Some elements of Warhammer 40,000 are very easy to discuss in a text-based forum. Unit profiles, wargear comparisons, army lists, and Mathammer statistics are a few common examples. Unfortunately, other topics are not so straightforward—things like how to manage lines of sight, or how to identify the most effective spot to deploy long-ranged units, or how to decide whether scoring an Objective now is better or worse than preserving that unit for later in the game. The concepts themselves are frequently simple, but it can be very difficult and complicated to have an effective conversation about them…and these areas are the absolute MOST important for improving your game.
The majority of skilled Warhammer players learn these lessons the hard way, by practicing and losing repeatedly until they can FEEL what the right decision is in a given situation. Everyone likes to play the game well, but most of us don’t have the luxury of putting in so many hours on a mere game, no matter how immersive and exciting. So what can we do to improve?
These Strategy Study Halls represent an effort to explore these abstract strategic topics, and render them down into a form that anyone can understand, learn, and apply. Each Study Hall will cover only a very small topic, but each topic has a huge potential impact on the entire game.
Wargamers sometimes joke that there are actually three players in any game of 40k: you, your opponent, and the dice. Sometimes, the dice are so lopsided in your opponent’s favor that it feels like you really are outnumbered two-to-one, and there is nothing you can do about it. But despite that, we’ve all seen highly successful players who win with amazing consistency, even in games where the dice are against them. How do they do it?
As accurate as this gaming joke is, it doesn’t tell the whole story. In fact, there are FOUR players in any game of 40k: you, your opponent, the dice, and the table itself. If you can get the table on your side, even when the dice are against you it’s still a fair two-on-two fight. And when the dice are fair and impartial, with the table on your side YOU have the two-to-one advantage!
But what does it mean to “have the table on your side”?
Well, as you can easily imagine, some terrain setups naturally favor one army type or another. For example, flat, featureless Planet Bowling Ball is great for gunline armies, and is an instant loss for any melee-based force. In this case, the table strongly favors the gunline. Conversely, a hyper-dense cityscape renders long-ranged weapons useless, and in such a case the table strongly favors short-ranged troops. These are extreme examples, of course; most of the time, the terrain is distributed in a fair and balanced way. But this serves as a useful analogy for how the table setup can strongly favor one side in the fight even before any models are placed or dice are rolled.
Critically, terrain is not the only aspect of The Table. Another vital factor is where the Objectives are located. If all of the Objectives are in exposed, cover-free locations, for example, then the table will FEEL like Planet Bowling Ball, even if the terrain is distributed normally. And since Objective locations are something that the players themselves get to choose, they represent an invaluable way to “get the table on your side.”
We’re going to do three things in this thread. First, we’re going to talk about the three parameters that define an Objective’s location. Next, we will discuss how you can use the Matchup Analysis (see SSH#1) to determine which Objective locations are favorable for you and bad for your opponent. Finally, I’ll show an example and provide a framework for you to apply and practice these principles yourself.
Objective Location Parameters
The first thing we must do is establish a common vocabulary for describing Objective locations. Of course, there are an infinite number of possible Objective setups on the battlefield. However, we can fully define any pattern of Objective locations using only three binary parameters: Clustered vs. Spread, Deployment Zones vs. No-Man’s Land, and in Cover vs. Exposed. Let’s take a moment to fully define each of these, with examples.
This is pretty straightforward. Objectives are Clustered when they are as close together as possible. Similarly, Objectives are Spread when they are as far apart as possible.
For example, the tightest possible Cluster is a triangle with the minimum 12” between the three Objectives, as shown:
Conversely, the widest possible Spread is to bury the Objectives as deeply as possible in the corners:
An Objective can be considered In Cover in two ways:
1. It is sitting in or near some kind of area terrain that provides Cover to all models touching it (such as a Ruin or Forest).
2. It is sitting in an area that has severely restricted lines of sight.
If neither of the above conditions are met, then the Objective is Exposed; meaning that any units claiming it will not benefit from Cover and will be within Line of Sight from many areas of the board.
Below is an example of Objectives in Cover. The grey squares are Ruins, the green ovals are Forests, and the sandy blob is an impassible, LOS-blocking mountain.
Objective 1 is physically within the boundaries of a Ruin. Objective 2 is not itself within the Forest, but it is close enough that a unit can claim it while standing in the Forest. Objective 3 is far from any area terrain, but has either obstructed or fully blocked lines of sight from the north and west three quarters of the board.
And here is an example of Exposed Objectives. A unit claiming any one of these will have a hard time gaining a cover save.
Any and every pattern of Objectives can be fully defined by taking one from each of these three binary parameters. For example, you may have:
…and so on.
How do I know which Objective patterns are advantageous to me?
This is the crux of the discussion. Now that we understand the defining features of Objectives’ locations and have a common vocabulary for discussing them, how can we tell which setups favor us?
Fortunately, there is no super-special magical insight needed to figure this out. It depends entirely on something thing you already know well: the Matchup Analysis! Whose army is more Mobile? Who has a Weapon Range advantage? Which of us is more resilient against enemy shooting? These same traits determine which Objective patterns favor each army.
1. The army with a Mobility advantage prefers widely Spread Objectives. The less-mobile army prefers Clustered Objectives.
2. The army with a Weapon Range advantage prefers Deployment Zone Objectives. The less range-capable army prefers Objectives in No-Man’s Land.
3. The army with a Shooting Resilience advantage prefers Exposed Objectives. The less-resilient army prefers Objectives in Cover.
4. ***The army with an advantage in Number of Units prefers Spread Objectives. The army with fewer units prefers Clustered Objectives.
However, this element only comes into play if the difference in Units is very large and/or the difference in Mobility is very small.
See below for detailed explanations of each Advantage, and the corresponding preferences for Objective Placement.
The army with greater Mobility can more easily reach Objectives that are very far apart.
In Maelstrom missions, widely spread Objectives means that the more mobile army can move quickly from Objective to Objective in a single turn as required by the cards, while their slow-footed foe may require multiple turns of movement to reach a distant marker.
In Eternal War missions, widely spread Objectives means that the more mobile army can quickly redeploy to bring overwhelming local superiority to the less-defended Objectives. If their less-mobile opponent spends some movement turns to redeploy in response, the mobile force can simply redeploy again, in a game of Objective cat-and-mouse.
The army with lesser Mobility will usually have greater numbers, resilience, and/or offensive potency.
Therefore, less-mobile armies tend to be better at laying indisputable claim to a small area of the table. In addition, you may recall from the previous Study Hall thread that concentrating forces is a strong general strategy when dealing with a Mobility disadvantage. Taken with the fact that slow-moving armies cannot easily reach far-flung areas quickly, and you can easily see why Clustered Objectives strongly favor the less-mobile side.
The army with greater Weapon Range does not need to move as far (if at all) before starting to deal damage to the enemy.
Therefore, they can comfortably sit in their deployment zone and lay down a withering hail of fire. Their opponent is stuck with a choice: either moving forward to return fire, or staying put, taking the shots, and doing nothing in response.
If the Objectives are mostly in Deployment Zones, this becomes an impossible choice. Moving forward takes them further away from the nearest Objectives…but staying put and doing no damage is hardly a winning strategy.
The army with lesser Weapon Range wants to force the opponent to deploy and move as far forward as possible.
If the less-ranged army can force the opponent to take a forward position, the Weapon Range advantage becomes meaningless. A 60” range is no better than a 30” range, if the two units in question are facing off from the respective edges of the 24” No-Man’s Land.
If the majority of the Objectives are within in No-Man’s Land, the army with greater Weapon Range has a hard choice. Either sit back in order to do maximum damage with minimal return fire, or move forward to contest Objectives. If they sit back, the less-mobile army can win on the mission, despite hugely lopsided damage. If they instead move up to contest Objectives, then their Range advantage becomes meaningless, as mentioned before.
The army with greater Shooting Resilience does not need to use Cover in order to win a straight-up firefight.
Therefore, they want to ensure that such a firefight is exactly what happens! The best way to force the opponent out of Cover is to place the Objectives in exposed locations.
When the Objectives are exposed, the less-resilient army has a hard choice. If they stay in Cover, they maximize their survivability, but cannot claim any Objectives. If they move to claim Objectives, they risk losing entire units to firepower that they cannot withstand.
The army with lesser Shooting Resilience NEEDS Cover in order to survive.
Even though their more-resilient opponent also benefits somewhat from Cover, the improvement is less pronounced—for example, Space Marines often use their 3+ Power Armor even while entrenched in Ruins, while 6+ armored Orks will greatly benefit from any cover in any form. So while Ork Tankbustas would just love to catch a squad of Marines in the open with their AP3 rokkits, they can’t afford to deal with the hail of AP5 bolter fire they would get in return. Far better for them to accept a 4+ or 5+ Cover save on both sides.
If most of the Objectives are in Cover, then the less resilient army can play the mission and contest Objectives without sacrificing units wholesale.
The army with significantly more units MAY be able to afford spreading out their forces…sometimes.
Because Warhammer 40,000 is fought with armies of equal points, the army with more units has spent fewer points per unit…therefore, each unit represents a smaller portion of their overall strength. So it is less of a sacrifice to allocate a unit to an isolated area of the battle where it does nothing.
For example, consider an Imperial Guard Infantry army with 30+ units squaring off against a maximized Thunderwolf Cavalry deathstar, where the army consists of one huge Thunderwolf unit and attached characters, plus 2 or 3 “tax” units. The Thunderwolves will easily destroy any single unit they touch…but they cannot be everywhere at once. So the Guardsmen can place most of their strength in opposition to the Thunderwolves, with a scattering of single units on far-flung Objectives. The loss of those 10-30 Guardsmen does not make a significant difference in the damage that the Guard will do, but the Thunderwolves cannot afford to let the main Guard force remain undamaged for 2 to 4 turns while they run about clearing the lightly-defended Objectives. So for the price of less than 10% of their overall strength, the Guardsmen can take a huge positional advantage in the mission.
Note that this principle only applies if the difference in Number of Units is extremely large, and/or the difference in Mobility is negligible. If the 30+ Guard units are instead squaring off against 15+ Eldar Jetbike units, the Eldar can easily split their forces to clear out all the far-flung Guardsmen simultaneously. The cleanup would take 1 turn or less, after which the Eldar can engage the main force as before. Then, those far-flung Guardsmen were wasted.
On the other hand, of those 30+ Guard units are facing off against 20+ Space Marine units on foot, the Marines’ lack of redeployment capability brings the spread-out strategy back into play. Without the ability to quickly move from one Objective to the other, the Marines are forced to engage in only a few areas, leaving some of the far-flung Guardsmen unmolested. Again, the Guard gain a large positional advantage for a minimal sacrifice of offense.
In short, Number of Units can matter for Objective Placement, but only in extreme cases. Usually, Mobility alone is the deciding factor on whether Objectives should be Spread or Clustered. If you are new to this sort of strategic thinking, ignore Number of Units for now, and focus exclusively on the other three: Mobility, Weapon Range, and Shooting Resilience.