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Tactics 104: Advanced Battlefield Tactics
by Jon Mayes

In Tactics 103 we looked at some fairly basic tactics, introducing some basic concepts such as when and where to attack and keeping in cover when possible. In Tactics 104 we start with the advanced battlefield tactics of dancing and baiting, and introducing the use of psychology. Each tactic gives you the basics of performing it, an example, and some of the known weaknesses of it in the hopes you can adapt it to your own playing style.

Learning How To Dance
One of the more useful tactics to use when going first is to ‘dance’ your units around key locations. The basics of this tactic are a lot like the Aggressive-Defense from Tactics 103, but are often used to hold off a superior force. First, position your units so that they can fire upon the enemy, sometimes even so that they are adjacent, but are still able to retreat into cover. Your opponent then has to react to this; either by retreating his unit(s) or moving them closer. On your assault phase you then have the option of firing if you have the advantage, of retreating behind cover if you don’t.

In the example above, the Sherman is guarding the objective, but an enemy Panzer approached last turn. This turn the Sherman wins initiative and moves out to threaten the Panzer. The Panzer, not wanting to potentially trade off units, and unable to get around the Sherman to the objective without drawing defensive-fire, retreats to the hill hex away from the Sherman. On the assault phase the Sherman is left out in the open against an enemy Panzer, so moves back to cover the objective. The Allies still control the objective, for now at least.

As some of you may observe, there are a few potential problems with this tactic. If, for example, a BMW R75 was a little farther up it may have been able to slip onto the objective; forcing the Sherman away for absolutely no gain on the Allied player’s part. Also, in this particular case it’s simply a delaying tactic. Eventually the Sherman will have to face the Panzer. However the ‘dancing’ may provide time for another unit to aid the Sherman. Of course it could do the same for your opponent.

On a larger scale this tactic can be much more effective at holding enemy units at bay, and can be used offensively to drive an enemy back. When using this tactic it’s important to remember the following:

  1. Don’t just focus on the unit or units you want to use this tactic on; be very aware of other units outside of the immediate area that your opponent could use to threaten you with. Cavalry and motorcycles can ruin your day.
  2. Be aware of the speed and abilities of the unit(s) you want to use this on; some may have abilities such as Battlefield Awareness that will cause it to backfire on you, while others can simply bypass you due to SS-Determination or Veteran Crew.
  3. Don’t always count on the enemy units pulling back; sooner or later your opponent will tire of dancing around and attack you. If you’re caught off-guard it could be devastating.

This tactic is especially effective with units that have abilities that put your opponent in another quandary. Battlefield Awareness is a great example of this; it forces another decision on your opponent of whether or not to allow you to make an opportunity fire on his unit.

Baiting - Hook, Line, and Sinker.
Baiting involves using a unit (the bait) that you’ve apparently put into a vulnerable position to lure out your opponent’s units into a position where your other units can fire on it (ambushing units). This tactic can often appear to be simply a form of the bait dancing, and is especially useful with ambushing anti-tank guns and similar units that have fairly restricted mobility. Depending on the unit used, the baiting piece will often be sacrificed in order to pull the tactic off; so be sure that this tactic will get its points worth. Also the tactic can work very differently depending on whether you’re going first or second, so we’ll examine each method.

As the first player, you can attempt to bait your opponent by moving one of your units to a hex in such a way that your opponent will not want to give up the opportunity to fire on it. This should then give your other units line of sight to the enemy unit either because your opponent didn’t notice your units would gain line of sight, or because he decided it was worth it anyway. It may seem difficult for your opponent not to notice that he’s walking into an ambush, but careful setup and a nicely cluttered battlefield can come to your aid. In standard games, the maps Knife Fight and Urban Combat are especially good for this, though it can be done on any map to at least some degree.

Take for instance the Urban Combat map above. The PAK 40 looks like it’s in a fairly poor position, but actually has quite a nice line of site across the middle of the map. Now it’s likely for the first few rounds you won’t even get to attack with it and because of that your opponent may begin to think of it as less of a threat and not pay as much attention to it. With the PAK in place, the Elite Panzer IV D then moves into position behind the hill. An M4A1 takes the bait and moves up, thinking either the Panzer will fire or withdrawal, and not noticing that the PAK 40 has a clear view of it. On the assault phase the Panzer has multiple lines of retreat, and the previously innocent looking PAK opens fire.

Going second usually requires a little more sacrifice on your part. In the same scenario the M4A1 will be first into the assault phase, so will be wondering why you left the Elite Panzer in the Sherman’s line of fire. The PAK 40 may become extremely obvious, and the player will be able to decide if it’s worth attacking the panzer or, more likely, that it’s time to bug out. However if the baiting piece is seemingly valuable enough, or the odds seem to be in the M4A1’s favor (maybe it’s only a PAK 38 that has it in range), then your opponent might risk it anyway.

Now, of course, those above situations are a little contrived, but it’s merely to illustrate the point. As with most tactics, there are several problems that can arise with the use of baiting. First and foremost is if your opponent sees the trap it can be avoided, or even used against you. The M4A1 could have just as easily moved up onto the hill hex or even into the forest hex along the road to the left. Any one of those locations would put the M4A1 out of sight of the PAK and into cover. What’s more, if your opponent had another other units available he might be able to cut off your lines of retreat, trapping your bait in a vulnerable position. As with the tactic of dancing, you need to be well aware of the battlefield conditions, including what your opponent might do to disrupt you.

You can combine dancing and baiting to give you another useful strategy; aggressively advancing your units or holding a location, while using ‘ambushing’ units to support them. This strategy is very effective if you have multiple units with reduced mobility.

Knowing Your Enemy
In any war intelligence is vital, and Axis & Allies Miniatures is no different. Now obviously you don’t have to worry about knowing the deployment of enemy units as you can plainly see them spread across the battlefield. However, what is important is how your opponent reacts; what are his typical tactics, how does he react to different situations. Knowing the answers to these questions can make all the difference.

In casual games you will usually have time over the course of several games to know the habits of each opponent. While I’m not suggesting you build a psychological profile on each opponent, it may help to keep little mental notes on how they reacted to different situations. If over the course of a few games I tend to notice a particular opponent plays extremely defensively, I can begin to make modifications to my strategy and tactics against him. I’m not suggesting you build armies specifically to defeat that opponent; firstly I would consider it just poor sportsmanship, and secondly if your opponent changes tactics, or you play against a different player you might find your force completely ineffective; hopefully one or both reasons will be enough.

Whenever playing a new game or a new player, I often am not playing to win. This isn’t to say that I don’t win, or that I only lose because I’m messing around, but simply that I usually have a different goal in mind; learning how my opponent acts and reacts. One of the simplest ways of doing this is to simply move a heavy tank aggressively against his force, and then to sit and watch what happens. Do his forces scatter, assume defensive positions, move in to attack, or do something completely unexpected? Is he willing to trade off units one for one, or does he find that unacceptable? Does he favor a particular unit? For example I generally make a big fuss about my “Der Leiter” model, but to me he’s really just another commander. However it does cause some players to go out of their way to try and kill them, sometimes overextending themselves when they normally wouldn’t.

So after several games against Player A and several more against Player B I’ve begun to notice certain patterns. Player A is extremely aggressive, to the point that she’ll Banzai Charge her units in suicidal attacks against my units in apparently an attempt to simply overwhelm my forces. In contrast, Player B is extremely defensive; he won’t commit his forces unless the odds are well within his favor, and will tend to retreat if confronted on equal terms. Now that I know this information about each player, what can I do with it?

With Player A I know that it’s more than likely she’ll continue her kamikaze-like strategy, so I need to deploy my units in a fashion appropriate to counter it. If she’s using a large infantry force, than I need to respond by being able to cover my units with a Machine-Gun or similar support weapon. I know that if I disrupt or kill her commander(s), her primary tactic will be much less effective. I can slow down her infantry by disrupting the closest ones and creating a traffic jam. However if I’m too effective, she may simply drop this strategy and form a new one, in which case the process begins all over again, although some of what I’ve already learned may still be useful.

Player B is the more cautious player, which is something I can use to my advantage. I know that it’s likely if I press my SS-Panther Ausf G against his T-34/76, the T-34 will back off. If I continue this I can attempt to maneuver him and gain a strategic location, or force him into a vulnerable position. I can move my units forward as long as I keep in mind that if any become cut off or vulnerable, he’ll pounce on them. I can even begin to predict how he’ll react, where he will move to and then take steps to counter that.

Of course one problem with this is that sometimes players do something completely unexpected. We have a gamer similar to Player B in our play group, and one time he caught everyone off guard by going completely on the offensive. He was able to cause a lot of damage because his opponents weren’t expecting this sudden change. Many of their units were caught in less than optimal situations because they were positioned to take advantage of his defensive play style. The moral of the story is: keep in mind your opponent may suddenly switch tactics on you, so you need to be prepared. Don’t overextend your forces and don’t always count on your opponent doing what you expect him to do.

Tactics 105
The next article will continue with more advanced tactics, including what to do in multiplayer games. Until then, discuss this article on our message boards.

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