Angelica Mortis Tactica II
This article was written by Brother Luther in Spanish and then translated. I have gone through it to tidy some odd translations — making them more understandable — but being careful not to alter the original message of the writer.
The perfect army
We can almost affirm with total certainty that a perfect army does not exist, at least not against all type of enemies and sceneries. For this reason, the exhaustive search of combinations, the optimization of units, the election of unbalanced armies or to be fluff-faithful to the background are mere rules you use to make the army, but they will never allow you to reach the ideal list that always ensures success.
I do not mean that these points do not have to be considered, but I am totally in agreement with commentaries that the famous game designer Jervis Johnson made in one of his interviews:
[…] the composition of an army supposes a minimum difference compared with the factor to learn to use that army until doing it well.
This is a basic truth that many players ignore, because they put their faith in winning — leading to an eternal mad dash towards those armies that they consider have better rules/weapons etc.
Everyone has their own preferences and I am not a Chaplain to give lessons of ways, but as an active general with enough campaigns under my belt I defend that true knowledge of strategy is only discovered after the use of balanced armies over a great amount of time and against widely varied opponents.
The reasons are simple:
- you will know all your weak and strong points,
- as they are balanced they are never completely tuned against any foe, which gives you certain manoeuvre margin to fight.
When you win a game thanks to a unit that was second choice that is when you will begin to see the true possibilities of your army; and only when you know how to use with effectiveness each one of the units in your Codex do you have the criteria of being able to discard them. But of course then you don't discard them because you recognise that every unit has a precise role and application. At this moment I am building my Ravenwing army. Among other objectives I wanted to be able to win at least one tournament with each of the 3 pure strains of Dark Angels (Deathwing, Ravenwing and Battle Companies), but now my true intention is to be able to deepen the understanding of handling units of bikes. The change of focus is that, although I have been years playing with power armour and terminators armies, I have never used bikes enough to handle them properly.
Another example that comes to mind here was my experience with units of Assault squads and Tactical squads in Drop Pods. For five years Assault squads were to all intent and purpose 'forgotten' by me as I never managed to see them in one of my army lists. Now, the second (Tac squads in Drop Pods) as soon as they appeared in the Space Marine Codex, became my main battle horse for long time. Nevertheless, with patience and many games, I could verify the great virtues of the assault groups and the serious deficiencies of drop pod quads. At present it is rare that I use my Battle Companies without a unit of jump packs, whereas I take a great deal of consideration in thinking if I should include units in drop pods.
The concept of balance
If we are facing the impossible mission to reach perfection in an army list (and hoping not to fight against our Nemesis army someday), then it is that better that we have decided to opt for 'balance'. When we speak of which army is balanced, what we mean is that it has a wide range of tactical capabilities; this variety does not cause it to be superior in any one facet in particular, but it also won't have great deficiencies in other facets either.
Therefore, to be able to speak of balance in an army it is necessary to know those parameters that govern it. It is not possible to establish what are exactly all the attributes that give form to an army, although I am going to propose, as an example, some of the likely attributes:
Next we are going to deepen in each of these aspects.
We understand mobility as the capacity of an army to move by the battlefield. This is one of the simplest factors to evaluate, and is vitally important since it can condition the real possibilities of an army, like:
- to fulfil its objectives in a certain mission,
- to manoeuvre for being able to avoid, or on the contrary to lock, enemy units.
An army composed by Tactical and Devastator squads conforms a rigid, powerful and resistant block. Nevertheless, if they do not come with transports or the support of other faster units they can't be very effective because: a) they would behave very predictably once deployed (this is because that is relatively simple to avoid their firing lines and very complicated to avoid undesired assaults with them), and b) they are too slow to move to occupy distant objectives.
If we pay attention to mobility that units have, then we must classify between units with:
- Real mobility.
Units that have great mobility and/or fire-movement capabilities, e.g.: tanks, bikes, speeders, dreads.
- Apparent mobility.
Units that can be deployed in any battle zone but have limited built-in mobility, eg: scouts, squads in drop pods, terminators.
- Little mobility.
Units with limited built-in mobility, eg: infantry without transports.
Our army totally formed by units in drop pods fighting against an expeditionary Tau force that has gravitational tanks and many units of battle suits with jetpacks. In principle it would seem that marines have advantage, since the deep strike with drop pods is quite safe and a devastating tactic. Nevertheless, during the game, Space Marine squads came to play and produced great Tau losses, but unfortunately that was not enough to completely annihilate their army. But once on the ground as the space marine force is formed exclusively by infantry units (and with guns of a limited range), the Tau survivors do not have great problems to manoeuvre away to a safe distance in which they can patiently decimate the marines with ranged firepower.
In this simple example we can see that it is very important to know the real possibilities your army, since sometimes a poor perception of your forces or your enemy's mobility can leave you in serious disadvantage.
This attribute basically means to us the difficulty that an adversary will have in destroying your units. It is determined by the model's attributes of toughness, armour and special saves. Although to have a high resistance can be a decisive factor to avoid wounds; this will also depend in great extent on the equipment/guns of our enemy.
The greater resistance of the Ravenwing bikes makes them almost invulnerable to Strength 3 attacks; the terminator armour makes them almost invulnerable to the majority of the artillery and ranged weapons.
But be aware, there are always weapons that ignore the improvements to Resistance that you have paid dearly for.
The use of plasma guns to kill bikes or Terminators is very efficient, since the armour and toughness of both are insufficient versus this kind of weapons.
Due to the randomness of enemies it is almost impossible not find an enemy unit that can annihilates yours easily. For that reason we return again to the concept of balance in the army list, since by means of the use of different units we can try to do more against those dangerous units with the more adequate units at our disposal.
A player can't decide between using a Land Raider or several Rhinos as transports. In the end he decides to use one of each. The Rhino is an expendable transport that can be used without fear even when the opponent has great amount of melta weapons, something not recommended if your transport is a Land Raider… worth 1/6 of your army! Nevertheless the Land Raider can protect the Rhino (and advance together) in battles where the enemy has many ranged weapons of strength 6 or 7.
The numbers is a fundamental factor since it is intimately related to the capacity of your army to be able to:
- tackle different objectives/missions simultaneously,
- use deceit manoeuvres or feints,
- be able to respond when you suffered many losses.
Small armies usually are very powerful and/or can carry out better manoeuvres, but they also can be easily overwhelmed themselves and almost they do not allow easily the change of tactics during the game.
Deathwing is a hard army that is best to concentrate in a small area of the battlefield, which is ideal for missions to hold and keep objectives. Ravenwing, on the other hand, has a fantastic capacity to change its positions according to the evolution of the game, which makes it ideal to carry out manoeuvres to refuse a flank. Nevertheless, both armies usually include very few figures — the reason why they can lose a game in one or two very unlucky lucky turns!!
To use a greater number usually gives more capacity to throw something back, because even though you suffered many losses you will be able to respond. Normally a greater number is associated with worse equipped troops, but even they can improve themselves by taking advantage of cover by staying in ruins or forests.
Battle companies allow you to deploy about 40-50 Marines in normal games, which allows for a greater margin of losses during the game. In addition, as you are using many units, it is an army that can approach different missions easily (some units advance while others give fire support). Unfortunately, Tactical squads never will be able to give you the deadly potential offered by the proud members of 1st and 2nd Companies.
This is probably the first attribute that is perceived by a player when studying his enemy. The firepower can be classified based on the number of arms available in an army among the following three types:
- Anti-light infantry (high AP, high rate of fire)
eg: bolter, flamer, heavy bolter, missile launcher (frag ammo),
- Anti-heavy infantry (low AP, upper-middle Strength and rate of fire)
eg: plasma weapons,
- Anti-tank (low AP, high Strength, low rate of fire)
eg: melta weapons, lascannon, missile launcher (krak ammo).
The use of each type of guns confers a determining advantage against certain types of units, but, as we commented previously on the players combinations chapter, as much to lack as to abuse of a certain type of firearms can be fatal in certain cases.
A brother Dark Angel commander without anti-tank weapons will have a bad experience against an armoured company of the Imperial Guard. After that debacle, that same brother decides to include up to 12 lascannons in his army. Although he gets himself a deserved revenge victory against the same Imperial Guard, later he has the misfortune to fight in another battle against a horde of more than 100 greenskins!
To have a great firepower usually helps to win, but sometimes this potential is only apparent, since it can be very affected by some factors, among them:
- Weapons' range,
- Line of sight (LOS), which can be limited in the battlefield,
In both cases mobility plays a decisive role, since those more static units can lose much effectiveness, whereas the moving ones gain effectiveness.
A devastator squad can be vital in an open field game, but in urban combat they probably can't fire at all some turns. That same squad is equipped with fearsome plasma cannons (range 36 inches) in open field, nevertheless a Dark Eldar reaper squad (with weapons of 48 inches range) can destroy them easily without fear of any reply.
Three bikers of the Ravenwing can keep at distance a squad of 5 Chaos Marines armed with 4 melta guns. They just have to keep away between 18 and 24 inches of the traitors, so they can shoot with their own twin linked bolters without themselves being in danger.
Assault is the second more determining factor in great amount of battles, and it is intimately bounded with the mobility of the army. So that an assault unit will be effective depending on the number of miniatures that can get into to the combat and how quickly (directly related to its mobility) and if it's equipment/weapon is adequate. If we take care of mobility, we can generally observe that armies usually have troops to assault (whose objective is to break the enemy lines) and/or counter-charge (whose objective is to stop the enemy charges). In the first class of assault troops are included those units with real mobility, whereas the counter charge units can be limited.
Bikes, assault squads with jump packs and, by smaller degree due to their greater mobility, units in transports are all considered primary assaulting units.
Besides the previous ones, veterans, terminators and dreadnoughts are valid units as counter-charge units. And as a last resort, tactical or scout squads can be used to counter-charge too.
As we mentioned previously, it is important to emphasize the second decisive parameter for an assault is the type of weapons available. Thus, we can differentiate between close combat weapons of:
- Moderate strength (conventional weapons),
- Moderate Strength, those that ignore armour saves (power weapons lightning claws and some psychic weapons),
- High strength, those that ignore armour saves (power fists, thunder hammers).
Depending on the kind of enemy we can see that each weapon could either be very efficient or totally useless.
A terminator with lightning claws is ideal against almost any unit of infantry, but against all type of vehicle he is incapable of damaging it easily.
It is fundamental to remember that independent of the fact that a unit can be used for any situation, it's much better to use it for combats where their abilities or equipment are more efficient. Not only must you consider the final victory of a combat, but also the cost that this combat involves and the repercussions that it will produce in the context of the battle.
Suppose that to maintain your fire line you must counter charge an Ork horde. Although it can win, a unit of terminators can suffer badly against a tide of Orks, still more if some hidden power claws are present. But if we also have a small assault squad, these men probably do the work better and with less risk. In addition, going this way we would release terminators for use against other more dangerous units, like for example a Big Boss and his escort mob, a threat that would make short work of the space marines assault squad.
Conversely, terminators can be used to charge against a flying Hive Tyrant that is dangerously near to our devastator squads and armoured vehicles. It is a dangerous play in which you can lose a very expensive unit, but in case of not acting the damage that it could cause in you fire line could be fatal.
Leadership is not usually considered until you are aware of the lack of it! The use of Fearless units is a great advantage of our army. To attack the morale of the adversaries is a secondary aspect, but it always must be present in the plans of an Unforgiven general.
Necron warriors are fearsome adversaries, and it is especially not recommended to carry out short ranged shooting against a huge phalanx of them, since their high toughness/armour and the 'We'll be back' rule makes them almost untouchable. On the other hand, a tactical squad with a fist or power weapon supported by a Chaplain could make enough damage in a close combat charge. If you cause enough casualties then he will have to take a Leadership test that could be difficult and they might not pass, and due to this that enormous unit could be fall back and be annihilated in the process.
These are only some of the parameters that can characterize an army. At the time of choosing your army it is vital to know which advantages are offered by each type of unit, thus then you will be able to establish what your strong points and weaknesses will be. The combination of some units will give to your battleforce excellent victory possibilities, but remember you must be the one who takes the game to where you can to better realise those advantages.
Good luck brother!