Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Tactical Insight - Play the mission

Greetings all, it's been a little while since I last did a tactical insight article, and in replying to a comment elsewhere I was inspired to write a post about playing the mission and sticking to your objectives rather than getting distracted.

I should say at this point that this whole article illustrates one of my favourite things about blogging - a simple comment made in relation to one of my posts has inspired an entire new one - so thank you Mr Williams!

Right, so what am I actually babbling on about after all?

One of the first pieces of tactical advice most veteran gamers will give you is to 'play the mission' rather than trying to table your opponent (note for newbies - 'tabling' your opponent means killing every model they have in their list).

That's really good advice, and if you can focus on your mission objectives in the middle of your game and not get carried away shooting stuff then you'll become a very successful player relative to the quality of your army list, and a better player than most.

There are however many elements to playing the mission that don't simply involve stopping yourself playing like an excitable Ogryn with a brand new Ripper Gun, so where do we start?

Same place as always, we start at the beginning, and no, I don't mean Turn 1. I mean with your pen and paper writing out your army list (yes, I'm old, but not that old, I usually use battlescribe).

Now, I've kind of addressed some of the topics here before (see my army building page) but today I'm going to investigate the details much more.

Starting with the very first principles therefore, we need to consider what type of mission we are going to be playing, and whether or not 'tailoring' your army to that mission is going to be frowned upon by your opponent.

The rulebook gives us two basic mission types, 'eternal war' and 'maelstrom'. Right from first principles, these two different mission types will result (if you tailor your list) in two very different forces because of the nature of what they are.

Eternal War missions work on the basis of you playing the game, and totting up the score at the end of it, based on (usually) your units holding certain objective points around the battlefield and (sometimes) what casualties you have caused to your enemy.

Maelstrom missions are very different, with you scoring victory points at the end of each turn, and you being tasked with achieving new objectives in the next turn.

At their core therefore they are very different beasts - Eternal War missions really tend to reward armies that can dish out a lot of damage, with static elements putting out a lot of fire supported by some limited fast moving stuff to jump onto objectives at the end of the game. Maelstrom missions reward mobility above almost everything else. Damage output is still relevant, but the ability to move around the table will win you more games than outright firepower, resilience or combat prowess.

Now a balanced, 'TAC' (take all comers) list will perform pretty well in both situations, so that's what I'm going to look at from now on. It should be self explanatory that if you and your opponent know what missions you are playing and are happy to tailor forces to those ends, then some of this advice will be more relevant than the rest. I'm also going to work on the assumption that you're working with a single codex and not going all out for an uber list - there's nothing wrong with that but I'm looking at creating solid, competent lists without exploiting allies, formation rules and their loopholes.

Look out in the future for my more detailed assessments of the particular missions in the rulebook as a follow up mini-series to this post.

What are the core elements then that we need to address in our army.

Mobility - whether playing eternal war or maelstrom, you are going to need to be able to maneouvre yourself around the table to affect the game.
Anti-armour - tanks, skimmers, super-heavies, these are all now common sights on the battlefields of the 41st Millenium, and your army will need weapons in it that are capable of dealing with them.
Anti-air - whilst less common than other vehicles, flyers are also an often seen element in peoples lists (not least because the models are some of the coolest out there). More difficult to hit than ground based vehicles and skimmers, you will almost certainly need a dedicated option for dealing with them.
Combat - Some armies like mixing it up close and personal, others don't. Any decent TAC list needs to be able to deal with it. I'm not saying you need to have a combat monster in your own army, but you need to have a plan for what to do about it if you don't.
Elites - We're talking heavy infantry here. Or in other words, stuff that's equivalent to a terminator. Usually this means good armour saves, and so you are going to need to deal with that.
Hordes - No, not that hordes, that's a whole different game. I mean hordes of infantry models coming your way, drowning your elite army in a tide of flesh.
Psychic - Probably the most difficult one to deal with this, as there are very few answers to an opponent that relies on a lots of psychic dice.

Added to this, the basic mission types require certain things.

Eternal War missions - you will almost always be asked to hold objectives, so units with good firepower will help (you really don't want a bloodthirster to have to hold an objective in your deployment zone) that can stay in one place and lay down supporting fire. In addition to that, you will need to have some mobility to go and hold objectives that are further away (deep striking units are particularly good for this). Finally you may also be required to move the relic, and for that you're almost certain to need a unit that can weather fire pretty well.

Maelstrom missions - now there's a lot that you could be asked to achieve within these missions, but they mostly fall into a few simpler categories.
Holding objectives. Mobility is key here, as they could be far away from your forces to start with.
Killing stuff. Either in the shooting, psychic or assault phases, you can't afford to go mobile at the expense of being able to deal damage.
Being places - both in your enemies deployment zone or your own. This favours having both static and mobile elements in your army, or extreme mobility (windriders) if not.
Doing stuff - issuing challenges, harnessing the warp, causing failed morale checks etc

Using the standard tactical card deck, the 36 cards break down into the following proportions of the total available victory points (70pts) from the deck (assuming maximum results gained for any variable points cards).

Holding stuff - 31/70 - 44%
Killing stuff - 26/70 - 37%
Being places - 4/70 - 6%
Doing stuff - 9/70 - 13%

So working on that basis, if you focus your army on killing things then sure, you may get the tabling every now and again, but you're limiting yourself to just over a third of the potential points you could be scoring. Equally, there's that tricksy 13% of points that sometimes you just discard because you haven't accounted for it in the list - harness the warp? How many players include a psyker in their list in case this comes up - I do!

Quick initial summary - how does all this relate to playing the mission anyway? Well, quite simply if you want to achieve objectives then you need to have the right tools to do so, and if you don't have the tool there's little you can achieve, and the missions that you play reward different aspects of your army differently. Added to that - you need to be aware of all the potential different types of objective you might be asked to achieve, and think about what parts of your army can do that.

It's an old saying, and a very cheesy one, but if you fail to prepare then prepare to fail. That applies equally to writing your list as it does to anything else! Make sure that you have addressed all the above points in terms of your army and you have taken a good step on the road towards playing the mission.

That's probably enough text for now - next post will be a guest post from Mike at St Andrews Wargaming looking at maelstrom missions, and then I'll take a look at a worked example using my own list and breaking it down against the rulebook missions and tactical objectives.