If you've ever read a tournament report, then you have probably heard about a player trying to get an "activation advantage." Usually this means that the player has built a warband with more than eight figures in it, by using creatures such as Snig the Axe, a Bat Familiar, or a Graycloak Ranger to bypass the eight-creature limit. Having more than eight figures is useful because players activate their creatures in pairs. A player with 10, or even 9, activations will always get the last action in the round regardless of whether he wins or loses initiative. Put another way, the player with the activation advantage can react to his opponent's final move in a way that the opponent can't. The opponent, in fact, must make his final activation of the round knowing that you will respond and he can't do anything about it -- his warband is 'tapped out'. This has benefits ranging from better positioning to getting in the first attack before heavy fighting breaks out everywhere.
But what if your warband can't get above the eight-figure limit? Is there still a way to gain activation advantage?
The answer lies in hunting down the opponent's weakest figures -- what are commonly called 'fodder'. Every faction has characteristic ways to do this, often without compromising your warband's goals. This article will discuss ways to thin out your opponent's warband to gain activation control and score victory points at the same time.
Mephits are a universal solution. Every faction has one, and they all share the same basic traits: cost 13 points, Flight, and using two 10-damage cone effects. Your Mephit can fly around the map until it lines up a vulnerable enemy in its sights, and then use a cone to destroy it. Any fodder creature with only 5 or 10 HP will almost certainly be destroyed or routed, and even slightly more durable creatures can sometimes be taken down by a lucky Mephit. The Mephit can use its second cone to destroy more fodder or in the main battle.
Small Dragons are an option for Chaotic Good and Chaotic Evil, with the Small Copper and Small Black Dragon respectively. While the dragons don't have a second damaging breath weapon, their Line 12 effects let them strike targets at greater range. You can also rely on their higher HPs and melee power to overwhelm fodder, and save the breath weapon for more important enemies. Lawful Evil and Lawful Good currently don't have an obvious equivalent to these creatures, but they have other options.
Inexpensive or extremely fast archers can do this job, too. With some careful maneuvering (or careless maneuvering by your opponent), CG's Steelheart Archer can be positioned to deal with fodder before switching to bigger targets. The Asura can do the same thing, and it has enough speed to make wide flanking moves against fodder and still get back in formation before heavy fighting begins. Chaotic Good handles this tactic better than the other factions, but LG and LE can get a similar effect with Mounted Melee Attack creatures such as the Valiant Cavalry and Skeletal Courser. CE's best option is the Xen'drik Champion.
The Large Shadow Dragon (CE) and Shadowdancer (CG) also deserve special mention. While they aren't archers, their Shadow Jumps can let them clear most of the map in a single turn, thus fulfilling the requirement that they return to the main fight quickly.
Desert of Desolation added several new creatures that can either hunt fodder directly or make this strategy more useful overall. LG has the Militia Archer and Animated Statue; the former can shoot things from afar, and the latter can be held in reserve until a target wanders near a statue square. CG gained the Elf Conjurer's Perfect Targeting spells and the Cliffwalk Archer, both of which fit fine into the faction's general style. Most factions can benefit from the Mercenary General's minion for fodder hunting, with plenty of suitable choices. In LE, the Astral Stalker and Manticore Sniper can pick off weak pieces with ranged attacks, while CE might be able to use the Drider and Large Fire Elemental. The latter is particularly effective thanks to its high speed and Fire Shield, which will automatically cause as much damage to most fodder creatures as they can cause to the Elemental. Desert of Desolation also added a few new fodder pieces to the game -- the 3-point Farmer is a perfect example of a fodder piece that's added to a warband for little other reason than to jack up the activation count.
One other creature from Desert of Desolation really impacts fodder hunting -- the Capricious Copper Dragon. Its Hoardkeeper ability gives you 10 bonus victory points every time you score points for destroying a creature. With the Capricious Copper Dragon parked on one of victory areas, easily-killed enemy fodder creatures that cost only 3-5 points become doubly lucrative targets. Xeph Warriors, Orc Warriors, Dire Rats, Goblin Skirmishers, and similar creatures triple or quadruple in value, and that's without factoring in the activation advantage you can gain by destroying them. You get the bonus on other kills as well, but low-HP fodder offer the best payoff -- they're easy to destroy; they don't present much danger to anything but your own fodder; if your opponent doesn't have a Capricious Copper Dragon, you can trade fodder one-for-one with him and come out way ahead on VPs; and the 10-point bonus represents an enormous percentage increase in the creature's victory value when compared to the boost from destroying a 50 or 60-point creature. The only major caveat is that the creature must be destroyed. You don't get the Hoardkeeper bonus for a creature that routs off the map, for example. That's a small drawback in light of how easy it is for CG and CE bands to use their range and high speed to pick favorable fights.
However you go about fodder hunting, there are three things to be careful of.
First, your hunter shouldn't wander right into the enemy's formation. Killing a pair of three-pointers with your Air Mephit might give you the activation advantage and 6 victory points, but if the enemy's main hitters are nearby, then you're going to hand him 13 points in exchange. That's not a good trade. Wait until you can strike at fodder without being disastrously counter-attacked.
Second, don't devote too many points to fodder hunters if you can avoid it. As noted above, an Asura is a great fodder hunter, but it's also 40 points of your (presumably) 200-point warband. If you commit 40 points to dealing with just 15 points worth of enemy creatures, then your opponent can concentrate his remaining 185 points against your 160. Much depends on specific circumstances, but that 25-point advantage can be decisive. If you use an expensive creature for this job, make sure the rest of your warband can't be dragged into a losing battle in the meantime.
Finally, be aware that while you are hunting your opponent's fodder, his creatures will be hunting yours. If the enemy warband includes creatures that are good fodder hunters, then you need to be very careful about where you leave your inexpensive pieces. If you don't, the worst-case scenario is that you'll wind up on the low end of the activation advantage swing. Sometimes the best you can hope for is neutralizing one another's fodder. When that happens, the player who's left with more surviving creatures or who spent fewer points on his fodder gets to claim the small advantage -- but it may not amount to much.
Not every warband needs a fodder hunter. A pack of Large Black Dragons might not care about activation control if they can slam through anything in their way. If your warband already has more activations than the opponent's thanks to Minions, then he's the one who needs to go hunting, not you. The need for a fodder hunter isn't universal, it's simply one tactic among many. It's one well worth learning both to use and to defend against, because every faction can do it to some extent.
Jim Cook ("Pegasus Knight" on the forums) is a tournament-oriented D&D Minis player who enjoys writing strategy articles on topics ranging from general tactics to in-depth, creature-specific 'gameplay guides.' He also dabbles in RPGs, game design theory, competitive videogaming, and some sci-fi.