Avoiding List Writing Pitfalls, or: How to Make Sure You Aren’t Mocked Merciless Online

People make mistakes. Even lists that have been double- and triple-checked and published on official sites can contain errors that make them illegal for matched play. Every week our own James “One_Wing” Grover trawls through 40k lists that performed well in the previous weekend’s events, and every week he finds errors, including in lists that went undefeated. In today’s article we’re going to talk about some tips and tricks for avoiding list building mistakes and reducing the odds you’ll end up winning with an illegal list published for millions of people to read.

Although the ideas here have been written primarily with Games Workshop games in mind they can be applied more broadly across other wargames as well, such as Kings of War and Infinity.

Some cool and legal Nighthaunt, apropos of nothing. Credit: PierreTheMime

1. Use list building tools

The first thing to remember is that it’s highly unlikely you’re an expert in this game, so look for whatever tools you can find to help support you! The gaming community has developed a wide range of websites and apps that can help you build your army. Rather than flipping through half a dozen books and FAQs and hand-tallying points in a spreadsheet or on a piece of notebook paper, programs such as Warscroll Builder and Battlescribe collate all this material into one handy location, often also letting you view many of the army’s construction rules at a glance. Many of these tools will either alert you when the program thinks you’ve made an error or prevent you from making one to begin with. Exclamation marks and error messages in programs like Battleforge will help you spot issues and correct them. This kind of validation is a big help in avoiding simple errors but, as we’ll discuss below, shouldn’t be the only thing you rely on.

Most independent list building tools also allow you to enter your own inputs, so you can create or update your custom units and rules (useful for Crusade!), or write in the rules for other games that don’t already have rules in the system.

Not every app works well for every game, and there are a huge number available, so we’ve provided a list of our favourites below:

The Official Tools

Most games companies have official army building tools you can use to build armies. These vary in quality and cost. The official apps have a few advantages, in that they tend to have some of the most up-to-date rules and slickest interfaces. That said, there are often other things they don’t do as well as the community-produced tools.

Battleforge

Games Workshop, Warhammer 40k

Who or what is a ‘Black Legionnaires’? Warhammer 40,000 Battleforge. Credit: Games Workshop

Battleforge is Games Workshop’s subscription-based flagship list builder for 40k, but sadly it’s a bit of a leaky one. It’s often very slowly updated, clunky, and pretty dang poorly formatted for user input; it’s not nearly as intuitive to use as almost any other list building tool. We did a review of Battleforge when it first dropped, and while I’d argue that Games Workshop has substantially improved its app since launch, there are still too many problems to recommend it whole-heartedly.

Warscroll Builder and Azyr

Games Workshop, Age of Sigmar

Azyr. Credit: Games Workshop

Warscroll Builder is probably the gold standard for Age of Sigmar list building. Most AoS tournaments will ask for a list written in Warscroll Builder; Battlescribe doesn’t have nearly the same buy-in from the Age of Sigmar community  as it does in 40k, and Warscroll Builder being so good is why. Simple to use, no purchases needed, and one of the more rapidly updated programs, often outpacing even Battlescribe. Honestly, if I had to pin my name to one tool as the most reliable and trustworthy it’d probably be Warscroll Builder.

Azyr is GW’s mobile app and while it’s the best single source for Age of Sigmar rules (it contains all the warscrolls in super searchable format) it isn’t necessarily as good in its list building abilities as Warscroll Builder, often updated weeks later if at all. It’s a great little mobile app for building Age of Sigmar lists on the loo at an absurdly low rate (currently about ⅕ the price of the 40k app), but given how long it takes to be updated it’s often a miss; you just can’t trust it has the most up to date rules in here.

 

Infinity Army App

Corvus Belli, Infinity

Credit: Corvus Belli

Corvus Belli offers its own proprietary army builder app for building forces in Infinity; you can either access the web version via their site or download the mobile app version. It’s an amazing app, even moreso because it’s completely free, but it’d be great even if it wasn’t. Pretty much everyone uses the official app for building lists and it should be considered the “gold standard” for army builder apps in the business.

Official list building apps for other game systems

Like we said, most companies give you list-builder options these days.

  • For Mantic’s Kings of War games the EasyArmy site offers a subscription-supported army builder tool for Kings of War, Armada, and Vanguard.
  • Since the release of the game’s second edition, lists for FFG’s X-Wing game can famously only be built in their Squad Builder app.
  • For Kill Team players, Games Workshop offers a Kill Team Roster builder web app, which you can find here.

 

Independent tools

Battlescribe is the army builder of choice for many game systems and most 40k players. It’s a free tool available on multiple platforms, such as iOS, Android, and Windows. Battlescribe is a general tool that can read and act on multiple different game systems files, but is used for 40k often enough its name is pretty much synonymous with the game. Battlescribe files are developed and maintained by an active community of like-minded gamers, leading to relatively quick updates and mostly accurate information. As the people who develop it also play with it you’ll often see various iterations of army files as the layout and capabilities change, while errors get corrected  by its huge user base pretty quickly. Sadly the user experience is somewhat mediocre, but the functionality tends to make up for it – you can pretty much build any army you want in Battlescribe.

Quartermaster list building app. Credit: Quartermaster

Quartermaster is probably the best specialist games list building tool, with at time of writing every option included for Adeptus Titanicus, Necromunda and Horus Heresy, among other games, but its real value here is its user interface. I will die on the hill that Quartermaster provides the best user experience of any list building tool out there. Requires a one time purchase and is, sadly, iOS only, but if you’re playing Adeptus Titanicus (and you should be) or another specialist game, this should be your first stop.

Yaktribe, or, as I like to call it “that Necromunda website that keeps deleting my Slave Ogryns gang.” Yaktribe’s tools are really the only place to go if you want to run a Necromunda campaign. Yaktribe helps you track gangers, experience, gear, territories, events… I said go to Quartermaster for specialist games, but really, once you’ve built your gang in QM you need to head over to Yaktribe. With how many books you need to play a ‘complete’ Necromunda campaign right now, Yaktribe is, I would argue, almost necessary to play the entire game without going mad with dead trees.

 

2. Trust, but verify

Tools are only as useful as the builder, and the main issue with most list builders is that they’re developed and updated by enthusiastic members of the community. This is usually great, as it means that the tool is often updated weeks before official GW tools and the developers listen and respond to community feedback, but these people aren’t necessarily any more accurate than you or I.

You can also never be sure that the version of the rules you’re using is the correct one. This is especially true for lists you may have created a while ago; many tools don’t retroactively fix changes, so your previously legal list may still look legal, but not be. In a dark, dark way, Games Workshop’s Battleforge is the gold standard for this: every rules update deletes your previously written lists, so you can be sure you’re never using an out of date rule set.

Very few apps are regulated by Games Workshop, and even those have their issues. We often spot errors in top players’ lists and those are written using an app. It doesn’t matter if you’re one of the best players in the world or a newbie, apps can contain errors and it’s your responsibility as a player to make sure your list is correct and minimise the chances it happens to you.

Do the maths

Calculators exist, and maths is hard; just ask “Primaris” Kevin. Tools and apps can help and do most of the calculations for you, but at the end of the day you have a calculator, and you have a list of the points in front of you; make sure they match! Before major events I make sure I do this twice, even when using Warscroll Builder or Battlescribe; the second time just double checks that you didn’t mess it up the first time. There’s no substitute for old fashioned math!

Get a second set of eyes to take a look

If you can, run your lists by your friends, gaming group, or the general internet. They may not be any more confident than you, but the more sets of eyes that see a list, the higher the chance that an issue or error will be picked up. A lot of social media would make Nurgle blanch, but it’s still an excellent resource for list validation; the apparently intrinsic desire for people to prove each other wrong means that any errors in your list are likely to be picked up quick smart. For a slightly mentally-healthier resource, have you considered joining the Goonhammer Discord?

If you intend to take a list to a tournament and have any doubts about it, discuss it with your Tournament Organizer(s). Typically larger events will use a type of event-handling tool such as Best Coast Pairings which includes a list validation tool prior to being accepted. Once you’ve uploaded your list and it has passed basic checks, you can contact your TO and kindly ask if they have a moment to double-check your work.

Double check unique options

Finally, many games allow you to take a certain number of extra abilities for units (such as Warlord Traits) or extra tools (such as Relics and Artefacts). Make sure you know how many you’re allowed. There’s little worse than building a list around a specific combo only to realise the day of the event that you’re going to have to remove a key element of your list.

 

3. Make sure you’re using the most up-to-date rules

The days of print as the premier format for rules are well behind us. Although physical books are still the norm for tabletop wargames – and for better or for worse, Games Workshop releases new and updated rules at a frantic pace – the need for digital updates, errata, and balance fixes means that changes will happen, and they may happen often. And depending on who’s writing the rules updates it may not always obvious when something has been changed. This is particularly true for changes in points values published by Games Workshop. If baby Sockbert walked into a store to buy the latest Codex: Death Guard, how would they know they needed to check for FAQs on a website they might not know exists? How would they know what a ‘Munitorum Field Manual’ is? I’ve never been to a major event without seeing at least one relatively new player confused at why their list was wrong, and I’d lay good money on the chance that the vast majority of list errors come from just innocent confusion.

You, dear reader, know more than our hypothetical newbie Magos. Warhammer Community is constantly updated with FAQs and erratas, including points changes, and it is incumbent on you to check them before finalising your list. Corvus Belli likewise has a resources page for Infinity that contains FAQs and provisional rules for N4. And while Fantasy Flight Games’ X-Wing dynamically updates values in its online squad builder, they’ve published updates to their official mission rules for Star Wars Legion on the News section of their site. Again, using a list building tool does not mean that you’ve captured all these changes; it’s very possible, especially just after a change, that your list builder of choice hasn’t yet been updated.

Key things to check:

  • Are you using the most current version of the codex? If it’s currently for sale on the retailer’s website, probably yes.
  • Are the points you’re using accurate? In order of priority, check for any FAQs and errata pdfs first, then check if there’s been an update to a specific book (such as the Munitorum Field Manual or Chapter Approved for 40k, or General’s Handbook for Age of Sigmar), and then, if you don’t find anything here, you can probably use the points printed in your army’s rulebook.
  • Are there any FAQs or erratas published that might change your army? While rare, some updates to rules may significantly alter how your army list would perform on the table and you may want to make changes. Check out Warhammer Community or the game publisher’s resources page to see if your army or the game/mission rules have received updates.
  • Are all my rules approved by the event organiser? Most event organisers will put out a list of what rules are free to use in their event pack. For example, many events for Age of Sigmar don’t allow you to use a Battletome until the book has been FAQ’d, while most events will have a cut-off date, only allow rules and changes published before a certain date, in order to allow players to have a final date to finalize their list without worrying about their list becoming invalidated by changes or new rules completely changing the strategies they’d need to run.
  • Additionally, if there’s something you’re not sure about or that seems off in list building, check with your event organiser ahead of time as well – they can give you guidance or rulings on corner cases around things that aren’t already in the event pack.

 

4. Coming clean

Even the best-laid plans my go awry and after all this there’s a chance you might still miss something. If someone finds an issue with your army list, what should you do?

Come clean. That’s it. If you’re mid game, let your opponent know. If you’ve submitted your list to a TO or are at an event, let them know. No reasonable human is going to bite your head off for making an error, and you owe it to your opponent to do the right thing. Would you want to win by cheating? Hopefully not, but even if you did, things will be much, much worse for you if an error is discovered and it comes out that you were hiding it. Sure, you may forfeit the game, or even the whole event, but you’ve still done the right thing. Worst case scenario, it’s a learning opportunity.

 

Final thoughts

The bigger the voice, the higher the stakes

If you’re a major content creator (join the Goonhammer Patreon!) or, heaven forbid, an Age of Sigmar playtester writing for Warhammer Community, including simple errors in your lists can potentially invalidate your entire point and change the community’s discussion from ‘What are some cool ideas in Broken Realms: Be’lakor?’ to ‘How can an alleged expert get this so wrong?’ Similarly, being called out for an error matters much less when you’re Joe Schmoe Nobody than when so many people in the community know your name and call you out as an expert. Reputations bigger than any in the wargaming community have been ruined by simple errors or, more likely, hiding them. If your content is going to be used for promotional material, maaaaybe get an editor to triple check your work because that’s just… embarrassing.

Rob: I have no idea what this is about. I’ve certainly never posted half a dozen illegal lists for a one-box challenge. Nope, that never happened.

The bigger the event, the higher the stakes

Top table at a one day, 20-player event? Probably the worst that’s going to happen if a mistake is found is an awkward chat with your gaming club and you’re asked to double check your lists for next time. Hell, it’s entirely within the realms of possibility that the event won’t even care. Top 8 at Adepticon or LVO, however, and you’re in an entirely different ballgame. At that level you should know your rules . Hell, even mid tables on day two of Adepticon and you’ve probably done better than most people at most smaller events.

The better the player, the higher the stakes

If you’re at the bottom table and someone discovers an issue with your list in the final game when you’re 0-4 already, I can’t think of a TO on the planet who’s going to inflict a serious sanction. If you’re at the top table at that point an error in your list could mean disqualification from the event, and potentially sanctions at future events in that circuit or region. When someone is a recognised expert there’s a very fine line over which ‘not knowing the rules’ becomes ‘you should have known these rules, this must be intentional’. Sure, it was probably a mistake, but if the player is so, so good at this… can you be sure? Be safe, triple check your list.

You are the final arbiter of your rules

Just because the TO hasn’t raised an issue with your list doesn’t mean it’s legal, and it certainly doesn’t mean that you won’t be penalised for any errors during the event. I’d argue that even if a TO approves a list, if they discover the list is illegal during the event they still need to sanction the list and player; otherwise they’re picking to be unfair to everyone else to your unique benefit. More to the point, wargaming is a two player game. You owe it to your opponents and everyone else at the event to make the best effort you can to ensure that your lists are legal and you aren’t unfairly putting anyone at a disadvantage by missing something.

There’s nothing wrong with making a mistake; it’s human, and even we at Goonhammer paren’t ferfect. It’s how much effort you put into avoiding mistakes and how you deal with them that truly matter. Rob: You have no idea how hard it was for me to not edit out this spelling “joke.”

 

Have any questions or feedback? Drop us a note in the comments below or email us at contact@goonhammer.com.

 

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