After carefully searching through your collection, you've built the perfect warband. You have a few hard-hitting melee beasts, a great commander, a support spellcaster, and some efficient fodder to round out the band. You show up at your local game store ready to rock -- but how will you lead your band to victory? Knowing when to activate each creature is a vital part of getting the most out of your warband.
If you can activate more figures than your opponent can, you are said to have "activation control." Generally this means having more creatures than he does, although minis with the Dual Activation ability throw off this count. In any case, having activation control lets you force your opponent to move his important creatures before you move your important creatures. This is a big advantage for several reasons.
First, early in the game, you can get a hint about your opponent's strategy before committing to one yourself. Second, if your opponent is forced to move adjacent to one of your units to attack, his figure gets only a single attack while yours can stand its ground and get multiple attacks in return. Third, if you move an important piece last in the round and then win initiative for the next round, you can activate that same creature again immediately so that it gets two activations in a row without your opponent being able to respond at all.
Because of the advantages provided by activation control, most skilled players try to maximize the number of units they have in a warband. But even when you and your opponent have the same number of units, you can sometimes exercise a form of activation control. If you win initiative in the first round, making your opponent go first allows you to move two creatures after he has finished moving his entire band. Also, in the early rounds, moving your fodder before more important units is usually a good rule of thumb.
Exceptions to Every Rule
As with most things, there are situations in which the conventional wisdom about activation order does not apply. Some exceptions include:
- Blocking an important intersection -- This tactic can be immensely valuable on certain maps. If you want to control a choke point, then moving a durable creature to the area early in the first round may be a good idea, despite the normal recommendation that important creatures should move last in early rounds.
- Fireballs and Chaos Hammers -- In general, if your opponent has radius 4 effects in his warband, it is not wise to pass the turn if you win initiative, especially on the first round. Instead, use the opportunity to set up two widely-spaced fodder units to draw fire away from your Assembly Area.
- Ranged Weenies -- If you have fodder units with ranged attacks or spells, you might choose to save one or two for activation late in the first round. This allows time for targets to develop for your fodder's ranged attacks.
Thinking in Pairs
D&D Miniatures is played in alternating pairs of activations. When it's your turn, think of ways to use your two activations in a coordinated pair to accomplish a goal.
For example, moving a fodder unit into a flanking position before attacking with a heavy hitter is a basic example of how to coordinate a pair of activations. Another would be attacking with a ranged unit before charging the same target with a melee unit, rather than doing it in the reverse order, to avoid giving the ranged unit a -4 attack penalty for firing into melee.
There are less obvious ways to work in pairs. For example, you may have one heavy hitter who lags behind the rest of your band so that it's too far away to move in for an attack this round. Instead, see whether it can double-move to base an enemy figure that's likely to make a morale check this round. Your slow figure might get to attack after all -- by making an attack of opportunity when the enemy figure routs.
Perhaps your opponent has overextended his front-line units, leaving a hole through which you can move a hitter to get at his soft command and support units. You can use your first activation to move a hitter into his backfield, and then use your second activation to block the hole, cutting off his front-line figures from doubling back to help the vulnerable support units.
Critical Initiatives and Activation Order
After you and your opponent have been engaged in combat for a few rounds, both of you will have several creatures that are close to death. The game may hinge on who goes first in the next round. You roll the dice …
Hey, I won initiative! Now what?
Sometimes it feels as if two activations aren't enough. There might be many creatures that you'd like to activate before your opponent can respond. Unless you're packing Tactics, you've got to choose just two. Remember these two important guidelines for how to make the most of winning initiative:
- Use it before you lose it -- if a major hitter of yours is in immediate danger of dying, you should almost certainly choose that creature as one of your two activations. The damage it does before dying could be the difference between winning and losing.
- Pre-emptive strike -- Deny the same opportunity to your opponent. If she has an important creature that is near death, spending an activation to destroy it before it can take its turn could be a deciding factor in the game.
Uh-oh. I lost initiative! Am I doomed?
Maybe not. Many times, your opponent will not be able to do everything he needs to do in just two activations. And for you, the choices are likely to be easier than for your opponent, because you will probably have fewer options. Don't forget these two principles for how to make the best of losing initiative:
- Look around before counter-attacking -- Your opponent went first and forced one of your hitters to make a morale check, which fortunately you passed. The natural inclination of many players is to immediately "get some back" by counterattacking with that figure. But before doing that, consider whether your opponent has any way to finish off your wounded hitter right away. If that wounded figure isn't in any more immediate danger, then wait to activate it -- there probably is some other place on the board that needs your attention more.
- Win the fodder war -- Often there are parallel battles going on during a skirmish -- big hitters fighting in one area while across the map fodder units battle for control of a victory area. If you lost initiative and your opponent went first with his hitters, you might be able to snatch a small initiative victory by making the first attacks with your fodder. You've already been beaten to the punch in the main fight, and nothing you do is going to change that this round. If you can eliminate opposing fodder units from a crucial victory area before they get to strike you, however, you'll have accomplished something worthwhile in spite of the initiative dice. (Of course, check first to make sure your more important units aren't in immediate danger.)
Overall, making good decisions about when to activate each of your creatures is an important part of improving your game. Using the guidelines outlined here might be the difference between winning or losing a close match. Good luck, and have fun!
About the Author
Los Angeles resident Jason Lioi has enjoyed playing D&D for over twenty years and has recently branched out into d20 Apocalypse and Axis & Allies Miniatures. After winning the 2005 D&D Miniatures Constructed Championship, Jason was invited to design his own mini, which will be released in an upcoming set. Jason writes for Wizards of the Coast on a freelance basis.