Initially I was going to have 2 posts, one on Cult Ambush and the other on Return to the Shadows, however they are so connected that it was hard to write about one without the other.
Cult Ambush (CA) is the “big rule” for GSC. But it’s a “fickle” rule, typically relying on rolling a “6” to have direct impact, and having a number of “hard” counters that limit its usefulness in certain situations. It seems to me that the key to success is a thorough understanding of how to use it and when. I don’t pretend to have that understanding yet, but thinking through a few options might help.
Cult Ambush works at 2 points in the game, when you infiltrate, and when you come in from reserve, including on-going reserve. In either of those circumstances you can choose to roll on the CA table, rather than infiltrating or coming in from reserve normally. First, note you don’t need to roll on the table. You can choose to infiltrate or come in from reserve normally. Why would you do that? Well, you may have a key unit you need to be sure doesn’t roll a 1 or a 2 on the table. For example, if you don’t roll Ambush Leader on the Warlord table for your Patriarch (i.e. you can’t choose a 6 for your First Curse) you might decide to infiltrate them, rather than roll on the table. This allows you to place the First Curse in support of any charging unit, rather than risk them being out of position by rolling a 1 or a 2. Remember, on turn one you can move and run your First Curse, almost guaranteeing a turn 2 charge, particularly with fleet.
Return from the Shadows allows you to remove a unit from the board and place it in on-going reserve. There are 2 restrictions – you can’t do it if you’re within 6” of an enemy unit, and you can’t do it on the same turn you arrive from reserve. On the 2ndrestriction note that, if you infiltrate and roll on the CA table, because it happens before turn 1 starts, you can still Return to the Shadows on Turn 1. Another connected benefit, is the “Numbers Beyond Counting” rule in the Cult Insurrection Detachment”. It says that, when a unit returns to the shadows, it comes back with d6 models that have already been killed.
At the infiltrate stage, how you use Cult Ambush depends on whether you’re going first or second, and what you’re facing.
If you’re going first you need to decide whether to shoot for a bunch of 6s and set up to charge. IMHO, it’s what the army’s built to do and should be your default option, unless there is a good reason not to. A good reason not do might be if your opponent has bubble wrapped effectively, blocking off high value units with low value units, or if he has a bonus to seizing the initiative (e.g. Coteaz, a Mirror Codex in a Tau army, or a Caladius Assassin). Also, now that Servo Skulls block Cult Ambush, you might not have a choice. If your opponent has servo skulls and Coteaz, you might want to think about giving him first turn. If he bubble wraps effectively, you might want to deploy more conservatively, and simply leave him behind his bubble wrap, while you win the maelstrom.
I’m planning an article on Alpha Strikes using Cult Ambush, and I’ll go into this in a lot more detail there.
Going second is much easier. I usually reserve everything I can reserve (effectively the Brood Cycle), and then infiltrate everything else (remember the SubT must infiltrate) either out of range or in cover. I then “hunker down”, relying on shrouding to weather the storm of my opponents first turn of shooting, before returning to the shadows in my turn one.
Another possibility is to deploy everything aggressively, just like you would if you were going first, however it’s usually not the best option. The problem is, because you count as having infiltrated, you need to wait until your turn 2 before you can assault, giving your opponent 2 turns of shooting before you can do anything. The only time it might beworth doingthis is if your opponent is largely an assaulting army, that you think you can “take” in assault, but there aren’t many of them.
Return to the Shadows
Along with Cult Ambush, Return to the Shadows (RTTS) is the iconic rule for GSC. While perhaps not as “dramatic” as Cult Ambush, it probably has a greater effect on how the army plays, and of course synergises well with CA.
The uses of RTTS are pretty obvious – you can use it to redeploy units anywhere on the board, and, combined with Numbers Beyond Counting, can replenish depleted units. It makes the army very mobile, and good at playing the maelstrom game. It also makes the army surprisingly resilient. At the LVO, I won the kill points game, largely because I returned depleted units to the shadows, and brought them back with more bodies.
However, what I wanted to think about a little more are the implications of this ability on how you play the army as a whole. Now, bear in mind I play a pure GSC army, Cult Insurrection Detachment, with a Brood Cycle and 2 SubTs - loads of bodies, and loads of units. The following thoughts apply to that style of army.
It seems to me that the combination of Cult Ambush and Return to the Shadows, lends itself to a “passive aggressive” play style. By this I mean that you use Cult Ambush and your hammer units (Metamorphs, Genestealer, large blocks of Acolytes) to hit your opponent’s centre of mass, while using Return to the Shadows and your smaller units to jump around the board, score maelstrom points and snag objectives. Thinking back to games that have gone badly, it has often resulted from not playing to this basic plan – essentially overcommitting the army to a meat grinder, and forgetting that its real strength is mobility. Looked at in this way, the most important part of the army are the little 5 man Acolyte units, not the powerful units. Their role is simple to buy the little units enough time and board space to win the game.
So, the most important rule is Return to the Shadows, and not Cult Ambush “who knew”!!