Saturday, May 14, 2011

Guest Post: The Art Of Big Scary Distractions

by NitroKitty

This post evolved out of a discussion on Leman Russ tactics, and why you should drop your sponsons and keep your tanks up front and on the move. SandWyrm has written a great blog on the subject, and after trying it out, I'm a believer. I thought I'd supplement his tactics with a little psychological warfare, or how to make your opponent shoot what you want him to shoot.

To sum up his blog a bit, the first thing to realize is that the centerpiece of any mechanized Imperial Guard army is veterans in Chimeras. These are the guys who are going to grab your objectives, they're the ones packing all the special weapons, they're the ones who are going to win you games. However, Chimeras are not the toughest things around, and the squishiness of Guardsmen is legendary. So how do you protect them? Part of it is what I like to refer to as the art of Big Scary Distractions, or BSDs for short.

The Leman Russ Battle Tank

The first BSD in the list is probably the most famous, the iconic Leman Russ Battle tank. I play an aggressive mechanized list, with 2 Russes and a Demolisher. I always play them with no sponsons, and they move every turn. With the abundance of fast, Deep Striking CC units, moving your Russes increases their survivability dramatically. I played a game recently where a Blood Angels player dropped Astaroth right on top of one of my tanks and assaulted it, however, because my tanks had been moving, he had to hit on a 4+, and he whiffed them all. The next turn, Astaroth got introduced to my Vendettas, and my Russ lived to blow up Marines another day. If I had treated my Russ like an artillery piece, just sitting in the back and firing, it would have been a smoking crater in the ground, no question. Incidentally, later in the game, that very same Russ delivered a deep striking 15 man strong Death Company squad a heaping serving of pie, wiping more than half of them out and leaving them easy prey for the rest of my army. That neutralized one of the biggest threats my opponent had.

So after seeing the results for myself, I can sincerely give two pieces of advice:

1. Don't bother with sponsons, unless you're making a plasma tank. 

Even then, I'm not a fan.

2. Always move your tanks. Always always always. 

With the exception of artillery (which is why I don't usually take it) there is no reason why any of your tanks should sit still. Chimeras can still shoot a weapon and the guys inside can still shoot. Vendettas are fast and can still shoot all their cannons even if they move. Hellhounds can still move 12" and burn things. Sentinels are walkers, so they've got no reason to sit still. Russes have the wonderful Lumbering Behemoth rule, which lets you still drop those delicious pie plates while moving. Even if you've got your tank right where you want it, simply nudging it half an inch in any direction jumps its survivability in assault up 50%. Why wouldn't you?

Which leads me into my next section, which is where I get into the part about intimidation. Russes are not artillery. They are tanks. In modern warfare, MBTs are designed to be at the forefront of any assault, and it works no differently on the tabletop. I always put my Russes up front where they can protect my more vulnerable units. In order to get past it, they have to shoot at AV 14, which isn't easy. If they get lucky and blow it up, fine, now my un-shot-at Chimeras and other units can move up and destroy whatever got my Russ, and if it doesn't, then it continues to drop those wonderful Marine-killing templates everywhere.

I've said this before elsewhere, but don't think of your Russes as weapons platforms, (though they are good at that). Think of them as, well, armor! They are big, scary fire sponges that distract your opponent and keep him off balance. I've had plenty of games where all of my Russes blew up, and yet I still won. Why? Because the Russes are not the centerpiece of my army. I can do without them, and every high-strength shot, every uber-assaulty death star unit that gets pointed at my Russes is one that is not pointed at my real centerpiece, my Chimera vets. Those are the things that are going to grab your objectives and win your games.

I played a Grey Knight player the other day that had tons of Razorbacks with lascannons on them, and he shot most of them at my Russes. Why? My Russes were sitting up front chewing his Mari... sorry, his GREY KNIGHTS to pieces, and they were blocking line of sight to my Chimeras. Naturally, requiring a 5 to even glance, most of the shots did nothing, and I ended up winning the game.

Later, he acknowledged to me that he should have been spending those shots on my Chimeras. Even with the cover saves they'd likely get from having my Russes up front, he probably would have done more damage that way. Yet he didn't, because my Russes were right up front, wrecking havoc. It's simple psychology, any opponent's first reaction is to deal with the most visible threat. I made sure those were my Russes, right up at the forefront of my army, blasting away. If he wanted to get rid of them, however, he had to either shoot at AV 14, or assault them, which is why I always move my tanks. To me, my Leman Russes are fire sponges, and moving them maximizes that role.

The Vendetta

Next, lets look at Vendettas. Vendettas can often serve the same purpose as Russes when it comes to big scary distractions. Let's go back to that Grey Knights game. He had a lot of psycannons in his list, which could have made mincemeat out of my Chimeras with the number of shots they put out.

However, he shot most of them at my Vendettas, and since I'd been turboboosting them around all over the place, that 4+ cover save made his job that much harder. He did manage to blow one up, but it took a lot of shots to do it, and that's a whole lot of shots that didn't go towards my Chimeras. In that game, my Vendettas only managed to fire a handful of times, being shaken most of the time, and I don't think they managed to do much more than put a couple of wounds on his Dreadknights, but I still think they did a fantastic job in my army. Why? Because just like my Russes, they soaked up a huge amount of firepower from his army, firepower that wasn't going towards anything else.

Sure, they got shaken a lot, but that's fine by me. When my Vendettas get shaken, I view it as an opportunity, not a setback. Remember that Vendettas have Extra Armor, so they can always move unless they're immobilized. So if my gunships get shaken, instead of lamenting the 3 twin-linked lascannon shots I'm not getting this turn, I turboboost my Vendettas over towards an objective, or in the way of something. This gives my gunship a 4+ cover save against shooting, and the equivalent of a 2+ save against assault, meaning that it has a fairly good chance of surviving to shoot next turn, and now my vets inside can hop out (thanks to the Grav-Chute deployment rule) and grab objectives or shoot something up.

You can also leave them inside, protected by that 4+ save, and hop out at the beginning of your next turn, along with your now hopefully un-shaken Vendetta. At the beginning of a match, if your opponent has first turn, I love to scout-strike my Vendettas forward. He sees this big, scary, nasty thing right up in his face and he wants to shoot it. However, they've now got that nice 4+ cover save, so more often than not, they'll soak up a lot of fire and survive. I've had even experienced players make these mistakes.

The Hellhound

Next on my list is one of my favorite BSDs, the Hellhound. The Hellhound scares the pants of most players. It should, with a 12" ranged flame template attached to a fast tank, this thing is a beast.

However, it has AV12 rather than 14 like the Russ, so the tactics are a bit different. However, one very important thing to note is that the Hellhound has AV 12 on the sides as well. Since the Hellhound is based on the Chimera, some inexperienced players will assume it has AV 10 on the sides, just like the transport. Do nothing to disabuse them of the notion until they actually try to shoot at it. Even among more savvy players, the sight of exposed side armor often proves too tempting to ignore, even if they consciously realize it's no different from shooting the Hellhound from the front. Again, it's psychological, most players are used to side armor being a more vulnerable target, and so tend to look for it. The same applies to the Vendetta, by the way.

However, the real strength of the Hellhound is that it is a fast tank, and can move up to 12" and fire. Therefore, I always attempt to move my Hellhound so that it is in between my opponent's nastiest assault unit and my more vulnerable models. Since my Hellhound is fast, it can move up to 12" and still fire, and I always attempt to do so whenever possible. This means that your Hellhound can only be hit in assault on a roll of a 6. This makes it a wonderful piece of bait to dangle in front of all those death-star units that seem to be the rage these days. That's one thing most death-star players don't realize, is that such units are often powerful, but inflexible. They can only be one place at a time, and if that place is throwing out lots of misses against your Hellhound, that's a great place for them to be.

The Command Chimera

My next BSD doesn't really seem all that big and scary, at least not at first. I'm talking about the humble Command Chimera. Yes, I can feel your skepticism from here, but bear me out.

The Company Command Squad serves much a similar purpose as your Chimera vets, a mechanized unit packing a lot of special weapons. However, there is one important difference: Command Squads cannot hold objectives. In a mechanized list, orders are much less important, meaning your Command Squad is not as relevant. This makes them, to my mind, expendable.

However, they are still an HQ unit, and in the minds of most players, HQ units = important, priority targets. This is especially common among Marine players, for whom HQ units are big, powerful badasses. You can use that belief to your advantage. Let your opponent know which tank is your Command Squad. I guarantee he'll try to waste some resources killing off your less valuable, non-scoring unit. Of course, first he has to kill off the Chimera, then the squad itself. That's two targets worth of shooting and/or assaulting that he has to commit in order to make them disappear. Again, more resources not going towards your more valuable troops. Don't forget too, your commander has a 5++ save! Sometimes this means he can survive close combat with nasty assault troops, keeping them stuck in for another turn! How about that?

Next, the Chimera itself. Remember when I said your Chimeras are the centerpiece of your army? Well, that's not quite true. The true centerpiece is the troops inside. The Chimera is just another distraction to keep your opponent from realizing this.

Therefore, he'll often commit some big assaulty unit or weapon to the Chimera, and sure, he may blow it up, but in my experience, a good number of your guys can survive an explosion, and may take out a few enemies along with it. Exploding vehicles are a surprisingly effective Terminator killer. They now have a nice crater to take cover in, while your opponent's assault troops are exposed. I've taken advantage of this on many an occasion. While the smartest strategy would be to shoot the Chimera, then assault the troops inside, I rarely find things line up that neatly for your opponent. Too often (especially common among Blood Angels players or Ork players), they'll get stuck in the CC mindset and only come at you that way. Among shooty players, they'll often shoot the Chimera, then shoot the troops, but that crater now provides cover, and going to ground will give you a 3+ save. Even if the perfect storm lines up, and he shoots your Chimera, then assaults your troops, that's still two units he's had to commit, and that's still the very worst case scenario for you. If even one of those factors fails, his shooty misses, or his assaulty just doesn't roll quite as well as it needed to, then that's yet more resources he has to commit.


Though my primary forte is mechanized, vehicle heavy lists, you should by no means assume that BSDs are limited to vehicles. Remember our old friend, Guardsmen Marbo?

Though I don't use him, I can clearly see his potential as a BSD. He appears suddenly, chucks a demo charge, and starts shooting and stabbing things with poisoned weapons? He's going to paint a big old target on his forehead, and now this one little 65 point model is going to be attracting a lot of fire that isn't going towards something else.

Likewise, deep striking Stormtroopers can fill this role. They're more expensive than Marbo, but a bit less squishy, and they're packing special weapons, usually meltas. If they can blow up a tank the turn they appear, they've usually bought their points back, and if they draw a bunch of fire because of it, then they've earned them back even more. Remember they're packing 4+ carapace armor, which means most basic troop weapons aren't going to just gib them automatically.

This means that if they get bolters pointed at them, they still have a chance to take it and survive, and if they get more heavy weapons pointed at them, then those are heavy weapons not pointed at something else. Ditto for assault. A power weapon may not be a bad investment for your Sergeant, since he can put out a surprisingly high number of attacks. Scout striking Stormtroopers in Chimeras can also serve the same function, but with the added bonus of a tin can, with all the benefits described above.

Though I've written this guide with the Imperial Guard in mind, these same strategies can easily be employed by other armies as well. Land Raiders are very big, very scary, and very distracting. Most of the time, they'll be carrying Terminators or some other big deathstar unit, which while nasty, is not always a troop choice. Even if it is, you'll want a lot of regular Marines in Rhinos around as the true objective takers, leaving your Terminators to draw lots of fire and attention. For Grey Knights, the new Nemesis Dreadknight has Big Scary Distraction written all over it. Tyranid players should be no stranger to these strategies, with their big Hive Tyrants and Mawlocs getting all the attention until, too late, the opponent finds lots of little gribblies chewing on his face. Ork Nobz are tough as nails, but those Boyz can chop you up real good, too. Too bad you didn't shoot at them, huh? And of course, let's not forget the ultimate BSD in the world of 40k, the Necron Monolith. There's something in every army.

Remember, psychologically speaking, people are more likely to pay attention to something the bigger it is, and the closer it is. If you keep this in mind, and use it to your advantage, then you can often turn the tide in your favor.

NitroKitty wrote this up for his mini-blog on Librarium Online. It was so spot-on that I decided to repost it here (with his permission) so that it could see a wider audience. Good job Nitro! -SandWyrm


  1. I like the post, but disagree with your idea of a distraction from my point of view. A distraction is like a fly bussing near your ear of mouth or nose. You swat at it, but don't always kill it. A good distraction is a small point unit that causes the same effect. Something doesn't have to be big or super powerful to be a distraction. A fire magnet is different than a distraction. Other than that, great article.

  2. There is no one way to accomplish a distraction.

    The basic essence of a distraction is that it distracts. It diverts your opponent's attention from what he should be dealing with to something else that looks more important.

    At one time or another, I've successfully distracted opponents with Marbo, Russes, Vendettas, Sentinels, Rough Riders, Ratlings, and even Ogyrns. Sometimes, as in the case of Sentinels, something can distract because it looks easier to kill than the wall of armor to either side.

  3. I played a game the other day, vs necron and SM allied army. My IG army had a regular squad with an autocannon. they were treating it like a heavy 2 twin linked lascannon. It absorbed shooting all game.

    One question for the mech tactics: is it best to send battle tanks first, then chimeras just behind them, all moving 6", and just slowly advance shooting and then capture objectives?

  4. I said in the other comment thread - fantastic article, and something I will definitely be making more of a point of doing in future games with my Guard. Thanks.

  5. Vendettas/Valks do not turbo-boost. I think you mean flat-out. Only bikes get to turbo-boost!

    Also, a 2+ save against assault? I'd like to know how that's achieved, as cover saves don't work in assaults and I'm assuming you mean the 6+ to hit, being an equivalent of a 2+ save?

    Other than that, great post! :)

  6. Great post! I always find it interesting when people over look tactics with a army type. =) I think its easy to get caught in the back up and shoot mindset as a IG player and just go through the motions.

  7. I also disagree that Lemans are a great unit for distraction. People shoot them because they can hurt any unit in the game, period, usually with a big pie plate. That's not really a distraction, as much as it is common sense. You want something left to deal with those chimeras or troops of your own left alive to take objectives. Leman Russ tend to stop both of those if theya re left to fire at you unmolseted.

  8. @Warboss

    Yes, but if you have a long range anti-tank gun what is your best target?

    It's not the Russ, which you're unlikely to do more than scratch the paint on. Lascannons have about a 3% chance of killing it in a front shot. Meltas and Klaws do much better.

    But if I can get you to send your Klaws/Fists after the Chimeras, and your Lascannons/Missiles after the Russes, then I'm going to have a very good time of it. :)

  9. Yes, but Warboss and I agree on something. A russ isn't a distraction in the sense just like my 5 Thunderwolf Calvary models aren't a distraction. If you don't kill them, they will kill you. A distraction is something that makes you do what you aren't supposed to in my opinion. That outflanking sentinel is a distraction. That Vendetta is a distraction. Just my thoughts tho.

  10. If a gunline player pours 85% of his anti-tank shots into my Russes, to little or no effect, while sparing my Chimeras... that's a distraction.

    If a Guard or Ork player gets so obsessed with killing my Hellhound that he doesn't try and kill the units that really matter... that's a distraction too.

    A distraction unit may be capable of real mayhem, but that doesn't mean that attempting to take it out is a good idea. It may take more resources for a particular enemy to kill than the kill is worth.

  11. @COTBT

    Hellhounds and Chimeras in front. Demolishers and command Chimeras in the middle. Vanilla Russes in the rear lending support fire.

  12. What you're really saying is the leman is a distraction to new players who don't understand math-hammer. I'd STILL kill the Leman as a priority. It's not particularly hard to las them on side armor, either.

  13. A Vendetta has about a 12% chance to kill a Russ on the front armor. On the side it goes up to roughly 24%. Still not great. Shoot away. :)

    Even experienced players have trouble ignoring something big and scary and focusing on the targets that really matter.

    For disciplined players, there are other distractions, like a Hellhound or a Demolisher, that they know are a distraction, but are too dangerous not to shoot at anyhow.

    In my game with Rionnay last night, he KNEW that I was distracting him with my Hellhound from firing at my Chimeras. But if he didn't take it out I was going to put the big bad touch on his scoring troops.

    Hollow threats are nice, but honest threats are even better. :)

  14. Lol Sandy, if I had a dollar for every time a razorback or heavy weapons team has penetrated my battlewagon front 14 armor on ROUND ONE, I could afford a new GW miniature....


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