The Joy of Playing the Underdog

Hey everyone, Reecius here from Frontline Gaming this week with an editorial about the fun of playing the underdog armies!

Ah yes, the Underdog. We all love to root for him but not that many of us actually like to play as him in this little niche hobby of ours. All you have to do is look at tournament results to see the truth in that. The latest fad is almost always the most popular army of choice.

Now, that isn’t a bad thing at all really, it means people are buying armies which is good for the model manufacturers, stores, painting studios, etc. And, powerful armies are a great way for people to get into tournaments as they often give folks the confidence to jump into the tournament scene which is great! But, it can make for a bit of a bland playing experience if EVERYONE has the same thing.

At this point in the arc of my gaming career, I have really developed a love for playing “weaker” armies because it is so much more challenging and engaging. I started out as a pretty hardcore fluff gamer (still have my Dark Angels 3rd Company army! Ah man, they sucked! haha). I love the fluff and really enjoyed making an army that represented the oh-so-awesome 40K universe. I just got tired of losing as I am naturally such a competitive person. I played the army the way it was represented in the books but as so often happens that is can be crap on the table top. Every time I played a competitive player with an optimized list, I got my ass kicked and it drove me nuts. I felt like they shouldn’t win because my army was true to the fluff but the cold, hard truth is that the fluff and the reality of the table top are very far removed from one another in most cases.

I eventually caved and decided to go all-in competitive and built some really nasty armies. I enjoyed the thrill of building the most powerful list I could come up with and then putting it in a competitive setting and seeing just how devastating my creation actually was! It was fun and a bit intoxicating, honestly. Like shooting a machine gun or something, as silly as it sounds.

However, it got old after a number of years. Pure power armies are not subtle and lake any finesse. They either win on the power of math by simply overwhelming the other player’s ability to deal with them or they do not and they fail. I have played a LOT of competitive 40K in my day (I used to go to 1-4 tournaments a month and play in competitive leagues) and I started to notice that these armies played themselves to a certain extent. I memorized the appropriate tactics vs certain army archetypes and baring crazy dice, was pretty accurately able to predict how a game would end up just from looking at lists, missions and deployment. That was when it got stale as it took the anticipation and excitement out of playing those types of lists. Every now and then I got a surprise and that was great, but in general terms it was very predictable.

That was when I entered the Footdar! It was a blast, a list everyone thought sucked and then I won several GTs with it and went to the finals of Adepticon. Now, don’t take this as bragging please as that is not the intent, I am simply using it to illustrate a point. It was a list of my own devising that was not as overtly powerful as other lists but took thought, finesse and skill to play, had internal synergy and was FUN. It did something in every phase of the game and had a tool for everything. Plus, it was very gratifying to win with a “bad” army. I got the thrill back by playing an army that was more challenging but really good when used right. Now with Eldar being arguably the best single army in the game, and after going 26-1-2 in challenge matches with them, I realized pretty fast that they are definitely no longer the underdog army for me that they were! Haha, time to move on for me. I am not putting them down at all, or those that play them down, just that for me the thrill was gone. You just may be seeing me with Orks at Adepticon this year!

Now, the flip side to playing the underdog though, is that when you bring a challenging army to a gun fight, you have to be mentally prepared for failure, too. You should with any army, but when you choose the harder path you really need to be prepared. For example, I took Nids to Adepticon last year and lost my very first game! Haha, that was a bummer and it dawned on me that I had flown all the way to Chicago to get my ass handed to me first round! That was the only game I lost and I still had a great time but hey, that is the risk you take.

The point here is that making the choice to play the underdog army comes with a greater degree of risk. However, as with many choices in life that involve greater risk, they are often accompanied by greater reward. You have the enjoyment of being relatively unique at an event. While every Tom, Dick and Harry are playing the current flavor of the month, you can be Johnny Cool Guy playing Blood Angels (or whatever army is considered weaker at that point in time). You also get the sense of fun in coming up with unique combos, and seeing your own ideas do well despite popular opinion. You get all kinds of style points if you win, too! Just be prepared to lose if your luck turns against you or you make a bad decision as these armies tend to be very unforgiving. And if that does happen, don’t be a sourpuss like I can with bad dice! It’s a bad gaming habit that I am guilty of some times and with an underdog army, you really need to be prepared to accept some tough breaks.

Underdog armies are good fun, bring more variety to clubs and tournaments and really challenge your skills as a gamer. Power armies are more consistently successful but can become boring to play and will often put you in the with the herd of players that made the same choice you did. So give the underdog armies a try as when it all comes together and you pull off some big wins, it is a really cool feeling, similar to what I imagine directing a symphony would be like.

Lastly, today is the last day to book your rooms for the Las Vegas Open through our booking code:

The event is going to be super fun and all of the events will have a big turnout. See you all there very soon!


About Reecius

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

13 Responses to “The Joy of Playing the Underdog”

  1. bigpig January 8, 2014 12:18 am #

    Good piece.

    I enjoy a second or or preferably third tier army (still an underdog) but trying to make as competitive and cut throat list as I can with them. Its a tactical challenge and I really the enjoy the list craft/deck building part of the game.

    I’ve had a good time working with my son to craft his Blood Angels list for LVO recently. Anyone can throw down a netlist. The real fun comes in playing the also rans.

    • Reecius January 8, 2014 6:55 pm #

      I agree. It is more enjoyable to play those types of armies for me personally. And yes, winning with someone else’s list is less gratifying than something you made yourself.

  2. Lobo60 January 8, 2014 5:42 am #

    Awesome article Reece,

    I am 100% behind the underdog armies, I Play primarily Dark Eldar and boy when I bring just pure Deldar to the tournament, everyone says i’m going to be blasted off the table. That never happens (except for a triple Riptide bastard lol) in fact I have only lost about 4 times to a space marine army of any kind with them. I love fighting Orks, Tyranids and Blood Angels because they are so different they can throw you for a loop. I strive to play armies and units people don’t like, I brought a Chaos space marine list to a local tourney and smashed them with the supposedly terrible Chaos Marines. I think the problem with the meta now is so many people want an “Auto win” army instead of actually having to use tactics that they automatically deem an army that doesn’t have that whole “I killed you on the 1st turn” mentality, bad.

    • Reecius January 8, 2014 6:56 pm #

      That’s awesome! And it is more fun to have that variety at a tournament.

  3. RyanL January 8, 2014 7:05 am #

    I do enjoy forging a hard narrative when it comes to army choice but the gamer side of me also wants to make a decent army.

    I would be interested to hear your thoughts on building competitive underdog/fluff lists and how to play them. I don’t mean taking a poor list and working out how to sneak in a 2++ reroll or deathstar but how to take a pretty weird combo and make it work.

    Or, to take a different angle, I’d love to hear your thoughts on how to build a /fun/ list (win or lose). Something that anyone would enjoy playing or playing against.

    A lot tougher and more challenging than taking a net-list!

    • Reecius January 8, 2014 6:58 pm #

      I find that lists designed to do everything and have a balanced mix of units are more enjoyable to play and can be just as good, if not better, than pure power armies. For example, a Marine list with 40 Tactical Marines in Rhinos, a T-Fire, some assault Termies in a LRC, and a Stormtalon is a nice, well rounded army that does a bit of everything.

  4. Hotsauceman1 January 8, 2014 7:45 pm #

    The reason I play underdogs is for when I win I can gloat about how much of a better player I am. Then when I loose I can blame My codex for being under powered and it is not my fault Win/win

  5. Prodigal January 8, 2014 11:11 pm #

    Reece, this is a great article and I’m so glad that someone like you wrote it, because you out the weight of experience behind your words. A competitive spirit isn’t all about winning, it’s about challenging yourself to get better.

  6. Pascal Roggen January 9, 2014 2:50 am #

    well, I’m bringing the BA to LVO and looking to party!:)
    I did my first season of tourney’s using a list that used a lot of the “worst parts” of BA in 5th ed[death company, dc dreads, storm ravens, librarian dreads] and five scoring models:D frankie, eat your heart out:P in five 6 round tourney’s I lost one objectives mission. every game was incredibly exciting, 1750 points of guys used to distract the enemy from 100 points.

    It was by no means a balanced list but I’d used lot of “bad units”[re the internet at the time] and won a bunch of games and they were all a lot of fun win or lose.

    A bunch of the joy was that it was an utterly unique list and I’d made it work. Anyone else can too, if you take the time and are prepared for a lot of getting thrashed before getting something to work.

    Vive le underdog!

    ps, it’d be conduct a symphony, to play a list, and compose and conduct one to write and play a list. now you can sound all hip to the classical music buffs at the store with you’re musical analogies ;P

  7. The Apothecary January 9, 2014 1:55 pm #


    • Pascal Roggen January 10, 2014 2:00 am #

      I got a “this” how cool is that! 🙂

  8. doktor_g January 10, 2014 12:10 am #

    Play tested today… Lost again. 0 for 4. I’ll beat everyone to the bar! I’ll be packed and stacked. Army put away by T3 (tabled). I’ll be the one with a girl on my arm throwing the dice at the Paris until 0200. Bally’s schmallys. I’ll be the guy in the tie with a grot in my pocket, a drink in my hand and a lady on my arm! I’m taking the house baby!

    Maybe I’ll just have a grot in my pocket and eat cheetohs and watch the sc-fi channel in my room until 8:00pm, put in my retainer, rub on my zit cream, call mom and ask her to feed Henrietta, my pet raccoon. Go home sad ’cause my Taudar net list got beat by a Sister of Battle meanie.

    Don’t mattah. Wheeze green skins fight ta fight. Wheeze wins if we fights. Wheeze luze if wheeze don’ fights. C’mon boyz les rumble!

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