Tuesday, December 7, 2010

40K for dummies: Lesson 1- The Push and Pull of War

I have lately been thinking about how I can contribute to the 40k community with some interesting tactical articles.  I really like the idea of doing so, but I have to profess, I don't have the tactical brain of a Stelek, Fritz, or Jawaballs.  I can't look at a codex and know how to build a totally broken list. I haven't read Sun Tzu (though it is on my kindle).  So, I have been wondering how I could contribute to the gaming community at large.

How about getting really basic.  I can do basic.  Henceforth, 40k for Dummies.  I figure I can do a marginal job at this without looking like a complete fool.  So, here goes.

I will also try to be as brief as possible, though I tend to be a bit verbose.

Lesson 1- The Push and Pull of War

In any game of Warhammer, there are two opposing sides and there is a single flow of battle.  The true contest might be thought of as who can control that flow better.  To that end, most armies are tailored to try to wrest the flow of battle from their opponent and dictate the terms of the battle from there on out.  In a really good game between very good players, the flow of the game will jump back and forth almost on a player turn by player turn basis. The bottom line is that, as a player, you want to control the game by controlling how your opponent reacts to your army.  Some of this can be done in the list building "phase", but even a brutal list can be destroyed if played poorly. 

I submit that there are basically two types of armies.  Some might say that there is an inbetween and I may agree with them depending on the day.  I define these armies as "push armies" and "pull armies".  Push armies are the agressive armies that push forward towards an army to win a game.  Orks and Blood Angels are push armies, for the most part.  Pull armies are armies that sit back and pull the opposing army towards them through ranged attack.  The enemy can't sit back and take the pounding so they move towards the army.  Tau and IG are pull armies.

In either army there are many factors that affect their overall strategy: number of long range guns, terrain, transports, deepstrike rolls, reserve rolls, etc., but an army will generally follow a strong trend towards being a push or pull army.

Let's explain the types of army in a bit more detail.


A push army is going to be agressive.  Either due to a lack of any reliable long range weaponry or because of an overwhelming strength in assault, the army trends towards closing with the enemy and hacking them to bits.  BA are a great example of a push army.  So are Orks and Tyranids, though more out of necessity than choice. 

So, what does a push army need to be effective?

It really needs just two things because we have already established that it is probably very strong in the assault phase.  A push army needs protection from fire and it needs speed.

Fire protection- In a push army, you need to protect your troops for as long as possible or until they hit the enemy lines.  The optimal situation is for them to be completely protected until they are ready to assault the enemy and bludgeon them to death.  An army can accomplish this in two basic way: transports and cover saves.*  These are vital for keeping your army intact. Assault armies lose efficacy quickly with a loss in models, so you have to protect them.

*I don't mention armor saves per se, because there are ways of negating armor saves in almost all armies.

Speed- A push army needs speed as well.  For an army that focuses on assault, every turn not in combat is a turn wasted.  The best way to gain speed is through transports.  The bonus for this is that transports also provide protection as mentioned above.  Armies that lack transports (poor tyranids = sad panda )  have trouble crossing the board quickly and stand a good chance of being shot into becoming a threatless waste.  Deepstriking and outflanking are also ways of providing speed.

If a push army can use both of the above mentioned concepts well, you will end up pressuring your opponent into poor decisions or even lose/lose situations.  This ultimately will allow you to get into favorable assaults and win.

Conversely, the kryptonite to a push army is a pull army.  If a shooty army can take out a push army's speed (read transports), it can usually torrent the army to death.  Nothing is worse than having to slog a 10 man infantry squad across the board.  If playing against an assaulty army, go for the transports.  Prioritize and seek to keep it from moving forward.  If a tank is stunned by a shot, move on to the next target.  Make the best use of your firepower. There are a few scenarios that occur when you rid an assaulty army of its transports. 

1) The transports are popped and the infantry begins to dwindle.  An inexperienced general will then panic and freeze.  Some units, that should be moving forward to assault, will move back to preserve KP or numbers.  Some units will charge forward, but due to the low number of units moving forward the opponent is free to torrent them into oblivion.
2) The same as 1) only the army now lapses into a headlong suicide charge.  This can pay off, but is a big gamble. 
3) Same as 1), but a canny general will take a look at the situation and try to see what can be done about anti-infantry fire, popping armor, hugging cover to protect advances, and blocking movement to afford more breathing room for their beleaguered army.


A pull army seeks to sit back and suck in their opponent by forcing them forward.  This is generally done through long range fire.  IG, Marines, and Tau are a great example of this.  When you are being pelted by high strength weaponry from far away, you have no choice but to move across the board towards it as quickly as possible. 

So, what does a pull army need?

Guns...lots of guns- The more long ranged, high strength weaponry a pull army has, the better.  IG and Tau excel at ranged attack.  They can bring so many guns it is really laughable.  For a pure shooting army, the game progresses as such: move, shoot.  There appears to be no assault phase. 

The counter punch- A pull army needs a counter punch.  Eventually, you will have an enemy cross the board and you will need to be able to handle it.  Space Wolves excel at this.  With massed heavy weapons via razorbacks and long fangs, they draw in an opponent's army and then spring such things as grey hunter squads with wolf guard, thunder wolves, rune priest, etc.  You literally are advancing into the jaws of the wolf against a well played Space Wolf army. 

I think a well built pull army is going to be the better balanced of the two armies.  The problem with many pull armies is that they lack a good counter punch.  Tau crumble if you make contact with them.  IG have a hard time mitigating damage when their guns begin to be silenced. 

The kryptonite to a good pull army is an army that can get into the backfield quickly.  Deepstriking, outflanking, and scout moving put pressure on a pull army.  Those these elements seem chancy, they provide an element of pressure in game play and psychologically.  When your opponent registers that you have 3 multi-melta landspeeders in reserve or a unit or two of wolf scouts, they will change their deployment and their overall battleplan to handle this.  You now have control of the flow of battle. Also, when you enter an opponent's backfield, their leisurely approach to blasting you off the table becomes a bit more frantic.  In some cases they will completely change focus to handle the unit or two in the backfield and leave your primary force alone.  This is your desired result. 

Hidden option C

There are many who would say that you could make a hybrid of these two armies, but I am not sure that a hybrid really exists or works well.  When you try to be a jack-of-all-trades you tend to water down every area a bit.  This is not me advocating building a list that caters to only one phase of the game.  An assault army still needs some ranged fire power and ways to pop armor.  A shooty army still needs to have some element that can tend to assault. However, when you try to make an assaulty army focus on shooting too much you water down its inherent strengths.  The same is true for a shooty army.

Where do I go from here? 

I am not going to attempt to tell someone how to build their own army.  There are too many preferences and subjective opinions on how to play to make that call.  What you need to do first, is decide what type of army you are running.  If you can't decide, you need to go back to the drawing board and determine how you want to control the flow of battle. If you don't have a clear objective in mind, you run the risk of losing focus mid game and getting blown away.

Well, I hope this is helpful.  If it isn't then disregard.  If you think I am a strategic heretic, please comment and give your thoughts.  If you want to add something, please feel free as well.  Remember, keep it simple.  This is for dummies. Thanks for reading, I know it was a long post.

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