Tactica: Taking on gunlines

Photo by Whitman Bottiger. Used with permission.

Fighting against gunlines can be a tricky proposition for a new player. Walking forward into the hail of fire can see half of your army vanish, the other half slapping against the enemy in melee like a wet sponge. They’re also something that’s easy to counter with a few simple tactics.

Scenarios matter!

Not so much a tactic as a reminder of the rules. Make sure you’re playing all six scenarios. Don’t agree to “just play Kill” because the game is partly balanced around a variety of scenarios – playing nothing but Kill (or Kill & Pillage) gives gunline armies a distinct advantage! Here’s the rundown on the scenarios and how they affect gunlines:

  • Kill: Distinct advantage to gunlines, but they’re still not unbeatable.
  • Kill & Pillage: Slight advantage to gunlines. Pay attention to the Pillage notes below.
  • Pillage: 50/50 chance of a near auto-loss for gunlines. Remember that you only pick table sides after placing objective markers. This means that your opponent can’t place all of their objective markers in their set up area, because there’s a 50/50 chance that you’ll pick that side and just sit on the objectives, winning the game automatically. So they go for a balanced approach and split their objectives between the two setup areas. Place yours in areas that your opponent either won’t be able to see from the opposing set-up area, or there’ll be cover to. Grab the objectives in your setup area, then grab one from the centre and win automatically. You don’t have to engage your opponent, just claim the objectives.
  • Loot: Grab the loot. Take it off the board. You win. If your opponent is playing a gunline then they can’t stop you without advancing towards you, and if they do that then congratulations – you’ve stopped them shooting at you. Even if your opponent has some fast units, they still won’t be able to cover more than one of the loot markers.
  • Invade: Auto-lose for gunlines. Hold back until the last couple of turns before moving as much of your army over the board. Again, either your opponent comes towards you or they automatically lose. If they do start to move to get over the halfway line, remember that they have to get wholly over the line. Stick a unit in their path. They won’t be able to get past to get on your half of the board.
  • Dominate: Very similar to invade, but with it being much closer to their set-up area then they can wait before making a move. Hold back until the last few turns before overwhelming the scoring area. If they’re playing a true gunline then they will be spread out along their board edge so can’t get as much into the scoring zone as you in the last turn(s). Even less if you roadblock them.

Terrain matters!

Pay attention to the terrain guidelines in the FAQ. You want a board that’s similar to the examples one where there are plenty of pieces that block Line of Sight or offer cover to units behind. Yes, it will slow you down on the way in and yes it might hinder some of your charges, but that -1 modifier for cover is huge, especially against units with Ra5+.

A typical battlefield setup. Photo from the Mantic FAQ.
A typical battlefield setup. Photo from the Mantic FAQ.

Stay out of their arcs

In order to shoot you, your enemy must have you in their front arc. If you’re able to get out of their arc, and fast, nimble units are ideal for this, then the enemy will need to pivot towards you. If they’ve got Reload then this means they’re not shooting you at all and anything else gets a -1 to hit. If they hit on a 5+ then it reduces their effectiveness by 50% and on a 4+ it reduces their effectiveness by 33%. Bonus points for getting into cover and reducing them even further.

Remember that even War Engines have arcs and will need to be able to turn to get you in their sights if you’re out of arc. You’re also allowed to check your opponents firing arcs when carrying out your movement (and it’s good practice to anyway). There’s nothing “gamey” about it – it’s critical information that you’re allowed to know. Don’t guess where their arc is and hope that you’ve moved up enough to keep out of it – check and confirm it with your opponent!

You don’t even have to have your main battle line dodging out of arcs. Flinging some faster units on that flank, even rubbish chaff units is enough to force your opponent to turn to face you to avoid a flank charge. Even then, you don’t have to charge them. Dodge around their arcs again and they have to turn to face yet again. Even a troop of light cavalry can keep a shooting horde tied up all game by continually dodging out of firing arcs and threatening the flank or rear.

Shut the shooting down

You do not have to kill shooting hordes. You just have to stop them shooting. You might think that means taking your biggest combat unit and smashing it into that horde, but it doesn’t. An individual will do the trick. Any mounted hero with 3+ attacks and some crushing strength will reliably disorder a shooting horde from turn 2 onwards. While disordered, units can’t shoot so the only thing to do is to charge back into your individual – and most aren’t up to the task of taking out heroes in melee. With your individual having such a small base, your opponent will also struggle to charge them with “normal” units. Once the rest of your army arrives, they can munch through the shooting horde without any issues.

And if they decide to shoot your individual? Great! -1 to hit. That means most shooting units (Ra5+) halve their effectiveness. Even better if you have your individual in terrain – that’s a -2 to hit and it’ll still be able to reliably disorder the horde even with a hindered charge.

Against War Engines, naturally individuals will mop up. Even the 3 attack heroes will be able to take out a War Engine every turn or two.

What if you don’t have an individual? That brings me to my next point.

Be prepared for gunlines

When you’re writing your army list, you should always take something that can deal with gunlines. This isn’t “tooling up” against opponents, it’s just making sure that you have the tools to deal with a particular army archetype should you come up against it. In tournament terms, this is called “playing the meta”. It simply means that you predict what sort of armies your opponents are likely to field and make sure you have the tools to beat those armies.

Daniel King mopped up at the first 2nd edition Clash of Kings tournament partly because he played the meta well. He knew that, with many players still learning how to beat gunlines, that gunlines would be a popular army build at the tournament. So he took units that he knew would be able to shut down enemy shooting hordes reliably and he ground those gunline builds into the dirt.

Gunlines are always a potential threat, so you should always have units that you can use to shut them down. Here are a couple of examples of anti-shooting “detachments” that I’ve used to great success in my Undead lists;

Build 1

Vampire on horse
Revenant King on horse or with the Wings of Honeymaze
2 Werewolf Regiments

The Vampire is more than capable of taking on a shooting horde and weathering the return melee damage without breaking a sweat. The Werewolves are fast and manoeuvrable enough with Nimble to be able to get down one flank in turn 1 and out of shooting arcs. They can then mop up by hitting flanks all the way down the battle line. The Vampire can start smashing up war engines up as soon as the Werewolves engage.

The Revenant King can also shut down a shooting horde, but is often unnecessary, so he can start taking out war engines and weaker spellcasters (druids, wiz’s etc) before the Vampire is ready to join in. If I’m not facing a gunline then he’s a useful Surge/Inspiring/+a little bit extra melee damage to hang out with my main force.

Build 2

Revenant King on flying Undead Wyrm with The Fog 
2 Werewolf Hordes

No individual for this one. Like with the first build, these are set up on one flank. The Werewolves move forward as fast as they can to get out of firing arcs (making sure that your opponent doesn’t have a flank charge on you) and using Nimble to try and aim for a shooting hordes flank. The Revenant King can position himself in such a way that he provides cover to the Werewolves, so that even if my opponent decides to shoot at them, they’re still having a -1 to hit. Bonus points if the Revenant King can get into cover so the enemy has -2 to hit.

This team then starts steamrolling across the board, flank charging one unit after another. Even in the front, there’s little that can stand up to two Werewolf Hordes (and potentially a King on Wyrm if needs be).

What to take to deal with gunlines

Anything fast can potentially do the job, depending on how you use it. I’ve been ranting on and on about Individuals being perfect for the task, and they are, but you probably want something with a bit more Oomph to really finish the job. Dragons, Knight regiments, anything fast and Nimble is all good. You need to keep those specific units protected on the way in (glorious use of cover and dodging out of firing arcs). Magic artefacts are also really useful. Here are a few:

  • The Fog. -1 to hit for ranged attacks. Perfect! Put this on a big beast of some sort, like a dragon or similar, and you’ve halved the enemies’ effectiveness (assuming they’re Ra5+). This is a much better upgrade that Ensorcelled armour for your anti-shooting brigade. Get that unit into cover and it turns into a -2 modifier – usually making them roll half of their attacks and only hitting on 6’s!
  • Medallion of life. Stick this on an individual with decent Nerve and a shooting horde will never shift it. Your opponent either writes the shooting horde off all game or commits considerable resources to taking you out.
  • Boots of Seven Leagues. Mounted Individual + Vanguard + winning first turn roll = shooting horde shut down before your opponent even has a turn. Even if you lose the first turn roll, your opponent has a whole one turns worth of shooting before you start disordering their hordes. Again, get that Individual into cover or terrain just to make sure they survive any initial volley.
  • Wine of Elvenkind. Stick this on a regiment of heavy cavalry. They can move up the board turn 1 (with some support from light cavalry and/or an individual for Inspiring, naturally), make great use of Nimble to get out of firing arcs and then threaten a flank.
  • Brew of Haste. Take a unit with Vanguard and Speed 6. Add another point of speed with the Brew of Haste and deploy them last. That unit has the potential to charge anything in the first turn that’s deployed within 16″ of the centre line (14″ Vanguard move, 14″ charge range). Just the threat of this can force your opponent to deploy their entire army 17″ away from the centre line, rather than 12″, giving you a distinct advantage in scenarios.

Refused Flank

A typical gunline army will spread out along the width of the board in order to bring as much shooting to bear as possible. With most shooting units being range 24″, you can easily counter this by deploying most of your units in a tight formation on one flank. In order to shoot you with units that are on the other end of the board, your opponent will need to spend several turns moving up and bringing units to bear. Meanwhile you strike at the units opposite your deployment with the full force of your entire army, wiping them out and sweeping round on your opponents flanks.

You can throw your opponent off by first deploying a unit or two on either end of your set-up area. By that point your opponent will probably begin deploying their big guns and you can maximise your setup by deploying your main force where the big guns either can’t see, can’t reach or will suffer cover modifiers shooting to.

Don’t think that the decoy units you set up first are now useless – far from it. Hold them back, far enough that they can’t be shot, but close enough that if your opponent tries to pivot to face your main force, they’ll expose their flanks to your decoys. This can mean sitting outside the normal 24″ range, but if your opponent turns their units, dash forward (out of arc) and threaten their flank or rear. They’ll have to make the difficult decision to either turn back to face your decoys, or continue advancing towards your main force and take the flank & rear charges from your decoys.

Summary

Gunlines can be scary. They can be very intimidating to the new player and when you first go up against them. However, with a few cunning tactics they can easily be overcome. Keep a level head, shut down as much of the shooting as you can and reduce the effectiveness of the units you can’t by getting cover or forcing them to pivot or relocate etc. Once you’ve cracked the few basic tactics, you can very easily beat pure gunlines even in a Kill based scenario. Once your opponent realises this, they’ll start taking more balanced armies.

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About Daedle 33 Articles
I'm Nick Williams, member of the Rules Committee and avid Kings of War player all the way through first and second edition.

1 Comment on Tactica: Taking on gunlines

  1. I’ve never been able to get gunlines to work for me. I see shooting as more of a way to force nerve tests in the shooting phase on damaged stuff.

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