Friday, March 2, 2012

Ramblings: Templating and Research

Templating is Netdecking with a purpose. If you copy a list in order to win you're Netdecking, but if you copy a list to figure out what makes it tick you're: Templating. I explained about Information Cascades in the previous article here, but there's a second effect you need to consider when Templating and Researching: The Backfire effect.

The Backfire Effect

The backfire effect makes it vital to any research that you begin without a set opinion. If you like Pistol Wraiths you will find my article on them and they will prove that Pistol Wraiths are great, but if you don't like them you will find articles declaring them a useless waste of points. You might see my article during your research, but you'll automatically dismiss it as the ramblings of a crazy person, because you happen to agree with the twenty other guys. The good thing is, that if you're doing research you probably haven't decided yet, which means you can look at the information without prejudice.

Confirming prejudice

The real test is the first few games. The way a model/unit performs in the first couple of games will seriously influence your opinion, and if the model/unit in question is the subject of intense debate it could easily decide how you feel about it, locking you in the grips of the backfire effect. How many times have you argued with someone calling a model/unit useless just to discover that he or she has used the unit just once or twice, because in my case that number is staggering.

Avoiding the prejudice

You can safely skip this section if you understand the way complex synergies affect list construction

It's really rather simple, and all it requires is a shift in the way we see the game. This will be a long explanation but I think it needs to be. If you go to the Privateer Press forums and begin looking for advice on using Bane Thralls you'll immediately notice that you rarely see them without Tartarus. If you expand your search even a little bit you'll notice that Saxon Orrik tends to show up in a lot of those lists as well because terrain can cause real problems for the Bane Thrall horde.

We all know this is called synergy, and we can all spot the obvious synergies, but in a game as complex as Warmachine/Hordes the synergies can be incredibly complex and hard to spot. I'll try to illustrate the complexity with a comparison: Saxon Orrik or Skarlock Thrall with pDenny, to solve the terrain issues for Bane Thralls. Think about if for a minute before you read the comparison.
  • Survivability: Saxon Orrik is better armored and Stealth. Warwitch Deneghra lists are often 80-90% stealth models, which means that the Skarlock is a prime target for a lot of guns that have no other targets. This reduces the Skarlocks life expectancy dramatically. In addition a mass of stealth models will cause a lot of drifting area of effect attacks, and Saxon Orrik survives most of them on average while the Skarlock does not.
  • Speed: Saxon Orrik has Pathfinder, making it easier to follow the unit around. If they need help crossing terrain the Skarlock could end up being stuck himself. The following round he might be unable to reach his unit with Ghost Walk, and in order to avoid that you could be forced to place him further forward which increases the risk of accidental "death by bullet".
  • Offense: The Skarlock can cast Venom, which is a often better than a rifle. Saxon is quite capable in melee during feat round, but he will often be busy using Recon on the Bane Thralls that turn anyway. In case you're on the receiving end the Skarlock can function as a sweeper with Venom, or allow units to disengage with Ghost Walk.
  • Support: Ghost Walk can be used on anything, not just warrior models. The Skarlock can also cycle Crippling Grasp, use Influence if the situation requires it, or make activation sequences a lot easier. Saxon Orrik is limited to one thing, which is supporting warrior models/units.
It would seem that a Skarlock is the obvious choice but then we get to the more obscure synergies.
  • Threat: The Skarlock has more punch and support abilities making it a juicy target, while Saxon Orrik does very little except granting Pathfinder. If I had the choice between those two and a guaranteed kill on one of them I'd take down the Skarlock nine times out of ten. This means your movement support for the Bane Thralls is more likely to avoid serious attention if it's located on Saxon Orrik.
  • Advanced Deploy: This means that you can deploy your movement support away from many obvious problems, but it also means that if you don't need the movement support in your first round you have a better chance of making it into a nice safe position.
  • Screening: If you screen the Skarlock with Bane Thralls most models will simply shoot through them and kill your Skarlock. If a model want's to shoot Saxon he will need to ignore stealth, and if he ignores stealth he can't see him because the Bane Thralls then block line of sight.
Which of them would I choose if I couldn't bring both is a tough choice but I think I'd go for Saxon. I think it's more important to keep my movement support alive than to squeeze more utility into the list. This is unless I have a unit without stealth I could screen him with, or if I couldn't fit in Warwitch Sirens to perform as sweepers of course. Adding a single two point model is an incredible complex choice in Warmachine/Hordes, which leads me to the point of this entire rant.

Tying it all together

You can't add a model without considering the implications it will have on the entire list. The choice between two little solo characters can define how you play the entire list, and that's why you can't judge a model/unit based on it's performance in one or two games, because you might not have the right list for it. This is what you need to remember to avoid having your opinion of a model locked in the first couple of games: you might not have the right list for it.

It's as simple as that. If you keep that as your mantra you can avoid having your opinion locked for quite some time, which should allow you to make a fair assessment of it. It might suck, it might not fit your style of play, or you may lack the ability to estimate distances on a model that lives by that ability, but at least you can give it a fair assessment.



  1. Great read! As I mentioned before, I absolutely love templating, and play tons of proxy games with friends to try out new lists. Not only does it help you build a good list with good synergy, but it helps you understand lists that you might happen to play against in the future. There is no excuse for not knowing how the models in your faction work together on the battlefield IMO. I even borrow my friend's armies to learn how those lists play. Knowledge is so important in this game really, and practice of course.

  2. An excellent read. The complex synergy mechanics are a part of what sets this game apart from less worthy systems.

  3. +1

    Excellent read with a lot of good points.

  4. Good stuff.

    Honestly, I like it whenever people point out that reader prejudice IS a factor; people have preconcieved notions and can't shake them. Or, as you've said, they try something once/twice and can't make it work, but they DON'T take the time to think about how the matchups screwed things up. (IE: Old Witch's defensive tech is cool, 'til you see a couple of legion shooty beasts across the field and they bypass this Stealth thing you've got...).

    This game is all about analysis IN CONTEXT:
    1) Within the list
    2) Against the list you're playing
    3) against the terrain you're playing
    4) against the PLAYER you're playing

    Anyone that forgets about any part of that is doing themselves a disservice.