Wednesday, December 26, 2012

A Few Thoughts on Ultramar Auxilia Allies

Last year I said that I would be starting a Tyranid army once my Ultramarine army was done or at least farther along. Although I've not given up on the idea of building a Hive Fleet Behemoth or Behemoth splinter force, the addition of allies to 6th Edition has significantly changed my plans.

It wasn't until later that someone pointed out that
the Ultramarines use the colors of my alma mater
To be honest, I started an Ultramarine army because I wanted to do Space Marines and because I'm partial to the blue, white, and gold color scheme of the Ultramarines' second company. I realized that I made a good choice when I read up on the fluff surrounding that Chapter and the Ultramar System. I was particularly interested in the relationship between the Ultramarines and the Ultramar Auxilia. Although technically a Planetary Defense Force (well, I guess it would be more of a System Defense Force), the Auxilia is portrayed in GW and Black Library material as being a highly trained force that has regiments constantly ready for deployment outside of the Ultramar System. Externally deployed regiments have even fought alongside the Ultramarines (which only makes sense considering that the Ultramarines Chapter rules the Ultramar System and is technically the Auxilia's direct political authority).

I've long envied the Imperial Guard's Heavy Support options (I've since become irrationally fond of the Leman Russ design) and saw the Auxilia as an interesting way to bring IG weaponry to the table in support of the Ultramarines. The chance to add more variety to my army in the form of less costly support troops and a greater choice of vehicles was also appealing. However, under 5th Edition I was reluctant to start an Auxilia force since there was no official way to incorporate allied armies and I didn't necessarily want to build a standalone IG army.

Then 6th Edition came along and GW gave us an official way to add allies to our main armies. After working through a few potential arrangements (some with the Marines as the primary detachment, some with the Auxilia as the main force), I realized that I could pretty easily assemble some competitive lists featuring the Ultramarines and their Auxilia.

Since there aren't any official description of what Auxilia troops look like, I'm going to have to figure out how to build and paint such a force. Some sources indicate that Cadian gear is considered the standard for Imperial Guard regiments. Given the Ultramarines' obsession with standardization and the fact that the Ultramar Auxilia is supposed to be able to either fight alongside the Imperial Guard or to be incorporated into it as needed, I think it can be assumed that Auxilia troops would look similar to Cadian shock troops (this would be a budget-friendly decision given that Cadian figures are GW's standard IG models). Since blue seems to be the representative color for the Ultramar System, I would probably paint the Auxilia's helmets and flak armor Macragge Blue. For contrast, I'll probably paint the cloth portions of the uniform either gray or a light khaki. For diversity, I've considered painting each trooper's right shoulder pad with colors representing his homeworld. The left shoulder pad could have the number of his squad. I toyed with the idea of painting the inverted omega on the troopers, but decided that the symbol should be reserved for the Ultramarines themselves, although I may paint a small emblem on the Auxilia's veteran sergeants and officers as a mark of honor.

Does it come in gray? Perhaps with some blue highlights?

As for the vehicles, they would be the stock IG variants, although a few details may be different. For example, frequently replaced add-on items such as smoke launchers and searchlights might be shared between Ultramarine and Auxilia vehicles. The Auxilia's vehicles should sport at least some of Ultramar's trademark color, although it just wouldn't seem right to me for their tanks to be entirely blue. The privilege of painting their vehicles entirely in the color of Ultramar (as well as the utter disdain for the concept of camouflage) belongs to the Ultramarines. Thus, the Auxilia's vehicles will probably be painted in shades of gray with a few blue markings. Again, as with the troopers, the vehicles would forgo the use of the inverted omega. I might just go with a simple "ULTRA" on their hulls.

Unfortunately, I've gotten pretty excited about building an Auxilia army, but I still have a huge number of unbuilt Space Marine models. Curse my slow building pace.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Drop Pods WIP, Part III

I finally finished two drop pods after spending an embarrassing 4+ months working on them. One is built to land a Tactical Squad and the other to land a Dreadnought. Although I think they'll give me an advantage at the gaming table, I'm not happy that it took me so long to finish 70 points worth of models.

As shown in my last WIP post, I built a number of subassemblies before painting them. The subassemblies for each drop pod consisted of the following:
  • The bottom half of the base
  • Five hatches
  • The top half of the base (with the inertial guidance dome installed directly on the deck for the Dreadnought pod)
  • One central column (Tactical Squad drop pod only)
  • Five harnesses (Tactical Squad drop pod only)
  • Five vertical supports
  • A storm bolter turret
  • An engine pod

Drop pod harness subassembly
Although I usually paint most of a model before fully assembling it, I left the drop pods in even more pieces due to their complexity. With my Rhino-based models, I fully assembled them before applying washes and highlights. For the drop pods, I did the final assembly after everything was complete except for the final weathering. The models are so unwieldy that I can't imagine trying to do any significant painting on a fully assembled drop pod.

I had read other modelers' warnings that trying to put the harness subassembly together after gluing the central column to the deck could make one's life difficult. Therefore, the harnesses, which had previously been base coated with Boltgun Metal, were glued to the central column one by one before attaching anything to the pod deck. During this process, I frequently dry fit the subassembly to the deck to make sure everything was aligned properly. Once the subassembly was built, I washed it with Nuln Oil and then dry brushed it with Chainmail. This cleaned up any streaks or puddles of wash and highlighted the edges and details. Heavier brushing was used to add scuff marks. I used the same technique for nearly all metallic regions.

Assembled Tactical Squad drop pod base. Note the cutouts
for the vertical supports at the five corners of the base.
I finished the assembly of the simpler Dreadnought drop pod first to get a little practice. This took no more than 20 to 30 minutes and was nearly trouble free. First I placed all five hatches into their grooves in the bottom half of the base and glued on the top half of the base. Next, I glued two adjacent vertical supports to the engine pod and then glued that subassembly into the cutouts in the corners of the deck. (I was afraid that using a single support would cause the subassembly to sag and make it difficult to install supports on the opposite side.) After giving the glue a few minutes to dry, I added the three remaining supports. I had ensured that the supports would fit into their slots on the engine pod before applying any glue since the fit can be extremely tight. Four of the five doors are well aligned and open and close smoothly. Unfortunately, the fifth door tends to rub against an actuator molded into a vertical support. Although annoying, this doesn't mean much during game play since a drop pod's doors stay open once it's on the table.

Drop pod interior. Note the interface between
the vertical supports and the harness assembly.
Putting together the Tactical Squad drop pod was a much more difficult task. The harness assembly has to be installed before you can glue on the vertical supports, but structures on the harnesses and a triangular shape at the base of the supports prevent you from inserting the supports vertically into their cutouts. Instead, you have to bring the support in horizontally. This isn't easy to do if you glued more than one vertical support to the engine pod. (Lesson #1: glue only one support on the engine pod and then glue that support to the deck.)

As I was gluing the two vertical supports into place, I realized that the hoses that extend from each harness to the nearest support seemed to stick out a little too far (the pre-painted surface made the interference worse) and I couldn't fully insert the supports into their cutouts. I had to pull everything apart and scrape away paint and plastic just to get everything to fit. (Lesson #2: don't get so excited that you don't adequately dry fit everything first.) In the end, the supports didn't fit as well as they did on the first drop pod, but I was able to hide that fact with a little bit of extra glue in the seams and some paint. Three of the doors open and close smoothly. The fourth isn't quite as smooth as the others and the fifth hits an actuator just like the one on the Dreadnought drop pod. This could be a flaw in the model or it could be the consequence of a misalignment of the vertical supports or the engine pod subassembly.

Once I had everything put together on the two pods, I scraped excess glue from the surface and added paint and wash as necessary to repair those regions. I finished up the models by dry brushing Boltgun Metal to corners and edges to make the pods look well used.

This picture is almost worth those four months

The build is frustrating, but the pods look pretty sharp

Within the next couple months I hope to be landing
an Ironclad Dreadnought in the drop pod on the left

In the next year or so I intend to add another pod for a Sternguard Squad

It's a relief to have finally completed these two models, although I realize that much of the delay in finishing them was the fact that I often avoided even working on them. It's disheartening to paint and detail a component just to realize that there are usually four more just like it (nine if you're building two at a time). (Lesson #3: don't build more than one drop pod at a time.) When I was building a Razorback and a Predator earlier this year, I would often find that I had been working for two to three hours straight without realizing it. With the drop pods, I often thought that I had been working for hours when it had only been about 45 minutes. The models look great now that they're done, but it was an ordeal to finish them. I'm definitely not looking forward to building the Sternguard's transport, but at least I'll only be making one of them.

Tomorrow I expect to start prepping a second Tactical Squad, a squad of close combat Terminators, and an Ironclad Dreadnought for priming.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Space Marines 6th Edition Codex Wishlist, Part II

Almost as soon as I made my first Space Marines 6th Edition wishlist, I realized that I had several other items to add to it:

Reasonably Priced Devastators
When I first started building my Ultramarines army, I went to a number of websites to determine the best units to field. I found that the general opinion on Devastators was fairly consistent: they're just too expensive. I was recently looking over a few Loyalist/Chaos Space Marine codices and I was surprised by the following numbers:

Space Marine Heavy Weapons Squad Costs
Item Chaos Havocs
(4th Ed.)
Space Marine Devastators
(5th Ed.)
Long Fangs
(5th Ed.)
Blood Angels Devastators
(5th Ed.)
Chaos Havocs
(6th Ed.)
Codex Date 9/200710/200810/20094/201010/2012
Unit Cost
(5 Models)
7590759075
Heavy Bolter 151551010
Multi-Melta N/A151010N/A
Autocannon 20N/AN/AN/A10
Missile Launcher 2015101015
Plasma Cannon N/A252015N/A
Lascannon 3535252520

The weapons costs for the older units on the list, the 4th Edition Chaos Havocs and the 5th Edition Space Marine Devastators, are very similar. The cost of a 5 man Havoc squad is cheaper than the loyalist squad, but this is consistent with the fact that Chaos Marines are generally cheaper per model. However, a strange thing happened after the 5th Edition Space Marine codex was released; the Space Wolves' Long Fangs Packs were given significantly cheaper heavy weapons than their vanilla brethren. Additionally, they were allowed to fire at two different targets per turn. This in and of itself isn't a big deal; it's well known that GW tends to give each Space Marine army a model or models that others don't have, to give it special rules, and/or to allow it to field certain units more cheaply than others. This is supposedly to give each Marine army its own feel or style. However, when the close combat-oriented Blood Angels were also given cheap heavy weapons with their 5th Edition codex, the expense of Codex Marines' heavy weapons became harder to justify.

Why does my jack of all trades army have more expensive
heavy weapons than the close combat-focused Blood Angels?
Now we have the latest incarnation of the Chaos Havoc squad to compare to the Codex-compliant Devastators. Sixth Edition Havocs have seen a cost reduction on all heavy weapons. Flakk missiles, which Devastators still don't have, will add 10 points to the base cost of a missile launcher.

Havocs can wield heavy bolters and lascannons cheaper than Devastators can and have autocannons that are cheaper than anything the Loyalist Astartes can field. The Havoc's lascannons are an absolute steal at 20 points each. This means that 6th Edition Havocs can field a lascannon quartet for a mere 155 points whereas an identically equipped Devastator Squad costs a whopping 230 points. Heck, the "expensive" Havoc squad costs only five points more than a cheaply equipped Devastator Squad.

I can only hope that GW will give 6th Edition Codex Marines a significant discount in heavy weapons costs. I'd actually be quite happy to get the same deal as the Blood Angels, especially since I've already planned several Devastator Squad builds despite the current high costs (is there anything cooler looking than a Space Marine carrying a heavy weapon?). I've even decided to put together a lascannon quartet in the hopes that the cost of lascannons will be reasonable in the 6th Edition Space Marines codex.

Venerable Dreadnoughts
I said many times that I loved 5th Edition Venerable Dreadnoughts (many Marine players weren't in agreement). While the BS5, WS5 were nice, I don't know how many times the ability to re-roll on the damage table saved my Venerable. To me, this ability was always worth the extra 60 points. Unfortunately, the addition of hull points to 6th Edition has almost completely neutralized this advantage. If the armor is glanced, you lose a hull point and the Venerable rule doesn't help at all. If the armor is penetrated, you can still re-roll on the damage table, but it's less useful since the 6th Edition table is more forgiving with the removal of the Wrecked result. And even if you're saved from an Explodes result, the hull point is gone just the same. It doesn't even matter what result you get by the third hull point; the Venerable is wrecked. Under the new rules even I can't support the extra cost; I've been playing my borrowed Venerable as an ornate standard Dreadnought ever since.

Make the Venerable worth taking again
I think a few tweaks to the 6th Edition Space Marine rules would make the Venerable worth taking again. Specifically, I think that the ability to save hull points should be introduced. Perhaps after each glancing or penetrating hit the Venerable's owner could choose to either roll to save a hull point or have his opponent re-roll on the damage table. I see it working this way; if a glancing hit is suffered and the owning player rolls a 4+, the hull point is saved. If a penetrating hit is suffered, the owning player can choose to get a re-roll on the damage table or to try to save the hull point. If the owner really disliked the damage table result (e.g., he was immobilized during combat or it was an Explodes result) he could chose to re-roll on the damage table rather than attempt to save the hull point. Obviously the owner would choose to save the hull point if his Venerable was merely stunned or shaken. And if the Dreadnought simultaneously gets an Explodes result and loses its last hull point... well, obviously the walker was meant to be destroyed.

On that last possibility, it could be fun to give the Venerable another special rule: Noble Sacrifice. The current Space Marine codex says that during the Damnos Incident, Venerable Brother Agrippan single-handedly defended the spaceport gate from a wave of Necrons, allowing his battle brothers to escape. Once they were clear, his reactor went critical and he destroyed a huge number of the enemy. It could be fun to allow an exploding Venerable Dreadnought to chose the Noble Sacrifice option and explode with greater strength and/or a 2D6 blast radius.

Our Cabal's Ork player would hate that.

Sniper Scout Ballistic Skill
Why do specialists in precision shooting only have BS3?
Standard Tactical Marines cost 16 points per model. Space Marine Scouts are a bit cheaper at 13 points per model. For this cost, Scouts get the stats of a Marine except for having WS3, BS3, and a 4+ armor save. However, Scouts also get the Move Through Cover, Scouts, and Infiltrate special rules, as well as the ability to exchange their boltguns for sniper rifles, combat blades, or shotguns. Scouts can get a 3+ cover save if they buy camo cloaks, but by the time you've bought the camo cloaks your Scouts cost as much as a power armored Marine.

As good as Move Through Cover, Infiltrate, and Scouts are, those special rules plus a three point discount don't generally make Scouts much more desirable than full Marines. I'm not complaining so much about WS3 or the 4+ save as much as I am about BS3.

First, it makes little sense fluff-wise for a Scout to have the same ballistic skill as the average Guardsman. Space Marine initiates are supposed to be the best candidates that humanity can offer. I understand WS3 since the novices are still learning how to fight effectively and may be in the middle of the physiological changes needed to turn human beings into Astartes. But one should have a superior ballistic skill before he's even considered to be a candidate for the Space Marines, let alone after he's undergone some of the alterations and gained some experience. That level of ballistic skill isn't even superhuman since all Imperial Guard veterans have BS4. Second, one of the most popular and useful roles for a Scout is as a sniper. It's less than desirable to have a sniper with a mediocre ballistic skill on the battlefield.

At a minimum, what I'd like to see for Space Marine Scouts in 6th Edition is an improved ballistic skill for snipers. I can swallow BS3 for close combat Scouts since it wouldn't be too unexpected for novices charging into battle with pistols to miss more often than the experienced Marines. And BS3 on Scouts with bolters could make sense if the fluff specifies that they're the least experienced neophytes and are still getting accustomed to such large guns. But snipers should be experienced shooters with a steady hand and a sharp eye. I think it would make sense to give snipers BS4 while keeping their points cost the same by prohibiting them from using the Scouts special rule. After all, snipers don't generally scout ahead; they typically infiltrate enemy territory, set themselves up in a favorable spot, and wait for a suitable target.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Drop Pods WIP, Part II

The grim death march that is my current project continues. I'm hoping to have the two drop pods ready for next Friday's game, but it's going to be tough to meet that goal.

The base coats for the Tactical Squad drop pod and the Dreadnought drop pod were finished a while ago. I distinguished the two by painting the deck and the ramps for the Dreadnought drop pod a straight metallic color. I figure that Marine boots may wear away paint over time, but it would be a fool's errand to bother painting the surface a Dreadnought is meant to walk on. I've eliminated the central pillar that holds the troop harnesses from the Dreadnought drop pod and glued the pillar's hemisphere directly to the deck. (I assume the hemisphere represents the pod's inertial guidance system.) Additionally, the troops' pod has four doors with Ultramarine logos and one with an Aquila, whereas the Dreadnought pod inverts this pattern. When I build my third drop pod model for a Sternguard, I intend to do an alternating pattern of Aquilas and Ultramarine logos on four doors and to put a Crux Terminatus on the fifth.

Drop pod base parts. The metallic platform
is for the Dreadnought drop pod

Drop pod door ramps

I've recently started the aging/weathering that I've given all my vehicles and have nearly finished three of the ten doors. I've used the same process since building my Vindicator; specifically I base coat the vehicle, give it two to three heavy washes of Badab Black/Nuln Oil, and then dry brush the base coat color over the wash. This technique came about accidentally; I had thought that I could simply wash the Vindicator like I did my Tactical Marines, but I found that the Badab Black streaked and pooled on the large flat surfaces. When I dry brushed the base coat over the wash to clean it up, I created a mottled surface that I liked a lot. The dry brushing also accentuates the edges. I've never been able to produce the sharp, clean highlights that better painters are capable of, but the effect the dry brushing leaves is enough for me. When all the doors have been dry brushed with the base coat, I'll dry brush the corners and edges with a metallic color to simulate chipped and worn paint.

Drop pod doors prior to dry brushing

Drop pod doors with dry brushing (left) and without (right)

Nearly completed doors. I've attempted to match the
look of my other vehicles like the Predator (right)

I had a moment of panic while working on the first door (the one with the Ultramarine logo in the photo immediately above). I had intended to paint the two drop pods with as many of the newer paints as I have on hand since I'm out of Badab Black and am running low on Ultramarines Blue. Thus, I base coated everything using Altdorf Guard Blue and used Nuln Oil for all the washes. I knew I'd be okay using the new wash since I couldn't tell the difference between it and Badab Black when I had to combine the two to finish my Predator. The Altdorf Guard Blue seemed to be a good match for Ultramarines Blue while I was painting the base coat (I've even posted on how similar I thought they were), but it looked nothing like the original when I started dry brushing the door. I was decidedly unhappy when I pulled out my Predator to compare the two and found that they didn't match at all. Fortunately, I still have enough Ultramarines Blue to finish off the drop pods and I was able to fix the problem.

As other hobbyists have since found, Ultramarines Blue has a very slight purple tint that Altdorf Guard Blue lacks. Before I fixed it, the drop pod door looked like it had been heavily sun bleached compared to my other models. Interestingly, some have said that Macragge Blue, which is supposedly the replacement for Mordian Blue, is a better match for Ultramarines Blue than Altdorf is. Based on that advice, I'll probably be buying some Macragge Blue before starting my next vehicle.

It's now pretty obvious that my vehicles will all be slightly different shades of blue. Even though my Vindicator and Razorback were finished with the same paints, I've noticed that one is slightly darker than the other. When I start painting models with Macragge Blue, I'll introduce even more variation. Although this would normally bother me, perusal of the current Space Marine codex shows that even the professional models have a huge degree of variety. In one large diorama, baby blue Rhinos share the table with dark blue Land Speeders while a Land Raider Crusader and a Whirlwind with paint jobs somewhere in between those two shades can be seen on the outskirts. I suppose it's hard for an army to maintain consistency when their highly customized, millennia-old vehicles have served on a thousand worlds in countless environmental conditions.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Space Marines 6th Edition Codex Wishlist

As rumors leak out and new codices are released, I think some of us Codex Marines players are beginning to wonder a) when we'll get our codex (yes, I know we're luckier than Xenos players who often don't get a codex for each edition) and b) what goodies we'll be getting for this edition. Here's a wishlist of what I'd like to see for the faithful followers of the Codex Astartes:

Agemman and the Ultramarines 1st Company
A couple months ago a list of supposed models that were to be released in 2013 ended up online. On this list was Agemman, the captain of the Ultramarines 1st Company. I'm really hoping that this rumor is true given the cool things that GW could do with Captain Agemman.

With any other captain (e.g., Captain Sicarius of the 2nd Company), it makes sense to field a core of Tactical Marines belonging to his company along with various Dreadnoughts and vehicles attached to the company. Support would be provided by units from specialized companies such as the 10th Company's Scouts and/or squads from the 1st Company such as Sternguard, Terminators with their Land Raider transports, and Vanguard.

Sternguard could count as
troops for the 1st Company
I wouldn't expect such a mix with Agemman's company, though. While I can see Veterans providing support for other companies, I can't really imagine the Veteran Company relying on units from non-Veteran squads. Thus, it only makes sense that an army led by Agemman would be able to fill its troops requirement with veterans. Presumably the 1st Company Captain would allow Sternguard to fill this role. Terminators could remain in the Elite slot (Terminator armor is still a rarity, after all), and Vanguard (which desperately need a cost reduction to make them competitive) could fill the Fast Attack role. If I were to make a 1st Company army, I would probably give Venerable Dreadnoughts preference (maybe Agemman could give them some sort of advantage like allowing them to form squadrons). All the vehicles available to the other companies could also be used by the Veteran Company.

The High Cost of Relic Blades
30 Points for AP3?
Despite their high points cost, I love relic blades. It only makes sense for your high cost, high initiative Captain or Chapter Master to carry an S6 power weapon that allows him to strike at initiative. Unfortunately, the Space Marine FAQ has since given the relic blade an AP value of 3. While the relic blade is still a good weapon choice, I have to question its cost now that it can't deny armor saves to Terminators and the like.

The relic blade and the thunder hammer both cost 30 points and both deny the +1 bonus attack for having two close combat weapons. Under 5th Edition, when the armor penetration value of a power weapon was a de facto AP2, it was reasonable to trade the thunder hammer's slightly higher strength and Concussive rule for the ability to strike at initiative. However, now that the relic blade is only AP3 while the thunder hammer is AP2, it makes little sense for the relic blade to cost so much.

I think there are three options: give the relic blade AP2 in the 6th Edition codex, retain its current stats and reduce its cost, or give it the Rending special rule. While it could make sense, fluffwise, to make relic blades AP2, I would actually prefer to see a cost reduction. (Personally, I agree with GW's decision to disadvantage most AP2 melee weapons by making them unwieldy.) Given that the abilities of the FAQ'd relic blade falls somewhere between that of the 25 point power fist (S8, AP2 with the disadvantages of being unwieldy and denying the bonus attack for two close combat weapon) and the 15 point power maul (S6, AP4 with the advantage of striking at initiative, allowing the bonus attack for two close combat weapons, and having the Concussive rule), the relic blade would be better priced at 20 points. However, I would gladly continue to pay 30 points for a relic blade if it could rend. Not only would the weapon occasionally be able to penetrate Terminator armor, but it could also effectively terrorize vehicles.

More Tanks, Please
Also on the list of rumored models is something called a "Land Avenger". If true, I really hope that this is a medium tank.

How about a middle-sized tank?

Since I started playing 40K, I've felt like the Astartes lacked an intermediate tank. Given how new most of us are to the game, our Cabal tends to play small to medium sized games (500 to 1000 point games with the occasional 1250 point game). As much as I love my Destructor-Pattern Predator, the AV11 side armor is an enormous liability. Unfortunately, the alternative is a Land Raider, but its high points cost is prohibitive and its AV14 is sometimes unnecessarily high, especially in smaller games.

A middle-sized tank, perhaps something with armor 13 on the front, 12 on the sides, and 11 on the rear (a tank of decent size should not be glanced to death by Ork Boyz) would be appreciated. A base cost somewhere between that of a fully equipped Destructor-Pattern Predator and a Land Raider (maybe 150 to 175 points) would seem fair. A transport capacity would also be nice, perhaps with the option of trading capacity for weaponry like the Rhino versus the Razorback or the Land Raider Crusader versus the Land Raider.

The biggest question is what kind of weaponry could you put on such a tank? Marine vehicles tend to have a wide selection, although with only a couple exceptions they don't usually get ordnance or barrage weapons (that should probably remain the specialty of the Imperial Guard). I would like to be able to customize such a vehicle for horde killing or for anti-tank duties. Perhaps we could have two hurricane bolters and a twin-linked heavy bolter (essentially a Land Raider Crusader-Lite) for the anti-horde option. A variant with a longer range template weapon like the Hellhound's Inferno Cannon would be pretty cool. An anti-tank version could have a twin-linked lascannon and twin-linked multi-melta sponsons.

Give Me a Reason to Take a Whirlwind
Whirlwinds could have a lot more potential
Marines aren't meant to be a barrage-heavy army, so I understand why all we get is the Whirlwind to fill that role. Unfortunately a single S5 AP4 large blast per turn just isn't that effective. A large blast with a relatively low strength suggests that it's supposed to be a horde killer, but you're not very likely to earn back the cost of the tank if all you get is effectively a heavy bolter with wide area effects, especially if your opponent is savvy enough to spread out his horde. And with so many better Heavy Support options available (e.g., a Destructor-Pattern Predator with heavy bolter sponsons) why would you take up a Heavy slot with a Whirlwind?

I really do like the Whirlwind model, but I simply can't justify taking one. I think the following changes would make the Whirlwind a must-have (or at least a tempting option) for many Astartes players:

1) For the current points cost, allow an un-upgraded Whirlwind Multiple Missile Launcher to land two large blasts per turn.
2) For an added cost, allow the Whirlwind to trade in its Vengeance and Incendiary Castellan missiles for Krakstorm missiles, which are currently available only on the Fortress of Redemption. Such an upgraded Whirlwind could land an S8 AP3 large blast up to 96" away per turn. This would effectively give the Marines a longer range version of the Leman Russ's Battle cannon. I understand that inexpensive barrage weapons and tanks are supposed to be the Guard's hallmark, so pricing a Krakstorm Whirlwind at about 150 points (i.e., the cost of the heavily armored Leman Russ Battle Tank) while only having AV11 on the front and sides seems fair.
3) For a few more points (15 to 20 points?), allow the Whirlwind to carry Helios missiles in addition to its other missile(s) and to fire two per turn (or maybe one twin-linked shot) with the Skyfire and Interceptor special rules. A 165 to 170 point Krakstorm/Helios Whirlwind would cost about as much as an Annihilator-Pattern Predator, which is probably a pretty fair price for what it could do.

Earlier this year, GW jacked up the price for the Whirlwind model to a mind-boggling $57.75, which is the same as a Predator. Unfortunately, the Whirlwind's current rules can't possibly justify that price. However, I might be willing to pay that much for a Krakstorm/Helios Whirlwind.

I'd Like to take a Thunderfire Cannon, But...
The glass cannon
When I first started playing 40K, I would often use Bryce's Thunderfire Cannon model. The gun proved to be relatively effective when on the offensive, but was often a glass cannon (and if GW thinks I'm going to pay $56 for one, they're crazy). In addition to making a plastic model for the Thunderfire, GW should give it a durable chassis as Forge World did when they mounted it on the Land Raider Achilles. A variant of the Vindicator seems like the most logical vehicle to carry it.

Too bad this one's Photoshopped
With a little help from Photoshop, I found that the width of the Thunderfire Cannon that comes with Forge World's Land Raider Achilles is similar to that of the Vindicator's Demolisher Cannon. The Vindicator's forward bulkhead could potentially be used without modification. It seems like GW could simply add a sprue to the existing Vindicator model that would include the Thunderfire Cannon (and a new bulkhead, if necessary). Heck, they could retire the current Vindicator model altogether and release a Demolisher-Pattern Vindicator/Thunderfire-Pattern Vindicator set with an extra sprue. I think I could guarantee that it would sell (well, I'd buy it, at least).

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Astartes vs. Orks Lessons Learned

The weekend before last, Carl, Jon and I got together for some Astartes-vs-greenskins action. Carl and I each brought 1000 points of Grey Knights and Ultramarines, respectively, while Jon fielded 2000 points of Orks. The game was pretty long and I was too tired to remember it well enough to recount it with my usual level of detail, so I'll simply put down what we got out of it.

The game was pretty much a wholesale slaughter and we called it at around 12:30 AM. A quick count showed that, cumulatively, Carl and I had about 500 points on the table compared to Jon's 600 points. Although Jon had more points left, it was hard to declare anybody the winner or even to guess what would have happened if we had time for one or two more turns. Most of Jon's remaining points were in two Loota Squads and his Blitza-Bommer. At the time we called the game, Carl's remaining Grey Knight troops and my undamaged multi-melta Dreadnought were one turn away from engaging the Lootas. Meanwhile, my fully intact 5 man Scout Squad was taking potshots at them. On the other hand, the Marines were limited in what they could do to the Bommer thanks to the range of the weapons they had left. The only option for a Marine victory would have been to wipe out the units on the table and to wait until the Bommer ran out of room and had to leave.

"I Lost as Soon as I Made My List"
Well, the subheading is probably an exaggeration, but I wasn't too pleased with my list when I finally got to the table. For starters, I brought my lascannon Razorback. This is typically a decent choice and a good way to bring a twin-linked lascannon to the table. However, I only had 1000 points to play with and I knew that I would be facing Orks. You don't need a 40 point vehicle with a 35 point lascannon to take down Ork armor when much cheaper missile launchers will easily pop a Killa Kan. Heck, now that troops can land grenades on walkers based on their weapon skill, I could easily have brought down Jon's Killa Kans by assaulting them with Tactical Squads. The 75 points I spent on the Razorback would have been better spent elsewhere.

I also brought a five man Tactical Squad to increase the number of bolters on the table. Given that a standard bolter round needs a 4+ to wound even Boyz, I clearly should have skipped the Razorback and the small Tactical Squad and rolled the points into a stand-in Sternguard Squad (the Cabal is pretty forgiving of substitutions). Hellfire rounds would have made short work of Jon's mobs. Similarly, I skimped on my Captain by giving him a power sword rather than a relic blade. A Space Marine Captain's stats may be pretty good, but when his strength 4 means that he needs a 4+ to wound lowly Ork Boyz, he's going to be overwhelmed pretty quickly. I lost 13% of my total army when the Captain fell. He probably would have lived longer if I had spent 15 more points for a strength 6 attack.

Carl's list was a bit more effective. He skipped on the Terminators to be able to put more troops on the board. His Interceptor Squad was able to neutralize one of Jon's three Loota squads by teleporting immediately behind them and dismantling the mob within a couple turns. Carl's only regret was that he didn't have ten Interceptor troops so he could combat squad them and really give Jon a hard time.

Wrong Airplane
Jon has built his Ork flyer so he can play it as a Dakkajet or a Blitza-Bommer. He's often tempted to play it as a Blitza-Bommer so he can drop a bomb during the movement phase and then turn his guns on something during the shooting phase. Unfortunately, he has rarely been able to pull this off effectively. In fact, I can't remember his Bommer killing a single model that night. Jon regretted not bringing the Dakkajet for this game.

Astartes that Stay Together, Slay Together
Carl and I had won the roll-off for first turn, so I spread the two Combat Squads formed from my 10 man Tactical Squad and the troops in my five man Tactical Squad across my half of our deployment area with the intention of making any approaching mobs take heavy fire during the entirety of their march. Unfortunately, Jon successfully seized the initiative and was able to get two mobs of Boyz a respectable distance across the table before even taking a casualty. A nagging voice in my head said that I should consolidate my Marines and that I should concentrate my fire on the nearest mob while slowly retreating from the farther group. Ideally, this would neutralize the closest mob and keep my troops at full strength for the inevitable assault by the second mob.

Instead of paying attention to that voice, I divided my fire between the two mobs in the hopes that I would wear each one down enough to survive close combat. Some less than stellar dice rolls combined with the swiftness of the Ork's approach meant that each squad was quickly swamped. Jon took heavy losses, but my Marines were decimated.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Drop Pods WIP, Part I

Has anyone ever built a Space Marine drop pod model because they actually wanted to? Within the past year I bought three drop pod models, two of which I primed this past May (the third one won't be started until I have a Sternguard to put in it). I tried to work on them simultaneously with a Razorback and a Predator and finished painting much of the metallic areas, but became overwhelmed and decided to focus on the tanks.

So many repetitive parts...

With the two tanks done, I resumed working on the two drop pods, but have had a hard time making progress. As cool as an assembled model looks, and as useful as drop pods are in the game, the darn things make for an extremely tedious build. For nearly every major part or section you complete there are four more of them. Since I made the mistake of working on two models at the same time, I have ten hatches to finish, ten vertical supports to paint, etc. The only break I get is that I've modified one pod to carry a Dreadnought, meaning that its interior is a lot simpler.

Why does the worst model to paint have to be so darn useful?

The worst part is that drop pods need to be deployed en masse to be used effectively. I've played several games using unassembled bases to represent drop pods. I've found that a single pod leaves your unit without support and is often a suicidal gimmick that fails as often as it works (e.g., trying to pop a tank by dropping a multi-melta Dreadnought within 12 inches of it). Two pods are better, but since the second one can't land any earlier than your second turn and could be delayed even longer because of poor reserve rolls, your opponent often has enough time to dismantle your squad or Dreadnought before the next pod lands. Although I've yet to use three drop pods, an obvious advantage is that two of them can be dropped simultaneously so that the units deployed in them can provide some mutual support and give the enemy more than one target to worry about.

During moments of insanity, I've even thought of the potential of five drop pods. You could drop a small, self-supporting army on your opponent's doorstep in your first turn and then follow it up with a significant amount of support. Imagine the effect of dropping a Tactical Squad, an Ironclad Dreadnought, and a Sternguard Squad in your first turn, then dropping two more Tactical Squads or a second Tactical Squad and another Dreadnought over the next few turns.

The biggest problem with this plan would be that you'd have to build five drop pods. I can't seem to finish even two of them.

I had originally planned to go all out on the pods and was even going to paint the hazard stripes on the doors like you see on GW's promotional model:

Games Workshop Promotional Model

When I started having a hard time even bringing myself to work on the models, let alone paining dozens of black and yellow stripes, I wondered how many modelers even bother to paint the markings. Lo and behold, it turns out that even the GW modelers don't bother with the stripes most of the time. Of the several pods seen in the 6th Edition rulebook, only the model that is obviously the promotional one has stripes. The same is the case for the the various drop pods seen in Games Day dioramas; except for the promotional one, they use either blue or metallic colors in place of the hazard stripes. Heck, photos show that the five vertical supports on many of the models are entirely blue since the builder(s) skipped painting the large metallic regions. Even the professionals seem to have a hard time painting drop pods.

The second pod from the front has a simplified paint scheme

Note the simplified paint scheme on these drop pods
(I can't say I blame them)

At this point I've painted all the vertical supports and the hatches are mostly painted. The pods are my first vehicles to use Altdorf Guard Blue instead of the old Ultramarines Blue. The interior of the pod intended to carry Tactical Marines is mostly done while the simplified interior of the Dreadnought drop pod shouldn't take me too long. I've promised myself that I won't use the pods until they're finished, but at the rate I'm going I certainly won't be deploying them in this weekend's game.

Why do drop pods have to be so effective? And why would I even consider using five of them?

Friday, September 21, 2012

On Space Marine Combat/Storm Shields

Sixth Edition has opened up a whole new tactical field: model positioning. As we all know, under 5th it didn't matter where you put the Terminators with the storm shields and thunder hammers and where you put the Terminators with the lightning claws. If you took five AP2 wounds then each Terminator was going to have to try to make his own save, whether it was a 5+ invulnerable for the armor or a 3+ invulnerable for the shield. With 6th's "cinematic" feel, you can now put the Terminators with storm shields between the armor penetrating weapons and the rest of the squad. Until that (super)human wall is taken down, the lightning claw Terminators get to benefit from their battle brothers' wargear. (One wonders if the 6th Edition Space Marine Codex will take that into account in determining the points cost of Terminators' wargear.)

In recent games I've been playing with a 145 point Captain wearing artificer armor and carrying a relic blade. The Captain joins the Tactical Squad where he serves as a human shield for the rest of the squad. This selfless HQ usually takes a couple wounds before his concerned subordinates start making Look Out Sir! rolls.

Although the Captain's artificer armor has saved quite a few Marines since 6th Edition was released, he's still reluctant to take the occasional AP1 or AP2 shot since he's still limited to his standard 4+ Iron Halo save. Thus, I started to assemble the parts for a 160 point artificer armored Captain wielding both a storm shield and a relic blade (Bryce gave me a fancy two-handed Nemesis Force Sword bit that should make a pretty nifty relic blade).

Once I started thinking of the advantage of granting whole squads a limited resistance to AP1, AP2, and AP3 weaponry (which Bryce tends to field a lot of), I started going through the Codex looking for other non-Terminator units that can take a storm shield. Sadly, the shooty units like Tactical Squads and Sternguard can't take one, but Assault Squads and Vanguard Squads can. I was already planning on building at least one unit of each and resolved to equip the respective sergeants with the shields.

I soon realized I had a problem: where can I get a storm shield for a power armored Marine? I have two boxes of Assault Terminators to build, and I'm only going to use one large and four small shields, but the Terminator storm shields are Terminator-scale and their hands are oddly sized compared to those of power armored Marines. It would take a lot of conversion work to make the shields fit onto the smaller hands of at least three Marines. And as a fluff geek, I can't bring myself to use the four smaller Terminator shields since they have the distinct cruciform shape and are explicitly identified in the Codex as "Terminator issue". That leaves me with the Terminator sergeant's shield, which is only a slightly less obvious cruciform and is a bit too large to use with jump pack-wearing Marines.

I started to look around at what other people were doing and found a blog entry and a thread on Bolter and Chainsword in which people were discussing the use of the shield provided in the Assault Squad kit as a storm shield. Like many others, I had long assumed that that shield was specifically a combat shield rather than a storm shield and that the bit was nearly worthless to me. Commenters seemed to fall into three camps of thought: 1) it's too small to be a storm shield and probably shouldn't be used as one without significant conversion, 2) the actual size and shape of a non-Terminator issue storm shield isn't well defined (the one in the Assault Squad kit doesn't match the drawings of the Terminator issue shield or the combat shield found on page 101 of the Codex) and you probably shouldn't have too many problems declaring it to be one before the start of a friendly game (watch out for tournaments, though), or 3) it's meant to be a storm shield since it takes up the user's hand, unlike the shield found in the Command Squad box which allows the user to hold a bolt pistol.

I found that argument 1) appears frequently on other websites. This seems like the weakest of the three arguments since it's based on players' beliefs of what a power armor storm shield should look like rather than on an objective standard. Many base their impressions on the picture of the cruciform "Terminator issue" storm shield. The expectation that a power armor storm shield should look like the cruciform shield makes little sense to me given that the latter closely mimics the Crux Terminatus that is most commonly associated with Terminator armor (and hence its status as "Terminator issue"). I wouldn't expect a storm shield meant for use with power armor to appear so similar to the Terminator cross.

Argument 2), which is also fairly common, seems pretty defensible based on the fact that a lot of unusual or special wargear (e.g., relic blades, artificer armor, master-crafted weapons) can vary greatly in design and may therefore be difficult to represent as explicitly or clearly as a weapon such as a power fist or a lightning claw. Since there isn't a single official design, bits used to represent them may be very similar (or identical) to other pieces and what they actually are depends on what the model's owner declares them to be and on what his opponent is willing to accept as being adequately representative. Although this seems to be a good argument, I think most players would prefer to avoid getting into an argument with an opponent who may have a stricter definition of WYSIWYG and/or who is afraid that the model's owner could benefit from the weargear's lack of distinction (e.g., the opponent charges a model, forgetting that the ordinary-looking power sword is actually a relic blade and doesn't realize that he'll be facing S6 rather than S4). This is probably why so many supporters of argument 2) warned the original poster about using the bit as a storm shield in tournaments.

Argument 3) has shown up in several places and was the one I found most interesting. It boldly declares that using the Assault Squad shield as a combat shield (which is what I and many others had believed it to be) may be the deviation from the designers' intent. This latter argument claims to be based on what the Codex itself says.

If we look under the Codex's definition for "storm shield", we find that:
A storm shield is a solid shield that has an energy field generator built into it. The energy field is capable of deflecting almost any attack, even blows from lascannons and power weapons.
There's very little here that defines what the shield should look like or how big it should be. The entry for the combat shield gives a little more detail:
A combat shield is a lighter version of a storm shield that is fitted to the arm of the wearer. This leaves the user's hand free to wield a pistol or other weapon, substituting a measure of defense for increased versatility.
The combat shield entry says that the shield is "lighter" but it doesn't say whether or not it's smaller. Given that the storm shield's effectiveness lies in its field generator rather than on its physical dimensions, the shield's actual size may be irrelevant. Either way, a comparison of the Terminator issue storm shield and the Assault Squad shield shows that each is approximately the same size relative to the wearer:

Left: Terminator with storm shield
Right: Assault Marine with shield

For our purposes, the most useful piece of information in the Codex entry is that a combat shield "is fitted to the arm of the wearer" and "leaves the user's hand free to wield a pistol or other weapon." The only Marine model that has a combat shield as part of its basic wargear is a Company Champion. Sure enough, the shield arm found in the Command Squad box is clearly fitted to the wearer's arm (there's an obvious clamp on the forearm) and allows him to wield a pistol. The shield shape even matches the drawing in the Codex:

Company Champion combat shield
[Images by The Dark Workshop blog]

Now compare the combat shield above to the Assault Squad shield and a similar Dark Angels shield:

Assault Squad and Dark Angels shields
[Images by The Dark Workshop blog]

This shield is not fitted to the wearer's arm at all. In fact, the wearer is required to hold onto the shield, which prevents him from being able to carry a weapon in that hand. This fact directly contradicts the Codex's statement about combat shields (i.e., that they are fastened to the arm and allow the hand to remain free to hold a weapon) while demonstrating why carrying a storm shield always denies the +1 Attack bonus for having two close combat weapons. Therefore, by the definitions given in the Codex, the Assault Squad shield is almost certainly intended to be a storm shield. GW seems to think so too since the guide How To Paint Space Marines declares that very shield to be a storm shield:

Image from How To Paint Space Marines.
Note that the sergeant's shield is called a storm shield

Under 6th Edition's rules, a sergeant's or a captain's 15 point storm shield can do more than save a single model; with a little luck it could save several, making it a much more powerful piece of wargear. Fortunately, it looks like many of us may have had a power armor storm shield or two lying around without realizing it (I have four). I think it's clear that the Assault Squad shield was meant to be a storm shield and that even stricter WYSIWYG players could agree based on its design and the Codex's statements. If it clearly takes up a Marine's hand, it should be treated as a storm shield. If it's fitted to the Marine's arm and obviously allows him to hold a weapon, it should be treated as a combat shield. Although this is a small detail, an observant opponent should be able to see it.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Sternguard Weapons: Why I'll Be Making My Own

Not long ago the rumor started that GW was going to release a Sternguard weapons pack. Although GW already sells a pretty cool looking Finecast Sternguard set, many players like to make their own customizable plastic Sternguard squads. The biggest obstacle for these do it yourself Sternguard has been the difficulty in obtaining bolters with the large box magazines that have become characteristic of Sternguard weapons (though not essential, as seen by the fact that Tyrannic War Veterans still have sickle magazines) and the scarcity of combi-weapons.

There was a lot of speculation as to what a Sternguard weapons kit would contain. Many believed it would have bolters with box magazines while others thought that it might contain combi-weapons. Although you can already get a plastic combi-melta and combi-plasma in the Space Marine Commander box, the bits aren't well suited for models that hold the weapon in both hands. Combi-flamers (which don't have to roll to hit and therefore make a good one-shot weapon) were even harder to find. The only GW combi-flamer was attached to Chaplain Cassius while a resin one was available from Forge World. Although there are dozens of tutorials online for making box magazines or combi-weapons, many players would prefer to avoid conversions.

GW plastic combi-melta and combi-plasma (top)
FW resin combi-flamer and Cassius' combi-flamer (bottom)

Finally a few low-resolution scans from White Dwarf were leaked which showed the weapons that would be included in the kit. (It also finally answered my question of whether or not a Sternguard sergeant wears a red helmet, but that's a separate issue.) First, it was obvious that there were no bolters with box magazines. The three types of combi-weapon were included, which made a lot of people happy, but all of them had sickle magazines (the combi-melta on the Finecast Sternguard model, on the other hand, has a box magazine). Also included was a heavy bolter, a heavy flamer, and a pair of lightning claws for power armor. These latter three seemed out of place in a kit specifically meant for a Sternguard Squad.

Leaked White Dwarf Sternguard Veteran Weapons preview

The heavy bolter that is similar to the one included in the Scouts box left quite a few people scratching their heads. Many Astartes players simply don't put heavy weapons on their Sternguard. Those that do take heavy weapons do so mostly because 5 point missile launchers and 15 point lascannons are very tempting and the resulting squad can serve as a poor man's Devastator Squad. But even if all Marine players included a heavy bolter in their squad, there is already a perfectly serviceable plastic model in the Devastator set. And the Devastator version has the awesome ammunition backpack with the belt feed.

The addition of a heavy flamer has some logic; the one that was previously available was for Terminators rather than power armored Marines. However, a Sternguard Squad isn't intended to get too close to the enemy (this is even easier to do thanks to 6th Edition rapid fire rules). If your opponent is close enough for a heavy flamer to be effective, you're too close. If other power armored Marines could take heavy flamers, maybe this would be a more useful part.

And then there's the pair of lightning claws that can be put on the Sternguard sergeant. Huh? Sternguard are meant to be used for ranged combat; why would you equip the sergeant solely for close combat? For zero additional points the sergeant can fire Kraken, Hellfire, Dragonfire, or Vengeance rounds from his standard bolter. If you want the insurance policy of giving the sergeant a power weapon, just replace his bolt pistol with a single lightning claw for the same cost as a power sword (i.e., 15 points). He won't get the extra attack that comes with a pair of lightning claws, but he wouldn't get the extra attack with the power sword, either, since there's no rational reason to keep the bolt pistol and give up the bolter and its special ammunition. A left-handed plastic lightning claw is already available in the Commander box.

It's likely that GW included the pair of lightning claws so that Astartes players could put them on other power armored Marines. Right now the only power armored Marines that can have lightning claws are chapter masters, captains, Assault Squad sergeants, Vanguard sergeants, and Sternguard sergeants. With the possible exception of a Vanguard sergeant, who can trade his power sword for one free lightning claw, I would argue that paired claws on a power armored Marine are a waste of points. Those who can't get one free lightning claw will pay 30 points just to have an additional strength 4 AP3 attack with re-rolls for fails to wound. (I can't help but to notice that the cost of these weapons alone is only slightly cheaper than the total cost of a more survivable 40 point Assault Terminator with the exact same armament.) A 15 point power sword and a free pistol will give you the same number of attacks at an identical strength and AP value. Although you don't get the re-rolls, you pay less points and you retain the ranged attack. Personally, since our Cabal includes toughness 4 Grey Knights and Orks, I prefer to take a 30 point relic blade for its strength 6.

Okay, so the Sternguard set has three very useful weapons, one that is used only by a few Sternguard players who can simply use the cooler plastic model that's already available, one that is of dubious value to Sternguard and can't be used by any other power armored Marines, and a set of close combat weapons that makes no sense to include in a Sternguard Squad and are of limited use on any other power armored model. Well, at $13.50 the kit might be worth it, and GW finally released the set for advanced order, complete with a higher resolution image, so let's take a look:


Huh. So, these are the actual product images? The ones they're using to try to sell the set? Why does the heavy flamer look like it's sagging? The barrel of the heavy bolter looks a bit distorted, too. The combi-flamer and combi-plasma are just sad. Compare the new combi-flamer to Cassius' weapon or the Forge World one; the flamer portion on the latter two is a lot more substantial and better integrated into the bolter. This new one looks downright fragile. The plastic combi-plasma actually looks like a merging of a bolter and a plasma gun; the Finecast combi-plasma looks like half a plasma pistol was glued onto a bolter with an oddly positioned barrel. Well, at least the combi-melta, which is essentially a copy of the plastic one, looks pretty good. And then there's the pair of lightning claws...

Sergeant with Finecast lightning claws
Why are the blades touching each other? Were these parts really the best examples they could find to use in their own advertising? If this is what they chose to put on their own website, can we safely assume that most examples of these bits are going to be even worse? These parts are resin, not pewter. You can't simply bend the blades back into position without using special techniques.

What confuses me is the fact that GW already had much better pictures of the lightning claws. The image of the Sternguard sergeant from White Dwarf shows some distortion in the upper blade of the right-handed claw (which is also the case with the product image), but it's not nearly as noticeable. The left-handed claw actually looks pretty good on the sergeant but absolutely horrible in the product image. It makes one wonder; were the claws used on the sergeant better casts or did the modeler have to do some significant repair work?

I've been able to avoid Finecast items by preemptively purchasing every named Ultramarine character in pewter. I also decided to make my own Sternguard out of plastic bits rather than buy the resin set. I knew that I'd eventually have to buy something in resin, and figured that it might be worth it to buy this set rather than do my own weapon conversions. However, this simply does not look like a good product based on GW's own promotional imagery. It looks like I'll be using the Commander set's combi-weapons and will continue making my own bolters with box magazines.

Unlike some, I'm not a habitual GW critic. Overall I like the quality of their products and I understand both their profit motive as well as the cost involved in making new injection molds. At the same time, it looks like GW's insistence in using resin and these particular molds to produce something that had long been anticipated is going to cost them money and a lot of goodwill from their customers.

What I'd really like to see, and what I think could actually pay for itself over time, would be a Space Marine Veteran upgrade kit; i.e., one or two plastic sprues with all the goodies that only Astartes veterans can wield or wear. It could have combi-weapons, fancy bolters, relic blades, power mauls, paired lightning claws, power armor-sized storm shields, specialized helmets, snazzy shoulder pads, older models of armor, etc. GW could easily sell it as a standalone kit and/or they could bundle it with the figure sprues they include in the Tactical Squad box to make a generic Veterans box that could be used for Sternguard, Command Squads, sergeants, etc. I'd be willing to pay well over $13.50 for that.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

40K Cabal Battle Report: First Allies Game

Although we have multiple tables, it's not unusual for our 40K group to play in teams of two. Typically each player brings an identical number of points to the table and we pair off, rarely considering whether the pairs make any sense or not. However, this past week Jon, Bryce, Carl, and I decided to try out 6th Edition's allies rules. Each of us brought a 1000 point primary detachment list and a 750 point allied detachment list. To make things interesting, we decided to randomly determine which armies would play as the primary detachments and which would be their allies. The alliances themselves were also randomly decided through dice rolls. The same was the case for the mission type and the deployment map.

In the end, Jon's Orks formed one primary detachment with Bryce's Tau army serving as allies of convenience. (Bryce had been neglecting his Tau army until he concluded that 6th Edition belongs to the shooty armies and added several Battlesuits to his existing force.) Carl's Grey Knights were the other primary detachment while my Ultramarines were his allies of convenience. The mission turned out to be the The Scouring while the deployment map was the Hammer and Anvil. One primary objective marker worth two victory points ended up on the Astartes side of the board while another marker was immediately between both armies.

My 750 point force included a Captain, a vanilla 10 man Tactical squad, a five man Sniper Squad with a missile launcher, five Terminators with an assault cannon, and a Vindicator. Carl brought a Brotherhood Champion, a Land Raider, two Terminator Squads, a heavy bolter Razorback, and a Purgation Squad. By luck, the Purgation Squad started out on top of one of the two objectives.

Jon brought his usual mob whose size boggles the mind of an Astartes player. He had a Big Mek with a Shokk Attack Gun, a three man Warbiker Mob (with one Nob), a Killa Kan, two squads of Lootas, a DeffKopta, and two 20 man mobs of Boyz. Bryce's force consisted of a Commander in a Battlesuit with a fusion blaster, his three man Crisis Battlesuit Bodyguard, a 12 man Fire Warrior Squad, a three man Stealth Team, a Piranha Skimmer with a fusion blaster, and a three man Broadside Battlesuit Team. The maddening amount of firepower and Battlesuit-granted durability that a "small" Tau army can bring makes me wonder if the 6th Edition Tau Codex will have more than a few points adjustments.

Rather quickly Carl and I realized that we were in trouble. For starters, the arrangement of the alliances reminded me a lot of a game we played earlier this year, In which Bryce's Imperial Guard and Jon's Orks faced off against my Ultramarines and Carl's (at the time) borrowed Grey Knights. In both games, a long range shooty army joined with a close combat army to fight against smaller, more elite Space Marine armies. And once again the Marines had to go second. Then there was the deployment map; we were playing on a 4'X8' board, so the Hammer and Anvil arrangement left us with a table just 4' wide and 8' long, which benefited both the Tau as well as the Orks.

Bryce was able to take advantage of the table's length to position his Broadsides with their long range railguns well outside of our range; he hammered our armies throughout the game with impunity. His other Battlesuits also started beyond our guns' range and used their mobility to close in quickly. In the meantime, the narrowness of the map gave the Orks a significant advantage. While a standard deployment on a 4'X6' or 4'X8' board forces Orks to spread out and gives their opponent room to maneuver and to more easily attack their flanks, a narrow map like the Hammer and Anvil allows them to stretch from table edge to table edge and sweep down onto their opponents like an enormous green bulldozer. Even if we wanted to rush the Tau forces, we would have to punch through a greenskin wall to do it.

Carl's list proved to be another unexpected liability. While 2+ armor saves excel against most armies, the cost of the Terminators meant that he had very wounds or shots on the table. With Orks bearing down on you and strength 10, AP1 railguns laughing at your fancy Terminator armor, the Terminators didn't have much of a chance.

Turn 1
Turn 1 ended up with night fighting rules, which denied the Broadsides their opening salvo. The Orks made their usual charge while the Tau troops stayed mostly behind the green wall. A squad of Lootas poured fire into the Grey Knight Terminators who failed way too many 2+ armor saves. My Snipers, who had to forgo camo cloaks due to point limitations, took advantage of the 3+ cover save granted by the nearby Imperial Statuary. Unfortunately, the neophytes still failed several cover saves.

The Piranha successfully hit the Vindicator's front armor but the result was merely a glance. It was during this game that I gained an appreciation for the new hull point rules. Under 5th, a glancing hit from an AP1 weapon would have a good chance of preventing the Vindicator from firing in its following turn. Under the new rules, my Vindicator got one step closer to being wrecked, but it still had a chance to hit back in the following turn.

The Marines suffered from a lack of long range fire, but they still did some damage in their turn. The Vindicator's Demolisher cannon missed the Piranha but hit the Killa Kan, which lost a hull point and was stunned, and killed several other models. The Tactical Squad once again took advantage of the new rapid fire rules and took a small toll on the oncoming mobs. The Grey Knight Terminators tried their best, but their storm bolters seemed to do little damage (Carl's rolling that night was atrocious). The Purgation Squad had a lot more luck and was able to inflict some damage. Jon's new Warbiker Mob was wiped out, which gave the Marines a victory point for destroying a Fast Attack unit. Realizing that marching into the face of railgun fire would be suicidal, I kept the Ultramarine Terminators in reserve in the hopes that I could teleport them in the next turn and tie up the Broadsides.

Unfortunately, the Astartes long range firepower lay in the Grey Knights' Land Raider, which was hampered by the night fighting rules. The tank was mostly wasted gunning down models of lower points value. Given how many enemy models were on the table, a Land Raider Crusader probably would have been more useful.

Turn 2
The Piranha's fusion blaster penetrated the Vindicator's armor on the second turn and achieved a weapon destroyed result (my disappointment was mitigated by the fact that we finally got to use my new vehicle damage dice). Another change to 6th is randomization of which weapon is destroyed; unfortunately for me it was the Demolisher cannon rather than the storm bolter. Although the Broadsides laid into the Land Raider, several missed shots and low penetration rolls ensured that the tank kept going. Carl's Terminators took even more shooting casualties before Jon declared a Waaagh! and hit one of the two squads with nearly 20 Boyz. The Grey Knights' fancy force weapons are wasted on Boyz so we all got to witness the effect of 45+ strength 4 attacks against three Terminators (the Terminators lost).

Despite 6th Edition's more forgiving reserve rolls, the Ultramarine Terminators had to sit out another turn. Those Astartes on the table struck back and wrecked the Killa Kan while the Piranha exploded under a hail of Purgation Squad fire. The Ultramarines wreaked vengeance on the briefly victorious Boyz by hitting them with fire from both the Sniper and Tactical Squads. One of the most remarkable shots of the game occurred when the Tactical Squad's flamer hit nine Boyz and killed eight of them. The survivors were charged by the Ultramarines, who made short work of the Xenos scum.

Turn 3
With nearly all the Ork units except for the Lootas having taken heavy casualties, the Tau began their advance in earnest. Fire warriors, the Crisis Battlesuit Bodyguard, and the Stealth Team eliminated the last of the Grey Knight Terminators and the Purgation Squad. The Broadsides again failed to destroy the Land Raider, but succeeded in destroying a twin-linked lascannon. The remaining mob of Ork Boyz and a power klaw Nob assaulted the Land Raider, but the power klaw was unable to glance or penetrate its armor. Heavy fire and poor cover save rolls reduced the Sniper Squad to a single Marine. The Grey Knight Razorback was soon wrecked.

The Ultramarine Terminators finally arrived from reserves, but with so few friendly units on the board there was little reason to even try to take on the Broadsides, particularly since the Broadsides were being covered by two nearly intact Loota Squads. The Terminators therefore landed within range of the Fire Warriors. My Munitorum dice, which had been pretty lucky up until that point, failed me during the shooting phase while Bryce made most of his armor saves. That left my unit within rapid fire range of ten Fire Warriors with as many strength 5 weapons. My Tactical Squad charged the Ork mob that had previously assaulted the Land Raider but, again, the dice did not cooperate. The sergeant who was left standing found himself surrounded by Orks.

Turn 4
As Jon and Bryce began the turn, it occurred to me that the only scoring units the Marines had left was a lone Sniper Scout and a sergeant that was probably going to be killed in the next round of close combat. It was clear that the Emperor wasn't going to be saving the Astartes and so we called the game.

All in all it was an interesting game. Although the Marines ended up in the worst possible position (i.e., playing against a strong combination of allies on a table that most benefited the enemy forces), a comparison of victory points showed that it wasn't a total rout. The Marines earned three victory points for destroying all Ork and Tau Fast Attack units. (This might not be a fair comparison since the Marines didn't bring any Fast Attack units for the Tau and the Orks to score off of.) Although Bryce and Jon never actually held the two primary objects, we obviously attributed the six victory points to them when we called the game.

As for the bloodletting part of the game, I was surprised by how well my Ultramarines did. Although I effectively had 520 points of Marines (the Terminators showed up too late to influence the game), the allied force may have killed more points than Carl's primary detachment. A lot of the Grey Knights' 1000 points was invested in Terminators that drew a huge amount of fire and died without having earned their points. The Purgation Squad, which benefited from its ability to target units without having line of sight, seemed to do better, but its 24" range left the squad vulnerable to fast moving Tau units. With the Broadsides out of its range and only cheaper Ork units nearby, the Land Raider ended up being an enormous points sink. Under other circumstances I think the Grey Knight army would have been formidable, but it didn't have a prayer against the Ork/Tau alliance.

After the game I thought of ways that the Ultramarine Terminators' 230 points could have been better spent. It occurred to me that a ten man Sternguard has nearly the same cost (i.e., 250 points without upgrades), can put out almost as many shots when it's between 12" and 24" from the target, and can put out nearly twice as many shots when it's within 12" of the target. With Hellfire rounds the Sternguard would be killing Orks on a 2+ rather than a 4+, the AP4 Kraken rounds would match the Fire Warriors' weapons range while denying them their armor saves, and AP3 Vengeance rounds could deny armor saves to most Battlesuits. Each Sternguard Marine is slightly more likely to die than a Terminator, of course, but the Squad makes up for it by having twice as many troops. All the more reason for me to pick up the pace on that Sternguard Squad I've been sporadically working on for months.

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