Monday, 17 November 2014

Kabalite Warriors – an in-depth review

Hi everyone, I realise my Dark Eldar review series has stalled a little, but I fully intend to complete things. In the meantime, I’ve been involved in some lengthy discussions recently regarding kabalite warriors, in particular, what are the ‘best’ builds, which transport is better and what upgrades, if any, should you take on the vehicles.


So here I’m going to present some of my findings. Now the detailed examination of all the builds are going to be fully covered over on ‘The Dark City’, but in this article I’m going to concentrate on three particular loadouts that I think are the most worthy of further investigation. The reason for choosing these units is that they all give your army a solid base for expansion – they each contain both anti vehicle weapons and anti infantry firepower, whilst giving your kabalite warriors a fast method of navigating the board via a fast skimmer transport, and a way of arriving on the board in the right place through those deep striking transports.

So without further ado, the three builds are as follows:
The Gunboat – 155pts
10 Kabalite Warriors in a raider, which is armed with a dark lance and upgraded with splinter racks.

The MSU Raider – 130pts
5 Kabalite Warriors with a blaster in a raider, which is armed with a dark lance and splinter racks.

The Venom – 120pts
5 Kabalite warriors with a blaster in a venom with two splinter cannons.

In my opinion, these represent the three main ways to field kabalite warriors. Without a transport their limited armour save and low toughness mean that even in large units they’re aren’t very survivable, and rely completely on webway portal delivery and arrival turn damage to avoid getting wiped out very quickly. I’ve also seen more specialised builds suggested that do away with any anti-tank from the unit, but I always think a unit needs to have a backup target, and without infantry on the board, a unit that relies solely on poisoned weapons is a waste of points in an all-comers list.

My first point of call for assessment therefore is mathammer. I know lots of people who rely completely on mathammer to select their armies, but for me, it’s only one part of the puzzle, albeit probably the most important piece.

I evaluated each of the above units at varying ranges based on the range bands of the weapons included, and converted the results into a simple to understand ‘points per kill’ figure. As such, the lower the result, the more efficiently the unit performs against the particular target. Each of those figures was evaluated against a variety of targets, with Tanks (assuming you’re firing against AV12 or more, and requiring a penetrating hit), T4 2+save, 5+ invulnerable save, T4 3+save, and T3 5+save. Where the unit of warriors includes a blaster I’ve included it for both the anti-infantry killing figures and anti-tank shooting, but where the lance is on the raider, it is left out of the anti-infantry result.

So here goes with the results:
The Gunboat:
0-6”
6-12”
12-18”
18-24”
24-36”
Points per kill AT


697.5
697.5
697.5
697.5
697.5
Points per kill AI MEQ
52.31
52.31
104.63
104.63
-
Points per kill AI TEQ
104.63
104.63
209.25
209.25
-
Points per kill AI GEQ
17.44
17.44
34.88
34.88
-

MSU Raider:
Points per kill AT
292.50
292.50
292.50
585.00
585.00
Points per kill AI MEQ
121.03
121.03
206.47
292.50
Points per kill AI TEQ
242.07
242.07
412.94
585.00
Points per kill AI GEQ
40.34
40.34
68.82
97.50

The Venom
Points per kill AT
540
540
540
-
-
Points per kill AI MEQ
49.85
49.85
61.13
67.5
90
Points per kill AI TEQ
99.69
99.69
122.26
135
180
Points per kill AI GEQ
16.62
16.62
20.38
22.5
30

So what does that tells us (this is actually the crucial part of useful mathammer, anyone can run the numbers but that doesn’t always mean they’re interpreted correctly).

The first and most obvious conclusions are that the MSU Raider is clearly the most efficient choice against armoured opponents, particularly at ranges of up to 18” where the second lance-effect shot from the blaster comes into effect. Similarly the venom is the undisputed king of anti-infantry firepower at all ranges, although there’s very little to choose between it and the gunboat at short range. Against infantry, the MSU Raider lags behind by some margin.

So where’s the discussion, I hear you ask? Surely the venom is the way to go as it’s the most efficient? Well this is where the mathammer only takes us so far, because these numbers only deal with points efficiency of the unit in question. Fitting these numbers into a wider list becomes a bit more interesting you see, because there are many other factors to take into account.

Taking the extremes, and assuming you’re going to fill your required 2 troops slots with these units, there’s a 35pt difference between the cheapest and the most expensive options, meaning that if you take venoms, you’ve not only got the most efficient option, but you’ve also saved yourself 70 points to spend elsewhere. If you’re trying to cram the most units possible into a list therefore, the venom gives you the best chance of that. At only 10 points more though, the MSU Raider gives you a similar effect, and brings long range lances into the equation, along with the extra hull point that the raider boasts over and above the venom. It does this though at the cost of the anti-infantry killing power of either of the other options.

So next up then, let’s look at survivability. Simple, straight up the raider has more hull points. But it’s not that simple, because the venom comes with an inbuilt 5+ invulnerable save that effectively increases its hull points. It would be simplistic in the extreme, and wrong, to say that a 1 in 3 chance of saving a hull point turns a 2 hull point vehicle into a 3 hull point vehicle since in any given situation, there’s a 1 in 3 chance that the flickerfield only saves the third hull point damage. Of course as fast skimmers, both vehicles can jink to give themselves a 4+ cover save. Now weapons that ignore cover are not uncommon in a particularly competitive meta, but that’s not to say that a cover save is irrelevant, so let’s look also at that effect. Any of the results that allow a raider to save at least one of its first three hull points are significant here, and the stats add up to mean that it has an effective hull point total of 4.75. This would also mean that the venom has an increased total of hull points, however, jinking with the venom is far less likely to happen, since it then reduces its main firepower, the dual splinter cannons. Jinking with the raider on the other hand only affects the dark lance mounted on the front of the vehicle. There are, therefore, two situations where the extra hull points count for nothing. High AP shots that cause explosions, after all, anything with AP1 has a 50/50 chance of blowing the vehicle up. And second, where there is a lot of ignores cover shooting to nullify the raider’s jink save. The only real benefit though that the venom has in that regard is in the first of those scenarios, since it is equally if not more likely to be wrecked through hull point loss than the raider in the second example.

Next, and it’s a point that I have to mention, is that of redundancy, and this is a situation where the raider stands head and shoulders above the venom. In some ways it’s related to the point above, in others we’re expanding the argument a bit. I am talking here about choices and dice rolling in essence. The first point is whether or not you feel able to declare a jink. We’ve already mentioned that the Gunboat and MSU Raider can jink with relative impunity since they’re less worried about having to snap shot a single dark lance. This applies more to the Gunboat than the MSU Raider since the gunboat is mainly there to provide anti infantry firepower in later turns, whereas the MSU Raider is equally present for its lance. Jinking will significantly increase the lifespan of your vehicles, however with the venom, jinking is something that completely ruins the whole purpose of taking the vehicle – poison shooting works because of the large numbers of dice involved, and so if you limit yourself to only two of those dice hitting the target, you may as well not take the vehicle in the first place. The second element of this point is the effect that the splinter racks have on the shooting of the unit. It’s somewhat ameliorated by the lower points cost of the venom, but the gunboat has a substantial advantage in situations where your dice behave badly. The venom has a fixed number of shots, and if you roll badly, you’re stuffed. The raider also has that fixed number of shots, but if you have a bad set of results when rolling to hit, just pick up the misses and roll them again. Now whilst the mathammer above can tell you the practical result of this in a statistically average set of results, it can’t apply a weighting to the reassurance you get from knowing that if you roll 15 ones and twos to hit, it’s not the end of the world.

The final matter then is threat ranges and method of use. Beginning with the gunboat, it’s clear that its greatest asset is the sheer number of splinter shots it can bring to bear, however that damage potential drops quickly outside of its optimal 12” range. The problem therefore comes in terms of getting up close and personal, and though it’s possible, dropping them using webway portals is too expensive to do for all of your units. You’re limited therefore to a normal deepstrike, hoping that you don’t mishap on your scatter, or starting on the board. Thankfully, if you do that, you still have your lance to provide some turn 1 firepower, and that’s worthwhile to have. Equally, you can move up your full normal move without your anti tank being effective, giving that dark lance an effective range of 48”, whilst the venom is limited to a 24” effective anti tank range. In terms of anti infantry though, the gunboat has a much more limited threat bubble of 18” (I’m discounting shooting between 12 and 24” as constituting a ‘threat’) whilst the venom has the 48” to play with. Clearly then there are different winners and losers when looking at different targets. In terms of the method of use, the raider is clearly intended to operate at very short ranges, either deep striking, or using its turn 1 movement to put it into a position to threaten on the board units on turn 2. In contrast the venom is more suited to hanging at the back of the board using its longer range anti infantry weapons to deal damage without exposing itself to overwhelming return fire.

Conclusions

Well for anyone looking for a simple ‘take this, it’s the best’ kind of conclusion, I’m afraid you’ll need to look elsewhere. The above analysis clearly indicates that these warrior builds are not directly comparable once you factor in their threat ranges, survivability and operational methodology. I’ll endeavour however to provide a coherent set of conclusions and set out the best situations in which to use each of the different builds, and more particularly, how they can work together to be the most effective.

So let’s look at how to approach a battle with the above units. Your enemy is likely (with the exception of tyranids and probably daemons) to be packing some kind of transport or armour, with an infantry force either inside those transports or deployed deep in their deployment zone. As a Dark Eldar Archon, you either know already, or come to learn, that disposing of your enemy’s armoured elements early in the game is vital to a winning strategy – your own anti vehicle firepower is fragile and unlikely to last the game, so you need to make use of it early before you lose it. Now I’d say this lends itself very much towards the MSU Raider and Gunboat, as their AT weapons can pretty much start engaging from turn 1. The venom however will have at least one turn of movement before it’s going to be in range to utilise the blaster on board. You then look to provide your anti infantry firepower later in the game once you’ve concentrated on and cracked open those transports and disabled the big guns. This is where the venom comes into the equation alongside the gunboat, in providing large quantities of poison shooting to overwhelm even the most heavily armoured foe.
In a balanced DE force therefore, what we’re likely to see is a heavy lance presence (and haywire blaster I’d advocate too, but they’re off-topic here) on the board in the early stages of the game, with that presence giving way to more and more anti infantry firepower as the turns click by, with that anti infantry firepower being able to be deployed at varying ranges to suit the disposition of enemy infantry units.

In terms of a general strategy therefore, I’d conclude that it’s best to begin the game with MSU Raiders and Gunboats to provide your long range AT whilst closing with the foe (if necessary) then when the lances have done their work, the gunboat’s passengers open up, supported by venoms at long range coming in from reserve. On that basis, I think the best DE armies will include a mix of all three of these unit types, either deployed on the table or kept in reserve as circumstance, opponent and mission require (in that order). With that in mind, here’s a 1500pt list that I’ve drawn up, dealing solely in shooting to win you games, and applying the above principles.

HQ
Archon with Blaster, WWP, shadowfield

Troops
2x Gunboat - 10 K Warriors in Raider with Dark Lance, Splinter Racks
2x Venom - 5 Warriors with blaster in Venom with Dual Cannons

Fast Attack
3 Naked Raiders with Dark Lances
Razorwing with Dark Lances
5 Scourges with 4 Heat Lances
5 Scourges with 4 Haywire Blasters

Heavy Support
2 Ravagers with 3 Dark Lances

So the basic idea is that the ravagers and empty raiders deploy on the table, screening the more costly gunboats to make sure they can take the maximum possible save early in the game. This method means there are 11 lances on the table on turn 1, along with 4 haywire blasters. In reserve are the venoms, unless my opponent has a lot of footslogging infantry in their list, and the heat lances scourges (plus the razorwing of course). The heat lance scourges are accompanied by the Archon with the webway portal, whose 2+ shadowfield can protect the scourges despite them needing to be up close, which they can achieve with precision thanks to the webway portal. That firepower then gives way to a serious quantity of anti infantry shooting once the transports are cracked, with 24 splinter cannon shots, 4 S6 missiles and between 29 and 58 splinter rifle shots (which incidentally is more than enough to take down a wraithknight in a single turn).

So there you have it, my in depth look at kabalite warriors and their builds, concluding with how best to mix the available units to make the most of their advantages (and yes, the astute amongst you will have noticed the lack of warriors on the ‘MSU Raiders’ in the above list – passengers would be the first thing added once the game size goes over 1500pts, but as the MSU Raider is mainly there for AT, I figured it was a minor tweak in this instance. You could of course still go for the genuine MSU Raider, but you’d have to shave a few more points elsewhere that I’m not inclined to do.


So tell me what you think, have I missed something obvious?
And more importantly – what would you like me to focus on next… (don’t say hellions)