So far we’ve covered the first three of the Nine Principles of War; Mass, Objective, and Simplicity. This week we hit one of the big ones, because depending on how you interpret it, it can cover almost anything.
Security: Never permit the enemy to acquire unexpected advantage.
“If you can’t see the enemy, he still may be able to see you.”
Murphy’s Laws of Combat
Regarding Warhammer 40,000, this Principle is not talking about cheating. This is addressing unexpected advantages, not unauthorized ones. It is also not talking about luck. There’s nothing you can do about an opponent getting lucky and making fifteen invulnerable saves in a row. This is talking about unexpected advantages that you can control.
One central thought we should keep in mind when discussing this Principle is the old maxim, “Control the Controllable.” There’s enough to worry about in this game without worrying about the aspects of the game you cannot control. Concentrate on what you can control. First thing you can control; know the rules. Don’t think you know them. Know them. Highlight your rulebook so you can point out potentially contentious rules to your opponent in an amicable manner. Yes, some of the rules are nebulous and open to interpretation, and the rules do not cover all of the situations all of the time. Most of the rules in fifth edition are very straightforward and cut and dry. Often the problem is that people don’t seem to know them. The rulebook is an impartial third-party. Make it your ally.
In our hobby, it is common for us to play with open lists. So you might think that it would be fairly hard for opponents to gain an unexpected advantage as far as their lists go. Yet in my experience, I can’t even count how many times I’ve handed a list to an opponent at a tournament, only to have him give it a cursory glance and then hand it right back. What did he have time to glean in the short time he looked at the list? Certainly, not much more than maybe the flavor of army I was playing that day. Tournaments often require that each participant bring enough copies of his list to give to each opponent. When offered your opponent’s list, really read it. You don’t need to memorize it, but really look it over. What pieces of wargear jump out at you? What special weapons could pose a problem to your army? What unit is the obvious threat? What unit is not the obvious threat? Ask to keep the list if you can. That way when you’re crying over your miniatures at the end of the day wondering how in the world you lost to Necrons, you can try to find out why.
On the subject of warfare, this Principle is heavily concerned with espionage, counter-espionage, and the gathering of intelligence. While we don’t have to worry about spies in 40K, we do have access to intelligence, and lots of it. Your primary sources of intelligence are the army codices. Read the other army codices. Know what other armies can do. There is nothing worse than having your large and expensive squad of Grey Knights standing safely out of a Defiler’s range, only to find out that the battle cannon can shoot a lot further than you thought it could.
If you’re going to a tournament, check the internet forums and see what the flavor-of-the-month lists are for different armies. Are the double-lash prince or nob-biker builds still in vogue or has the meta-game or a new codex release trumped them? If you’re playing in a local league, and you’re more likely to know your opponents ahead of time, what armies do the players own and therefore are most likely to bring? When building your lists, what can you do to counter their advantages? Consider one of Sun Tzu’s most popular quotes, “It is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles; if you do not know your enemies but do know yourself, you will win one and lose one; if you do not know your enemies nor yourself, you will be imperiled in every single battle.”
Switching gears slightly, clarify any questions you have before the game starts, especially when talking about conversions. Nothing hurts more than assaulting a nicely converted Daemon Prince only to discover that it was really a strange conversion for a Lord of Change.
If you’re not familiar with the army, ask what force organization slot a selection might be. Of course, if you’ve held on to your opponent’s list, you might not have to ask, but it doesn’t hurt. Are those Wraithguard troops or elites? Do the infantry in that transport near the objective count as troops or something else? A unit of Sternguard in an army lead by Vulkan He’stan and Sternguard in an army lead by Pedro Kantor are strategically very different!
Discuss terrain with your opponent before every game no matter how obvious something may seem. Just because the piece of felt with two trees on it means a Woods, difficult terrain, and a 4+ cover save to you, doesn’t mean that it represents the same thing to him. What are you treating as true line-of-sight? What is area terrain? Be sure!
Do not allow yourself to be rushed into making a mistake. You must keep self-discipline (though not to the point that you’re not having fun, after all that’s why it’s a game). Make up a mental checklist to run through at the end of every phase. After a game or two, it will only take a few seconds to run through it. Did everyone move? Did everyone shoot? Have you committed to all assaults before beginning to resolve the first one? Though it happens to the best of us, resist the urge to focus in on one part of the tabletop, no matter how exciting or critical it may be. Constantly reproach yourself and take in the entire field. Keep the big picture in mind.
Do everything you can to gain any unexpected advantages yourself. Several units allow you to redeploy elements of your army or of your opponent’s army. Use them if they fit in your play style. Other units show up where needed on the battlefield. Their fortuitous appearance at a decisive point
could be game changing! Stand and focus your attention away from units that are important to your plans. To quote Napoleon, “Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake.” Unless you’re going to be sporting of course, the ultimate goal is for both players to have fun after all.
When you can, don’t allow your opponent to take saves. Use low AP weapons where possible and weapons that deny cover saves. Why does the Imperial Guard Collosus Mortar make Space Marines cry? You’ve taken away their vaunted save and now they die like Termagants, that’s why.
Finally, use markers. There is a lot to remember in this game. Sometimes it can be a little tough remembering what happened to a particular vehicle last turn. Was it shaken? Was it immobile? Several companies make nice markers or dice to help you keep track of who is pinned and what is stunned. Alternatively, you can make your own. Use them. Bring enough for your army and your opponent’s. Then it makes things very apparent that those bikers turbo-boosted last turn or that the Leman Russ can’t shoot. It also cuts down on arguments and helps you sort out victory points at the end of the game.
Bottom line: control the controllable and deny your opponent the opportunity to interfere.
A lot of what falls under the Principle of Security seems very obvious when reading from the armchair. The real trick is remembering and applying all of it in the heat of the game.
Next time, we’ll cover the Principle of Maneuver, which is sometimes hard to pull off on a four-foot by six-foot surface.