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!


  1. I totally agree with the diversity of the unit as a whole, however do you really like the unreliability of the Mark of Wulfen over a simple power weapon? Opinions?

  2. Well, I think the key is the concept of "reliability". I don't think a Grey Hunter PWeapon is really a "reliable" item either. A GH still only has A1, WS4, and I4. So typically he'll be throwing 3 attacks on the charge, hitting on a 4+ and going at the same time as other Marines. He's killing a whole .33 Marines more than the same amount of points put into basic GHs. Said another way, it's only giving a 25% increase in cost efficiency. Nice, but of unreliable statistical significance.
    So yeah, MotW does have extra variables tossing around. But on average it should perform slightly better than the PWeapon against most targets. What I like even more is that this holds true compared to the PFist too, only at I4 rather than I1. Plus, it has the chance to really shine. A 5.5x14.8% chance compared to a 3x25% chance is not just a net 16.7% increase... it's also almost double the number of data points. Those extra dice will go quite a ways towards statistical average.
    That make sense?

  3. Great Article. I just started SW myself and learning the basics of the army. Hope to read more from you on the army configuration.

  4. @Sidestreaker: Thanks! In-depth reviews like this take a bit of time and I'm glad to know they're appreciated. More are forthcoming! I've been writing on the Wolf Guard for over a month now and hope to have Blood Claws up shortly.

  5. Whoa!
    This is a fantastic article Dverning!
    While I didn't do the amount of research and detail you put into this article, my impression on putting a power fist on a grey hunter was pretty much the same. With one attack, they are better served with power weapons. Power fists should be reserved for Wolfgaurd. It does hurt that they are an elite upgrade, as it basically means Space Wolves have two elite choice.
    Once again, great article.

  6. Having now read several of your articles on Space Wolves units...I just want to say thank you.

    I have done quite a bit of research into the Space Wolves, as well as a lot of math in my head, and it is great to find all the information you have laid out so readily available and easy to read.

    Your website is now on my Favorites list.