Monday, October 10, 2011

Breaking Game Balance

When you look at a lot of the armies currently out in the player community (specifically competitive armies), you’ll notice a lot of similarities. They all tend to max out on (or heavily utilize) specific units and unit options. For instance, Chaos Space Marine armies tend to take two Sorcerers or Daemon Princes with Lash of Submission; Space Wolf armies take three units of Long Fangs; Ork armies take Power Klaws on their Boyz Mob Nobs. Why oh why do we see such horrible levels of repetition? The obvious answer is that these units and options are highly effective, so competitive armies should utilize them as often as possible. The not-so-obvious answer is that these units and options, while highly effective, have also done something else important: they’ve drowned out the desire in many players to use alternative methods or options. Why would we take Blood Angel Tactical Marines when we can instead take Assault Marines?! The players have spoken!

The fine-tuning of an army requires the examination of every aspect of its capabilities. It requires that we look at the effectiveness of the Meltagun and wonder whether or not we want a unit that can have one of them, or a unit that can take two or more; it says that we really need to go back and reconsider exactly how valuable a Nemesis Force Sword is when compared to a Nemesis Force Halberd; it makes us take Ravagers instead of Talos Pain Engines.

Essentially what all this talk of units and options comes down to is this: People mention the concept of ‘Codex Creep’ and blame it for the current perception of 40K’s lack of balance. We can get much more specific than that. It’s not army A or army B that are creating an imbalance. It’s really because of specific units and unit options available to those armies that knock things out of whack. In theory if these units and options were given adequate costs, or in some cases removed from their Codex, balance might be restored.

Before addressing specific instances of imbalance, let’s look at what armies are perceived to be unbalancing to the environment. Usually the culprits are cited to be the most recent releases: Grey Knights, Dark Eldar, Space Wolves, Blood Angels and Imperial Guard. These would be considered some of the top tier armies in the game at the moment, followed closely by Chaos Space Marines, Orks, Space Marines, Black Templars and Tyranids. The imbalance between these two groups is minimal. However, when compared to some of the other armies out there (most of which are older), the imbalance becomes much more obvious. In comparison to the previously listed armies, Tau, Necrons, Sisters of Battle, Chaos Daemons, Dark Angels and Eldar are all performing at sub-par levels.

The main issue that’s currently linked to 40K’s imbalance is the concept of immunity. Immunity is the inability of a unit to kill an opposing unit no matter what. We’ve all seen great examples of this, and anyone who’s ever had their Imperial Guard infantry ‘blob’ squad get charged by a Wraithlord knows exactly what I’m talking about. If the IG unit isn’t equipped with a Powerfist they simply wait for the Emperor’s Peace. Aside from the variable level of immunity that high toughness can provide, immunity also exists, most importantly, in the form of armor value (or AV for short). AV actually provides an even greater level of immunity than high toughness, but does it in a slightly different way. While units with high toughness are functionally the same as every other unit with a toughness value (it functions the same, no matter how many wounds it’s taken, until it’s removed from play), units with AV may gradually suffer varying levels of damage and drop in effectiveness until they’re removed. There are many instances in which AV units are incapacitated, but remain in play; the only real risk these units face is the chance that they may be destroyed by a single attack.

The second issue affecting imbalance (which is related directly to immunity) is the reduction in costs of transport vehicles. All Space Marine armies, with the exception of Black Templars, now pay a mere 35 points for Rhinos. Chimeras now run 55 points. Dark Eldar transports have proportionate costs; they’re more expensive, but have much stronger ranged capability and speed; the inexpensive costs of their units allow them to field a vast number of these vehicles. Top tier armies now have the ability to field ‘mech’ (highly mechanized) configurations by taking a horde of both transport and support vehicles.

Because of the issues of immunity and vehicle cost reduction, 40K now lies in stark contrast with the game it once was. The sheer quantity of armored units being fielded in games puts a whole new level of pressure on armies to function in ways that they’re relatively unprepared for. In Fifth Edition there is an emphasis placed on squads (and sometimes other units) occupying specific table locations, so the tendency in army configurations is to lean towards hefty amounts of anti-troop weaponry. Now armies must be able to deal with that large quantity of both troops and armored units. The main difference between an older Codex and a newer one is boiling down to one simple factor: Can it compete with newer armies that both pay less for their vehicles and have a greater capacity for dealing with an opponent’s vehicles?

So what classifies a unit (or option) as being an agent of imbalance? My theory is that its mere existence allows an army the capability, for the moment, to keep its head above water. While lower tiered armies are struggling to raise themselves higher on the power ladder, top tier armies are attempting to gain dominance by filling their ranks with as many anti-tank weapons as possible; somehow they maintain their ability to kill enemy troops by normal means.

Space Wolves

Codex Space Wolves contains a couple great examples of unbalancing agents. The majority of units in this book have a great close combat capability. They also have access to a large amount of short-range weaponry (a number even greater than that of C:CSM). If the capabilities of the army ended there I’m sure the ‘Wolves would have a cohesive identity – Wulfen, Thunderwolves, Bikers, Wolf Guard, Wolf Lords, and a whole slew of other nifty close combat units and their associated transports…and maybe a few extraneous, yet traditional, Space Marine units like the Predator and the Land Speeder. Yet somehow there is this amazing unit in the codex – Long Fangs – that have neither close range weaponry, nor the ability to excel in close combat. It doesn’t surprise me when uncharacteristic units show up in a codex. It’s bound to happen when designers are trying to satisfy design requirements; they are servants to way too many masters. However, when the inclusion of an uncharacteristic unit is necessary, then its cost must reflect its irregularity. Instead, what we have is a unit whose cost was lowered, its option costs were lowered, and its traditional ‘splitting fire’ capability was left in place. Not only is the unit overly cost-efficient, but it also satisfies the army’s need for long-range fire support. Instead of paying for a Predator Annihilator you can pay even less for fifty percent more shots, six wounds, and a troop unit’s ability to take cover saves. What else could the Space Wolves ask for when it comes to ranged, anti-tank capability? This unit is ideal for boosting the Space Wolves into the top tier slot in our new, competitive, heavy-mech environment.

The other option available to Space Wolf armies is the psychic power Jaws of the World Wolf. This one really is on par with the Fourth Edition C:SM psychic power Fear the Darkness. JotWW is yet another ranged attack that is multi-purpose, easy to use, low in cost and available in high frequency. Its versatility is amazing. However, if you want true versatility for your SW army you would take Living Lightning because it also has the potential to hurt vehicles. Thankfully Rune Priests can take two psychic powers so you don’t have to make that difficult choice!

Blood Angels

The next army riding the Rhino bandwagon is Blood Angels. The Rhino, however, is just one reason BA are a top tier force. If anyone remembers the days of Fourth Edition 40K, they’ll recall the old Space Marine system of bonuses and drawbacks (the exact nomenclature escapes me at the moment). Back then it was possible for your troops to have two close combat weapons plus two special weapons (e.g. meltaguns) per squad; they could be mounted in a transport as well. Why use Tactical Squads that, while flexible, aren’t particularly good at any one thing? Assault Squads mounted in Rhinos are far more effective. This is the crux of C:BA. If they had to rely on traditional SM Tactical Squads and Scout Squads for their Troops, they wouldn’t be the ultra-flexible army that they are – able to attack an opponent with overwhelming force, yet able to fall back on the reliability of that force for taking objectives.

Another important element that Codex: Blood Angels incorporates is the ‘broadcasting bubble.’ Lots of units have abilities like this (e.g. Venomthrope and Ezekiel), but none give such amazing bonuses as the Sanguinary Priest. When a 50 point model gives everything within a 12” diameter bubble (larger if he’s mounted in a transport) Feel No Pain and Furious Charge, there’s definitely an issue of cost afoot. Did I mention that this model is also capable of being equipped like a character? Did I mention that he can be hidden in a transport? The only thing comparable to this that I’ve seen so far is the Black Templar vow that gives Preferred Enemy to the entire army… but even that ability doesn’t provide the amazing defensive capability of Feel No Pain.

Grey Knights

The release of Codex: Grey Knights a few months back garnered some ooohs and aaahhs. The massive knee-jerk reaction to the army stemmed mainly from its massive incongruency with the standard Codex: Space Marines. Now, two hundred forty points could buy you ten Space Marines with strength five power weapons and twenty Storm Bolter shots per turn… not to mention their Rhino that ignores Shaken and Stunned results. In C:SM your scoring units don’t have options that come even remotely close to this. C:SM must rely on characters and supporting units (which they have sufficient access to) to win their games. C:GK has units that are much, much closer to being ‘all-purpose.’ Are the two books relatively balanced? Sure. I actually think that C:GK got the short end of the stick, except in three specific cases where it got some units and options that simply slam certain other armies back into the stone age.

The first ridiculous GK option is the psychic power Cleansing Flame. This psychic power is just amazing. It’s so amazing that it utterly destroys any army that relies on large numbers of lightly armored troops. If you’ve ever seen two 30-man Ork Boy units get multi-charged by a single unit of Purifiers, then you know what I’m talking about. Normally a unit of 30 Boyz is enough to kill an entire unit of ten Tactical Marines in one charge. Purifiers, however, need only set off Cleansing Flame in order to watch just under half of those Orks evaporate before combat even begins. Even with the protection of Shadow in the Warp, Tyranid swarm units of Hormagaunts, Termagants and Gargoyles often suffer a similar fate. Unfortunately, Orks don’t have any special rules or wargear that cut down on the effectiveness of psychic powers like the Tyranids do. Were the Dark Eldar not so heavily permeated by units with Feel No Pain due to the Power From Pain rules, they would suffer nearly as much as the Orks do. Cleansing Flame’s issues are many, but its problem is its ability to win the initiative war. Do your Howling Banshees strike at initiative ten? Sorry. Cleansing Flame strikes first. Do your Bloodletters have Furious Charge? Sorry. Go home, Daemons. I know you thought you were a balanced army because you have to Deep Strike, but now you just suck a lot more. The older Codex: Daemonhunters didn’t allow for its Holocaust psychic power to be used before blows were struck in combat. Additionally, its range was limited to, IIRC, a large blast template. Cleansing Flame not only hits every model in a unit touching its user, but it also has super-uber initiative, allowing it to remove opposing models before they’re able to participate in combat.

While it makes a certain amount of sense for psychic powers to be able to break close combat initiative barriers, it seemingly makes little sense for a piece of common wargear with static properties to allow for a similar effect. The Nemesis Force Halberd isn’t actually that amazing, except that it allows heavy-hitting units (like GK Terminators and Paladins) to get their licks in before most things capable of hurting them are able to attack. Terminators don’t worry too much about piecemeal close combat attacks from medium or low strength units. They worry about the big stuff – Hive Tyrants, Nob Bikers with Power Klaws, Thunderwolf Cavalry, Bloodcrushers, and any variety of other Monstrous Creatures that have tons of armor-negating attacks. It’s quite convenient to have the ability to easily inflict Instant Death upon most any big-bad unit that might be able to make life difficult. The Halberd is just too convenient of a fix for many weaknesses the army might have.

Finally, the number one unit that gives Codex: Grey Knights the ability to compete at top tier level is the oft-hailed ‘Psyfleman’ Dreadnought. If anyone doesn’t already know where this title comes from, here it is: In FASA’s game, Battletech (originally called Battledroids), there is a mech called the Rifleman which possesses two arms, each with two long-barreled guns. 40K Marine Dreadnoughts, when equipped with a pair of twin-linked Autocannon arms, bear a striking resemblance to that old Battlemech (whose artwork was, ironically, ‘borrowed’ from the old Robotech license in which the ‘Destroid’ was called the Raider-X). Please excuse me if I’ve mixed up any of the names and/or terms… that’s just how I remember them. Back to the GK Dreadnought… This unit has a similar effect to that of the Space Wolves’ Long Fangs. Yet again we have a unit that takes the weakness of a Codex and almost completely erases it. Many GK units are meant to be multi-purpose due to their high points costs, and because of this they have access to the all-powerful Psycannon. The Psycannon does, however, come with the drawback of a lower rate of fire if used by a unit on the move. This drawback isn’t suffered by Psycannon-wielding Terminator units because they have obvious issues in the transportation department. There’s also the issue of the Psycannon’s 24” range keeping its power level in check. So the intended drawbacks for the army’s main gun are: Low rate of fire, relatively short range. So what do they get? They get high rate of fire, twin-linked, high strength, long range weapons whose wielder has the ability to ignore vehicle damage results that would otherwise prevent them from firing. This is not the way to keep the integrity of a Codex intact. All this did was catapult the army straight into the ridiculous vehicle/anti-vehicle immunity-busting contest existing at the top tier.

Dark Eldar

Codex: Dark Eldar has gotten a ton of press since its release. Some people think it’s a god-awful pile of brokenness, but in actuality, it’s the most balanced of the top tier forces. Does it dive headfirst into the pool of immunity-busting polarity? Definitely. However, the book’s greater level of balance comes from the weaknesses of their vehicles – low AV and open-topped. Because so many vehicles in the DE list have AV10, they’re more susceptible to low-strength weaponry. Combine this vulnerability with the Open-Topped trait and you have a minimal level of immunity that’s easily overcome by most armies.

The first source of imbalance in Codex: Eldar is the Blaster. Why the Blaster? What did the Blaster ever do to piss me off? The Blaster is actually just part of a bigger problem, but I figured that it was a good starting point. Because the vast majority of the basic weaponry in C:DE has no actual strength value, it probably became apparent during testing that they lacked that little extra oomph, for instance, that all the Space Marine armies have: Krak Grenades and strength 4 Bolters both help them get over the immunity hump. What do the DE have that let them get over that hump? They don’t have any cheap, free wargear on every model like the Space Marines do. What they got instead were a pile of strength 8 Lance weapons – Blasters and Dark Lances – that are plentiful enough to make Land Raiders everywhere wish, once again, that they had stayed safely on the battle barge. Back to the blaster. Dark Lances have always been the DE staple anti-tank gun, but with the increase of the Blaster’s range to 18” the available quantity of anti-tank fire has doubled, and in some cases (Kabalite Trueborn) tripled. The ability of these guns to be fired at a decently long range while moving gives them a massive advantage that many armies can’t match. The Ravager is the army’s second source of imbalance, as it allows for massed, cheap anti-tank fire, adding to the horrible barrage already compounded by the blaster… or perhaps it’s the other way around. The Dark Eldar should have been forced to rely more heavily on things like Haywire Grenades, Blast Pistols and high-strength close combat attacks to take on tanks. As it stands, they simply evade and shoot until their opponents are pulped before moving in to finish them off.

Imperial Guard

When we take a look at Codex: Imperial Guard we basically see three things: units that dish out pain at long range, units that allow the army to continue to continue to use its long-range firepower, and everything else. Since it’s the ‘Guard’s lot to be shooty, and since there’s nothing wrong with ranged combat (because it’s an essential part of the game), where does the codex cross the line? There’s one major factor that takes it too far, and that’s frequency. The high frequency of unit weapon options is where the army jumps the shark. The main culprits of this balance violation are Veterans, Heavy Weapons Squads, and the almighty lockbox, the Chimera. I’ve already addressed the issues of low-cost transports upping the ante in the immunity clash, but the Chimera is special. The standard Rhino carries ten passengers and a small gun. The Chimera has more firepower, more fire points, higher front armor, and additional vehicle options. If Space Marines had the option of purchasing fifty-five point Chimeras instead of their Rhino upgrade, the already widely used eighty point Razorback, would they? Of course they would. They’d be able to use the Chimera for ten-man units, allowing them maximum weapons upgrades for their squads. They’d be able to use the Chimera as a firing platform for their Devastators. The list of benefits goes on. There’s just no need to give the IG this sort of option for such a low cost.

The other perpetrators in the IG army are those units that greatly benefit from the overabundance of weapon options. Heavy Weapons squads throw the IG into a whole new realm of anti-vehicle competition. What other army can take units of two-wound models that dish out six S7 shots for seventy-five points? …that are scoring? …that can take cover saves? …that essentially don’t take up a force org slot? None. But wait! I won’t even continue down this path of reasoning because it’s futile to continue in the face of such blatant undercosting and underenforcement. Need I repeat myself about the Veteran squads?

So really, what’s the point to all this complaining about these units and options? I just want to reiterate how much the game of 40K has upped the ante when it comes to the immunity war, as well as how drastically the top tier armies have pushed other armies out of the running. What happens next? If you were to re-balance 40K, would you re-write the rules for these units and options? Would you outright ban them? Personally I feel that banning is a far easier option (no messy FAQs, rules re-writes, conflicting knowledge of unit functions, format discrepancies, etc.), but since this is a hobby game and not a CCG, players have put a ton of time and effort into their armies. They don’t want to simply write their beautifully *cough* painted and modeled armies on a shelf somewhere. Perhaps it’s up to some of these independent tournaments to create new, meaningful missions that allow us to indulge ourselves differently? Perhaps the scoring system should be re-worked in order to scale down the high stakes of immunity-based games?

Friday, September 9, 2011

Bad Mechanic! (part 2)

There are two rules I'd like to cover this time around. The first is Rage - I know, I know, Goatboy just posted something about it recently - and the second is Fearless.


Several years back (I believe it was in '08) BigRed asked me to do some testing on BoLS' Codex: Army of Death. One of the main drawbacks to that army is that a lot of its units have the Rage USR (universal special rule). It's a very flavorful rule that says "Man, these guys are powerful, but holy crap, once they get going they have some problems following orders!" It's all well and good when you're using a Blood Angel force with a Death Company because that's just a single unit of Rage-afflicted models. But having to harness the power of an entire army of loonies is a much different story. For the sake of playtesting, if you have a minor issue using one of something, then you're bound to have a much greater issue when you're trying to use ten of the same thing... and thus began my experience using an all-Rage army.

Rage: "In the Movement phase, units subject to Rage must always move as fast as possible towards the closest visible enemy. In the Shooting phase, they are free to decide whether to run, but if they do they must run towards the closest visible enemy. In the Assault phase they must always consolidate towards the closest visible enemy. Whilst falling back, embarked on a transport, or if no enemy is visible, they ignore this rule."

Going back over the particulars of this rule made me realize something very odd about it. Nowhere does it say that a unit affected by Rage must charge. Even Blood Claws have to charge, and they're just 'Headstrong.' Evidently the raving madmen with Rage just have to get infinitely close without being required to actually do bad things. That doesn't exactly make it a bad mechanic, but it does make you wonder.

The part of Rage that really came into play when testing the Army of Death was "must always move towards the closest visible enemy." This meant that each time a unit moves it must check its total visibility, determine the closest enemy unit, and move towards it. I took this to mean two things: 1) I can move my units in any order I want, so I can control what's in their LOS, and 2) I must end my movement phase with my unit closer to the closest enemy unit than when it began the phase.

How much closer does a unit have to get before it has satisfied the relative quantity of 'closer?' A lot of players would interpret this to mean that a unit must move its maximum possible distance towards an enemy... but that's not what Rage says. Now, mind you, I'm not advocating that players attempt to take advantage of this; I'm simply pointing out that the vague qualities of this rule's wording make it problematic and open to interpretation.

Qualifying 'closer' took another interesting turn. If my unit charged a non-walker enemy vehicle during my turn, stunned it, stayed touching it, allocated attacks to it again during my opponent's turn, and once again stayed in contact with the vehicle because there's no consolidation when you're not engaged in combat, what happens during my subsequent turn's movement phase? There are normally some issues with this because of the stipulation that you can't move within 1" of an enemy unit... but AFAIK it's understood that moving away from a unit forgoes this restriction. However, when your unit is required to move towards the closest enemy unit (which it is already touching), what happens? Does the unit stay in one place? It certainly can't move closer to the vehicle that it's touching. Is it forced to get 1" away, and then attempt to get closer... however that would work? Finally, when it came down to 'removal from table' or 'place on table' mechanics like Deep Strike or vehicle embarkation/disembarkation, there were further problems. If my unit moved at least a little bit towards a visible enemy, but then embarked into a transport that was 2" behind it, were they going against what was intended? If I Deep Strike some Terminators, are they required to DS as close as possible to the enemy? If a unit disembarks from their transport and the transport hasn't moved yet, does the disembarking unit have to disembark on the side closest to the enemy? Howabout if the transport has already moved and its disembarking passengers have no further chance of moving during the movement phase... do they have to disembark on the side where they'll have LOS to an enemy?

The problems with moving a unit towards the closest enemy within LOS were somewhat less jarring because they weren't blatantly ignoring the rules or causing as many problems with interpretation as 'closer.' What was happening in my games was that units were being moved in a certain sequence that was completely counter-intuitive to the way the game was normally played. In several instances I would have a small ring of Rhinos surrounding a clump of Assault Marines with Jump Packs. I would move the Rhinos forward, turn them sideways to block LOS from the Assault Marines to any enemies, and then move the Assault Marines in any direction I wished. This issue was exacerbated later on in games. My footsloggers would be out of their Rhinos, romping around as usual... but at the start of my movement phase I had to do an extra step of planning when exactly every single unit would move and how it would affect the LOS of subsequent moving units. Then we get back to the previously mentioned issue of when you exactly establish LOS for a unit that is entering/leaving the table because of embarkation/disembarkation/Deep Strike, etc.

The issues here are so strange and so glaring that I can't help wonder how this rule's text ended up the way it did... but I digress. It's clearly a bad, bad mechanic because it a) doesn't work and b) it would take a ridiculous amount of clarifications (or a complete re-write) for it to work correctly.


After my last article went up I noticed that a fair number of comments wondered why I had skipped Fearless and gone straight to Stubborn. It's probably because when I started writing that article, I felt that Stubborn was bad... and then, halfway through writing it, I decided that it was just poorly implemented. I'm starting to wonder if my impressions of Fearless follow the same trend. I'm also starting to wonder if I'm writing this because I want to, or because so many people brought it up. But I digress. On to Fearless...

Fearless: "Fearless troops automatically pass all Morale and Pinning tests they are required to take, and will never fall back. They can however go to ground voluntarily. This special rule is gained by any independent character joining a Fearless unit. However, as long as a fearless character stays with a unit that is not fearless, he loses this special rule. If a unit that is falling back suddenly gains this rule, it will automatically regroup at the beginning of its next Movement phase, regardless of all normal restrictions on regrouping."

Fearless is a 'Counter-rule.' It exists to counteract certain leadership-affecting mechanics that represent the IRL concept of 'low morale as a result of combat attrition.' Squads must take Morale and Pinning tests any time they take 25% casualties from shooting, suffer a wound from a Pinning weapon, attempt to regroup while falling back, suffer Tank Shock, or lose a round of close combat. A Fearless unit's best quality is that it can ignore most of the negative effects of taking casualties. It also means that the unit ignores many of the more interesting mechanics the game has to offer, and does so all-inclusively. While this isn't necessarily a problem, it does limit the scope of rules that might exist if Fearless wasn't so all-inclusive. We would have a much more diverse array of 'fearlessness.' Some units might ignore 25% casualties. Some units might automatically pass pinning checks. Some units might automatically pass Morale checks for Tank Shock. Some units may be able to attempt to ignore the after-effects of Going to Ground with a LD test. GW chose to lump a lot of these together in Fearless... which is not to say that those mechanics I just mentioned would never exist, because they obviously could; but it's pretty indicative of narrow thinking since those mechanics simply don't exist at this point. Instead we get more conditional versions of Fearless like the Synapse rules for Tyranids.

Where Fearless really goes wrong is in close combat. In a backwards sort of way, similar to the Stubborn USR, Fearless is implemented badly, with odd and varying consequences that don't seem to represent the underlying principle of "We refuse to run away!" These consequences are not, however, linked specifically to Fearless. They're partially a result of the No Retreat rules.

No Retreat: "...When such units lose a close combat, they are in danger of being dragged down by the victorious enemy despite their determination to hang on." These units do not take Morale checks and will never fall back. Instead, these units suffer a number of wounds equal to the number their side has lost the combat by (allocated as normal). All types of saving throws, except for cover saves, can be taken against these wounds. If none of the enemies involved in the combat against a Fearless unit can actually hurt it, the unit does not suffer any wounds if its side is defeated in combat, and simply continues to fight."

So let's look at a few units that are Fearless (as well as how they access the No Retreat rule):

1) Khorne Berserkers. Clearly a unit focused on assaulting, Berserkers' greatest potential lies in their ability to smash units to pieces on the turn they charge. For their points they're probably one of the most effective close combat oriented Troops selections. Their most common incarnation is the 10-man, Rhino-mounted, Powerfist Champion configuration. They can position themselves easily with a transport, and on the following turn they disembark, move, and finally charge their target. The only time Fearless takes effect against Berserkers is when they're charged by a superior foe and lose a significant number of models before they can attack back. These instances are few and far between, but the end result is often a wiped out unit of Berserkers due to the No Retreat rule. In this case, Fearless triggers No Retreat and the difference in total casualties lies in the enemy's favor. Fearless is a counter-intuitive trait in this case because it can cause the destruction of your unit... and all because the unit was immune to Morale and Pinning?! What's even more odd is that losing the unit can actually be beneficial because it leaves the assaulting enemy unit high and dry, waiting to be fired upon.

2) Termagants. These buggers are on the completely opposite end of the Fearless spectrum from Berserkers. They're a nice unit of taking up valuable space (on an objective, or as a speed bump for occupying an enemy on foot). It makes sense that a unit of mindless drones would be sent to their deaths by the Hive Mind in order to accomplish a greater strategic goal. No Retreat actually becomes an asset, as it allows an adequately-sized unit of Termagants to occupy a proportionately sized enemy unit for a specific number of turns (just long enough so that the last of them evaporate during your opponent's assault phase).

To sum up Fearless, I suppose it's best to say that it's odd for a mechanic to allow units to ignore a whole slew of rules that are usually detrimental. The side effect is that they are somehow hurt by situations where one might assume they would thrive. Perhaps Fearless should be sub-divided into varying levels of negation (as I mentioned above). Maybe at that point the diminished access its subdivided parts might provide to No Retreat would lessen their awkwardness.

Perhaps this should have focused more on No Retreat? Maybe I'll save the rest of that discussion for the next article.

...or maybe I'll just talk about Reserves and Outflank!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Why use one codex over another? (Part 3)

When you think of what's strong and what's weak in terms of 40K codex power levels it's pretty easy to determine where certain armies lie. However, when you drop away from those top tier armies like Dark Eldar, Blood Angels and Imperial Guard it becomes slightly more difficult to tell which army is the best. Tau? Spayz Muhreeenz? Chaos Daemons? Eldar? Each force has its ultimately unmatchable extreme that is unavailable to the others. So what are these extremes, and are they worth using an army in order to access?

Codex: Eldar contains one of those armies that falls somewhere short of 'top tier,' but it does have its unique strengths:

Autarch '+1 to reserves'
Avatar 'fearless bubble'



Heavy Support
Fire Prism
War Walkers

It's really tough to single out unique Eldar units because, as we all know, every Eldar unit has some unique quality to it. It's hard to say that Fire Dragons aren't a big strength of the codex. It's not that they're bad... it's just that they aren't resilient enough to survive by themselves; they need to ride in a Wave Serpent, which is horribly overcost for what it does. There are lots of units in the codex like this, and all of them are obviously the high-priced Aspect Warrior units. Anyhow, I just wanted to get that all out of the way so nobody is thinking "But Howling Banshees are too fabulous to pass up!" Well they're fabulous alright, but they aren't really that great unless they work in combination with a Farseer, or ride in a Wave Serpent, or both. The whole army is fragile, and it seems to me that the only way they can be effective enough is if their units don't rely on each other for combos.

In my opinion, Eldar armies should consist mainly of units that work unilaterally. Because of this, I come off as being a rather harsh critic of the codex... but I make no apologies. This is about why we should use Eldar, and so I will move on to my reasons.

Eldrad is amazingly efficient. If you use him and another Farseer there's a potential for repetitively using one or two psychic powers over and over. Spamming Mind War, Eldritch Storm, Guide and Doom is obviously a good thing. They can quickly eliminate specific models, disrupt armor and enhance your other units. Aside from just the psychic powers available, you have the Runes of Warding; they're pretty amazing as psychic defense goes. They make your opponent's average psychic test roll a 10.5 (fail!) with a huge potential for causing Perils of the Warp.

The Avatar is nifty, but not amazing... but with all his little neat bonuses as well as his relatively low points cost, he definitely falls into the 'highly autonomous' category. His 'fearless bubble' is great if you're using large units of Guardians (either type) to shield your army, and if you decide to run the 'Eldravatar' combo, that's a really hard defensive line to take down. Yriel has one thing going for him and that's his uber-template close combat anti-MEQ attack. And finally, if you wish to use a tactically flexible army that heavily utilizes reserves, the Autarch can give you that +1 to your rolls.

When it comes to Elites there aren't many options outside of Aspect Warriors save that old standby: Wraithguard. They're amazing at not dying. They're great at being used as a troop unit as well - there's nothing like T6 scoring dudes that can re-roll their cover saves.

The only other truly viable troop selection for the army are the Guardians (of either variety). They can be used as an agile assault force or in ten-man units with a heavy weapon. Aside from all the other armies that can take a cheap ten-man unit with a single heavy weapon, Eldar have one of the units that can do it cheap. A hundred and ten points for a 10-wound Bright Lance sounds good to me... especially when I can use six of them and they're scoring.

Fire Prisms are the Baal Predator of the Eldar. Cheap cost, highly versatile, fast-moving, and an even higher power setting if you spam... sounds like a great unit.

So the big problem here is that once you have all the high quality units I've mentioned, what else do you include in the rest of your 2000 point army? There aren't a lot of choices, but most of them are mediocre at best because they don't seem to compare to those of their 'dark' counterparts. If you wanted to have some good anti-troop capability from your Fast Attack choices, you might choose a Vyper Jetbike. How does it measure up? You can pay 60 points for two Shuriken Cannons with BS3. What do you get from the Dark Eldar as a transport option? The amazing Venom, which has 12 shots at BS4 for 65 points, PLUS has a 5+ invulnerable save, PLUS it can move 12" and fire both guns, PLUS it can carry up to five models, etc, etc, etc.

A lot of the units in the Eldar book fall prey to the game's current level of inequality, and as much as I would like to chalk this up to changes in edition (from 4th to 5th), the book is very obviously a victim of 'codex creep.' This is the gradual increase of power levels in newer armies since 5th Edtion has been released. However, I do maintain that Codex: Eldar remains a valid 'rogue' army that can do extremely well in the right metagame situation. Many times you'll hear of an Eldar army sweeping a big tournament, and it's my contention that whenever there is a new mission that requires a versatile army, the Eldar are the super-secret tech that no one will expect to win.

So if your local meta requires any of the following, you may want to consider using Eldar:

Large number of psychic powers - stopped easily by Runes of Warding
Giant units of Orc Boys - stopped cold by giant units of Storm Guardians w/Enhance
Mech Marines - easily slowed by massed Bright Lance fire

So can we effectively counter those army archetypes with other things out there? Sure. Almost everything the Eldar can do, the Dark Eldar can do better. They're better at maneuverability, firepower, and in most cases, defense. The only thing that the Dark Eldar lack is psychic defense. So as a result, I posit that Eldar are nearing the point of being completely defunct.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Why use one codex over another? (Part 2)

After looking at what gives C:CSM its 'oomph' let's look at another codex. The Dark Angels have held a weak position on the 40K power ladder for most of 5th Edition, and have just recently received a much-needed push in attempt to keep them on par with other armies. They're an MEQ (Marine equivalent) force like Codex: Chaos Space Marines, but they are vastly different in nature... but the question is why would you use them over another MEQ force?

First let's look at what makes C:DA unique.


Special Characters (which also open up force organization chart options)
Chaplain w/3 wounds
Psychic Powers


Fearless Terminators w/full customizable load of weaponry
Company Veterans that function like a cross between Vanguard and Sternguard


Scoring Fearless Terminators (see Elites) - conditional w/special character
Scoring Fearless Bikers (see Fast Attack) - conditional w/special character
Scoring Landspeeders - conditional w/special character

Fast Attack:

Ravenwing Attack Squadrons
Larger units of Landspeeders

Codex: Dark Angels doesn't appear to have a lot going for it. Their Tactical Squads are, on the whole, more expensive than C:SM or C:CSM scoring units. Their special characters aren't the greatest either. Most everything they have can be purchased from another Codex at a lower price. However, what the book does allow for are shifts in the Force Org Chart. If you take specific characters then you get some nifty scoring units that no other Codex can take. There's nothing like a squad of fearless terminators that are scoring, have Feel No Pain and are equipped with Storm Shields. Their only flaw is a lack of mobility - they need a Land Raider in order to pull a sweet charge on an ideal target, and Land Raiders aren't cheap.

Their other FOC-shifting option allows a whole host of scoring Meltagun and Multi-melta wielding Bikes as well as scoring Landspeeders (don't quote me on this because I'm honestly not 100% certain that's true, but since the Codex overrides the main rulebook, I don't see why it wouldn't be true unless there's an FAQ I missed). An all-bike army that's unbreakable and able to Turbo-boost onto objectives is quite amazing if used the right way. Their only flaw is that they are Bikers, and so they must be used sparingly. Bikes are horribly overcost for what they are capable of, and Codex: Dark Angels is no exception.

So what this comes down to is that C:DA has some nifty (but costly) scoring unit tricks under its belt. What other armies have Fearless scoring units?

Chaos Daemons
Chaos Space Marines (Summoned Lesser Daemons, Legion-specific CSM units)
Grey Knights (Crowe Purifiers, anything the Grandmaster can make scoring)
Eldar (conditional)
Tyranids (conditonal)
Orks (conditional)
Dark Eldar (conditional)
Marines (conditional)
Black Templars (conditional)
Space Wolves (conditional)
Blood Angels (conditional)

Surely among all these armies there is a more efficient way of having Fearless, objective-grabbing units roaming the battlefield. Whether it's Synapse rules making a horde of Termagants stay put, Eldar Guardians holding fast within the Avatar's 'bubble,' or a horde of Blood Claws roaming free under the tutelage of a Wolf Priest, there are tons of options.

So what can the Dark Angels do that nobody else can do better? It seems there are two things.
1) Ravenwing Bikers have the Scout Universal Special Rule, allowing them to move 12" before the game begins. This is especially beneficial for a couple reasons - first this allows them to cover a huge area by the end of the first turn, often allowing them to charge an opposing army. Practically speaking this is not super because a smart opponent will plan around it, but in reality what it does is force the opposing army to deploy defensively (given that they are deploying 2nd and attempting to implement a counter-strategy). Second it allows for ...
2) The accurate deployment of teleporting Deathwing Terminators via the 'Deathwing Assault' special rule. This is the other shining star of C:DA because it takes an otherwise mediocre force of low-mobility juggernaut units and dumps them in your opponent's lap.

The greatest strength of this kind of army lies in its ability to take down a vehicle-based force quickly. Each Ravenwing unit can break apart into three units (four if you bought the Landspeeder), and each can shoot and subsequently charge a vehicle. It was an amazing army to use when Codex: Imperial Guard was first released a couple years ago.

Summarizing the article so far:

Chaos Space Marines do a lot of different things well.
Dark Angels are good for scouting and attacking weak points in an enemy line.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

'Ard Boys army selection

The real topic here revolves around the question of "Is 40K a tournament-worthy game?" I think it kind of is... at least more so than it used to be. What makes it worthy of tournament play is the level of diversity amongst competitive armies contrasted with the inverse (lack of diversity). It also depends on the willingness of the game's player base to be competitive and breaking out of its hobby gaming niche.

Don't hate the player, hate the game!

40K is notorious for producing players that just aren't... good at playing the game. It's understandable, though, because it's a hobby first and a game second. People just want to put together their plastic 'dudesmen' and roll some dice to see what happens. Really? REALLY? That's all it can be for some people and while I can respect that in some capacity, come ON! That's how I played Monopoly when I was six. Have the guts to be an analyst and critical thinker! You may learn something. But I digress. There's just a natural tendency for hobbyists to gravitate towards this game, so we can't expect a fantabulous tournament scene to pop up overnight.

What's good for the goose is good for the gander?

Uniformity is bad. Marx would hate me for saying that there should be class divisions. Oh well. In competitive gaming there is inequality, or at least the perception of inequality, between players and between the various factions those players utilize. This inequality is the basis of competition. If a game becomes too balanced it ends up hitting a big fat plateau of dullness. There needs to be an occasional shake-up of the rules as well as the regular release of new armies so that the dullness is alleviated. Change is exciting. Just so we're clear, I'm talking about sci-fi/fantasy gaming and not politics.

Diversity isn't just a wooden ship anymore.

Did I say that uniformity is bad? Did I say that diversity is good? Actually they're both good, to a degree... and bad, to a degree. Probably the most desirable state at which the various factions within a game system should exist is one of almost relative parity.

Say for instance that there is a power scale that is used to rate factions. The scale is from zero to ten (ten being the highest power level). Every faction within a game should hover around a power rating of five. A healthy game will have faction power levels that are able to diversify around that standard level of five. Some will be sixes, some will be fours, and occasionally there will be a seven or a three. But the closer they keep to the standard of five, the greater the overall game balance will be.

Meta-gamer, Mega-gamer

Whenever a faction receives a revamp, its power level will be re-evaluated. This re-evaluation in respect to all other factions will determine its place on the power scale. The re-evaluation process in 40K is what keeps it from being a truly competitive game. Since 40K is a game involving a massive amount of dice rolling, decision points and long-term strategy, there is a huge number of variables to consider when re-evaluating the power level of an army. Since there is such a large element of hobbyists that play the game, and since those hobbyists think that because they make up the majority of the game's players, the hobbyists feel that they are ultimately more knowledgeable about the game's workings than the non-hobbyists that spend more time actually playing and analyzing tactics and strategy. There is also an issue with the amount of time and coordination required with setting up a game of 40K. The average 2000 point game is going to take at least an hour, if not more, before the players have a general idea of who will win and why.

So because of the lack of critical analysis and the relatively low quantity of games played, there is much less experience that goes into the re-evaluation of power levels than in other competitive games (e.g. Magic: The Gathering). There are other factors that contribute to the lack of critical analysis of 40K faction power levels, and they usually fall into other categories like disposable income, transportation, available playing space, etc.

As a result, in most areas where 40K has a decent player base only about fifteen percent are competitive. This small pool of competitive minds usually turns out a short-sighted or narrow-minded analysis of power levels. Because of this general lack of critical/comparative analysis, what happens in these microcosms is that there is a general free-for-all of armies. The most competitive-minded players will usually end up at the top of the heap of hobbyists. In the long run, what happens is that the alpha dogs that rise to the top of each relatively small group of players have no good benchmark against which to compare their armies. Even the internet yields little critical comparative analysis for power levels because the alpha dogs don't like to think that their winning streak is due to anything but their own personal mastery of 40K and not just the mastery of their local scene.

Since there is really no comparative analysis of power levels, all that 40K players have to go on when making meta game choices (which army and which configuration they will use in a tournament) is their personal experience, the on-record performance of armies at major competitive events, and the obvious power levels of each codex. The term 'obvious' in this case refers to the grounded opinions that in 40K there is a highly apparent level of overwhelming force when compared to cost. If many units in a codex have a high number of units with overwhelming force for a relatively low cost, this is 'obviously' a high powered codex.

Back to business.

So it all comes down to the big question: What army do you use for the 'Ard Boys tournament? The best thing you can hope to do when choosing an army is to analyze the obviously powerful armies out there and look for trends amongst them. For instance, Dark Eldar, Imperial Guard, Space Wolves and Blood Angels could all be classified as 'obviously powerful.' Army builds that have a good track record are the IG 'leafblower,' Space Wolf 'razorspam,' Blood Angel 'mech marines,' and what I'll refer to as Dark Eldar 'MSU' or multiple small units.

The major trend amongst these forces is armor. Each of these armies uses at least a half dozen (and sometimes up to a dozen) vehicles ranging anywhere from AV10 to AV12. There are other patterns as well: Half of them use power armored troops while the other half have flak. Three out of four have good, if not great, close combat capability. Three out of four have massed long-range firepower. They all utilize upwards of a dozen units, with IG hitting the high teens. All of them take full advantage of the fact that their troop selections are strong in the category of shooting or close combat...or both.

So let's look at these obviously powerful armies in a predatory manner. We need to look for patterns among their weaknesses and consistent methods for exploiting those weaknesses. When I use the term 'exploit' I am referring to a specific method of thinking. This is the rock-paper-scissors method, meaning if they have paper, you need to bring the scissors...and so on and so forth. If the pattern is 'armor' then you need to bring anti-armor. If the pattern is 'psykers' then you need to bring anti-psykers.

The trends of weakness amongst these armies are:

Low squad sizes and/or weakly armored troops. The interesting thing about these forces is that they tend towards minimizing unit size while maximizing unit upgrades. For instance, Grey Hunters are fielded in units of five, often equipped with a Meltagun and Mark of the Wulfen. IG Veteran squads are ten men strong, but they carry the maximum number (3) of special weapons and have flak armor. Dark Eldar units are just as frail as IG Veterans. This is a weakness that is easily capitalized upon by massed small arms fire, a well-placed template weapon, or both.

Low AV vehicles. Occasionally one of these armies will deviate from the obvious and use a vehicle with a high armor value (Leman Russ, Land Raider), but for the most part you'll never see anything heartier than a Storm Raven or Venerable Dreadnought. Even those are relatively rare compared to the prevalence of the AV12 Chimera. So with the slight exception of IG, these armies are highly vulnerable to massed medium-strength long range fire. In the land of the open-topped vehicle, the twin-linked autocannon is king.

Low leadership. Considering that 'squad leader' is an upgrade that isn't usually chosen for units in min-max'd armies, it's not uncommon to see entire forces relying on an average leadership value of 8. While 8 isn't bad, it's only effective 72% of the time, and that's assuming it doesn't get modified. LD7 is 58% effective and LD6 is 41%, so even a small modification is going to put LD8 units in a bind. Capitalizing on low leadership is done in subtle ways. The ideal way to deal with it is to cause a modified morale check (as was mentioned). Barring the existence of a modifier that would give a failed morale check a higher likelihood of happening in one try, the next best way to cause a failed check is to cause multiple checks. Given that the rules say you can only cause one morale check for 25% casualties, and one morale check for losing close combat (per losing unit), you have to find other ways to cause multiple checks. Tank Shock and pinning tests are great for this sort of thing, as well as are other random unit abilities.

Large unit count. The obvious pattern in these armies (especially since we're hitting 2500 points) is that with all the armor (transports and otherwise), extra independent characters and min-maxed small units, the unit counts skyrocket. This can be a huge drawback when it comes to missions that involve kill points; from the way many tournament missions are working these days, kill points can have an affect on every game. If you want to capitalize on an army's MSU (multiple small unit) factor, then you have a couple of options. First and best is the ability to use large assault units to charge multiple enemies at once. This allows you the ability to use the casualties caused against one unit to modify the leadership test of a second or third unit. Additionally, you can use grenades and other higher strength attacks against vehicles (no, don't go after those walkers just yet!) while you're simultaneously chewing on units of troops. The second best way to deal with large numbers of units is to use attacks that may affect multiple units, e.g. tank shock (and ramming), Jaws of the World Wolf, various template weapons, etc.

Ruh-Roh Raggy! What's it all mean?

Having looked at the weak spots of the obviously powerful armies out there, we come to the final list of requirements for mashing them up: low squad size, AV, LD and high unit count. But there's one more thing I need to bring up. When you're comparing the power levels of combat forces it's important to note that there is an algorithm that will usually determine the winner of the conflict with some degree of certainty. To make a long story short, you're going to total up the firepower of Forces A and B. Then you're going to alternate dropping each force's firepower by the attrition factor inherent to the opponent's level of firepower. It looks something like this:

Force A = 20 power
Force B = 20 power

the attrition rate = 10% of attacking power (subtract from defending power)

Force A attacks first, causing attrition of 2, leaving B with 18
Force B attacks second, causing attrition of 1.8, leaving A with 18.2
Force A attacks third, causing attrition of 1.82, leaving B with 16.18
Force B attacks fourth, causing attrition of 1.618, leaving A with 16.582

...and so on and so forth. In this scenario it's pretty easy to determine that Force A will come out on top for one obvious reason: it dealt damage first. This is a pitched battle, and it's something that any good student of strategy will want to avoid. If you're going to beat this field of competitors you're going to have to consistently cause more damage than you suffer. Yes, of course, that's a no-brainer, but so many players get wrapped up in one line of thinking or another to the point where they lose focus and end up chasing some kind of white whale.

The reason I bring this entire equation business up is that it's very possible in the current environment to run the gambit of rock-paper-scissors and come out on top because of the sheer number of fragile opposing units. You have the potential to take out a lot more of the opponent's units than they do of yours, simply because of the pattern of low-resilience units you'll be facing.

And the million dollar question...

What will win? What will beat the current range of armies? I'd like to say that there is a definite answer out there. There is a really high potential for Dark Eldar to win some major victories because their lists are all highly versatile, can take a beating and continue to function, and are able to pour out an amazing amount of firepower. I think they are the #1 pick because of their potential to completely outmaneuver opposing armies. They have the advantage of being able to completely reposition their forces; this allows them to divvy up an opposing army that is less maneuverable and more dependent on their units' teamwork.

I also want to say that regardless of anything I've written here, the 'Ard Boys events have a habit of throwing a massive wrench into conventional thinking. Last year's preliminary event saw probably the most horribly imbalanced mission in its final round. Annihilation with fast-moving units worth 3 kill points (any vehicle, drop-pod, jump troops, cavalry, etc). This completely wrecked 70% of the field and heavily influenced my decision to use Tyranids in lieu of the mechanized Blood Angels I'd originally planned on.

My guess is that this year we will see some similar shenanigans.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Why use one codex over another? (Part 1)

I often sit down with Army Builder to figure out the next 40K list I want to mess with. I think "I would really like to use my Chaos Marines for a change," but then I remember that anything they can do, lots of other armies can do better. Is that really the case though? Let's look at Codex: Chaos Space Marines and see what’s truly unique about them.

Special Characters
HQ Monstrous Creatures
3rd HQ choice - Summoned Greater Daemon
Strong Psychic Powers: Lash of Submission, Wind of Chaos and Warp Time
Cost-effective customizable-role Terminators
Cost-effective variety of versatile Marine squads
Unlimited scoring units
Deep Strike + Assault

I tried to pick the things that gave them the greatest in-game advantages, so try not to get all butt-hurt because I didn’t include ‘Nurgle Bikers.’ While they’re cool and may be decent enough against certain armies, they just aren’t cost-effective for the amount of damage they deal (which is minimal). Heck, they’re not even fearless!

Abaddon, Kharne and Typhus all pack quite a punch, and even Ahriman can be devastating if used correctly. These are the hallmarks of the codex. They’re backed up by the almighty Sorcerer and Daemon Prince, both capable of flight and both able to wield the deadly Lash of Submission (not to mention it’s less devastating, but decent contemporaries Wind of Chaos and Warp Time). Obviously no other army can field the special characters, but the only other book that utilizes monstrous HQ choices are Tyranids and Daemons of Chaos …neither of which can field a monster that is guaranteed to both begin the game on the table and have a decent invulnerable save. The closest you’re going to get in a straight up comparison is the Keeper of Secrets or the Swarmlord.

C:CSM can also field a tertiary HQ in the form of a Summoned Greater Daemon, and while it’s not the greatest thing out there, it’s certainly a nice benefit for just a hundred points (plus the cost of the champ used to summon it).
As far as heavy infantry goes, Chaos Terminators are one of the most resilient and simultaneously versatile units available. You can kit them out like Sternguard or you can focus your spending on close combat capability… or both.

Troops are the forte of the codex. There are a few routes to take with troops when building your list. You can take the tried and true Chaos Marine squad and spam it like any good mech Space Marine force would. They’re cheap, able to double up on special weapons, and have good leadership. The legion-specific troops can be devastating, but are about 30-35% more expensive than their basic brethren. If you want a sold combat unit, take Berserkers; Noise Marines will get you a mix of shooty and fighty; an ultra defensive player will take Plague Marines; Thousand Sons are a great tar pit with MEQ-killing weapons and psychic powers.

Rounding out the unique troops of the Codex are the Summoned Lesser Daemons. They are a surprise factor that the codex can easily capitalize on because you never really expect to see them used. A measly sixty-five points will get you a high-quality scoring unit that can show up anywhere you already have an icon, claim an objective, and can even hold its own in combat against a mid-level combat unit if need be. As an added bonus these units can be used in addition to your regular complement of troops, allowing you to saturate an already scoring unit-heavy force.
Finally there are the Obliterators. What can I say about these?! They’re a resilient unit that has both anti-tank and anti-infantry capability. They work well at any range. They even have powerfists. They can do the dishes, change a light bulb and unclog your toilet.

So how do you rate a codex like this in the grand scheme of things? It’s really difficult to rate the book as a whole because it’s not coherent. It doesn’t have an over-arching theme that unifies its units except that they are all ‘Chaos’ and mostly MEQ. In this respect it lives up to its name. From a design perspective it’s all over the place. It has no great weakness. It’s not like Imperial Guard (who are amazing in the shooting phase but mediocre-to-poor in close combat), and it’s not like Tyranids (which are the opposite of IG). It can cover all its bases rather well. So what you basically end up doing, if you choose to use C:CSM, is choose units for your army based solely on their power levels. There’s very little emphasis on combinations (except in the case of Lash) or over-spamming (except in the case of Obliterators).

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Using Speed (can be fun)

One of the things that a friend and I theorized about when Codex: Blood Angels released was the the use of speed not just as a tool, but also as a weapon. I went as far as to say that the top tier armies in early 2010 were:

Imperial Guard - They broke the metagame wide open with the sheer number and quality of guns they could field. Often times, taking the first turn with an IG army meant an almost automatic win, and many players would go to ridiculous lengths (like placing their entire army in reserve) to counteract the effectiveness of this massed firepower. In my eyes, there is often no overcoming such an advantage. IG are weighted too heavily on the side of ranged weaponry. Since armies often start the game on opposite sides of the table, the Guard have an amazing and unfair advantage. Weird missions and bad dice are the only thing that should cause a good IG army to lose.

Blood Angles - In their own right they are powerful enough to take on most other armies, but against the Imperial Guard their speed is an essential factor. They are the only army (at least they were before Dark Eldar) that could drastically and safely decrease the distance between itself and an IG force in a reasonable amount of time - in other words, they move as fast as the IG can shoot. In addition, they can accomplish almost all their goals with their hearty and effective troop choice - the Assault Squad. So it kills stuff? And it's a scoring unit? And it moves fast? How can you go wrong with an army whose scoring units are highly effective at smashing things?!

I theorized that a BA force which utilized as many fast vehicles as was reasonable would yield amazing results. The following list came to mind:

Reclusiarch - 130

Librarian - 100
Blood Lance, Sanguine Sword

Honor Guard (5) - 235
Powerfist, 2x Lightning Claw, Company Standard, Meltagun, Rhino

Sanguinary Priest - 75
Combi-Flamer, Lightning Claw

Assault Squad #1 (5) - 145
Flamer, Lightning Claw, Hand Flamer, Rhino

Assault Squad #2 (10) - 250
2x Meltagun, Powerfist, Rhino

Assault Squad #3 (10) - 250
2x Meltagun, Powerfist, Rhino

Assault Squad #4 (10) - 250
2x Meltagun, Powerfist, Rhino

Baal Predator #1 - 115
Flamestorm Cannon

Baal Predator #2 - 115
Flamestorm Cannon

Baal Predator #3 - 115
Flamestorm Cannon

Predator #1 - 70

Predator #2 - 70

Predator #3 - 70

I wanted a Blood Angel army that could, if I really desired, match an IG force on a unit for unit basis. This army has 18 units, with the possibility of another three if combat squads are utilized. When dealing with IG forces that utilize a lot of armor, it's all important to neutralize as much of the armor as possible. Perhaps that's a no-brainer, but if you don't take out one of their units (and quickly) for each one of yours that's lost, you risk an even greater imbalance of power.

The overall strategy of this BA force is that it should go on the offensive as fast as possible. Every one of your units is a potential threat for an IG force, and because of the increased mobility of BA vehicles, they are more than just the single weapon they carry. They have the option of utilizing both Tank Shocks and ramming as legitimate tactics. The ability of the Baal Predators to scout is important because it sends your opponent a message: deal with them or they will disrupt your forces. For instance, if you end up with traditional 12" deployment, you deploy your Baal Predators as far forward as possible, scout move before the game, and on the first turn you're in range for a high strength tank shock. That's +6 for moving 18", +1 for being a tank, +3 for each point of armor above 10. That's a strength 10 attack against an average IG vehicle AV of 12 (and side AV of 10 for Chimeras). Of course you take a hit in return, but against AV 10 it's strength 7 versus your Baal front armor of 13. Anyhow, even though it's statistically unlikely that you will destroy an enemy vehicle with this maneuver, it's possible that you'll take no damage, and that you'll prevent the opponent's vehicle from firing and force them to deal with the threat of your Baal in the midst of their vehicles. And while your other vehicles aren't capable of scouting, they are entirely capable of shooting forward with an 18" move. This allows your foot troops to get into charge range during your second turn.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Dealing with the Grey Knight Deathstar

Initiative is perhaps one of the most important factors in close combat. The unit that makes its attacks first can potentially eliminate an opponent before that opponent has a chance to eliminate them in return. When high initiative is combined with increased strength, the ability to ignore armor saves, and the ability to cause instant death, a unit possessing all these qualities becomes extremely tough to remove from the table.

When we look at a unit like Grey Knight Terminators, we recognize them as heavily armored and difficult to kill with shooting, especially when backed by a Librarian with Shrouding. Paladins are even hardier due to their extra wound and Feel No Pain. Admittedly it's not just these terminators and their psychic powers that are nigh impossible to kill. It's their upgrades which make them brutally efficient.

The Nemesis Force Halberd takes the brutal efficiency of the Grey Knight Terminator to a whole new level. I usually play with a 'Deathstar' unit of these monsters that looks like this:

GKT unit (10)
Psybolt Ammunition
1 Justicar w/Halberd & Stormbolter
1 Terminator w/Brotherhood Banner
2 Terminators w/Daemonhammer
2 Terminators w/Psycannon
4 Terminators w/Halberd & Stormbolter
Librarian w/Master-crafted Halberd, Digital Weapons, 5-6 Psychic Powers
Inquisitor Coteaz

Altogether this weighs in at around 850 points, but it is by far one of the toughest units to crack, and it's definitely the toughest one in the codex. Its shooting capabilities are decent:
18 s5 stormbolter shots
d6 s4 psyber-eagle shots
8 s7 psycannon shots

But what really makes this unit shine is its ability to strike first in combat against almost everything in the game. And if the Halberd's I6 isn't putting their attacks at the top of the initiative order, then certainly the Librarian's Quicksilver ability will. One of the GKT's most important assets (especially compared to their contemporary counterparts, the Space Marine Terminator w/Lightning Claws) is their ability to maintain their high initiative when charging into cover - Frag Grenades are invaluable for this unit.

So what can you do against a scoring deathstar that has 24 I6 Force Weapon attacks that may end up being S7? And then what do you do with another 10 Daemonhammer attacks backing them up? Can you shoot them? You can definitely try to whittle down their numbers using massed dakka fire, but that is only going to be just so effective. You can saturate them with Lascannon or Dark Lance fire, but Shrouding keeps them alive 2/3 of the time. The fact of the matter is that most armies can't reliably shoot them off the table.

Close combat against this type of unit is almost suicidal. What can have a chance of tearing them apart? Higher initiative would seem to be the key... but what has higher initiative than 6? Only a few units come to mind:

Phoenix Lords
Prince Yriel
Dark Eldar Archon
Asdrubael Vect
Lady Malys
Lelith Hesperax
Dark Eldar Succubus
Eldar/Dark Eldar Harlequins

They also all have the ability to ignore cover when charging, either with Frag or Plasma grenades. But these all fall into the category of 'special' and don't seem like they would be very good at taking on an entire unit of GKTs with Force Weapons. Perhaps we should change our criteria to units that utilize wargear to overcome the initiative barrier:

Howling Banshees w/Banshee Masks
Commander Dante w/Furious Charge
The Sanguinor w/Furious Charge
Baron Sathonyx w/Furious Charge
Duke Sliscus w/Furious Charge
Kheradruakh w/Furious Charge
Hekatrix Bloodbrides w/Furious Charge
Dark Eldar Wyches w/Furious Charge
Dark Eldar Beastmasters (and Khymerae)
Dark Eldar Hellions w/Furious Charge
Reaver Jetbikes w/Furious Charge
Grey Knights w/Psyk-out Grenades
Tyranids w/Lash Whips
Tyranid Harpy
Genestealers w/Adrenal Glands

Once again we see a wide array of character, but this time we see that the Dark Eldar have a lot of options for taking on this Death Star, and especially when they have a couple Pain Tokens in tow. Also, what seems to be the most favorable option for fighting them would be the Tyranids - Warriors, Shrikes or Tyrants with Bone Swords and Lash Whips are capable of not only going before the GKTs (even in the case of Quicksilver), but are also to ignore their armor saves.

Shrikes are fast, allowing a second turn charge, can re-roll to hit if relying on a nearby Tyrant's 'Old Adversary' power, can re-roll to wound with toxin sacs, ignore armor saves, and at the very worst they will strike the GKTs at the same initiative if they must charge into cover. It's no small wonder that a unit of 9 Shrikes with Lash Whips, Bone Swords and Toxin Sacs weighs in at *gasp! 495 points. With the backing of a nearby Tyrant, these warriors will absolutely annihilate (on average) the entire 12-man GKT Deathstar. They simply must survive the barrage of GK firepower on the way to their target, hope that the Librarian (or Coteaz) fail to successfully cast Sanctuary, and pray that the GKT Deathstar isn't sitting in the middle of some juicy area terrain. Even if all things come together for the shrikes, it's still possible that not every GK model will pile into combat touching a Shrike; in this case, whichever GKT is not touching will actually get a chance to use his I6 to good effect, killing perhaps one Shrike per non-base-touching GKT.

But what would a powerful unit like this be without some irony? The funny thing about Grey Knights is that they're all psykers, and coincidentally they work rather well when they get a chance to charge a unit containing psykers. Those charged psykers are dropped to I1 and that's all she wrote.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Grey Kniggets (revised)

Well there you have it: Another set of hopes and dreams for abusive armies crushed and smothered in the wake of a new FAQ. I think that while the Coteaz henchmen spam was a great army archetype, it was definitely not what the designers intended it to be. It's still a nice army with some cheap, scoring utility units, and it's easily one of the more versatile lists available through this codex.

Anyhow, I have done several revisions of the army since the FAQ was released and it's finally come down to this list:

Grey Knights Army List - 2000 Points

Inquisitor Coteaz - 100

Librarian - 245
Master-crafted Force Halberd, Digital Weapons, Mastery Level 3, Might of Titan, Quicksilver, Sanctuary, The Shrouding, The Summoning, Warp Rift

Inquisitorial Henchmen #1 - 230
Jokaero x5, Chimera

Inquisitorial Henchmen #2 - 230
Jokaero x5, Chimera

Inquisitorial Henchmen #3 - 230
Jokaero x5, Chimera

Inquisitorial Hechmen #4 - 72
Warrior Acolyte x3, Meltagun x2, Rhino

Inquisitorial Hechmen #5 - 72
Warrior Acolyte x3, Meltagun x2, Rhino

Grey Knight Terminators - 495
2x GKT w/Psycannon & Halberd
2x GKT w/Storm Bolter & Daemonhammer
1x GKT Justicar w/Storm Bolter & Halberd
1x GKT w/Storm Bolter & Brotherhood Banner
4x GKT w/Storm Bolter & Halberd

Purifier Squad - 186
3x Halberd, 2x Psycannon, Rhino

Dreadnought - 140
2x Twin-Linked Autocannon, Psybolt Ammo, Warp Stabilization Field

The major changes to this list are the smaller-sized Purifier squad, another Jokaero unit, and of course the 'Psyfleman Dread.' I think this list has a ton of potential because it's got 1) lots of long-range, high strength firepower, 2) mech-power, 3) anti-horde (Jokaero & Purifiers), 4) six scoring units, 5) good, solid close combat capability, and 6) safety at long range (Shrouding + Reinforced Aegis).

The giant unit of GK Terminators can also give the army a 7th scoring unit by breaking into combat squads if absolutely necessary, but its main function is to create a wall of close-combat heft that can't easily be breached - 3+ cover save, 2+ armor, Psychic Hood, Stubborn, Initiative 6 instant death-causing weapons, and the ability to possibly deny a charge with Sanctuary. It can toss out a lot of dakka at 24", but its main long-range fire is from the 15 Jokaero weapons, 16 Psycannon shots, 4 Psy-Autocannon shots, 9 Multi-laser shots and 9 Heavy Bolter shots. That's not too shabby when it comes to wrecking vehicles (around four Rhinos per turn, barring cover saves, or 2 on average with them).

I figure that if the majority of all missions are objective-based, then the army with the most board control with lots of small units is going to end up on top. However, if kill points are the game, Coteaz is going to allow you to cut down on your opponent's chance to take the initiative away...which is especially handy when there are so many Dark Eldar armies out there at the moment utilizing Vect.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Bad Mechanic! (part 1)

Warhammer 40,000 5th Edition has been around for just about three years now, and the more I play the more I notice that there are certain mechanics in the system that are poorly implemented, poorly designed or both. To the credit of Games Workshop there are some situations where these mechanics are hold-overs from old editions while in others they are victims of an older codex in a new edition.

So what makes a bad mechanic? 40K relies heavily on its story and modeling aspects for player enjoyment so the primary mark of a bad mechanic in its system is when the desirable outcome of a situation goes against what feels might be the right militarily sound and intuition-rooted decision to make.

Stubborn. This universal special rule (USR for short) works poorly in so many situations for so many armies that I usually dismiss it. In 5th Edition, most of the time that your units are on the losing end of a close combat, it's because an opponent's specialized close combat unit has charged your unit that isn't good in that theater of combat. While the intuitive notion of 'hold at all costs!' comes to mind, the most desirable tactical outcome here is that your weaker unit will fall back away from the combat or be wiped out by it. This leaves the opponent's unit hanging in the wind, waiting for your guns to weaken and possibly destroy it. It's simply counter-intuitive that you would desire the destruction of one of your units.

The first time Stubborn showed up in 5th Edition was in Codex: Space Marines. Both Lysander and Kantor make their armies stubborn. In an army like Space Marines the majority of your units consist of ten or fewer models. Additionally, the natural tendencies of players building these armies will maximize their units so that their are either good in close combat or good at ranged combat. In some cases they are mediocre at both, but only out of necessity (Tactical and Scout squads). An unit that's good at close combat but is also Stubborn has little use for its USR. This means that you've paid too many points for that unit because it's not able to maximize its potential the same way it might if you had paid the points for another USR. For instance, an Assault squad in a Lysander-based SM force isn't as good as an Assault squad in a Shrike-based force. Since this maxim would apply to just about any unit that you might include in a Lysander-based force, you have to conclude that Stubborn is actually a drawback because it doesn't do anything for you unless you're on the losing end of a close combat. Any good 40K general will eventually realize that they shouldn't plan their tactics based on a strategy that relies on being on the losing side. In other words, you don't want to plan on losing a close combat just to use your Stubborn ability to stay in that losing combat. Ok, so there are a couple situations where it MIGHT be beneficial to hold your unit in a losing combat, but those situations are so few and far between (not to mention that they lead to unpredictable outcomes) that they simply aren't worth planning around.

Stubborn is utilized correctly in Codex: Imperial Guard. It's possibly to take large units of infantry (40+) that can be highly effective in close combat, even though they are highly likely to lose every round. They can win combat eventually, but they are going to do it through a gradual and grinding process of attrition. Then there are the highly specialized Penal Legion squads; these are cheap, disposable units that will stall the advance of an enemy that rates as mediocre in close combat. Finally, the ability of certain characters to provide Stubborn to units they don't have to join is invaluable since there is no chance of that baby being thrown away with the bathwater (you don't lose the sacrificial speed bump AND its supporting character in one fell swoop).

It seems that it may not be the actual Stubborn mechanic that is problematic, but merely its codex-level implementation. So if we could go in and surgically modify existing codices, what might be a few examples of a better place for the rule? Part of the answer lies in what I feel are the flaws of the Fearless mechanic.

See my next post about Fearless.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Hey I Know That Dude!

Grey Knights are the new pink. They are the new Space Marines. They have the focus and power level of a specialized army, and the lack of diversity that I've been hoping new Space Marine armies will lean towards!

I've had the army for years (since Codex: Daemonhunters was released) and until now it's been completely disappointing. I refused to use their mini henchmen units to supplement my Imperial Guard army. I refused to use their codex to build a stand-alone army list. I don't like paying 275+ points for a Land Raider and putting all my eggs in one basket. I didn't like relying on dreadnoughts for my heavy support. I just hated using every ounce of that army... okay, so I didn't mind paying 275 points for a Grand Master and having him ride around in an empty Chimera...

With the new Codex: Grey Knights I see nothing but possibilities for fresh, new army lists and ways to potentially abuse the book's balance inequities. Heck, I didn't even have to look over the codex very thoroughly to find some shining, evil gems.

I've come up with the following 2000 point list, and while it slightly resembles a few other lists floating around out there, I think it has a lot of merit.

Inquisitor Coteaz

Librarian (mastery level 3, master-crafted nemesis force halberd, digital weapons, might of titan, quicksilver, the shrouding, vortex of doom, warp rift)

Inquisitorial Henchmen #1 (5x jokaero, chimera)
Inquisitorial Henchmen #2 (5x jokaero, chimera)
Inquisitorial Henchmen #3 (5x jokaero, chimera)
Inquisitorial Henchmen #4 (3x warrior acolyte, 2x meltagun, rhino)
Inquisitorial Henchmen #5 (3x warrior acolyte, 2x meltagun, rhino)
Inquisitorial Henchmen #6 (3x warrior acolyte, 2x meltagun, rhino)
Inquisitorial Henchmen #7 (3x warrior acolyte, 2x meltagun, rhino)
Inquisitorial Henchmen #8 (3x warrior acolyte, 2x flamer, rhino)
Inquisitorial Henchmen #9 (9x death cult assassin, rhino)
Dreadnought (2x twin-linked autocannon, psybolt ammunition)
Techmarine (rad grenades, pychotroke grenades, meltabombs)
Purifiers (5x purifiers, 2x psycannon, rhino)

Of course the legality of the list depends on an upcoming GW FAQ which will most likely determine that the number of Inquisitorial Henchmen units Coteaz allows is limited to the number of troop slots on the force org chart. But for the time being, I think it's completely legitimate! Realistically speaking I will probably convert the excess henchmen units into another unit of Purifiers.

The army basically functions in the same fashion as an IG force: sit there and blast things from a distance, then blast things from close up, then roll over everything with a massive number of flame templates. Finally, if there's anything the firepower can't handle, then certainly the Librarian, Assassins, Techmarine and Purifiers will mop up what's left. The defensive aspect of the list is a simple combination of vehicles providing cover to other vehicles, The Shrouding providing +1 to their cover saves, and the Dreadnought warding off psychic attacks in combination with the Librarian's psychic hood. If Daemons are in play, then Coteaz can sit with the purifiers in the open in order to use "I've Been Expecting You."

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Eldar: Bringing Back Porch Mon-Keigh

Over the past two and a half years that 40k 5th edition has been out, several armies have taken a massive dip in popularity. Perhaps it's not so much a dip in their popularity, but instead their inability to keep up with the massive amount of 'codex creep' we've seen amongst newer books; some books have even become completely deficient because of 5th edition rules changes (e.g. Necrons).

Next to the Tau, Necrons and Witchhunters, the Eldar are one of those armies that can't seem to compete. Stand them up next to their Dark Eldar counterparts and you can see the massive deficit in effectiveness vs. point cost. For example, a unit of Guardian Defenders costs 80 points for 10 models and pays 30 points for a Bright Lance. Compare this to the Kabalite Warriors of the Dark Eldar - 115 points for 10 models with higher BS/WS/I as well as more versatile weaponry with a longer range, plus the ability to take a 'special' weapon.

Ok, so... some players might say that basic troops aren't the benchmark by which to measure an army. What about dedicated transports? For the Eldar to transport their units they pay a minimum of 100 points. Imperial Guard have Chimeras with slightly worse armor but the same (if not better) firepower, but for almost half the price.

About the only things that the Eldar have that can compare to high-powered units in other books are their Fire Prisms and Rangers. I would also venture to say that some of their Aspect Warriors units are almost worth their points cost, but the prospect of paying 15+ points per model with T3 and a 4+ save is daunting when you consider that the only way they're going to survive enemy fire is if they pay that extra 100 points for a Wave Serpent.

Finally, while many Eldar units might seem brutally efficient when it comes to offense, they can only achieve maximum effectiveness when they work in combination with other units. If one fragile unit must rely on another fragile unit in order to hit its peak power level, their collective reliability is sub-par.

All this being said, I think that if a savvy Eldar player takes a highly efficient army, it's possible for them to come close to being competitive.

Here's an attempt at utilizing them:

Farseer - 168
Singing Spear, Runes of Warding, Runes of Witnessing, Spirit Stones, Doom, Guide, Mind War

Howling Banshees #1 (10) - 282
Exarch with Mirrorswords, Wave Serpent with Shuriken Cannons

Howling Banshees #2 (10) - 282
Exarch with Mirrorswords, Wave Serpent with Shuriken Cannons

Guardian Defender Squad #1 (10) - 110
Bright Lance

Guardian Defender Squad #2 (10) - 110
Bright Lance

Guardian Defender Squad #3 (10) - 110
Bright Lance

Guardian Defender Squad #4 (10) - 110
Bright Lance

Pathfinders #1 (10) - 240

Pathfinders #2 (10) - 240

Fire Prism #1 - 115

Fire Prism #2 - 115

Fire Prism #3 - 115

For being a deficient codex, there's a lot of potential here for long-range anti-armor. Against an average MEQ force four Bright Lances and three Prism Cannons can smash up a couple transports each turn. Once the transports are dead the massed sniper fire of the Pathfinders and the low AP of the Prism Cannon templates can shred any troops (or hordes of troops). The Howling Banshees are just there for clean up duty (or for counter-charging depending on the opponent).

Where does the army fail? It falls way, way short when fighting off an army with 10+ vehicles backed up by a lot of Heavy Flamers (e.g. Imperial Guard). Against other top tier forces it usually can't compete with their speed.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Rise of the Dark Eldar

It seems that after the massive glut of Space Marine variant codex releases in the past two years, GW has not only decided to release a xenos codex, but a codex that hasn't seen a revision since 1997. That's right - thirteen years is by far the longest that we've had to wait for the revision of an old faction. And I don't care what you may have heard about it; it's a ridiculously good army.

When I first heard about the new Dark Eldar I wondered if it would be drastically different from their older iteration. Let me clarify. When looking over old Dark Eldar army lists there were four questions that came to mind: How many dark lances are there? Is there an Incubi retinue? Which Raiders are carrying the Wych squads? And finally, which Wyches have which combat drugs?

The older book had very little in the way of effective units, and those were so effective that they completely eclipsed all others (the 'others' were simply far too underpowered for their points cost). Its wargear selection was infuriating, for once again, the only selections were either over- or under-powered. Nothing seemed balanced or generally effective. They were a do or die force that often died in the hands of an average player.

The new codex offers a massive variety of options, a vast majority of which are effective in their own way. It might have been an overly bland book had the new Power From Pain rules not existed. It could have faltered if poisoned weapons weren't a staple for many of the book's units. I probably wouldn't have bought the codex if its independent characters could have purchased Jetbikes or Skyboards... But thanks to good development, foresight, planning, and a willingness to segregate and pare down the army's capabilities, the Dark Eldar are far, far better and more balanced than they could have been. I love this codex. It doesn't go the distance that Codex: Imperial Guard went with its ridiculous level of firepower. It doesn't lend itself to outlandishly buffed up units like Codex: Space Wolves. It doesn't have the ability to do EVERYTHING, which is the sign of both good design and good development. It has two horrible, glaring flaws (at least to me). One is the disappointing inclusion of Power From Pain on Beastmasters. This is the one instance where I have to say "Just throw out your consistency and write the rules as you want them to be played." The second is the frightening effectiveness of the Ravager that nearly invalidates the inclusion of any other heavy support selection.

When I began building this army I immediately wanted to set to work maximizing the potential combination of dark lance spam and amazing close combat capability. Beastmasters, Incubi, Wyches and Kabalite Warriors (not to mention the all-powerful Ravager). The force organization slot I utilized least was, surprisingly, HQ.

After a few heavy modifications of the list (and the removal of the Beastmasters), I was fairly confident that I'd found my stride and was ready to start bashing heads together.


Archon - 185
ghostplate armor, soul trap, clone field, combat drugs, phantasm grenade launcher, blast pistol, huskblade

Haemonculus - 70
crucible of malediction


Hekatrix Bloodbrides (10) - 275
syren, blast pistol, agoniser, phantasm grenade launcher, 3x hydra gauntlets, raider

Incubi (10) - 280


Kabalite Warriors (10) - 130
dark lance, blaster

Kabalite Warriors (10) - 130
dark lance, blaster

Kabalite Warriors (10) - 130
dark lance, blaster

Kabalite Warriors (10) - 200
dark lance, blaster, raider, shock prow, torment grenade launcher

Wyches (15) - 255
hekatrix, blast pistol, agoniser, 3x shardnet & impaler, haywire grenades

Heavy Support

Ravager - 115
night shields

Ravager - 115
night shields

Ravager - 115
night shields

This particular configuration was difficult to settle on, but in the end the sixteen dark lances, four blasters, three blast pistols, a slew of poisoned weapons and the potential to kill just about anything in the game in hand-to-hand combat (including a C'tan, TH&SS Terminators, etc.) won me over. The only other modification to this list I have made was swapping out the Bloodbrides for a unit of Beastmasters (5 masters, 20 kymerae and 1 clawed fiend). After doing some points juggling with vehicle upgrades that I don't like taking, it's a good possibility.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Pre-Heresy List #4: Thousand Sons

This army was a real challenge to work on, as themed lists go, and I took a long, long time to decide how I wanted it to turn out. I'm not 100% sure that I'm finished with it yet, but I can't be far off.

Creating the parameters for the list was key.

1) It had to look better on the table than my previous themed lists. My other three pre-heresy lists are neat, but they really lack any kind of visual pizazz; it's mainly because they are functionally 'mech' lists and all their foot troops are mounted in transports. This is great for in-game effectiveness, but visually you're not getting that 'pop' that the 1Ksons have the potential for.

2) It had to function in a similar fashion to how the army worked in the novel A Thousand Sons (for obvious reasons). This is by far the most difficult parameter to follow because I had to search through all the SM and CSM variations to find the right fit.

3) It had to be at least marginally effective on the table. It doesn't need to be a killer army, but it needs to be able to hold its own.

4) It had to function differently than my other armies. A lot of pre-heresy forces seemed to be similar in the background story. The 30K Space Marine Legions were massive force 100,000 strong, led by gods, carried by fleets of thousands of ships. You lose a lot of character when dealing with numbers of such a grand scale. I couldn't just use some tactical and devastator squads - I had to make a whole new type of force.

Ironically, I chose Codex: Space Wolves to help me represent my Thousand Sons. This codex showed the greatest potential for several reasons: A) it allowed me to use four psyker characters, B) it allowed me to represent the robot constructs in both a mechanical and thematic way, C) it wasn't a Codex: Space Marines list, and D) it allowed me to represent psykers not only with HQ character models, but also with models that wield plasma weaponry. I would simply use outstretched arms and green stuff to represent 'psychic blasts.'

Here's the list I chose to use, and which I will augment with bits selections from both Chapterhouse and MaxMini:

Rune Priest #1 - living lightning & murderous hurricane
Rune Priest #2 - jaws of the world wolf & murderous hurricane
Rune Priest #3 - jaws of the world wolf & living lightning
Rune Priest #4 - jaws of the world wolf & storm caller

Skyclaw Assault Pack (10) - powerfist

Longfang Pack (6) - missile launcher x5

Wolf Guard Pack (10) -
- power armor w/plasma pistol & power weapon (x4)
- power armor w/jump pack, plasma pistol & power weapon (x1)
- terminator armor w/combi-plasma & wolf claw (x2)
- terminator armor w/cyclone missile launcher, combi-plasma & wolf claw (x2)
- terminator armor w/combi-plasma & powerfist (x1)

Grey Hunter Pack #1 (10) - plasma gun x2, plasma pistol
Grey Hunter Pack #2 (10) - plasma gun x2, plasma pistol
Grey Hunter Pack #3 (8) - meltagun, plasma pistol, power weapon, mark of the wulfen, rhino
Grey Hunter Pack #4 (8) - meltagun, plasma pistol, power weapon, mark of the wulfen, rhino

It's a relatively small force of 68 models and it's mainly a bunch of foot troopers. I originally thought that I would mount the entire force in Drop Pods, but that idea seemed anathema to the way the army fought in the novel. It is still an option, as is the exclusion of the Terminators to make way for additional Grey Hunter units and regular Wolf Guard. I originally had a more varied weapon selection for the Long Fangs, but I decided to make a sacrifice here in the name of effectiveness. There still may be some changes to make in whether or not I actually use the Skyclaws. Their BS/WS are different than the regular foot troopers, which kind of goes against the way the 1Ksons Astartes run their legion.