Monday, February 16, 2015

Evaluating Generalship

A pretty common retort on the numerous forums out there when someone tries to explain something to people is "well a good General wouldn't deploy that way"  or the ever popular "Any good general will take an answer for that, surely".  And so on it goes in circles.  And then more circles!

The last bastion for someone who simply has nothing valuable to say is to suggest that you should "play better generals".  It's so obviously a ridiculous statement than any thinking person that hears it just quirks their eyebrow and thinks to themselves what an a-hole.  How would he even know?

That does not mean that we shouldn't discuss the actual qualities of generalship.  I've made my point of view perfectly plain to those who read this blog:  Generals matter more than lists.  I've then gone on to prove it, repeatedly, by using lists and units that showcase the width and breadth of the 40K universe.  I've shown strategies and sometimes even tactics to illustrate the values of certain things which may have gone overlooked.

But what really makes a good General?  I am going to start the list off here and ask you to participate if you wish to add to it.

The number one thing that makes you good at this game was hard to actually determine.  Ranking them, when I tried, was actually pretty darn hard.  I came to the conclusion that it was better to look at this as a POOL of abilities.  Certain personality types and those with certain experience will have higher and lower levels of acumen with all of them or will remember to do them more or less often.  Think of the list like an audio equalizer bar that displays the rhythm of your skill sets.  Truly prioritizing the elements of a good General is quite subject to opinion, even though the actual skill list would probably gain wide spread agreement.

When I looked at it from the perspective of what made me effective it was easier.  My strengths and weaknesses are known to me.  So I offer you here the keys that have made me a good general in no particular order.  Please add to the list if there are others I have missed, which make YOU a good General.

1.  Patient Hunter:  Orchestrating the time and place of my strikes is more important to me than getting the first punches in or "getting as many shots as I can".  This confuses some, and certainly gives me an edge when I play against an opponent who is not used to seeing someone deploy so little, as I am wont to do.

2.  The Rabbit and the Hare:  I don't subscribe to any fears over losing initiative and I build the army list entirely for going second.  In this way it is never truly a penalty to me, only to my foe.  Their confidence will grow in the early going as they seem unabated and I seem foolish for having given them no resistance.  Their confidence serves me well.  It isn't who gets out of the gate faster.  It's who is more effective when they make their move.

3.  Keeping Your Eye on the Prize.  Objectives are the mission.  "Killing things" isn't the objective in most missions, and when it is, it's often precision killing of certain units that matters, which plays into my strategy of probing and then attacking the weak points of an enemy.  Always keep your eye on the mission.  Before you move anything, think about that.  Don't get intoxicated with kill ratios or how "good" it is feeling to kill this or that.  Unless the mission rotates around only killing, keep reminding yourself of what you must do by games end, not just this round.

4.  Positional Dominance:  as Sun Tzu said so well:  Hold out bait to entice the enemy.  Feign disorder and then crush him.  I am willing to give the enemy attractive bait which I am totally willing to lose if it gets the enemy where I want them to go.  I am comfortable with acceptable losses, if it takes the enemy out of position in the long run.  Fear of loss is a greater motivator to most people than hope of gain (and psychologist would tell you so).  So create enough loss for them that they feel compelled.  What ends up happening is the enemy will kill seemingly at will, but in reality is following bread crumbs too far afield which leaves them progressively less choice in where they can go without having wasted their previous turns; or it leaves them needlessly in a killing field.  Either way, once their forces are divided it certainly makes dicing the sections up easier.  It becomes a no win scenario for the unit or units you baited  They tend to be the stronger units, the ones that can take the most punishment.  Get them to go where you want them. then lock them there with bad decisions, physical obstructions (such as Devilfish's you're willing never to see again) or good old fashioned Fisticuffs (if your army is possessed of good tarpits).

5.  No Unit is Strategically Too Precious:  The army build itself contains units that are never a linchpin to the plan.  Unlike almost all the advice you'll find online, super stars are vulnerabilities to your force.  I'm not suggesting you avoid using them, but they factually provide a key that the enemy can focus its effort on or flat out negate.  The enemy need not defeat a whole army, just the super star(s), to win.  I use more disposable options as a rule.  Not so much an MSU approach, which is just small for economy's sake so you can spam things (although that may be what happens in some lists). I'm speaking more on the strategic level.

When multiple units can do the same job, then it becomes difficult to prioritize for the enemy and this can lead them to make mistakes.  A unit that isn't normally a major anti-tank threat can be made one through positioning, for example.  Having overtly obvious "anti-tank units" that are expensive isn't strictly necessary and when you can find ways to do both, you give your list more points to work with for anti-infantry, for example.  The whole list benefits from creativity of this one concept.  I use Tau Pathfinders to kill tanks which certainly isn't the norm and by doing so I increase my anti-personnel presence to boot should I have no tanks to kill.

Likewise, if you have a unit who isn't really an anti-personnel type unit (because it does better against tanks), but you have enough of them, then this also can give you versatility and decreases your opponents ability to stop it.  A friend recently suggest a 37 Dark Lance army because as few shots as that is overall, it comes with good range and frankly the high STR is going to result in enough kills that even an ork horde might be daunted.  These units will look inefficient at the job, but they now create problems because the enemy can't entirely negate the infantry nor the tank killing power in your force, can they?  Your threat profile looks less imposing to some forces but yet you're still firing anti-tank weapons in round five when his are long dead.  The law of large numbers starts to take its toll.  Necron Gauss weaponry is a good example of this constant pressure.  Enemies must face it for six turns instead of selectively attacking the singular units dedicated to the destruction of their more vital resources.  They are very good at both jobs, really.

6.  I Will Not Fear:  Winning and losing is an attitude.  It isn't what you do, it's who you are.  When you step to a table, be confident to the very last wound that you can find a way to turn it around.  You maintain your creativity and mental agility throughout the fight.  When you give into disappointment and fear, it is the mind killer (pardon my theft of Dune philosophy).  You lose your creativity and your mental agility.  I've watched players who are down in points lose time and again because they had a way they could try to win but just didn't believe enough in it.  It's not even uncommon to see someone who sees defeat coming to completely abandon the mission and resort to mindless slaughter as an alternative.  Hey if that's fun for you, I'm not criticizing at all but I think we can agree it's less than optimal.  No one will ever know what might have been.  So above all things, do not fear or give in to disappointment.  Keeping your mind creative can yield you some interesting opportunities late in games, especially when the foe has slipped his focus.  Not so shockingly, quitters rarely have comeback stories to tell, and that's a shame.  They are probably the best stories to listen to.

7.  Know Your Enemy:  It probably goes without saying that it pays to have read your enemies codex and to have seen them in action a few times.  The power of experience in Warhammer 40,000 can't really be overstated.  There is a certain point at which two peoples experience difference ceases to matter.  It certainly isn't true that just because you've played for ten years, you cannot learn from someone whose been playing for two.  Nonetheless, knowing your enemies well and not getting caught off guard are pretty big deals.  For my part I own and play all but three codex's.  I take an active interest in knowing what I'm facing and it pays off.

What else makes you a good general?  Feel free to comment.



4 comments:

  1. Hello!
    Nice line up, I think you listed pretty much everything. Many times I watched "Generals" struggling with point 3 on your list. You`re absolutely right, "play the mission" is essential. One small addition from my experience: Have a plan what you want to do (plus a backup-plan) and try to dictate the game. Don`t be confined to react to the enemy!

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  2. Wow i am surprised i didn't add "Plan B' to my commentary. I've many times talked about the importance of building a list FOR plan B, which does weaken your plan A but also makes certain you're not totally reliant on that one way to win. That is of strategic importance. For example, I prize mobilty because sometimes despite your best efforts, the enemy simply is stronger than you and your best bet is to simply stay alive longer so that you can eventually exert positional dominance. PLan A would have been shooting the piss out of them but if that breaks down or hes just extremely clever and/or lucky, you have to have the ejector button ready. I agree.

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  3. Excellent list.
    Regarding point 6, and a mix of a few others, one of my most critical concepts is "you don't have to beat the other army, you just have to defeat the other player". once a player 'thinks" they have lost - its all down hill from there.
    Also, an overconfident player will make mistakes, not pay attention and can lose and then say "how did that happen" or "you got lucky.."
    I had one game where the other player said "wow, you were lucky XYZ happened..".
    While I usually don't respond to such things, that time I said "you think it was luck that I had that unit in the right place at the right time?"
    as yoda would say, "that is why you lose".

    Good article.

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    1. hehehe. great respone and yeah. Dead on with the Right place, right time comment.

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