Wednesday, February 27, 2013

List Construction Part 2 - Building Competitive Lists

Welcome back! Now that I've given you my thoughts on list construction for beginners, which has been especially apt since I've been helping a bunch of people learn the game recently, I want to delve into what i look for in a competitive list. I'll just get this out of the way now: tournaments are a blast no matter what army you play. Don't think that I'm discounting fun, flavorful lists. Frankly, Flames of War is balanced enough to give almost any list a chance to win games. But! There is definitely an art/science balance that needs to be considered if you're looking to win tournaments.

"We don't have time for 'fluff'"
So where to begin this discussion? I'd like to run through a series of guidelines that I follow when considering a list that I want to take to a tournament:

1. Cater to your play style - We all have tabletop roles that we feel more comfortable with. Some of us like to defend, others like to be hyper-aggressive. If your own command style favors sweeping advances and headlong charges into the enemy, then don't play a fortified company. You also need to consider whether you prefer having a smaller, elite force or an endless horde of peasants. There are certain lists that try to mix and match elite equipment with poor training (or vice versa), but i rarely see those forces being effective (examples include: the Reluctant Trained Panthers from BG&G; Finnish Tank Company).

2. Analyze the local meta - What kind of lists have been successful in your area? Is there a preponderance of Tank/Infantry lists? Have any local loudmouths been boasting about these new-fangled Crocs with enhanced flamethrowers? Has a new book just been released? Sometimes I know for certain that to win a local tournaments I fill have to have an answer to certain lists/units. In my area I can generally count on facing infantry hordes (of any nationality) and Soviet Heavy Tanks (several players just seem to love them some IS-2's).

When someone says they're bringing Crocs, they're not talking about those obnoxious shoes

3. Analyze the type of tournament it will be - Are there any odd rules associated with the tournament? is it theater specific? Will every mission be Free-For-All? Is it going to be Red vs. Blue or based strictly on winners-fighting-winners? Frankly, I think that Red vs. Blue tournaments end up being unbalanced, especially if the tournament isn't limited to one theater. For Soviet, US, and British players to only have to prepare for playing Germans while German players have to prepare for all of the others is blatantly unfair. Having to prepare for any possibility also produces very well-rounded lists. On the flip side of that, you don't have to prepare for many armor lists if the tournament if specific to the Italy books.

US vs. US; at my FLGS you have to be prepared for anything

4. Crunch some numbers - Once I figured out how easy it was to calculate Flames of War probabilities  I haven't stopped doing it. For a my most recent tournament win I ran tons of numbers on my chances of killing certain vehicles. Think about if you really need a 430-point unit of 2 Tigers to handle the job that 200 points of Marders can handle. You'll also find that different scenarios tend to have similar probabilities, which allows you to calculate chances of success during a game.

5. Have recon units - They are a must-have for discouraging Tank Destroyers and Spearhead moves. There are several lists out there that don't allow recon units to be chosen...I simply don't play those lists. You NEED recce to succeed on the tournament scene.

6. Think about hypothetical missions - Your static gunline may seem like an immovable rock, but rarely will the missions allow it to reach it's full, combined-arms potential. More likely, if you have blobs of infantry and static guns you will be outmaneuvered. Think about having to defend in Cauldron, except now your reserves will never make it across the board. What happens if your infantry have to attack in No Retreat? (answer: it sucks, big time). What will your army look like when you have to hold half of you platoons in reserve?

It really is a lot to think about, and these six guidelines just begin to scratch the surface. Right now I am scared to death of Crocodiles, because I know that one player at my store is certain to bring them to every tournament. My list at the Wounded Warrior Charity Tournament was built partially with those nasty flame-tanks in mind. I calculated how many shots it would take to bring them down from my Hellcats, and what other support options I would need to keep them from ruining my day. My armored rifle platoons could handle literally every other heavy tank in the game! Except the Crocs because they'd be burned to a crisp. Hence why I also brought along the heavy artillery, whose points cost forced me to go with trained Hellcats (as opposed to Vet). Of course, after all my planning, I never played against them.

Get used to it; it can be a great friend.

Probably the biggest mistake I saw in list construction at the most recent tournament was a lack of balance in the lists of my opponents. Their lists failed to account not just for the types of armies they might be playing against, but the very missions found in the rulebook. For example, a defender in a mission with Prepared Positions is severely limited in the amount of armored units he can have on the table at the start of the game. One of my opponents had a tank company whose only unarmored unit was an under-strength platoon of panzergrenadiers. Well...he lost, because my army had Always Attack and his army had no balance. He assumed that he'd always be attacking. Never assume anything.

A couple of final notes about Flames of War tournaments in general. I have played Warhammer Fantasy and 40k. I have dabbled in Magic: The Gathering. I have found no other game system that rewards a balanced approach to list-building as much as Flames of War does. Armies that expect to win Flames of War tournaments better be prepared for anything.

Also, Flames of War is a very balanced game in terms of the strength of the various nations. This is especially true if tournaments ban special characters. With special characters, I feel that the US lists in Late War probably come out ahead of the other nations. Without special characters, Late War probably favors the British at the moment, but that could just be all of us players adjusting to their new lists. In Mid War you will find the most balance between armies; nobody is the clear favorite in Mid War. In Early War it probably comes down to the French and British armored forces, but that says more about the dominance of armor in Early War than it does about the specific nations.

If you have questions about your lists in particular, leave a comment or find me on Twitter @piflamesofwar

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