Blunt Force vs. Finesse Lists

Hey everyone, Reecius here from Frontline Gaming to talk shop on a topic that has been on my mind a lot lately.

Frequently when a client comes to us for a painting commission and ask for a certain type of army, or submit a list for us to review on our podcast, I tend to see lists fall into one of these two categories: blunt force or finesse. Well, we often see a 3rd type of list which I would call “all over the place” or “written to match the fluff,” but those are a topic for another day.

I find that both lists offer good and bad points from the perspective of their effectiveness on the table top.

Cron Air is a perfect example of a Blunt Force List. It is very straightforward in application. You take a lot of what is good, you smash your enemy over the head with it and they can either deal with it or they cannot. Spam lists often fall under this classification.

The benefits of this type of list are evident.

  1. Easy to play. Great for a new player.
  2. Very effective against most opponents.
  3. Often can win crushing victories, which is great for battle point style tournaments.
  4. Durable and typically forgiving do to redundancy.
  5. Less rules to remember due to a small number of unit types.
The downsides are less evident, but I believe bear serious consideration if you plan on taking this type of army to a tournament:
  1. Often these lists have a big weakness to a very small category of army types. Cron Air, for example, can struggle with an army that has a large amount of Skyfire/Interceptor units. These match-ups can be near auto-loss situations.
  2. Not as much depth of play. The army itself can get boring to play. I know from personal experience that my Bjorn Wolves which I had a great deal of success with in 5th ed, became stale to me after a while due to the relatively unchanging nature of their tactics.
  3. Less fun for your opponent to play. I know this may not register as a concern to some when talking about tournament play, but to me it does matter as ultimately we play 40K to have fun. Even an extremely competitive player (as I think of myself) will tell you a game is more fun when both players are enjoying themselves.
Finesse armies are those which may not appear to scream power, but when played in the right hands can add up to a total greater than the sum of their parts. Most commonly you will hear people describe Eldar as a finesse army (although Eldar can certainly produce a Blunt Force list), where all of the different types of units must work in concert with one another to gain maximum benefit. However, almost any army can produce finesse lists. Tyranids are a great example of this with units comboing off of one another to create synergistic effects, allowing you to adapt to changing battlefield conditions.
We’ll start by looking at the negatives of these types of lists as I think they are more evident than the positives.
  1. Much harder to play effectively. These lists require patience and a willingness to learn from a loss.
  2. Not as much pure power as a blunt force list. In battle point style tournaments, this style army will not function as well.
  3. Requires memorizing many more rules as there are typically a very wide variety of unit types. Not the easiest style list for a new player.
  4. The weakness of having less (if any) redundancy, thus being more vulnerable to a Blunt Force style list that can eliminate your counter to their army.
The benefits to these types of lists though, are powerful if a lot less easily noticed.
  1. Great flexibility. The variety of unit types and overlapping abilities creates an army that is adaptable. This also means you will rarely, if ever, find yourself in a near “auto-loss” match-up as your army can always find a way to fight back.
  2. Depth of play. This type of army will constantly be revealing new ways for you to play it. It’s flexibility and ability for units to work with and enhance one another means that the combination of possible tactics is huge. This means an army that stays interesting to play for a long period of time.
  3. Rewarding. These types of lists grant a sense of accomplishment as each game becomes a puzzle of utilizing the tools you have to overcome the opponent, mission and terrain you find yourself facing.
  4. Fun to play and play against. These types of armies are often fun for both players to play.
I think that both style lists are perfectly fine, and I have played both, but the more I play the more I gravitate away from the Blunt Force lists (although I still enjoy them from time to time) and towards the Finesse lists. I found that in tournament play not only did the Blunt Force lists grow stale to play as the tactics were nearly the same for every game, but the big weakness they almost always have means that if you draw that bad match-up (which becomes ever more probable the more rounds of play in a tournament) was a very serious liability to my overall odds of winning the event.
A finesse list, on the other hand, is like a coming to a game with a tool kit, and then relying on skill and experience to know how to best apply those tools in ever new and interesting ways to achieve your goals. While I don’t win games by as much of a margin (typically I just barely win with them) I find that I win more consistently and have more fun in the process.
Where do you all find yourself on this spectrum?


About Reecius

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

22 Responses to “Blunt Force vs. Finesse Lists”

  1. mercutioh February 27, 2013 12:50 am #

    I think you neglected my most frequent list submission type. The mismatched utter crap list.

    • Reecius February 27, 2013 9:24 am #

      Hahaha, not at all, your lists aren’t bad, you should see some of those we get. List writing is a skill you build over time and with experience, we don’t judge people who are just learning it. That would be silly, I have been obsessively writing lists for years and talking about it with other people who share my enthusiasm for it. Most folks don’t care that much to get to the same point! haha

  2. SCP Yeeman February 27, 2013 8:31 am #

    I think for “blunt force” lists, I would add a negative. Most blunt force lists have one strategy and can be seen a mile away. Necron airforce usually plays one way and has only 2 units in Night scythes (Warriors, despairtek w/ Deathamarks). Everyone knows how these lists will play once they see the army and the list. Tactics are at a bare minimum with said lists. Most of these lists hope to blow you off the board instead of playing missions.

    By having a Finesse list, it allows you to change the game and make your opponent, if they play a blunt force list, change their own tactics; something they do not want to do or dont know how.

    I used to play WWP Dark Eldar in 5th Ed and that was a crazy fun list and had a new game literally EVERY time. Not knowing what will come in or what your opponent will do in reaction to the WWPs. I prefer finesse lists because as you said, they are more fun to play and add a wider array o

    f skills to play. Also, Finesse lists are seen as “weak” or “underpowered” or “no optimized.” So when I win against a blunt force list, it makes the victory all the sweeter and seeing the opponents face of, “I lost to that? That shouldnt have happened!” is priceless!

    Hopefully that look happens quite a bit this weekend at the BAO!

    • Reecius February 27, 2013 9:33 am #

      Very good point! I didn’t think to add that point, although in retrospect I would have. Armies that can do a million different things as opposed to 1 or 2 as you pointed out, are much harder to predict. That does give you an advantage.

      And yes, totally agree that you get style points for winning with a “weak” list, and I hope to see something like this happen at the BAO, too!

  3. skari February 27, 2013 10:20 am #

    You put this out there very well. I personally love finess lists. But the key is to use them surgically and like that they become blunt foce lists when your opponent does not know what hit them. See the lists that you are to review on the podcast as an example.

    • Reecius February 27, 2013 1:27 pm #

      Very true. And yeah, the list you sent in does seem like it will fall into that category. They become powerful when used well, but don’t look it at first glance.

  4. Vanhammer_Bard February 27, 2013 12:39 pm #

    One thing you didn’t mention is that when you build a blunt list, you’re making yourself vulnerable to changes in the rules and the meta.

    If you’re taking a toolkit list the worst that is going to happen is that a small portion of your list will be affected.

    Chasing the meta is a fools game financially and developmentally – sure you might win, but it’s not your game skill, but your meta-building skills – which can expire when those changes come.

    • Reecius February 27, 2013 1:26 pm #

      That is actually another very good point. When you build an extreme list and the rules for the game or your units change, your entire army gets owned. I would have added that too, but didn’t consider it. Thanks for bringing that up.

  5. Mercutioh February 27, 2013 1:49 pm #

    I’m a big fan of winning with non optimal lists. I think I’ve gotten the argument from you Reece at least 15 times that Noise marines with Sonic weapons are too spendy. But I continue to have success with them (not in tourneys cause I can’t make it to them with work but versus the hated rival) so I continue to build lists with them. Answering the questions that you present are a definite rock solid way to build tourney competent lists but there’s something to be said for exploiting a single tactic to the extreme as well. People get so used to TAC lists that they can’t handle the rogue IG parking lot or Triple Land Raider List. Or anti flyer through Gaunt spam/Board control.

  6. Overwatch February 27, 2013 2:05 pm #

    I have always preferred blunt force trauma to finesse. Intimidation is a big part of the game. A finesse list doesn’t intimidate, at the beginning of a game, the way a blunt force list will. Finesse lists have a different sort of intimidation factor in Tournament play, particularly in later rounds, but they just aren’t as fun to play imo. I never got tired of my SW lists, GK yes, and so far my Cron Air is still fun to me in a competitive environment, just not in friendly games.

    • SCP Yeeman February 27, 2013 2:31 pm #

      See your perspective on finesse lists is the reason why I love playing them. Your opinion of them not intimidating is true. But it is for this reason why they are so effective. Most people just look at the units and know what they do but not how they work together.

      Most Finesse lists have one or two “power” units and the rest usually looks like a mass of different units. But its how those pieces fit together that make the list truely deadly.

      Alot of people (i am not saying you) look at a Finesse lists and just shrug their shoulders and assume they know everything in the list. Shortly after the game has started, usually rounds 2 or 3, the pieces start falling apart and that “finesse” list turns into a blunt force and things begin to have a snowball effect.

  7. c4ptur3 February 27, 2013 3:05 pm #

    Your gravitation towards finesse lists does surprise me at all Reecius, it is a trend that is common with top-level TCG players. There are, from my observations, 2 types of top-level player in most gaming communities.

    1. Those who want to make their name by being a winner, continually getting their name out there by dominating at tournaments. These players will continually use “Blunt Force” lists, (“Meta Decks” in the TCGs) they will spend a great deal of time mastering them, learning how to best approach their “auto-loss” pairings and thus will be able to better adapt and overcome difficult situations, their list selection and play style always give themselves the best chance to win consistently.

    2. Then there is the other type, the “Innovator” or the “Pioneer”. Those who have already achieved success and want to show their superior skill level in a different way, by achieving success with lists (Decks) that either have not been seen before or that have been dismissed as un-competitive. Or by making highly innovative changes (or “tech” choices) to already established lists. These players may not be as consistently successful but are often held in higher esteem by the gaming community because they are seen as being more highly skilled in all aspects of the game, based on their ability to not only create these new lists but to be able to achieve success with them.

    This is not to say that either player is superior, it is simply an observation I have made over many years as part of various player communities for different games and something I find fascinating.

    • Reecius February 27, 2013 4:03 pm #

      I agree with your assessment, totally. I see a lot of up and coming players that want to win and make their mark, so they take the most powerful army they can find. I did the exact same thing with my Space Wolves. A total blunt force instrument, almost played itself. As I got better with it, I found new ways to play it to overcome bad match-ups (just as you said) but it got stale. Then, I switched to Footdar which was what I really loved to play and I then had the confidence to take it to the big tournaments and doing well with it was soooo much more fun and satisfying. I then made the switch over to playing the armies I LIKED playing vs. those I thought were just more powerful. The end result was a fun army that I found was actually better in a broad sense that I enjoyed playing more. And as you said, the feeling of being an innovator is a bit addicting, definitely worth the risk!

  8. jy2 February 27, 2013 5:05 pm #

    Well, I brought necrons to my first GT. Now I’m bringing tyranids to my 2nd GT. Could I be going through “that” phase? 😉

    Yeah, finesse lists definitely get more props for doing well compared to the blunt force ones. And they’re definitely much more challenging to succeed consistently against good players, who tend to take more blunt lists in competitive play. MSU and spamming, for instance, are popular blunt-force lists used by many of the very good players.

    BTW, good article Reece. See you at the BAO.

  9. ScottE February 27, 2013 6:23 pm #

    I play Orks, I hadn’t realised there was another way to play that didn’t involve bludgeoning your opponent with obscene amounts of dice until they curl up in the foetal position in dismal defeat! It is usually at this point I toss my scarf gallantly across my shoulder and stride off in wondrous victory assured of my strategic superiority!

    Now you bring this term ‘finesse’ to my attention and I have to rethink my entire strategic superiority stand point. I’ve just started playing Eldar and even my current list for that is just loads of shooting and rerolls to smash my opponent with.

    Great article Reese looking forward to part deux for some example finess lists and how yoou use them!!

    • Reecius February 27, 2013 9:12 pm #

      Glad you enjoyed it! And yes, even Orks can play the finesse game, but they do lend themselves to smashing their opponents quite well, too.

  10. Son of Dorn February 27, 2013 6:47 pm #

    I’ve recently had the most fun I’ve ever had playing with TAC lists. My friends and I have devised a list building system that forces us to make TAC lists and every game we’ve used them thus far has been amazing and really rewarding. It feels like the way the game was meant/intended to be played. 🙂

    • Reecius February 27, 2013 9:13 pm #

      I agree. I find these types of armies to not only be more fun, but better on the tabletop. It is a fun mental challenge to find ways to make it work.

  11. Hippesthippo February 27, 2013 7:05 pm #

    I’ll be sporting a “finesse,” list for two reasons:

    A) It rewards practice. Every game plays differently, unlike spam lists, so having experience in those situations actually gives you an edge.

    B) My games will come down to skill, not rockpaperscissors. There are few hard counters when you have variation in your list. If I lose, it’s because I was outplayed. I’m OK with that.

    Downsides? I won’t be tabling anybody and my brain will be mush after 5-7 games.

    I’m simplifying things, but for the most part, I’m simply saying I agree with you. Great article.

    • Reecius February 27, 2013 9:14 pm #

      Glad you liked it! And you are so right about not tabling your opponent and the brain going mush. There is a lot more mental fatigue with these armies, and they do win by small margins, but very consistently.

  12. fluger March 1, 2013 8:20 am #

    I love this categorization of lists because it takes away the perceived stigma of SPAM or one-trick poney lists and just calls them hammers.

    In all the debates I had with the 3++ folks about Orks in 5th E they never were able to understand how my Ork list would work and that’s because it didn’t beat you over the head with what it did, and it had redundancy, but with a variety of units.

  13. Defeatmyarmy March 1, 2013 4:26 pm #

    Finesse is my favorite, but most tournaments seem to be won by raw power. (ig, necrons, grey knights top tier) I love assault squads and even though DOA is dead, I’m not. It’s a lot more strategic but still spamming assault squads because I love the models but your article inspired me to start a finesse angels army.

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