It’s something you need to be able to do accurately during a game, and it’s something you want to make difficult for your opponent. But how do you actually go about it?
I had thought up until recently that simply getting a bunch of units out would be sufficient to take care of that. Using principles like MSU and Kirby’s 1+1 to maximize the threats that have to be dealt with by my opponent. Also, limiting how much you mix Foot and Mech units. If all you’ve got is vehicle hulls for your opponent to shoot at, you can virtually ignore any Anti-Infantry fire he’s got whereas a mix allows him to use each of his guns against the target it is most effective at hurting.
However, that’s not truly what is meant by giving your opponent Target Priority issues. Look at the 1+1 again. The goal of it is to not only have units which threaten your opponent, but also Transports for your units which do the same thing. Up until recently I had considered that this meant basically only things like Razorbacks or Rhinos and either dropped off their passengers and then zoomed to make your opponent’s life hard with things like Blocking (either Movement or LoS), tank shocking, maybe even ramming something or having a big gun and putting out nearly the same firepower as the squad it carries. But it doesn’t stop at those two kinds of units. I had assumed that Drop Pods were unable to achieve 1+1 because they had no serious weapon (or Ballistic Skill) and no way to do more than temporarily inconvenience one or two of your opponent’s units. With a good number of Drop Pods this assumption is wrong.
One of the most devastating parts of my (and probably any similar) Drop Pod list is the sheer number of Drop Pods that come down; 10 in mine, 11 in Marshal Learoth’s, all AV 12 and all blocking something from your opponent. It could be movement, it could be a LoS to one of your units, or it could be both. That many Drop Pods makes for a hard decision your opponent has to make. Do they target the Drop Pods, which are not doing any damage but until they are destroyed he cannot complete his strategy, or do they target those Dreadnoughts, which pose a threat not only to Vehicles but to Infantry in both shooting and assault? Both are AV 12 on most sides, both poses a threat, the Drop Pods protect the Dreadnoughts not only by forcing your opponent to make this decision but also by denying your opponent chances to target your Dreadnoughts with some of his weapons. Of course, Mobility could potentially overcome the latter difficulty, but there are so many Drop Pods and Dreadnoughts and dead vehicles that you can’t get anywhere unless you’re a skimmer (and even then you have to move Flat Out). There is really no way of dealing with these units. Sure you can take down a Crusader Squad or damage a Terminator Squad, but the Dreadnoughts laugh at your attempts to kill them while they destroy the only things you have available to hurt them reliably.
And the key to Target Priority is right in there. There are two parts, one part you can control before the game and during deployment, the other part you need to achieve during play. First you can give your opponent a hard time by having too many viable targets for him to deal with when you build your list. Second you can place them to emphasize vulnerability over actual threat and force your opponent into making decisions that you want him to make. During the actual game you need to deny your opponent a way to do the same to you. You need to figure out which units are the most dangerous to you and balance that with how easy it is to kill them as well as how dangerous they can become. More than that, you need to not make choices that your opponent wants you to, especially if he plans on you making that choice.
If you can upset his plans, you have taken an advantage. Now you may need to compare that advantage with whatever disadvantage you have by making the less optimal choice and disrupting your opponent’s plans. Almost always, upsetting your opponent is greater than whatever negative effects you suffer, but experience tells you which is more important.
And that’s the best way to master Target Priority, experience. I have countless hours spent reading and discussing and arguing tactics, units, unit load-outs, equipment, list building philosophies and rules, but when I began to get some experience playing Vassal everything started to fall into place. Other people’s experience doesn’t quite cut it, and battle-reports are either insufficient or badly done and yield almost no chances to gain any real understanding of what’s taking place.
Now don’t get me wrong, other people’s advice is vastly important and very valuable, assuming that it’s educated experience. But it does not replace your own. Your experience and other people’s experience compliment each other and compound the benefit you gain from each, but you can’t have just one and still play to your best potential.
So that’s the first bit of advice that I have for anyone wishing to improve their game. Play some games. Play against good lists, ideally good opponents. You don’t want to get completely stomped, you want to have a tough game, a game where you can see different aspects of your list working to various success. But I just said something wrong. You don’t want to play a game; you want to play several games, against the same opponent. Then you should get several more games against a different opponent, preferably against several opponents, each playing several games. You also want to play against different lists; still good ones, but different kinds. Playing against the same type of list all the time will lead to the same problems that playing against the same opponent or on the same terrain all the time will lead to; you aren’t actually learning very much that can be taken beyond this particular terrain/opponent/type of list. Placed in a new situation and you’re suddenly not in a comfort zone that you’re familiar with; with a wide variety of experience you won’t get put off by being in an unfamiliar setting or against a new opponent, so you’re more prepared for things like Tournaments.
Target Priority is overwhelming your opponent with tough decisions (namely decisions about which units to try and kill) as well as being able to spot the best units of his to kill (not just the most dangerous/vulnerable, but also considering what your opponent expects you to do). To master this you need experience against many different opponents and lists, preferably multiple times each to remove the chance for random nature to force its way in and taint your experience.