Thursday, September 27, 2012

40K Sisters of Battle Tactica…6.0

With the tremendous success I have had, using three different builds within the confines of the new Sisters of Battle Codex, I feel qualified now to offer some observations for 6th Edition.

My first observations are on how they interact with some of the newer rules and then some more tactical observations.
Overwatch:  One of their most glaring weaknesses is in melee.  Simply put, the Sisters of Battle cannot hang with most moderate quality assault units.  The Overwatch mechanic rewards the Sisters of Battle with a way to even the odds and there is little in the way of disincentives for taking flamers.  Clearly no army boasts more flame than the Sisters of Battle.   This is accentuated by another rule:
Pistols and Grenades!  They have them now.  Vehicles fall to Krak grenades just fine now that you’re hitting on 3+ at worst.  Grenades have made it a no brainer to have a lot of flame and mobility, even over harder hitting options because grenades can do what meltas were often called to do.  The base Sisters of Battle unit I used in all cases took just Flamers and Combi-flamers.  The impressive damage on offense and on defense is fairly dramatic.  Another rule that helps them make this choice is that they have PISTOLS now.  This always seemed like such a necessary change to me and I am glad they did.  Pistols make them much more deadly and a single Grenade can even be thrown by one of the sisters in place of their pistol shot before they charge if they even need to! 
Challenges:  As squishy as Sisters are, it was quite common for an enemy IC to detach and attack a unit of Sisters on his own.  With the rules allowing you to re-roll dice in a challenge once per 5 chix in the unit, this REALLY makes up for the strength and stat differences between those charging and the leader being charged.  Challenges insulate the rest of the unit from overkill as an added bonus.  I literally can’t count how many times opponents “dissed” my Sisters by attacking with an IC.  They were right to do it.  Now my IC’s and my Sister Superiors are at a more even footing, and could even kill an aggressive IC with a bit of luck.  They can take Power Axes too, which enhances the Sisters of Battle in attempting this feat; and a 6+ invul tilts the wheel yet further.  So while they will never be overwhelming favorites in challenges, just the protection of the unit from overkill will be worth its weight in gold many times. 
So using the rule, the Sisters can either fire + absorb a charge without the challenge (to ensure they break and leave the enemy out in the open) OR they can fire pistols + flamers, charge and challenge, giving them a good chance of not ending up in the open themselves.
Mixed AP:  you choose the order that wounds with different AP are taken.  As such, mixed weapons units are now fairly interesting.  Two of my Retributors have two Heavy Bolters and two Multi-meltas each.  If a unit is being led by a Terminator sort, I can say “AP first”.  If the Terminator is behind his men like the coward he is, then you just reverse it.  Wound allocation has changed and had a profound effect on how useful or even “viable” (as some internet snoots are wont to term things) mixed weapon units are.  Devastator Squads with a couple Plasma Cannons are a great example of how the Mixed AP can really be used to advantage with, say, Heavy Bolters for killing out of sight targets that you normally can't with Heavy Bolters.
Pre-Measuring:  Staying at a maximum distance always had it’s virtue but now is easier.  The force is more surgical because it knows EXACTLY how long it will take to execute the plan, when one can sacrifice movement, and when one can’t.  Those pieces of information help ALL armies but when your EFFECTIVE range for almost the entire force is 8”-12”, the importance of that fact increases exponentially for Sisters players.  Sans a couple units, you really aren’t hitting from much farther than that in most games. 

So then how to PLAY with this army now?
Pushing the field and getting right on top of the enemy aggressively seems an unlikely but excellent way to go.  Meltaguns in your squads aren’t the absolute necessity they might have once seemed for the normal Troop Choices.  Only Land Raiders and Flyers are really beyond the normal scope of the army to deal with thanks to grenades. 

Gone are the days of trying to keep the game close until the end, then obliterating large chunks of the enemy with little in the way of return enemy fire.  Though that was pretty wise before (as assault armies were just ridiculously awesome at killing us), it now is not as necessary.  Wholesale slaughter as you go is A-OK and losses along the way are easier…much easier… to bear as I will explain.  But first a word about deploying:
The Bell Formation works really well for surging forward.  Rommel used it in Africa and in essence the tanks form a wide shell around the spread out army as it trundles forward.  The army takes up as much space as it can and keeps in motion to make it tougher to hit, but the real value of this almost horseshoe like formation is to frustrate deep strikers and those approaching early.  If you force the DS units out of the bell, then they don’t just risk mishap to try and attack, but the “innards” of the bell can almost all bring down crushing firepower without real risk of reprisal or gain by the enemy.  There effectively isn’t a safe “flank” to go after that won't get you killed.  This formation means you will not spread out as far with heavy weapons as other armies do either (explained more later).  It would take a massive Terminator unit to weather such a blizzard of shots and all the points spent on them are neutered.  Wise enemies won’t want to be near that bell when it is near full strength and can’t know which armored portions will actually crumble in time.  The enemy doesn’t get to time its drops unless they are Tau so the first two turns this really helps.
The force can overwhelm enemies with firepower that is both intense and affordable at short range.  The problem you find is that the platforms they are fired from (Sisters of Battle) are super brittle and enemy’s will pick off minimum sized units with relative ease and will very often outdistance you enough to do it to key units before you do it to them.  That leads to my next point.
While in other armies, minimizing unit sizes to allow maximum special weapons is popular, you might want to rethink that with Sisters of Battle.  10 man units, or at least LARGER units than are required, pay dividends for an army that MUST trek forward to be effective.  For example, I use an 8 Sister Retributor Squad with 4 x heavy Flamers in a rhino to keep them viable longer and frustrate the enemy.  Sisters of Battle units absolutely WILL take casualties faster than a lot of armies.  There’s nothing you can do to stop it and spending a bunch of points on weapons in units only to see them go away before they do anything is a pointless waste.  What you might gain in getting another piece of wargear or tiny extra unit is not worth the loss of the utility in the more important unit.  So take ablative wounds.
On that course of thought, my Dominion Squads are fully 10 strong, which many have discouraged, but I encourage.  The Dominions are simply devastating and if you use other units to screen while they do their grisly work, they can do it more than enough times to please any General.  Similarly, the precious scoring units already start 10 strong.  Embrace that not as a “tax” but instead as a smart move.  In fact I am sporting a 17 Sister strong scoring unit to envelope my HQ.  Warlord points are too important to just give up.  In the Relic Mission, you can tie as long as you don’t lose the Warlord and do get First blood, something Sisters of Battle are rather adept at getting!  If you go minimal in unit size, you might give up First Blood.

Seraphim need an Eviscerator if you take them.  Definite must.  I’d take one in any Seraphim squad and keep the squad small.  It’s my exception to the "super-size" rule because they MUST deep strike so close to the enemy to be effective that there’s nothing you can do to mitigate charges.  They kind of act on an island.  All you can do is take a few with you on the way out.  Still, as a “Drop wall” barricade, they work admirably and the pain they inflict is worthwhile.  Waltzing them across a field seems a poor move though.  They “outrun their coverage”, to use football parlance and become too easy as a target of opportunity.

Another Tactical point to be made:  range is an issue for Sisters of Battle and putting your retributors on the far wings is a mistake.  They simply can’t hit enough of the board when split off like that.  One is hitting or the other is hitting but rarely both.  So when deploying Retributors, they actually belong closer to center.  With so many units screening for them, they are far safer and will fire more times per game in the end.  This positioning also makes them harder to see by as many enemy units when obscured by the intervening vehicles, terrain and models.  As the board thins out, they will have nice shots to take as your last line of offense (and defense at times).  Cover saves aren’t AS big a deal now, so whereas giving enemies cover might have been a reason not to centrally deploy before, I’d say go ahead and place them closer to center now and even walk them up round 1 to get them into a better prepared position.  Last point on those:  being closer to center steals the “cheap kill” certain jump units or scouts are designed to get.

Don’t spend points on a Bastion to keep Retributors firing.  The static position of the bastion and the Retributor range make this kind of an iffy proposition for the price.   Sky shields are equally wasted.  You just have no unit that can take advantage of it for the price.
Aegis Defense lines can be used though and set straight in the middle of the board to slow enemies down from one flank or the other.  This little tactics of using it for that purpose rather than for static firing position plays to the Dominions strength as scouting units.  If you put it in a “maze” formation, you can really increase the DEPTH of the terrain feature as well which hurts enemy movement for a longer period potentially.  Having it farther forward is nothing but an asset for Sisters players, as Dominion take control of the cannon with their “off” models and patiently fire from behind it with tremendous effect.  Just slowing an enemy’s move and/or charge for one round is big big big for Sisters of Battle who aren’t assault friendly.  Slowing the enemy also feeds right into the Celestian notes (see below) as far as helping them do their job.

Battle Conclaves, Penitent Engines and Sisters Repentia are the legit melee threats in this army.  Amongst them, the Sisters Repentia seems the most economical for the destruction they cause and a unit of 7 or 8 dishes out a lot of pain against all unit types.  Now that their rules essentially are all positives and no negatives, you can REALLY use them to truck up as a counterattack unit.  They can't be in a Rhino to start but are fleet and so can even afford to start in the open behind your wall of other stuff.  The threat of Dominions and Retributors will likely keep the enemy focus on them plenty long enough to get up there and once there, the enemy now has multiple reasons not to want to charge anyways!  For whatever unit charges first will likely eat Repentia chain fists.  The Repentia ability to kill even in death is potent and not to be underestimated.  I have simultaneously killed Terminator Squads with them even though the Terminators killed all of them!  Pretty cool.  Tactically, the Repentias need to lag behind in the early going so they don’t become a target too early.   It is NOT a terrible idea to invest more points in the squad itself instead of a Rhino to carry them.  The extra casualties they can suffer effectively ARE their rhino.  Alternately a Rhino is a pretty cool idea but remember:  You can’t disembark and assault.  So they are a little slower to join the fray at times when ensconced in plasteel.
Celestians got a raw deal… Again….  Until you realize what they are best at:  Charging the enemy and clogging them for exactly two assault phases at very low cost.  If you foresee that the enemy will likely get the jump on you, feed them a garbage unit like a Rhino and then use the Celestians to defend the rest of the units for two phases by charging into melee Fearlessly, giving everyone behind them an entire round to kill other targets followed by setting the clogged unit up for annihilation as well.  “Super units” sometimes just cannot be stopped any other way but to delay them and then hit them with everything, but committing everything before the rest of the army is softened can be tough.  So Celestians are terrific at their cost for this duty when they go Fearless (either through their Act of Faith or through the bubble Kyrinov can provide).  The stumbling block they represent is the other unit I would not max out in size, but 6 or 7 of them is about right against most foes.

A lot of this advice comes down to the concept of “Acceptable losses”.  Your Sisters of Battle are scoring units until the last one dies!  Objectives are more important in all missions than actual kills.  3:1!!!  Stay at a 2:1 kill ratio and they cannot catch up if you take 3 point objectives, even when you seem to be losing the fight!  Most armies will not have the personnel to keep taking losses like you can.  Objectives WILL eventually open up from the bleeding.  That’s the moment of victory for Sisters of Battle. 

All those faithful allowed to die are vindicated and proven worthy by the victory they bring the Emperor and his loving servants!

Saturday, September 8, 2012

War Zone traits and my idea on them.

Warzone Traits

The game has many pages to read through and as so often happens, many people do not read all the interesting extra material the game book offers.  This is exacerbated by people who never buy the actual large book.  By not doing so, they miss out on a ton of information, fluff, and possibly context with which to view the game.

One of the more interesting ideas is the Warzone traits.  Newer players do not recall a lot of the older missions that had interesting Warzone effects.  I’ll recap just three of the more interesting ones as examples, from the past.  These aren’t their official titles or descriptors but veterans will recognize them:

  • Gravity variation where the units would either move faster or slower on any given turn because of a fluctuating gravity well.

  • Warp flux, that would allow ONE unit to deep strike every round (Necrons loved this one since it allowed some builds to actually deep strike two units every round!)

  • Odd Deployments of all kinds, but the one that was “oddest” is the triangular deployment that is now a staple of 6E.  there were others though, like the “L” shaped deployments and even the 18x 30 deployment scheme.

All these variations created challenges that went outside the normal missions.  In fact the “normal” missions in 3E and even in 4E weren’t that normal.  There were blockade running missions where one was trying to get off the board and the defender always went second and deployed in a column on the board.  There were missions where the objective was simply to control the table quarters against intruding units with whatever you could.  And so on.

In 6th Edition, they sort of collected a lot of those variations and added them as possible Warzone Traits, which are traits that sort of define the world you are on and its peculiarities.  Some have significant impacts, while others are merely interesting.  I used the Low Gravity Warzone Trait at a tournament I ran recently to see how that would go and was surprised that armies that seemed like it would create an advantage for lost and armies it might have created an apparent disadvantage for won.  In other words, the Trait made for very interesting choices by the players who were used to doing things ONE way and probably had their geometry down to a science and now were forced to both evaluate threats differently and also to consider the threat they now presented as well.

One thing I enjoy about 40K is the variety you can have in missions.  While we used only book missions and elements for this tournament, many TO’s have gone well above and beyond in crafting missions that essentially require players to create more considered and all comers type lists.  This social engineering is as common as rain in the Great Northwest.  The Warzone traits are worth a read.  On the surface they won’t all seem balanced in certain matchups, but if your goal is to mix things up and have a more interesting story told on the battlefield you might want to consider taking a gander at them and even making your own.  My imagination went crazy after reading that section of the large rulebook.

One idea I had and would love to hear ideas from are Race specific Warzone traits.  Here is how it would work:

When the pairings are made, the two across from each other would roll off to see which races planet(oid) they were fighting on and then randomly select one of three Warzone trait for that Race.

Here’s a fun example:

Breeding Season in OrkTown.  When fighting on such a planet at such a time, the spores of the ork breeding grounds are nothing short of problematic for all involved.  It is no wonder ork parenting leaves everything to be desired, as the miasma of it challenges even the hearty orks and their lung capacity at times.  Targeting and seeing are difficult.
Fighting on this planet causes all units to have the Stealth Special rule.  In addition, all area terrain is treated as infested with spores, and entering area terrain therefore will cause a unit, at the end of the movement phase to roll a toughness test or have their BS and WS reduced by one as the spores literally explode all around them causing them to find great difficulty seeing or concentrating on anything but hacking and wheezing as they inhale baby orks by the cloud full.

It’s a ‘ard knock Life.  The orks are known for their barbarism and Darwinist approach to life in general.  Starting at extremely young ages, the Orks are taught warfare and cunning as chief skills for advancement.  Orks are often shipped to “Ard Knocks school” which are barren planetoids where they send their children to essentially forced to form survivalist camps and play war games against each other.  The most astute (read:  surviving) children return home better for their experience.  Such camps are invariably hostile environments. 
At the end of every phase, when entering any area terrain, you may be attacked by young orks who have made this their home.  Though they are no match for your forces, they can still inflict damage with their stubborn youthful aggression.  Make an LD test.  Success means you’ve imposed your will on the yapping little runts and they run, causing no effect.  Failure means they make an effort to defend their hovels, doing D3 STR 3 automatic hits to the unit before being hammered into dust.  Vehicles and units embarked on them are not affected and never roll for this.  Even aggressive little runts don’t stand a chance against tanks and are smart enough to know it (just barely).

Fixin’ ta’ waaaaaaagh:  There’s a lot of planning and building to do when you are getting ready to burn the galaxy under the weight of your impressive green girth.  It is the massive buildup of concentrated Psychic Energy going on in such preparation and building areas that is the most telling sign to the Astronomicon that an invasion is imminent.  The machines of War the orks use, which work inexplicably despite their complete lack of mechanical soundness and engineering incongruity, are held together by the power of their psychic belief and this can be a dangerous place for any Psyker to attempt to be.
Psykers do not have the option of using the Primaris Power of their Discipline.  It must be rolled randomly.  In addition, latent psychic powers are ignited in those who did not know they had them.  Any HQ’s that did not start the game as Psykers are considered Psykers for this mission, with one Warp Charge and will roll randomly on the Biomancy chart for their Psychic power.
Fun things like this could really add some fun and variability without screwing one side or the other too much.  Just have to balance it out and make it as fair as possible (in tourneys).  In casual games…well…  Fairness can take a back seat to entertainment.  =)

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Precision Shot in Warhammer 40,000

As 6E rolls on, more important truths are becoming manifest in the 40K universe.

One of the truths is the impact of precision shot.  I was encuraged to write on that after a conversation about unit choices.  Somone pointed out that the old wisdom about what to take for units is being strongly influenced by this mechanic.  A unit of Snipers only needs to get lucky once or twice a game to REALLY cause a shockwave.

Some units are built with a very specfic mechanical combination in mind.  An example is a recent Dark Eldar list used at NOVA:  Maugan Ra attached to the Beast Masters.  Makes them fearless.  That, for BeastMasters, couldn't BE a bigger deal.  They are five times better when you simply can't break them.  Three Sniper hits can quickly end that and make the whole way you made the unit less effective.  In this instance the guy used a bunch of Kymerae and Razorwings.  With the BeastMasters leading the charge, they serve as ablative wounds for the much better parts of the unit.  So imagine the downer when in round one the 5 Beast Masters are killed (as intended) but then Maugan Ra gets sniped in the second! Your LD goes from fearless to a modest 5.  Ouch.  Relying on this one character is important from a points perspective but really the biggest buzzkill is the unit no longer really works well.  You go from probably getting 2 KP, maybe 3 with the unit all the way to maybe getting 1 or none because of the rounds you will lose regrouping from shooting morale tests (You can't charge on the round you regroup).

In close combat it was pointed out to me that the mantra of taking a commissar for most IG units may not be as great an idea as before.  Here again, precision shot both in shooting an in melee can get you.  Look ou Sirs on a 4+ are a big gamble if you're relying on the stubborn rule to maintain the quality of the unit.  Suddenly, Commissar Lords do look more apealing than they ever were before, as do LD buffs in general becauase of this and also because of the Warlord trait that forces you to use the lowest ld in a unit!  Single model units used to prop up LD getting killed is very bad.

The secret objective quality of re-rolling 1's becomes huge if a Sniper unit is on it.  Imagine the potential.  A character that adds preferred enemy like the Necron Destroyer Lord in a unit of Deathmarks is currently seen as very cool and would make you think twice about ANY 1 wound characters...  Like Sanguinary Priests! 

The moral of the story is that the days of single model upgrade characters could come to a grinding twisted metal halt unless they start giving them more wounds in future codex's.  Also, more people are going to be looking at taking snipers.  They're just too good not to give them a second look.

Monday, September 3, 2012


The Nova had some of our local generals place very high and that always brings things into focus more clearly and grabs the imagination a bit.

I have wondered how NOVA among the cornocopia of tournaments out there, got to be so big.  It seems to me that many tournaments aspire to the size and bredth that NOVA has attained but have largely failed.  I think to myself:  what are the key ingredients for such success?  As an organizer, it intrigues me what the mechanisms behind such success are.

The changes in the way they end the tournament are interesting, as only the finalists have to play on Sunday morning.  But this doesn't really explain how it exploded in the first place.  Like most of these, there is a tournament FAQ particular to the event, which is common enough, and the NOVA tournament is certainly well organized, but none of that happens until it is a bigger event to begin with.  It isn't really that centrally located, so that isn't the attraction either.

I looked into this and asked a few people and it appears that it began just like the Ambassadorial Tournament:  32 players, lots of food and in their case, an outdoor tournament (which I thought was interesting).  Nothing special.

What seems to have allowed it to launch into the stratosphere though was good old fashioned salesmanship.  The NOVA was catapulted by the efforts of organizers who went out on a MISSION to gain sponsors.  The Prize support and ability to promote that prize support to "serious" players was huge in its quick evolution and bigger yet in its ability to interest important players who people pay attention to online and otherwise.  In fact, today and forever, like most corporate affairs, this is now a machine, a phenomenon.

It is organized like a company with some of the cheapest and most readily available volunteer labor any company could hope for.  As this event, as well as Adepticon, Bay Area Open and others continue on that path, I foresee that sponsorships for this niche market are going to become more valuable to the sponsors themselves. 

Gamers represent an enormous internet presence vendors covet.  One can VERY easily argue that gamers were the impetus for the power the internet enjoys now, as well as its form today.  Business and other interests certainly have made it a more mainstream enterprise, but it is the techies, the gamers and the nerds who made it this kind of juggernaut.  I'd venture to say that more people ARE gamers than ever before BECAUSE of the internet!  That's important information for sponosrs to know.

So as the NOVA Tournament comes to a close, I wanted to find some takeaways from it.  Those takeaways for me were:

1.  A good and motivated sales team is needed to build this kind of event anywhere.
2.  Quality of terrain is very important, as discussion of it is rampant and prolific after these events.
3.  Innovative thinkers are needed in order to bring something new to the gaming table in the way of how the games are playerd and in creating a "style" the tournament will be known for.
4.  Generating internet buzz is a huge component of the success of these events.

With these important ideas in mind, already it is helping me think about how I can make the Ambassadorial Torunament stand out as a gem in the northwest, something we don't truly have as far as competitive events.  Our entire northwest way of thinking is so much more casual that such things are harder to create.  But I am convinced that we can get the prize support we would need to make this event something special and we can thank examples like the NOVA open for paving the way.

Congratz to the winners!  Now lets use their axample.