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Sunday, July 21, 2013

The Art of the Challenge

This article provides an in depth discussion as to why the assault phase is no longer popular and then demonstrates how to mitigate new rules introduced in sixth edition that have debuffed melee. Finally some tips are provided how to make the best use of issuing and accepting challenges in the assault phase.

Here is a list of the most common reasons why we don't see a lot of dedicated melee units anymore with the possible exception of Daemons and Tyranids.

A unit that is forced to disembark from a wrecked or destroyed transport cannot launch an assault the following turn with the exception of the Land Raider. Also an embarked unit cannot launch an assault after disembarking from a close topped transport that did not move the same turn.

With the exception of Vanguard Veterans and Yrmgal genestealers any unit that arrives from reserve cannot launch an assault the same turn. This is a major nerf to outflanking melee units such as Wolf Scouts and genestealers.

Disordered Charges
Any unit that launches a multi assault engaging more than one enemy unit does not benefit from most any of the special rules for charging such as +1 attack, Rage, Furious Charge, Rampage, etc.

This one at first didn't seem all that bad since the enemy target unit(s) can only snap fire but then along came the new Tau with Fire Support and their improved markerlights. Also consider a squad of Khorne Berzerkers charging a huge blob of Imperial guardsmen lead by a Commissar armed to the teeth with power axes and flamers (Wall of Death)... It's not a pretty sight to say the least.

The general perception here is that these new rules have greatly curtailed opportunities to effectively reach an assault and it's very much so true. When we consider all these disadvantages introduced in sixth edition it's easy to just say screw it... lets just pick up another lasgun or pulse rifle and join the ever constantly growing gun club. However we should always take a moment to look on both sides of the proverbial fence before drawing any final conclusions. It's important to remember that one key multi assault can be a game changer or even better yet a game winner.

Mitigating the Anti Assault Rules
So let's now look to see how we can lessen the impact to some degree these new anti assault rules.

First off if you play some form of Space Marine army there is always the Land Raider. It has an assault ramp and is still incredibly resilient now for several reasons such as the current preference for plasma over melta. I'm willing to bet that the Land Raider will stir some fear in the heart of the new eldar, even with all those nasty Wraithcannons and long range lance weapons. The Land Raider is the easiest means of ensuring an assault but it is also the most expensive option. Cheaper transports such as the Rhino greatly benefit from the new ability to move flat out now, thus it's possible to move the bulk of your army into midfield the first turn assuming you put some thought into how you deploy so they don't all get slagged hard by an enemy alpha strike. Also consider the new and vastly improved eldar Wave Serpent... While most see them as a means to quickly get their short reaching guns into range it's speed and survivability could easily be used to create a protracted opportunity to launch effective assaults later in the game. Finally on this note remember that when a squad disembarks from a transport they can move up to six inches... That's really great for the Land Raider since squads cannot disembark now if the transport has moved more than six inches.

Transports will typically die eventually now due to hull points but with the exception of AP1-2 they are only destroyed on a 1d6 roll of 6. I love to push my rhinos straight at a big cluster of Fire Warriors baiting them to shoot it with their mighty pulse rifles. Chances are they will only wreck it... You now suddenly have a piece of line of sight blocking terrain to hide the Marines and they have successfully encroached into enemy territory ! Make sure to turn the transport sideways facing the enemy with the rear in back. It's little things like this that can make transports still be viable.

Sure not being able to charge the same turn your hard nosed melee unit arrives via an outflanking maneuver really sucks but on the other hand this is still yet another means to get a combat unit that much closer to the enemy line and apply the pressure... Watch those battle suits run away! Again some cover can go a long way towards helping them survive long enough to get the job done.

It used to be that it was fairly easy to launch one or more assaults as early as the second turn and in some special cases even the first turn. It takes more thought now to make the assault phase work again and often the earliest an assault can occur is the third turn. It's all about being the patient hunter now while you slowly corral in the enemy.

Disordered Charges
I think the multi assault to a degree has become somewhat of a lost art and this is the one debuff that I don't have a problem with since often you are looking across the table at Fire Warriors, Guardsmen or Guardians... It doesn't really matter - if you can engage them with a dedicated melee unit you will more than likely crush them. As I said above one key multi assault can be a game changer or even a game winner. A multi assault can also lead to the situation where one enemy unit does not break for whatever reason and as a result your tooled assault unit is tucked away safe in melee and doesn't have to bare the brunt of the enemy guns their following turn. You then break them in their turn leaving your combat unit ready to launch a fresh assault into another enemy unit your next turn.

Coming back to the Land Raider again remember that Chaos Space Marines have access to the Dirge Caster which prevents enemy units from firing on Overwatch (6" area of effect from the vehicle hull)... That can be another game winner, especially versus Tau. As I said above it requires more thought now to successfully launch an assault but there are tactics which can help us to overcome these new hurdles. A powerful tactic versus Overwatch is to launch two assaults simultaneously. The first unit takes it on the chin and forces your opponent to shoot them as otherwise they'll get no Overwatch at all. Versus Tau it's often better to assault them from the far side of other friendly enemy units if possible to limit the number of unengaged Tau units that can lend their Fire Support. Again the Land Raider is your best friend as you can tank shock those shooty xenos into a tighter formation to get right up into their grill and block off other supporting units.

Once you have engaged the enemy in close combat this can drastically impact the flow of the game for your opponent. This puts pressure on them as this is the last thing they want. They must react accordingly and are more prone to make mistakes or poor tactical decisions.

Completely Balanced
I am not advocating assault oriented armies as the most competitive or even top tier. That said I am very much a hard core proponent of building completely balanced armies and that means you must have some dedicated melee units, if nothing more than to provide a counter assault element to help deal with specific armies such as Daemons and Tyranids. Otherwise you run the risk of a raging Daemon Prince or some other nasty Flying Monstrous Creature laying waste to your backfield. So yes even armies that are dedicated primarily to shooting can benefit from fielding one solid dedicated melee unit which is very easy to do with allies for armies such as Imperial Guard and Tau.

Don't let anyone fool you either. I have read and watched many batreps on the Internet where some new army won by a massacre then later noted the same army lost in the third or fourth round at a major event... These armies are Rock Paper Scissors. Completely balanced armies excel in all three phases - movement (highly mobile), shooting (close-in, midrange and long range) and melee. I think the best armies have highly mobile assault units - they can quickly reach out and hurt the enemy. Your army should have a solid foundation based upon all three of these central tenets.

Shooting is the king but it has its downside as well such as the highly generous and ever ubiquitous cover save. It's possible to mitigate cover to some degree in the shooting phase but on the other hand it is completely ignored when exchanging hard blows back and forth in brutally quick melee.

The Challenge
I seldom if ever see any tactics discussed about issuing or accepting challenges so I want to discuss it now in detail. If you decide to invest a significant amount of points towards melee then you must understand how to best take advantage of the challenge... It can definitely make or break you in a tight game.

There are a lot of rules concerning the challenge and I see people make mistakes quite often... For example a character engaged in a challenge cannot use Look Out Sir to mitigate wounds. If you're not careful an army that's not dedicated to melee can get the best of you and leave you hanging in the wind. Chaos Space Marines with the exception of their Daemon Princes must always issue or accept challenges, most all other armies' units have the option to decline with the Skulltaker being one of the exceptions.

Charging solo into an enemy unit can be risky and is often better to avoid unless the chance of return is high - for example if a hard solo character charges into a soft unit it must accept the challenge and will more than likely win. Versus units such as Fire Warriors there is a good chance they will break only suffering one wound and then regroup the next turn while your champion must then must suffer the brunt of the enemy shooting phase. If you can catch them close to the board edge they'll most likely break and flee off the table which could be a late game winning move... Otherwise it's often better to wait and engage the enemy with a higher concentration of models. This is one of the major aspects of sixth edition that shows there is definitely a strong bias against melee, however we can still make it work to our advantage. It's always better to assault with a high concentration of models and this helps to greatly reduce the nerf to multi assaults. For example I can say based upon repeated experience that Kharn and Abbadon leading two simultaneous assaults into the heart of the enemy will crack most any enemy battle line as it should. The more soft units you can engage in the same assault phase the better.

- Moral Support
Another disadvantage of charging solo is if you issue a challenge and its accepted the enemy character gains moral support (Get 'Im Boss!) from its squad by way of re-rolling to hit and wound or a failed armor save. There is one reroll for every five unengaged supporting models.

- Overwatch
Finally a model charging in solo must bare the full brunt of enemy Overwatch... That can be disastrous if your model is down to just one or two wounds.

Double Dragon
If you play a melee-centric army then it's wise to run at least one of your main combat units with two characters... A lesser character can accept or issue the challenge while your more powerful character is free to wreck havoc. What I have found is that if you don't then it's quite possible an assault could actually end up benefiting the weaker army. The last thing you want to happen is for an enemy unit to break off and leave your combat unit stranded. You must have the power on hand to charge in and destroy an enemy unit when necessary.

Issuing a challenge with a lesser character attached to your combat unit can potentially buy your unit more time even if only one more assault phase if needed. This might be the more prudent choice and hold up an enemy unit long enough to marshal the rest of your forces while waiting for your proverbial calvary to arrive. Another good example is suppose your close combat monster is down to its last wound, must charge through cover and does not have assault grenades (e.g., terminator armor). Issue or accept the challenge with the lesser character to help ensure your melee beast survives... The next round of assault your close combat monster can swing at full initiative again and tear through the following challenge or enemy rank and file.

Glorious Intervention
After the first round of close combat another engaged character can trade places with your boss if they pass an initiative test. This can really work to advantage of melee-centric armies. For example you must charge an enemy unit for whatever reason, maybe to simply avoid being shot the following turn. If your champion manages to survive versus a tougher enemy character then if another combat unit can join the fight your following turn you can swap in a more killy character to finish off the enemy boss.

Avoiding the Challenge
Sometimes it's possible to assault an enemy unit from one side keeping their character unengaged at the beginning of melee to prevent them from being able to accept a challenge. This keeps your close combat monster free to shred through the rank and file - this is fairly easy to do with highly mobile units such as Flying Monstrous Creatures.

I have discussed new rules that are anti-assault and demonstrated some methods how to mitigate them along with general advice on how to optimize your assaults. I also discussed how to best utilize the challenge to your advantage.

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