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EDITORIAL: There Are Only Two Strategies

4 Minute Read
Aug 2 2011

Darkwynn here. Instead of talking about top tier armies, how good they are or OMG if you use this unit of Purifiers it can destroy this unit I wanted to talk about something a little bit more at the core of strategy.

Now let’s be clear, tactics are great and having special maneuvers that you pull off to get the upper hand or apply force on to a certain unit is nice and I think plenty of people have covered that in the world of the 40k blogofsphere and garden variety Strictly Average posts.

There are two kinds of wargames strategies ideally and breaking it down simple – it’s a Preemptive Strategy or an Attrition Strategy. I am going to talk about the basic principles of these two strategies and apply real world concepts that are commonly known throughout the world. Then apply them into game concepts and list building to see how you can apply these basic principles to your game. This article is to touch on the subject lightly as we can debate these core concepts forever.

Preemptive Strategies

Preemptive strategies are where you act before your opponent and take out or gain a competitive advantage over your opponent before he is able to take action to prevent it. Now what do we mean by this? For a business world example we don’t have to look far – Apple. They have created their own market with the Ipad. They were the first ones really to develop the concept before any other competitors and now they control that market. Now for how long that is a whole other story and we will get to that later but they were the first one to act and create a competitive advantage before anybody else.

Now applying that to general games or say Warhammer 40k in particular and look at the basic principle on how Space Wolf drop pods worked with units of Wolf Guard. You create a Wolf Guard unit with 8 Combi Plasma –  they are going to come down and strike a unit for a certain purpose before your opponent can act. With this preemptive unit, you create a way of getting rid of strong deathstar units. Alternatively you can apply this preemptive strategy to a general army concept and you get something similar to Imperial Guard maxing out as many guns as you can, resulting in what you commonly hear as a Glass Cannon concept.

Attritional Strategy


Attrition is very simple idea and one that you grind down your opponent by either more bodies or having more resources – where the goal is to have your opponent falls apart while you are still standing (barely) and you thus overcome them. Going back to real work examples that have happened in the past I think a classic one is the Qwerty Keyboard which you are typing on right now. After QWERTY came out there were multiple other keyboard variants published and the biggest one of fame was Dvorak Simplified Keyboard. Now QWERTY mainly stand as the main principle because it was the basis of typing training and firmly entrenched in the standardized business world. Even though the new simplified keyboard and other variants were more efficient it didn’t matter. They had the resources to stay around and after awhile people threw in the towel and just left QWERTY as the standard method.

Now applying this to games and going to use Warhammer 40k if you look at type of Attrition builds I think Deathwing does this the best and even get better when playing an all reserve list. There is nothing like having 50 Terminators with a 2+ saves shrugging off majority of shots and being one of the toughest to kill. Now they are expensive and your points are higher but you’re playing into the part that you’re going to outlast your opponent and take away turns of shooting at you by coming in from reserves. Now this can also be used as a classic example of horde Orks players thinking of having 300 bodies coming across from you in a board but that is a whole other story of quantity vs. quality.

Mix and Match
Now that we have gone over the basic strategies that everything is built on let’s talk about mixing them and taking advantage of both ideas in list building. When you’re developing a list you need to really think out what you’re trying to accomplish. Define that you’re trying to build an army that can cover all three basic mission objectives out of the main rule book but also balance that a style of Attrition, Preemptive strike or a mix of both. There are many ways to accomplish this out of all the books and for example let’s look at the Dark Eldar book. You can create a list that is all reserve which has the ability to come on the table and strike at key targets and decimate your opponent. Meanwhile holding your army off in reserve not allowing your opponent to shot at key targets, only to come in later allows a preemptive strike, leaving you with more units on the table late game.

Now these are obviously high level concepts and by no means go into deep detail. In the future I hope to go into deeper detail of these basic strategies and how to apply them to the various codices. As for people who enjoy a good read and want to understand deeper strategies or at least Game Theory concepts I suggest reading a book called The Art of Strategy by Avinash Dixit and Barry Nalebuff.

Which strategy do you use in your lists. The floor is yours ladies and gentlemen…

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