Tuesday, April 10, 2012

How To De-Value Melta Through Game Mechanics

SandWyrm here; Jon asked a good question about melta-reliance in the comments to my last post that I think deserves a proper answer.

Jon wrote:
"...what are your broad brush thoughts on how to differentiate between armies (factions) and maintain balance at the same time? i.e. 40k has a problem when transports and melta are essential and not all armies have either or both transports or melta; and you can't just hand it out to every army or then what would the differences be?"
That's a very good question about something that's plagued 40K for some time now.

GW has, through the basic mechanics of their game, forced this reliance on melta. Because there are no to-hit modifiers in 40K, you can't have good long range anti-tank guns; because if you do you'll rape everything at range without having to move. The other mechanics of 40K don't help either.

To show what I mean, I'll use an example from Flames of War. Let's say you have one of the best tanks of the mid-war period, a 385 point Tiger 1E (way better than a Land Raider), versus a bazooka-less platoon of American Riflemen (48 men on 10 bases for 130 points).

At first the Tiger looks unbeatable. Nothing in the squad can hurt it either at range or in assault. But the mechanics of the game don't make it easy for the big cat.

Issue 1: Dug-In Infantry Is Very Hard To Kill

So in our example, the Tiger has to hold on to it's objective while also taking an objective away from the enemy (All scenarios in Flames are objective based). Which means that it has to kill or run off the enemy infantry. It can shoot it's big main gun (2 shots) all it wants. But trained infantry in cover at long range are only hit on a 6+. Assuming the Tiger hits somebody, they get a 3+ infantry save. If they fail that save, then the Tiger still needs to make a 3+ firepower roll to kill an infantry base that has dug in. Those aren't great odds!

If the Tiger moves up to use it's machine guns, things don't get much better. It gets 6 more dice standing still, but at short range he'll still need a 5+ to hit. Then the 3+ Infantry save, then a 6+ firepower roll. Running an infantry platoon into tanks is suicide, because they're easier to hit and any failed save  = dead. But in a defensive position, they laugh at the big cats.

Issue 2: Area Terrain Limits Line Of Sight

Unlike 40K, where you can see right through woods, Flames has a mechanic where you have to be within 6" of an enemy model to see it if that model is entirely within or behind a piece of area terrain. So it's possible to be entirely hidden from the big cat's 88.

Issue 3: The Tiger Can't Be Everywhere

Killing dug in infantry requires the Tiger to get up close and assault. But if he moves up then there is nothing to stop a platoon of 4-5 Stuart light tanks from zooming right past him to take his objective (and the game). So he's in a bind. He needs to spend several turns sniping enemy tanks and guns before he can move up to assault the infantry.

Issue 4: Smoke

Even if the enemy can't hurt the Tiger, they can still frustrate him. One way is with smoke rounds from Artillery or direct-fire guns. These will limit his LOS and give big penalties to hit. So the Tiger is forced to always move. Cutting his Rate of Fire in half. That makes him much less scary.

Issue 5: Defensive Fire

Assuming the Tiger can close in to assault, he still has to worry about what else is alive around the enemy platoon. Because any enemy models within a certain distance of the point at which he assaults can also fire at him. Are there some Tank Destroyers hiding behind those trees within 8"? Well then, better hope you make those armor saves buddy!

Issue 6: Infantry Can Still Push Him Back In Assault

So let's say the Tiger actually gets into assault with the enemy platoon. They can't hope to hurt him, but the mechanics of the game don't make this an auto-win. For one thing, he only gets one attack. Which seriously limits the damage he can do.

If he wins a round of combat against the infantry, they'll have to make a leadership check. If they fail, they fall back 6". Any enemy left within 4" of the Tiger are killed automatically. He can then consolidate and push the infantry back another 2". But the rest of the platoon is still there and contesting the objective if any of the models are within 3".  If not, they can always move in closer on their turn.

If the enemy infantry pass their check, then they'll get to hit back. If they hit even once (regardless of damage), then the Tiger will have to make a LD check, which he'll fail half of the time. Then, even though he is fine, he'll be forced to fall back.

So... How Do We Differentiate Forces?

So, in general, stuff should be harder to hit at range/speed, while the long range guns get bigger. But what else?

Well, let's say we're talking about Eldar. They're an army of specialists in a game that requires generalists. But what if that unit of Fire Dragons could lend supporting anti-tank fire to the 2 squads of Guardians in front of it as they're assaulted by a tank (or armored infantry)? Suddenly that little unit is more useful. Add in some tech that makes them a bit harder to hit and suddenly they'd really rock!

Or let's say that we're talking about Orks. They could have Boom Guns advancing behind their mobs that could help out the Boyz with popping heavy vehicles. Maybe the Orks don't get defensive, but rather OFFENSIVE fire, where the boom guns can shoot at whatever the mobs around it is assaulting. That would change the dynamic, wouldn't it?


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