Tactics In Open Combat: The Force Back

Once you’ve played a game or two of Open Combat you will soon get a feel for how the game flows. You might even get a glimpse of situations where the position of models and/or use of a weapon or skill is particularly effective. One of the core influences in the way a game might flow or events unfold is the Force Back. In this article I look at potential ways you can put the combat result to good use in your games of Open Combat.

The Importance Of Force Backs

Fighting in Open Combat is more than just whacking your opponent about with whatever weapon you have to hand. It’s a dynamic, ever-changing dance where the position you take when you’re on the offensive has a bearing on both the potential damage you might inflict on your opponent and on what could happen to you when the enemy fights back.

A Force Back doesn’t naturally do any damage (although it can) but it can have a huge influence on the choices both you and your opponent make during an encounter. Some of the uses of Force Back are as follows:

  1. Repositioning enemy models.
  2. Increasing the chance of causing damage.
  3. Denying enemy optimal use of activations/actions.
  4. Area control.

Repositioning Enemy Models

At it simplest a Force Back allows you to reposition an enemy model. If you Engage the enemy model, or shoot at it with a missile weapon, from the right angle you can direct an enemy model 1” in a specific direction.

This can be used to pop the model out from behind cover or obstructions or force the model into base-to-base contact with another of your models that has yet to activate. It can force the enemy from an elevated position potentially knocking them Prone or push the enemy model into a Hazard or difficult Area Terrain. If the enemy model is too close to the edge of the board it can even see them pushed from the field and fleeing the encounter. If the scenario involves capturing objectives a Force Back can be used to keep enemy away from the objectives or create a gap for your own models to approach the objective first. Repositioning enemy models through the use of a Force Back can be a game changer at a crucial part of the game.

There are several options that can increase the effectiveness of the Force Back. In hand-to-hand combat the double-handed weapon has the potential to drive an enemy model back a very long way for a single Action. But there is the potential for scoring a Terrible Miss too and losing the Initiative. A Monster or Mounted model can Force Back a smaller model 2” for a single attack. Coupling a Monster with a double-handed weapon can make this a very long way indeed but that’s both the Behaviour Table and the weapon that could lose the Initiative. Slings, when used within 8” of the target, can be a very good way to reposition an enemy model from a safer distance away.

Increasing The Chance Of Causing Damage

When a Force Back is blocked for any reason and the target cannot move the full distance of the Force Back the target will take 1 point of FOR damage. So as you look to Engage enemy models it is a good idea to bear in mind the potential routes you can use to back enemy models up against terrain. (This is one of the reasons a good density of terrain is important in Open Combat).

If there isn’t any useful terrain near to the target model you can engineer your own blocker of Force Back routes by using multiple models in your attack. Use a model to attack from one direction but ensure you position another model behind the enemy model to block the route of any potential Force Back.

The use of a Force Back to cause damage is particularly important when running models that will only ever get one Attack Dice in an attack. Normally these models will be needing a Minor or Solid Hit (5 and 6 on a D6) to score damage but if you can engineer your approach angles correctly you can score damage on your Force Back results (3 or more on a D6). As you can imagine, being surrounded in Open Combat is not a very safe place to be.

Denying Enemy Models Optimal Use of Activations/Actions

Many things in Open Combat are situational and the use of Force Backs to deny your enemy the optimal use of their models is very much in this camp.

In a scenario with objectives the act of forcing your enemy away from the objectives is a very simple way to dictate what actions they take with their models. Your opponent will have to use up actions to get back into the thick of things.

Good positional play to create threats if they are ignored is another way to force your enemy to react to your actions. Putting models armed with missile weapons in a position where they can force an enemy into a Hazard or off the battlefield when they next activate ensures that your opponent has to spend actions to respond or leave their models in a dangerous place.

Positioning your models so that they can only be Engaged from a particular angle and if the enemy chooses to do this they have something behind them such as blocking terrain, a Hazard or other threat can give your opponent a danger to consider before committing to the Engagement. This is something you have to be aware of when making your own attacks, if the enemy model is still alive after you have attacked what position have you left yourself in?

When a model armed for base-to-base combat actions starts Engaged with a similarly armed enemy model if you score a Force Back on your first action you will most likely wish to Follow Up to make a second attack action. If you score a Force Back on the second action the choice is not so clear cut. Do you choose not to Follow Up so that your opponent has to use a Move action to Engage your model or do you Follow Up to deny the enemy the option of repositioning? It depends on the situation but in some circumstances you can deny your enemy the opportunity to use both their actions attacking you with their hand-to-hand fighters. Learning when to Follow Up and when to stay back is one of the many small but important decisions you have to make when playing Open Combat, it can be especially tricky when both warbands are close to their Break Point.

Area Control

This is partly covered by the previous section discussing denying enemy optimal use of activations. If the tabletop has Hazards strewn around, Difficult Ground or Low Obstacles (see Sword Masters supplement) the use of missile weapon armed models can control areas of the tabletop by threat alone. If an opponent knows that a Force Back could put one of their models in an unfortunate position they may take a more circuitous route across the tabletop. A wily player will always try to use this control to their advantage.

How To Minimise The Impact Of Force Backs

When you know that Force Backs can be so effective what can you do to minimise the chances of your opponent using them against you?

There are a couple of things which can be built into your warband to cut down on the impact of Force Backs. Resolute is one ability which can go some way to help and Shields help to stop damage from blocked Force Backs but both of these are no use if the enemy attacks from behind. Using the terrain can help too, when you are defending a barrier such as a fence or wall you can only be Forced Back as part of Solid Hits. Moving from suitable terrain to suitable terrain in this way can cut down on lost momentum if an enemy is trying to keep your models away from certain positions or objectives.

But the simplest answer is good positional play, it’s also perhaps the most difficult thing to master. The best approach in one game may not be suitable in the next as the situation will be different. Learning the nuances in situations based on the prevailing circumstances of the terrain, the scenario and the warbands involved is something which comes with experience. The more you play and experience the more your learn and remember for use another time… and the more you play the more fun you have too!

When you’re next faced with the option to score a Minor Hit or a Force Back it might not be such a straight forward decision. Hopefully this article will give you something to think about next time you play Open Combat.