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"Pink isn't a color. It's a lifestyle." - Chumbalaya
"...generalship should be informing list building." - Sir Biscuit
"I buy models with my excess money" - Valkyrie whilst a waitress leans over him

Saturday, January 1, 2011

To Disembark or to not Disembark? That is the question

First post of the new year! 1/1/11 @ 1:11 AM; how amusing.

My week off a while ago afforded me some time to hang around on Vassal as well as play some games which you saw. However, in observing some games I came across something I think needs to be touched upon: disembarking from transports. One game which jumps to mind was a pretty decent Venom Spam army against a 5 Tervi army which was not built well at all (i.e. HG, Zoan, Venom = Elites, Old One Eye, 2x Mawlocs, etc.). Not knocking the player’s use of list, etc. as I have no idea why s/he was playing it, etc. but what struck me as odd was the Dark Eldar player exposed quite a few of their squads by disembarking in front of the Tyranid line. The DE player had a huge advantage as they had way too many tanks for the Nid player to take down and between the poisoned shots and darklight weaponry, the MCs weren’t going to last long. In the end there was really no reason for the DE infantry to be disembarked from open-topped transports where they are quite capable of firing from to full effect. Although it was unlikely the DE player wouldn’t of been in range on T1 with his Trueborn if they had only moved 6” and there were some advantages in this case to doing so (in the end 3 Tervigons were dropped), it prompted some discussion and has led to this article.

Before we actually get to disembarking let’s take a quick look at units in transports. One of the main advantages of mech is your infantry have an extra layer of protection. Whilst they are inside the tank, they simply cannot be harmed (and apparently we had to have this FAQ’d for DoM). However, far too many people are used to MEQ statlines in terms of damage dealt by Explosion! results. Most Xenos armies are much more vulnerable to said explosions with MEQs generally suffering 1-2 deaths compared to 2-3 for DE Warriors, 4+ for IG Guardsmen, 3+ for Orks, 2-3 for Tau FW, etc. (assuming 10 strong squads in their respective transports). This is quite a difference and these armies quite often need to play their transports differently. The concept of an MM bunker is quite familiar where Tactical marines camp in midfield and use their Rhino essentially as a glorified bunker. This works very well for Tacticals as they have the statline to accept Explosion results and enough bodies and firepower to prove troublesome to opponents. The same cannot be said for other races as their squads are often forced to take take morale twice (pinning and 25%), will lose a number from their squad (and potentially special weapons) and thus have less midfield presence.
This point highlights the difference each race has in relation to each other in how their transports are used. Although this was a very general comparison it shows the level of complexity this topic can delve to so we’re going to try and keep it quite simple.

Now the extra-long introduction is out of the way...disembarking loses a main advantage of the squad, protection from incoming firepower. This can vary from the 35 points Rhino to the 120 point Warfish and although the squad disembarking may have different roles or survivability, a layer of defense has been lost. Therefore, disembarking for any squad regardless of statline, needs to ensure the possible gains outweigh the risks. At the conclusion of games this is a lot easier to ascertain than mid-game where there are more factors to consider but the premise is the same. These factors include the damage they can deal, whether or not they can assault/tie up a squad, what incoming firepower is coming their way (i.e. flame templates?), whether or not the squad is vulnerable to assault, etc. For most squads disembarking is a very risky endeavour early- to mid-game as they just aren’t survivable enough in midfield to stick around (MEQs or assault units often being the exception) and the choice of disembarking becomes an opportunity cost. Is sacrificing this unit to block/delay or attempt to kill something worth it?

By disembarking, you’re also offering your opponent an increased chance to shut two units down. Whilst heavy weapons out of fire points can be shut down by a single shaken/stunned result, a lot of transports which allow infantry to fire from them (i.e. open-topped or fire points) often ferry units with assault based weapons such as IG Veterans, Trueborn, Honor Guard, ISTs, etc. Shaking the transport here still offers up the option for the unit to disembark and fire. When you disembark voluntarily your opponent is given an increased chance of stopping two units and has more options to do so (i.e. tie infantry unit up in combat) but certain measures can be taken to prevent this such as self-blocking. Again, it comes down to opportunity cost or the chance of the unit being safe be merit of wiping out its target.

Harking back to the example of the DE v Nid game on Vassal. The DE player had the advantage and never needed to get out of their transports as the Nid player would never have been able to down multiple vehicles but their anti-infantry capabilities were very good. However, by getting out they were able to drop more Tervigons than otherwise possible and limited the number of Gants generated. In the end the Trueborn were essentially traded for the Tervigons which is an excellent trade-off but loses flexibility later in the game. Against a more balanced list this could of proven problematic but also highlights the “never disembark” line isn’t always true. It always, always depends on the situation, army, transport, opponent and unit concerned and what can be gained from the situation compared to what can be lost. This is one of the prime reasons Fish of Fury isn't a viable tactic. 24 S5 shots is great but even at BS5 you're not going to reliably keep those Fire Warriors safe. The tactic ends up  having poor opportunity cost as you're unlikely to come out 'on top' with the exchange. 

This should provide more information onto why you should or shouldn't disembark and prompt some thought processes. Too often I see a lot of zoom forward, disembark, shoot, die or move forward, sit still, shoot, never disembark, etc. Whilst as an idea for an army or unit these concepts are fine by themselves, flexibility in tactics as well as army functioning is key to winning. I'll aim to do a follow-up article in terms of how to disembark (rather than when or why) and specifics on blocking disembarkation. 

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