Hammer of Math: Going First in 10th Edition – August, 2023

Welcome back, Dear Reader, to Hammer of Math, which these past few weeks has been under my leadership as we’ve delved deep into the statistical data from 10th edition games. This week the journey continues, and we’ll be taking a look at how much going first matters in tenth edition, and when it is and is not an advantage.

The data in today’s article comes from data collected from The Tabletop Battles Appthe premier app for tracking games of Warhammer 40k. I cannot say enough good things about this app, which allows players to track scoring, CP usage, and secondaries throughout a game. Our data sample consists of more than 55 thousand games played using the Leviathan GT missions pack.

Before we dive into the numbers, let’s look at the potential pros and cons of going first.

Going First: What’s the Big Deal?

One of the most interesting factors we’ll need to consider during this analysis is that there are often times when it benefits a player to go second – the mission, the match-up, or some other factors may advantage a player going second. Additionally there are factors inherent in some game mechanics which may benefit a player going first or second. So let’s cover some of the largest and most prevalent here, and what that may mean for our analysis:

Going First Advantages

  • You have the first chance to shoot. This is easily the largest advantage to going first; a player going first will have the first opportunity to act to destroy enemy units, typically with ranged attacks. This is exacerbated by tables with inadequate terrain, where it can be difficult to hide units, or where a player has TOWERING or Indirect Fire units which can ignore terrain. The ability to reduce an opponent’s army in size before they even have an opportunity to act is huge and in missions where scoring doesn’t happen in round 1 the player going first has two full turns of shooting before the second player scores primary VP for the first time.
  • You have the first opportunity to activate abilities. Another huge one – many abilities become active during a player’s first Command phase or other part of their turn, and defensive abilities in this category simply will not be online before their first turn.
  • You have the ability to move onto objectives first. This isn’t quite as big a deal as it was in 9th edition, but it still matters – you can move onto objectives unimpeded and score secondary missions and your opponent will have to act to remove you from those objectives to prevent you from scoring them on your second turn.
  • You score first. You get the first turn of objective scoring, and as such will typically be ahead of your opponent until the final turn. This means that when turn 5 rolls around, you can freely move off or away from objectives as your part scoring them is over – your only goal at that point will be to prevent an opponent from scoring. Additionally some missions give you a huge advantage going first in terms of how they score primary.
  • Your reserves arrive earlier. As the player going first, you’ll be the first to have your entire army on the board first if you both hold units in reserves, potentially giving you an advantage in terms of weight of fire.

Going Second Advantages

  • You can force an opponent to make the first move and react. On tables with dense terrain where it’s possible to hide well you can often limit or remove an opponent’s ability to shoot things off the table turn 1. This can mean that going second forces your opponent to make the first move and making themselves vulnerable, and at that point going second means having the first striker advantage. That said, this depends heavily on an opponent both playing an army that requires them to do that, and making said move. Boring though it may be, it’s possible for both players to play exceptionally conservatively and wait for the other to make a mistake.
  • End-of-Game scoring. Most of the GT missions give the player going second the ability to score at the end of their turn on the final round of the game. Provided they still have the necessary units, this can give them a big scoring advantage on the final round as they’ll be able to make the final moves to capture objectives – and without the ability to Heroically Intervene from 9th edition, it’s harder to stop a player from doing this.
  • More Knowledge. Going second in a round means that you’ll know everything your opponent did in the round prior – what they drew, what they scored – and you can adjust your plans accordingly. This is a big advantage on the Purge the Foe primary mission, where going second means you will always know how many units you need to kill to either tie or exceed an opponent’s total, and can act accordingly.

While not a fully comprehensive list, I think this covers the basic advantages to each, and it’s not an accident that the list is larger for going first – despite some advantages to going second, the “I Go, You Go” nature of 40k tends to advantage the player with the first opportunity to attack the opponent’s units and deplete their forces before the opponent can retaliate, and more often that will be the player going first.

Now let’s look at some data.

How Often Does the Player Going First Win?

We covered this topic a lot during 9th edition, when at the game’s release it was clear that top-of-turn scoring made going first very, very good. Ultimately GW ended up changing a number of things with going first, including making it non-optional and adding end-of-game scoring for the player going second, two changes that persisted into 10th edition.

On the whole, the player going first in 10th edition games wins 54.8% of the time. That’s mostly within our acceptable band – ideally we’d want something in the 47-53% range, but 45-55% is acceptable even if it’s at the top end of things. It’s a big improvement over early 9th edition, where that number could often be closer to 60%.

Though as we’ll see, there’s a lot more to this than just the broad number. Let’s go deeper.

Going First, by Mission

The mission plays a huge factor in whether the player going first wins. Note that the big focus on our analysis here is Go First Win Rate (GFWR), the percentage of games in which the player going first won.

For this analysis, we’re just looking at the GT recommended missions, i.e. those missions labeled A-O. That said, we’ll pull more data as needed for further examination.

The GT missions are an interesting mixed bag. About half of them (7) are very much within our ideal range (47-53%), though it’s worth noting that Mission K has the smallest sample size of any mission and as a Deploy Servo Skulls mission, is one we’re not sure will hold at that rate. This is in part because Deploy Servo Skulls – if you play it correctly (something our experiences at Tacoma suggested is far from guaranteed) – gives the player going first a huge advantage: Specifically, because objective markers are moved at the end of each turn, a player going first can move them before an opponent can even reach them, and can potentially move them twice in the first round, or just hold them and move them in their opponent’s turn and then again at the end of their turn before scoring them.

Let’s look at the most interesting of these in more detail (Note: Chilling Rain is the “no additional rules” Mission rule).

  • Mission D: Search and Destroy and Deploy Servo Skulls. This puts the player deployment zone closer than any other deployment map – only 18″ apart. Add in the factor we just mentioned and you’ve got the second highest go-first advantage of missions. On average the player going first on this mission scores an extra 4 VP on primary scoring.
  • Mission E: Sweeping Engagement, Take and Hold, Chosen Battlefield (player-placed markers). Both Chosen Battlefield missions give huge advantages to the player going first, and both reward holding objectives with no other scoring factors.
  • Mission G: The single worst mission in the game for going first, where the player going first wins nearly 65% of the time and scores an average of 6 more VP. I’m going to suggest this is because the player going first has the first opportunity to empower an objective and because they have the first opportunity to kill enemy characters, with two full turns of shooting before the player going second can score for the first time.
  • Mission H: Our big Go-Second advantage mission, here The Ritual on Hammer and Anvil makes it very easy for both players to max out primary scoring without having to engage each other, which can advantage a player able to stay out of sight and score a full 15 VP in the final round.
  • Missions J and N: Both Priority Targets missions give the player going first a big advantage, in part because the primary mission doesn’t give the player going second the benefit of end-of-turn scoring, likely in part because it’d be weird for a player to score end of turn 5 and then again at end of game. Depending on the deployment, going first can be worth as much as an extra 4.8 VP.
  • Mission L: Dawn of War and Scorched Earth. The player going first scores an average of 3.2 VP more, possibly because they have the first opportunity to remove an objective, and possibly because the mission just gives more VP for holding objectives.

Overall Deployment Maps didn’t have nearly as much to do with Go First Win Rates as Primary Mission and Mission Rules. Scorched Earth (+3.1 avg. VP to the player going first per game), Supply Drop (+3.1), and Deploy Servo Skulls (+2.7) gave the largest advantages in our sample, though sample sizes for missions and combinations outside the recommended set for Leviathan are much smaller. Vital Ground missions give the smallest advantage – only 0.5 VP per game to the player going first.

Going First, by Faction

Let’s look at the other major factor – the faction being played. These are presented in alphabetical order, below.

There’s a lot to unpack here, so I’m going to cover the most important notes:

  • On average, everyone does better going first. There’s no faction that appears to perform better going second on average – it’s just a matter of how much better they perform. 10th is a shooting edition, and this is one of the stats most heavily affected by that. Notably, only Aeldari average a higher than 50% win rate going second – 53% – though GSC and Custodes are close behind at 47%.
  • World Eaters need to go first. The biggest delta in the game between going first and second is for the World Eaters, who win a staggering 62% of their games going first and only 38% going second. When they go first, they race across the table and smash into you with first turn charges, jamming you in your Deployment Zone. When they go second… they get shot off the table before that can happen.
  • Indirect Firing really likes going first. Who could have guessed? Both Marines and Astra Militarum do much better going first, where their indirect firing units can get the drop on opponents and take out key threats before the opponent can respond.
  • Grey Knights have the smallest delta. Although they don’t win a ton of their games, the Grey Knights have the easiest time of it going second compared to going first. Possibly because of how easily they can move around the table.

Final Thoughts

So what does all this mean? Well, generally it doesn’t mean a ton for factions – it’s helpful if you’re making balance decisions to know that, for example, World Eaters are miserable to play against going first as that can help you figure out that you don’t want to buff Exalted Eightbound, but we’re just out here playing games. So instead the big takeaways here are around the missions – if you’re a TO, you should avoid running the missions with very high advantages for the player going first or second, so D, E, G, H, J, L, and N.

Otherwise, that wraps up our look at the data this time around. I’ll be back in a few months to look at more data and cut things in new ways that will be possible with even more data. But otherwise expect Primaris Kevin back next week talking about other, more probability-driven topics. And as always, if you have any questions or feedback, drop us a note in the comments below or email us at contact@goonhammer.com.