Observations Of Strong 40k Players

Lose Much?


Breakfast of Champions

When you play 40k for any length of time, especially when you start playing tournaments at home and around the country, you get the chance to play against a lot of different people. I’ve been fortunate to play against a lot of strong 40k players, or rather I should say I’ve been fortunate to lose against a lot of strong 40k players, and have started to notice a lot of commonalities between many of them. You have a lot of time to think when your head is being held under water and your opponent is sliding the knife slowly in your guts saying, “Shhhhhhhhhh.”

“How did I get here?” I wonder as I slide into the abyss.

Lets take a look at some of the things that make up a strong 40k player and what we plebeians can do to emulate them.




Essential Reading

Know Their Codex – These players know their codex in and out. They rarely need to check their lists for stats and can tell you from memory what a unit has and does. This makes things go much faster for them as they don’t need to constantly reference their codex and can focus on what they want their units to do.

Know Your Codex – Not only do they know their codex, but they probably know your codex as well. 40K can very much be a “gotcha” game where if you don’t know what a unit does, then you can easily be caught unawares and put in the worst possible position. Knowing what your codex does and how your units works gives them an advantage in that they can avoid bad matchups on the field.

Know The Rulebook – Knowing the core mechanics of this game makes your play much stronger. This can work offensively and defensively as you will place your models better to maximize line of sight and increase cover saves as well as keeping key models safe in a unit. It can really help improve the speed of your game as well making sure it reaches a natural conclusion, which could mean the difference between victory and defeat.

Play Consistently – A lot of that knowledge can come from playing over and over again against all kinds of lists. When you see a unit in action, it can prepare you for it down the road and give you time to think about how you might counteract that unit at a later date. Playing consistently makes your play tighter and faster as well which will help your game in the long run.

A Beautiful Mind

A Beautiful Mind

Statistical Thinking – One of the things that I’ve noticed that a lot of these people can do is run statistics in their head. They can quickly tell how many wounds they should cause or should inflict in a given situation. This can come in real handy when they are deciding whether to shoot unit A or B. It is important to note though that the dice do not always obey those statistical averages and can instead have a mind of their own in how a situation should resolve itself.

End Game In Mind – I know firsthand the desire just to kill things and blow stuff up on the table, but players that win consistently will often sacrifice killing a unit for getting a point in the game, or even sacrifice one of their units just to get a point in a game. Key points like First Blood or Maelstrom points can go a long way to winning you the game by the end. For ITC missions, track both yours and your opponents maelstrom objectives and points. This could easily sway your judgment to attack or stay put to score that critical point that could win you the game. It can also help you calculate what you need to do on that final turn to bring things over to your side.

Has A Game Plan – From deployment to engagement, these guys have an idea of what they are going to do from the get go. Having played against a lot of different lists allows them to prepare for lots of different contingencies and instead of hemming and hawing about what to do, they set up and move forward.

Playing Quickly and Efficently – Getting the full amount of game turns in is not only polite as a gamer, but it will often allow you to change the course of a game. How many times have you needed the game to go on one more turn and you would have had it? Good players play quickly and efficiently with their army. Getting to a more natural conclusion is so much more fun than ending on turn three and losing because they had three objectives on their side and you had two.

Up On The Meta – Again, knowledge can be key in this game so knowing what new stuff does can completely be the difference between a win and a loss. There are lots of ways to be up on this, with podcasts, videos, and blogs, and I’ve noticed that these players often listen, watch, and read a lot of 40K content.


So What’s A Pleb To Do?

I’ve been trying to up my game for some time now, and while I don’t consider myself one of “those guys” I feel that my game has been getting better. Losing all the time can really suck and while you don’t want to do awful things to win, you can get better as a player.

d_7247I personally think one of the best things to do is to try to play consistently. I play just about every week on Wednesday at Guardian Games league night and this has allowed me to try lots of different lists and play against a variety of lists as well. This has also allowed me to play my list for the LVO over and over again as well. I feel much more confident with my list as I’ve seen it against Knights, Barbed Heirodules, Serpent Spam, Daemons, and more.

Another thing that most every player can do is spend time listening to podcasts, watching battle reports, and reading articles by other strong players. You can learn a lot about new combos, tactics, and gain insight into the enemy through these items. They do take time, but that is one that a lot of us have.

Although I like puzzles, I don’t find myself as one of those guys that can read a new codex and suddenly see the hidden combos. Don’t be afraid to use the list that someone else comes up with, even a dreaded “net list”. Having a strong list can mitigate your weaknesses in other areas. Don’t worry too much about being “that guy”. As long as you are genuine and kind people won’t hold it against you too much. Heck, I won best sports playing with my Centurionstar a bit back at our league.

Will these things take you to the top 16 at LVO? Who knows, but it should bake you a stronger player overall. Practice, study, and bring a good list. These things will give you a better chance of winning and winning every now and then feels pretty good.

About CaptainA

Aaron is a longtime gamer of many systems. He is an avid community builder of 40k and after running many 40k events in Portland, Oregon, has recently moved to Boise, Idaho and continues to host and run leagues and events. He has also recently expanded his repertoire and entered the second hand Warhammer business. Check out his website at www.trader-a.com to see how he can help you get rid off your old and unused models.

16 Responses to “Observations Of Strong 40k Players”

  1. Reecius
    Reecius February 7, 2015 11:06 am #

    Great article, CaptainA! You really hit on a lot of the key points, this is solid info.

    • Avatar
      narceron July 14, 2015 6:59 am #

      If watching Frontline battle reports has taught me anything it is this: “When you lose, it’s the dice, when you win, it is because you are awesome!”

  2. Avatar
    Hotsauceman1 February 7, 2015 11:25 am #

    I wish I could play consistently…..but alas……….school comes first and the games down in santa cruz are fish.

  3. Avatar
    Lardus February 7, 2015 11:26 am #

    Some very good points! Knowledge of your own army, list and rules it uses is the first step. I made a “cheat sheet” of my army and all the rules I needed when I first started (before 7th and new codex) and I feel that it could help newer players focus on learning their army to keep such a reference handy. I already feel I command better knowing WHAT my units are capable of rather than second guessing myself. Just the other day I had to choose to attempt to ground a flying DP or shoot a chariot. After a while I figured the odds of even hitting the DP were too low and my single Psycannon lucked out and destroyed the chariot! Would have gone for the DP just a few months ago – progress!

  4. Avatar
    franus February 7, 2015 11:56 am #

    Yeah, repeated beating definitely makes you smarter (if not dead).
    Being beaten by every codex makes you aware of what to fear in them.
    Losing by points difference makes you aware you have to think past the actual turn.
    Being in the second half of a tournament even if you won more games than you lost or drew makes you aware you have to maximize each victory.

  5. Avatar
    AbusePuppy February 7, 2015 3:40 pm #

    Very good advice on pretty much all fronts, Cap. I think leading with the “know codices and rules” is absolutely correct- if you don’t know what something is or does, you can’t possibly know how to beat it, and if you don’t know how the game works, you’re probably not going to do well at it. You don’t need to have every unit in the game memorized (although I will say, it can sure help 😛 ) but you need to at least have a general idea and know all of the “key” units to a faction off the top of your head. If you have to stop and look up what a Serpent Shield does or what White Scars Chapter Tactics are, you’re probably not gonna make top tables in a tournament. Knowledge is power.

    Practice, obviously, is also very key, just as you say. It helps a lot to play against different types of lists and different types of players- even when playing lists that aren’t “ideal” you can still learn something from the units they contain and the strategies they use.

    If there were two things I’d add to the article, they would be first off, don’t blame your losses on luck. Luck does matter, and luck can decide games, but good players can win in spite of bad luck. Look back at what happened- is there a point when you should’ve shifted strategies? Did some of your choices exacerbate the effects of the bad luck, or did they open you up to bad dice rolls losing you the game? Luck is never the only thing that loses you a game- EVERYONE makes mistakes, and if you’re always blaming your losses on the dice you’ll never learn to correct yours.

    Second, and this sort of plays into a lot of what the article says, don’t just know WHAT is good, know WHY it’s good. What makes the Wave Serpent the best unit in the game? Why is the White Scars vs. Tyranids matchup like, and what inclusions on both sides can change that? Which missions favor your army, and which don’t? What weaknesses do each of the strong units in the game have? If you understand the deeper rules that dictate how the game functions, you’ll be in a position to create innovative lists and strategies rather than simply copying what other people do, and that can be the difference between a good player and a great one.

  6. Avatar
    Fagerlund February 7, 2015 5:39 pm #

    Great article! Now listening to podcasts and watching battle reports may take time indeed… but do you know another thing that takes a lot of time? Painting your army! And turns out that you don’t usually need your ears for that (all though I’ve found paint on some strange places…) so a perfect match!

    Another thing that I found really helpful when learning the game was to write battle reports. It helped me analyse the game, find rules I did wrong and identify where things went wrong. I usually wrote a couple of words on my list and what I hoped for each unit to do in the game before hand. Then I’d look at it after the game and summarise what went according to plan and what didn’t work – and most importantly WHY it didn’t work. Did I play it wrong? Could I have done something different? Etc.
    And while I think it’s definitely best to do this yourself, writing the report gives you the opportunity to ask someone else what they would’ve done differently.

    • Avatar
      bugsculptor February 12, 2015 2:34 pm #

      Or you could pay someone to paint your army and spend more time playing practice games… I’ve seen a couple of people doing that, and the more games you get the more of an edge you get!

      Personally I’d rather paint and convert my own models and treat the hobby holistically, but whatever time you put in you can choose to focus on the competitive gaming, the hobby and painting side or some renaissance mix of the two.

  7. Avatar
    CaptainA February 7, 2015 6:19 pm #

    Thanks for the kind words guys!

  8. Avatar
    Mercutioh February 7, 2015 7:08 pm #

    Fantastic article Cap. The biggest thing I noticed with the better players who have really handed it to me is the conviction they make their moves with. There are no questions, oNE does not throw a punch, a opportunity happens and the punch happens all by itself.

  9. Avatar
    iNcontroL February 9, 2015 12:31 am #

    well said sir!

  10. Avatar
    Tom February 9, 2015 2:28 pm #

    Very good advice. I also think most of the top players are very CONVINCING. I can’t tell you how many times player A has been wrong when I go to look up the rules in the book, but other players just stand around and say “ok I guess”. Funny how player A sounded soooo convincing when quoting a rule that was editions ago or convoluted at best and usually is emotionless when you show him he’s wrong.

    • Avatar
      CaptainA February 10, 2015 9:43 am #

      I had actually considered adding that to the list originally. It is funny how confident they can be. With my local shark (Frenchy) it is almost as fun to try to prove him wrong rules wise than to win the game. If you feel they are wrong, don’t hesitate to look it up and prove it.

  11. Avatar
    fluger February 12, 2015 10:31 am #

    Great article Captain, echoes most of my sentiments.

  12. Avatar
    deFl0 February 12, 2015 2:20 pm #

    I went through a phase where I won a couple big gts in a row. This article his a lot of the big items. Another is getting your soft scores up. Painting is huge Ams you can get away with poorer painting with crazy awesome coversions. Also, I’ll just play a rule wrong instead of calling a judge over if I see it won’t really impact the game. Little things like that can go a long way towards sports. Or play armies with a little chaff. Opponents like killing things even if they lose the game because if it. The biggest thing is being able to play both sides of the board though. Most lists have a set timing. Finding ways to force people into odd deployments, or screw with reserves or tar pitting death stars or deploying behind their lines or speed bumping vehicles or hiding parts of units out if Los so they can be charged after being shot and tactics like these can really swing a game from a tie to a win.

  13. Avatar
    Khan February 19, 2015 11:25 am #

    A good article, Captain, to capture these insights. The core concept of success at war is knowledge, something that Sun Tzu’s ‘Art of War’ preaches throughout (whose reading I highly recommend to anyone trying to up their game). I would add a few things to your already good list.

    Knowing your opponent’s personality is key. This is obviously useless against players you’ve never met. But knowing how an opponent thinks can really be an advantage. For example, one of my friends tends to play very defensively, and I know I can throw his army into disarray by charging headlong at him and mopping objectives uncontested behind my lines. Another friend loves to play the “flavor of the month” list and I can anticipate his load-out with great accuracy.

    Psychology is another. Finding a way to demoralize your opponent is crucial to an effective win. I’m not talking about hurling insults or snide comments (that’s just unprofessional). I’m talking in game decisions, units, and tactics to overwhelm or surprise your opponent. Alpha strikes, giant hordes, big shiny things, coordinated deep strikes, etc. that make the other guy freak out and begin making panicked decisions. The other side of that coin is to remain calm, yourself, in these situations. You will invariably find yourself on the receiving end of these tactics. Calmly assessing the situation and applying the best response, keeping objectives ultimately in mind, is the only way to properly deal with it.

Leave a Reply