Tuesday, March 27, 2012

New Citadel Paints and 40K Trolls

I'm still relatively new to Warhammer 40,000, so I'm sure that this is well known to more experienced gamers, but it seems like the hobby is chock full of trolls (not the fantasy kind). Rarely have I seen this much hatred of a franchise by its supposed fanbase.

Yeah, it's kind of like that

Anyone who's ever visited Bell of Lost Souls ("BoLS") can find interesting rumors of new releases, articles on tactics, modelling advice, etc. However, a visit to the comments section will show that it's infested with trolls. It's one thing to comment or criticize; it's another to complain about every little thing, whether it's other players, articles, or Games Workshop's products and practices (especially GW's products and practices). I can understand some of it (it sounds like Finecast still has severe quality control issues), but other things make absolutely no sense and it appears that many commenters are simply complaining to complain.

The most recent case in point; Citadel just released a huge number of paints, including new colors and paint types. Several of the additions are very clever. Textured paints contain a grit and are intended to be used on bases to replace/supplement the practice of gluing your own rocks to the top of each base. I had always followed Bryce's lead and kept my bases simple. Recently, I looked back on the work I did for my Ultramarine Scouts and wished that I had put a lot more work into their bases. Now I might just go back and apply a textured coat.

The new paint types make a lot of sense: "Base" paints (formerly called "Foundation" paints) go over the primer, "Layers" (apparently the same or similar to "Colours") are intended to be painted in layers (clever, eh?) over the Base paint, and "Shades" (the new name for "Washes") go over the layers. "Glazes" are a new addition that are similar to Washes/Shades but are designed to change the hues of the paints beneath them rather than to specifically fill in crevices. "Dry" paint is a thicker formulation of paint that's intended for dry-brushing. They've also added about 70 new colors. I get the impression that hobbyists more talented than I have been creating many of these colors for years by mixing paints. Now you can outright purchase them, making it a lot easier to maintain consistency between models/units/armies.

My only complaint is that they changed the names of every color. It's obvious why they renamed several of their paints: to more easily copyright them. "Skull White" is simply too generic while "White Scars" is different enough to be a copyrighted name. "Ultramarines Blue" is too close to the generic "ultramarine blue", whereas "Altdorf Guard Blue" is unique. I'm not certain why GW decided to change names that were already easily copyrighted, although it may have to do with a general reformulation of the colors. Either way, it's not really a big deal. They were even kind enough to release a conversion chart on their webpage on the very day they introduced the new line.

However, the increase in paint types and variety of colors, at the expense of the name changes, has not stopped the trolls from spewing their hatred. I found numerous comments like the following on GW's Facebook page:
Stupid move on your part GW, No need to ditch the names of the old colours just to give them daft names. People are already swapping over to Vallejo and P3 without your help.
I don't know how many people have complained about paints they haven't even used yet and declared to all and sundry that real painters use paints other than Citadel's. Back when the new paint line was only a rumor, numerous commenters on BoLS were screaming 'they're going to make the bottles smaller and the prices higher; they always do that! That's why I switched to [insert company name here].' Note: the bottles and prices (at least in the US) are the same. However, the trolls are so insistent on complaining about the company that makes their hobby possible that they assume the worst in all possible circumstances and almost seem disappointed when it doesn't happen.

There's plenty of proof that many of these people complain because they like to. One is the fact that many claim to have switched to another manufacturer's product years ago. If you switched years ago, why do you care what GW does? Another is the fact that some actually complained that the revised paint line had too many new colors. Seriously? Too many colors? If that's your complaint, then you really are a troll.

Those jerks! How dare they give us more paint options!

The nerd rage isn't just limited to paints. Many commenters on posts about 40K rules and codices feel the need to declare that GW's rules are stupid or poorly written and that they moved on to the "far superior" [enter non-40K wargame here] years ago. Again, why are you trolling 40K boards and taking the time to negatively comment in the most vehement language possible when you don't play 40K anymore? Others complained when they belatedly released the Tervigon/Tyrannofex model. Would it be better if GW completely ignored the Tyranids altogether? The silliest complaint is that GW 'just wants to make money'. Um, yeah, they're a business, after all. Did you think they made models, paints, and rulebooks out of the goodness of their hearts? Because they like to make geeks happy? Yes, they should strive for customer satisfaction, but the primary reason for them to do that is so people continue to buy their products. Strangely enough, like their customers, GW employees also like to eat and pay their bills.

If GW didn't try to make money, they would fail just as countless companies and organizations who didn't put enough emphasis on financial success have done before. Gamers should be glad that GW tries to make money, otherwise they wouldn't be able to manufacture that box of Terminators whose price the commenters complain about. I think a lot of these commenters would be surprised by how much the equipment costs to manufacture a bunch of plastic pieces and how strongly the number of units sold affects the price (Tactical Marine sets are cheaper than Terminator sets partially because a lot less Terminator sets are sold). And since all the parts are manufactured in Europe or America, the cost of labor adds a lot more to the price than if the parts were manufactured in China.

I comment on this only because I've seen it too often in the geeky circles I travel in. Nerd rage helped to kill Star Trek: Enterprise. Like the preceding Star Treks, Enterprise took a few seasons to find its feet. I thought its first few seasons were a lot stronger than those of its predecessors, but the so-called fans seemed determined to hate it, which doomed it to cancellation by the end of its 4th, and strongest, season. The very same fanbase that claimed to hate the series then had the gall to express surprise that it had been cancelled. Similarly, many who claim to be Star Wars' most loyal fans have come to despise everything about George Lucas because of the prequels or the Special Editions. While the prequels weren't nearly as strong as they should have been, and some of the Special Edition changes were unnecessary or just plain silly, the degree of hyperbole and downright hatred is insane. This is entertainment, for heaven's sake. If everyone would just settle down, enjoy the good stuff that comes our way (new Citadel paints, new Star Trek series), and take the bad stuff in stride (Finecast, Star Trek: The Motion Picture), then we'd all just be a little happier.

If only nerd rage could be harnessed for good instead of evil...

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Tyrannic War Veterans WIP, Part I: Initial Planning

I'm currently designing a squad of Ultramarine Tyrannic War Veterans (I'll just call them TWVs for short). The TWVs were introduced in 4th Edition as an Ultramarines-only squad with special abilities to help them bring down their preferred enemy; e.g., Tyranid monstrous creatures. Specifically, they could use krak grenades in close combat with non-vehicle units and their heavy bolters could fire hellfire rounds (2+ poisoned weapons). With the 5th Edition Space Marine codex, the existence of the Tyrannic War Veterans was still acknowledged, as was their connection to Chaplain Cassius. However, their special rules were removed. Although not explicitly acknowledged in the codex, it's understood by most Ultramarines players that the concept of the TWVs has been rolled into that of the Sternguard Veterans, which were introduced in 5th Edition for all Codex-compliant Space Marine chapters. This assumption is confirmed by the fact that GW's website still shows the TWV models, but the rules and stats given for them are for Sternguard.

Sternguard can't use krak grenades in close combat (given how hard it was to land a grenade on a non-preferred enemy, this ability was pointless against any army other than Tyranids), nor can they use hellfire rounds in heavy bolters. However, Sternguard members were given veteran stats as well as the ability to fire a variety of ammunition types, including hellfire rounds, from standard bolters. (Oddly enough, while Sternguard don't have a hellfire option for their heavy bolters, Scouts' heavy bolters do have a hellfire shell.) Additionally, Sternguard have the option of taking a variety of ranged weapons, including inexpensive heavy weapons and combi-weapons. Overall, the transformation of the TWVs into a themed Sternguard was a significant improvement.

The pewter TWV models are still for sale and you can purchase a Finecast Sternguard Squad. Although the models are beautiful, I'm not interested in dealing with Finecast (this is a subject that needs no elaboration) and I want to minimize how many pewter models I have to work with. Besides, much of the fun of the 40K hobby is in customizing the models, which is much easier to do with plastic bits. Just as importantly, I don't want to be limited to the wargear provided with the Finecast and pewter figures; e.g., four bolters, a single combi-melta, and a power fist on the Sternguard and bolters on the TWVs. Fortunately, GW has strewn a wealth of plastic bits throughout their model line, giving a modelling nut with a few extra bucks lying around access to an embarrassment of riches.

Tyrannic War Veterans
[Models by Games Workshop]

Although I'll be building my squad as Tyrannic War Veterans, GW's Sternguard models are my primary inspiration. The TWV models look too uniform to me and are decorated with several logos that my models will probably lack. As much as I'd love to use the Tyrannic War Veteran logo (a Tyranid skull superimposed over a short sword), it would take me much too long to try to paint it free-hand on each member of a ten man squad (I don't trust the survivability of five man non-Terminator squads). The sword with the superimposed Ultramarines logo on the chest would probably be easier to accomplish, but that would require more conversion of torso bits to create smooth chest pieces than I'm willing to do.

From a fluff perspective, it would be fairly easy to justify omitting the TWV logos. Although the existence and influence of the Tyrannic War Veterans is a deviation from orthodoxy that has been allowed by Chapter Master Calgar, you could imagine that the use of a seemingly Chapter-sanctioned logo depicting a Xenos or a preference for wearing the Chapter symbol on their chests rather than the Imperial Aquila could be seen by some within the Imperial government as implying that their loyalty to the Chapter takes precedence over the Imperium. Calgar, being a consummate diplomat, could have mandated that future Tyrannic War Veteran squads wear the more orthodox symbols used by other Ultramarine veterans, while still allowing each Marine to personalize his armor and weaponry. The example for this approach would be Chaplain Cassius, who wears standard Chaplain's armor while carrying a book bound in Tyranid hide and a Crozius depicting a Tyranid skull. Although the unit would generally resemble other Sternguard squads, each veteran could carry trophies from his battles with the Tyranids. As can be seen on the TWV models, some of these trophies could take the form of deliberately unrepaired gouges in a Marine's armor caused by Tyranid talons and claws (there are several gouges on the right arm of Cassius' armor).

Sternguard Veterans
[Models by Games Workshop]

Since I've decided my veterans will effectively be 5th Edition Sternguard with a few accents and customizations showing them to be Tyrannic War Veterans, let's look at how Sternguard veterans are distinguished from other Marine units. Like the TWVs, Sternguard veterans have white helmets and white shoulder pad rims, which is standard for members of the Ultramarines 1st Company. However, chapter logos are limited to the extremities while skulls and/or the Imperial Aquila decorate the chest plate. Sternguard veterans are also given the honor of wearing portions of ancient armor (e.g., Mk VI helmets and shoulder pads) as well as the newer Mk VIII armor (this link discusses the various types of power armor). While older models of armor may occasionally be seen among Tactical Marines, the Mk VII style is the dominant type. GW's TWV models also seem to wear slightly modified suits of Mk VII armor.

Unlike the TWV models, which are very similar to each other, Sternguard members wear a variety of symbols that show their veteran status and their battlefield honors (e.g., the Crux Terminatus, the Iron Skull, laurels). Given the fluff surrounding Space Marine veterans and their tendency to personalize their armor over years of service, I would expect very little uniformity in their appearance. This is definitely a strike against GW's otherwise excellent Tyrannic War Veteran figures, both fluff-wise as well as from a modelling perspective. It's the diversity shown in GW's Sternguard models that makes the idea of building a Sternguard-style squad of Tyrannic War Veterans exciting.

Coming soon: How I plan to equip my Sternguard Squad and the bits I'm collecting for them.

[Update 4/3/13: I failed at the "coming soon part". However, this series finally continues with a description of converting plastic Sternguard bolters.]

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Oh Sister, Oh Sister, Where Art Thou?

As many of you know I am a gigantic IG fan, but a very, very close second is the Sisters of Battle (SoB). The SoB in 4th edition was given a lot of love with the introduction of the Penitent Engine and the Sisters Repentia and in my personal opinion the best SoB Codex to date. I must say though I am very disappointed with the recent GW development of the 5th edition SoB Codex posted in a White Dwarf article.

The codex was lacking in story, art, tactical prowess, innovation, and overall genuine interest by the authors. First and foremost, Faith Points (the backbone of the SoB army) was sorely diminished. Not only changed in ability but overall chance to succeed. Faith points previously succeeded on a roll equal to or less than the number of battle sisters in a squad, relatively easy. Now it is on a roll of 5 or higher, which can be modified by an HQ or Simulacrum to make it easier which also has its challenges. The cost of a battle sister was raised by a point and by the time upgrades, HQ, and Simulacrum is added to the total points of a battle sister squad a 10 sister squad is nearly 200 points and that only accounts for one troop (I just pooped a little). Way too much for a S3, T3 unit considering I can get the same thing in a Vet IG squad for HALF the price, literally!! Faith Points which used to bring the teeth to the fight for SoB now just bring hardened gums, not really a focal point anymore.

My only hope in this dark SoB current state is the rumors of the up and coming battle sisters models. Apparently the models will be more slender and possibly have veils (very cool if done correctly). Below is an artist rendition on the new style.

And here is a possible leak of the actual future model. It gives me goose bumps in weird spots.

So far GW has not given me any reason to go out and buy SoB models, but with these leaks there is hope for a 6th edition future.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Orks and Imperial Guard vs. Ultramarines, Part II

[See Part I of this series]

Although things were looking bleak for the Ultramarines, a glimmer of hope came when my Terminator squad assaulted Jon's mob of 'Ard Boyz. The mob had been whittled down through bolter fire and was very close to losing Mob Rule. Although the Big Mek's power weapon was able to take out two Terminators, the other three were able to survive long enough to inflict the damage necessary to cause the mob to fall back and eventually run off the table. As much as I would have liked to back off and get a couple of turns to wear down a second mob that was only a short distance behind the first, the mob was too close to avoid further close combat. The Terminators fired into the second mob and assaulted to ensure that the Orks wouldn't get their furious charge. This fight saw the end of the Terminators but not before they severely weakened the second mob. When the mob headed towards the Tactical Squad, they were slaughtered by bolter fire and the survivors ran off the board. A quick count showed that the Terminators earned back their points, which is something that particular squad seems to struggle at.

Greenskins slaughtered or your money back

Near the end of the game the assault half of my Tactical Squad was finished off by Loota and Guard fire, although not before it wiped out a squad of Guardsmen that was perfectly positioned to be hit with a flamer template. I rarely have such success with a flamer. The heavy weapon half of the squad was wiped out in a single turn when one of Bryce's squads used the Bring It Down! rule to twin-link their plasma rifles. Fortunately, the missile launcher in my squad was able to destroy the lascannon on one of Bryce's two Sentinels before being killed. I was soon left with a wounded Captain, a weaponless but still mobile Land Raider, and a disarmed Venerable Dreadnought locked in endless combat with a Sentinel and a squad of Guardsmen. On the other side of the fight, Jon had lost two of his three mobs and his Lootas had taken several casualties. Although he still had two DeffKoptas available, they were doing only a small amount of damage. Bryce had an immobilized Basilisk that seemingly couldn't hit the broadside of a barn (thank the Emperor), two Sentinels with destroyed lascannons, a Chimera, and various Guardsmen spread across the table.

After briefly loading him into the Land Raider to protect him from Jon's Lootas, the Captain disembarked from the tank's ramp to launch a one man assault on a mob of Boyz and one Nob. For whatever reason, the Captain has a bizarre amount of luck and has rarely disappointed me. He once survived several rounds of combat with a Hive Tyrant and three Tyranid Warriors. He made four or five consecutive Iron Halo saves, an even greater number of armor saves, and managed to kill the Hive Tyrant and a Warrior before finally being lost. The Captain didn't disappoint me this time, either.

My shiny armor will drive off the Xenos scum!

I wish I had gotten a picture of the Captain standing on the assault ramp but I keep forgetting to bring a camera to our games. I couldn't help but to imagine an angry and vengeful Space Marine Captain emerging from a smoking Land Raider, igniting his power sword, and running directly into a horde of slavering Orks while screaming something about the Emperor. The Captain charged into the waiting Orks, dished out some punishment, made all but one armor save, and made an Iron Halo save against the Nob's power klaw. The unfortunate Orks, having lost combat and being below the minimum numbers required to benefit from Mob Rule, failed their morale check and fell back. Since they had also been reduced to less than half their original size, they were unable to regroup and ran off the table.

Looking for more Greenskin blood, the Captain made a headlong rush towards the two DeffKoptas. He assaulted one and managed to inflict a wound. While the two were locked in combat, the Basilisk made yet another attempt to destroy the Land Raider. The shot drifted significantly and managed to land directly on the Captain and the two Ork units. Both DeffKoptas were destroyed while the Captain again made an Iron Halo save. When the dust had settled the Captain found himself in the open and was gunned down by the Lootas. Win or lose, it's moments like the Captain's last stand that make 40K worth playing.

It was kind of like this... but he was alone

Eventually the Basilisk succeeded in destroying the Land Raider. The Venerable Dreadnought went round after round with the Sentinel and the Guardsmen before a melta bomb finally destroyed it. (I was so groggy by that point that I directed all my attacks against the Sentinel; I would have had a lot more luck killing the Guardsmen.) The final count showed that Jon and Bryce had approximately 300 points remaining of their 1500 point army. Although the Marines lost, it wasn't by too much. And I felt that the Ultramarines had performed pretty well against an alliance that combines the Orks' very good close combat ability with the Guard's powerful and versatile ranged weaponry.

Lessons Learned

Pay Attention!
I seemed particularly scatterbrained that night and didn't take a systematic approach to using my units. I made Telion and a Scout with a missile launcher worthless for two turns by putting my Venerable Dreadnought in front of them. The Dreadnought was quickly stunned and the Scouts couldn't shoot their heavy weapons the next turn because I had to move them. I kept forgetting to use my drop pod's storm bolter, which was perfectly located to kill the Lootas that plagued me all night. And early in the game I actually forgot to fire my still-intact Land Raider's weapons. Since Bryce is a great guy he let me fire a twin-linked lascannon at his Guard early in his and Jon's following turn. It ended up destroying a Sentinel's lascannon. Thanks Bryce!

Venerable Dreadnoughts
A lot of Space Marine players balk at the cost of a Venerable Dreadnought, believing that it's not worth the improved ballistic and weapons skills and questioning the worth of the Venerable rule (i.e., the ability to require your opponent to re-roll on the vehicle damage table after he glances or penetrates the Dreadnought's armor). However, during the Grey Knights/Ultramarines game a couple weeks ago and during this past game, the Venerable rule saved my Dreadnought several times. Paying an extra 60 points to give your Dreadnought a very good chance of surviving vehicle destroyed or vehicle explodes results has proven to be worth it more than once. It's certainly cheaper than the cost of an additional Dreadnought. Carl can vouch for the staying power of his Venerables.

Indirect Value of a Unit
Sometimes a unit doesn't have to kill its own value to be worth the cost. My Venerable Dreadnought killed very few points since it spent the vast majority of the game stunned or shaken. (I seem to remember that at least one of those times was thanks to a vehicle destroyed result that was re-rolled as a stunned result.) However, by being a perpetual threat it was a constant target for Jon's Lootas. Each turn that the Lootas poured their shots into the Dreadnought was another turn in which they weren't shooting at more vulnerable units. I wouldn't be surprised if the Venerable Dreadnought effectively earned its points in the form of Jon's opportunity costs. Bryce often uses his Eldar Wraithlord for this very purpose. He never builds his strategy around it. Instead, because it's a big, scary monstrous creature that's hard to ignore, he uses it as a fire magnet to protect more vulnerable but more strategically important units.

Bringing a Gun to a Knife Fight
I've said it before; a Devastator Squad with four missile launchers is of little value against a horde army. For the exact same cost the squad could carry heavy bolters that would put out three times the shots. Although the heavy bolters would wound most Orks on threes instead of twos, their increased volume of fire would easily compensate for the lower weapon strength while their AP value would still deny armor saves to Nobz and 'Ard Boyz. Given that I was facing both Orks as well as mechanized Guard, a mix of heavy bolters and missile launchers may have been appropriate. Unfortunately, I prefer to play with models I have rather than to proxy a different unit. Thus, I stuck with four missile launchers despite knowing them to be less effective against the armies I was fighting.

The Land Raider had staying power... and was also completely inadequate for fighting so many models. It was able to take out a Sentinel's lascannon and a few Lootas (darn those cover saves), but I really needed to whittle down the mobs more. With the shear volume of shots that a twin-linked assault cannon and two hurricane bolters can produce, a Land Raider Crusader would have slaughtered the Ork mobs and sent them running. The moderately armored Sentinels might have been taken care of with the Crusader's twin-linked assault cannon or its multi-melta.

Standard Terminators are tank killers or a highly survivable but extremely expensive source of bolter fire, not a close combat squad. An initiative of 1 and a mere 5+ invulnerable save makes them expensive sitting ducks if the opponent has his own power weapons (e.g., an Ork Big Mek). The Terminators earned their points this game only because they had a lot of luck making armor saves against a huge number of attacks, because the Big Mek only killed two of them before the squad could make the mob run, and because they were able to do enough damage to the second mob before dying that a Tactical Squad could force the Orks to fall back with bolter fire. A close combat Terminator Squad would have been significantly more effective. Pairs of lightning claws would have given each Terminator four attacks on the charge while allowing re-rolls for fails to wound (this is vital when your opponent's toughness equals your strength). Thunder hammer and storm shield-carrying Terminators would have low initiative but high survivability against an enemy with power weapons. In this game, three or four Terminators with lightning claws would have been able to reduce the number of opponents while one or two Terminators with thunder hammers and storm shields could have borne the brunt of the power attacks.

Appropriately Using a Unit
I wasted the Tactical Squad by not being aggressive enough. In a game where I was vastly outnumbered, three Marines with bolt guns, one Marine with a flamer, a sergeant with a chain sword and plasma pistol, and a Marine Captain spent much of their time crammed into a corner of the table staying out of the Lootas' line of sight. I should have rushed the ruins in which the Lootas were hiding after the nearby mobs were running or were tied up with the Terminators. Also, I'm starting to wonder whether using the Combat Squad rule is all it's cracked up to be. Typically I break a Tactical squad into an assault half (three bolters, a special assault or rapid fire weapon, the sergeant, and my HQ) and a heavy weapon half (four bolters and a heavy weapon). Too many times I've let four Marines stand idly by so that I can fire a lone missile launcher. In the meantime, the assault half rushes in and finds that it just doesn't have the volume of shots needed to do the job or enough bodies to tolerate the incoming fire. A heavy bolter in this game, or a lascannon in a game with more vehicles, might make it worth it to break into Combat Squads. However, in a game in which so many opposing units are denied armor saves by AP 5 weapons, it would probably be more effective to keep the squad together and to take on the enemy with simple bolt guns. Given the threat the Lootas posed, this would have been a good game in which to have a Rhino.

More Effective Use of a Force Organization Slot?
Although the Venerable Dreadnought occupied the Lootas' attention for most of the game, I have to wonder if drop podding in a Sternguard Squad and directly attacking the Lootas wouldn't have been a more effective use of an elite slot. Tying up the Orks wasn't quite the same as eliminating them since they did a lot of damage to other squads when they weren't shooting at the Dreadnought. Given the Orks' high toughness but poor armor saves, the Sternguard's AP 5, 2+ poisoned hellfire rounds could have been very useful. It would also be interesting to compare the effectiveness of my Terminators to that of a Sternguard.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Orks and Imperial Guard vs. Ultramarines, Part I

This weekend's gaming saw a rematch between Carl's Grey Knights and Kevin's Dark Eldar as well as a vicious 1500 point face-off between the Ultramarines and Bryce's and Jon's unlikely Guard/Ork alliance (500 points of Guard and 1000 points of Orks). I've written about this kind of alliance before; it's hard to beat since each army reinforces the weaknesses of the other. These two games were marked by a major change: larger gaming tables. In the past, when most of us couldn't muster much more than 1000 points, we were playing on 4'x4' tables. This time both games were played with 4'x6' of space (one of the tables can be extended to 4'x8'). Given how cramped our games had gotten, this was a good change. It also showed Jon and me that our armies are severely lacking in one thing: transports. The time it takes to footslog across a 4'x6' table while under fire can ruin plans and decimate units.

The Guard/Orks/Marines game ran from about 7:30 PM to 12:30 PM and kept me pretty occupied, so I wasn't able to see much of the Grey Knights/Dark Eldar game. During their previous 1000 point match a few weeks ago, a lack of long range heavy firepower prevented Carl from taking out Kevin's flyers. Kevin was therefore able to dictate the conditions of close combat, avoided nearly all small arms fire, and greatly benefited from his Wyches' dodge saves (which neutralize the effectiveness of force and power weapons). The Grey Knights were wiped out while taking only 200 to 300 points of Dark Eldar with them. After the utter annihilation of the Warriors of Titan at the hands of the Pointy-Eared Perverts, Carl swore vengeance (well, as much as Carl would ever swear vengeance; he's the most mellow of us by far and a great sport).

This time Carl's prior weakness was compensated for by two shiny new Venerable Dreadnoughts with twin-linked lascannons. The Venerables blasted the flyers out of the air, spilling the Wyches out and exposing them to a fusillade from storm bolters and the Dreadknight's Gatling Psilencer. Also, inspired by my past success with Telion and his ability to individually target units of high importance, Carl proxied a Vindicare assassin who did some serious damage. From what I overheard, one of the game's highlights saw a group of Wyches attack a Venerable Dreadnought with haywire grenades. A lucky hit caused the Dreadnought to explode with the resulting explosion killing most of the Wyches (Jon loses a lot of Orks this way, too). By about 10 PM the Grey Knights had won day.

Things didn't go quite as well with the Ultramarines, although I was reasonably pleased with the night's game. Unfortunately, it's been a long time since I wasn't embarrassed. Last time Carl had the majority of his army left when he wiped me out. Going further backward in time we have the game where the Tau got completely clobbered by the Orks, the slaughter of the Tau and the Grey Knights at the hands of the Orks and the Imperial Guard, and back in December we had the massacre of the Tyranids by the guns of the Imperial Guard. In fact, the last time my army put in a good showing was in late December when the Ultramarines defeated the Orks by an extremely narrow margin.

Xenos scum *spit*

I was worried early on when I found myself facing the Guard/Ork alliance again. Fortunately, Bryce took pity on me and brought his Basilisk rather than the Manticore. I've already faced the combination of huge mobs of Orks with furious charge, a large number of attacks, and Marine-level toughness and weapons skill with the multiple strength 10 large blast templates of the Manticore. I would have been tempted to sit out the game if I had to face it again.

The Guard and Orks won the initial roll off. As usual, Jon's army filled their entire deployment zone. In the past I've typically distributed my Marines along the boundary of my own deployment zone. I've since realized that this merely serves to overstretch my forces. It ensures that I can't concentrate my firepower while allowing the Orks to charge me along a broad front over the shortest distance possible. When outnumbered, Bryce tends to sweep the majority of his army in a arc around one side of the table. This allows him to take on the enemy in smaller, more manageable pieces. I decided to attempt something similar while taking advantage of the larger board. Except for my reserve units, I set up the majority of my army in the left half of my deployment zone, which was dominated by area terrain and obstacles that blocked line of site. This had the advantage of distancing me from Bryce's lascannons and his Chimera, protected most of my forces from Jon's Lootas, and forced one of the Ork mobs to march a significant distance across the table while under fire.

I failed to seize the initiative and the Guard and Orks went first as expected. Fortunately the Emperor briefly smiled on me and their first round wasn't nearly as effective as it was last time. Although I was left with most of my army intact, my sniper Scouts were a prime target and I managed to fail four 3+ cover saves. Telion and the remaining Scout did next to nothing during the subsequent rounds, in part because I parked my Venerable Dreadnought immediately in front of them. (I felt particularly stupid about it since it wasn't the first time I've done this.) My missile launcher-carrying Devastator Squad was also a popular target and was killed off pretty quickly thanks to the Guard's "Fire On My Target" rule, which required me to re-roll successful cover saves. Like the Scouts, the Devastators did not earn back their points.

I never did trust these guys

At the beginning of my first turn, I landed a glass bottom stein... uh, my "drop pod", immediately behind enemy lines and within melta range of the Basilisk that had been hidden behind the ruins where Jon's Lootas were stationed. My multi-melta Dreadnought marched out, made the shot, and penetrated the Basilisk's armor. I rolled a two on the vehicle damage table and, thanks to the AP 1 and open-topped modifiers, I managed to... immobilize the Basilisk. That's right, the whole gambit worked perfectly so that I could immobilize a vehicle that Bryce never moves. It wasn't even denied another round of shooting. In the very next turn the Dreadnought was stunned, which ensured that one of Bryce's squads could march right up to it and destroy it with melta bombs. Never has a ploy simultaneously worked so right and yet gone so wrong. However, the tactic very nearly paid off and, had the Guard squad not destroyed the Dreadnought, I could have had a second chance to destroy the Basilisk with a close combat weapon. It's definitely a technique that's worth trying again.

By the second turn I brought the Vindicator in from reserves. Putting the tank in reserves in the first place is what I call a Maginot Line Mistake; i.e., I did with the Vindicator what I should have done during my last game against the Grey Knights. I had been worried about losing it to artillery or anti-tank weapons and kept it off the table until the second turn, which ensured that Jon's Boyz could progress far enough across the board to assault the tank after it got off a single shot. The Boyz were in cover when the Vindicator fired and Jon was able to save most of his mob. During Jon's assault on the tank, a single Boy was able to land one lucky glance that kept the tank from firing the next turn, which would have caught the Boyz in the open. Another assault caused the tank to explode, which actually killed more Boyz than the Demolisher cannon did. If Jon had not rolled that six, the Vindicator might have gone on to do a lot more.

These guys look good even when they're losing

At the halfway point I thought it was going to be a rout. I had lost a Dreadnought, my Devastator Squad had been decimated, and my Vindicator was gone. None of those units had even remotely earned back their points, although the Dreadnought failed to do so only because of the oddities of the vehicle damage table. Jon's Lootas kept my Venerable Dreadnought stunned through most of the game and eventually took both its assault cannon and its close combat weapon (I don't think I ever got the chance to fire the assault cannon). My troops weren't doing great on their armor saves or cover saves and, despite the fact that my forces inflicted a remarkable number of wounds on the Orks, Jon was making an amazing number of 4+ cover saves. It wasn't until the last third of my army was left that the statistics evened out and I started rolling fours instead of twos, Jon stopped making quite as many cover saves, and his leadership rolls started failing. The biggest break I got was that the Basilisk's shots drifted all over creation. Even when the Basilisk managed to hit the Land Raider, Bryce kept rolling "weapon destroyed" on the damage table and the Land Raider kept moving.

Next Time: Will the Greenskins and their traitorous Guard allies defeat the Emperor's Angels of Death?

Friday, March 9, 2012

And My Next Army Will Be... Tyranids?

That's right, Tyranids. Now I know what you may be thinking; "Mr. Nuclear Potato... or Radioactive Tuber... or whatever you call yourself, didn't you write about how disappointing Tyranids were just a few months ago? Wasn't it so bad that Bryce even wrote a sympathetic post about how thoroughly his Guard wiped them out?" Yes, that's all true. However, my decision wasn't rationally arrived at nor does it have anything to do with the army's competitiveness (or lack thereof).

Tyranids? Wait, how did this happen?

For several months I've been thinking about the army that I'll build after I finish the Ultramarines. I've had some difficulty in this since I didn't really feel the same enthusiasm for other armies as I do for Space Marines. For a while I leaned towards Chaos Marines. Later I thought about doing Necrons and was initially excited about the last year's releases. That enthusiasm waned and I began to look at Chaos Daemons, then Black Templars, and then Tau. When rumors began to circulate about 6th Edition Chaos Marines, I had all but decided to start a Chaos Marines army if their new codex significantly improved on the previous codex. All this time I hadn't even considered Tyranids, although I often found myself admiring their models on GW's website and was impressed by the new plastic figures. My slow painting speed discouraged me from doing any kind of horde army and the difficulty that 5th Edition Tyranids seem to have competing with other armies was something I had read about over and over again. The notion was seemingly confirmed when I finally played them.

This past week, while I was recovering from gallbladder removal surgery, I found myself with some time on my hands and decided it was time to get serious about planning the rest of my Ultramarine army. With only the Codex to limit me, I began to develop a series of 2000 point lists in anticipation of future games against members of our cabal. Each of these lists included a Sternguard Squad that I've wanted to build for a while. I had decided to build this unit when I saw that a number of Ultramarines players online were building them as Tyrannic War Veterans. Since then I've been collecting fancy shoulder pads, unique helmets, and other bits with which to decorate the squad. Bryce has also given me a variety of Tyranid pieces to serve as trophies from past battles. I planned to build a suitably decorated Razorback/Rhino for them and bought a pewter Chaplain Cassius to lead them.

My fate was sealed when they released
the Hive Tyrant in plastic
[Model by Games Workshop]
After planning builds to fight horde armies (Jon's Orks), artillery armies (Bryce's Imperial Guard), and highly mobile armies (Kevin's Dark Eldar), I decided to have some fun by making a list designed to fight a force dominated by monstrous creatures. After all, you can't have a squad of Tyrannic War Veterans and not expect them to have to face the occasional army of monsters. In addition to the Sternguard and Chaplain Cassius, I included a number of monstrous creature-killing units like Scout snipers, Razorbacks with twin-linked lascannons, an Annihilator pattern Predator, a Vindicator, and a standard Land Raider. I put in a lascannon-equipped Venerable Dreadnought when it occurred to me that I could also build it to be a Tyrannic War Veteran. The list was inspired by pure Ultramarines fluff and instantly became my favorite.

There was only one real problem with my monster hunters list: none of our players actually uses an army with a significant number of monstrous creatures. Bryce has quite a few points of Tyranids dating back to the 3rd Edition, but he has no interest in playing them when he has his Imperial Guard and his Eldar. It seemed like I had a army with no one to fight. That's when the little voices in my head started to have a discussion:
I've always liked the Tyranid models. And the new plastic Hive Tyrant and Tyrannofex/Tervigon models are awesome. It probably wouldn't hurt to have one or two just to paint.

I could never paint anything like the Hive Fleet Leviathan models that GW is always showcasing, though. They look great but I couldn't ever do such a white-dominated army. But Hive Fleet Behemoth and its offshoots have the cool red, black, and blue coloring. That would be a lot easier to do and would be appropriate for an anti-Ultramarine army.

I've promised myself that I wouldn't build a horde army, but the Tyrannic War Veteran list is for monster hunting and I could load up a Tyranid army with monstrous creatures to reduce the model count.

But 5th Edition Tyranids are often considered to be non-competitive, especially Godzilla army builds.

What does competitiveness matter to me? Our group plays for fun and I like the game mostly for the models anyway. I want a Tyranid Godzilla army to fight my Ultramarines...

And maybe I could slowly expand it to include horde elements over time. Termagants and Hormagaunts look like they could be surprisingly effective...
I was doomed.

Nothing ruins your day like a horde of Tyranids
[Models by Games Workshop]

The truth is that, for me, 60% of the fun of Warhammer 40,000 is in building the models while only 40% is in playing the game. And the only reason I build the models or play the game is because I enjoy the sci-fi setting of the 40K universe. Although I've been very impressed by the models that Games Workshop has been producing for Warhammer, I would never actually buy them because I'm just not interested in the fantasy storyline. In contrast, I love the Ultramarines models and their history. And although I'm not convinced of their effectiveness on the game table, I've admired the Tyranid models since I started playing 40K and I like the amalgam of 60 years of sci-fi/horror concepts that makes up their fluff. As luck would have it, the story of the Ultramarines is directly linked with that of the Tyranids.

My previous problem in choosing a second army stemmed from the fact that I was listing the pros and cons of the other armies and was deciding to wait and see if they got better or worse with 6th Edition. I was trying to come to a conclusion rationally and never got the gut response telling me 'I want to do this army'. However, I was immediately excited by the thought of building a Hive Fleet Behemoth army. (Actually, I was giddy about the idea, but that was probably the influence of the post-surgery pain killers I was taking.) I had briefly played the 5th Edition Tyranid codex and found it lacking, yet I didn't care about the codex's weaknesses. I wanted to build a Tyranid army, both for its own sake as well as to have an enemy force to go against my Ultramarines. If 6th Edition makes the Tyranids more competitive, so much the better, but it isn't the deciding factor.

Given the recent release of Tyranid and Space Wolves models, it's unsurprising that this month's White Dwarf features those two armies. What is interesting, though, is the fact that the Painting Workshop section of this issue includes a detailed tutorial on painting a Tervigon in Hive Fleet Behemoth colors. Clearly fate (or the Hive Mind) has decided that the Tyranids will follow the Ultramarines.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Space Marine Army Planning: Scouts

For me, much of the fun of 40K is planning the army. (I have plenty of time to plan since it takes me so long to make the models.) Since the primary reason why I play the game is because I like the fluff, I tend to plan my army around its backstory as much, if not more, than I plan around practical considerations. I know there are some players that look down on this approach, but I have the good fortune of playing in a buddy's basement with a great group of guys who are there to enjoy themselves first and foremost, even when they lose.

As I've been building my Ultramarine force, I've been looking more and more at Scouts due to their impressive degree of flexibility. All have the Scouts and Infiltrate special rules. They can choose between boltguns, shotguns, sniper rifles, or bolt pistols/combat blades with no increase in point cost. For only ten more points a Scout Squad can have a heavy bolter or missile launcher without being limited by the ten-man minimum requirement that the Tactical Marines have. For a mere three points per model (or by bringing along Telion for 50 points) a squad can have the Stealth rule, giving them a 3+ save in most cover.

The primary reasons why I'm considering a Scout-heavy force are a lot less practical than weapons variety or special rules, though. As cool as the power armored Marines are, I really like the look and style of the Scout models. Even more important for me is the fact that, per the fluff, the Ultramarines have one of the strongest recruiting bases of any Space Marine chapter. They should therefore be capable of fielding a larger number of Scouts than any of their brother chapters. The Ultramarines even boast the best-known Scout trainer of all, Sergeant Telion, who is frequently seconded to other chapters to aid in their training programs.

When I first started playing 40K, Bryce emphasized the importance of dedicated squads, warning me that a squad which tries to do everything could easily be good at nothing. For that reason, I've decided to use the flexibility given to Scouts to build a variety of squads, each with a dedicated combat role. When our cabal starts playing larger games (i.e., ones in which we could actually fill all six troop slots), I plan on bringing two 10 man Tactical Squads while filling the remaining four slots with these specialized Scout Squads. Additionally, I plan on fielding a Scout Bike squad to fill a fast attack slot.

Squad I (75-140 points):
[Models by Games Workshop]
1st Squad will be a five man close combat squad with bolt pistols and combat blades. Although Scouts were slightly weakened between 4th and 5th editions when their Weapons Skill was lowered from a 4 to a 3, I actually think that it makes sense fluff-wise that neophytes without power armor have a slightly lower Weapons Skill than their more experienced battle-brothers. Using Bryce's models in the past, I found that the extra attack a bolt pistol/combat blade combination gives them tends to compensate for this and makes them more useful than Tactical Marines in a melee. Their superhuman Strength 4 and Toughness 4 give them reasonable survivability and the ability to inflict a good deal of damage on weaker races (e.g., Tau, Eldar). Although their armor save isn't as good as that of full Marines, it's still equal to or better than the saves of most other armies' troops.

I intend to use the close combat Scouts as a quick-strike, opportunistic force intended to attack light armor and heavy weapons troops as well as to slow down enemy forces until reinforcements can arrive. Since the squad is intended to deliver as many close combat attacks as possible, I may eventually expand it to a force of ten Scouts. They wouldn't require any heavy weapons due to their specialization, nor would they require camo cloaks since they would spend little to no time in cover. In other words, the 1st would be an inexpensive (and largely disposable) squad.

Squad II (100 points):
[Models by Games Workshop]
2nd Squad will be a five man mid-range squad with four bolters and one heavy bolter. Until I can prove otherwise in practical play, this may be the squad with the most questionable value since they seem to be little more than a Tactical Squad with a lower Ballistic Skill. I must admit that I'm somewhat depending on 6th Edition to restore the Scouts' BS 4. While I can see Scouts as having a lower Weapons Skill than full-fledged Marines, I would think that the genetic enhancements and training the Scouts have already received should give them the same Ballistic Skill. (The fact that Scouts with sniper rifles only have BS 3 is even more inexplicable.)

However, I think that the mid-range Scouts can still fulfill a useful role. First and foremost, they can field an inexpensive heavy bolter regardless of their numbers. The Scouts and Infiltrate special rules allow them to be placed within bolter range immediately. And since their camo cloaks give them a 3+ save in most cover, they would have greater survivability in a firefight than even power armored Marines (our group seems to have a lot of AP 2 and 3 weapons on the table, nowadays). I see 2nd Squad as a nuisance force meant to whittle down the enemy early in the game. Given that much of the 2nd's advantage over a Tactical Squad would lie in being able to take a heavy bolter in a five man squad, it's unlikely I would ever expand the 2nd into a 10 man force.

Squad III (148-200 points):

3rd Squad is the six man sniper squad I finished recently. The 3rd is equipped with Sergeant Telion, four Scouts with Sniper rifles, and one Scout with a missile launcher. The snipers have already proven to be a useful asset that I intend to employ on a regular basis. Telion's ability to pick out individual models that would normally be hidden in a squad is indispensable, as is his ability to lend his BS to another member of his squad (I can think of quite a few situations where I would have appreciated a missile launcher with BS 6). Since Telion gives his whole squad the Stealth rule, his presence eliminates the need to buy individual camo cloaks. Thus, I may expand the 3rd to a total of nine Scouts led by Telion, which would save me 27 points worth of cloaks.

Squad IV (100-180 points):
[Models by Games Workshop]
In my opinion, the range and abilities of the sniper rifle make sniper Scouts some of the most useful units I can field. The rifles wound anything on a roll of 4 (making them useful against Carl's Dreadknight or Bryce's Wraithlord) and are rending and pinning. Thanks to the rending rule, a sniper rifle can glance armor as high as 12, which should make Kevin's Dark Eldar nervous. And sniper Scouts can use Infiltrate to place themselves in an ideal sniping location after the enemy has set up, making it harder for him to predict where the threat will be coming from.

Given these advantages (and the fact that Bryce has explicitly said that the idea makes him nervous), it only makes sense for me to have a respectable number of sniper Scouts on the table. 4th Squad would be a five man sniper squad with four sniper rifles and one missile launcher. In larger games, 4th Squad could see an increase to ten Scouts.

Squad V (95-145 points):
[Models by Games Workshop]
5th Squad would be a three man Scout Bike squad equipped with two Astartes grenade launchers. One bike would retain its twin-linked bolters while the sergeant would carry melta-bombs. I began to see a need for such a unit while playing against Bryce's Imperial Guard, whose long-range heavy guns blasted any anti-tank forces to kingdom come before they could cross the table. However, like Scout troops, Scout Bikes benefit from the Infiltrate and Scouts special rules. These abilities, combined with the Bikes' 12" move and Turboboosting special rule, could allow a Bike squad to reach a tank within the first turn. If a straight run at a tank can't be achieved, the Bikes can still attempt to outflank the opponent and approach from the side. Although the Astartes grenade launcher is powerful enough to penetrate weaker armor, the goal is to use the Bike's speed to assault the tank quickly and plant melta-bombs on its hull. Even if such tank-killing strikes prove to be suicide missions, a three Bike squad is cheaper than most tanks and should be able to earn back its points.

On top of tank-destroying duties, Scout Bikes also have a number of other useful advantages, equipment, and tactics. If three Scout Bikers prove to be useful, I may choose to expand the squad to five Bikes. Given the limit of three grenade launchers per squad, I doubt I would expand the 5th much farther.

Now if only I could actually build this many models within a reasonable amount of time.
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