Lots of pictures in this one guys. Bubble-wrap was an important skill in 5th edition but 6th edition really changes what it’s all about. Lets look at making it and breaking it within this new paradigm.
Dedicated bubble-wrap was really important in 5th edition for quite a few armies, notably Tyranids, Tau & Imperial Guard but all armies could use the basic concept to good effect. This article looks at what bubble-wrap is and the benefits of such and how to implement and break it in 6th edition. If you’re looking for examples of practical applications of bubble-wrap, you can see lots of Tyranid battle reports in tournament settings on 3++ is the new black. Otherwise we use some pictorial examples here to help the learning process and make the post prettier. Yes my models are pretty *stern face*.
What is bubble-wrap?
First we’ll look at what bubble-wrap actually is. Bubble-wrap at it’s most basic (and most advanced really…) is a layer of infantry placed in front of other infantry or vehicles meant to take the brunt of assaults on the chin and protect the more valuable or fragile units behind. It’s essentially a form of blocking. On top of this, if used correctly it can prevent the use of shorter-ranged weapons on units behind (i.e. the melta-range of meltaguns on vehicles). This is less important now as melta-weapon alpha-strikes are harder to pull off but still an important consideration against short-ranged weapons. The primary goal is to hold up aggressive units, particularly with the increased fragility of vehicles in combat. By engaging enemy units before they reach your lines (or rather, having them engage a unit in front of your lines), your army has more time to manuever, react and shoot down the opponent’s army. This does not have to be a dedicated unit – you can simply bubble-wrap mid-game with a less important unit to protect a more important unit or location on the board. Dedicated units are often better at it and are well equipped to do so but don’t assume this is a tactic which you need to include during list design – it can be tactic (localised play) or strategy (army list concept) both.
|Synaps3 – The Termagants stop the Meganobz from assaulting the Genestealers or Tervigon which allows these units another turn of life and the ability to counter-attack next turn|
Rule changes which affect bubble-wraps
How models are removed from shooting is a massive kick against bubble-wraps as opposing players have more control over being able to break through bubble-wraps. This is discussed below in breaking bubble-wraps. There are ways around this or to limit this (also discussed below) but for now, it’s a weakness. Changes in cover also affect how durable such units are. Cover saves are on average lower across the board and are now applied on a per MODEL basis – no longer can you string large squads out of area terrain and into open terrain whilst still gaining a cover save. Compounding this is focus fire which adds to the opponent having greater control over what models you remove from your bubble-wrap. They are however better in assault, assuming they don’t get swept off the table. With pile-in moves only being 3″, their effective ability to be dragged laterally away from units they are protecting has been halved.
What makes a good bubble-wrap?
There are two schools of thought here. One is a cheap yet durable for cost unit and the other is a unit which is just damn scary and durable (i.e. you assault it and will likely lose). Something like Kroot or Imperial Guardsmen who have bonuses when in cover (certain covers for Kroot) and are cheap on a per-model basis or Ork Boyz/Termagants who are Fearless and just dirt cheap (yes Ork Boyz can be brought below Fearless levels). Options like Fearless or Stubborn are excellent as they ensure the units won’t fall off the board as often and in combat are impossible or unlikely to be swept, even if they are crappy there. This keeps the opponent in combat longer but remember, you don’t want them staying in combat for an even number of combat rounds (if they initiated the assault) – this allows them to avoid your shooting, consolidate and get movement + assault options in their next turn.
Stealth, Shrouding or abilities which allow units to Go to Ground for extra bonuses are all also excellent options and if they have offensive capacity in the form of shooting or combat, excellent but that role is ALWAYS secondary to their defensive wrapping nature. Otherwise a very durable and scary unit which can both proactively engage the opponent (i.e. gunlines) or defend against a more aggressive army is a good option. Durability and combat power is generally the key here with good examples being Nob Bikers (particularly with lots of LoS! options) or Terminators of any ilk. Such units are often much more expensive though and have a smaller footprint so rather than using their bodies as a living screen, they work in a more proactive manner with the threat of their damage to protect the goodies behind them.
|Lancashire Wargaming – an example of an aggressive unit bubblewrap|
How to make bubble-wrap work in 6th edition
So bubble-wrap has taken a hit, no doubts about it. If the opponent has minimal shooting however, it’s still very strong at stopping assaults from reaching your main lines and with new assault rules, they are even less susecptible to being pulled out of the way by assaulting units. A proactive bubble-wrap can even look to engage opponent’s before the new shooting rules come into significant play. Beyond this though, one needs to try and counter the 6th edition shooting rules as much as possible to force the opponent to expend more effort to break through the bubble-wrap to the goods behind. The goal here is to make such an effort inefficient where simply engaging the unit in assault and using shooting to engage the units behind the bubble-wrap unit is a better option for the opponent. Ergo, the bubble-wrap has done its job and protected the rest of the army from assaults.
There are a couple ways to do this. First, look to terrain. If there are any BLoS terrain pieces you can use this to your own advantage to help protect one flank (remember, I generally play no terrain as impassable). Your opponent can use this as well but since they are trying to break through your unit with shooting, this can be a great boon to you. Remember as well to try and get cover on as many of your models INDIVIDUALLY as you possibly can. It will make the wrap last longer more often than not. However, be careful where your models with cover saves and without cover saves are as focus fire gives the opponent another option in being able to choose where your models get removed. If you do this correctly you can ensure the strong side from which the opponent is trying to break through has cover. This means focus fire can still be effective but will remove models from the wrong side of the bubble-wrap – this is where positioning and use of terrain is very important. From here you have two real options; use characters and layer up.
Layering up is pretty basic. Rather than taking one unit of bubble-wrap and spreading it out in a thin layer where you could pick models off as you saw fit in 5th edition, you make the bubble-wrap thicker and potentially use more than one squad. The effect here should be obvious. Rather than having to kill only a couple of models (and manuever to only kill a couple of models) for assaulting units to break through bubble-wraps, the opposing player has to kill more models and manuever to kill more models, i.e. expend more effort. This can done with just one unit by generating more depth but less coverage. Conversely, if you have multiple units you can make the bubble-warp deeper and have greater coverage. On top of this, more units in the bubble-wrap mean more units are going to be needed to deal with such and the opponent must ensure the holes blasted through each squad line up so an assaulting unit can get through. Remember as well, the second unit (or third or fourth, etc.) is more likely to have cover from the initial unit as well.
Be very careful of multiple-assaults though. They are harder to pull off and weaker when they work but the point of each individual bubble-wrap unit is to delay assaulting armies a full turn. Allowing them to destroy two or three in one combat phase counteracts this. Either way, the point here is to force your opponent to use more units and more firepower than is really necessary to break through such units to get to the protected units behind. If the bubble-wraps are far enough in front as well, assaulting through the bubble-wrap can be an unlikely to succeed prospect due to the new random charge distances. Throw a bit of terrain in there and even 6″ is unlikely to be acheived by non-Fleet units.
|The basics of what a layered bubble-wrap looks like; the Imperial Guard are protecting the Russes from assaults and short-ranged melta weapons.|
Characters are perhaps the best way to stop bubble-wraps being punched through with shooting but are limited in their own application and not fool-proof. We’ve looked at this in detail before, so let’s apply this to bubble-wraps. A character at the front of the unit is able to re-distribute wounds through LoS! rolls (to anything within 6″ at least) and you essentially have greater control over where you would like models to be removed from. Not as good as 5th edition as it’s limited to a 6″ bubble and the success of LoS! rolls but better than nothing. For bubble-wraps, this is very, very important as holes in specific locations are much harder to punch open – you as the controlling player are more capable of distributing them and can thus force the opponent to envelope the entire bubble-wrap to go through any holes which may open up or try to beat it’s way through the character’s LoS! rolls. Either way, this requires more effort or a reduced effectiveness in assault so the bubble-wrap is working. This does assume a couple of things though. Firstly, the character is the closest model to the firing unit(s) and can thus redistribute wounds through LoS! rolls. This isn’t always going to be the case, particularly with flanking units and thus the defending player must identify where the opponent is likely to try and break through the bubble-wrap and send a unit through the hole in the same turn. Put the character there and/or use multiple characters (character units are great here) to make this even more difficult. Beyond that, there are still ways of bypassing the effectiveness of the character through the usual tactics of line of sight blocking or tank shocking to move other models closer. Furthermore, continual application of the character as a bullet catcher is going to see them end up taking some wounds and thus be less efficient elsewhere.
With the understanding of what a bubble-wrap is and how one might make it work within 6th edition, it’s time to look at how one might break it. It’s a very common tactic for certain armies and even if it’s not built into an army, any form of infantry blocking can be defeated in the ways described below. The best result for breaking bubble-wrap is to remove it in the shooting phase (or at least neutralise it) so an assault unit can get through. Don’t waste unnecessary firepower here though – if you need to sink a lot of firepower into the unit it might often be better to utilise said firepower better elsewhere and just take the delayed assault prospect on the chin. Remember, it’s all about being efficient – even if you break through the bubble-wrap but it takes your entire army to do so, the opponent has likely won-out in the exchange. There are times when this is okay – i.e. defeating the bubble-wrap puts the opponent on a severe downward spiral, but you need to be able to identify when this is okay and when it is not. Each game will be different.
So, how do we break bubble-wrap? The concepts are still the same. Shoot, tank shock or assault the unit. How we go about this has changed drastically though thanks to the new 6th edition ruleset. We’ll look at them one by one.
At it’s core, shooting is still the same. It’s hard to remove an entire unit of bubble-wrap to ensure your unit(s) can get through to the juicy goodness behind. The unit in question is likely to be pretty survivable for its points and whilst not as survivable as before with reduced cover saves (generally a 5+ before improvements now), your opponent is generally going to be happy if you’re trying to shoot your way through it from afar. It means your firepower isn’t going elsewhere and you’re essentially dealing with a throwaway unit. If you don’t have targets of opportunity for anything else (i.e. only infantry unit on the table), then by all means, dakka away but there are easier ways to break this if there are better targets. With 6th edition you as the offensive player, have the most control over model removal. During your own turn you can setup defenses for specific models (i.e. special weapons, etc.) but the offensive player is always going to have more options here – it’s simply a case of how hard you make them work to do this. Against bubble-wrap there are two key things to remember.
- models closest to the firing unit are removed
- you can only remove what you see
This means the controlling player can no longer remove models which are in the least advantageous position from the bubble-wrap. By your movement and shooting, you dictate where those models are removed from. Remember this and where you want your other units to punch through. Here’s a pictorial example of Termagants protecting some Tyranid MCs and a Blood Angels force looking to attack from the right.
In 5th edition, all shooting damage on the Termagants would have been thrown onto the Termagants on the left (allocated by the controlling player) but in 6th edition by moving the shooting units like so…
all the wounds applied to the Termagants are removed from the side the Blood Angels wish to assault from.
Some shooting later with the removal of Termagants and the Blood Angels assault units are able to access the Tyranid MCs which would normally be protected.
We can also use unit extension to get one model closest to a specific point of the bubble-wrap and start killing models from that point like so.
This is putting such a unit in greater danger though but it gives you a lot more control over where models are removed from in comparison to using ranged firepower. This unit also cannot assault the units behind the bubble-wrap as it has already engaged the bubble-wrap target (unless it can multi-assault). The second unit however can.
However, there are ways for the controlling player to make this more difficult (discussed later). This calls for specialist equipment in our much loved vehicles! Yes, we’re still talking about shooting. Remember the other important rule one needs to remember when targeting and removing enemy models? You can only remove what you can see. If you can’t see enemy models, you cannot remove them, even if they are closer. You know what’s really good at blocking Line of Sight? Vehicles. Metal Bawkses. Those things you buy because they are cheap and have lots of utility. This is part of their utility. For example, a long ranged unit trying to kill off a specific side of the bubble-wrap can simply have a vehicle move up on its flank limiting it’s arc of fire at the point of origin.
Here the Dreadnought and Predator can see all of the Termagants but by moving a Razorback in front and on their left, their fields of fire become more limited (yes, the Dreadnought’s, too despite it being able to see over the RBack hull, the Termagants are too small. It can see the Dakkafex but not the Termagants and therefore they cannot die. The autocannon turret of the Predator can still see them all and thus the closest to closest rule comes in there).
This could be done the same way but with the vehicle further upfield. This could be because there isn’t one available at the back or if that vehicle ends up wrecked, it’s not going to limit the LoS or movement of the backfield unit as much (looking at infantry based heavy weapons here such as Devastators/Long Fangs).
The exact same concept can be used for a midfield unit or a unit right in front of the bubble-wrap.
The tank is more effective at blocking LoS here due to the smaller nature of the infantry models. Be careful of the slopes on vehicles though as infantry can still generally see over them. This is beneficial later though… You can also bring another vehicle in to punch a hole through a bubble-wrap by extending the old concept of the V-pattern. Simply use the vehicles to block line of sight on both sides of the shooting unit with the mouth of the two vehicles pointing at what you want to kill. Commence shooting.
And the same concept again but with infantry and at a closer location.
Now it’s important to remember this can be applied to ignore the closest to closest rule (well rather, modify it to what the closest model you can SEE is). In these examples the Termagants are curving away from the front and thus this doesn’t really come into play but if they were staggered or curved outwards, using such tactics is not only going to direct where you punch a hole but also ensure your opponent’s positioning means less to you. The end result of all of these options is the bubble-wrap is broken in a specific location set by you DURING the shooting phase which allows a unit to walk through and assault whatever is behind it. Remember, you just need to remove one model for a 25mm base to get through – you ignore the 1″ rule during assaults. The more you kill though the more you are able to fit through beyond the defensive bubble-wrap line.
Tank Shocks –
Are still effectively the same. You throw a tank at an enemy unit in the hopes that it breaks. With the ease Fearless is now accessible to such units though (only one squad member needs it to give it to the entire squad), this is less likely as an option. At the edges of bubble-wraps you can also go around though without an open-topped or assault vehicle, this will only be to shoot your opponent. You can still use multiple tanks to punch a hole through the bubble-wrap however (as described here) but shooting a hole through the wrap is a lot easier, more controllable and generally requires less effort in terms of points expended if you want a unit to actually assault at the end (i.e. not needing two Land Raiders).
Remember, you cannot Flat Out if you tank shock nor can you assault. The linked article shows how one can punch a hole through a bubble-wrap but it’s important to make sure your assaulting unit is no longer within those vehicles but brought in by another one (assault vehicle at least) or comes in on foot. Either way, that’s a lot of expenditure in terms of breaking open a hole with movement when shooting is generally more effective currently. Furthermore, remember that tank shocks can change the placement of units and thus impact the way shooting works by either pushing units closer to or further away from your firing units (and thus changing where the closest model might be) AND by blocking Line of Sight to other portions of the squad. This can greatly impact how your shooting works as we saw above.
Combat is still one of the most efficient ways of dealing with Bubble-wrap units. Such units are generally not great in combat and use a combination of abilities to get a good save from shooting whilst being relatively cheap. The ability to punch through very specific locations within a bubble-wrap unit with shooting greatly improves the ability to break bubble-wrap before the assault phase. That’s great if you can do it but assaults are a sure-thing in terms of at least moving the models from where they want to be (and more likely to kill them). The issue is, vehicle based assaults are a bit harder to get off. You can no longer start the turn you wish to assault in a vehicle unless it’s open-topped or an assault vehicle (so for some armies everything is really the same minus the few inches reduced charge range). Yes, even if it doesn’t move. You also can’t move a long distance Turn 1 and then hop out and hide behind your vehicles – you move a short distance and hop out (and flat out the vehicle to hide you) or don’t move very far.
The reality is, either your mech based units for assaulting are more vulnerable to shooting or are going to attack later in the game (often both). You also cannot rely on infiltrators or scouts getting the first turn assault off – it’s illegal and all other units which can assault 24″ are far less likely to (a 1/6 chance down to around a 1/10-11 chance). This means a later assault (Turn 2 for a fast foot based unit generally) is your best bet – you want to do it before the rest of your army can get there though so you have time to pull the bubble-wrap unit away (or kill it) and pounce upon the opening next turn. This means assaulting from the sides generally rather than front on but remember, pile-in moves are greatly reduced and Fearless units no longer suffer No Retreat wounds so the wrap can take a while to move laterally. The best way is to obviously kill the unit either through sheer attack numbers or a sweeping advance (but again, many good bubble-wraps will be Fearless or Stubborn making this impossible/harder). Either way, the point here is to somehow disable the bubble-wrap by using a unit faster than everything else. It’s pointless if the unit combating the bubble-wrap is also the unit you want blasting through the bubble-wrap to engage your opponent or if the other units you want to do this with are arriving at the same time said unit is engaging the bubble-wrap.
Ultimately, bubble-wraps as we knew them are less applicable and effective. With the changes to 6th edition, bubble-wrap, whilst not useless, is no longer as easy to establish, maintain and take advantage of as it was during 5th edition. Importantly, the opposing player can now break through bubble-wrap effectively in specific locations during the shooting phase to allow individual units through to assault the protected contents behind. The major difference here is not that the unit is easy to shoot away (it is with reduced cover) but specific holes can be shot with a little bit of effort from the opponent to allow a unit through in the same turn. This bypasses the effect of a dedicated bubble-wrap. Making this as difficult as possible is now the main goal of bubble-wraps in 6th which if successful, forces the opponent to deal with the bubble-wrap normally (i.e. assault it) or expend so much effort it has become inefficient. In the end they are still a good tactic to attempt to utilise, particularly if you can run multiple layers/thicker wraps or use characters to choose where the wounds land but they are not as fool-proof as they were before.