Friday, March 9, 2012

40K - A Matter of Scale


I have been reading a lot lately about other people's experiences of 40K, one post comparing its scale and size of engagement to Flames of War, another post considering matters of the number of units that one can comfortably control during a game, a build request using the latest rules for Eldar tanks in the recently published Imperial Armour 11, and how to run Ram-Eldar at the end of 5th edition.

This got me thinking about the scale and size of the games I play, and how I use my Eldar forces, now that their codex is about to fall behind by two whole editions of the main rules.

Ground Scale

As SandWyrm pointed out in the first-noted post above, 40K's ground scale is out of whack compared to other games systems. This really struck me when Conscript Greg ran his latest game of FUBAR. In that game, the human mercenaries' forces were functionally the size of a 1500+ point Warhammer 40K force - 3 squads of powered armour, a command element, 3 medium tanks, and a couple of main battle tanks. (This force could easily be thought of in 40K terms as 3 Tactical Squads, a Captain with retinue, 3 Predators and a couple of Land Raiders.) However, at 6mm scale the FUBAR game took place over what was functionally 4 or 5 times the land area of a similarly sized 40K game.

With larger games (say 2000 points and up), playing 40K on a 6' x 4' table is like having a tank battle on a soccer pitch. Some people describe such an event as a "parking lot" as they behold the spectacle of a dozen tanks deployed track to track beside each other.

Smaller Games?

Back in January, I had a great time playing at 40kegger III, with its small, 1,000-point forces and fast games. For me, such smaller forces suggested a few things:

  • fewer models to clutter up the table (and thus giving more scope for maneuver)

  • an inability to fill up force organization slots (you just don't have the points!)

  • increased ability to keep track of events (in larger games, I am notorious for forgetting to do this or that; there's a reason I use a lot of "Do Something" markers)

  • quicker games (1,000 point games can be completed in 60-90 minutes)

  • more games (you could get in a couple of 1,000-pt. games in an evening's play)
So, over the last few weeks I've managed to get in a dozen games of 40K, all but two of them have been played at 1,000 points or less per side. I have found the experience very refreshing.

At that points level, when you try to design a balanced list you are probably going to leave something out that you'd rather not. For my Eldar, that could mean going without an extra Fast Attack unit. If I take that Hornet light tank, I'm not taking my Warp Spiders, and vice versa. Or, it could mean the lack of redundancy; I would really like another squad of Fire Dragons, but that's not going to happen. It's a challenge trying to complete missions with fewer tools in the toolbox.


1. Fun with Black Dragons


During Reading Week, my friend Prof. David Annandale came over to push around some figures. (David is one of the latest authors to write for Black Library. You can download his eerily cool short story, The Carrion Anthem, in an anthology here. Look out for novellas and a novel to be released next year.)

Dave is new to playing 40K. He is in the midst of putting together a force from the Black Dragons chapter of the Imperial Space Marines. For our initial foray, we set up a small Kill Team scenario pitting a Tactical Squad of 10 Marines against a brute squad of Eldar Guardians led by a Warlock, holding a prepared position. Dave familiarized himself with 40K's turn sequence as he maneouvered his troops into contact with the Xeno scum. After taking some casualties, the Marines managed to wipe out the small alien incursion in close combat.

We then proceeded to set up and play an objective-based scenario, using 1,000 point forces. My favourite event of the game was when Dave decided to deal with a tank that was bombarding his dug-in Tactical Squads. The tank was near a table edge, so if he tried to deep strike his Terminators near it a Mishap was very possible - which could cost him the entire unit. Dave threw caution to the wind and managed to stick the Terminators right behind the tank!


They shot off the tank's main gun, which was a very cinematic outcome to this bold move. I do like the cut of this man's jib!

2. Beer Run:
Your forces need to stock up on beer. To your surprise, you stumble into a warzone with a pile of beer kegs that someone seems to have left behind. However, you are not the only thirsty commander in the area...

My iaido dojo mate Duncan came over for a couple of games. Again, he brought out a themed Thousand Sons force of Chaos Space Marines.

  • HQ: Chaos Lord, Mark of Tzeentch, TL Bolter

  • Troops: 8 Thousand Sons, Aspring Champion w/ Doom Bolt, riding in a Rhino

  • Troops: 8 Thousand Sons, Aspring Champion w/ Doom Bolt, riding in a Rhino

  • Fast Attack: 5 Raptors, 2 x Meltaguns, Icon of Tzeentch

  • Heavy Support: 2 Obliterators

For our first game, we played the Beer Run scenario from last year's 40Kegger II. Six beer kegs were randomly scattered around the table. You would get a Mission Point each turn for each keg held by a unit. Random bonus MPs would be awarded for kegs controlled at the end of the game.


Duncan won the initial roll-off, and decided to go second. This was his only error in the game. With this kind of scenario, one should probably try and go first, so as to seize kegs as soon as possible. With choice of side, I chose the side with the fewer number of kegs. This would entice the K-Sons to get out of their transports, to be shot at by my Eldar.

Look at me, forgoing my usual "reserves denial" ploy and actually deploying figures on the table before the start of a game...


I scouted the Hornet ahead. First turn, the Dire Avengers grabbed a keg and everybody else moved off in a northerly direction. I pushed the Hornet right into the face of Duncan's Rhinos, to try and box them into the northern table half; they would be unable to use their road bonus.


After their ride got shot up, some K-Sons disembarked by a couple of kegs.


The Eldar moved northward. Another squad of Avengers disembarked to grab a second objective. To the west, the Autarch dismounted with the Fire Dragons.


All the K-Sons came out to play, including the Chaos Lord. As a squad moved to capture a keg, the Lord moved separately to grab another.


Concentrated fire from the Autarch/Dragons and Eldar tanks killed the Lord and most of a squad.


Fire from the Thousand Sons wiped out the Dragons. Some Chaos Obliterators deep struck, killing the Autarch and subsequently destroying a Wave Serpent.


The game devolved into two separate hand to hand fights as the Obliterators finished off a squad of Avengers, and the Wraithlord laid the smackdown on the remaining K-Sons.


At the end of the game, the Eldar still had a beer keg, granting a few bonus points.

Result: Eldar = 14 Mission Points; Thousand Sons = 4 Mission Points; Eldar win

3. Keys to the V.I.P.:
Your forces have stocked up on beer, and now it is time to get the night rolling. Your commander has ordered the men to "pre-game" for the night, and the men have responded by cracking the kegs on the way to the "Dominus Tripudio", the sector's local drinking hole...

For our second game, we played the second scenario from 40Kegger II. The centrepiece of this game was a beautiful, scratch-built Mos Eisly cantina, created by Conscript Frederick for me when I ran a lot of Star Wars Miniatures Battles. The structure features a bar, and even has a removable roof.

Duncan changed up his list a bit, adding Terminators and dropping the Raptors:

  • HQ: Chaos Lord, Mark of Tzeentch, Power Fist, Personal Icon

  • Troops: 8 Thousand Sons, Aspring Champion w/ Bolt of Change, riding in a Rhino

  • Troops: 8 Thousand Sons, Aspring Champion w/ Bolt of Change, riding in a Rhino

  • Elite: 3 Chaos Terminators, 3 x Power Fists, 1 x Reaper Autocannon

  • Heavy Support: 1 Obliterator
I like this list a lot. The Terminators are very resilient. The K-Sons now have duality of capability, since their bolters fire with AP3 and the Bolt of Change is like a pocket Lascannon.

At the start of the game, only each side's HQ could deploy. Also, vehicles would move as if in bad going, since all their crews were driving drunk. Fast skimmers could move safely, but only if moving at 6" or less.

You could gain Mission Points by ending the game with your commander in the enemy deployment zone/table half (25 MPs), for killing the enemy commander (10 MPs), for having more VPs worth of models in the opponent's deployment zone (10 MPs), and for getting your commander in contact with the enemy table edge (5 MPs).

Duncan won the roll, and decided to go second, appropriately in this scenario. I set up the Autarch behind the water treatment plant. The Thousand Sons commander was deployed inside the cantina, which we treated as a concrete building. Not a bad move. It put the Chaos leader closer to the Eldar deployment zone, and would draw attention away from his more vulnerable transports early in the game.


Taking first turn, the Autarch moved out and shot the cantina with her fusion gun. Getting a Shaken result, the Chaos Champion would not be able to fire out of the building.


Next turn, several Eldar units showed up. The Hornet managed to immobilize itself, due to the pilot's DUI. The Autarch embarked into a Dire Avenger tank. Concentrated fire destroyed the building and killed the Champion, despite his being in cover. In the photo below, the cantina roof represents the rubble of the ruined building.


Across the table, some Chaos Terminators showed up, Shaking the Warp Hunter with autocannon fire.


Unable to fire, the Warp Hunter moved to block the movement of the Chaos transports down the road.


Below, a K-Sons squad moves past the destroyed Eldar tank. To the east, another Chaos Rhino moved south and west.


The remaining Eldar tanks moved north and west, playing the distance game. The Wraithlord ran ahead to get into the Chaos deployment zone.


An Obliterator squad showed up, just in time to be gunned down by some Fire Dragons. Meanwhile, the Wraithlord assaulted the Terminators.


This was actually a bad set of moves on my part. I should not have pushed the second Avenger squad so far ahead; rather, I should have kept it back to capstone the tank in which the Autarch rode. I contemplated moving the Autarch's ride flat out, to get the Autarch in contact with the north board edge. However, movement would require a Difficult Terrain test - if I failed, the Autarch and all embarked troops would die outright, since being immobilized going flat out destroys the vehicle, and the vehicle was not equippped with Vectored Engines. So, I changed my mind and moved the Autarch's transport only around 12".


Thus, the Autarch's tank was wide open to fire from both dismounted Thousand Sons squads. A Bolt of Change destroyed the Wave Sepent. Long range bolter fire killed some of the dismounted Avengers, but the Autarch's morale held.The game ended with the Eldar forces firmly ensconced in the northern half of the table.

Result: Eldar = 45 Mission Points; Thousand Sons = 0 Misison Points; Eldar win

The game was a lot closer than the points spread would indicate. If the Autarch had died or broken, the Chaos forces would have won, 20-10.

4. 40K Night at Dallas'

Last Thursday Dallas hosted a 40K themed evening. Dallas set up a 4' square table and made up 1,000-point lists for three of his armies. I brought my Eldar:


4.a. Seize Ground: 3 Objectives/Dawn of War deployment

Dallas rolled with his Tyranids:

  • HQ: shooty Hive Tyrant

  • Troops: 5 Tyranid Warriors with various weapons

  • Troops: 10 Genestealers

  • Troops: 10 Genestealers

  • Elite: 2 Zoenthropes

  • Heavy Support: shooty Carnifex


We set up 3 objectives in a rough line from northwest to southeast. Dallas won the roll, and decided to go second. I didn't deploy, reserving the Hornet. Dallas declined to deploy, reserving the Genestealers.

First turn, the rest of the Eldar moved onto the table, moving north. The two lead tanks (the Warp Hunter and the Fire Dragons' Serpent) moved flat out, gaining cover saves. They also capstoned the Avengers' tanks, granting the latter cover saves, too. All the tanks gave the slower moving Wraithlord cover. The Eldar stayed to the centre of the table, wary of the outflanking Genestealers.



The Carnifex and the Warriors came onto the table in the northwest corner, using the forest for cover. The Tyrant and the Zoenthropes similarly moved into the northeast corner.

The Zoenthropes were the greatest threat to my tanks, so they had to go. The Hornet came on from reserves to the southeast. The Dragons moved flat out right in front of the Warriors. The Warriors were a scoring unit; the idea was to dismount next turn and kill as many of those Warriors as possible, to set them up for later tank fire.

Concentrated tank fire killed off the Zoenthrope Brood.


The Carnifex shot down the Dragon's Wave Serpent, but they disembarked out of charge reach of the Warriors.


Meanwhile, the Genestealers had Outflanked to the west. One squad was able to run fast enough to get into charge reach of an Avenger tank; however, they were only able to pull off its turreted guns.


The Warp Hunter moved west to inflict an Aether Rift on the Genestealers in the southwest. The two surviving Wave Serpents moved back south in a modified Serpent of Fury formation, so the Avengers could disembark and fire. The Warithlord stepped in front of the Avengers, to shield them from an assault.


The third turn was the decisive turn of the game. Massed Eldar fire wiped out 19 of 20 Genestealers and half the Warriors.


Retribution was swift. The Tyrant, Carnifex and surviving Warriors ganged up on the Autarch and Dragons; the six Eldar in that close combat all died, but they left a single Warrior on the table to support the big bugs.


The Wraithlord killed the last Genestealer, and the Avengers all zipped back up under tank armour. The survivng Eldar transports moved east, taking control of the objective there. Tank fire killed the last Warrior, and left one of the big bugs with only a single wound.


Without any Troops left alive, there was no way for the Tyranids to win, and with only two Monstrous Creatures left on the table, they couldn't stop the Eldar from controlling at least one objective.

Result: Eldar = 1 Objective; Tyranids = 0 Objectives; Eldar win

4.b. Capture and Control: 2 Objectives/Spearhead deployment

There was time to get in a second game. Dallas decided to switch to his Plague Marines:

  • HQ: Winged Daemon Prince with Warp Time

  • Troops: 7 Nurgle Marines w/ Melta and Plasma in a Rhino

  • Troops: 7 summoned Daemons

  • Fast Attack: 1 Blight Drone

  • Heavy Support: Vindicator self-propelled gun


The Blight Drone is a Forge World kit that Dallas finshed very well, indeed. The Daemon Prince is a conversion, IIRC.


Meanwhile, I decided to go with Dallas' Black Templars. If memory serves, these models were in an army Dallas won a RTT with several years ago.

  • HQ: Chaplain w/ Jump Pack

  • HQ: Emperor's Champion

  • Troops: 10 Tactical Marines in a Rhino

  • Troops: 6 Tactical Marines in a Razorback w/ TL Lascannons

  • Fast Attack: 10 Assault Marines with Jump Packs

  • Fast Attack:1 Landspeeder with Multi-Melta


One objective went on the southern table edge; I figured I could be able to control it with troops in the cover of the nearby woods. The other was placed just northwest of the centre of the table; Dallas placed it there so as to keep it within striking distance of all his forces - if placed to far away, the superior mobility of the Black Templars might allow them to seize it without an adequate response.

Dallas again won the initial die roll. I deployed only the Emperor's Champion, hiding in the woods, able to assault anything coming close to the objective nearby. Everything else was placed in reserve. Dallas deployed the Plague Marines. Blight Drone, Vindicator, and the Daemon Prince in the northwest table quarter.


The Razorback and the Landspeeder came on second turn. The Razorback moved into the southeast quarter, the Landspeeder to the southwest. The Landspeeder immobilized a Chaos Rhino.

Some Daemons were summoned near the northernmost objective. The Drone shot up the Landspeeder, taking off its gun. The Vindicator moved south. The Daemon Prince moved into contact with the Razorback and destroyed it in close combat. The Emperor's Champion took up the challenge and assaulted the Prince, inflicting three wounds. The Prince, straining to use Warp Time, instead rolled an "11" and suffered Perils of the Warp, killing himself in the process.


The Assault Marines and the Rhino moved on to the southwest.

The remaining Chaos Rhino moved south. Plague Marines disembarked and lit up the Emperor's Champion, real good.


The Assault Marines moved north and wiped out the small squad of Daemons. The Landspeeder also moved to help contest that objective.


To the south, the decisive contest was around the objective there. The Tactical Squad from the Rhino were able to get into close combat, but the other Templars squad failed their Difficult Terrain test.


The Plague Marines proved very resilient, winning close combat and breaking the Templars, who routed off the table. Rolling for random game length, Dallas rolled a "2" and the game ended.


Result: Nurgle Marines = 1 Objective; Black Templars = 0 objectives; Nurgle win

It was a fun evening of gaming, interspersed with bon mots from Conscript Brian.

Crimsonwing (a.k.a. Crimson Fists 1st Company)

The smaller model count of these various forces has gotten me working again on my Deathwing models, to be painted in Crimson Fists colours.

  • HQ: 1 counts-as Belial, Master of the Deathwing, 130 pts

  • Troops: Terminator Squad; 4 Terminators (Apothecary, Narthecium/Reductor; Assault Cannon); 1 Sergeant; 275 pts

  • Troops: Terminator Squad; 4 Terminators (paired Lightning Claws x4; Cyclone Missile Launcher); 1 Sergeant (Thunder Hammer & Storm Shield); 235 pts

  • Elite: 1 Mortis Dreadnought (IA) (Twin Linked Autocannon x2); 125 pts

  • Elite: 1 Venerable Dreadnought (Extra Armor; Venerable; Heavy Flamer; Multi-melta); 1 Lucius Pattern Dreadnought Drop Pod (IA); 230 pts
Total = 14 models @ 995 points

Every loss will be felt dearly, but everything's Fearless and/or hard as nails. I don't know if I'll win a lot of games with this compact force, but it should be fun to try.

Ramming Speed! (a.k.a. "Ramdar")

Several of the games described above have been played basically using the list I used at 40Kegger. For the next few games involving my Eldar Swordwind, based on Stelek`s posts I have decided to downgrade some guns and beef up the Wave Serpents to be ramming tanks. Equipped with Vectored Engines, they cannot be destroyed by Immobilized results on the vehicle damage table, so they can both ram enemy transports and tank shock infantry in cover. With shorter-range guns and enhanced ramming capability, I'll have to play even more agressively with this force to make it work on the table.

  • HQ: 1 Autarch (Power Weapon; Fusion Gun); 90 pts

  • Troops: 5 Dire Avengers; 1 Wave Serpent (Vectored Engines; TL Shuriken Cannons); 180 pts

  • Troops: 5 Dire Avengers; 1 Wave Serpent (Vectored Engines; TL Shuriken Cannons); 180 pts

  • Elite: 5 Fire Dragons; 1 Wave Serpent (Vectored Engines; Shuriken Cannon; TL Shuriken Cannons); 210 pts

  • Fast Attack: 1 Hornet (IA) (Star Engines; Scatter Laser; Pulse Laser); 105 pts

  • Heavy Support: 1 Warp Hunter (IA); 125 pts

  • Heavy Support: 1 Wraithlord (Flamer x2; Wraithsword; Shuriken Cannon); 110 pts
Total = 1,000 points exactly

Conscript Kevin probably won't be shocked by this list. Other options include swapping out the Wraithlord for another Hornet and some wargear/upgrades.

I am pretty commited now to the concept of smaller games, for various systems. So much so that I ordered a 4' square table top from War Zone Gaming Terrain Systems. It will be useful for 40K and other, more skirmish-level, games I plan to run, including more Colonial Marines vs. Aliens, and the Ancient Greek Hoplites I just got in the mail (can you say Jason and the Argonauts?).

ETA: Fritz, on his blog, posted about the sizes of the games we play. He thinks that 1000 points should be the standard of the game, not the least reason for which was ease on the wallet.


Muskie said...

I totally agree about 40K scale being way off. It used to be you could run as far in say 15 seconds as you could should an automatic submachine gun.

This problem isn't unique to 5th edition, when I first started playing in the early 90s people would get mad at me for not gluing together all my orks and gretchin so they could field more of their army and kill more of mine. People want to pile all their toys on the table, even unpainted toys. Hence Apocolypse scale games.

I've yet to play in an Apoclypse scale game though like a lot of things I bought the rule book when I should have been studying something else. I also stick to only fielding painted models and only assembling models I plan to paint. Hordes of unpainted or even partially speed painted models don't appeal to me much.

I think things get particularly out of whack at some tournaments down South where 2500 points is crammed onto a 6*4 foot table with medium terrain. Hence why reserving your entire force and skipping a turn or two of game play is such a popular tactic now. We used to play on 8*4 tables or bigger back in the day we also used to play lengthwise in Rogue Trader era. Now obviously bigger tables isn't possible for a lot of people due to cost and space restrictions, which is why I wish skirmish sized games were more popular. I'm going to have to run a skirmish sized campaign again someday. But I'm not in a position to do so and don't know when I'll be...

I personally also often enforce additional army choice restrictions on myself besides the obvious must be fully painted and WYSIWYG. I'm curious to see what 6th edition and new Chaos rules in particular brings. I haven't played in over a year, if too much more time goes passed, maybe I'll never get back into the game...

MrLee said...

Great set of battle reps there, and comments on the scale of 40k also.

Haven't been playing it for a while due to the SM spam that happens in my local area, but even if I did I can't see my Orks doing so well with them all huddled up together on the table. Just screams template spam against me, and then its no longer fun.

Great looking armies that you got to play with/against. Makes me want to get back to painting mine up and maybe even playing again, but in smaller games obviously. :)

DaveV said...

Muskie, I don`t mind the odd WIP fig, but I very much prefer to play against fully painted armies. Seeing hordes of Casper Legions (i.e. unpainted figs) kind of ruins some Apocalypse events for me. These days, I also won`t field unpainted miodels. Takes me out of the game, so to speak.

I remember playing lots of 40K on a 9 foot by 5 foot ping pong table packed with terrain. A couple of times we also eplayed West End`s Star Wars Miniatures Battles with only 7 good guy heroes on such a table, representing Mos Eisly space port.

Mr. Lee, even Kill Team (200 pt forces from the Battle Missions book) and Combat Patrol (500 pt forces) havde a lot of scope for interesting 40K games. At 1000 points you basically have a reinforced section or light platoon, which IMO is much easier to manage than the company-sized engagements you often see now.

We are spoil in Winnipeg. There`s a lot ofpeople with beautiful armies around here.

Jim Hounslow said...

cempage CallitDave,

Having played both 40K and FoW, I'm in complete agreement with both linked articles.

But I'd actually go a bit further and say that FoW's ground scale is too short , at times, even FoW feels 15mm minis feel too large on the table. I often wonder if the game would be better suited to 10mm or even 6mm.

28mm works better as a skirmish system with platoon size or smaller units.

Warhammer has gotten ridiculous. 8th ed requires even more minis in larger units. I'm slowly bulking mine up from 7th ed.

I play Rules of Engagement (RoE); WWII platoon level + support skirmish. I have a German grenadier platoon with 30 grenadiers, a command unit of 6, two HMGs and a mortar squad; 45 minis in total.

I like both scales: the size and detail of 28mm mini, and the mass of minis in 15mm.

In terms of rules, I prefer FoW for the reasons covered in the article. It's also easier, quicker and cheaper to buy, build and paint a company in 15mm than 28mm for 40K.


Greg B said...

Neat post Dave. Thanks for the links to those articles. I would suggest the problems in 40k go much beyond the scale of the game. Even a smaller 40k games still leaves an unsatisfied feeling, because the core mechanics are simply off. Flames of War is somewhat better, but only in a relative sense - almost any other rules I try for skirmish and for company-level gaming are superior to both. FOW is just a little further back in the degradation curve.

DaveV said...

Jim, I picked up the FoW 3rd ed. rulebook. I like what I've read so far. One thing I really like about FoW is how tank crews can be caused to bail out. You read and hear historical accounts of this a lot.

Greg, I love the 40K background, which keeps me in the game despite the rules. SJG did a very clean set of skirmish battle armour rules almost 30 years ago called Battlesuit. One die roll to get hit, damage and morale effect. I've been looking at DriveThruRPG and Wargame Vault, seeking alternative rules to do Colonial Marines vs. Aliens vs. Predators.

JP40kegger said...

Thanks for using the 40kegger missions in such a wonderful study of 40k scale. I really think that 1000 point games are overseen in the 40k community, so it's nice to see some support.

I really havn't explored the world of tabletops outside of 40k. Like you, I am hooked on the background quite intensely.

Looking forward to starting Malifaux which seems like a great gang-sized skirmish game.

DaveV said...

J.P., I did just pick up the Rasputina faction for Malifaux. Don't know when I'll be able to get to them, since I want to concentrate on Aliens v. Predator universe and Heroic Age Greece skirmish stuff as my non-40K vices this year.

Thanks for getting me into 40Kegger. The smaller armies have gotten me very interested in mixing up my Eldar (I usually run only one list during any particular tournament season), as well as working again on other factions. Besides starting up again on my Crimson Fists I just put together the last models for a 1K Imperial Guard list - 53 troops, two tanks and a Hades Breaching drill.