The AbsentMinded Professor: Logic and List Building in Warmachine Part 2

In this article, I cover what is likely hte most common process for building Warmachine Lists: Induction.  Whereas the Deduction functions as a science experiment,  Induction is closer to solving a crime or discovering the cultural treasures of a forgotten civilization.  Inductive processes are often called “naturalistic” because it emphasizes placing things in their naturally occurring contexts. In fact most of you reading this will find that you already do most of what I am writing about in this article.

To better explain the differences between the Inductive and Deductive process, let me turn to the work of Charles Darwin. Darwin made observations about how the Darwin Finches vary from each other across the Galapagos archipelago.  With examination and reasoning, he recognized the pattern: these populations were geographically isolated from each other and that the variation between the sub-species varied over distance.  He proposed the tentative hypothesis that the finches all shared a common ancestor, and evolved and adapted, by natural selection, to exploit vacant ecological niches. This resulted in evolutionary divergence and the creation of new species, the basis of his Theory of Evolution.

Darwin used inductive reasoning (See image below), as he started with a specific piece of information where an initial observation leads to the discovery of a certain pattern and expanded it to a broad hypothesis.  This allows a tentative prediction to be made which leads to a general theory about how things work.

The Inductive Approach


This is not to say that the Inductive approach is less rigorous than the Deductive, but it is a less structured process. The reason is that the Deductive approach requires a lot of front loading (Theory, Review of the Literature etc) which in turn makes the results easier to interpret in the form of a Yes/No question: Does my list accomplish what I want it to accomplish?


In contrast, the Inductive approach allows more flexibility and  subjectivity.  It gives you the player the ultimate control and the ultimate responsibility in how the list is constructed.   This is why the Inductive Process is used by players at every skill and commitment level.  For some, an Inductive approach is the ultimate expression of the hobby, the freedom to play whatever they want without judgement.  For others, an Inductive approach this is the chance to break the mold, to figure out a new quirk in an old paradigm and then exploit it.  No matter the reason, an Inductive approach gives players the flexible tools they need to build the subjectively good lists they want.


In my first article, I promised to introduce you to Grounded theory.  Here is the one of the most cited definitions:

A grounded theory is one that is inductively derived from the study of the phenomenon it represents. That is, it is discovered, developed and provisionally verified through systematic data collection and analysis of data pertaining to that phenomenon. Therefore, data collection, analysis and theory stand in reciprocal relationship to one another. (Strauss and Corbin 1990: 23)

What is important about this is that in the Inductive approach to Warmachine emphasizes actual in-game experiences over adherence to rules of thumb, assumptions, and other similar long held beliefs.

Developing an inductive, or grounded, theory generally follows the following steps:

List design: Go back to the Start

If you’re going to use Induction to build your lists, you’ve got to start with the fundamental assumptions of your faction.  For newer players, this means trying to get a grasp on the big questions such as: How many jacks/beasts should I run?  Do I need to buy another unit of infantry? How much support should I put in my lists?   These are questions that are asked and answered on forums and on podcasts regularly.

However, this bears repeating: How does a person gain a good understanding of their faction’s fundamental assumptions?

If you’re a new player, it’s usually easier to be inductive because you will typically have fewer preconceived notions. If you prefer to be inductive, take your time and examine your faction and put models on the table before taking the deductive route and borrowing a list from the internet.

Veteran Players also make use of the Inductive process but they often use  it to break away from the current metagame.  To accomplish this, you have to throw out everything you think you know and start from scratch.  When John gave up the Avatar for Crutch Free 2012, he was forced to reset many of his assumptions about what made a good list. Then by reexamining the various tools available to Menoth, he inductively crafted the menoth gunline which still plagues us to this day.  None of this would have been possible if he had not gone back and reexamined his faction.

This is perhaps the most important lesson of the inductive approach: know your faction, know yourself.

Questions, Answers, and Analysis:  Don’t just play, Pay attention!

This is not as simple as it sounds because as Crump demonstrates on a regular basis doing  accurate Battle Reports are both difficult and Tedious.  As such, I am not advocating that the majority of you attempt an activation by activation account of every one of your games.  However, I am urging you to take the time to note of the important events in each game.  Be able to ask and answer the following:

  • Who was able to launch the alpha strike and was it effective?
  • Who won the attrition battle? Did they have an effective alpha?  
  • Who scored the first Scenario Point? What models accomplished this?  
  • What model killed their/your caster?
  • What did my Eiryss/Gorman/Tartarus accomplish?
  • What did their Eiryss/Gorman/Tartarus accomplish?

These questions and many others are important to answer.  Its also important to note that not every question you ask will necessarily be restricted to the individual models in your list.  Instead, its will be important to make note about the ways that models in your army interacted with each other, how your opponents army stopped you from doing what you wanted to accomplish and how you were able to stop your opponent from doing what what they wanted.


Sometimes the interactions are as simple as choosing the appropriate Choir Song but other times its about knowing the best time to pop your caster feat based which faction you’re facing.

Pattern Recognition:

After you’ve played several games and made note of the important events, you should begin to see a pattern develop.  However, Its crucial that you take the time to play a list more than once with the same models more than once.  In order to develop Muse’s Law, John had to play a lot of games to get the experience to make the observations that led to the pattern that led to the Tentative Hypothesis that led to his theory. This is the part of the inductive process that is the hardest to teach but the simplest to recognize.

Do you remember that moment during your first journeyman league when you first realized that Dark Shroud, Crippling Grasp, and The Withering all stacked?   Or that moment that the Hymn of Battle, Flare from the Reckoner and Aiming made your judicator/redeemer an effective RAT 7 despite being inaccurate?

Many factions have similar explicit patterns that define their lists.  Still others however have implicit patterns that can only be uncovered by placing them on the table and discovering the patterns through consistent, regular play experience.  Whether this is the benefits of models such as pyg burrowers, Boomhowlers or Vayl2’s theme force (JVM’s contribution to Crutch Free 2012).  Too many players give up on a model/List after the first game it sees play and performs poorly.   Giving up on a model after fewer than five games will hinder you efforts to learn inductively  and limit your  ability to improve both as a tactician and as a list builder.

Theory Construction and List Comparison: Gotta Escape the Fishbowl

After you’ve slogged through braces, dozens, and even scores of games, you might have actually reached the mountaintop where you can boldly say “Yes, I do in fact think that Kossites/Trenchers/Mountain Kings are Legit.”  Its time for you to spread your gospel of all things Kossite  to the rest of the ‘Verse.   You’ve honed skills over the past many months and your local meta groans every time the models hit the table.  In the fishbowl that is your local meta, you’re the biggest goldfish.

At this point, I must again offer a warning about the dangers of making overgeneralizations with Inductive Logic.   If you’ve only been performing your magic locally, against the same 5 other players, the odds are you’re going to face serious skepticism about your claims that Trenchers are an effective substitute for other units.  No matter how much you tell of local exploits, if all you’ve accomplished is local success then other are able to dismiss your results as “local” and insignificant.  Though I know that no one wants to hear that they are not as smart as they think they are, the reality is told “go to a bigger event”  is not as inherently unkind as it might seem.

I recognize there are those who have zero desire to prove themselves on a national level and are quite happy remaining local.  However there are also those who do want to engage, even at a distance, with the national/international meta.   The Former desires neither confirmation or approval while the Latter seeks both.  The former is quite content playing with their Mountain King and snickering on forums when someone wins a major tournament with one in their list.

If you fall into the latter category and desire to break the meta (or simply learn everything on your own),  be aware that it is a long and laborious process.  Veteran Players will have a greater success rate with breaking out with an original list due to their knowledge of the meta and their experience in playing against the tried and true assumptions of the meta. For new players however, don’t get discouraged. There will be times you find great success and times when you can’t seem to find a win with both hands and a flashlight.  I ended my last article with a word of warning about winning and list construction. I want to reiterate that now, as a maxim regarding Inductive List Building :

You cannot judge a list based on your win/loss record.  Winning or Losing a game does not inherently demonstrate the strengths or weakness of a list.  Understanding how your list performed during the game is more important than the result.

The key to understanding how your list performs is to being able to identify the various factors which impact your performance.   These factors could be any one of the following:  You played better than your opponent, Your opponent had never faced that particular list before, You specifically tailored your list to beat your opponents, Your opponent’s dice were cold/Your dice were hot, They/You misplayed the scenario,  You/They exposed their caster more than necessary etc.

Understanding how to account for these factors when building lists and selecting lists for tournament play will be the focus of my next column on the Abductive Process.

Author: Professor Lust

You know me as Professor Lust on all Warmachine Related Forum and a big fan of Fedoras. I am possessed of a curiosity that tends towards the obsessive and an audacious streak that is often abrasive and a wit so sharp that I am the only one who laughs at my jokes. When not playing Warmachine/Hordes, trolling forums and generally putting my foot in my mouth, I am a sociologist who researches micro-structures and social psychology via inductive methods. I have in the past and will in the future publish peer-reviewed articles on gaming and culture.

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