Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Tactics: The Art of Screening

In 40k and AoS it's quite common to hear the term "screening". Whether it's reading some random article on the internet, listening to a pro player discuss how they won a recent tournament, at your local club discussing tactics, or when someone brings up Guardsmen, screening is everywhere, but implementing it can be harder than you think. Doubly so if you have no idea what it even means.

However, don't worry, that's why you've got Pride of Rodina here to help you out!

Image result for imperial guardsmen
The designated Imperial screen. RIP.

Definition


Screening is when you use a unit/model to block the movement of your opponents' models or units, to protect your own units from any "closest unit" effects, and, for the sake of this article, to deny your opponent an area for Deepstrike.

To break it down further, it's when you use the physical model to deny your opponent the ability to perform some kind of action. Sounds pretty straight forward and honestly it is. However, execution is always harder than theory.

This might be a counter-intuitive tactic for folks who are used to playing games where no model life should be snuffed out willy-nilly. When playing 40k or AoS it's less about keeping all of your units alive and more about keeping the correct ones alive. Sometimes you need to make sure you bring cheap units in a list with the sole intention of feeding them to the opponent in order to keep more opponent things alive. More than likely a majority of your way will leave the table, but screening and adding cheap screens to a list means you're more in control of who dies and when.

How to Screen


The most common way to screen is by having a cheaper unit sit in front of a more expensive target. For example, using Chaos cultists to sit in front of a quad-las Predator. This isn't always ideal though as sometimes this can in turn hurt more than it helps. We'll discuss three types of screening in this article: closest target attacks, movement denying (and charge denial), and Deepstrike denial.

Closest Target Attacks

For this kind of screening, the above example of placing a cheaper unit in front of a more expensive one is the more optimal way to do it. Force your opponent to waste those Smites on absurdly cheap stuff like Guardsmen, Cultists, etc. Learning how to force your opponent's attacks on less ideal targets is key against Psychic heavy armies like Thousand Sons. This works exceptionally well with anything that can move before the game starts or Deepstrike on Turn 1 (looking at you Drop Pods).

Perfect candidate for this type of screen
Ideally, if you are trying to use a cheap unit to screen for a more expensive unit, you'll want to make sure that unit stays behind the cheaper unit. Try not to spread the unit out as far as you can, unless you want to screen for multiple things or you take the casualties off the ends. If you group the screen up a little bit, like two rank-and-file lines, even as the casualties start piling up, you still have models in the screening unit physically in front of the unit you're trying to screen. It's also worth noting that this kind of screening is most effective when the screening unit stays relatively close to the unit/s it's screening for. If it ends up 18" ahead of the unit it's trying to screen attacks for, then your opponent could easily circumvent the screen and make the unit you were trying to screen for their newest closest target.

The top group is more clustered providing a bit more screening for the specific unit (oval)
The bottom group is spread out more, providing a less effective screen for the specific unit (rectangle)


Also, it might be hard to remember what exactly everything your opponent has and what it does, so don't be afraid to ask your opponent if they have any attacks that target the closest model. Hopefully they'll be kind enough to point them out to you and then you can memorize those units and keep a cheap screen as close to them as needed.

Movement/Charge Denial

While closest target attacks is more of a 40k thing, AoS and 40k players can gain a lot by mastering this type of screening. This typically entails a unit going far ahead of the rest of your force, unlike when you screen for closest target attacks, and try to keep an opponent's models from moving closer to your army or objectives. As mentioned above, this works best with any unit that can move before the game starts or Deepstrike Turn 1. It also works exceptionally well with cheap units that can take a lot of models per unit. Make sure you keep your screen more than 3" from the enemy you're screening and if they're pretty decent in melee, keep out of charge range!

Now the oval up top is being blocked by a unit and is unable to get close to the rectangles and the objective
Even better yet is when you use this kind of screen to wrap around a non-flying vehicle, especially transport, and prohibit it from moving or dropping off the troops within.

You have to be careful using this strategy against enemy assault units though. If the screen is too close or too far, you could have possibly just helped your opponent charge further they normally would be able to or even Pile In with the unit you were screening! With Piling In and Consolidating (AoS does not have Consolidating), your opponent can eat through your charge screen, Pile In and Consolidate closer to the unit you were trying to screen for. In these cases, it would be better to try to screen with something that will last at least a round of combat or you're only helping your opponent close the gap. If the unit you would use to screen against an enemy assault unit won't last a turn of combat, then you might want to consider using a different unit or don't use a screen at all. However, if your screen will slow your opponent down (sometimes it might be worth letting your opponent have the extra movement from Pile In instead of doing some other crazy combo), then go for it. 

These ghosts don't care about your charge screen, so don't even try
Flying assault units makes screening sadly obsolete

Lastly, sometimes you might want to consider using your charge screen to charge the opponent first. I know, it sounds crazy, but some assault units are far superior when they charge; therefore, you can cripple them by charging first. That means a unit that normally wouldn't survive a turn in combat might actually survive if they initiate the charge. 

Deepstrike Denial


Now this one is by far the easiest out of the three. Really all you need is a unit that can move before the game starts or a large unit and move them as far out as you can from the main bulk of your army or spread the models of the unit out as far as you can, maintaining coherency. Cover as much ground as you can so you can create as many 9" denial zones as you can.

Astra Militarum Scout Sentinels are perfect for this with their before the game starts movement and large bases. Add a couple of them to your lists and you have some great anti-Deepstrike denial zones. The Adeptus Astartes Infiltrators are great for this as well with their ability to Deepstrike themselves and then keep your opponent from Deepstriking within 12" of them. If you have the priority on Turn 2, you can easily use your own Deepstrike units to keep your opponent from Deepstrike in an area. While it's a bit trickier to predict if you'll have priority on Turn 2 with AoS, you can still move your units and Advance to help cover more ground and keep a unit or two in Reserves just in case.

Image result for scout sentinel
Good luck Deepsriking now, punk!

Most importantly though you need to remember that your backfield is a viable Deepstrike area too. Don't solely worry about in front of your army, but the sides and the rear too. Leaving a cheap unit like Stabbas, Chainrasps, Guardsmen, etc. (especially those that have decent range), to deny your opponent the opportunity to Deepstrike on your flanks and rear is important too. Nobody likes it when a squad of meltas magically appear right next to your armor or when some Tree-Revenants show up in charge range of a lynchpin support Hero.

Conclusion


It'll take some time to perfect the art of screening, but practice helps a lot! Do your best to use screening in your games as much as you can and if you can't ever get it to work correctly in a game, don't be afraid to try some practice matches. Sometimes it helps to break a game down and only have a screening unit, the unit that needs to be screened, and the target you're screening against and play it out. See if you can protect the screen for as long as you can or whatever else. There's no shame in doing practice matches like this! It takes less time, allows you to focus on the tactic you're trying to develop, and can even be done alone.

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