Saturday, November 28, 2009

More Cunningham, Less Conan

We all are aware of the warrior/king Conan’s advice on how to attain maximum gratification in life:

“Crush your enemies, see them driven before you, hear the lamentations of their women.”

Great words indeed, and certainly the mindset through which I approach all of my personal and professional dealings in life. Sadly, such thinking can lead one into trouble when fielding a mech Eldar army, a lesson driven home to me recently in a pair of battles which I recently fought against that other great warrior and king by his own hand, Da BenStar. My advice to other generals is simple: When running mech Eldar, one is far better served emulating the behavior of Rob Roy nemesis and arch-fop Archibald Cunningham, than the Mighty Cimmerian Himself.

A quick synopsis of the battles:

In the first battle, my 1750 mech Eldar list squared off against a well-balanced Tyranid build featuring two large packs of death-spitter-armed Tyranid warriors buttressed by a shooty hive tyrant, a battery of zoanthroapes, and a pair of ‘fexes. The mission was capture and control with a spearhead deployment. I played a very conservative game, reserving my entire army and then using a spread out, fast table entry from my tanks to draw my opponent’s forces across the table. By turn five and game end, I was firmly in control of my base and had three units available to contest my opponent’s base. All and all, I was quite pleased.

Then came the second match. Almost identical lists, and same spear head deployment; however, this time the mission was kill points. The game started auspiciously similar to our prior game, with my forces coming in slowly, whilst his army remained spread out across the length of his table half. By the end of turn two, we were in agreement that this appeared to be another Eldar victory in the making. Then I got stupid. Not satisfied with a ‘mere victory’, I began to park my tanks in position to maximize their firepower, meanwhile bringing in my assault troops to confront his lead units. I also brought my guardians in near (but not near enough) a unit of gaunts with the intention of laying down a barrage of shrunken fire and assaulting- with both my shots and charge falling just out of range. The result was worrisome: my guardians were predictably destroyed by the gleeful hormagaunts, whilst my spirited, but dispersed barrage of gunfire did little to slow my opponent’s advance. At that point, the game could have been salvaged had I packed up my bags and star-engined throughout the board. Instead, I doubled down on my bad bet and stood fast.

By turn six, the disaster was complete: my seer council had been chased off by a fex and gaunts, whilst the rest of my units not bunkered up in a vehicle met a swift, gooey death via death-spitter. What began as a sure thing became a lesson in humility.

How did I manage to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory? First and foremost, I succumbed to my own battle lust and forgot I was playing mech Eldar. This was especially important in a kill points mission, as an Eldar player can tempted to use their shooty guns and hand-picked assault troops to go toe-to-toe with their opponents. Of course, it’s okay to love assaults, just as it’s also okay to love shooting things. But if high enemy body counts are your thing, then mech Eldar are not for you.

While the MEs are a certainly competitive build, they are not ‘kill-hammer’ in any sense of the term. Lacking of toughness, numerically inferior, and generally poorly armored, Eldar will be outfought by Space Marines, Tyranids, Orcs, grannies with brooms, etc., on a regular basis. Though it is true that concentrated fire-power or a well-placed assault from Eldar will most certainly wipe a single enemy unit off the board, good Warhammer players need to think beyond the current turn and look at the cost-benefit in the long run. What happens after the Banshees slaughter the marines they are facing and are then left in the open? Is the extra Eldar missile shot from your wave serpent really worth not having that +3 save from boosting this turn? These are questions that MUST be addressed before committing your forces. If removing the enemy unit by fire or fight is the only way to ensure victory, than the sacrifice may be justified. But make no mistake, Eldar will always lose battles of attrition, and if you try and trade your opponent piece for piece like young kids playing checkers, you are going to lose, and lose badly.

The more effective way to play is to use your maneuverability to draw your opponent out and then engage (again ONLY when necessary) piecemeal. Cover saves from star-engines and turbo-boosting turn your already formidable skimmers into virtually unstoppable (ordinance excepted) units. Missions like capture and control and seize ground certainly lend themselves well to this type of foppish dancing, but even kill points can be won this way when restraint is applied. Here target priority should always be allocated to ‘easy’ enemy units rather than those with the highest annoyance factor. Remember: in kill points a unit of 5 scouts is just as much as a maxed-out unit of assault terminators. Again, reflect upon Cunningham and Rob Roy’s final fight scene and remember that the dainty Cunningham was handily defeating his opponent one slice at a time, being undone only after he got greedy, moved in too close and was nearly cut in twain by his brutish adversary.

Such victories may at first seem ungratifying as they lack a certain visceral quality appreciated by Khorne players and lovers of Chuck Norris films alike. Even so, there can be great satisfaction gained from watching your enemy’s souped up terminators huff and puff around the board for five turns whilst your nimble cone-headed (and pastel-painted hopefully) lightweights dance around them, hurling insults and seizing objectives.

So my parting words to other ME players? Learn to savor the delights of the open steppe, your falcons running amok, and the wind generated by your freshly turbo-boosted jet-bikes flowing through your hair. Do this and you too may enjoy the fruits of victory, if not the respect of an odd Mongol general or two.


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