Hi everyone, Mike from St Andrews Wargaming here. Nick has kindly asked me to contribute to his tactical series with my thoughts on maelstrom missions. After reading my battle reports and my general musings online, he is somehow under the delusion that I know what I am talking about (the fool!) (That or I'm getting lazy and fancied getting someone else to write an article for me, haha).
First off, I am a huge fan of maelstrom missions. I think like most people, I was hesitant about them when they were first introduced in 7 th edition. I was so used to playing “normal” missions since 3rd edition, so it was a big shock to have to come to terms with a whole new way of playing the game. However, after a few maelstrom games, I was hooked. It is definitely my favourite way to play the game these days and I hope it continues as we move towards 8th edition.
What I love about maelstrom missions is that they are a great leveller. We all know that there is a power gap between armies in the game, and whole articles can and have been devoted to the subject. You have armies that are low tier, armies that are mid-tier, you have Eldar. I think that any army can compete in maelstrom games. All forces have the right tools to score points in any of the maelstrom missions, regardless of their perceived power level. Strong armies are still going to be strong in maelstrom missions, as killing off the enemy army before they can score points is always going to be an effective plan, but I do think that all armies can compete in these missions and hope I can convince you too. This article will detail some of the lessons that I have learnt when it comes to dealing with scoring in these missions and a few tips on helping you improve your scores in these games. Veteran players may already know all of this, but hopefully you might be able to pick up a few pointers to make reading this worth the while!
Which Cards count?
This is an area of debate between many players, with a number of solutions put forward; what happens when you draw a card that you can’t score and what defines what you can’t score?
Given the nature of the maelstrom cards, there are several issues that can arise during a game. Good luck scoring Harness the Warp if you are playing Necrons or Tau. Scour the Skies is pretty useless if your opponent has brought no flyers. In my experience, there are generally three solutions to this problem:
Impossible to score cards cannot be discarded. This is the harshest of the general solutions (though it should be noted this is how the rulebook treats them - TBE) and not one that is often used, but there are some players who think that you only get to discard your one card at the end of your turn, no bonus discards are allowed.
If you cannot score a card from that game point onwards, you can discard it. For example, if you drew Big Game Hunter and your opponent no longer had any vehicles or monstrous creatures left on the table or in reserve, you can discard this card and draw another without penalty. This is my favourite of the system.
If you draw a card that is impossible based on starting army lists, then you can re-draw without penalty. This solution only bases the “impossibility” of scoring a card based on the make-up of the two armies at the start of the game. For example, if your opponent’s army had a psyker in his list at the start of the game and you draw Witch Hunter (kill an enemy psyker), you cannot discard this card and re-draw, even if your opponent’s psyker has already been killed during the course of the game.
My favourite solution is the second one. I think that the “impossibility” of scoring a maelstrom card should be determined by the state of the game from that point onwards. The third solution is frequently used and perfectly valid, but I think it punishes players if they have already achieved an objective and are forced to keep a card that they cannot possibly score. If you have already killed an opponent’s psykers/vehicles/flyers, why are you being forced to keep a maelstrom card you have no hope of scoring, simply as their army started the game with these units? (I like to think of maelstrom cards as orders being issued to your army, and therefore agree with Mike - why would you be ordered to kill a psyker if the enemy doesn't have any? - TBE)
For me, in maelstrom missions, the Combined Arms Detachment (CAD) is king! Objective Secured is one of the best special rules an army can have for these types of missions. I’ve lost count of the number of games I have won simply because my opponent lacked this special rule, allowing me to steal the objectives from them. Mobility is key for an army in maelstrom games. Fast Troops units and transport vehicles are great units for these missions. In my armies, these are the work horses of my maelstrom games and include; Space Marine Bike Squads, Landspeeder Storm, Drop Pods, Chimeras and Ork Trukks. Most of these units have great mobility and are able to move across great swathes of the board to grab objectives, as well as having Objective Secured. Drop Pods obviously lack mobility when on the board, but they have the ability to strike almost anywhere on the board on the turn they arrive.
In the standard maelstrom deck, over 50% of the cards need you to capture one of the 6 objectives on the table. Having a highly mobile, objective secured army gives you a big advantage in these games, as you have more chance of doing this. When building an army for maelstrom missions, take many Troops units and don’t forget your dedicated transport vehicles!
Luck of the Draw
Whenever someone loses a maelstrom game, what is the first thing they will say? I’ll bet it will be along the lines of: “I just didn’t have any luck with the cards”. I’ve had opponents not move their gunline army for the whole game and blame the cards drawn. I’ve had opponents trying to score the first card they drew for 6 turns of the game and blame the cards drawn. Now, don’t get me wrong, luck plays a huge part in 40k. However, simply blaming your luck in drawing cards doesn’t help much, and there is a lot you can do to improve your chances in maelstrom games.
Here are my tips for improving your maelstrom game:
1. Remember to discard your cards.
One of the biggest mistakes that I see many players make is to hold onto maelstrom cards for too long. If I don’t know for an absolute CERTAINTY that I can score a card this turn or the following turn, it will be discarded. If I have a maelstrom card in my hand for more than two turns, something has gone very wrong.
Knowing which cards to discard and when comes with practice, but it won’t take too long to learn. If I draw an objective card in my opponent’s deployment zone on turn 1, odds are that I am unlikely to score it. By carefully discarding cards, you can cycle through more cards during your game and have more chance to score.
2. Remember to actually score your cards!
This may seem obvious, but you need to actually score your maelstrom cards to win the game. For example, if you are going for Overwhelming Firepower, make sure that you score it! Devote as much firepower as you need to achieve your goal. If it takes two units to kill those 5 Gretchin, that’s what it takes. In maelstrom missions, the cards should be your first focus. If you need to forego shooting to run or turbo-boost onto the objective, so be it. I find that maelstrom missions force you to play games very differently, sometimes ignoring threats in the enemy army to score the objectives.
3. Don’t be afraid to sacrifice your units
You don’t get any bonuses for having more units on the table at the end of the game. Most of my maelstrom games end with me only having a couple of units left on the table and much of the enemy army untouched. In a few games, I’ve had opponents or observers say “you won on maelstrom points, but there’s nothing left in your army and I have most of my army left”. My answer is usually
As I have said above, maelstrom points are all that count. I will gladly sacrifice a unit if it is guaranteed to score me a maelstrom point. Dozens of poor Scout Sergeants have been sent to their deaths in insane challenges simply to score Hungry For Glory. In a recent tournament game, I sent a unit of Deathwatch Veterans after 5 Cultists simply to score 2 points for Assassinate and No Prisoners. I knew the Deathwatch would be slaughtered by a Bloodthirster the following turn, but it was worth the sacrifice.
4. Score early and score big.
In a standard 3 card maelstrom game, you should be aiming to score at least 2 cards each turn, three if you can. Devote all your efforts to scoring maximum points each turn. In many games, I see players focusing on killing the enemy army with the maelstrom cards there as an afterthought. Killing the enemy army is fine, but only if it helps you achieve your goals or you have the units to spare.
Also, racking up a big score in your first couple of turns is a nice psychological threat to your opponent. Going into turn 2, three points ahead on maelstrom can be a daunting gap to close.
5. Know what to score.
Many maelstrom cards give you options to score multiple points for killing multiple enemy units or grabbing multiple objectives. While these are great for getting bonus points, they are risky.
Only go for these bonus points if you know you for certain you can get them, or you have units to devote to get them. I would much rather go for two guaranteed Secure Objective cards than risk a D3 roll for killing 2 enemy units. I find that objective-based cards are easier to score, based on the type of armies I run, so tend to focus on these primarily.
Play the Mission
The maelstrom missions actually have a fair bit of variety in them and how I think they should be played.
Cleanse and Control- The simplest of the mission and the one I play as standard. Three cards per turn, try and score at least 2 per turn.
Contact Lost- Board control is key here. You can only draw a card for each objective you control at the start of your turn. Try and draw at least 3 cards per turn, more if possible.
Tactical Escalation- I think this is the toughest of the maelstrom missions. You need to try and keep your mobile units alive for longer to score in the later turns, which can be difficult. Keeping a few units in reserve can be useful to help in late scoring, particularly if they can deep strike or outflank.
The Spoils of War- A great mission for highly mobile objective secured units. Again, board control is key, as being able to score your opponent’s objective cards means you can score big each turn.
Cloak and Shadows- A really fun mission. Harder to predict what your opponent will do, but blocking objectives with objective secured units is a good tactic.
Deadlock- This mission personifies score early and big. Try and score every card in your first turn if possible. Going 6-0 up in turn 1 is very daunting for your opponent and can help force errors. This mission makes it harder to score as the game goes on, so really focus on those first 3 turns.
Maelstrom games are a lot of fun. If you don’t play them regularly, I would really recommend giving them a go. Hopefully, I have provided a few tips for improving your game.
Thanks for that Mike - I learned plenty, and I'm sure it will be helpful to lots of other players out there too. I would also second the point that maelstrom games are an extremely fun way of playing 40k. Sure, occasionally you really will get burned by the cards, but they are few and far between. Maelstrom missions force you to think on your feet during the game, weighing up the benefits of targeting enemy units or going for objectives. Mike makes a very good point about sacrifice of units to score cards, though if the luck goes the wrong way you can potentially end up tabled.