Yesterday I started talking (out of my butt!) about my concept of what a "Finesse Army" is, and how it can compare to some other armies. I wanted to continue discussing it today, with emphasis on how I apply my concept of Finesse Army to maintain competitiveness.
Previously I defined what I consider a Finesse Army: one that "pays points" for having more speed and maneuverability at the expense of firepower and/or resilience. Dark Eldar are the prime example; Eldar can easily fit this mold. It's not about a Codex as a whole, however, as many Codices have options that might fit that description, and there are some Eldar or DE that don't rely on speed or maneuverability at all, but instead rely on firepower and tough foot-troops ("Footdar", for example).
As a "Finesse Army" player, we have to be aware that our greatest strength is not our shooting firepower, nor is it the ability of our vehicles to absorb fire, nor on the might of our melee forces. No, our strength has to be in creating "local superiority"...or as some people put it, creating good match ups.
This can be a daunting task, but I find it very rewarding. It will push us to really analyze where we're able to move, shoot and assault not on this turn, or on the next turn, but the turns after...and analyze the same capabilities in the enemy.
My goal when I'm playing is to move so that some part (ideally a very large part!) of the enemy's firepower can not reach a "worthwhile" target. By that, I mean a target that HE wants to shoot at. For example, I try to deny the Lascannon guys with shots at my vehicles. If the 4 lascannons are shooting at my Hellions who have a 3+ cover...great! Let them! :)
At the same time, I'm trying to maneuver so that the bulk of my firepower can completely blast away at another part of the enemy's force. Lances, Blasters, Splinter Cannons need to be concentrating fire on the things that I think will be the biggest threat.
In an ideal world, this would result in the part of the enemy that has LOS and range to me being killed by my firepower first, while the rest of his army has very limited ability to retaliate...if I can use Splinter fire and/or Bladevanes to kill off a couple Long Fang squads while my Ravagers and Blasters can disable 2-3 Razorbacks; all while I've minimized the exposure of my vehicles to the other Long Fang squad and the other half of the Razorbacks, then I'm going to win, right?
Of course, it's not an ideal world. Terrain and size of the table will typically not allow us to be able to get our entire army out of the way of half an opponent's army.
What we can do, though is keep that ideal in mind while we're moving, but with the realistic and pragmatic idea that we're not going to be able to avoid all the enemy firepower, but we can minimize it.
How can we minimize it?
First, when we can't get out of Range/LOS from the things we're not killing, at least get cover. That's not always possible, but with clever use of pivoting vehicles maybe you can find more cover than you thought possible. If I turn a Raider or Venom so you're in his Side Arc, but put another vehicle covering most of his side, while his nose guns stick out far enough to shoot, then I'll have cover. If the vehicle I'm hiding behind has moved flat-out, so much the better! In other words, bring your own cover with you!
This can also be possible using other models. Reavers, for example, are high enough on their flying stand that when clumped up in front of a Raider or Venom, they easily obscure over half the facing side. This can be done in the Assault phase to allow un-obscured shots at the enemy, or with a turbo-boost move to allow the Reavers a cover save also!
The Hellions in a big blob can also provide some obscuring. Just a single row of them would likely not do the trick, but stack them up 3-4 deep and you'll see that they can really obscure the thin-profile Dark Eldar vehicles! Of course, be careful of blasts when doing this!
Combining the two can be very effective, particularly in the early game...a blob of Hellions can give cover to a vehicle that's giving cover to vehicles behind it....then Reavers can leave half their unit in area terrain while the other half spreads out to provide cover to the Hellions behind them...Voila! Cover for everyone!
Of course, just sitting in cover taking 200 S8 shots a turn isn't going to do it for us, so we need to find other ways to minimize the incoming fire.
To state the obvious, killing the enemy with our ranged firepower first would be great. Even without killing, just Shaking enemy vehicles will reduce the fire coming at us (...insert cursing about Grey Knights here...).
But there's another way that I like to do this. I think of it as giving the enemy bad choices.
In my typical Dark Eldar force that I've been using, I have a big unit of Hellions (that I start with two pain points...see here); three units of 6 Reavers; and some Incubi in an Enhanced Aethersail Raider. If I turbo-boost the Reavers, doing some Bladevane attacks ideally, then there's 18 T4 bodies with 3+ cover save amongst the enemy force; along with them is a Raider that can Flat-out an average 31", full of melee troops that are pretty overpowering to the most common troop we see on tables: Marines; and right behind them is a giant unit of Hellions that I will inevitably have in cover. That's 5 (6 counting the embarked Incubi) units on top of you, ready to do all the meanness they can on the next turn. All have decent cover saves (yes, flamers can suck), and all are a threat to troops as well as vehicles (except the Incubi, who can only hope to glance).
Now my opponent has to choose. Does he deal with the Bladevaning Heat Lancing Reavers? The Incubi-laden Raider? The Hellions? The Ravagers? The Venoms? If I've done this properly, none of these is a good choice. Coversaves should be on everything, and everything is a threat to whatever my "alpha-strike" (such as it is) has left on the table. Hopefully I have an answer for any of the likely things the opponent will choose to do.
Do the disembark to assault? (Venoms and Hellions will munch troops that get out.) Do their vehicles remain stationary to maximize shooting? (Hellions will surround and combi-assault, leaving troops stuck while remaining Reavers and Ravagers destroy.) Do they concentrate firepower on the Raider and Incubi? (Reavers will shred vehicles, hellions and venoms kill the troops that fall out.) Do the assault the Reavers? (Incubi and Hellions counter-assault and tear them apart.) Do they shoot at covered Venoms and Ravagers? (Reavers and Hellions kill).
While I've made that sound very positive and effective, by saying "I give the opponent a lot of bad choices", it could be described another way that's not so positive: I have a lot of expensive units that I use as bait. The Incubi in particular are really not much more than glorified bullet catchers unless the enemy is kind enough to get out of his vehicles, and they are by no means cheap!
Sometimes, though, running half my army across the table is a recipe for disaster. Against many armies the expensive bait I send over there will be annihilated piecemeal for little loss, and I'm left at the bad end of the exchange. If this happens, then it's my fault...I've not created a good match-up...I did not attain local superiority. I need to know when it's appropriate to do this, and when a more reserved approach works.
I find this to be the case when either I outrange the enemy already, or their army is very assault-oriented such that my proximity just gives them easy assault that I don't want to get in. In such cases, I find it much better to hang back, focus firepower on whatever shooting the enemy has while retrograding away from the (hopefully) slower enemy.
Other times, though, there are enemies that have a strong enough melee component that sending my "bait" in to them is foolish, but at the same time they out shoot. In this case sticking to the core concepts of target prioritization and local superiority can do the trick.
An example might be a Grey Knight army with many Dreadnoughts and Deathcult Assassins. Sending the Reavers over to deal with the Dreads will get them killed by the Assassins; but hanging back in a gun-fight with the Dreads will be a loss.
To handle this (and this is better described by Kirby), I move to take away shots from as many Dreads as I can; focus fire to kill DCA transports (I'd love it if they were in Land Raiders...thanks Neil!), then let the Splinter Cannons drop them from away. After the DCA are dealt with, I can use Reavers to deal with Dreads while Hellions and the remaining vehicles deal with the rest of the GK up close and personal.
If you've made it this far, thanks for reading! This is more of a brain-dump of thoughts than a coherent article, but I really enjoy getting my thoughts out..it helps me organize them for myself and maybe someone else can provide some feedback to help me learn to think of things in a better way!
As Sean would say, Pain for the Pain-God!