Threat saturation, redundancy, target overload, cookie cutter, copy and paste – aka spam.
From what I've read around the mighty internet over the past few years, the use of the term of spam can differ from place to place. Extreme examples are easy to spot, but is seems particularly tricky to identify the line at which spam occurs (I never thought I'd write a sentence like that with a serious face...). What seems to be limited though is an explicit detailed discussion of whether spam is useful or not (any suggestions welcome!).
This CONCEPTS: article discusses the definition of spam, and then looks at the benefits and drawbacks of the most famous of all gaming foods (ok, maybe cheese should win this title).
As alluded to above, pinning down an exact definition of spam is potentially a contentious subject. For the purposes of this post I will use the following:
Spam – Taking an identical unit in multiples over and above what is commonly considered acceptable in casual games.
That's about as good as definition as I can get to. The real problem is not so much in defining the concept, but rather agreeing what counts as spam as this is appears to be highly subjective (as highlighted by Mercer's discussion on Imerius Dominatus). Let's go into this in a little more detail to show you what I mean.
Easy ones first. Filling all available slots with the largest possible number of identical models automatically qualifies as spam. For example, taking three units of three broadsides (the maximum allowed per unit) with the same load out is definitely generally accepted as spam. On the other hand one unit, even with identical options on each model, is not spam. I don't think many would argue against this as a commonly accepted starting point. Now for the large grey area in the middle.
Two identical units is borderline in some people's opinion (personally I'd say two is definitely not spam), but what about two identical units and a third unit with a different load out? What about three units of largely similar but slightly different equipment? Or even better, three units with just one model, but all with the same equipment? In the broadside example, I think many would class three units of a single broadside as spam, but the exact same number in one unit would be fine. Good huh?
Then we have the repetition of similar weapons across different types of units. If taking 12 missiles in 3 squads of long fangs is spam, what about spreading the same number of missiles around more units? Does taking 2 units of long fangs with 2 missiles each (plus other different weapons), a couple of landspeeder typhoons (which have missiles) and a couple of cyclone missile launcher wolf guard still count? I'd guess that the latter wouldn't instantly trigger cries of spam, but it has the same number of missiles!
So given the above, I'm leaning towards the use of the term spam in relation to a combination of weapon types, rather than by unit type. So missile spam Space Wolves are in, but long fang spam is out because isn't precise enough. If a unit has only one common load out (with minor variations), then I would say using 'unit' spam ok as it is easily understandable, e.g. wave serpent spam.
So that's considering units and weapons typically the 0-3 FOC slots, but what about multiple troops choices? Would a Necron army with 4 units of 10 warriors trigger 'warrior spam'? Or maybe an army full of tactical marines should be considered 'bolter spam'? I would say no for the former but a technical yes for the latter. What about chess and it's terrible burden of 'pawn spam' (Google search this at your own risk!)?
I thought that the idea was that troops make up the majority of an armies fighting resources, and even though specialised or elite forces exist in the fluff, people seem to get offended when gamers take a large number of very common units for that army, especially when this includes multiple dedicated transports like razorbacks, venoms or night scythes.
So as you can see, pinning down an exact definition of spam that everyone can agree on isn't easy. Personally, I'd suggest that spam is relative to the number of slots available and that troops and dedicated transports have a higher threshold before gaining spam status. So for 40k, I'd say that outside of troops 3 identical or very similar units qualifies as spam but anything lower isn't. For troops I'd say at least 5 units, with similar amount for dedicated transports.
|The ultimate gaming food!|
What's I've completely avoided in the definition is the question of whether it's beneficial to spam anything in the first place.
The primary benefit is of course redundancy, in terms of threats (offensive redundancy) or targets (defensive redundancy). I think a balanced competitive list will use the right amount of both offensive redundancy using multiple threat vectors and defensive redundancy through a focus on one aspect (e.g. light or heavy mech, infantry). I also prefer my threats to be diffused throughout the army rather than in discrete targetable units, but ideally have enough of a threat range (via weapons and mobility) to be able to concentrate on one area if I need to. This is easier said than done though!
If it's good and cheap, why not take lots? (see Cons below!)
Some people like to take lots of something because they think it looks cool or is fluffy. Noteable examples include Deathwing and Ravenwing, but there are many more. Others might like to play a certain style afforded by spamming one aspect. When I was playing 40k at school in 2nd/3rd I always loved the idea of a mechanised space marine army because I really liked the idea of an independent strike force speeding around attacking the enemy. I didn't ever get this far but when I started playing again in 5th, vehicles had suddenly become usable and were actually really good so I was very happy! I think Mech still has a place in 6th, so I get to play with a style of army that I like in a competitive setting.
|I'll pass, thanks|
It's easy to spam something that really isn't that good! Imagine taking an army full of flamers and virtually nothing else. Even if they were massively discounted, they have limited range and are only really effective against certain targets. This example would be so severely hampered against most other armies that this would not be a good choice of weapon to spam. Mid-strength weapons with a decent range are a much better choice, as they can effect light vehicles and MCs, but usually come in enough numbers to have some use against infantry too. However...
|TigerofMyth on DeviantArt|
Too many spoons
Spam can limit your capacity to deal with a number of target types. Spamming strength 7 with good range may be a strong choice, but if it's all AP4 or worse your army will find AV13 or massed 2+ saves a challenge. Repetition can come at the cost of operational flexibility.
Opponents won't have much difficulty working out your battle plan and can plan to play around your spam, potentially turning your strength into a weakness. For example, going first with an effective threat range of 36" will prompt most enemy generals to deploy out of range, wasting a whole turn of your shooting. Loads of static shooting units can be out-maneuvered by using cover or line of sight blocking terrain to limit your effectiveness and mobility to tackle sections of your army at a time. Being predictable isn't usually a benefit!
If you're filling your slots and spending a large proportion of your points on the same thing, naturally there won't be the points or space to cover other important functions or tools. The basics still need to be covered if you're aiming for a balanced list.
Repetitive Gameplay and/or Aesthetics
This is the other side of the coin to aesthetics/theme. Whilst some people may love to model, paint and play a certain way, this could be torture for others. Not everyone is as motivated to spam a unit by the time they get to their 8th razorback or 100th kroot. Also, playing against the same style of army over and over can be a bit dull for opponents!
|Irene Koehler on AlmostSavvy|
Composition scoring (aka comp) deserves a special mention here. I've covered this in some depth here, but comp typically seeks to restrict spam, as some TOs see as spoiling the fun in the game (and of course everyone agrees with the TO's version of fun, right?).
However, I've only ever seen comp restrict multiple unit types or FOC slots, never weapons. So if the most efficient choice is, say, 4 fliers but the comp limits the choice to 3, I'd suggest that there's a good chance there will be a lot of armies with 3 fliers. Players will just push to the limit of what's allowed. Added to this, some armies are better placed to get around traditional comp and still spam certain effective elements thanks to a better range of choices to select from.
I think that comp aiming to restrict spam just changes the strongest builds available, and I've yet to see it restrict all players equally due to the differences between armies.
EAT MY S***
SPAM - A FOUR LETTER WORD
I don't mind the term spam when it's used accurately, and see it as more of a description than an insult. However, I've seen or heard it used so many times as a derogatory term by players who don't like repetition, often under the guise of fluff, sportsmanship, or maybe their own made up version of the rules. I would like to respectfully point out three things.
1) Many armies, in both real life and in the gaming universe, take an efficient unit or weapon and use it in multiples because they think it gives them the best possible chance of winning the battle. Fluffy and competitive, no?
2) Using spam as an insult is deeply unfair on themed armies, as they often seek to repeat an aspect as the driving narrative behind their army (e.g. Deathwing = terminator spam, any mech army, you get the idea...).
3) Spam is entirely legal and supported by the rules. GW, or whoever wrote the game, have specifically stated how much of a certain unit an army can contain. GW in particular are well known for their aversion to competitive gaming in preference of forging a narrative (selling models is apparently mutually exclusive from good tight rules and random is supposedly fun too...), and could very easily have further restricted the available options.
If players wish to introduce house rules or comp to control spam, that's completely ok and their choice, but this is not standard gameplay and everyone else should not be expected to play a different version of the game to suit another's preferences by default. I politely suggest finding like-minded gamers and enjoying the type of game you prefer, rather than trying to impose your own expectations on others (this applies to both casual and competitive games alike!).
Spam can be effective when units/weapons are taken that provide offensive redundancy and/or target saturation whilst being points efficient and still covering all the required tools/battlefield roles. However, spam can also be limiting by reducing an armies capacity to deal with a wide range of threats and by being predictable.
I don't have a problem with spam, either on competitive or fluff grounds, but I understand that not everybody feels the same. However, there can be a lot of factors to consider when choosing what to spam, taking into account the pros and cons discussed above.
Now I need to go and have a snack...
What is Spam? on Imperius Dominatus
Ideas For Army List Restrictions at Blog Wars 6 on From the Fang
CONCEPTS: Redundancy and Reliability