Wednesday, 11 March 2015

40k Deployment - a burning eye tactica

Hi everyone, and welcome to the latest in my series of Tacticas – this time I want to talk about deployment, something we all do every time we play, but how often do we really think about what we’re doing beyond hiding units or positioning them to get a good opening salvo? I’ve been guilty of this plenty in my gaming life, so it’s something I’ve been thinking about quite a bit lately, searching for how to improve myself as a player.

Well the truth is that deployment is one of the key elements that can set you on the way to winning your games, and whilst it’s fine in casual games to take the above approach, if you are playing in a more competitive style then you need to think more carefully about your battle plan, and how you go about setting out your troops to achieve that victory.

As I see it, there are three key strands to a good deployment

1. knowing how much to deploy in any given situation and using any given list,

2. knowing where to deploy your troops, which includes an in depth understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of the army you’re using, and

3. knowing whether taking first turn will benefit you more than going second, and if you don’t have the choice, whether you want to try and seize the initiative.

How much to deploy

  • Null deployment
The basic principle of this is to not actually put any models on the table during the deployment phase, and there are several ways of achieving that. The main method is by having some way of reserves arriving on turn one, usually via the means of a special formation such as the scalpel squadron of the haemonculus covens or the strike force ultra of the adeptus astartes. A less common, but possibly sneakier way, is to use infiltrate. Now that's not null deployment as such, since you do have units on the board at the start of the game, but you have the benefit of being able to 'deploy' first and still place your units after seeing where your enemy has deployed.

This method got used against me a few weeks ago and was a combination of the above. Three of my opponent's units deployed via drop pod, whilst an appropriate roll on the warlord traits table saw three of his normal units gain the infiltrate rule. ironically, he only had four other units, one of which already had the infiltrate rule!

Null deployment is great when going second, as it forces your opponent to spend their advantage of turn one doing nothing effective, although against a quick enough opponent it can cede board control early on. Generally speaking though, if you're going to use null deployment, it's because you've designed your list to work that way.
  • Minimal deployment
Similar to null deployment, minimal deployment requires you to have 1 or 2 tough units that are the only things you deploy on the board at the start of the game. It requires those units to be seriously survivable, because they're likely to face a lot of incoming fire from most, if not all, of your opponent's army. The second (almost) essential requirement for a minimal deployment is some kind of reserve manipulation - generally speaking to pull off a null deployment you will have units arriving on turn 1. Minimal deployment rarely has that option, so the least you need is to be able to guarantee either a re-roll or bonus to your reserve rolls on turn 2.

As with null deployment, a minimal deployment method generally requires you to have decided to use this technique and designed your list around it. Remember, the more units you keep back in reserve, the more you need to be sure when they arrive they will have a significant impact.

You will however need to assess your opponent's army before committing to it however, just to make sure that your deployed units can genuinely survive two turns of incoming fire before your reserves arrive.
  • Key reserve deployment
This is the type of deployment that suits most armies, and you'll probably face the most. The majority of the army is deployed, with only one or two key units being kept in reserve. These units are generally those that either have a substantial impact when they arrive, or are particularly vulnerable on turn 1.

Generally speaking, I'd say this is the deployment type you'll use the most, unless as noted earlier, you've specifically designed your list around utilising either null or minimal deployment.
  • Full Deployment
Assuming we're discounting flyers here, this is probably the second most common method of deployment, and lends itself towards the two extremes of army selection - MSU style for multiple target saturation (though you may very well give up first blood if your opponent gets to go first) or heavily elite where you can't afford to have units in reserve in case they don't arrive soon enough (and it really does happen, i've seen two units with re-rollable reserves stay off the table until turn 4).

Remember, as a glass cannon, if you deploy your whole army on the table, the best bet is to go first to maximise the damage your firepower can do - although if your opponent is particularly short ranged then it may be worthwhile going second to bring them into range.

Where to deploy

  • Defensive deployment
Defensive deployment is where you are looking to minimise the visibility of your forces, and the damage they can take on the first turn. This can be achieved in several ways, though the simplest is obviously to deploy your forces in such a way as to avoid your opponent getting line of sight to them. A defensive deployment works best when combined with a late-game strategy, so works very well with lists designed to null or minimal deploy.

It's not only about where you place your units however, it's also about which side you choose. I read a battle report by Mushkilla over on the dark city forum this weekend that demonstrated this point perfectly. Playing against grey knights with a powerful alpha strike potential, Mushkillla chose the deployment zone with the fewest objectives in it - knowing they were playing a tactical objectives mission and that their army would mainly deploy via deep strike, Mush managed by this decision to force the grey knights player to abandon the alpha strike in favour of holding the zone with more objectives. This allowed the Dark Eldar to whittle down the enemy with their initial forces whilst building an unstoppable late game advance.
  • Castling deployment
Castling deployment is best used when your opponent has the advantage of mobility - they can strike where they want against you so you concentrate your forces into a strong base, usually with particularly tough and resilient units on the edges of the deployment. It's main strength is that the opponent can't strike at an isolated part of your force, so when deploying its important not only to think about which units make the best castle walls, but also on the threat range of those units and the ones they're protecting. If your opponent can deploy and pick away at shorter range but tough units providing your castle walls then you'll fail, you need to have sufficient range with the remaining units to strike back and do some genuine damage to the assaulting army. 

As with many of these deployment methods, castling works best if you've thought hard about your deployment during the list building stage, bringing units that are capable of protecting those on the inside of the castle walls.

Yo also don't need to think of the castle walls in the traditional tough manner either - they can be made up of cheap throw away units (such as dark eldar Raiders with night shields for a 3+ jink, or ork trukks for blocking line of sight etc.
  • Dispersed deployment
This is probably the classic deployment style, the default to which many players revert if you will. It spreads your units out across your deployment zone, taking advantage of cover where you can find it and giving units the opportunity to strike at key targets and objectives straight away.

This however is a strategy best used by mobile forces, as its greatest weakness is the ability of the enemy to focus on one particular part of your army, overwhelming it and leaving the rest of your force outnumbered and outgunned.

This is also a tactic that is becoming slightly overtaken by the game rules - now that objectives are deployed before table halves are chosen, you rarely see the sort of setup you did under sixth edition where each army placed their objectives in their own deployment zone and sat a tough unit on them whilst they focused their offense on taking the enemy objectives. 

What I tend to see more of these days is objectives placed where they can be claimed without being in a particular deployment defensive zone, and with the advent of tactical objectives, clustering objectives together to make them more reachable by units is becoming more common.
  • Decoy deployment
This is a method I'll be using in my next game (which I'll have played by the time this is posted) whereby you place a distraction unit in a semi-vulnerable location. In my particular case it will be a unit of three lascannon/missile launcher centurions and a heavy weapon tactical combat squad. Granted, that's a fairly hefty distraction unit, but it also cannot be ignored (my centurions have become hated in my gaming circles, only once have I lost them all and their effectiveness was assured when in my first game they took down a soul grinder on turn 1 before it took a step in anger).

Essential components of the decoy deployment are that the distraction unit is not placed on an objective (if they were, they'd be the target, not a decoy), and second, that they are capable of significant damage on their own so that they can't just be ignored. By doing this, you force your opponent to divert a portion of their force to deal with your distraction or risk them winning the game for you. In the example above, I hope to force a significant portion of my opponents grey Knights to deal with the centurions, leaving the rest of my army room to manoeuvre. If I can force his dreadknight to shunt early on in the game, I'll have time to deal with it, otherwise it could run riot.
  • Aggressive deployment
Ah, my favourite (though not my most frequently used I will admit). Not for the faint of heart, this deployment strategy will either win you the game or you'll get hammered early. I played a typical example of that against eldar jetbike spam with my marine bike list a while back. All my units deployed aggressively, at the front edge of my deployment zone, ready to boost forwards to be in my opponents face early on. My opponent seized the initiative and maimed a big section of my army on turn 1 before I even got the chance to move.

This strategy is almost exclusively for use when you're expecting to go first, and i wouldn't advocate it if your opponent has any shenanigans that affect the seize the initiative roll (even if it's just a re-roll for it). It essentially involves setting up in advanced positions where you can control fire lanes and advancing routes from the first turn, and is designed to allow you to inflict maximum casualties or gain maximum effect from your movement on turn 1.

It's clearly best used either with armies that are focussed on assaulting the enemy, or have limited long ranged shooting, but the key thing is that any army using this strategy has to be able to inflict damage on turn 1, and should probably be reasonably tough enough to withstand a poor first turn.

Going first or second

Tricky one this, because it very much depends on so many factors - if your opponent is a short ranged army and you have lots of long ranged units, you'll probably want to go first to get in that extra round of shooting before they get to you. If on the other hand your army is based around a null or minimal deployment, going second is often sensible because it means your opponent has to waste their first, and sometimes second, round of shooting and combat without being able to damage your forces at all.

Then you have the more typical considerations to take into account, such as if you're playing an eternal war mission, going second allows you to take objectives without the opportunity for your opponent to retaliate, and similarly with maelstrom missions, going second allows you the pleasure of knowing exactly what you have to achieve in order to get ahead, meaning you don't have to spread yourself too thin as you may be tempted to going first.

Ok that's me done on deployment for now - I appreciate that this tactica wasn't so much a 'do this against x' style article, but hopefully it's got you thinking about deployment yourself - there is no substitute for learning 'in game' and no amount of someone telling you what to do will help you figure it out if the situation is slightly different. If on the other hand this article has given you some tips about things to think of when designing your list and deploying it to the tabletop then I'm counting it as successful.

Till next time, when hopefully I'll be reporting that my decoy deployment worked like a dream and resulted in the grey knights taking a beating,