Friday, August 6, 2010
It's all coming back to me...
Though I'd like to I'm not talking about the world's most famous bent stick weapon, an old cartoon network spin off nor a great Magic card. No, this is just putting out my thoughts about an interesting trend in the 40k Metagame that I've seen around the Keep and the internet to some degree: the return of the foot based army.
Now some people, most vocally Stelek, have proclaimed foot armies dead, long live mech! For the purposes of this article Mechanization will refer to the idea of mechanized infantry, units of foot soldiers in some type of transport. Mechanization has some serious advantages and disadvantages that our own Loki has covered recently, but I am here to neither to bury mechanized armies nor to praise them. A relatively new member of our group plays one of the nastiest foot based lists I've seen and looking at how he runs it will help me illustrate what I think a good foot based army needs to bring down King Mech.
First let's look at what the list included (before it incorporated vehicles): twenty or thirty harlequins, three wraithlords, pathfinders and a farseer and Eldrad. The most apparent advantage that mechanization provides an army is protection from shooting and assaults, but there are ways around this. Harlequins are a fantastic example of how this is not necessarily exclusive to mechanization. The Shadowseer's Veil of Tears rule can almost entirely protect the unit from shooting by forcing units to roll 2D6x2 for a spotting distance to shoot at the unit while their initiative 6 means they strike before most anyone else. But let's say you don't have such an amazing rule; how do you keep your units alive then?
Well, having a high toughness value helps. Toughness 4 is just about par for 40k, but there are a lot of units like bikers, plague marines and wraithguard that can rely on their higher toughness to protect them from most small arms fire. This is the simplest way to avoid getting hurt by small arms fire while getting across the board, but can be very restrictive if this is how your troops plan to survive as these units are usually rather expensive, both in dollars and points. The more common approach is illustrated by the pathfinders.
While they do have special rule that allows them to take peculiarly great advantage of cover, any unit can be moved in such a way as to generally get a cover save. A guardsman is usually easy to kill but if that guardsman is standing behind a conscript they can be almost as difficult to kill as a space marine if they go to ground. A well built board should have at least 25%, some say more, of its area declared difficult or area terrain in order to provide cover saves. This gives a foot army a place to stay if they want to gain some protection while slowing them, and most anyone down.
The other advantage of mechanization is mobility, which effects shooting armies and assault armies differently. An assault foot army can use bikes and jump packs to move just as fast, and in the case of bikes faster, as they could in a mechanized army. Admittedly, these units usually use assault or open topped transports so they can assault out of it, gaining about two inches from their disembarkation. Until they are in assault range, these units and any others can forgo their shooting to run D6 inches. The Black Templar have their own twist on this as their Righteous Zeal allows them to "run" in the enemy shooting phase if they take a casualty. Usually running means that the unit cannot assault, but several codices have access to units with the Fleet USR that allows assaults after running. Against another assault army, congratulations, whether mechanized or on foot two assault armies will help each other get closer and mobility for the foot assault army becomes less important.
For a shooting army mobility is important not to necessarily defeat enemies, but usually to escape from them or to take midfield objectives in Seize Ground games. Getting assaulted is not a horrible thing if you can control who gets assaulted. For the Tau and Imperial Guard the Kroot and Conscript squads serve the same role of meat shields. If done properly, an assault unit will assault this unit, kill it and promptly be shot with rapid fire shots from the rest of the shooting army. These units will provide cover saves going either way until they die, but that is a worthwhile trade off to prevent the first assault hitting units that actually matter. A foot shooting army does not need to necessarily be mobile, at least not more than to get a squad or three onto a point late game. They stand and shoot, rinse and repeat until the enemy is off the table or they are.
I hope this long winded article has given you something to think about in regards to the viability of a foot based army list in the current 40k metagame landscape where you play. I would love to hear what you think, even if you think I'm an idiot for thinking foot armies are still viable.