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The Tiger Roars
Guest Commentary: Da Orcboy Pays Up

Rating the 40K Army Lists: Introduction (Eighth of 11 articles)by Ken Lacy

Over many years of playing 40K, I've noticed that every edition of the game seems to have a few armies that are "more equal" than the others.  On the gaming side of the equation, even though the use of a points system is supposed to ensure that different army lists are balanced, in actual practice, certain lists seem to enjoy a great deal more good fortune.  And on the hobby side of the equation, certain lists are simply easier to get into, particularly as a newer player.

The current 40K game has over fifty different army lists available that are legal for tournament play, and yet not all are equally "good".  This is an extended exercise in attempting to rate and quantify the various army lists available to 40K gamers.

To attempt this, I have broken the over rating into over a dozen different component 'pieces', which I'll describe below.  I'll also spend a little time reviewing all the army lists available, and providing individual ratings and commentary for all of them.  For those of you familiar with Consumer Reports, this is an intentionally similar system.

I will provide each army list with two comprehensive ratings. 

One takes into account all the components, and tries to determine if the army list is a good starting point for a new or casual gamer.  I affectionately call this the "n00b" rating -- it basically measures how "user-frienddly" the army list is, both in terms of the "hobby" side of things (collecting, assembling, painting, etc), and in terms of how forgiving the army list is on the "gaming" side of things, particularly for a less experienced gamer.  Of course, the best advice to anyone is to pick an army which appeals to them.  That said, certain lists do perform much, much better "out of the box", as it were, while others have a very steep learning curve -- or are expen$$ive, hard to collect, tricky to model, or otherwise not terribly newbie-friendly.  Thus, potentially very off-putting to newer and casual hobbyists.

The second rating I give is what I call the "Tactical" rating, and is intended to be useful more to Veteran gamers.  Some army lists are inherently far stronger than the 40K points-system might indicate, while others are much weaker.  This rating looks solely at the six component ratings that measure a list's strength and versatility on the tabletop in gaming situations, to derive its overall rating.  Note that in this case, "hobby"-related ratings are not part of the calculation.

All ratings were made on a comparative, rather than absolute, scale.  In other words, lists were compared to other lists in the 40K game, and ranked according to how they rated in comparison to those other lists in each component area.

40K "Hobby"-related Categories
The first six components are what could be called 'model' or 'hobby' related.

Affordability: How much does it cost, relatively speaking, to purchase a usable (1000 pt and/or 1500pt) army of this type?  Smaller model counts, plastic miniatures, and a low need for vehicle models result in higher ratings.  High model counts and all-metal miniatures, particularly among the core (Troops) units, result in higher costs, and thus lower ratings.  Thus, expense of models is also a factor.

In the end, only two army lists get full points here: basic Marines and Last Chancers.  There are so many cheap plastic starter kits of the former, and as a result even other Marine-type lists are very easy to cobble together, so long as there's a large number of bolter-equipped models in the list.  And as for the Last Chancers, you only need a handful of models for a complete army list -- voila!

Availability: How easy is it to find these armies?  If you can walk into any GW store and find virtually every unit in the army list on display, always in stock with a wide range of selections, high marks.  If moderate to extensive conversion work is necessary, or if expensive "special kits" are required, a lower rating.  If the army can only be found on-line, lowest marks of all.

Essentially, every "main" codex army list, save Dark Eldar, is fully supported by GW and readily accessible, with virtually every unit in the list available for purchase.  Specialist lists and chapter approved armies typically require moderate to heavy conversion, so rate a fair bit lower.

Portability: Does a 1500 point army fit easily into a GW carry case?  Highest marks if the entire army fits into a single carry case with room to spare.  Lower marks if multiple cases, or a hefty Army Transport brand case (or two) are required.  Lowest marks of all for armies with bulky, awkward models with bizarre and oddball shapes.

Paintability: The more ornate and detailed a miniature is, the harder it is to paint up, and paint well, and the more intimidating for new and casual gamers.  Simple miniatures with large flat surfaces and little intricacy get high marks.  Highest marks for armies that encourage few contrasting colors and have very simple color and paint schemes.

Ease-of-Assembly: Virtually every army comes with models that require assembly, even if that means nothing more than gluing a model into its slotta-base.  This, however, looks at the types of multi-piece sets that are part of the list.  How many of the models requiring assembling are well-designed, and assemble without difficulty?  On the other hand, how many fit together poorly and require a good deal of futzing around and slapdash conversion?  Generally speaking, armies comprised of many multi-piece metal miniatures rate very poorly, while armies with very simple plastic models, or single-piece metal miniatures, rate the highest.

Customizability/Variety: A bit of a combination category, this rates how easy the army is to convert and customize.  Generally speaking, plastic kits are relatively easy to convert, whereas metal miniatures are not.  That said, some kits, even though made of plastic, have little room for creative variation -- Necrons, for example.  There's also a question of overall variety in the miniatures line.  It's much easier to customize an army when there's a large bits collection in the GW archives with many multiple designs and models for every unit type in your list.  Finally, certain armies have a stylistic aesthetic that makes it very difficult to convert and customize miniatures 'badly' -- Orks, for example, really can't go wrong with anything you throw together.


40K "Game"-related Categories
The remaining six components are what I call the 'game' or 'table-top' related components of 40K armies.

Design Versatility & Options: Army lists with a large variety of units with many different abilities receive high marks.  A few of the army lists in 40K come with a kind of "traits" or "doctrines" system that allows them to field a vast smorgasbord of different options -- these armies score best in this category.  At the other end of the spectrum, lists with only a handful or fewer available units score lowest.

Effective Variety & Strategic Predictability: Of course, all the options in your army lists don't count for too much if they aren't effective.  How many of an army list's available units and options are actually useful?  Lists that can be designed to excel at a large number of different, and truly effective, strategies score higher here than those that have only one or two very basic (and very predictable) strategies.  No one fears a Tau "assault" army, for example.  But Chaos Undivided can be fearsome in assault, sitting and shooting, mechanized, infiltrating, etc.

Reliability of Basic Units: This is a 'combination' category that rates two things: how dependable your core (usually Troops) units are in terms of their ability to take (or ignore) Leadership tests, and how skilled your core units are in terms of their Weapon Skill and Ballistic Skill.  Fearless or ATSKNF units with skills of 4 or better are extremely reliable, while Hivemind or Mob Rule works pretty well, too.  Basically, this asks – how well can you count on your units to accomplish a task and not run screaming off the table with a failed Morale test while doing it?

Durability: Some army lists are full of tough, tough units that can suck up scads of punishment and still remain extremely effective.  This of course means that the list is much more forgiving of tactical oversights and screw-ups on the part of the person playing.  Other units, either due to small model count or fragile models, are extremely vulnerable to even modest losses.  This category measures a combination of two things; the toughness (and/or armor save) value of the list’s units, and ability to sustain losses (in short, model count).

Adherence to Core Rules: The more similar an army’s rules are to the core 40K rules, the easier it will be for new and casual players to pick up the army list and play it effectively.  The more dissimilar, on the other hand, the harder new players will have to work to learn the rules, as well as any exceptions to those rules that might exist in their army list.  Their knowledge will also be less “portable” to a different army. 

However, any differences from the core 40K rules are a considerable strength when you’re a veteran player designing a ‘hard’ list.  It means that your opponent is unlikely to know everything you can do, and even if he has the knowledge, he may still be unfamiliar with the implementation – and more importantly, won’t know what to fully expect, or how to counter it.  An extremely mainstream list with very few special rules and abilities, however, is much easier to get the measure of, even when otherwise unfamiliar.

Primary Aptitudes: In 40K, there are basically three aptitudes that can win you the game: the ability to move, the ability to shoot, and the ability to assault.  Being really, really good at one of these three is very helpful to trying to win, particularly once you learn how to play to your strength (or strengths).  Being inherently bad at one of these aptitudes, however, is an Achilles’ Heel that a smart opponent almost certainly will try to exploit.

For new & casual players, it’s often the case that they haven’t fully learned how to ‘cover’ their weaknesses, and as a result, lists that are inherently bad at one (or more) of these three aptitudes will be much more frustrating to pick up and master than lists without any glaring weaknesses.  As a result, the “n00b” rating takes into account both the highest and lowest rating of these three.  Cannier veterans, on the other hand, learn how to maximize their strengths & fully account for their weaknesses.  Thus, the “Tactical” rating only considers the highest rating of the three in this category.


Comprehensive Overall Ratings
The “n00b” Rating:

The “Tactical” Rating:

Now let's rate each army, starting with the Imperials

Related Pages
Posted August 2006. Used with permission.


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