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Thursday, April 23, 2015

Guest editorial by TK - 40k Deep Analysis

Hey, everyone it's your friendly neighborhood Black Blow Fly here to blow your minds again and spark your over active imaginations. I have a really special treat for you this week... a guest article from my good buddy TK. TK stands for exactly what you think it is - this guy has some really amazing party tricks and I can tell you a lot of guys don't want him anywhere near their GFs. So onto the real deal... Enjoy !!!

This week, rather than a scenario, I wanted to talk about the game of Warhammer 40,000 itself...or, to be more precise, the various play styles present within the game. Players of Privateer Press’s Warmachine and Hordes games may recognize some of the terms and play styles that I will discuss here. My intention is not to steal thunder away from those games, as what I am talking about is a core part of tabletop war games in general. Rather, I want to encourage 40k players, who may never have considered the game in this particular way, to use what I talk about here to enhance and improve their game play.

Warhammer 40k, compared to other war games, has an absurd amount of playable factions. At the time of writing, including all the 'mini' armies like Harlequins and Inquisition, there are a total of 22 playable armies. Think about that for a minute. While a number of those factions are variations on existing armies,that is still an impressive number of forces for any game to have as playable entities. And that number isn't even including the Horus Heresy armies, which would boost the number up to around 40 armies! To give you a comparison, Warmahordes, which many consider to be 40k’s closest rival, has 12 playable factions. 40k can be almost daunting in its variability.

Despite this staggering number of armies, when you buckle down to it, most of the armies in 40k stick to one of three playstyles. These three styles can be generalized as 'Attrition,' 'Scenario,' and 'Assassination.' Each of these playstyles aims toward a different method of winning the game, and while Games Workshop is decent about not limiting their armies into being one-trick ponies, I don't think it's too much of a stretch to say that each faction leans more toward one, or sometimes two, of these three playstyles. To illustrate this, I'll go through each of the play styles and talk about their ultimate goals, what tools a faction has to have in order to play that style well, as well as which “classic” faction I feel best represents this play style.

A word of warning: in these descriptions, I am going to make general statements about multiple factions. I realize that it is entirely possible to play a faction counter to their expected playstyle and pull it off. I am speaking from my own experience as to what I believe is a faction’s normally accepted playstyle.


The Attrition play style is, I believe, the easiest play style for players to comprehend. It involves wearing your opponent down while maintaining your own forces at the highest functioning level as possible. This is the play style that enjoys seeing their opponent left with nothing but a few troops, with the rest of your army ready to swoop in for a tabling. Generally speaking, if you enjoy 'Purge the Alien' styles of game play, then you know exactly what Attrition play is.

While every army can play this way to an extent, there are two factors that improve an army's odds of successfully achieving it. First off, there is overall power - the ability to apply consistent, reliable pressure to the opponent across multiple fronts, providing equal or advantageous matchups of units. Secondly, there is durability - the ability to withstand as much pressure as you are putting out and come out ahead of your opponent, whether through outright toughness or through constantly replenishing ranks. While an army can forgo one of these factors for the other one, if an army lacks both of them, they will not be a very effective at attrition play. The downsides of an Attrition-heavy army tend to be less flexible in their unit choices than assassination or scenario-based armies, and being outnumbered due to gearing up more units to provide more threats. A perfect example of this type of play style would be Necrons.

Necrons are able to field a decently sized force for any point size, and very few of their units could be considered lacking in power. Their army has quite a few fast or deep-striking units (Wraiths, Scarabs, Praetorians, Scythes, etc), while providing worthwhile transportation options for their slower units, which allows them the ability to accurately and speedily apply pressure where it is needed. On top of this, the majority of the army has T4 and above, 4+ armor saves, and Feel No Pain as an additional buff; they are very hard to whittle down using the same Attrition tactics against them. However, it tends to be hard for them to spread a decent number of 'Objective Secured' units over multiple objectives, meaning that they can be out-scored at the end of the game. In addition, while they are good at wearing down multiple units, they have relatively few units or weapons that excel at pinpoint removal of threats against them, focusing on widespread firepower instead.


The Scenario play style is the second most recognizable play style because virtually every game of 40k involves some sort of Scenario play. While there are innumerable variations on Scenarios, all of them come down to the same thing: outmaneuver your opponent to achieve more objectives than they do. If your preferred game of 40k involves the Maelstrom missions, then likely this is the play style for you.

Similar to Attrition, all armies have the capacity for Scenario-based play. There are, however, shared traits that highly successful Scenario-based armies have in common. First off, a widespread of 'Objective Secure'-able troops, whether through variety (Daemons have a wide variety of troop choices, each of which is good at either holding, reaching, or cleaning units off objectives), or through sheer numbers (Tyranids and CSM have troop choices that can reach a model count of 20+, making clearing them off objectives a pain). Secondly, maneuverability can play a huge role - jetbikes, beasts, and fast vehicles are able to perform harassment until the last turn when they run to an objective, or can spend multiple turns dashing between different objectives. Lastly, durability matters here just as much as in Attrition. Being able to reach objectives matters little to the game if you can be cleared off them with ease. The downsides to Scenario play tend to be a weakness to being ground down by stronger forces, as well as relying on proper objective placement to give yourself as much of an advantage as possible. Appropriately, Eldar have long been able to cover these bases with ease.

While their new codex is going to make them a damn good at all three play styles, I believe that 6th edition Eldar was by far the best Scenario-based army in modern 40k. An entire army of fast, maneuverable forces that can still wear down an opponent meant that Eldar could very easily play the Keep-Away game, keeping their forces alive while dashing from objective to objective. Add in very hard–to-kill transports with Objective Secured, and it was nearly impossible to defeat a well-played Eldar force on objective points. However, with many of their forces being relatively fragile once their defenses were stripped away, and their hardier models being slow and difficult to transport effectively, Eldar preferred not to play an outright Attrition game. Likewise, their targeted removal options were either costly or hard to deliver accurately, making volume of firepower their go-to option for threat removal.


The Assassination play style is a very high-risk, high-reward play style, which usually transitions over to Attrition play style in the later parts of the game. The key difference between the two is that rather than applying pressure across an opponent's forces throughout the duration of the game, an Assassination play style is designed around applying crippling strikes to key pieces of an opponent's army, denying them the freedom to utilize their army as intended.

Unlike other play styles, relatively few armies have the ability to pull off Assassination games reliably. Their success rate can be measured by their ability to access specific critical elements. Perhaps most importantly, speed is crucial to achieving Assassination goals - whether by being able to reach important targets through screening units and other defenses or through simply striking before the opponent can utilize their units effectively. Reaching the target is pointless, however, without the weapons to injure the target; in other words, units that have the power to incapacitate their target reliably, relying as little on luck as possible. Finally, the army should be able to achieve this with cheap units. It's hardly effective to use 500 points to disable 200 points of the opponent's army, especially when a counterattack is all but inevitable. The downsides of an Assassination play style are a reliance on eliminating as many threats as possible before being counterattacked, as well as possibly having a sub-par board positioning once the alpha strike has been completed. Without a doubt, the most effective users of the tricks of the Assassination playstyle are the various Space Marine factions.

Using Drop Pods, Rhinos, bikes, and deep strikes, Space Marines can accurately pinpoint placement of their models to be precisely where they are needed. Their units have almost universal access to meltas, plasmas, or grav-weapons, ensuring that whatever they are aiming for is removed from play. Most importantly, though, their weapons tend to be relatively cheap for the durability of the bodies that they belong to, allowing for a simple 5-man squad in a drop pod, costing under 150 points, to have a good chance of killing equal or higher cost models, even before the opponent has a chance to act.

While these three playstyles are the crux of an army’s focus, it’s entirely possible to have an army able to perform more than one at a time. Usually, these hybrid playstyles are incredibly weak to the remaining playstyle, though, so they require more finesse to play competently.


Attrition/Scenario armies focus on being able to overwhelm the opponent with targets and firepower, forcing them to choose between attacking legitimate threats and eliminating objective holders. However, eliminating key models can leave the army with nothing but weak units remaining. Tyranids fall into this category, with deadly lynchpin creatures that press forward and lots of cheap bodies to swarm objectives.


Attrition/Assassination armies focus on being able to quickly remove key threats that would be too much for the remaining army to handle, while whittling down the remaining softer targets. However, due to a dependence on elite models and hefty units, they can usually be outmaneuvered or be bogged down by chaff. Grey Knights exemplify this, with overall superior models that can all deep strike to target specific enemies.


Scenario/Assassination armies focus on being able to apply tremendous force to specific threats while retaining maneuverability or superior positioning to maintain advantage after the first couple turns. However, if they fail to remove certain threats or have the advantage pressed against them, they can quickly collapse. Dark Eldar, with cheap Lance weaponry on fast-yet-fragile vehicles and bodies fall into this category.

Now, a lot of you are probably asking, “So what?” Well, here’s my ‘what.’ It seems like lists are becoming more and more streamlined within one of the three styles of play. It makes sense, really - the amount and variety of threats that it’s possible to face these days means that building an ‘all-comer’s’ list is remarkably hard to do. Usually, most players figure out what sort of play style is most likely to come out on top and play to those strengths exclusively. Being able to identify these strengths in other lists, then, and being able to predict play styles is also a great way to be able to prepare counter-strategies. Take a look at the Tyranid list that won LVO. He accurately predicted that many lists would be running an Attrition/Assassination list (most Deathstar lists fall into this category) and built a list that took advantage of a Scenario-based play style to come out on top.


Feel free to comment or critique below. I’m curious to find out what you think each army’s strengths are, and whether they can be played effectively any other way. One of the best ways I can think of for all of us to grow as players is to expand how we think about the game, and to challenge our conceptions of the armies we alternately love or hate.

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