Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Studying Warfare: The Nine Principals of Warfare

Now from time to time I hear people talk about playing Warhammer 40k and act they're somehow Napoleon leading is grand army. Often I just snork, nod my head, and move one with life. I mean, its a game, right? Right?

That being said, the study of warfare has always fascinated me and that's why I've gone back to college to get me a Master's in Military History. There is a lot of lessons to learn when so much is on the line and some study of warfare can translate over to games like Warhammer. To that end, I've decided to do a series (I don't know how many) where I attempt to apply lessons of warfare to games like Warhammer. So come on in, the waters fine.

How I Try to See Myself

This article is going to focus on the Nine Principles of Warfare. I'm going to look at each in turn and see if I can apply them to 40k. They're sound advice and damn useful. I've come to apply many of them in other life situations to my continual benefit.

1- Mass - Concentrate combat power at the decisive place and time
Having what you need to do the job, where you need it to be. I've seen a lot of games where an IG player has 2-3 squads of meltavets in Chimeras as they're primary anti-tank...on the other side of the board from the Land Raider full of something nasty and hateful. Don't let this happen to you. Mobility and redundancy help to avoid lacking sufficient mass to achieve your objectives.

2- Objective - Direct every military operation towards a clearly defined, decisive, and attainable objective
Keeping your eye on the prize. I cannot count the number of times that I've seen enemies loose games because they struggled to slaughter my tanks, planes, and automobiles but forgot to kill that last man in an infantry squad who had gone to ground on an objective. You need to know the victory conditions of the match quickly and stick to a plan to achieve them, or at least deny your enemy the opportunity to achieve them. Protect your scoring units, don't overload on VPs in your list, target warlords. All of these will help you to sharpen your focus on the objective.

3- Offensive - Seize, retain, and exploit the initiative

Make the enemy play your game! You should have a plan that involves you moving, you attacking, you taking objectives. Don't center your plan around how you're going to respond to the enemy. That means that you're playing their game and they are probably better at playing their game. What are you going to DO to them, in order to win?

4- Surprise - Strike the enemy at a time, at a place, or in a manner for which he is unprepared
Much of this goes toward one of two things: Mobility or Deployment. Static armies that want to defend a large area are going to have to prioritize what goes where. Mobile armies, or well deployed ones, can then decide to attack where they want to in order to force good match ups. For those of us that aren't that face (*cough* Heavy Vehicles *cough*) this sometimes means going second so that you know where the enemy is before you ever have to place model one. Other options include effective Deep Strike (MARBO!!!) and Outflanks (Captain Al'Rahem.)

5- Economy of Force - Allocate minimum essential combat power to secondary efforts
Have you ever seen an army throw all of their firepower at taking out a Monstrous Creature with a +2 in cover? I have seen that. I have done that. Don't do that. Every weapon for a job and every job for a weapon. Unless it is going to cost you the game, send only what should be needed at each task that needs doing (maybe 20% more just in case.) This can be adjusted by the necessity of the action (objectives, superheavies, etc.) but should be kept reasonable. Losing 35 lasgun shots from a blob so you can throw one BS 3 lascannon at a Baneblade is not reasonable, unless it is on its last hull point.

6- Maneuver - Place the enemy in a position of disadvantage through the flexible application of combat power
In a wargame this is going to overlap a lot with surprise. Outflankers and other unusual deployment options help you to match your units to enemy units in a way that favors you. Sending your Demolisher at a bunch of Space Wolf Terminators without Chainfists (Powerfists, Thunderhammers, etc.) is a good maneuver. This also encompasses objective takers. Do you have enough objective takers with enough mobility to take forward objectives and not get shot up? Chimeras, chimeras, chimeras, my friends.

7- Unity of Command - For every objective, ensure unity of effort under one responsible commander
Keep each objective in mind and don't let one overshadow the others (unless one should.) You're the commander for each objective but this would also include what happens when you split your army to accomplish things on each side of the board (or similar situations.) Did you give each task for enough men? Can they fight a variety of opponents by themselves? Are they fast enough to get where they're going?

8- Security - Never permit the enemy to acquire an unexpected advantage
Do you play the same list every time? Does your opponent work this to their advantage? If yes, then play something else. Mix it up. Not only does this give you a chance to try something new but it also stops your enemies from tailoring their lists  Of course, this doesn't matter for every game but it doesn't benefit you to put your tournament list on the net before hand where everybody can see it and plan for it.

9- Simplicity - Prepare clear, uncomplicated plans and clear, concise orders to ensure thorough understanding
Despite the obvious pretentiousness of this article, I (nor you) and not Neapolitan or Moltke. Complicated plans are faulty plans. Keep it to 1-2 steps a turn. Complicated units are tempting, until you forget to roll your psychic powers even once and they're devastated. Counting on that allied inquisitor's psychostroke grenades? Well don't, because that will be when some Sergeant with a plasma pistol will precise shot him. Be glad you have the nifty wargear while you do but acknowledge it can be gone in an instant. Tanks without upgrades are simple. Blob squads are simple. Even the Vendetta is simple(ish) and all of these have made themselves staples of the IG for that reason (in part.) Don't try to over complicate things. Kill the enemy, capture objectives, and hear the lamentations of their women.

Well that was fun. It isn't the most comprehensive article (I save that energy for actual classwork) but was entertaining enough to write, so hopefully it was a hoot to read. If you think I left out anything obvious (very tired today so very possible) please comment and I'll add it in (and maybe even give credit to where it is due.)


  1. Very cool, id love to study that topic. One day in the future maybe. Of all the things you discussed I think changing your list is the most important. Nothing worse than having a predictable army in any situation. But not everyone can do this model wise so even changing how you deploy and making odd decisions can at times win the game. just gotta stay one step ahead of the opponent.

    But a lot of the above I use frequently in Flames of War. A simple game I know but yes.

    And the lascannon example is why I do not put heavy weapons in squads. I prefer to keep my units with a goal. One reason why I hate space marines...

    Very cool article, id love to see more.

    1. Kinda funny, I almost never take Lascannon HWSs because of the expense involved and how soft they are. It might go against my own writing but I'm kinda paying a tax to attach some extra wounds to the squad so I can avoid death, leadership checks, or poor moral (Ld 8 from sergeants.) At the same time, I'm considering taking some HWSs next game to give them a fair shake and see what comes out.