Thursday, 21 April 2016

Angels of Death supplement review Part 2 - Raven Guard

Welcome back everyone to the second part of my review into the Angels of Death supplement. Today I'm going to be looking in detail at the most shadowy of space marine chapters - the Raven Guard. Why them? Well quite simply they're right up there with Blood Angels as my favourite of the first founding legions, and they have some quite astounding benefits to play with. Get comfy, cos there's a lot to discuss!

First off, I must mention that the Angels of Death supplement doesn't appear to have changed anything with regard to the Raven Guard from the Kauyon campaign book, but it does bring these guys to a wider audience at least.

So, first off let's jump right in and have a look at their unique detachment. It's called the Talon Strike Force, which immediately elevates it to 'cool' status in my head, cos it sounds great, much more interesting than 'Gladius' or 'Anvil'.

It brings 3 command benefits to units taken as part of the formations that make its constituent parts.

  1. Re-rolls to the mission table, choice of deployment zone, and choice to deploy first or second. Wow - this formation really gets under your opponent's skin even before the game starts! Seriously though, this means that you will have an advantage when it comes to 'playing the table'. 
  2. Option to roll for reserves on turn 1, with a 50/50 chance of them arriving. Excellent stuff, when marine players aren't using drop pods, waiting until turn 2 or later for your reserves can feel like an eternity! This particular rule also makes up part of a huge competitive table strategy that the Raven Guard can execute, but I'll go into that later.
  3. You can also choose to fail any morale checks you might be called on to make. This one is far more minor to my mind, but could be extremely useful int he right situation, particularly in drawing an opponent on and forcing them to play your game on the table.
The Talon Strike Force requires a minimum of 1 core formation, 1 auxiliary formation and has available to it a second core formation, 2 command formations and any number of auxiliary formations.

I'm going to talk command formations now, because the Talon Strike Force doesn't give you access to the Librarius Conclave. I honestly can't understand why this is the case, it seems to be a bizarre omission from the list. The command benefits don't seem to affect the Librarius conclave in any way, and the formation can still form part of your list taken separately to the Talon Strike Force, so leaving it out of the detachment seems rather pointless to me. Still, moving on!

The two command formations you can choose are the standard ones from codex space marines, the strike force command and the reclusiam command squad. Nothing of any real note here, though it would be interesting to see how fearless interacts with choosing to fail a morale check - not an argument I have any will to explore here, beyond indicating that passing a test automatically doesn't mean you don't have to take it in the first place, so I'd probably come down on the side of saying even a fearless unit could choose to fail them - the command benefit is more about tactical awareness than being brave.

Ok so onto the core formations, we have the standard battle demi-company from the main codex, and the 'new' Pinion Battle Demi-Company. Now the Pinion Demi-Company has a lot going for it (and incidentally is available to other codex space marine chapters, just not as part of the Talon Strike Force which is uniquely Raven Guard.

Pinion Battle Demi-Company
To a large extent this is the same as the standard battle demi-company, but with less choice. You must take an assault squad and a devastator squad, there is no option for swapping them for bike squad or centurion devastators for example. There is also a requirement for a minimum of 1 and a maximum of 5 scout units (the standard scout squad or scout bike entries). On the face of it, this seems rather pointless, fluffy certainly given the scout's reputation for stealthiness but certainly a little over-zealous when you can include a 10th company task force anyway. There is only 1 restriction, which is that the Captain or Chaplain leading the Demi-Company may not wear terminator armour (again, very fluffy for Raven Guard).

This formation gets filthy however when you look at its special rules, and you'll see why you want to bring those scout squads! The sergeant (or veteran sergeant) can, in the shooting phase, 'spot' for another unit from the formation that is within 9". This does not prevent the scout squad, or the sergeant, from shooting in the shooting phase! What it does do however is give that other unit ignores cover on their weapons until the end of the phase. Oh my golly gosh, that devastator squad actually just became devastating! Bye bye cover, jink, evade etc, you just became useless. I think that by almost any definition, this one rule is actually 'game-breaking', not because of what it does but because it doesn't stop the scouts from acting perfectly normally.

The second special rule the formation gets (as if that wasn't enough) is that the scouts can lead another unit from the formation from reserve. This even allows the 'led' unit to outflank, and grants them stealth until the start of their next turn if they're within 9" of the leading unit. This one isn't quite so broken as the first, but when combined with the Talon Strike Force rules it does mean that your devastators can threaten just about anywhere on the board on the turn they arrive, particularly if you can grant them relentless (which you can get through the biomancy discipline for starters).

Ok I think I need a breather after that, don't you?

So, are you ready for more filth? I know I am. As with my last review, I'm not going to go into the detail of the formations from the main codex.

Shadowstrike Kill-Team
Ok, so once again I'm down with the rule of cool and anything called a kill team is good in my book. This however is insane. The formation requires 2-4 scout squads, and 1-3 vanguard veteran squads. Interesting combination, which gets even more quirky (and fluffy) when you see that all the veteran squads must be equipped with jump packs. Once again though, the special rules reign death on all enemies of the Raven Guard. The Vanguard Veteran units can choose whether or not to pass or fail their reserve rolls (remember, if taken as part of a Talon Strike Force they can make a reserve roll on turn 1 and therefore can automatically arrive at this time). They can also charge on the turn they arrive, and will not scatter if placed within 9" of at least 2 of the scout squads from the formation.

Excusemepardonwhatnow? Ok, so the scout squads can deploy 12" away from the enemy if they're out of line of sight, and these veterans can therefore deploy without scattering around 3" away from the enemy, and then charge??? Using jump packs to gain HoW and re-roll failed charges???

I think this may form the basis of an army for me in the future!

Raptor Wing
This formation requires two storm Talons, and a Landspeeder (well, a unit of landspeeders). Sounds good, two of my favourite flyer in the game, and if they haven't arrived on turn 1 (because as part of the Talon Strike Force you can roll for them then) they will automatically come in on turn 2. Not quite as useful as the option to pass or fail the reserve roll, but hey, there's no reason to complain about being able to arrive automatically instead of potentially waiting until turn 4. The second special rule they get is that the landspeeder can designate targets within a certain range and the storm talons get to re-roll to wound or penetrate the armour of this target. Awesomesauce, the assault cannons are already twin linked so it's only the secondary weapon system that might not get a re-roll (the heavy bolter and lascannon options are already twin linked too).

Really I can't think of a reason why you wouldn't use this formation anywhere it's available for your army, there's also nothing to say the landspeeder can't designate a flying target if you wish.

Skyhammer Orbital Strike Force
Not to be confused with the Skyhammer Annihilation force, or an actual Strike Force detachment, this is a formation consisting of 3 tactical squads that must take drop pods, and 1-3 units of landspeeders. Units from the formation get to re-roll ones to hit and to wound within 12" of a point you designate at the start of the first turn, and the drop pods will only scatter D6" if they arrive within 12" of  that point. The tactical squads can also run and then shoot on the turn they arrive.

This formation is pretty decent, the re-rolls apply to both shooting and combat, though the squads can't charge on the turn they arrive. They also apply to the shooting from the land speeders, which in the fluff are intended to saturate the area with fire prior to the tactical squads arriving. I'd say this is a pretty decent formation, and if you're looking to add tactical squads to those brought from the Demi-Company then this is a pretty darn good option. I can't however see it working too well as an addition to the detachment, since there's really no need for this many tactical marines in an army. If you decide not to go with the Talon Strike Force detachment however, these guys are definitely a viable basis to work from.

Shadow Force
This is clearly a throwback to the boxed set they released, and brings a Captain, a Vanguard Veteran Squad, a Sternguard Veteran Squad and a unit of Landspeeders, and the captain is prevented from wearing terminator armour. The formation gets acute senses, move through cover and scout, also getting re-rolls to run moves and an additional 6" to flat out moves.

In all honesty given the stuff that's come before, this formation leaves me feeling pretty flat. Stealthy most certainly, but that in itself won't win you the game, and quite frankly I think the units need a lot of help to work, which you can get far more effectively elsewhere.

Bladewing Assault Brotherhood
Another formation to boost combat troops, this one is, well, a bit weird. It's led by a Captain or Chaplain, and consists of 1-3 vanguard veteran squads, and 2-4 assault squads. Everything has to have a jump pack, but the whole formation can include a maximum of 30 models. The reason for this is that they're supposedly deployed from a Thunderhawk Gunship (which you'll be pleased to know you don't have to buy as part of the formation!) and therefore they can't exceed its carrying capacity.

That means you have a choice to make about how many squads you bring and how big they are, because you can't max out 3 minimum squads, nor can you include minimum sized squads up to the maximum unit count.

For special rules, you are allowed once per game to disengage the whole formation and place them in ongoing reserve. They are also deployed onto the table in an unusual fashion to represent them dropping out of that Thunderhawk. Essentially they all arrive at once, and must all be placed on a straight line across the table. At least they're allowed to re-roll their scatter!

I'm really not sure how I feel about this. On the one hand, disengaging the whole formation is really useful, particularly if you've managed to pin enemy units into place allowing you to manoeuvre your firepower units into a position to bring the rain, and since it happens in your own movement phase you can really use that to your advantage. On the other hand, how many times is that really useful in a game, and wouldn't disengaging single units be far preferable? At least the deployment line doesn't have to start in your deployment zone, so you could in theory drop every unit from this formation into the enemy deployment zone, rolling for their arrival from reserve on turn 1. Could be nasty, but it's very difficult to make it work I think.

Ravenhawk Assault Group
Finally then for the Raven Guard's unique formations (someone at GW HQ clearly likes the Raven Guard!) we have this formation, which comprises sternguard, a dreadnought and a storm raven.

This is basically a formation intended to target a specific enemy asset (see, I've been working on Raven Guard so long I'm even talking tactical-speak!) and so the special rules allow you to pick a single enemy unit against which the formation gets to re-roll to hit. Interestingly, the Storm Raven is also allowed to enter via deep strike, provided it then enters hover mode.

Now I quite like this one, in an odd sort of way - it's not a combat formation, but the combination of sternguard and a dreadnought, plus the storm raven's weapons themselves, should mean most targets don't last long. The big downside for me is the storm raven itself, as I've used them before and found them to be distinctly lacklustre, and 400+ pts to essentially delete 1-2 units is a heavy price to pay in my book.

Phew! That's the formations done, do you want another little comfort break?

Ok that's quite enough of that - onto relics, warlord traits and tactical cards!


There are six relics detailed in the book, again a straight port over from the Kauyon book.

The armour of shadows is artificer armour that grants you stealth, or shrouded if you didn't move in any fashion in the last turn. Great for keeping your warlord alive but as a Raven Guard player I'd prefer to have my warlord on the move doing things, and I don't think the addition of stealth justifies its cost.

Ex Tenebris is a relic bolter similar to the primarch's wrath. The difference here is the assault type, with three shots, rending and precision shots. Decent, and for the price it may well be worth it, particularly given the potential to rend and not prevent assault after it's used.

Nihilus is my kind of gun! I always opted for sniper style given the option when playing computer games, and this is no different Standard sniper stats with AP3 is good enough, but it also adds armourbane, and can be fired at a different target to the rest of the unit (can only be taken by veteran scout sergeants though). What use is armourbane I hear you cry, it's only a sniper rifle! Ah yes, but a sniper rifle that is S6 when shooting at vehicles. So on average it should penetrate AV12 vehicles (like the devilfish for example!).

The Raven Skull of Korvaad is basically a disincentive for your opponent to kill the character carrying it. It adds a point to the WS and Ld of the bearer, and if they die, grants hatred and rage to Raven Guard models within 6" of the spot where it died. Very situational, though if it does trigger you'll want it to have been in a unit of combat models to make the most of the rules. Personally I'll pass.

Raven's Fury is an uber jump pack, giving you +2S on your hammer of wrath and applying the strikedown special rule. As Raven Guard hammer of wrath gets re-rolls to wound anyway, and strikedown isn't the best bonus, I think again I'll leave this in the book, except that to all intents and purposes, this upgrade costs you precisely nothing. Anyone considering giving their Commander a jump pack won't have to pay a penny more to take this fella, so crack on.

If however you only want a single relic, take Swiftstrike and Murder, a pair of lightning claws that give you a bonus number of attacks equal to the number of hits you score initially. Best combination here would be with something that grants re-rolls to hit to maximise the extra attacks you get, so coupling the bearer with a chaplain for example.

A bit of a mixed bag in relic terms, but I find I rarely want to take more than one anyway, and there's two or three good ones in here. Swiftstrike and Murder are the standout choice I think, but Nihilus just appeals to me in so many ways I don't think I'd leave it out.

Warlord Traits

Vanish into the Gloom
This allows your warlord's unit to move D6" when they are the target of a shooting attack, unless they're falling back or charging. They also get a boost to their cover save if they are in cover at the end of the move. If the move takes them out of line of sight or range of the shooting unit then the shots are wasted. I really like this one, it's pretty much a toned down version of the warp spiders rule but I think it works pretty effectively, and with the move being limited to D6" and only happening once per turn it doesn't feel overpowered.

Concentrated Attack
Re-rolled charges against a unit in your warlord's line of sight for your whole army. Not game changing per se, but if you really need to tie in a nasty unit or get to them this turn then it's certainly capable of getting you a distinct advantage, as well as warding against the dreaded snake eyes charge.

Master of Shadows
Basically it's night fighting for a turn. That's fine and dandy but it also applies during your opponent's turn as well. Combines well with the Pinion Demi-Company's ability to ignore cover but otherwise it can hamper your own attack as much as your enemies.

Silent Stalker
Forces your opponent to pass a Leadership test before they can fire overwatch, and imposes a penalty to that test if you charge through cover. Very situational, but against some armies this could be quite substantial - Tau in particular who are know for having less than stellar leadership but very good overwatch.

Exit Strategy
Lets you modify the result of the game ending roll by 1. This is quite frankly amazing. There are other armies that let you play an extra turn but the ability to possibly end the game sooner is incredibly useful if you're in a fragile winning position. Probably my favourite of the traits and continues the Raven Guard's tradition of messing with the wider game rolls as well as the in-game stuff.

Swift and Deadly
Allows the warlord and his unit to run and charge in the same turn once per game. Very Raven Guard again, allowing your warlord's unit a substantial charge range in one turn (12" move assuming jump packs, D6" run, and 2D6" charge with re-rolls, potentially 30").

This is a really good set of traits I think, none are pointless and at least 4 of them I'd be more than happy with.

Tactical Cards

Score a point if a jump unit or one that came out of a drop pod this turn kills a unit. Very fluffy for these guys, and a point for destroying a unit is never bad. Shame there's not a multiplier option for achieving both though.

Score a point if all the non-vehicle stuff in your army is either in a vehicle or building, or within 1" of terrain. Should be extremely easy for a Raven Guard list to achieve, and also very fluffy, if not massively helpful in terms of getting into killing positions.

Score a point for forcing a failed morale, pinning or fear test. Never really a fan of these type of cards, because your ability to score it varies wildly depending on your opponent.

D3 points for killing the enemy warlord, super heavy or gargantuan creature. Nice.

Score a point for killing a unit completely having charged them this turn, and D3 for doing the same to 3 separate units. Well if you can achieve the second part you're well on the way towards tabling your opponent, but it's going to be tricky against other marine armies or anything fearless.

Score a point for destroying a fast attack or dedicated transport choice, D3 for 3-4 such units or D3+3 for 5+ such units. Very fluffy, the tactical solution of removing the enemy's mobility suiting the Raven Guard very much, Plenty of scope for multiplying the effect too, which I like alot.

Ok so that's that, wow what a lot of text, thanks for staying with me!

I think Raven Guard are one of the stand out winners of the supplement (well, Kauyon) and they should be very, very competitive for those players wanting to work out the combinations. I will certainly be using their stuff in some of my games going forward, even if I will have to tweak the Dusk Knight's fluff a little to fit them in.

Some of the formations are much, much better than others but there are some real gems in there, and the big thing with this army is getting the tactical advantage over your opponent. There are loads of ways to affect game rolls like choosing deployment zones, night fighting etc so you should be putting your opponents on the back foot from turn 1.

Next time, I think I may turn my attention to Imperial Fists, or possibly I'll do another monster post on White Scars, which would you prefer to see?

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