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***


  1. Pretty detailed write-up you have there. I don't know what people have against bloodclaws. I know, as an Ultramarine player, I'd kill to be able to use assault marines as troops. As you've illustrated above, WS3 isn't a big negative, and the reduced BS is almost completely negated by their available weapon choices.

    The question is, do space wolf players actually use these guys? From the write-up and the lack of synergy with mech/anti-mech, I suspect not. That's a shame though. Mech is dreadfully overrated...

  2. I'll confess. When I started this article several weeks ago, I was expecting it to be much more negative. The problem was an apparent lack of value to cost. It just didn't seem like the +1 attack on the charge mitigated the lower stats... at least not when I could buy a Grey Hunter for the exact same price. The only reasons I saw to take them were Fluff or if you had the models. It wasn't until I really dissected things that I changed my stance. I know I wasn't alone in that presumption, so I had to grow the article much larger than planned to defend my change of stance.

    I have helped a few people design lists with or even based around Blood Claws, so I know they are getting used a bit. Maybe this article will help see them out there that little bit more. Cheers and thanks for the reply!

  3. After thinking about your comment a bit, I re-wrote the "Final Analysis" section. I think it hangs together a little better now.