To me, it’s hard to define a single “must have;” I have a diverse style of play and try to incorporate all of the available unit types in my armies over time to remain balanced. Beyond that, I also play five different armies (give or take), and they’re of varied enough composition that no single unit seems to be prevelant across the lot. Clearly, then, no single unit fits the bill.
To tackle the question of what unit is a “must have,” across my armies, I started with a granular approach. Despite my prediliction to taking a varied units, some units always seem to be able to earn their points on the battle field. Some examples of those units in the armies I field:
- Space Marines: Whirlwinds
- Eldar: Wraithlord
- Tyranids: Ripper Swarms
The problem is that those three units are incredibly diverse, and it’s hard to find much they have in common. The first is a relatively indirect method of putting a pie-plate on a table via indirect fire. It’s hard to kill (because it’s not usually seen. The Wraithlord, on the other hand, is typically front and center of the army–equipped with tank killing long range weapons, flamers for swarm disposal, and an impossibly tough combination of T8 with 3+ armor save. The last unit in the list though, is a dirt-cheap basic troop choice that can’t hold board quarters, yet it puts out an amazing amount of attacks and soaks up a ton of wounds for only 10 points.
Sure, the units above consistantly perform well in armies I field, but I wondered why. Digging a little deeper, it appears the strength of these units lies in the weakness of my armies in general. For this reason, my nomination for “must have units” is Counterpoint units.
Meriem Webster defines counterpoint as:
1 a : one or more independent melodies added above or below a given melody b : the combination of two or more independent melodies into a single harmonic texture in which each retains its linear character : polyphony
2 a : a complementing or contrasting item : opposite b : use of contrast or interplay of elements in a work of art (as a drama)
In army composition, the logical inference is to use the 2nd definition: “opposite,” but really a blend of the two makes better sense: Using a contrasting item to create harmony. Units that achieve this in my army lists tend to fit the “must have” component.
Because of this, no single unit will always fit the bill and in contrast, virtually any unit can be used as a counterpoint to at least one type of army. You see, armies fall into any number of categories: Shooty, Assault, Fast, Mechanized, Tough, Swarms, etc. Many armies are typically looked at as fitting a niche in one or two of these factors; take Tyranids, for example. The army premise is that it’s an assault swarm army: lots of little gaunts scurrying around the board with some big bugs for support. It’s clear that the army doesn’t have to be played that way though. In fact, the most popular variant of Tyranids: Nidzilla, uses very few of the expendable swarm units, instead relying on big tough armies. Likewise, Tyranid armies can be run as shooty or fast. The same is true for every other codex. While not every codex can run every option, most army types are available to each–whether or not anyone thinks they’re viable.
Off the top of my head, the clear counterpoints available to underlying themes are as follows:
- Shooty <-> Assault
- Slow -> Fast
- Swarms <-> Tough/Mechanized
- Anti-infantry <-> Anti-tank
I’m not sure that slow is a valid counterpoint to fast (since adding fast units adds a dynamic value to slow armies, but simply adding a slow unit to a fast army doesn’t seem to help in any tremendous way), but the rest seem to be two way relationships. In the rock/paper/scissors world of gaming, people are often prone to playing heavily (if not entirely) in one or two of these niches. Nidzilla is typically Tough Assaulters, Orks are invariably assault swarms,
and of course, the flavor of the week across most codexes is Mechanized armies.
Must have units are those that fill the opposite role to your niche. In an assault army, it’s the shooty component that destroys your enemy tanks so that you can get into the chewy insides. In a shooty army, it’s the counter charging unit set up to keep your enemy from their inevitable charge. In swarms, it’s the big behemoths or tanks that keep everything else in line, and in armies designed to kill mass infantry, it’s the lascannon team that stands a chance of punching a whole through a landraider.
Some examples in my recent battle reports of such counterpoint units that existed (or didn’t exist) follow:
- In the Chaos vs. Chaos royale rumble, my counterpoint took the form of demon princes. My Nurgle Daemon army is a very assault heavy, slow moving force, everything is hard as nails and, with the help of Epidemius, they grow chainsaws for teeth. The problem always is that I need to slow down the opponent in order to catch them with my slow-and-purposeful force. My answer has always been to add demon princes with flight. Since almost nothing in the army shoots, their flamer attacks also give me an additional component that I never otherwise had.
- In my most recent battle report, Biel-Tan vs. Tyranids, the interesting thing is the lack of counterpoint in my opponents army. His army consisted of three unit types: Genestealers, Lictors, & a Broodlord. It was undoubtedly a devastating assault based army, but completely devoid in shooting. Because of this, my fast moving skimmers and shooty army were able to tear him apart without him scoring a wound. My skimmers were almost completely invulnerable to his army selection. A great counter point to his force would be to add Zoanthropes, Shooti-fexes, or event a Tyrant. This would’ve given him the means to take down my ships and feast upon their innards.
- In contrast, my recent adventure with the nids left me with a heavy assault army. The addition of zoanthropes, and the carnifex with a barbed stranger gave me the ability to pop tanks at a distance. Because of that, I was able to do what Blaine’s force was not. Technically, one could argue that I played a rather shooty army since, as termies, all of the gaunts were packing; however, their real purpose is to fill the role of swarming intimidation, putting lots of wounds on an objective or tying up units in h2h for an extended period of time. I just find hormagaunts cost prohibitive in the same role. Hopefully that changes in the impending codex…
Well, I hope that helped explained the idea behind counterpoint units: what they are and why I think they’re invaluable. If anyone has any differing opinions on the matter, I’d love to hear ’em; leave a comment below.