'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.