Let’s Talk about Army Lists

Hello everyone, SaltyJohn here, and today I’d like to visit, revisit, a well beaten horse. Let’s have a little chat about Army Lists.

Army list construction, and the problems that go with it, are many and varied. If you follow competitive 40k, you are no doubt aware of what the impetus for this article is. Over the weekend, the first annual So Cal Open was held by Frontline Gaming. With hundreds of participants for a myriad of games, a huge space for gaming, live streamed 40k tables, beautiful armies (thank you painting requirements), and new missions for 40k designed with 8th edition in mind, it is safe to say the event was an enormous success; however we once again ran into an issue in the finals of 40k with illegal lists.

Like NOVA before it, the So Cal Open had a top table with illegal lists, that were eventually caught by the internet etc. One player had a Commissar that was armed with a weapon it couldn’t have, that weapon however cost 0 points and it never was used, and it was only a chainsword. The other list was over 7 points as a few items were costed improperly. The player who was over in points conceded, and was understandably upset with himself. The normal witch hunt and calls for blood on Facebook didn’t occur because the player in question has an impeccable reputation as a member of the 40k community, the mistake was an honest one, and was not in any way malicious. This did however open the internet floodgates in other ways.

Illegal lists have been a major problem for a long time, but not for the entirety of competitive 40k existing. They were less common in the days of 4th and 5th. There are two reasons for the increase in illegal lists from a list creation standpoint. Increase in the number of sources per list, and a release schedule that sees 4 codices coming out in a 60 day period where we were lucky to get 4 codices spread out over 365 days. This creates a perfect storm of issues where lists must be constructed using multiple sources with multiple validation requirements and rules to be satisfied plus points costs that can vary source to source and by FAQ. When coupled with the fact that many of these sources for rules are quite new, and often came hot on the heels of a previous release that has yet to settle into the collective hive mind of players, and you have a recipe for lists that are all over the place in terms of rules validation and point discrepancies. Illegal lists are primarily the result of these two problems. So some blame goes to GW for giving us all what we wanted, more cool stuff.

The increase in rules release tempo and bloat in sources for rules and validation requirements also stretch the list building apps to the limit. Battle Scribe is often not updated quickly or if it is some players are not updating their repositories often enough to keep up. Army Builder doesn’t even seem interested in trying to keep up with the pace of 8th as they have yet to release most of the files for 8th edition. Probably due to the pace being too quick for their volunteers to even begin to make files. While Best Coast Pairings allowing the upload of lists is excellent, and should be mandatory for all players, it is still only a tool to view, not create, lists for players to see. An app with a universal output template and accurate list validation upon output needs to be implemented for lists to be accurate at competitive tournaments. Without that, the idea that lists will be 100% accurate, or even close to it, is a fallacious pipe dream. Again, the buck stops with GW at this point too. As Warmachine has War Room and Age of Sigmar has their app for list construction from GW, there needs to be a standard app, from GW, that is embraced and made mandatory by the tournament community for list construction.

That said, the responsibility for list accuracy begins and ends with the player in the current paradigm of competitive 40k organization. It is not the responsibility of the judges or TO to insure a player’s list is accurate. The responsibility of the list being accurate is the players. By making it the TOs responsibility, you allow players to attempt to cheat then when they get caught mid tournament blame the TO and demand to be allowed to continue play without punishment because the TO checked the list and passed off on it. The idea that the list is in anyway not the responsibility of the person who wrote it is utterly asinine. If a golfer uses illegal equipment, or doesn’t properly report their round, the PGA isn’t blamed, the player is. When the Patriots were accused of deflating their footballs during deflategate, the players and Patriots organization were brought under scrutiny, not the NFL or the officials from that game. If a pitcher is found with a bunch of resin on his cap brim and uses it to “grease” the ball on the mound, he is reprimanded, not the MLB or the Umpire. When a player uses an Aimbot for e-sports, they are given a ban from the game; Steam, Blizzard, or the ESL isn’t blamed for the actions of a cheater. The individuals committing the mistakes are to blame, not the organizations providing the competitive events.

There’s been a big push for mandatory list upload a few days in advance of events, even right before the SoCal Open, so they can be scrutinized and checked by the population at large. While I am in favor of public lists, and I agree they should be released in advance, it won’t make too much of a difference. All the lists won’t get scrutinized because they’re not in the top 8 at a major. The lists that are found to be illegal are always in the top 8 or 16, why? Because those are the ones people check. Nobody is checking derpface McGee’s list in spot 120 of 122. The idea that early list submission and full public scrutiny would curb illegal lists is a fallacy. Both should be implemented to provide a screen for the TOs against claims of running a shoddy event, and implemented to help assuage the fears of the general 40k population, but the top lists are the only ones going to be scrutinized. People can’t honestly believe that the only lists at a 150 person event that were illegal were the ones found in the top 8, right? How many lists were found to be illegal in the bottom 40 or 50? The answer is none, because despite the lists going live early on, nobody went in and started checking things with a fine tooth comb until the end. The idea that “the community” will police this is just as fallacious a pipe dream as the idea that lists will somehow be 100% accurate without a single list building system with built in validation that’s required to be used to play in an event.

So what’s the fix? Unfortunately that answer rests largely with the game developers themselves. The impetus is on Games Workshop to create a list building app, like they have for Age of Sigmar and Privateer Press has for Warmachine, that also has list validation built in with a standard output format that can be easily uploaded into the BCP app. Then, and only then, can we truly move to a place where “this” stops occurring at every event. Everything else is a stop gap, a band aid on a gaping wound if you will, that is currently afflicting the 40k tournament community. While everyone loves a good old fashioned witch hunt, blaming the TOs and Judges might make you feel good and strong on the internet but it isn’t based in reality. The TOs and Judges should, and they do, enforce penalties for illegal lists, but the responsibility for valid lists rests solely with the creator and player of that list. Ultimately that’s where this entire argument lands, the player is responsible for their actions, and if we as players want to see the problem of illegal lists go away, then we’ll need to make some demands. Universal list format, mandatory uploading of lists to the BCP, and demanding Games Workshop produce a list building app for 40k like they did for Age of Sigmar.

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  • happy_inquisitor

    List checking is not rocket science, all you need is a copy of the relevant codex/index and the motivation. Being proper Americans I am surprised that nobody involved in ITC has considered the Mechanical Turk approach – cheap piece-work of checking lists. I can’t be the only person with a teenage hobby-enthusiast who would love to earn a bit of money for models by checking out tournament lists.

    • You’re correct it isn’t rocket science, the players should be able to do it no problem.

      You missed a big point in the article. The TOs shouldn’t be responsible for List validation, it creates a situation where there is incentive to try to get an illegal list past the checkers in order to be able to make the case to continue to use the list, or continue to play in the event, because the list originally passed the TO validation check point.

      • happy_inquisitor

        I know that all too well, lost out in a tournament to an illegal list that the TO only agreed was illegal the next day. Problem is the other guy had already taken the prize home. The mentality of “if I got away with it then I’m good” is poisonous but pretty much impossible to eradicate – especially as in this and every other case I have seen recently there are no real consequences.

        For top-tier major events you can either live with the problem forever or fix it. I would be pretty salty if I had travelled a long way to a tournament and lost any chance of winning to someone who was playing an illegal list. The DQ means nothing to me if I should have been playing on that top table but lost the chance to do so. It costs serious money to travel to a tournament, a couple of dollars extra to have the lists validated seems proportionate to me.

        The TOs are responsible for the overall quality of the event, if they know perfectly well that players are not going to play legal lists then addressing that is part of what we the players pay them to do. I don’t need it at my local store – its way too small and friendly a scene for that – but if I am paying transport and hotel bills then its worth a little extra to make the event itself have a bit more quality. Or, more realistically, I give up on “big” tournaments because it is clearly beyond TOs to clean up the rot that a few bad apples can spread.