40k Matched Play Armies Walkthrough

Questions about army list building in Warhammer 40,000 8th edition continue to come up as newcomers join the hobby and old heads return. So I’m going to write my explanation about detachments, Battle Forged, and so on here just one more time and then link to it in future conversations. Corrections and questions are welcome.

TL;DR

For Matched Play, the most common 40k 8e format, armies must be organized into detachments and all units across the entire army must have at least one faction keyword in common (e.g., Imperium). Additional buffs are available for detachments (not armies) drawn from single codexes or factions (e.g., Space Marine chapters).

Background

My impression is that most players are generally using the Matched Play format, as opposed to Open Play, Narrative, or something else ad hoc. I could be wrong about that in general, but it’s certainly true of pickup play around my local scene (Redcap’s Corner) and all the tournaments I have seen (and run). So the default is that you’re selecting armies by points, not power levels, and adhering to Matched Play format.

Hampering newcomers in hunting down rules is that Matched Play is actually more restrictive than Battle Forged. Many people implicitly assume Battle Forged is more fluffy and limited. That’s not the case. Matched Play is a subset of Battle Forged, not the other way around. Competition-oriented Matched Play and some newer rules additions from the codexes and upcoming Chapter Approved supplement actually do more to encourage armies more similar to traditional Force Org Chart, no allies, old-school 40k. Battle Forged by itself is more open.

Battle Forged

Matched Play requires that your armies be Battle Forged (main rulebook page 214, top left). Battle Forged requires your entire army to be organized into one or more detachments (main rulebook page 240, top left).

Beginning of the Battle Forged rules.

Detachments in theory are wide open, you can put any mix of units in there. However, in practice all of the units within a detachment must share at least one keyword. All of the detachments in the main rulebook such as Patrol, Battalion, Outrider, and so on either explicitly impose that restriction or are limited to a single unit. The only exception is the Fortification Network, which permits multiple fortifications with no faction restriction. There are some faction specific fortifications out right now, such as the Tau Tidewall, but most published so far are Unaligned (the commonly seen ones are all in Index Imperium 2), and this is mostly a small side point anyway.

Unless I’ve missed something, no other detachments have been published or rumored. So, in the future some supplement or such could perhaps have a detachment that permitted you to include Orks and Imperial Guard within a single detachment. However, you cannot do that within any of the detachments that currently exist because those units do not share any faction keywords. What you can do though is, for example, make up a detachment of Imperial Guard and Ultramarines units, because those all share at least one faction keyword (Imperium).

The Patrol detachment.

In addition, under Battle Forged rules alone, your army could straddle factions across multiple detachments. You could, for example, make up a Battle Forged army that had two detachments of Imperial Guard and one of Orks. There are no rules for Battle Forged armies linking the detachments.

Matched Play

However, Matched Play prohibits that by imposing such a linkage. Matched Play requires that armies be Battle Forged and that all units have at least one faction keyword in common (main rulebook page 214, under “Army Faction”).

So, in a tournament or pickup play using Matched Play rules, you could not field an army with detachments of Imperial Guard and Orks even though it was Battle Forged. You can however still mix Imperial Guard and Ultramarines units within and across detachments, because those all share at least one keyword.

Beginning of Matched Play rules.

Faction Buffs

New rules from the codexes released to date as well as the upcoming Chapter Approved supplement however encourage—but do not require—detachments drawn from a single faction by offering at least four types of buffs for doing so.

Objective Secured

The codexes seen so far all have rules, such as the Space Marines’ Defenders of Humanity, that give a scoped but important buff to models in a detachment comprised solely of units from that codex: They trump other models for control of objectives. The Chapter Approved supplement will provide a similar rule, Objective Secured, for all the factions that still only have Indexes. Most events seem to be adopting this and the other updates to Matched Play from this supplement that have been officially previewed. There’s a reason GW rushed out these rules previews just in time for the first really large 40k event under 8th edition (NOVA): They address a number of balance issues, particularly as the codexes roll out.

Preview of Objective Secured rule from the upcoming Chapter Approved.

Stratagems

Similarly, codex stratagems are unlocked by fielding at least one detachment comprised solely of units from that codex. So a detachment made up of Imperial Guard and Space Marines would be Battle Forged, share a keyword, and be legal in Matched Play, but by itself it would not have access to either of those codexes’ stratagems. That’s a severe penalty for mixing the factions given the utility of some of those, so it’s another strong incentive to field uniform detachments.

Chapter Tactics

All of the codexes released or previewed to date have also granted additional unique benefits to detachments comprised solely of particular factions: Space Marine detachments made up of a single chapter receive an associated Chapter Tactic, Grey Knights have a Chapter Tactic in Brotherhood of Psykers, and Chaos Space Marine legions all have their own benefits. Future codexes will grant similar unique benefits to detachments made up of specific regiments, dynasties, forge worlds, clans, etc..

Some of the Space Marines’ Chapter Tactics.

Units

Finally, most unit special abilities affecting other units are also compatible only with the most specific factions. Transports in the mainline indexes and codexes can only embark units drawn from the same chapter or that codex’s equivalent. Captains, honor guards, ancients, and similar generate aura buffs only applicable to units and models from their specific chapter or equivalent. There are some notable exceptions, such as Guilliman, who provides an aura at the Imperium level. But in general while detachments made of various factions under an umbrella faction are valid in Matched Play, their units will be limited in how they interoperate and support each other.

In some sense this incentive is not very strong. You might only be planning on those units interacting with a few other units anyway. But unlike the Objective Secured and Chapter Tactics type buffs it is diffused across the entire army, creating a soft linkage between detachments: Sure would be a bummer if at some point in a game a unit in one detachment really needed to embark a transport or receive some buff from a unit in another detachment but couldn’t because they were of different factions (detachment boundaries alone do not impair such abilities). So the tighter faction scoping of most unit abilities in this edition also gently encourages focusing on one or a limited number of factions, even between detachments.

Fluff

By and large though the explicit faction-focus benefits so far are primarily encouraging uniform detachments, not armies. You could still mix factions between detachments, provided they all have at least one shared faction keyword, and get these buffs. So, as long as our example Imperial Guard and Ultramarines army was organized into detachments each with uniform faction, they would all have Objective Secured or Defenders of Humanity respectively, access to their stratagems, the Ultramarines would get their Chapter Tactic, and when their codex arrives the Imperial Guard will get some benefit associated with the chosen regiment.

Matched Play rules therefore impose basic requirements prohibiting very unfluffy combinations. You can’t field Orks and Imperial Guard together. But within a larger alliance such as Imperium or Chaos you have a great deal of flexibility, certainly across an army and even within detachments. However, there are multiple strong incentives for focusing detachments at least on particular specific factions. Unit level interactions and combos are also much more constrained. Taking all of these rules together, in 8th edition you won’t see anything nearly as crazy as the allies permitted in the recent prior editions, and many armies will in fact be very traditional.

Limited Detachments

One last general note is that most events are limiting the number of detachments that may be taken. Matched Play provides a table of suggestions (main rulebook bottom of page 214) which have been widely adopted. So at the new standards of 1500 or 2000 points, armies are generally restricted to 3 detachments.

Suggested detachment count limits.

Conclusion

In sum, the rules for allies and army organization in Matched Play are somewhat confusingly presented as they’re located in a variety of places throughout the 40k main rulebook. But in practice they’re pretty simple: Armies must be made up of detachments, every unit across an army must be from the same general faction, and there are buffs for detachments selected from a single specific faction.

Footnote

It is a detailed rules design topic not especially applicable to actually playing, but this post discusses duplication and ambiguity problems in the rules around Objective Secured and Space Marine Detachment.

2017 NOVA 40k Trios Recap

Colin and I headed up the NOVA 40k Trios Team Tournament again this year. We had 21 teams for 63 players, up from 18 teams last year. Trios features a somewhat unique format, in which teams of three play a doubles game and an individual game against an opposing team each round. It really only works at a large event like NOVA because of how many players are needed to have a good number of teams, but it works really well there. It’s a great way to start off the convention because you spend the whole first day hanging out and playing with friends.

This year seemed to be a big success, continuing on from last year’s well regarded event overhaul. As mostly expected, Warhammer 40,000 8th Edition seems to be holding up well to large competitions. We had extremely few rules questions come up and they were all easy to resolve. There were of course some powerful units kicking around, but no grumbling about specific units and armies at anything approaching the scale of last year. Games Workshop also again donated really awesome trophies for our top team. In addition, something I especially appreciated as someone who takes a lot of photos and spends almost literally 4 straight days at NOVA staring at games, TABLEWAR donated F.A.T. Mats to cover all the tables. Combined with numerous excellently crafted armies, the visual appeal of all the games was really high this year.

Many more photos from the event are available in the gallery here.

2017 NOVA 40k Trios underway!

Missions

We ran our three most traditional missions, battle tested now over many events:

  • Open Ground: Controlling markers, choosing to score continuously or game end.
  • Slaughter Zone: Our take on Annihilation, using percentages of units killed.
  • Battlefield: Players choose from several primary objectives to either hold specific markers, kill enemy units, or preserve their own units.

Each of those missions also has a selection of secondary objectives, enabling players to either double down on the primary objective style or go for something else. For example, an army good at holding ground might choose a secondary to claim terrain pieces in addition to the objective markers, while an army better at killing units might choose a kill points secondary objective.

In addition, special to the 40k Trios and our local annual Tournament of Blood, each player is working toward a set of ten Warlord Achievements each round. These award the head of the army for personally capturing objectives or slaying enemies.

The full event primer with missions and details is available as a PDF here.

Rough Riders are apparently a thing now, there were several armies of them!

Results

NOVA 40k Trios awards five titles:

  • Renaissance Trios: Overall winners across battle points, sportsmanship, craftsmanship, and theme.
  • Strategists: The team with the most wins and then battle points.
  • Artists: Best painted team as judged by NOVA/Capital Palette painting judges.
  • Storytellers: The most original and best presented story of why a team’s forces are fighting together.
  • Warmaster: The individual who scored the most Warlord Achievements.

Our winners this year:

  • Renaissance: Zac Schooley, Ashwin Ooi, David Beardwood.
  • Strategists: Sam Thorn, Aaron Beeson, Sawyer Philbrick
  • Artists: Jesse Gaskins, Trevor Aleho, Casey ?
  • Storytellers: Phil Kovac, Patsy Kovac, Billy Evans
  • Warmaster: Sawyer Philbruck

Full results are available as either XLSX or PDF.

Final overall standings.

Final overall standings.

Everyone, even the simplest soldier, has at least their life to offer the Emperor.

Theme

Lots of teams really get into the narrative aspect of why their teams are fighting together, making extensive writeups and display boards. We very much enjoy seeing that effort each year, especially as it was our primary interest when we were Trios players. There were many great displays this year, so please check out the photo gallery. But four teams came up tops in our scoring matrix (detailed in the primer).

Team Audacious, our eventual overall winners, had an amazing, cohesive display of an Eldar force escorting Ultramarines through The Webway to reinforce Imperial Guard under Necron siege in their Ceresia Campaign background story.

Teams Gallant and Indignant, last year’s theme winners, again had an extensive writeup and display for their Liberation of Bellatain Prime storyline.

But our Storytellers title went to Team Courageous for their Crystal V and Hive Hyatt Prime storyline. You can read their introduction here. The competition was really close between all four of these teams, but what put Courageous ahead were three totally aligned factions and small details tying the armies and story together, like HQs having campaign shoulder pads shared across the armies.

This year’s event again though featured numerous incredible army displays in addition to these. More photos are in the gallery.

Next Year

Overall I think the NOVA 40k Trios is working well. Major changes for 2018 aren’t expected, mostly procedural tuning and the usual mission rotation and tweaking. However, a few larger changes come to mind.

One possible addition are small buffs to help the second player defend against a first turn onslaught. That needs more thought, testing, and consensus building as 8th edition continues to shake out, but it sure seems like among most players the first turn is perhaps overly strong. A return of tertiary points for killing Lords of War is also probable. We kept those in the Narrative this year but tested Trios without. We’ll probably also adjust Sudden Death and Boots on the Ground to also include Lords of War with the Fly keyword, or a similar ruling. Their technical exclusion from the errata for those rules came up in both 40k Trios and 40k Narrative, and I think goes against their intent and is probably inadvertent.

Another great army display, from Team Sacrosanct (CREW SHAKEN!).

Another great army display, from Team Sacrosanct (CREW SHAKEN!).

The most significant potential change on the docket right now is a very different slate of Warlord Achievements. Both years now the Warmaster title has gone to a player on the Strategists-winning team. To some extent that’s not surprising and maybe inevitable. However, the current set of achievements encourages that by being goals you generally want to attain anyway, like slaying the opposing Warlord. It would be interesting if the achievements were just enough off track that you had to make a stronger choice between playing toward the mission or the achievements. We’ve thought about this idea a fair amount and haven’t yet come up with anything which we didn’t think was either overly complex or too distracting from the main mission, but will put more thought into it. It would be great for this title to wind up landing in another team, much like how we’ve seen a good spread among the team titles.

These are all somewhat minor issues though. It was another great year for the 40k Trios, and I look forward to yet another in 2018. Don’t forget to check out all the other awesome armies in the gallery!

UPDATE: Greg Hess also has pictures up of the 40k Trios.

One of the team shirts, dispensing important advice.

First Round Gaming Tournament Seeding

This post discusses the challenge of first round pairings for wargaming (and boardgaming) tournaments, and an idea for improving them in larger events. My primary interest at the moment is organizing narrative events for Warhammer 40,000 (40k), but the discussion is largely not specific to that game or style.

Clubbing Baby Seals

One of the great virtues I see of tournaments, even and perhaps especially for fairly casual game players, is that if they’re well designed and run then they more or less ensure that by the end of the event everyone will be playing competitors of similar skill and/or equipment (army list, deck, etc.). However, the opening round presents a challenge. In wargaming and similar there’s typically no information to go on, no meaningful persistent rankings from which to seed the initial matches. High level chess, checkers, go, Magic, and other tabletop gaming tournaments that can do so are by far the exception rather than the rule. In nearly all events players are just paired randomly in the first round.

Random pairings can obviously lead to highly mismatched games between a very skilled and well equipped player and a much less skilled or well equipped opponent. In scoring systems where points earned go directly toward overall rankings that’s an unfair advantage for the better player versus other potential top competitors who faced more even competition and weren’t able to run up the score. That issue can be lessened, though not eliminated, by awarding separate normalized points for major win/win/draw/loss/major loss or similar. But much more importantly, getting clobbered by a random mismatch in the opening round is a terrible first experience for newcomers and discouraging even for veterans, lessening their enjoyment of the event and potentially the hobby as a whole.

In some settings this may not matter or may be unavoidable. If the goal of the event is establishing who is actually the best player, then a pure tournament bracket or other mechanism will work fine from a random seeding. In fact, if you do have the necessary information via a qualifying run or such to properly seed the bracket, then first round pairs should be in reverse order, with the best entrants competing against the worst. The entrants for such an event should also understand that it’s quite possible they’ll be clobbered. Part of the appeal for many tournament-goers is in fact gauging exactly where they stand—though in the moment it’s always tough to lose.

Nearly all gaming events though are not this clinical. Most cannot be simply due to the time involved in running enough rounds for a mathematical tournament, let alone other factors such as randomness. The NOVA GT is one of the few exceptions in 40k especially and wargaming generally, running an actual elimination bracket over a grueling 3 days of matches for the eventual winner. Instead, most gaming tournaments approximate a bracket through variations of Swiss pairings and accumulated scores rather than straight win/loss elimination.

A single-elimination tournament bracket, which most gaming tournaments more or less try to approximate and a few implement.

A single-elimination tournament bracket, which most gaming tournaments more or less try to approximate and a few implement.

Clubbing Baby Seals… But With A Story!

More fundamentally though, most gaming events are trying to balance being a competition with also being fun. I as an event organizer am particularly interested in fun, thematic narrative tournaments and campaigns rather than pure competitions. Surprisingly to many people, these also face the mismatch problem. I argue it’s actually an even worse issue than in a straight tournament: Many casual and fluff oriented players will come out for these events that would stay well away from highly competitive events, but, conversely, many competitive players will also come out for these events. That sets up a clash of expectations and styles than must be addressed mechanically.

Unfortunately, the mechanics of many narrative oriented events actually permit players to be repeatedly clobbered by stronger competitors. For example, this is a frequent inherent design limitation of classic map-based campaigns run outside of small, reasonably matched, friendly groups: There’s no guarantee that the adjacent or encountered players are not simply much better and will win every round.

Addressing this is a big part of why my narrative events are usually fairly abstract, permitting control mechanisms to be applied. For example, most of my narrative events arrange match pairings in a strategic, team-oriented fashion such as one team puts forward a player and a mission, and the other team responds with an opponent and a board/table. By restricting that response to being within the same win/loss bracket, teams are prevented from consciously or unconsciously throwing a newbie at a hardened vet or vice versa. Otherwise teams frequently apply logic such as “Well, that opponent has a lot of tanks, so we should send this player who has anti-tank specialists,” without accounting for one player or the other simply being vastly stronger overall and dominating that logic into irrelevancy. In my events we’ve also tried to address the issue by having team commanders chosen or coached to guide the decision making to account for the whole spectrum of considerations, including player experience. But then there’s still that challenge of opening round mismatches and how to prevent them without yet having any information about the players and their relative abilities.

First round, NOVA Narrative 2014, I am about to get crushed by Eric, who just minutes before had finished competing in NOVA's GT Invitational...

First round, NOVA Narrative 2014, I am about to get crushed by Eric, who just minutes before had finished competing in NOVA’s GT Invitational…

Questionnaires

One clear response then is to get some information about the players. Some time ago, a friend and I were talking about similar challenges in bicycle races, which I also organize, and he mentioned a scheme he’s seen in martial arts. There they have the additional challenge of many cross-discipline competitors, i.e., somebody that has a high rank or belt in one form of the sport that may or may not have real bearing in other forms. So some events begin by having a panel of experts quickly interview competitors and seed them into initial groupings based on the panel’s judgement of their experience level and skills applicable to the current event.

I have no idea how common or successful that is in martial arts. But it seems like a reasonable idea, and I’ve been thinking a fair bit about how to apply it to miniatures wargaming (and boardgaming). In particular, later this year I’m leading two (hopefully) large-ish events, the new LibertyHammer narrative event, and the popular NOVA 40k Narrative track. In both cases I will have no usable a priori knowledge of the vast majority of the players, but I’d really like to roughly seed them so that the first round pairings can be constrained and mismatches reduced.

libertyhammer-bg-560px

nova

To do so, I’m thinking of giving a short questionnaire to players as they check in. Those will then be used to roughly correlate players and constrain initial pairs.

Both events will use something like the propose/respond mechanism above. Especially for NOVA though, there are enough players (~100 total in that event if we sell out) that we can’t do that across everybody in a reasonable amount of time. So the players will be dividing into groups of about 12 and pairing up within groups simultaneously. In later rounds those groups will be determined by win/loss brackets, mitigating clubbings.

Going into the first round though we could use a questionnaire to populate the groups. If it’s a short list of yes/no answers all phrased toward a positive answer being a sign of a more competition-oriented, skillful, experienced, or better equipped player, then for each player we can count the number of “yes” answers, sort everybody by their counts, and then split that sorted list into groups and arrange pairs within them.

Probing Questions

This is a very rough first draft of such a questionnaire:

Please check off the following “yes” or “no” regarding your participation in 40k events. PLEASE NOTE: None of these are in any way to be construed as negatives and your answers will not affect your ranking or options throughout the event. They are simply a survey of our players that will be used to group like-minded and similarly experienced players together in forming the first round pairings.

  1. Are you more focused on gameplay than on hobby aspects?
  2. Do you read frequently online about tactics and army construction?
  3. Do you consider yourself a strong player?
  4. Do you play in tournaments more than once or twice a year?
  5. Have you played in any Grand Tournament (GT) or similar regional or national level competitive event at any point in the past two years?
  6. Is your primary faction Eldar, Chaos Daemons, Necrons, or Space Marines (generic codex)?
  7. Is your army comprised of more than a single detachment or formation?
  8. Does your army use more than one source (codex, campaign book, supplement, etc.)?
  9. Does your army include any single unit type more than three times?
  10. Does your army include more than one superheavy vehicle or gargantuan creature?

General Questions

The first five questions above are fairly general and get at the inclinations of the player. The intent here is that the more “yes” answers someone gives, the more likely they are to be at least more competition-oriented, if not indeed a stronger player. I don’t want the total newbie to get crushed in a bad mismatch. I also don’t want the fluff bunny who’s been playing for years but is primarily in the hobby to go pew-pew with his lovingly converted and painted toy soldiers to happen to be paired in the first round with someone fielding a barely prepared clone of the Internet’s latest and greatest all-conquering army list. I don’t though have a problem if someone regularly playing competitively or convinced they’re the Blood God’s gift to 40k goes up against a tough match, they can take it.

In addition to being ok with that outcome, it would also just be hard to ask quantifiable, objective questions about ability given hugely varied participant pools. So the questions ask more about mindset and participation rather than results. It wouldn’t mean much to ask “Have you won a tournament in the past year?” because events are so varied. But I think it does say something for someone to have played in a Grand Tournament recently.

Army Questions

The last four questions are more specific to 40k and what the player is fielding. These questions are intended to be very rough indicators of stronger armies, or at least armies coming from a similar mindset. For example, having more than one superheavy/gargantuan, detachment, or source book is by no means at all necessarily an indicator of a stronger army. But it is a good indicator that you’re not still playing from a 2nd, 3rd, 4th, or even 5th edition mentality and set of expectations as many players arguably are. There’s nothing wrong with that, but ideally as the organizer I’d like those players’ first taste of the event to not be facing someone coming from a radically different take on the game. Obviously a lot can be said on the topic of superheavies/gargantuans and their balance and appropriateness for 40k. Although we’re permitting them in this year’s NOVA Narrative (LibertyHammer’s points levels are too low), we are doing a fair bit with our mission design and rules to counter some of the issues that do exist while still allowing the freedom to play full 7th edition. Regardless, despite that inclusion, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to hedge my bets on players’ initial experience by attempting to group similar mindsets together. Potentially it would be better to ask about player’s support for those elements being in the game rather than using them theirselves, but I don’t have good wording for that at the moment.

Your weapons are useless, fleshlings!

Your weapons are useless, fleshlings!

Similarly, the question about having more than three units of a single type may not mean much at all. But I would guess that having four or more of any particular unit tends to be more common in competition-oriented lists. Here I’m not making any value judgement on that whatsoever. We set up the rules, and people should design armies under those rules to be as strong as they wish. Hopefully our rules, missions, comprehensive scoring, limited prizes, and other mechanisms mitigate against whatever issues 40k may or may not have with overpowered units and armies. However, I think it’s worthwhile in the first round pairings to try to group armies that are more likely to be designed for competition with other armies coming from a similar mindset.

The question about the specific factions is incorporating into the seeding some notion of the currently strongest factions in the game. Those particular four I think would be largely conceded as such by most players. But I cite as specific objective evidence for those four as the distinct top tier—and not also a few additional armies that might be commonly opined as such—the statistical analysis done by Variance Hammer of this year’s LVO results. Obviously this question isn’t dispositive, any given player could field a weak army for any of those codexes. There will in particular be a lot of weak Space Marine armies, just because they’re such a huge portion of the player pool. But the question is just one point among eight in what is only a very rough seeding function anyway.

Logistics

An important note is that any scheme for mitigating first round mismatches has to be practical. In this case, potentially the two classes of questions should be separated in some way, to more independently gauge players’ inclination toward competitive play and their take on the current makeup of 40k. But ultimately this has to be fast to execute; we have tight time constraints between checking everybody in, preparing the data, and turning around first round pairings. The questionnaire can’t be that complex for players to fill out nor for us to tabulate and use. Any other mechanism would have to be similarly simple and fast.

Conclusion & Other Ideas?

Player mismatches are an issue that many narrative events don’t adequately address. First round mismatches in particular are a general issue that many gaming tournaments could improve. Here I’ve sketched one idea to do so: Players fill out a quick questionnaire to check in, and organizers sum up the “Yes” responses and seed the first round pairings by sorting on those counts.

Does that seem reasonable? Are there other good alternative or complementary mechanisms to reduce first round mismatches? For this questionnaire method, are there better questions to ask? This is just a rough draft and some thoughts, and my fellow organizers and I would really appreciate feedback and other ideas. Reach us in the comments below or the various forums where this has been linked. Thanks!

Update: There is now a discussion on Reddit about this that makes a bunch of additional points.