Sep 10, 2009

Warhammer Abstractions

Can Warhammer be taught? Well, that depends on how you mean by taught. Of course there is teaching people through gaming. I’m sure that the vast majority of people out there can say at one point or another they have shown someone how to play the game. I’m willing to bet that at the time they were taking them under their wing, showing a game in action. What about Warhammer theory?

What is Warhammer theory and why is it important? Theory of the game we love to play typically covers some concepts that many people might be already familiar with: Mathhammer, Theoryhammer, and something else I want to talk about that is so prevalent now more than ever in the new edition of the rules, Visualhammer.

Mathhammer is the breakdown of various odds with regards to success and failure according to those cubical dice and how they land on our table. Is Mathhammer really that accurate or reliable? Well, perhaps the main reason we use the random throw of the dice in Warhammer is to provide excitement and fun, and add a sense of unpredictability to the game. The thing about the odds is they are just that. Over time, if you play consistently against the same opponent, ignoring other factors, the odds will even out, and provide no bias towards either player. Two equally skilled opponents will win, lose and draw against each other at an equal rate. It also means that opponents who are disproportionately skilled will win, lose, and draw against each other at a rate that is based on their comparative skills.

Anyone with enough time and a calculator can work out odds and figure out some specific examples of the game in motion. If so desired, you can even break down weapon options and equipment, comparing units on their effectiveness against certain types of other units in a mountain of raw data. But who has time to figure these odds out on the fly, to compress the data in their head and turn it into something meaningful without slowing down the game? Well, there are a few shortcuts that can be used, I even have gone to the trouble to memorize them, and beyond that though I would need to bring out a calculator to work things out. The key thing is, Mathhammer diminishes during a game, and seems to be more of an influence when creating a list.

Theoryhammer is taking the game and working out why things do or do not work. It’s different than just Mathhammer which is looking at the odds, but the two often intermingle. Theoryhammer can be something as simple as how many lascannons do I need, to something like how many kill points are in my army? Do I really need these two HQ choices in my army? Theoryhammer requires more knowledge of the inner workings of the game than Mathhammer, since the concepts it deals with are more abstract in comparison.

Visualhammer is often overlooked, or sometimes lumped in with Theoryhammer, but I feel that this topic is important enough to deserve specific mention. Visualhammer is how models interact with the game physically, and in turn, visually. Visualhammer requires concepts on how the game works, such as knowing the rules for when a model is in cover, or to know if a model has line of sight to other models. It also covers something else that is rarely mentioned, which is the physical size of a model, or its footprint when viewed from above, and the shadow of the model when viewed from the eyes of the shooter, and blind spot on some vehicles with more limiting weapon arcs.

The footprint of the model is so important because it deals directly with how much space it takes up on the board, and how far it has to travel to enter play. Did you ever take a look at a model (more specifically a vehicle) and measure how long and wide it was? Just how far do you have to move it to bring the front armor on facing forward? How does this affect the ability of that vehicle to shoot based on its speed? It’s some very valuable information. It seems that Games Workshop has at least in most cases done this work for us, as the majority of the vehicles can enter play within their footprint size and shoot one weapon. When you think about it, the way they have designed the models to work within the rules is genius.

Model footprint is also something to carefully consider for objectives. Since enemy models must stay at least 1” away, or be in base contact with the model in the case of an assault, one can look at the model and figure out where you need to place your models to contest/control objectives. With models on bases this is relatively easy, with models not on bases it makes it a little more difficult, but not impossible with a little bit of research. Look at a vehicle, how much footprint does it offer, can it protect an objective? From which directions? Can a squadron of 2 or 3 do it if just one alone cannot?

Model Shadow is another very important concept. If you can imagine from a shooters perspective what they can see, the concept of a Shadow, or Blind Spot becomes obvious. In that same example, if the shooter was a light source, and the model they were shooting through would cast a shadow based upon the directionality of that light source, a Shadow would fall on everything, or part of everything the shooter has no direct line of sight to. Model Shadow can happen in any direction and it is entirely based on who is shooting through that model.

So, how does that relate back to the game? Well, knowing and referencing Model Shadow will show you what models will be able to claim a cover save for standing in the Shadow in comparison to the shooter.  This will of course vary by the unit type, something that is also important to note.  With regular infantry you only need to have half the unit at least partially obscured. Take two units, and compare how this can be done. Do you need a certain orientation for it to work – for example, a vehicle covering a unit by facing the shooter with one of the side armour facings? The unit packed in closer than 2” coherency, which is often the case?  Is the unit still covered when it is attacked from different elevations?

Visualhammer also has an important role with terrain as well as models. The same basic principals can be applied, but it is easier to come to the same conclusions if your gaming group has a set of terrain that you can take the time to measure up and look over with the same keen eye. Take your models and find the locations on or in that terrain that will let you gain or negate cover saves that others might be trying to get. It of course becomes more difficult the more complicated terrain layout that you have, and it also becomes difficult if you are playing on some terrain you are not used to, like in a tournament.

Check the blind spots on units. Vehicles frequently have blind spots, or in other words, angles they cannot shoot at with one or more guns because of how the vehicle is oriented and the directions and firing arcs of the weapons. Not all vehicles are created equal in these regards. You may, or may not be paying points for a weapon and the relationship it has with the vehicle and the other weapons that it is equipped with. This now takes us back to Theoryhammer. As you can see, all of these various concepts blend together.

I hope that this shows a little more depth to the game than you might be used to. These are some things that I always try to think about when playing the game, and I feel they have really helped me become a better player. The game is a game beyond just numbers, point values and stats. It truly is a battle of the minds of the players playing the game. The most prepared and most experienced will prevail on average, and although it is a hobby and a game, it is also a test of personal self.


KBelleau September 11, 2009 at 7:45 AM  

Very Interesting article, some interesting points you raise.

RonSaikowski September 11, 2009 at 3:41 PM  

Man, I wanted to see some pics of shadows to better show what you mean for those who don't understand.
Other than that, an interesting read on a concept you don't see talked baout often.

Akenseth September 12, 2009 at 6:49 PM  

I'll do you one better Ron. I'm going to be posting up a video using some lighting to show exactly what I'm talking about! :D

RonSaikowski September 12, 2009 at 7:17 PM  

Now you're talking my language.
That's the perfect way to show it.

The_King_Elessar September 14, 2009 at 8:19 PM  

Excellent post indeed! I await the follow-up eagerly. Rarely do i see Theoryhammer mentioned by name in a non-derogatory fashion, so it's nice to see it's not reviled here - for a lot of us it's as much fun as many other aspects of the hobby...(In ALL of it's forms)

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