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Maneuver Tactics in Warhammer

Before we begin this little discussion, I should perhaps make disclaimer. I'm still something of a novice at Warhammer and although the ideas presented here have been tried and tested on many modern battlefields I've not tested them on the warhammer table. However, I'm quite fascinated by the potential application of classical tactical docterine to wargames since I'm very much of the opinion that since these work in real life, if they work in a wargame it means that game has done a good job of modelling the situation of battle.

It has been argued that there are three main forms of warfare and that each supports it's own tactical doctorine. These classifications are guerilla, attritional and maneuver warfare. This classification system is not arbitrary, and although there are, of course, other methods of subdividing battles, any conflict you care to name will slot neatly into one of the above categories. Form the point of view of commanding a warhammer force, it will quickly become apparent that the game simply does not model guerilla warfare at all. I suspect that most warhammer games will fall into the 'attritional' category when oppossing commanders simply choose to line up and pile into one another. It is my contention that the best warhammer players become the best becuase they succeed in elevating a warhammer battle from the attritional into the maneuver model. It is my intention, in this article, to examine some of the docterine of Napoleon, the father and perhaps also the master of maneuver warfare, and see how, or indeed if, this can be applied to warhammer.

Napoleon's first innovation was the concept of the corps. A corps can be simply described as a combined arms force which had enough infantry, cavalry, artillery and support forces to achieve whatever mission was assigned to it. In essence a corps was designed to be an independant fighting unit although it should rarely have to operate without the support of additional corps. This idea sprung from Napoleons realisation that the usual mode of army movement: that the whole army moves and has to be supplied as a single unit was anachronistic and slowed the army down. Napoleons corps were faster and thus more manovuerable. But I digress. Unless you're fighting a very large battle indeed, the chances are that your army will represent a single Napoleonic 'corps'. However, for the purposes of the next part of the discussion it is advised that you are able to split your army into four 'sub-corps'. These will not be the complete army units of Napoleon's original model but I'll be giving you some ideas of how you can select appropriate troops for each unit.

Napoleon invented his own order of march, which was designed to lend as much flexibility to the army as possible. If, as a warhammer player, you are unable to see the advantages of tactical flexibility during the battle then let me point out that it can present a significant advantage in games where the deployment is either hidden or 'piece by piece'. In these situations, having a flexible approach to deployment will help counter any advantage the opponent might have from 'luckily' placing a unit opposite one it is particularly effective at fighting. The order of march divides an army into four sections. The advance guard, two flanks, and a reserve. Napoleon originally had a fifth section, the cavalry screen, the purpose of which was ot provide information on the enemy while denying the opponent the same advantage. Since warhammer players usually exchange army sheets before battle, I think we can gloss over this element of the model!

The purpose of the advance guard is to be the central block which engages the enemy and holds it in position, thereby denying tactical flexibilty to the enemy. Thus the advance guard becomes the 'standard' around which all other forces will maneuver. In a Warhammer army, core infantry and 'tarpit' units are the ideal components of an advance guard. Tarpits can be particularly good since they are so skilled at tying up enemy forces that it effectively frees you to use other core forces to strengthen the other elements of your army.

The two flanks have a duel purpose, which is dictated by the pace and position of the battle and by your opponents skill. Your flanks should either engage and 'fix' the flanks of the enemy army or wheel inward to provide powerful flank attacks in support of the advance guard. Of course, it is entirely possible for the two flanks to perform different roles, depending on the size of the force they are facing. Since a flank unit might be called upon to fight in support of the advance guard, troops with a degree of speed, or distance punch, are advised for use on a flank. Heavy cavalry, missile troops, skirmishers and reasoably fast infantry or tarpit units are good choices for a flank. In essence, I suppose, anything which is not suitable for an advance guard or a reserve ought to go in here.

If the first three parts of your army have been used effectively, then they should be able to fully engage or at least bog down, all the elements of the opposing army. This is when your reserve comes into play. A reserve needs to be commited at a critical point of the battle at the point of maximum effect and should not be in combat at all during the first few turns of the fight. The 'critical point' is almost always going to be on the flank of a powerful enemy unit, preferably one with a character in it, when it is already committed to battle. Alternatively, making a flank or rear attack on a unit which is positioned very close to other enemy units can be an excellent way of inducing mass panic in the enemy lines. Choosing when to commit a reserve is perhaps the least quantifiable skill of generalship since the critical point will be different every time you play. However, the reserve unit(s) do not need to be very hard hitting since they will primarily function by removing rank bonus from the enemy. They do need to be manouverable though and preferabley fast so that they can quickly be bought into the right position before the critical moment of the battle passes. Light/fast cavalry are ideal for this role, but if you lack any of these in your army then a small unit of high speed infantry can probably suffice instead.

The exact composition of each of these four elements from your army list is dependant on the plan that you intend to follow (a discussion of which follows shortly) and in Warhammer, need not be fixed until the second movement phase of the battle. If you are unsure of the composition of the enemy army you're facing, or if you feel that sticking to rigid element definitions could lead to the disruption of your plan if your opponent deploys cleverly, then field your units in 'phases'. For example, choose two units, lets say two units of heavy cavalry and place one on each extreme flank. These are then consigned to flank duty. In the center, you might want to put two large blocks of infantry and these become the core of the advance guard. All your other units: missile troops, light infantry etc can then be deployed to fill the gaps between definate advance guard and definate flank. When you move, you'll be able to reassign these units as you see fit, until the pattern of your army is capable of following your battle plan in the face of the opposition and their likely plan. As an added ruse, deploying in this fashion will not alert your opponent to the fact you're using a Napoleonic model. If you wish, you can even deploy your reserve at the very centre of your battle line and then move the other troops around and in front of it.

I will insert a short aside here before I go on to talk about overall battle plans, dealing with war machines. War Machines in Warhammer fit very poorly into the Napoleonic scheme because they are not maneuverable. The Napoleonic tactical model is thus best employed in Warhammer if your army fields few, or no engines of war. However that doesn't mean that engineering heavy armies can't use this approach. A general with lots of guns faces two essential choices to squeeze them into maneuver warfare. The first, and simplest option is to place the guns on a hill, from where they will be able to fire down upon the enemy regardless of the postions your units will have to adopt. Remember that the prime goal of manever warfare is to maintain flexibility, so you can't be sure that your units are not going to end up in front of your own cannon fairly quickly into the battle. The other option, which is almost obligatory if you don't have any hills in your deployment zones is to use the artillery pieces as scenery. In other words, deploy your guns in an effort to force your opponent to move along prescribed lines, which you can then take advantage of. Hellblaster guns are excellent for this as they effectively create an area within thier field of fire which enemy units will not wish to enter. You can thus plan your maneuver making a fairly safe assumption that then enemy will not be moving into that area of the table. Artillery is most effectively used like this when attempting a battle from the central position and I'll look at this in more detail shortly.

So, you have a highly flexible army, composed of four corps, or elements. This can serve you well in any battle, even if you don't adopt a prearranged plan as you'll quickly be able to alter the way your army fights to respond to new threats and situations. However, it is perhaps best employed if you intend to combine this composition with an overall battle plan. If you decide to do this, remember that you must be flexible when adopting a battle plan. You should not pursue a plan to the exclusion of all else and blindly press on with it when it's clearly failed. On the other hand, you must also be able to judge points in a battle when it's worth committing everying to a plan in a gamble to crush your opponent. These are difficult skills and certainley not ones that I posess! Before I go on, it's worth noting that parts of Napoleonic battle plans depend on concealing the position of troops from the enemy, something you can't do in Warhammer, so I'm going to be looking at other aspects of the plans instead.

The first of the overall plans that I'm going to disucss is the battle from a central position. In essence, this involves using your forces to divide the enemy, and then crushing half his force with overwhelming odds (3 corps of your army) while leaving a single corps to fight a holding action for a limited time against the other half. If you intend to try this, then you need some sort of tarpit unit(s) on one flank, preferabley of the manouverable kind (high M) and a strong advance guard. The first phase of the plan involves splitting the opponents army. If you have a fast, tarpity flank corps against an opponents flank which is fairly slow, this is a doddle. Quickly maneuver your flank units into a position whereby they are either engaging units on the flank and/or preventing the easy manever of the others both through preventing march moves and by utilising the scenery to make it unfavourable for the enemy to move out of the way. At the same time, use the larger portion of your army to engage and destroy the other troops. Remember that in talking about 'halves' of your opponents armies versus the respective values of your 'corps' we're talking points here, not troop numbers. A unit of flagellants can completley immobilise a block of ironbreakers with a BSB and a Thane for several turns and that probably represents a 'half' versus a 'corps' pointswise.

If you don't have the advantage of tarpit units, or if the deployment has left you facing fast, maneuverable units on both of your flanks, tying down parts of your opponents force becomes much more difficult. This is one area where artillery can be useful. Target the center of the opponents line and batter it into submission before charging in with some heavy units. This can be a successful method for splitting the line and allowing you to draw off and destroy a part of the force. Alternatively, line up the advance guard and a flank unit in one position and leave the other flank unit to face greater opposition. This is a classic Warhammer tactic and while it lacks subtlety, and still affords your opponent the chance to maneuver himself, it can be successful.

Another overall objective of maneuver warfare is the envelopment plan, whereby you aim to have a section of your army appear at the sides or rear of the enemy. In Warhammer, the usefulness of this objective hardly needs to be emphasised. The classic picture of an envelopment attack is of one of the flanks outmaneuvering the main body of the enemy and coming to bear on the rear or flanks but this is something of a misnomer. There's nothing to stop you trying to pin the enemy on one flank and then move round him with your advance guard and attempting this can often lend your attacks an element of surprise. Bear this in mind as we examine the classification of forces for an envelopment attack.

The first thing you need is a pinning force. The job of this corps is one of distraction and holding on the enemy. Happily, in Warhammer, you can take advantage of the rules to make this task a lot easier. Once you've engaged the enemy, he's pretty much stuck until one of you is destroyed so you can easily create a pinning force with tarpit units. However, tarpits alone will not create a distraction. Diversion is a real key to envelopment since any commander worth his salt is going to notice what's going on and do his utmost to prevent it. In classical tactics, a prime concern in envelopment is to create a physical barrier, something which stops the enemy noticing he is being encircled. This is not possible in Warhammer, but classical tactics also talk about mental barriers to screen your forces. This is something you can take advantage of and it consists of trying to prevent your opponent from working out what's going on until it's too late to do anything about it. The diversion you can create with the pinning force is using it to focus your opponents attention by doing something unexpected. If you're opponent is on the defence, the pinning force should engage him at a strong point in his line, making him think he's got an easy kill. He will of course get a fairly easy kill but it will place the rest of his army in a poor position to continue the fight. If he's on the attack, you must focus his attention by seducing him to attack the pinning force, by making it a desirable "easy" target. So, mixing in weak units with tarpits is the ideal final composition for the pinning force.

The second element of the envelopment army is the diversionary attack and one of your other corps should be built to carry this process out. Ideally, you should hold off on a diversionary attack until your pinning force is well engaged and even starting to crumble. It's purpose is to further distract the enemy and buy more time for the envelopment by making him believe that thisis the main attack of your army. Try to come at him toward the flanks and hit him with some heavy attack troops in this phase of the battle. Try also to support your pinning force. If the pinning force does give you then you could be in serious trouble since your opponent will then be behind your lines and all you'll have achieved for your trouble is effectively a swap of table sides! So use diversonary attack units to plug holes, or potential holes in your line.

The final element of the army then is, of course, the enveloping force itself. The enveloping force needs to be fast but it doesn't need to be super-speedy. After all, if you've done your job properly the rest of your opponents troops will be engaged or distracted by the time you've got them into the critical position. Move them to the side of the enemy and from there, if you wish, to his rear. You'll then have caught your opponent in a pincer movement and his rapid destruction will almost certainley follow. Don't forget to use the enveloping force to deal with rear-line threats like war machines or cowardly mages as well.

You should remember in all cases to save your reserve to counter the unexpected, whatever plan you have adopted. Proper use of a reserve can save the day for you.

I hope you've enjoyed this little article, and I hope too that it's going to be of some use to you on the battlefield!