Deployment and OCOKA

A quick tutorial on deployment,

In 14 years of war gaming, (principally WH40K), it is my experience that battles are won or lost in the deployment phase. Don’t we all wish we could go back to the start and move those units to a different flank because they were useless where you put them or because the enemy rolled over your unsupported gun line?

Next time you deploy, take a minute to appraise the battlefield with these key points in mind, not just the cursory glance and LOS check most players do. It helps me not only choose where and how to deploy, but helps solidify my plan and make sure my units are placed to execute it. Remember the acronym OCOKA.

  1. Observation. This is where you check your lines of sight. What areas of the field (or enemy units if you get to go second) can you see? What range are your weapons and can they engage those areas you can see. Can the enemy see you? What range are their weapons, and who will dominate those lines of sight. Place firing units in such a way that they can dominate a Line of Sight, and if you cannot do so, move them to where you can. Against an enemy with lots of firepower, you want to dominate 1 or 2 lines, because you can’t beat them everywhere without relying on the dice to help. ‘He who defends everywhere, defends nothing’ Fredrick II
  2. Cover and Concealment. Think about the preservation of your forces. You have to identify areas of cover to ensure your units have adequate protect against return fire. The old adage of ‘a target in the open is a casualty, regardless of armour’ (3rd Ed 40K) holds true. So place units in cover that are going to get in a gunfight, and try not to let many (I try for none) end up placed outside of cover. Also, where can you conceal your fragile or vital units from enemy fire altogether? Even if I have the first turn, I plan in the contingency of having the initiative stolen and copping a turn of fire. While it is a viable strategy of placing aggressively forward to 1st turn charge/ alpha strike, this can backfire horribly if you lose that turn. At 1 in 6 times this happens, this is too likely for me, and I couldn’t stand to lose 1 in 6 of my battles this way. Though on this point, it is worth remembering that your own units can provide cover for the rearward ones.
  3. Obstacles. Look for features on the battlefield that will act as obstacles to your and your enemies’ movement. This is important and it can decide the speed of advance and determine when your assault forces can engage. Another point to remember is the concept of channelling or funnelling of forces. This has the dual effect of slowing the advance and pushing models close together where they become vulnerable to blasts. Remember that models cannot squeeze through gaps smaller than their base, so you might find yourself unable to advance. Be aware of the ‘footprint’ of each of your units and how much space they require to take in order to remain spread out.
  4. 4. Key Terrain. Look at the battlefield for pieces of terrain that may be the key to victory. A dominating height, or a piece of cover with an excellent line of sight of an avenue of advance may be the position, that if taken and held, will give one side a clear advantage over the other. It might not always exist, so don’t try to manufacture one in your mind, but be on the lookout. Key terrain also includes objectives, as holding more of these than the enemy will make all their successes against your troops meaningless. Right from the start, formulate a plan for how you will take and hold objectives and perhaps contest others. “Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win.” Sun Tzu.
  5. Avenues of Approach. Finally look at the paths the armies must take if they are to engage. If your opponent has an assault based army, then they must close and assault you. You know this, and thus can plan for it. The battlefield will dictate the path they must take to get to you, and conversely, that you must take to get to them. Historically, every army to invade France with any degree of success, from Caesar to the Germans (several times) all attacked along the same route through Belgium and into northern France. This was because the terrain dictated the best avenue of advance. A defender should thus look to be placing units to break up or slow this advance. You may choose to place small units forward with defence in depth behind that equipped with template or blast weapons to inflect maximum casualties on bunched up units. Use channelling or misdirection along these avenues of approach to damage the enemy to the point where their assault is ineffective. Identify the avenues you can take to concentrate maximum force against the enemies’ centre of gravity. Be aware that the most obvious route to you may be obvious to the enemy too, so formulate a deception plan or use a base of fire to fix the enemy in place while you approach.

Use this as a basic guide and take the time to read the battlefield prior to deployment. As for the plan itself, well there are two schools of thought on that, 1. No plan survives first contact with the enemy, and 2. If you fail to plan, you plan to fail, but this is a topic for a future discussion.


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