9 Principles of War and 40K: Economy of Force

Over the last few weeks, we’ve covered eight different principles of war and discussed why we should pay attention to each when considering our army lists and how we choose to implement them on the tabletop. To recap, the previous eight principles of war are Mass, Objective, Security, Simplicity, Maneuver, Offensive, Unity of Command, and Surprise. That leaves us to discuss Economy of Force, arguably one of the most important of the principles.

Economy of Force: Employ all combat power available in the most effective way possible; allocate minimum essential combat power to secondary efforts.

“Generally speaking, the best tank killer is another tank.”

  • Murphy’s Laws of Combat

Here, what we’re talking about the most is synergy; force multipliers. How do certain units support other units to make them more effective? This doesn’t just mean Faith abilities and Orders, but directly relates to how certain units or pieces of wargear augment your force and multiply their capabilities. We’re talking about Chaplains and Broodlords, Banners, Painboyz and Techmarines. How does your choice of HQ affect the make-up and capabilities of your overall force? Think of Eldar psychic powers and Tau marker lights. Make sure the capabilities within your force complement and augment one another. Your army should work together; the whole should be greater than the sum of its parts.

Despite the Murphy ‘s Law quote I started this section with, why use another tank to kill a tank? Why not use a melta equipped scouting unit? Why not use a single infantry unit if you can reliably pull it off? Think about getting the most bang for your buck. This is the Principle that people are talking about when they are talking about a unit ‘getting its points back’.

This brings up the concept of roles and responsibilities within your army. This could get a little confusing so let’s quickly give some example of roles and responsibilities. Generally speaking, ‘Roles’ deal with considerations during list building, and ‘Responsibilities’ deal with utilizing capabilities during the actual game. As an example, we’ll use a space marine tactical squad, ten strong. They are equipped with a melta gun and a missile launcher. They are troops, so therefore their primary role in your army is securing objectives. Their secondary roles are split between counter-infantry, and anti-armor. Their bolters and frag missiles give them reasonable counter-infantry fire, and the melta gun and krak missiles allow them to threaten armor. When the game starts, their responsibility matches their role; to secure objectives. However, when your predator tank (primary role of anti-armor) gets wrecked in turn two, the tactical squad’s primary responsibility may shift to anti-armor in the short term to pick up the slack. They still have a responsibility and role to secure objectives, but since you have three turns before that becomes critical, you need to stop the opponent’s vehicles now.

So, when building your list, give thought to what units are designed for anti-tank, anti-monstrous creature, anti-infantry? Once you’ve figured that out you should look at the redundancy of these capabilities. If you lose one unit, is that the limit of your anti-tank? Is your list redundant enough that you have the ability to shift your units’ responsibilities to fill gaps? Can a unit normally assigned to an anti-infantry role step up to the challenge of dealing with light armor? Redundancy is not just significant with regard to your unit’s roles, but with your units themselves. Fifth edition forces a certain degree of redundancy on our lists if we want to be competitive. Fielding the minimum size and minimum number of troops simply makes it harder to take objectives and easier to give up kill points. Consider the capabilities you want in your army, the units available to you, and how you can duplicate them.

Redundancy is different from the concept of ‘spam’. Redundancy focuses on overlapping the roles of forces within your army. ‘Spam’ does this as well, but simply by repeatedly taking the same identical units. ‘Spam’ can be extremely powerful and some armies in order to be competitive simply have no choice. To illustrate the difference, for a Chaos Marine list, fielding a Defiler and a Vindicator is redundant. Fielding three Defilers, or three Vindicators is ‘spam’. The ‘spam’ option is undeniably stronger in certain situations, but specific matchups can negate it and the player is stuck with multiple units that share the identical roles and vulnerabilities. Worse still, since units have primary and secondary roles, that player is over-emphasizing some roles at the expense of others he might need. Granted, in this example, we didn’t cover the remainder of the list, in which the player may have planned to fill those gaps with other units.

This leads to the idea of target priority. Your units have roles within your army and you had better believe your opponent’s will. Discerning those roles and responsibilities makes it much easier for you to make the hard decisions on where to focus your firepower. If your opponent has only brought one unit that can deal with your Landraider, you pretty much know what to negate before you can move your Landraider with impunity.

One final thought on this Principle, is the concept of overkill. This comes into play more in list building than during the actual game. To gauge overkill accurately you must play many games with the same list against a wide variety of opponents and armies. Then you will start to learn where your unit’s threshold of efficiency resides. Do you really need ten Assault Terminators, when maybe six do the job most of the time? If you’re running ten Fire Dragons all the time, but in most of your games they kill the tanks they need to with only five shots, maybe you’re wasting five Fire Dragons worth of points that could go to boosting a different unit.

Bottom line: Economy of force is a corollary to the Principle of Mass, in that you use your assets prudently with minimum expenditure of resources to accomplish the task you want.

Wow, we’ve certainly covered a lot of ground and hopefully I’ve given you something to consider when building your lists and implementing them on the tabletop. When you’re building your lists, consider the Principles. What will bring Surprise? How will you use Maneuver? How do your choices fit in with Economy of Force? Keep in mind that you should consider these Principles, but you can certainly discount any one of them if you feel that the situation does not lend itself to a particular Principle’s application. These Principles can enhance the fun you are having on the tabletop, but remember that Warhammer 40,000 is a game dominated by dice and luck is a high factor in your rate of success.

In closing, remember Field Marshall Von Moltke’s axiom “No battle plan survives contact with the enemy.” And never forget ‘the most important rule’!

See you on the tabletop you sorry lot of heretics and Xenos. Dismissed!

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