Missile Weapons Tactics

Being a forum for the free exchange of ideas, tactical ploys, solutions for problematic situations, and discussions of our generals' approaches to the art of strategery.

Thank you, dear reader for turning up for the fourth installment in our series of discussions on the art of tabletop tactics. I've enjoyed our first three meetings, and if you have as well, or if you haven't, if you want to share an interesting tactic, or ask a question - or if you want to tell the ol' Count that he's full of well you-know-what, than please drop me a line at john bianchi.

I was talking to Venetian Nate the Dark Elf the other day - over a nice grappa, of course - and he said he'd like for me to talk about missile weapons. That's a big topic! It's as big as Katerina deMedici's rear end (when the Medici pay me what they owe me, I'll be happy to take that remark back, but until then... it stays big like two 42-pound shots in a tan suede bag).

Anyway - I'll try to make this useful for beginners and not too boring for old hands, battle-scarred and world-weary. Here now is -

What in the name of San Giorgio do I do with missile weapons?

IT used to be until not too long ago - say about two years now - missile weapons could dictate how a whole battle was fought, from beginning to end. Then, some of the wise men that decide these things got together and pulled the rug out from under the whole shooting match - haha! That's the Count's little joke... and I know it's a mixed metaphor, so don't write to me about that, please.

The High Elf general of two years ago now finds that his troops have lost the ability to fire in two ranks on flat land. And suddenly, with the glut of available manpower after the end of the Albion campaign, infantrymen in almost all armies cost from a third to half as much as they did 2 years ago; but most missile troops cost the same or more than two years ago. Holy Virgin - you always pay more for skilled labor!

Though you can shoot with the front two ranks of your bow-armed infantry if they're deployed on a hill, the question comes up, "How many units can you put on that one little, crowded hill?" certainly not your whole army. The crowded hill makes many experienced generals laugh - unless they happen to be crowding onto their own little hills.

Oh, and by the way, do not let you opponent do the following: He positions a unit of archers so that their front rank is deployed on the flats, and two or more rear ranks extend back up the slopes of a hill. While this is perfectly fine placement - do not let the enemy tell you that he can now fire in THREE ranks. This is illegal - you can never fire in more than two ranks if any part of your unit is on a hill. The last time a captain of archers tried to get away with this, he was hung by his heels in the town square of Remas for 10 days.

The fact is, though generals often take missile weapons because they feel they must, those units sometimes finish a battle having killed one or two enemy, but having almost no effect on the outcome. Often, a Dark Elf general feels he just has to take those repeater crossbows, when maybe they won't support what he intends to do with the rest of his army.

Now, shooting alone won't win you battles anymore. Hand to hand combat has taken on a new primacy, and shooting has been relegated to a support role. So what can you do with shooting? How can it help you devise strategies that can win you battles? Let's look at the type of weapons available to you, lightest to heaviest, and what they can do. Then, let's talk strateegery.

Javelins, Slings, Throwing Knives, Pistols, and Short Bows
These nasty, short-ranged missiles allow skirmishers of different races to improve on their ability to do their jobs (screening, creating diversions, moving through difficult terrain, protecting the flanks of our army), increasing the number of attacks they can make before being engaged in hand to hand combat. Troops that carry these light weapons can move and shoot, and can provide a little extra close missile support.

Cavalry Archers, Pistoliers, Goblin Wolf Cavalry
Here is a troop type that's actually benefited from changes in the rules. They can move and shoot. They can march and shoot! They can shoot in a 360-degree arc of fire. Coupled with the fact that they are fast cavalry means that they can do a whole lot more than infantry archers. Yes, even though they're expensive for shooters and their missiles will likely have less effect than those of formed infantry, the Count likes these - they're sort of a mobile headache for the enemy, since if kitted out, they can also conduct rear and flank charges when the time is right, helping you with offense immeasurably.

It seems that almost every army in the Warhammer world has access to archers. These are very useful troops, since they can move and shoot, and they can deliver a moderate punch for not too much expense. Many longbowmen and bowmen can also skirmish - allowing them a number of important fire support and screening functions.

Crossbows and Handguns
These heavier weapons have infinitely more punch and effect in game terms, but that comes at the cost of a loss of mobility (unless, dear reader, you are a dwarf general with access to thunderers! or blunderbusses!). You'll need to carefully place these troops in locations where they will be most effective and where they will contribute to your basic chosen strategy - defense or offense.

War Machines
They cost a lot, and depending on what they are, you can get a lot. No one likes to face down a war machine across an open field, and some engines, like Earthshakers, Mortars, Lobbas, Ratling Guns, Repeater Bolt Throwers, and Hellblasters, can be so dangerous to some troop types that they can still dictate the terms of the battle to the enemy. These are weapons that are the most rare in your arsenal, potentially the most destructive, but also, the most vulnerable: The Count knows firsthand they are flier, magic, and missile magnets, and the first item targeted by armies that can reach them.

So - there they are. Skirmishers, cavalry, formed infantry, and engineers can all use missile weapons. You can hire most of these, depending on your army, to create a winning strategy. Let's discuss a few of the ways you might use them and then let me ask you to drop me a line with what has worked for you - or hasn't.

Ecco, mi amici -

Now that we've outlined the various types of missile troops available to a capitano, let's look at how these troops can be applied to a basic set of strategies.

Heavy Shooting Defense
This used to be the most imposing type of strategic composition to face, and it can still work under current rules of warfare. Take a position of strength and destroy an enemy piece by piece, then clean up the remanants with your infantry or cavalry. An extreme example of this strategy in action was the Empire army of Captain Nathan Cheesewright, fitted out with two hellblasters, two cannon, two mortars, a unit of crossbowmen, accompanied by a wizard taking magic missile spells. Two units of hard foot troops, with hand gunner detachments and halberd detachments, supported these. I wonder what ever happened to old Dottore Cheesewright?

Che agida! Your opponent has a real heartburn here. He can sit back and try a long-range artillery/archery duel if he is similarly strong (but as that is unlikely, he will probably lose that duel), or he can try to get across the field before all his troops die looking like pincushions. The strategy compels an enemy without the same reliance on missile weapons to attack you because it's his only chance! And once he get across the killing zone, he has to face two big units with their detachments.

Missile Troops to Use: Lots of warmachines and heavy missile troops - handgun, blunderbuss, crossbow.

Risks?: Out of balance, and that means easy to defeat. If you face a fast opponent or a numerous one, or a tough opponent (and there are so many tough guys these days), watch out. You don't have enough combat troops in your force to prevent disaster. Imagine a couple of units of fast cavalry ripping through one after another of your war machines, while whole units of missile troops run screaming for the sanctuary of the nearest church from your opponent's massed legions. Che Massacre!

Light Shooting Defense
A less risky approach to defense employs strong troops in invincible positions with a missile weapon component, and it has much to recommend it. This strategy takes the approach that you compel an enemy to attack you by employing enough long range fire to make it too hot for him to stay where he is; then, the bulk of your main body makes invincible defensive dispositions. An excellent example of this strategy is that employed by Lord Gar'eeG'sig, who now commands one of the most numerous dwarf legions still in existence in the Old World. He places his force of mostly dwarf warriors in a position of strength and he backs them up with two or three war machines, which for a dwarf, you have to admit, is not overdoing it. He also almost always takes a useful unit of Thunderers, hard basic dwarf troopers who carry quick-loading handguns; they can provide mobile infantry close-support fire by being able to both move and shoot.,/p>

Our Dwarf general concentrates the fire of his war machines on the most likely close combat threats and uses the Thunderers to either support close combat or take out lightly armoured enemy missile troops. Madonna mio! When facing this, an opponent has only a couple of choices: outshoot the Dwarves if he can, or through shooting and attacks by fast cavalry or fliers, soften the Dwarf position up and create opportunities for successful close combat.

Missile Troops to Use: Some warmachines, heavy missile troops (handgun, blunderbuss, crossbow), formed archers.

Risks: Very few - while not an optimized shooting defense, this approach allows you to use more combat troops - always better. It also has the advantage of being flexible enough to turn on its head for offense, either as the goal at the outset of the battle, or if and when the opportunity arises while conducting a defensive battle. Your most likely risk is if you face a more numerous foe, or one that can move quickly and powerfully, like Brettonians or High Elves. You need to guard you flanks against these kinds of forces - both with combat troops and with stronger stationary missile weapons, such as crossbows or handguns.

Light Shooting Offense
Put as much of your resources as you can into a hard-hitting, numerous offense, send them into the enemy's weakest point, and you cannot fail - unless, of course, the enemy decides to send a fast, hard-hitting force against your weakest point; flank or even rear - and sends your boys back to the holes you recruited them from. You need some protection.

When you assault the enemy with this strategy, you are strong, but unless your army covers the field from one end to the other, you may be vulnerable. Say your flank is in the air - or you may be hamstrung by a terrain feature that allows the enemy into or behind your line - or, you may be attacked by the kind of troops that seem to pop up from nowhere - like Miners, Gutter Runners, or Woodsmen and the other scouts, which are increasingly common in the Old World these days.

This is why you need to take some form of long-range missile troopers. They function as a reserve with a reach, and if placed properly, they can protect your rear or control avenues open to attack from your enemy. Protect your open flank with just a unit or two of heavier, stationary missile troops (handgun or crossbow), perhaps they themselves supported by a light cavalry reserve and missile-armed skirmishers. A good example of this is my own little company of mercenary miscreants. A half dozen heavy infantry battalions move toward my opponent, and to prevent the moving line being flanked, I station a unit of crossbowmen to their right or left rear. Skirmishers with throwing knives or pistols, joined by light cavalry could be an added discouragement for the enemy's move to your open flank.

Missile Troops to Use: Heavy missile troops (handgun, blunderbuss, crossbow), formed archers; and skirmishing shooters (knives, darts, javelins, pistols)

Risks: Very few - Most battles favor hand to hand combatants, and to rely on them is to play to a strength. However, an army that has great mobility AND missile troops may try to avoid you, leaving you floundering in mid-field throughout the battle. Your missile troops can at least bloody the enemy and attack his missile troops, but aren't enough to bring him to battle.

Heavy Shooting Offense
Surprise! That well-arrayed, numerous Skaven army across the valley from you, the one with jezzails, ratling guns, and a warpfire cannon, leaves its good position and starts coming on like a tidal bore through the Straights of Sartosa. The whole time it comes, globardiers are tossing their missiles and slingers are dropping stones into everything they see. The idea behind this strategy is that a combat force made up of numerous, cheaper, low leadership troops can do better if they don't face as much enemy as when they started moving forward. Missile troops should use move and shoot weapons like bows, javelins, throwing knives, etc. They should be backed by strong warmachine support. This approach should usually be topped off with an offensive shaman or two (oh, they're always offensive, in my humble opinion).

Your opponent may be thrown by the attack of the missile troops, but his choice is clear; he needs to move to protect his line from your assault and suck up the shooting damage. If he has a small, elite force; that will be hard for him to do.

Missile Troops to Use: Warmachines, move-and-shoot missile troops (longbows, archers, blunderbusses), horse archers, and skirmishing shooters.

Risks: This doesn't often work, but can work spectacularly with a horde army (Gobbos, Skaven, Chaos Dwarves) or a fast army; others will have nothing but trouble making this work. Despite that fact, you still see this misapplied frequently! Some generals feel more is always more, yet more war machines can take away from more critically needed combat troops.

Not all armies fall into these four strategic models - they are, after all, only descriptions of possible choices that make distinct use of missile troops. You'll find that an army constructed along the two more extreme, shooting-heavy models may be devastating under the right conditions, but not at all useful in some situations. Taking a less extreme composition, such as the shooting light defense and offense, make for more flexible, playable armies that can function well under a variety of circumstances - and if need be, can be turned on their head for defense or offense, whichever you may need to ask them to do.

Well, that's about all the old Count has for this dispatch. I hope this was maybe helpful to you, and gets you thinking about how that second set of bolt throwers you were considering can help you - or how it may actually take away from the strategy you choose to fight with. God and all his saints know how even I've been tempted to buy a shiny, bronze piece of ordnance on occasion - ordnance that now sits outside my country house in the Montefeltro hills, turning green and acting as a planter for those artichokes my wife likes.

And speaking of artichokes - its time for lunch.

Until next time - Ciao bambini!

~ Count Federigo ~


Created by: ZiggyQubert. Last Modification: Sunday 25 of January, 2009 01:20:22 PM EST by ZiggyQubert.

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