Monday, April 11, 2011

Jump Infantry: Love 'em or Hate 'em

Recently I've been spending a lot of time with my Warp Spiders - hanging out at the beach, volleyball, all you can eat crab leg buffets, and the like, and it's been a fun time. Ever since I first heard of jump infantry in my neophyte days, I was smitten. I was warned though and told that they were never as good as they seemed, so I stayed away. From casual players to more experienced tournament players with an affinity for sci-fi testicles, there was a general advice of not going with the ever-so-cool looking jump packs. Well, then I started my CSM army (yes...I have more than just Eldar), and I decided that I really wanted to convert my own raptors, and that's when I began to think about how to best utilize these under appreciated unit types.

Moving infantry across the board without a transport is a bit taboo these days, and, honestly, I think for good reason. Without debating the finer points of foot vs mech, I think we can all see the troubles one may have with foot sloggers (save for Orks and Nids of course). And, as far as I'm concerned, jump infantry are basically foot sloggers that can move 12", so how are they best used?

For starters, don't lead with them. As a matter of fact, don't start them on the board. My experience has taught me that leading off with them, or even putting them on the board, immediately makes them a target. Jump infantry aren't usually strong enough to initiate an assault without support, or, better yet, should only really be assaulting to support another unit. Put them in reserve, but not to deep strike. Deep striking is just not worth all the trouble unless you have the tricks to make it work for you consistently.

With the unit in reserves, you now have a contingency that can counter your opponents offense, or if you're ready to hit him where it hurts, send the infantry in to seal the deal and guarantee (as best as RNG will let you anyway :P) the victory. For my Eldar, the Warp Spiders have proven invaluable as far as clinching victories with their strong fire support. Often, they have even stopped an opponents offensive plans by coming in and popping a rhino, speeder, or similar, strength six fearing target. Warp spiders may seem unique in how they're nicely suited at dealing with both infantry and light armor, seeing as how the Eldar is an army of specialists, but they're still true to the Eldar methodology. Their specialty is providing rapid, ambush style supporting fire. They complement a bladestorm very well, and if you give your Exarch powerblades, you can probably take out a marine or 2 very easily if need be.

And this is true for all units. I'm a big fan of dedicating your unit to a particular role, and when I get a little further along with my CSM, I plan on adding those raptors, 2 squads to be specific. One will specialize in anti-armor/MC combat with melta guns and a power fist, while the other will run flamers and lightning claws for dealing with infantry.

Not all jump infantry is made equal though. For example, gargoyles I'm just having a hard time making sense of. I'm sure more experienced Nid players can offer a simple strategy on how to use them. What makes them different is sheer size. You can afford to start off with these guys on the board as long as losses can be tolerated, but if you lose your synapse connection, you may just watch your entire unit go to hell because you've lost control of them, where reserves prevent this from happening, at least for a bit.

That's it for now. I'd love to hear your thoughts on jump infantry and whether or not you love 'em or hate 'em.


Friday, April 8, 2011

Eldar and Assaults Pt 2

So in my last article, I discussed Eldar assault units that can "self-propel" or move 12"+ on their own, and to recap, my opinion is that they're the best way to go if you want to be able to get into assaults on a consistent basis. Much like anything else though from this particular era of 40k, the units always have caveats that make you second guess their effectiveness. Cost, squad size, "killiness," and durability are just a few of the factors that you have to consider, and not one Eldar unit has all of these covered...well, at least not effectively.

What do I mean? Well, let me explain.

Again, let's use the standard candle of vanilla terminators. Now you might ask, why? And I would understand, because as a rule of thumb, you should never try to compare units cross army since it will only lead to frustration in the end, but primarily because armies are only balanced against themselves, not each other. Terminators, though, have the benefit of durability, very strong attacks, cost effectiveness, and even mobility (land raiders). They can do that complete package for less than 500 points.

That being said, what are we left with? As discussed previously, bike councils offer good durability, but at a premium cost and with no significant killing power. Shining spears offer good killing power, but with reduced durability (compared to the council) and still at a ridiculous cost. There's also the factor of their max squad size. That leaves us with Howling Banshees and Striking Scorpions. Both are good units and each has a specialty: Scorpions are meant for horde or swarm style armies, and Banshees are meant for pretty much everything else. So, when tournaments require you to have a submitted list that you can't change out throughout the tournament, how are you supposed to prepare?
Based on the math, against all opponents, your best choice is the Scorpions. They offer some durability with a 3+ armor save (fortune is the win here), but still suffer from only being toughness 3. They have an increased number of attacks with the mandiblasters, and the option for a power fist. These guys will do well against horde/swarm armies, as mentioned earlier, as well as tactical marines and other similar units. In the grand scheme of the game though, Scorpions may seem lackluster, but there is a lot going for them. Their biggest asset is their initiative 5. Against most armies, this means you're going first with roughly 40 attacks at WS4, and with the +1 strength from their swords, they'll be converting wounds nicely. With farseer support, these guys can really hurt. They do have their issues though. First, they're not fleet. A trade-off for better armor essentially, but they can purchase move through cover cheaply. There's still the issue of toughness 3, but a re-rollable 3+ armor save (fortune) balances that out, but their biggest weakness is the metagame. There are just so many marines out there that fielding these guys is just a little impractical. While I would always bet on the scorpions beating out a squad of tacticals, they aren't capable of killing it fast enough to prevent a counter from a more "elite" unit, like terminators. With the 40K gaming scene being saturated with marines players, Scorpions just don't get a large enough opportunity to shine. Another good example would be the new inquisitorial henchman from the new GX codex. The death cult assassins are scary. Hopefully, we may see the Scorpions moved to a troops slot position with a new Eldar codex in the future (they did it with incubi in the DE dex :) ). That may pave the way for a more elite assault choice, or possibly give them a chance to buff up the Banshees.

Speaking of Banshees, they are our next topic. While I said that Scorpions are the overall best choice, Banshees are the most practical. They hurt marines players where it matters: in the armor save. What's critical though for these guys to function is access to a transport, which presents it's own issues, but I digress. With only a 4+ armor save and toughness 3, bolter fire is just terrifying. If you do have to move these ladies on foot, make sure to abuse the cover save rules and "fleet" as much as possible. Once you do get an assault off, just watch your opponent melt. Properly run, again with farseer support, you can statistically kill a whole squad of tacticals on the charge, as well as a squad of regular termies (based on an average squad size of 5, and no storm shield). Despite their being frail, they do have an good defense of having a srong offense. You should kill enough models to wipe out an entire 5 - 10 man squad, or leave only a couple models behind such that the return attacks won't really matter. With the guarantee to always go first, this is an effective defense method. And as far as the metagame goes, pesky rules like Feel No Pain, which is fairly common now, and will be even more so when Necrons hit, won't matter. So with Banshees, they are the winner for now with current game trends, but make sure to avoid swarms at all costs. Killing 10 out of 30 orks isn't that great an accomplishment :P

So what is the current status of the Eldar as far as assaults go? It depends. While lauded as their greatest asset, the specialization of the assault units makes them unwieldy to play consistently. And while I know that this isn't unique to the Eldar (Ork boyz can actually walk all over terminators just through sheer attrition for example), it's just painfully more obvious. Also, while I will stand by Wave Serpents till the end of days as the best transports in the game, the lack of assault vehicles as well as just the general rules exacerbate the situation. If spinning a vehicle didn't count as movement for the purpose of assaults, that would make things much easier to work with as far as Eldar assaulting. If you do plan on running either of the assault units mentioned, knowing and understanding their strengths and weaknesses is critical. In all situations, no Eldar unit should be operating on its own. For example, there should always be farseer support, or the scorpions are assaulting after a bladestorm to mop up the survivors, etc.

To sum everything up, assaulting for the Eldar is tricky. Each type of assault unit has little idiosyncrasies that make it good vs some, and bad vs others. You should obviously choose what you're most comfortable with, but if you plan on competing, Banshees seem to be the best choice right now with so many marines players. I'd love to hear some other thoughts out there.


P.S. I just realized I forgot a whole other unit, but I can sum them up very quickly: friends don't let friends play harlequins.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Eldar and "Decisive Assaults"

'Ard Boyz has been announced for August 13th, and my wheels are already spinning!

Unfortunately my first go at 'Ard Boyz last year ended with a poor positioning for me, and I don't want that to happen again. So where to start? A friend of mine once offered a comment that I completely agree with: "Warhammer 40K is a game of shooting with decisive assaults." This statement rang true with me immediately, and it's now a core concept that I build upon. Assaults are endeavors that usually require a significant time investment (measured in turns) on the part of a particular unit, and if you're running asault units, typically you have a plan for getting them into assault with your desired target and plan the assault occurring on your own terms. Usually this means cracking open a tank and assaulting the soft, gooey center on inside. Opening tanks is not a hard thing to do with a shooty army like the Craftworld Eldar, but the Eldar, unfortunately, aren't all that great at the assault phase. Their codex is built very much around the old editions (it is a 4th edition codex after all) when transports weren't all that great, and foot slogging was the primary means of moving around. "Footdar" lists are some of the best as far as foot slogging goes, and are only bested by Orks. Fleet, 2 different types of jump infantry and Eldar Jetbikes, and the Avatar are only a few items that make them hard to challenge on foot. There's also Heavy Support options like Wraithlords and Dark Reapers. Unfortunately, this all goes down the drain with the metagame. The point I'm trying to make here, is that Eldar assault units are built with the old metagame in mind and trying to use them effectively now on a consistent basis is tough, especially with a lack of zero assault vehicle options. It wouldn't be quite so bad if rotation didn't count as movement as far as assaults go, but it does. It's also worthwhile to note that one of our most popular "elite" assault units is only slightly better than space marine troops choices.

The best approach to Eldar assaults is to go with units that can "self-propel" as it were. And since both of the jump infantry units are dedicated to shooting (go figure, right?), this leaves jetbikes. In particular, bike councils and shining spears are the best choices for trying to own the assault phase, and each tends to specialize in handling a certain type of enemy. It is the Eldar after all...

Bike councils are best for assaulting vehicles, monstrous creatures, and basic infantry, and they can hold up a tougher (throughout this article, my standard for tough will be terminators) unit for quite a while. Vehicles and monstrous creatures are a no-brainer: Strength 9 vs armor means you'll have an easy time damaging any tank, including Land Raiders with the sheer number of attacks a properly built council can put out (please note, I said damaging, not destroying :P ). Monstrous Creatures are known for having a high toughness, and these guys get to ignore it. With Farseer support, you should have fortune running, meaning that you'll have a re-rollable 3+ armor and 4+ invulnerable, which again allows them to hold their own against Monstrous Creatures. Against elite choices though from other armies, namely terminators, they fall flat though. For as awesome as Witchblades are, they aren't power weapons, and unfortunately a generic farseer doesn't come with a power weapon option.

Normally, there would be two ways to hurt terminators (generally speaking): attrition or power weapons/AP2 shooting. A bike council offers neither. Unlike other "leadership level" models in the game, warlocks and farseers only have 1 attack on their profile, and the best shooting they have to offer, including powers, is AP4. The only saving grace the Eldar have in this situation is their durability. A fortuned 4+ invulnerable can be very frustrating to your terminator wielding opponent, and with you usually going first, there's a good chance you can kill 1 terminator before he gets to roll against you. In these situations, if it is critical that a terminator unit does not reach a certain destination on the board, I will assault them with the bike council to hold them up for a good 2 turns.
The Shining Spears is a unit that I tended to overlook a lot, but I've been studying them a lot more recently, and they're becoming more appealing to me. They're decent at damaging light armored vehicles (rhinos or less) and they have Str 6 power weapons on the charge (yes they can shoot their laser lances, but str 6 with the lance effect is laughable). With hit and run, this unit can own. The drawbacks? Cost, max unit size, and their durability. They are expensive at 35 points/model without upgrades, and their limited to only 5 bikes in a squad. "But if they're so expensive, why is a small squad size so bad?" Well Jimmy, that means that the unit suffers hard with each casualty. If I'm going to spend a lot of points on a unit, I want them to survive the trip and still have some punch to them. I know at toughness 4(3) and having a 3+ armor save makes these guys tough as nails by Eldar standards, but anything that can kill marines with ease will rip this expensive unit to pieces. Abusing the already abuseable cover save rules will be your only choice. With farseer support, these guys can do reasonably well against units like regular termies (and by regular, I mean no storm shield). Their main issue is their squad size. It is severely limiting here. A good charge with farseer support can yield 2-3 dead termies (assuming 5+ save) on average. With normal squad sizes being 5, this can really hurt your opponent, but the return attacks will pretty much end the combat. Even against two termies, you're going to lose 2 bikes and there's nothing you can do to really stop it. Hit and Run will offer a chance to survive, but you're still hoping for a good roll.

In regards to jetbikes vs more elite opponents, you have mobility. It's usually best to ignore them. If it's inevitable, just do your best to make sure it's on your terms.

Quickly, I'd like to sum up how these units would work against horde type armies: Councils would do well, but not because of their assault prowess, but rather because of their entire package. Destructor is great for dealing with hordes, and fortuned 3+ armor means that even against a deluge of attacks, losses will be minimal. Here are the odds: a 2+ armor save has a ~17% chance to fail. A re-rollable 3+ has an ~11% chance to fail, so against a full squad of Ork boyz for example, a bike council is more durable than even TH/SS terminators (in terms of vanilla marines). This is all a calculated risk of course as it depends on the successful cast of Fortune.

Shining Spears on the other hand will fall rather ungracefully under a tide like this. As far as durability goes, they're basically just regular space marines, practically speaking. Better to keep these guys to intercepting basic infantry (essentially troops) and lightly armored vehicles (speeders, rhinos, etc).

If you're planning on running a bike council and it's going to be the focal point of your army, one thing you can do to increase it's killiness is to run it with a farseeer and an autarch. The autarch, properly equipped, can add a lot of power to the unit. He can bring either a regular power weapon, or, as I would suggest, a laser lance. The laser lance strikes on initiative, so if you have a warlock with enhance in the unit (which you should!), you end up with 5 S6 power weapon attacks striking on initiative 7, with farseer support. For extra fun, since a biker is relentless, you can give the autarch a reaper launcher :)

Now, if you think I'm completely writing off the effectiveness of the other assault units, Banshees and Scorpions, I'm not. Part 2 will talk about how to best utilize these guys.