Monday, February 18, 2008

Space Wolves: the Bully Way

Compared to most modern codices, the Space Wolves book is fairly weak and outdated. Specifically, no litanies of hate, no rites of battle, and no Ld 10 psykers puts them at a distinct disadvantage against their vanilla counterparts as well as almost every other race. Nonetheless, the sons of Russ still have access to a great set of special rules: no matter the odds, counter-attack, wolf pelts, frost blades, Storm Caller, and the ability to put up to two power fists in each squad, not counting any attached Wolf Guard. Together, they mean that almost every Space Wolf model will have the advantage in close combat against anything but specialized assault troops. Even then, however, the packs will fight to the last man, and that last man has probably been waving his power fist around for at least two or three phases, hopefully long enough to bring their opponents below scoring as well. The main liabilities of the army list (high point cost and low model count) must be countered by tactical deployments that concentrate their own strength while diluting the enemy’s, as well as wise micromanagement to maximize objective-taking and minimize casualties. To this end, my general strategy with Space Wolves is to make a coordinated assault on just enough objectives to put me ahead and use the units in the best combination to hold on for dear life. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't, but it's always entertaining if I can just remember all the special rules. I wrote up a few thoughts on the application of the various units I currently use or have used in the past.

Grey Hunters

I choose to put my Grey Hunters in drop pods for a couple of reasons. Without access to jump packs, using them in a pure assault role is less attractive and it would waste true grit besides. Instead, I prefer to give them a lot of bolters and plasma for an initial burst of shooting, and count on their special rules and multiple power fists to defend their location from counter-assaults. Pods are great for Hunters because they aren’t destroyed by scattering into enemy formations, and you can usually place them in fairly cramped quarters, ensuring at least one round of double-tap shooting from which the enemy cannot hide. If possible, I try to deploy the Hunters in cover and screen out the worst angles of enemy fire with the pod itself. Still, they don’t last very long isolated by themselves, so I usually try to place them near another friendly unit and reinforce the position as soon as I’m able. As far as target priority goes, I usually try to inflict the most casualties on the nearest, most dangerous assault unit.

Battle Leader, Rune Priest, and Blood Claws in a Land Raider

With a potential 20-inch charge and 12 frost blade, 24 normal, and 8 power fist attacks all striking first, this pack has the potential to make quite an impact. It’s taken me loads of games to figure out the best ways to use it without losing their scoring capacity in the process. Transport is the first issue. The time delay and potential exposure associated with drop pods makes them a poor choice for transporting a pure assault unit, and Rhinos are not that much better for basically the same reasons. Biker Claws are just too expensive and giving them jump packs instead just makes you pay for the +1 T and 24-inch turbo boost without actually getting it, not to mention you can’t send the characters along with them. For these reasons, I’ve become resigned to deploying my Claws in a Land Raider. Raiders are a big point sink, and their fat ass usually hangs out of both sides of any terrain they might be hiding behind, but they look impressive on the battlefield, are better anti-tank than a Long Fangs squad of equal cost, and the assault ramp makes for a very long charge range.

Ever since the last book came out, I’ve always dreamed about that ideal 20-inch Storm Caller-enhanced Blood Claws charge from the assault ramp of a fast moving Land Raider. Honestly, though, I don’t even remember the last time I was able to get their charge bonus. It’s hard to find someone who will sit still long enough for the Blood Claws to charge them, even with an assault ramp transport, so they’re usually charged themselves and only fight with two attacks. Their WS3 at I4 means several of them are probably going to die before their 4 power fist attacks strike back, and half of those usually miss anyway.

Recently, I replaced the Wolf Guard Leader from my Blood Claws squad with an HQ Wolf Guard Battle Leader. Even if the unit is charged themselves, the two HQ models will counter-attack and strike with 12 WS5 S5 power weapon attacks at I5, and since they’re in base-to-base (BTB) contact, at least one or two enemy models will usually be forced to attack the independent characters, meaning less attacks go into the Blood Claws, hopefully keeping the squad at scoring size for a bit longer. Maneuvering to actually get that counter-attack is a little tricky and can depend on your understanding of the following rules:

  • Assault (p. 38): Once a model is in base-to-base contact, or within two inches of a model from its own unit in BTB contact, with an enemy model, it is said to be engaged. The unit that the models belong to is then said to be locked.

  • Characters in assault (p. 51): Characters are treated as a separate unit when resolving close combats, following the normal rules for multiple combats on page 45. If the unit they have joined is locked in combat with the enemy, the character is locked with them.

  • Counter-attack (p. 74): Unengaged models from a unit that has been charged by the enemy must move up to 6” to get into BTB contact with the enemy, taking terrain into account as normal.

So let’s say you have a unit of 8 Blood Claws and two HQ units with wolf pelts (Rune Priest, Wolf Priest, Wolf Lord, whatever) that just jumped out of a Land Raider. They’re too far away to charge anything but most likely are in range to get charged themselves. So long as you’re not pinned, this is not as bad a situation as it could be. The main objective is to minimize the chances of an enemy model being able to actually get into BTB contact with your HQ units, because when the unit is charged, the HQs will be locked but never engaged unless they actually come into BTB, since they count as a separate unit in close combat. As long as they’re not touching, they’re not engaged, and as such can make a counter-attack as described, not to mention getting that lovely 6th attack from their wolf pelt. Most of the time I’ll form up a single or double line with the Blood Claws spaced less than one inch apart, curving back away from the approaching enemy at the ends, with the HQs tucked away in the middle behind the line.

This leads to a subtle advantage that ICs have over a Wolf Guard “sergeant” in leading Blood Claws. Since the 30-point Wolf Guard leaders count as part of the same unit in assault, and can therefore be engaged if models within two inches of them are touched by an enemy model, it’s quite easy to deny them their counter-attack move and wolf pelt bonus unless they’re way in the back and the enemy barely made their charge distance. However, if you can pull it off, i.e., keep the Wolf Guard more than 2" away from any of his squadmates that have been touched in BTB by an enemy assault, he can earn the counterattack move and wolf pelt bonus, and thereby get 4 attacks - getting that wolf pelt bonus is the only way 4 attacks is possible for a bolter Wolf Guard "sergeant" because of true grit!

With such a big block of points tied up in such a fat (albeit strongly armored) vehicle, I will usually drive them toward an objective first rather than go balls-out toward the enemy line, and deploy either the squad or smoke launchers, if I’ve bought them. In my mind, it’s better to deploy riders too early and head them on foot toward cover than risk getting pinned, exposed to enemy fire, and out of their element (assault) even longer. I’ve never made points back from stranded Blood Claws – they are almost always shot up and destroyed having made no impact on the game whatsoever.

About the Rune Priest specifically... I'm surprised that I haven't run into any players who object to the idea that a squad with Storm Caller will strike at I 10 just like normal units in cover who are charged themselves, but then again like I said I rarely get to charge with the squad anyway. And not that the rule isn't very clear, which, to me it very much is, especially when taken with the statements in the codex FAQ, but it's still a pretty interesting effect that I expect will be translated into something new in the next codex, like Eldar Banshee mask rules or something. The Ld 9 is pretty weak, and besides Storm Caller farting every once in a while, his psychic hood (is also less effective. Still, he's just as good a fighter as the battle leader (himself a two-wound version of the overpriced Lord), and his Chooser of the Slain has helped the pack on many occasions.

Wolf Guard Terminators

Another very points-heavy unit that can inflict a good amount of damage, but cannot be left alone for long. In fact, since they have better range than the Grey Hunters I’m more likely to deploy their drop pod farther away from the enemy to avoid the Terminators being charged. If possible, I’ll put them into 4+ cover and try to get as many turns of shooting with the assault cannons as I can. Since my Land Speeders carry multimeltas, I switched my attack bikes to heavy bolters and used the points to make the AC’s master-crafted. A little dickish, maybe, but a) I’m paying out the ass for them and b) I wanted to milk the 4th edition rending rules a little bit more before they disappear this summer. I usually keep the Terminators in the same formation as the Blood Claws: a line curved away from the nearest enemy, the Battle Leader tucked behind with enough space for him to get out and around with counter-attack.

Wolf Scouts

The recent BFG hobby tournament inspired me to get off my ass and sharpen my wolf scouts squad. I had made a trade for some plastic space marine scouts so I assembled and painted up two of them, gave them plasma pistols and assorted space wolf icons, and added them to the four I'd been using. I've already seen an improvement in this squad's game effect in the 6 games I've had with them so far. Haven't lost one yet to a plasma overheat, so I guess I'm due for that, but those extra wounds in the squad let the power weapons stick around for longer and make more of an impact. Also they're not such a one hit wonder against vehicles - the plasma pistols took out a rhino full of noise marines last week, killing several and pinning the rest, after the meltagun trooper had missed. I give them frags since the static rear guard units that they're so good at attacking are usually hiding in cover.


I’m going to take a break from my cousin Vinnie for a while. Half of my games it’s been destroyed in the first couple of turns, and when it does survive longer, it rarely inflicts enough casualties to warrant the points. I might bring it back into a 2500 point army, but for my 2000 I’m going to replace it with a couple of melta/flamer Land Speeders instead. I think they’ll do as much or more damage than the single tank and be much better at objective management.

Long Fangs

Abandon all victory points ye who enter here. Just too freakin expensive. Split fire is just not that special in a numbers game and that stupid pack leader costs way too much. Maybe I'd bring them back in to a 2500 point list for more "wolfy" flavor if I was especially concerned with fluff, but otherwise forget em.

Leman Russ Exterminator

Could this be my next experiment? I could convert one up from a standard Russ using guard autocannons easily enough. Talking to Jay at the tournament on Sunday, I realized that I had almost all of their little tricks represented except for the quintessential Wolves tank. If I switched this in for my Land Raider and gave the Blood Claws a Rhino instead, I'd be taking away those bad ass lascannons, but then I could switch multimeltas back in on the Attack Bikes to try and make up for it. Then again, I do really like my Land Raider model... Maybe I should wait for the codex update to make sure it's even going to be available. Anyone have any rumors in that regard?


Anonymous said...

nice tactica although you left out the ven dred.


bullymike said...

oh ya! i left out quite a few other units too, namely: wolf priest, attack bikes, land speeders, wolf scouts... i'll try to update it soon.

bullymike said...

added: wolf scouts

Anonymous said...

Those Scouts seem a lot meaner than the ones I used to take... from what I remember I just had one melta gun and maybe a Wolfguard Squad Leader with Chain Fist... although that was way back when it was ok for him to have Termi armor...