How to make changes to your army list

The other day, The Fortress Monastery posted an article about "picking an army."

Reading this got me thinking about something I wrote a while back about changing your army list. This really applies to me now that I'll be starting to use my Saim-Hann at 1500 points in the near future (as soon as I get them finished).

Here's how I "make changes" to my army lists...

First, this is not about list building.
I think list building is making your army what you want it to be. If you want all dreadnoughts or all mechanized or footsloggers or whatever, then build it that way. I wholeheartedly support all those players who step out from the mold and play something other than a “cookie-cutter” type force. I really like to see theme armies but that’s another post all together.

This is about taking what you want and modifying it or “tweaking” it so you can get the most out of it while still remaining true to what you want to play. Accomplishing this is not without it’s problems though.

A quick glance at any of the hundreds of bulletin boards or forums out there will yield an infinite amount of “expertise” on “tweaking” your army list and such. Everything from careful insight gained from years of gaming experience to pointless rants that offer nothing of any real value to someone serious about trying to learn “how” to play a particular force and do well with it.

There are the quick fixes like “take unit X and upgrade Y and Z and you will rock!” all the way to the other extreme of “make sure you have accurately pre-positioned your maximum effective fire base to numerically support you incoming flexible deployment, blah blah blah” advanced theoretical concepts.
It’s amazing what’s out there.

I suppose each method has its merits but that’s something you’ll have to decide for yourself. Here’s how I do it.

Playing vs Tweaking
Once you build the list you want to play with, it’s time to get playing.
Notice I didn’t say “start tweaking,” I said “start playing.”

You need to be prepared to lose at this point. As long as you keep on track, your losses will decrease in your wins will increase.

For this example, we'll use my Deathwing. I’ve played 4 games with them and I’ve only made one change. I've lost 3 of those 4 games. There are tons of things I could change right now, but... I think modifications to an army list should be done carefully. This is not to say that you can’t change a lot of things, just that you should do it slowly and in increments so you can make sure the changes will help you with what you’re trying to do.

I played 4 games before making any changes to my list because I wanted to make sure of a couple of things:

1. I was learning how to use the units in my army. For example, shooting with the shooty guys and assaulting with the assaulty guys. Simple but worth saying.
2. That I wasn’t jumping to conclusions and changing things just because I couldn’t handle one particular unit in one particular person’s force. Do you need to change what you field or HOW you field it?
3. That there really was a need for the change and I wasn’t doing it just because I was losing game after game.

With my force, after playing four games, I decided to make the same change to each unit (I only have 5 units). I took out a regular Terminator armed with a Storm Bolter and Power Fist and replaced him with a Lightning Claw equipped Terminator or Thunder Hammer and Storm Shield. This might seem like a minor change but I think in reality, any changes made to a list, whether it be to one unit or not, can have a huge impact on the rest of the force.

Now I’ll play another four or five games before I make another single change to my list. Again, for the reasons listed above. I already have a few things I think might work but I still need to make sure they are things I need to change and not just for the sake of doing it.

What I don’t subscribe to is playing one game and then changing out a complete unit for something else because it didn’t perform the way you wanted/expected/thought/needed it to… or whatever. I don’t think one game is enough to really see how a unit works. Especially when you consider it’s impact on the rest of your force. Changing one tactical squad out for an assault squad will have an impact across the rest of your army… and to play only one game and think you’ve got a good base for how effective that unit will be is cutting yourself out at the knees.

Here’s what I recommend to those of you who are looking to “fine tune” or “tweak” your army list to get the most out of the units you want to play without having to resort to what the general consensus says you have to do or field to win…

Stop changing your list for at least 5 games. Play the same list without making any changes between games and make notes at the end of each game on what you wish you had or didn’t need or use at all. After a couple of games, you will start to see the same issues coming up repeatedly. Here is where you focus your changes.

Keep in mind you’ll do better by facing as many different opponents and armies as possible. Try as many different scenarios and missions as you can as well. The more variety you can expose your army to, the better your results will be and the more likely you can make changes that will help you.

Once you have some changes you want to make, pick one (and only one change) and make that change. Swap out that one heavy weapon or one unit or transport or whatever and then start the process over again. If you’ve played against different armies under different scenarios, you should notice a change in your army’s performance. Your one change should have closed up one of those issues you found kept coming up over and over again.

How to try something new
It might not always be an equipment change you need to try. Maybe it’s a different tactical approach you need to try. Maybe you go from always placing a unit on the table to always infiltrating or deep striking it for 5 games (regardless of the game) to see how it plays in that role.

Keep the changes you make to your army small and play test more than 3 games between each change and you’ll find yourself making fewer changes that give you better results with the units you want to use and not what someone tells you that you have to have if you want to win.

As a side note, since I made the one change to my list, I won my last game (game 5) and it was against a previous opponent who knew my list and tailored his to beat mine this second time around.

Ron, From the WarpIf you've got any questions about something in this post, shoot me a comment and I'll be glad to answer. Make sure to share your hobby tips and thoughts in the comments below!


  1. I've been trying this approach with my army as well. I find if you change too much at once it simply gives you more things that you need to think about during the game. In fact, my last game taught me that I need Star Engines instead of weapon upgrades. I'll see what happens next game.

  2. Excellent advice. I also find that if you continually change up large portions of your army, you're just going to have to learn how it all works again. Which causes the exact problem that you're trying to solve in the first place.

  3. Great post, Ron! I instituted this practice with my Tau soon after Tau Empire released. I made a "core" list of ~1250 points (since that is what most of my friends had at the time) and had tiers for every 250 points up from there so I can play in variable games against friends without altering the list too much. My only regret is that with our adult lifestyles, I only get to play once or twice a month…so it'll take 2-3 months to get in that minimum number of games!

    The method you suggest has the added side benefit of preventing "model proliferation" if you're disciplined about it! You can only purchase new models for that army when you've put your current army through the paces. I'll admit I don't have that discipline *quite* perfected, but it works well in theory! I'm planning on following this when the Guard come out…cause lord knows you can go crazy buying guard armies!

  4. I've just seen so many people try a unit one time, have it not be the MVP and then they decide to trash it from their list because "it" doesn't work like they wanted it to.

    Hopefully this kind of stuff gets them to look at it a different way.

  5. I would love to follow this plan but I get to play so few games and have the huge model proliferation problem so I am constantly changing my list for every event. I am not really trying to make the best list ever but just have fun with my different unit. I once went to play an Apoc game using only unit compositions and many unit that I had never used before.

  6. good post,
    i am currently building a "3in1" army for 40k.
    at its core stands a stright forward marine army, with the basic normal layout, tac squads, devs, assault, scouts, razorback and dreadnought and termies. the army is then expanded into a deamonhunter army with the inclusion of =I= command squads and =I= stormtroopers and finally, i plan to complete the spectrum by making a force fully chosen from the deamon hunter codex, so grey knight termies and power armour squads, with full grey knight dreads and vehicles. this should let me really pick and choose from 3 solid army lists.
    =I= with allied Marines
    or a full Deamon Hunter force.


  7. I agree with most of what you're saying, in theory... And good article it is.

    My problem is that I don't get to play much. So I like to change things up more than just 'this is the same list I used in the last 4 games, except this time I've got a boss pole'.

    The one thing I'm not sure about is playing different opponents. On the one hand, you'll get to experience how your army works against a variety of foes, but what you're saying about testing your army can apply as much to your opponent as to yourself. A unit that does badly in a game against Imperial Guard infantry and great in the next against Eldar jetbikes does not mean you've suddenly worked out how to use it. It might just mean the circumstances are so different that you can't really compare them.

    Angelic Despot

  8. Anon: You are right on both accounts.

    It can be very tough if you don't get to play often. Maybe I should have mentioned that this really onlys works if you do get the opportunity to get a bunch of games in.

    As for the different opponents, you are correct... just because it works once doesn't mean you have mastered said unit all of a sudden.

    Thanks for the comments.

  9. My regular oponnent and I are constantly tinkering with our lists - I generally write a new one for every game - but we always have a hard core of units that are there game after game. I'm not sure this applies as our games are generally 3000pt battles (normal 40k though) so we have enough points for our seasoned must-haves and then plenty of room for several experimentations.

    Again, we don't generally have more than two games a month and both have model-spam issues.

    I tend to want to collect a force, not an army list - they're just one possibility to me. I like to have a pool of reserves that I can draw from at will to tailor a force to the points-size being played.

    I think I would get bored if I played the exact same list battle after battle. Generally, if a unit fails, you either chalk it up to bad luck (dice) or try and otherwise figure out what went wrong - then make sure you don't recreate the same situation in subsequent games.

    Your approach is interesting though, Ron. I may have to try it out with my Imperial Guard and actually brave the hell that is veteran's night in my neck of the woods to see how it pans out. Good post, gives food for thought.

  10. Thank you it was a good guide, now to make changes to our army list is without a doubt very easy by using your guidance. Thanks


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