Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Musings on Speed vs. Power

It's a great question.

Tournaments are where actual money is on the line, actual street cred earned or lost, and where actual prizes are to be won.  Tournaments change the viewpoint a bit when you are attempting to plan well.

In casual games, we try out "interesting list ideas" like a 16 year old teenage girl tries out clothes.  That analogy REALLY isn't that far off, because I think we get the same kick out of "seeing how it works" as they do "seeing how it looks" on them.  The infatuation often lasts just as long.

In tournaments the luxury of screwing around kind of drops away and you are left to ask this pivotal question among many others:  Speed or power?  Which do you need more of, given that you need both to one extent or another.

On the raw surface, one might argue that the ITC values power by having both Maelstrom and Primary missions at work.  Does that really equalize them?  Not really,  Many of the Maelstrom objectives are just "kill something" anyways but a host of them are positional.  The ITC isn't TRULY advantaging speed over power, but then many of the objectives are literally impossible without speed, which puts speed at a premium simply because in any one contest you cannot afford to be physically unable to do things, even if "over time" it served you better to give on that point on occasion!

Speed advantages you by allowing you to be where and when you need to be for blockading.  Imagine for a moment that you are facing a Space Wolf player who uses the Thunderwolf Cavalry to form a super duper "Wolfstar".  It streaks across the board in one round and absolutely will assault you in turn two.  The normal proposition here is that you have "one round to do something about it" before it strikes.  Suffice it is to say, it isn't going after a fair fight when it does this.  It is there to maul your ability to hurt it in future rounds for good.  What if you were simply to vacate the area and move two Raiders into position, forcing them to target nothing more significant than a couple 55 point sacrificial lambs, for lack of anything it can get to now?  I did this to a very good player when he came to kill my Beastpack some time ago and when he got there, I moved at maximum speed away and then cordon'd the wolves off, using his own drop pod as one of the corners.  Given that games do not have unlimited rounds, you have spent up to three of the Wolfstars rounds far from anything, and killing little.  Speed allows those kinds of shenanigans.

Power units allows you to disallow the enemy his speed in the first place.  It is a form of defense really, because when you blast units down to size, you're lowering the inevitable damage you will take or their ability to position themselves the way they wished.  You are taking away their resources BEFORE they can actually sacrifice them.  Stranding an enemy who relies on speed can be very harmful to their chances, as these armies often only require one round to express that speed in order for it to be worth it.  A bevy of firepower that steals the opportunity certainly matters.  That relies on you gaining the initiative on the enemy however and as we know, that is at least in theory only happening 50% of the time!  If you faced five fast armies in a day and went first just twice, would you lose the tournament simply for losing initiative?  It surely emphasizes how important new models like Guilliman and oldies resurrected in new form such as Inquisitor Coteaz can be to a power minded list.  Utility has a place even in those instances.  

If you favor raw power, you will favor power that has serious staying ability.  MSU (Multiple Small Unit) army concepts really don't work as well when Power is your modis operandi, without toughness to back it up.  The trouble you always run into is the more elite the force, the less models you will see in your force.  Every casualty hurts.  Ask a Grey Knight player or other elite force General.  They will tell you that the raw power that the force pumps out is diminished far too quickly.  War Convocations are an example of an army that is pretty poor in the mobility department and relies on the elite power of its units.  The better generals spend the points to get as much hard core armor and protection leading those units as they are allowed.  The War Convocation does not tend to dominate tournaments because it lack the simple ability to get to where it wants to go.  Power house force components like a Riptide Wing for example, might have some elements of speed and power.  Increasingly we are seeing the units that can pump out raw power become really really sturdy as well.  Not in all cases, but certainly that is the trend.

Some additional food for thought on the matter:  Just look at the "power lists" below.  What do you see?

Tyrands:  6 Flying Hive Tyrants
Tau Empire:  StormSurge/Dual StormSurge W/ Y'Varah spam and/or Riptide Wing to back them up.
Space Wolves:  Wolfstars and Wulfen all with Thunderhammer and StormShields
Eldar:  WraithKnight+Jetbike spam with spare points spent on units to guard the line like D-Cannons.
Dark Eldar:  Venom spam with Haemonculous Coven or Corpsthief Claw allies
Space Marines:  White Scar Battle Companies featuring a thousand transports and Grav Amps.
Orks:  Meganobz in Trukks and lots of them backed by a Buzzgob Stompa
Grey Knights:  3-5 DreadKnights with deep Striking allies
Chaos Daemons:  Screamer Star with Belakor and summoning.  Possibly even Magnus.

The commonality cannot be lost on anyone.  These armies are tough, fast and powerful.  They don't tend to be MSU nor gun lines in the least (only the Battle Company can even afford to be because of its silly rules).  The pendulum strongly favors the speed here, even though it comes in all kinds of forms, whether it be the Scouting/outflanking Corpsethief Claws and Rhinos or it be the fast jump moves of the Tau Empire.  No one would take the Tyrant without the Wings.  No one would take the Y'Varah if it weren't faster than lightning.  No one would take the Kabalite Warriors without venoms if they could avoid it, and the ork general would probably not be so bold as to take Meganobz and walk them (I would but then, you know...it's me and I do those things).

In all cases, they have power and speed.  It is the speed with which that power can be deployed or pulled to safety that makes them as feared as they are, for firepower alone without the speed would leave all these choices at the mercy of faster forces that can limit their opportunities to strike.  It is that they are able to clear away from danger (or speed to it as the need may be)!

An example in the debate over Power vs. Speed:  I won with Tau Empire this year.  I was using the Gunfort for this tournament.  I used a StormSurge, a couple of Riptides (no Riptide Wing), and the rest of it was Fire Warriors, Sniper Drones and similarly ground bound things for the most part.  The list was lacking in more powerful Formations like the Drone Net.  I swept the tournament without them.  I used speed, deployment shenanigans, and good old Tau Empire Ethereal leadership.  The army didn't have lightning speed but it did have speed in the general sense, which allowed me to be JUST fast enough to get JUST far enough in my missions.  Without the luxury of the Gunfort's mobility, would the result have been the same?  Probably not.  Terrain alone would have seen t othat.  I needed mobility to win with less powerful units.  The lesson is:  it's possible.  Mobility was the ingredient that made it work.

I think the new question isn't just speed vs. mobility anymore.  A third element has been added by Celestine, Cawl, Magnus and the like:  Toughness.  The firepower of 7th Edition in all phases is lethal.  Heavy hitters without protection will disappoint.  My Fire Warriors got tough via their Gunfort, Celestine and Cawl through her rules, Magnus and WraithKnights through stat lines; and it is starting to matter as much as both speed and Power.  Toughness was never "not important", but it has taken on quite a life of its own with the extreme examples we now have, and more are on the way.

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