Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Emperor's Hammer

Every serious Warhammer 40k player has dabbled in the thoughts of owning/playing multiple armies or switching armies entirely, but there will always be that "one" army which is near and dear to your heart. For me, my friends, that army is the Imperial Guard.

We Guard players are a breed apart, because whether winning, losing, maltreated, broken, defeated, battered, bruised, underestimated, tyrannized, or oppressed we never have enough sense to give up on the Guard. It is the imagined sulfur smell and goose bumps after I have bludgeoned my opponent with a few war heads of Manticore missiles and Basilisk shells that keeps me coming back for more. Don't forget the comic relief when all hope is lost and the Guardsmen make a last ditch charge into an Ork Warboss.

Makes my eyes tear up with pride just thinking about the poor bastards.

I have had the privileged of owning several IG (Imperial Guard) armies through the years.

IG Army #1: Classic Cadians painted in the Harokoni Warhawk fashion. Frustrating army to fight. It was comprised of a small swarm of Lascannon teams with deep striking Sentinels.

IG Army #2: Catachan Devil Dogs. Flamers with flamers on top of flamers accompanying flamers with bayonets attached on the end of them. Not the most competitive army but witty to see on the battle field.

IG Army #3: Death Korps of Krieg. Imagine the sound of the four horsemen of the Apocalypse riding towards you while Bastion Breeching shells are wailing their high pitch impending doom in the air. That my friends is the making of the "Brown Note".

IG Army #4: Steel Legion, my current IG army. I do love them so. I previously posted about my Commissarka. She pretty much sets the tone for the entire army of "Mess with the Bull and you Get the Horns" or the "Huge Tracks of Land" or... well you get the point. The army is a healthy mix of point distribution: 70% Heavy support and 30% miscellaneous. Such is the proper point distribution of a poorly thought out IG army.

I can't vouch for my opponents, but I can guess facing the Guard artillery is not the most pleasant experience. In the end, that's what the Imperial Guard are all about; the artillery. It is that backbone of any competitive IG army (in my opinion) and the guardsmen should be able to support at closer range. And now with orders lasguns are even more deadly when a unit of 10 guardsman can output 30 shots! Huzzah!

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Importance of Ambiance

Setting the mood for a Friday night game can be one of the most important aspects of the entire evening. There are many different elements of this mood: correct battle music, overall intentions (hopefully good), a plan for the scenario at hand, and a good friend to crush into oblivion without making him/her feel too bad about the outcome.

We're very fortunate to be able to play with a great group of guys. This is partially because most of us were friends even before we started playing 40K together. And having to see each other at work the next Monday helps to keep things civil. However, we all know that a perfectly normal, nice guy might feel the temptation to become a monster in the heat of competition. A trip to the local game store or a visit to your favorite wargaming blog can quickly show that there are many gamers who play, first and foremost, to annihilate their competition. This kind of person makes a poor winner and a sore loser. Their attitude and behavior can create a very stressful situation for other players, especially for those who play simply to have a good time.

Here are a few of our suggestions to keep your gaming enjoyable:

1.) If both players become frustrated due to a rules concern that's not resolved appropriately, the rest of the game might not pan out very well. Take note that any rule question is not worth ruining an entire night of fun. When in true doubt of a rule, roll a dice and take it as a look-up next time; don't dwell. Or just hire a referee.

2.) When a battle is just for fun and one team is obviously overrun, maybe it is time to call the game and start anew. There is a clear winner and it probably won't be worth the extra two hours to complete the mop-up.

3.) When winning a crushing victory, be a victor with humility. Talk with your opponent on what could have been done differently and learn from the experience in an open and understanding manner. Remember, this is a game of friends, strategy, and painting prowess, not Sunday afternoon football. We do this for the companionship and the mental exercise; there are no glamor shots and million dollar contracts in the end.

4.) Take losing in stride. Perhaps your army build wasn't quite right to take on your opponent's or Tzeentch made sure you rolled lower than average. In either case, victory wasn't meant to be yours; congratulate your opponent on a good game and hope for better luck next time. If you lose because you were outmatched by your opponent, accept your loss as a learning opportunity and talk through what you could have done better. A loss from which you can learn will help your game more than a victory achieved through luck.

[Revised and expanded by James on 3/25/12]

Monday, January 23, 2012

Strange Alliances

Just over a week ago Bryce, Jon, Carl and I played our biweekly game of 40K. Bryce and I had gotten together a few hours earlier to watch an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000. The movie we watched, Gamera vs. Guiron is a complete disaster. In fact, it's such a mess that it reminds me of how Carl and I did that night against Jon and Bryce.

Since I'm trying to determine what I want my post-Space Marine army to be, I played with a borrowed Tau army rather than with my beloved Ultramarines. Since Bryce has recently equipped his basement with two playing tables, he had planned for us to play two separate 1000 point games. At one table we would pit the Tau against Carl's Grey Knights (also borrowed from Bryce) while at the other table Bryce's Imperial Guard would fight Jon's Orks. However, Jon recommended that we play in teams instead. Since he and Carl had been teamed up before, he further recommended that the Orks and the Imperial Guard ally against the Tau and the Grey Knights. Thanks to the roll of the die, the Ork/Guard alliance got the first turn.

[Image found on the Web]

Before the first shot was fired, Bryce and I knew how the game was going to turn out. Jon's Orks alone outnumbered both the Tau and Grey Knight forces. Once combined with Bryce's substantial number of Guardsmen, there would be too many targets for Carl and I to shoot at. Our best weapon against huge clusters of troops was the sole template weapon provided by the Tau Hammerhead (i.e., one of the largest targets on the board). In addition to their overwhelming numbers, Bryce brought along a Leman Russ with a Demolisher canon, a Manticore, a Basilisk, and two Sentinels with lascannons. The combination was devastating; not only would Carl and I have to face an enormous horde, we would also have to worry about tanks firing multiple high strength large blast templates at us from across the table. In other words, our opponents consisted of elements from the best long-range army in the game combined with one of the best close combat armies in the game. Our force, on the other hand, was a fraction of the size and consisted of more specialized and elite units.

The first shooting phase saw the destruction of my Hammerhead, Carl's Land Raider, and one of three Broadside Battlesuits. One of my two Fire Warrior squads was near the Land Raider when it exploded. The Dice God (who I'm pretty sure is Tzeentch) was definitely not on my side that night; in what proved to be my highest series of rolls that evening, all six rolls to wound yielded fours, fives, or sixes. I lost half the squad when the armor save rolls included the ones, twos, and threes that didn't turn up previously. One failed leadership roll later and the squad's survivors ran off the table (once again I found myself missing my Marines). When Carl and I finally got our turn, the Broadsides showed that they got their name from the fact that they couldn't hit the broadside of a barn, the "elite" Fire Warriors found themselves ineffective at shooting the quickly approaching green mass, and the Grey Knights' storm bolters proved to be too few in number.

Carl and I kept up the fight, although it was a lost cause. Jon had brought his new 15 man squad of Lootas armed with strength 7 AP 4 deffguns. On a lucky streak, he frequently rolled a five or six when determining how many shots the Lootas would get (a deffgun fires D3 shots per turn). By the second turn, a quick count showed that the Lootas' 45 shots outnumbered all the shots that the combined forces of Tau and Grey Knights could muster. There weren't enough Grey Knights to handle all of the Orks and Guardsmen. The Broadsides were therefore forced to join the Fire Warriors in targeting the nearest Greenskins rather than the Guard's tanks to prevent themselves from being overrun. Carl's Dreadknight, my two Crisis Battlesuits, and our lone remaining vehicle (a Devilfish Troop Carrier) did as much damage as they could, but it simply wasn't enough. The Demolisher shells, Earthshaker shells, and Manticore rockets from Bryce's tanks gradually pulverized those units that weren't in danger of an assault by Ork Boyz while Imperial Guard squads with demolition charges joined in with a squad of Burna Boyz to whittle down the number of Grey Knights.

The outcome was inevitable. Bryce had once shared with me his opinion that Tau could not beat the Imperial Guard in a long range fight. As for the close combat-oriented Grey Knight contingent, my own experience has been that a Space Marine army at or below 1000 points will struggle due to a lack of firepower and wounds. (Admittedly this may be due to my inexperience.) I very nearly called the game when the Orks and Imperial Guard got the first turn and, thanks to a very lucky series of rolls, destroyed much of our heavy support. Those initial losses represented about 25% of our total points and much of our tank-killing ability. Once the Orks started to fall on our units, it became apparent that we had set up a very broken game by combining Imperial Guard and Orks.

As we all know, Games Workshop has designed each army with built-in strengths and weaknesses. Shooty armies like the Tau and the Imperial Guard tend to be weaker in close combat. The difference between the two is primarily that the Tau are more mobile and their troops, while smaller in number, are better armed. Orks and Tyranids, on the other hand, are designed for close combat and have fewer effective long range weapons. This is similar to one of the most popular forms of ancient Roman gladiatorial combat in which a heavily armored fighter equipped with a short stabbing sword was pitted against a lightly armored gladiator armed with a long lance and a net that could be used to snare his opponent's weapon.

[Image found on the Web]

By forming armies composed of a Tau/Grey Knights alliance and an Ork/Imperial Guard alliance, we eliminated several weaknesses from each army. Unfortunately, the Tau and the Grey Knights did not form as good a combination as the Orks and the Imperial Guard. The Grey Knights could partially compensate for the their ally's poor close combat ability, but there were very few of the elite Marines. The Tau brought some heavy weapons to the army, but railguns are not built for horde-killing and aren't as good at tank-busting as ordnance weapons. The Tau/Grey Knights army had the major disadvantage of relatively small numbers and a lack of blast templates. Unfortunately for Carl and me, the Ork/Guard army had few weaknesses.

The Orks and the Imperial Guard both contributed a huge number of troops. The Guard's tanks easily compensated for the Orks' lack of tank/squad-killing weapons and the Orks compensated for the Guard's limited close combat ability. The Guard's ordnance weapons proved to be superior to the Tau's railguns. When railguns miss, they miss entirely, whereas ordnance weapons can drift and yet still do some damage. Additionally, the ordnance weapon rule in which armor penetration is determined by rolling two D6s and picking the highest result gave a huge advantage to the Guard tanks. Since the ordnance weapons were able to dispatch our most threatening units early on, they were able to assist the Orks in eliminating the rest of our forces. By sheer force of numbers, the Orks and Guardsmen were able to overwhelm the Grey Knights. By more effectively eliminating the built-in weaknesses of their respective armies, Jon and Bryce hit us with a nearly unbeatable force.

The end result was not as bad as the infamous Tyranid vs. Imperial Guard battle, but it was pretty close. That being said, I was not as disappointed in the Tau as I was in the Tyranids. While the big bugs were wiped from the table in a relatively fair fight, the Tau were defeated under less than ideal circumstances (i.e., the deck was stacked against them). I'll probably be giving the Tau another chance this coming weekend.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Marneus Calgar/Hive Tyrant Comparison

In a previous post I expressed some disappointment in the performance of my borrowed Hive Tyrant. Although I love the Astartes, I have often wished that they had access to some sort of monstrous creature. (Yes, I'll admit that I've been jealous of the Grey Knight's Dreadknight.) But the first time I ever used a non-Marine army has made me rethink things.

Just for fun, let's compare the Hive Tyrant I played with to the Ultramarine's answer to the monstrous creature; Marneus Calgar. Calgar costs 265 points in his fancy Terminator armor, the Armour of Antilochus (I don't think they even make the Calgar model in standard power armor anymore). The Hive Tyrant I used that night cost me 205 points. For a closer comparison to Calgar, let's assume that I had paid the additional 40 points for a 2+ armor save, giving me a 245 point monstrous creature.

Did GW even try to hide the fact that they were ripping off Aliens?
[Model found on the Web]

Both Calgar and the Tyrant have four wounds, so they're on equal ground there. Although our upgraded Hive Tyrant now has a 2+ armor save, Calgar's Terminator armor gives him the same 2+ armor save, plus he has a 4+ Iron Halo save. If Calgar takes a Broadside railgun shot to the face (S10 AP1), he still has a 50/50 chance of coming through it unscathed. The Hive Tyrant won't do quite so well. And since Calgar isn't a monstrous creature, he can be mixed in with another squad that can be used to soak up wounds. Although the Hive Tyrant's higher toughness prevents it from being instantly killed by high strength weapons, Calgar's Eternal Warrior rule ensures that he won't be instantly killed by a lucky Krak missile either. Plus, unlike the Hive Tyrant, Calgar is protected from Instant Death by Force Weapons, most unique power weapons, etc. For all intents and purposes, it looks like Marneus Calgar is more likely to survive a march across the table. In fact, Calgar doesn't even have to march across the field. He can teleport in, land in a drop pod, or cruise around in a Land Raider (one of the few cases where the Land Raider's passenger is more expensive than the tank itself).

Can you tell that Calgar is proud
of the Ultramarines Chapter?
[Model by Games Workshop]

Calgar has a higher ballistic skill than the Hive Tyrant (5 versus 3). Although Calgar's special bolters don't have nearly the strength of a Hive Tyrants' Heavy Venom Cannon, they have a better AP value (2 versus 4). Besides, Space Marines tend to spread out their heavy weapons rather than depending almost exclusively on weapons carried by HQs or Heavy Support units. In an army that has few long-range tank-killing weapons (e.g., Tyranids), it seems like a questionable choice to put one of your precious heavy weapons on a model that is clearly designed for close combat.

In close combat the Chapter Master has an equal number of attacks, although the paired Gauntlets of Ultramar effectively give him one more attack than the Hive Tyrant. However, the Tyrant's higher skill means that he'll hit Calgar on 3s whereas the Ultramarine will need 4s to hit the big bug. Calgar will be hitting with strength 8 thanks to his power fists; the Hive Tyrant will be hitting with strength 6. This means that each will wound the other on a roll of 2+. Calgar has an advantage in the form of his Titanic Might rule, which allows him to re-roll all failed attempts to wound. The Tyrant could have the same ability, but it would have to give up its ranged weapon for it. Since the Hive Tyrant has no invulnerable save, it will be unable to save any of the power wounds that Calgar inflicts on it. Statistically, Calgar's Iron Halo will bear the brunt of half of all wounds he receives. It's the latter advantage that would probably give the Ultramarine's Chapter Master the edge.

The Hive Tyrant's biggest advantages over Marneus Calgar are 1) Calgar's initiative drops to 1 when he uses his power fists (although he also has a power sword if you're willing to lose the strength 8 attacks), 2) the bug's higher toughness makes it less likely that the weapons carried by standard troops will wound it, and 3) the Chapter Master can't hope to match the Monstrous Creature's 2d6 penetration against armor.

Admittedly, my experience with monstrous creatures is limited to playing with or against Hive Tyrants and Carnifexes, so it's likely that my bias is based on too little information. However, it seems that they're not quite the unstoppable terrors I originally thought they would be. It also looks like standard Codex Marines can easily compensate for the absence of such units with special characters or with elite units such as thunder hammer and storm shield-equipped Terminator squads.
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