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.