Thursday, 7 July 2011

Internet army lists: The death of originality?

 This is so embarrassing I can't believe we all went with the white suit

Now I don't want to get all philosophical about this or even bemoan the rise of the 'internet list' but over the last few years it has become a bit of a phenomenon that has started too, well not worry me as such but perplex me. You see when I was growing up learning to wargame the internet was all science fiction, we used carrier pigeons to send messages in a language long since dead called 'English' and indeed language had only just been invented about 3 years before I was born and books about 2 years after that. As such I wrote my armies in glorious isolation, well I had my dad sitting behind me tutting at my ineptitude but other than him and his mates calling me 'green' (the word n00b hadn't come to pass) and ruffling my hair I was on my own.

Some of my early tactics may have been worse than this

I don't mind admitting that some of my army lists were not 'made of win', no in fact I think its probably fair to say that they were almost certainly 'made of fail'. However here's the thing I learned over a period of years some brutally harsh lessons that have taught me well, I also developed a style all of my own. Not wanting to brag but I've become a bit of a master at the hit and run tactic in most game systems. My favourite army of all time to play with was my Wood Elf skirmish line with fast cavalry. I love being able to redeploy quickly or get in hit hard and move away quickly and do it again elsewhere. I'm also a fan of the assassination technique of ripping the heart out of an opponents force by brutally targeting their favourite toy even if it means taking some pain myself. I'm aggressive.

One of my dads friends once called me a vulture and its a pretty fitting way of describing my style of play, I do 'pick at the bones' of an opponents army. However I've had people in the past ask me for my lists. I've always found this odd, because while I accept certain things work well together getting an army to 'work' I always thought was about the person in charge of them, oh yeah and a smattering of luck with the old dice. But with the advent of the internet this has been taken to a whole new level. I see threads about armies that won tournaments, or invincible armies etc. etc. etc. and it disturbs me that people would want to 'copy' somebody else's army.

Now I'm not saying its wrong, but I sure as hell am saying its not right! Sure I've posted questions on forums about tactics with certain units or asked about synergies and how people have deployed them but I am 100% proud to say that I have never used an army list I've harvested off of the internet. Playing the last edition of Warhammer Fantasy Battle got so bad with identikit armies that I could almost certainly guarantee the composition of my opponents armies before they got them out of their figure cases, and it started to make the game incredibly boring for me, and I know from talking to my friends it actually made their playing experience strangely hollow.

Yes we all want to win, I don't think I've met anybody who actually goes and puts an army out onto the table intending to lose, well certainly not all the time. Lets face it we're all pretty much in it to win it aren't we? So what happens when we win it with somebody else's army list? Does it diminish the achievement? Well I'm sorry but I think it does, you see sure you had to put those tools on the table and use them correctly but ultimately you were using somebody else's recipe. I understand the temptation to download some über list of awesome sause made totally of win, I know its so very, very tempting... but I urge you to stop for the sake of your opponent and the sake of your own hobby.

Download free and easy win!!!

You see I still pick weird army lists, I'm sure if my dad and his friends were around they'd be tutting at me and I'm sure one or two of them are probably tutting in heaven right now, but guess what? My individualistic or hell, OK eccentric streak has won me many a game lately and over the years as opponents sneer and laugh at my army and say 'what no *insert über unit / character here* this will be easy', but you see it isn't because they've never come across it before and start looking a little lost when they realise I'm not doing what they expect me to do. Yeah the meta is the meta for a reason, but that's not to say there isn't a new meta waiting to be discovered now is there? My first Dwarf army actually marched across the table and contained no cannons... it did however contain a few surprises, whereas my opponents army didn't. I knew his army would be designed to get across the board quickly and minimise the damage taken from artillery and shooting so I packed it with things that would cause him grief in close combat and of course a couple of units of miners he wasn't expecting!!!

Canadians, clearly made of win!!!

So I have two pleas really to people out there in the greater gaming community:

  1. If you have a list of win then can I please ask you not to put it on the internet and bask in the adulation of your adoring acolytes.
  2. Can I ask you to come up with your own army lists and try to discover for yourself what works for you and more importantly develop your own style.

Now I know there's a flip side to all this and that is that in some game systems there are certain things that are just too darn tasty not to take and yes whoever decided a Dark Elf War Hydra should only be 175 points does need to be taken out back and shot... and yes Epic Deneghra might be broken, but even so, try to find your own style and brand of war. I assure you, you'll find it far more rewarding and when you finally find that army that clicks for you and you start kicking ass and taking names, it'll feel just that little bit sweeter trust me. Peace out!


  1. I fully agree. there's just something so much more satisfying seeing your hard work paying off. Its your hobby, your model collection, so why use someone else's list, it takes the fun out the game, people become predictable which makes games rather boring.

    I'm not saying dont ask about combo's and such, but originality is where the fun is

  2. I totally get what you are saying and for the most part I agree.

    However I do like to examine other peoples lists and tactics to see what I can learn from them. But then I find that identikit armies are primary symptom of GW games, which I don't play because the game is generally won or lost in the army construction and not on the table.

    That for me is the biggest problem in the hobby right now. Army X has more 'cheese' than army Y and so wins before the players even set up. No thanks, I want to win because my tactics are better than my opponent.

  3. I agree with the general sentiment here, though perhaps not the detail as much. When I'm looking at a new game I often use the net to see how an army plays. Almost no game I can think of includes what I want by way of guidance and comment on the REAL way an army plays rather than its background fluff. I'd love to see this in a game (and I try to include it in my own) but it's just not there. I don't want to buy an army because it sounds cool, just to find out that the toys don't do anything like they claim to on the tabletop. Done that too many times already. However, I really enjoy making army lists and reading rules, and feel like I'm missing out if I just used an army off the net. I have done it when I needed a list immediately and had none to hand; usually with a game I had just started and didn't really know well, though I'm more likely to just stick a starter set on the table and see what happens. What I have always found though is that the net armies don't entirely suit me. As with the rest of reality, what works for one may not work for another. That's what being an individual is about. Just because it won a tournament doesn't mean it'll be good for you, suit your style of play, or be any fun at all.

  4. @Knobby2 amen brother, amen! Its probably the predictability of it all that bothers me the most. I mean for games that use dice and are about chance, or as I call it 'chance management' I think the predictability of certain army builds is slowly ruining certain parts of the hobby. I have to say though it hasn't yet appeared to infect Infinity from what I can see. I'm seeing wildly differing lists people are using being just as capable as each other but different, completely different.

    @Dartgus I see nothing wrong with looking and asking about armies and tactics, in fact I find those discussions really interesting and informative and as I say in the main blog I too have done that and still do. As for GW games I've thought for years now that in many instances battles on won and lost before the deployment phase. I don't hammer the point too much around GW players because it does damage the ego and detract somewhat from any wins they have, and its not fair to piss on someones parade like that.

    @Quirkworthy that's really funny you mention the lack of play mechanics in of armies in rulebooks because its something me and 'the cursed' were talking about when we first got started in Infinity. We could really have done with detailed battle reports or something showing the use of units and skills and stuff, that would be far more useful than the fluff, as you say. Also I think we agree on the point that just because something works for Mr Smith it won't necessarily work for MR Jones.

  5. I agree with the comments above, I myself was a culprit with a 7th edition dark elf army with dark riders, black dragon and hydra. Unfortunately the tournament scene brews a competitive streak with people copying armies from top players. The biggest problem I see is that certain games have so many auto include units with no tactics needed. Place the 30 chosen of tzeentch down and let your opponent deal with it. Since playing infinity I've found that a good balanced tactical game can't have Internet lists ad you need to actually think and use things properly

  6. Thanks for putting up such a nice post, its great to get people out there saying this as it can be very tedious as you point out to face the same thing all the time.
    I've always tried (although not always successfully) to come up with my own lists and play them the way I want to, although I have found that a number of them have moved towards the same makeup as net-lists as I discover what is good and what works for me, does that count? However, I am always experimenting with different list builds to try and find new and fun ways to play my army.

  7. @Andy-bG not at all, that doesn't count. I once watched two very experienced WFB players turn up to play each other with their newly painted Daemon armies just a week or two after the launch of army book... they had the exact same army, right down to the magic item choices. They were both so embarrassed about the incident. It was at that point though that I realised there was going to be something fundamentally wrong about the Daemon army book... and so it proved!!!

  8. I am like a few of your followers, I mainly use the internet to see how an army plays more often than not. I get unreasonably excited when I see a tactica posted for an army's individual units. I don't really care for the 'Super Awesome Unbeatable' lists. Anything can be defeated. I should know. I personally relish in bringing 'unoptimized' (I mean personally developed when I say unoptimized) lists to tournaments and have people go 'What, no Long Fangs (or whatever is the stupid powerful squad of the week)?!?! You're going to fail!' It's something of a personal badge of honor to me for still trying to be original in my playstyle. Now, will I still occasionally post up a list? Certainly. Especially for games like Infinity where my most important desire is to develop a list that flows well. Another reason why I will post up a list is to try and get a different perspective when trying to tweak my list. I'll say things like 'I want my list to do this, but there is just -something- missing.' When I get an answer (or a series of answers), I'll go ahh! I didn't think of that!

    Sorry, that was something of an early morning rant. Back to your post. Originality is gone. Playing for the fun of it is a rare gem. People love to win and get little satisfaction from doing anything but. Instant satisfaction by the shortest and easiest means possible. That's why you'll see what I call copy/pasted lists. And that's why I love Infinity.

    I am not meaning to turn the last portion of my post to an Infinity post, but it's true. I love Infinity because I have a TON of fun while losing. I am constantly doing something and engaging my mind in a way that games like 40k never did. I walked away after two games the other day and I was literally mentally tired and satisfied with my loss. Maybe the reason I love Infinity so much (so much that I am SERIOUSLY contemplating selling all of my 40k models to buy more Infinity) is because it relates to my real life job, even if it's only in the broadest of senses. Maybe it's because I see so much originality instead of the 'tried and true' copy/pasted lists that other games have been known to produce.

  9. @Ryan, I too post lists for discussion and see nothing wrong with it, as its just an extension of what we all do with our mates round the tabletop or down the club any way. I don't actually have a problem with people taking internet army lists I just feel that by doing so people are missing out on one of the greatest joys in wargaming, which is discovering 'that' army list for yourself that is yours and works for you. I remember the first time I beat my dad comprehensively at WFB with my High Elves, it wasn't a typical High Elf army and was very 'in your face' and I don't think my dad could deal with it and how I went after him. I've had many more incidents like that over the years where my army list has baffled and bemused my opponents and the joy I got when smashing a Chaos warrior army with my Dwarfs without any ranged weaponry was a big thing, especially because of how smug he was before the game started. lol. I obviously agree with you about Infinity as well, I love seeing people's army lists there and thinking I'd have never taken that sort of army but I think you could make it work!!! I love that, that people can stamp their personality on their armies in Infinity.

  10. At the risk of interrupting the Infinity love-in , I'd just like to say that it's not the only game you can stamp your individuality on. That can be almost anything if you dare to think for yourself. Yes, even GW games :)

  11. @Quirkworthy, shush you!!! lol. I know, I know, however I'd disagree slightly with you over stamping your authority in certain games. It seems to me that currently in some systems their seems to be a favoured way of approaching the game, or maybe tactics that are encouraged over others and while in within these parameters there is scope for personalisation and individuality I think that the restrictive nature of them as a whole discourages a wider more personalised approach.

  12. There are always bounds within which one can create an individual approach. In games these are called rules; in life it's peer pressure, ethics, custom, etc. Whilst people can ask you to approach a game a particular way, at the end of the day the only restrictions are what's legit within the parameters of the game. You're entirely right that some games are so skewed and unbalanced that there is only one way to play if you want any chance of winning. I call these games boring and broken, but YMMV. Personally I try to avoid playing boring and broken games.

    An example of what I mean by rules being the only thing to worry about was an American Civil War game that allowed you to charge artillery units with cavalry. The author got very upset when someone did this because "they wouldn't have done that in real life". Now you can ask people to play a certain way as much as you like, but if it's not a rule then why would people do so?

    I'm not sure this is really coming out the way I want it to, but I've got to scoot for an appointment, so I'll have a think and maybe try again later.

    You may resume your Infinity love-in...

  13. Artillery and Cavalry are famous for wiping each other out lol, your friend/the author was flat out wrong, look at any napoleonic, crimean or ACW battle from history and there will be plenty of examples of cavalry charging guns.

    @FLG: Well said, it's about damn time that the homogenous netlist arsewipes learned to actually play.

  14. @Quirkworthy I think we're both trying to say the same sort of thing but like ships in the night the written word is letting us pass by without really seeing what the other is saying... I think.

    Any who I'm writing some articles of balance in game design and rule sets. I've been working through my ideas for the past few weeks. I'd appreciate your input on them if you don't mind.

    @Grumhelden, thanks I think. lol. I wasn't trying to put it quite as sternly as that but hey, it seems I've hit a nerve. Would you like to pull up a couch and tell Dr Frontline Gamer whats on your mind? lol. Just pulling your leg. For me its more that people are missing out on the awesome achievement and feeling you get when 'your' army works. It feels great, like winning the lottery, except you won't be able to buy a Ferrari with your 40k wins etc.

  15. me and my dad recently attended a wfb doubles tournie, with an army of dwarves and high elves, i can already hear, gun line mage fest whispers, but alas it was not so, i had a cannon and a pistol in my dwarf list, we went with under powered armies and still came a reasonable 58 out of 108, people expected typical lists, ones they read about and were stunned too see a dwarf army run forward, with a high elf ally supporting

    this threw people, it was this un-observed original (not too original but too the other players it was) approach that made sure 5 fun games were played, some armies were predictable but we still managed too have a good laugh,

    but as stated the odd army there id seen time and time again on the net and forums, what was worse is that the people had printed the lists directly off, with the way it should be used, and still got slapped silly, what i do with my army (regardless of game) is not the same thing other will do, as most wargames are random chance encounters with dice, a little predictability isnt there, but army builds in a few cases are getting too common

  16. @grumhelden - of course you're right. People charged guns all the time. His mistake was not including a rule for what happened when they tried, and then being surprised and upset when they did. Madness (or Sparta, I always get them confused).

    @Frontline Gamer - happy to comment. Can't recall whether you have my email address or not. Did you read my article on scenario balance? It's not very polished, but on my blog if you're interested. Might spark an interesting thought.

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  18. (Sorry, repost)

    Here's my take:

    When I start a new game, I recognize that there is a certain learning curve. Some games have a steeper curve, some have a more shallow curve but the curve might be longer.

    Generally speaking, I want to get on top of that curve as quickly as possible. I tend to have more fun once I've learned a game than while I'm still learning it. I also sometimes feel like I'm "wasting" my time as a I learn a new game, so I want the learning process to go more quickly.

    This does not mean that I only care about winning, much to the contrary. I just want to know what I'm doing in any game I play. This applies to almost any game, be it board, video, role-playing, or miniatures war.

    This applies to list building in war games. When I'm new to a game (I'm still quite new to Warmachine) and I'm trying to figure out what models/units to take in my army, I will first read through the book and see what catches my eye. I will then go online to read about those models/units and see the opinion on them. I will also read about any units that others hold in high regard but may not have caught my eye at first.

    I feel that doing this reduces the learning curve for me, which is good. I look at lists and analyze them, but don't copy them. I try to gather as much information as I can, then form my own opinions on what models to take and which are the "best" or "most powerful/full of cheese." The focus here is that I don't blindly follow what others say; I collect that info and then use it to form my OWN opinions.

    As I said, I do this with almost any game. For example, several years ago when I started Mass Effect 1, I didn't want to "waste" a lot time learning the game. So I did research about the different classes, and I chose one based not on which was the "best" but on which I thought I would enjoy the most.

    I dislike it when people blindly follow the "best" army list they found on the internet. I remember it used to happen a lot when I played Magic:the Gathering in middle school. I think it just comes down to laziness: forming your own opinion is hard work, and many people don't want to put in the effort. It requires thought to have your own opinion, and thinking is hard. Many people would rather have someone else tell them what to think. Funny, the same thing applies to religion and politics...

    Anyway, my point is that I think doing your research about army composition and such is a good idea. However, it has to be YOUR research, not someone else's. It may not matter much in GW games, but in many game systems, if you just blindly follow someone else's army list instead of creating your own, you will still lose because you don't understand how the army works. Your own play style can and should directly influence your army building.

    There is also the fact that strong strategy or unorthodox tactics can win you games even with sub-par lists, but that's almost a different topic.

  19. @Key of E - great summary. I think you put that very well. I agree with you almost entirely, though I have one personal observation. Reading your comment about "wasting time" and so on, I was thinking about different genres of gaming. I really enjoy this learning process, doing the research and trying stuff out, getting to grips with the game. In fact, in MMOs I really don't like the rest of the game. Once I'm middle ranking then I quickly start to lose interest. The top end game bores me silly. With tabletop games the curve is very different, and I'm wanting to be in the top few. RPGs don't work in the same competitive sense, but I always wanted to be "the best" (by my own measure) at that too.

    Thanks for making me think :)

  20. @Key of E great post. I think I agree with you pretty much entirely. Strangely I'm with Quirkworthy again though. I actually like the learning process myself, BUT and here's the thing I think reading about unit effectiveness from someone else online is no different to me rocking up at a club or tournament and asking a veteran of a game or a certain faction there thoughts. I see NO problem with that whatsoever, never have done and never will do.

    Somebody on the Infinity forums made a great point as well about him not just wanting to waste time but also money because his hobby funds were limited. So he liked to know if what he was buying would suit his style of play or be worth it. Although the key thing there is he has a style of play and he understands what it is because he plays games himself and understands what he's like rather than just lifting lists without thought. That's what I find irksome.

    @Quirkworthy nope sorry I haven't read that blog, sounds interesting and I'll give it a squidge now.

  21. Well said and I couldn't agree more.

  22. You asked if we might have changed our minds about this issue over time. I have - sort of. And I've been planning on writing my own post about it but what the hell, a comment on yours is quicker and maybe more people will see it too ;)

    I used to be dead against net-lists. And I still am, in terms of my own gaming. But I now no longer care if others do it and no longer think it's somehow the death of the hobby. This is now the way I see it:

    Using a net-list (or any list designed by someone else to optimize your victory chances), is the gaming equivalent of paying a professional to paint your army. Personally I think starting with your gut feelings and then learning from experience what works and what doesn't is really fun and is a big part of what this hobby actually consists of. But some people may not enjoy battling to victory through a sea of slow defeats and learning, just like some people don't like painting models. Who am I to say that they aren't allowed to approach the hobby the way they want? It's meant to be fun, not serious, that's the whole point.

    Personally though, I do feel a bit sad for people who enter the hobby as net-list users. I can't help but feel they are missing out on a big part of what the hobby has to offer (just like people who don't paint or build their own models). I also think they might be in danger of learning to follow trends to stay competitive rather than actually learning to be Good Players.

    1. James... you know what... that's exactly what I've come to think now. Part of it is to do with the fact I've convinced so many hard pressed (cash wise) individuals to start so many new games that a lot of them have been looking at net-lists so as to give themselves a fighting chance, but also to ensure their very limited resources don't get spent on buying duffers.

      I can't in all honesty then criticise someone for doing what is fiscally prudent for them, and their families. I never really had any issues with facing net lists, I just thought it was a sad thing for the hobby, and mainly the hobby of those using them. Now I guess I can see for some it might be a necessary way of approaching things. Like you I think many gamers will miss that Eureka moment when it all clicks into place for them and works. Thanks.