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Thursday, February 2, 2012

Game Play Tip: Absorbing Assaults

The Rope-A-Dope is a boxing strategy most famously known for being employed by Muhammad Ali in many of his well known match-ups like the one depicted above versus George Foreman. The Rope-A-Dope relies on using an opponent's aggression to tire him out so that later on, you can finish him off when he is to tired or weak to resist.

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.


  1. Excellent article, Neil. If you don't mind I'm going to direct what readers I have to this. It could be very interesting to see their responses.

  2. Good stuff. This is how I have been playing my SoB lately. I have been running Jacobus/DCA and Kyrinov/dca. I have been absorbing the charge with a 10 man Battle squad and as long as they are in the 6 inch fearless bubble, they will survive to allow me to charge in with DCA. DCA hit first, usually, saving the remaining SoB. This also helps with the no grenades factor DCA have. If they are locked in combat already, you don't need grenades, it's all initiative baby!

    Ty again. Love the show.

  3. Great article Neil.
    After our recent chats back and forth, just what I needed. I should probably print this out and read it before every game to get the information through my thick skull!

  4. What to do if the assault element of your opponent is a death star that simply chew threw anything you've got? Bubble wrap can only do so much against jump packs that with multi assault will chew through your unit before they can even hit back.

    Stuff like sanguinary guard with a nasty HQ and a priest. Only idea I have is to fire plasma cannons or better into that group and try to get my terminators in there. My tacticals gets chew up like nobodies business and trying to avoid getting charge gets hard with that 18" threat range.

    I guess what I am asking in some ways how do I reliably fight BAs with a lot of assault/hammer units? I personally play vanilla marines but most people at the store has trouble beating the BA player (except me, but I don't expect it to last).

  5. Vanilla Marines have trouble really avoiding assaults with BA Jump Lists, but you still have a lot of options.

    - Set up a counter-assault, especially with your Terminators.
    - Bubble Wrap in multiple layers, starting with Vehicles on the outside, then a layer of troops, and another and so on.
    - You really want them to kill you in assault so you have yet another round of shooting to finish them off.
    - With BA, it's often very useful to counter-attack with a Unit that has a Power Fist simply to assassinate a Sanguinary Priest. Sometimes this is a great decision because you can dictate what goes into B2B contact, placing your Power Fist or Power Weapon in contact with the priest. Killing priests removes the FnP which makes them easier to kill with small arms fire later in the game.
    - Dreadnoughts help Vanilla Marines a ton in dealing with many types of hammer lists that only carry one model with a Power Fist. The odds of a single Power Fist model fighting through a Dread are terrible.

    1. What he said. When I play my Crimson Fists, I usually run th/ss termies as my tie up unit or my ironclad dread. I ususlly have a second assault unit like honor guard or lc termies with Khan to hit them in my turn.
      I fought a sanguinary guard army in in recent tournament and took the charge from 2 of his units into my th/ss termies. I then hit him back with Khan and a 5 man lightning claw temie unit (in pedro's bubble) and wiped them out. I still had 3 th/ss termies and my claws were untouched. It really broke his armies back and the rest was mop up.

  6. This is basically how foot eldar work.

    They either bubble wrap with guardians and when they get assaulted they die and that leaves the assaulting units in front of their massed short ranged shooting with some doom and guide sprinkled in means bad times for the assaulting units.

    They also use Wraithguard as a tar pit unit so when they get charged they stay in assault and then they counter attack with Harlequins.

  7. Very cool article. I use this concept with my shooty BA army. I use 2 Tactical Squads and have found them to be a constant target for hammer units. If I combat squad them and use their Rhinos to block, I suddenly have 6 layers. With the shooting I have, that wrap buys me enough time to deal with most assault units.

    From the other side of the table, I think using waves are a good way to deal with layering. In my BA army I have a Stormraven with DC, a Reclusiarch, and a DC Dreadnought as my assault hammer. When my opponent has a counter assault army, then I attack in 3 waves. First wave, shoot the transports from range. Second wave, use my lone Assault Squad as bait to get assaulted (hopefully by multiple units). Final wave, follow up with my DC and/or DC Dreadnought from my Stormraven and go for a multi-assault, if one is there.


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