In boxing, to make the Rope-A-Dope work, you have to set yourself up in a position where your opponent will effectively "punch himself out" on you while you "turtle" up against the ropes, hands up, to deflect or absorb the punishment he is dishing out in such a manner that will leave you largely undamaged but cause the opponent to expend a ton of energy trying to penetrate your defenses. They call it the Rope-A-Dope because, as Ali shows us above, you lean into the ropes to rest while protecting your ribs, sides, and face with your gloves and arms. Foreman wails on you with punch after punch which just largely get glanced off your arms and gloves. When he is tired from punching, you come out of your "shell" and land those famous Ali well-placed jaw hits.
The analogy is great for 40K because this idea of "letting your opponent get his go" and then "you retaliate" is a great model for how the assault and counter works in 40K.
Assault Armies in 40K can seem to be utterly crushing. Indeed, many heavy assault lists like Blood Angels DoA lists, Demons, Tyranids, Thunder Cav lists, Terminator Hammer lists, Ork Battlewagon Lists, and more rely on charging directly at you, as fast as possible, and wiping you off the board in a turn or two of heavy assaulting.
It is also worth noting that these fast moving assault threats are not the only ones of their kind. There are also deep striking or drop podding lists which will seek to achieve a similar goal. DoA lists are the most famous of these where the Blood Angel players reserves and tries to come in on Turn 2 as close to you as possible to melta away your transports and set up the crushing assault on Turn 3.
So, let's get to the meat and potatoes here. The truth is, Assault Armies in 40K are generally the weaker builds. The problem is that this reality can largely be obfuscated because:
- Assault Armies are very easy to play and thus less prone to critical mistakes.
- Assault Armies work extremely well against players with weak rules knowledge and/or tactical skill.
- Assault Armies make it very easy to capitalize on opponent mistakes.
- Properly absorbing assaults and counter attacking requires forethought, even pre-game, which most players don't do.
These factors combine make the power of assault based lists largely misconstrued. All to often, better players with better rules knowledge can leverage easy to play assault armies to dominate a local scene. This makes the assault based armies appear very powerful to many people. (In fact, I think even the GW game designers think that Assault is the power house of 40K because they are always more expensive than shooting based lists.)
However, when paired against a player of equal tactical expertise and equal rules knowledge, you will find that things fall apart quickly. The major reason for that is that players with excellent rules knowledge and forethought have found ways to utterly absorb and/or blunt an assault to shove it aside.
Now, if you play Tau, you are probably already very familiar with bubble wrap as a way to absorb assaults. The concept is to place units between your major shooting elements and the enemy to stall their assaults. For example, use Drones, Kroot, Devilfish, and any number of other means to create "layers" of units which the opponent has to fight through.
Eventually, as he kills one unit, then absorbs a round of shooting, kills another, absorbs another round of shooting, etc., he finally tires out and you finish him off. The Rope-A-Dope!
This is one means of absorbing assault and is probably the most commonly understood. Tau are not the only army, by the way, that do this well. Imperial Guard also excel at this by using their own Chimeras or Infantry Platoons to create bubble wrap layers.
Tips for bubble wrap:
- You really want to ensure that whatever you are bubble wrapping with will die during your opponent's assault. Otherwise he gets stuck in and you can't shoot him!
- Vehicles are ideal for bubble wrap because you can never be engaged with them, and FURTHER, the enemy has to clump around them to attack them leaving them very vulnerable to template attacks.
- Vehicles also block other vehicles, like a Land Raider for example. You have to drive around my vehicle and can't use your front ramp if I parked a Chimera right in front of it.
Bubble Wrap is a useful concept, but it's even better applied when your army has a very strong counter-attack element, which Tau and IG do not really have.
Let's use an example of a squad of Lightning Claw Terminators. Now, on paper, LC Terminators kind of suck (and I'm not really defending them here). However, let's examine them in a counter-attack role versus some common hammer units like Thunder Cav for example.
You are a Marine player, you got a bunch of Wolves barreling straight for you. You set-up the Rope-A-Dope by parking your cheap transports (the way you will absorb the blow without taking much damage) in the path of his assault. Your opponent now must either assault the bait or just stand there and get shot.
Once he takes the bait, he will assault and probably even kill the transport. Now, we finish the Rope-A-Dope. The LC Terminators standing behind the Rhino charge around it into the Cav. Since most Thunder Cav either carry PFists as their Power Weapon of Choice or are all going to be I4, your LC Terminators can chop them to pieces on the counter attack, even if they die, causing more damage than you took. The Rope-A-Dope is complete.
The more you think about how to blunt assault lists, you'll start to see that the options are nearly limitless. Then, start thinking about how you will counter-attack decisively. If your army has access to some assault units that could fill this role, use them. If your army doesn't, like Tau or IG, think about how you prep all your shooting to deal with the threats. (Like dog pilling melta, plasma, and flamers on the assault threat during your turn!)
Here's some thoughts to help you think about how to set up the Rope-A-Dope:
- Really, to pull this off, you need to think about the variety of scenarios that you will run into and how to counter them BEFORE you show up to play. This way, you can execute. It's to easy to make a mistake or not set up properly if you don't already have a plan.
- Lots of assault based armies don't have grenades like Demons and Tyranids. Use that plus bubble wrap to ensure that your opponent has to assault over cover, maybe created by destroyed vehicles, into what would otherwise be a weaker assault unit to crush them.
- When facing an all deep striking army, especially one with melta guns, bubble wrap such that weak targets like Rhinos are on the outside while the rest of your army is surrounded by them. This will largely put more valuable vehicles out of the 6 in range and give them a cover save should your opponent want to target them. (For example, if that saved vehicle is a Leman Russ, you can annihilate a DS'ed unit that is close to your lines that tries to shoot because they are clumped).
- Constantly move your bubble wrapping vehicles which makes it very hard for the opponent to hit them in assault.
- Learn the assault rules like the back of your hand. This includes how units must pile into assaults, how charges occur, and most importantly, allow you to see that assaults occur on a "Vector", meaning a line that the opponent will have to assault in from. Use that knowledge to set up the easy blocks.
- Always think about what you will do to counter, and MAKE SURE YOUR COUNTER HURTS! It needs to hurt BAD! Crushing the heavy assault units in an assault army usually wins you the game, right then and there.
- You can't absorb and assault and counter unless you bring a credible threat to your opponent at range. Otherwise, he'll just not come to you.
- Think about a useful counter-assault unit in your list and how you would set it up.