haven't read all of it but it looks pretty good.


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