Get ready to post lots of angry comments!  I’m about to challenge a notion so central to 5th edition that people take it like its obvious.  The notion?  Mechanized is almost infinitely better than basic infantry.  Now, I’m not talking about things that even the most “competitive” of list builders gives a pass to:  bikes, jump pack units with FnP, long fangs, etc…

I’m talking about honest to goodness infantry that walks everywhere and is usually equipped with basic weaponry.  I’ll use this article by Kirby as an example of the mindset I’m arguing against:

Essentially, his argument boils down to these few points:

1.  Mech is more survivable
2.  Mech is faster

I think this quote encapsulates this mindset the best:  “Foot is just too static and has to deal so much more damage to a Mech army in a mobile and defensive enviornment that they just can’t cope.”

First off, I want to talk about running counter-meta.  I know that meta is a dirty word to some people, but if you don’t think there’s a trend in army building, you aren’t paying attention.  Mech is the king of tournament army builds.  Its, by far, the most common army type seen out there right now.  And, let me be upfront about this, there IS a reason.  I’m not trying to say mech is bad in this article, mearly that infantry are certainly useful even without their rides.  They are ESPECIALLY useful when the majority of your opponent’s army is geared to beat mechanized armies.  Take a peak at the armies advocated by Yes the Truth Hurts and 3++ is the New Black.  They invariably include lots of Autocannon, Missile Launchers, and Meltaguns.  Weapons designed to crack open transports and regular vehicles.  What happens when that weaponry has to try and take out loads of infantry?  Well, with the proliferation of cover saves in 5th edition, odds are they are going to have a hard time killing enough infantry to matter.  If you have enough models out on the table, those weapon’s are going to suffer because they don’t have enough volume of fire to take out the models shooting back at them.  If those infantry models can damage vehicles either in combat or with ranged shooting, then those vehicles are going to be in trouble.

Now, lets go after the two points above.  First, lets look at survivability.

As an example, a lascannon fired by a BS 4 model has a ~15% chance of destroying a Rhino Chassis vehicle and a ~28% chance of killing an infantry model in cover.  Yes, the vehicle is more survivable in terms of simply not dying, but the difference is that the vehicle can become useless with even just a glance.  A vehicle that can’t fire or can’t move (depending on its role) is a useless vehicle, even if its just for a turn.  When you factor in the odds of getting a result on the vehicle with the lascannon the odds jump to ~56% or ~28% if the vehicle is in cover.  So yes, in terms of taking out the vehicle completely, vehicles are typically more resilient (as they essentially have a 3++ save against penetrating hits to live), but, as I’ve stated before, you don’t have to kill a vehicle to make it a non-factor.

Another factor on vehicles that make them less survivable as touted is melee.  I’ve heard innumerable people claim that vehicles are simply immune to melee because: 1. the infantry will never get there and 2. bubblewrap and 3. vehicles that move over 6″ are hard to hit.  Before I dive into those counter arguments, let me talk about damaging vehicles in combat.  This was one of the places that the switch from 4th to 5th hurt vehicles as in 4th, vehicles took melee damage from whichever sides the attacks were coming from, but in 5th, all attacks go to the rear armor.  Very few models in the game have rear armors that aren’t 10, and all the most popular vehicles do have AV10 in the back (Rhinos, Razorbacks, Chimeras, Chimera-chassis artillery, etc…).  This means that they are fairly susceptible to assaults.  The main reason for this is that vehicles don’t have WS and are hit based on how much they move.  A stationary vehicle is auto-hit, and if you have enough attacks, that vehicle is going down.  For instance, if your force has Krak Grenades, it should take only 10 grenades to take out most vehicle reliably, but only 2 to reliably get a result on the vehicle.  Compare that with the lascannon shooting at the Rhino Chassis, which needs about 7 shots to take it out, and you can see how they are fairly comparable.

Now, the counter arguments:  The first one I think I’ll save for the next section on mobility.  The second one about bubblewrap I find interesting because it is using infantry to protect vehicles to protect infantry.  A list-building strategy of mine for a long time has been, “instead of spending money on a unit to protect a unit, buy more of the original unit.”  This isn’t always the case, but I think its odd to use infantry to protect vehicles when it should be the other way around.  Now, bubblewrapping is a fine idea; but I think it suffers from allowing the assaulting player to sandbag assaults.  What I mean by that is that if you can open up a hole in the bubblewrap (and, usually, bublewrapping units aren’t very tough) with some anti-infantry shooting, then you can assault the vehicle and the bubblewrap in such a way that you still do the damage you want to the vehicle, but are locked in combat in your opponent’s turn, meaning you can’t be shot.  Essentially, you can plan ahead for bubblewrap units and deal with them before the critical assault or even at the same time.  Also remember that you ignore the 1″ away from enemy models rule while assaulting, so unless your opponent has his models spaced <1″ apart, you can sneak through them to what you want to assault anyway.  Not saying bubblewrap is worthless, just that you can also be smart and outmaneuver it if you are smart as well.

To the third point, now, obviously a vehicle that is moving around is harder to hit in melee and the numbers change, but that presents new issues for the vehicles; namely that the vehicle can now shoot less than it could before.  Again, this depends on the vehicle, as fast vehicles can move quickly and still put out a lot of damage, but for the majority of vehicles, this isn’t the case.  Also, the vehicles need a place to GO in order to be mobile.  With a board full of terrain and lots of enemy bearing down on them, perhaps there aren’t as many good places to go.

Which kind of segues into my next section:  mobility.

Now, at face value, there really is no question as to whether vehicles move faster than infantry.  12″ vs 6″ is case closed.  However, there are other factors that need to be examined.  First of all, unless the vehicle is fast, if it moves 12″, it won’t be able to fire its weapons; and regardless of type, if it moves over 6″, the models inside cannot fire either.  So, if you are looking at mobility in terms of mobile firepower, you aren’t really gaining much by putting a unit in a vehicle other than what the vehicle brings to the table, and, in that case, what is the advantage of having the unit in the vehicle?  Now, vehicles do offer the move up/jump out/shoot stuff ability that just walking wouldn’t allow; however, by doing so, you expose yourself to counter-attack and counter-fire, so you better be sure you kill all threats if you do that (or at least cripple them).

Another factor to consider is running.  Now, I know that its random, and therefore you can’t always rely on it, but if you go by averages, an infantry unit that is running should move about 9.5″ a turn; or, in other words, 2.5″ less than a normal vehicle.  In a 6 turn game, the vehicle can move 72″, and the running infantry should move about 57″ for a total difference of 15″ on average.  What’s really important is that in terms of “crossing the gap” towards your opponent, you should reasonably be assured you can assault them if you’re on foot by turn 3 in most cases (we could get into blocking and stuff , but for now, just accept that the infantry should be able to assault then).  Also, perhaps the infantry unit doesn’t have to move all the way to be effective.  A common tactic with Marines is to move into the middle of the board with Tacticals in a Rhino and shoot out of it with a multimelta.  You can accomplish something very similar with a tactical squad on foot by moving and running turn 1, and then shooting.  Yes you are exposed to firepower, but you don’t run the risk of having the Rhino get glanced and not be able to shoot from inside (a very real possibility).  Its important to note that a running unit and a unit in a vehicle moving that fast both will be unable to shoot.

However, the main thing about mobility is that its overrated.  Unless you’re playing special missions, there are two goals in 40k: holding objectives and killing units.  In the objective-based missions mobility is certainly important in going out and holding the objectives in the center of the board; but not as much as you’d think.  As long as you deploy the objectives close to the potential deployment zones (basically about 12″ up and maybe 24″ in, then you can reasonably be assured that you don’t even HAVE to move to be holding the objectives.  This goes even more so for the “roll dice and tie” mission (thanks to 11th Company for using the term and Dice Like Thunder for picking it up from them, I’m so proud!) where you just plop it in your deployment zone.  Essentially, by doing this, you put the onus of movement on your opponent, not on yourself.  A similar mindset evolves in a kill points mission.  Unless your opponent has overwhelming firepower dedicated to killing infantry, odds are, they aren’t going to be able to kill enough of your models at range, especially if you are trading blows with them at range.  The best way to clear out lots of infantry is in combat, and that requires your foe to come to you and assault you.

Essentially, if you design your list properly and use appropriate tactics, lack of mobility isn’t an issue at all, and the points you saved on not investing in it can go towards more stuff that can help you out.  Now, I’m not saying you should eschew mobility completely, but you just don’t need it on everything.

Lastly, in terms of vehicles out-maneouvering infantry; if you are an assault based infantry force like Nids or Orks or even walking Space Wolves; you can easily use your army to sweep your opponent into a certain place and engage there.  What I mean by that is that the board is limited in space and at a certain point, they can’t keep backing away from you and you can pin them into a corner (or two, if they split up).  You can do this by having your force arrayed in basically a multi-pronged advance that will force your opponent to go where you dictate.  At a certain point they will need to try and make a breakout to one point or another, and that’s when you pounce on them.

Here’s a few more thoughts to go with this.  I like transports that you don’t lose infantry model count on when you buy them.  For instance, I think Rhinos are great because you don’t have to take a smaller unit to use them.  Essentially, adding a Rhino to a 10 man tac squad doesn’t change the unit in any way, just gives it more flexibility; but if you made the unit only 5 strong and put it in a Razorback, you lose out a lot on the utility of the unit itself.  Chimeras are also good in this way as you only gain by adding a Chimera to the unit.

Large armies composed mostly of infantry require more precision and patience than vehicles by dint of the fact that you are going to be deploying and placing more models.  You still have to deploy carefully and move carefully, but you have to do it like 10 times more than if the army was all mounted.  In that regard, infantry-heavy forces require MORE tactical acumen in my opinion as you have more chances of making a mistake; and this is why I think that we don’t see as many of these armies making it, as it is easier to be precise with fewer models.

Another issue with mostly infantry is simply time.  In a tournament setting, moving tons of little guys is a lot more time-consuming (especially if you are playing carefully), and you might end up not finishing your round in time, or getting rushed to move poorly.  This is not to be taken lightly, as it is a valid concern; but the only way to beat it is practice with the army so you can move models with more confidence.

Finally, when you build forces that are without vehicles, I think the most successful units are going to be those that are resilient and have good firepower.  They either gain that resilience through good armor/high toughness, or sheer numbers.  Either way, you need units that can take punishment and deal it out as well.  Best example I can think of is big, joined Guard units.  50 T3 models in cover is a tough nut to crack for almost anything, especially when they have 5 lascannnons in they’re taking out vehicles left and right.  I also think Shoota boyz are great at this role, and termagants with devourers.  I’m also thinking that FnP Kalabite Warriors are going to be able to do this as well.

Now, I want this to be perfectly clear.  I am NOT saying that mechanized sucks or that mechanized is a weak way to play; it’s obviously successful, but I think a lot of that has to do with people playing lists that make sense to them and fit their game-style.  I’m hoping people take to heart what Tasty was getting at with his most recent Dark Eldar article and look at ways to build lists that don’t require transport spam to win.  It takes a paradigm shift, but I know its possible.