Wednesday, September 21, 2011

E-mail in! How to be a competitive 40k gamer when you are new to the hobby?

E-mail in!
Josh writes:

I am very familiar with the rules of 40k and know a lot of things about most of the armies.  However, whenever I lay an army down on the table,
I kinda have the feeling like I don't know what I'm doing.  I have done quite a bit of competitive Warmachine in the past year, so I have a feeling for the competitive scene.  I was hoping that you could give me a rundown on the basics of how to be competitive in 40k.

I'm looking to start fresh on an army for 40k, but my army choice really isn't what I'm worried about right now.  I think sometimes during games
I have a hard time trying to decide what is important to do.

it would be great if you could give me some suggestions, or even better make a blog post about it!

Thanks, Josh

Well, you have several things going and I will try to answer them. Your questions seem like they are:

#1. You don’t feel like you know what you are doing.
Everyone feels this way at first. It takes while for anyone to learn what they are doing. When I play fantasy I don’t know what I am doing either. I have no idea what units can kill what units, and what tricks and traps, and nasty surprises are in my opponent’s army book that I have to watch out for. Getting comfortable with the game just takes time on the table top and you need experience playing a wide variety of armies and there are just not a lot of shortcuts for that.

#2. Basics of competitive 40k.
The first part of being competitive is to play a newer codex. There is codex creep in the game, so the newer your codex the better your army will be. This is why on the competitive scene there are so many of the new codexes, and so few of the old ones. It is not to say that you can’t win with an older codex, but it is a lot harder and this advice is for new players wanting to win soon.
So here are the armies you should think about playing:
Grey Knights
Space Wolves
Blood Angels
Imperial Guard
Space Marines
Tyranids are left off of the list because their codex is underpowered. Dark Eldar are off the list because they are very difficult to play, but they can be good. So the bad news is that if you want to play non-MEQs that means Orks and IG, and if you are looking at xenos, that means orks.

#3. I have a hard time trying to decide what is important to do.
When building an army there are 2 types: Active and Reactive.
Active armies
Active armies do one thing and do it so well that it is hard to stop. To give you some examples of them there are the ork battle wagon lists. They are going to rush forward and then jump out and get you into combat and most armies can’t stop it. Another example is Imperial Guard because it just sits back and tries to shoot their opponents off of the table. There are many examples of active types of armies and they are very straight forward in their approach to the game.These armies are almost one-dimensional, but they still win.

Re-active armies
These armies are well balanced and can both shot and assault and they react to what their opponents are doing. These lists are not only a lot harder to play, but they are a lot harder to build and get the balance right, but in the hands of a good player they are hard to beat.

GTs are won by both types of armies, so they are both viable and competitive.

So my advice to a new player who wants to be competitive right away is to simplify the game and take an Active type of army. You only need to focus on doing one thing, and it greatly reduces the decisions that you have to make.

A few examples of Active armies:
Battle Wagon Orks: They rush across the table and try to get into assault.
Razor Spam Wolves: They sit back and shoot the heck out of their opponents
Thunder Wolf Space Wolves: They run forward and get into combat fast
Mech IG: They are devastating with their shooting
Grey Knights: Can be built as either an Active assault army, or shooting army.  
Mech Blood Angels: Fast Shooty vehicles
Decent of Angels: Deep Striking close to your opponents and get into assault

I hope this helps. You asked some short questions that have long and complicated answers, and I just gave a few suggestions.


  1. Good thinking on the Active and Reactive thing. I like that and going to ape it. :)

  2. I really like those suggestions. I am three year player, but still an utter noob when it comes to playing time spent.

    Thanks for the tips!

  3. "The first part of being competitive is to play a newer codex. There is codex creep in the game, so the newer your codex the better your army will be."

    Not necessarily. You left out Daemons, having come out after Orks, who are *very* one-dimensional in their setup. Likewise, Black Templar got themselves a rather nice boost.

    The ultimate advice I like to give newcomers is "cover your bases." Good armies are those that have the tools needed to adapt to a change in plan. Bad armies rely on . This doesn't mean you can't win with them (there is a lot of human error in 40k after all) but this sets you up for being countered ("Venomspam? And I'm Mech? I think I'll shoot his Ravagers first..." *snore*).

  4. I was making a generalization with the newest books. I was being generous and even kept Space Marines in the list when perhaps they should be removed. I think I will remove them.

    I skipped over demons because:
    #1. They are too random.
    #2. The Grey Knight codex came out.
    #3. When was the last time you heard about a Demon army doing well at a GT level event?

    Now there are a couple of people who do well with those armies. Bill Kim with his demons, and Ben Mohlie with his Space Marines, but those players are exceptional, and not the results that a new player would expect. The power and point inequalities with the newer codexes help to compensate for shortcomings with player skill.

    Orks have some builds that can compete that are not just mono-builds (Kan wall for an example), but the more complex ork builds start to become more in the Re-Active army category, and are harder to play than some of the more simple and strait forward Active ork army builds like Battlewagons and Nob Bikers.

    I stand behind my newer codex statement. Dark Angels/Deathwing and Black Templars while good, we just don’t know enough about them to know if you can win a competitive event with them. Also this was a quick guide for new players, and I would never suggest to a new player to buy an old army. Those codexes will be re-done soon, and who knows what kind of army you will end up with, and what units that are going to be unusable.

  5. Daemons are another case of "newer!=automatically better" though. Seeing you skip over them seemed to go against your initial claim. Between that and Space Wolves maintaining a consistently high showing though they've had 4 codexes come after them would go counter to "the newer your codex, the better your army will be..." Proof-by-contradiction so to speak. Building a checklist of what you use to compete/how you deal with certain situations is more helpful, and saying "Why X army falters here."

    I run semimechanized shooty Orks myself. I was the guy who screwed up in not being ready/prepared for NoVA, and was the one who lost/threw in the towel to Mike Hoffman on game 4. We've spoken before, in-person, out-of-person ("Fear the Footdar"). Really, it's not about individual options being better so much as how the army as a whole works.

    Also, point inequalities are one thing but slot inequalities are another. Chaos is a particularly noteworthy victim of this, as effectively all their long-range shooting is concentrated in...3 units at most. Beyond that, fighting them is a matter of "can you moveblock/bubblewrap/select which vehicles to stun/shoot in his mech train first before the Rollas get to you?" In essence, a turkey-shoot. It's also why Banshees/Scorpions don't see the light of day in an Eldar list, when Fire Dragons are in the same slot, bring *lots* of Meltaguns, and can operate from when they initially disembark...

    Finally, the active/reactive bits are (unless I'm misunderstanding somewhat) intrinsic to list-building by default; building an army that works usually involves some degree of oversaturating a particular defense value ("If I bring only vehicle hulls, any anti-infantry weapons he has are useless for the initial phases"/"If I bring only infantry, his anti-tank is relatively useless by comparison"), as well as making sure you have the proper ability to threaten light infantry/heavy infantry/light armor/heavy armor...and you have the failsafes built into your list when a person saturating one defense value targets the units that threaten his defense most!

  6. I have a somewhat different take on quite a bit of this, but for brevity:

    Orks are not better than Marines, and as their Codex is over 3 years old cannot be remotely described as new either.

    While Active/Reactive are important considerations, they are not intrinsic list-archetypes. I focus on the distinction between the Ethos of Continuation vs the Ethos of Perserverance : essentially armies that constantly kill things, or armies based around survival as a primary concern, with killing often a bonus.

    I also am not certain if playing a supposed 'easy-mode' army actually helps development as a player to the extent often assumed (generally, not by you specifically) as it doesn't focus your tactical brain and enable you to think more critically about the game before you.

    I'm a much better player after years of Eldar than I was when I only really played Orks, for instance (though other factors exist here too!)

  7. spam spam spam! Learn your codex and get as many games in as possible...and against good players, if possible, :)

  8. These comments were just to help out a new player do okay in a tournament.

    If you want to be a good player I normally advise playing a bad army. The reason why is that if your army is so good that it ends up playing itself, and then when you play a good player you have not developed the strategies and skills that you need to win. I tell people if you want to get better at the game play a bad army. When you do that you have to make every point count, and you have to use every trick in the book to try to win. Then when you move up to a top tier army you have all of the tools that you learned from the bad army.

    Also there are many ways to break down armies. Assault/Shooty/Durable etc, but the suggestion to take an Active army is help simplify the game for a new player.