I had a revelation while I was writing the previous entry. It’s probably going to seem really obvious to people who’ve been playing balanced armies for a long time, but I have hardly ever played with the Shooting phase in fourteen years of WFB, so it’s a new occurrence to me. It seems like the 4′ x 4′ board actually requires a rock, paper or scissors build; that you don’t have space to get the most out of your shooting elements and your combat elements and your denial elements, so you have to choose (at most) two to emphasise at the expense (though not total neglect) of the third, and use the space in a manner that favours those.
The earliest games I played with my Dark Elves were 1500 pointers on a 4′ x 4′ board, using something like these lists, although not quite like those since they’re both over-pointed. I had limited shooting elements (the two Bolt Throwers), and if I could secure them a good field of fire, I could clutter up the rest of the board with denial (Dark Riders and Shades) and melee (Witch Elves and Executioners) freely. Curiously enough, I won those games, whereas the 2000 pointers on the same size board were the ones where elements of my army crowded each other out, slowed each other down, and generally cost me the initiative, the proper positioning on the field, and the game.
I imagine that, were I to focus on shooting and denial instead, establishing overlapping fields of fire for the Crossbowmen, Bolt Throwers, Dark Riders, Shades and Sorceresses and then putting a few low-frontage, high-impact melee pieces in the blind spots that will inevitably emerge, that would work just as well as the melee and denial approach, being something akin to a classic gunline with teeth. Not sure what the melee elements would be; Rare points would be blown on Bolt Throwers, so it might have to be Chariots or small Witch Elf units or something.
The other combination – the combat and shooting – would be a variant of the list based around Hydras, larger units of Crossbowmen with shields, and perhaps Corsairs with handbows as well. The idea behind this is that, while the units want to shoot, they advance as part of the combat line, and consequently they don’t crowd out the line of sight of my core shooting units because they are my core shooting units. Denial becomes less necessary, as the flanking units are quite capable of shooting up whatever comes near them or taking a few rounds of combat, and the army as a whole can fire on the hoof and clear out the enemy’s cockblockers without losing too much speed (since they aren’t limited to ‘stand still and shoot’ or ‘charge’ as options for removing obstacles).
It should be noted that the 6′ x 4′ board, which tends to have space to set up clear fields of fire for ranged units and keep those distinct from the routes along which your melee units advance, favours the balanced approach that I was gently nudging towards with my original list.
While I don’t advocate tailoring lists to particular opponents outside of mutually planned scenario play (see, Rob, I made an exception for you!), I’m starting to advocate tailoring them for environments, as I mentioned in a previous post, and using this tripartite approach alongside an awareness of what each environment requires.
Knowing that a game I play at the local GW will be on a 4′ x 4′ board, with time constraints and an emphasis on quick setup and teardown, I could construct a list that can be deployed and removed at speed, and put emphasis on two aspects of the tactical triforce (again, that doesn’t mean that – for example – my shooting/denial army would neglect melee altogether, merely that the melee pieces would be budget ones, relegated to a troubleshooting role). A home game would have similar space requirements (one can only fit a 4′ x 4′ board in the Castle von Von), but not be so tight for time, so the more heel-dragging units might conceivably have a role again). A game round at Frugal Dave’s has some timekeeping issues, but not many, and since he has a giant 6′ x 4′ table, can afford to include all three parts of the triforce and thus achieve whatever the hell it is you get when you put them back together. I was never really into Nintendo anyway. I’m assuming it means you win.