Sunday, 19 October 2014

Dark Eldar codex (2014) review part 2 - Troops and dedicated transports



Kabalite Warriors

Looking at their basic profile first there are two things that really stand out. First, they are just as skilled as a space marine, but only as strong and tough as a guardsman. This is one of the defining traits of the entire codex in actual fact. The Dark Eldar book is often described as a glass hammer or glass cannon, and this profile split shows why. Your own shooting is as powerful as anything in the game, when taking into account range, rate of fire etc. You’re almost uniquely ill-equipped to deal with the return fire however (there are more fragile troops, but none so costly in points terms).

Second – they’re fast. Despite being a basic troop type they will still strike in combat before just about any other unit in the game, including many characters. This is an important factor in the above point, both for the kabalite warriors and the wyches we’ll look at later. Now you might wonder why this matters on a unit that’s clearly not intended to be a combat effective option, but consider this – in the late game, the warrior unit brings three attacks each on the charge at S4 and Initiative 5 – that’s as many attacks as an assault marine, who would strike after you provided they’re either already in combat or you don’t have to charge through cover.

So in terms of options, what can we do for the warrior squad. Well the first upgrade is to make them trueborn, but as they then fall into the elite category I’ll deal with them later. Squad size begins small enough to fir in a venom, and ends at double what you can take in a raider. This gives us nice flexibility in purpose for the warrior squads, you can use minimum size squads to get access to venoms, gunboats to make use of the benefits raiders bring, or just max out the squad completely to really bring the pain down on the enemy.

As with most codices, you can upgrade one of the models to a sergeant character, in this case referred to as a sybarite. In profile as is fairly standard they bring an extra point of leadership and an extra attack, along with access to funky wargear. In the case of the Dark Eldar, I really don’t see the extra point of leadership to be all that important. Basic leadership is above the average roll for two dice, and there are two unique factors that combine to make this even less important. First, you’ll often be wanting to take your warriors on transports, which makes them fearless. If you’re not taking them on transports then you’ll probably be bringing them in via webway portal so they’ll be accompanied by a higher leadership character in any case. The extra attack for a sybarite can be useful, but it’s not going to make a massive difference when things get choppy choppy. So, you’ll be relying on the upgrades to make the sybarite worthwhile then, yes?

Again as is fairly normal, they can swap their rifle for a pistol, giving them two melee weapons at the cost of range, though in this case, they have the choice of two different pistols, one a version of the darklight weapons scattered throughout the list. Theoretically at least it’s a good pistol, but the range is incredibly short making it functionally difficult to use, and certainly not worth the points in a general list. The two important pieces of equipment though are haywire grenades (sure, it’s only one guy in the unit but they’re cheap and they can cause some serious damage when you cluster several units together). The upgrade I’m coming to see as a bit of a gem though is the phantasm grenade launcher – it’s basically a poor man’s Psychic Shriek, though its wounds cannot be applied to Fearless or ATSKNF models. This particular type of equipment can also be taken on the raider and used in combination with a model wearing the Armour of Misery for a negative leadership modifier, has the potential to rip casualties out of the heart of the enemy army and change the game on its own (bear in mind, the leadership modifier would also apply to morale tests caused by any casualties too). Clearly it works better on units with lower leadership, and if you can catch them close to their table edge and cause them to fall back off it, all the better!

On to upgrades for the unit, you can take one of two special weapons, one if the unit is minimum sized and two if you’ve maxed out the models. Here’s where I have an issue though – more so than many other armies, because the normal rifles carried by the unit are poisoned, they are completely incapable of harming tanks. As such, the weaponry in the unit is mono-tasked, and only one of the weapons that can be taken synergises with that task. Many reviews you’ll see will advise that you take as many blasters and dark lances as you can fit into your army, but that’s where I disagree – I don’t want to go into any game knowing that any of my units are going to be wasted. Taking a warrior unit with mainly anti-infantry shooting just to get access to a blaster (and possibly dark lance) seems counter productive as now the unit has two completely different targets. Sure, if you’re taking the blaster to boost your anti-infantry power (if you know you’ll be facing lots of power or terminator armour for example) then by all means, but I’d certainly advise against taking blasters for anti tank in a warrior unit (hint – that’s what trueborn are for). The other weapon option, the shredder, is mixed in terms of its effectiveness, I’d definitely say it’s mainly anti infantry, but it retains a certain amount of anti vehicle capability, at least for stripping the odd hull point, due to its high strength. The big problem with the shredder is it’s just a small blast, and any opponent who knows what they’re doing won’t let you hit more than one model at a time, in which case you’d have been better off taking the splinter rifle anyway (seriously, I do not know why they didn’t make the shredder a template weapon).

For heavy weapons, they are limited to a splinter cannon or dark lance. I’ll not mention the dark lance too much since it’s just a heavy version of the blaster (with a longer range) and therefore suffers all the same issues mentioned above. The splinter cannon however is an upgrade I just can’t decide on at the moment. It’s now a salvo weapon, 4/6, so at the very basic level it adds firepower of the same type to the unit, but at the cost of range if the unit moves. That’s fine I hear you say, why not just stay still, you don’t need to move now to get your jink save, and you’d be right, but quite often I find that if you don’t move the unit, you’re limiting the amount of firepower the rest of the models can bring down, and losing 9 splinter rifle shots if your target moves out of rapid fire range to gain two more splinter cannon shots just doesn’t make any sense.

Conclusion
The warrior unit is a staple of a Dark Eldar list, though if it weren’t for the minimum requirement you probably wouldn’t see all that many in a list any more. As you’ll see when we come to dedicated transports I think they’re most effective taken in raiders with splinter racks but otherwise kept as cheap as possible. I honestly wouldn’t bother with the special weapon upgrades, or the heavies, they make an already costly unit even pricier, and the Dark Eldar army has much better, more efficient ways to get any of the firepower those options bring. I would strongly consider taking phantasm grenade launchers though against most armies in the game, they can come in really handy for whittling down the enemy units and forcing morale tests.


Wyches
Well, boy has this unit divided opinion online! I’m going to read you a quote from the book here about wyches, which is that all wyches are skilled knife fighters who can kill a foe many times their size with the smallest of blades. Now we all know that the fluff exaggerates the abilities of the models way beyond their tabletop performance, but this one probably takes the biscuit. Under the umbrella of the last codex, wyches were one of the most utilised troop types – in fact the 5 wyches with haywire grenades in a venom was seen so often in competitive lists it was one of the elements that drove me away from the army for a while. Well, the haywire grenade option has gone, and wyches are back in the fold under their fluffy purpose – combat troops. Looking at the statline for wyches we see the basic traits of the Dark Eldar coming to the fore again, the marine levels of skills, the guardsmen strength and toughness, and the ridiculously high initiative (even higher than the warriors on this occasion). Where the analysis gets complicated is that wyches bring combat drugs to the party, so one of 6 stats gets a +1 increase from the start of the game. This can be anything from making their opponents easier to hit, wound or even making the wyches even faster to the punch. There’s perhaps only 1 that I’d say is of no functional use however, and that’s the initiative bonus.
In wargear terms, wyches bring assault grenades, which are rare in this book, and they also bring an invulnerable save in the fight sub phase. This again has caused consternation with a lot of players feeling they should get their invulnerable save against overwatch fire too. I can’t see how this is justified myself, since the dodge is meant to represent their speed in combat, whereas overwatch fire is on a par with shooting in your enemy’s shooting phase. The save makes them very good at hanging around and ‘tar-pitting’ the enemy (bogging a unit down in a combat it can’t get out of quickly) though I personally think it would be better representative of their purpose if they were more able to damage the enemy.

Interestingly, the wych squad has a maximum size of 15, instead of 20 for the warriors. There’s the usual sergeant upgrade and similar to the warriors, the unit can be upgraded to the more elite bloodbrides (again, I’ll review them in a separate post). Interestingly the sergeants can only take weapons from the melee list not the wych cult weapons, which are limited to 1 unless the unit numbers 10 or more, in which case up to three may carry them (this means if the unit is accompanied by a character, you can only have one wych weapon if you’re going to fit into a raider). All things considered though, if you were taking the sergeant upgrade, the melee weapon options are better (well, the agoniser is, the power sword less so). Wych weapons are interesting now, giving you either re-rolls to hit, shred or re-rolls of all 1’s. They’re all pretty cheap, which is good since they only affect the unit carrying the weapon and are therefore pretty average in terms of game effect (dice never behave right, your wych with shred will miss, the razorflails will fail to wound and the shardnet will fail on 2’s instead of 1’s!).

The wyches can still come with a venom or raider, and the sergeant upgrade can take haywires for a potential two haywire effects each turn. (Of course, if you also take a character with haywires, you can dismount them separately from the wyches, throw two haywire grenades from the unit and follow it up with two charges, possibly tanking overwatch on a different model to keep the wyches alive. Finally, the sergeant can also take a phantasm grenade launcher the same as the warrior equivalent.

Conclusion
The wyches are a single purpose unit these days, and they’re not massively anti tank (though haywires on the sarg and an attached character aren’t a bad option). That’s not to say they haven’t got a place in the army though – plasma grenades mean they’re one of only two units that can charge into cover and strike at initiative, and they’re great for bulking out a combat character’s attacks. On their own they can still tie down a scary unit from your opponent’s army, particularly come turn 5 once they have fearless.

Where wyches are viable however is in combination with other units – they always suffered, particularly on overwatch when charging a unit containing flamers. The presence of plasma grenades though means that they can actually make use of the high initiative they have to start with, and it’s important to remember that they will always be better than the statline from the book thanks to combat drugs.

The downside to this is that whilst they work great in combination with other units, that becomes a substantial investment once you add in their transport and the other unit, whatever that may be, to take the hit on overwatch in their place. In short, yes, wyches are still usable, but I think you’ll really only see them in heavily themed combat lists.

Dedicated Transport – Raider

Once again, let’s look at the profile of the vehicle first, before looking at particular loadouts and strategies. First thing you notice then is that it’s fragile. It’s a fast skimmer, with armour as low as it gets, equivalent to a space marine land speeder, with an extra hull point. It comes stock with the anti-elite disintegrator cannon, and has two special rules – deep strike and night vision. So we have a fast skimmer vehicle with a single weapon, that can deep strike to deliver its payload unharmed into the heart of the enemy. Jury is still out over just what effect the deep strike rules have on skimmers with regard to scattering over enemy units (I’m personally of the opinion that the rules offer more support for the view that a skimmer that scatters in this manner on deep strike is moved to avoid the enemy unit, but I know others who strongly disagree with this view - I’ve just not seen a convincing argument for it yet).

As you’d expect the transport has access to a variety of vehicle upgrades, all of which allow it to perform in certain ancillary roles or support its main role. Let’s get this straight right from the start, it’s main role is to transport infantry.

The disintegrator cannon can be upgraded to a dark lance for a nominal fee, which is an anti tank weapon. Chain snares effectively turn the vehicle into a tank for tank shock purposes, enhanced aethersails allow an extended flat out move in the shooting phase, grisly trophies help your troops to pass morale tests, the shock prow allows the skimmer to ram other vehicles, night shields grant stealth, torment grenade launchers work in exactly the same way as the phantasm grenade launcher already discussed but with greater range, and splinter racks make your splinter fire more effective.

As you can imagine, for a fragile vehicle such as the raider, you’re almost certainly not going to want to pile all these upgrades onto one vehicle (it would more than double its cost) so you need to carefully evaluate the primary and secondary battlefield roles it’s likely to have. If you want your raider to act as a mobile platform for your kabalite warriors to pour splinter fire into the enemy, then splinter racks are ideal. Night shields will allow those vehicles to survive far longer in the fight (without affecting the accuracy of the unit embarked on the vehicle!) and torment grenade launchers could seriously improve the likelihood of dealing a hammer blow from any unit charging off the raider that turn. These are the three upgrades that I see as supporting a primary use of the vehicle (either as a firing platform or a transport for an assault unit).

For secondary roles then, the upgrades get cheaper. Grisly trophies will allow your units to hang around longer in the fight, though as you should be getting the drop on your opponent and your troops become fearless on turn 5 at the latest, I’d say it’s perhaps an upgrade I could happily forego. The shock prow is an interesting upgrade, essentially increasing the raider’s armour value for the purposes of ramming other vehicles. On the flip side, if you’re ramming tanks, you don’t have an advantage once they’re armour 12 or more (actually, anything more than 12 and you’re still more likely to hurt yourself than you are the enemy). Consequently, the shock prow is situational and predicated on you ramming the rear armour of your opponent, something they’re hardly likely to let you do without working hard to achieve it, and as such I’d say it’s best left at home (maybe on one raider per army, tops!). I’m unsold on aethersails at the moment. I’ve seen reviews from people who are very experienced gamers claiming they’re like gold and they’d never take a raider without one, however I am struggling to justify the points in an army whose transports can already move 30” per turn and are capable of arriving within a flat out move of the exact point they want to be. Finally, chain snares are an interesting topic. Similar to the shock prow, they allow your vehicle to undertake moves like a tank that other skimmers can’t execute. Great, I hear you say, how many times have you ever seen a tank shock win you a game. In fact, how many times have you ever seen someone fail the leadership test for a tank shock? I’d hazard a guess your reply will be between ‘never’ and ‘once’. Still, if you combine this effect with a passenger wearing the amour of misery, even space marines will struggle, since they would only be passing such tests on a 6! Or in other words, a less than 50% chance of passing the test! For the points involved, I’d say that one is worth it, particularly if you’re playing something like a Tau army that’s likely to have lots of units close to their board edge.

Conclusions

The raider is not cheap – a rhino it ain’t! However, in the right circumstances and with a clear thought process in choosing upgrades, it can be a force multiplier and a deadly tool in its own right. I personally would take 3-4 minimum in a dark eldar force, using at least a couple as gunboats with splinter racks (and possibly night shields if I have the points and I’m not playing an army with a lot of options to ignore cover). If I’m using a few assault units I’d probably stack up on torment launchers to complement those I would take on the assault units themselves, and I’d definitely consider upgrading my HQ’s boat to carry chain snares. At this point, I wouldn’t go for aethersails, but if you play a lot of tactical objective games (Maelstrom of War) then you might want to think about them.

Dedicated Transports – Venom.

Well, what can you say about the venom that hasn’t already been written endless times on endless websites? You’ll see them everywhere. The venom comes with the same lack of armour displayed by the raider, but in its case it’s protected by an in-built flickerfield, which gives it a modes invulnerable save (Feel no Pain for vehicles?). It has a hull point less than the raider, but otherwise has the same special rules. By default, it’s armed with a splinter cannon and a twin linked splinter rifle (actually, the unit entry picture in the codex has it still armed with the twin rifles). The main upgrade is to swap out those rifles for a second splinter cannon. I’m gonna go on record here and say that I don’t think any of you will ever have played (or possibly ever will play) against a venom that doesn’t carry two splinter cannons.

As with the raider, the venom (theoretically at least) has a solitary role to perform. Transport of a unit. Errr, no, it doesn’t quite end there. The anti infantry firepower kicked out by a venom is such that you’ll see these things spawned over and over again in many dark eldar lists – it’s a problem that’s only really got worse with the current codex, since as we’ll see later they can now be taken without a unit to transport.

The transport capacity of a venom is half that of a raider, and as such the only units you’ll really see them carrying around are incubi (who don’t need to be taken in more than groups of five), blasterborn and minimum size warrior units with a blaster.

The vehicle upgrade list for the venom is very limited, just the grisly trophies and chain snares. I wouldn’t bother quite frankly, the grisly trophies for the reasons set out in the raider review above, and the chain snares because if you’re going to set up a transport to perform a secondary role like that, you might as well put it on the one with the extra hull point in the hopes it’ll be able to use it.

Conclusions

My venom review is short for one reason only – they’ve not really changed in purpose or capability since the last codex. They’ll probably outnumber raiders in peoples lists substantially, and they’ll tend to hang around at the back of the board pouring anti infantry fire into anything within range. The only real change is that now the night shields no longer reduce the range of your weapons, you’ll be able to shoot them back easier.