synergy |ˈsinərjē| (also synergism |-ˌjizəm|)
the interaction or cooperation of two or more organizations, substances, or other agents to produce a combined effect greater than the sum of their separate effects : the synergy between artist and record company.
So, creating an effect that’s greater than the sum of its parts. Sounds easy enough, right? My experience however is that in practice it’s a bit harder than it looks.
When I first got into playing 40K I thought creating an army list would be easy, I mean I’m not a moron when it comes to strategy and tactics, surely I could assemble a list that would do well. I didn’t write terrible lists but they were far from amazing. I had the basics covered: ranged anti-infantry & armor and assault elements to charge into the weakened units but it wasn’t enough. I started out playing Orks and like any new player I kept adding units to my army. I figured the bigger the pool I had to draw from the better off I’d be, I’d at least have choices in what I fielded and not be left fielding everything I owned just to make points. It got better and I was losing less but I still did not have that umph to push me into the victory circle more often.
I then began realizing the more redundancy I had in my list the better off I was. Having your only anti-armor unit get mowed down in turn #1 can be disheartening. Ok, so I had to make sure I had backup to the different aspects of my army, no one unit was going to win the game for me on their own. Once I got to this point I began creating synergy in my army, sometimes I stumbled upon it and other times it was intentional. No matter how it came about, I was seeing my games go from fighting tooth and nail for a draw to taking wins.
So what creates this synergy in your army? As much as I hate to be elusive I feel I have to be honest. There’s no one thing that will create a synergy. Having a synergy with your army is almost a palpable thing, you just know you have it when you see it, or when you lack it. It’s like looking at a clock and seeing the gears all working together, all joining perfectly to create the force that drives the clock. When you have it there’s no denying it, it’s just so evident when you play.
Here’s my attempts to define synergy applied to 40K. Redundancy is a factor for sure. Your clock needs additional gears in case one fails to prevent the clock from stopping all together. As I said earlier, no one unit is going to win the game for you and no one unit is guaranteed to perform its job without aid, whether that’s mowing down infantry or popping tanks. I like to have two units that can perform a specific task at minimal. When possible I’ll have a third unit that can do that same task but also multiple tasks, a non-specialized unit that can swing into a role when needed. Units like Tactical Marines fit well into this shifting role. They’re mediocre at assault, decent at shooting down infantry and can be given weapons to destroy tanks. If I lose my two units dedicated to blowing up armor and I need to blow up a tank then I still have my Tactical squad who is capable.
That third unit, the multi-tasker, was what started pushing my lists forward. No longer was I just filling the basic roles that needed to be filled with some backup, I was creating a bridge between all the parts of my list. At the sake of another analogy, these multi-tasking units were the mortar to my army, joining everything into one solid foundation. I wasn’t leaving any glaring gaps in my lists and the removal of a unit did not spell doom for me.
Synergy extends way beyond the choice of units, it’s all about how it all operates together. Every unit you take must be taken with a goal in mind and be capable of performing that job. You need to consider how your units are going to function together, not just how they perform their own job. Your choice of HQ, for example, can greatly impact this. The big bad HQ that is a one man wrecking team is fun but not always what’s needed. Taking an HQ choice that’s more of a support role can be extremely valuable if the abilities it offers complements your list and creates that much needed overlap.
I don’t imagine I’m saying anything here that hasn’t been said before on numerous sites, and they’ve probably said it better, but I felt I had to give my 2 cents on the matter.