Monday, 21 September 2009

Guard Heavy Weapon Tactica - Mortars

Courtesy of Wikimedia

Heavy Weapons teams took a serious nerf under the new codex. To my mind this is all to the good, since the ubiquitous 5 heavy weapon teams had turned into a fairly invulnerable unit. The combination of multiple 6 wound (three redundant) units, and a nearby Commander with Ld9+1, plus Commissar, plus regimental banner meant HWT's never broke, were disproportionally hard to kill and could keep giving out the pain regardless.

Under the old codex, the combination of range and (ironically) toughness meant that HWT could even preference on big tanks in providing battle covering firepower.

With the new codex came a new reality. The heavy weapon team was no longer a two model set, but a two wound model. This meant that their vulnerability to incoming firepower shot up. A heavy weapon team was now very likely to die from incoming scatter laser, plasma rifle or missile pod fire. In fact anything with a S6 or 7 would be gunning for your heavy weapon teams.

In a game against the Tau, I had an epiphany... Mortars are the ultimate heavy weapon. Here's why:
  • Mortars are difficult to kill. Mortars should only ever be deployed in hard to reach positions behind buildings. The ability of mortars to fire indirectly gives them the untimate armour. Your opponent cannot see and therefore cannot fire on your mortars.
  • Mortars are low heat. S4 indirect AP6 is pretty pants... but it means that mortars aren't prioritised for attack. This, combined with a difficult position, forces your opponent to consider 'chasing' after mortars with some serious firepower/elites which is unlikely.
  • Mortars force your opponent out of his comfort zone. To kill the mortar, your opponent wills have to sacrifice deepstrike or flanking options to go after a 60pt unit... even if they succeed they will have exposed an expensive unit, out of position, with only a 60pt kill to show for it... counter attack!
  • Mortars abilities are as barrage weapons. S4 is poor. But opponents are often surprised when I frequently tot up 7-10 hits per turn on a group of heavy weapons space marines. Against those kinda numbers the 3+ starts to look pretty feeble. Suddenly his 'emplaced' troops are facing sustained barrages they can do nothing about. Effectively if the first 'shot' hits, you have a significant chance of getting lots of hits... add to this the fact that barrage weapons (even S4 ones) cause pinning and you can see how mortars can quickly pin and hold an enemy.
  • Indirect ignores cover saves. Unless you model is sitting in cover, I'm gonna ignore it. Against Gaunts, Kroot and Orks this is unbeliveably lethal. Forcing the large mobs to hug area terrain in fear of their lives. In one game (click here) my opponent tried to avoid fire on his Kroot entirely by hiding behind a building, three mortars reduced his 15 warriors to a single shaper in one round of shots from just three mortars.
  • Indirect got better. Are you aware that the 'guess that range' rules are gone. I'm a little sad as I was actually pretty good at it. Nevertheless, the rules now are awesome, simply choose a target within 48" and then roll 2D6 and the scatter dice. Indirect means full scatter - but a 33% to hit rate is still pretty good.
  • Mortars LOVE stealth teams. Harlequins and XV25 Tau should fear the mortar as its inaccuracy can lead to some awfully impressive shooting. Don't believe me, just let me target that unit next to your 'hidden' unit - oh what a shame... rinse repeat 15 times.
  • Mortars are cheap. 60pts for a durable unit that can dish out ridiculous amounts of wounds. In addition, the new army lists allow for up to 5 mortar teams per infantry platoon. This means you could field up to 45 mortars easily within a 1500pt army. Bring on the horde...
  • Mortars are 'extension' free. Unlike Lascannons, Mortars are effective without orders (like 'bring it down'), and without LoS to worry about you won't take the hits (and have the leadership tests to worry about). 'Fire on my target' is only useful against low armour hordes (in which case your command platoon will probably be sitting behind cover next to your mortars) - so mortars are a really useful unit to get 'left behind' as your main army advances - there's no downside.
  • Mortars are troops too. This means mortars can comfortably hold your own objectives while pinging the enemy for all they're worth. If you are going to group mortars, a roughrider or 3 flamer special weapon team becomes a neccessary requirement for pinging the inevitable counterattack that 'sitting on a big fat objective' will hold.

For all the above reasons I love mortars. There something particularly 'light infantry' about the mortar and its extensive use in WW2 and continued relevance in modern warfare makes it a winner for both fluff and its highly effective anti-infantry options.

After Mortars, I believe the HWT options come in the following order of priority:
  • Lascannon: Still worth it. 48" will ignore most incoming, best used in infantry squads for durability or laid out at the back to provide antitank fire. A must against Tau.
  • Autocannon: best anti-APC weapon on the table, useful against MEQ armies.
  • Missile Launcher: price increase against mortar negates its usefulness as an anti-infantry option, plus LoS makes them very vulnerable to return S6-7 fire. Strength 8 is too low against most tanks, but AP3 might give crisis suits and some MC's pause. Autocannons better. Only useful as can be easily converted from heavy weapons sprue.
  • Heavy Bolter: 36" just doesn't cut it, heavy bolters are too short ranged as most S6-7 weapons are within this. AP4 is as useful as AP6 with all the cover around. Convert to Lascannons.
As for me, I've just purchased a further 7 mortars and 10 modelled bases from the interweb. As such I'll be converting my entire conscript platoon into mortars, giving me a total of 15 in one army for a bare 300 points...

So what do you think of the humble mortar? Does this change your opinion...? Let me know.