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40k: Why Play on Your Opponent’s Terms?

6 Minute Read
Apr 19 2010

Jwolf here. One of the main problems I repeatedly see in Battle Reports is that players line up to play on their opponent’s terms. Lets talk about how to not be “That Guy”.

Nine times out of ten, a battle report will start with both players fully or nearly fully deployed on the battlefield, without regards to objectives or opposing firepower. Against most of the common tournament-level firepower armies, this is criminally bad play, and turns an otherwise tactically interesting game into a game of dice that happens to involve toy soldiers. There are several factors to blame for this behavior (which I will call Over Deployment Syndrome, or ODS for short), which I will cover briefly. I will discuss the individual factors in more detail as requested in the comments.

Bad Habits Die Hard
The first factor in ODS is simply wanting to get into the action. We all fall prey to this on occasion, but successful players will come to realize that if the action really begins on turn 3, there is still a lot of action to be had, so nothing is lost in the fun of the game by not just taking a punch in the face on the top of turn 1 (I might argue that avoiding that punch increases the fun, at least for me). Reserving forces is not reducing the action, it is simply changing the pace to better support your success.

The second factor is poor temporal sensibility. Sure, you need to control more objectives at the end of the game, but that doesn’t really have anything to do with holding them on turn two. Relax and let your opponent race towards the objectives for the first 3 turns; as he commits resources, you can see where to take his army apart and where to let him waste points defending uncontested territory.

The third factor is bad unit selection. If you choose units without having an eye towards mobility and obfuscation, you will have to telegraph your decisions for several turns before your goals are in reach. Avoid buying an army that depends on static firepower to win and you’ll be able to more effectively control the pacing of the game.

The fourth factor is firepower addiction. It is fun to roll lots of dice, and most armies only get to roll lots of dice by putting a lot of models down and not moving them. Getting enamored of your Heavy Bolter Sponsons will cost you control of the pace, and won’t kill many models. Most firepower-based Mechanized forces (which seems to be most of every tournament) get so caught up in making sure they can throw out the most shots that they are thrown off by losing 2 or more rounds of shooting due to Reserves.

The fifth factor is old habits. Fourth Edition required almost everything to be deployed. Many people simply deploy everything out of habit (as near as I can tell).

The sixth factor in ODS is fear of the unknown. Yes, bad Reserve rolls can have your army trickle in over 4 turns and be cut to ribbons. Worse things have happened to better people, and fear isn’t a good reason to avoid making good decisions. It is better to deal with uncertainty with small numbers of dice than face the almost certain devastation that large numbers of dice being thrown at your army on the top of turn 1 generates.

Having discussed these six factors, I present 3 simple steps for alleviation of ODS.

Adapt and Overcome
The first is get faster. Design armies that don’t dwell on their own board edge at all and are so fast as to make such considerations less important. Eldar, Dark Eldar, and Blood Angels are all great examples. Orks can get a pretty good move on, too.


The second is go nonlinear. Get Drop Pods (or spores). Infiltrate and Outflank, Deep Strike and Scout. Get your army out of the deployment box before the battle even begins. Some armies can really do this well: Dual Wing Dark Angels would be great at this, (if their army wasn’t giving away points for no apparent reason), Eldar with Autarchs, Blood Angels with Deep Striking Descent of Angels Land Raiders, Tyranid Spore, Tunnels, Wings and Stealers forces, and Al’Rahem + Creed Guard are all interesting and nonlinear armies.

The third and most important step in overcoming ODS is learn to use Reserves. Good and bad things happen with Reserves, and learning to deal with the vagaries requires practice. There is no substitute for practice in any competitive 40K environment, and the more subtle the army, the more practice it takes to use it well.

All of that said, I present the army that I’m going to goof around with now. I don’t consider this the best of anything, nor is it tuned (I’ve just been toying with the idea, and it seems like fun). The army generally starts with nothing on the board, and will drop either two empty pods of 2 full ones on turn 1, depending on the enemy, set-up, and mission.

2000 Point Space Marines

-Khan on Moondrakken
-Command Squad – 4x Plasma, 3x Flamer, 2x Storm Shield, 1x Thunderhammer, Company Standard, Apothecary, and a Drop Pod with Locator Beacon
Unit Concept: These guys are unit killers, and so shiny that everyone will want to kill them in a hurry. If they all they accomplish is turboboosting around getting pelted with great gouts of firepower for a couple of turns, they will have done great things. The Drop Pod is for empty tossing, usually on turn 1.

Space Marine Librarian – Epistolary, Gate of Infinity, Vortex of Doom, Terminator Armor, Storm Shield, and Melta Bombs.
Unit Concept: He’s annoying. Psychic defense is worth having these days, as is having a guy who can appear anywhere and blow stuff up. He can join a deployed Tactical as needed, and perform taxi service as required. Generally I’d add him to Khan’s squad at deployment or have him just pop in alone – he is expendable, even at almost 200 points.

Space Marine Bike Squad (full strength) – 2 Meltaguns, Multimelta Attack Bike, Powerfist Sergeant.
Unit Concept: I couldn’t make a Khan army without a Bike squad. Generally this unit is in Reserve, but you could deploy and combat squad it if forced to go first.


Tactical Squad – Melta, Multimelta, Powerfist. Mounted in a Rhino.
Unit Concept: Basic Troops unit. Multimelta is just a toy I am playing with; Missile Launcher is probably better for your use. This unit should almost always Outflank.

Tactical Squad – Melta, Multimelta, Powerfist. Mounted in a Drop Pod.
Unit Concept: Basic Troops unit. Multimelta is just a toy I am playing with; Missile Launcher is probably better for your use. The Drop Pod can be used empty or the Squad can come in on turn 1 and Melta something, depending on the mission.

Ironclad Dreadnought, 2 Hunter-Killer Missiles. Mounted in a Drop Pod.
Ironclad Dreadnought, 2 Hunter-Killer Missiles. Mounted in a Drop Pod.
Unit Concept: Yes, I have two of the same thing in this army. I will most often keep these in Reserve, though other uses include dropping one pod empty and normal Reserving that Dreadnought (especially in Capture and Control), or dropping both towards midfield early, especially against S6 torrent of fire armies.

Land Speeder, Heavy Flamer and Typhoon Missile Launcher.
Unit Concept: It shoots missiles at things. And has a Heavy Flamer, for rooting out pesky Troops in the late game. Pretty simple unit.

Army Concept
Go second. Play the mission and kill in a focused manner. Outflanking and full Reserve is the choice against heavy firepower armies.

Warning Note: I do not recommend that you play this list if you have less than 100 games of 5e played or have trouble with ODS, nor do I consider it to be a strong tournament force. It’s something I want to play with for fun, and may refine towards a strong tournament list (which I’ll gladly provide if I develop one). The command squad alone should be a pretty good clue that I’m goofing off…

I look forward to your comments (not so much on the list) and will provide detailed responses as I am able.

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