Friday, September 4, 2009

Riposte, the Art of the Counter-Attack (More Advanced Vehicle Tactics)

Riposte: -noun
1. General. a quick, sharp return in speech or action; counterstroke.
2. Fencing. a quick thrust given after parrying a lunge.
3. Warhammer 40k. a tactic whereby you crush an opposing force after allowing them to over commit.

The concept? Simple. The execution? Tricky.

There's three major components that go into making this work:
1. Get them to commit to an attack that they can't recover from.
2. Counter or blunt the attack such that it is not crippling to your force.
3. Hit them in return such that their force is crippled or destroyed.

Now while I use Eldar vehicles in the examples, this kind of ploy is viable for pretty much any army out there. To quote the current Space Wolf Codex, "The only way to slay a Fenrisian Wolf [bare-handed] is to wait until the Wolf pounces and leap forward while it is in the air so that the exposed neck and belly can be attacked." I've used this tactic to success with Wolves, Eldar, Marines, Chaos and Tau. Heck, I've even pulled off variants of this with non-mechanized armies, but that's for another day...

Another thing worth stating here is that this is not meant to be an end-all-be-all of tactics. This is just one of many options to put into your tool chest.

Part 1: Get them to over-commit.
Gamers often tend to be young, single men. They're naturally afraid of commitment. They'll want to hedge their bets, explore other options, and play their own games. However, they're also easily distractable, tend not to think beyond the immediate moment and have a weakness for honey-pots.
So how do you distract them? Well, my wife can simply lean over the table, pose, and heave a bit to cause the IQ across the table drop. I don't have the same *ahem* attributes. I also want to be a good sport, so I have to rely on distracting them via gameplay. One of the simplest and easiest ways I've found is a "bait" unit.
What makes a good bait unit? It's relative. There needs to be a reason for your opponent to attack the unit in the way you desire. You'll need to get into their head a bit and figure out what will bait them... Is it enough to just present any old target? Do they dislike a particular unit disproportionately? Are they after your Scoring units?
Additionally, you will want to have a backup plan. It can and will happen that people won't take your bait, no matter how tempting the bait. Accept this, plan for it, and adjust your strategy to suit.
But the best "bait"? One where the choice to take it or avoid it doesn't matter. A crude example of this would be a unit of Fire Dragons, in a Fortuned and Moving Fast Wave Serpent, 16" from a Land Raider full of Terminators. The Terminators have a choice of getting out and attacking, or risking being destroyed inside their tank when the Dragons attack. Typically, engineering this kind of fait accompli will require multiple units working in tandem, conducive terrain and maybe a little luck... but it's worth it if you can pull it off.

Part 2: Blunt the attack.
Truth be told, this is really the second half of choosing the right bait.
When choosing your bait, you must accept that the unit is going to die. There's no room for "maybe it might get lucky" or "maybe it might live". If you're going to risk it, you need to make sure that your strategical plan can afford to have it die. If it lives? Great! You have an extra unit to go out and do damage with. If it dies? Fine, it's what was expected. Always plan for the worst and then work with the actual.
Now any type of unit can work as your bait... but my favorite is a Transport vehicle. Here's why:
a. Tanks are more mobile than normal infantry. This allows them to get into position faster and
b. A unit being Transported is not damaged unless the vehicle explodes or is completely surrounded when wrecked. Many players seem to think a Vehicle Wrecked causes them to take damage and that blocking the hatch is enough... but this isn't true in 5th edition. Have them re-read the Damage to Transported Units section.
c. Enemies cannot consolidate after close combat with a vehicle. This leaves them nice and clumped up for applying Template weapons and being close enough to charge.
d. Live tanks = mobile cover. By nature, a bait unit is typically up close and personal to the enemy. This means they will often block LOS or confer a cover save to your units behind them.
e. Dead tanks = cover and difficult terrain. When a tank is taken out, you have the majority control of where they deploy. If all your opponent's shooting is done and there's no assaulters near, it might be worth getting a few extra inches by deploying in front of the tank. If they held back a bunch of anti-infantry in hopes of popping your tank, you can deploy behind the wreckage to block LOS or get cover saves. If they have an assault unit nearby, you can put the bulk of the tank between you to force Difficult Terrain tests that might blunt or prevent a charge.

Step 3: Cripple them in return.
You've done the hard part of surviving. Now you get to exact your revenge. The usual caveats apply here of using the best tool for the job, maximizing damage, and setting things up for winning the game. It's actually this phase that tends to provide the psychological turning point for a game. Your opponent is often feeling pretty good about having damaged or destroyed a unit or two of yours. Now is when you want to hit them as hard as you can and wipe out as many units as possible. The sudden switch from a feeling of victory to one of defeat can be crushing. I've watched people give up on or even concede games after this, even though they still had the ability to tie or win.

For some practical examples, I've enlisted Vassal again to provide some images with how I approach this with my Eldar. For those of you unfamiliar with Eldar... Wave Serpents are extremely fast, very durable against shooting, and rather durable against close combat. The downsides are that they're not cheap (100+ points), their basic weapons don't put out that much damage, and their upgraded weapons are usually too expensive for the results you get. It's the units inside of them that really pack the punch. This makes the great "bait".
The yellow Serpent is Howling Banshees. (Alnti-troop close combat specialists)
The red Serpent is Fire Dragon. (Anti-tank specialists)
The green tank is Storm Guardians. (Anti-troop shooting that's more effective against packed-in targets thanks to multiple Flamers.)
Images are clickable for larger and better detailed versions.

This first image shows three basic deployments. They were done with an eye to the terrain and with the thought that the Eldar are deploying and going first. Because people will steal the initiative 1 time in 6, most of the deployments aren't right on the line and have some cover. 5:1 odds aren't that bad... don't let an aggressive deployment cost you the game.

This image shows how I might approach certain targets.
In example 1, I'm looking at a Tactical squad supported by two Dreadnaughts. An Assault squad is behind them to provide assault and counter-charge. The first concern here is dropping the two Dreadnaughts as only the Fire Dragons have the ability to drop them reliably. The second is to keep the Assault squad from charging my infantry.
Now if I approached this with the idea of alpha-strike shooting, I'd probably futz around at range for a turn and try to pop the Dreadnaughts on a lucky shot. I'd probably get one Dread and a couple Marines. But the return fire is going to turn my Dragons into a fine red mist.
But by holding off a turn and trying to bait, I can hit with all three units in tandem. The Fire Dragon Serpent is put out front as bait. There's enough room left behind it that the Dragons can bail out if needed. This and the Storm Guardian Serpents form nice, juicy targets that the Dreads and Assault Marines will be hard-pressed to ignore. And if they do ignore them or even try to move away, I'm still close enough to attack. The Banshee Serpent hangs out on the far side of the wall. It could be the point-man or flanker just as easily as these positions would put them closer for enacting a charge. However, in this example I was trying to downplay the threat of the Banshees in hopes that he'd ignore their presence entirely.
And if they don't take the bait and pull back? Unless the tac squad Runs, the Banshees are still close enough to catch them with a reasonable Fleet roll. The Dragons are also close enough to drop one Dread cold while the Serpents could angle for rear-armour shots.

In example 2, there's a full Termie T-Hammer Assault squad in the Raider and a bunch of multi-melta/heavy flamer Speeders behind the building. My first concern here is getting the Termies out of the tank. My second is luring those Speeders out so that my Serpents and Dragons can drop them thanks to squadron rules. Again, the Dragons form the bait, with Storm Serpent as the backup. The hope here is that the Termies will jump out and charge the tanks while the Speeders slide to the left to shoot my tanks. I could then hit the Termies with Storms and Banshees while the Dragons hop over to the Raider and the Serpents drop some Speeders.

In example 3, we have a much more common kind of tournament army. Here we have a squad of Termies in a Land Raiders, but this time they're supported by a Rhino wall and a bunch of Razorbacks. Here my concern is getting the Termies out again, but also breaking or hopping the Rhino wall and hitting the juicy insides. My main hope with this type of deployment is to lure the Termies into a charge. If they do so, my Banshees would be detailed for them while the other elements go after his forces. And if he stays buttoned up? I push forward again, but this time I have a bunch of shooting and assault primed to hit his lines in another turn.

None of these are perfect examples... but I needed something to illustrate my point. I also wanted to use examples that looked feasible to see in a game, rather than obvious set pieces.

Whew, but that was a lot of typing. Maybe I should switch to less extensive topics, like my recent painting. :-p Though I guess if you made it this far, it was probably worth the read. Cheers!

First pic courtesy of a psuedo random GIS... and chosen because it amused me as I'm in it...


  1. Nice. Good examples, I'll certainly add this to my toolbox :D.

  2. You should probably get that complexion checked. Looks a little metallic. High iron diet?

    For the tactica, I think it's well-written. As it goes, the bait tactic is a bit vague. I mean, not everyone goes for the same bait. Eldar, also, have their own issues with biat; it's all pretty mcuh expensive.

    I think, though, that Fire Dragons will ALWAYS be a priority target against anyone that can use them. I don't think you were explicit about it, but I think it's worth noting for the Eldar that 12 points for the heavy flamer exarch is probably worth it, as it can be used as follow up for anything you point it at. (It IS comical to have a BS5 heavy flamer, though...)

    The Seize the initiative point is VERY well taken. There is NOTHING like getting crippled early on because they rolled a fething 6.

    It also seems a bit more like the angle is 'bring enough to get the job done.' It's a definite tactic that you can use, but it relies on solid list building.

    Overall, I think it's a pretty well-written tactica. You're hitting up a pretty fluid subject, but it's a trick worth adding to the repertoire.

  3. I thoroughly enjoyed the article, a good read.

    One thing I think could do with further clarification is that a wrecked vehicle is Dangerous, as well as Difficult, so they may even die on the way in. I just got the weirdest sense of deja vu...strange. Anyway, yeah, good stuff.