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The Principles of Warhammer
Old 06 Sep 2007, 20:58   #1 (permalink)
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Default The Principles of Warhammer

The Principles of Warhammer

With all articles on the different ____hammer philosophies of 40K out there, including Fish Ead’s excellent article on Poorhammer, I thought I’d try my hand at one. My philosophy of 40K is Warhammer. I play 40K according to the Principles of War, and when/if I start Fantasy, those principles will be even more useful.
I kind of started thinking about how the Principles applied to 40K because I believed that while using probabilities to analyze situations was useful for obtaining a feeling for what would happen, it was not the be-all end-all that some people thought. I was influenced largely by the many times I saw the unlikely outcome occur more often than the likely one (The perpetual missing of three of my four sniper rifles). So, in addition to coming to believe that there is something about setting up miniatures on a table that causes the Law of Averages to cease to apply, I started to play according to the Principles of War.
Here I’ve tried to list the principles that I use and explain a little about them and how they apply to 40K. These Principles of Warhammer are taken from both the US and UK Principles of War. They're arranged roughly in order of importance. I hope that someone will find something useful.

The Principle of Objective is the most important. You need to have a clearly defined objective for your army, usually determined by the mission. It could be as simple as “Kill” as complex as trying to kill a specific enemy character with one of your own. Either way, don’t forget the objective.
If the objective is to hold the center of the table and you go off and kill most of your opponent’s army, but he still holds the center, all your kills are worthless. So ideally, all your efforts should be directed towards achieving the objective, because anything else is a waste. That doesn’t always mean every unit has to directly try to grab the objective (trying to get to the center in the earlier example). They could be trying to keep the enemy units from achieving the objective or supporting your troops as they attack.

Unity of Command
Unity of Command is the idea that one and only one person should be responsible for the command decisions of an area of operations. This ensures that everyone is working towards the same objective. In 40K this principle mainly applies in larger games with multiple people per side, but it is still a very important principle, particularly with the Apocalypse release coming up. If there are two sides in a game, the side with fewer people has a distinct advantage simply because their Unity of Command is better.
This principle shows itself in one-on-one games as well. If one person is getting advice from someone, it is usually a disadvantage because it destroys his Unity of Command. He’s generally better off if he just does the best he can by himself. That way, his opponent will not overhear the plans he is considering (unless his opponent is a mind-reader, in which case a foil-lined helmet is the best defense).

Combined Arms
The Principle of Combined Arms is the idea that the different parts of the force work together to achieve the objective. This can mean having your tanks soften up the enemy troops on the objective, or that your grots soak up fire to protect your boyz. It also means that you shouldn’t make changes to your forces/army list based solely on whether or not a unit made back its point cost. The units do not exist in a vacuum and must work together, so while a unit might not have made back its points (a Vindicator destroyed on the first turn), it still might have been vital to the battle (drawing all that fire that could have been used elsewhere).

The Principle of Offensive is to “Seize, maintain, and exploit the initiative.” This means making your opponent to react to you wherever possible, as opposed to the other way around. It is also why it’s generally a good idea to get the first turn.
If you’re defending, you can still use this principle, though not by launching an all-out attack. You should have a group of mobile troops in reserve and launch a spoiling attack/sortie to disrupt your opponents plan. Even though defense is the stronger position (see below) in 40K, you’ll generally lose if you sit there like a bump on a log.
A word on offense vs. defense: Defense is very often the stronger position. In 40K, this is shown by the benefits of a defender. If you’re in cover you strike first. If you’re sitting there defending, you’re not moving and get to fire all your weapons, etc. By attacking though, you can gain the upper hand. By giving your troops frag grenades (or the alien equivalent) you even the odds in close combat. By choosing where, when, and how to attack your opponent, you can really control a game and reduce the advantage of the defender.

A large part of seizing the initiative is the skillful maneuvering of troops into positions where your opponent must do deal with them. So always try to maneuver your troops into the best position and put the enemy at a disadvantage. Granted this is generally more important in Fantasy, but it has its applications in 40K. If you have more movement than you need, use it. Get in behind your opponent, hem him in, and try to cut off his line of retreat and destroy his units when they fall back. It’s a cheap way to destroy your opponent’s units. This also has applications for defensive armies. You should maneuver your troops to the best positions (in cover or behind it), as well as positioning strong reserves to deal with breakthroughs.

Economy of Force
The Principle of Economy of Force is the idea that you use the minimum amount of force necessary to achieve your aims, and that you focus that force so that it contributes to the achievement of the objective. This can be used when on the offense or the defense. One tank or artillery piece (if sufficiently powerful or feared) can control an entire section of a board. One unit can be used to tie up an entire flank. Basically, don’t throw away troops without good reason and don’t use a bunch of troops where fewer will do.

The Principle of Mass is to “Apply sufficient force to achieve the objective.” Don’t try to take a defended objective unless you have enough troops to do the job. In games with more than one objective, this principle dovetails nicely with Economy of Force. You can use just enough force to keep the enemy busy at all the objectives (Economy of Force) and then use the rest of your troops to smash each objective in turn (Mass). This generally means killing all the troops around each objective in turn. This strategy allows you to obtain a local advantage over your opponent.

“Otherwise known as ‘Audacity’; Strike the enemy at a time and/or place and in a manner for which he is unprepared.” Basically, try to keep you opponent guessing. If you can, you can usually wrestle the initiative from him. Reserves are a good way to do this, and not just reserves from off board. If you leave a fast moving unit behind your lines, ready to swoop down anywhere along your opponent’s front, he’s not going to be able to tell exactly where they will be headed and won’t know where to reinforce his lines.
You can also do the unexpected. In a game with multiple objectives, let your opponent take one of the objectives (usually the most remote one) and concentrate on the others. He probably won’t expect it and you’ll be more likely to take the other objectives because you’ll have a local superiority.

The Principle of Security is: “Never permit the enemy to acquire an unexpected advantage.” This goes hand-in-hand with surprise, in that you want to maintain the element of surprise. You don’t want him to know where you are going to commit your reserves, because then he can prepare for them and they lose their major advantage. Also, it should be mentioned that in battles with multiple players per side, you should talk quietly and try to keep your opponents from learning about your plans.
While Security applies well to operational security (not letting the enemy know your plans), that is only one small part of this principle. Again the principle states: “Never permit the enemy to acquire an unexpected advantage.” This could be paraphrased as “Don’t let the enemy surprise you.” Keep in mind all the things your opponent could do. If it looks like he is light on forces, prepare for deepstrikers or other reserves that could affect your plans. If his jump troops are holding back, keep in mind that he might plan to bypass your front units and attack your weaker units behind. In short, always be prepared for some nasty underhanded trick. Ask yourself, “What would Alpharius do?” and then prepare to deal with it.

Once you’re thinking of what the enemy might do to you, you need to make plans. It’s always good to have contingency plans so that you know what you’re going to do if your opponent springs what he thinks is a surprise. The best thing to do though is to incorporate those contingencies into your current plan. If you think your opponent has some deepstrikers coming in, quietly spreading your troops out so that the deepstrikers are more likely to die coming in is a good idea. When you incorporate you contingencies like this, you will not only already be prepared for most surprises your opponent might have planned, but it will also help you retain the initiative.

The Principle of Simplicity is that your plans should be clear and uncomplicated. You will not know the exact situation beyond the next dice roll, so any plans based on specific situations can be useless or worse than useless. Keep your plans general enough to be applied to a number of similar situations, but with enough detail so that you know what to do.

Dirac Angestun Gesept calls. You know where.
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Old 06 Sep 2007, 20:59   #2 (permalink)
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Maintenance of Morale
While Morale is less fragile in 40K than it is in WFB, it is still worth mentioning. Keep in mind the possibility that your troops might not do what you want. They might run or cower in fear. Keep that in mind and do what you can to ensure that your troops keep fighting.

I hope you found something helpful in that article. For further reading I’d suggest On War by Carl von Clausewitz and The Art of War by Sun Tzu. I haven’t read either yet, but I want to, having talked with people who read and enjoyed them.

Thanks again for reading,
Dirac Angestun Gesept calls. You know where.
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Old 06 Sep 2007, 21:28   #3 (permalink)
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A good article and a good idea. It is also a huge distinction between gamers. Personally when I approach a game I approach it as a WARgame. I focus not so much on my list and specifically taking advantage of every rule possible, but as a tactical challenge, considering the primary strategy for the fight and the tactics to use throughout the engagement to accomplish my objective as quickly and efficiently as possible with the minimal cassualties.

Yet many gamers I meat at hobby shops tend to see the game as just a game, they tweak their lists excruciatingly and are inflexible when it comes to the actual "battle." IMO The Art of War should be required reading for serious gamers, including studying modern mobile warfare and both urban and general military tactics. Warhammer 40k doesn't have an immensly complex system to use a great deal of tactics, but enough so that they can make the difference.

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Old 06 Sep 2007, 22:31   #4 (permalink)
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Thanks for this, already my mind is forming new ideas do to with my up-coming Imperial Guard army.... I've already got every plan that I plan on using nestled away in the archives of my brain... plus the suprises that come with them.

I'm going to have to agree with Vash on his second point though, there are not many players here to look at it Uber strategically, they mostly look at it as a game, which is always fun, but now I'll be looking at it more as a WARgame myself now.
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Old 06 Sep 2007, 22:38   #5 (permalink)
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This is one reason I love the guard. I use the good ol' Fire and Manuever tactic with my boys and it works very well. I don't have to worry about some very specific special rules. It comes down to proper manuvering and fire superiority. This goes for assault too, which is why I utilize the conscripts. Add in a Comissar and they won't break, adding in that much more firepower denial.

While it may not be the real world, certain things from today's military still work just fine, even in 40k

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