"I'd give my life if that's what's asked."
When I first started writing this particular post I looked at it from the view of the Infantry Guard General. I am well aware most of you who read Mind War here probably would smirk about this fact; in fact most players I face when I do compete with them have either two responses when they see an Imperial Guard Gunline begin to take shape across the board. It’s either “Ha! Your dead!” or “Yo old dude! What are Praetorians?” Its very easy for me to shake my head and say things like “Damn kids!” or “Get off my lawn!”
5th edition bought us closer to a style of play with the guard that I describe as a Vehicle ridden Necromunda approach to play for the competitive guardsman. It was TKE who first introduced me to this, and I am going out on a limb here and frankly saying he helped a lot of people on my regular forum pioneer such lists when the then new codex was released. TKE is a strong supporter of the air cav supported Mech lists or was in the month or so following the codex release. I have not read many of his comments since, but he championed the ideas of chimera mounted vetrans touting plasma and melta weaponry on the Heresy Online forums with Air Cav support. I call it the “Necromunda Guard” as it basically is all about highly specialized special weapons in the protection of AV12 or cover. (A bit like a necromunda gang who have hijacked a vehicle and are with their other 40 or so gang banger mates streaking across the field toward you so you can be blown up on turn 2 and spend 3 more turns mopping you up).I however refuse to believe that this or the hybrids that the above spawned since the guard codex are the only playable armies, that can succeed on the field. Why have I taken such a stance in such overwhelming evidence to contrary? Simply put its theme.
The reasons I play gunline are based more about theme than anything else. I have played gunline since 2nd edition and I doubt very much I will change now. For those of you wondering, my army is Praetorian and Tallarn troops which have been painted to resemble Gordon’s last stand at Khartoum and the subsequent Colonial wars in which Great Britain fought against the North African natives alongside the colonial troops of Egypt and the Sudan circa 1889. This type of force naturally does not have a huge amount of armoured support. (I rarely if ever take a Chimera, and the word Russ does not enter my lists, but Rough Riders and Sentinels make appearances and Hyrdas make a more and more pronounced appearance when I have to play certain lists.)
So when I sat down to write this post, I went to it with looking at how I play my infantry platoons. There is no definitive best answer here. Let me make that point clear. The Guardsman Infantry Squad of 10 men can be tooled to a variety of uses. It can sit back in a Chimera Pillbox, It can advance and it can even hold the line. But it does these things in concert with other forces, never alone. I tend to use my foot slogger platoons defensively. I have outlined why and the things I tend to think about and why I do so below.
"For every one of us who falls, ten more will take his place!"
As a defensive army Guard have it made. We are the best defenders in the game by far. Nothing can soak the firepower we can if we are set up correctly and nothing can launch the firepower in magnitudes that we can toward our opponents. The defensive platoon strategy capitalizes on this, and plays to theses strengths. I experimented a lot at the start of the new codex with 10 men infantry squads and quickly dismissed them in favour of the 20 man joint squad model. I have found 20 guardsmen with two special weapons and 2 heavy weapons are more than adequate a foe for most others on the field. They are able to soak up enough firepower not to run in the first two turns unless you are facing a pie plate onslaught. (Very rare now, as everyone is playing mech or has tooled their list to deal with mech). They can launch enough firepower back to even take down MEQ infantry with relative ease. The 20 man platoon forms a central nexus of your defensive lines effectively enough. But it begs the questions before we even look at what to give them or how to use them.
What are you defending and why?
You need to capture objectives or table your opponent to win the game. How can you do this if your focused defensively?
"From the Emperor's mouth to my ears, Sir."
The first question is what are you defending? In my own case it’s my HWS. As a guard general if you don’t go armour it’s got to be HWT based in HWS that do your killing for you. My 20 man strong platoons, two of them, sit there and defend up to 12 autocannons and 6-9 lascannons in a typical game. That’s all they are there for until turn 4. They have to stand firm and not let things past them to the HWS. They do a pretty good job at this. Firstly I arm them with plasma guns or the grenade launcher and they get two more autocannons in the mix to assist them. A commissar stands with them to ensure they don’t flee. I spread them fairly evenly so that my HWS are covered but I don’t angst over it for 20 minutes. (I do consider terrain and objectives though see below). These guys can move if they have too, that’s their purpose, the HWS will not be moving. A PCS is kept close enough to issue an order and I am done. But they have more than just a defensive purpose.
When placing the platoon for a defensive arrangement several factors should be forefront in your mind. Terrain is the major one, followed by where objectives have been placed. The 5th edition of 40k is not about slugging it out with your opponent at 4ft, it’s all about capturing objectives or tabling your opponent quickly. With this in mind, why would anyone play defensively?
I use the Empire defensive doctrine tactic from Warhammer. I invite the enemy toward me. I force him to come to me. Most players in 5th will have forces specifically designed to come at you, whether they be orks or eldar or even other mech guard they will head toward you as if you have played a gunline its that or they will die where they sit. This is invaluable knowledge… your dictating how the game will be played even before turn 1. It is rare to find another army that can churn the total dice I can with enough high strength weaponry at range greater than 24 inches. I am always dictating how the game will be played out especially during the first two turns. No matter what or who my opponent is, he is going to have to come at me, and most appear happy to do this, till they get within about 12 inches. (See below).
Placement of the platoon then becomes a matter of considering firing lanes. If you have a field of fire with what’s sitting behind the platoon then your set. I try and cover two lanes of fire from where the “killing units” will sit. This means that my opponent should always be losing troops to my guns from turn 1. With objectives, try and keep a platoon in LOS to one so if by turn 3 or 4 you need to issue a run order you will reach contention of at least 2 of 3 objectives. Your home objective should be safely behind you anyway.
Are you sure? After all it is guardsmen…
"Fire control, initiate strafing run!"
As for those of you who have read this so far, saying yeah but its just 20 guardsman I can take that apart with…. Yeah you can. What will stop you should you ever play me however is what supports the platoon in defence. Although I won’t go into detail here, it’s a game of chess, you move, I move… you attack the platoon, I need to stop you. The many cheap support units when used smartly do this well and if your opponent has not faced massed guardsmen before will be caught unaware. Let’s look at the quirkiest most insane example of an effective platoon support unit and how it works.
The RR squad. (I almost see TKE shake his head [EDITORS NOTE - I am shaking it...lol]). As far as a choice goes, for pure FA its poor, but as a counter punch its effective enough even for defensive work to support your platoon. 10 RR, with two meltaguns will cost you less than 150 points total. Let’s think about that, its 10 cavalry, if it’s a counter to support the platoons, it is waiting silently on a flank to charge whatever is heading for your line. If we take two of these in a 2000 point game you have covered both flanks, cheaply, add more counter units as you can afford too, without compromising your lines. You’re getting Power weapons that strike with STR 5, and they will strike with Initative 5. With two meltaguns just for fun. Those of you aware of them know they are one shot wonders. But even after this they become a harassment force, able to pepper stuff and hold a unit up for a round. Will they be effective against stealers? No, will they stop some eldar? Sometimes! The point I wanted to make however is, even this the most crapiest of counter units, is not that bad when you take a second look at it and consider what your getting for the cost. Remember though as a guard general, your greatest ability is to take a lot of it, so go overkill. 30 RR will do a nasty job even against a group of ork bikers. Let them charge toward you in the opening… they just moved into your charge range if you have deployed smartly, and your still able to shoot a full turn of autocannon massed fire into them.
I use RR when I face Tau, as I hate the jumpers and I find RR and Stormies effective counters to those sniping at the platoons. A RR squad of 5 can tie up a broadside effectively enough even if they just sit there. Other more durable and easily used are things to counter what is dropping around you or coming at your platoons are;
A Hellhound with a MM (Doom of Mal to doom of goo)
Inq with two mystics (Your opponent is asking for it with the biggest blast you have)
Calidus (move that lasher unit into the path of all HWS on the opening turn, he wont live and the one trick pony play will be done. Ensure you took Tarot to make sure your lining him up strait away and going first.)
SWS with flamers and a Lord Commissar. (Hello genestealers have you heard of BBQ?) You can get 6 templates on a squad of stealers for less than the price of 10 man tactical squad of marines. Your not rolling to hit and stealers will die just as effectively to this as they will to a SM flamer.
Ratling Snipers. (Die MC Die!)
Marbo (instant remove that annoying thing from my sight button.)
2 hyrdas for less than the cost of a space marine captain kitted out…. (have 4 or so and eldar players usually weep blood and then go write emo poetry about the fall. Eldar are hopelessly outclassed when you remove their cardboard box metrosexual travelling devices.)
Sentinels on an outflank with auto cannons will destroy anything apart from a land raider.
Our dear Captain Al, with a full platoon armed to the teeth with melta can crush a LR rush on turn 2, (and incidently remove a large proportion of your force from having to face a rush of termies in their opening turns)
Use of Creed in a static infantry platoon defensive force means those IG orders can really stack up too, never underestimate FRFSRF even against high T opponents. 20 lasguns become more and more annoying against small elite units as they get closer.
The way these units play is you see them come on, and you have to deal with it. Use the counter punch unit immediately…. Then turn enough guns on it to stop it ruining you. That’s simple as it is. I prefer to use shooting units as the counter, and 90% of the time it is the x2 mystic trick from the DH list. But the hellhound has become my favourite counter strike unit against nids.
What about a full drop pod army?
What about those fast moving eldar?
What about…… insert random Blood Angel type into this space?
Your right, its tough. But if you have enough counter forces prepared, then none of the above will able to totally take you out and they are wasting valuable feet on the ground doing this instead of capturing and holding an objective. (Note a full drop pod army is very easy to deal with, it just requires you to group your forces into separate clumps, usually two and then hunker down and wait for them to land in the sight of the barrels of your mystically guided guns, counter units and the full blaze of 2 or 3 lascannon HWS. If you can get them in a crossfire even better.
I am not going to debate here, the merits of the gunline. That would be silly. It’s a specific product of its time. In this edition of the game there is more than enough evidence for somebody to say rubbish its not a great choice for a comp… and they would be right totally. But who knows what happens next? If you take the time you are entering the comps and going to completion its probably less than 10% of games you will play in your gaming life and if your already like me, enjoyment of the hobby is paramount as well as winning or fighting well enough to be challenging. A well run gunline and static infantry platoons with the right combination of forces in harmony can still be challenging as an opponent.
The gunline also suffers one last problematic issue in 5th edition. It’s the cover save. This bugbear when I first started again in 5th almost drove me insane. “I am standing behind that cardboard box, I get a 5+ invulnerable! I am as good as a terminator vs melta!”. But nobody ever mentions the counter of this, the guardsman in his crappy flak jacket benefits just as much. Stand behind a platoon and your HWS are getting the same save as what is in front. Combined with orders to make cover saves rerolled and your starting to push out heavy firepower effectively. Cover saves are those things which are twofold, remember you can go to ground and have a unit of 20 guardsmen basically last 3+ turns vs even a determined opponent shooting wise. And if he comes at you… your counter units should be strong enough to eat him.
Lastly… sticking with a force in general when it falls out of favour, like a gunline, is a prime way of learning more about the different ways to use it than anything you will learn about the game by just going the route of whatever is published online as “Flavour of the month”. I have learnt far more about terrain, cover saves, los, and when to move…. By continually having to adapt a force to be effective you learn a lot more about it and how to maximize its strengths.
The infantry platoon however has several other uses which I will detail in yet another post….. it is still capable of giving a nasty scare even to fitted out opponents who have their meta game maxed.