It's been too long since I wrote an article, sorry about that - call it the hectic story of my last few weeks of life. The Lost Days of Mike Brandt
Bachelor Party this weekend went off largely without a hitch. We lost a man at the strip club at the end of the night's bar hopping revelries. Fine, though, left more room in the Limo for the final ride back to our point of origin. I hope he's ok, he was a cool fellow.
It's not a successful bachelor party if you don't misplace a person.
In other news, 40k stuff ... I've been building/painting/playing getting ready for my lil trip up to White Plains for the Battle for Salvation.
There's been lots of talk of MSU armies and their presence in the game. The Battle for Salvation strongly encourages MSU by inclusion of the "pick 5 KP" mission. It would actually be better done to select the 5 KP *after* deployment and mission selection, etc., but when it's done prior to that you reward people with the greatest amount of redundancy and spam ... if you nominate 3 vet squad chimeras and 2 of the included vet squads, for example, a guard player with 6 vet squads in chimeras can readily afford to reserve 1 or 2 of them to hide 2-4 kp from you altogether. The more redundancy a player's list contains, the easier it is for you. They even further add an amendment that you can only nominate 3 dedicated transports; this obviously even further rewards people who spam out ded trans and min size units. The more you have, the less your opponent can materially target by nominating them as KP *(since the more you have, the more you can afford to reserve/hide them).
This is a spin somewhat off the YTTH 5x5 mission. To be truthful, I've never been a huge fan, simply b/c an opponent can so materially alter the flow of the game with his KP nominations before deployment or side selection even begins. I'm not a fan of that, nor am I a fan of unnaturally promoting MSU; it promotes itself with the game "as is," and is relatively balanced within a variety of mission archetypes (including NOVA quarters, VP, 5-objective, regular book KP, HQ, d3+2 objective, the 5 side of 5x5, etc.).
That said, the 5x5 is one of the better missions out there if you're looking for some to play. Within our group, we've actually slowly gotten away from book missions, b/c there's a pervasive opinion that several tournaments have simply put out BETTER missions for the balance of the game (and we have our fair share of players who do NOT MSU), and for fun / tactical depth.
For better or worse, if you're playing amongst a group of veteran players, the three book missions are simply TOO shallow to actually be competitive. Kill Points becomes a crap shoot even among similar-levels-of-kp armies, and the other two are easily drawn; basically, unless you crush the other guy, you wind up with draws. Blame me playing in a group of players who ALL run mega optimized, highly effective lists.
All this said, it's important to acknowledge a couple of things about why MSU is popular, and why mission design doesn't really have anything to do with that ...
Reasons why someone should/does take an MSU-oriented list ...
- Offensive Redundancy - 40k is not a game where the more expensive or filled out a unit is, the more things it can shoot at; if every unit in the game gained the ability to split fire like long fangs once at double "base" strength, quadruple it at quadruple base strength, etc., there'd instantly be less value to MSU. Sadly, such is not the case. If I have 2 squads of 5 with 2 meltaguns each, I can more effectively kill things than 1 squad of 10 with 2 meltaguns total. There are some cases where MSU is not as effective BY DESIGN in certain codices, but as a general rule where it makes sense, it's sensible to act upon it. There's also the ability to spread fire, which is of course important for dealing with OTHER MSU forces. In the above example, even if the 10-man squad could carry 4 meltaguns and the 5-man only 2, you'd still want 2 5-man squads. Why? You can't seriously be asking why. Shooting two targets if you need to is always better than only being able to shoot one with the same # of models and points. Advocating for a game where you can't do this by design is advocating for a less tactically flexible game. If your opponent can hurt more things, you need more things for him to hurt, and the more complex moving parts you have to manage, the more difficult to manage properly ... games that tend toward MSU tend toward more tactical depth. But I'll get to that.
- Defensive Redundancy - Similar to the Offensive Redundancy issue, MSU provides Defensive Redundancy. If my opponent was foolish enough to take a bunch of big hammers, his big hammers may be able to kill a 10-man unit with 4 meltaguns readily. They also therefore can kill a 5-man unit with 2 meltaguns readily. Regardless, in the case of 2 squads of 5 I know he generally can't use that one megaunit to kill both of my units in one turn. Defensive Redundancy means splitting yourself down into less easily targeted and destroyed subcomponents. This is why you combat squad in non-kill point missions ... and this is why ONLY in Kill Point missions does anyone NOT; an artificial punishment to good common sense is the only real inhibitor.
- Tactical Depth - This one isn't as complicated as some people would make it out to be. What do you suppose Chess would be like if you had 2 pawns, 1 queen, 1 bishop, 1 rook, TOTAL? Do you think the game would be just as tactically deep? There comes a point in time in game design and balance where too many units is a bad thing; not because it isn't more tactical, but because it's too unwieldy. Trying to manage 30 pawns, 5 queens, 10 bishops, etc., on the board would be obscene, b/c the game would take too long. Nonetheless, there's a sweet spot of time invested vs. tactical depth that needs to be hit for a game to really hit its stride. If my opponent has 20 threats and I have 20 units to manage toward those threats, the game is going to require more forethought, planning, placement, etc., than if my opponent has 5 threats and I have 5 units to manage them with. You can apply real world examples to this from 40k - it is WHY some people get so frustrated with MSU armies ... because if they take a list with 2 big nob biker hammer units and they have to manage an opponent with 20 units firing at them, all of which have the tools to harm them, it just becomes frustrating. This is where human habit of blaming others comes into its own ... instead of pondering the weakness in their own approach, a person will go "YOU HAVE A STUPID MSU ARMY RAWR." Or whatever. Truth is someone brought a knife to a gunfight ... instead of wanting missions that allow you to knife gunfighters to death, maybe you should just play with other knife-fighters ... not a bad idea, right? Either way, I don't personally tend to play "pure" MSU armies; I tend to play a lot of MSU with more expensive investments placed in "enablers" that help my MSU perform better. This leads into point #3.
- Skill-Based Points Escalation - If someone with BS4 shoots a plasmagun at a 40 point regular terminator in ruins, he needs a 3+ to hit, a 2+ to wound, and the terminator gets a 4+ cover save (unless he goes to ground). If someone with BS4 shoots a plasmagun at a 5 point regular guardsman in ruins, he needs a 3+ to hit, a 2+ to wound, and the guardsman gets a 4+ cover save (unless he goes to ground). By placing a guardsman in ruins (a tactically wise move if you want him to survive shooting), you make him as durable vs. heavy weapons fire as a TERMINATOR in ruins. This sound obvious? Most people don't get it. The cheaper and more utilitarian a unit is, the more you can stretch out of it by playing with SKILL. While sticking a guardsman in ruins is at best a rudimentary demonstration of "skill," it is a good starting point analogy for the general thesis here. Expensive, antithetical-to-MSU units can readily have their advantages (that you've invested in) stripped away by a clever opponent. If you spend 40 points on a terminator, and someone levels a plasmagun at you ... CRAP. If you spend 5 points on a guardsman, and someone levels a plasmagun at you .. WHO CARES. While all units, regardless of their cost, can be played above their investment by the application of skill ... cheaper units cost you far less when your opponent outwits you at a given point or time. While it can be enjoyable to carry around a beatstick that willfully gives YOURSELF an Achilles Heel, I wouldn't call it tactically deep gaming if everyone ran around with such things.
MSU isn't bad. MSU is really, really good, as a *general* tactic in gaming across the board. In the STANDARD version of Warhammer 40k, the STANDARD rulebook, MSU is a great idea still as a GENERAL rule. Do I think every component of your army should be MSU'ed out? No, it tends to not be a good idea to, but this isn't an article on list-building finesse ... simply on the "general" use of MSU and small unit redundancy in your standard army build (and almost every codex can do this to varying degrees).
Kill Points is often espoused as a balancer of MSU, but it's not. Not at all, in fact. When you attend a tournament, there are a couple of things in play. 1) If they are truly playing 100% by the book, you only have a 33% chance per round of having to deal with kill points. 2) Since MSU is far more useful in the other 67% of the missions, far more players have higher kill point totals than not. 3) 1+2 means that you're not likely to run into a majority of missions being kill points, and mean that if you DO have a kill point mission you are more likely to draw someone with a similarly high number than not. To that end also, you are fully capable of pulling someone with FEWER KP than you either way. While you COULD artificially alter the # of kp you'd normally bring in the HOPES that it didn't hamstring you for non-KP missions, and the HOPE that you ran into someone with MORE KP in the KP mission ... it's not wise. This is why *most* people don't really do it.
If you aren't doing standard book play (which means if you aren't randomly generating the mission at every table every round, and yeah ... nobody does that), you're doing a different form of 40k than the book according to the wild bunch of crazies out there who scream that unless you do book missions you're not playing "real" 5e 40k. Seriously ... nobody does this anyway. If you firmly fix 1 mission as KP, 1 mission as capture and control, and 1 mission as loot counters ... you're playing 40k "your way," according to those who scream that the missions suggested in the book are the ONLY legitimate ways to play "real" 40k, and you're NOT playing "real" 40k. This becomes tiresome quickly.
So, do people win tournaments with kill point optimized non-MSU low-unit-count lists? Yup. Often they are really good players. I'm not saying it's impossible or wrong or bad or whatever. BUT it's not the norm; go ahead and analyze the average lists winning tournaments around the country, ESPECIALLY tournaments with enough rounds to pit players against a wide variety of opponents (aka, not 3 rounds for 240, or really 3 rounds at all).
Unless every mission or at least the majority of missions are KP, you aren't pushing away from MSU with your mission build-outs. So what happens if you remove KP ... do you alter the list building of players who win major GT's with lower KP totals? Well, no; they themselves have been seen to claim that MSU doesn't threaten them at all and they'd build their non-MSU lists that way anyway. OK, what about the players who are winning GT's with higher KP totals ... more MSU? Are you altering the way they play? Again, no, rather obviously on that count.
What about the rest of the tournament fields, then, what happens to those if you remove KP as a mission / remove other artificial limiters of MSU? Well, take a look at the Open, or WGC, or numerous other tournaments that have eschewed KP. You see - generally - a higher level of tough list building at the middling and lower tables. Frankly, given the above data about how some level of MSU is good for you and the game tactically, I think this is a GOOD THING. Encouraging players who haven't developed enough confidence to build their lists how they want "regardless" of mission formatting to actually develop more tactically flexible lists is a good thing to do.
There is a flip-side to this as well ... and that's the utilization of missions that actually ENCOURAGE MSU by their very design. This is bad also. Wait, why? Well, as a general rule there are some codices that cannot MSU as well as others, just as their are codices that can't go super low on KP as well as others. When you start screwing with the mission format you start to imbalance codices against each other, and that's not a very strong thing to do. Seriously, other than DA and Necron, every codex out there right now has full capacity to field highly competitive lists with HEALTHY doses of MSU in the 1500-2000 point ranges. The problem is, what does an Ork player do in a KP setting? He could take nob biker armies, but they get obliterated by guard and wolf armies that spam S8 weaponry and MSU. He could take trukk/kan/buggy/wagon spam armies that use mass redundancy to overcome Ork weaknesses vs. mech/MSU but get crushed in the KP setting b/c of open topped AV10 kill points. Lose lose. ONE of the reasons why some people consider Orks to be crap in the tournament setting.
What about things like the 5x5, where an opponent nominates 5 units and only those can be scored as KP? Here's my one little issue with this mission type. If an army has NO lynchpins, is just pure MSU, it's advantaged in this mission. Why? Simply leave the nominated score-possible parts in reserve, and still have all of the same tools (sans a few) for the early parts of the game that you would have had anyway. What about armies that need to have a couple of larger point investments present and functional to get things going for them? Well, they get potentially screwed, don't they?
Every codex, literally, has POTENT builds that operate well in a VP style or simply non-MSU-balancing setting. They carry healthy doses of MSU/redundancy, and then either go heavier or lighter on it at their owner's discretion, for NATURAL advantages and disadvantages either way. It's when you add in artificial bounds that you start to fuck with CODEX balance, and therein lies the rub.
One thing is for sure ... I would generally contest the claim that every component of the rulebook needs to be in play for the game to be a "true 5e" game of 40k. Might as well claim campaigns and campaign rules need to be used in a tournament setting, and that the games need to occur at multiple points levels throughout (since a points range is what's recommended). The RULES of 5th edition, and the CODICES that guide army build, are the core of the game. By hook or by crook, with few exceptions, both the rules and codices are pretty damned well balanced right now. It remains true, however, that EVERY army needs a certain level of MSU and redundancy to best compete, and NOT every codex can compete equally well when bounded by punishments for taking too few or too many units. These are powerful things to consider when building/designing missions, and when building/designing army lists.
Believe it or not, these things WERE considered in terms of building and playtesting the NOVA missions. We still probably have tweaking and work to do moving forward, but each mission rewards fluctuations from an "average" amount of MSU and punishes those fluctuations. Smaller units are easier to kill, and thus easier to score full VP off. Larger units score more VP IF killed, but are harder to kill, and can better capture things like Quarters at half strength. Unit size is well balanced by VP as standard, and the Quarters mission (which many people misplayed and mis-analyzed) slightly advantages a player who has more than just straight MSU, and can field a couple of stronger/higher points units that are able to survive sustained fighting at the center of the board, where shuffling their larger points value even at half strength can actually materially alter the results of the game.
Probably our biggest "fault" is the 5 objective mission, which while contestable at all probably punishes lower-MSU just a little too much.
Regardless, this is all food for thought. Kill Points and 5-KP-nominate missions ... I don't agree with either, b/c they fundamentally screw with the basic balance and concepts of the game right now. Kill Points itself, well, let's subject it to some serious ass analysis and an open mind, eh? We used KP in our tournaments and leagues for over 2 years before we dropped them, and then playtested non-KP-inclusive missions literally thousands of times across playergroups as widespread as Australia and Alaska. We're still trying to make the right choices here, but I encourage ya'll to do the same. GW has made a ton of mistakes before; why give them too much cred here, especially when their next-released ruleset actually eschewed KP altogether? Furthermore, why apply critique to MSU without giving it a fair shake? Everything in moderation, perhaps.
I was tempted to go back and "refine" this, but it's my style to be a little unpolished when blogging, and maybe it'll help stir up some conversation as well.