Novacore: The Problem with Combined Army.

Novacore (2022) is over and the results are in: I am jealous I wasn’t there because boy did that event look like a great time. Do note, I did not attend so my views of this are entirely from the outside looking in. I saw lots of great pictures of awesome tables and overall it looked like a fantastically ran event with amazing turnout. For reference here is the list of missions played.

Countermeasures

Supplies

Supremacy

Rescue

Comms center (ITS X)

So lets start out this discussion with some of the awesome results we saw from this tournament.

Army Diversity

This is truly remarkable army diversity for any game to see in a tournament setting. Out of the 42 total armies 32 of them saw play. That feels unheard of in other game systems

Individual army spread

To simplify the numbers a little bit, we see that every major faction except Tohaa had representation (and Spiral Corps is basically Tohaa right?)

Moderately even faction spread

This is remarkable for any game and something that should absolutely be praised. With this many armies, to have such a high percentage of them represented is fantastic.

Big Picture Game Balance

TP, OP, VP spread

The TP spread here is quite small, with Combined army being top dog with around an average of 17 TPs, while Haq and Pano prop up the bottom end with 10. That means that the worst performing factions in this tournament still, on average, had 2 major wins worth of points. The top performing army, Combined Army, has just over 3 major wins worth of points on average. This is out of a total possible 5 major wins (which would be an impressive result from any individual.) From best to worst faction that is a pretty tiny difference in the grand scheme of things. The big picture here says that Infinity is insanely well balanced, and I am not here to argue anything different. These results are very impressive.

The Top 5 Problem

Alright than, so I have made the claim that Infinity is insanely well balanced, and the armies were very well represented, what’s the problem here?

Well I spoiled it in the header, the problem is in the top 5. The top 5 armies consisted of, Combined Army, Combined Army, Shasvastii, Morats, and Nomads. Combined army as a faction represented about 20% of the total armies used in the tournament, but 80% of the top 5.

Now lets make it clear, those players could probably have placed in the top 5 playing many other armies because Infinity is a game that is much more about skill than it is about flavor of the week armies. But this concentration of one faction should at least send up some warning flags.

So why are the top players playing Combined Army? Maybe their army lists have the answers.

Well, my first reaction is that all 10 of those lists are absolutely terrifying, and the Nomad player is absolutely insane and I would like to meet them. Oddly, we see 6 different TAGS used in the top lists which is also very interesting to see. Clearly its not just the best tags representing their category here and that is fantastic to see. I have said it before, but a “generic arm 8 tag with big gun” can still be absolutely brutal when used correctly.

But, lets get back to Combined Army. So there’s a few things to unpack here. The first is that there is actually really strong diversity in these lists, none of them really look like a copy paste of each other with the exception of the Avatar lists. Often players will take two lists that are very similar but a few things swapped out. Think of this like having a sideboard for your deck in Magic. All your practice going into an event is applicable for both of your lists. Most of your answers, tactics, and tools are all the same and this is something I should consider for myself, as I often bring two lists to events but only end up using one out of comfort.

Combined Army Unit Selection

The usual offenders show up here, Imetrons being 4 points of veteran regular order goodness, and Ikadrons being aggressive baggage bots for under 10 points both are relatively faction defining for combined army. R-drones being the ever useful flash pulse bots should also not surprise anybody. But Taighas. Taighas were taken in every list they were legal in, so the Morat player actually skews these numbers significantly. 12.5% of all combined army unit selections in the top 5 were Taighas. These 5 or 6 point Zerglings are clearly something of huge value to Combined Army, one that somehow feels out of place. Additionally, we see significant use of Pretas and Gakis even in Vanilla combined. This means that Gribbly little irregular monsters comprised 19.2% of all the combined army models selected by top players.

This feels… somehow out of place. This is a faction whose partially defined by how expensive their stuff is that they get the insanely good Imetrons to help make up for it like Aleph. These little guys seem to really allow Combined army to crank up their model count in a way that is very attractive to top players.

There is clearly a combination of things going on that have helped make Combined Army so successful. First, they have a large variety of very powerful and useful models. We can see this in the unit selection being pretty diverse and the lists across players being distinct. But we also see a number of auto-include models that are all so cheap that they always can be included in a list without sacrificing much of anything. If anything, filling our 2-4 slots with 20 points of meat missiles means the remaining 11 slots of their army is of much higher quality. Saving 14-28 points to upgrade a model from an around 20 point meh model to a 48 point murder machine is significant, especially when you are probably already happy to take those Taighas anyways. The opportunity cost of Taighas (and many sub 10 point warbands) just isn’t high enough for them not to show up in force.

Interestingly, the Nomad player fielded none of these style units in their army lists. Uberfall are a menace and Morlocks are honestly pretty similar to Taighas in most ways. The Nomad player must have had other needs for the points and space for other things to make their strategies work. The value equation lead the Nomad player to favor other units in their army instead of inexpensive warbands, and I don’t have much data to comment further on their decisions.

The Solution

A piece of advice I give to everybody who joins my team at work is, never complain about a problem without at least attempting to give solutions, so I’ll give it a go.

Availability would be the first thing I would target here. Vanilla combined has AVA 4 on Taighas, and AVA total on Pretas and Gakis. This feels like overkill. I would much rather give that identity to Shas and Morats where those gribbly beasts come from. I would drop it down to 1 each because then you still get 3 total cheapo warbands to play with if you so desire.

Nerfs to those units are another option, and they come in two flavors. The first flavor is more work but I’ll put on my infinity boomer hat and make the following claim: Models that were extremely impetuous either should have kept it or should go up in points. For those not around in N3, extremely impetuous models HAD to use their impetuous order unless you spent a regular order in their group to restrain them. This let models like Pretas and Gakis be extremely cheap, but have either a higher risk to their use (and deployment) or a cost to preserve them. The flexibility of modern impetuous rules have been massively beneficial to delicate warbands like these. I like this change because you can take this very same list tomorrow and nobodies armies are invalidated, just changed.

Alternatively, they may need a points increase. In general, I am on record as not being a fan of must sub-10 point warbands. I feel like they almost always outclass basic line troops, especially in vanilla where they cannot fireteam. The points increase should probably be a point or two on especially Taighas who seem to appear disproportionately often in every list they are legal in.

There is a third option, remove some of their special rules or lower their stats. There are a few areas I would look at if I were to nerf Taighas.

Taigha stats

The first is their dodge stats. Dodging on 16s is extremely good, as good as something like a Devil Dog. Additionally they get 4 inches of movement on their dodge which slows them down to the second movement value of most warbands in the game. Outside their dodge, there are things you could change but unless you went way too far with it, they probably would still be extremely good.

Gaki Stats

Something to look at here is that clearly Taighas are much preferred to Gakis, with Gakis being cheaper and having the cheeky explode skill. The two areas they differ significantly is their dodge stats and the chain colt. There isn’t too much room for change here as the points difference is tiny and something like removing the chain colt from the Taigha is a massive nerf to the model that may push it out of use completely.

Conclusion:

Infinity is insanely well balanced and designed. Don’t let this nit-picking bullshit article written by a very average player make you think anything other than that. Combined Army was over-represented at one event, and within their army Teighas and cheap warbands in general were disproportionately represented. If more events of this size see similar results I believe very small changes should be made to Combined army to reduce their presence at the top 5 placements. The first change I would look at would be their inexpensive warbands, as this would potentially effect every combined army list taken in this top 5 in a negative way. Teighas aren’t what make Combined Army so scary but its a good place to look when you want to dial them back a bit.

5 responses to “Novacore: The Problem with Combined Army.”

  1. I kind of like war bands as a antidote to the null deploy which is a big part of the N4 meta. Forcing the opponent to leave out ARO pieces I think may be a thing in all high placing lists? Interested in you thought re: this perspective.

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    1. Yeah warbands, especially fast ones, are great ways to deal with the Null deployment issue. Null deployment as a tactic seems to stem from the fact that you often don’t have slots in your army list to spare to defense. In N3 I often would have 2 flash pulse bots, a warcor, and a link team missile standing up in ARO with the expectation that they would all be dead after my opponents first turn, but to have delayed and maybe even done some damage. In N4, that is 4 order slots that are hard to spare. Additionally N4 has pushed us more toward quality pieces like HI and TAGS, which reduces our ability to spend points on ARO pieces. Taighas and Gakis (with their climbing plus) are excellent at abusing enemies who totally null deploy for sure. I think when you leave ARO pieces out, you have to lock down particular lanes instead of trying to “eye of sauron” the entire table.

      For example, a TO HMG bot on a roof can get engaged by an avatar at -3 range and is entirely helpless. Because the TO bot has to dodge, the avatar does 1 str to it on the first try about 60% of the time at no risk to itself. It is much better to try to lock down certain lanes and areas to force much better engagements or nullify some of the threat of a warband.

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  2. The Nomad player might be using the puppet bots for the Null deploy punish threat? Whereas all the combined lists would use their war bands turn 1. Big threat without losing orders for turn 2.

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    1. You would have to ask him! He has been active in the comment section of the facebook post for this article!

      But I would definitely consider using puppetbots on turn one to root out and punish null deployed models. The boarding shotgun can even complete midfield objectives on the way! They are a great choice for this as they are fast, durable, hard hitting, and entirely expendable!

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  3. Urobros (Guille) Avatar
    Urobros (Guille)

    Thanks for the article, I really enjoy to read what others thinks about the game and the Tournaments outcome. It is a really good source where to take data about the game-status. And of course, sharing opinions about it could change how we see some things about the game. So, thanks again 🙂

    I really agree with most of what you said, but I don’t share your view of a really well balanced game, at least not if we only are looking the “average score”, because the table/terrain factor plus missions and what fought against what had a really hard impact on who won the game, leaving dices rolling apart. Specially tables and terrain are hard to put into data, because at best scenario we had pictures of the table, but mostly only to see how cool they were.

    While I’m agree with you on placing Taighas on the “issues stage” I don’t think that changing the AVA would do some impact if CB let the profile without revision. Taighas need to loose some skills, that dodge+3 or the need to be expensiver than they are now. But the little bugs aren’t the problem or not the only one. CA isn’t well balanced, if we took the Novacore as an example, we can see 2/3 CA players not on TOP10 but TOP5 (I really don’t know where the 3 CA player ended, but probably not too far of this TOP5, maybe inside the TOP10). This is a thing I saw a lot of times in others games, when almost every player using a specifically faction of the game can be found fighting on TOP10 in the last round, is a signal that the faction is better than the others, even if that faction isn’t the Tournament Winner and this is sadly, something it happens a lot with CA. Of course it would possible that the best players are allways the CA ones, the tables always favoured the CA and the missions suits allways good for CA… it could be possible, of course, but not probable, so, the simplier explanation become the conclusion CA is per rules better and out of balance.

    About what you said about “non ARO” vs “warbands”, is a problem we can face not only playing against CA, but the main issue here is that CAhave so many attack options, that it makes impossible to choose one tactic against it because the CAplayer will have a countter attack. Plus, Taighas having dodge+3, berserk, and 6/6 MOV only do things worse, impetuous plus irregular, with a dodge will place the taiga in position to be a menaze for any troup in a 12″ radius if LoF. No other army can do that. With the extra that if we leff some people looking CA have many big guns to put it down, so, no matter what we do, we will face loses with not too many risk for CA player.

    No ARO approach isn’t not only a issue because the troups slots cut, the lower price of some HI and the SWC drop it was another.

    Best regards!

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