Saturday, February 20, 2010

Evaluating Units Honestly: 'Making Back Your Points' is Overly Simplistic

Now, in all honesty when you analyze units, you can't just math-hammer them and say "Well, this unit is more effective at killing XYZ than that unit." Sometimes, you have to take a look at what a unit does for you, or to the opponent, and it's not always 'kill lots of things.' I'll start with a few simple examples.

The Rhino (and other Transports)
It's 35 points. It has a storm bolter. How often does a lone storm bolter do something more spectacular than take out the odd infantry straggler? The Rhino doesn't kill things. It might tank-shock someone and kill some moron trying Death or Glory.

So, how come you see people taking them? This one's the 'gimme' example. The Rhino (and any transport) keeps your infantry from eating small-arms fire from the get-go, and gets them places faster. For 205 points, I can take 10 tactical marines with a flamer and multi-melta, and get them into position to use them. I can drive up, pop smoke, and move up again and make the enemy worry about a multi-melta near their lines. Or, I can tank-shock infantry, pile out of my box and flamer/rapid-fire my new friends. Or, I can take a shorter tank-shock and do the same thing.

All that for 35? That's a bargain.

Kroot (and other 'bubble wrap')
I pay around 120 points for 10 Kroot and 7 Hounds. How often do they kill stuff? Well, there was that one time they took out a chaos Raptor squad... But beyond that, no, they really DON'T kill stuff. They fold like wet paper sacks in hand-to-hand, they die to flamers in a comedic and terrible fashion, and can kind of rapid-fire stuff. Kind of.

So, why do I take them?

It's called a 'meat shield.' Bubble wrap is another term I've heard, but I prefer meat shield since I've bought lunch meat that comes in tupperware containers explicitly for carting around heaps of plastic infantry that have a generous amount of clear coat on them. Plus, it's good for a laugh when you put your meat shield back into a meat container.

Case in point today against Tyranids: A Trygon pops up near my lines. There are a heap of Kroot between it and juicy targets like a Hammerhead, Broadside Team, and a couple of Crisis Suit teams. Had I not taken the Kroot, I would have had ONE turn to kill the Trygon (which is not necessarily a given, with 6 wounds at T6 with a 3+, even with plasma rifles) before I lost something important. Instead, I took off four wounds with a heap of gunfire, lost a Piranha to it, and then had a Crisis Suit squad go up to BS5 from markerlights and nuke it.

Against meltaguns and the like, you have to do something like tank shock the kroot out of the way to deploy within 6" and get your crucial 2d6 penetration. S8 on AV13 is not a gimme by any stretch of the imagination, but S8+2d6 is a Hammerhead in trouble. It does stop annoying alpha-strike tactics like scout-moving a Vendetta up, and meltagun+meltabomb rushing a Hammerhead, provided you space out and deploy properly.

The Piranha (and other fast, generally-expendable threats)
Here's another short story abou Tau and sacrificing units for the greater good. I field two squads of two Piranhas; they pack Fusion blasters, BS4, and one mounts a Disruption Pod while the other carries the wargear that lets me split fire.

So, one of my buddies was getting into Black Templar, so he's rolling a pair of Land Raider Crusaders with furious charge lightning claw terminators. Ouch. Well, we set up in table quarters, so I rush my Piranhas up in front of his Raiders. He HAS to deal with them; there is a very real chance I can trade 300 points of my army for 500+ of his, and force his terminators to run at me. Considering plasma rifles and markerlights are involved, this doesn't bode well for the Terminators.

So, he shoots at them a little, and I get my shots at his Raiders. Four meltaguns and three railguns later, I've managed to...shake...a single Land Raider. Even with smoke, you'd think all the fething AP1 fire might do some damage. Nope. Sorry. HOWEVER, since these are vehicles, he can't tank shock through them. At this range, he can get an S4-5 ram off on AV11 with a 3+ dodge save. If he does NOT halt and engage them, they'll simply try again next turn. So, he spends a turn or two repositioning and brutally gunning them down.

The Piranhas did not kill a bloody thing.

The Piranhas cost him two turns of movement.

The Piranhas dictated his game, and in turn gave me the time I needed to immobilize one Raider and kill the other.

My Point on Meat Shields and Other Expendables
Sometimes, just being there is enough. Cheap infantry can buy you a turn against assaulty armies, and cheap, fast vehicles that are a credible threat (IE: Multi-melta/Heavy flamer land speeders as well as Piranhas) HAVE to be killed. It's the fact that you can pay points and troops for time, or make them dictate your opponent's movements that makes them worth it.

Rambo, Deathleaper, Doom of Malant'i, and Company
Another category of 'doesn't make points back' is the type of unit that makes you change your deployment and target priority.

Let's be honest: Rambo doesn't often kill much. Marbo appears, chucks a demolition charge, and draws some fire. If you left the opening, Rambo chucked it at the back of a vehicle or at some infantry that weren't in cover. I mean, some good deployment counters that. Additionally, if you spread out in terrain, you minimize the places that Marbo can actually be placed.

Deathleaper and the Doom fall into the same category (though the Doom kind of needs some clarification on its Psychic Vampire crap. At least it's not sparkly like diamonds, right? Right). Worst comes to worst, the Doom kills some infantry, and then you hit it with S8 until it fails a save. Doesn't matter how many wounds at has if it suffers Instant Death.

Outflankers: Or, sometimes the bluff isn't worth it
Now, another category came up from an onlooker. He talked about "Man, you have a hammerhead right on the flank. Some genestealers would be nasty, there."

Not really. First, I can deploy away from the flanks. Oooh. Ahh. It's not THAT hard to get away from foot infantry. Second, in this particular situation, the Hammerhead had moved 12 inches. Had 8 genestealers actually charged it, they might have gotten ONE penetrating hit. (8 stealers = 24 attacks; 6's to hit means 4 hits, which means MAYBE one penetrating hit). Oh. Then the Hammerhead zooms away 12", takes a shot, and some of the rest of my army nukes the stealers, or weakens them sufficiently for me to ignore them.

Ok, outflanking CAN be annoying. On the other hand, there are some problems with it.
1) Reserves. Did you show up on time?
2) Entry Point. Did you show up where I needed you?
3) Impact. Did you do something useful when you showed up?

See, with Khan, I could theoretically outflank a Land Raider Crusader (provided I take it as a dedicated transport) full of assaulty goodness. I could also not see it 'til turn 4-5 and have it arrive on the other end of the table, and there's 450+ points that did not actually KILL anything.

Admittedly, some armies have reserves manipulation and outflank entry manipulation (IE: IG command squads). That helps to an extent, but you can still use things like, oh, meat shields to work around it.

This isn't to say that outflank is ALWAYS useless. However, if you want the enemy to pay attention to your wildcard threat, it should be less of a threat and more of a promise.

In Summary
When you're analyzing a unit, lethality isn't everything. You have to look at the army as a whole; what can each part bring to the table and what does the sum of the parts do for you? If you're going to play expendable units, make sure they're expended usefully. I mean, stuff's gonna die, so get the most out of it and make it work for you. If you're going to bring a bluff card, make sure it's something the enemy HAS to take seriously and make sure it's a somewhat reliable bluff card.


Dverning said...

Excellent post. Heck, even when evaluating lethality, "making back their points" is silly. Doing that requires using the unit correctly in the first place.
For instance, a Hammerhead can shoot Termagaunts all day with Solid Shot and will never kill equal what it cost. But a shot or two into a Land Raider very well might.
Lethality is just one part of the equation, but not the end-all-be-all.

Ugh. Verification word: Snork. I HATE those things....

jabberjabber said...

Very well written article my friend! I agree entirely with what you're saying. For me, this is really highlighted by plaguebearers in codex: daemons. I don't purchase them in order to make their points back. Rather, I use them to hunker down on objectives and keep hold of them, come what may. Its very rare that I'll be charging them up the board to take on marines.

haihastur said...

my two cents :

1) 'When you're analyzing a unit, lethality isn't everything.' well, in fact all the examples you give can be seen in terms of lethality too. or more precisely, counter-lethality. for some units it's just a matter of how they directly increase your survivability, or reduce the lethality of your opponent units (rhino-kroots-pirahnas). for others, what matters most is your opponent can counter them 'easily', but it will have an impact on his deploiement (etc), which, might give you an advantage in terms of lethality (ouflanking stealers for grouping the opponent units in the center of the table, or taking the meat shield to the board edges, thus improving the chances of your main force getting a viable assault target).

2) one thing you didn't talk about, is range. or as I would call it, 'reactivity'. some units are not worth their points in terms of direct lethality, or they are worst than other units in your army. but they provide you with an ability to do damage at bigger range than those 'better ' units. and thus they allow you to react to the game flow more easily. two good (I hope) examples would be :
- the whirlwind or predator compared to vindicator or melta spam. they both seem to lack lethality, but their 48" range (and indirect fire/ignore-cover for the WW) make them must-take in my armies, because they often allow me to react to ennemies movements/reserve/outflanking across the table.
- the big range of the cluster canon of the tyrannofex, which we discussed before, has to be its biggest pro for a tyranid army.

anyway, nice article as always, easy to read and making good points with examples that actually might teach some tricks to readers ;)

Raptor1313 said...

You've a point on range; the autocannon might not be the most lethal gun out there but it DOES rob lighter tanks of their ability to dart out of range and peck at you (IE: Eldar grav tanks).

I think I'll cover it in another article (since I didn't want to crit-hit folks with a wall o' text) but when you say 'Whirlwind' I end up thinking 'opportunity cost.' Compared to the predator, the whirlwind's ignore-cover shot can really hack off infantry. On the other hand, its indirect fire is kind of 'eh' with the full 2d6 scatter (you have to fire on a very large target to make it worthwhile) and you lose the ability to engage enemy armor with it. The predator's not as hot against infantry, but can absorb some fire with the AV13 front and can threaten vehicles.

Though, I'm 100% with you on the Vindicator. It looks cool 'til you try to kill infantry in cover or vehicles. (Oh, wait, isn't that what most people ARE trying to do?)

The main point with lethality is 'making back your points' is a simple example; if my tactical squad + rhino didn't kill 206 points or more, did they fail? It's just a little harder to put a point value on what sacrificial units do for you, as counter-lethality's 'point value' is kinda dependent on what you stopped.

link2edition said...

I just played a game against mark in which I used my land raider crusaders just shot at gaunts for the majority of the game, did they kill 500 points worth? no. did they weaken the squads enough to be assaulted/shot off objectives to win me the game? yes.

What you say is true, just wanted to give another example.

Raptor1313 said...

At 250-60 a pop with that kind of armament, Crusaders are gonna be hard-pressed to ever make back their points in terms of killing infantry...

You'd have to find a LOT of guardsmen out in the open ad shoot very well to pull it off.

The_King_Elessar said...

And when did Eldrad ever get his points back? How do you factor things like that for support elements like Guide? Another brilliant article...and no 'but' this time ;)