Thursday, October 27, 2011

Dark Eldar: What does "Finesse Army" mean?

I had a discussion with Kirby of 3++ last night while we were watching folks play WM/H. I was brain-dumping some thoughts that came in to my head between my own experiences playing my Dark Eldar, some things that I've heard (and read) on 11th Company about the relatively low "competitive" level of the Dark Eldar, and thoughts on building a Grey Knight army...

The crux of the argument really boils down to this: is the Dark Eldar codex really competitive compared to more recent codices?

Some (I hate to speak for him, but I think Neil of 11th Company feels this way) think that the overwhelming firepower available to many armies (those most competitive in ...and I hate this phrase..."the tournament scene") will make a mockery of any cover the AV10 Open-topped vehicles will get. I believe I heard Neil say, or read, that he believes his GK list will shoot down about 6 Raider/Venoms a turn, even if all have 4+ cover.

Others believe that the maneuverability paid for in the Dark Eldar vehicles gives them an inherent advantage over less mobile forces, allowing them to avoid fire they don't want to take while maximizing shots at targets of their choice...i.e. to choose the engagement.

I wanted to explore this a little bit, but forgive my disjointed and run-on thoughts!

First, Dark Eldar vehicles are easy to kill. They are commonly called "paper airplanes". They have almost universally AV10, and are open-topped, making them both easy to penetrate and very vulnerable to destruction when the damage chart is rolled (although on the bright side, they're almost never Shaken...make lemonade out of lemons, folks!). Our transports are typically a Raider equipped with one Dark Lance, or a Venom equipped with two Splinter Cannons. The latter is excellent anti-infantry firepower, but the former is a single S8 shot...nice in numbers, but a single shot is not earth shattering. In lieu of real armor or more shootiness, we get Fast Skimmer rules, along with Open-topped.

To touch on the Open-Top first...this allows our troops to fire out, but only when going Combat speed. It also allows our troops to assault after disembarking after vehicle movement. This is great when we want to get up close and personal, and we have some nice troops to do that with...but the problem here is creating the situations where this can be done to be of benefit, and not just throwing troops (and their transport!) away. To have an assault actually work, we need a target for our assault, and for that more often than not we need to get the enemy troops out of their transports.

So being Fast Skimmers we get to zip around the table pretty quick. While most folks can only fire a single weapon when moving 6", or can move up to 12" without firing a shot...we can move 6" and fire everything, or 12" and fire a single weapon (plus defensive weapons...which allows us shoot splinter cannons!). Some of our vehicles (eg Ravagers) have Aerial Assault, which allows them to fire all their weapons after moving Cruising Speed (12").

So the question that what it means to be "Finesse"? An army that is not resilient, is not particularly shooty, but is fast?

For sake of argument, I'm going to say yes: this is what defines Finesse army in 40k. We can talk about the idiosyncrasies of different army builds and include lots of different concepts in what we call "finesse"...what about all Drop Pod Marines? What about foot Eldar? What about Storm Raven MEQ? Skipping all the possible permutations, I'm just going with that definition: "Finesse Army" (or unit) is one that sacrifices survivability and/or firepower for maneuverability.

So now I know what a Finesse Army is. It goes fast. It has to go fast. It can't stand toe-to-toe with more survivable armies with more will lose. It MUST make the maximum out of the speed it has to compete. It has no room for error in the movement phase. It needs to move to be out of line-of-sight and/or range of (potentially large) portions of the enemy's shooting, while allowing the bulk of it's firepower to be brought to bear, giving itself cover while denying it to the portion of the enemy's army that it wants to shoot. In short, it must use it's speed to find favorable 'match-ups' on the table.

There are some armies, and I'm not trying to say anything negative, I'm just rambling...some armies can just line up and shoot. You put down a bunch of Dreadnoughts, a bunch of Missile Launchers, a bunch of Chimeras, a bunch of Razorbacks, a bunch of Hydras, a bunch of Psycannons, etc...and you CAN just sit in one spot and shoot the enemy off the table. Some armies do this obnoxiously well (I'm looking at you, Leaf-blower!). They don't have to move, they don't need to move. This is not to say that they should not move, or that this is the best way to use them. Quite the contrary. The point is that they CAN just sit there and rely on 500 shots going downfield a turn.

My questions then multiply: first, is it possible to leverage the maneuverability a "finesse army" has in to local superiority to take on this type of force; and second, what happens when the player of that kind of army is not content to sit in one spot shooting, but actually matches our movements?

As to the first, well...that's a pretty broad question. To my brain, feeble as it is, that really seems to depend on the terrain. Is there big LOS blocking stuff that you can hide behind to deny parts of the enemy's army from shooting? Great! We stand a chance! Is there some terrain that can obscure our vehicles and provide cover to our other forces? Great! It's not hopeless! Is it a relatively open shooting ground with no place to hide and almost no cover providing terrain that allows approach to the enemy? Yea...well, we're screwed.

Seriously, I like Mike's Nova-style terrain. For 40k to not just be a game of shooting, there must be enough terrain to hide behind. It's imperative. I'll not repeat everything Mike wrote, but the game rules even discuss the need for terrain, and say that if the game is being dominated by shooting (as the "tournament scene" is), then more terrain is needed!

A note to tournament organizers everywhere...The 40k Tournament Scene is being dominated by shooting. In accordance with the rules, please add more Line Of Sight blocking terrain. Thank you!

So I think that in order for our "Finesse Army" to work, there MUST be terrain. If there's not enough, we'll suffer.

The second question then, is what happens when our opponent, who we would like to sit still and let us run circles around him, decides to run some circles of his own.

This is even tougher than the first question, but my gut-instinct is that if two players are both of equal skill at movement, the army that's more resilient and has more firepower will retain the advantage.

Even with some decent MVB style terrain, our Finesse Army is going to get shot at. A lot. And unless we've sacrificed a goat to Tzeentch to bless our dice, we're going to fail some cover saves. When we do, we die.

Now here I'm going off the deep-end, off the reservation, off the beaten path...I think our tables are too small. For the range of the weapons, relative to the movement of the vehicles that dominate our tables, there's simply not enough room to maneuver. Maneuverability does not buy me much when I can't use it to get out of range of my enemy...and in 40k against an opponent that's not content to sit in one spot, I can't get away. The typical MEQ weapon that's shooting at me is 48". If he's somewhere near the middle of the table, there's absolutely nowhere I can go to get away. I might get some cover, I might get a few vehicles out of line of sight, but the bulk of my army has to take it up the ass on the chin.

Give us another foot on every table side...let us start out of range...give us some room to maneuver, and lo! we have a far more tactical game with movement options and "operational" level things going on leading up to tactical action. The really long-range guns (IG Artillery, Railguns, etc) will enjoy that one of their greatest assets is being used, while Finesse Armies will enjoy using the speed they have to actually be able to gang up on parts of a slower enemy who struggles to come to grips with a faster opponent...unless he's able to leverage his superior firepower and survivability.

Do I think we all need to buy bigger tables? Well...yeah...but I don't think it's going to catch on. I can only hope, right!

But realistically, we're stuck with these 6x4 tables, so those of us with Finesse Armies have to make the best of it. Are we completely screwed? Well...yeah, but that's no reason to give up hope!

I have a lot of thoughts on how we can use speed to nullify parts of our opponents army while ganging up on smaller bits of it, and I'll talk about them more another time. Until then, Kirby did a series that touches on some of my ideas. For those of you that haven't read them, I think they're some of his best articles, please read and enjoy:

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