9 Principles of War and 40K: Simplicity

Simplicity: Prepare clear, uncomplicated plans and concise orders to ensure thorough understanding.

“The important things are always simple. The simple things are always hard.”

  • Murphy’s Laws of Combat

So far we’ve covered the Principles of Mass and Objective. This week brings us to Simplicity. While this Principle seems, well… simple to grasp. It often eludes the best generals and can easily be counted as perhaps one of the most overlooked Principles of War. Remember the K.I.S.S. acronym? It stands for Keep It Simple, Stupid or even Keep It Short and Simple. Apply this Principle to your plans and tactics and to your list building.

Much too often, we gamers are tempted to put every single gadget we can get in one list or even one unit. Personally, I’m convinced that the codex designers throw in “red herring” units and wargear that look and sound sexy on paper but lack effectiveness on the tabletop. Those sexy units and bits of kit add color to your lists and may fit in with the fluff, but often just take up slots that could be better used by less colorful but more efficient choices. Using many gadgets often creates very gimmicky armies that excel in certain situations but fail spectacularly in others. Within their given role, don’t try and overly specialize your forces. It’s almost guaranteed that if you take a unit of Sternguard all kitted out with combi and heavy flamers to deal death to horde armies; they will run into a mechanized Eldar force.

Keep in mind that the one piece of expensive esoteric wargear that works incredibly well in a very specific situation will turn out to be useless most of the time. Worse, it’s costing you points you could use on something that, though it may not be ‘game-breaking’, will be more useful more of the time. Worse still, because you spent the points on it, you’re going to really want to use it, and that may lure you into tactical situations you otherwise would not have engaged in.

Tactically, although another Principle of War addresses it, you don’t have to infiltrate a third of your army, outflank a third, and then deep strike the last third to be successful. Sometimes charging straight across the table does the job. Or even just standing still and letting the foe come to you, it doesn’t get much simpler than that. We aren’t playing poker, so a simple plan doesn’t mean you have to bluff your way out.

We can all think of an example where complicated tactics or the complexity of the unit turned out to be the key to victory. (In fact, one might argue that complex units reign supreme in 5th edition.) But consider that the more overly complex a strategy is, the narrower the scope of its application becomes. That should signal it out as a gimmick and should begin to trip alarm bells. A gimmick will always let you down eventually. In the short term, gimmicks can be extremely powerful, but as players figure them out and develop counters to them, they invariably fade. In one-shot games, gimmicks can be a lot of fun. But consider that there aren’t many calls for repeat games against a given gimmick list because they aren’t very fun to play, and not that fun to play against.

I used to fall into this trap, back when I had more time and more money. I was always trying to build the latest ‘broken’ build from the newest codex or field complex and esoteric units that lent themselves to very narrow strategies. When it worked, it worked so well it seemed I could power through anything. But when it failed it failed so spectacularly I didn’t have a very good time. As my gaming dollars grew weaker and my hobbying time grew dearer, I shifted towards a philosophy of ‘One List to Rule Them All.” I stuck to simple units and based my tactics on the roles and responsibilities of said units in the list. End result: my painting and conversions have gotten better. I’m fielding two ‘standard’ lists instead of six ‘variants’ and most importantly, I’m having more fun. Better to invest your list, miniatures, time, and tactics in units and techniques that will stand over time, than in a passing fad.

When it comes to this Principle of War apply it to your list building with the kind of ruthless efficiency one expects of the Inquisition. If you find yourself putting in some wargear ‘just in case’, odds are that situation won’t come up and those points could have gone elsewhere. As always, there are exceptions. If you’re going into a planned match-up where you know what to expect, by all means bring that wargear.

In closing, consider that Warhammer 40K is a game ruled by the vagaries of dice. Applying the Principle of Simplicity means playing the odds, which means you’re more likely to succeed.

Next week, we’ll move on to cover the Principle of Security. And there is surprisingly a lot to cover.

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