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The Tiger Roars
Guest Commentary

4th Edition Assault Rules: Discussion and Analysis by Michael Lietzke
The purpose of this article is show you how the new assault rules change the dynamics of the game, and give you a heads-up about things to expect.

First, some important definitions:

Engaged: A model is in base-to-base contact with an enemy model is engaged.

Locked:  When a unit has a model engaged with an enemy model, the unit is locked in hand-to-hand (hth) combat.

What's New
Iím not going to go over every rule, but here are the changes you should note:
1. A unit that fired in the shooting phase of the current turn may only declare a charge against the unit it shot at.

2. When you initiate the assault, only your closest model has to engage the closest enemy model. Your other models must then maintain coherency with their assault move.

3. If a model is 2" from a friendly model engaged in combat, then it can have one attack in that close combat. 

4. Models belonging to units that fired in the shooting phase do not receive the +1 charge bonus, unless they always count as stationary (bikes, Terminators, etc.)

5. Models in cover fight at Initiative 10 when they are assaulted. Furthermore, a model counts as being in cover if the enemy models can draw a direct line through cover before making their assault moves.

6. When attacking in hth, you roll against the majority Weapon Skill and Toughness of the unit you are attacking. Wounding rolls are then made against the majority armor save in batches.

7. When possible, casualties must be removed in such a way to keep the unit coherent.

8. The "Morale High Ground" rule no longer exists in the event of a "tied" hth (i.e., equal wounds inflicted).

9. The new "Wipe Out" rule, where units 6" from a hth combat in which their comrades were completely wiped out are forced to take a morale check to avoid falling back.

10. Sweeping advances have changed. You can no long wipe out a unit if you force them to fall back. Instead, you can force them to stay in hth combat if you beat their fall back roll.

11. You can only consolidate 3" when your unit forces all locked opponents to fall back.  However, you can consolidate into hth if your 3" move puts you in contact with an enemy model.

12. Models not engaged in hth (outside the 2" "danger zone") may fire during the shooting phase, and be fired upon (it was possible to shoot "out" before, but not many people were aware of it. And it was not possible to shoot "in" before).

13. Crossfire no longer exists; units now "divert" around enemy models and terrain. However, it is still possible (but unlikely) for a unit to become "trapped" and thus wiped out.

14. All Independent Characters (and Monstrous Creatures) count as distinct units in hth.  Squad leaders are not Independent Characters (not that they ever were).

Note: if locked in combat, you cannot move during movement or start of the assault phase--only during the Pile In move.

Some of these changes seem quite drastic, and others seem inconsequential; but together, they definitely change how hth works, and thus change the dynamics of the game. So letís go over the implications, and some example combats.

What it means
First and foremost, since you can no longer get a +1 charge bonus if you shoot before assaulting, the initial impact of most units is reduced, sometimes greatly. In addition, if you fire upon a unit, it suffers 25% casualties, and falls back out of assault range, then every unit that fired at it cannot make an assault move that turn.

However, once units are in hth combat, they pretty much stay there until they are completely wiped out or destroy their opponents. Itís hard for a unit to fall back from hth, since they must:

1. Lose hth;
2. Fail their morale check;
3. Exceed their opponentís sweeping advance roll (or be allowed to run by their opponent);
4. Physically move far enough away to avoid a unit from consolidating into them.
Even then, if they fall back on your turn, your opponent might assault them again on his turn.

The second biggest and most obvious change is the eradication of sweeping advance moves. No longer can a strong assault unit practically fly across the board with each hth victory, nor will a few Marines be able to crush a huge squad of Dark Eldar Warriors by over-running them. Coupled with the difficulty of disengaging from hth, this means that people on the receiving end of an assault will have more time to react, and will have an easier time reforming their lines, counter-assaulting, or moving away from strong hth units. Also keep in mind that locked units can only move models with the 6" Pile In move at the end of the assault phase, which might slow you (and your opponent) down some.

Further, the crossfire rule no longer exists, so some tactics (like using a Hellhound to force a unit into a crossfire) are no longer viable, but conversely, you wonít loose your squads to weaponless, immobile Rhinos either.

Now for some of the less obvious stuff:

1. Shoot or Assault? You can still assault multiple units, but you must first assault the "primary target" with your closest model and maintain coherency.  

This is mostly a game control rule, preventing units from having models scattered all over the board. However, it also means that if a unit shoots at and destroys a transport, it cannot assault the surviving occupants.

To me, this means that weapons like melta guns are next to useless, since squads armed with these weapons tend to shoot vehicles, then assault infantry. Personally, I think an exception for transports and the squads they carry should be made. In fact, I plan to use that as a house rule.

2. The "Danger Zone." The rules now state that every model within 2" of every friendly (not enemy) model in base-to-base contact with an enemy model can make a supporting attack, and any of these models, or models in base-to-base contact, can be removed as a casualty.

While this will slightly increase the number of attacks a unit can make in an assault (especially for large units), the implications of the "danger zone" are much greater. First of all, casualties can be taken from any model in the danger zone, and not from base-to-base contact first. This means that if a unit gets some special close combat models in base-to-base contact, they will get their full attacks until their unit either falls back or is practically wiped out.

For example, letís say your Space Wolf opponent assaults you with a pack of 15 Blood Claws containing three power fists. You will have to kill 12 Blood Claws before you can even touch those power fists, and until then, they get to attack you!

Another implication of the danger zone is that you can only inflict casualties upon models in the danger zone. So, if this Blood Claw pack charges you, but only three or four of your models are in the 2" danger zone because your unit was widely spread out, then you can only lose those models in the danger zone, even if you suffer 12 potential casualties.

In other words, sometimes the initial hit from an assault will be greatly reduced, so sometimes it may not be to your advantage to make an assault, even with very strong assault units.

3. Cover. Cover now grants models an Initiative 10 if they are assaulted within or through cover. For the most part, this doesnít change the game. However, some units can potentially have an Initiative equal to or higher than 10, or might modify this Initiative 10 to something lower.

4. Rule of the Majority. While it isnít too often youíll see a unit with different stats (Weapon Skill, Toughness, Armor Saves) it is important to realize the implications of these rules.

Other than greatly simplifying and speeding up the game, they also alter how a hth combat might work out. First off, you roll against the WS and Toughness of the majority, but then once you work out how many you wounds youíve inflicted, you distribute them to the majority Armor Save in batches. This means that you could end up rolling against the higher WS, the higher Toughness, and the hardest Armor Save, but it could also work the other way.

For example, the poor Ork Slaver pretty much wonít be using his stats defensively, since he will almost always be outnumbered by the Grots, which mean all hth attacks against the unit roll against the Grot WS and Toughness. Thanks to the majority Armor save rule, youíll probably only kill Grots, but once youíve killed all the Grots, you might have some wounds left over, which you apply to the Slaver, even though you got those wounds off the Grot stat-line.

This can work the other way too. For example, letís say you charge a Dark Eldar Archon and his Retinue of three Incubi and six Dark Eldar Warriors against Raja Khandar Madu, Kentonís Turbo-Hottie of Deathô (below). Even though she might only be base-to-base with the Incubi, sheíll end up using her lightning claws to chew up the Warriors, unless she manages to inflict more than six wounds, because the first six wounds must be applied against the majority Armor Save, in this case, the 5+ Armor Save Dark Eldar Warriors.

Itís even worse for our beloved heroine, but weíll get to that laterÖ.

Raja Khandar Madu
Above: Raja Khandar Madu better get ready for the new rules... 
Photograph © copyright July 2001, New Wave Mail Order Inc. 

5. Consolidation. While this has been a common house rule for many, it is now official, so itís important to go over the implications. First and foremost, this rule means that you might be able to re-engage a unit that just made a fall back move out of hth, especially if they are falling back through difficult terrain.

It also means that defensive armies will have to spread their squads out sufficiently to defend against this. Further, a 3" gap isnít necessarily sufficient, since an enemyís models could end up behind the front squad, and your carefully laid lines end up in hth combat anyway.

6. Wipe Out. This may not seem like much at first glance, but itís a little more potent than it seems. First off, a common tactic, especially with Imperial Guard, is to layer your squads so that an assault is blunted on the front line, then when the enemy finally crush those poor Guardsmen, it leaves the enemy open to a plethora of lasgun shots. However, since youíll only be leaving combat if you either force the IG to fall back, or annihilate them, thereís a good chance you might get to evoke the Wipe Out rule, and force some of those nearby squads to fall back instead of shooting.

Further, you can use this to deadly effect on a unit that is already falling back. For example, you could assault a unit falling back through enemy lines. If they fail a morale check, they are instantly wiped out, and might force other units to also fall back. Then next turn, you assault one of these units, wipe it out, and force even more units to fall back.

While this tactic will be hard to pull off, it is possible, so donít be surprised when you end up destroying 1/3 of an army just with this rule.

7. Independent Targets. Any scrub in hth, or any buddies within 2" of this scrub, can now target Independent Characters, since they count as distinct units in hth. Further, characters have lost their ability to target specific models in hth. This is probably the most controversial rule, or at least the one I hear more people complain about. Tyranid players, for example, fear for their Monstrous Creatures, who can no longer specifically attack a model with a power fist thatís in base-to-base contact.

Basically, this means that Independent Characters are even more likely to be targeted in hth, so you might want to invest in heavier armor for them. Or just make them cheaper with less gear, so their loss wonít hurt as much.

Closing Remarks
Overall, I like the new assault rules. They speed up the game immensely, and the actual rules are written very well. It's like they hired a technical writer for once. I also like how they tone done the power of assaults, since the initial hit isn't as strong, and you don't get free movement from winning assaults. But not everything is perfect. My gripes are:
1.  You can't destroy a transport and assault the occupants with one unit.

2.  You can remove any model from the "danger zone", not like under the old rule where models in base-to-base contact die first.

3.  Anyone can attack Independent Characters, but Independent Characters can only attack distinct units and other Independent Characters.

And thanks to issues 2 & 3, squad characters have been given a huge boost in abilities, while Independent Characters are weakened. For example, lets say a unit of 20 Chaos Marines (and one Veteran Sergeant with a power fist) assaults an Independent Character and his squad. Even if only the Vet is base-to-base with him, the character will only kill squad members, while the power fist can attack him until all 20 of his buddies are dead.

Personally, I think we should just go back to the original rules printed in the Main Rulebook. Remove models in base-to-base contact first, and no one can specifically target squad leaders except Independent Characters, who can specifically attack any model they choose.

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© Copyright Michael Lietzke, February 2003. Used with permission.


Fighting Tigers:
Codex <> Tactics <> Gallery <> Allies and Enemies <> Tales of the Tigers

Other Pages:
Main <> What's New <> Site Index <> The Tiger Roars <> Themed Army Ideas
Events and Battle Reports <> Campaigns <> Terrain <> FAQ <> Beyond the Jungle