Anyone with the General's Handbook should have a passing familiarity with the six Scenarios for Matched Play. Typically players treat Scenarios as a backdrop to the game, their focus is on removing opposing models and keeping their important pieces in play. If you come from a Warhammer background this is to be expected, 8th Edition Warhammer Fantasy didn't even have Scenarios and 40K hasn't used them for much of its history and in recent times the game revolves around who's deathstar or big synergy piece dies first. Playing for a goal other than killing off the opposing army is something Games Workshop is coming around on but has been a big part of other games like Warmachine for years, Being a dabbler in all things miniatures I have a lot of experience with keeping Objectives in mind, or even playing for them as the primary focus and that's extremely helpful in Age of Sigmar.
While the Scenarios in the General's Handbook are all reasonably different, they ask the same questions of any army:
Can You Take Ground?
Can You Hold Ground?
Can You Leave Units Back?
Do You Have Numbers?
Let's break these down one by one.
Can You Take Ground?
Taking ground is the most straight forward thing to do is any Scenario, you simply move your models up the board and control as much of it as you can. As your army advances you make it harder for for your opponent to put models on the board space behind you. Without Flying this would require moving around your units or going through them, even with Flying their units will be caught between your entire army! I think of this like Risk, once I've gone over a portion of the board it's "mine" until my opponent can punch through my army. Typically in Risk you don't leave much of your army back, you defend and expand your borders. This is exactly the same in Age of Sigmar and many other games, as you eat up more table space your opponent has fewer maneuvering options and is relegated to a smaller area.
Every Scenario is predicated on taking ground. If you can't get to the part of the board where the Objectives are then you can't score, and if you can't score you can't win. To make things more interesting Scenarios are typically placed in the center of the board, at least partially, so sitting back is not an option. This makes speed an important part of any army, if you arrive to the Objective after your opponent then you have to eat into his territory and fight on his terms.
Armies that take ground well are typically his Movement, don't mind Running, can bring models into play up the board (i.e. Stormcast Eternals), and/or have access to Flying. Every army can do this in some form whether it be through Battalions, Allegiance abilities, Summoning, and so on. However not every army can do this and many lists will trade the ability to take ground for the ability to inflict casualties, either by being hard hitting and slow or by staying back and shooting. These lists have to ask themselves if there's enough time to take control of the Objectives after they likely give the opposition first crack.
Can You Hold Ground?
What use is taking ground if you can't hold it? Once you're at the Objective and in the driver's seat on Scenario your opponent isn't likely to let you stay there. This is typically a problem for models that are great at taking ground, they come in small numbers or are very fragile. Cavalry are the most obvious example, these units rarely number more than five models and fall quickly to dedicated attacks but excel at getting up the table ahead of most armies.
Holding ground is a problem with various solutions, for example some armies are just naturally fast. Armies with the Destruction Allegiance are an example of this, every unit has the potential to move an extra d6" per turn. Elves are another example as they have higher Movement values than many other models. Other armies will employ a vanguard approach, units like Cavalry lead the charge and take ground while the remainder of the army catches up and arrives to hold it. Yet another approach is to just kill everything and leave no opposition to contest you, this is what many gunline armies attempt to do.
Typically slower units are more proficient at holding ground, they bring both the numbers and the durability to do the job. This job is often the responsibility of the Battleline in an army, these units aren't usually the best fighters or the most durable but they are relatively cheap in terms of Points and won't be missed from the main battle. Dedicating only a portion of your army to hold ground can be risky though as removing five Liberators, ten Savage Orruks, ten Marauders, etc. is a simple task for many armies and will leave the owning player without a unit on the Objective.
Can You Leave Units Back?
Now we're getting into the nitty gritty of Scenarios. Take and Hold, Escalation, Borderwar, and Gift from the Heavens all have unique Objective placement that diverts away from the center of the board, or can in the case of Gift from the Heavens. Most of the action in a game takes place within 24" of the table center, particularly Combats, meaning the bulk of your army may not be around the Objectives.
Even in a shooting vs. shooting engagement most armies rely heavily on synergy and don't split well. This means they have trouble being in more than one place a time which leaves Objectives open for the opponent to take. The requirement of leaving units back is often filled by two types of units: Ranged and Chaff. Ranged units are comfortable getting to one area of the board and staying there since they can attack and hold the Objective at the same time. Chaff are typically very cheap and weak units such as Chaos Marauders, these don't often contribute to the armies offense much and can comfortably sit on an area of the board. Armies that lack either of these types of units can find themselves struggling to be relevant on Scenario, particularly if they're melee focused. Ironjawz are an example of an army that struggles with leaving units back, all their units are expensive and meant to fight in Combat. Leaving even one back weakens the army greatly and not leaving one back risks an opponent going around, over, or through and stealing the game away.
Do You Have Numbers?
Borderwar, Escalation, Blood and Glory and to a lesser extend Take and Hold all demand model count as a way to control Objectives. It doesn't matter if you have Archaon on your Objective, when five Grots walk up the Objective is theirs. These Scenarios are punishing for elite armies who not only have a problem with model count but also don't usually split up well.
To give a personal example: my game last weak was Blood and Glory against Sylvaneth. My opponent had three units of Kurnoth Hunters, four Heroes, and three minimum sized Batteline units. I knew that with such a numbers advantage all I had to do was push forward and prevent anything getting into my backlines and that's exactly what happened. The Sylvaneth player was powerless to stop my advance in totality while leaving enough models near his Objectives and he couldn't get around my army without taking far too much damage. This led to a prompt Turn 3 victory.
In Age of Sigmar high model count isn't very common. Battleshock makes big units weak to dedicated attacks and it's usually more fun to take a flashy Hero than a unit of ten ditch diggers. This trend continues to the competitive scene, none of the top tier armies save one (mine) runs more than about 40-60 models, sometimes less than that! They also bring extremely vulnerable models for most of the body count, take a look at Skyfire armies with 30 Marauders which are 1 Wound, Bravery 5 and a 6+ Armor Save. Sylvaneth typically brings 15 Tree-Revenants, 1 Wound and a 5+ Armor Save.
Having a proper model count isn't as sexy as taking all the Monsters or shooting you can but it wins games and is often neglected. It also creates a natural balancing element to the game where taking too much of a good thing often leaves the player unable to play for Scenario much and instead rely on winning through attrition.
My mind got onto this topic through a combination of my game this week and thinking about how I can counter some of the other top dogs in the competitive meta. Let's break down my army really quick and see how it stacks up in Scenario:
3x Huskard on Thundertusk
1x Big Boss
1x Wardokk/Grot Shaman
30x Savage Orruks
So right off the bat my model count is 75, quite a bit higher than most armies. The bulk of my model count is also in 2 Wound models which grants them decent durability to compensate for their flimsy Armor Save.
Playing Destruction I'm among the best armies in the game at taking ground because everything can move an extra d6". Much of my army doesn't mind Running, the Wizard, Big Boss, and Savage Orruks spend most turns Running or Charging. I even have some speed with the Kunnin' Rukk Movement on my Arrowboys, should I need it, and Movement 8 on the Thundertusks when they're on their best profile.
Because my army has consistent speed I can also hold ground, it requires punching through nearly my whole army to get to an Objective once I've secured it. I can also get units to reinforce certain parts of the board if needed because everything has a little speed.
Splitting isn't as much of a problem for me as it is for many armies, my synergies have decent range to them and are less army wide and more packaged. The Big Boss goes with the Arrowboys and the Thundertusks want to be within 18" of each other, ideally, but those two parts of the army can split up. Even the Savage Orruks can go where they please. I have chaff to sit on Objectives and I also have plenty of shooting to camp on them as well.
With all that you'd think my army is unbeatable on Scenario! Well, it has weaknesses like any other. Escalation is particularly cruel as my important units have to be deployed deep in my own territory and can struggle to get in the game early. Gift of the Heavens also requires very careful deployment as getting from one side of the table to the other is a big ask for my lower Movement whereas I'm better at pushing up the table which is a shorter distance.
So what is the big takeaway from this article? Scenario is something you have to build your army for. Each Scenario is different and asks different questions and being weak in one or more can be a real issue. A popular list from last year was Warrior Brotherhood which only took two Heroes meaning it almost auto-lost in Three Places of Power, particularly because the entire army was built on putting the Heroes upfront to deliver everything else! The army was extremely powerful in other Scenarios but at a tournament one loss is enough to deny from the top tables.
Scenarios are the first thing I think about when I put an army together. If I can't win on Scenario then it doesn't matter how good my matchups are or how cool my trick is, I won't win as many games as I should. My own army has gone through several iterations over the last few months specifically for this reason, sometimes I will make a concession on Scenario to try adding something to take on a specific problem. This is alright to do when you feel very strong on Scenario but weak in other areas, as with everything else it's a balancing act.
Think about an army with 27 Skyfires, which is a list that was taken to the recent SCGT Tournament in England. What if that list ran into 60, or 90 Plaguebearers? It's primary goal of shooting the opponent off the board would be taken away and it wouldn't have the numbers to capture Objectives in some Scenarios. While the goal of the person taking so many Plaguebearers is obviously to counter shooting, their real win condition is Scenario. I hope to see armies that focus on Scenario to win and punish players without well-rounded armies who give Scenarios the respect they're due. In fact I'm working on one now, so stayed tuned for that.