Knife to a gunfight: the role of melee

It is common to hear that Warcaster melee attacks are weaker than guns: after all they are basically the same but with longer range. However they still have an important role.

Warcaster has no rules about engagement that other games use to ‘protect’ melee models from guns. Guns can be used without penalty against models engaged, by models engaged, and you can even shoot point blank at models trying to bash you… So why do I still say melee attacks are valuable?

Ignore Cover

Melee attacks ignore cover. Cover is the main defensive bonus in Warcaster, and makes a huge difference in survivability of models. So this alone is a big deal.

Aeturnus built a giant vehicle around a knife…

Stronger melee attacks

This is tough to tease out, but in general you’ll get higher pow on melee attack than a gun. Pow 5 is relatively common on a sword, while similarly priced guns will rarely reach so high. Look at ISA jack weapons: a pow 5 or 6 (heavy) fusion glaive is the same 2pts as a pow 4 maelstrom or Harbinger. Similarly mw fusion drill hits pow5 for 1 pt, while battle rifle is pow 4. Even among squads, pow 5 is common on melee specialists (vassal reapers, paladin defenders) while pow 3-4 on guns (eg Enforcers, Annihlators).

Related to this, control effects such as stun (apply activation token) are more commonly on melee attacks. Warjacks also have a few key melee focussed cyphers that add effects, such as repulsor or smashing everyone nearby with every attack

Objective focussed gameplay

“All the important fights are in knife fight range”

You can’t win Warcaster without taking objectives. While hypothetically you can kill a lot from long range and use mobility to retreat out of retaliation, it doesn’t usually help you get to the objectives.

Most Warcaster objectives grant cover, and force models to be within 1″. This means that ranged attacks are a lot worse than melee attacks when fighting over an objective. A melee attack is a lot more likely to hit (ignoring cover), likely to do more damage (higher pow), and forced to be in range (within the 1″ halo). For these critical attacks, melee is superior, letting you advance into an objective, kill the defender, then already be standing there to claim it.

Unique targets

There’s a few targets that benefit from a melee specialist to destroy: especially among the heavy warjacks.

  • The Nemesis is the obvious one: it has a poor statline with def3 arm3 but gains protections from cyphers and guns due to its arc shield. A flying melee model (or even a competent melee model without flight) can knock it from the sky quite easily.
  • For damage resistances, kinetic is the most common melee damage type, and one of the least resisted – with only Phaetheon gaining bonuses against kinetic. This compares with Ballistic (the most common ranged type) that can really struggle: especially against ISA Maelstroms and Empyrean Starfire Arrays which are good choices even before adding bonuses against Ballistic Attacks. There is also a smattering of other Defense Matrix effects, including the Strike Raptors Cyclone Cannon, Razorbat, and Astreus.

When people design a warjack loadout specifically to counter an opponent’s model, melee focussed builds are surprisingly common. Each light in particular has a very strong melee focussed build that scratches a niche: all have a cortex or ability that buffs melee ridiculously.

Shoot to Kill

None of this is to argue that Melee is always better than ranged: the ability to remove opponents before they can arrive is a real plus. But there are huge benefits to melee attacks that make it a mistake to avoid melee options. You should have a mix of melee and ranged options – the melee models should rush objectives and take them, then rely on ranged models to hold them while still contributing. Warjacks will often carry a mix of ranged and melee attacks to fill both roles, and also ensure they are guaranteed to have weapons if hit with System Failure.

Build balanced, and remember no matter how impressive your range stat, you still need to move toward objectives and come into melee range!

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Martyr of the Cause

    Well said!

    Melee also brings you some options like Repulsor, which can be a great way to move an enemy off an objective, slam them into a friend (possibly killing 2 or more models at once), or just throw them off a ledge.

    Though not all armies get the option, armor piercing melee weapons are also tremendously strong on Warjacks. Being able to turn ARM 4 into 3 is significant when you roll out 6 strikes on damage. Against a Nemesis it drops that ARM 3 vs melee down to a ARM 2, which can drop him pretty quick with a little luck.

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