One of the most often asked about tactical discussions we’ve had is on positioning. Often it gets asked in a blanket ‘can you talk about positioning’ kind of way but at the end of the day, good positioning is far and away the most difficult part of the game to learn. In a lot of respects, positioning is Warmachine, and the difference between a player that knows how to position well vs. one that doesn’t can be pretty extreme. The difficulty in discussing this, though, is that there are a nearly infinity range of possibilities when it comes to positioning; this is part of what makes tabletop miniatures games like this great and what draws many of us to play them vs. a game like Chess which, while obviously a great game, has considerably more limitations as far as possible movements.
The only way to tackle this topic is to do it very meticulously and on a very case by case basis, talking about extremely specific situations and trying to lay the groundwork to flex into a wider range of situations. No example we give here can really be perfect or set in stone, but can at the very least act as a basic guideline to inform how you move your models on the table. Therefore, take everything in this series of articles with a bit of a grain of salt; in the words of the great Captain Barbossa, they’re more like guidelines than actual rules.
Basic Infantry Screening
In this article we’re going to break down the really basic, foundational thing I think everyone needs to know at some point: screening with infantry models. We’re going to touch on a few different variations of infantry models in a few different situations, but note that… there are just so many little rules and interactions that will shift how you want to position, at the end of the day it will take repetition and an understanding of both your models and the opponents.
For this article, we will be assuming you are fighting melee-only targets; adding enemy ranged elements to the mix is a wrinkle we’ll get into later. This first article is going to be extremely basic, and we’re going to baby-step our way to more complex positioning as the series goes on. We are also using an empty combat area without terrain because again, this is a complexity we will add onto.
Screening With 2” Melee Units, Low Survivability, No Base to Base Benefits
This is pretty much as basic as you hope for for a screening unit. Having 2” melee makes the whole process much easier and far fewer models cover a much wider area; having 1” or 0.5” melee ranges reduce that footprint considerably and tend to require you to sacrifice a lot more to protect the pieces behind.
This is about as basic a screen as you get, but there’s a few nuances to how it works to be effective. Firstly, note that the unit of Iron Fangs are in a position to pretty easily wipe out the entire Storm Guard unit if the screen is not in the right spot (Storm Guard are not known for their resilience.)
The front three Storm Guard are acting as the primary screen for the rest of the unit. There are two main things to think about for their positioning. Firstly, each one is just over 4” apart. If you want to maximize their capacity to screen, you want that space between their melee ranges to be just a hair smaller than a single small base (or whatever base size you’re screening against). This means you’ve pushed their potential screen as wide as possible while still not allowing any models through.
The second part that is important is exactly how far ahead of the rest of the unit the Storm Guard are. Many people will try to place their back line a couple inches behind the screen and think that that’s enough, but you have to account for both the full melee range of your opponents model, and the entire base size of that model. They don’t take a free strike until they’ve completely past the middle line of your model, so they have far more room to breath than you might think.
While the screen is a little busy, you can see that no matter how far forward those Iron Fangs reach, they are unable to reach the Storm Guard behind without taking a free strike from the front line.
In this situation, with no other options available, if the Iron Fang player wants to charge, they’re only going to get 3 Storm Guard basically no matter what they do (barring just taking free strikes and the Storm Guard rolling badly but… that’s a tough risk to take), and if they just rush in like this Khador player has, the remaining seven Storm Guard should pretty easily wipe out most of the Iron Fangs and leave the Khador player at an attrition disadvantage. Let’s say all seven Storm Guard kill an Iron Fang, you’ve now got 3 Iron Fangs vs. 7 Storm Guard. When the Iron Fangs retaliate, you’ve got 4 Storm Guard left which wipe out the remaining Iron Fangs, and overall the Storm Guard have won the engagement due to positioning, even though they took an alpha strike. This is all assuming perfect dice, as these are just example units and I’m building a hypothetical situation; dice always play into any aspect of the game.
The front formation of Storm Guard can be bent as well, allowing variations in that front line of where the Iron Fangs are allowed to go. The situations where this is valuable are fairly limitless, but here’s just an example of the kind of positioning I mean.
The left side (the extremely happy face) represents a basic screen like we represented above, but the right side is a way you can use facing to adjust the line where models are allowed. However, the right side comes at the cost of allowing enemy models on the left and right of the formation considerably more room to move forward; in exchange, you can push models in the center of the formation much further forward, as you can see how the back line Storm Guard is further upfield. This is a far better formation in many cases for screening singular models, like protecting a heavy from a bunch of weapon masters.
As you can see, the Storm Guard screening the Avenger on the right have been pushed a little more together and turned to a far more extreme angle. This would allow models on the sides of them to reach the Avenger trivially, but if the Doomreavers are in a position to have to go centrally, they can’t funnel in between the Storm Guard, and are stuck pretty far back and allow the Avenger much more freedom to move forward.
The downside to that kind of formation is 1) you lose a ton of ground to the sides, facing directly forward gives you the most coverage to the left and right as evenly far forward as possible and 2) this doesn’t work in the slightest if one of the two Storm Guard are killed by something before the Doomreavers activate. This ‘formation’ isn’t exactly a hard and fast rule, like most of this guide, but is a tool you have to keep in mind for when it becomes relevant. Remember to think about the direction your screening models are facing and think about where exactly that allows enemy models to go before they have to take a free strike. You can gain a little ground with it sometimes, if you’re clever.
Adjusting For Melee Ranges
These rules can be used at any melee range, but you have to either accept that you’re covering a smaller area or use more models to screen. This is why 2” melee is one of the most coveted rules in the game; it gives models a much larger footprint and makes them more effective at a wide variety of tasks. If your opponent has a smaller range, that’s great, you can push your back line further forward, just remember to account for that. If your own melee ranges are shorter, you have to get closer together to cover those gaps and add 1-2 models to that front line, which can make your unit eat a pretty bad alpha strike. Let’s do an example of two 10 mans going into each other similar to the Iron Fangs vs. Storm Guard from earlier. If the Storm Guard have a smaller melee range and 2 have to be further forward, five die to the initial charge, the remaining five kill five Iron Fangs, and the remaining five Iron Fangs kill five Storm Guard. By only putting two more troops forward, you went from winning the engagement with almost half your troops left to losing it with fully half the enemy unit left. At that point, you might be better off trying to use distance rather than screening, but that’s a topic for later.
This has been part 1 of what will likely be a very, very long series on positioning, in which we talked about the absolute basic level of infantry screening. While this is obviously quite basic, I cannot stress enough how many games I’ve won (and in the earlier days lost) off the back of these simple premises. Let me know what suggestions you have for me to cover next, as I’ll be using this as the building block for much of what I talk about going forward. Thanks for reading, and see you next time!