A few weeks ago I was playing a big game with OST and some out of town friends who had a pretty basic grasp of the game but still required some teaching and coaching. I was inspired about target priority and thought I'd share my knowledge as a three year IG player. OST was the catalyst because he talked to me after and said he doesn't exercise target priority the way I did. Of course, it turned into a blog post brainstorm and finally now that life has normalized after the school year started its time to put it in digital ink.
First things first; target priority, what does it mean? To me, and I hope everyone else, it means the order in which you engage your targets. Pretty basic but you have to add in a few terms; Threat and resource. On top of that you have to rank your threats and categorize your resources. The first thing you have to do to even begin priority is threat assessment.
Threat assessment requires a knowledge of the opponents list. You have to ask yourself a few questions and prioritize accordingly; Is it a close combat threat? Is it a ranged threat? How hardy is the target? How many turns does it have to get to me? How is its lanes of fire? There is no clear this equals that formula when you start gathering this data, but once you get this data its easier to categorize your opponents units. Generally, I've answered a few of these just by looking at their list.
So, how do you decide to shoot a landraider full of terminators or the storm raven full of deathcompany and a dread? This is where your questions come in. The storm raven is going to get to your faster, but the terminators have thunderhammers. Also, look at the weapons on the vehicle its self. Multimeltas? Lascannons? Assault Cannons? You might get 3 turns before the termies get to wrecking things but the storm raven is going to be in there by turn 2. Then look at the resilience. The Landraider at av 14 is going to be really hard to stop with 3 las cannons versus the raven that has AV 12. Maybe the landraider is going to get a 5+ sheild or the raven has 4+ turbo'd. There are many things you should look at about your opponent's list, but after you assess them you need to look at your list.
What are you going to bring? Do you only have lascannons? Do you have an ordnance to drop on it? Any meltas near anything? Generally I save lascannons for AV12 or less. This way I have a 50% chance to pen because once you pen you really only have a 33% chance to destroy it. (However playing your game one turn at a time in the first few turns means almost any roll on the damage table is good because you'll most likely stun/immobilize/destroy a transport or silence a gun tank, effectively neutralizing it for that turn) If you're pouring las shots into a land raider you'll only pen on a 6 and if in cover or shield is up you'll get neutralized so you're hopes are pretty slim versus the storm raven, even after boosting (because if it boosted, on a pen that gets through a immobilized will wreck it)
So, imagine you did have a bunch of stuff to shoot. a meltagu vet squad, a las cannon weapons team and a manticore. How to you pick who shoots first? My rule of thumb is who has the most targets? The melta guns might have rolled up on the landraider and jumped out to be in half range. If thats the case I'd for sure shoot them first; they only have one target so why blow it up with something that has more? Its wasteful of your resources.
So assuming the landraider survived the 3 melta shots now you're down to your vendetta and your manticore. They both have shots on both the raven and the land radier. You'll have to look to see what beyond your #1 and #2 targets as well as keeping the fact that after you blow up your target, you'll have a new juicy soft target on the ground. Obviously, a manticore has the entire board to shoot at so it has infinitely more targets than the vendetta, so I'd shoot the vendetta next. Also, because if I blow up either the landraider or the storm raven there are going to be FNP termies (because I'm sure they'll have a priest) or FNP death company (and their dread), both of which will be denied their FNP by the manticore.
So there is a lot that goes into target priority. Ask yourself questions and play one turn at a time when you're thinking of priority. The exception to my one turn at a time rule is when I can punish low troop lists. I love seeing a space wolves or BA list that only has 2 5 man troop units in razorbacks because despite the damage those long fangs will do, or that death star land raider, if I kill all your troops (or take away their mobility) the best you can do is tie. I'll ignore your vindicators, your land raiders, your furiouso dreads, your twolves, everything, just to crush you're troops into oblivion. That is still a threat assessment but instead of assessing how they threaten your army, you've assessed how they threaten your victory.
One last thing I want to throw in but don't have a real place in my outline for is asking if you can actually kill the target. If I have a fresh vet squad that jumped out to melta a battle wagon, I typically consider them sacrificial. Hopefully the sacrifice of that unit kept whatever was in the wagon in the kill zone or off an objective or something useful. My point to illustrate with this is another target priority question; can I kill it? This means if that wagon blows up and 15 boyz get out its not going to matter to my guardsmen if 15 charge them or if 5 charge them. They'll more than likely die. (A quick off topic point: the more points you spend on something, the more likely you are to want to protect it.) This makes those boyz a low priority despite being an immediate threat to your vets. You signed their death certificate when you ran them up on that battle wagon so stand by your choice and let them die; the boyz are going to spend their next turn killing those vets so you're vets, so like a stunned tank, you've neutralized them for another turn. Good job soldiers, you're sacrifice was not in vein!
So when it comes to target priority its all about assessment. Keep asking questions; How dangerous is the unit? How immediate is the threat? How easy is it to neutralize? (Small Risk>Big Risk) What do I have to shoot? What targets do my units have (shoot with the units that have the lowest # of targets first!!) ? How are my fire lanes? (set up kill zones) How is the targets fire lanes? There are tons of questions you need to ask, but the important point is that you ask questions and not just shoot whats in your face.
I took pictures of the first two turns versus a BA mixed drop/razor list. I'm including them as real life examples of how I prioritized. Sorry about the pictures quality, it was my camera phone. I'm going to use either cardinal directions with the top of the picture being North or the clock face with 12 at the top.
We played mission 3 from the ard boyz semi and he reserved everything were as I set up with a castle protecting my lemans and manticore by bubble wrapping with chimeras stopping the drop melta doom of 2 furiosos, 2 melta dreads, and a melta sternguard squad. (this is a very very very important tactic when playing with parking lot guard. Practice your spacing with an actual drop pod). So he dropped around my parking lot, as expected.
So in preparation of the drop, smoke was up and my lemans were fully covered by the chimeras to get the 4+. I popped because I knew that 3 pods were guaranteed to show up and my tanks had no targets any way on turn 1. After that I have targets to shoot or 0-2 melta units coming down and could pop smoke and have nothing even show up.
My set up for shooting focused mainly on the melta guns. The units at 9 an 10 got out to receive order because I only had 2 units to shoot 2 dreads and the twin link will be really important to be sure I can kill it (can I kill it?). Obiviously my only targets are 3 dreads and 3 drop pods. The pods have storm bolters and can hurt my vets, if focused can even cause a morale check to make them run off the board. Also, no matter what we roll the objectives as, they'll have to go because they're contesting terrain, and count for KP/VP.
So, with the vets, the squad at 10 has clear LOS on both dread, where as the squad at 9 only has LoS on the north dread. So the squad at 9 shoots first because it has the fewest targets. It blows up the dread, then the squad at 10 shoots and blows up its dread. Then the dread at 1 is shot up by the CCS meltas or the vet meltas without too much priority consideration. After that the chimeras multi laser the drop pods because they have no other targets but, even thought the're st 6 vs AV 12, they can still get blown up because they're open topped.
The Vendettas line up for a future attack. I know his outflaking Baal is going to go over to my tanks and this to try and bait it to this side. They boosted over so for the turn they'd get a cover save and hopefully leave the pred by its self without any targets.
And the result of my target priority, one pod left.
And now the razorbacks roll on giving me fresh targets for next turn. So looking at the board set up and seeing a las/autocannon predator behind 4 las plas razor backs with 5 assault marines and one with a shield libby (and mephiston tucked in the building and totally out of line of site) what would you shoot at?
There is still one pod with 10 sternguard in it too. How would you strategize for the anticipated arival of the stern guard next turn? What shooting would you start with? You have 4 vet squads with 3 metlas that you'd have to move 12 and get out to shoot the razorbacks at half range, 9 Multilaser/heavy stubber/heavy flamer chimeras, 3 fully functional vendettas, 2 leman plasmacutioners with plasma sponsons and a manticore. And Go!