Tuesday, 9 January 2018

Codex Eldar Review - Guardian Defenders


Greetings all,

with the advent of the Eldar Codex and my decision to commit to an Eldar army (at last), I thought it would be best to also commit to getting my thoughts on the book onto the blog. I may not be the most experienced Eldar player out there, but I'm do have a good grasp on the current version of the game, so I figured I'd look over the book for you all to (hopefully) benefit from my thoughts.



Let's start with one of the more straightforward sections of the book then shall we? I realise tradition dictates that we start with the HQ's, but for the purposes of this review (and the current edition) I think it's more important to understand the basics of the army before you start then looking at the elements that bring in the synergy, so HQ's will come at the end of the series of posts.

I've also set up a page (linked in the header bar) where I'll keep links to all the reviews I'm doing for 8th edition, so head on over there if you're looking for more (more will come).

As ever with my codex reviews, I like to look at assessing the units in question against a series of headings, and with a new edition of the game, it's the ideal opportunity to come up with a new 'standard' group of measures against which the assessment is made in order to be most relevant. As such, I've set out here how I'll be assessing units under 8th edition rules.

Guardian Defender Squad

Deployment options

The basic Asuryani troops unit comes with only a couple of simple deployment options, and a sneaky trick in the form of one of the Eldar stratagems. Now as has been the case for many editions now, the basic weapon of choice for the Eldar Guardian is the shuriken catapult, and it's not particularly blessed in the range department. This has two implications for deployment of this unit. First, is that if you are deploying it onto the table without a transport, it's going to have to get across the table pretty quick, or stay well out of sight. with only T3 and a 5+ save these units are not going to be hanging around long in the firing line, so realistically your deployment of them should be limited to being out of sight, or in a transport (wave serpent, as the falcon is too small to carry even a minimum sized unit). The only other alternative to this is to deploy the guardians into the webway using the webway strike stratagem, which allows them to arrive at the end of any of your first 3 movement phases of the game (technically any movement phase, but as per the core rules for matched play games they'll be destroyed if they haven't arrived by the end of turn 3).

Now in principle, I quite like this idea, even though the Eldar don't really struggle to reach the other side of the table, it allows you to use wave serpents as distractions whilst your actual objective grabbers are hiding out in a webway tunnel. Equally, it gives you the tactical flexibility to claim far away objectives in early rounds of the game for a limited expense if the unit holding them is destroyed (a guardian unit doesn't cost the earth).

Mobility

As with any Eldar unit (almost) the Guardian Defenders have an excellent move characteristic, making them amongst the fastest humanoids in the game. This compensates somewhat for the relatively short range of their weapons, and is further enhanced by the battle focus rule, which allows the unit to advance and fire non-heavy weapons as if they had stayed still. That's a huge advantage and all of a sudden, those 12" ranged Shuriken Catapults have an actual threat range in any particular turn of between 20" and 25". Still not quite as good as the potential range of a bolter, but even at those ranges the shuriken catapult always puts out a reliable 2 shots.

Add to this innate mobility and resilience of firepower when moving, the Eldar also have access to probably the best all-round dedicated transport in the game in the form of the Wave Serpent, and all of a sudden this mediocre unit is capable of affecting the outcome of the game by getting to places your opponent doesn't want it to be, and on the whole, getting there pretty safely. Sure, the Wave Serpent might get destroyed by focused enemy fire, but it's unlikely to go down to a lucky shot!

Firepower

Whilst the range of the unit is pretty poor (at least for the basic weapons) the actual quantifiable damage output is pretty significant. even a minimum sized unit of 10 can potentially take down 20 other models in a single shooting phase, though of course the actual numbers you can expect for casualties would be much smaller, 2-3 wounds on marines from a unit of 10 firing shuriken catapults would be more reasonable in terms of expectations. Of course there are stratagems and psychic powers that can really boost this output, and it's easy to see that a full 20 strong unit of guardians boosted with guide and firing at a doomed target all of a sudden can expect to do 11 unsaved wounds on an MEQ target.

As we noted above, the advantage Eldar have over many other factions is that their basic weapons, the shuriken catapults, are not affected by the unit itself moving quickly over the battlefield, with only heavy weapons suffering even if the unit advanced.

And that brings us to the crux of the guardian defender squad. Heavy Weapons. The squad has the option to take a weapons platform with any one of a number of heavy weapons mounted on it. I'm not proposing to go into too many details, but suffice to say the Eldar have a tool for every job, a pick for every lock. The big question is whether or not its worth adding this to the unit, or whether you're better off keeping the squad cheap and simple. My own preference is for the latter - if you take heavy weapon platforms then you'll be tempted to hang back and use them to shoot away at targets of opportunity, when in fact, the strength of the guardian squad is to provide volume firepower at close range.

Melee capability

Yeah, right. Seriously, if you have to put a unit of Guardian Defenders into a melee then desperate times have most certainly arrived and called for extremely desperate measures. With a solitary attack each and no special weapons, the unit is not equipped to deal with melee, and although they are not unskilled, hitting in combat on a 3+, their paltry S3 will ensure that it'll take a fight against gretchin to prove a guardian's prowess in combat.

Keep these units away from melee, unless you're prepared to sacrifice them to slow another unit down that can't overwhelm them with sheer weight of attacks.

Resilience

Err, yes, this really sits in the same category as melee capability. T3 and a 5+ save won't keep you alive for long I'm afraid, and the only way you have of keeping yourself alive when the bullets start flying is to stay where you can't be seen, either around the corner of a building or in a transport's troop hold!

There are a couple of shining lights however that you can hide up your sleeve, and that's the celestial shield and lightning fast reactions stratagems, which let you give the squad a 4+ invulnerable save against a turn of enemy shooting, and a -1 to hit against them. It's not going to turn them into a squad of deathguard terminators, shrugging off mortal wounds left right and centre, but for a unit as fragile as this, the stratagem can be used to irritate your opponent and force them to dedicate more shooting to get rid of the unit than they would like (perfect for that unit that's walked form the webway onto an objective for example). What I would say is that if you're planning on using this on a big unit of guardians, make sure you also have enough command points to auto pass any morale test they might be required to make, as the bigger the unit, the more it hurts when you fail.

Key unit upgrades

Whilst the ability exists to give the guardian defenders a heavy weapon platform (or two in a full 20-man squad) I would honestly try and resist this temptation. You won't need to suffer too many casualties on that squishy T3 frame before you're taking morale tests you'd rather not have to, and then you can easily lose the heavy weapon or end up spending command points to auto pass your morale when you'd rather spend them elsewhere.

On that basis, the only upgrade I would consider would be taking a bigger unit, and even then the benefit is more psychological than tangible.

Stratagems, auras, psychic powers and traits

There aren't a huge number of stratagems that come across as being particularly useful on the squad. Matchless agility can help you to get to that objective that's risky if you have to roll for your advance move, and Lightning fast reactions is reasonable, though probably best used on a more expensive unit. Fire and fade can be useful if you have taken that heavy weapon and are sitting in the back field to limit return fire, and of course Discipline of the black guardians is great if you happen to be running Ulthwe (which will be quite popular I think).

The standout stratagem however is clearly Celestial Shield, making your unit considerably more survivable and is a great surprise card to pull from your sleeve in the later turns of a game when your opponent is really trying to make the most of limited firepower.

The Asuryani have access to few auras in the codex, mainly because their synergies come from other sources. The most obvious and simplest of them however is the autarch, granting re-rolls of 1 to the nearby units. Obviously on Guardians that's good, as it allows you to re-roll half your misses (assuming no other modifiers) but even then, if you want your guardians to hit, cast guide on them for all re-rolls. To be honest, the Guardians are not the unit you want to be focusing your aura abilities on, because their damage output isn't as great as many of the other units out there.

Of the farseer powers, doom and guide really help out the guardian squads, but you'll probably want these to be used on more damaging units. Similarly with the warlock powers, they will all assist the guardian squad, but guardians won't give you the same uplift in performance on the table that using those same powers on more effective units would.

Battlefield Roles

As we've seen in the analysis above, there are many potential roles that you can use guardian defender squads to fulfill, from cheap backfield objective holders, long range heavy weapon wrap, mobile objective claimers to shock troops.

Of all of these potential roles however, only two of them really stand out to me as a worthwhile use of the unit. The first of these roles is as a shock to your opponent. Take a full sized unit of 20, deploy them via webway strike and use your farseers to boost your abilities and hamper your enemy. You won't find too many opponents making tactics to deal with your guardian shock troops, they'll be far more concerned with your tanks and aspect warriors, only to find that all of a sudden their firebase has just been ripped from the heart of their army.

Even that use however pales in comparison to what I think is the best reason for taking guardians in your army. Claiming objectives. We all know how useful objective secured (as it used to be know) can be, and having the ability to either deploy a 10-man unit from a wave serpent, or walk out of the webway onto an objective will win you games. The real advantage is that once they've achieved their purpose, those guardians are pretty disposable and so you can use them as a speed bump to spoil your opponent's tactics.

Conclusion

In conclusion, my best assessment of guardians would be don't expect miracles. They'll do a decent job, they'll claim you some objective points and they'll kill some of the enemy. They can even in some circumstances be used to hit home against a soft underbelly, but there's a reason that they come in well under 100 points for 10, and that's because they're just not great.