Monday, October 31, 2016

Dark Eldar Battle Report

Here's a quick hitter of a battle report for you.  I wrote it in my usual cinematic style.  Enjoy

My Dark Eldar fought the Hammer of the Emperor. Quarters deployment.

They brought Knight Commander Pask and his three tank unit along with a bevy of other tanks. there must have been four or five Chimeras, 6 Leman Russ variants and a bunch of soldiers sprinkled in along with Wyverns (Wyverns are so good!).

The Dark Eldar skulked in ruins while the enemy fired a couple of shots, glancing a Raider but otherwise leaving them unharmed under the cover of night. The hornets nest was ruffled and the Raiders screamed across the gulf between the two forces, occupying the center of the Battlefield, while the Ravagers took shots at the Demolisher to silence its gun for a round. Pask ordered his men to open fire and they obliterated the Dark Eldar Warlord, his transport and all but one of his (now wounded) Abberations thanks to the devastation wrought by the Wyverns. First Blood and the glory of slaying the Warlord went to the Emperors finest. The Emperors mailed fist also smashed at the hulls of other transports, finally dumping the other Grotesque unit out unceremoniously in the middle of the field.
The smiles quickly faded as reserves arrived. The BeastMaster lashed his dark Menagerie from the shadows and into the fray, coming from reserve on the enemies southern flank, while a venom far in my deployment zone alighted to the ground to start handling objectives. Overhead screamed the dread engines of none other than the VoidRaven Bomber. Thanks to his adroit disposition of Troops, Pask forced the Bomber to have nowhere to land and drop its bomb, so it was left to attempt the murder of the Wyverns without it. It killed one while stunning and tearing at the other.

Meanwhile, the lone Abberation that was allowed to live smashed into the damaged Demolisher and wrecked it.  The Court of the Archon streamed forth and smashed both Commander Pask and one of his two attendant tanks into oblivion, leaving the third barely functional. The Grotesques smashed into the blockading Chimeras, tearing them asunder. The full on wrath of the Archons was made manifest in that moment.  The blood orgy could begin.
The Executioner turned around and blasted the Court of the Archon knowing that to do so left the dangerous Abberation behind it.  Most of his compadres joined in until only two Sslyth and an Ur-Ghul remained, in vengeful counter fire. The IG Command team revved their engines and moved to a better position to fire their bombardment from next turn, while the Remaining Chimera made a mad dash to try and secure objectives later, hiding its bulk in the shadows of a large central building from the Ravagers. The Guardsman unleashed their firing fury to help protect the Wyvern while they could. Pasks remaining tank took aim and fired on the Sslyth as well but it was looking grim as the Incubi had silently arrived in the back of the Imperial Guardsmans deployment zone like a lightning bolt the previous turn.  It was made ready to form the anvil to the BeatsMasters hammer next round. Nothing seemed to work for the Guardsman entirely even though all their units got good production overall. The jinking thing that held the incubi was able to survive, albeit losing its weapon and becoming stunned.
The Dark Eldar VoidRaven Bomber streaked overhead and damaged a Chimera with its bomb and ended the Wyverns. The Incubi gushed out like ichor from the wounded Raider and obliterated a unit of guardsman. The Executioners tank commander fell to the remaining Abberation who tore open the hatches with abandon and ripped flesh and bone asunder.  The second unit of guardsman next to the Incubi were no more fortunate, killed by the Court of the Archon they had devastated with their fire.  The Sslyth advanced undaunted after overwatch killed their Ur-Ghul. The Court of the Archon was exultant and victorious. The BeastMasters , having arrived last turn, smashed into Pasks last remaining Leman Russ and killed it while the undamaged unit of Grotesques killed everything in front of them. One Ravager immobilized itself but the other didn't, slicing forward and around the large central building to kill the insolent Chimera that made a dash for objectives. All that was left was the Commander and his Chimera, surrounded on all sides, back in his original deployment zone.

A flutter of hope approached, as a lone Vindetta screamed from the skies, its fellows having been destroyed in the stratosphere above on the way in, one assumed.  It fired down on the Voidraven bomber but only glanced it. The Company Commander ordered his Master of Ordinance to fire on the clumped up BeastMasters, which he dutifully did, annihilating a huge clump of them in the center of their bunched up arrangement around the now dead dead Leman Russ.
And then his Commander pulled the pin on his grenade, to disallow any of them from being captured alive. For only the fortunate die in Dark Eldar raids and they knew it.  They now count themselves among the fortunate.
Dark Eldar Victory.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Optimized Stealth Cadre in the Field

I went to an ITC Grand Tournament this weekend and decided to use that as an excuse to get my third Ghostkeel painted, which has been sitting around for a year.  I was so excited to get those things originally and yet I somehow just never actually got around to playing the third one.

I would like to hi-lite this Formation.  This formation isn't a secret, and it has gotten a lot of play online.  It was the subject of some controversy in the ITC which fortunately got resolved.  I am here to report as a player who attends a lot of tournaments, that I have never seen it fielded.  Not one time.  Not by anyone.  We know it obviously must be used somewhere but given the incredibly competitive "meta" (boy do I despise that word) I play in, I would have thought that if the Formation were any good, it would have seen a lot of play.  It hasn't.

The strength of the Formation is its Stealthsuits.  Stealthsuits have been maligned for so long, that I wonder aloud if it is just the old bias that causes people not to make use of it.  The Stealthsuits become absolutely fantastic at killing vehicles without the need for a Fusion Blaster in the unit.  Because they need no Fusion Blaster to kill a vehicle, it increases their already intrinsically good anti-personnel firepower by allowing them to keep their Burst Cannons.  For those who may not know, 6 stealthsuits pump out 24 STR 5 AP 5 shots from models that can use terrain to gain 2+ cover saves.  Nicely complimenting this is that when the Wall of Mirrors Formation benefit is active, they get +1 Ballistic Skill without the need for a Markerlights (or just to augment the Markerlights they do have).  Perhaps as importantly, the Wall of Mirrors Formation benefit grants the Ignore Cover rule when activated.  Finally it causes them to strike the rear armor of vehicles, which is why they don't need the Fusion Blaster anymore.

All of this happens only when they are within 6" of the Ghostkeel, so it drastically changes the normal way you'd use Stealthsuits which is as forward and independent operators working as harassment on the flanks or as stealthy line breakers.  In the Optimized Stealth Cadre, they become a mainline unit.  They and the Ghostkeel Battlesuits act like a walking hedgehog that moves forward and backwards to stay just at maximum range of the enemy, then fading back, all the while firing with abandon.

The Formation on its own is good, but when you look at how you can outfit the component parts of it, you start to see more value.  The Stealthsuits are able to use the Ghostkeels or terrain as cover, which in turn means they are essentially running around with 2+ cover saves most of the game.  Anything in the game that can negate AP plus grants a 2+ save is already brilliant.  The Stealth and Shrouded that Stealthsuits get natively makes them much harder to remove than their T3 would suggest.  In addition, if someone has Ignores Cover as a rule, the Stealthsuit has a native 3+ armor.  Only the most powerful weapons with Ignores Cover are going to take away our opportunity to survive incoming fire.  Even when the enemies are capable of all of it, as I will explain below, the enemy may not STAY capable of it for long.

The Ghostkeels come with Stealth Drones which, when alive, are allowing the Ghostkeels Shrouding, and they already have stealth.  The Drones double both bonuses when the unit is over 12" away from an enemy.  Like the Stealthsuits they therefore also walk around the board with a 2+ cover save in the open most of the time.  They are also T5, so this adds to their fortitude a great deal.  The one threat to them would be STR 10 ranged weapons which can double them out if they fail a save.  To protect against this possibility somewhat, they come with a one use only Holophoton Copuntermeasure (per Ghostkeel) which is the equivalent of an F15 throwing chaff when enemy missiles lock onto them.  The in-game effect is that against that one shooting unit, they force it to snap fire.  Ergo, once per game they could stop a Manticore or something similar from hitting their unit.  Each Ghostkeel Battlesuit has this.  You could therefore negate up to three units from firing for one round in total so choose wisely when you decide to use it.  I have chosen unwisely before.  You have to trust the shadows somewhat if you play this type of Formation but when STR 10 weapons go off, you will definitely want to mitigate that type of weapon in particular.

There is further reason to rejoice with Ghostkeels.  The unit has the FireTeam rule.  When a Tau unit has three vehicles or monstrous creatures in one unit, they get +1 Ballistic Skill.  This dovetails with the Wall of Mirrors nicely, allowing the unit to fire at BS 5 as long as the Wall of Mirrors is up.  This makes them effectively independent of the need for Markerlights (though again, the Stealthsuits could use the help sometimes, so don't get too cocky and leave the Markerlights entirely at home).

So what I did with it is I took all three Ghostkeels in the unit and their attendant 6 Stealth Drones.  I gave one of them a Velocity Tracker, all of them Early Warning Override.  I also added the TL Fusion Blaster to each one.  As far as main armaments go, I added the Ion Raker to two of therm and the Fusion Collider to one of them.

For the Stealthsuits, which you are required to take two units of in this Formation, I maxed them out at 6 each and added my favorite Stealthsuit upgrade, the Advanced Targeting System (ATS) which makes all of the shots precision shots.  This is a critical element of their defense capability because it allows them to attack with a massive number of shots into a unit that has an important upgrade in it.  The two units can pour 48 shots into a unit, which is 8 chances to snipe the Sorcerer at the center of a Screamer star, the Apothecary in the bike unit, the Sanguinary Priest in the Death Company, the Power Axes in an Imperial Guard blob squad, the Tempest Launcher in a Dark Reaper Squad, the Auspex used by the Scions of Mars, the Hunters Eye in a Biker Squad and the list goes on.  Knocking out the specialized upgrades can make a huge difference to the Tau chances at victory.

The concept is to drop the upgrade characters (and as many of the fellows around him) as possible before then dropping the boom on them with the firepower of the Ghostkeels.  This is what I meant when I said that the enemy unit may not STAY capable of negating our cover.

The Ion Raker on the Ghostkeel is typically the weapon the Internet pundits (who seemingly never actually play the Formation) recommend.  I am inclined to agree that all around it is the superior weapon, but it does have limitations the Fusion Collider does not.  So I chose to have at least one Collider.  Imagine you want to fire at three different targets using a Target Lock.  The Fusion Collider plus Twin-Linked fusion Blaster both generally have the same type of target they can go after, such as monoliths, obelisks Land Raiders and the like which Ion Rakers cannot, even with Wall of Mirrors.  Having the option to do that is important because STR 7 AP 4 Ion Rakers simply will be laughed at by such vehicles.  I want a real chance to drop those kinds of things, or at minimum damage them to the point of ineffectiveness (stunned or weapons blown off etc...).  In the case of an Obelisk its unlikely I would be splitting my fire early, but it's quite likely that I would later in the game when it has lost a lot of hull points.  I don't want to be forced to "waste" a ton of my firepower to finish it off or any Super Heavy actually.

The Ion Raker can fire in two modes.  The first is a STR 7 AP 4 grouping of six shots.  The other a large blast, STR 8 AP 4.  Like other Ion weapons it Gets hot if you do the latter.  The great thing about it though is that the blast will double out multi-wound models and get past Feel No Pain that many units can gain through various means.  The AP however does leave something to be desired against many characters and "major figures", but the volume is good and anything that gives you yet more ways around people shenanigans like FnP is a good thing.  At BS 5, the large blast will be pretty accurate.

That brings me to another reason I like having the singular Fusion Collider.  If you blow away the ablative wounds of a unit using the other weapons, you may now expose the important characters to the Small Melta blast that the Fusion Collider throws, causing Instant Death more convincingly than the Ion Raker and without Gets Hot.  As a "finishing" weapon it has a real place in the unit and as all weapons are fired as groups, it can go last.  This might seem counter-intuitive at first because it's a blast and conventional wisdom is to fire them first to maximize the number of people they hit.  In actual play there have been many times I wished I had saved it for last just for this chance to finish an important figure that the other weapons weren't as good at damaging.  At Ballistic Skill 5, the scatter isn't terrible, though still an issue.  I think you will need to do the calculations in each instance to determine how likely the characters are to survive the initial Ion Raker fusillad, and whether it seems likely that they might have the wounds to outlast it all (such as in Ork units which might be led by a Nob).  If so, then fire it beforehand but if it seems like you can get to the character after its all said and done, fire it after the ion Rakers and assuming everything stays in range, then use the TL fusion Blasters last.

After playing games with the Optimized Stealth Cadre Formation in actual tournament play I am going to rate it a definite A.  The Stealthsuits in particular just find a home here that they have never had.  I was able to wipe out four enemy vehicles and a Corsair command squad in one go using the combination of the Stealthsuits targeting vehicles, and then the Ghostkeels firing down on the other targets separately.  The Ion Raker in conjunction with the Wall of Mirrors Formation benefit is murderous to most vehicles and for everything else, there's the Fusion Collider.  The Collider ended an entire unit of Corsairs and their leader, which he was none too happy about.  That leader was about to make soup out of my Ghostkeels.  it was him or me.

I hope this opens it up for people wanting to play Stealthsuits.  While the big robots do what big robots do, the real winners were the Stealthsuits who can now be your true swiss army knife, knocking off vehicles, blowing up hordes, and Sniping out the important enemy elements.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Traitors Hate Core Units.

 The new Chaos Space Marines supplement updates the Codex: Chaos Space Marines in several ways and adds a lot of utility to both the normal Chaos Space Marine and also the Black Legion forces.

Giving Monster Hunter and Tank Hunter to Predator units of 3, and indeed allowing them to BE units of three is new.  Many people have said in the past that if they didn't take up three slots, they might well take three tanks.  The number one inequity in the Chaos Codex is against Eldar, in many peoples view.  Giving Chaos a unit of LasCannon predators means you can really lay down the pain on a WraithKnight, and make it count.  All large targets are on notice now, as it poses a very legitimate threat plus keeps the slots free for Obliterator Cults or other heavies you might want.

Traitors Hate also allows the triple Vindicator option as well now.  I am somewhat less enthused there.  I feel and always have felt that the range on them makes them very good as reserves but poor as mainline battle tanks, and are much more a deterrent than an actual offensive weapon.  Having said that, if you reserve them and bring them on now, and IF all three are in range and able to fire (the wording here is sloppy and does not make clear that all three must be in range of the target) it can fire an apocalyptic blast that gains the Ignores Cover special rule.  Well needless to say, that is really good against a lot of things.  Multi wound models and those that rely heavily on cover will not like that. You could take an entire Optimized Stealth Cadre off the board with just one blast.  Strategically, it's a strong move against Space Wulfen as well, who rely on getting to you and they tend to end up clumped after their initial target is dead.  In fact there aren't many targets that would like it very much.  It doesn't solve the basic inequity between Chaos and Eldar as much as the Predators do, but lets face it:  it's pretty damn fun to drop that template on someones horrified visage.

The big finds in the Traitors Hate book though aren't these admittedly significant changes.  The Formations that the book features are very good.  I'll start with the Core designated units, and first among them is the Black Crusade Detachment.  Like the Decurion and the many similar "super detachments" like it, this one has all new Command Benefits that reach into every Detachment that is a part of the super detachment.

You get to re-roll Warlord traits, you get Hatred against the armies of the Imperium, and you get Veterans of the Long War for free.  Now this last piece is useful right away because Detachments that are said to be Black Legion must take Veterans of the Long War.  In essence, you get to be Black Legion for free if you put them in the super formation.  How important is that?  I calculated my old Chaos Space Marine Night Lords list and how I had them set up (because I wanted the Hand of Darkness and the Eye of Night in my life), and this saved about 100 points!  Not all armies are built with Black Legion in mind of course, but for those who do, or who sorely wished they could if not for the added tax, this Black Crusade "super detachment" will be a big and welcome thing.

The Path to Glory Command Benefit is super cool.  You start getting Chaos Boons every single turn!  This is actually a big deal because the Chaos boons are by and large extremely useful and they represent serious upgrades in most cases. The best thing is, you don't have to kill anything to get the Chaos Boon.  Just assign it.  Even better, this dovetails with the new Chaos Warband Formations ability (the Core Formation you will want to use in a Black Crusade super detachments if you're going to play it as a Black Legion army), which essentially lets you gain one or both of the boons you roll, your choice... which is really a buffer against becoming a spawn and makes your characters become really powerful, really fast.

The Black Crusade super detachment requires you to take a Chaos Warband Formation, consisting of 1 Chaos Lord, 1-3 Chosen, Terminators or Possessed, 2-6 Chaos Marine units. 1-3 Raptor, Warp Talon or Chaos Bikers and 1-3 havocs or Helbrutes.  That is actually a fairly significant tax except that every single thing in the Chaos Warband Formation gets the Objective Secured rule!  Unlike some super formations, this particular benefit is specific to the units in the Chaos Warband, but it is a REALLY significant benefit.

Now my personal list wouldn't benefit as much from this Formation because being forced to slot in an extra Helbrute and a Terminator Squad to make it work (for me) would be tough to do; but this Formation is ideal for a lot of people since so much of this is commonly in normal Chaos Space Marine forces.

Two other "Core" Formnations exist besides just the Chaos Warband Formation.  You may also choose instead the Maelstrom of Gore or Lost and the Damned Formations as your Core.

For those who own a lot of cultists, or who have older IG converted armies, this is kind of fun.  A Dark Apostle and 4-9 Cultists units are the Formation.  A Tide of Traitors is one of their Formation benefits, which says that when destroyed, you get another identical unit in ongoing reserve on a 4+.  What is amazing from an objective stealing standpoint is that these new units are outflankers!  That allows you to push them forward heedless of the danger and then later in the game go after objectives.  Opponents of this Formation will want objective markers as far from the flanks as they can place them.  Even more compelling as a reason to consider it is that the Dark Apostle makes everyone zealot within 6" of him from that Formation.  So imagine them rushing forward, never breaking, clogging up units, taking up space; and when the enemy is in poor position and over committed to killing them, the units just return for more, over and over again.  Talk about not knowing where the enemy is coming from!

If Khorne is your thing, the Maelstrom of Gore is your answer.  Kharn the Betrayer and 4-8 berzerker units later and you're golden.  People actually have enough of these models in some cases to field it straight up and it's cool to see this much maligned, but much loved, Chaos character get the treatment.  The Formation gets Blood Crazed, which is Fleet, but even better is, they get +3" to their charges.  Yikes.  We've seen this have a significant impact on Skitarii and other armies, and even slaanesh units within the Codex:  Chaops Space Marines.  Getting away from the Khornites just got dicey.  The Red Rain Formation Benefit is insane.  It basically says that before anything moves (in your turn), if you're engaged you get to pile in and attack for free with no response from the enemy allowed!  This takes away some of the worry about being strung out as you deploy them in large circles to avoid blasts.  Enemies charging them to take advantage of their defensive posture (and to steal the berzerkers charge attacks) will have a rude awakening when the Khorne berzerkers shred the unit that assaulted them, then move shoot and assault again!  SURPRISE! It might be the only time an enemy ever wants to assault the berzerkers and then use the Hit and Run rule on their own turn; because doing that avoids being assaulted three times in two combat phases!  Whether the enemy does or doesn't Hit and Run against it, its a nasty ability.

The destruction Kharne himself can cause doing this alone is pretty impressive when you consider the math and it also means that downing a WraithKnight is much easier because it doesn't get to fight back before you try to kill it an extra time.  That will come as at least some consolation to players who have seen the WraithKight inconveniently smash into, hide in combat and then free themselves from helpless flattened berzerkers.

So the Chaos Space Marines now have some pretty beefy Core choices to place inside the Black Crusade Detachment.  If you have experience using these Formations I would love to hear about it in the comments below.