Making the Most of your Shooting Phase
The shooting phase is one of your two opportunities to actually damage your opponent's forces. And, as such, there are a lot of choices that need to be made to optimize the results of your shooting. Hopefully, this article will cover the thought processes that should take place through each Shooting Phase in the game. I have thought, in the past, that this was common knowledge, but playing enough games where opponent's have made mistakes in the target choices and shot ordering have made me think that this article has some value.
Before the Shooting Phase Begins
Optimizing your Shooting Phase doesn't begin when the phase begins, it begins at the beginning of the turn, before you even move any models. You need to know what your goals for the turn are before you start moving models. And, to do that, you need to make yourself a mental list of what your targets are, and what your resources are.
Target Priority is the first thing to consider. What is important this turn, and what can be ignored? This list will change over the course of a game. On turn 1 of an objective mission, the highest priority target might be whatever enemy unit can deal the most damage. On turn 5, however, the highest priority target might be the lone guardsman who is sitting on an objective, minding his own business. The best way to establish a Target Priority list is to ask yourself, what can this unit do that stops me from winning. The more that a unit can do to stop you from winning, the higher up the list it should be.
In addition to your priority targets, there will generally be opportunity targets. These seem to fall into two categories. First, there are high payoff shots. This might be a unit with multiple flamers close to a bunch of clumped up infantry, or it might be a twin-linked meltagun within 6" of an empty rhino. The common theme here is that it is a shot that is highly likely to cause a lot of damage to your opponent. The second type of opportunity target is a shot that is unlikely to do much, but really has no where else to be directed. This can be because it has to be directed at a unit that you want to charge (pistols), or because there is nothing else in range.
Reasons Not To Shoot
Take some time to consider if there are reasons that you might not want to shoot at a given target. The most common reason will be that you want to assault a target, and the charge range is pretty close, such that if you killed a model, your opponent could prevent you from charging by removing the model that is in range.
The last thing to consider, before moving, is how effective your shots are likely to be. An enemy Land Raider full of Assault Terminators may well be the highest priority target on the field, but if all your marines have to fire at it are some krak missiles, you're looking at worse than a 1/50 chance of immobilizing it (and 0 chance of killing it) per missile, and it might be a better use of that squad to move, or fire at something else...
Moving with Shooting In Mind
So, now you have your list of priority targets, as well as knowledge of any high payoff opportunity targets. At this point, you start to maneuver your forces in such a way that you have the highest payoff potential for your shots. Plan where your flamers need to be to get the most models under the template (it's about 8 inches long). Get any move&shoot models the best lines-of-sight possible, with as little cover for the enemy. Make sure you don't move models into the line-of-sight of other models; no reason to give your opponent better saves.
During the Shooting Phase
Order of Shooting
The order that shots are taken in is another opportunity for a skilled player to gain additional effectiveness out of their shooting phase. In general, the following guidelines will give you a more productive shooting phase. Sometimes, two of the guidelines will contradict each other, in which case, you'll need to weigh the pros and cons based on the situation. The overriding concept is to maintain flexibility throughout the Shooting Phase, and into the Assault Phase. The more options you leave yourself as you go through your shots, the more successful you are likely to be.
- Fire at high priority targets before targets of opportunity. Opportunity shots are just that, they're an opportunity to deal more damage. But, if the priorities aren't taken care of first, you stand to lose the game.
- Fire weapons that have only one possible target before weapons with multiple possible targets. If your meltagun kills the tank, your lascannon has enough range to take a shot at a target of opportunity. If your lascannon kills the tank, your meltagun will not do anything that turn.
- Shoot the least-wasteful weapon first. Meaning, if you have a unit of Marines w/ bolters and a lascannon, and a Predator with a lascannon, both with a shot at a tank, take the Predator shot first. If the Predator succeeds, the marines can still run, or fire their bolters, or fire their lascannon at a different target. If the Marines had destroyed the target, the Predator is limited to one lascannon shot.
- Fire Template and Blast Weapons before other weapons at the same targets. This prevents your opponent pulling casualties that might otherwise have been under one of your templates.
- Don't waste more fire on a target than you need to. Once a vehicle is stunned, you can ignore it until the next turn, and move on to something else. If it's not a transport, you really only need to shake it, unless it is likely to contest an objective late in the game. Once a unit is pinned, you can ignore it until the next turn. A pinned unit or a shaken or stunned vehicle pretty becomes a target of opportunity.
- It is generally wise to destroy an entire target unit, rather than half of two units, especially if they are assault units that can lock you up. However, it is also a reasonable bet to shoot at a non-fearless unit until it loses 25% of it's models, and then move on, hoping to force Leadership tests. Obviously, the lower the Leadership of the unit that you are shooting at, the better bet this becomes.
- Shoot at loaded transports early enough in the shooting phase that if they are destroyed, you will be able to shoot at the unit that is forced to disembark as well.
- Run units as needed to help with line-of-sight. If a unit that plans to run is in front of a unit that wishes to fire, see if you can run them out of the way. If a unit needs to run into a location that will obscure line-of-sight for another unit, let the other unit fire before they run.