Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Board Control: Finding Value in Doing Nothing (pictures included!)

Howdy folks, Xaereth (surprisingly) here again with a few thoughts on playing the game better in this edition. Though I won't pretend to be the master (or even a master) at 6th edition, there are a few observations I've had that I wanted to pass on. Let me know if it makes sense or not :)

Now, we all hear people saying things like: "Man, such and such unit is so good! It almost always kills its points every time I play!"

While there is certainly value in pillaging an opponent's models in-game, a veteran player will tell you that there's much more to the game than simply being an efficient killer.

The truth of the matter is simple: whoever best meets the criteria stated for 'winning' in a given game actually wins the game. There's no caveat that says "whoever controls the most objectives in the game wins, unless you really skullf*** your opponent's forces while they just whimpered and took it, in which case, objectives don't actually matter and you straight-up win."

Seriously, just ask any 5th edition Eldar player.

**warning, anecdotal evidence forthcoming**

I'll never forget a team game myself and a friend played a few years back. The first round held a guy and his wife who had never played before (i.e. he just told her what to do the whole time). They proceeded to butcher our entire army due to a slew of bad rolling and mistakes, and my friend started making noises about going to lunch early.

I had a plan though, and when the game ended and the smoke cleared, we had a single plague marine on an objective, while our opponent ... didn't have any of the objectives. He (they?) were so intent on killing our stuff that they didn't even pay attention to the game itself.

Full points for us, despite every unit of theirs being alive at the end of the game. We actually ended up winning the whole tournament after that, the rest of the games being much easier.

Clearly, something important about playing the mission rather than killing models.

(for this same reason, a pure Death Company army can't work - they kill things like crazy, but can't actually score)

**anecdotal evidence ends**

Though this situation is somewhat rare (most players good enough to nearly table their opponents are also capable of claiming objectives as well), we can take from it that unless you actually table an opponent, you can still lose.

People taking troop models that *only* score and do nothing else should drive this point home. Though a Grey Knight Acolyte squad isn't going to ever kill their 12 points in a game, their value lies in scoring. Expecting all of your models to "take out their points" in a game isn't actually a realistic or plausible approach, and most gamers understand this principal to some degree.

I hope that we (myself and y'all readers) can then operate under the assumption that there's more to winning games than simply killing the opponent's forces. It seems to me to be intuitively obvious.

How, then, do we go about understanding the "how" of winning games if it isn't as simple as killing your opponent? Let's start with Implied Threat.

Understanding Implied Threat

Alright. We've already covered "overt threat," which is the obvious ability to actually punch your opponent's models with your own. Beyond that however, there lies the implied threat of making a move that will have immediate consequences.

These consequences vary. Nobody wants to get in range of an Imperial Guard Command Squad with 4 plasma guns. Nobody wants to jump their expensive 2+ save Sanguinary Guard directly in front of a Monstrous Creature who will omnomnomnomnomnom

It's often common sense: what moves will accomplish the most for me, while minimizing my own damage?

We can see an obvious example of this in the "Bubblewrap" strategy. Here's a (very) crude depiction of bubblewrap, for those outside The Know:

Player 1 wants to assault Player 2's Broadsides, but the Kroot are in the way and make it impossible for Player 1 to assault the Broadsides. Instead, they must assault the 70-point Kroot, giving the 200+ point Broadside squad another turn to do the things they feel more comfortable doing (i.e. living, shooting, etc.)

I apologize for the crudeness of the picture, but my computer crashed a few months back along with like 3 years worth of excellent in-game pictures :-/  Hopefully you get the concept though.

The whole "bubblewrap" thing should be fairly straightfoward - the Kroot aren't going to kill 70 points worth of the enemy most games, but the Broadsides (if kept alive) will likely do something in excess of 270 points of damage throughout the game.

The key phrase there is "if kept alive," which is what Player 2 is obviously attempting to fulfill. Player 2 is controlling what parts of the board Player 1's Assault Marines have access to, therefore potentially giving him  more value for his Broadsides.

There are other examples which are potentially less obvious. Let's run through one with another bastardized Paint example:

Player 2 would prefer to charge the Heavy Weapons Team into non-existence. However, once their conquest was had, Player 1's allied Dreadknight would likely charge in and wipe out the Grey Hunters, which would be a net gain for Player 1, who will always swap less than 100 points for an opponent's 175+ point squad, if given the choice.
This example is also fairly straightforward - make a move, and face the consequences. If the consequences are something you as a player deem "worth it" for the potential gain, then go for it. If not, find a better option. In this case, maybe rapid-firing with the Grey Hunters rather than charging in?

The whole game is based off of these implied threats. We want to make good decisions based on the threat level of an opponent's models. For the purposes of this article, let's call that the "bubble of death."

The "Bubble of Death"

Every unit in the game has a certain 'goal' that they accomplish better than others. For example, Tau Fire Warriors are much better at shooting than they are in assault, with the added benefit of also scoring. Because their guns are 30" range, we can say that their own "bubble of death" is moderate within 36", because they can move 6" and still shoot, and moderate+ within 21", which is their effective move + rapid fire range.

Other units such as Tervigons have a different threat bubble - 18" isn't very likely (6" move and 12" charge), but something like 13" is reasonable. Staying 16" away from them is probably good enough, but not 100% guaranteed it won't bite you.

Most people want to stay away from Tervigons as a general rule, and understanding that moving a unit within the 13" effective threat range for a Tervigon is likely an inequitable move.

We also see the "Bubble of Death" vary from unit to unit. A Dreadknight threatens models within 26" of him with his Torrent Heavy Incinerator (6" move, 12" torrent, 8" flame template), though the threat is much less to a model with a 3+ save as opposed to 4+ save (the flamer is AP 4).

Imperial Guardsmen care much less about Plasma Guns than do Terminators, as the Terminators are expensive and frail vs. AP2, as opposed to Guardsmen, who are much cheaper per model, and whose 5+ save is usually negated by any weapon firing at them anyways. Therefore, the "Bubble of Death" for Plasma Guns is only really relevant to models who care about their armor being negated. The consequences of a Guardsmen unit moving into rapid-fire range of the Plasma is realistically not much.

Controlling the Table

So, we have Implied Threats, and the so-called "Bubbles of Death" - most of us understand at least some of these concepts. The real trick is to use them on the game table. It's not intuitive, really. We have to force the opponent to make very difficult decisions, which often results in poor decisions.

I actually have a few pictures from my last tournament (Adepticon), which kind of show the enactment of these principals.

Case 1: Pure Close Combat Army

This was my first game. My opponent had almost zero shooting threat, and as such was forced to move up the board quick.

My guys are the blue ones, in case you didn't know :)

You can see him in my face immediately on Turn 1. Next turn he'd charge me for sure. However, he also failed to realize (or thought it was worth doing) that he had entered into my Bubble.

My Dreadknight Turn-1 charged his Mauler Fiend and killed it, while my shooting obliterated another one.

The game came down to him charging my models and me being able to counter-charge them with the models I wanted, with a big win for myself.

Though it would look as if he had all the board control (keeping me within my little hill-area), I actually held on to the board control, directing what charges he would need to make in order to win.


  • My shooting forced him forward - he couldn't win by out-shooting me, or running, as I could have advanced with the same formation
  • His own army forced him to move forward, with no other option against any opponent
  • Being able to choose my own fights meant the battle was in my favor from the get-go. Forcing him to charge my Strike Marines allowed me to choose where the Dreadknights would go.
  • In short: I had choices, while he had none.
  • Board Control.
Case 2: Pure Shooting, no armor saves

This game was played against an all shooting IG army, with plenty of plasma and melta inside Chimeras, with a bunch of Vendettas. There were 4 objectives + the RELIC.

My whole strategy hinged off of either getting side shots on his Chimeras as they advanced aggressively, or contain him to his side of the board.

This is mid-game - I'd kept Strikes and Necrons in reserve, and put the Dreadknights on the right of the table, other Strikes on the left, waiting for Chimeras to advance.

You have to note that the Dreadknights are excellent against his troops once I open a transport - his advancing the Chimeras toward my Dreadknights would have resulted in easy side shots for the Strikes and fiery doom for the prior inhabitants. In addition, if he advanced his Chimeras toward the Strikes, the DKs would have had easy side-shots with their Heavy Incinerators on multiple tanks.

In either case, if he advanced with his Chimeras, he would be facing charges that would open his rides easily as well.

Instead of advancing, he decided to hang back and plink away wounds on my models who had no real hope of shooting back. His shooting was actually really hot (he rolled well), but he only managed to kill like 5 Strike Marines in 2 turns. What you see here is the remains of at least 4 of his Chimeras in his own deployment zone, once my reserves arrived.

Here's my opponent, playing the same board control games with me - I wasn't able to move my DKs to where they needed to be because of his fliers blocking my path. A less-subtle but no less effective technique.

His Vendettas fixated on my fliers and Dreadknights, none of which I actually *needed* to win the game. The Dreadknights ensured that he would find a bloody end if he were to advance, and a bloody end if he hung back.


  • My Dreadknights didn't do much this game, they mostly just sucked up firepower and eventually died horrible deaths, despite rolling well for their invulnerable saves.
  • The DKs didn't take nearly their points worth in kills.
  • The DKs were undoubtedly the MVPs of this game, forcing my opponent to stay in his corner, where I was able to keep him off all but one objective.
  • Board Control.
Though the other models in my army did the killing, the main objective was to make my opponent struggle to find a good solution to my army. Don't get in the DKs' threat bubble, or do? Lots of consequences either way.

Case 3: Necron Balanced

This was a game that I lost, and I made a few errors to be sure. However, I still feel that my overall plan was a good one. Mostly, I failed in execution.

My opponent had some Scarabs with Spyders to grow more of them, along with the usual 24" shooting and 11 Wraiths (move 12", ignore terrain, charge 2d6, etc) with a Destroyer Lord.

This put me at the unusual position of being mostly out-ranged by his shooting (fliers can choose where they go, and always get the first shot), and out-ranged by his close-combat.

Because it was objectives, I decided to use implied threat to force my opponent to either make some really long/unlikely charges, or commit to a single course of action, to which I could apply as much pressure as needed.

The thing is, Wraiths are a great unit, but are really scared of 3 Dreadknights and 20 Strike Marines + Inquisitors when up close. Even 11 Wraiths would probably die in a single turn if he just jumped in front of my army and let me do what I wanted with them.

As such, he kept his Wraiths behind the hill for most of the game:

You can see that my Strikes are on two objectives, and another is in that forest in the upper right, where the Necrons can grab it. His Wraiths could maybe charge one Dreadknight, but could they handle the Strike Marine/DK counter-charge? The answer is probably no. Of course, this pictures is just before his Wraiths got a 10" charge on the left Strike Squad, my only really weak table position.


  • My opponent could control where his troop models went via his fliers, but were threatened at any point where they might land and actually accomplish something.
  • My opponent had the advantage in both shooting range and charging range
  • My opponent was forced to stay away from my shorter-ranged models, due to my implied threat. I hardly shot at him the whole game.
  • I was in position to win if he didn't make an unlikely charge, or his scarabs weren't able to kill all my Strike Marines in a single turn (failed on both counts by myself :-/  )
  • Board Control.

Case 4: Literal Board Control

This is a game against my 6th round opponent. I don't want to get into the particulars of this game, as I failed to think much at all, and played very poorly indeed.

Instead, I just wanted to point out his idea of board control, and condone it.

You can see his Gants are spread out to entirely negate a flier from sneaking in and taking an objective in his backfield, while his big guys were able to control 3 different (you can't see them all) objectives at points directly next to his landing pad.

Though this is a much less subtle form of Board Control than our Implied Threat, it was still a very real concern for me to deal with. He was the highest seeded player on Day 1, and only failed when he smacked into Tony Kopach in Game 1 of day 2. The strategy clearly works a lot of the time.


Well, you've seen some of my ideas here. My Dreadknights very rarely did much in my final games (once I ran out of opponents with pure close-combat armies), but were just as valuable as my other, more "useful" units. Though the Dreadknights provide a good amount of "overt" threat, they also carry with them an enormous implied threat.

These methods can be used by anyone.

  • Don't want Terminators to walk into a section of the board? Station a bunch of Plasma within range of that section.
  • Don't want your opponent to hide behind a certain hill? Point some guns back there in advance, and force him to either kill the threatening unit, or go elsewhere.
  • Want your opponent to go to the left where there are no objectives? Deploy in a manner which punishes him for going to the right, and "doesn't" punish him for going left.
Sometimes you can 'sacrifice' a unit by moving them up close to the enemy and making them really want to shoot/charge it, even if it's not their biggest priority. All kinds of possibilities exist in such a situation that you might be able to take advantage of.

The key to it all is to simply control your opponent's choices. Make him think, and give him no 'easy' decisions. Poor moves on your opponent's side are easily exploitable - if they aren't, then they aren't poor moves. 

Remember that the only things that really matter in a game are the objectives for that mission. If you think you can win by losing your entire army and by killing none of theirs - do it.

Often it's not that black-and-white, but the fact remains: how to accomplish the mission matters more than anything in the game, including overt threat. Think in these terms, and your game will change for the better.

Unless I'm wrong :)


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