Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Anecdotal Evidence and its place in 40k.


If any of you are reading from Dakkadakka, you might remember I had a signature saying for a long time. For those of you unfamiliar, it is this:
Anecdotal evidence is fallacious at best, don't use it to prove points that aren't true.
In this post, I'll be looking at what constitutes a tactics argument using anecdotal evidence. I'll show you where a persuasive anecdote is acceptable, and I'll also go into the differences between an anecdote and an observation. First, let's define some parameters.

What's an Anecdote? 

In essence, an anecdote is a short story. In 40k, we use anecdotes to display experiences we've had while playing the game. Technically, these can range from a story about what you used to do with your buddies in fourth edition all the way to that GT winning army you played against. But, here, I'm looking at anecdotes used as proof for tactics and units in 40k.

What kind of Anecdotes am I talking about? 

I made a thread on dakkadakka, I noticed that a lot of people truly failed to grasp exactly what kind of anecdotes I was looking for. I got everything from poorly worded arguments about rules to anecdotes about poorly worded arguments about rules. Here are some examples of what we're not looking at here.

MarsNZ wrote: Tacticals are bad because Riptides exist
This argument may or may not be true, the fact is that it doesn't matter here - it's an argument, or an anecdote about an argument and thus, not what we're looking for.

Here're some examples of what I was looking for:

MIKEtheMERCILESS wrote: Back in 2nd edition, a friend wanted to play a quick skirmish game against me - Marines vs. Orks. 
For this, completely straight faced, he proposed that he field terminators (remember - 3+ on 2D6!) against gretchin in a 1:1 ratio. After explaining how shockingly unbalanced and 1-sided this fight would be - he proceeded to explain how actually it's a completely fair matchup "because he saw a gretchin kill a terminator in a game".
He was not joking. 
It's hard for me to interpret this one because I did not play in 2nd edition. From what I can see however, this would still be a horrid matchup given that it takes 36 shots from gretchin to down a single terminator in sixth edition, 10 gretchin wouldn't stand a chance against ten terminators.

Kain wrote: Adrenal Gland termagants are totally great against vehicles because I charged them at leman russes once and they exploded.
This one's probably a fifth-edition quip. It's an awful argument to use because it's simply impossible - you could never glance a leman russ so often it exploded, and if you did you were packing AP1 - not something termagants have ever had access to.


Let me preface this quickly, Jancoran, if you're reading this, I love you. You seem like you'd make a top opponent because you'd be a challenge. Not because you're tactically sound or you run hard lists, but because you seem to get so goddamn lucky that you're always rolling those sixes. 

The "King of unorthodox" himself, Only unit in the tau codex specifically designed not to deal damage man. Otherwise known as, Jancoran. Jancoran has a blog as well, if you're not so interested in cold hard facts and more interested in fun stories of embellished battle reports, he may be worth a look.

This quote is from last year and focuses on the Tau Codex. Namely, Jancoran makes an argument for using Pathfinders as a damage dealing unit. You can read the whole thread here.  The unit being referred to in this thread seems to be 2 units 7 pathfinders with 3 rail rifles and the three drones they have access to - the pulse accelerator (+6" range), Recon (burst cannon) and grav-inhibitor drones (-D3 charge range I think.)

Let's recap, this unit is putting out 12 S5AP5 shots at a range of 24", and 6 S6AP1 shots at a range of 15". The unit has nothing else. The quote has been edited to keep it short, but feel free to complain if you feel I missed something pertinent to the argument.

Math Hammer away friends.
As for yesterdays festivities, here are a few Pathfinder hi-lites for you.
1st Game, vs dual Storm Raven list with Dual Baal Predators and Dual Fragiosos: 
This guy supposedly has 2 AV12 Stormravens, 2 AV13 Baal Predators and 2 AV13 Furioso Dreadnoughts.
However, BECAUSE of the Pathfinder threat (after all, I have two of them), he literally conceded most of the field to me and even retreated most of his stuff away from me. He simply could not win if he walked into that.
If we're reading this right, 2 Storm ravens are so afraid of 12 S6AP1 shots (that can only glance, remember) that they did not cover the ground to come into range of 2 units of pathfinders. As a mathematical reference, 12 S6AP1 shots without skyfire has a 5.4% chance of doing a single glance to a storm raven.

Close game, but it was most definitely the Pathfinders he feared. He had two units that could have pushed on me, and he just begged off as the game was too close to risk anything unarmored. 
I believe he has six, actually. I don't really get why this BA player was so afraid of the pathfinders - nothing he brought to the table is even scraped by them.

The impact of those two units was pretty impressive there. They ended up KILLING his Fragioso, which the Kroot would not have done. They also killed an entire squad of Marines and a Drop pod!
So, he has to be shooting on rear armour for the first one. Which, sure, S6 will be sufficient to knock out AV10, but then that's just poor placement on the opponents part. This is an excellent example of a bad anecdote - his opponent fucked up, so he jumped on the chance he was given. This does not make the unit good. Again, how do rail rifles glance a drop pod to death? They do a glance per turn on average.

DarkStrider never even got out of his devilfish for this game until the last round when I got out to take side potshots at a Baal Predator, but that was just to try and tie it up and he managed tyo avoid that with FOUR cover saves! It was, needless to say, very close. 
Ignoring the devilfish, and darkstrider hiding in a devilfish, so this Baal was running assault cannons? Does it not strike anyone else that Strider is T3 facing up against S6? He should not be in the line of fire for that.
In this game, a single Pathfinder squad killed a Whirlwind, a Tactical squad and a devastator squad plus 1 Terminator.
He rolls extremely well, or he's leaving out certain notes to this reports.
The Pathfinders killed two Gaunt units, and a Tervigon. 
So... 36 shots in one turn killed potentially 66 wounds over the course of 6 turns?  I'll stop ragging on Jancoran now. He's a frustrating poster, but he doesn't deserve to be attacked. Jancoran, if this post upsets you, feel free to let me know either through e-mail or through dakka and I will remove your part in it. 

Anecdote Vs Observation 

A thoughtful dakkadakka poster who's asked to remain anonymous questioned my distrust of anecdotes. He brought up a few notes that really resonated as things I needed to mention, so I've done so.

... But I DID have a question about why you're so against the use of anecdotal evidence when it comes to tactics. It seems to me like direct observations would be a little more reliable than straight mathhammer, where the numbers exist in a vacuum with no context.
My questioner has a fantastic point here. Math in a vacuum is meaningless to us, as it doesn't draw on real game experience. For example, a flamer is more likely to wound a marine than a bolter is mathematically speaking. In practice however, a flamer will be used maybe 2 or 3 turns in a game if you're lucky, whereas a bolter will be used from turn three. Also, you'll have more bolters.
... I have given given a lot of thought between using a Land Raider Crusader or Redeemer. Whenever I run it as a redeemer, my opponents prioritize it above everything else, even if they've played against the list I'm using before, and the redeemer/crusader switch is the ONLY change. I've observed this on more than one occasion, and my working hypothesis is that people consider a redeemer a greater threat than a crusader. Mathammer aside. THAT anecdote certainly has a place in any discussion between Redeemers and Crusaders. 
 Again, an excellent point. The redeemer can chew through a tactical squad in a single spurt, but it needs to get close. IF your opponent lets it get close, it's their own fault. Worth noting is that popping it up close is not always an option; it could spill out terminators or something equivalent. Because of this, the redeemer becomes a very dangerous threat and it needs to be dealt with quickly.

Another example is the Autocannon... I've never seen them perform well. 4-man autocannon Chaos Marine Teams, Rifleman dreadnoughts, IG HWTs, every time I see them deployed they never fail to fail to perform. People keep insisting that the raw mathematics show autocannons to be the superior weapon, but the fact that I've never seen it work out that way is and should be a viable argument. 
I strain with agreeing with this point for the reasons the poster puts forwards. I don't believe autocannons perform poorly because they perform poorly in experience (which they have), I can actually prove mathematically that they should perform poorly, or at the very least, mediocrely. That math is for another day, however.
 You just seem to be opposed to using direct observation in favour of abstract math, and I wanted to urge you not to let the poor behaviour of a couple of hooligans turn you against legitimate tool(s) of tactical debate (in relation to 40k at least). 
 I think I'm misinterpreted as hating anecdotes. I simply hate anecdotes that have to do with damage output. Lets get back to autocannons quickly. Saying 12 BS4 TL S7AP4 shots (or, 3 Rifleman dreads) shooting AV12 should do 3.52 hull points is as bad as saying "I once saw 3 Rifleman dreadnoughts take down a hellhound, so autocannons are godly against AV12." Standard deviation is not something I'm planning on going in depth in this post, but it is within 1 standard deviation (so, about 2/3 of results) that you'll do anywhere from 1.95 through to 5.1 hull points reasonably. The question you gotta ask is, is 2 hull points worth 345 points?

Now let's have a look at what my inquisitive friend talked about most importantly, observations.

Using Anecdotes Effectively in arguments

So there are two and a half times when Anecdotes make for effective arguments. The First is in relation to weapons or tools that can't be put to mathematical proof at all. The second is when making observations on things that happen during the course of a game. The half time is when used in conjunction with mathematics to prove an argument.

The first instance can be seen in the Tau Support System the VRT, the signature system the NSJ. The VRT provides the invaluable hit and run to any large deathstar, usually being mounted on an extremely sturdy platform like a support suit commander. This tool is 5 points and will always prove its worth, but you can't objectively say "it'll make its points back", since it's not a damage dealing upgrade. Here, an anecdote such as "The VRT once saved my farsight bomb from being crunched in assault for a second turn; the break away from combat basically won me the game in that instance" can very well be used in a tactics argument, despite its status as an anecdote. IT makes an excellent support when looking at the importance of hit and run in a tau unit.

The NSJ can be quantified as making its points back, since it's a psuedo-damage-dealing upgrade. I've already shown the value of the NSJ, so I won't bring it up further here. Still, an anecdote can be very persuasive in this instance.

The second can be seen in the above poster's comments - The redeemer dies quicker than the crusader, lending observation being more useful than math in a vacuum - the redeemer may do more damage when it hits home, but it's less likely to hit home.

The final half is a story for another day. IF you can mesh a mathematics argument with an anecdote that soundly supports it, you've got it made. An example can be seen in shadowsun's fusion blasters - she has a 1/216 chance effectively of not penning AV10 with one fusion blaster. REasonably, she'll blow up AV10 2/3 times if it's open topped and isn't a venom.

There's an example of this in a game I had with a dark-eldar friend. Everytime I shot a fusion blaster at him, I knocked a raider out. This happened so often that I've come to rely on it - in fact, it's a sad day when I don't at least knock a weapon off a raider when I shoot it.


Well, that's all the words I can put to screen for tonight. I'll try to end it soon. I'm glad I could get so much support from the community on dakkadakka, and I had a wonderful discussion going there. Hopefully, this post will encourage people to think a little before making tactics posts in future.