Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Tournament Composition Scores

So Big Jim at Galaxy in Flames has been asked to help make a tournament scoring system with composition. He turned to the blogosphere for input in this post. It's certainly the subject of the week at several places.

For what it is worth, I think composition scoring and/or codex-specific restrictions are outmoded. The game is much more balanced than it was a decade or two ago, the background deeper, and Codexes have been designed to be more inclusive of different styles and play preferences. Even more importantly, there is the internet... the tournament community is able to communicate faster, broader and more openly. I think a national or even world baseline of tournament structure, suggested missions, scoring, and other such is now a plausible reality. Errors of codex "creep" could be fixed or toned down, commonly asked rulings could be standardized, and even typos could be corrected... were someone given the official authority to step up and do so. (Yes, I'm looking at you, GWUS.)

But as this august body doesn't exist, tournaments are run by the guy on the spot. Some of them choose to use comp, some run a free for all, and some try re-writing or limiting every Codex in a vain attempt to balance things. I've played and even run all of these. The problem is that they're all based on non-authoritative subjective judgments.

Now while I don't think I'd run a tournament with composition scoring again, I WILL still play in ones that do. I'll even modify and gear my lists for this. Why? Somewhat because I'd rather play than not. Also, I've been there and appreciate how thankless it can be to run a tournie, especially compared to the amount of work it can absorb. But mainly because that's the chosen rules of the tournament. When you go to a tournament, you aren't just playing a game of 40K... you are playing the tournament. If all you want is a game of 40k, do a pick-up game or stay at home and play your friends. I find it ironic how often people complain about composition scoring "nerfing" their codex, yet don't blink when fed a homebrew mission that screws them in the ear. In the same vein, if you don't like the way things are being run, get off your duff and run one how you think it should be.

Anyways, I've digressed. Were I in Big Jim's place and designing a tournament with comp, I'd harvest from what I used to run. Forgive the length, but I'm also trying to explain my rationale too. The actual system is fairly clean and not too complex. I'm certainly not saying it is "perfect", just that I was able to run it for several years. And if nothing else, as the saying goes, "You can please some of the people most of the time..."

First, my ground rules for any tournament:
1. Keep scoring simple. Use checkboxes with fairly easy True/False questions.
2. No surprises. The scoring information should be available to all players well before the tournament day(s).
3. Balance between hobby and game. Composition, Painting and Sportsmanship should be organized such that your "average" army and player is capable of scoring most to all of the points. Also, these should be given enough weight to influence without being overwhelming. A great general with an unpainted net list should be more likely to end up "Best General" rather than "Overall". In the same, a nice-guy general with a beautiful army and mediocre games shouldn't be a shoe-in for "Overall".
4. Transparent scores. At the end of the day, give the awards out fairly and let everyone see their scores and standing. A tournament organizer needs to be (and be seen being) completely honest in all dealings.

These rules came from being both a player and an organizer. I remember one GTT I went to where I was the only player to manage 5 Massacres that weekend, yet friends of the TO won all the top prizes... Said TO also wouldn't show us the final scores nor even talk to me. If you can't look everyone in the eye at the end of the day, you've done something wrong. Not everyone has to leave happy, but don't let anyone leave feeling like you cheated them.

As to scoring? I always liked a 0-100 total system as it's easy on the brain. Presuming a 3-game day, I would run something like:
Composition. 10% of total score.
25%+ of points spent on Troops. +2 points.
40%+ of points spent on Troops. +1 point.
No more than 40% of points spent in any one non-Troops Force Org. +2 points.
No more than 25% of points spent in any one non-Troops Force Org. +1 point.
No triplicate non-Troops unit choices. +2 points.
No duplicate non-Troops unit choices. +1 point.
No minimum sized units. +1 point

Notably, I designed this in 3rd edition as an attempt to put the focus back on Troops, mitigate mix/max, and reduce spamming. It lasted well transitioning to 4th and I've seen it hold up fine in 5th ed too. Composition scores were done at checkin, at the same time the list was checked for validity. These are then used to determine the initial pairings.

Painting & Modeling. 10% of total score.
WYSIWYG, +2 points.
No bare metal/plastic, +1 point
3 colors, +2 points
Detailing, +1 point.
Flock or other base work, +1 point.
"Cohesive" look or theme, +1 point.
Conversions, +1 point.
"Above and beyond", +1 point.

Scoring was against the greater majority of the army, rather than every single model. A couple guys "in-progress" wouldn't count against you for this, scored at 90%+ of the army if there was a question. WYSIWYG was the one exception in that you needed a full 100% to get that.
Basic scoring was either by one judge or an averaged score of multiple. My one rule for multiple judges was that every player got judged by every judge; no splitting the work.
The top 25% scorers (or anyone with a 7+ or some other selection criteria) would be invited to display their army during lunch and compete for "Best Painted". The one rule here was that the player have painted the majority of the army themselves... no "winning with a checkbook". Players could vote their favorite painter on their Game 2 results card. "Best Painted" went based on these votes and ties would go to judging score or a second vote.
Why did I do it this way? I once went to a large RTT with my extensively converted, nicely painted, near display quality Space Wolves. The tournament had 3 judges splitting the work and scoring was purely subjective. Judge A, the TO, was in a hurry and gave me a 6/20 because "the details just don't stand out at six feet away." My friend with the barely past basecoat Blood Angels got a 12/20 for "good effort, but needs work" from the much more lenient Judge B.
While this scoring system doesn't eliminate subjectivity or favoritism, it places that burden of that judgement in the hands of the players.

Sportsmanship. 5% of total score.
Was your opponent reasonably knowledgeable of the basic rules? +2 points.
Was your opponent courteous and civil? +2 points.
Even if you got destroyed, did you enjoy the game? +1 point.

This gets reported every game and then averaged. Optionally weightable by the TO and deliberately kept low points so that vindictive or "old-friend" opponents have less influence. Averaging also keeps feedback honest but lets you be open with publishing the final score. Most players scored perfect 5's every game.
Notably, this was just to maintain basic courtesy at the tables. The tournament rules also had a rider that the TO could disqualify or even evict a player from the store for unsportsmanlike conduct. I only had to use that three times in over 4 years of monthly tournaments and was totally justified when I did.
Players would note their favorite opponent of the day on their game 3 results card. "Best Sportsman" would be based on these votes and average score.

Battle Points. 75% of your total score.
The primary mission objective is worth 0-18 points. Got Massacred = 0, Major Loss = 3, Minor Loss = 6, Tie = 9, Minor Victory = 12, Major Victory = 15, Massacred Them = 18.
Additionally, each game has up to 7 bonus points for secondary objectives. Typically 2-4 of varying complexity and weight. For example, "+2 points for killing an opponent's HQ" or "+1 for having a Scoring unit alive within 6" of the center of the board at the end of the game". This can be switched up every mission in a smaller tournament. In a larger (20+ players) I'd keep them the same every turn to make it easier for all parties. With these, also make sure it's something achievable regardless of the opponent's list. For example, if an objective is "Kill your opponent's most expensive Fast Attack choice.", also add "If they do not have any Fast Attack then, in order, switch this to Elites, Heavy Support or then Troops." Also, try to have these be a set amount of points per game, rather than dependent upon something variable like KP.
Notably, running 20 points main and 5 points secondary also works. I just like having a bit more emphasis on secondary items. "Best General" was based strictly on these scores.

Obviously, "Overall" went to the highest overall score and would over-ride any of the "lesser" three prizes.
In the rare case of a tie where both parties hadn't placed in another category, I'd usually just split the prize.

In the final analysis: The biggest thing is to be open and honest at all time. The less subjective you are as a judge, the more people will realize you gave them a fair shake.

Cheers and hope this gives you guys some ideas...

***Image thanks to GIS and this site on fireworks... all too appropriate for this explosive subject***

UPDATE: I forgot to mention, winning Overall put you out of the running for the other top prizes. Also, a prize would often go to the person in last place; typically a new brick of dice. For large events, door prizes, goodie bags, shirts and other stuff randomly or universally given out are also nice.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Space Wolves: Lukas the Trickster

A new character to the Space Wolf line, Lukas the Trickster is a Unique character upgrade for a unit of Blood Claws. Though I could have wrapped his review in with them, he has enough going on that I felt him worth a separate look.

The number one problem I see with Lukas the Trickster is his price. Not just that he's expensive, but that many people make a mistake when buying him. The line to note reads "One Blood Claw may be upgraded to Lukas the Trickster", emphasis mine. He isn't a model added to the unit, but instead an upgrade option for a model already purchased. This means you must pay the upgrade cost listed AND the cost of the Blood Claw he upgrades.

That being straightened out, there's also the quibble that he's expensive. Before you buy into the "Oooh, shiny" of his rules, consider that for the same price you could buy a squad of 10 Grey Hunters with two meltaguns. Still, he's not cost prohibitive. Excepting a lower Leadership, his statline is the same as a Wolf Guard Battle Leader A WGBL with comparable wargear ends up almost the same price; the difference could be attributed to Lukas' special rules.

And what are those rules?
Rebellious: Because he's such a bad boy, Lukas and his squad can never be higher than Ld 8. Annoying, detrimental, but not a huge thing.
Pelt of the Doppelganrel: Any wound allocated against Lukas must re-roll their To-Hit. Okay, this one's kinda fun, especially since it works in both Shooting and CC. UPDATE: What could have been useful and fun with a simple erratta, has been instead screwed by a literal FAQ instead. Lukas only gets to use this item if all of his squad has been killed. NIGH USELESS.
The Last Laugh: Basically, if Lukas is removed from play, both players roll-off. If the Wolf player ties or wins, all models in base to base with Lukas are removed from play too. Now this is the fun one as it is going to make many opponents leery of getting their awesome HQs in close combat with him. The psychology potential of this is enormous. But never forget that this can be a double-edged sword. The specific line reads "all models in base contact". This means tanks, Monsters, Characters... and friendly models. You might want to make sure your own guys give him a little breathing room.

Now one other wrinkle to him being an upgrade character is that he's part of his squad in all senses. While you have to buy the rest of the squad in addition to him, together they only count as one Troops Force Org choice and Kill Point. He's also not an Independent Character and can't leave the unit to join another. But in return he cannot be separately targeted in close combat. This last neatly ties into the Pelt of the Doppelgangrel, as you will always have control of the wound allocation.

So with all of this, why aren't I foaming at the mouth to field him? Typical of all the Space Wolves Unique units, Lukas is very ego-centric. He's a core choice around which the list itself is built, rather than something added on for fun. Lukas and his Blood Claw squad are going to be highly focused on getting into close combat, something that doesn't fit with every army. You'll probably want a way to get them there (Land Raider), some extra guys, and maybe a Wolf Guard and/or Character... and now you've got over 600 points invested. While this kind of "rock" unit approach can work, it helps to have one with flexibility beyond "assault and kill lots of Orks". Space Wolves have several other options with much greater efficiency of durability, utility, and/or cost.

In the final analysis: Outside of theme lists or as a random element, I don't see Lukas being that popular competitively. He is just too narrow in scope for the associated costs.

***Image courtesy of GIS... HAN SHOT FIRST!***

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Space Wolves: Blood Claws

Savage, headstrong and reckless, Blood Claws are the young bloods of the Space Wolves. They showed potential enough to be chosen, survived the initiation training and geneseed implant, and have overcome their Wolf Within... mostly. These wild-eyed berserkergang certainly fill the head with intense imagery, but how do they game?

A Blood Claw has a number of similarities to a Grey Hunter. They're both Marines with decent Strength, Toughness, Power Armour, Grenades and all that. They also share the same Space Wolf special rules, are Troops, have the same basic cost and a similar upgrade tree.
Yet Blood Claws have a playstyle that is a dynamic opposite of Grey Hunters: they are a close combat unit first and foremost and their ranged attacks are just a footnote at best. How does this come about? As always, the devil is in the details:
Headstrong. Unless led by a Wolf Guard or Character, Blood Claws suffer from Headstrong. In short, if there's an enemy within 6" at the start of their Shooting phase, Claws may not shoot and must assault unless led by an Independent Character or Wolf Guard. So on their own, they will go running headlong into battle.
Note: There's actually a neat trick to be had here. This rule will allow you to pre-measure your assault ranges BEFORE you have to declare targets. It is VERY situational, but still good to remember.

Ballistic Skill 3. Even using the same weapons, Blood Claws will be 16.7% less effective at shooting than Grey Hunters. Right there is our first shift away from ranged engagement... it's what they have to shoot with that matters more.

Ranged Weapons. Blood Claws come with a Bolt Pistol and Close Combat Weapon, but not a Bolter. The majority of the Blood Claw arsenal caps out at 12" range.
Why is this a big deal? Because 12" is also the "normal" charge range. Any offensive effect will require your Blood Claws be in range for close combat. On the up side, the same weapons can be used to full effect while moving AND you can still initiate a charge. So you've got the ability to give rather than just recieve.

Berserk Charge. Here is where, so to speak, Blood Claws get thrown a bone. Blood Claws certainly prefer to initiate the charge. If they do so, they get +2 attacks for charging rather than the normal +1.
Note: I feel it worth emphasizing this rule. As I show below, without it Blood Claws are the same or less than a Grey Hunter. But with it they have an edge against most foes. This is the one rule that makes Blood Claws worth honest consideration.

Weapon Skill 3. Now the main reason I've seen people say not to take Blood Claws is because they're a close combat unit that has a Weapon Skill of 3. You'd think this would be a major detriment to a close combat unit. However, To-Hit in close combat uses a sliding scale. Thus there's only 3 differences:
1. Attacks against WS7-8 opponents hit on a 5+ rather than a 4+. This would be Chaos Daemon Princes and a few other big nasties. Pardon the pun, but if you're in CC with one of them... you have larger problems.
2. Attacks against WS3 opponents hit on a 4+ rather than a 3+. Most units with a WS3 aren't going to stand up in CC that long anyways... as long as you have a bunch of attacks. With Berserk Charge, you should fare pretty decently.
3. Attacks by WS4 opponents will hit on a 3+ rather than a 4+. This is the one that hurts, given how common WS4 is.
Thus I'd posit that a Blood Claw will actually fare similar to a Grey Hunter in the majority of close combats. The only big difference is that they'll will suffer a higher attrition rather when fighting other WS4 enemies. How does this get balanced out? Larger squad sizes!

Squad size. Blood Claws are allowed to toss in an extra 5 guys to cap out at 15. The biggest benefit here is that each unit has more guys for taking losses. This other nice effect is to fill up your Land Raider Crusader. However, there's better units that can do this too and probably reap more benefit. (ie. Wolf Guard Termies) Last, this can be used to put more power armour guys on the table, but seems of limited value. A normal Force Org already allows 60 Marines in Troops, so it would need to be a pretty large game to afford the extra 30. You might also use it to cut a Kill Point or two, but that's a low consideration.
Looked at one way, the larger size is actually a detriment. Blood Claws don't get a second special weapon unless maxed out, meaning you've had to pay for 5 more guys. Additionally, the only way to mechanize a squad of this size is a Land Raider Crusader...
Looked at another way, your second special weapon isn't based on having that 10th guy. So if they're mounted in a Drop Pod or Rhino, it doesn't matter if you take 9 guys or lees to fit in a Character and/or Wolf Guard.

Even though they're not a ranged attack unit, let's take a quick look at Blood Claw gun upgrades:
Flamer: You're going to be up close and personal anyways, why not have a barbeque while you're at it? The nicest thing about the flamer is there's no To-Hit roll, so you negate that BS3. This choice is not a bad call for an army that needs more crowd control. However, crowd control is what Blood Claws excel at in close combat... the flamer might be overkill. So use good judgment before firing it off, lest they end up out of charge range due to enemy casualties. A flamer should be a one-two combo with the charge for full effect.
Meltagun: Again, you're still BS3. However, this is CHEAP, can shoot on the move and only costs you a bolt pistol attack. I'd suggest taking one just for Tank Shock alone. After all, BS3 doesn't matter when you automatically hit on a "Death or Glory" shot.
Plasmagun: The only words that come to mind are "Why, why, why?!?" Blood Claws are BS3 and shooting it means you can't charge. Go ahead and promote your plasmagunners to Grey Hunters.
Plasma Pistol: It's not worth it on Grey Hunters, why pay the same for it on BS3 Blood Claws?

So with all the things going against them, does the extra attack make them better in Close Combat? Let's go to the charts! First we have the basic percentage of attacks that should hit:
And the graph form:
Then there's the basic cost analysis:
And the graph form:

What does this tell us? Well, yet again the Mark of the Wulfen forms the outliers but still comes in very solid in the cost analysis. Interestingly, the extra attack on the charge also boosts the powerfist quite a bit. Given how efficient the basic Blood Claw is at taking down lighter opponents, a powerfist is actually a viable choice for those big enemies. (Note: Mark of the Wulfen is NOT an option for stock Blood Claws. I included it here mainly so I didn't have to do all the charts again for Sky Claws and as a reference point.)

So how does all of this compare to a Grey Hunter? Well, here's a comparative, where a positive number indicates favor for the Blood Claws... In chart form:
And as a graph:

What the hell does the above mean in English? On the charge, a Blood Claw is typically going to inflict more damage than his Grey Hunter counterpart. Yet when receiving the charge or in subsequent close combat rounds, they're going to be almost exactly the same. They trade a better charge for less ranged effect.

In the final analysis: Blood Claws actually aren't a bad buy. Despite initial appearances, they actually hold up favorably to Grey Hunters, especially if you use them "correctly". They're also a decent place to stash a Wolf Guard and/or Characters without sacrificing unit utility, especially when mechanized.
A foot-based force can use them as a nice front-line, bubblewrap or speedbump unit. Their short range and slow speed are certainly an issue though and the only advantage is the larger squad size. It's going to be a trick to get the charge with them.
Mechanized is a good way to overcome their speed and range. However, neither the ranged preference of the Razorback nor the alpha-strike/counter-assault style of the Drop Pod really "fit" with Blood Claws. The Rhino is the "hard" route, as the trick to charging out of a Rhino has a steep learning curve. The way to go for most generals will be the Land Raider. It's expensive, but the easiest to set up assaults from.
But the biggest thing I like about Blood Claws? Their WS3 is misleading and people are often going to underestimate them. Try a pack out sometime and see what happens...

***Mitten image grabbed from Fashionably Geek***

Xmas Terrain Tip

Today is the day after Christmas and it's one of my favorite 40k "holidays". Why? Because it's a great day to pick up some cheap terrain! In particular, I'm talking about the miniature Christmas village trees. Today, most stores mark their stock of these down 50% or more. I was able to pick up a dozen or so trees of assorted sizes for less than $20.
Notably, this type of tree does often have "snow" all over it. I don't mind as I have a "snow" theme going with my Space Wolves and Chaos. So the only "work" I put into them is replacing the cheap white plastic snow base with something decent.
If you don't want the snow, just give the trees a soak in a bit of soap (or Simple Green) and water. I've found that strips the snow without damaging the tree.
A bit of looking around at other Christmas village items can also turn up some great instant terrain. I've picked up cobblestone roads, rock walls, barrier hedges and more. Plus, it's a great excuse to wander down to your local crafts store and browse for other terrain ideas!

Cheers and happy whatever holiday you may celebrate!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Space Wolves: Grey Hunters

Veterans seasoned in battle and masters of the wolf within, Grey Hunters form the bulk of the Space Wolves chapter. They're your rank & file choices... but how do the rules hold up on the tabletop?

Now at first glance a Grey Hunter looks just like a vanilla Tactical Marine. Each squad has the same number of guys (5-10) with the same basic statline, grenades, Bolters, Bolt Pistols and access to a special weapon. Their shooting will be okay at medium range (12-24"), decent at short range (1-12"), and they can tailor their special weapon to need. For close combat they can do some shooting and still assault, ignore the negative effects of charging into cover, can Krak grenade medium or light tanks, and are strong enough to hurt most targets. Additionally, they have a decent Toughness and Armour Save. As Marines they're capable in most aspects of warfare, resilient, and (usually) forgiving of small mistakes.

But what makes Grey Hunters different?
1. Grey Hunters are 1 point per guy cheaper. This isn't much, but adds up when you're talking 50 or so guys. I think this is what a basic Marine should cost too, but I digress.
2. There's the typical Space Wolf bit of dropping Combat Tactics and Combat Squads for Acute Senses and Counter Attack. Losing the flexibility of KP/objective antics and other such isn't worth the benefit in Night Fight. However, the extra ability to receive a charge goes a long way towards balancing... but only if you play such that it gets used.
3. Grey Hunters get a Close Combat Weapon in addition to the Bolter and Bolt Pistol. This is a big change for loyalist Marines, as previously only Chaos Marines got this. Does it really make a difference? YES! It makes your Grey Hunters the same as Assault Marines for close combat ability.
4. The Veteran Sergeant (aka Wolf Guard) is bought separate from the squad. More on this below.
5. Grey Hunters do not get access to Heavy Weapons, but can get a second special weapon, a plasma pistol and several items of close combat wargear. This means they have no offensive capability at over 24", prefering short range firefights and close combat.

Grey Hunter packs have access to several ranged weapon upgrades. Notably, you could opt to mix and match weapons within the same squad. I don't feel this necessary as Space Marines are already quite versatile. I'd focus all of their extra weapons and upgrades towards filling a specific battlefield role.
Flamer: Nothing says love like a Flamer template, especially when it only costs you a Bolter. Still, a typical Wolf force shouldn't need much extra anti-horde. I'd only equip 1-2 squads with these (if any) doing alpha strike attacks from Rhinos or Drop Pods.
Meltagun: In today's mech-centric play, more anti-tank options are never a bad idea. It's also pretty solid for dropping Marines and even Monsters. The cost is certainly a steal, but the range really limits it to front rank squads. Also, when you use it to light up a tank, you're giving up the firepower of the rest of the squad. Squads packing these need to get close to fire and some form of mechanization is good for this.
Plasmagun: Yeah, it might kill the wielder, but isn't that half the fun? A Plasmagun's range is the same as a Bolter and the target profile isn't too far off either. This is a nice upgrade for second rank units looking for extra range and shots at the cost of a bit of anti-tank. Being a more medium range unit, they don't mind being on foot as much. It still might be good to get them a transport even if they can't fit in it. A Razorback can add some extra Heavy firepower, an empty Rhino can add to your Rhino Wall, and an empty Droppod can modify your first-turn drop numbers. Additionally, the choice to Pack Leader a Wolf Guard is done at the beginning of the game, not during army creation. So a full 10-man squad could always opt not to attach a Wolf Guard and deploy inside their Rhino instead.
Plasma Pistol: *sigh* A potentially great piece of tech that's suffered for the changes to pistols in 5th edition. It might have been worth it if you could fire twice or were it 1/3 the cost. As is, I'd opt leave it at home unless you know you're facing Deathwing.

Now what about their ability in Close Combat? Well, here's the basic stats:
And here's a nice graphical format:
And last, the cost-efficiency spread:

Now what does the above tell us?
1. Mark of the Wulfen should be the first close combat upgrade any pack takes. Heck, I'd be tempted to take it even on packs with a shooting focus. At the average number of attacks it outperforms against light and medium targets. And against big nasties it is almost as good as a powerfist. This particular piece of wargear probably should have been 5-10 points more expensive.
2. Running at I4, a Grey Hunter with a power weapon isn't much better than equal points of normal Grey Hunters.
3. Grey Hunter powerfists are also inefficient except against big nasties. This is mainly due to a base of 1 Attack. There's a number of other Space Wolf choices that are better for this role. I'd only take one for an aggressive squad or if you know you'll be facing Nidzilla.

There's also one other piece of wargear you can take, the Wolf Standard. Now a second rank squad can probably skip on this as close combat should be the exception rather than the rule. But this should be a serious consideration for any front line unit.
Why? Because for one Assault phase, it allows you to re-roll ANY roll of a one. To-hit, To-Wound, Armour Saves, number of Mark of the Wulfen attacks... anything.
Even better, the benefit affects "all models in that unit", so it confers over to attached Independent Characters and Wolf Guard too.
Last (and kinda "gamey"), there is no definition for when the banner's effect is used, just that it affects "the next Assault Phase". Though it should probably be used at the start of the Assault Phase (and I expect it will be FAQ'd as such) or prior, you could theoretically hold off on using it until after you rolled a bunch of ones... just don't expect to win any friends playing like this.

Last, but not least, there is the idea of attaching a Wolf Guard Pack Leader. The biggest downside to these guys is that they're an attachment rather than an upgrade. This means they don't count for your basic squad size for getting an extra weapon. With most Wolf Transports having a capacity of 10, you're forced to choose between that second special weapon, a Wolf Guard, walking on foot, or mounting them in a Land Raider. Also, taking any Wolf Guard eats up an Elites slot with a minimum size of 3-man. This means you have to either farm out 3 Pack Leaders or field a Wolf Guard squad.
In favor of the Wolf Guard, they have access to a combi-weapon. This mitigates the loss of a second squad special weapon as it's the same kind of weapon... at least for one turn. Wolf Guard also have 2 base attacks, 1 better Leadership, and access to a variety of close combat weapons and upgrades. They are one of the most efficient places to pick up a Powerfist or even a Thunder Hammer.

Some example builds I've seen and/or tried:
Shooty Foot: 10 Grey Hunters, 2 Plasmaguns, Wolf Guard with combi-plasmagun.
Optional: Wolf Guard Terminator, Cyclone Missile Launcher, and/or attached Razorback.
Plays the middle range game and holds close objectives.

Drive-By Mech: 10 Grey Hunters, 2 Plasmaguns, Rhino.
Variant: 9 guys, 1 Plasmagun, Wolf Guard w combi-plasmagun.
Optional: Less guys to make room for an IC, Close combat upgrades, and/or Extra Armour Rhino.
The unit drives up and shoots out the Rhino Fire Points. Not what I'd call the "best" way to do things, but it works for some people.

Min/Max: 5 Grey Hunters, 1 Special Weapon, Drop Pod or Razorback. Optional: Wolf Guard w combi-weapon.
I think this would be better called Min/Maxish, as it doesn't seem to actually maximize the unit. Still, it's cheap and might be good for smaller games.

Rhino Assault: 10 Grey Hunters, 2 meltaguns, Mark of the Wulfen, Rhino.
Variant: 9 guys or 8 and room for an IC, 1 meltagun, Wolf Guard w combi-melta and Powerfist.
Optional: Wolf Standard, Powerfist Grey Hunter, Thunder Hammer Wolf Guard, and/or Extra Armour Rhino.
An aggressive unit that pushes forward, tank hunts and delivers close combat characters to battle.

Drop: 10 Grey Hunters, 2 special weapons, Drop Pod.
Variant: 9 guys 1 special weapon, Wolf Guard with combi-weapon.
Optional: Less guys to make room for an IC and/or Wolf Guard in Termie, Mark of the Wulfen, Power Fist, and Wolf Standard.
Popular for Jaws of the World Wolf antics and alpha-strikes.

In the final analysis? Grey Hunters have a plethora of good builds, versatile upgrades, decent mobility options and a strong translation of Fluff into game mechanics. They really are a great Troops choice. I hope you've enjoyed the read!

Monday, November 23, 2009

On list building and how many units to take.

Blaine over at The Lord Commander Militant recently did an interesting look at the current victory conditions and how they shape the army building metagame. Post found here.

The short version: An army with less units will have an advantage in Annihilation battles that outweighs the disadvantage of having less Scoring units in Seize Ground.*

My response as to the reason for this? Control.

As it currently works, you only need 1 unit to control or contest an objective. Heck, if the objectives are close, one unit can even control multiple. In return, it only takes 1 unit to contest an objective too. Additionally, you only need to control 1 more objective than your opponent to score a "win".

Thus there's no real incentive to take more units for objectives games while KP benefits those armies that take less. What could balance this?
1. Stacking control/contest checks. Example: An objective has 3 units on it, 2 for player A and 1 for B, so control goes to A for having more units total.
2. Make winning an objective mission harder. Rather than only needing 1 to "win", require holding half or more. Thus Capture & Control still only requires holding 1 objective, but winning a 5 objective Seize Ground would mean you need 3. (Or do a tiered win system, but that only tends to matter in tournaments.)
3. Add in more missions/victory conditions. Table quarters, Loot, Assassination... there's lots of things that could open up the scope of missions beyond 1 KP and 2 objectives.
4. Go back to VP. KP was a cute idea to simplify victory calculation, but the reality is that it is a failure. There's just too many ways to exploit the rules advantageously.

Of course, the problem with any of the above is that they require a deviation from the main rulebook missions. This means they're relegated to the world of house-rules, tournament organizer choice, or 6th edition. Still, maybe if enough of us call foul, GW will listen. I'll be over here not holding my breath. :-p

*80 battle results isn't exactly a huge sample. Also, there's no mention made of special rules like Combat Squadding. Still, I think the findings show more deviation than these can account for... I don't think the final margin of advantage is exact, but it certainly exists.

**Image chosen in honor of Neil Gaiman and American Gods, where Anubis likes to use "a really heavy feather". A reminder that the system itself can have bias...

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Playing fair with conversions

Modeling to advantage. Ah, what a loaded concept. Want all your Fire Warriors to be able to see under a tank? Just model them all with kneeling legs! Want your Wraithlord to be able to get cover saves from Guardians? Just model him crouching or kneeling! Want to stop playing 40K? Just start modeling to advantage and watch yourself get banned from tournaments and lose all your opponents!

Yes, we know it happens anyways. It's sad the lengths that people will go to compensate for bad tactics. I'd think it easier to just learn how to play the game...

But what about the other side of the coin? What about those people who want to do something different, but are worried about being accused of modeling for advantage. A few days ago Enter the Nurgling was contemplating a certain problem: wanting to do a properly heroic base for a champion without people thinking it was modeling for advantage.

Being a rather avid fan of conversions myself, I shared my thoughts over there. Still, I thought it might be good to share here too with a few updates.
When doing a major conversion or base work:
1. Try not to increase (or decrease) the vertical height of the model's head by more than 1-3mm. So for example, a large rock can offset a partial crouch. After all, it's the final position that matters and not how they got there. In the same sense, also try to keep true to the general bulk and displacement of the original figure.
2. Having the base decoration extend off the normal circle is fine as long as it doesn't interfere with gameplay. Overflow shouldn't be anything too overly elaborate and the original base should be visible. It's also good to overflow in one direction only and to follow base overflow of the model itself.
3. Base decorations shouldn't be higher than mid-shin unless the model is interacting with it. The model should be the focus and not the base. (So a column just sticking out of the ground is bad. But one they're stepping up on, leaning around or otherwise "doing something" with is fine.)
4. Even if the base or conversion isn't that extreme, always be willing to swap the model out for a normal model of the same size. I've never had anyone ask me to do this, but the willingness is there if they do.

As an example of this, I offer up the conversion I did to my Farseer's jetbike. Even though it's a custom built conversion, it places the guy at exactly the same height as he'd be sitting on a normal jetbike.

Cheers and enjoy! More Space Wolf unit reviews and maybe actual content posts when I get back from a brief vacation!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Tactica: Reserves Denial

Yesterday I mentioned "An Autarch's Master Strategist making Reserves Denial more reliable" and Warhammer 39,999 rightfully pointed out that I was talking about something I've never mentioned on here. (Well, except maybe by inference.)

Reserves Denial follows a simple tenet: That which cannot be attacked cannot be killed.

I'd toyed with the idea in 4th edition, but the Reserves special rule was too irregular to really base a strategy on. It was one of those things that was situational and sometimes annoying, but not reliable.
Then out came 5th edition with Reserves in every basic mission. Reserves was suddenly reliable as more than just a tactic of opportunity. When combined with an Autarch's cumulative +1 on Reserves rolls, you could even base strategy off the idea...
At about the same time, the Space Marines codex had just released with the "new" Drop Pod Assault rules. Eldar have always been better at hitting hard but not really so much for taking a hit. Pods gave Marines a way to hammer Eldar lines up close and personal before the Eldar could whittle them down. There was a lot of debate on how to respond.
I'm sure I wasn't the first to talk about this idea, but I was certainly one of the early birds with this post. Rather than putting all your guys on the board to be slaughterd, why not hide them in Reserves for a couple turns? I called the idea Reserves Denial. Even though an Eldar list geared for this will be the master of this type of play, it can be a viable and even beneficial choice for any army. It's certainly a good tool for a player to have in their repertoire.

The advantages:
1. While in Reserves your units cannot be shot.
2. When everything is in Reserves, your opponent has nothing to deploy based on nor react to.
3. When entering from Reserves, you can react to the enemy deployment as you move onto the table. This allows you to match units to their best targets, concentrate firepower and generally take the initiative in the battle.
4. When entering from Reserves, you have the opportunity to strike before being struck in return. Heck, you might even have a chance to charge on the same turn.
5. It times perfectly with Outflanking forces.

The disadvantages:
1. You have less turns to accomplish your objectives.
2. You have to rely on Reserves rolls. Bad rolls can mean your army enters the board piecemeal.
3. You rely heavily on speed or having an opponent that comes to you.
4. It's usually pretty obvious when your army is geared to do this. There's several ways to counter it, especially by mirroring.

Why are Eldar the best at this?
1. Autarchs. A cumulative +1 on the Reserves roll is nice.*
2. Move & Fire weapons. Few things in the Eldar list cannot move and fire at full effect.
3. Speed. Eldar have Fast Skimmers, Fleet, Jetbikes and many other mobility advantages.
4. Anti-gravitics. It's theoretically possible to run a conga line of units down an entire edge and make someone unable to enter the board from Reserves due to the 'may not move within 1" of an enemy model unless charging' rule. Skimmers, Jetbikes, and Jump Infantry get to ignore this rule and can jump OVER enemy models.
5. Theme. Eldar are often referred to as a "glass hammer" army... that they hit really hard but shatter when hit in return. The background also supports a highly mobile form of warfare. This kind of play really is the Eldar bailiwick.

*A unit's cumulative chance to arrive is:
Normal: 50% Turn 2, 83% Turn 3, 97% Turn 4.
1 Autarch: 66% Turn 2, 94% Turn 3, 99% Turn 4.
2 Autarchs: 83% Turn 2, 97% Turn 3, 100% Turn 4.

***Image courtesy of r7ll's DeviantArt. Go check out his other stuff, it's NICE.***

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

FTW "Must Have" Unit

The bandwagon's usually where the beer's at, so I'll jump on! My "must-have" unit? 2 Troops and 1 HQ. That's it.

Say it with me: 2 Troops and 1 HQ. No, I'm not trying to cop out here. Yes, I know the request was for "[not] the compulsory choices we all have to take... [but] the one unit you always find a way to squeeze into your army, regardless of how well it does or how points effective it may or may not be."

When I'm designing an army list, I'm trying to make it as competitive as I can. That Chaos Lord I spent 60+ hours converting? That Autarch with the spiffy free-hand but sub-par wargear? Those Thousand Sons with the awesome background? All meaningless. I love the modeling, the Fluff, the stories, the camaraderie, and all of the other bits of this hobby... But at game-time, it is only about the logical exercise that it the game. When a unit goes into a list or is set on the table, it is nothing more than a playing piece.

Cold? Yeah, probably. But if I want narrative out of my 40k, I'll go play Apocalypse or Inquisitor. Would you play a game of chess and replace your bishops with pawns because pawns they have cooler background? Would you pass a good chance to checkmate because you don't want to risk your nicely painted rook? Making logical decisions based off emotional expectations is a good way to lose games.

Notably, this works both ways... you can manipulate emotional players by finding that "must-have" unit and defeating it. This is something I've talked about before on other sites, but can't find the article. So I'll just link you to Fritz's take instead.

Coming back to the original question, a different way to look at this would be as a strategic question rather than emotive. I'd originally written from this view, reread the request again, and decided it was more the emotive connotation. But since I'd written a bunch anyways, you're getting both non-answers. From a strategic bent, there's one thing that makes a show in all of my lists: Force Multipliers.

What is a Force Multiplier? Terran Forge touched on this recently, though classified purely within the aspect of HQs. Warhammer 39,999 comes from the other side, in the idea of units that balance out your list by creating a counterpoint. To me, a Force Multiplier is either of these, both and more. They are the catalyst; units or upgrades that creates an army gestalt and makes the whole greater than the sum.

Some examples:
1. A Farseer casting Fortune to buff defense while Doom and Guide increase offense.
2. An Autarch's Master Strategist making Reserves Denial more reliable.
3. Logan Grimnar for his unit buffs and change to the Force Org.
4. A Commissar stuck into a unit of Conscripts to mitigate their low Ld.
5. A Fire Dragon Exarch with DB Flamer, shifting the unit from pure anti-tank to something capable against infantry too.

Meh, there's more I could probably go into on this, but I'm easily distracted. So instead, go make yourself a better 40k gamer and human being by reading Danny Internet's latest articles.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Space Wolves: Logan Grimnar

Logan... a name simply synonymous with asskickery. Grimnar... what better name for the grim, dark, grimdark future where there is only war? The man, the myth, the Great Wolf. But does he stack up to the hype?

Right off the bat there's his cost: 275 points. One infantry model... that costs more than a Land Raider. He'd better do something pretty damn special for that level of investment.

Well, what can he do?
1. Take a hit.
Yeah, he's only T4... so it isn't THAT hard to hurt him. However, he also sports Terminator armour for a 2+ save and a Belt of Russ for a 4++ Invulnerable. Eternal Warrior keeps that pesky Instant Death at bay, so anything beating his armour will have to do so three times. Overall, not bad for an old guy. Throw him in the middle of a decent bodyguard and he's going to be a pretty tough KP to net.

2. Say hello at range.
A Storm Bolter and BS5 isn't flipping up many skirts. Still, every bit counts and it is good to note and remember.

3. Annoy Psykers.
His Wolf Tail Talisman gives that extra chance to shut down Mind War and other such annoying psychic attacks.

4. Maul entire units in CC.
His WS 6 is really just for show since the Wolftooth Necklace makes him always hit on a 3+. Throwing 5 base attacks that ignore armour is spiffy too. But the jewel is his versatility, given by having a choice to split any of his attacks between S5 I5 or S8 I1.

5. Acts as a force multiplier.
This is where he starts being more than just another pretty face.
a. Grants Stubborn to himself and any unit he's attached too. You shouldn't need it too often with his Ld10... but it certainly helps in CC or against pesky things like IG Psyker Battle Squads.
b. "The High King", allows him to confer Fearless, Tank Hunters, Relentless, or Preferred Enemy to himself and any unit he's attached to. Oh my, the options...
c. Saga of Majesty grant his unit and anyone else nearby gets a re-roll on failed Morale tests. Now we are talking Space Marines... actually paying for this upgrade may be of limited benefit. But you might as well use and abuse it with Logan as it comes as part of a package deal!
d. Then there's Living Legend giving an +1A to all friendly models within 18". Yeah, it only lasts the one CC turn, but a timely application can sway the course of an entire battle.
e. Last there's the one rule to ring them all: "The Great Wolf". This is just a small blurb sub-box only in the Army List section and is almost easy to miss. But the effect is a fundamental change to the army structure: allowing Wolf Guard as Troops. This opens up a whole field of options including WolfWing (Terminators as Troops ala Deathwing), Veteran Troops, Scoring Jumppackers, and many, many other things.

Some thoughts on when and how to use him:
1. When should he hit as a Power Fist instead of a Frost Blade?
a. When the enemy is going at I6+. If you're hitting last anyways, might as well hit harder.
b. When the enemy is at I5 and they're unlikely to kill him. If he can't kill them before they attack, then try to kill more of them.
d. Versus T5+ opponents. The only exception is when you need to risk getting lucky to kill them at I5.
c. Versus multi-wound models that are T4 base or less and don't have Eternal Warrior. Instant Death is your friend. Again, this is optional if you need to risk killing them at I5.
e. Against vehicles. Those 3 extra points of Strength make a huge difference to beat AV.

2. What skill should I get with "The High King"?
You have 4 options... let's look at each:
a. Fearless. Now any unit he's with already has Ld10, Stubborn, ATSKNF, and a re-roll to failed tests from Saga of Majesty... the advantage gained is minimal and/or situational only. It's an okay default if the other skills will do you nothing in your or your opponent's turn, but honestly kinda meaningless. It's actually a drawback in Close Combat, as if you lose the combat you'll suffer automatic No Retreat! wounds rather than testing versus Ld. Still, this might be nice if you're getting his with a bunch of negative Ld modifiers or other Ld test, such as against Psyker Battle Squads or Tyranids.
b. Tank Hunters. This one is fun and even worth strategic consideration when building your army. Some people advocate putting him with Long Fangs for this, as he can make them better anti-tank. Me? I say the Long Fangs should just pay for Lascannons or get melta weapons. The Chapter Master has better things to do... like get into CC. Now this ability paired with a nice squad of Termies sporting a couple Assault Cannons or Cyclone Missile Launchers? This is good family fun. Definitely worth using if your attached squad is opening up a tank. Don't forget, this bonus applies in Close Combat too.
c. Relentless. One gimmick advocated with this is putting a unit of Multi-Melta Fangs in a Drop Pod with Logan. Drop in, blast 2 tanks, enjoy! Downside? You're talking about quite an investment in hopes that your opponent gives you two tanks worth blasting. This is too situational for me. Plus, the legality is questionable. Logan's not in play at the start of the turn, so how can he choose an ability? I think it will get FAQ'd that it can be done, but be warned until then. UPDATE: The new FAQ does specifically allow this now. I think this skill is nice, but most units I'd want him with would have it anyways or won't benefit it. Still, it might be a nice trick to use with a bunch of Rapid Firing Grey Hunters, allowing them to still assault afterwards.
d. Preferred Enemy. He and his unit can re-roll to hit in CC with all failed to-hit? To quote the Kool-Aide man... OH YEAH! Using this ability on a nice sized CC unit is just brutal, especially with his other benefits. This is the skill I expect to see used and abused with regularity.
Now the nicest thing about The High King: "choose... at the beginning of each turn" and "[lasts] for the duration of that player turn". A quick check of the main rulebook, page 9 shows "Whenever a rule uses the word 'turn'... it means 'player turn'". So you get to declare The High King at the start of every player turn as best fits your objectives and who he is attached to. This kind of tactical flexibility can be priceless.

In the final analysis? He's a flavorful unit that really does bring a lot to the table. His cost is certainly still an issue. He'll be of limited return just slap him at the head of a normal Space Wolf force, especially at lower points values. However, if you craft a force knowing that he'll be in charge? He can be a major force multiplier and a sound investment. I expect him to be a common sight in the years to come.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Eldar: Prince Yriel

This is an update of a couple articles I wrote for Warseer's Eldar Tactica a while back. My original blog plan was to only recycle them here whenever I hit writer's block or got busy with real life. However, Master DarkSol of All Things 40K decided to write up a nice review on Eldar Autarchs. The one version he didn't cover was the special character, Prince Yriel...

Prince Yriel, Corsair Prince and Autarch of Iyanden Craftworld:
Prince Yriel is a touch more expensive than a tooled-out Autarch and is even with the Avatar in cost. This makes him the lowest priced Named Unit in the Eldar Codex. By background he's supposed to be unique to the Iyanden Craftworld, but his usefulness on the battlefield has spawned a number of "counts as" likenesses. He's basically a cross between a Warlock and an Autarch and this is supported by both Fluff and rules.

Stats: Yriel has the same stats as a normal Autarch, but at +1 Attack and Initiative. The biggest item worth noting that he is only T3; he's not too hard to wound and will Instant Death against anything S6 and above.

Master Strategist: Taken straight from the Autarch's rule, this gives any army he is with an optional +1 to any Reserves rolls. Additionally, this entry and his army list name are the only non-background places that mention him as an "Autarch". This is important to remember if you want him to benefit from Exarch Powers.
Doomed: At the end of every game he takes an auto-wound from his weapon but gets a 4++ save against it. This rule is really just an annoyance and many players tend to forget about it. I find Yriel rarely ends a game with only 1 wound left; typically he's either unscathed or died gloriously around Turn 4.

Forceshield: Gives a 4++ Invulnerable save to go with his 3+ armour.
Plasma Grenades: Allows him to charge into cover.
The Spear of Twilight: One of the biggest problems with Eldar CC is that they're usually S3, don't ignore armour saves, or don't hit at Initiative (especially charging into cover). Yriel with his Spear of Twilight is one of the few exceptions. Running a WS of 6, hitting at I7, carrying plasma grenades, throwing 5 attacks on the charge, wounding anything on a 2+ and ignoring armour saves... Wow. Yriel is happy chewing through Marines or cutting down the biggest of monstrosities. The weapon is also decent in CC against tanks and Dreadnaughts as it hits at S9. The downside is that this is serious overkill against light targets and horde players will probably be unfazed.
As if the CC weren't enough, it can also be thrown in the Shooting Phase like a normal Singing Spear. This is commonly Yriel's best way to drop a mobile tank due to his higher chance to hit.
The Eye of Wrath: This weapon is a hold-out bomb for when he's surrounded by the enemy. Being S6 and AP3, it is most effective against basic Marines. Note that it hits everyone in the area, be they friend of foe.

Basic Tactics:
Yriel's biggest drawback is that he's a mainly CC unit that's stuck on foot. Since you can't always rely on the enemy coming to you, he's best served with a bodyguard that both protects him and wants to close with the enemy.
On foot, he is well suited with Wraithguard, Harlequins, or a Warlock Bodyguard. His presence can be a great way to attract extra enemy attention, especially for a fire sponge like Fortuned Wraithguard.
Running a Wave Serpent offers extra mobility as well as protection. Complimentary units include mech Wraithguard, Scorpions, Banshees, Dragons, Storm Guardians, or Warlock Council. It's also possible to run him with Serpent of Fury Dire Avengers, but not optimal as they tend to prefer a bit more distance from the enemy.
In either of these cases he can provide a nice bit of normal CC power. However, The Eye of Wrath has created an amusing tactic known as "Yriel Bomb". Yriel is escorted by his bodyguard towards the enemy similar to a Goblin Fanatic. When close enough to charge he disengages from his bodyguard, charges in solo, lets the enemy surround him with Defenders React, and then sets of his explosion.
This will typically kill off the majority of any target squad. Downside is that the return fire is often an angry Marine Sergeant with a powerfist. Yriel has a good chance of weathering this on his own, but Fortune can minimize his risk of Instant Death. Then he'll often see the rest of the unit off with No Retreat! wounds. But even easier? Just Doom the target. A 2+ to wound with re-roll and no saves rarely leaves survivors to hit back.
Just be warned... opponents WILL remember a tactic that causes this much carnage. Expect Yriel and his unit to be a priority target or avoided by anyone who knows better.

Advanced Tactics:
Independent Characters don't have to get out of the tank when the rest of the squad does. Because of this, people often forget he's around or assume he's in a different tank. This can be VERY effective to get them to make a bad choice and close within charge range of Yriel.
Put him in with a mech DA or Dragon squad and advance them to a "vulnerable" position. Optimally this will be some place where the unit isn't assaultable that turn, it looks like they are over extended, and/or they would have a hard time getting away even if they got back into the Wave Serpent. Other options for luring the enemy close it to offer up the Wave Serpent as a charge target and/or threatening an objective.
The turn you move the tank, the unit jumps out and shoots while Yriel hides in the tank. Wait for the enemy to close on their turn, spring Yriel out of the tank on your turn, and then sit back and watch the fireworks.
Another fun twist to this is to run a second HQ in the same tank. If a FarSeer jumps out with the squad, people will often presume the tank is otherwise empty.

With Serpent of Fury DA, there's an extra subtlety you can pull against players more experienced with Eldar: don't Bladestorm the turn you get out of the tank. People who play against DA Serpent of Fury tactics often expect to see them jump out, Bladestorm, and then jump back into the tank and fly away. When the DAs don't Bladestorm, it is either because the player forgot about it or the unit is planning on hanging around the area for another turn or two. Since Bladestorm is so integral to the squad's function, most people will figure that you didn't forget it... so they'll close units on the area thinking your DA want to stay there.

Last, try attaching Yriel's with a squad that doesn't want to get out of their Wave Serpent after it moved; such as a CC squad like Warlocks, Banshees, or Scorpions. Move the Serpent into a threatening location like normal. But when the unit get out of the tank the next turn, Yriel doesn't have to stay joined to them. Just deploy him out of coherency from them such as on the other side of the tank. He can then move and assault a completely different target. This can be a great way to hit multiple targets with one Wave Serpent's cargo, especially against players that have given you a bait unit and intend to shoot you with the second. This tactic is little harder though. Most opponents usually want to get away from the unit inside the Serpent, rather than closing like they might for the tempting bait of DAs.

Cheers and hope you've gotten something useful from the read!

**Image grabbed from GW.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Space Wolves: Iron Priest

The spiritual zen of Judas Priest, the strength of Iron Maiden, Rockin' with his digi-weapon out... we have the IRON PRIEST! (Yeah, I should have known there'd be a cover band by that name.)

Here is an Elites choice that should give the aspiring Wolflord pause for thought. This guy steps in with a statline equal to a Wolfguard and is packing Runic Armour and a Thunder Hammer. A Wolf Guard with that kit would cost 16% more even without the additional Servo Arm and Battlesmith rule. You're getting a nice little deal on those toys. Downside? He's not an Independent Character... so you can't attach him to a unit. This little item certainly narrows his battlefield role. Additionally, he doesn't get any form of Transport.

What about his other gear?
A Wolftooth Necklace is certainly an interesting item if you're going to get him stuck into CC. It's a little on the pricey side, but might not be a bad idea given the number of attacks he has.
A Wolf Tail Talisman is questionable. The Runic Armour already gives him a 5+ save versus wounds from Psychic attacks. The Talisman just extends this to a 5+ versus any psychic against him or him unit. It's certainly not worth the bother if you have a couple Rune Priests around.
Saga of the Iron Wolf is even more questionable. Note that as a Saga, only one Iron Priest can be upgraded with this. The first thing it does is give +d3" to the move of a vehicle he is inside. But since he's not an IC this vehicle can't have anyone else in it except him and his minions. So the vehicle needs to be a Transport, empty of other units and still something that would benefit from additional move. This might be a cute trick to get a Crusader or Redeemer into position quicker... but you're probably better off putting a real unit inside it instead. So really, the only worthwhile thing the Saga does is give +1 to any Repair rolls. This balances out the same bonus given by a Techmarine's Servo Harness. Still, I'd rather have the flamer and plasma pistol...

So where could he be useful?
Well, he is still a Techmarine. Potentially he could play the Maytag Man and focus on repairing vehicles. But then again, why bother? A regular Marine army gets Troops with Heavy Weapons... making them the superior gunline mech. If that's the kind of army you want, why are you playing Wolves? There is a small case for one bought to babysit a couple Predators or the like, but this is a rather limited use for him. The Battlesmith ability is nice but probably better used on a tactical opportunity rather than considered as part of a strategic plan.
So maybe the above and a bit of fire support? Throw in some Thrall Servitors to get some Plasma Cannon shots and/or repair bonuses. Okay, not bad... but static "move or fire" AND BS 3. Plus your Iron Priest's isn't going to be ripping it up with anything better than a Bolter. This isn't exactly on par with a Conversion Beamer. Yet again, this version is possible, but stock Marines do it better.
But what about a different role entirely? Take his Thunder Hammer to the enemy! The first item to up is a bike. The bonus to Toughness makes him 4(5) and bike mobility lets him zip about the field with impunity. Spiffy! Too bad he's still Lascannon bait and Cyberwolves can't keep up with him.
But wait, there's still hope! For just 10 points more than the bike, you can get a Thunderwolf. This gives him the +1 Toughness, Strength and Attack.* Throw in some ablative wounds ala 4 Cyberwolves and suddenly you're talking a much more interesting unit. It's not THE best unit in the Codex, but certainly up there. It's comparable cost and effect to 3 Thunderwolf Cavalry, but different in Force Org and best-case target. The only glaring weakness to the unit is the lack of an Invulnerable save... but T5, cover, and a guy with a 2+ save go a good bit toward mitigating that. Plus, I don't know about you, but the idea of an Iron Priest and a bunch of Cyberwolves also gives me some interesting ideas for some conversions.

*There's currently a debate about the intended benefit of taking a Thunderwolf Mount and if the bonuses modify the base values or are simple additives. Because the description doesn't specifically say, RaW makes him S4(5) and T4(5). This makes his T-Hammer hit at S9. However, the stats for Thunderwolf Cavalry modify the base values, unlike previous 4(5) units like Bikers. So some interpret this to mean the RaI was to modify the base value. This would make him S5 and T5, causing the T-hammer to hit at S10 and granting immunity to Instant Death from S8-9 weapons. It should be interesting to see how this gets ruled, but until then I recommend playing the 4(5/9) RaW version. If a FAQ/Errata later modifies base value, all the better!UPDATE: The FAQ is in and the ruling is for T5 straight, so carry on my wayward sons!

Cheers and hope you've gotten a few ideas!

Space Wolves: Bjorn the Fell Handed

Space Wolves get a unique (and Unique) HQ choice of Bjorn the Fell-Handed. Now Bjorne (The Emperor luffs you all, ho-ho!) is a Venerable Dreadnaught and then some. He's got better stats, a "I've got better things to do than die" 5+ save against everything, a re-roll for who gets to go first, Saga of Majesty, and a Wolf Tail Talisman and some entertaining rules for when he does get blasted.

First off, there's the Living Relic rule: In a KP mission, he cedes d3KP if you're don't have a living Space Wolf in base with him at the end of the game. Cute, fluffy, and kinda hurts if you screw up or have a bad day. In an objective mission, he becomes a new objective. This is also amusing and can cause headaches for an opponent. I can see some very funky manipulation of objective missions where you WANT him to die, especially something like Capture & Control. However, I don't think I'd want to bank my strategy off a unit this expensive falling... It's somrthing that should be exploited tactically, but not planned strategically.

Now how useful is the re-roll for choosing deployment? Presuming there's no Emperor's Tarot or other modifier, you normally have a simple 50% chance. With Bjorn? A 54.4% chance. Why so little a change? Because you still have to beat their original roll or meet and revert to a 50/50 system again. The formula is a simple (1/36/6*4.5)+(2/36/6*3.5)+(3/36/6*2.5)+(4/36/6*1.5)+(5/36/6*0.5)+(15/36)= 54.3981%. Not exactly a resounding improvement, is it? Of course, you could combine this with your own Emperor's Tarot and get a net effect that's about 68% or so... but that's extreme. It's better to just learn how to play from either side of the turn.

So how about that 5+ save against everything? This is certainly nice, but cover's better. It's only an advantage if he's in CC. Since he's got so many other CC plusses, how about getting him into CC? Well, he can't get a DropPod, so there goes Podding him in first turn as a short-range Dread. How about we run him as a mid-range that favors closing fast? Oh, wait, he can't get Extra Armour either. Better hope he's Shaken and not Stirred... He's going to be relying a lot on Venerable and AV13. With all the melta around, that last 18" is going to be tricky.

But the real kicker? You get all of this for the low, low price of just 270 points. More than a Land Raider. WTF?

Sadly, I give Bjorn the medal for the biggest piece of fail in the new Codex. (There's a "Bjorn the Fail-Handed" joke there, but I'm resisting...) His abilities are nice, but the sum does not warrant this kind of price tag. Still, I guess I can console myself that's he's still better than something from the Dark Angel Codex. :-p

Space Wolves: Dreadnoughts

What's more fun than a Dreadnought? Two! Especially if they're named Robert and are pirates... Then they can be the Dread Pirate Roberts! Hey, at least I didn't make an "Even in death I still surf." reference, right?

Okay, with the tasteless jokes and geek references now taken care of (mostly), let's look at the meat. The Space Wolf Dreadnought is point for point a direct copy of the stock Space Marine Dread. There's 6 notable differences:
1. Starts with an Assault Cannon for free, rather than paying to upgrade to one. (Subtle, but nice.)
2. Can take a Wolftooth Necklace that makes him always hit on a 3+ in CC. Cute, but of limited benefit to a WS4 Dread and even more so for a Venerable. After all, they only have 2 attacks.
3. Can take a Wolf Tail Talisman that gives a 5+ save versus a psychic power directed at him. Cute, but probably not worth it if you have a Rune Priest or two around.
4. The Venerable Dread may also take the Saga of Majesty. This allows any unit within 6" to re-roll a failed Morale check. (Note the lack of the word "friendly" in conjunction with "unit". I expect this to also get FAQ'd, but right now there's some RaW players who might try and use this against you.) This isn't a bad upgrade, but probably isn't critical either.
5. May not be taken as Heavy Support. Competing for those vital Elites slots is rough...
6. Ironclads? What are those?

Now Dreadnought tactics have been done and done again... but I'll give you my take anyways.
For the more aggressive player who wants a short-range Dread, nothing beats a Dread riding a Droppod. Typically he comes with a Drop Pod, Heavy Flamer, CCW, and Multi-Melta. This guy drops right into or in front of the enemy on the first turn. Weapon duality allows him to menace both tanks or hordes. But best of all is the disruption he can cause to the enemy lines. This kind of shooting and CC threat dropping in close can cause some serious havoc and needs to be dealt with quickly. This is a great way to distract the enemy from shooting at other elements of a close-range mechanized list or a full Drop list.
Ironclads are well suited to this role... too bad we don't get them. So additional protection is only available via Extra Armour and/or Venerable. Beware, these can quickly get expensive when he's used as a suicide unit. The other upgrades are cute, but just too situational to recommend.
When used as a suicide speed bump, throw him and his pod right up front wherever he'll be the most annoying. When used as a distraction and threat, shift his deployment to a flank to limit return fire.

The mid-range Dread goes on foot and tends to sport an Assault Cannon, CCW, and possibly a Heavy Flamer. This weaponry is chosen to make him mostly anti-horde, but still pretty decent against most tanks or in CC. This limited range and CC capability means he's at best effect advancing towards the enemy line; usually in support of infantry or other mechanized units. Downside is that he's still only AV12. Again, Venerable and/or Extra Armour aren't bad for increased durability, but other upgrades are of limited use.

The long-range Dread sits in the back to avoid melta and take advantage of cover. Typical armament is a Missile Launcher and twin-linked Lascannon for anti-tank, but sometimes you'll see one or both swapped out for twin-linked Autocannons. The downside to this build is that it relies on range... and there's only so much room on a table. Outflank, Run, Droppods and all those other fun things make a stand-off only unit iffy... not to mention that he'll rarely be pushing up to contest objectives. While this style isn't a bad choice... Predators and Long Fangs do this role cheaper and with more guns. You might use this in a mech force that's already used up it's Heavy Support and still needs anti-tank, but I wouldn't bother otherwise.

There's also the HQ option, Bjorn the Fell-Handed. Cute, fluffy, and ultimately over priced.

In the final analysis? Space Wolf Dreadnoughts are a decently priced unit. Their biggest drawback is the competition for Elites slots.
A single Dreadnought in a Drop Pod can work well as a distraction or suicide unit. This is probably the most common way you'll see them as it only takes up 1 Elites slot and works with many army styles.
Multiple Dreadnoughts on foot or Podding are only optimal when the entire army is mechanized or Podding also, due to vehicle saturation. Taking multiple also means eating up most or all of your Elites choices. Players who really want a lot of Dreadnoughts are better off looking into Vanilla Marine options, since they can get six of them and have Ironclads.
For these reasons I feel that Space Wolf Dreadnoughts are going to be an uncommon choice in most competitive Space Wolf armies.

**Image grabbed from the underbelly of the internet... Just FYI, be warned not to do a GIS for "4chan dreadnaught" with SafeSearch off...

Friday, October 9, 2009

Space Wolves: Wolf Scouts

Veterans of countless wars, social misfits and grizzled loners... there's something visceral in the imagery of the Wolf Scout. But what about the rules? Are they worth it?

Now the easy thing is to compare their choices against that of a stock Marine Scout. It gives a nice baseline of the familiar from which to start. It's also a completely stupid thing to do. The battlefield role of the Wolf Scout has little to do with that of the Marine Scout. Yeah, you can give them a Heavy Bolter or Missile Launcher, then flesh the rest out with Bolters or Sniper Rifles. You can even pat yourself on the back about how this is almost comparable in price but you're getting BS 4 and better CC. Big deal. Wolf Scouts lack the extra defensive options of Camo Cloaks and Bolster Defences; they're going to be a LOT less effective in a firebase or gunline role. Even more so, they're not Troops... so they're not great for camping an objective either. They should leave the Bolters and Sniper Rifles at the Fang and concentrate on their strengths.

So what's their strength? They get one thing nobody else does: Behind Enemy Lines (BEL). Your normal Outflank has a 67% accuracy to come in on the flank you want. That other 33% of the time you're stuck 72" away on the opposite side of the board. There's ways to mitigate this, such as the mobility of a Land Speeder Storm... too bad Wolves don't get them. But BEL balances via extra accuracy. Now you have only a 16.7% chance of a "wrong" board edge. Even better, the 67% allows you to come in via ANY board edge... including the opponent's or your own. This allows the Scouts to deploy for maximum efficiency no matter when they happen to arrive.

So they've got great ability to enter anywhere, what can they do with it? Here's where the unit fails.
Anti-tank? Well, you can get A meltagun or plasmagun, both of which are great for shooting into the back of tanks. There's also the option of buying some over-priced plasma pistols too. If you whiff your shooting, they also have Krak Grenades and the option to pay too much and get the whole squad meltabombs. The problem is, your Scouts are delayed due to Reserves. They're not coming in until Turn 2 at the earliest. The type of target they're best against has usually done it's job by that point; ala Transports moving forces forward or artillery batteries pasting your lines. While hitting from BEL CAN be useful, it's not universally so. The Wolves have other options that are more durable and/or more effective at this role.
Anti-Troop? Flamer, a couple over-priced power weapons, a Mark of the Wulfen... and Scout Armour. Cute, but not exactly a durable assault unit. Plus, there's just so many other things in the Wolf armoury that can fill this role.

Still, I see four major templates for Wolf Scouts:
1. BEL Anti-tank. 5 guys, Meltagun, and possibly a couple plasma pistols. Despite my reservations, I suspect this unit will still be popular. They wander in mid-game and pop a vehicle or squadron. At least it's cheap...
2. Infiltrating Anti-tank. 5 guys and a Missile Launcher. They hope to Infiltrate, pop a shot or two off into the side armour of a tank, and maybe distract the enemy for a bit.
3. Disposable Plasma. 5 guys, Plasmagun, 2 Plasma Pistols, possible Mark of the Wulfen. Runs BEL and looks to hit rear armour, Plague Marines, Termies or anything else that doesn't like Plasma. Again, more of a distraction that a solid threat.
4. Suprise Assault. 10 guys, Flamer or Meltagun, 2 Power Weapons, Mark of the Wulfen. Looks to charge enemy infantry from Reserves. Downside: How often do you see enemy infantry on foot and within 12" of a board edge? Might be useful for smacking down hordes or mucking up a gunline, but those aren't really competitive builds anyways.

But WAIT! Dweomer, you're always talking about army synergy! Aren't there other units that can benefit these guys? Yes, there are... somewhat. The problem is that those units are hampered by rules issues and/or are better off elsewhere.
Battle Leader with Saga of the Hunter: Gives him Outflank and Stealth. Stealth is cute, but only applies him and doesn't transfer to the unit. Outflank is NOT the same thing as Behind Enemy Lines. Since BEL doesn't transfer to him, why would you want to limit your Scouts to short edges only? He's a CC monster that can be better supported and used elsewhere. UPDATE: Thanks to the new FAQ, the squad would lose Outflank too. More reason not to bother.
Wolf Guard: Doesn't have BEL, Infiltrate or any other "Scout" special rule. So by adding one to your Scouts, you're forcing them to deploy normally. I suspect this will eventually get FAQ'd, but you're SOL until then. UPDATE: As predicted, the FAQ now allows him to join to the unit and BEL or Outflank. That's nice, but you still have the timing issue. Plus, he's really not THAT big a boon except maybe to a surprise assault unit or as an extra combi-melta. Save your Wolf Guard for units that need them.
The High King, Mentor or other Special Character buffs: Really? There's better places to use these.

In the final analysis, the Wolf Scout unit has a lot of potential. And in the astute words of my high school English teacher, "Potential is a French word that doesn't mean ***." Wolf Scouts are a gimmick; a threat only against the static, inflexible or unprepared. They're not utterly horrible and worth taking for a friendly list. A single unit might find it's way into a competitive list just to rock the boat or provide some insurance. Multiple units might make it into a gimmick list that goes heavy into Reserves. But these will be the exceptions and not the rule for competitive play. Space Wolves just have too many other useful choices for Elites.

Cheers and hope you enjoyed.

**Image gleefully obtained from the Cub Scouts...***

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Space Wolves: Lone Wolves

Since everyone and their brother seems to be playing Space Wolves these days, I thought I might jump on the bandwagon... Oh, wait, already there. Some of my Wolves are old enough to buy cigarettes and others are pushing drinking age.

As I also have a penchant for over analyzing everything, I thought I'd start by taking a gander at the new Lone Wolf. Likely this will be the first in a series of unit reviews.

Some basic thoughts:
1. Elites. So he's competing with Wolf Guard, Dreadnaughts, Iron Priests and Scouts for slots. Ouch, but not a deal breaker. This also reduces potential spamming; ironically something that their kit and battlefield roles support too. I approve of this.
2. WS5, Beastslayer, Feel No Pain, Eternal Warrior, and a partridge in a pear tree. There's a number of special rules here. It'll be a trick just to remember all of them.
3. Cheap... until you start adding upgrades.
4. Gives up a Kill Point in KP games... only if he LIVES. Okay, that's just an awesome tie-in with the Fluff.
5. Stuck on foot. However, I don't think this is really a problem... With Run, you should be able to get them where you need eventually. The only time I see this being annoying is Dawn of War. Plus, they're perfectly capable to mech up in someone else's spare ride. I think this unit is viable no matter the supporting force.

Aside from close combat weapons, there's 5 upgrades to consider:
1. Termie Armour: Better saves, better weapons... but more cost, lose your grenades, no CCW/pistol bonus, no Sweeping Advance, and Mark of the Wulfen get neutered. If you're just keeping him cheap, don't bother. But if you're paying to upgrade his weapons, it's worth it.*
2. Combi-weapon: Only purchasable by a guy in Termie armour, but cheap if you're doing it anyways. This is a nice option to give some anti-tank to an anti-infantry build or vis-versa.
3. Fenrisian Wolves: They're cheap, give you a few extra attacks and best of all... Ablative wounds for those shots that ignore armour. These are crucial to survival for all but the cheapest builds.**
4. Storm Shield: My first, second and third thoughts on this... expensive. With all of the other things this guy has going to keep him alive, it's a lot of cost for what you get. It's really only worth it if you know he's going to be hunting Monsters AND you want him to survive as long as possible. Even then I'd opt for a pair of Fenrisian Wolves first.
5. Melta Bombs: Mostly a waste of points. A guy in power armour still has Krak Grenades. Termies usually have other, better options against tanks. But if you're running a Termie with no other anti-tank, it might be worth it. Personally, I'd save the points and waste the tank with someone else before it's ever an issue.

*Why do I say it's worth it? Well, less the difference in cost for the weapon, the Termie Armour is only costing you 10 points. But isn't the point to have him die, lest you cede a Kill Point for him? Well, the mechanic of him giving up a KP if he lives is awesome. It's nice to see in-game drawbacks for not playing the character to Fluff. However, this drawback is only applicable in games that use Kill Points. So it's only going to apply about 1/3 of the time. You KNOW this from before deployment and can play towards offing him the entire game. We all know that a Termie will eventually fall if forced to make enough saves. So throw him out in front of all your guys, run him at the enemy as fast as possible, and throw him on their spears! Even if he does survive and cost you a KP, he'll likely earn you a few along the way. Then when you take this guy and draw a non-KP game? You have the extra protection to keep him alive and viable that little bit longer.
**There's currently a great little debate going on regarding Fenrisian Wolves bought as wargear. Side A says they're just wargear upgrades for the character that happen to have models and take up Transport space. Side B says they're models that are automatically attach to the character and form a unit. Sadly, the RaW doesn't clearly support either. Side B has a slight advantage in that their interpretation follows the rule of next closest applicability. However, the "Pack of One" rule would forbid the Lone Wolf from taking Fenrisian Wolves at all, when they're clearly an upgrade option for him. This is what leads me to believe that Side B's stance is incorrect. Hopefully there will soon be an official FAQ to clear this up.
Update: The official Space Wolves FAQ came out and ruled for Side A, as I predicted.

Now let's look at his weapons... how likely is he to hurt someone? All of these are posted as images rather than columnar data to preserve my sanity. (Complex tables in HTML suck...) Click for larger versions. Since we're looking for best-case scenarios, the charge is presumed. The spread looks a little something like this:
Or for those of you who prefer a graphical format:
What does this tell us? That the Frost Blade's the most killy against light to medium targets and that the Power Fist is the best for heavy targets. No real surprises there. Mark of the Wulfen also hangs fairly tough... if you roll well.***

So then let's factor in cost. This is based off just the normal guy in Power Armour:
Or graphical:
What does this tell us? Well,notice how all of those lines follow generally the same general pattern? See how there's not many that consistently rise above or fall below very far? This tells us that the pricing is actually fairly balanced internally...

But are we going to just want a guy in power armour? How do things compare if we pay for the extra protection of Terminator armour? Note that this upgrade removes the additional CCW bonus for most cases, so the spread now looks like this:
Or as a graph:
While the cost-efficiency is...:
And as a graph:
Again, everything tends to be about the same profile. Curse you, internal consistency! Notably, Wolf Claws have taken top marks against low-end targets, though this costs you your shooting and ability to take a Storm Shield. The Power Fist holds supreme for big targets, though a Thunder-Hammer or Chainfist isn't far behind. Their special rules might be worth the extra pittance.

***Mark of the Wulfen (MotW) is an interesting item because of the random factor involved. This causes it to be an outlier for BOTH most and least "killy". It's average performance is also just on the low side of things. Where it gets interesting is when you factor in cost.
The MotW on a guy in power armour is the worst of the lot if you roll a 1. But the average 3.5 roll sits firmly in the middle or even upper reaches of things. Meanwhile the lucky 6 actually outshines almost every other option else in the list. If you're willing to take a small gamble, these are pretty good odds for what you get.
Then the problem with a MotW Termie is that he's paying for the cost of the power weapon too. The way MotW works, it's wasted points. So while you do get d6+1 attacks, Rending and a 2+/5++... you're also paying a premium for it. When you look at the cost efficiencies here, even the lucky 6 attacks struggles to compete with the other options. Even an average roll is typically bottom of the pack. This is why I would not suggest a MotW Termie.

In the final analysis, the Lone Wolf is remarkably balanced internally and externally. It's a fun, Fluffy choice that looks to be very popular. I see three forms of Lone Wolf becoming common on the table. Note that the first two are choices made for cost-efficiency and slyness. I doubt you'll often see them until the new codex syndrome has worn off a bit.
1. The Bezerkergang: Mark of the Wulfen and a whole lot of attitude. He's mainly a speed bump and distraction that banks on getting lucky for quantity of attacks rather than quality. Favorite targets are going to be IG, Orks, Eldar and lesser Tyranids. Fenrisian Wolves optional, but possibly passed for sake of cost. He's a disposable unit design best for smaller points games or board and is just as useful singly or spammed.
2. The Champion: Wolf Claw or Frost Blade, Combi-Melta and Terminator Armour. The upgraded speed bump, I see this version becoming popular as his favorite target is Space Marines and there's backup anti-tank too. He's hits hard enough to be a serious threat and is durable enough to take some opportunistic fire. But he's not an apparent enough threat for most players to dedicate optimal targeting too, so he's that much more likely to get somewhere and do his thing. His biggest advantage is that he's not going to be a common choice, so many opponents will make mistakes on how to best deal with him. This is my preferred choice when you only have slots to take 1 or 2 Lone Wolves.
3. The Giantslayer: Powerfist, Storm Shield and Terminator Armour. This is your guy who goes hunting for enemy characters and big targets. Optionally geared with a Chainfist for more Dreadnaught & tank hunting, or a Thunder Hammer for Monster hunting. Expect to see this build all over the place for a while. But while he's tough, he's almost too much so. If you take only one, a canny opponent will just ignore and avoid or pop him with a mass of light fire before he closes. If you're going to go this route, it's probably worth the investment of points and slots to take 2 or 3.

Cheers for reading this far... hopefully it was worth it.