There has been a lot of talk recently about the lack of weaknesses that Shaltari have. So here are my ramblings on some of the reasons that I think Shaltari are doing very well, and some ways you can deal with the adorable little space hogs.
Why are they so good?
There are a handful of things that the Shaltari do really well.
- They are highly mobile.
- They a tough (unless dice fail the defender which I won’t go into because I haven’t taken math since high school)
- They have strong infantry.
- They have several versatile units.
- They play many of the missions better than other factions.
This is the most important factor in my mind, and it comes down to the gates. Being able to fling units across the table at a moment’s notice and grab focal points on the last turn gives the Shaltari a huge advantage when gathering victory points. This advantage extends to the infantry as well. Everybody else moves their infantry and transport off of the table when they find objectives, Shaltari infantry are able to quickly relocate to the next CQB or objective in need of extracting.
It’s a game where the victory conditions are reliant on mobility, it makes sense that the most mobile faction will have the advantage.
What can we do about it?
No. Not really, but there has been a lot of talk of changing the Shaltari, or the game, or the missions. I’m going to stick to what you can do with the units you have. Unless you already play Shaltari.
The most important thing to do with Shaltari is to destroy their gates. They have a passive save which means that only two out of three hits get through, but once you get through it, they are basically armored in tissue paper. If you destroy the gates, then you destroy Shaltari mobility. Without gates, the Shaltari are slower than the Scourge.
Make sure to bring enough mobile AA. Place your AA near places where the Shaltari player will want to bring his valuable units. Then destroy the gates that show up. Mobility is important here because gates can hide behind a building and then move into position. A squad of Rapiers or Phobos tend to be relatively ineffective against gates, because their threat range is static and relatively easy to avoid (unless you are playing on an open table, but you’re playing Dropzone, so your table has los blocking stuff littering it). Something that is able to move quickly and get around corners. A squad of Helios or an Athena will be much better at Gate hunting than a squad of Phobos. Even if you lose a couple of units while focusing on gates, the Shaltari don’t carry the amount of heavy firepower required to wipe the table. They definitely have more effective weapons with the update to the Ocelot and the release of the Caiman and Gharial, but that still doesn’t compare to a Hades or a squad of Hunters.
Once the gates are eliminated or fenced in, the Shaltari have to get around the table like anyone else and their threat becomes manageable and familiar. Having AA that can jump around corners to attack gates and extend their threat range will be able to keep the Shaltari out of an area. It is safe to assume that anywhere a gate can get, the Shaltari own. Protect those focal points and objectives with your AA.
The Shaltari have some of the toughest units in the game. There are exceptions to this when using a high volume of E7 AA shots because more of those will get through the passive save than anti-tank shots. Again, I am no math wizard, so the percentages can probably be found elsewhere on the forum (the Orbital Bombardment team has a section about this here http://dzcblog.blogspot.com/2015/05/what-are-shaltari-drawbacks.html). The skimmer bonus means that most shots hit less often than they normally would. The paper thin armor of most Shaltari units is mitigated by the passive save. The save does occasionally mean that a lucky shot can deal massive damage to the Shaltari because of a lucky attack roll and an unlucky defense roll, but overall the saves are quite potent. A notable counter to this is using static AA, like Rapiers or Phobos, which can kill Shaltari grav tanks fairly reliably.
That brings us to the warstriders and the Caiman. Four damage points with armor 9, or armor 7 and a skimmer bonus. With the exception of the type four walkers employed by the PHR and the Oppressor and Desolator seen in the Scourge army, the Alexander and Thunderstorm in the Resistance army, the Phoenix in the UCM, and the Hades and Nemesis of the PHR, the Shaltari have some of the most damage resistant units in the game. Wow, that list got long.
Punch through the shields, or just ignore them
I think the best way to deal with them is to fight on your terms whenever possible. Facing off against two Ocelots? Don’t ever engage them in the long lane of fire they set up. Sometimes this means not dropping on turn one. It sucks because you don’t get to shoot on turn two, but it also means that you can avoid that massive gun. Never fight a Caiman outside of twenty four inches. Unless you’re bringing a Hades with you. You also always have the option of putting the a unit back in the dropship if it is in the line of sight of a Caiman or an Ocelot. Unless you failed to bring a dropship, then you might be screwed.
Play to your advantages. Often when you fight the Shaltari, many of their units will remain out of your line of sight until the Shaltari player wants to engage you. Usually this happens because he is also going to bring a gate into your line of fire or because he has the upper hand in an engagement. Keep your units hidden until you have an opportunity to strike. It can feel counter intuitive to avoid lining up shots every time you activate a unit. Sometimes it is even appropriate to send out units to die. There is no use in losing your points and attack power if you aren’t doing for a good reason. If you don’t have a good target or a solid line of fire to protect, don’t leave yourself exposed.
Bring a high level commander, or just don’t leave things exposed because so many units that the Shaltari have are designed for a double tap. If the Caiman activates last on the Shaltari player’s turn and then first on the next turn, it is able to throw a huge volume of fire and then retreat behind a building and out of sight. The Firedrake can work in a similar fashion, while also being impervious to anti tank fire. If you are able to grab the activation and use this tactic against the Shaltari, you will limit their ability to fight back.
When you do engage, bring much more to bear than you need. If you think that two shots will kill a Shaltari unit, hit it with three or four. There are times where the dice fail and that passive save doesn’t do anything useful, but the dice sometimes favor the defender and a sure thing suddenly leaves no mark. Even a shot from the massive tail gun of a Hades can be shrugged off.
Braves and Firstborns have a couple of advantages. High armor, high CQB, and the mobility offered by the gates. They also have a certain resistance to falling masonry.
They have high armor, which can resist flames to a certain extent, but three damage points will drop quickly to a volume of fire. Each damage point counts for a lot of dice in CQB, and even losing one or two, can tip the battle away from the Shaltari.
Typically, Firstborns will not be deployed into a building until you have committed to it. If you have a high level commander and take the last activation of the turn, then you will be able to force the Shaltari commander to commit the Firstborn to the building, or force him to wait.
If he commits, then burn the building and demo it to the ground. If you have your flamers in the same battlegroup as your infantry, you can hit the Firstborns with your flamers and then drop your infantry in with the wounded Firstborns. If that’s not enough, you can wait until next turn and bring more support, or hope the Firstborns don’t find the objective and drop the building.
If he does not commit to the building, then you can put your infantry in it. When he jumps into the building next turn, you still have the opportunity to search once and leave the building. This leaves the Firstborn open to flames, demolition, or reinforcements. Remember that Shaltari like to try to outnumber you. By having CQB resistant units nearby, like Destroyers or Sirens (or the new Scourge murdery Eviscerators) you will be able to bait the Shaltari into a fight they may not win, or at least deter them from engaging you.
The other thing to keep in mind is that you need to destroy the infantry gates and strand those infantry. The Shaltari have the advantage of not being tied to one gate, but they are expensive. Typically you will only find two, maybe three Spirits in a 1500 point game. Make sure to bring backboard aircraft hunters, like fast movers to hit those light gates and limit Shaltari mobility. Havens are another problem, because they are skimmers. Anti air weapons from fast movers can hit them without penalty. Keep in mind that Havens will not be able to skim when they drop their payload. That is the time to hit them with your anti tank shots. This is where flankers come in handy. Apollos in Neptunes, Katanas, Freeriders, gunships, and most things Scourge are all excellent flankers. Use them to get around corners and hit those targets of opportunity that are staying hidden.
The Shaltari used to have the weakest guns. The Ocelot was rarely used because it could not move and fire. Now it can. With E13, the ability to ignore countermeasures, and demolition, the Ocelot can devastate (or not) many different targets with the only limitation being line of sight. The Caiman, while only E10 has three shots at long Range that can be used to hit buildings hard or potential do a handful of damage to a priority target. The Firedrake can use its template to hit targets across the board. This can be tanks, Freeriders, buildings (templates get a little bit of demo), technicals, or anything else that might have gotten too close together. The Jaguar is arguably one of the most versatile units in the game. It has an anti air gun that is solid against everything except the Resistance and the Desolator, it can target two different units each turn with a mediocre anti tank shot, and it is durable. With the addition of the Gharial, the Shaltari really do have excellent building demolition now, leaving the PHR as the least effective army for taking down buildings.
Watch what your opponent is doing. Notice which units are not on the table yet, or have been removed and replaced. Keep in mind that when you employ a unit that has several uses, you will have several opportunities. The same is true for your opponent. Just because an Ocelot spends a few turns hitting buildings does not mean that it won’t relocate at the end of the game for a focal point or try to snipe your commander. A Firedrake might go hunting for your APC’s and then find an opportunity to hit a group of tanks that you stuck too close together.
Know what your opponents army can do, so that you can make informed decisions. If your opponent has an Ocelot at the other end of the table, never put your Zeus in a position where it might take a hit from that particle cannon. If you opponent brings a Firedrake, always keep your units as spread out as possible.
Shaltari have an advantage in the intel, objective, and focal point missions because of their gates. Chris and I have talked about this in a couple of different places, so I won’t get into it here.
Playing against the Shaltari doesn’t have to leave you shitting bricks, but if it does, the Hawk forum has a great support group. Take a deep breath, and make careful decisions about how to react to them. Remember that you can use some of their own tactics as well. If your infantry pick up an objective, that doesn’t mean that your infantry and the transport need to leave the table. The infantry can remain and pass the objective, or they can pass the objective to something else. Use whatever tools you can and don’t let yourself get caught with your pants down.