Guest Editorial by Edwin: The Golden Hammer

The golden hammer

Hello everyone. Edwin here and I wanted to talk about something both personal and important.

Four years ago, when I was a young wargamer just starting out, I found an article on Bell of Lost Souls that talked about something that opened my eyes on the subject of army choice and really about choices period when it came to anything gaming. This one concept has many names. It has been called the Golden Hammer,  Maslow’s hammer, and the Law of Instruments.

For simplicities sake, we shall stick with the Law of Instruments for a name. When I first saw this idea, I decided to look more into it. The Bell of Lost Souls article said that the Law of Instruments was something that happened when we use a tool over and over again. We end up getting better with the things we use as well as find new ways to use the tools we use to answer more problems. Now this sounds like a really good thing and I will discuss this concept more, but that isn’t what the Law of Instruments actually is. The Law of Instruments is actually what happens when we over-rely on a familiar tool.  It is popularly phased as “If all you have is a hammer, than everything starts to look like a nail.”  This pertains heavily to internet wisdom. I will get into a great deal of depth with this in a second. These two concepts have interesting implications as well as have two entirely different meanings that are very important. I will than show how these two concepts can be applied to list building with my Rock Paper Necron list.

The original idea

The article I read when I first started war gaming used the Law of Instruments in  a positive way. It said that the more we use a particular tool, the better we are with it. He then talked of ways that this was applicable. He talked about the things his Vindicators could do on a regular basis that was difficult because he had used them so much. He had no problem getting cover saves or hitting people at max range and simply just being awesome with them. He specialized in these units and because of it, they became more than other peoples’ Vindicators.

This was a novel idea for me at the time. I had never seen anything past what was in front of me when I used them. It caused me to want to specialize in certain units and get better with them. I had thought that certain units could only be so good. I chose to specialize in big gun units. Something that dropped large templates and would usually remove entire units if done well.  On top of simple use, I specialized in the setting up of these powerful attacks. I have won games through the cunning application of these templates. To make it more than it is on paper, I soon began to specialize in placement in such a way that close range fighting with these elements would leave any units out of place in order to engage them. Before the new Necron codex, this worked by having the near indestructible monolith deepstrike behind an enemy army or inside an enemy army. You could deal with my twin monoliths, or you could fight the rest of my army. What I find myself specializing in that I use every single game is my twin doomsday arks. These two strength nine AP1 Large Blast Tempaltes can destroy all before them. To make matters worse, the incredible range sees these two templates able to reach corner to corner on a four by six table. This allows me to place them in such a way that if you get close, the rest of my army is far enough away that you will have difficulty reaching them. This is what I got from that Bell of Lost Souls article.  The Law of Instruments saw me surprising a lot of people and having a tactical advantage where before there was none.

Internet Wisdom

Upon further examination of the Law of Instruments, I found out that the concept was different than what was said in the Bell of Lost Souls article. While the article was a good thing, the actual concept is something bad. It is described as relying on one tool too much. It narrows your view of things and you would rather use this one tool to solve problems than actually use the right tool for the job. More things become nails when you give a child a hammer, but that doesn’t mean that using a hammer would be the right choice.

This one idea almost absolutely defines the function of internet wisdom. With over twenty five hundred posts on Warseer, I am not new to internet wisdom for Warhammer . The number one complaint I hear about internet wisdom is that for people on the internet, they are always right and everyone else is wrong. Choices are clear cut and defined. There is no arguing with it because few things seem to be more than what they are on paper. Most of the time, the math defines all choices.

My favorite example of this is the Annihilation Barges versus Doomsday Arks argument. When I first started using the Arks, I had built the list around the idea that I could control fire lanes with the Doomsday Arks. I needed range, high strength, low AP, and templates to hit multiple units if I needed to. The Annihilation barge has none of that. The Doomsday Ark has all of that. I would post the list on Warseer and I would give an explanation of the function of the Arks. I would get tons of post that all sounded the same. Drop you Arks and take three Annihilation Barges. The idea behind the logic was that, on paper, three annihilation barges were better than the two doomsday arks. In a blank situation, they are right. When you take their function in the list , they become more than what’s on paper. The idea of the Law of Instruments saw a narrowing of ideas. To make this worse, when the new edition came out, people have begun to cling to the same kind of ideas. They replaced the Annihilation Barge with Doom Scythes now.  As before, the Doom Scythes have their place, but they don’t perform the function of the Doomsday Ark.

The list

Now it is time to discuss how this has effected my list writing. The section of the Law of Instruments where people narrow their view when given a familiar tool has caused me to want to look at everything. Even when it comes to units that are considered “useless”, they can be used to serve a function. Because of this, I have used almost every single unit I can. The only unit in this current Necron codex is Flayed Ones, Tomb blades, and Spyders. I have proxied every unit and wanted to try every unit. I still want to try tomb blades honestly.

This has helped me when it comes to the new edition. I have experience with each unit and I know what they can do to a degree. It has resulted in me not really feeling many of the dramatic changes that are sixth edition. I am in no way stuck in the 5th edition mind set and I really feel at home in this new environment where others may suffer from not being able to let go.  The good section of the Law of Instruments has seen me design lists to have more functionality rather than just numbers. You can spam a single choice, but unless you have functionality, you are gonna suffer in certain situations. I take my Doomsday Arks for fire lane suppression. I take Ghost Arks with Warriors because, on top of being excellent anti tank, they are durable enough to survive and score. Even their transport reinforces this function. A lot of people bring troops that don’t serve much function. Razorback spam sees troops that serve almost no functionality. My Night Scythes are transports that dump people off exactly where I need them to be. This allows my Death Marks to be dropped on a priority single target that needs to die. The Doom Scythe…. Ok, it has no needed function, I just like it. Something else in the list does it better and faster, but the Doom Scythe is just fun. Its why I only run a single one. I love every choice I have taken, but when it comes to justifying them, they are more than “They don’t die” or “They kill people”. Units don’t have to make their points back to be effective. Its why I run a solar pulse Cryptek. He has never once killed enough to make his points back, but he is worth it every single time.

Thinking man

The point of this article is simple. If you run triple Annihilation barges, I don’t want you to stop because of what I say. I want you to think about choices you make. What do you want out of everything. If something is fun, run it. It will become better and you will be a better player for it. If you want to get the most out of your army, you must look for functionality beyond AT, AI, and AA. You can look for more. I once saw a man do alot of damage with the “useless” Chaos Space Marine bike unit. Even had a Demon Weapon Chaos Lord on bike in there. He did things I was amazed to see. I have never seen a unit like it  before or since. Make your useless units heard and have fun. Everything isn’t about numbers.


About Reecius

The fearless leader of the intrepid group of gamers gone retailers at Frontline Gaming!

4 Responses to “Guest Editorial by Edwin: The Golden Hammer”

  1. Son Of Dorn September 9, 2012 2:43 am #

    This is a fantastic guest editorial. I see so much frustration about things that ruled 5th no longer being viable, and this is a great explanation of how folks get stuck in a rut of playing…
    I think I’ll try out some odd units, myself. 🙂

    • edwin September 9, 2012 3:11 pm #

      Thanks. If you try odd units, than my job is done

  2. Skari September 9, 2012 4:42 am #

    Nicely written. I do remember that article on BOLS and I 100% agree with what you are stating. Must say that as a TAC and unusual unit taker this is quite refreshing. Lets get these ideas out there!

    • Reecius September 9, 2012 11:37 am #

      Yeah, i really enjoyed this article, too. I think that the ideas presented are excellent.

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