Army Selection and Planning
by Dave Ruddock
There are some basic things that any player needs to know when choosing armies. These are not the be-all and end-all of army selection, but they should form the basis of a good start.
Will I enjoy it? Quite simply put, if you have an affinity with an army then you will likely use it time and again whether it is good or not. It is worth remembering that you will probably end up with armies that you will take to competitions and armies that you will take to a club night. It is worth having both types of armies as you will maximise your opponents and also gain invaluable experience in a strange army. For example, if somebody at the club asks for a game and you decide to use Saitic Egyptian then your opponent may well use something in period (which is equally as bad) which will result in a fun game. When you face the same army at a comp you will not be frantically grasping for a rulebook wondering what on earth is in the army and how it will likely be structured. You are also much less likely to use this army once, get hammered and never use it again.
Is it me? - Armies have different characters, and it is a good idea if the army characteristics match your own. If you enjoy taking risks then large numbers of Kn(F) might be a good choice – they allow you to field an army with a significant punch, but that can be very brittle. Alternatively, if you want flair and manoeuvre then a steppe type army may well be the order of the day. Remember, that to get the most out of DBMM then it is probably wise to have a number of different styles of armies just so that you don’t lose interest with getting the same game week in week out.
Does it Morph? In other words, are a lot of the figures usable in other armies, so if you don't like this army there are lots of others you can use the same figures for. Remember that most ancient armies are practically based on half a dozen lines from Herodotos and some pottery and coins that have been uncovered 1000 years ago. The available evidence often only shows one or two images of contemporary figures. Imagine if in 2000 years time everybody bases our entire culture based on some photos of Victoria Beckham! This leaves a fairly broad base of armies that you can use your figures for.
In general most people are seduced by the army of a great General like Caesar or Napoleon, but are often disappointed as often the army itself is pretty average (and mutter if you dare that often the opposition was poor and they won because they outnumbered their opponent 10:1). The superior performance was often due to the leader themselves.
So, you own a couple of armies that you enjoy using and now you want something that is a bit more competitive, so what are the key factors in producing a good army. Well, the bad news is that there is no one army that stands out as better than all the rest. Any army will work well with a good, well thought out plan with the army design tailored to match the plan.
Let us begin with the negatives -
- Is the army a complete waste of time?
- Does it have any strike troops?
- Does it have combined arms?
- Is the command structure usable (i.e. all allies or all regular generals, differing grades of impetuous troops are frustrating after a few games, armies that have impetuous foot and mounted are also rather trying).
- Low mobility (irregular heavy infantry armies with irregular generals generally makes for a ploddy force where you are limited to lumbering forward rather unimaginatively each turn)
- Low flexibility (single troop type armies)
- Any army with only inferior troops. DBMM has point’s values so you at least get some trade-offs of quality Vs quantity, however clearly there are winners and losers in the points values stakes. The most disheartening is when the owner of the all-time elite army says, "I know, we'll both have 10 battalions each and see what happens". Not much fun if you are using Russian Conscripts facing German Waffen SS.
So what makes a good army? The key is to design an army list around a good plan and not the other way round. It is very easy to single out a list and then attempt to come up with a plan based around the troops available. However if you are building a list that is purely going to be used as a competitive army then the first step is to decide what you want your army to do. When we read DBMM, it is fairly clear that certain troops are extremely powerful and given the points cost give good value for money. Each version tends to have certain troop types that are regarded as exceptional value for their AP. In v1 superior mounted, especially Cv(S) and Kn(S) were viewed in this light. In v2 many people thing that Bw(S) are too good for their points at the moment. So why not look for an army that has these troop types in abundance? When tackled this way you are initially completely unrestricted as to your troop choice. So if we want large amounts of Kn(S) then an initial trawl through the army lists would reveal that Feudal French or Serbian are good for irregulars and Teutonics or Knights of the Order of St John would be good for regulars. Once you have narrowed your choice down to a few options then you can work out a few lists and see which you prefer.
You could plan your whole army around a grand strategy – if you want to flank march then have a look and see how you can maximise the opportunity of the flank march arriving. A quick scan through the rules reveals that using the delayed start and flank attack strategies gives you a much greater chance of the flank march arriving, so already you are looking for an army with a brilliant general that has a fairly low aggression. Further reading would suggest that if you have another brilliant general actually flank marching then that increases the chances even further. Trawling through the army books leads to Later Hungarians who can have Wallachian allies, who can have the brilliant Dracula leading! Assyrian can have a brilliant general and a brilliant sub-general giving the best possible combination!
If we look purely at the point’s values so that you can attempt to squeeze the maximum possible value for money, then there are several freebies that are going:
- Troops that dismount instantly offer greater flexibility for no cost
- Psiloi support is free and also gives a large advantage.
How you are going to use your troops? – if you are simply going to move forward and attempt to break your opponent by sheer weight of shock troops then it is not worth the cost of paying for regulars. Irr Kn(S) are three points cheaper than Reg Kn(S) so if you aren’t going to manoeuvre then don’t pay the price for the regulars.
Irregulars are much cheaper than their regular counterparts so instantly give you increased numbers. However these need to be used effectively, Spontaneous troops require pips and if you are not careful you will spend all your pips ensuring they don’t kill themselves rather than spending pips where you want to win the game. You may decide you want regular generals with irregular troops, but given the prohibitive cost of regular generals (and in my opinion) the lack of options you get with regular troops then a much better option is to have irregular generals but regular troops. This enables a good “spread” of pips, whilst also allowing you to spend pips where you want. Ally generals are also extremely cheap, but need to be counterbalanced with the unfortunate effects of unreliability. It is a question of risk analysis – if your ally is in deployed in the middle of your army and is unreliable then your army pretty much cannot advance, however if you are simply using the ally as a mobile reserve then it may not matter much if he is initially unreliable. Inert generals also offer an additional 75 points worth of troops, but often lack pips, this is no disadvantage if all you plan to do is cover the table and walk forward. We are back to looking at army lists again…
High aggression often means that you deploy after your opponent, but move second. So you can gain a significant advantage if your opponent is “caught on the hop” or gets poor first pips. If you have a low aggression army then take steps to minimise this disadvantage.
Realism has a nasty habit of getting involved and often it is the case that you can’t make a viable force with the lists available. It is definitely worth having a couple of practice games to see if your master plan works or if it is just another great white hope.
Another important factor is likely opponents. If you think that the tournament is likely to be dominated by one particular army then bringing an army designed to kill that army is likely to yield good dividends. For instance if it is expected that a large amount of knights are going to be present then it is not the worst choice in the world to bring an army full of Elephants or War Wagons.