Monday, 30 September 2013

Codex Review: Space Marines - Chapter Tactics & Warlord Traits

A different kind of codex review.

Hi guys, The Burning Eye here again, and today I’m going to review the new Space Marine Codex (well part of it at least). I realise there are loads of other codex reviews out there, and I’ve read quite a few of them myself. Hopefully though I’ll be adding usefully to the amount of information out there rather than re-hashing something innumerable other people have already written, and I’m going to do that by reviewing the codex in isolation, rather than by comparing it to the previous edition, so no references to this item of wargear now costing 5 points more, or this model having an extra attack.
I’m also going to look at the options available to units in the codex, bringing in the concept of synergy to the review in a similar, but hopefully more concise, way to the synergy review I wrote of the previous codex. For each unit I’m also going to list my personal favourite combinations (regardless of points cost/sanity etc).
The codex review is going to be set out in several parts due to the sheer size of the list, and I’ll cover the following areas.
Chapter Tactics & Warlord Traits
Troops choices (including dedicated transports)
HQ units (including special characters)
Fast Attack
Heavy Support

Drum roll please…
Ok so the Ultramarines have always suffered a certain appeal crisis, because they’re the clean cut good guys, always doing everything by the book and they’re without flaw. By our very nature therefore, we tend to reject them and look for something else that has a bit of a twist, or an advantage in a certain area. Their Chapter Tactics however are by far the most flexible in the book, and though they will only apply on three turns of a game instead of all the time as with others, they can benefit all areas of a balanced army, which the other chapter tactics don’t.
The first of the chapter tactics for the Ultramarines is the Tactical Doctrine. In effect, this is a fire discipline effect, making all your shooting more effective, especially that of tactical squads. As such, it’s best used when your army is all in place and preferably within rapid fire range (a bolter equipped tactical squad rapid firing with this doctrine will gain on average 11 hits compared to firing at maximum range without it. Multiply that over several units and that’s a huge difference. Also bear in mind that this doctrine allows you to re-roll the get’s hot on plasma gun and pistol rolls (not the cannon since that’s rolled separately unfortunately). The last thought I have on the tactical doctrine is shooting at flyers – if you’ve got a squad in range of a flyer, then this doctrine can vastly improve your chances of hitting it with non-skyfire shooting.
Assault Doctrine. Mainly intended to give you more reliability at getting into combat with your charging units. It’s not as useful as the tactical doctrine because it’s likely to affect a much smaller portion of your army, but how many times have you really needed that charge to come off, and you roll horribly low on your dice? Again, it’s best used when you’ve got everything in place to charge in the one turn, and is probably likely to encourage players to hold off on charging in piecemeal to make sure that everything assaults in the same turn. In that respect I love it, it’s really going to encourage players to think about the whole table rather than just ‘that’s unit can charge this turn, so it will, but that unit will wait till next turn’. Coherent assaulting of multiple units makes a much more significant impact on a game than individual units getting isolated and wiped out.
Devastator Doctrine. Without a doubt this is intended specifically to allow heavy weapons to fire more effectively on the move, so I can see two occasions when it will be useful – first turn of the game and around turn 3-4. Heavy weapons won’t always be in range on the first turn of the game, and that first move after deployment is always a pain reducing the effectiveness of heavy weapons significantly. If you’ve taken a devastator squad and your opponent sets up second, you quite often won’t have much to shoot at in your first turn. Your tactical squads will also likely be moving forward across the board and so using this doctrine in the first turn makes you devastators for more useful (ok, a 6” move and fire doesn’t give you much flexibility, but if you’ve deployed them properly it can make all the difference) and gives your tactical squads a more reliable heavy fire option.

Of all the doctrines, I consider the tactical doctrine to be by far the most effective, and those people taking Marneus Calgar will use this option twice far more than either of the others, but I like the way they give the Ultramarine player the option to boost a particular part of their force at the appropriate moment in a way that no other chapter can. Will it make more people play Ultras? Probably not, but it might just sway the balance to more people playing codex chapters.
White Scars:
Born in the saddle. Well if you’re taking a significant number of bikes in your army, you really don’t want them falling foul of difficult terrain tests all the time, and despite the rarity of it happening on average, GW would have failed epically if a white scars army lost 1 in 18 bikes every time they moved through difficult terrain! The strength boost to hammer of wrath is welcome, but it still doesn’t make your bike unit into an assault specialist, they are after all just tactical marines with a better toughness stat. it does however make assaulting small non-assault units a possibility without bogging your bikes down in a combat where they don’t want to be.
Fight on the move. This gives a really fluffy boost to bike units, letting them charge in and break away from a fight in exactly the way you would expect them to if you were reading a novel. It also gives this ability to almost everything else in the white scars army though, which to my mind pushes them slightly further than they should go. Assault squads makes sense, and Tactical Squads to a certain extent, but it gets a bit over the top when devastators get charged and they break away from the fight only to lay down a wall of firepower in the next turn.
Bike units in White Scars armies just got a really big boost, you won’t be losing models to terrain, and they’ll be able to charge in with S5 HoW, stick the first two combat turns, then if need be, break away, shoot the unit a bit then charge back in getting those HoW hits at S5 again. All in all, these two rules combine well to make White Scars bike units in particular play how I’d always visualised them to – the compromise of course is that bike armies will always be less numerous than infantry, so I’ll wait and see how it works out on the tabletop.
Imperial Fists:
Bolter Drill. I like this rule, it’s a watered down version of the Tactical Doctrine the Ultramarines use, and on a single squad shooting in one turn, may not result in a massive difference in casualties, but when you spread that over every bolt weapon armed model over the 5-7 turns in a game, it becomes significant. It really speaks to me this one as a rule creating the image of a marine squad digging in and letting rip with their bolters cutting down the enemy.
Siege Masters. You really won’t want to be taking much armour against an army with these tactics, that’s all I want to say. It will certainly have a significant impact on those anti tank squads, and your opponents may not want to be standing in fortifications too much either.
The two tactics combine well together, with your devastator units taking out tanks and fortifications much quicker, and the rest of your army then able to mop up the infantry more efficiently. The tactics again fit nicely with the imagery of the Imperial Fists as siege specialists, able to pick out the weak spots of armour and fortifications bringing them down far more effectively than other armies. There’s no boost to the combat ability of the army through these tactics, so it will definitely benefit some army builds more than others.
Raven Guard:
Strike from the shadows. Quite simply, what this means is that no-one playing against a Raven Guard type army is really going to know where the units they’re playing against are actually going to be, or even if some of those units will stay on the table. Upshot of that is that I suspect more discerning players will be more likely to deploy first to negate some of the advantage. Raven Guard units will also become more durable for the first turn if they’re in cover, meaning that not only will they be closer to you, but they’ll be more difficult to shift as well!
Winged deliverance. This makes a big difference to assault squads (and vanguard vets with jump packs). Similar to the Ultras Assault Doctrine it will get your assault squads into combat more reliably from a greater distance away from the enemy, in addition to hitting harder on the charge. In some ways it’s a shame that assault squads are excluded from the scout move granted by Strike from the Shadows, but as this could result in a lot of assault units in combat very early in the game, I can understand why they’ve done it.
Again, I like these tactics, they give a mystery to the deployment of the Raven Guard that fits well with their background of remaining hidden until the very last minute. Similarly the speed and impact of their jump infantry fits nicely with the idea of attacking quickly from a position of concealment before the enemy has a chance to respond. Neither tactic is a complete game-changer, but both twist the way the army operates in general.
Flamecraft. Salamanders are well known for having an affinity with fire, and being resistant to its effects (read the Tome of Fire trilogy if you don’t believe me!). They’re also probably the single biggest user of flame weapons out there, and the number of save they’ll be re-rolling is going to be fairly limited I’d say, but again it’s a nice characterful tweak. You will see a lot more salamander armies and flamers on the tabletop however, in fact I’ve already had requests to distribute the spare flamers from my bits box amongst marine players at my club. This is particularly due to flamers ignoring the effects of cover, which can otherwise make fairly weak units quite durable.
Master Artisans. Another tweak that’s not going to be a game-changer, but fits very nicely with the theme of the army as creators of fine weaponry. To be honest, most characters aren’t going to be in an assault to use it much, and only re-rolling one failure means it’s rarely going to swing a combat your way if you were expecting it to go against you, but it’s a free upgrade, and will make a difference on occasion.
I think the Salamanders tactics are probably the most appropriate to their background, really giving the army a theme and they will result in the preference for flamer weaponry you’d expect to see from a salamanders force. As noted earlier, these tactics aren’t likely to change the game for you, but they will certainly influence the way you play (after all, you won’t want to stand back at range if you’ve got all those flamers!).

Iron Hands:
The Flesh is weak. Perfectly fits with the background of the Iron Hands and their replacement of organic parts with cybernetics. This one I think could be a significant change though, on average you won’t need to remove 17% of the casualties you’d normally take in a game, and over the course of a whole army for 5-7 turns, that will make a difference. Added to which, if you’re not removing those models, your own firepower lasts for longer through the game so you can have a greater influence the longer the game runs.
Machine Empathy. Makes characters and vehicles considerably more survivable, and boosts even further the point above, keeping your vehicles in the game longer than would usually be the case. Expect Iron Hands armies to come heavy with tanks and transports, with a full complement of Techmarines on board too to help with repair rolls.
These tactics work very well with the background and image of the Iron Hands being extremely difficult to dislodge. They don’t affect your damage output directly, but will certainly keep you in the game longer, and that in itself could be a game changer (just think how you’d feel if your expensive chapter master got shot in the face with a lascannon and instant killed – now you’ve got a chance that he won’t die, and could very well make the charge and butcher his way through the enemy unit that just shot at him…)

Black Templars:
Accept any challenge, no matter the odds. Your sergeants just became brilliant for taking on challenges, just imagine if your squad gets charged by a Warlord with a powerfist. You’ve just got yourself a guy who’s perfectly capable of taking them out before they even get to strike. Expect Black Templars sergeants to get upgraded to veterans and be equipped for close combat to get the extra attacks.
Crusaders. So psykers will work less often when they’re playing you, but since it only affects powers that directly affect your unit, that’s not likely to be a game changer. Fits really nicely with the fluff for Black Templars though. What could be significant though is the effect on sweeping advances, as your average roll should now be 9 not 7, added to the fact that you can take bigger squads of marines, you should certainly be causing enough casualties to win most combats, and have a decent chance at running down your opponent when you do. The boost to your run move is nice, and gives you more consistent movement, again fitting nicely with the idea that black templars like to close quickly with their enemies.
Again, I think these chapter tactics have captured the essence of Black Templars very well without overbalancing things in their favour, they haven’t become amazing combat beatsticks, but they do certainly get a benefit from being there, and they’re ruthless at cutting down any opposition that flees from them. To my mind the crucial thing here is to remember how combats work, and charging independent characters in separately from units gives you more chances of running down your opponent.

Overall Conclusions – the author has clearly thought about the Chapter Tactics carefully, and I dare say has playtested them quite a bit. Whilst I’ve not had the opportunity to use them myself as yet, it looks to me as though all the tactics are relatively subtle in their operation, none is likely to result in a particular chapter being able to rule the tabletop without tactical ability from the player, but they do influence unit selection, deployment and use of the individual units within an army.

Warlord Traits:
Angel of Death. Fear is always good, ok so it’s unlikely to result in significant changes in most combats because failing a leadership test is usually harder than passing it, but just consider the look on your opponent’s face when they do fail that test and their prize combat unit is now WS1.
The Imperium’s Sword. Now this one will change things up substantially – depending on your army selection. If you’ve gone for a shooty librarian HQ or a Master of the Forge, then this is useless, but for a tooled up combat HQ with an accompanying squad then an extra point of strength on the charge can really swing a combat your way (and will really annoy Nurgle players, which is always good).
Storm of Fire. Here’s the trait for your shooty HQ, and it’s flexible too since it allows you to nominate any unit within 12”, so there’s redundancy there if you’ve decided to go with a combat HQ this trait doesn’t become worthless. Just remember if you do have a combat HQ to keep a shooty unit close by!
Rites of War. Gives your marines that little boost to their leadership for morale tests. It’s not a big step on the face of it, but tell that to the guy who’s just failed the test by 1 and watched a prize unit fall back off the table.
Iron Resolve. Again this is best on a combat HQ, and gives you a boost to combat resolution. Not a big boost, but will ensure that all those previously drawn combats would be won, and that extra 1 point is useful enough just on that basis. When you add in the fact that it’s another point off your opponent’s leadership for their morale test, it becomes really significant to my mind.
Champion of Humanity. If it comes off, then this can be a game winner, but you need to remember that your opponent is usually able to refuse the challenge, and those who can’t are usually pretty tough nuts in combat. The potential game-winning nature of this trait flies somewhat in the face of what the author has been trying to do with the codex, but the number of occasions it will actually work is likely to be very small to my mind, and not enough to make it a game-wrecker.

Conclusions. The warlord traits, as with those in the main rule book, are generally subtle in their effect and aren’t likely to win you the game on their own. This trait list tends to favour combat HQ’s over utility or ranged commanders, but that’s expected and fits the background pretty well, the wargear list for HQ options tends to do the same. It might have been nice to see two separate tables, one supporting combat traits and one for ranged traits to allow a player to tailor their HQ more, as it is if the Master of the Forge is your HQ for example (as we could see in the case of Iron Hands) then the trait list doesn’t help much and you’re probably better off using the main rulebook options.