Is 40k tactical, or does the best list/army win? Is it just Rock/Scissor/Paper?
These were questions I asked about a year and a half ago when I started to build an army with the intention of serious (ish) play.
I did a lot of internet research and discovered a community I never knew existed. A lot of stuff I saw was black and white; folk seemed opinionated about everything. I read about 'broken' rules and unbeatable combinations.
I learned about Spam.
A good quote from the time went something like '...there are only three or four competitive builds in 40k...'
Wow. Not four competitive armies, only four builds...
My first army was Ultramarines. My collection (now about 3000 points) was mostly bought on Ebay. Composition of the force was guided by what was going cheap. An example: Predator tank with LAS turret and LAS sponsons. It's a metal model - there was no changing the loadout. Pre new codex that setup was costing a lot of points. I played it.
I also bought a load of jump troops and a jump pack chaplain (From an actual shop), and played them at the first All Scars meet where they ran into (in a 500 pt, 3-way game) Corteaz in a Landraider alongside Mik's Chaos, and then played Jon's well-put-together Necron list. Neither battle went well.
My 2000pt list for the inaugural tournament was every model I had. Paul Thompson handed my arse to me on a plate in the first game. Around the same time, I was playing against Ross's Tau in regular friendly games. Research told me to get in and show them, using close combat weapons, where they could stick (and eventually possibly find) the greater good. This had me charging everything I could at full pelt against Tau gun lines. I was not having much success. Paul's own gun-line had shown me a new way, however, and I started moving from conventional wisdom to find ways to play a more defensive game against the Tau; a game I felt suited me more.
I also started buying specific models to add to my forces. I won't bury you in the blow by blow escalation, but playing the same opponent regularly sees a sort of evolution. You play a game and want to change up for the next one, to do something better, to capitalize on a weakness...
Tactics. I started to see it, but it was still to do with the list (at least in my mind). This was punched home when I played my second tournament game, with my original list, against Andrew (looking back, my opening fixtures were tough).
Funny thing; I was really enjoying myself, felt challenged and engaged every time I played. The nuances of each game, the decisions each player made, seemed to be so important, and it surely couldn't be the rock/paper/scissors idea that I'd seen derogatorily bandied about.
Well it took a while (and 3000 points of tyranids) but the bullet finally got to my slow-going brain last week.
Escalation had been released and there was talk everywhere about unbeatable lists and combinations again (although there had been talk of screamerstars etc prior to that), so the question of tactics was in my head again.
I was playing against Simon Rooke's Orks in a game that was dramatically close. Turn 5 it was his. Turn six it was mine. Turn seven... The orks drive a battlewaggon (flat out instead of shooting) across two sets of dangerous terrain to block a small temple ruin doorway to stop my t-fex acid-spraying (and potentially routing) a nervous bunch of objective-holding boyz.
They even raised the spiked roller on the front to make sure there was no line of sight.
Never mind that the T-fex had lurched past a Tirvigon locked in combat with a single heroic ork who could have gotten linebreaker (had he not been squished), never mind the defcoptor that had just been beaten off from contesting a seperate objective (after doing a whirlwind tour of the entire battefied), never mind the termagants racing for linebraker themselves... That single battlewagon move cracked it open for me... you can't account for that in points. You can't account for that in anything.
And when I looked back I saw hundreds of things that had happened in my battles, and I realized that, actually, there definitely are tactics, and more than tactics; there are damned heroic and dramatic things going on in every game; decisions made in the heat of competition that can, will, and do make or break the fight – I actually feel for the little (and not so little) guys out there fighting for me.
So, I think a powerful list can put the odds against you (sometimes dramatically), but I will never say that I was beaten by a list. When my marines or Tyranids go out and see what they're up against it's time to employ the tactics necessary - with the tools they have. I also find myself using units (particularly with the tyranids) that do not have a great reputation on-line but suit my style of play, and that begins to smack of strategy.
When my guys (inevitably) do face a baneblade, well, it's time to grow a steely pair.
The ork game ended a draw; it was our second battle and the war continues. Meanwhile Ross' Necrons have emerged to take a regular gaming slot against the tyranids and, between shouting MINDSHACKLEF***INGSCARRABS and BLOODYRESSURECTIONPROTOCOLS, I can tell you I'm on the lookout for the next best tactical move.
(PS: don't get me started on the psychology involved).