One of the many attractions of miniature war gaming is the ability to design your own army. Sure lots of people play elves, but YOUR elf army features your favorite models, and a special combination of artillery, infantry, and cavalry that makes it your own. Gamers who have played in a system for years have mastered just what they need for battle and enjoy coming up with new, innovative combinations that have never been seen before yet are still effective on the table top.
But what do you do when you are new to a game system, or indeed the miniature war gaming hobby as a whole? How does one approach the daunting task of designing your first list in a system you’ve never played?
Over the years I’ve come up with a relatively simple philosophy that has served me well as I hop from one game to another. In my experience a force needs three basic things: Back, Dak, and Hack.
Back: Backfield Disruption
The cagy opponent will try to bide his time and wait for the right moment to strike. You want to be sure to include elements in your force that will get him fighting on your terms. Namely, have the ability to strike very early, or at extreme range, or engage from an unexpected quarter. Anything that will disrupt your opponents plans and keep him off balance. Examples include units that can appear anywhere on the table, the ability to deploy forward, artillery with indirect fire, spells that create terrain or slow movement, etc.
Back can be important even in small skirmish games. When designing my Malifaux list I realized that Perdita’s long range and ability to hit and run made her an excellent back component to my crew. Opponents can’t simply ignore her and play the way they want. Well, usually they can’t. ;-)
Backfield disruption can even be caused by throw away pieces or units. That is, units designed to just rush in and die without causing much damage, but drawing enemy resources away from ‘the key components’ of your army.
Dak: Dakka Dakka (aka shooting)
Dakka is a sound effect that most Warhammer 40,000 players associate with shooting. It’s also a cool website. Shout out to my peeps at www.DakkaDakka.com!
Anyhoo, Dak means you’ll want to have at least some ranged elements to your force. I’m talking mid-range style weapons here. The super long range stuff might be considered Bak, but what have you got to handle the bad guys when they are getting close, but not on top of you yet? This might seem obvious but sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in all kinds of cool hand-to-hand choices and if you don’t gut check your capabilities at mid-range you could find yourself in trouble on the battlefield against a cagy opponent who has more guns than you and has some way to slow you down.
Remember that Dak means ANY kind of ranged attack. So don’t limit yourself to thinking just about guns. Magic, thrown spears, arrows, anything that gives you some ability to deal damage without being in melee is worth a look to fill this roll.
Hack: Hand-to-Hand combat (Hack his arm off!)
The ability to fight in close is just as important as fighting at range. Against certain kinds of opponents it can be critical. Even if your faction type is predominantly a shooting style force, you should try to find at least some Hack to throw in there because the enemy WILL get to you eventually.
Let’s return to my Malifaux example. When building my first list I realized that all the models I had chosen for my crew were excellent at shooting (plenty of Dak), and Perdita could disrupt my opponent (Back) but I had NO hand-to-hand combat ability (Hack). So, despite my desire to build a crew that looked entirely like cowboys, I added the Executioner: A big dude with sharpened claws for hands. Imagine my relief when I went up against an opponent that had an awesome ability to damage me when I shot him at range. Talk about Back! I didn’t even know that ability existed, but fortunately I had some Hack in the form of my Executioner to fall back on and he ended up saving the day.
Do you always need all three? No. In fact certain factions in some games are specifically weak in one or more of these areas. Just know that when you notice this about a faction be wary. Any force short on one of the three key elements will probably be harder to play than a force that has a good mix of them all.
There are no hard and fast rules to list building. If there were, these games wouldn’t be nearly as fun. But hopefully the simple concepts of Back, Dak, and Hack will serve you well when next you try to build a force for a new game.