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Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Foot Guard: How Viable?

From a passed-along email/PM between the pink one and a folk of Warseer, regarding some of the things that I've said about foot Guard. Quotation marks are passages from the original text that the author was responding to.

"Pure foot IG has no way to claim distant objectives and is very weak to fast assaults and DSing. It is, in some ways, a mirror of the Green Tide army, and not in a good way."

1) Pure foot IG can claim with Al'Rahem's outflanking platoon if desired, which can be either blobbed up or individual squads. This can include up to 5 Infantry Squads, 2 Special Weapon Squads, and the Platoon Command (I wouldn't ever Outflank with HWS). This is plenty of force to take an objective.

2) Foot IG has never, in my own experience, been weak against Deep Strike. Deep Strikers (with the odd exception of Vanguard Vets) can't assault on the way down, so are limited to shooting one enemy unit, then dying to counterattack.

3) Fast assaults do cause damage to foot IG, I grant. But the army is not to be measured by its susceptibility to taking casualties. If the front few squads die, that's immaterial. I always assume my IG will lose its front line or two when facing an assault army.

4) Move Move Move makes the army surprisingly mobile in the middle game. No, they can't move quite as consistently fast as vehicle-mounted troops, but they can put on a pretty good turn of speed. If you start moving around turn 3, they can cross most of the board in a human wave, even if they can't slingshot blobs through enemy units.

"it is devastatingly shooty, but that alone does not make it viable- if the opponent seizes the initiative, or simply goes first, it is often in severe trouble. If they have a mass of resilient units that can simply squat on midfield objectives, it is likewise in serious danger. "

5) I always assume I'll go second. It doesn't usually cause problems. Foot IG can take a punch and hit back better than almost anything else out there. I think the argument of enemy seizing the initiative or going first could be applied to every army in the game except Reservehammer lists, and most of them are MORE vulnerable to enemies going first, not less (take Dark Eldar, for example, with their vehicles stationary for the first turn).

6) I'm not sure what army has a "mass of resilient units that can simply squat on midfield objectives". Maybe Daemons with Plaguebearers? But resilient troops generally aren't able to kill enough Guardsmen, and Guard blobs can swamp them and at the very least contest those objectives.

I know I'm pretty biased in favor of my beloved infantry, but I honestly believe, based both on theory and on my own practical experience, that they are a fully viable and competitive 5th Edition force. I do wonder why they weren't addressed in the original post, and I think they definitely deserved a more comprehensive response than that given by Puppy.

On the other hand, maybe I shouldn't try so hard to convince other folks. After all, if the conventional wisdom is that it's not a competitive way to play, that only works in my own favor...

Alright, let's go over this list of things, because it's a good exercise in explaining what most foot lists lack and what mech lists have, and why you want those things. Those of you who read my last article on foot lists will probably recognize some of the concepts in here.

We will also preface this with a couple other things: I am not talking about hybrid Guard armies that run a mix of units on foot and mechanized; these lists can use the advantages of each component (and, make no mistake- there are advantages to being on foot) to try and cover the other, in theory mitigating these problems with their mechanized half. How well they do so is a large component of whether or not such a list functions. Secondly, I am specifically referring to battles towards the larger end of the spectrum- at 1500, or 1250 or 1000 the balance of many things changes and foot lists get into a weirder set of circumstances.

Point-by-point now:

1) Al'rahem does NOT sufficiently mitigate your inability to claim distant objectives unless you also run mechanized. Without mechanized support, you are bringing a fairly fragile bunch of bodies in to try and claim things one- and only one- side of the board. Yes, you can bring a Commissar Blob to go for something and the enemy can't just sweep it off the table- but they CAN hit it hard with firepower, and if they didn't bring template and torrent weapons, their army isn't very well designed. 61 guys (the max you can bring) seems like a lot, but that's a huge investment- you're looking at 500+ pts, assuming you gave them any weapons at all or Commissars to hold them in place. Sixty bodies is something that most armies are more than capable of killing, either with shooting or in CC- remember, these units will be isolated from your main force and thus very vulnerable to defeat in detail by a mobile foe. How will Al'rahem & Co fare when faced with the firepower of the entire enemy army? Not well, I think.

2) Guard firepower is largely long-range (bar Meltaguns)- one of their main advantages over other armies if the 48" or 72" range on many of their guns. Armies that arrive right on top of your position- i.e. Deep Strike armies- negate that advantage and guarantee themselves the first shot, giving them a chance to cause significant casualties and shut down the Guard player's local firepower.

3) Layering your ranks is obviously a fundamental strategy for shooting armies (especially Tau and IG, who are naturally fragile), but with the mass of bodies you have, multicharges will be a major issue- chances are at least some of their squads won't finish the fight until your turn, at which point they immediately re-charge something else. Bodies you have, but when you are losing 2-4 units each game turn, you WILL feel it fairly quickly as they roll up your line. Unlike a mech shooting army, you can't respond to their deployment and you can't back up to buy time- you have no options, just "stand there and shoot, hope it works." Sometimes it will, but many others it will not.

4) Any time you are using Move Move Move you are giving up your firepower and your good cover save (from Incoming) for a modicum of mobility. Sure, you can run ten or thirty guys onto an objective. So what? An assault army will thank you for feeding your units into their meat grinder. Mechanized armies will already be there, so you'll have to push them off before you can do anything. They can tank shock you (and you have terrible morale, remember) and all you can do back is try and hope some lucky trooper rolls a six followed by a six followed by a five or six so his Krak Grenade will randomly do something to their tank. And again, just as with Al'Rahem: twenty or thirty IG guys, isolated from the rest of your force and not shooting that turn, are not really all that scary. Any Marine player can safely charge them and rely on superior stats to simply wipe you out with combat resolution. Of course, you can sink for Comissars for everybody, but that's going to get pricey really, really fast (or involve having all your squads being unwieldy 30-strong plus units.)

5) Against an assault army, going second is basically saying "I sure hope I can kill you in a single shooting phase." You're sure as hell not going to pull any refused flank against them- hell, you need most of your deployment zone just to fit everybody on the board, so they can start wherever they want and be confident that you'll be straight across from them. And they should have forward elements, if not everything, in contact with your front lines on turn two, turn three at the latest- unlike other armies, you simply can't afford to cluster yourself at the back of the deployment zone because you don't FIT, so they're pretty much getting a free turn of movement off that fact.
Against a shooting army, who will presumably pull a preemptive refused flank on you even when going first, they'll simply tear apart all of your local firepower and rely on terrain and distance to mitigate the rest of your guns. Your reach is large, but not infinite. Moreover, they also have the option to, depending on the army, play as a faux assault army, moving forward, shooting you, and using superior stats (which every other army but Tau has) to trump you when they get into assault. This is exceptionally relevant with Orks, Tyranids, Marines, etc, who all hybridize some melee faculty into all their normal abilities anyways.

6) Daemons, sure, but I was talking about good armies. How about Blood Angels? T4/3+/FNP that sits in cover will be damn hard to move, even for IG shooting. Or Tyranids- good lucky getting those Gaunts to move off the objective, especially with Fearless and Feel No Pain going on them. Vanilla Marines and Wolves aren't as bad as BA in that regard, but they can still lay a bunch of bodies down and dare you to come to them- in fact, it's what they specialize in. CSM may not be great, but Plaguebearers are still a rock-hard unit. Boyz, like Gaunts, come in large numbers and cowers for 3+ cover makes them similarly hard to move. Wracks are a very, very common DE unit designed to sit somewhere and hold an objective, and any of their units that has killed something (not hard when facing a Guard list with two dozen or so non-vehicle units) is likewise a tough cookie. Do I really need to go on? Most armies can move a significant number of bodies onto an objective with a transport and keep it there, relatively safe. Some armies have the tools to deal with this sort of thing- by assaulting, for example, or by contesting said objective in the final turns, or by stripping cover somehow. Guard mostly do not- expect your CCS to be targeted early, as its orders are a major force multiplier.

Beyond the above problems, foot IG is lacking in several ways. Like Orks, it is an army with a single plan- it shoots, and it shoots, and hopes to god that works. It has no backup plan; it has no fancy tricks to counter the opponent's strategy. It is, in effect, stuck with a single game plan, which means against anyone who is prepared to deal with that strategy, it is strategically inferior. BA Jumpers has a default plan (drop from the skies, blast open valuable targets and assault them) that can morph into other options depending on the enemy army and their methods of fighting. Some of the Jumper descendant armies especially showcase this- adding Devastators, for example, allows for more effective on-table deployment and shooting strategies. Again, foot IG cannot do this; whatever the opponent's plan or army, the list simply prioritizes its firepower differently and hopes to shoot them all to death before they destroy it.

This lack of options is epitomized by its absolute inability to affect the enemy outside of shooting. Not only is foot IG static, but it also has no real plan to deny the enemy their mobility- certainly, it can de-mech them, but unlike Tyranids or Loganwing, that is not part of a synergetic overall plan. De-meching is a necessary step to slow their advance and deny the protection of a transport, but it does not improve the list's relative mobility at all. And, unlike BA or Eldar, it has no way to bypass enemy mobility (via traveling over them, etc) nor any way to mitigate such bypassing techniques. In short, foot IG is a rock: a big, blunt insturment to bludgeon your opponent to death with. Sometimes this is enough- a heavy rock is dangerous, after all, but wouldn't you rather have something like a sword that gave you a few better options?

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