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Thursday, July 26, 2012

Back-to-Basics: Breaking Bubblewrap in 6th edition

Be warned ye Internet users of slow speeds, beyond be pictures!

Bubble-wrap was one of the most common tactics seen in 5th edition. It was pretty simple too - protect your more important stuff with crap stuff by putting it in front. This ensured no assaults could get through past the first unit without dealing with it or in some way bypassing it. A lot of armies used this concept as part of their core tactics such as Tau, Tyranids and Imperial Guard. The great benefit for such armies was, bypassing it wasn't very easy and good bubble-wraps were often very resilient to shooting which made combat the best way to deal with it. This meant the main army behind the bubble-wrap was protected and allowed the shooting units to continue shooting and the assault units to be protected and thereby make appropriate counter-assaults.

6th edition has changed all this and made them MUCH easier to deal with. They aren't crap or useless as they do force the opponent to organise themselves capable of dealing with it, but they aren't the golden band of win they were before. Let's look at how to break bubble-wraps in 6th edition then. In a later post we'll look at the new ways of keeping them alive and how to extract the most out of them but for now, we're just focusing on breaking them.

I won't go through what a bubble-wrap is here. The previous posts linked above cover it nicely and things haven't really changed in that respect. We will look at the more serious changes in the previously mentioned future post but the basics and premise are the same so the old article will suffice.

So, how do we break bubble-wrap? The concepts are still the same. Shoot, tank shock or assault the unit. How we go about this has changed drastically though thanks to the new 6th edition ruleset. We'll look at them one by one.

Shooting -

At it's core, shooting is still the same. It's hard to remove an entire unit of bubble-wrap to ensure your unit(s) can get through to the juicy goodness behind. The unit in question is likely to be pretty survivable for its points and whilst not as survivable as before with reduced cover saves (generally a 5+ before improvements now), your opponent is generally going to be happy if you're trying to shoot your way through it from afar. It means your firepower isn't going elsewhere and you're essentially dealing with a throwaway unit. If you don't have targets of opportunity for anything else (i.e. only infantry unit on the table), then by all means, dakka away but there are easier ways to break this if there are better targets.

With 6th edition you as the offensive player, have the most control over model removal. During your own turn you can setup defenses for specific models (i.e. special weapons, etc.) but the offensive player is always going to have more options here - it's simply a case of how hard you make them work to do this. Against bubble-wrap there are two key things to remember.
  1. models closest to the firing unit are removed 
  2. you can only remove what you see
This means the controlling player can no longer remove models which are in the least advantageous position from the bubble-wrap. By your movement and shooting, you dictate where those models are removed from. Remember this and where you want your other units to punch through.

Here's a pictorial example of Termagants protecting some Tyranid MCs and a Blood Angels force looking to attack from the right.

In 5th edition, all shooting damage on the Termagants would have been thrown onto the Termagants on the left (allocated by the controlling player) but in 6th edition by moving the shooting units like so...

all the wounds applied to the Termagants are removed from the side the Blood Angels wish to assault from.

Some shooting later with the removal of Termagants and the Blood Angels assault units are able to access the Tyranid MCs which would normally be protected.

We can also use unit extension to get one model closest to a specific point of the bubble-wrap and start killing models from that point like so.

This is putting such a unit in greater danger though but it gives you a lot more control over where models are removed from in comparison to using ranged firepower. This unit also cannot assault the units behind the bubble-wrap as it has already engaged the bubble-wrap target (unless it can multi-assault). The second unit however can.

However, there are ways for the controlling player to make this more difficult (discussed later). This calls for specialist equipment in our much loved vehicles! Yes, we're still talking about shooting. Remember the other important rule one needs to remember when targeting and removing enemy models? You can only remove what you can see. If you can't see enemy models, you cannot remove them, even if they are closer. You know what's really good at blocking Line of Sight? Vehicles. Metal Bawkses. Those things you buy because they are cheap and have lots of utility. This is part of their utility.

For example, a long ranged unit trying to kill off a specific side of the bubble-wrap can simply have a vehicle move up on its flank limiting it's arc of fire at the point of origin.

Here the Dreadnought and Predator can see all of the Termagants but by moving a Razorback in front and on their left, their fields of fire become more limited (yes, the Dreadnought's, too despite it being able to see over the RBack hull, the Termagants are too small. It can see the Dakkafex but not the Termagants and therefore they cannot die. The autocannon turret of the Predator can still see them all and thus the closest to closest rule comes in there).

This could be done the same way but with the vehicle further upfield. This could be because there isn't one available at the back or if that vehicle ends up wrecked, it's not going to limit the LoS or movement of the backfield unit as much (looking at infantry based heavy weapons here such as Devastators/Long Fangs).

The exact same concept can be used for a midfield unit or a unit right in front of the bubble-wrap.

The tank is more effective at blocking LoS here due to the smaller nature of the infantry models. Be careful of the slopes on vehicles though as infantry can still generally see over them. This is beneficial later though...

You can also bring another vehicle in to punch a hole through a bubble-wrap by extending the old concept of the V-pattern. Simply use the vehicles to block line of sight on both sides of the shooting unit with the mouth of the two vehicles pointing at what you want to kill. Commence shooting.

And the same concept again but with infantry and at a closer location.

Now it's important to remember this can be applied to ignore the closest to closest rule (well rather, modify it to what the closest model you can SEE is). In these examples the Termagants are curving away from the front and thus this doesn't really come into play but if they were staggered or curved outwards, using such tactics is not only going to direct where you punch a hole but also ensure your opponent's positioning means less to you.

The end result of all of these options is the bubble-wrap is broken in a specific location set by you DURING the shooting phase which allows a unit to walk through and assault whatever is behind it. Remember, you just need to remove one model for a 25mm base to get through - you ignore the 1" rule during assaults. The more you kill though the more you are able to fit through beyond the defensive bubble-wrap line.

Tank Shocks -

Are still effectively the same. You throw a tank at an enemy unit in the hopes that it breaks. With the ease Fearless is now accessible to such units though (only one squad member needs it to give it to the entire squad), this is less likely as an option. At the edges of bubble-wraps you can also go around though without an open-topped or assault vehicle, this will only be to shoot your opponent. You can still use multiple tanks to punch a hole through the bubble-wrap however (as described here) but shooting a hole through the wrap is a lot easier, more controllable and generally requires less effort in terms of points expended if you want a unit to actually assault at the end (i.e. not needing two Land Raiders).

Remember, you cannot Flat Out if you tank shock. Furthermore, remember that tank shocks can change the placement of units and thus impact the way shooting works by either pushing units closer to or further away from your firing units (and thus changing where the closest model might be) AND by blocking Line of Sight to other portions of the squad. This can greatly impact how your shooting works as we saw above.

Assaults -

Combat is still one of the most efficient ways of dealing with Bubble-wrap units. Such units are generally not great in combat and use a combination of abilities to get a good save from shooting whilst being relatively cheap. The ability to punch through very specific locations within a bubble-wrap unit with shooting greatly improves the ability to break bubble-wrap before the assault phase. That's great if you can do it but assaults are a sure-thing in terms of at least moving the models from where they want to be (and more likely to kill them).

The issue is, vehicle based assaults are a bit harder to get off. You can no longer start the turn you wish to assault in a vehicle unless it's open-topped or an assault vehicle (so for some armies everything is really the same minus the few inches reduced charge range). Yes, even if it doesn't move. You also can't move a long distance Turn 1 and then hop out and hide behind your vehicles - you move a short distance and hop out (and flat out the vehicle to hide you) or don't move very far. The reality is, either your mech based units for assaulting are more vulnerable to shooting or are going to attack later in the game (often both). You also cannot rely on infiltrators or scouts getting the first turn assault off - it's illegal and all other units which can assault 24" are far less likely to (a 1/6 chance down to around a 1/10-11 chance).

This means a later assault (Turn 2 for a fast foot based unit generally) is your best bet - you want to do it before the rest of your army can get there though so you have time to pull the bubble-wrap unit away (or kill it) and pounce upon the opening next turn. This means assaulting from the sides generally rather than front on but remember, pile-in moves are greatly reduced and Fearless units no longer suffer No Retreat wounds so the wrap can take a while to move laterally. The best way is to obviously kill the unit either through sheer attack numbers or a sweeping advance (but again, many good bubble-wraps will be Fearless or Stubborn making this impossible/harder).

Either way, the point here is to somehow disable the bubble-wrap by using a unit faster than everything else. It's pointless if the unit combating the bubble-wrap is also the unit you want blasting through the bubble-wrap to engage your opponent or if the other units you want to do this with are arriving at the same time said unit is engaging the bubble-wrap.


With the changes to 6th edition, bubble-wrap, whilst not useless, is no longer as easy to establish, maintain and take advantage of as it was during 5th edition. Importantly, the opposing player can now break through bubble-wrap effectively in specific locations during the shooting phase to allow individual units through to assault the protected contents behind. There are a myriad of ways to do this which use the model removal rules of 6th edition to the opposing player's advantage.

Assaults & tank shocks are still relatively the same and have their merits and downfalls against bubble-wraps. We'll look at bubble-wraps themselves in relation to 6th edition in the next post.

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