Sunday, 8 March 2015

Close Combat and You: Fist-Fighting in the Far Future

With a crash and a rumble the Berzerker flipped the table, sending mugs of Blood-Ale flying across the room.

"What a load of crap! How the hell am I supposed to see any fights now that shooting is so damned powerful!? Curse you Khorne! I'm off to become a Plague Marine."

Lord Manton here and today I want to ask whether shooting really is OP; and if it is, is that such a bad thing?

So we've all heard the refrain a million times before: "My army sucks now because shooting is so OP in 40k! Wah wah wah." Your opponent then runs off crying into the sunset after your plasma vets overwatched his deathstar to a messy puddle. There are a few factors that contribute to shooting being so much more powerful in this new edition of 40k than what most are used to.

This is the perceived big offender, in my opinion. In the days of yore, a unit of drugged-up psychos could happily charge into a sea of enemy rifles with impunity. Nowadays, they run the risk of being shot at before they charge. This can cause a couple of annoying casualties, it could kill enough to take you out of charge range or (worst case scenario) you could lose a whole unit to overwatch. 

The main problem with overwatch, however, isn't fluff (it makes perfect sense that you could shoot someone running at you with a rusty cleaver), nor is it even its actual in-game effects (seriously, when was the last time a snap shot actually hit anything?). The problem is that it breaks one of the fundamental rules of 40k: I shoot in my turn, you shoot in yours. Basically, the issue is that you can lose models in your own turn. Although a common element in WHFB, it is a rare and frightening thing to 40k players. 

On the plus side, overwatch goes some way to solving the age-old problem with 40k, that you had nothing to do in your opponent's turn except take saves and put models away. With the rise of more dynamic systems like Malifaux and Infinity where both players are involved almost simultaneously the whole time, GW has tried to catch up by including this mechanic to make the 'defender' feel like they've got something to do other than die.

Not Enough Terrain
This is another one you hear about all the time, and looking at the tables at the recent LVO and other people's games you can really see why. There just isn't enough going on to make much of a difference. A lot of tables you see tend to have maybe one hill, a building and a couple of craters. Now, this is not a jab at the LVO guys; there were close to 300 people playing in that tournament and finding enough terrain, let alone making each table look good, is a feat worthy of praise. That said, it sets a bad example for the rest of us. 

An accurate representation of the 40k Universe

When you don't have enough terrain, you end up with huge firing lanes that no troops could hope to move through safely. You also end up with a stagnant, tactically boring game of "I shoot. OK, now you shoot... Good game." The BRB tells us to cover about 25% of the board in terrain. What it doesn't tell us us how to place it, or what sorts to use. I would say a nice big piece of line of sight (LOS) blocking terrain right in the middle, with a few other bits and pieces scattered around it. You'll want a hill or some ruins to give your troops a nice elevated position, as well as something for tanks to hide behind. 

You're Doing it Wrong
This one is a sensitive point, but it's the main offender in my experience. This is a game and a hobby. By definition, it is something done for fun, and nothing pisses people off more than telling them how to have fun. Unfortunately, if you lose all the time, that's not going to be fun either. A big part of 40k (despite what WarmaHordes players will tell you) is tactics and strategy. List building is important, but the best, cheesiest, beardiest list can still be beaten by someone who knows what they're doing with their army. 

I really think tactics are the biggest problem people are facing when it comes to the Assault Phase. Too many of us are stuck in the old 5th Ed mentality of moving up to the enemy until they're in charge range and then fighting the rest of the battle in assault. Don't get me wrong, I love close combat, it's heaps of fun and I love getting up close to my enemies (I play Space Wolves for fuck's sake), but that way of playing is tougher than it used to be. So, how do you use the Assault Phase effectively?

Sneaking up on your enemy is a good tactic, but overwhelming them is even better. If you're playing Nids, it can be tough. You don't have enough armour to get you into combat safely, and then when you get there, you don't have assault grenades to help you when your enemy is in cover. The trick here is moving intelligently through and around cover until you get into combat. You would send a big blob of crappy models (say, termagaunts) into combat first. Tie up your enemy in a combat, then hit them with a second wave of effective fighters to really lay on the hurt. Use your chaff, and remember that they are just chaff, they're not there to do anything other than hold up the enemy until your big hitters are ready to do their stuff. If a unit is in cover, but already engaged in combat, you won't lose your initiative for charging into cover, and you also by-pass overwatch, meaning your good fighters are striking first or at the same time, without having lost anything to that annoying new mechanic.

Another trick is to know when to assault. It's no good putting your hard-hitting assault unit up front to get shot to bits while the rest of your army watches from the sidelines. Put your assault units behind your shooting units. This means your shooting units are pulling their weight, laying down the pain, while also giving your assaulters cover behind their buddies. They can then safely sweep in for a supporting charge, or if you have jump packs, you can jump out from behind and slam into the enemy. Unless you're rocking Thunder Wolf Cavalry, most assault units don't have the durability to weather the enemy's attacks and still be effective. So you want to use them to mop up after the shooty guys have done their bit. 

Finally, a big thing is Fearless. The changes to Fearless and ATSKNF in 7th Ed mean that you no longer lose models to combat resolution. This can make these units great tarpits. The afore-mentioned Nid blobs are great for this (as long as they're within synapse), but a unit of CSM should be able to hold their own long enough to wait for back up, and it's not hard to get fearless in the CSM list. Daemons are Fearless and even Dark Eldar will get it as the game progresses, so they aren't totally useless.

Welcome to the 41st Millennium. We Have Guns Now
Finally, I think it's important to remember the setting. It's the 41st Millennium. We have guns that shoot lasers, plasma, little rockets, beams of super-heated air, splinters, shuriken, electricity and even tiny, little bugs that eat you on impact. There are tanks, walking tanks and flying gun ships. This is not a battle field for close combat. Inevitably, though, all battles end up face to face, fighting over objectives and important positions. 

In my opinion, it makes perfect sense for 40k to put a focus on shooting. If you want brutal close-quarters combat, maybe you'd be more interested in a fantasy setting. 

Do you love Close Combat, or do you sit behind your walls 
firing flaming death at your foes?
How do you get around the OP Shooting Phase?


  1. Ah, blood ale. That timeless drink, just like your screaming skull-mother used to make.

    I guess this sort of thing is really important to balance, with so many armies either shooting or melee focused.

    Nice article. As a WFB player, its all a little over my head, but I like the idea of getting people to do stuff on the other players turn than die, like the magic phase in WFB.

    1. My mother was a saint!

      Thanks, mate. Some armies really do have a focus on either, but some have the potential to do both. I like playing a balanced list, with enough of both, which is where this article is coming from.

  2. I don't think anyone is bothered by the shift in the rules to more shooting oriented, as you say it follows the fluff. However CC troops weren't made any cheaper in response, so now the game is out of balance. GW don't make provision in many cases for the CC troops to actually get into combat either.

    BTW there is no guidance as to terrain density in the latest edition of 40K, the last good guidance was in 5th.

    1. Yeah, I remember in my first game with my Berzerkers I was pretty upset when I disembarked from my rhino and couldn't charge! I think that was one of the more annoying changes to vehicles/assault in this edition.
      That's really upsetting that there isn't any guidance on terrain, it's always been one of the more important parts of the game, I thought.