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Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Ride of the Valkyries, Part 3: Tactics


Hey all! Apologies for not writing in a while, I've been caught up with work and have barely had enough time to put in a few games of 40K and Necro, let alone write. Without further ado, I present the third and final part of my AirCav series: Tactics.

Playing an AirCav army is like purposely playing with a handicap, for a I mentioned in Parts 1 and 2, you are limited in your choices of troops and vehicles. As such, this type of army requires finesse to fully utilize, and more importantly, good tactical acumen in order to get the most out of it. With that said, there are a few basic precepts of AirCav tactical fighting I'll get into. After I touch on these concepts, I'll then show some examples of how they can/are used in games, and hopefully help rid the fear of Mech Armies and show that even mighty "Leafblower"-esque armies can succumb to a good tactical plan. Quick caveat, a lot of these tactics revolve around the current prevalence and strength of Mech Armies. The ideas though can be utilized against less Mech armies as well.

The first tenet of AirCav tactics is what I call "Selective Targeting, Mass Fire". It's a fairly basic (and some may say obvious) concept. Since your army is already hamstrung, you need to quickly identify units in the enemy army that are key to his success, and then mass fire against them to either destroy them or somehow inhibit their ability to be effective. Now here is where this line of thinking differs from some others: a unit that is "key" to his success could be that Land Raider full of Assault Termies ready to tear into your line, but it could also be that battery of Hydras in his backfield that is limiting your movement (and thereby increasing his), or it could be that lead Rhino in the "choo-choo train" of Rhinos heading toward you. A "key" unit is more than just a unit that can claim/contest objectives; what makes a unit "key" to your opponents plan is a mixture of mission, his army composition, terrain, and his set up (or as we Army folks like to say when making plans, it is METT-TC dependent: Mission, Enemy, Time, Terrain, Troops, Civilian dependent). It is up to you as the AirCav commander (sorry "player") to take all theses factors in mind when initially deciding what unit/s are "key" to his overall strategy. And then once you identify them, maneuvering your force/combat power in such a way as to maximize your firepower onto these handful (maybe even only 1 or 2) units. A vital thing to remember though is that as the game progresses, what is considered a "key" unit will adjust as well. You may knock out the Hydra battery, and you're working on taking out his led Chimera in his "train" of Chimera's coming at you, but he's still got that outflanking Vendetta flying around or that Manticore raining shells on you, so of course one of those now becomes a "key" unit as they both are in the business of limiting your mobility. This then feeds into concept number two...

Which is, "Shoot to Stun". Now I know what you're thinking, "Shoot to stun? Why would I want to stun them when it would be much better to get a wreck or explodes result?" Which is a viable point, but when we factor in what I mentioned above, even the lowly stun is a win for the AirCav force. It denies your opponent the ability to move AND fire which then permits you a wider freedom of movement. You know have the initiative and dictate the flow of the battle because you can still move and shoot, he can't. Now this is advocating for trying to always get "Stunned" results, but rather to point out that "Stunned" result and better are to your overall advantage and that there is nothing wrong with "Stunning" your opponent. The only issue arises when your enemy has Extra Armor or some other upgrade which makes "Stunned" downgrade to "Shaken". If this is the case, then the results needed shifts slightly to be "Immobilized" or better. By getting "Stunned", "Immobilized", "Wrecked", or "Destroyed" results you are seizing the initiative from your opponent and making him now react to your moves, as you now have mobility whereas he lacks it. This leads right into point three.

The third tactical tenet of AirCav is "Mobility Denial". This is the natural progression from points one and two above. The AirCav force is a highly mobile force which trades firepower for speed and the ability to rapidly reposition itself in order to get the best shots on those "key" units. Thus it is important for the AirCav list to always maintain that mobility and maneuverability, while simultaneously denying it to the enemy, or at least limiting it. This also means that you can never get tied down into a long engagement or firefight; you must hit hard and fast, and then back out before the enemies superior firepower can be brought to bear. This can be down in a few ways. One way is to use the longer range firepower of the Vendetta to "snipe" the enemy key unit/units. Another way is to fly in close (usually with Valkyries) and drop off one squad to knock out that "key" unit while the aircraft provide suppressive fire, by either targeting exposed troops, or if there are no troops available, then at least trying to hit side/rear armor on nearby vehicles. This second method is the trickiest to pull off and usually is saved for later in the game. Usually the plan is to maintain distance until around turn 3-4 when you can swoop in quickly to use your troops to knock out any remaining key units and/or grab objectives. It is the whole concept of trading space for time. You must keep moving and "sniping" is "key" units early in the game to buy you more time to make that decisive final strike or to take those objectives later on. This finally leads to my fourth and final point, "Swoop In for the Kill"

The final point is the culmination of all three prior points. You've identified his "key" units and have poured enough fire into them to rend them useless for the game, either by utterly destroying them or by denying them the ability to move. Moreover, you've also begun to "snipe" targets of opportunity and adjusting the "key" enemy units you want to shoot at as old "key" units are taken out of the picture. It's getting to that point in the game where mission objectives become key (for the missions that have objectives at least). Here's where the "Swoop in for the Kill" comes in. There are two ways of pulling this off. Method one is come flying in and unload all squads near a weakened enemy flank and mass of fire it to death, and then either footslog to the nearest objective or hop back on your bird and fly there. The other method is to drop off one squad on a weakened flank, knock out an enemy unit, and leave them there to continue to provide suppressive fire/ a diversion, while the other squad flies to the objective in the following turn. This works best if you have maneuvered two flights of birds along two different enemy flanks. The enemy now has two flanks under attack and compromised, and you know have two squads zipping around to take nearby objectives.

With all that said, I decided to use a screen shot from a Vassal game I saw to help illustrate these points.
Some background for this game. It was I believe 2K between a CSM player an a BA player (whose models I took off because I wanted to highlight the epic fail setup of the CSM Player). It was table quarters for annihilation and this was what he had established after his first turn (this is also off memory from about 4 weeks ago so some of the details may be off). Anyway looking at his setup, I immediately wished I had been playing my Hybrid AirCav list. He was hugging that hill like a koala bear hugs a Eucalyptus tree, savoring his BLoS status. I instantly identified his 2 key units. Can you guess what they are? If you said anything other than the uppermost and lowermost Plague Rhinos, you're wrong, and obviously took nothing away from my awesome tactica. You should probably re-read it, and when you're done ponder how you missed such great tactical advice the first time around. A lot of his armies mobility is hinged upon two AV11 vehicles that, if immobilized or destroyed, will set his mobility back greatly for at LEAST one turn, if not more. Had I been playing, my set up would have been my Manticore behind the bottom right stand of trees, 2 Hydras next to him, maybe slightly forward a bit, and the last Hydra at above the Manti on the upperside of that bottom copse of trees. Turn 1 that upper Hydra would move 6" to at least get 2 shots off on that upper rhino, and the bottom 2 would move 6" forward to ensure they could hit that bottom rhino. Then it would just be a matter of hoping for the right results. Oh and the manti would aim for either Khorne Rhino for if it hit, those other 2 plates would wreak havoc on everything near, and if it scattered in any direction but right, something else would be hit. So without even having the AirCav portion of the AirCav list enter on the field, I've already identified his "key" units and have a plan for taking them out. The same would be true for a "Pure" AirCav list, only this time I'd be more restricted in that only 1 of those 2 key units would be targeted turn 1, for I'd only have 1 Squadron of Vendettas or Valkyries on hand. In either case though, "Pure" or "Hybrid", subsequent turns would only further help the AirCav, as if the other Valk/Vend squadrons come in from the left, they can easily pop more of his armor and get rear shots, and if they came from the right, well they'd be able to sit back and continue to snipe.

Now this Chaos player had horrible set up, but it's something that's becoming more prevalent nowadays what with the great bonus cover gives to Mech Armies. People are using cover more (and usually wisely), but when they rely too much on cover, they inadvertently limit their mobility and very visibly show to their opponent what unit/s are "key" to their overall plan. As the AirCav player (or rather any decent player), it's important to note these things early on so as to interrupt his plans as soon as possible.

And with that, my "tactica" if you will, on AirCav is complete. As always, if you have any comments or criticisms, feel free to let me know!

2 pinkments:

Venerable said...

A great read and a good final chapter for the AirCav series.

'Shoot to Stun' is a concept that alot of people are simply not happy with - but its something that I rate.
Reducing the return fire and movement coming at you allows you great control, keeps you alive for another shot at it.
With fast mech armies and aircav, the mobility is enough and the game long enough that this tactic is definately viable.

Thanks for the post, solid as always

Venerable

Roland Durendal said...

Hey Ven! Thanks for the feedback as always.

I think the reason people don't view it as strongly as they should, is partially due to the prevalence of Extra Armor out there, but also because, well let's face it, people want destruction. They want Wrecked! or Explodes! results, because those put said unit out of the game permanently. What they are missing though is that you can be as effective, if not more so, but putting that unit out of the game even for 1 turn. Nobody relishes the idea of having to go back and try to kill something again, especially if you think it should have been killed earlier on. So there's a sort of player bias against "Shoot to Stun" because they feel it's a worthless objective. I feel (and hopefully have showed), the opposite is true. Additionally if you allow yourself to follow the "Shoot to Stun" idea, you now benefit from 2/3 of the Vehicle Damage results (only 2 that don't benefit are Weap Destroyed and Shaken), whereas if you go with the traditional mentality of Explodes/Wrecked being the only optimal result, you limit yourself to only benefiting from 1/3 of the chart. SO in my eyes, "Shoot to Stun" is overall a more effective tactic than "Shoot to Kill"

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