Balanced Army Lists: The Truth (Part 2)

And now the much anticipated second part to Kirby’s Balanced Army Lists: article from Monday:

Now that we’ve got an understanding of what a balanced list is and specifically what it is not, let’s debunk a few of the myths about a balanced list. The biggest one for me is they are “point and click” armies. This is a load of bollocks. Look through the blog archives of 3++, YTTH, Mind War FTW, 3+ save, Blackjack & Hookers, etc. How many tactical concepts are discussed/analyzed over these ‘point and click’ armies? A metaphorical ton. Whilst using a Mech IG or SM list might have similar premises in board control and will be easier to play than a 24” Eldar mech list or Foot BA list, they are by no means simple. If an army appears point and click and plays that way on the table the army is either a gimmick/rock army (I.e. Shrike termies, Lash Chaos, etc.) or is being run by a poor general. Look at Stelek’s ambush article. Point and click that thanks.

This is one of the biggest misunderstandings of balanced lists or ‘net’-lists. Sure, you can go to the above blogs and grab a good list based on the blogs’ reputation and know it does well in theory. This does not mean you will do well, even if you are a top-notch general. Practice and understanding the concepts behind the army are very important and cannot all be explained on paper. Whilst you can have a complete theoretical understanding of an army, nothing helps as much as practice. This is where the whole ‘point and click’ issue comes in as well. Individuals seem to operate under the pre-conception that using net-lists is simply taking an army someone else has made and it wins games automatically. Wrong. The list might be good; however, skill and understanding is still required to make the list work and by no means is it as simple as ‘point and click.’ As an aside, there is nothing wrong with using someone else’s list from the internet. The internet is to share knowledge after all and as long as you don’t try and claim you made it yourself…well, good on you for recognizing a good list when you see it. I’m sure most people don’t cook from scratch either, you use recipes others have made?

In lieu of an interesting picture related to balance, please enjoy these rocks.

Another misunderstanding is that balanced lists (with the competitive understanding) aren’t fluffy. Once again, I call this complete bollocks. Although taking three similarly armed Dreadnoughts or having a pure-Veteran army, etc. may not combine perfectly with the fluff in the codex, the fluff can fit whatever army you want to create. Thanks, GW, for letting us make our own fluff within the boundaries of your IP. There are also instances where balanced lists fit the fluff mold perfectly. Vanilla Bikers and BA Jumpers are two prime examples which are both very fluffy and very balanced. Un-fluffy also does not mean a balanced list from the hobby perspective. Look at mixed legion Chaos which is generally un-fluffy but can be a terrible list. Remember, rules were written for the game, not the hobby. Both aspects (gaming and hobby) can be applied to 40k and Fantasy. They are not mutually exclusive.

Furthermore, spamming the good stuff =/= a competitively balanced list. Taking six squads of Plague Marines, for example, isn’t going to lead to a balanced list even though they are a decent, good Troop choice with some of the best anti-tank in meltaguns. You need to have an army concept in mind and, as mentioned above, be able to deal with every single phase of the game whilst operating with a cohesive list. A list needs to have good anti-infantry and anti-tank whilst also being mobile (or limited their opponent’s mobility) and having appropriate levels of shooting and must either be good in combat or be able to delay/block/ignore good combat units. Add in being competent in the magic phase for Fantasy lists and simply spamming units without thought isn’t going to lead to a balanced list. Spamming may be unpleasant in terms of diversity but also doesn’t signify competitiveness.

A reiteration – balanced lists =/= auto win. We covered the point and click myth and I briefly mentioned this in the introduction but it needs to be said again. Whilst balanced lists promote (and are capable of) dealing with any list which is put down against them, this doesn’t mean they automatically win against non-balanced lists or un-optimized lists. Balanced lists are the pinnacle of army list creation in Fantasy and 40k but non-balanced lists are certainly capable of beating balanced lists when better tactics are used (or the dice gods cast their favor upon them). This is an important part of being a general, no matter what type of list you take, play what’s on the table. It may be crap but you must ensure you understand what your opponent is using, how it operates and how you can defeat it. Without this understanding, a balanced list isn’t going to help you (again, not point and click).

And finally, 40k and Fantasy are balanced systems in their new editions. I see a lot of people complaining neither is balanced and some armies are always going to over-powered compared to others (I.e. Skaven, IG, SW, etc.) and therefore asking what the point of a balanced list is. Although some older books sometimes have difficulties in adapting to the new rules, the new rule-set and army books released by GW have created a huge “logjam” in terms of the top army in either system and there are a lot of armies which can create top-notch competitive armies. This is capable thanks to GW producing externally & internally balanced army books and some of the older books transferring well to the new editions. It is important for the gaming system to be balanced as it currently is for balanced armies to be capable. If the rule-set has certain imbalances some books will be able to take advantage of this and exploit it. This does not exist currently in 40k or Fantasy as much as people would like to believe.

To summarize. 40k & Fantasy are currently balanced systems due to their new rule-sets and latest army book releases. This promotes and allows the use of a balanced list which is a “take all comers” list rather than cheesy/OP/WAAC/etc. A balanced list is competitive and doesn’t rely on gimmicks or rocks and is capable of defeating any army put down on the table-top. At the same time it’s not a point and click army and does require extensive thought to use but is capable of competing in all phases of their respective games either offensively or defensively. This is done through utilizing an army-wide concept and ensuring multiple units can fulfill multiple important roles. Whilst hobby players may be more inclined to call balanced lists armies which have a spread of unit choices, this is balanced only in terms of unit choices rather than army efficiency. Although this leans towards the competitive understanding of gaming I propose we make a concentrated effort to encourage the labeling of balanced lists as competitive lists with the properties explained above. I believe this is more effective for the community based on the definition of balance and how a competitively balanced list embraces this definition compared to a list with a balance of unit choices.

All right assorted fans of wargaming, this brings us to the end of our first guest article.   If you’ve never heard of Kirby’s 3++ (and I highly doubt that you haven’t), I highly suggest you check it out.  We hope to get more of these in the future, so keep your eyes peeled.   – Lauby

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  • Great article.

    I've been slowly coming to the darkside…I mean, competitive side of 40K and have been finding your blog, Kirby, extremely invaluable.

  • In a nutshell, Balanced =/= Variety of Units. Take units which perform vital tasks clearly and efficiently, not ones you haven't already taken.

    I really hope people actually read these articles. They put the point across so simply and effectively, it would be criminal for them to go to waste.

  • Thor…I am your father.

    Join me and we can rule the 40k blogosphere!

    (Glad you like it ^^).

  • Also realize that the problems only really occur when a competative list meets an non-competative list. Guys will go out and buy a "balance" of cool models they want to paint then get tabled when thier list is super-aweful…. But they've spend a few hundred USD/GBP/ect by this point and they're feeling defensive and dumb… So for our part we need to break it to them gently and not tell them thier list if fail… just tell them why they're struggling so much… ie, be nice…

  • Good article. As you already know.