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Thursday, April 5, 2012

Combat in 5th Edition

5th edition has been very beneficial to shooting. This may seem contrary to many rule changes which would seem to benefit combats armies and units. The addition of Run!, no cap on leadership modifiers in assaults, universal cover of 4+ (which is both beneficial [survivability] and a negative [opponent's survivability] for shooting), etc. would all seem to point towards combat armies/units doing better. However, without the ability to consolidate into assault and the general increase in firepower most armies now bring (high strength/low AP guns are less important now with weight of fire being more important to break the universal 4+ cover), combat armies/units often get in a punch and then die.

That is not to say assault is useless or that aggressively based armies cannot win consistently. Far from it and some of the best armies out there are aggressively based (i.e. Space Wolves & Blood Angels). 5th edition might be lauded as the edition where shooting armies triumphed and combat armies languished and although shooting may play a more significant role in games under this edition, combat is still an important construct to be considered during list designing. Neglecting it completely will give your army a very two-dimensional approach to killing your opponent (shooting) which makes your gameplan easier to predict and stop for your opponent.

One of the major flaws of completely neglecting combat in your army is board control. 5th edition is a strongly midfield oriented game. Objectives are often placed here or it needs to be crossed to get access to your opponent. Mobility and medium ranged armies (24") which are much more common in 5th edition compared to 4th, also give more reasons for armies to move into midfield and if all you have is a static shooting list, you've already conceded that important part of the board. You may have more shooting than your opponent but you're relying on that shooting to push your enemy out of midfield - not always possible particularly when you need two wounds to statistically kill one model.

This is where constructs like combat (and other things such as mobility and tank shocking which we will not talk about here!) come in. Firstly, your opponent is going to reach you. It's as simple as that. Even without transports, foot units will at least get to within 12" of your table edge by Turn 5 (and that's assuming five 1" Run! rolls and Dawn of War deployment). Add in movement buffs like jump infantry, jet packs, jetbikes, bikes, beasts/cavalry, improved run rolls, etc. not to mention transports and unless you can 100% shoot down your opponent within a couple of turns (does not exist without rigged dice), they are going to engage you in some fashion. There are lots of ways to deal with this which don't involve combat. Ask Tau with their array of blocking mechanisms. Ask them what they do about midfield though.

Which brings us nicely to our second point - you want to get into (or through) midfield as well. Whether it's simply to delay your opponent, your army needs to go there to function, you're trying to get to your opponent or you're trying to win the game, it brings you closer to your opponent which if your opponent is a combat oriented army and you are not... well you now have a choice. Get closer and give your opponent an advantage or stay back and have to push your opponent out later (the latter is more often seen). Regardless, having combat OPTIONS in both scenarios is very useful. You don't need to be running around with 20 TH/SS and DCA but rather the ability to compete (or as Nikephoros phrased in his recent post, clean-up weakened units) in the combat phase to the point where if your opponent reaches combat (which they will), you're not going to lose.

Regardless, as armies close in on each other as the game goes on, combat ranges come into play for even the most grunty of grunts (12"). An army with that extra bit of combat power could have that little edge in this very common situation. Again, it doesn't have to be some super duper awesome unit but something as simple as two larger Grey Hunter squads with Wolf Standards alongside their small MSU Grey Hunter brethren can be huge difference though the opportunity cost here is often more units or more firepower overall.

Beyond this, combat has the option to do some things shooting cannot. These include:

  • ignoring cover - shooting effectiveness is generally halved thanks to cover unless you catch units out of cover or have cover ignoring weapons
  • stops shooting for infantry - one of the few ways to stop infantry from shooting (other than killing them) is tying them up in combat. If you're a combat unit even better as you're more likely to kill that unit off. The key is staying in combat so you don't get shot off the board next turn.
  • moving units - tank shocks are the easiest way to move your opponent but by forcing your opponent to Defender's React towards you (rather than gather round in a thematic swirl of melee). The uses for this are endless.
  • blocks movement - unless you want to join a combat or can move over a combat (skimmers, jump infantry, etc.), combats are a no go zone for models. Do this in key locations and you force your opponent to go around. 
All these little things can and should be taken advantage of and it's important to note - any unit can do this, even a unit bad at combat. If I run 10 Guardsmen at five Devastators, it's unlikely that unit is going to be shooting next turn due to being tied up in combat. The same can be done with a much better combat unit by pulling punches (which we shall discuss soon in another post) and any unit is capable of engaging a unit from a distance and pulling them away or towards something. A good unit might be more capable at doing this and locking up the unit (or killing it and leaving themselves in an advantageous position) but even a bad unit can still impart movement control through combat movements. Remember though, consolidation against such units can bring some of that back. 

The point here is that combat does have uses and an important role within the 5th edition environment. Taking a few units which have improved combat capacity whilst not necessarily being combat powerhouses will give you more options during that phase of the game. Even without such units though, there are things which can be done within that section of the rules shooting often cannot do. Shooting may still be the dominate damage dealer of the game but combat has some important advantages and unique aspects which should not be overlooked during list building.

Now, there's an important counter-point to the above statements. Combat is an inevitable part of the game and shooting is always going to limit the effectiveness of combat by reducing the number of models involved in the combat. Furthering this, and this is a building block of MSU armies, combats can be controlled. We'll go back to the Tau example - by using sacrifices, screens or blocking units, combat against SIGNIFICANT parts of the Tau army can be delayed, or even rendered impossible for a period of time (which could be the whole game). The MSU way to handle this is to feed combat units one of their many units - the loss of which doesn't impact the army significantly (I'm sure you've all heard about 'throwing a Rhino' at a unit). This is obviously most effective against Deathstars or larger combat units - you take all that killing potential and snuff it to a single squad a turn which then gives the shooting element of the army...well time to shoot at it.

The opportunity cost here is often board control, particularly in the Tau example. This is based on the theory of being able to clear the enemy outside of combat with effective shooting and then move up against the weakened opponent's army as the game nears a close. Unfortunately it doesn't always work that way and having no even semi-decent combat potential is going to hinder this.

And that's the basis of why combat isn't considered as powerful as shooting in 5th edition - you can nullify a lot of a combat unit's damage potential by feeding it units, particularly large combat units. A combat unit is at its best when it's getting mutli-charges or staying in combat for the opponent's shooting phase (pulling punches) and this can be done but your opponent also has ways to restrict it just like you have ways to enact it. The simple fact of the matter when it comes to comparing shooting and combat is shooting happens - the only ways to stop it are to hide (and you should not be able to hide your whole army) or suppress it (shaken/stuns for vehicles, pinning/combat for infantry).

So hopefully that has helped explain why 5th edition is so shooting dominate and how combat can be an effective and important tool rather than a useless entity you shouldn't be focusing on!

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