Thursday 8 December 2016

Tactica: Deployment or Initiative

So you've won the Initiative Roll and now have to decide whether you want to Keep Initiative (choosing whether to go first or second) or Keep Deployment (choosing which deployment zone to take and forcing your opponent to deploy first).

What do you do?

At this point in the game I've seen experienced players (including myself) all but melt down into a puddle of indecisive goo. Not only do you have to choose whether to Keep Deployment or Keep Initiative, but you then have to decide which Deployment Zone to take or whether to take the first or second turn respectively.

The entire flow of the game is going to hinge upon these two questions, but how do you decide which options to take?

Keep Deployment

Generally you would choose to Keep Deployment if one Deployment Zone, or indeed one side of the table as a whole, is substantially better than the other. These checks are all pretty handy to run through even if you don't choose to Keep Deployment as it might give you insight into how the table will play and how your opponent might deploy.

'Better' is of course a very subjective term so a couple of minutes of careful consideration can be warranted. Don't be afraid to take this time to get down to table level, eyeball some Lines of Fire and confirm with your opponent the rulings for any ambiguous terrain pieces. Here are some things to look out for in particular:

Height Advantage
Does one side of the table have exclusive or superior elevated terrain? If you have the advantage of height then you can deploy your snipers on rooftops whilst being guaranteed cover and denying the same to your opponent.

Access to Objectives
Can you easily see or get to more objectives from one side of the table? If you are playing Supplies and can see all three Supply Crates from one Deployment Zone and not from the other then this gives an easy advantage. You can use your AROs to cover the objectives and then dash for them without your opponent being able to do the same.

This is doubly important for missions such as Antenna Field where specialists need to remain 'in place' at the end of game rounds. This frequently leaves important specialists exposed or out of cover so if you have better Lines of Fire to the objectives than your opponent then you can easily block a lot of access or punish an over-committing play.

Good Cover
Does one Deployment Zone have lots of irregularly shaped cover? Ideally you are looking for lots of total cover that doesn't depend on your troops lining up behind a building as well as a smattering of partial cover for your ARO pieces. Different height levels, odd angles and accessible buildings are all a plus.

Ideally you don't want it to be so busy that your troops can't support each other against Airborne Deployment/Impersonation/Infiltrators though and you should also be looking for ways to be able to leave the Deployment Zone without being shot at from across the table.

Bad Cover
Is one Deployment Zone really sparse compared to the other? If so then consider giving it to your opponent and making them deal with it instead!

When combined with Height Advantage on the other side it's possible to trap an opponent in their own Deployment Zone using snipers (preferably linked) to take shots at anyone who tries to stick their head out. By choosing to Keep Deployment you also have the option to place your long range elements in positions which are out of the way of your opponent's long range troops.

Access to Buildings
Does one side have better use of doors, ladders and ramps to get into or around buildings? This can be important in missions to capture table areas where it becomes very hard to winkle people out/off of buildings if you can't get into them. It's doubly important in objective-based missions if any of the objectives are inside of said buildings.

Terrain Rules
Is one side hampered/helped by Terrain Rules? You probably want to avoid table sides that are covered in mountains or rivers unless you have a lot of Terrain skills. Forests can be good or bad depending on your army composition though as they punish defensive Fireteams and are effectively a buff for MSV users - especially in ARO.

Space for Fireteams (Optional)
Can you place a five-man Fireteam in good coherency without leaving people in the open, being overly restricted in who the Team Leader can be or putting too many into a conveniently Chain-Rifle-template-shaped formation? Obviously this isn't a concern for all lists but I've certainly seen tables where it is very difficult to place a Fireteam well.

If you answered 'Yes' to at least half of these, and the benefits apply mostly only to one side, then consider Keeping Deployment.

Having said that, the more Infiltration (and similar) or Camouflage you have the less your Deployment Zone matters - after all, you won't be putting many models in it. Even then it may be worth denying the benefits of a good deployment zone to your opponent.

If you do decide to Keep Deployment then it is very likely that your opponent will opt to take the first turn as being on the worse table side and going second is often a death sentence. However, if your opponent does decide to go second then expect them to deploy extremely defensively. Use the opportunity to either hit them as hard as possible, move on objectives or set up commanding ARO/Suppressive Fire positions on your first turn. They've given you a big advantage, so use it!

What happens if you lost the Initiative Roll?
If your opponent has chosen to Keep Initiative then you should just try and pick the best possible Deployment Zone based on the criteria above. If there is no clear advantage to one side or the other then you might consider playing on less balanced tables in the future!

Keep Initiative

If the two table sides are much the same, in that neither offers a wealth of boons like the ones outlined above over the other, then you may as well choose to Keep Initiative and pick whichever turn order is more beneficial for you.

Otherwise you have to weigh up whether the benefits of turn order outweigh the benefits of a favourable deployment zone, keeping in mind that you will end up with whichever one is worse. This is particularly important if you are planning to go second as you will have to weather your opponent's initial assault while stuck in poor cover.

Taking Second Turn

If the table looks fairly even then taking the second turn can be a perfectly valid choice. In fact my USAriadna have been loving going second recently! This option favours more defensive armies and scenarios where objectives are scored per-round.

The combination of favourable missions and denying two orders to an opponent's first turn can be quite impactful and there are potential order savings to be made as your opponent has to close the gap towards you, allowing you to spend more of your own first turn shooting rather than moving!

End-of-Round Mission Scoring
Some scenarios such as Antennae Field, Quadrant Control and Transmission Matrix award Objective Points at the end of each Game Round. This is a huge incentive to go second as it gives you the last chance to grab objectives every round.

With these kinds of objectives it is far less important to try and protect them early on. It's a perfectly viable strategy to force your opponent to over-commit to capturing objective, leaving your army mostly intact, and then doing just enough yourself to score the lion's share of the Objective Points at the end of the round.

This factor is probably the most important in choosing to take the second turn.

End-of-Game Mission Scoring
Going second is less important for scenarios that are scored at the end of the game such as Rescue, Frontline and Seize the Antennas however as these are more likely to end with one side being all but wiped out or otherwise out of contention. Retreat is more of a concern and games are less likely to go to a meaningful three turns.

Even so, getting the last attempt at any objectives can still be pretty handy. It also gives you the unique position of having a turn where you don't care about the safety of your troops. On your turn three you can't be put into Retreat or Loss of Lieutenant and you don't need to worry about your troops making it into cover or even surviving. Just run in there and grab the objectives!

You Have a Defensive Army 
Some factions such as Tohaa and Steel Phalanx have the ability to all but bounce off attacks due to a prevalence of multi-wound multiples, multi-Burst AROs and Eclipse Smoke. Other armies can rely on cheap Warbands, Camouflage, multiple Snipers or Total Reaction Remotes to keep opponents at bay.

Consider having some troops with (Smoke) Grenades, TO Camouflage or cheap Chain Rifles to break up any Suppressive Fire/Mine traps that your opponent might lay for you though

Other Notes
If the table is uneven and you really want the second turn then this is where the mind games come in.

Choosing to Keep Deployment allows you to pick the better side and forces your opponent into a Catch-22 situation. Do they give you the turn order you want anyway, or do they potentially open themselves up to an 'alpha strike' (a very aggressive opening attack designed to cripple the other army) by going second whilst stuck in the worse deployment zone?

In this situation most players will go for the former, choosing to go first and leaving you to go second, effectively giving you your pick of Deployment and Initiative. If they don't play along, then hopefully you can at least catch them in a bad position on your first turn.

Taking First Turn

You may have noticed that I left what is probably the most common option, especially among new players, for last.

It is often what people choose when they don't otherwise know what to do and prior to 3rd edition it was probably the right choice the majority of times. Now that Command Tokens are a thing and players are becoming more savvy about how to set up tables it is definitely not so clear cut.

There are three good reasons to take the first turn:

Any-Time Mission Scoring
In some missions you can complete the objectives at any point and immediately secure some valuable Objective Points or killing your opponent's troops is effectively the sole source of objective points. This includes Highly Classified and 'shooty' missions such as Firefight, Decapitation and Annihilation which are common in Direct Action tournaments.

Missions can also partially fall into this category such as Nimbus Zone and Capture And Protect, although the latter has an element of End-of-Game scoring as well. Arguments could also be made that Supplies counts for this too as it is often quite hard to retrieve a Supply Crate once it has been pilfered by the enemy!

This factor is probably the most important in choosing to take the first turn.

Not-Before-Turn-X Mission Scoring
There is also a weird subset of missions, currently only Nimbus Zone, where part of the mission objectives can't be completed until the second Game Round. In addition, missions like Supremacy and The Armoury give the possibility of blowing up objectives only from the second Game Round onwards.

In both cases it can be beneficial to be the first player to get a crack at these things and so potentially deny options for the opponent!

You Have an Aggressive Army 
By aggressive I mean things like punchy Fireteams, Airborne Deployment, Impersonators, Infiltrators, TAGs, Ninjas, Yuan Yuans etc. Alternatively, you want to template weapon your opponent's DZ with Shotguns/Mines/Chain Rifles/Guided Missiles whilst the opponent is still somewhat guaranteed to be bunched up.

In such a case you will often be planning to alpha strike your opponent and your list is carefully calculated to do as much damage as possible to key elements of the opponent's army.

Just keep in mind that you will end up with the worse deployment zone and be two orders down (normally), so if you are planning an aggressive start then you'll need to be able to deal with an entrenched opponent with limited orders who is hiding half a table away. On the other hand, if your opponent goes into hiding completely then you can grab objectives in peace and set up for AROs and Suppressive Fire. So it can be a win-win really.

Other Notes
It's also worth mentioning that by going first you are guaranteed to have at least as many full turns as the opponent in a Retreat situation. It can also make putting your opponent into Retreat a more viable tactic.

This is a substantial part of the reason why going first is better in 'shooty' missions!

What happens if you lost the Initiative Roll?
If your opponent has chosen to Keep Deployment then unless your Deployment Zone is completely diabolical you should just pick whatever turn order you think best suits your army and the mission. If the mission doesn't seem to definitely favour either turn order then I'd generally lean towards going first, although it's pretty darn close.

If your Deployment Zone is indefensible then always pick first turn and just be aware that your game plan now revolves around breaking out, doing damage and snatching objectives as quickly as possible.


So that's been a lot of rather soft 'advice' really. It's hard to give anything more concrete without seeing actual combinations of armies, missions and tables.

Having said that, here's a few quick steps to act as a reminder at the start of the game:

  1. Read the missions you'll be playing in advance and decide whether they favour going first or going second. 
  2. Analyse the table sides before deciding on either option, even if you feel strongly that you want to Keep Initiative.
  3. If one side is vastly superior then just take the safe pick and get the good Deployment Zone. A good DZ remains good whether you are going first or second.
  4. If you want to go second then tend towards Keeping Deployment anyway if one side is superior to the other.
  5. If the table sides are fairly even or you really want to take the first turn then Keep Initiative.

That's close to the mental checklist that I try and go through when I win the Initiative Roll, although you might weigh certain options more or less heavily than I do. It also breaks down somewhat for certain combinations - an even-looking table with Capture And Protect? Who knows what to do with that!

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