Meeting the Meta


“Anything you can do, I can do meta” 

Rudolg Carnap

What is a Meta?

In short, I think the phrase ‘Meta’ can be summed up by what is the current must have unit or what is the most powerful list(s).  Meaning what configuration of units, if taken, assuming skill remains the same, gives me the maximum chance of winning?

Okay that may may sound really negative, but stay with me as its really not meant to be.  Whatever our background and approach to the hobby we have to accept that this is a game between two or more people and, whether you are playing it with a competitive nature or not, the game has a winner and a loser (well, you can have a mutual loss in some cases but you get what I mean!).  Due to this, it is natural that some people enjoy games of a more competitive nature and focus on trying to win; whether playing with friends, at a tournament, or an event.  Alway remember there is a big difference between a player playing to win and the dreaded WAAC (Win at all costs) player, this article purely concerns the former.

The ‘Meta’ list becomes visible when you see lots of lists that are the same or very similar, either in style or approach.  This can be very broad e.g. Light vehicle-based forces, or very focussed e.g. Double high AT such as Dianas paired with Marders as a specific meta.  As I say, its really about what we are seeing a lot of.

When they first arrived, there must have been a worry about the strength of KVs. However, it was found their 2+ to hit made massed AT12 shots bring down their immense bulk!

Does it matter?

In short, for most players, probably not a great deal.  Most conversations you see about the ‘meta’ or what is really good, comes from people very committed to the game.  Perhaps they play in events, or play people who do, or are really big fans of the game and spend a lot of time talking about their hobby.  However, I’d argue these players are a minority, but to them what the meta is, can really matter.

On the other hand, for every competitive, event going, player there are a lot more who don’t, and just play with a group of friends, a common phrase for this is ‘Beer & Pretzel’ players.  They aren’t looking to maximize their lists they just want to play and have fun; to them, the ‘meta’ is not something of interest or concern. As I say, everyone has a different and equally important approach. However, the ‘meta’ can have a ‘second order effect’ on these players as well.

Lets us say the current meta is X. X is appearing all over the place, it’s being discussed online, it’s winning most tournaments, and more and more people are being influenced and buying X. You can then get a kind of ‘me too’ mentality.  It’s like advertising; if something is discussed enough, then players feel a need to try it out, hence it grows and grows.  Therefore those ‘meta lists’ gradually trickle down to the non competitive players by osmosis in a not always beneficial manner.

I’ll admit I’ve done this in the past.  For instance, I kept seeing M4 Jumbo based US armoured lists doing really well in specific combinations.  I eventually decided to try them out to see what all the fuss was about.  I played a few games at my local club and won them.  It was a very powerful list, but you know what, beating people with it never bought me any pleasure. So I put them back on the shelf and, looking back in retrospect, all I did was give two casual players a solid beating and probably not the best of games.

You need to be really careful about who you use meta lists against as it can be a surefire way to put players off of the game if they don’t share the same competitive need.

Note to self – Martin
Very early in the releases for V4 the 6pdr gun line was a hard stop to German armour.  However then people learnt how to use stances to prevent that gun line and the need for artillery.

The meta life-cycle

While a ‘meta’ can develop, I liken it to the a food chain; an imbalance will normally sort itself out and evolve.

Sticking with our meta list X.  It’s being used everywhere and winning loads.  It’s talked about a lot and more and more people think its broken. (Cue much venting on social media forums and general wailing and gnashing of teeth). What then typically happens is that the most competitive players will find a way to beat it reliably and the ‘meta’ is no more.

The more common the ‘meta’ list X becomes, so the more powerful the counter Y becomes.

Suddenly list Y can reliably beat list X.  Maybe its something someone came up with, maybe its the result of new options in a new book (I’d argue the ‘meta’ for MW has shifted with almost every new book published).  Now you don’t see much of X and people look to Y, however, to beat X, Y has a big inbuilt weakness that many less ‘meta’ lists can exploit  Therefore lists and game, in general, continue to evolve.

The life cycle model generally works and I’ve seen it lots of times where a list has waxed and waned in popularity.  Where the cycle can be a bit different is a very broad meta.  There are two current examples of this.

  • Light vehicles (light tanks and armoured cars) in MW
  • ATGMs in Team Yankee

Whilst there are specific lists that absolutely maximize the use of the examples above, the fact that they feature in many different guises and constantly seem to do well at an event means its hard to evolve past.  It’s not a specific (or super similar list) that needs to be overcome, rather a whole range of them.  E.g in MW, while we see German Armoured Cars winning a lot of events backed up by Marders, Dianas and the odd Tiger, you also have Italian L6/40 light tanks & British Crusader/Stuart lists doing a similar job, along with T60s and soon to be T70s (still a bit early to see their impact but the principle is similar). Now I stress I don’t think these things are broken, they are just very hard to counter if you aren’t ready, they create many challenges which other types of list may struggle to overcome.  For me, that’s a good thing.  Every list needs its advantages and disadvantages, it is only when we find a list that can’t be beaten we have a real issue.

Sometimes you don’t even need to change a list you just need to learn how to make it work differently and adapt your playing style, something all the very best players do continuously even within a game. Remember you can’t win in turn 1 but you sure can lose. Perhaps when facing Marders you need to be more cautious, hang back more and whittle them down with your artillery or air even for multiple turns before going in for that killer assault?  Maybe you need to choose a different stance to limit how effective the Tiger is or how quickly a Soviet player can bring his mass of Valentines to bare.

The Russian Tank Rider card can allow a really effective assault and lead to much discussion, however I have yet to see it reliably perform.

What to do about it?

Well firstly I think we need to think carefully about whether anything needs to be done about a meta, as I say experience shows most shouting about something being broken just drops off and the game settles and moves on.  Before I go shouting that a list meta is broken I do the “newbie check”.

When a novice can pick up the current super meta list and consistently beat experienced good regular event winners then perhaps that list needs looking at.  

Mark Goddard – creator of the “newbie check” ( – Lee)

I’ll stress, the key is hard data.  I see constant debates about unit X and Y and how they are over and under-costed.  In some ways, this could be overcome with ‘living rules’ with regular points updates.  In theory, this could be done by Forces online, but just imagine the chaos.  How do you ensure a new player knows about it, do you have constant printings of the books?  How often do you do it?  Who does all the testing (trust me testing takes a long time).  The idea of living rules has worked out fairly badly for another very popular game so sometimes the devil you know is better.

Battlefront have adopted a halfway house solution with Lessons From the Front (LFTF) to this, with a semi regular update cycle. As well as answering general game mechanics questions this has been used to address points imbalances, years ago an army known as the BAR (British Armour in EW) was consistently shown to be under-pointed. The points and special rules were altered and suddenly overnight no one took it (suggesting that it probably went too far in changing it).  It almost vanished. Rules have been amended through this mechanism the US Tank Destroyer rules being altered in V3 due to ‘exploitation’ of the Gone To Ground rules with attached units to the Towed Tank Destroyer Platoon being an example. This is probably a better method than the wholesale replacement of a book as happened with Red Bear.

However, for each example of change, there are numerous shouts of ‘this is broken’ that go away as people adapt and the game evolves.

Marders and Dianas are a very tough mix.  However, ironically armoured cars and light tanks are a big counter due to the wasted points on AT12.   Also a full infantry list with no expensive armour renders them relegated to expensive MGs!

Conclusion

Whatever is released, or whatever changes were made in LFTF, or even potential points adjustments, there will always be a top list or ‘theme’ to top performing lists.  Its a circle of life and sometimes a list is more evolved and it may take longer for the community to adapt and overcome it. Equally, sometimes a list that has been at the top for ages becomes boring, or people do a bit of shaming by perhaps giving a bit of a groan when they see it, this subtly changes behavior and it dies out.  Either way having strong lists is nothing new in V4; it’s been present in every version and arguably is present in every wargame where people want to play to win.

We would love to hear your thoughts on the idea of a ‘meta’ and whether it’s a good or bad thing.  Drop your thoughts in a comment below or on our FB page.

This will be my last article until after Christmas, so take care and have a safe and joyful holiday and I hope you get all the shiny new toys you have asked for 🙂

Category: Flames of WarList DiscussionMid WarRamblingTournamentV4

4 comments

  1. This is one of the better articles regarding meta. There’s always this dirty air surrounding the word, but you’ve managed to take it away.
    I agree with everything you’ve mentioned, and like to add that the meta is usually a good way to see how currently people see the game and how it should be played.
    In other words, it also functions like a benchmark: this is “standard”, so what would happen if I try to play something else?

    I’ve had enormous successes against opponents who were in the hobby for a longer time than me, but who simply never encountered anything new. Their experience was that of playing against people who did exactly the same, so they thought they knew what to expect.

    I’ve won tournaments based purely on this fact: for example, with a Herman Goering infantry list in Mid War, a mounted panzer grenadier force in Late War, and with an 82nd Airborne list in Team Yankee.

    For me, the meta is a challenge to find something completely different and make it work. You’re already one step ahead of your opponent with your list!

    So yes, for me, the meta is a good thing, and kudos to those who use it to play something else 🙂

  2. Great article! This is by far the best article I have read on this subject!!I am a competitive player but have always enjoyed trying new lists. I find it fun to see how different units in different combinations do.

  3. While I agree with the overall direction, of the article, I think it chooses an easy way out.
    Yes, there will always be a meta in the sense of “common setups”, and there will always be people coming up with ideas how to play against it. Yet, three things should be considered:
    – Reasons for the meta. BF tends to price a) strongly based on front armor, b) allows for extreme ratios between individual tanks in certain setups (e.g. T55 vs Leo2), and c) has included point scalings encouraging certain setups (4th T55 vs first three, e.g.). Similar pricing tendencies can be seen in V4 MW, contributing to the strong development of certain “meta lists”.
    – Variance in meta. Given the said current limitations of lists, variance is respectively limited. This makes running into several very similar lists very likely, and while an “unconventional” list might take odds to fare badly against a “meta” list, running in several at the same event is frustrating.
    – Testing and flow of metas. V4 has undergone extensive testing, and certain testing results, also played back to BF, have deliberately been ignored; currently, they are coming back as “told-you-sos”, e.g. the dominance of individual heavy tanks and the lack of counters thereof for certain factions. While the tournaments are experimenting with various house rules as band aids, a tournament system should (imo) clearly not need those. This is unfortunate and disappointing.

    So it is not a law of nature that counters will develop, list variance, the ruleset. and and unit pricing have to permit such.

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Article by: Mark Goddard