The List Building Cycle: Volume 1

It’s time to take lamb chops off the menu


So I was wracking my brains for things that I could write an at least superficially useful1 article about and one idea kept coming back up.

Since my aim (per the picture at the top) is to help newer players develop into tournament players, I guess at some point I’d better look into list building.

If you dont know my proclivity for footnotes by now, please read some other articles, they’ll give you some idea of what to expect and how best to deal with it. The short 3of it is: Open a second browser window of this article, scroll it to the bottom then tab between them for ease of reading.

Granted, every site everywhere has an article or three on list building, so it’s not new ground, but maybe some of the newer players who frequent this site have not read those articles before. maybe9 some of the newer players are not just new to WarmaHordes, but also new to tabletop miniature games or even new to gaming in general, completely unfamiliar with list building or the (roughly) analogous deck building from other games.

So this article was conceived as a brief primer on that topic for those players.

Unfortunately, me being who I am and writing as I do, after a couple of weeks of working on it I had a visitation from the ghost of Tolkien who asked if I could tone it down a touch and perhaps issue a synopsis, since he’d lost track of the plot and felt like I was being overly wordy.

At that point I decided (like all great fantasy authors15) that word limits are for losers and I should instead make this baby into a trilogy. Then, because it occurred to me that noone gives a damn about the trilogy anymore I should shoot for a cycle. Those things dont even have an end.

So, this is going to be a series, of indeterminate (at this point) length. It’s probably more likely to be cut off by the Muse-on authorities shutting down my writing priviledges then by me running out of things to say7 , so strap in. 21

I acknowledge that, although I started with the intent of a beginner article on list building, what I’ve ended up with is something quite different.

It does (or will) progress towards a far more in-depth consideration of list building than I suspect most people bother with by the end. If you can stick with it, I feel there is hopefully something here for everyone, but it’s quite possibly buried under a metric crap-ton of theorymachine.2

Hopefully even the more experienced players will get something from it, perhaps my personal perspective 6 is unusual/different enough to be worth a read regardless of your skill.4

All of the above said, the place I ended up deciding to start was a holistic question:

Why do we play the game?22

I ask this, because at the very base, this question is at the root of all the contention surrounding terms like “composition scores”, WAAC (Win at all costs), the “Beer and Pretzels” criticisms of 40K and Fantasy and “playing to win” and these concepts all contribute very heavily to how players build their lists.18 A lot of players, and not just ‘casual’ players, are held back in their list-building by purely arbitrary rules that either they, or their meta, impose on them and that have nothing to do with the actual rules of the game.

The main problem I see when casual and new players play against ‘hardcore’ or ‘serious’ players is a simple mismatch between the two players in terms of why they are playing the game. This mismatch leads to the two players using lists of completely different relative power level, which generally leads to at least one (if not both) of the players having a less than enjoyable game. Generally the disparity in skill between the two players exacerbates the problem.17

Playing To Win

I personally like the term “play to win”. I always “play to win”. I do, however, have a specific meaning when I say it that I think the majority of “competitive players” I’ve met are in alignment with.
The man who coined the phrase (As far as I know) “Playing to win” for competitive gaming wrote a bunch of articles on the topic. I honestly think that the first and third articles should be required reading for anyone playing games, because they manage to convey a philosophy on gaming that is beneficial to the players and the game and it is done in a succinct19 and accessible style:

I play for fun. I enjoy playing. I enjoy (for the most part) losing. I like to learn new things about how the different parts of the game interact. For me playing to win doesnt mean I cant design and bring a silly list to a one-off game against someone who doesnt play to win, but it does mean that, when I bring that list, I’ll still try my ass off to make it win, even if all it has is sentry stones and argi.14

List Building….to win?

I think list-building is a part of the game, a smaller part than actual gameplay, certainly, but an integral part of the game that has far more depth than most people give it credit for and involves many of the skills that make a player great in-game.
New and casual players often seem to carry the opinion that if you are ‘serious’ about list building, then “you just get all the good things and put them in a list and you win”.

So, I take a caster, then I guess a stormwall….then a stormwall…then…dammit, FA2? But I’ve still got points, this list building thing is hard

While in some cases20 this attitude is actually closer to the truth than I’d like, every good player13 I’ve ever spoken with about their lists has a specific goal in mind with every inclusion. Every point has been actually considered, compared with other options and kept or discarded. There is a depth and complexity to list-building that a substantial portion of the player-base will never realise, which is a shame to me, so here I am, writing a treatise to attempt to correct it.

A lot of the more experienced players dont even seem to realise what they are doing, how much thought they actually have put into their lists. It’s not until you discuss with them why each individual model/unit is in their list that you will both realise that there is a long process buried behind the tabletop army. Even beyond that the things those players consider during list-building directly impact the way they actually play the game. The list is built to allow specific planned tactics to work and to counter specific opposing tactics. As such, list-building is, really, an application of a larger skill-set and knowledge-base that is essential to being a ‘good player’.

I would like to state clearly that there are other, equally valued, sides to the hobby, painting, modelling, collecting. I honestly dont think that they should strongly limit list-building or playing to win. There is no real reason why these shouldn’t all synergise.

How it Begins

When I play with new or casual players I generally see a few common approaches to list-building:
1. “I saw this on the internet”
2. “They look sweet!”
3. The battle box (“It’s what I own”)
4. “I like the fluff”

All of the above are, oddly enough, perfectly valid reasons/methods of going about list-building. But the simple fact is that none of the above stop you from building a great list or playing to win.
My personal arguement is that all of them are, in fact, first steps in list-building, not complete methods in and of themselves and, with a little tweaking, a reconsidered outlook/attitude and maybe a touch of guidance, they can be used as the basis of a list that will not only look awesome/use the models you own/match what you saw on the internet/involve the exact legion stryker took in the second page of the third book release… will also give you a good chance of winning a tournament and open up a whole side of the game that perhaps you didnt appreciate.

Competitive and fluffy, just add Butcher.

How Will It End?

I’m hoping that this series gets a few of the ‘casual’ players into the mood to think more about their lists, to consider ways to combine their favourite aspects of the game with just a dash more competitive play.

I intend to spend the first few articles talking about list building and how to approach it for various forms of play, then to dig into specifics of competitive play in a two list and then three list environment.

I’m really hoping to use the specific lists I built and took to Templecon as examples to show the whole process at work since I feel that’s the biggest weakness of list building articles I’ve read before. They talk a lot about how it’s done, but never show an actual, comprehensive example. Hopefully that works out.

So finally, after weeks of trying to end this damn article, I’ve at least bitten the bullet and got the first volume out there. In the process I’ve changed my goal and widened the scope of the planned article(s). I’m going to have to do this in chunks because now there’s a whole world of material, so hopefully the reduced sections still have enough content to keep you interested and at least one person makes it through the entire planned cycle.
Please comment if you made it this far, I’m not really eager to put out 11 more 2000+ word posts if there’s noone out there interested in reading them, even my narcissism only extends so far…..though I’m not sure we’ve found that limit yet.

1. Believe it or not, I try for useful. Self-indulgent is actually just an accidental byproduct.
2. I work in metric. Feet are things on the end of your legs, I dont know what the hell pounds are, aside from something that’s worth roughly 1.5 Australian dollars. For those who cant do the conversion, a metric crapton is slighly smaller than an imperial craptonne.
3. If you are looking for short versions of things….I may have some bad news for you.10
4. And let’s face it, you’re bored at work, you’re going to read it. Well, the first page anyway.
5. Fortunately there is no technical “page limit” on an internet blog…so strap in I guess.
6. My perspective is, judging by the reaction of most people, somewhat unusual. Certainly my current penchant for sentry stones is raising eyebrows.
7. Outside chance it ends the way the wheel of time did (spoiler alert, he died) in which case I nominate Keith to finish the series. Not because I think he’d be a particularly good finisher, just because I’m reasonably certain the burden of being asked to do so would really irritate him. That said, he’s also good at making lists, so maybe then, at the very end, people would learn something. He might manage to do it in less than 15,000 words also. I’m envisaging something along the lines of: “Find a good mechanic, preferably recursive. Build a list around it. Add more recursion. Win.”
8. So, it turns out I never used 8, so I came back in after publishing this article to add something in this line since it was pretty empty. It looked wierd. Now it is aesthetically pleasing if slightly irritating in every other sense.
9. Maybe Mr. T is pretty handy with computers. If you dont understand this reference, I’m sorry. 11
10. But you probably wont have the attention span to hear it, so that’s one problem solved.12
12. As a side note (or foot note), I’m now apparently using nested footnotes within the very section of the article that warns about the use of footnotes. I’m not actually sure how I feel about that. Pretty good I think.
13. It actually turns out that my definition of ‘good player’ may not be in-line with the community. I’m pretty sure there’s an article in that definition, but writing it will probably kill me.
14. Take grayle, add two sentry stones, season with as many argi as you can fit. I have verified that this list is not legit.
15. Because clearly writing articles on a blog about warmachine qualifies me in the same category as Feist and Jordan. We’re all writers, you know?
16. Is it ironic to bemoan your own wordiness using excessively long-winded footnotes? If not, is it ironic to then include an ironic consideration of that conundrum in a completely unlinked footnote that quite probably noone will read? Is an unlinked footnote like a tree falling in a forest, or more like a narcissistic session of self-pleasure?
17. Shooting for one underused word for each letter of the alphabet in this article series. Exacerbate and Disparity is two down, we’re learning here people. The first person to identify all 26 words wins a free beer at Warmachine weekend. Possibly more than one.
18. If you’ve never read them, the playing to win articles by Serlin can be found at: He has written much on the topic, it’s almost all interesting and, in my opinion, pretty accurate.
19. Just because i’m not good at succinct doesnt mean I cant admire it.
20. Gorman, we’re all looking at you.
21. Chilly, if you made it this far, well done, take a well-earned break and just ask me whether there was anything good in it next time you see me. You aint going to make it through to the end, sorry.
22. I guess this is kind of like those awkward situations where you ask someone to start from the beginning….and they really do. No, what I meant was: “start with the beginning of the things that are directly relevant to this story, not with your earliest memory of being alive.”

Author: bobliness

I'm an Australian living in Houston, Texas, I started playing Warmachine/Hordes in March 2012 and I consider myself to be on a continuous learning curve that I'm not sure will ever end. I play for strategy and combinations, I am in no way a qualified hobbyist or painter though I admire those that are. No, I dont know Chunky, but the other five people that live in Australia tell me he's really swell.

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