Permission to Buzz the Tower

Air Support in Heavy Gear Blitz

Blitz is a combined arms game featuring everything from the lowliest foot-sloggers to the largest of main battle tanks so including Air Support would be a given. Yet, it still fulfills a smaller role than one would expect given an extrapolation from the modern battle field. VTOL rules were dramatically reworked this edition so there is a lot to catch up on. Let’s discuss how to get the most out of your guardian angels.

Why Aren’t VTOL Craft Everywhere?

To get into the fluff briefly, one would wonder why the attack chopper – the natural predator of tanks – is only a small part of the Heavy Gear battlefield. A lot of this is due to Terranova’s unique, mecha justifying planetary conditions. Volcanic activity is fairly frequent and heavy ash or even the deadly corrosive “white sand” can be found in great quantities in the badlands with frequent tempests driving ash into the upper atmosphere and sometimes shutting down air travel for days. Naturally this drives combat to the rocky or jungle areas that make air support less ideal. With an unsafe and unpredictable air environment and less tactical value where it can be deployed, most forces choose not to rely heavily on air support. A fine justification for everyone deploying big stompy robots instead.

Airstrikes and Air Superiority

Available to all factions as a generic upgrade is the Airstrike Token. This represents anything from bombers to orbital interface craft to drone fired missiles. Regardless they are committed for only one use per token. Starting round 2, you can use an Airstrike at the end of the turn after all unit activations. It doesn’t require LoS and can hit anywhere you like besides places with overhanging cover (like units hiding in a cave or under a bridge). It’s attacks with the following profile:

            Gunnery Skill                   Dam                   Traits       
            2D6 GU 4+                   8                   AoE 4, AP 2, Guided       

At first glance this might not seem too useful for a 4 point investment, but remember that an opponent will almost always be defending at only 2d6 as this ignores cover mods. Only ECM, Smoke, and AMS can help them. Additionally this attack can be targeted ANYWHERE so it’s good for sniping a hidden model or even one inside woods (remember Cover modifiers are not used). You can also target the ground with the attack to get perfect positioning, and while that means you reduce yourself to 1d6, you can still hope to get lucky on several units. This makes Airstrikes good at removing or damaging light or medium models, particularly support pieces that your opponent might otherwise want to hide. You can also FO for an Airstrike. In this case it acts as a chained activation just like a unit in Standby, and strikes immediately after the FO success and gets the Guided bonus.

How can you stop these tokens? Well there are two ways. They can be shot from anywhere on the board by a weapon with Flak or AA can take an action to shoot at them. This is just a straight up shot in optimal range while the Counter defends at 4d6 PI 4+. Any success destroys the counter. If you have AA you can even do this as a Reaction to the Airstrike. Another way to remove the counter is a sort of minigame called Air Superiority. Starting turn one you can have one of your own counters attempt to run off an opponent’s counter. This is done by rolling a 3d6 attack against their 4d6 defense and doesn’t use up your counter. If you succeed your opponent’s counter is destroyed. If you fail, they can still use it, but not that turn, so in effect you can use your fighters to hold off your opponent’s fighters all game so long as you win initiative. However those delayed Air Strikes are allowed to immediately target the counter that attacked them and attempt to remove it. Lots of epic and amazing dogfights occur, all off camera.

VTOL Units

First of all we should say that VTOL is a catch-all game term for all kinds of aircraft ranging from standard helicopters, to jet propelled aircraft, fan driven “hoppers”, or flight capable robots. VTOLs can be best thought of as having two states that they can shift between either NOE or Elevated. They can switch between these states once per move (at any time).

NOE (Nape-of-the-earth) represents low to ground maneuvers where the VTOL is just a half dozen meters off the surface. When flying NoE the VTOL is treated like any other vehicle with the Hover movement type. This means they can take cover behind terrain or even enter area terrain. This is useful for keeping a VTOL safe to ambush a target in later turns or on its own activation. They can also use area terrain this way (yeah, the pilots are THAT GOOD)

Elevated VTOL gain the elevation bonus to attack and +1d6 bonus to defense, but in return can’t use any terrain, smoke, or any ECM from non-elevated units. This means you can attack them from anywhere on the battlefield because they are essentially “above” the battlefield. This height isn’t taken into account for shooting (you still measure from the base) but it means it is impossible to hide them. It is also hard to hide FROM them though. When Elevated VTOL shoot at a target they only consider terrain within 1” of it. So unless your gear is right up against something, the VTOL will ignore it completely.

Specific Faction VTOLs

We are going to gloss over a lot of specifics here, but let’s talk about how each faction uses VTOL. First some things all VTOL craft have in common:

  • They are high speed, with 10-12 being the norm.
  • They are lightly armored: out of all 28 options across factions 19 have 6 or less armor
  • They don’t bring ECM game (only 8 of 28 options bring it)    
  • They all have Agile making them harder to remove.

The North uses VTOLs as missile platforms and also brings the heaviest armored craft. The South has fairly standard options but stands out with the only APC VTOL in the game. Peace River brings the usual ECM found on their other models but also has Stealth and Silent weapons allowing their VTOLs to hide when flying NOE (I have a hard time envisioning this, but there it is.)

Nucoal and Black Talon forces use the South and Peace River VTOL respectively, with some minor tweaks to fit their factions. CEF and Caprice share the peregrine gunships, with rotary lasers and linked LATM at GU 3+ they are efficient and deadly light to medium vehicle hunters. Utopia brings the lightest armed and armored VTOL but they are also cheap enough to imagine entire Combat Groups of them. Eden is unique in that they VTOL is essentially a modifier to the existing Armiger profiles. They retain their ability to use walker movement giving you a lot of tactical flexibility and ALSO making them the most Robotech like of mecha in the game.

Countering VTOLs and Summary

The easiest way to counter a VTOL is to bring a weapon with the Flak or AA traits. These give bonuses when shooting at a flying model. AA can be added to most vehicles as a generic upgrade like grenades or smoke. I try to always bring at least one such model. You might not run into a VTOL in every game, but when you do it is nice to have the counter handy. Additionally, you can still use ECM defense and smoke against them even if conventional terrain is not as handy.

The Tactical role of specific craft might be different in each faction, but in Blitz writ large, VTOLs serve an important function as scalpel pieces allowing you to target and destroy support vehicles, commanders, or light to medium assets. An opponent CAN hide from them, or commit resources like smoke and ECM to stay safe. But doing that may limit their mobility which still offers and advantage to you. I recommend giving them a try, even if it’s just buying an Airstrike or two. They add depth to an already delightfully complex strategic environment.