Friday, March 19, 2010

Theme and Army Build - How Important Is It?

Good Morning,

We can all probably agree that people consider theme when building an army, and people consider competitiveness. For my own part, I pick a theme first ... and then I build the list as competitively as I can without excessively violating that theme.

For example, my first guard list was dedicated air cav. It was not the most competitive thing in the world to have 9 valks and a bunch of veterans w/ anti-tank and anti-personnel weaponry, and was a very hit or miss alpha strike only list. Still, I made it as competitive as I could w/out violating that them.

Later, I did a Straken supported "reach out and smack somebody in the mouth" guard build with a Catachan edge ... and Demolishers w/ heavy flamers, chimeras w/ veterans w/ power sword and shotguns and meltas, straken w/ some buddies for combat punchiness, but still some airborne support in the form of vendettas followed.

Some people put theme first, and then focus on putting in the units they think BEST fit that theme, and completely ignore competitiveness.

Some people would like their army to be thematic, but care more about competitiveness, and will come up with a theme if one happens to fit after the fact.

Where do you stand? Where do you think people should stand?

This relates to composition and sportsmanship in most tournament settings, b/c people who differ in opinion from their opponents on this subject will often take it out on them via sportsmanship, and because composition rules will directly impact competitiveness vs. theme.

For my own part, I feel "live and let live" is the only safe way to go from a tournament organizer's point of view. Find a way to reward and make welcome those who favor theme above all else, and those who favor competitiveness above all else, but do not smite EITHER player style (or the greys in between) over the head with the vengeance of your own personal bias.

Regardless, the personal bias of participants, or random web trollers ... well, that always makes for an interesting subject ...

So what do you all do? Do you build your list as competitively as possible and then model cleverly to create a visual theme? Do you not even care about theme? Do you refuse to bring a competitive list at all if it in even the slightest of ways competes with your thematic ventures? No stance is wrong, but I am curious where the various visitors of this blog (so far) stand on the subject.

- Mike


  1. Theme is in the eye of the beholder. Something that one person thinks is a strong, clever theme will strike someone as a non-theme, or a silly theme.

  2. I love this topic Mike! (as if there was a doubt)....

    So let me answer your question first. In practice I have taken this approach:
    1. I picked a base back story/fluff perspective for my army (Biel Tan Craftworld Eldar). **more explanation below.
    2. I picked a theme (Eldar in combat with/ killing Tau)
    3. I bought every Eldar model possible and started building/painting toward my theme.
    4. I build my lists to fit my play style and hope they are competitive.
    5. I have certain lines I will not cross in relation to my theme (I will not take an all Jetbike army, have Vypers but prefer Walkers, choose aspects over guardians, all this because its Biel Tan)
    6. Where I want to build a squad that is not as Thematic but is a "Must Have" (i.e. Seer Council), I try to model them to fit the theme (see my Seer Council in progress - fits both Biel Tan and my Dead Tau themes)

    Ok, here is the sticky part. I started playing Eldar back in 3rd edition and started with guardians plus a couple cool squads. I built my army from the main (at the time) codex and then played a number of games. I found that I absolutely hated how the army performed so I went online to complain. I recieved a very quick response that pointed out my play style (what worked for me and what I liked) best fit with a Craftworld Eldar list. In response, I picked up the Craftworld Eldar codex and built an arm to one of those specialized lists. I found I liked that list so much (i.e. the list matched my playstyle) that I kept to that Craftworld Fluff/Theme in every list I have built since then. In my case, I prefer heavy aspect warriors, less guardians, and limited jet-bikes/vypers. This fits Biel Tan, even though in the current meta-game the new "power list" or "competitive list" is an all mobile jetbike centric list. I am mobile with my Wave Serpents and Fire Prism's, but I still primarily run aspects and only have limited guardians/jet bikes/rangers.

    I would say Theme is the primary choice, but does not necessarily limit (or have anything to do with) how competitive your list is. Further, I feel theme and composition are completely separate issue. I would go a step further to say Sportsmanship has nothing to do with theme or composition of an army.

    Theme = does your army have a story and fit that story?

    Composition = how is your army built and (in a tournament) is it fairly/unfairly balanced against the power levels of the rest of the armies?

    Sportsmanship = are you an opponent who is fun to play against?

  3. When I theme my army, it's usually cosmetic stuff like iconography, colors, and gubbinz. As far as the list itself, I want it to be competitive and fitting to a particular style of play I like.

    My wolves, for example, are Loganwing w/ TWC. As far as theme I have them kitted out as a lost company with scavenged armor, chaotic bits, and the like. Gamewise they're competitive and fun, a bunch of mobile missiles with punchy cav backing them up.

    My omnimarines are able to rep any codex, but since they're originally DA I go for the wings and robes bit. However, I go more for an Arthurian knighty look with emphasis on the liony bits and not so much the dark monk look. As far as gameplay is concerned, they're usually mech or mixed mech with whatever Codex I feel like using atm.

    Theme doesn't restrict me, it helps me put my own unique spin on a particular collection of units.

  4. Nix stole my idea!!!

    More seriously, I do it like he does: start with a theme, then modify the list to make it more competitive, while still trying not to cross certain lines, and trying to favor my own playstyle.

  5. I've got to say that I care about theme however there are several things your theme can be. If the lists you build fits into the fluff or theme of your army book then it has a theme. If your list utilizes a specific model or type of model it fits into a theme.

    What concerns me is not people abusing themes, taking a logan wing or a immo spam list, what concerns me is people who get knocked for taking that kind of list. If you've got a logan wing army or an immo spam army then you will have some strengths in your army and some weaknesses in your army, just as if you were playing a standard list from the book. All codex's have strengths and weaknesses, I think we can all agree on that. But when you take the immo spam list as your theme and you play it as a theme list then you can't be backed up by grey knight terminators to offset your weakness to CC. That isn't in the theme, now you are abusing a rule.

    imho immo spam army, okay comp score, immo spam army with cc backup, not good comp score.

    Does that make sense?

  6. I'm of the view 'live and let live'. It doesn't even matter if they lack a theme as some people don't play the game for that reason. Is it fair to punish someone because they view something differently?

    To me a theme is the result of everything in the list (the list makes the theme). You can build a competitive list and yet that list will still have a theme. Could build a competitive list that has lots and lots of tanks... could represent a mechanised spearhead. The army could have lots of MSU because they are the last survivors of an ambush from some xenos creatures that want carbon based life for food (so they left all of the tanks unharmed).

    At the same time some players like to look at theme first and then build their list (player makes the list to suit a specific theme). For example they could decide to play Black Tide. The theme could be pure foot-slogging or it could be a pure-hybrid with some Dreadnoughts as the only vehicles. Both of these are Black Tide/Horde.

    Also what exactly is an Immolator themed list? To me it is a list that has lots of Immolators but it doesn't mean it has to exclude all others. The GK Terminators could of been attached to the SOB force by an OM Inquisitor Lord... the Cannoness understanding the importance of why it had been done. As I originally said 'live and let live'.


  7. Just want to add my views if a Tournament requires players to write a short piece of background information for their army. In those incidences if the theme the player writes about doesn't match up with their list then they would have poor composition/sportsmanship scores.

    Of course there is the question of whether or not a Tournament with that sort of requirement would attract players that don't care about the theme of their list.

  8. I don't like Comp, but will refrain from taking up the entire page with another explanation as to why. :)

    Regarding theme - I don't see why you should ever restrict yourself. My Eldar are all Ulthwe, my SM Scythes of the Emperor (though, I'm working on a Crusade army really) - I use these themes because I like them and sticking with the fluff is in no way a restriction then. If you see your theme as restrictive, then you don't really want to stick to it and should reconsider. What benefit can there be in building an army you like less and less as time goes on?

    My Dire Avengers are the best example of me adapting the theme/rules interaction. At 1750 I use 3 units of DAVU - one of them is Dire Avengers, the other two are converted Black Guardians that use the DA rules to represent the better training etc that the Codex doesn't contain. Theme stuck to, even better than the Codex seemingly permits.

    Counts As is the best rule in 40k.

  9. MVB, today I went looking for a blog by you after enjoying your posts on BoLS and YTTH. Glad to find this.

    Personally, the look and theme of an army is very important to me and I always start with one. For me, theme entails both modeling and unit choice. After that, I try to make it as competitive as possible. I have this vague notion that I should always try to do the latter - out of respect for my opponents and the whole notion of gaming itself.

    Sometimes the theme really restricts an army's competitiveness, as in the case of my growing Adeptus Arbites (IG) army. Other times, it has no effect at all, as with my desert-themed IG army.

  10. The thing about theme is that, aside from filling the mental picture the player has, themes also make for some very visually stunning armies. A lot of people forget that this hobby has more facets to it than just playing the game itself. Modeling and painting and converting are, for many gamers, as big a part of the hobby as the games themselves.

    They make durn good photo ops at tournaments, too.