Friday, June 24, 2011

Does playstyle matter?

I am looking somewhat forward to the comments on the post that will pop up two days before this one yet dreading them at the same time. I am virtually guaranteed to see lots of disagreement, but I stand 100% behind what is there.

Others may have success with the WoC, but the reason I have had success is indisputably because I figured out a method that worked with their strengths that match mine, and it works well.

At the same time, I have had a lot of success with other armies as well. I never did lose a game when playing with Wood Elfs (though that was 7th edition) and Dwarfs, even though they have vastly different playstyles than the WoC do. Nor did I ever lose with the Orcs and Goblins, though again that was only back in 7th.

Only with the High Elves have I hovered around 50% and, in fact, am probably under. Ironically, the army I have lost the second  highest percentage with is the WoC. In sheer number of games, it is WoC I have lost the most with by a landslide.

The background then is that I play a lot of different armies. I have games under my belt with the Vampire Counts, Tomb Kings, Orcs and Goblins, Chaos Dwarfs, Dwarfs, High Elfs, Wood Elfs, Lizardmen, and Beastmen.

With such a wide divergence in armies, is there a wide divergence in my results? Sometimes.

With the High Elf army in 8th edition, it is mostly been my failure to correctly apply the rules that cost me an easy victory in one game and in the other I just plain got outplayed from list-build to final tabling.

With the Beastmen it was hardly a fair test of tactical acumen as the game was specifically set up to be a "soft game" between too lightly regarded armies and we deliberately did not play to completion.

With the Dwarfs it is a bit more complicated. I had a good plan with them each time and drove it to completion but they are so slow they are just too boring to play.

Some of the other guys have varied their styles within their own book. Fullur, for example, wavers between magic-heavy skink based builds and the occasional close combat build full of carnosaurs, Krox/Skink blocks, and Saurus.

Yet his results have been relatively consistent.

One of the points I made loudly and repeatedly in the prior post was the Warriors of Chaos work very well with my skill set. In every game I have ever played…Warhammer Fantasy, Warhammer 40K, Stars and Bars, Johnny Reb, various Napoleonic's….where there was an option for a small, elite force or a larger but inferior one, I have invariably preferred and done better with the small, elite, hard as nails force.

This is not to say I am incapable of working with other elements. I have had excellent success with the Wood Elf, Orc and Goblin (7th edition) and Dwarf armies, all of which run a different style. I have had modest success with the High Elf army, however.

All of this leads to an easy, obvious question; how much impact does the style of army and its interaction with player play style have on success? Can a good player pick up any army book and expect similar levels of success? Or will he have outlier results with particular books.

For example, if someone picks up the Vampire counts book and wins 90% of their games, can they then expect to pick up the Empire book and have the same success rate, plus or minus a couple percentage points? The armies function very differently.

The same question would hold true for say…the Dwarf army versus the Lizardman army. One relies on war machines and stuffing magic while the other has few war machines and pummels opponents with magic. Can the same player expect similar results with both armies?

In some cases the answer is a clear and distinct yes. Some people are so well versed in the game rules, strategies, and theories that they can bounce from one style to another with no ill effect on their game. Others are so bad it does not matter if they use Beastmen or DoC, they are going to lose.

For the vast majority of us, however, the army we use has a huge impact on our results. Sometimes it is simply because we believe in a particular strategy.

For example, in a recent game I had a Chaos Sorcerer on a dragon. Outside of perhaps the Great Bray-Shamans, Chaos Sorcerers are clearly the best close combat wizards any army has available*. Combined with being on a dragon rider, he had fearsome potential to output attacks. Yet when the chance arose to charge a smallish unit of Skaven Clan Rats, I only did it because the game had gotten out of hand.

It is a clear and obvious charge for anyone who believes in the Glass Cannon strategy (though the ridiculous ward save I tooled him up with somewhat contradicts more traditional glass cannon strategies). With the large number of attacks he is putting out, he is likely to win the combat and, barring ranks and Strength in Numbers Shenanigans, break them in one round.

Because of his rugged nature, he was quite likely to win a grind combat as well since they would struggle mightily to put wounds on him and he should do enough casualties to win the combat despite the SCR advantage possessed by the rats.

It is a charge I make one time out of ten, and that one time is because of extenuating circumstances. Yet it is something I estimate I win, whether they flee the first turn or not, well over 80% of the time. And that might be underestimating it…I just do not trust 9 attacks + thunderstomp to beat 3 extra ranks and a standard all the time. Should hit 6 attacks, wound 4ish, then need 2+ thunderstomps to go through and to me that is not a big enough margin for error.

For others, they are thinking that is an awesome margin for error and they are sending in the dragon every time. They are better at the strategy than I am, something I am aware of and frankly acknowledge.

I also acknowledge there are others better than I am at the Dwarf strategy of huddling around a hill shooting stuff, then having their warriors slam into the weakened troops that come across the field. All too often my close combat Dwarfs wander out from the protection of their guns. Sitting back patiently is not my strong suit.

Clearly, then, a glass cannon type army is one that requires a significant change in approach. For example the Beastmen army has elements that resemble this; the Minotaurs with Impact hits, large numbers of high S attacks but absolutely no defense are very much a glass cannon. Getting them to work requires some thought and planning.

And, demonstrably, I am not good at that, having allowed them to get wrecked by a charge before they ever got to swing. Sure, with some practice I might improve.

The thing about it is, no obvious solution has presented itself as yet. There are a few plans I have bounced around, but for the moment their glass cannon nature has them being one of the last things I take since it is a strategy I struggle to employ correctly.

They end up being for me what the Dark Elf Assassin was for Fixed Dice from a game into last edition; I love the look, love the model, love the potential, and never take it because they just die without doing anything.

At the same time, the remainder of the army is also well outside my comfort zone. The Gor are the best option for an “anvil” but are a very poor choice; they have literally no armor. At all. Their magic has potential but does not get them into combat quick enough unless I take the despised Lore of the Wild.

Their weapon skill is pedestrian, their strength below average (though not, perhaps, below the median score) and their leadership sub-par. Their monsters are wildly overcosted and suffer the same glass cannon drawback as the minotaurs; they hit hard but die easy.

I know there are ways to use them and use them effectively. What I do not know is if I have the gaming personality to do it. I am not a risk taker. Chancy combats, long-shot weapons, and so forth are not my forte.

Contrary to what people who do not get the way WoC are effective think, I am incapable of just shoving them forward ignoring everything else. (A bad strategy, by the way, the WoC are frequently accused of. I suspect there are people out there who do that. I am willing to bet they win some games…but not nearly as good a percentage as I do)

Yet if I were going to adopt such a strategy, the WoC would be the army I would do it with. The Beastmen are forced into it by having even less effective shooting than the WoC but combining it with armor-less troops.

So their apparently strongest strategy…throw hordes of troops straight forward and hope to win grind combats while somehow getting their glass cannon troops into combat unscathed…is one I am psychologically incapable of using.

The obvious take-away is I will not only struggle to play them well, I will struggle to enjoy using them as game after game sees them melt to shooting past the point of combat effectiveness or else play a mindless “Oh, my turn? March straight forward. Are we in combat? No? okay, go” game which I have no interest in.

This is not to say there are not other armies I can play around with. The High Elf army is not my typical style either. Low T, lightly armored, and full of glass cannon units; Swordmasters, Phoenix Guard, White Lions…and units that are far more specialized such as archers, spearmen, Dragon Princes, Repeater Bolt Throwers.

As much as target priority matters for the WoC…which contrary to the interwebz matters a great deal in a 6 turn game…it matters even more for the High Elfs. ASF great Weapons are great for the first turn…but leave anyone alive to swing back and the pretty little elf army gets some new make-up in the form of bloody necks as they get decapitated by the weakest of enemy troops.

Can a person used to using a sledgehammer get used to using a precision laser?

I keep using myself as the example but the same is true of every player. Learning to use a different play style can be extremely difficult. For the Dwarf player used to little or nothing happening in the magic phase to suddenly attempt to play a list revolving around using magic would be quite a shock. For a player used to using the narrow formations of the Brettonian lance formation to suddenly figure out how to effectively use the Empire detachments could cause migraines.

Which brings us right back to the initial question; how much impact does the style of army and its interaction with player play style have on success?

I would argue a great deal. Obviously an average player using the DoC is going to do better than they would using the Beastmen. But would it be a 10% increase in wins? 50%? 80% more wins?

Or does it matter what the strengths of that player are? For example, if they excel at choosing targets for shooting but consistently pick the wrong spell to cast at the wrong time, how well are they going to do going from the Wood Elf army to the Lizardmen?

Or if they have mastered the art of choosing the right spell but are so nervous about failed LD checks that they strive to avoid close combat, how well are they going to do with the Beastmen or Warriors of Chaos? Or if they are afraid to use the glass cannon but strong at using an anvil and hammer strategy, how are they going to do with the High Elf army…oh, wait, we have seen that one. It was not pretty.

Or if they are very strong at using predictable, dependable armies, how will they do if suddenly handed the Orcs & Goblins or Skaven to play?

Mindset, comprehension of strategies, comprehension of tactics, understanding of probabilities, willingness to attempt long-shot maneuvers are all elements that affect how a player will do with an army that does not reinforce his strengths. Naturally if the army suits his strengths as a player his results will be the best.

If he is adaptable he will still do very well.

But if an army does not suit his strengths and he does not adapt well then he will tend to struggle mightily.

All of these things are possible to overcome but not all are worth overcoming. If a player sits down to every game, looks across the table and thinks he has little to no chance will not enjoy the game and soon not wish to play.

I am reminded of a game from last edition where one guy took a list that was maxed out on War Machines; cannons, grudge thrower,organ gun, anvil of doom. The rest of it was shooting troops; thunderers, I think. Just seeing that across the table was discouraging and depressing for the guy who faced it.

I was depressed just watching another player using O&G try to cross a field with NO TERRAIN AT ALL against an army putting out over 100 armor piercing shots per turn in one of the early games we played.

Both games were over before they started and even if the side locked into losing those messes won…was it an enjoyable game?

So for someone who enjoys using hordes of low quality troops to overwhelm good troops with a bit of shooting mixed in, how much fun would it be to play a small number of guys? Or if a guy loves magic, how much will he like using the Dwarfs? Or if he is infatuated with shooting, will he enjoy using the Beastmen or Woc? Or if he likes close combat, will he like using a Wood Elf list? If he likes using small, hard troops, wil he enjoy using vast hordes of wimps?

It goes on and on. There are large numbers of possible outcomes, and in most cases, the enjoyment of the game comes down to the style of army he likes to play and play against.

There is probably someone out there hearing that Dwarf list and saying, “Smurf yeah! I want to play against that!”

More power to him. It is a list I would neither want to use nor face.

I do think it is funny that I have seen dozens of lists where the player talked about how strong a list they had made and how much destruction it could wreak in a particular phase and then later  I find out that my lists, which I have deliberately avoided making the strongest ones I could, have been overpowered.

Perhaps I should shelve them forever and just use armies that do not fit my strengths. Then again…that just does not sound fun to me at all.

A lot of it is because I do not enjoy using horde units incapable of doing damage. (Okay, so certain O&G players swear by Night Goblins with me, they just are not a fun unit). I do not enjoy using armies with no save. I do not always enjoy using armies that have highly specialized units.

And obviously people do not enjoy facing an army that plays to my strengths. So that in turn retroactively makes it not fun for me.

I hear a female of intimidating girth warming her vocal chords.

Really unfortunate in many ways because this edition has been the best one I have ever seen in Warhammer, going back to 1995, but if it comes down to me having fun at the expense of others I just do not want to play. If both players do not enjoy the game then what is the point? Conversely, if it comes down to me playing but it being drudgery…again, I simply do not want to play.
So the trick is to find an army that is fun to play, balanced with our group, and in my possession.
Because yes...playstyle matters. A lot.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting such a well thought out article.

In answer to the question in the title, and the bulk of the post, I agree with you that playstyle does matter. I think that one would get better results using a list tailored to the wishes of the player rather than 'going against type'. For that reason, I also find it exceedingly hard to play a list made by someone else, even with an army I use.

Darth Weasel said...

glad you enjoyed it and thanks for the feedback.

and agree one hundred percent on the list thing...which is quite amusing since I would play more if I had to make fewer lists...