Monday, 29 July 2013

IntrAspection: Shining Spears

Now these guys are a bit of an oddity.  They have definitely (bar one particular area) improved significantly from 5th edition, but most of that is down to the edition change rather than the new codex.  Should I just restrict this appraisal to the changes specifically brought by the new dex?  Probably not.  I think it'd be best to address them as a whole and do quick overview on how the new edition and newer codex have dovetailed quite nicely.

Now, I said that they had improved bar one area, and that area combat versus 2+ saves.  In 5th, they could deal with Terminators and the like swiftly and efficiently.  Usually in one charge.  Hitting on fours, wounding on 2s, a smattering of Inv saves and then done.  Sure, the storm shield guys were a pain, but they always are, regardless of what you use to take them down.  But with the new edition changes to power weapons bringing laser lances to AP3 on the charge, that target was denied them and, frankly, it was one of the few targets gave the squad a chance to get their exorbitantly high points back.  At 35 points apiece, Shining Spears were exceptionally pricey.

However, before I go down this road too far, let's quickly go over other things that the new edition changed for them.  The Jetbike rules made it easy to get cover saves and increased speed available with the Eldar Jetbikes could take them pretty much anywhere on the board in a turn.  Difficult terrain tests were far more forgiving as well and the bonus Hammer of Wrath hit was a nice plus.

Now we not only have these improvements to the unit, but also the tweaks given in the codex.  The most noticeable of these is a pretty hefty price drop to only 25 points per model, making them much more affordable.  Definitely still expensive, but able to easier get their points back, having unrivalled manoeuvrability about the field and the ability to take regular power armour to town.  The improved Shuriken weaponry is nice, but if that's all you're after, take guardians.  The lances don't seem to have changed at all, but for one thing, if you look closely enough.  They now have the lance rule in close combat.  This means that no vehicle is beyond their ability to damage (apart from Black Templar Land Raiders, of course).  Now, this is admittedly, unlikely to turn them into a wrecking ball of destruction, but the ability to scratch off the odd hull point here and there really is another feather in their cap, especially as you can shoot the lances before the charge as well.  Let's face it, you don't need to deal many glances to bring a vehicle down these days.

Aside from that, the equipment is pretty much as it was, although the laser lances have lost their Initiative bonus on the charge.  Oh well.  We'll just have to rely on our natural I5 to see us through.  We'll manage somehow...  We do have some new skills to mess about with though.  We've been through Ancient Doom before and Battle Focus is useless to a jetbike (why is it there?  My money's on misprint.), so we'll skip them and move on.  The two new skill that they have now are Outflank and Skilled Rider.  Outflank isn't tremendously useful in my opinion given the speed a jetbike can reach regardless, but I suppose it's nice to have that as an option in case you need it.  Skilled Rider is the big one though.  Previously a fully paid-up Exarch power, you now get this as standard and with the new version of the rule in 6th, it's phenomenal with this unit.  Where it used to give you a reroll on Dangerous terrain tests, it now renders you immune to dangerous terrain and also nets a very neat +1 to the Jink save.  This means that not only can you move the unit anywhere (or thereabouts), they also get a 4+ Cover save provided they moved.  That increases to 3+ when Turbo-Boosting, so stay nimble!

I see the unit very much as a bit of a Dark Eldar unit in practice.  Now, hear me out.  Their modus operandi is about the same.  They use their speed to stay out of trouble and harass enemy forces before leaping in on a weakened enemy unit and finishing them off.  Seriously, given them Power From Pain or maybe a decent brand of amphetamine, and they'll be right at home in Commorragh!  Ignore their name.  They're not a spear, they're a punch-dagger.

We also have the traditional Exarch option for 10 points.  This nets the usual stat improvements and access to skill and equipment.  Equipment wse, you can get a power weapon (eh...) or a Star Lance (oooh...).  We all know what a power weapon does, so let's move onto the fun stuff.  A star lance is like a laser lance, except that instead of dealing S6 AP3 hits, it packs a nastier punch at S8 and AP2.  Glorious!  It keeps the lance ability, making it a very viable omni-killer.  A useful challenger in assaults, seeing as it causes Instant Death for your standard Marine type.  Very nice.  You'd be hard pressed not to take a star lance if you're taking the exarch, especially as its only 10 points.

The exarch powers are also worth a look.  Monster Hunter is there for 5 points, which with the increase of MCs in the game, it could well be a sound investment, although with a star lance, you'd barely need it.  Still, you don't want that monstrous creature alive to hit you back.  We also have Disarming Strike for 10 points, tying in very nicely with his role as a challenge killer.  I've gushed about that skill enough, so let's move on.  The third skill is the best though.  Hit & Run.  I've been a great exponent of Hit & Run since I was running Hellions in 5th, and there's no way I'm changing that stance now!  It becomes even more useful for the Spear given the fact that they can only really deal decent damage on the charge.  Most of the tactics you can use with Hellions, you can use with Spears, so enjoy the ability to escape any fight you want and punch back at your leisure!

The big question here is not whether the Shining Spears have improved.  They have, undoubtedly.  But have they improved enough to oust the Hawks, the Hunters and Spiders from the Fast Attack slot?  The answer, as ever, is really up to you.  I'm definitely curious to test them out though!

Monday, 22 July 2013

IntrAspection: Baharroth

Aaand.. we’re back.  Next up to the plate is Baharroth.

Baharroth is the Phoenix Lord of the Swooping Hawks and has always been a bit hard-done-by as a special character.  In the previous edition of the Eldar dex, he didn’t actually have any equipment (bar the armour if you’re being pedantic) that a regular SH exarch couldn’t get his hands on.  Stat-wise, he’s not any worse, but her wasn’t particularly great at fighting (great statline, but no Inv save and only a regular power sword) and his shooting wasn’t anything in particular to write home about.  I mean 3 S5 shots at BS7 is cool and all, but you could afford an entire squad of Hawks plus an exarch for the cost of the Cry of the Wind.  It’s a shame.  I quite like him in the background, with his oddly ‘buddy-cop’-esque relationship with Maugan-Ra and his accompanying his friend to save his craftworld.  It was neat, but the rules made him unviable unless you were determined to put him in there or wanted to run a Phoenix Court.

Has that changed in 6th?  A bit.  But regrettably, probably not enough.  He’s the joint-cheapest of the Lords (at a pretty hefty 195 points) and comes with a raft of special rules, just like all the other Phoenix Lords.  Ancient Doom, Eternal Warrior, it’s all there.  I checked.  He (unsurprisingly) also comes with the normal Swooping Hawk rules, allowing pinpoint precision on his deep strikes, which is very useful with one of his character-specific rules; Sun’s Brilliance.  When he deep strikes he inflicts a blind test on all enemy units within 6”, which is very nice, although highly situational depending on your opponent’s army.  Nevertheless, if you’re trying to take down some shooty Orks, or the Tau, the one-two punch of Deep Striking and blinding could be used to great effect, cementing a role for the guy at last: that of backfield disruptor.  Best deployed mid-early in the game, when the opponent’s assault elements have advanced and his firebases are relatively undefended.  Drop in, grenade stuff, blind some guys, skyleap away before they’ve recovered.  Similarly in this role, assaulting can be viable option, especially as Hit & Run is part of Baharroth’s repertoire now.

Equipment wise, you’re packing grenades (haywire & plasma), the hawk grenade packs, the 2+ save, the wings and the Hawk’s Talon (Assault 3 S5).  You also have a special melee weapon: The Shining Blade.  It’s not spectacular, as it’s really just a power sword that inflicts Blind.  Again, quite situational, but deployed against the right enemy, very useful, especially when against low I enemy units, as I think the Blind effect will take place before the return blow can be struck.  This will help them tarpit otherwise massively superior assault-based forces and is really handy on occasion.  Even when you’re against Marines, hey, you could get lucky.

Another new thing Baharroth has is Battle Fortune, which means he finally has an Invulnerable Save! Yay! Obviously, you can’t really rely on a 4+ save, but it sure as hell is better than the nothing he had previously.  Overall, Baharroth has definitely taken a step up in usefulness, although I have my doubts he can bring enough whoop with him to account for his hefty price tag.  Nevertheless, he has a viable battlefield role that doesn’t rely on him being absent for half the game, and that’s got to be worth something!

Also, while I’m going through the aspects, I should probably point you in the direction of Rampage’s blog (see the Underlings list on the right).  He’s been going through the Eldar Codex as well, and seems to be covering a broader scope of units, so give him a read if you want a different viewpoint on the same units, or to read an analysis of some of the other Eldar units available.  He’s been known to talk sense (on occasion)!

Monday, 8 July 2013

IntrAspection: Swooping Hawks

The prize for the ‘Most Improved Aspect’ definitely goes to the Hawks in this Codex.  Whereas, my wittering about the Dragons and the Scorpions have been fairly close and guarded, the Hawks’ analysis is going to be positively effervescent.  Just an FYI.

Back in 5th, the Hawks were relatively unused for a couple of reasons.  Skyleap was expensive to attach to a unit and with reserve rules being what they were, the Skyleap/Grenade Pack combo was not reliable enough for cost, and didn’t pack much noticeable punch against a lot of armies given the prevalence of mechanised infantry.  They had haywire grenades, sure, which gave them a valid role of vehicle takedown, for whoever wanted an alternative to the Dragons.  Unfortunately, that was one of their only real roles, as their anti-troop weaponry was lacklustre and they were too brittle for their points cost.  22 points a model was crippling, and even then you needed to pour points into the unit to get an Exarch with Skyleap and maybe a decent gun.  The third reason (for me at least) was the models.  Not particularly bad looking models, but models that were spectacularly annoying to put together and transport.  We’re talking metal models with two individual wings apiece which had to be attached with poor contact points.  It was nearly impossible to transport them without the wings falling off and was very frustrating.  So I never used them in my games, which was a shame.
Thankfully, all of these points have been addressed in one way or another, which is glorious.  There’s a lot of trash talk about finecast, but it is so much better or these models than metal ever was.  The lightness of the material and the ease with which it adheres to superglue are major benefits and they can now transport well unless you’re really careless about it.  Also, as I’ve gone for a piratical/raider theme with my craftworlders, the Scourge models fit in very well as alternatives.  Scourges look freakin’ amazing, so I’m very happy that I have a ready-made excuse to use them in my Eldar lists!
The first change you’ll notice skimming through the book is that they are now noticeably cheaper, at only 16 points apiece, a significant reduction.  All to the good.  The next change is the weaponry.  The Lasblasters have been improved, their strength and AP remaining the same, but being improved from Assault 2 to Assault 3.  They’re probably not going to obliterate units with that, but it’s very nice to use to peck away at infantry from a respectable distance.  The Grenade pack has been improved as well, giving an extra AP (down to 4 now) and also rocking some Ignores Cover, which is spectacular.  Perfect for their ant-infantry duties and excellent counters for Nids, Tau and Guard.  The size of the blast depends on the number of models in the unit, so you’ll want to have a minimum of 6 in there to get the large blast.  Thankfully, the Hawks still have their Haywire grenades and with the confluence of vehicle combat rules and Hull Points are far more dangerous than they were in 5th.  This is going to really put pressure on a lot of opponents to put down the Hawks as a priority, as even one or two surviving Hawks can deal significant damage to vehicles and have the manoeuvrability to strike almost where they please.
So that’s equipment.  What about the special rules?  Well there are two big ones (over and above the army-wide race rules).  The first is they all have Skyleap as standard, although that rule has been altered a bit, both for the good and the bad.  The bad is that you can no longer use it to escape from combat.  Technically bad, but if your Hawks are in a non-vehicle assault, then things are going poorly for them anyway.  Besides, you’ve got an exarch power for that problem should you be concerned about it.  The good part is that Skyleaping now puts you into Ongoing Reserves, meaning that they will automatically turn up again next turn, taking a lot of the uncertainty out of the power.  Speaking of the lack of uncertainty, the second ability is the Herald of Victory (rather presumptuous, isn’t it?) meaning that, if the entire unit has that rule, then they don’t scatter.  Boom.  You can use these special rules to nasty effect in the game, contesting objectives in the late game, repeatedly bombarding enemy holding units or stealth troops, putting pressure on backfield vehicles, all manner of things.  Not to mention that when you Deep Strike in, not only do you get the Grenades, you also get a ton of shots and with battle Focus, you can retreat into cover afterwards, or at least spread out to mitigate templates.  Bear in mind you have Fleet as well to reroll that run move if you don’t like it.  A very aggressive playstyle presents itself for this unit.  Almost Dark Eldar-style…  One more tactic to remember is that Ongoing reserves are automatic, so you can deploy the Swooping Hawks and then Skyleap them on turn 1 for an automatic turn 2 Deep Strike rather than relying on the vagaries of the dice.
The Exarch is useful, but nowhere near as necessary as he once was.  The usual characteristic upgrades present themselves and you have three powers to pick from.  Night Vision, which is occasionally useful, given the propensity of the Hawks to stay at range.  Not critical by any means, but at 5 points it doesn’t have to be.  Marksman’s Eye (allowing precision shots at 5+) is cool, but I don’t think the Exarch really has the ranged weaponry for this to be worthwhile.  Hit & Run is probably the most worthwhile power for him I think.  Combat is really not where the hawks are meant to be and if you can escape it, then do so.  Expensive though.
Finally, we have equipment.  You can give the Exarch a power sword, but see my previous comments about Hawks and assault.  I think there are better uses for those 10 point.  You have two guns, one of them is a S5 Lasblaster and the other is a Lasbalster with Blind and AP3.  I’m not sure on these.  Marksman’s Eye will stack fairly well with these, allowing you to snipe out sergeants and special weapons guys, but I would really think about where else those points could be spent before purchasing any of these.
So that’s my view on the Swooping Hawks.  Holy hell, they’re awesome now!
But does their Phoenix Lord follow suit?  Baharroth will be next in the firing line.

Friday, 5 July 2013

IntrAspection: Karandras

Karandras is the Phoenix Lord of the Striking Scorpions, although not the founder of the Aspect.  That’s a fairly long-standing and well-enough know piece of the fluff and one that I like, especially as it is expanded on in a nudge-and-wink way in the Dark Eldar codex and in The Dark Eldar novels, particularly Path of the Incubus.  The founder of the scorpions and, later (allegedly) the Incubi, was Arhra Father of Scorpions, also known as Drazhar, the Master of Blades (allegedly) although according to legend Arhra is dead now (allegedly).  I bring this up apropos of nothing by the way; I just enjoy all the maybe/maybe not messing around that happens with these characters.  Yet another of the reasons why I like the game and the universe in general.
The fact that he’s only second fiddle in the history of the Scorpions has no effect on his ability to do his job however:  Karandras is an absolute damn murderer on the battlefield.  Amongst the Phoenix Lords in 5th, he was highly ranked despite his price tag as he could pack a massive punch and probably survive long enough to deliver it.  Now in 6th, such a declaration is beyond any doubt.  With the Scorpion’s claw being altered in the new codex, this guy has taken a distinct upgrade in sheer killitude.  Its lack of the Specialist and Unwieldy special rule means that he can get about breaking necks at a highly respectable I7 and all the while at S8 and 5 attacks flat footed.  That weapon attached to that statline is almost cruel.
His unique piece of wargear this edition is the Scorpion’s Bite (‘cos scorpions are renowned for their bites, aren’t they?) and operates exactly the same as the run-of-the-mill Mandiblaster, but resolved at S6 rather than S3, which is nice, but not amazing.  Nevertheless, it’s funny to imagine this guy blowing up a tank using his face-mounted lasers!  It’s also always fun to get a cheap shot in during a challenge and it helps to thin the ranks during a brawl-style melee.  Also, while we’re on wargear, note that Karandras has a clutch of plasma grenades, so charging through cover is not a problem.  Suck it, Jain Zar!
Skills wise, if he is the warlord, then for one phase per game he and any friends with 12” get to reroll failed wounds.  Not earth-shattering, but could turn the tide in a pinch and assert a strong charge.  He comes with the usual Phoenix Lord goodies, most importantly Eternal Warrior and Fearless.  He also brings the gamut of Scorpion rules to the fore, packing Night Vision, Infiltrate, Move Through Cover and Stealth.  Most of these skills are transferable to his unit, so much like Fuegan, he may well be of greater use accompanying a non-Scorpion unit.  It would be hard to break theme though…  Unlike Fuegan however, he does not dual class very well and his shooting is limited to a Shuriken catapult.  I would very much stick him in an assault unit.  I’m think Storm Guardians again, oddly enough.  His Fearless will rub off on them and the mass of them approaching, all stealthed up, could prove a significant threat.
His Exarch powers are not what I would have chosen, as there is a fair amount of overlap between the two.  He has Monster Hunter (granting him rerolls to wound against Monstrous Creatures and a law suit by Capcom) and Stalker (allowing him rerolls to wound with a successful Initiative roll-off in a challenge).  I can see their relevance to him, no doubt, but all I’m saying is: no Crushing Blow?  Really?  Anyway, that’s really a minor gripe.  The major gripe may come for many at his cost.  He comes with a Land Raider price tag.  Oh, all right, he’s a few points under, but in a 1,500 point game he’s still accounting for about a sixth of your army, so if you take him, you’d better have a plan to get into combat.  Not only that, but a combat that is worth his while.  Again, challenges add a dimension of deadliness to the character that’s hard to overlook, but a lot of the time he would be better off dealing with the bulk of the enemy unit, so whichever unit accompanies him into the fray, make sure they have a character in them to soak up any chancers who want to challenge to deny some wound allocation.
Nevertheless, having said that, blunting his impact on the charge by having a squad sergeant as a wound soak for resolution will increase your chances of breaking the assault in the opponents turn, always a good thing for an assault unit.  So what I’m saying is that you need to judge these things carefully and plan ahead.  He’s a lot of points bound up in one small character, so much like the Scorpions, you must be patient and only strike when the time is right and when the appropriate target presents itself.
I so want to play a Court of the Young King now…

Monday, 1 July 2013

IntrAspection: Striking Scorpions

It’s difficult to review the Scorpions without comparing them to the other Assault aspect competing for the Elites slot: The Howling Banshees.  Back in 5th, they definitely came off as the weaker choice.  They were the same cost, more heavily armoured (at the cost of Fleet) and struck at a higher strength but lacked the power weapon angle to deny armour saves.  Given the near-ubiquity of power armoured armies, that particular foible cost them dearly.  The only enemy they were better at were lightly armoured ones, but they lacked the numbers to effectively deal with horde.  They could infiltrate and gain stealth, but these were expensive, as they were only available as Exarch upgrades.  Has the balance of power shifted here?  I can’t say.  I’m just going to limit the comparison to a simple before and after.

One thing to notice is that these guys are a now a point more expensive than they used to be, which may not seem like much, but so much is cheaper throughout the new dex that it’s worth noticing.  As they’re more expensive are they better though?  I would say yes here.  A brief rundown of the changes and improvements will duly follow.

The mandiblasters have now changed a little.  I can’t say whether that’s for better or for worse though.  Instead of just giving them a bonus attack, they now give an I10 S3 bonus attack.  So you lose a point of strength for the additional attack but get that hit in first.  Against enemies like Genestealers and dark Eldar, this is definitely a good thing, certainly given that a lot of DE assault units would have been striking first normally, and they’re still brittle enough that the pre-punch could have a significant impact.  Against marines and such, it’s a bit of a let-down, but no-one wants to field scorpions against marines anyway do they?

A new big deal is that they now have fleet, although fleet has been reduced from what it once was, it’s still nice to have as an option certainly whilst twinned with Battle Focus, although you’re still just firing shuriken pistols.  Another plus is that they have Infiltrate and Stealth as standard, rather than paying the exorbitant amounts for the Exarch upgrades.  This ties in perfectly with what the aspect was meant to be and more than justifies the minimal price increase on its own.  Packing in Move Through Cover is also really handy, helping you get the most out of the Scorpion’s movement.

Equipment wise, they are the same as they were (bar the mandiblaster alterations, of course).  Their armour is basically power armour and the close combat weapon still adds an extra strength and also a little AP bump to get through 6+ saves.  Nothing to write home about.  Plasma grenades are also present, and the same they ever were.  The upgrades to the Shuriken pistols should go without saying for now.

The Exarch, as ever, is where things get interesting.  Your three powers are Monster Hunter (rerolls to wound vs MCs, useful every now and again), Crushing Blow (+1 strength) and Stalker.  Stalker is an odd one.  It only works during a challenge, but allows an Initiative roll-off with the challenger/challenge.  The Scorpion stands well placed to win this and if he does, he gets to reroll all failed wounds versus his opponent which again is very nice.  Not sure if I’d invest a whole 10 points in though.

The three specialist Exarch weapons are back again.  The biting blade is the cheapest and has taken a major streamlining from its somewhat complicated earlier incarnation (+1 strength per hit you score) to a straight +2 S bonus and an AP of 4, but takes up both hands to wield.  Good thing it’s cheap.  It should be decent for cutting through lighter vehicles as (combined with Crushing Blow) allows the exarch to strike at S6 with 3 attacks flat-footed.  It wouldn’t be my go-to weapon by any means, but I can see uses for it, especially if you’re on a budget or want to fight some Spawn or Grotesques.

The next option are the chainsabres, which are cool.  They basically give the exarch  a full shuriken catapult and a pair of Rending +1S close combat weapons. Combined with some wound rerolls, the rending can be very nasty and with Crushing Blow they will also be handy for vehicle disposal.  Also, they are only 5 points more expensive than the Biting Blade.  Frankly, if you’re on that kind of budget, I would really go for the sabres instead of the blade.  They are so much better and less restrictive.  The last weapon is the Scorpions Claw and, yeesh, this has taken an upgrade.  It used to be a power fist with a built-in catapult.  Now, it’s a power fist with a built-in catapult, but with all the penalties of a power removed.  It’s not unwieldy, it’s not even a Specialist weapon so you can squeeze the most out your Exarchs attacks.  Kitted out with one of these and a power or two, this guy’s challenge machine.  Very scary, but you certainly pay for that, as the weapon costs more than the Exarch wielding it.  The Claw is a whopping 30 points, so you’ll definitely want to plan to get the most out of the purchase.  Given the choice between the claw and the sabre, I’m genuinely unsure of what I’d pick.  The claw is objectively better, but the cost may well be a touch prohibitive in a lot of lists.

Well, that was a lot to get through!  I think I’ll do an extra bit of chat about the role of these guys in the battle field later.  Just listing all the changes took a thousand words!  I probably should have just drawn a picture…