One of the things I like most about Kings of War is that there are generally no bad choices in an army list. I think that the author and the Rules Committee have done a great job in balancing items. We might have small quibbles that a certain unit/item may be overpriced or underpriced but balance is one area where KoW gets a big tick.
This means that there are very few "must have" items and even fewer items that have no utility. There are no net lists that are all conquering regardless of jurisdiction. The reason for this is tactics and meta.
I'll deal with the second first. Some people had the word "meta", thinking it overused and mis understood. While not everybody who uses it necessarily understand, more than any game I've played KoW is affected by "meta". What do I mean by "meta"? Effectively the factors that influence your playing environment. These will generally be - in no particular order:
- Points size
- Player skill
- Number of opponents
- Opponents' army choices
- Terrain density and variety
- Scenario conditions
- Frequency of interaction
The first couple are self-explanatory. Player skill is the most significant factor and needs to be considered in terms of average skill level and top player skill level. The higher the average skill level the better your chances to learn and the quick you get up the learning curve. The top dog skill level puts a cap on progress after which any gains are likely to be incremental.
Certain armies and unit choices can be more influential at different points' levels. For instance certain heavy hitters can dominate at lower points levels where army size does give the opponent capacity to soak up damage and retaliate.
The number of opponents is important too. Two or three people playing continually against one another will push the meta down a narrow avenue that is probably unique to those gamers. This is because they will react to one another's changes and adjustments will reflect those opponents. The term "big fish in small pond" describes the situation of a limited opponent pool We used to call them mudskippers. Introduce a new - similarly skilled - opponent and you run the risk of a "Black Swan" event (a situation that they had never envisaged). The rise of the Internet has seen the prevalence of Black Swan events diminish.
[I had a practical demonstration of "Black Swan" when I played 40k. While I was on holiday in the UK in 2005, I played in heat of the GW UKGT. In the second round I was drawn against an Italian player Simone Di Tomasu who had won the previous two UKGT (2003 & 2004). I was using my Emperor's Children army and had won 5 GW GTs with them in Australia and NZ. The setup was very different to what Simone had seen before as UK CSM armies were all based around Iron Warriors. I inflicted his first UK loss in 2.5 years - not due to player skill (though I'd obviously say it had some impact) but because it was a new and different challenge to what he was used to.]
Linked to the above are your opponents' army choices. At the outset of KoW v2 here in NZ the default option for a lot of players was the archer horde, sometimes multiple. This tended to define our local meta. People needed to adapt so we saw the rise of fast survivable individuals that could shut them down. As a Ratkin player I didn't have access to that option - without Allies - and so I adapted by splitting my Slave screen from Hordes to Regiments. This gave target saturation while decreasing the reward for my opponent. Over time we saw less reliance on Archer Hordes and now my armies have swung back to mixed in their Slave unit size.
Terrain density and variety is also important. Initially we played on WHFB tables. This saw fast Hordes with thunderous charge see a rise. As we increased density Caterpillar became the go to item as while terrain had increased the variety hadn't. In time more obstacles were introduced and this has shifted things again.
During 8th Ed WHFB we tended to play the full gambit of scenarios while the UK for instance only played Pitched Battle when you introduce scenarios with a variety of victory conditions then you shape armies - in effect it becomes its own form of comp where it rewards armies that can perform a multitude of functions. We tend to roll up scenario so Kill is in operation only 1/6 games. Needing to have the necessary tools to accomplish the various victory conditions you play will also affect your meta.
Finally there is the regularity of interaction. If your group only meets once a quarter for competition it will like evolve slower than a group that has a tournament a month. With my interaction you get greater fine tuning - assuming gamers are motivated and not laser - in both list and tactics.
Personally I love KoW because I believe it really rewards thought - be that in unit choice or tactics you employ. This is driven by the meta and the more this changes the more rewarding the playing experience for me. That doesn't necessarily mean you have to change everything all the time, rather it means you should take opportunities to try different units and situations - especially to play new people and army setups.
For me the most rewarding way to react to a changing meta is through evolution of tactics - as opposed to changing your army wholesale. I like to determine how I can play better with the choices dealt to address changing circumstances. I'll touch on this more next week.