Space Bikers vs Space Ninjas

So rather than painting my Ultramarines, I’ve been wrestling, instead, with the idea of starting a new Space Marine army. I could do something, dare I say it, different, but Space Marines are awesome and they’re the only army (whatever the Chapter) that has ever excited me. I’ve dabbled with others over the years but I’ve always come back the Adeptus Astartes. So why fight it?

Now I’ve been struggling to decide which Space Marine army to collect because, realistically, the likelihood is that I won’t be collecting another time and money being an ever diminishing commodity. Thanks to Nick Kyme I had to add Salamanders to list to be considered because, well, they’re awesome. But in the end they were cut for two very important reasons.

1. I don’t like painting green (after years of painting Dark Angels badly)

2. I wanted to do an army that was significantly different to the Ultramarines and beyond taking a butt load of flamer/melta weapons I’m not sure the sons of Vulcan can offer that.

So it came down to the White Scars – Space Bikers – or the Raven Guard – Space Ninjas. So how to choose?

Well, Lee of The Chaps argued that Raven Guard would be a quick army to paint in so much as the process is; spray black, edge highlight the armour, paint the metal bits silver, base, done. This is valid but ease has never been a consideration for me on a project, but how excited I am about the army. I don’t give a monkey’s about how tactically viable or hard-hitting an army is. If I did I wouldn’t field a Battle Company of Ultramarines because, let’s be honest, you’ll always have a fight on your hands in doing so.

The idea of fielding a rapid strike force either in the form of White Scars or Raven Guard is just awesome. Be it hordes of jump pack enabled assault marines and drop pods or hordes of bikers tearing across the battle field is very evocative. And both colour schemes are incredibly striking at the same time. Plus it brings with it a host of new tactical challenges and a whole new mentality.

Playing with Ultramarines and embracing their background, as I do, it’s hard not to play as you expect them to behave in real life. Grim faced determination, faith in the battle plan and their brothers, disciplined ranks and coordinated volleys of fire. And, above all, courage and honour. Getting into the mindset of a very different Space Marine Chapter is absolutely one of the best bits about starting a new army. Working out an army list to reflect the Chapter faithfully is hugely fun and so rewarding when it finally takes to the field of battle.

The important things to remember is decide how big you want the army to be. If it’s Battle Company size fine. If it’s more like 1,500 points fine. But settle on a points value and then write a list accordingly as not only will you know what you’re aiming for so you don’t make wasteful purchases that you can’t fit in or don’t suit the army style. Plus, as you acquire toys you’ll be able to field smaller forces as you will already know the army structure you’re working to.

So, who to choose? The Space Bikers or the Space Ninjas?

I’ve always had a great fondness of the Raven Guard. Their background is awesome and they’re just so damn cool in all the books featuring them. I like them so much that I even used them as a basis for the Void Stalkers Chapter, my example Origins post for the Shell Case Shorts 4. So, they look cool, they are cool. But, and I think this is what’s stopped me from making that crucial first purchase, they’re just not as cool on the board as they care in the books. In the books they are, literally, Space Ninjas. They’re armour is more sophisticated that standard power armour allowing them to infiltrate and generally be a sneaky bunch of…well, Space Ninjas. You simply cannot reflect that in a game of 40k. And that’s disappointing.

But it’s more than a case of I can field a whole army of bikes in a White Scar army, although I can. Or that it reflects the background far more faithfully, which it does. It’s the fact, as well, that it is a huge departure from what I’m used to which is very appealing. It’s also a very different colour scheme that emphasises individuality, with the tribal markings, than the far more rank & file Ultramarines.

This penchant for lunatics on motorbikes is quite a revelation to me. I didn’t realise how much I liked the White Scars. Yes, they’re background is awesome but I never thought I’d prefer to the Space Ninjas. But, it would seem, the White Scars give me everything that the Ultramarines aren’t, which is kinda the point…

A Company of Heroes

The other day I talked about the benefits of fielding Battle Companies over the more traditional hodge podge Space Marine armies that are little more than delivery mechanisms for Terminators. Today I thought I’d discuss Veteran only armies.

The 1st Company of most Chapters represent are not only the most experienced and capable warriors but also the most inspirational. To earn a place in the 1st Company is to have accomplished deeds so great that they attract your chapter master’s notice – a great honour in itself.

But being in a company of heroes means facing the very worst that the galaxy can throw at the Imperium of Man. As I said in my last post although I accept that elements of the 1st may be made available to Battle Companies, within the background it has long been established that a Battle Company is more than capable of conquering a star system. As such the 1st, when called upon does so to face the vilest of the Emperor’s foes. Evil that only the most resolute and pure of spirit can hope to face with their sanity intact. To be in the 1st Company is an honour with a hefty price and as we saw with the Ultramarines 1st Company on Macragge, it some times requires the ultimate price.

But how do you field a 1st Company on the table top? Well, strictly speaking…you can’t. At least not if you use Codex Space Marines. So, what you’ll have to do is borrow the rules for Belial, Master of the Deathwing from Codex Dark Angels. His special rules allows you to take Terminator squads as troop choices. His stats, equipment and special rules are also about right for fielding any 1st Company Captain. In my case, specifically, Agemman. He also allows you to field a Terminator command squad. It’s mental, FYI that you cannot take a command squad in Terminator armour in the standard codex.

The composition of your 1st Company will vary massively depending on the Chapter you collect and how loyal you are to the fluff. Some Chapters have very few suits of Terminator armour and so the army should reflect that. The Ultramarines, as far as I can tell have half their company in Terminator armour, the rest make up Vanguard and Sternguard squads.

It’s rare that you’ll get to use an entire 1st company. At around 500 points a squad, a fully pimped company stretches in the Apocalypse size games which presents its own issues and faffs, but, for argument’s sake, assume you’re playing a standard game. However, if you do the important thing to remember, as mentioned in my previous post, Veterans die just as easily as a normal 16 point Space Marine, except that each casualty is even more acutely felt because of the skills/effectiveness they represent. A dead Vanguard armed with a power weapon and a plasma pistol represents are far greater investment in points no to mention the potential damage it can inflict compared to a normal assault marine.

My 1st Company contains Captain (Angry-man) Agemman, his Terminator command squad mounted in a Redeemer, 3 sqauds of standard Terminators (if such a term can be applied to Terminators), 2 squads of Assault Terminators, 2 squads of Sternguard, 3 squads of Vanguard (one sans jump packs), a drop pod, 2 Dreadnoughts (although I can only field 1 if I play a standard game), 2 Crusaders and a standard Land Raider.

My approach is simple, endure. I hold my Terminators and 2 Vanguard squads in reserve and so my total deployment on turn 1 is 4 Land Raiders and a Dreadnought (or two). And that’s it. The plan is simple. Close with the enemy whilst laying down what fire I can – targeting close combat monsters and vehicles capable of taking a part Space Marines with ease. And then…strike. Everything deep strikes onto the board. Vanguard Veterans can assault on the turn they deep strike which is crazy awesome. A lucky roll can mean your bods are in combat, straight away with 41 attacks a squad with a bevy of power weapon and a few power fist attacks in the mix.

Terminator squads are able to fire which means, with 30 of them, combined with 20 Sternguard and the Land Raiders you can bracket the enemy on both sides and severely diminish the combat effectiveness of return fire or counter attacks. And, don’t forget, if you’ve timed it right, your third Vanguard squad and Captain Angry-man and his command squad will be in assault range too. So, potentially 35 tooled up close combat nasties slamming into combat on a single turn, delivering somewhere in the region of 130-140 attacks.

Assuming there’s anything left alive after all that the Terminators will get their turn to put the boot in during the next turn whilst the Land Raiders, Dreadnought/s and Sternguard form a cordon around the combat, taking care of tanks and any other units that haven’t been engaged.

I’m the first to admit it’s a gamble but it should be. The 1st Company is only ever called upon to tackle the most hated of foes and so their vengeance should be swift and absolute. Plus, Veterans are too expensive to risk walking them over open ground or putting them in anything other than Land Raiders and as only the Daughters Sons of Sanguinius get to take Land Raiders as dedicated transports, you’re restricted in the number you can take to 1 for Captain Angry-man as his dedicated transport and 3 heavy support choices. This rather forces you to adopt the tactics I’ve described. Or at least a variation.

However, there are things you can do to improve your chances. Sternguard and Vanguard without jump packs can take Drop Pods as dedicated transports. But you don’t have to put them in there. Seeding three of four empty drop pods amongst your enemy’s lines will not only prevent your units from scattering when you deep strike them onto the board, but it, if your opponent is clever enough to realise that’s your plan, he’ll divert weaponry that could be pointed at your Land Raiders and Dreadnought/s into destroying them. Either way it’ll benefit you just in slightly different ways.

Fielding a Veteran Company of any composition is gamble. High value units with little or no additional protection means that whatever you do, you cannot afford to be hesitate or allow yourself to be pinned down. If you haven’t broken the back of the enemy army by the end of turn 3 chances are you’re about to get overwhelmed.

In a game as large as the one you’d need to deploy the 1st Company in its entirety the numbers argument just doesn’t wash. 107 Veterans is a scary thing to face, I make no bones about that, but against any other force you’ll be facing two or three times that number. You can take almost two Battle Companies for the same points, to put it in perspective. Every decision has to be decisive and every tactic as bold and as heroic as the warriors represented on the board.

They’re a company of heroes after all.

Band of Brothers

So I thought I’d talk a little tactics for a change. Specifically about fielding Space Marine Battle Companies in Warhammer 40,000. Regular readers and Twitter followers will know that I have two companies of Ultramarines, the 1st & 5th. How I ended up with over 200 Space Marines is a fairly dull story and, thankfully, required very little expenditure on my part. The important thing is that I didn’t plan on ending up with two full companies.

My Ultramarines army started life like most other people’s 40k armies – full of all the cool shit. I.e. Land Raiders, Terminators, Dreadnoughts maybe a squad of Veterans. However, finding myself with a large Space Marine force and a pile of Terminators in lieu of payment for a painting commission events over took me somewhat. But what I discovered as I worked on each of the companies to capacity was that I liked the fact that I had two very distinctive forces with obvious tactics innate yo each. Or one uber force of face kicking-ness for big games. And so I made the decision that I would only use 1 company or the other in smaller games and only combine them for Apocalypse style games. My reason for doing this was as much to do with the canon as it was the gaming challenge as, simply put, Space Marines deploy by company and only in extreme situations do they borrow from the reserve companies. The 1st company isn’t something other companies borrow from. They’re off kicking the fattests of evil arses, not waiting around for Sicarus, Ventris or Galenus to get on the blower and ask for help.

As a result I’ve been using primarily the 5th company for a year so now with, for the most part, real success. Because Battle Companies are awesome. And here’s why…

Most 40k players make two assumptions about Space Marines. 1. They’re unfairly/unreasonably hard 2. All the cool shit is in the Elite or Heavy Suppirt part of the list (To be fair, from a model point of view, this is kinda true). Both these assumptions are wrong. Space Marines, although awesome, are actually above average, but they are above average at everything . And that’s what sets them a part from all the other armies. An Ork army will have variation but you know they’re coming for you. The same can be said for Nids. With Space Marines a player never knows what they’ll be facing because Space Marines can take a fair stab at everything. Including your face. The second assumption is the most significant in this instance because, actually, all the cool shit is the bog standard Space Marine units as well, for precisely the reason why assumption 1 is wrong.

One of the biggest advantages of a Battle Company is numbers. My 5th company list including the recently added Techmarine and Servitors is 112 models. Not tanks, just pairs of boots on the ground. 108 or those have power armour or better, have WS & BS4 or better. That number includes 16 heavy weapons, 8 special weapons, 9 power weapons 2 power fists, 2 Dreadnoughts, 1 Razorback, 2 Rhinos, a Drop Pod, and a Predator. And all for a little under 3,500 points. Granted that’s a hefty game but, trimming the fat I’ve managed to field 107 marines, 2 Dreadnoughts and a Whirlwind for 3,000 points and I outnumbered my Ork opponent. Really think about that for a second. 107 marines. With a 3+ save or better. Hitting on 3+ or better. Requiring a 4+ to be wounded by most basic weapons. One. hundred. And. Seven. Space Marines. That’s a lot of post-human to chew through at toughness 4.

Compare that to a ‘standard’ Space Marine army for the same points. There’d be at least one Land Raider in there. Plus a Terminator squad, that’s 500 points straight away for 5 blokes and a tank that’s going to attract more attention than the slutty chick at holiday camp. That’s not to say they wouldn’t do some damage but it’s rare for Terminators to make their points back because 1. they attract the aforementioned attention and 2. they die too easily, as I bemoaned about the other day. This means you have to take two squads. One to put in the Land Raider, another to deep strike in to bolster the line. That’s now 750 points and you haven’t actually gotten to the elements that’ll win you the game.

I’m the first to admit that fielding a straight up Battle Company has it’s weaknesses. It lacks flanking ability afforded by Landspeeders or bikes. This means that the role falls to the assault troops who are expensive and get no more armour for your points than a tactical squad. They can also lack the ‘decisive’ blow or longevity that Terminators and Veterans can often deliver. If assault marines don’t break the back of a target on the first turn theyvreally struggle. Because they’re not specialists, they’re marines with rocket packs. Also the lack of speed from the tactical elements means that assault marines often have to stay close to home and provide counter attack support. This isn’t the end of the world, however, as 20 assault marines with 31 attacks a squad on the assault will make a mess of most things. Plus the addition of melta bombs is…useful.

Before these ‘problems’ make you give up and start cramming your list with Terminators and Veterans remember this, tactical marines are fucking awesome. Aside from the fact that you can split them into 5 man teams, every squad comes with its own pimpable Veteran, they always rally – which is supremely useful in the core of your force. Fielding 6 full squads gives you 6 heavy weapons, 6 special weapons, 48 bolters (with up to 96 shots) and 6 veteran sergeants that can all take power weapons or power fists. That’s a lot of bang for you buck. And they will, hands down, tackle just about anything but the most ferocious of close combat monsters. But that’s what all the guns are for, and the assault marines lurking nearby. The important thing to remember is that, yes, Vanguard & Sternguard Veterans are way cool and rolling fist fulls of dice in combat usually means there’ll be nothing but mush where your enemy was but they’re 25 points a model and they die just as easily as a tactical marine at 16 points a model. And die they will. Because they’re shit scary. And, little known fact – Veteran Power Armour is made from special bullet attracting metal. True fact.* Plus you can still draw upon the significant muscle that comes with a Captain and fully kitted command squad. Chuck them in a Razorback and not only will you have mobile fire support but a Command Squad can plug the gaps in a line or throw themselves into a fight with a handy fistful of dice that’ll include some power weapons. Always handy. Plus a Chaplain, with an assault squad is just hideous. And Chaplains are insane value for what you get. Liturgies of Battle anyone?

*May not be a true fact.

That many tactical squads allows you to leap-frog your squads whilst maintaining a significant base of fire on the enemy. Plus it’s hard to decide what’s the biggest threat in an army when, 1. it’s uniform and 2. there’s 60 marines all running at you. Using two full devastator squads guarantees a solid fire base as well as concentrated fire on those elements that are the most threatening to those all important scoring/tactical units. Both my squads have 4 missile launchers in them which allows for multi-role fire support. Yes they’ll struggle to deal with Land Raiders and the like but overall, a missile launcher is one of the best weapons in the game. And hugely underrated.

As are, in my opinion, Dreadnoughts. Dreadnoughts, although only armour 12 are immune to enough weaponry that you can ignore large elements of the enemy as a viable threat allowing you to make more effective combat decisions. They offer mobile fire support keeping pace with your tactical squads for no penalty and they get all the tasty guns (so Land Raiders aren’t such a problem). 135 points for a Dreadnought with twin-linked lascannon and a close combat weapon is awesome. Plus, they don’t distinguish between soft squishy flesh and adamantium armour in combat thanks to a Strength 10 close combat weapon. I’ve witnessed a Dreadnought worth 105 points hold an entire flank on its own simply through sensible deployment and liberal use of its power fist. And in a Battle Company you can justifiably take 3. Although 2 is standard. But for 105 points basic, you’ll struggle to find something better.

And don’t forget you have a spare Heavy Support choice that be used for a Predator or a Vindicator which can offer very real amounts of firepower and, again, draws attention away from the rest of your force. A Predator covered in lascannons in the middle of 107 Space Marines is usually delivers just enough despair that your opponent psychologically gives up and goes home because fielding that many of the Emperor’s finest is one thing, being able to afford Dreadnoughts and tanks too is just too much.

The thing about fielding a Battle Company is it’s all about nerve and faith. In that you need huge helpings of both. Because you lack the hammer blow that only Elite elements and heavy tanks can deliver your plans must be tempered by patience. Don’t get drawn out, don’t over commit elements to a fight they’re not equipped for. Just because a tactical marine is more than a match for a Guardsmen doesn’t mean you want to tie up a squad – 10% of your fighting strength – in a losing scrap with a platoon of them.

Using a Battle Company allows you to focus on the plan. You know what your force has. What its strengths are and where it is weak. The trick is turning those weaknesses to your advantage. Don’t worry about your lack of speed, let the enemy come to you, just be sure to know what you’re doing with them when they arrive, be in a position to close the trap. And don’t forget the most important thing; a Battle Company is incredibly intimidating. How does an enemy deploy a force to deal with that many Space Marines as, most likely, they will be staunch believers in those assumptions I mentioned earlier. So it’s as much about having faith in your opponent’s fear as its is faith that you do not.

You will never have an easy game fielding a Battle Company. They lack the heavy hitting elements, but by using all the different squads and weapon combinations in concert it is a formidable force that most opponents won’t know where to start with. Plus its size will make it a real challenge, even for horde armies to overwhelm. And the cherry on top of that particular cakey treat is that they’re still Space Marines. Although, word to the wise; make sure your special & heavy weapon load outs are balanced. 6 lasannons are ace until you fight a horde force.

Ultimately, field a Battle Company and you’ll take a beating but as long as you hold true to your plan, have faith, and don’t over reach you will win the day.

Marching for Macragge

I started writing this post a couple of days ago and it was intended to be about how I ended up collecting the 1st & 5th companies of the Ultramarines. 750 words in I realised that it was a sinfully boring post and that no one gives a flying fanatic about why I chose the 5th company or that in lieu of payment for a painting commission I was given 30 Terminators which prompted me collecting the 1st.

What, hopefully, you will care about is why the Ultramarines at all. It’s little wonder that background has a lot to do with it. Regular readers will know that narrative is what drives me in the hobby and the flimsier the background the quicker I lose interest in a game/faction. It all started with the 4th edition Codex and the multipart plastic Space Marine Captain.

I had bought the multipart plastic Space Marine Captain just as something to paint. At this point I had no idea what to paint it as and decided that I’d wait until I got the new Codex before I’d build and paint it as, if I ever decided to collect an army around it, I wanted it  to be game legal.

The first thing I do whenever I get my hands on a Codex is flick to the colour section and dribble over the new models. I’d heard about the (then) new models and was excited to see them but the thing that surprised me was the new paint job the Ultramarines received at that point. Gone was the flat coat of Ultramarines Blue (may it rest in peace), red housed bolters and Sunburst Yellow shoulder guard trims. In their place was a deeper blue, black guns and gold shoulder trims. The book itself revealed further that the bright colours of the company markings had been replaced with metallics. The God awful pink of the 7th company had been replaced with a more palatable metallic Warlock Purple. At this point you could colour me impressed. The Games Workshop had done the impossible; they’d made me want to paint a model as an Ultarmarine.

However, what made want to collect an army was the Codex itself. It has long been established that the Ultramarines were the exemplars of the Warhammer 40,000 universe. They had the largest legion during the Horus Heresy and so sired the greatest number of successor chapters in the aftermath. They were stoic in their adherence to the Codex Astartes and followed the rules. Equally, Ultramar was established as, quite simply, the nicest place to live in the Imperium. It was little wonder that the Ultramarines were the Marines Vanilla of the 40k Universe, or earned the reputation of being utterly bland. I can say that because I too held that belief.

The 4th (and later the 5th) edition Codex changed all that. The Ultramarines finally got the ‘fleshing out’ that chapters like the Blood Angels, Dark Angels & Space Wolves had benefited from over the years. This was helped considerably by Graham McNeill’s awesome Ultramarine novels, but it was the proverbial facelift the ‘blue ones’ needed. The Ultramarines stopped being the Galactic Boy Scouts and started becoming the Imperium’s staunchest defenders. The dogmatic use of the Codex Astartes was for good reason and took on a life of its own. It is not a static tome that hasn’t been touched in 10,000 years. Indeed Marneus Calgar and First Captain Agemman have written many chapters of the sacred work. Which leads on to the notion that Chapter Masters across the galaxy can and have contributed to it and as such, provides its venerators with a tremendous wealth of tactical knowledge. It isn’t the restrictive ‘Idiots Guide to Warfare’ many have assumed it to be and only grows with the ages and the Ultramarines and their brother Astartes wage war in the Emperor’s name.

The Ultramarines themselves were elevated to shining examples to the Imperium of heroism, nobility, martial prowess and sacrifice. Their victories are countless, their martyrs legion. Imperial Guard regiments raised in Ultramar are some of the finest warriors ever produced by the Imperium and every one of them looks to the Ultramarines as an example. The epitome of what a soldier should be. And even Ultramar itself became more than a ‘nice place’, instead being a haven of philosophy, architecture and learning.

It is little surprise that so many Space Marine chapters are raised using the Ultramarine geneseed, the nobility of their deeds written into their very DNA and even to other Adeptus Astartes, the Ultramarines represent all that a Space Marine and a Chapter aspire to. It is said that each of the Primarchs possessed a facet of the Emperor, a splinter of his personality and ability. But of all of his children, Roboute Guilliman embodied him most completely. It is fitting then that the Ultramarines are the keepers of his lore and their chapter structure allows them to respond to any threat whereas other chapters, such as the White Scars or Raven Guard may not be so flexible, their style of warfare being too specialised.

I found myself embracing this background more and more and as I found myself with more and more models it seemed entirely reasonable to collect the 1st & 5th companies in full as I felt that Ultramarines SOP would be to deploy battle companies and only in dire circumstances employ the 1st in part or in force. Using just a battle company in a game denies you all the plush stuff like Terminators, Veterans, Land Raiders, etc, but it means that you no longer rely on those elements to win the game. It becomes far far more tactical and you start to realise the potential of a battle company and exactly what Roboute Guilliman was banging on about.

The downside is that I’ve only used the 1st company twice – it’s about 5,500 points – but it’s awesome and, again, because of its elite nature is a real challenge to use. It’s all or nothing, do or die. It’s all about, as I’ve said so many times before, having faith that the Marines on the ground can hold the line long enough for the reserve elements to drop in and close the trap on the enemy, crushing them between two forces too elite to be held back. It’s a risky move but hugely satisfying when it works.

You stand back and nod approvingly as your children lay waste to your foes and you momentarily get a glimpse of what it’s like to be a Primarch, master, creator and executioner.