Friday, March 25, 2011

List Building and Playtesting: How to start a good army list

Captain Obvious here, been some time since I’ve written an article, but here it goes. 
Since my glorious return to Warhammer 40k I have noticed some things that seem to be frustrating some people locally and on forums, and really shouldn’t be.  In this article I am going to cover how to build and properly test a list.  Some people seem to think that putting a GOOD competitive list together is easy and you can just pick and choose what units you want, sadly this is very far from the truth.
When building a good list you need to set aside some time in order to figure out what you’re going to run and how you want it to run.  Good competitive lists have unit cohesion and synergy and a good amount of proper playtesting. 
First sit down and figure what you want to run…..and how well your Codex performs it.  Get a good core to your list, a HQ that fits a niche in your army, whether it be a CC HQ to support an already nasty CC unit or a support type HQ, such as a Rune Priest.  Now move on to your troops.  A good rule of thumb is for every 500 pts you will want 1 Troop choice (doesn't apply to everyone - Nids), so most tournaments being 1850 you’re going to want at least 3 if not more depending how versatile your troop selections are.  If your troop squads are low model count like a 5 man you may want to go at least 4 or 5 because small units like that can be dealt with pretty easily and because you will want units going toward the enemy and some hanging back for objectives.  Next move on to your other force chart choices, keep in mind when selecting these choices you need to keep asking yourself how are they going to support or help the rest of my army.   You will always have to keep in mind how you are going to deal with things … Do I need melta for Land Raiders, or am I going to rely on taking them out at long range ... Do I have a way to deal with mass amounts of units such as a horde army?  Can or do I need to go toe to toe in CC or can I deal with them sufficiently at long range?  These are all things to keep in mind when selecting units.
Now here’s the part that gets people frustrated, STICK WITH YOUR CORE!!!!  If you play a list and lose your first game with it don’t 100% scrap the list.  Sit back and play the game through your head.  Ask questions like:
Did this unit perform how I planned?  If it needs changes make them, if it worked how it was planned and something didn’t go well….swap it out put something else in.  Attempt to keep as much as you can with little changes and tweaks here and there.  Then after you feel you have made some decent changes run that list, which should be basically the same as the previous list with some improvements.  The more you play with the list the more familiar you will get with it.  Maybe you lost your first game because of bad moves? You need to be honest with yourself. Did you do the unit or group of units an injustice by playing them incorrectly or do they simply not fit in?  Is that a reason to 100% scrap a list….NO!  You had the right idea just the wrong execution.  The more you play the list the more you will refine that execution.
When I picked up the Space Marines from CVinton I ran about 15 games with the same list, granted it’s changed from game one but it still has its 1000pt core to it.  I know how this core works and I just arrange and tweak the rest of the army around it to achieve the list I want.

As always I want to hear your input.  Do you guys write lists like this?  Do you use a core and build around it? Do you find yourself constantly scapping lists? How do you get your army together for the big game?


  1. Good post Capt Obvious,

    I have to agree with you about playtesting and a lot of people think that it is the new players who screw this up, but often times it is the veteran players that get it wrong when switching armies.

    I switched to Nids and at first couldn't get my head around list construction since they were so different from other armies. I took a major loss and started thinking they were unplayable - but then I built a core list - played games and adjusted the non-core units. I won most of my games with that list for 14 months and retired it because I want to try another build. All of that success was built on playtesting the right way and good list construction.

    I like that you mentioned the old 500 - 1 ratio on troops. For smaller squads like razorspam guys, I think Stelek's 4+2 is a good model and for meaty 10 man units in rhinos, three squads at 1850 is the usual staple for me.

    I am intersted to see what kind of feedback you get here - and nice to see the resident troll put the writing cap back on;)

  2. When starting a new army, I start with a long hard look at the codex and start thinking of fun, effecting combinations I can come up with. From there, build a list and gather the models (or sometimes proxy) and play some test games.

    I usually will play 5 - 10 test games before I swap anything out. Like you mention in your article above, it is very common to make tactical errors with a new list. I often screw up seriously and will forget to use special abilities as well. (Just last week I scattered a deepstriking BA assault squad 9" into an enemy unit, forgot descent of angels only scatters d6!)

    After I feel I am comfortable with the first "core list", I then start analyzing what I think is effective and what could perform better. I then will start swapping out less effective units for those that could possibly perform better and restart testing.

    As a side note, you don't necessarily need the greatest list to win a lot of games. If you are a good general, you can win a large number of games simply by knowing your list and codex inside and out and maximizing it's potential on the table.

    That's where the secret to 40K lies.

  3. As you've all stated, knowledge is the key:
    - know what your troops, every single unit, is capable of
    - know your enemy
    Then select what units to send against the enemy and what enemy units your units should avoid.

    To gain knowledge you have to play and test and, as you said, make minor tweaks to adjust your army.

    When I start a new army I personaly go for units that appeal me, i.e. the demon prince, oblits and the defiler made me start a CSM list. Then I check what else is available in the codex:
    - what do I need to fulfill the requirements (i.e. 1 HQ, 2 Troops)
    - what is my current army lacking (i.e. CC-units, long range fire support)

    Then I go for it and make a list that seems fun to me (as long as I've got plasma weapons in an army list, it is a good list to me...). Then I go out and try that list with a friend. It can help especially with new armies to have a friend (or someone who's open-minded enough) to test with. We often play "soft" in test games, so if a unit just failed a charge by an inch we often just move into CC anyway just to see what happens and how the units perform.

    To sum it up: Get what you like, make a list and have fun playtesting! ;-)

  4. Wow, that Eldar army looks fantastic