Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Man(iple) Up! Part 2

Ave frater,

Last time we talked about the history of the Roman maniple as a short introduction to this series of articles. There are multiple ways we can interpret the lessons of the maniple and apply them to our game of 40k, both strategically and in the story of the universe. Because we have different armies we will be looking at different applications of different principles all shown in the maniple system. This is going to take a while, so settle in and I hope you enjoy my ramblings.

So, let's look at the organization of the maniple system first and see what we can learn from it. From our color-coded helper we can see that there were different groups within the maniple legions, whose composition we discussed last time. The hastati, principes and triarii fought in essentially the same way, but were composed of different age groups of Roman legionnaires with different experience levels and different physical capabilities. Anyone who wants to draw a comparison with the space wolves' organization into blood claws, grey hunters, long fangs, etc would not be far off the mark.

The Roman phalanx was abandoned because of its inability to adapt to the uneven terrain of Samnium. Rather than trying to force their enemies to fight on terrain favorable to the Romans, the maniple was organized into smaller groups that could fight without relying on the terrain to allow the phalanx to form. Now, as far as infantry goes 40k players don't have to worry about the phalanx's lack of maneuverability because infantry models in 40k move independently as long as they remain within two inches of each other. Fantasy players have to worry about their regimented units wheeling and could look at ancient warfare tactics in a more directly applicable manner, but that would disregard a lot of the intricacies of a game I am not generally familiar with. Though there is one place in 40k where the phalanx's lack of maneuverability still comes back to bite players.

Besides being an example of a well painted army, this guard army from Adepticon shows how too much of a good thing can lead to problems. This guard army is admittedly lined up on a display board rather than deployed for a game, but some players like to take this style of army and deploy like they were on a display board. This type of deployment runs into the same problem that the phalanx did: lack of maneuverability because of tight formation. Because models (barring skimmers) cannot move through other models, the vehicles in this formation would be limited to either moving straight forward or moving their length and a bit forward before they could pivot and change direction, consuming most of their movement and possibly their shooting ability also.

This brings up one of the bigger differences between 40k and fantasy, how you win the game. In Fantasy there are missions, but generally speaking the point of the game is to win on victory points and the best way to do that is to KILL THEM ALL (KTA), as the Templar would say it. This points armies toward being based around being the killy-est they can be and disregarding all else. I exaggerate as there are different units in fantasy and different unit types that serve to kill in different ways and most of the game happens in the movement phase, but it is generally resolved through bloody combat. There are 40k armies that are similarly oriented, for instance the all Death Company army that a Mr. Kent won best sport with at Conquest Calgary's reenactment of the Drop Site Massacre, but there is a flaw in the army's design.

While we all love having our plastic spacemen charge into the fray and slaughter our enemies, that isn't how you win at 40k, except in kill point missions. Now Godfrey is really hoping for a 6x6 (mission and deployment types) setup for sixth edition, but for now we've got a 3x3 system and two of the three mission types are based around objectives. The problem with the death company army is that it has no scoring units, so it cannot hold objectives, and cannot win based on the win condition of the capture and control or seize ground missions and will have to aim to table its opponent to win. It may be able to force a draw through contesting points, but it cannot win without tabling the opponent. This type of mentality, while certainly enjoyable, is setting a player up for failure before the first model hits the table. A good army will have scoring units, but some will only have the two that are forced on them by the force organization chart because most armies troops section is not renowned for their destructive capabilities or durability like the death company are. These qualities are usually found in other units, generally from the elites and heavy support sections respectively.

There are some advantages to troops lacking the durability and destructive capacity of other types of units. Mr. Gilstrap from The 11th Company was discussing why some Grey Knight players only field what are essentially three to five man guardsman squads and put it very well saying the Grey Knight player can bet his opponent 'won’t shoot his acolytes because if you do, you are neglecting killing something that is far more lethal.' If we were looking at a space marine army we might consider how the opponent might prioritize targets. Sniper scouts are the least durable unit in the codex and have the least damage output, besides a drop pod or an empty rhino. If you are looking at them in the KTA mindset, they are the worst unit in the codex, but if you are looking at them in the same army as a hammer unit (or two) like thunder hammer terminators, they reach near invulnerability because of your opponent's target priority, assuming they are also in a KTA mindset. The terminators are a much larger threat to kill any unit, making them the more likely to be killed themselves, where the scouts are pathetic and not worthy of the shots that would be spent to kill them in a KTA mindset.

The phalanx was a great example of a hammer unit and a KTA mindset. It shoved a line of shields and spears forward until it slaughtered its opponents. The Samnites had the advantage because they knew the terrain better and used small groups and guerrilla tactics to harass the Romans rather than fighting a set battle. Unfortunately, 40k is a set battle scenario and to better adapt out tactics to it, we need to look at how the Romans fought the Samnites. The broke up the phalanx into smaller groups that could work independently. Each maniple had its own commander and was able to fight in a phalanx three men deep and forty men across; a very small amount for a phalanx. All of the maniples could fight together, but individual maniples could be deployed to different parts of the battle field to deal with threats to the army as a whole. So, how can this be applied to 40k?
Things we know: 1. Scoring units are needed to win most missions 2. Players can fall into a Kill Them All (KTA) mindset 3. This causes them to prioritize units that do the most damage to their army first 4. The less damage a unit can cause or sustain the lower priority it is to a KTA player.

So, what we need in our army is to be able to react to changes on the battlefield, a way to keep our troops alive and plenty of troops. We know that most troops units don't get much in the way of damage output, but that means they are less of a threat to your opponent. They also aren't as durable as other units, but we can throw more bodies in to make them durable, which makes them a larger threat, so less bodies is less threatening.

We also need some kind of distraction unit, not necessarily a hammer unit, but one that is more threatening than our troops so the enemy shoots that unit rather than our troops and keeps our troops alive longer so they can win games for us. Again, these distractions would preferably be mobile, as they can apply their threat to more places on the board and distract more units from our troops. Unfortunately, these distractions are expensive so we probably need to have really small troops choices to afford to have the distractions we need.

So we need small, ignorable units in our troops and distractions in other slots that are generally distracting because they cause more damage than the troops units do. We need to be mobile, so multiple small units that don't do much damage guarded by distractions that cause more damage. Can you think of any examples of how other players have applied these principles?

Adhuc tua messis in herba est


  1. I would say this is one mindset, and one that i myself do not really tend to follow. It has decent points to it and can be viable, but to me, putting a unit on the table that is weak or ignorable is generally a waste of points and the tactic itself falls apart agains players who are experienced enough to know the basic fact of troops win games.

    I play Templar, and with it come a lot of bodies. I have one troops choice, and it's balanced by two things. They're versatile and vicious. I spend massive amount of point in troops not out of necessity, but out of the ideal that they will be the focal point of my army. It's hard to answer that many bodies.

    Orks, Tyranids (especially those not relying on Terv. spam), and most horde armies play by this mentality. Tau (using the armada list [5 full redundant fire warriors squads all in devil fish moving together backed by suits] also function off of this idea of maximizing our mandatory units.

    While I get that this article focuses on deception, I personally go for a more brute strength mentality of forcing the enemy to focus on my entire army at once rather than piece meal myself.

    All in all though, was a good read.

  2. Hi heretic. Techmarine Lucion here from implausible nature. Great post. I enjoy historical analogies to games to test validity.

    I would suggest Darkwynns black templar list which won the feast of blades tournament.

    He uses 1 troop squad supported with HQs in a LRC, and 2 small troop squads for grabbing objectives.

    Pdf here on my website.


    Alexander Begg
    South America

  3. Godfrey, you're right that there are weaknesses in the maniple mindset, but I would argue that the mindset does not necessarily fall apart if used against an experienced opponent. I won't dispute that you can put the majority of your points into your troops, as there are armies whose troops are able to deal a good bit of damage, but that ability is generally dwarfed by the ability of units from other FOC slots. I would even argue that your templar army in fact incentivizes opponents to dealing with your army piecemeal, especially the Righteous Zeal special rule.

    Eye, always good to meet a new reader! I'm glad you also enjoyed the article. I'd heard an interview with Mr. Rose on the 11th Company, but I had missed his army list. I've got to thank you for the writing I'll do on that list and I hope to hear from you again.

  4. I won't say this tactic has no merit, because it most certainly does. What I was getting at more is that it seems to fit an ideal of MSU by using these small squads for more support than active rolls on the field. While this works, it makes the points you spend on these smaller support units less likely to be useful in themselves (hints the support).

    I think they have their uses, but in my experience these units generally fall pretty fast to just about any unwanted attention vs the dedicated effort it takes to deal with units that have been fitted with the extra bodies, equipment, and/or transport that have been used to make them more active units.

    I like the support units, but I know their uses are limited in terms of what they can do alone. This is why I try to maximize the number of capable units, so when i loose my "high threat" units, I'm not sitting with a large number weaker units.

    This is all personal view and is in no way meant to undermine the thoughts of the O.P. I just like the idea of discussion.

  5. No offense taken, you know I love discussion as much as you do. I just had to poke you with a stick to get you to respond. Troops units do not need to be impotent in some aspect, though they generally are outside of the marine codices. I would be interested in reading about how you define these support and active roles you mentioned.

    Part of this mindset is that it is possible to kill the troops choices, but it is not generally advisable to do so before you have dealt with the distraction units. In Mr. Rose's list I would label most of the units distractions, especially the two terminator units. The fifteen crusaders are easy to kill, but the Terminators are destructive enough that not concentrating on bringing them down could be suicidal. Also, with a bit of terrain, it's pretty easy to hide five marines from most units' LoS.

  6. While yes it's easy to hide them, the difference is that those squads are not actively participating in the battle. They may hold a point or two, but the general feeling I have is that they will not do much more than aid the units that are perceived as "dangerous."

    This could be helpful as they may be able to hold a point while the other units draw fire (which i feel is your point) but at some point these troop units will be the target (whether this be by your active units being destroyed, or they realize you're still holding that point). When this happens, small units designed to never see combat won't hold up nearly as well or reliably.

    I know using my troops as a big part of my army is a risk endeavor as it makes them a target faster, but it does allow me to maximize the power my army can bring as almost if not every model and their points will be used offensively, rather than only using some of my units and points.

    To me I feel that the army which brings more points to a particular engagement will generally have a slight advantage. This of course precludes the issue of dice, but that is a whole 'nother topic of discussion.


  7. I'm actually putting the finishing touches on an article going through part of an example army list, how the units work and how they show the principles of the maniple mindset. I'll publish it tomorrow, but it is possible to have these smaller units participating in the battle, even if they don't contribute much. In some cases it is advisable to keep them out of the battle as long as possible, but I'll go into those examples in more depth later.