Thursday, November 25, 2010

Duplicating Units

Duplication (or spamming) is when a player selects the exact same units multiple times, usually with identical options and model counts for each unit. This is a practice that polarises the 40k community. On the one side are those that hate it with a passion - every unit in their army is unique, with it's own strengths, weaknesses and role on tue battlefield. On the other side are players who cannot seem to build a list that has two different units in an FOC category. I am going to look into why spamming is so popular, and suggest some mitigation strategies that spammers could employ to help shrink the gulf.

Why duplicate? There are three reasons I can think of. The first is that some units are just plain better than others. Competitive players will want to maximise the value they get from each point spent, so they gravitate towards the optimal units in each FOC category. The second reason is redundancy. When  something is vital to your battle plan, and you only have one, you can bet that your opponent is going to wipe it off the table first thing. You gotta have a backup! The third is fluff. Throughout history most armies are made up of similarly equipped units. Tank platoons usually consist of 3 identical tanks. If I want to play a fluffy Orc Horde army, I should be taking 6 squads of 30 boys.

There are people that complain that duplication is unfluffy. Don't worry about them, they are probably on the kind of drugs that I can never convince my doctor to prescribe. They are confusing fluff with fun... unless you are spamming something that is rare in the fluff of course.

What about the opposing argument that by taking a variety of units, each tailored to be strong against a certain type of enemy unit, you can maneuver so that your units engage with an optimal opponent? The biggest problem with this approach in 40k is that your opponent can direct all their long range fire against just about any unit they like. It's called target priority - select the unit that is the biggest threat and take it out, then move on. In a game with little shooting this tactic becomes more viable, because you can protect the units that are optimal for the current opponent. If you play 40k with large amounts of line-of-sight blocking terrain then you may also find it easier to protect the better units.

Lets try an example to illustrate the point. Let's say that I have two land speeders in my army - one Typhoon with 2 missile launchers, the other with multi-melta and heavy flamer. Now let's say my opponent is fielding a dual Land Raider list. He will greatly fear that mobile multi-melta, so it will be the target of all sorts of long-ranged firepower until it is just a smoking heap of terrain. Now all I can do is ping at the raider with my ineffectual krak missiles. Now imagine that I had taken 2 Typhoons. Again you might take out one, and the other would ping. I'm no worse off. Finally, what if I had taken two multi-melta speeders? Then I would still have one left, which could very well turn your land raider into slag. By taking duplicate units you have a better chance of the right unit surviving to do the job. Sure, double Typhoons wouldn't help me here - but what about against Razorback spam?

The most commonly hated duplication is when you take identical units with identical options. This is also known as a "cookie cutter" list, because you design the unit once and then "cut out" a bunch of identical copies. Usually the options are optimal for the unit and current meta-game - like 10 veteran IG with 3 melta guns and an auto-cannon in a chimera. This is often a real turn off to the casual opponent, because it make the game more boring! It's the same unit they have faced versus virtually every IG opponent. "Come on", they cry in despair, "play something interesting!". This is important - the best opponents will give you a game that is both challenging and fun!

But the very fact that this identical unit has been encountered in numerous games can also be it's undoing. It means that it is likely that your opponent is experienced at fighting the spam unit, and knows it's capabilities and weaknesses well. You lose any element of surprise or misdirection. Changing things up can cause your opponent to make instinctive decisions that are no longer optimal, given the unorthodox armament of your unit.

So what can you do to tone down the spam and make your army friendlier to play against? Well one option is to change the options of each unit enough to make them recognisably different, but without changing their role. Switch a missile launcher for a lascannon in one of your tactical squads. Take a twin-linked lascannon on one of your rifleman dreads. There are plenty of options out there that aren't bad, try one on each of your spammed units and see. This has the interesting side-effect of making it harder for your opponent to remember the capabilities of each unit. At least with duplicate units you make life easier for the opponent in this department. Oh well you can't have it both ways can you!

The more drastic step is to change the units you are taking. Change a Predator Destructor to a Thunderfire Cannon. Take a squad of twin-linked flamer Crisis Suits, rather than another plasma/missile pod spam unit. You are now making your list recognisably weaker, as I have already explained. There are ways to minimise this however. You look for different units that have similar characteristics. For example a Predator Annihilator (no sponsons) and a Vindicator have similar anti-tank capability (within 30") and armour. Of course, the Vindicator is the superior choice, but you have to move away from an optimal list to reduce duplication.

The second way you can mitigate the risk of taking unduplicated units is to rely on them getting one turn to act before your opponent can wipe them off the table. Against most opponents you have a 50% chance of going first, and this chance might be enough to justify the inclusion of something like a Thunderfire Cannon. With one round of shooting it can cause some serious damage to an Ork horde, basically justifying its inclusion. Alternatively, by placing a unit in reserve you are guaranteeing one turn of fire - or hopefully an assault for outflanking units (or Vanguard Veterans).

Well that's all I have to say on the subject for now. Personally I am quite happy to play with or against duplicated units - probably because i get most of my enjoyment from the strategy of 40k. Hope this has been thought provoking to some degree.

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