This is also posted on the Librarium Home Page but I thought I'd put it here as well. Not everyone checks the home page, but take a look from time to time as good articles are going up.
Warhammer 40K, unlike it’s cousin Warhammer Fantasy, is not seen as a game of deployment and terrain importance. Everyone knows deployment is good for things like getting your assault units as close to the enemy as possible, and terrain is nice so that infantry can have a cover saves, but they’re just formalities right?
While a deployment mistake or a forest being placed in the boards center won’t cost you the game straight away like it can in Fantasy, these two pre-game steps can grant significant advantages. In this article I will address how to place and use terrain to your benefit, examples of using deployment to swing the game and some common techniques to use when deploying.
Using Terrain to Your Advantage
Now before I go further, I’m aware some players prefer to have a third party set terrain, as it is supposedly fairer. I would advise trying setting up terrain between opponents at least once for the following reasons:
Even an impartial third party can place terrain giving one army an advantage, with the other general having no recourse but to accept it.
In fluff terms, it’s more exciting to imagine the two forces clashing in an area with features that favor them in the upcoming battle.
Getting to setup how your battlefield looks is fun, cinematic and sometimes very cool.
Now, assuming you’ve figured out how many pieces to use and who places first, you have decisions to make and a blank canvas to work with. You do not know the mission being played yet but you do know what you are fielding and probably what your opponent is fielding. Take a minute to consider all the units that will be involved in the game. What prefers cover? What do you think will be Outflanking or Deep Striking? What needs Line of Sight the most?
Once you have that in your mind, have an offensive or defensive plan for your terrain placement. Here are two generic examples.
An Ork player knows his Lootas are likely to be shredded by his opponents Leman Russes is left in the open. He places a forest in his back corner to give the Lootas something to use for cover.
A Mechanized Space Wolf player hasn’t much need for cover but his Imperial Guard opponent relies on it. He places a building in the center where the Guard player cannot deploy into it.
See how simple that was? The players had a concern and took an easy step to alleviate it with terrain. The former example had the defense of his unit in mind, the later had the destruction of a unit in mind. Of course, a piece can be used for both offense and defense, like putting a unit in a tall building for a cover save and a better vantage point. The point is, always have a plan for your terrain, not just “I guess this crater can go here” and you will be setting yourself up for success.
Deployment: How to Maximize Advantages
By now you have your battlefield setup and just as importantly, you know your mission. Both of these will hugely affect your deployment, sometimes forcing your hand. Still, having a plan and using the information available will let you make good decisions.
The most important factor of deployment is who deploys first. Some people love having first turn, others like to having a more informed deployment. This often changes on a game to game basis, so try and decide your preference before the dice are rolled. Luckily, both have their advantages no matter what happens.
Deploying first has the obvious advantage of a 5 in 6 chance of going first. But just as importantly, it gives you a chance to put your opponent in reactionary mode before the game even begins.
Imagine you are a Guard player going against Space Marines. You know he has a Devastator unit with Missile Launchers that can really hurt your lighter tanks, so you deploy a Leman Russ in some ruins. The ruins give your Russ cover but not your opponent and it can see the whole board except for a small area blocked by a building.
Now, your opponent immediately registers the Russ as a threat. You go on to place a few Chimeras where they have cover but are careful to make sure they’re placed where a unit hiding from the Russ cannot see them. You also place nothing threatening that could see into that small area, just a few Platoon Squads with Autocannons.
What options have you given your opponent come his deployment?
1. He places the Devastators as planned, to kill Chimeras. His targets have cover and are somewhat resilient AV12. He probably has cover but the Russ has a much greater advantage, wounding easily and possibly even making the unit run.
2. He hides the Devastators from your Russ, reasoning there is a few Platoon Squads to shoot at that cannot really hurt him so it’s not a safer position.
See how you may have dictated his play? If he goes with his original plan, there’s a risk the Devs get killed without accomplishing anything. If he thinks of hiding them, you’ve supplied a nice, expendable bait target to make him think it’s not such a bad idea avoiding that Russ. Your Chimeras are now free of a threat and your Russ will have other targets, or can move against the Devastators over time.
This is obviously a very rough example but it goes to show the chess game deployment can be. You can make a good move seem bad, and give an alternative that’s less than ideal for the opposition but safer. You’d be surprised how many people subconsciously love safe options.
Going second has the easier to exploit deployment advantages, but carries only a 1 in 6 chance of going first and reactionary pressure. The good news is, you get to make good reactionary decisions rather than trying to force an opponent into bad ones.
First, always take a long look at what your opponent deployed, how he deployed it and the terrain. Look at all firing lanes, estimate how fast an assault unit can reach you and imagine where the enemy might move. If you aren’t sure what something does, ask, you want all the facts before placing units.
Second you want to assume you opponent is going first, so play defensive where you need too.
Second turn means you don’t get to move where you’d like before taking shooting, you have to deploy there. Also, your opponent gets to move before shooting, so what looks like a safe position may not be for long.
Your Tyranid swarm is deploying second against a fearsome, but static, Imperial Guard gunline. He has Platoon Squads all over the length of the board but there are two buildings you wisely placed in the center.
The plan is to get as close as you can to his lines while taking as little damage as possible, but the buildings don’t block enough LoS for your whole army. Seeing your opponent has gone with a lot more anti-infantry guns than anti-Monstrous Creature, you deploy your MCs on your swarms flanks and let the buildings protect your infantry from shooting by running up the middle.
The Imperial Guard army doesn’t know it yet, but he’s in a bad situation. While he happily shoots away at the MCs for a few turns, the swarm advances without loss. The MCs get battered but some will likely live because only half his army can be brought to bear on either side and his guns aren’t optimal.
Now, the swarm rushes through the building into no mans land as do the MCs. Next turn, everything will be in assault range. Does the IG player try and finish off the MCs at all costs? Does he focus everything on the swarm and let the MCs live? Or does he split fire and risk not damaging anything enough?
Because you placed terrain with knowledge of what you had and what you were up against, you had the tools to deploy the best way possible and go from there. If you’d gone first, the IG could have simply placed his answers to whatever was in LoS, resulting in bigger losses for you but because he had to deploy first, he spread everything out evenly and wasn’t in ideal position to deal with a swarm or MCs.
Although deployment will always be different game to game, many players have a few go to techniques that favor their armies, or disrupt an opponent. I will go over a few of the basic ones and their advantages/disadvantages as well as what army types to use them with or against.
Bunkering is the act of keeping your force very close together, so every unit has each others support. Usually you would do this in a corner to present a smaller front and maximize cover but it can be done in the center just as easily, to avoid Outflankers for example.
You want your expendable units up front so the units behind are protected from assault and benefit from cover. It’s also a good idea to keep static units in the back so they don’t block movement. Try to keep from granting your opponents cover if you can by shooting through friendlies, though this will often be difficult unless you have some terrain.
Gives your units maximum support.
Presents a small weak side to assault and shoot.
Denies Deep Strikers and Outflankers weak units to go after.
Clogs movement lanes.
Vulnerable to templates.
Often grants opponents cover by firing through units or terrain.
You’d usually want to Bunker against armies that have a lot of Deep Striking and Outflanking and sometimes when an opponent deployed first and spread out. This will give the units you deploy opposite from a long trek, so you can safely ignore them for a bit.
The Refused Center
Refusing Center is the act of placing nothing in the center of your deployment zone. You want to maximize cover on the boards sides so you can use it and keep it out of the middle where your fire lanes cross. Refused Center is often a bad idea when deploying first as your opponent can overload on the flank he wants and crush it. On the other hand if you’re mechanized this is a great choice for deployment as you can drive away from danger, deploying first or second while still shooting and actually overload one of your opponents flanks.
Punishes big armies for spreading out.
Lets mechanized armies ignore portions of the enemy.
Gives centrally deployed armies a hard decision for movement.
Hard to properly split your army.
Gives Deep Strikers and Outflankers easier targets.
Non-mechanized armies could see a flank die early to overwhelming force.
Horde armies and assault armies hate to see Refused Center. A horde army can’t spread out or you can focus fire one flank and punch through, getting behind him. An assault army can’t bring it’s full compliment of fighters to bear against your full army and is at risk of failing to get into assault, sparing a flank entirely.
Blitzkrieg is the art of completely overwhelming an opponent with a fast attack and punching through, throwing his army into disarray. This is a very good assault army technique and works very well against shooting and horde armies.
The idea is to pick a section of the board and make it yours. It can be a flank, or the center, it really depends on terrain and the opponent. It’s risky to Blitzkrieg when deploying first as your opponent can counter by conceding you that board section and giving you a farther walk in return, a bad trade for you, so be careful.
Overwhelms an area of your choice.
Can deny certain enemy units counter-attacking or shooting.
Punches through a portion of the enemy, letting you roll up a flank.
Very dependent on terrain.
Often backfires when deploying first.
Reliant on speed and strong hitting power.
A fast close range army that’s deploying second would be the ideal Blitzkrieg force. If you own a flank, you decimate the flank opposite and than start rolling up your opponents deployment zone. Transports and expendable units can soak fire and grant cover so the bruisers can keep the push going. This works the same deploying centrally except it’s harder to roll up the deployment zone, you have to pick a flank or go after both, which is less than optimal.
Well that concludes my college length lecture about terrain and deployment. I hope there was something to learn and at the very least some proof the pre-game phases matter. There are many more deployment techniques and ways to use terrain, enough to make a textbook, so experiment, find what works for you and share it!