Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Space Wolves: Swiftclaw Biker Packs

Shiny chrome bumpers and detailing, a 40K CC engine, slouchback seats made of real Kraken leather, 4' wide tires, and a pure Fenrisian steel frame? No, it's not the latest from some bad Discovery Channel show, we're talking about Swiftclaw Biker Packs!

Swiftclaws are another Blood Claw variant, this time on huge-ass motorcycles. Not only were they victim of the same unfortunate naming schema as their bretheren Skyclaws, much of the unit analysis remains the same too. What we get is a mostly another copy/paste unit, so go look at my Blood Claw article for their effectiveness calculations. Let's look at what is different:
1. Cost. 3 Swiftclaws = 5 Blood Claws or 4.17 Skyclaws. Said another way, once you hit 3 Swiftclaws it's cheaper to just buy Blood Claws in a Rhino. Consider that carefully before you buy a large squad or two.
2. Bike Movement. Yeah, you can't jump over terrain like a Skyclaw, but your normal move is still just as fast. Even better, you've got the option to Turbo Boost! This save means your bikers are that much more likely to survive battles on planet Bowlingball Prime.
3. Biker Toughness. Holy crap, they're T5? Nope, that's Thunderwolves. Bikers are 4(5). Not that the distinction matters too much as only Attack Bikes have 2 wounds. Still, do remember Instant Death rules before you allocate that Lascannon wound to your Attack Bike.
4. Bike Bolters. Now your Blood Claws can pretend to be Grey Hunters with Bolters of their very own! They've even been given twin-linking training wheels to mitigate that BS3. With Bikes being Relentless, it's almost like a Bolt Pistol too! Just be warned that Headstrong can still hamper your shooting.
5. Attack Bike. Hooray! With their mighty BS3, I'm sure that one heavy weapon will instantly be the envy of the pack and the life of every party. (Can you tell I'm underwhelmed?) Their main advantage is as a cheap way to get another wound.
6. Squads of 3-10. Well, I guess if you took a full pack and spaced them out, you could Screen a huge slice of the board. Hmmm... (read farther below)
7. No Mark of the Wulfen option. So sub-human ferals with talons for hands can operate Bolt Pistols and Jumppacks, but not a bike. Seems fair.
8. Meltabombs. Note that everyone has to get them though. The main use of these is to make the whole pack more expensive.

Swiftclaw packs remind me of teen dating... full of mixed signals, hasty fumbling in the dark, and mistaken impressions fueled by reputable sources like internet porn sites. Bikers are a unit designed to be fast, mobile and SHOOTY. They zip around, shoot lots and only swoop in for the kill after weakening the enemy. In turn, Blood Claws are meant to be a shock assault unit that's constantly on the charge; shooting is a secondary to non-concern. The combination of the two styles is underwhelming at best. You end up with a fast moving assault unit that's isn't cost-effective for either role you've paid for. I just don't see Swiftclaws really having a good use in most armies.

Still, the keen among you will note that I said "most" armies. Where I think they can shine? Cavalry armies. Why? Because they can Screen. But aren't Fenrisian Wolves a third the cost? Yeah, but do F-Wolves have T5, a 3+ armour and the ability Turbo Boost 24" with a 3+ Invulnerable cover save? I thought not. Use your Swiftclaws to zip out fast and form your front line. Their size and squad status will give saves to most any unit behind them. This can be a critical item for Turn 1-2 where your Cavalry are humping across the field at a 6+d6" pace, especially in a Dawn of War scenario. That BS3 doesn't matter when Turbo-boosting since they can't shoot anyways. Yes, there's other issues such as competing for a Fast Attack slot with Thunderwolves, but I think the strategy is worth it for a single large unit. (Notably, this benefit extends to Infantry armies too. I just don't see it as high as those usually Shooty rather than Assaulty, have spare bodies, and/or have cover to rely on.)

So, what upgrades would I suggest? Unless you think you need an 11-man unit, start by giving most of your Attack Bikes to any friends that play White Scars or Ravenwing. They'll be of more use there as Wolves lack Attack Bike Squadrions. Then follow the same rules as for Blood Claws: don't bother with plasma, only take flamers or power weapons if your army needs it, and consider a meltagun and/or powerfist.

As to Leadership, with a Ld8 and a 3d6" Fall Back you don't want these guys running if you can help it. I would consider some form of leader a minimum requirement. A Wolf Guard is nice even if you have an IC; I'd probably give him a Power Fist, maybe a combi-melta and then call it good. A Wolf Lord or Battle Leader can be good with these guys, but still doesn't seem optiomal when a Thunderwolf Mount is just a little bit more. I like a Rune Priest for as the squad lets him get up close and personal quickly. This is mainly of effect for his Runic Weapon, but might also be nice for his Powers. But with the emphasis of this unit on rapid movement, Screening and multiple assaults... as long as you have anti-Psyker covered elsewhere, I think the Wolf Priest edges the competition out due to Preferred Enemy and Fearless.

In the final analysis: These guys aren't likely to be in any OMGWTFBBQ internetz lists, but they are a good choice in virtually any army if you know how to use them. Just make sure you include them and use them for the right reasons. They are not a shock-assault unit, but instead a speed bump or distraction. Within the right army and a touch of guile, I think they can be serious game winners.

***My original image was a dog on a unicycle with top hat, but then I remembered the atrocity that is Biker Mice from Mars. (Copyright Criterion Limited)***
(Wow, these really go faster when I'm not doing all those damned graphs... Cheers and hope you've gotten some good ideas.)


  1. Methinks you're a little hard on the bikers here. If you compare them to other available options, these guys are pretty sweet. Take chaos for example: these guys are essentially fast moving plague marines with more weapon options, and the counter-attack for 2 extra points. They're the toughest unit you can get in the army, and are 1/2 the price of thunderwolves.

    They can also be used like scout bikers from the standard marine codex (well, roughly). Armed with meltabombs and the first turn, they're awful hard to deal with. How much fire does it take to fell three toughness five (turbo-boosted) 3++ models? If they don't, that's three melta-bombs messing up anything within 42" of your deployment zone on turn 1. Not bad for 90 points...

    As for the photo, I might've been tempted to go with something like:

  2. Oh, now that would have been a great pic to use. Ah well.

    The Plague Marine comparison doesn't really get me. PMs get 2x special weapons, BS4, Feel No Pain, and are Scoring.

    Scout Bikers (and Ravenwing) are devastating because they can Scout move. This gives them the 3++ when the game starts and puts them in range for a first turn charge. THAT is worth the cost. Swiftclaws can close, but should rarely be able to first turn charge unless your opponent wants you to or makes a mistake. (If Swiftclaws had Scout, I'd be advocating buying a LOT of them.)

    "How much fire does it take to fell 3x T5 3++ models?" 40.5 Bolters, 27 Heavy Bolters, 18 Scatter Lasers, 4ish Battle Cannons... or a quick assault by just about any decent CC unit. I just don't see a small squad being much beyond a distraction or assault bridge. Might make a nice speed bump, but there's others that can do so too.

    Maybe my final say was a little too harshly worded. It's not that they are a total waste in all armies, just a moderate one in most. There are always uses they can be put towards. But I think other units can do so just as effectively, cheaper, and/or with other versatility. The only time I really see them regularly being stellar is in a Cav list.

  3. The value in plague marines is that they're hard to bring down (at least, that's the way I see them). Toughness 5 and FNP are a nice combo. Swiftclaws have the toughness 5, but no FNP.

    The thing is, there aren't many weapons that pose a threat to a T5 3+ model. The ones that really make a difference are those that ignore the armor altogether (and the vast majority if those ignore FNP as well).

    The extra special weapon doesn't matter to me, since plague marines can't run in squads of 3 anyway--so it's kind of a moot point. Likewise, their inability to score isn't a big loss to me because with such a small unit, I see them as completely disposable.

    The trend really seems to be that most players prefer 2nd turn. That being the case, their inability to scout doesn't make a huge difference. Sure, it cuts down on the distance they can move, but you should be able to get just about anywhere you want with a 24" turbo-boost. And yes, while there are a ton of options that can take out a 3 man unit, virtually none of those will be firing at them.

    Look at the numbers you put up there in rebuttal: 20x tactical marines (in rapid fire range--which is unlikely to happen, mind you), 4-6 squads of devastators, 9 warwalkers, or 4 Leman Russes!??! If I could draw that sort of firepower with a 90 point unit, it would be well worth it, even if it did nothing else the entire game! Granted, very few people will want to commit enough firepower to kill them, and that's part of the beauty.

    They're a throw-away squad, and your opponent knows this--but if they're ignored, it's quite likely that they'll destroy a vehicle of their choice, so they have to be dealt with in some fashion. Yes, they could be assaulted, but we're working under the assumption that you'll play them smart enough to avoid that.

    Are they a stellar unit? Nope. They're likely not going to be in any OMGWTFBBQ internetz lists, but they are a good choice in virtually any army if you know how to use them (especially due to the fact that your opponent will likely underestimate them).

    I like these "inferior" units because I value tactics in games more than raw muscle. Tactics seem to be a better gauge of who is really the superior general. Anyone can play an army of battlecannons and destroy their opponent, but it takes a crafty player to see the benefit of swiftclaws, biovores, or Eldar swooping hawks and get them to shine on the battlefield.

    Sorry for the poorly worded post earlier... I gotta learn not to respond in the middle of the night.

  4. Heh. You know, I think we're just saying the same things at each other but with slightly different inflection or something. I think they're a great unit when used with smart tactics. I also think that most people are going to try to use them as just raw muscle and come up short. That's why I put forth that they're not going to be stellar in most lists.

    Given how well you captured what I really wanted to say, I have emended my "final analysis" and borrowed many of your words verbatim.

  5. "Touch of Guile.."

    What's Streetfighter got to do with it?

    Sonic BOOM!