Board Control 101
Hi Everyone, welcome to part 2 of the Tactics 101 series (You can find Part 1 here). This time we're going to cover Board Control so put on those thinking caps because it's time to get on board... The very first question obviously is:
1) What is Board Control?
In Hearthstone and Magic: The Gathering, it's the ability to prevent your opponent from building up minions or creatures on the battlefield (play area). For Warhammer 40k, it is mainly the ability to capture mission objectives. I say "mainly" because dominating the physical play area (usually a 6' by 4' board) also gives you advantages beyond capturing objectives, as 40k is a game dependent on distances and both assault and shooting have a limited reach. In the following points, I will explain how it helps you win games and how to go about establishing it.
2) How does Board Control help me win?
In an objective-based game, having your units spread over a larger portion of the physical board obviously lets you reach objectives more easily. An "objective-secured" unit will of course have advantages over one that is not Ob-sec in these cases. Consider Scenarios A and B below. Which of the 2 simplified scenarios will have an easier time achieving a win if the mission was Eternal War - Retrieval or one of the ITC missions?
Both scenarios involve the same number of models but Scenario A's units have more board control and will thus be able to get to the top and left objectives more easily. That's the main reason why you should never "turtle" up in your own deployment zone in most games unless you have a solid plan to win the game even if you lose on objectives (like realistically tabling the opponent for example). In addition to objective markers, having a larger board presence can have units in place to score ITC Champion mission secondary objectives such as "Recon", "Behind Enemy Lines" and "Linebreaker" more easily.
3) Indirect gains from Board Control
Other than helping you win the game via Objective Markers, there are other indirect gains from Board Control that help to translate into a win.
Protecting your valuable units from deepstriking enemy units/assassins
Preventing enemy deepstriking units a strategic place to enter play
Denying enemy the space to manoeuvre on the board
In our Screening 101 article, we talked about the basics of protecting your more valuable unit/s from deepstrike or assaulting units designed to take out targets the turn they enter play and screening can be thought of as a form of board control. By taking that idea further, we can deny strategic places for opposing units to deepstrike or move onto. Scenario C illustrates how you can put that into practice.
By paying attention to distances, you can push your opponent almost entirely into his deployment zone or at least his third of the play area with just 3 units of Space Marine scouts for example (Units A, C & D). You only have to keep each unit within 18.5' of another because a 25mm base is large than 0.5" and there would be no space to fit in between units and still be more than 9" away from enemy units for deepstrikers. The ruins at the centre of the table is an important strategic spot for any unit. Assault-specialists can use it to block Line-of-sight to them and shooting units can sit entrenched in the ruins, gaining cover from it as well as height advantage if it has multiple levels to stand on. In the case of the former, it would actually be better if Unit C were to be inside the ruins itself to reduce the chance that an enemy unit could use the Ruins as a LOS-blocking piece. Similarly, Unit D is placed to deny a long-ranged support unit from setting up on the hills for LOS advantage.
Denying space for the opposing player to manoeuvre his/her units however, is a little trickier as models only need to be 1" away from other models to be placed and many units these days have the Fly keyword, preventing them from being blocked on the ground. Assault units however, are very good at zoning opposing units away from areas that you would prefer them to remain wary of. Especially fast assault units that hit decently hard like Genestealers (Hive Fleet Kraken 'stealers in particular) and Death Company with jump packs. If the enemy unit moves within 18" of a non-Kraken unit of Genestealers, chances are high that they are going to get charged by a decent assault unit.
4) Are there any trade offs or sacrifices that I have to make?
Of course there will be trade offs that will have to be made when determining the right balance of board control or firepower for your build. Every unit of Rangers means just over 2 fewer Dark Reapers that you can bring and there is such a thing as too many models/units that might end up clogging your own deployment zone or getting in each other's way. Most of the balanced lists these days tend to go with 3 units with advanced deployment capabilities (Rangers/Scouts/Nurglings) that also fill your troop slot requirement for Battalion detachments.
5) Reducing opposing Board Control
If Board Control is so important in the grand scheme of things, one of the questions we need to ask ourselves is "How do we eliminate or at least minimise opposing enemy Board Control?". The obvious reason is by killing those units but there's always more than one way to crack an egg (staying away from using the cat skinning version of the saying here...).
Tying a valuable assault unit up in combat is a valid strategy to "remove" them from the game for a turn or two and units that fall back from assault will be unable to charge or advance in the same turn. This lets you limit the distance that unit can cover.
We can also find more interesting ways within the Codexes themselves and a number of factions' special rules. A Space Marine stratagem allows you to half the movement, advance, and charge speed/rolls of a unit that is shot at by a Thunderfire Cannon for a turn. Doombolt (a new Thousand Sons psychic power) halves an enemy unit's movement and prevents it from advancing in addition to the d3 mortal wounds it causes. Restraint from the Runes of Battle Psychic lore spell does a similar effect in a reduced way.
With that, I've come to the end of this 101 article and I hope it's been a good source of knowledge about the basics of Board Control for all our readers. Do write in to us to let us know of any topics that you might like to hear or learn about (especially regarding this Tactics 101 series) and in the meantime, keep getting better everyone!