Hello readers! Alex again from Art of War, with a look into understanding time management and creating room on the tabletop.
Now, when I say time management, I’m not referring to the chess clock or making sure your games finish on time. I’m talking about managing the pace of the game. When does the game need to slow down and when does it need to speed up. We will mostly be referring to armies as “slow” or “fast” not in how mobile they are, but in the tempo they want to play. A “fast” army could ultra-speedy and close combat oriented or a glass-cannon gunline. The game is probably decided by around turn three. A “slow” army could be quite mobile but very durable and plays to win in the bottom of five and six. Does your army’s game plan rely on a big turn four and five swing? Well, then we need to look at how to slow the game down for the first three. Over the course of this article, we will talk about how a list functions, how it’s looking to earn points, how you build a list for those metrics, and how to control the flow of the game accordingly.
One of the great things about turn-based games is how it sets a very distinct limitation to what can be done at any given time. The number of actions is a controlled quantity with clear boundaries, but with creative thinking, we can stretch our accomplishments within those limits. A single move can range between simply sending a unit in a given direction to objective holding, move blocking, deepstrike denial, and getting into range. One move is actually a considerable variety of accomplished actions. To control the pace of the game, we have to look at how many things we can accomplish with each action and the options of our opponents we can limit carefully.
A good example is two opposing combat units that are both guaranteed the kill if they get the charge. In this example, we will say that one of the units is on the side of a more efficient gunline, and the other is part of a more combat-oriented list. The player with the better gunline is looking to slow the game down and keep the superior combat army away. Every extra turn the gunline gains is a winning maneuver. The gunline player can keep its one combat unit back as a counteroffensive, and it may be able to slow the game down with proper positioning. That little dance of who will finally get the charge can create space and time for the gunline.
In this scenario, we will use a starting point of 30 inches apart. The gunline player has a few options. It can leave the unit back entirely in a safe spot, but this doesn’t slow down the game at all. They could also push out six inches and take up some space. They are at 24 inches now and still safe from the opponent’s charge. This has started to slow the game down a little. The opponent can move up to 18″ and also be safe assuming an opposing 6″ move and standard charge, but now the advance is limited. A high advance roll is putting the squad into an easier charge range. The gunline player could also have decided to advance, getting even closer to that 18″ and potentially stopping any forward movement at all. At least they could force the opponent to gamble. Do they decide to move to 15″ and see if you risk a 9″ charge yourself or really play with fire and give up an 8″ charge? There is no need to commit to anything as the gunline player, though. The play was to slow the game down, as we have decided that we will win if we have more time to shoot. Nothing is forcing the gunline’s hand, and backing off and denying any speed gain by the opponent because there is no charge target was the goal all along. We have potentially gained an extra turn of shooting, and we have more space to maneuver.
The ultimate example of an army looking to slow the game down is the triple Riptide list. Riptide damage output per point value isn’t actually that great, but it’s spectacular over six turns. The list plays patiently, keeps the commanders back and waiting, and slows the game down with drones galore. The drones slow the pace of the game by being very durable and slow to kill and making sure the riptides can get all six turns of firepower. They are also what eats up the space on the board by nabbing objectives and stringing back to the Riptides to make charging them hazardous. In playing the list, we make our decisions based on what keeps us safe and intact till the late game where our firepower hasn’t diminished at all, but our opponents have. Drone placement and movement alters based on the type or quantity of firepower the opponent can bring out. The list is built very intentionally with this in mind. There are no safe places for a combat army to charge and nothing to wrap up. Giving away charge targets and safe spots speeds the game up and allows a combat army to both move more quickly, start taking more effective actions a turn, and increase the speed they can get damage done.
In list building, we can make lots of decisions to decide how the flow of the game will roll out. Astra Militarum is an excellent example of having access to variable speeds and board space within an army. We will describe a pure gunline, tank-heavy army as a “fast” army. It needs to kill fast and win fast. Every tank that drops is a significant loss in output, and we have nothing to give our opponent a reason to stay away from our lines. We can’t slow the game down. So let’s alter the list to give us some options to slow the game down and manage space. The most popular option is with a big unit of Bullgryn. To include them, we needed to drop some of that firepower, slowing our game as well, but we now have options and answers to a host of things we didn’t before. Our game plan has become more dynamic, and the quantity of actions we have access to has increased. Now, I’m not saying that either of these builds is better than the other. They simply require a different pace to play.
So far, we have mostly talked about what we are playing and the pace it requires to be successful, but let’s talk about how we can affect the speed of the game by affecting the opponent’s army and game plan. As a Tyranid player, I am usually affecting my opponent’s decisions with combat. My lists can rarely outshoot what I’m up against, but I can limit my opponent’s shooting with Genestealers. I don’t have to outshoot every turn if I can turn half of my opponents shooting off on the first two turns. In these scenarios, I’m trading out models for victory points and tempo. My ‘stealers will routinely trade out point for point horribly. Killing some fodder out front and then touching tanks in behind. But this relates to a lot of the points mentioned above. The ‘stealers have ramped up the actions allowed in my turn by a considerable amount. This decision may have only killed 40 points in guardsmen, but it also may have achieved a Recon or Behind Enemy Lines point, hold more, gained the bonus objective, and stopped a host of return fire. This move, of course, has slowed the game down in the sense that I’ve turned off their superior shooting, allowing my shooting to start leveling the playing field, but it may also have slowed the game down by preventing an aggressive unit of theirs from pushing forward. Something they may have wanted to do was push a Bullgryn unit forward to eat up space and get towards my gunline, but now it is forced to stay in its zone and get rid of the ‘stealers. This action may unfold into all sorts of decision-making opportunities like my heavy weapons being able to remain stationary rather than falling back from the advancing Bullgryn. My opponent’s slowed killing power allows my inferior heavy weapons to keep up, and their ability to take up space and dictate where I can be is changed as well.
Now let’s talk about ramping things up. Certain armies don’t exist as only fast or slow. Some armies have explosive swings in tempo and board control. Orks, Genestealer Cult, Grey Knights, and some of the newer Thousand Sons builds work like this. The early stages of the GSC’s codex drop probably exemplified this the best: a slow and systematic first two turns and then bursting into action, smart denial of damage, and a controlled expansion onto the board and objectives until the plan kicks in. Once again, the GSC player will often make “bad trades” in the name of tempo and slowing the game down, willing to throw units away and burn CP to show up within 3″ to cut off movement and gain victory points. Keeping the game slow allows the GSC player to acquire points early and keep the enemy army cornered and castled up. Then turn three or four strikes, and all the heavy hitters come in. Auxiliary units move aggressively to take up space and get objectives and points knowing that all the focus will be on the aggressive units that are pushing the front line. Orks can play a similar style with the always present Da Jump allowing for huge walls of redeploying orks to cut off enemy movement, never letting anything get close to the Shock Attack Guns.
The pace and space of the game can change quickly, and knowing when it’s time to pull the trigger is an instrumental skill to have. Knowing the signs that all the pieces are in position allows you to make the correct play and will let you to take a remarkable amount of games. Sometimes the tempo of an army shifts from fast to slow, though. The army is aggressive early, making big positional plays and trading out units for space only to fade out in the later turns. If the opponent can’t recoup the points deficit in the last few turns, the best result may come from slowing things down and denying points or even hiding. It’s better to slow things down and guarantee a small victory than to go for the big hammer blow but run out of steam and lose.
Another critical consideration for time management and space is indirect fire, a rule set that considerably affects the pace of the game. It’s a constant threat that forces the game to speed up. Against traditional shooting, we can slow the game and still take up board space if we have terrain to hide in; it can be ignored with proper positioning, and this allows us to make decisions about tempo and when to poke our units out. With line of sight ignoring weapons, these decisions change drastically. These weapons force faster play. There is no hiding, and the pressure is always on. Now typically, indirect fire is pointed in a way that it is not as efficient as direct-fire weapons, but this is balanced out by the likelihood of it getting more turns to produce since it can remain safe. But if their indirect fire is allowed to perform all six turns, it’s unlikely to achieve a winning position against it, and it has probably earned back more than its direct fire counterparts. Lists with strong indirect fire force more movement and more aggressive play by forcing either movement to get shooting into line of sight or combat units sent in to deal with it. Simply by having a stationary indirect firebase will affect board space, positioning, and aggression.
With all this in mind, we can look at the game as a whole, understand each army’s goals, and know how to build them. Committing to a particular style and speed of play can significantly streamline how we view list creation and understand what we enjoy playing. By looking at building a list this way, we may start to notice units that don’t fit the tempo of the army regardless of them being a popular meta choice. A fast-moving gunline looking to outmaneuver may need to drop an excellent combat choice because it can’t keep up with the movement of the army and doesn’t have the durability to take up board space. It just doesn’t fit the tempo of the list. Thinking along the lines of game speed allows us to synergize our lists in new ways and may give life to units we hadn’t expected. Don’t be afraid to experiment with alternative units and playstyles. Find what you enjoy, and it will be much easier to practice!
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