Want to improve in 40K? Start pulling the triggers, bring fame to your name and claim some corners. Here’s why you should bring guns to a knife fight.
In this article, we take our first stab at actual coaching*. Game theory is great and everything, but it does not offer us a practical approach to getting better.
Crews without Guns are Gonners
An essential part of playing to win is list building. This comes with plenty of different challenges, like faction selection, optimal units, or style of play. This article tackles the latter.
At first glance, this sounds like a starting to play topic, not a competitive topic. And you are right to a certain extent, it is also a question that everyone starting the game has.
Picking a faction is usually a lot simpler. Look at what range of models you like best, or whether you want good guys or bad guys (pro tip: they are all bad guys.) and you are well on your way towards fun in the 41st millennium.
But much like the budding new player looking to buy his first unit, once you decide you want to compete, you are faced with how you want to compete, and need to pick a style for your army.
Of course there are finer points to this. For now, let’s focus on the basics: Do you want a shooting army or a punching army?
And as you might have guessed from the title, I strongly believe that anyone with a competing state of mind should start with a shooting army.
Why is shooting better?
Well, technically, it’s not. At least, not according to simple mathematics.
In a standard game of 40K, you will get 5 turns of shooting your opponent in the face: your five shooting phases. Alternatively, you get 10 opportunities to punch them in the face: your five fight phases, and theirs.
So why would I want to skip on 5 extra phases of fun?
Well, as with most things, the reverse is also true. Your opponent also gets twice as many chances to punch you in the face as he would shooting.
And this is the approach we want to bring to our competitive journey: Why would I want to get punched in the face?
Getting punched in the face is not all that bad. Sometimes it offers its own shares of teachable moments.
However, focusing on the shooting phase offers us a much safer environment to learn and grow as a player, because it takes the skill out of your opponent’s hands.
Because we are stepping into this journey of playing 40k to win, we will always assume our opponent is better at the game than we are.
This can be either by design, as you should be seeking better and better sparring partners in order to improve, or because you are getting better and further in tournaments, and facing tougher opponents.
By assuming they are better than us at this game, the worst that will happen is that our opponents will prove us wrong through the course of the game.
Assuming they are bad and being proven wrong is much harsher, both on the tabletop and on the ego.
In Defense of Playing with Yourself
As such, by removing your opponent’s involvement (or as much of it as possible) you gain two valuable things.
The first is that you take away their superior knowledge of the game. All these special rules and tactics are much less impressive when your opponent doesn’t get to use them.
Losing versus a shooting army often feels like you did not take part in a game for this reason.
This is something most people don’t realize, is that melee armies are usually more interactive, even when they are wiping the floor with their opponent.
The second, and much more important, and much more valuable, is that it greatly reduces the knowledge you need to succeed. For shooting, you need to understand exactly three things:
1- What your army is doing – i.e. how much firepower do you have access to?
2- How tough are your opponent’s models – i.e. toughness, saves, wounds and similar ‘defensive’ rules.
3- A vague understanding of how your opponent’s units will hurt you – i.e. whether this is a shooting unit, and its range, or a melee unit and how fast it can get to you.
Point one and two are exactly the same for close combat armies, but point three is where shooting really shines.
You rarely get hurt during your own shooting. As such, everything that is not ‘this will hurt me real bad next turn’ territory becomes future you’s problem.
This is a luxury that melee armies do not have, as you need to know their damage output, and your resilience threshold, because the hurt is coming at you right now, possibly before you can lay down the hurt yourself, even.
Theory and understanding are great, but real progress is forged in fire Again, notice how they are similar to their close combat counterparts, without the whole getting punched in the face part…
1- Target priority.
Before you start your turn, determine what needs to die this turn.
A common mistake is to leave this step for the shooting phase. You should never start moving stuff without having a clear plan; if at the start of your shooting phase you have to ask yourself what to shoot, you have failed in the regard.
2- Order of Operations
The order of operations is maximizing your damage output.
As we’ve covered before, you only get five turns of blasting away your opponent’s toys, so we want to make the most out of them.
In what order you are selecting units to shoot is the key to success.
If a unit’s range or line of sight is restricted to a single enemy unit, you should probably start your shooting there – what else are you going to do with this unit anyway?
A similar thing would be shooting your Damage:3 weapons into a unit of 3-wounds models before shooting with Damage:2. That way, you don’t waste a potential Damage:3 on a model down to a single wound.
The last thing is: What are we shooting next? When (not ‘if’, have a little faith, bro) Priority Target A dies, which of my remaining guns is best at killing Priority Target B? Keep those in your back pocket and use them on Target A only if you are out of better options.
Scoring is third for a reason. Getting points is somewhat the reward you reap from successful shooting.
Shooting armies are usually the ones to score in the later stages of the game, when your opponent’s firepower is depleted.
However, keeping an eye on how both you and your opponent score points is important to determine target priority, and also, figure out how many, if any, units you need to commit to scoring points instead of shooting in a given turn.
This is a little bit more abstract, but translates to: What happens after your opponent plays.
This is the all too common case of fishing with dynamite or killing a fly with a bazooka.
If your opponent puts a single squad on an objective, you want to kill it, because denying them points is a good way to win the game, plus killing stuff is fun. But once that unit is gone, and your opponent’s whole army jumps from the safety of terrain and all up in your grill, then what?
Well, if you have committed your whole army to shoot the lone objective-capturing unit, prepare to be touched and/or shot in your no-no place.
And in a similar train of thought, consider what happens if something outlives your shooting, despite how unlikely it is. And play accordingly.
For lack of a better way to conclude this article, I will leave you with the slightly censored words of wisdom laid unto me by Brad Chester:
“Even with shooting armies, there comes a point in every game where you need to punch a mother lover in the Richard, you know what I mean?”
NB- This article was written (or started, at least) well before the release of Codex Tau, and is positively not a reflection of the state of the game right now.
*My long term goal is to turn this “Start Competing in 40K” into a book. This article would be more or less chapter 3.