Monday, August 4, 2014

The death of chaff? Say it ain't so....

I thought I would move away from the relentless pace of tourney reports (I only have one more before I am caught up) and share some thoughts on chaff tactics in the evolving meta.

These musings started when I read a thread on the Da Warpath that Goblin Wolf Rider units were now useless.  This statement was made with the introduction of Wood Elves and the increase in BS based shooting.  With HE, DE, and now WE, BS based shooting has come roaring back into the meta.  The comments I read is that wolf riders are now just free points.

So I had a great Sarah Palin meme set up but could not resist the Internet cat.
Plus mine is an all black cat named Shadow, so there you go.  Hinge's rambling's #`1

I believe strongly that wolf riders and fast cav in general are an important element of the game.  Much of what I talk about with fast cav can be used with other forms of chaff but I decided to focus on fast cav in particular since it was thinking about Wolf Riders that started this whole post!

I came across a Battle Report recently that I thought I would use as a case study (HE MSU v Cav Prince).  This is one of Sword Masters reports on Ulthuan Forum.  If you do not read Sword Master’s Bat reps, you should.  He is a master at MSU, which is a style of play I love (Hinge’s Ramblings #2).

This game interested me in that both sides had Fast cav, used them a bit differently and will work well in illustrating my thoughts.  Look over the deployment and vanguards.  My understanding were that the Reavers were some of the earliest drops. 

MSU v Cav Prince link

I think starting with a review of the most common roles of Fast Cav would be useful (Hinge's Ramblins #3)..

  • Control movement.  This is by far the most important role in my mind.  Unless you have other units that can also fulfill this role, conserving your fast cav here is paramount. 
  • Anti Chaff.  Often times the best or most efficient way to clear enemy chaff is to send your chaff after it.  Even the lowly wolf riders can take a Dark Rider unit if they charge it in the flank!
  • Warmachine hunters.  This is often sited as a chief job of Fast Cav.  However I feel that unless your opponent spends little effort in protecting his warmachines, this can be fairly hard to accomplish. Cannons and stone throwers will often be deployed behind enemy units, with either no way or a difficult and long trek around one flank to get to them.  RBTs are more then capable of shooting off the approaching fast cav.  
  • Warmachine guards.  A role I rarely see them used in but if enemy chaff is hunting your warmachines, it goes that Fast Cav would be excellent would make excellent guards.  They will need to be dealt with, allowing your warmachines more time to shoot and earn points.
  • "Decoy Drop".  I see this all the time.  Heck, I even do it...sometimes.  It makes sense since Fast Cav get a vanguard and are fast (says so in the title!), hence can re-position easily.  However, this is where I see people making the biggest mistake in today's meta!
  • "Escort".  A great use, your big gnarly hammer unit just charged something and your opponent was smart enough to flee.  However, with the long charge ranges of Fast cav (20"-21"), they are often in range to declare there own charge, which that fleeing enemy must declare a flee reaction to (Hinge's Ramblings #4).  The fast cav push the fleeing unit back towards big nasty, off the board, through other units for panic tests, or simply further out of position.  
  • Bait.  Whether trying to get a frenzy unit to charge or pull enemy fanatics, your deliberately sacrificing them.  
  • Extreme flee off the table.  You charge their big point sink and feel you can win the combat.  However, if they break but get away, all can be for naught.  Lining up a fast cav unit behind the combat can bounce that unit off the table!

Before I go any further, I have to acknowledge and recommend KillerK's thread on the Druchii forum regarding some great fast cav tactics.  In fact, if you have not read, read it now, I can wait.  

All I can say is the post is brilliant, I have used all those tactics at least once, and they work.  

So lets look over the deployment up above.  

Violet/fucia/northern forces

ER 1-  I suspect an early drop to draw out Sword Master.  However, the unit used its vanguard to move forward.  This is the single biggest mistake I see opposing players make.  I give you Hinge's Fast Cav rule #1.

I am hoping  sexy Picard will help you remember this!

ER 1 was vangaurded (?) forward into the combined fire power of Sisters, Reavers, and Seaguard. Needless to say it was shot off to no gain.  It would have been better to vanguard behind the hill, where it then could either be used to protect RBTs or spend a couple turns moving to the other flank.  

Another problem I see is the idea that the unit could be used as a Decoy Drop.  The drop count was 9 to 14, giving the MSU army an advantage in deployment.  I do think it is a good unit to lead with, but rather it should have been deployed in the middle.  This way it could vanguard to either flank once Darth determined which he would push.  (Hinge's Ramblings #5)

ER2-This unit was likely deployed in a similar manner as ER1.  However it had a great target to go after, Sword Master's RBT.  The problem here is it used its vanguard to move right into the combined fire power of that RBT, another Reaver unit and an Archer unit.  Its chance of actually reaching that RBT was very slim. See rule #1.  

Instead, he should have moved the unit behind the White Lions to gain hardcover.  This would have given him a unit to counter Sword Master's ER1.  I also ask you, what Darth could have done if he had a Reaver unit alive on turn 2 or 3 near the White Lions (Hinge's Ramblings #6).  This also leads to Hinge's Fast Cav rule #2.

Crazy idea!

Often times it is better to sit on Fast cav.  You may want to wait until they drop their warmachines so you can be in the best position.  Or perhaps you are so out deployed, you might as well deploy your main units then deploy the Fast cav in the best place to interfere with your opponents reactions.  

In this case, Darth could have waited until he decided where his Schwerpunkt was going to be, then deployed the second fast cav unit.  

I also ask, if ER 1 had deployed center then joined that flank with vanguard, would not the combined efforts of both Reaver units going after the RBT increase the odds of success?

Lets look at Sword Master's use of Fast Cav.  

ER1- Sword Master opted not to vanguard.  This gave him the option to charge the opposing Reavers. Personally I feel he should have forgone that option and moved the fast cav behind the archers.  However, I feel Sword Master did an excellent job of moving this unit after.  He used it to march block, limit the wheel of the Cav bus, and got it into a tough place for opposing shooting to find it, all while advancing to the enemy rear, where he would get a flank charge onto some archers. He was even in a position to race back if Darth had pushed harder on turn 2.  

ER 2 - Sword Master also did not vanguard this unit.  This was an interesting choice but it seems he decided to use the Reavers as a shield to protect the more valuable Dragon Princes.  A role I had not listed above, mobile hard cover!  However, the tactic comes with risk, as the destruction of the Reavers would cause panic tests.  Sword Master certainly is aware of this and had his BSB close by.  If you follow the report, the Reaver unit would dance around with the opposing Reaver to no real effect.  The opposing Reaver unit was not in a threatening position, I feel Sword Master should have advanced ER 2 with the Dragon Princes on the RBTs or moved back center to help distract the bus.  The opposing Reaver unit could easily be dealt with by shooting.  

The lesson to draw from this Bat Rep when faced with a strong BS shooting phase are:

  • A forward vanguard move is not always the best solution.
  • Use units and terrain to create cover.
  • The number one role for Fast Cav remains controlling movement, they need to be alive to do so. Protect them!
  • Consider deploying Fast Cav later.  

Trueflight does not invalidate any of the comments I have made.  Woodies will bring more high quality ST 3 shots then any other army, but the basic tactics in keeping your fast cav alive remain.  Yes, hiding the fast cav becomes more difficult.  This actually may mean that the last point above is more important, deploy them last so they can keep the range open from the shooting.  LOS blocking terrain can be used. Also realize it takes 22 Trueflight shots to kill a 5 man wolf rider unit!  That is the effort of 330 points (more likely 450) to kill a single 60 point unit.  In the mean time what is the rest of your army doing?  What else is he not killing, like warmachines! Also, it only takes 1 wolf rider to redirect a Wild Rider unit, therefore he must kill it to a man before it stops being useful.  In this match, keeping the wolfs close to home is important.  More capable Fast cav means they are worth shooting at, however, pressure can be put on those woodies as often time they can take on those small Glade Guard units.  Finally, sending one unit very wide and behind cover to get behind the Woodies is worth the effort so you can punish double flees.  

I do not view the rise of BS based armies as the death of Fast cav, but rather a challenge to evolve tactics to deal with them.  Fast cav are far to useful to leave home.  

I will be doing a little Bragging next post.  

Hinge's Ramblings #1
Don't worry right wingers, I had a Nancy Pelosi meme lined up.  In the end I decided to keep politics out of a Warhammer blog.  

Hinge's Ramblings #2
MSU stands for Multiple Small Units.  It is a concept that gives up fewer larger but more powerful and durable units for more but smaller and fragile units.  The style is fairly unforgiving in play but puts a premium on generalship and the movement phase.  

Hinge's Ramblings #3
There are several roles I am leaving out that are becoming common.  These are combat units in there own right, combat character delivery, and a wizard bunker.  Dark Riders, Warlocks, Sisters of the Thorn, and Wild Riders are all commonly used in these roles. Why I did not include them in the above, though they can all perform in those roles as well, is their cost starts to increase as unit sizes get bigger and characters are included.  They move out of the realm of chaff at that point.  

Hinge's Ramblings #4
Ok, that sentence just looks odd!  

Hinge's Ramblings #5
I beat up Darth a bit on the Fast cav but his overloading a flank deployment was fundamentally sound and gave him a real good shot of winning the game.  

Hinge's Ramblings #6

I suggest Darth could have used his Fast cav to set this situation if he had protected the unit from first turn shooting by turn 2, turn 3 latest.  This would have forced Sword Master to expend resources to protect his elite units.  Also note the Frost Heart was also nearby as well, not to mention an eagle.  If the ER 1 unit had set up center, Darth could have repeated and Sword Master would not have had an answer.  


  1. "Escort". A great use, your big gnarly hammer unit just charged something and your opponent was smart enough to flee. However, with the long charge ranges of Fast cav (20"-21"), they are often in range to declare there own charge, which that fleeing enemy must declare a flee reaction to (Hinge's Ramblings #4). The fast cav push the fleeing unit back towards big nasty, off the board, through other units for panic tests, or simply further out of position.

    Pretty sure the fleeing unit only gets to flee once per turn, so if the escort rolls high enough to catch them, the fleeing unit is wiped out.

  2. This is a common misconception. The only charge reaction that may only be used once in the charge sub phase is the Stand and Shoot.

    Pg 18 of the brb states " A unit that Flees! once in a charge sub phase will have to keep fleeing if it has more charges declared against it, as described earlier.

    The earlier being the rule that a fleeing unit must declare a Flee! reaction.

  3. Hi Hinge!

    First, thanks a lot for taking time and writing such an excellent article on unsung heroes of many armies! Fast cavalry has a very important place in many armies. In fact, so important in my opinion that calling it "chaff" is totally unfair!

    Second, thanks for all the kind words! I am happy our game with Darth provided good case study material. I know many players will complain that Wolf Riders are not Reavers but the principles are really the same.

    I believe the reason Fast Cavalry is often underestimated in misused is because they have indirect effect on the game. They don't seem to kill much, they often have to take one for the team and die horrible death. Not enough to claim all the glory knights in shiny armor steal by their thunderous charge, nobody cares that the attack was possible thanks to fast cav sacrifice anyway.

    It is great then that you stepped in and wrote that article to defend the cause of the best riders in the game :)


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