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The Tiger Roars 
Guest Commentary

The Emperor’s Gridiron  by Ross Watson
Ross WatsonVeterans are not just born overnight – it takes quite a bit of experience! Transitioning into a veteran player isn’t always easy, so I’ve chosen to use football to help explain what I’m talking about.

Believe it or not, I’m actually not that much of a football fan. My father and my friends were often into gathering around the TV on Monday nights and during the Superbowl, but it was never really my thing. Nevertheless, thanks to some brief exposure in my high school marching band and several great football movies from Hollywood, I’ve got a grasp on a lot of things that make successful football teams great. Now, what does football have to do with 40K? A football coach is responsible for many tasks, and there are lessons in those tasks for any 40K general.

Imagine the coach of a football team. At every game, the coach gets together with his starting lineup, draws a diagram of the plays he wants to run, psyches up his team for the upcoming match, and analyzes any strategies or tendencies of the opposing team. The coin toss in football is one more corollary to 40K in that it mirrors the roll for who gets the first turn. At halftime, the coach calls the team into the locker room for a quick refresher on what the plan is – the coach may make some changes based on the progression of the game thus far and the position of each team at that point. Halftime is where the coach puts in new players and fine-tunes the plays for the second half of the game. Finally, once the game is over, the coach goes over the game with a fine-toothed comb and looks for any places where the team could improve and also where the team did really well – this information helps the coach plan things out for the next game down the line, and eventually, the playoffs or championships.

These same ideas can be applied in games of Warhammer 40,000. In every 40K game, there is a time for a “pre-game show”, a “halftime” point, and a “post-game” review. Put yourself in the place of the “coach” for your army, and let’s begin with the pre-game section.

First Things First
One of the most critical things that separate a true veteran from a beginner or casual player is an in-depth understanding of the basics. It’s always a good idea to bring your rulebook, measuring tape, and plenty of dice to the game. In fact, it’s an even better idea to double-check that you’ve packed all the models you’ll need for the game and (unlike the author!) haven’t left any drying on the painting station at home. 

I also highly recommend bringing one of each blast and flamer template, even if your army doesn’t use them. These templates will come in handy if your opponent is a little absent-minded and are yet another way to garner some more goodwill from the people you play the game with most. I know that these suggestions seem like extremely basic concepts and “common sense”, but I’ve too often seen these ideas overlooked in the name of expediency or in all the excitement of a tournament. 

Mastering the basics is a good way to transition into a real 40K veteran player, and there are a lot worse things to be known for than to be “that guy who always has his stuff together.” After all, no football player would ever go out onto the field without his helmet on, right?

Having a mascot doesn't hurt, either
Why not have a mascot for your team--err, army?

The Pre-game Show
Before the game begins is an excellent time to put you and your opponent in the right frame of mind to have a fun game. While fun is the overall goal, both players want their armies to do well, so before the game is also a great opportunity to look at your opponent’s army and get some ideas about what you’ll need to do to achieve your objectives during the upcoming battle. In addition, the pre-game show is the last chance you’ll have to discuss anything unusual about each army and to make sure you know what each piece of terrain represents.

Get Your Game-face on!
Whenever I hear that phrase, I always get the image of Gunnery Sergeant Hartman in Full Metal Jacket screaming, “Let me see your war face!” Of course, the “war face” and the “game face” in football are both fierce expressions. In 40K, however, you don’t want to give your opponent the willies by glaring at him across the table (or at least, not all the time!). Instead, the 40K “game face” is more of an attitude and a focus on having fun. The main idea is much the same – to psych yourself up for the game to come and to fill you with confidence. 

The first step is to put your opponent at ease. Here are three easy methods: introduce yourself, shake hands, and wish your opponent luck. You’d be very surprised to find out how many “veterans” forget these basic steps in the heat of the moment, so try to make this part of your game reflexive. The more friendly that the game begins, the greater the chance that the game will be fun all the way through. It is best to bring a printed army list to the game, and it is almost always a good idea to offer a copy to your opponent. There’s certainly no requirement to trade army lists in the rulebook, but doing so helps get the game off on the right foot. 

Play nice, boys...
Shaking hands before the game is always A Good Thing

Here’s an example of two players getting their 40K “game-faces” on:

Don and Jeremy are meeting at their friendly local game store for a 40K battle. “Hey Don.” Jeremy smiles, shaking Don’s hand. “How’s that Hammerhead coming along?” 

Don laughs. “Not fast enough.” He admits, “Good luck today – I have a feeling this battle’s going to be a tough one for both of us.”

“Thanks, and good luck to you too! Want to see my army list?” Jeremy offers. “I’ve made a few changes since last time, and I think this time I might have a better shot at your tanks.”

Don grins. “Sure, and here’s my list. I anticipated you might try something like that, but we’ll have to see if I am as ready as I think I am. Shall we get started?”

Examine the Field
Just like an experienced coach checks out the football field before each game, a 40K veteran player should take a good look at the table, his army, and his opponent’s forces before he picks up any dice. First, look at both “teams” that are going to be in play. If there’s a unit or weapon that you’re not familiar with in your opponent’s army, now’s the time to ask about it. Be sure to point out any conversions in your own army and be willing to explain any of the “fiddly bits” – obscure rules, FAQs, or anything else that’s likely to crop up based on the two forces assembled for battle. 

Second, check with the referee – that’s a corny way of saying “make sure you’re aware of the rules in play.” Are there any house, club, or store rules that are important to know? What’s the nature and level of the mission? Answering these questions helps avoid any unpleasant misunderstandings later.

Third, look at the table – it’s highly recommended to talk about the terrain on the table with your opponent so both of you are straight on which parts are area terrain, what pieces grant a 4+ or a 5+ cover save, which ones are Level 3 in height, and so forth. Terrain affects a lot of things in 40K – some terrain could be considered dangerous terrain, some could be impassible (and thus will destroy a unit Deep Striking into it), and a building with a large base around the edge could be area terrain all over, or just for the part that’s actually a building. Once again, the idea here is to avoid any potential problems during the actual game and in the process give yourself a good idea of whether terrain will help or hinder your army in the upcoming mission.

Now, we’ll check in on our two players putting “examining the field” in action:

Jeremy held up his new Aspiring Champion. “I’m still trying to get this combi-melta to look just right. But in case you can’t tell, well, it’s a combi-melta.” Jeremy chuckled.

Don examined the model up close. “It looks very cool. I can’t wait to see the final version. Those things fire the melta part only once per battle, right?”

Jeremy nodded. “That’s right, but I can fire the bolter part every turn.”

“No problem.” Don walked over to the table. “Here’s the terrain I picked out. I think the store generally considers this piece to be the same as ruins.” The terrain in question resembled a group of ancient standing stones arranged in a circle on a round base. “Size 2, 4+ save sound good?”

“Sure.” Jeremy agreed. “Let’s roll randomly for the mission and level.”

Make a Plan
Just like a football coach draws out the plays he wants the team to run, you (as the commander of your army) should make a general plan for what you want the army to do. You don’t need to get extremely complicated, but having some idea of what you intend to do with your army is critical. 

A good way to start is to analyze what kind of army your opponent has brought to the table. Some forces are mostly made up of static firepower (“shooty” armies). Others are extremely mobile or concentrate on vicious hand-to-hand attack capability. 

The main point to remember here that having some kind of plan (no matter how simple or complex) is far, far better than having no plan at all! Don’t get “locked into” your plan – leave some room for change, because the battle will never go exactly as you predict. See below for how you can change or refocus your plan during halftime.

Here’s an example of a player taking a few moments to cook up a basic battle plan:

Don studied Jeremy’s army. “Hmm, he’s got quite a few meltaguns in there,” Don mused to himself. “Those weapons are very dangerous to my tanks, but meltaguns are also very short-ranged. If I remember to hang back and keep away from his powerfists, I should have a better chance to gain some Victory Points from claiming the table quarters.”
Now that you’ve got your game-face firmly attached, examined the field, and made a plan, all that’s left is to actually play the game. Sounds simple, right? If only that were true…instead, the game only gets more complicated once the first turn begins. It’s easy to lose focus, get caught up in smaller snapshots, and lose sight of the big picture. Here’s where halftime comes in.

Right around the beginning of Turn 4 is the time to step back and take a good look at how the game as a whole is progressing. It’s easy to get caught up in the details going turn-by-turn, and you can miss out on some opportunities that just wouldn’t otherwise seem apparent. Taking a few moments to consider the mission and your army’s objectives can keep you from making some serious mistakes. My personal favorite way to take a “halftime break” is to go grab a soda for myself and my opponent!

First, check out the locations of your units – does anything need to move closer to an objective or table quarter? Do you need to put a vulnerable unit into some cover or move a stronger unit to a better position for line of sight? 

Second, make sure to fix the mission in mind – what do you need to do in order to win? Often, the answer is to reduce the enemy’s amount of scoring units or to avoid a particularly nasty enemy HQ, but you won’t know for sure unless you check things out first.

Third, fine-tune or change your battle plan to take anything you learned during this pause into account. Look for vulnerabilities that you can exploit – is there a unit that’s just barely above half strength? A tank that’s offering you a tempting shot at side or rear armor? Don’t forget to check out if there are any enemy units waiting in the wings, either in reserve or preparing to Deep Strike. This way, there won’t be too many nasty surprises!

This section on halftime is shorter than the rest, and that is on purpose! Halftime is just a tool that a veteran can use to make sure he’s focused on what he needs his army to do – it’s not meant to stall the game in any way or keep your opponent waiting for an unreasonable amount of time. Don’t worry…the more you practice the “halftime show”, the less time it’ll take.

Here’s a glimpse at what the “halftime show” looks like during a game:

“Turn 4.” Jeremy announced while moving the turn counter over to the correct number.

“Hmm.” Don responded. He took a few moments to scan the board carefully and thought to himself, “I’ve got just three more turns to get everything in place. If I move my Crisis Suits into those ruins, I’ll risk a dangerous terrain test, but I’ll be in a good position to move into the adjacent table quarter in Turns 5 and 6. I think I’ll take the gamble – if it pays off, the Crisis Suits will get some great shots with plasma rifles at Jeremy’s Chaos Space Marines. Plus, Jeremy will have to roll a difficult terrain check if he wants to try and assault.”

The Post-Game Show
When time runs out, the game is over, both in football and in 40K. However, a coach’s job doesn’t stop when the game ends, and neither does the job of a 40K commander. Immediately once the battle is over is when memories are at their sharpest and impressions at their strongest – in other words, you won’t find a better time to dive into the details of the game than right after it finishes.

Of course, determining the outcome of the game is vitally important – since Gamma and Omega level missions use Victory Points, there is always the chance that you or your opponent have managed to garner a draw. What looks like a solid victory might in fact turn out to be a massacre instead. The point is, when the victor is decided, it is best to be sure. Few things sting more than realizing a couple of hours later that your opponent’s Farseer was wounded and therefore was worth half of his Victory Points.

There’s always something to learn from a game, no matter the outcome. The key is to talk to your opponent – you can find out how your army could have done better, or discuss what your opponent could have done to mess up your cunningly-laid plans. Many times, discussions about the game after the fact have guided me in making some tweaks or minor changes to my army and how it plays on the battlefield that have paid off in spades. Don’t be afraid to ask your opponent’s opinion of how your units did during the game, and it’s not a bad idea to offer some advice of your own if you spot something your opponent may have missed.

Lastly, don’t forget that it’s important to make a good impression on your opponent. It’s always good to make sure that the last thing you leave in the other person’s mind is a memory of a fun game. For example, congratulate your opponent on his victory or commiserate with his loss – and, if the game was fun, ask for a rematch! Good sportsmanship all the way through the game counts for a lot. In a tournament, good sportsmanship translates into points and a higher ranking, and in friendly games, good sportsmanship earns you more friends and more people with whom you can enjoy the hobby. If you ask me, that’s a win-win situation.

Why don’t we check in one more time on our helpful example players to see how they ended their game:

Don shook Jeremy’s hand. “Thanks, that was a really fun game – I like it when the outcome is really close there at the end.”

Jeremy laughed. “You’re right, it was a nail-biter up to the final Turn. What did you think about those meltaguns?”

“Rather effective.” Don mused. “I shouldn’t have underestimated how they can kill my Crisis Suits with a single shot. Staying in cover a bit longer would have helped a lot. Can you think of anything else I could’ve done to hold that table quarter?”

Jeremy considered. “Well, moving the Fire Warriors one turn earlier probably would’ve done it. I have to admit, I was wondering why you had left them in the woods. No doubt I won’t be so lucky next time.”

Well, that’s it, I’ve ran out of football analogies this time around. Hopefully, this article will help more players prepare to become veterans – and you never know, there might be some veterans out there who will get a kick out of reading about some of the lessons they’ve had to learn the hard way. I’ll leave you with this thought – wouldn’t 40K be even better if we had cheerleaders like those in the NFL?

Related Pages
It Ain't Easy Being the "King"

© copyright Ross Watson, January 2006. Used with permission of the author. 


Fighting Tigers:
Codex <> Tactics <> Gallery <> Allies and Enemies <> Tales of the Tigers

Other Pages:
Main <> What's New <> Site Index <> The Tiger Roars <> Themed Army Ideas
Events and Battle Reports <> Campaigns <> Terrain <> FAQ <> Beyond the Jungle