The long-term regulars amongst you know that I have been running a Rebel Grot army using the Imperial Guard Codex. The rapid release of the Astra Militarum Codex, 7th edition rules, and upcoming Ork Codex has me putting a lot of thought into how I fit my vision of my Counts As Army (CAA) into the game in a way that is fun for me and my opponents. As I am working through my own decisions I thought I would take the time to talk about Counts As armies and some guidelines I follow when building them.
What is a “Counts As” Army?
To put it simply a “Counts As” means you are using certain models to “Count As” other models. It is common for people to use converted models to count as some special character. A CAA uses the same concept but takes it to a larger scale. This could be as simple as creating your own paint scheme for your Space Marines and saying that they count as Space Wolves, as I did with my Reavers. Or you could be using models from one army to count as a different army such as my Rebel Grots using Astra Militarum rules. These are just two of countless examples.
There are plenty of reasons to build a CAA. Maybe you are trying to bring something from the fluff to the table that isn’t represented by the current model range, or maybe you just have your own ideas about what you want to field. It is a great way to expand your hobby skills as you work through novel ways to represent the units and wargear you want to field. It is very rewarding to field a unique army that looks good and still makes sense to your opponent.
Fluff or Function first?
Every army has some balance of Fluff vs. Function. When you’re using a standard codex army it is pretty easy to maintain this balance: if it is in the codex it fits the fluff! With a CAA this can be a little trickier because you need to fit the back story of your force into the army composition choices you make. You are wandering into uncharted territory and there are certain risks involved with that. It is not quite as simple as the horse and cart analogy but when playing a themed army you need to have your theme before your list. If you build the toughest list you can think of then create some fluff around that it looks to other players that you are trying to justify your choices to convince people you’re not just there to beat face. On a side note, if you are just looking to beat face you should be open about that up front. Some people may not want to play against you but those that do will know to bring their most competitive list prepare to enjoy a tough game.
While it is important to have your theme and/or back story in mind before building your list you also want to avoid handicapping yourself too much. The units you exclude can add as much flavor to your army as the units you emphasize but if you can never win a game because you’ve written all of the most effective units out of your storyline you aren’t likely to have a lot of fun. You may need to relax certain principles if you find they are restricting your enjoyment. You may also come up with interesting additions to your story explain new units that you add or units that you rely on heavily.
One of the major risks you face with a CAA is confusion over what represents what. It can become frustrating to your opponent if they have to constantly ask what model is what or if they are repeatedly surprised by how certain models work. By definition a CAA will probably contain models that do not match what people expect to see but you should make en effort to ensure that it is easy for your opponent to keep track. There are a few guidelines I follow in this area:
1) Get some decent models! Don’t tell me that the green cheapo army men represent tactical marines and the blue ones represent terminators. Unless you’re fielding a “Toy Story” force and you’ve gone through some honest effort to make sure they are the right size and are on the right bases, and you have a bad ass Buzz Lightyear conversion in command that’s just not going to fly with most players. I am not saying you have to spend a bunch of money and field only GW models or anything but you need to have models that are about the right size and look like you’ve put some effort into. If you are looking to save money then do some scratch building and converting, don’t empty your junk drawer onto the table and start assigning unit names. I’m also talking long term here. As long as you’ve got your opponent’s permission I fully support proxy play testing before committing time and money to a model. I’ve played games where someone has fielded an appropriately sized water bottle as a riptide because he wanted to try it before buying it and would happily do so again. But once you’ve committed to the army you really should find something reasonable to play with.
2) Never use identical models to represent units with very different stats. You should never look like you’re playing an elaborate shell game with your models. You may have a lot of similar models running around but there should be something to identify characters, special weapons, etc. You should also avoid using similar models to represent units that should be very different, I should be able to recognize that your Rhino and your Land Raider are different vehicles. If you are using models from Faction A to represent models from Faction B, don’t ally those same units in the list together. For example, I have used Killa Kans to represent Armored Sentinels in my Rebel Grots list but I would never do so while bringing Ork allies.
3) Be careful with mixed Factions. You may want to incorporate more than one faction in your army for one reason or another but this can become confusing if you’ve modeled both Factions to fit the same theme. This isn’t as big a deal of you’re using Battle Brothers, but it should be easy to tell Desparate Allies apart.
4) Use consistency to avoid confusion. If you use the same weapon type to represent all of your plasma guns it will be easier for your opponent to remember that they are all plasma guns. If you are using wings to represent jump packs then don’t put wings on a model that doesn’t have a jump pack. You may have some degree of variation to achieve the overall look you want but the more consistent indicators you can include the easier it will be on you and your opponent to keep track.
The Golden Rule: Both players should have fun.
Warhammer 40,000, like any game, is a form of social contract. You and your opponent have agreed to follow a set of written and unwritten rules to engage in a social activity that is expected to provide enjoyment for both participants. A CAA by it’s very nature will be bending some of the unwritten rules because it does not match what other players expect to see. In my experience most players are excited to play against an army full of conversions and scratch builds but few enjoy playing when it’s impossible to keep track of what does what. Keep this in mind when building your counts as models and everyone can enjoy the experience.
Personally, I love variety created by a well executed model substitution. What are your thoughts on “counts as” models? Do you have any advice or pet peeves that I’ve missed?