|Ground which can be freely traversed by both sides is called accessible. … Be before the enemy in occupying the raised and sunny spots … Then you will be able to fight with advantage.
|-- Sun Tzu, The Art of War
Skirmish matches are often won by controlling the situation. If you can apply your game-plan while your opponent can't apply his, chances are you control how the game will unfold. This concept is known as 'battlefield control' and is applied by visualizing 'control zones' projected by each creature. One way of looking at it is comparing how much of the playing area you can influence by damaging any enemy in that area versus how well your opponent can do the same thing.
It's best to think of control zones as invisible rectangles on the map. Enemy creatures inside those zones can be damaged by your creatures. If your opponent controls less territory or inflicts less damage in an area, then you probably have the advantage.
Three types of control are discussed in this article -- control that derives from ranged attacks, from melee attacks, and from speed.
Ranged control works around the idea of damaging your opponent from such a distance that he can't retaliate, at least not immediately. In its simplest form, ranged control involves setting up creatures with ranged attacks in spots where they have long lines of sight. Those lines of sight give you control over all the spaces you can see, because you can attack enemy creatures in any of them. Ideally, whatever enemy creatures survive the barrage will be weakened enough to be mopped up by your main hitters and blockers.
Consider the example of an Arcane Ballista set up in a forest corner of Dragondown Grotto. The unshaded area shows squares that the Ballista can make ranged attacks into. As you can see, the Arcane Ballista can make ranged attacks over nearly the entire map, with only a few significant gaps. Approaching the Ballista will be difficult, and all the while it will be hitting your creatures for at least 25 damage a shot. If you manage to get close, it's still in forest and thus has cover, meaning it can keep shooting at adjacent targets. Until your warband closes the distance, the ballista controls the match. It can cause more damage to the enemy than the enemy can inflict on the Ballista's warband at that distance (assuming proper deployment, of course).
This is a powerful concept, because a band that has no ranged control could lose the match before it has made more than a handful of attacks. And this is ranged control in only its most basic form. High-speed archers and spellcasters such as the Bralani Eladrin or Renegade Warlock can shoot-and-scoot through a series of protected firing positions as the enemy advances.
Ranged control can be dealt with by using extremely mobile hitters (e.g., Large Black Dragons) that can get close and deliver heavy damage quickly, or by simply not giving them any targets. Creatures with Hide may not do much damage when shooting from cover, but the enemy won't do any damage to them at all without Blindsight. Extremely high AC could also help in some cases.
Melee control is established by placing powerful hitters where the opponent has a strong incentive to go or by moving them in such a way that your creatures can chase down weaker opponents. The most obvious example is putting a 'titan' piece on a central victory area, as shown.
The Fire Giant Forgepriest demonstrates melee control well. With a Speed of 6 and Melee Reach 2, he has three distinct control ranges.
The first (shown in red) is a control range of about seven squares. Anything within that zone is at risk of being 'based' by the Fire Giant in a single move -- i.e., the Fire Giant can move adjacent to anything in that zone with a single move action. Not only can he attack immediately with his second action, but the enemy is forced to either stand and fight or risk a powerful Attack of Opportunity if it withdraws.
The next zone (shown in yellow) includes everything adjacent to the first zone. Thanks to Melee Reach 2, the Forgepriest can make a single move and strike for 30 damage against an enemy in this zone. The two creatures won't be adjacent, however, so the enemy can withdraw safely if it doesn't want to duke it out with the Forgepriest.
The third zone represents the Forgepriest's 'superiority range'. Presuming he is the most powerful creature in the area and doesn't mind taking a few Opportunity Attacks from enemies, the Forgepriest can move up to double its speed in order to base any enemy within the green zone. He won't do any damage right away if he uses this twelve-square move, but any enemy he stops next to must either stay put or incur an AoO upon moving. Either choice suits the Forgepriest, because he'll likely win a head-on brawl or do 30 nearly unopposed damage to anything that retreats. This 'superiority range' is indicated in green.
Finally, the Fire Giant could just sit on the victory area. The player will rack up 10 victory points per round for this, giving his opponent a strong incentive to attack. When the attack comes, the powerful Fire Giant can just stand in place and hammer his enemies. Few things can defeat a Forgepriest in a slugfest.
In all of these cases, the Forgepriest's player has established a kind of battlefield control over half the map. Most creatures caught within these zones risk suffering massive damage if the Fire Giant turns its attention on them. The best way to deal with this kind of control is to split up and use superior speed and range to tear up the rest of the opponent's warband before fleeing to another victory area. Some of your pieces will be caught and destroyed, but not all of them will. The zone of melee control shifts as the relevant creatures move.
As intimated above, highly mobile creatures can control the battlefield by avoiding powerful foes and picking the fights they want to get involved in. A Valenar Nomad Charger, for example, with speeds 12, can use Mounted Melee Attack to control enormous territory, but it does very little damage per hit. If a powerful enemy manages to chase it down, the Charger's area control is erased. Thus, a 25-square radius of territory is controlled only where it's safe to move through. The Charger controls significantly less of that range if he must retreat to safety after attacking. Shadowdancers and other teleporting creatures have the same liability; wherever they go, they must be opposed only by enemies they can safely defeat. The same can be said of Incorporeal creatures that use their ability to pass through walls to reach otherwise inaccessible enemies, although Incorporeality is often its own best defense.
A different type of speed control exists between melee attackers with slightly different speeds. A 1-point difference in speeds -- or a 1-square difference in reach -- allows the quicker creature to position itself just outside its enemy's one-move-and-attack range. If the enemy creature moves adjacent, it can't attack because it has used a double move; if it uses a single move, it can't attack because it's out of range. The faster creature, however, can make a single move and attack. This gives it a significant control advantage, because the enemy must either give away the first blow or withdraw. (Note that creatures with multiple attacks change the picture again. Sometimes, giving up the first attack in exchange for two back-to-back attacks is a fair trade.)
Finally, creatures with area attacks also control large zones. Dragons are prime examples of this. By combining high speed with Flight and either a line or cone attack, they can inflict damage over a vast portion of the battlefield. Even if a dragon hits only one enemy this way, its opponent was forced to move cautiously in an effort to minimize the danger.
These types of control are the hardest to defend against, because they vary depending on the creature. They're also the hardest to use, because your opponent's positioning can diminish or outright deny you the control you would normally have.
Putting It All Together
With these 'control zones' defined, you can approach a skirmish with one of two priorities. First, you can focus on keeping your control zones squarely on top of your opponent's warband while keeping his off of your creatures. Ranged control and most forms of speed control work best this way. If your warband is applying damage but not taking any in return, you've managed it well, and you're probably winning.
The alternative is to accept that your opponent's danger zones will cover your warband and to ensurethat yours pack more punch. A Large Brass Dragon and Large Black Dragon have about the same striking range and similar defense, but the Black Dragon does notably more damage. Thus, the LBD really controls that space.
Some warbands apply both of these concepts through a mix of good melee hitters and ranged support. Being able to respond to almost any threat with a counter-threat of your own is the most difficult balance to achieve. Visualizing the danger zones on the map can help you recognize the areas of greatest threat and greatest opportunity.
|About the Author
|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.