The first of these threats is relatively easy to identify – though you still need to have a care relating it to your own army. That unit of 4 lascannon devastators for example is not going to be a huge threat if you’ve brought an ork horde with you and you’re dumping over a hundred miniatures on the table. If the devastators were carrying heavy bolters though, or missile launchers/plasma cannons they’d be of considerably more concern. What you need to look out for then are weapons that neutralise your armour save, or ignore any cover you might be standing in (or heldrake forbid – both). Concentrate your fire on these units and your own army will last much longer on the tabletop.
The second is a bit more tricky, both to pick out and also to counter. These are the force multipliers in the enemy ranks. In relation to my game this week, that would be the Tau Ethereal. Others I can think of off the top of my head would be Triarch Stalkers, Imperial Guard command squads, Space Marine Chaplains, Eldar Farseers etc. Basically anything that makes a unit’s shooting/combat more effective or increases its survivability. These units are often used as the focal point of an enemy list, with the intention of maximising any benefit they grant. This could be by means of certain types of units in the case of the Stalker, which only buffs shooting attacks, or within an area of effect, such as the Tau Ethereal. Identification requires a certain amount of knowledge in relation to the enemy codex, because if you don’t know what something does, you’re never going to be able to identify it as a threat properly. Neutralising that threat is a much more complicated issue though, as these units are often characters, and thus buried within a ‘meat shield’ unit to protect them, or hidden out of sight or within transports.
For the character buried in a unit there are two methods to get to them, the first is the application of overwhelming firepower. Concentrate everything you have and there are very few units that will manage to shrug off all of your firepower for a turn. High toughness and a decent save will help, but focussing your firepower for a single turn can do wonders. Of course, that needs to be dependent on what other threats you’re facing, it’s counterproductive to throw everything you have at a single unit if three others are likely to mince your army in the following turn. The second method is the barrage sniper. Barrage weapons remove casualties from the centre of the blast marker, and though you can still ‘look out sir’ the wounds caused, there’s a tendency for force multipliers to be quite squishy so it doesn’t take too many failed rolls to achieve your objective. Precision shots can achieve the same objective, but are far less common.
Characters in transports present yet more of a problem, as they add another layer of protection if that meat shield unit is sat in there with them. There are a couple of sneaky strategies however. Units inside wrecked vehicles are automatically slain if they can’t disembark. You can deep strike a unit to cluster round the access hatch and then shoot the transport to take its hull points. You’re relying on deep striking to be accurate however, which for some armies is easier than others. Of course, high AP weapons can wreck transports much more reliably, so if you can do that first, you can still then fall back to method 1 to apply firepower to the unit.
Possibly the most tricky prospect in terms of target priority however is the horde list that brings tough individual units too, and nothing personifies this more than the Tyranid codex. Yes, you’ll face lists full of big monsters, but roll enough dice and use some high strength weapons to bulk out your fire and those monsters will fall. Similarly, a Nid horde can be dealt with through the application of lots and lots of regular weapons fire. The problem is, when you end up facing a balanced Nid army, you’ll be facing several tough monsters with lots of wounds that are capable of causing serious damage, combined with a horde element that will swamp your fire if it’s too focussed on the big creatures.
In conclusion therefore there are the following sections of your opponent’s army that warrant a high target priority.
1. Force multipliers – leave them too late and they’ll have achieved their purpose even if you put them down eventually.
2. Scoring units – cripple your opponent’s chances by taking away his ability to hold objectives.
3. Firepower units that are tailored to your army – if they’re not equipped to deal with you, leave them till later.