Planning for the Enemy

I’ve been doing some thinking about tuning your list for a specific opponent.   Taking advantage of your strengths as much as your opponent’s weaknesses.

Most of the games I’ve played have been with “All Comers” lists; lists intended to perform as well as one could hope against any possible opponent (I’ll come back to why that is in a bit).  It’s become clear to me that, while this is sometimes appropriate, maybe sometimes isn’t.

Warhammer 40K

I’ve spent more time playing Warhammer 40K than I have playing any other miniatures game.  Far and away, the bulk of that time has been spent playing in leagues (escalation and otherwise) in the Iron Fist League, a group that’s pretty competitive in the way it approaches the game… mostly because many of its members like to play in tournaments.  Lists are often refinements of tournament lists.

Tournament lists, ideally, are all-comers.  Although there’s a certain amount of metagame involved (like the fact that you’re somewhat more likely to face an MEQ army in any particular game or that there are a lot of Ork and Guard players out there), there’s really no way to know what armies you’re going to face.  Building to completely obliterate one kind of army is generally setting yourself up to take a beating from another kind.

Additionally, 40K has random scenarios and deployment rules.  You don’t actually know what sort of game you’re going to be playing until you start playing it.  You need to build your force to handle every possible scenario.

Discussions on the IFL forum about specifically customizing your army to your opponent generally involves universal abhorrence.  Although it’d be madness to for a company of Astartes to not recognize that they’re assaulting a Tyranid warzone and equip themselves accordingly, the consensus is that it’s just bad sportsmanship and indicative of low character.

I’m not altogether sure where to draw the line between specifically customizing your force to address your opponent and simply responding to the local metagame, however.  What’s the difference between deliberately saying, “I’m about to play against orks.  Better load up on the flamers,” and just playing against a lot of orks and coming to the conclusion that flamers always end up useful?

Warhammer Fantasy

Most of my Fantasy playing has also been with the IFL… though the WHFB culture is remarkably different from that of the 40K culture.  Almost all of the Fantasy players participate in a challenge pyramid, which is all about knowing exactly who you’re going to be facing and building a list to crush them.

It feels like the magic item lists really support that approach, too.  Dwarf-Slayer doesn’t look like something I’d ever take, unless I knew I was going to be playing against Dwarfs, you know?

It also makes sense in that it truly encourages a player to learn all the ins and outs of both his army and his opponent’s.  If you don’t really understand what you might be facing, you can’t really prepare for it.

Unlike 40K, Fantasy pretty much just as the one scenario.  I’ve looked at the variant scenarios from the 6th edition rulebook, and they’re fundamentally not so much alternate scenarios as mildly different deployments.

As I’ve only played in on WHFB tournament (an escalation league tournament), I don’t really know how that scene works.  I’m not sure how the WHFB players make the transition from the specific-opponent army to the all-comers army that I’m sure a tournament requires.

What’s interesting is that, here too, I have to wonder if there is a line: one of the more recent local scandals is when a player, on seeing that his opponent had unpacked (and therefore likely would be fielding) a dragon, put a unit back in the case and pulled out more bolt throwers.  There was a great deal of outrage over this on the forum.  Is this specific act fundamentally any different from more generally deliberately building your army to defeat your opponent’s?


I’m only just getting started with this game, so in many ways I’m talking about of my ass.

One thing that we’ve identified is that it really feels like we’re supposed to pick the scenario, look our opponent in the eye and then build our list with full knowledge of what army they’ll be playing.  Showing up with a list typed up the day before that seemed like a good idea is just asking for frustration.

The mechanics of the game seem to encourage it, as do the extremely awkwardly phrased unit costs.


It seems to me that, depending on the game and metagame, it’s sometimes appropriate to construct a list with a specific opponent in mind.  Given that my default setting is 40K, which discourages that, I’m likely to generally continue building all-comers lists, regardless of the game and I’m likely to continue being disappointed when I’m up against someone who hasn’t.  I think that’s probably my fault, though, for not tapping into the game better.

What do folks think?  Always all-comers?  Are things more nuanced?