The Lost Art of the Written Army List


Hi everyone, Michael here with my thoughts on the seemingly lost art of the written tournament army list. For more reviews, analyses and battle reports, check out the Tactics Corner.

Obviously, the following post is my own opinions and do not represent the views of Frontline Gaming or the ITC. No TO’s were harmed in the making of this article.

This past weekend I attended a 40k tournament. It was a great day, with some great games of 40k and a chance to meet up with some blogger friends and meet new gamers, but it did bring up one of my pet peeves from tournament play. I played three games of 40k and not a single one of my opponents had a written copy of their army list.


Before each game, I asked my opponent for a copy of their army list. In all three games, I was handed their phone with a Battlescribe document. Now don’t get me wrong, Battlescribe is a fantastic program. I use it and it is really good for building an army list. However, trying to figure out an army list on a phone from it can be really difficult. You need to click on each option and scroll through each option to find out the specific wargear for each unit. It can be very easy to miss essential wargear or remember what models have meltabombs, etc. Plus, throughout the game, if you need to check something, you need to ask your opponent to pull out their phone and open the document. A lot of times your opponent will say “Oh, its ok, I know my list”. I don’t think they are ever lying, but mistakes can be made and you feel like you are calling them a liar every time you ask to check. Also, what happens if your opponent’s phone or tablet runs out of battery? It is also unlikely that I would be allowed to keep the phone/tablet during the game to refer to it. What if it was to get knocked off the table and break?

This is not something that is very unusual for me these days. Out of the 16 players at the event, I think I only saw 2 or 3 written army lists from other players. Indeed, for most of the tournaments I have attended over the past two years, having a written army list is a bit of an anomaly and I am generally surprised if my opponent does.

I started playing 40k during third edition. My army lists are based on the army rosters that were provided in the back of the third edition rulebook and the battle reports around that time. For tournaments, my army list is an Excel sheet that I have made. It consists of the units in the army, their wargear and the characteristics for each unit (WS, BS, etc.). It also includes a weapons profile for all the weapons in the army list.  This gives my opponent almost all the information they will need from my army. I generally bring 5 copies to the tournament; one for me, one for the TO and one for each of my opponents (assuming a three-game event). This is obviously an extreme version of the written army list and I would not expect everyone to do this. At the bare minimum, I think it should include a list of all the units, their unit size and the wargear.


What brought this topic to mind was during my second game at the tournament. I asked my opponent for his list. He told me it was on his phone, but that everything was WSYWIG (What You See Is What You Get). He was running a tank-heavy Astra Militarum army, and being a Guard player myself, I was pretty confident with what was in the list. On my first turn, I fired at his Wyvern Squadron, causing two penetrating hits. He went to roll his cover save.

“That’s a 3+ cover save”

“Why 3+?” I asked.

“5+ for being obscured, +1 for Night Fighting and +1 for Camo Netting”

“What Camo netting? I thought everything was WYSYWIG?”

“Oh yeah, the Wyverns have camo netting, I forgot to mention that. Oh, and all the vehicles have Dozer Blades too”. This, despite no modelling of any Camo Nets or Dozer Blades. My opponent was a great guy and we had a brilliant game. I don’t think he was intentionally trying to deceive me, but these sort of mistakes can happen and we were fortunate that it came out in turn 1.


Most tournament rules packs state that a copy of your army list for your opponent is required. Why is ignoring this rule ok, when other rules must be followed? I doubt my opponents would be happy if I decided to ignore the rules on maximum points values or number of detachments allowed.

Had I given each opponent a sheet of paper and pen and asked them to write out their army list, would they have thought “What a dick, why do I need to do this?”. I probably would have felt this way asking them to do this, so I end up writing out their list myself. I have now gotten to the situation in most tournament games where I am the one providing a copy of both my own and my opponent’s army list.

I think that if a paper copy of the army list is a requirement, it should be followed. Should penalties be imposed if you don’t have one?

This only really applies to tournament play for me. I have absolutely no problem with phone lists at a local club or casual games.

So next time you attend a tournament, please have a think about your opponent and bring a paper copy of your army list. It doesn’t even have to be printed if you don’t own a printer, just a legible hand written copy is fine.

So, what do you think of written tournament lists? Is it something you bring along or is everything paperless these days? Should there be penalties if you cannot provide your opponent with a copy of your army list that they can refer to during the game?

And as always, Frontline Gaming sells Games Workshop product at up to 25% off of retail, every day!

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About Michael Corr

An avid 40k player and blogger from Scotland. I started in 3rd edition and have been playing ever since. I detail my adventures in my own blog "St Andrews Wargaming", highlighting my mediocre painting skills, regular battle reports and my occasional random ramblings.

27 Responses to “The Lost Art of the Written Army List”

  1. ItsMe November 13, 2016 3:21 am #

    I do agree.
    Although I don’t visit tournaments and I bring my tablet to games from time to time (mainly when I have to make the army list on the fly since the game was rather spontaneous), I am preaching for years that people should bring readable army lists. In our gaming group you find everything but an army list that I would consider ok. It is like you have to decipher them each with its own passphrase and usually if I complain “But I know my list!”… Sadly, this is not even always the case. And I can’t even trust that they point costs and equipment is correct… It is like fighting against wind mills. The worst part is, we have one cheating shit face that usually brings a list that, apart from not always being very trustworthy, is like a swiss army knife. It has several lists in one, like different equipment options in one list. Officially they are two lists and he knows which one he is using, but everybody knows that he uses the one which suits the situation the best…. Not having a readable, correct army list is a real bad habbit.

    • Michael Corr November 14, 2016 1:37 am #

      I do like an army list for a casual game as well (though mostly as I like to write them up as battle reports for my blog), I find it helps me as well, especially if I am experimenting with a new list.

  2. JørnN November 13, 2016 8:12 am #

    “It’s okay. I know my list.”

    That’s the root cause, right there.

    …and if the tournament package states that an army list is to be provided for each opponent, I’d definitely mention that to my opponents as well as take it up with the organizer(s).

    As for penalties… Disqualification for any kind of prizes would probably sort the problem out in time for the next tournament.


    • Michael Corr November 14, 2016 1:37 am #

      That’s a harsh penalty, but it would solve the problem quickly!

      • hillshire November 14, 2016 7:25 pm #

        I do think there should be a penalty, but not that severe. Something like losing 10 Battle Points from the tournament. Not so much that it crushes an honest mistake but enough to make a competitive player who values every point brings his or her list.

        Or if you want to avoid negativity, award 5-10 Battle Points to players who bring a clear and accurate list for each opponent. Again, the honest mistakes aren’t punished while the competitive guys will want every point they can earn.

        • Michael Corr November 15, 2016 12:29 am #

          That seems like a reasonable solution, rewarding good behaviour rather than penalising mistakes.

  3. jadedknight November 13, 2016 10:35 am #

    I’m all for printed tournament lists as required for entry. I find that written tournament lists have all the problems you mentioned and worse, there is a tendency to accidentally under cost things, make mistakes and/or include certain things for free. Worse is this is then presented as an authoritative source of truth.

    I’ve seen this often enough that I don’t think it’s consciously an attempt to cheat. The game is very complex and rarely played without mistakes. Having written or homemade lists just introduces an additional opportunity to make mistakes. It’s only human to be on the look out for mistakes that hinder you and not for mistakes that help.

    For instance would you have written that black knights have 4 attacks, 5 on the charge, as stated in your previous article? A printed list from Battlescribe or Army Builder would have immediately cleared that up. We are all guilty of this kind of error from time to time.

    • Michael Corr November 13, 2016 12:16 pm #

      I would have no problem with a printed battlescribe list, but often you don’t even get that, just a version on the phone that you need to copy down if you want a paper copy.

      My only issue with Battlescribe is that I have not found a way to print it from a computer that does not have the program installed. Is there a way to export the roster as a PDF or other format that can be read on any computer?

      Yes, mistakes can be made, but that is why you also bring your codex with you to clear up any errors.

      • Shas'Itsa Mari'o November 14, 2016 6:35 am #

        Email it to yourself as an HTML file then you “should” be able to open it in your browser and do whatever you want with it from there.

        I love Battlescribe for the list building portion, but it just seems so clunky when printed out. Can’t bring myself to pay money for one of the other apps haha

  4. Happy_Inquisitor November 13, 2016 11:11 am #

    100% this.

    I take a printed army list for each of my opponents, typically what I get in return is exactly what you describe “it’s on my phone” or something entirely illegible on a scrap of paper they found after they arrived at the event. As for “it’s WYSIWYG” I’m afraid it never ever has been and I am at the point of being very cynical about that answer having been burned a couple of times.

    The only way to enforce the rules of the event – and basic courtesy – is to apply a points penalty for absent or illegible lists. As a player I cannot do that but the TO can and should.

    • Michael Corr November 13, 2016 12:18 pm #

      I think a points penalty would be a way to sort it out. It would need to be clearly stated in tournament pack that a penalty would apply so there is no excuse.

  5. WestRider November 13, 2016 12:55 pm #

    I have to admit, I’ve become sloppier about this myself over the last couple of years, since a) I no longer have reliable access to a printer and b) I now have a tablet. I suspect I’m far from the only one in that boat.

    I’ve still managed to mostly keep it to either very informal events, or when I’m running very simple lists, like that DreadTober one where only 3 Models in the list had taken any options at all, and those were all modeled.

    I need to get better about it again, tho. Definitely want proper printed up lists for the Tournament I’m hoping to go to next Weekend. 2K KDK has enough going on that my Opponent should really have their own reference to what I’ve got, especially since there’s a bit of Counts-As going on.

    • Michael Corr November 14, 2016 1:41 am #

      Having access to a printer these days is a problem for many. I don’t even own one myself.

      The best one I have seen for a high volume “counts as” army was a player who supplied a booklet to their opponent. It contained a picture of each unit/model, the stats and their weapons and weapons profiles. Made it much easier for their opponent to figure out what everything is.

      • WestRider November 14, 2016 1:59 pm #

        I know a guy who’s been running a Counts-As Stealer Cult Army for ages, and had a “Codex” that he’d give his Opponents that pretty much covered the same thing.

        This isn’t to that extent, it’s just my “Chaos Knight” and then all the rest of the Counts-As are Flesh Hounds. Still figure it’s best to have it clearly written down somewhere my Opponent can refer to it at will.

    • Crafter November 14, 2016 6:53 am #

      There’s this old school method that doesn’t need a printer! It’s called pen and paper…

      Seriously, if you cant print just write, takes like 2 mins.

      • WestRider November 14, 2016 1:57 pm #

        Dude, you’ve never seen my handwriting. I do actually prefer to do my list-building by hand, but I try to always get it typed up and printed out for events, because I don’t want to inflict that on my Opponents.

  6. Mike Nogle November 13, 2016 5:16 pm #

    If an opponent hands me a phone I tell them to email the list. At least at that point I have the list in my possession.

    I consider it a common courtesy to give a printed list. Then Again, I don’t like digital codices

    • Michael Corr November 14, 2016 1:39 am #

      That’s a good idea, I’ll need to start doing that!

      It doesn’t help if you don’t have (or want) Battlescribe installed on your phone, but at least it is something so that you will have your opponent’s list to hand.

  7. Adam Vollrath November 14, 2016 6:50 am #

    We Battlescribe catalog editors volunteer our time to ensure accuracy. But nobody should rely upon Battlescribe alone. Keep your codex open while you list build and with you while you play.

    And if you do find a mistake, please report it via the “Report a bug” links on this page:

    Personally, I write my Battlescribe rosters to HTML, then I edit that file to condense before printing. (Most word processors can do this too.)

    I strongly agree everyone attending a competitive event should prepare hard copy rosters. Not doing so disrespects everyone you play with. I appreciated Adepticon required a hard copy to register. Of course, they also made that requirement very very clear and had some recourse for players without.

    • Michael Corr November 14, 2016 8:14 am #

      Thanks for the tips!

      Also, a big shout out to all those that contribute to making Battlescribe what it is. I love the program and use it all the time. A fantastic resource for gamers.

    • HotSauceMan November 14, 2016 4:26 pm #

      I love battlesctibe. It allows me to make lists for armies I dont have for giggles
      But I see Too many people use it as a rules source. We had one guy at our FLGS use it all the time and he was getting rules wrong. We made a rule that said you have to have a printed version of all rules handy. He then got upset and said “I DONT HAVE MONEY FOR FORGEWORLD BOOKS”

  8. Austin Bemister November 14, 2016 11:22 am #

    Battlescribe is great for figuring out army lists. A written or printed list should be mandatory though. You can easily change a list on Battlescribe with a couple of taps, and it’s awkward to read and see what everything has.

  9. DarkAlman November 14, 2016 11:52 am #

    As a former TO the WYSIWYG thing is a big point of contention for me.

    If a player complains to me that you’ve got wargear that you didn’t model then you’re going to get in trouble. I’m as lenient as the next guy, but game changing stuff like Camo netting you should have on the model.

  10. HotSauceMan November 14, 2016 4:23 pm #

    Im tired of documents for lists. I remember one time, his Army builder said his heldrake had the Cannon, I breathed a sigh of relief. then ask he said “Oh, it is actually a Flamer”
    I use Battle scribe all the time. its great. But I then remove all anciallry stuff like how all my tactical marines have bolt pistols or grenades and I only leave the upgrades. Mine are always super simple like this

    Tactical squadx10=XXXpts
    Melta gun=Xpts
    its simple, it is effective and it works.
    But sometimes I get lists with every rule, like every one, every one gargantuan creatures have, it is annoying.

    • Michael Corr November 15, 2016 12:31 am #

      Yeah, I think a tournament army list should be limited to one or two pages. Getting handed 10+ pages of all the rules for the army with the list buried in it can be pretty complex.

      • Happy_Inquisitor November 15, 2016 12:46 pm #

        I edit mine to 2 pages which leaves a little room for graphics and fun.

        I would go for a single page but I am running fairly MSU lists at the moment so that would be pretty small font size.

        The GW schools league had points for an army list which you dropped if you did not have one. They also had bonus points for the best one – the winner in the finals this year was like a glossy mini-codex it was awesome.

  11. Turok117 November 15, 2016 9:01 pm #

    Totally agree on bringing printed lists.

    On a side note…what did they do to Battlescribe!?! Has to be the worst update I have ever seen. It goes from extremely useable to near impossible. On top of that they switch from one time purchase to subscription based and give no consideration to those that already paid for it. So they ruin their own app and then ask for more money. Especially sucks when there are like no good alternatives for mobile apps. Anyway, just had to rant.

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