Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Rather Important Counter-charge

First, please don't confuse this with the USR Counterattack.  While it's a fun USR, and can sometimes be used as it's own counter-charge, this article is about the old-fashioned 'you just exposed yourself by attacking me, so now I'm charging you back' tactic.  It's a pretty staple concept, and one that takes more than you would think to actually master.

Right now: Keep in mind that a counter-charge isn't necessarily only a charge- it can be shooting.  It's basically an efficient way of removing your opponent's models quickly.  Every army has them, though of course some armies have an easier time of it than others.

I've long thought that the counter-charge was the way to win 40k.  Sure, every once in a while you get a game where a pure gun line is setup spread across the board, and a pure assault force is spread across the board, where everything happens in a linear manner, almost as if there were 15 different games going on. A game with skilled players won't generally happen that way, however.  The concept of supporting your units is perhaps the most fundamental concept of playing 40k well, and good players know that.

When going into a game, I have a kind of chess-like mentality.  If I expose my bishop for the opponent to take it without risk to any of my opponent's pieces, I will clearly lose my bishop, with little to no positive gain to me.  However, if I expose the bishop with the knowledge that if they take my piece, my rook will be able to take their piece in turn, depending on what pieces are swapped, it might end up profitably for me.    Similarly in 40k, if I expose a unit to my opponent to the point that I'll lose that unit, without being able to somehow make them pay for it, I'll likely lose that unit.  If they (the exposed squad) haven't already done their job (i.e. melta suicide vs. a Land Raider), then it was a poor decision to expose them in that manner.

Perhaps this is fairly obvious.  Let me digress for just a moment.

The game of 40k, at its most basic level, is the attempt to get troops out of their transports, and kill them.  If there are no transports, it's easier (or at least, simpler), since you can skip straight to killing them.  There are of course many ways to kill them, but the basic concept remains.

Many people attempt to force their opponents out of their transports, jumping in with guns blazing, ready to assault the contents.  Sometimes that works.  Many times, they pop the transport, and are unable to charge, or to fully wipe out the squad inside, exposing themselves for the benefit of a single popped transport.  Even when they are able to jump in, destroy the transport, and assault, that unit is exposing itself to the rest of the opponents army.  Like in chess, the unit will probably be removed- hopefully the damage done to your opponent was worth losing that unit.  This is why transports in 40k are amazing- they provide the perfect method of counter-attack, though we don't generally think of it in those terms.

Look at Tau for another example of good counter-charging- lots of the best Tau players screen their most crucial shooty units with 'bubblewrap', forcing a would-be assaulter to kill a wall of kroot or piranhas instead of the Broadsides or crisis suits right behind them.  This exposes the assaulters to a 'counter-charge' by the Tau- presumably lots of plasma and rocket pods to the face.  Nids also do this a lot- they use a gaunt screen, forcing the opponent to assault the gaunts so that their big guys can get the charge.

A particular strategy I like to use quite a bit against Land Raider lists, in order to get them out of their Land Raiders, is to move transports in rhinos up, all near to each other, and have a single rhino disembark their troops within 6" to try to melta the Raider.  There's never a doubt in my mind whether or not the squad will survive- with terminators aboard, even if they kill the Raider, the termies will exact retribution.

Here's the idea though- even if the Raider isn't destroyed, it forces my opponent to deal with that squad.  He might disembark his Termies to charge my guys.  If it's a redeemer, maybe he'll just move up and toast the bunched-up squad.  Either way, he's exposing something to the guys in my other rhinos- I'll be able to move up and melta his Raider out the hatch with a Rhino, keeping the guys inside relatively safe.  Or, if his terminators get out and assault, I can get out and assault/shoot the termies from the nearby rhinos with the force I need to wipe them out.

So, I get a pretty reasonable attempt to kill a raider + another reasonable chance to get rid of his termies all for the sacrifice of a single squad.  If I end up bagging either the raider or the termies, it's likely going to be worth their sacrifice.  All accomplished by not relying on the charge:  it's accomplished by forcing my opponent to deal with me.

This doesn't work every time of course, since a Land Raider + Termies do not a full army make.  If it's a canny opponent, maybe he'll have stuck a rhino full of flamers (in a Vulkan army) nearby, ready to jump out and deal with something like this.  If I fail my melta rolls (which happens quite a bit, sadly), he won't be forced to get the Termies out of their ride- he can 'sacrifice' his Tactical squad instead, forcing me to deal with them.  Being able to understand the threats an enemy army can present to each of your units is vital for getting the best counter-charge.

I'm not a chess master by any stretch of the word, but I know I've played multiple games where if one piece takes another, it will set off a chain of counter-attacks by both sides.  The trick is to finagle it so that you get the better end of the deal- by either losing less pieces than your opponent, or losing less value in your pieces removed than they did (i.e. only losing a rook and 3 pawns vs. an opponents bishop, rook, and 2 pawns).

How this relates to 40k should be obvious- force your opponent to deal with you, but do it on your own terms.  If you can see that he'll just counter your attempt on the Raider with his Flamer Tac squad, then maybe do it, and get ready to kill his Tac Squad.  Then, when he's forced to use his termies to clean up your counter-charge, have another unit ready to deal with them.  If you know you can't possibly deal with all the threats presented, it probably isn't worth it, and you need to find another 'chink' in his armor.  There will almost always be one.

Games are won in such ways.  That's generally the way I play all the games that I win.  If I look back at a game where I got stomped, it's almost always because I failed to support my units well, and take advantage of the counter-attacks I could have set up.

Also keep in mind- this method of play can be used in other ways.  If you're defending an objective, or want to distract an opponent from something happening elsewhere on the board, this method works well.  Keeping his 'pieces' in a single isolated area in order to counter-attack you can have serious benefits if it keeps them from taking you off an objective it takes a turn or two for them to get to.  Play around with it- you'll see what I mean.

I'll stop here.  Hopefully you get the gist of what I'm talking about.  40k is obviously complex enough that no example will be able to survive in a vacuum.  But hopefully you learned something.  Let me know what you think :)


Jason said...

This was an excellent article that verbalized some of the realizations I've been having as a new 40k player.

Xaereth said...

Thanks man... appreciate it. I really think it all boils down to this, in the end. Of course, if I didn't think that, I wouldn't have written the article :P