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40K TACTICS: The Next Big Thing in Imperial Guard?

11 Minute Read
Sep 6 2011
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By Geoffrey Snider

When I think of the 40K tournament scene, I think of what it means to attempt to overcome the unbelievable power of the Imperial Guard.  I’ve got an idea…


While the IG are a force to be reckoned with at 2,000 points (regular tournament lists), they explode at 2,500 points and are a potentially dominating force for the ‘Ard Boyz format. This brings a couple interesting concepts into question.

First is the concept of Expansion.
This is what happens when you take the penultimate build of an army at one points level and convert it into the penultimate build for that army at a higher points level. The conversion itself means nothing, except when you compare the ability of one army to expand with another army’s ability to expand. When an army undergoes Expansion it can take advantage of several factors: it can take more units, larger units, take multiples of units, fill its force organization chart, include ‘anti-packages,’ and splurge on units that would normally be impractical for lower points level games. Let’s take, for instance, the Dark Eldar. At 2000 points they might look like this:

Baron Sathonyx
Haemonculus x3
Kabalite Trueborn #1 (3)
– 2x Splinter Cannon, Venom w/2x Splinter Cannon
Kabalite Trueborn #2 (3)
– 2x Splinter Cannon, Venom w/2x Splinter Cannon
Kabalite Trueborn #3 (3)
– 2x Splinter Cannon, Venom w/2x Splinter Cannon
Wyches #1 (9)
– Haywire Grenades, Raider, Hekatrix w/Blast Pistol, Phantasm Grenade Launcher, Venom Blade
Wyches #2 (9)
– Haywire Grenades, Raider, Hekatrix w/Blast Pistol, Phantasm Grenade Launcher, Venom Blade
Kabalite Warriors #1 (10)
– Blaster, Dark Lance, Raider
Kabalite Warriors #2 (10)
– Blaster, Dark Lance, Raider
Hellions (16)
– Helliarch w/Splinter Pistol, Power Weapon
Ravager #1
Ravager #2
Ravager #3

This list already has a lot of redundancy, but that’s generally what happens with armies that have low points cost models. You end up with multiples of the same unit. Expansion will obviously get the Dark Eldar a greater number of units, but it will also allow them to increase the size of those units. This is extremely important for an army that often utilizes minimized unit sizes that have an average armor save of 5+. Units of Hellions get larger, as do units of Kabalite Trueborn. Units of Wyches may occasionally increase in size to 15-man foot-sloggers.

These unit size increases aside, one thing is for sure: at 2500 points the Dark Eldar become a heck of a lot more frightening. There is a massive shift from relying on small-to-medium sized Elite and Troop units for offensive ‘glass hammers’ to large, resilient Fast Attack units. This is a byproduct of splurging on expensive units and the filling of the force organization chart. At 2500 points it’s quite easy to fill up all nine Troop and Elite slots (not to mention the obligatory three-Ravager commitment), and so the remaining options are things like Hellions, Reavers, Beastmasters and Courts of the Archon. Here’s an expanded version of the above DE list:

Baron Sathonyx
Haemonculus x2
– Venom Blade, Liquifier Gun
– Crucible of Malediction
Kabalite Trueborn #1 (3)
– 3x Blaster, Venom w/2x Splinter Cannon
Kabalite Trueborn #2 (3)
– 3x Blaster, Venom w/2x Splinter Cannon
Kabalite Trueborn #3 (3)
– 2x Splinter Cannon, Venom w/2x Splinter Cannon
Kabalite Warriors #1 (10)
– Blaster, Dark Lance, Raider, Torment Grenade Launcher
Kabalite Warriors #2 (10)
– Blaster, Dark Lance, Raider, Torment Grenade Launcher
Kabalite Warriors #3 (10)
– Blaster, Dark Lance, Raider, Torment Grenade Launcher
Kabalite Warriors #4 (10)
– Blaster, Dark Lance
Wracks (9)
– Liquifier Gun, Raider
Hellions (20)
– Helliarch
Beastmasters (26)
– 5x Beastmasters
– 21x Khymerae
Ravager #1
– Grisly Trophies
Ravager #2
– Grisly Trophies
Ravager #3
– Grisly Trophies

The main differences between this DE list at 2000 and 2500 points lie in the inclusion of Beastmasters, Wracks and vehicle wargear. Some elements have been completely removed (e.g. Wyches, one Haemonculus) because the new units have more or less assumed their in-game roles. The level of redundancy in unit function has gone up considerably; there are now 27 Blasters and Dark Lances for anti-vehicle use (up from 17) and the anti-vehicle role has shifted almost completely to the shooting phase. Haywire Grenades have been phased out in favor of a swarm of s4 attacks from Hellions and Khymerae. DE anti-troop capabilities increase proportionate to their army size; there are more Kabalite Warriors, more Hellions and a greater overall close combat capability. Finally, at larger points limits the potential effectiveness of small ‘Anti-Packages’ increases.

‘Anti-Packages’ are small point investments that will hopefully pay great dividends against a small number of potential matchups. In this case there is a Crucible of Malediction and several Torment Grenade Launchers. In the case that the army runs into a Tyranid, Grey Knight or Space Wolf army, there’s a great potential for removing a couple high-priced units with very little effort, and with some potentially devastating consequences for the opponent. The inclusion of an Anti-Package in any army is most definitely a matter of personal preference, and many players disagree with this sort of ‘toolbox’ approach to point spending, preferring to use points on more obviously effective wargear or units.

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One way to look at this type of tactical planning is to treat it like the concept of ‘pot odds’ in Poker (more specifically Hold’em). If six players are already in a pot and you have pocket suited connectors (2 cards of the same suit that are sequential, like the 7 and 8 of hearts), the odds state that you’ll win that hand with a flush X% of the time. I don’t remember the exact win percentage (it may be 25%), but I think you get the idea. If your points commitment to a potential tactic is low enough, the potential that it may decrease the amount of your army’s effectiveness is extremely low… but the payout is extremely high if you encounter the desired army and you’re able to take advantage of the right situation and you get lucky!

YES, this is ultimately an article about IG… I think.
The second concept I wanted to touch on is First Strike. This is the capability of an army to eliminate (or hinder) opposing units before they can be in turn be affected by those units. This is another comparative concept that deals with the individual efficiency of units. If Unit A is effective at range and Unit B is effective in close combat, how many chances does Unit A have to eliminate (or hinder the effectiveness of) Unit B before Unit B can use its close combat superiority to eliminate (or hinder the effectiveness of) Unit A. Obviously this concept isn’t always applicable because units nearly always have ranged weaponry and nearly always have the ability to fight in close combat. Very rarely do you see a situation where a purely melee unit (like a unit of un-upgraded Carnifexes) takes on a purely ‘shooty’ unit (like a squadron of Leman Russ Battle Tanks). In a case like this it is merely a matter of distance separating the two units, which unit gets to fire/move first and how far the Carnifexes move when they make their run moves. Every other detail of this situation’s outcome is clear-cut and obvious. If the Carnifexes get to the Russ’ then the tanks die. If not, the Carnies go to Carnie heaven.

Applying the concept of First Strike on an army-wide scale is difficult because it’s not simply a game of Unit A vs. Unit B. 40K is a game of Units A-M vs. Units N-Z. If Unit A hinders or eliminates Unit N, Unit O will just go after Unit A instead. Simply put, the vast majority of armies have an obvious level of redundancy until they run out of it. However, the above situation involving Carnifexes and Leman Russ’ now may apply on a much larger scale. If Army A has the shooting capability to remove or hinder Army B before Army B is able to maximize its close combat (and less effective shooting) capabilities to remove or hinder Army A, then Army A is going to win. This basically says that if there is enough distance between two armies, then the army with the greatest quantity of ranged weapons is going to prevail. The greater the number of shooting phases Army A gets, and the fewer the number of movement phases Army B gets, the greater the likelihood that Army A will prevail.

I have, in the past, described First Strike as something that happens only on turn one, and it’s implemented by the army that goes first. I’ve since come to the conclusion that this is false (well, it’s not completely wrong, but it’s not an all-inclusive statement). First Strike is what happens in a specific set of circumstances. This set of circumstances revolves around your units’ weapons having range to the opponent’s units, while the opponent’s units aren’t in range to fire back, and aren’t in charge range. This can happen in turns after the first, as long as this set of circumstances is maintained. In essence, if you’ve ever heard of the term ‘threat bubble,’ this is where your army has a huge threat bubble, and your opponent’s army has a threat bubble that doesn’t reach your units… and you keep it that way.

Imagine a plane. Now imagine that all your units are points on that plane. Each point has a circle surrounding it, which represents the effective range of the unit’s weapons, or the distance it must move in a single turn to take it into close combat with an enemy unit. Now imagine that on the far side of that plane there is another group of points, each surrounded by its own circle. These obviously represent the opponent’s units. The circles around your units are HUGE, each encompassing almost half the table and including within them many of the points representing the opposing army’s units. The circles around your opponent’s units are substantially smaller (sometimes by 66%), and none of those circles encompass the points representing your units.

On to the Imperial Guard
The Imperial Guard are rather good about keeping the threat bubbles of opposing armies from approaching their own units (points). In the interest of keeping this perpetuating this First Strike situation from turn to turn, any IG army will want to maximize its long range firepower. Here’s a sample 2000 point list that is geared towards smashing any initial threats to its units (usually transport vehicles), and subsequently chewing away at the soft gooey units that hide inside:

Lord Commissar
Psyker Battle Squad (8)
– Chimera w/Heavy Bolter & Heavy Flamer
Veteran Squad #1 (10)
– 3x Meltagun, Chimera w/Heavy Bolter & Multi-Laser
Veteran Squad #2 (10)
– 3x Meltagun, Chimera w/Heavy Bolter & Multi-Laser
Veteran Squad #3 (10)
– 3x Meltagun, Chimera w/Heavy Bolter & Multi-Laser
Veteran Squad #4 (10)
– 3x Meltagun, Chimera w/Heavy Bolter & Multi-Laser
Infantry Platoon
Platoon Command Squad (5)
– 1x Meltabombs, 4x Flamer, Chimera w/Heavy Bolter & Heavy Flamer
Infantry Squad #1 (10)
Infantry Squad #2 (10)
Heavy Weapons Squad #1 (3)
– 3x Autocannon
Heavy Weapons Squad #2 (3)
– 3x Autocannon
Heavy Weapons Squad #3 (3)
– 3x Autocannon
Heavy Weapons Squad #4 (3)
– 3x Autocannon
Heavy Weapons Squad #5 (3)
– 3x Autocannon
Vendetta #1
Vendetta #2
Manticore Rocket Launcher #1
Manticore Rocket Launcher #2

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There’s a huge emphasis here on range. There are 15 Autocannons, 6 Lascannons, 6 Heavy Bolters, and 4 Multi-Lasers, each with a range of 36” or more. This is backed up by two Manticores and a Psyker Battle Squad. This should probably knock out at least a couple Rhinos each turn and perhaps an even greater number of Raiders and Venoms. Considering the limits of any given army at 2000 points, the theory is that this should be enough firepower to keep the threat bubbles of your opponent’s units at bay.

Notice the two disposable, ill-equipped ten-man infantry squads in the platoon. They serve a very interesting purpose, which is to make a wall. When deploying the army, it’s always good to be able to control the pace at which your opponent’s units can advance. Occasionally there will be a unit of Nob Bikers or perhaps Paladins that get dangerously close to your army. Combining the two disposable squads gives you a twenty-man wall. They walk forward, surrounding the unit that’s threatening your force, perhaps run to cover more ground, or perhaps they fire to cause some attrition. During your opponent’s next turn the surrounded (or walled off) unit will have no real movement options for getting closer to the body of your force. Even though their threat bubble may be encompassing a large number of your units, the wall of twenty grunts will keep them from utilizing that bubble. The surrounded unit will have no real choice but to charge and obliterate the disposable unit if they want to break through that wall and fully utilize their capabilities against the rest of your army.

What you’ve done here is used a small number of points (around 100) to maintain the impotence of the opposing force’s threat bubbles for a turn. A hundred points is a small trade off to allow all those weapons to keep firing for one more turn. The alternative is to get your mechanized force multi-charged, potentially losing three to four times that many points, as well as the subsequent drop in shooting phase effectiveness.

At 2500 points the importance of maintaining the opposing army’s threat bubble impotence increases drastically. However, the IG force at 2500 has drastically increased its effective level of firepower output. Part of the way the army does this is through the use of Conscripts; they replace the simple, twenty-man disposable squad as a more effective wall unit. Here’s the 2500 point list:

Lord Commissar
Veteran Squad #1 (10)
– 3x Meltagun, Lascannon, Chimera w/Heavy Flamer & Heavy Flamer
Veteran Squad #2 (10)
– 3x Meltagun, Lascannon, Chimera w/Heavy Flamer & Heavy Flamer
Veteran Squad #3 (10)
– 3x Meltagun, Lascannon, Chimera w/Heavy Bolter & Multi-Laser
Veteran Squad #4 (10)
– 3x Meltagun, Lascannon, Chimera w/Heavy Bolter & Multi-Laser
Infantry Platoon
Platoon Command Squad (5)
– Chenkov, 4x Flamer, Chimera w/Heavy Flamer & Heavy Flamer
Infantry Squad #1 (10)
– Meltagun
Infantry Squad #2 (10)
– Meltagun
Heavy Weapons Squad #1 (3)
– 3x Autocannon
Heavy Weapons Squad #2 (3)
– 3x Autocannon
Heavy Weapons Squad #3 (3)
– 3x Autocannon
Heavy Weapons Squad #4 (3)
– 3x Lascannon
Heavy Weapons Squad #5 (3)
– 3x Lascannon
Conscripts Squad (40)
– Send in the Next Wave
Vendetta #1
Vendetta #2
Vendetta #3
Hydra Flak Tank
Manticore Rocket Launcher #1
Manticore Rocket Launcher #2

The Lascannon count is up to 19 while the number of Autocannons drops to 11. The Psyker Battle Squad has been dropped in favor of a third Vendetta; a Hydra and a unit of Conscripts (as well as Chenkov) have been added to the list. The army’s size is relatively the same; the addition of the Conscripts has caused the only real shift in model quantity. This new form of ‘Anti-Package’ goes above and beyond what most other A-P’s do; they’re actually an all-purpose package. They have the ability to once again make that disposable wall in front of your army that is capable of placing itself 100% in harm’s way. If you position them well enough there is no way that fast-moving units will be able to land between your units. There’s also no way for assaulting units to break through this massive squad and get to your other units unless you want them to; usually a fast skimmer will have to move Flat-Out to get to the other side of your lines, but at that point its contents are unable to disembark so it doesn’t pose a threat. Yes, the odds are drastically in your favor when it comes to the Conscript Wall tactic. Say, for instance, that the opposing army crashes into the wall of conscripts encircling your army. Here are the available solutions:

1) The Conscripts lose their combat, they’re run down, and they die; the opponent’s units are stuck where they were and must enduring massed close-range Meltagun and Heavy Flamer salvos.
2) The Conscripts aren’t all killed as a result of being charged. They might hold because they’re Stubborn (Chenkov) and LD10 (Lord Commissar).

a. At the start of your following turn, Chenkov removes the entire unit (as if he had a Veil of Darkness or something!), allowing it to move onto the table during the subsequent movement phase; the opponent’s units are stuck where they were and must endure more shooting.
b. The fresh horde of Conscripts multi-charges any remaining units (within reason), holding them in combat during the opponent’s following assault phase (because of Chenkov and the Lord Commissar).
c. Chenkov disposes of the Conscripts once again. Rinse and repeat.

This tactic obviously isn’t flawless, but with the massive ranged fire that an IG army can dish out, and the desperation with which an enemy army is trying to push towards your lines, it only really needs to work once. At this point you’ve successfully perpetuated the impotency of the opposing army’s threat bubbles, giving you carte blanche to lay down a substantial round (or two… or three…) more of shooting.

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So ardboys is still in full swing.  Any takers amongst you IG players out there?  If you think you have a greak counter to this concept, lets hear it.

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