Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The Unsung Hero of the Imperium

Greetings Gentlereaders,

I apologize for my recent hiatus.  I've been trying to get settled in and simultaneously getting ready to move again.  I've not had the opportunity to play much warhammer but I have been able to speak with Son of Horus and others around Bloomington.  It's taken some time to convince me, but I think it's time to shine a light on an under-appreciated option.  Yes, I'm here to talk to you about why the heavy bolter is not  a bad weapon, but one who is fundamentally good and should shine brighter in the metagame for a good while.  More after the break.

Alright, since I've rarely enough seen the man-portable version, let's re-introduce ourselves to today's subject: 36", S 5, AP 4, Heavy 3.  Like most imperial weapons, the heavy bolter is a no nonsense weapon without any special rules.  As a heavy weapon, it is competing with weapons like the missile launcher and multimelta for the free/cheap slot in tactical and devastator squads.  It faces what I believe to be stiffer competition from the autocannon for the cheap slot in imperial guard units, but it can bring something to the table that none of those others can.

One of the most visible differences between imperial and non-imperial units, in terms of game design, is heavy weapons integration.  Tau can integrate markerlights and guardians can bring weapons platforms, but these are the exception rather than the rule when it comes to weapon integration.  One of the points I've debated with Corvus and Godfrey is that weapons integration brings a degree of resilience to an army in terms of anti-tank firepower.  Having played since the beginning of fifth edition, killing tanks and the weapons with which to do it have been paramount in my mind when it comes to army composition.  For this reason, I have long been a supporter of weapons integration as it means that any unit has the ability to kill the penetrate and kill tanks.

The change in rules from fifth to sixth (advent of hull points, reduced the utility of transports) has made the ability to penetrate tanks less important than the ability to damage them and then kill the unit inside. The durability of tanks in fifth edition made them arguably more important than the unit inside, as best exemplified by the term DAVU (Dire Avenger Vehicle Upgrade) that floated around eldar circles.  Now that the infantry of armies has regained its place what is needed to win games, the choice of weapons must adapt.

In fifth edition, most tactical squads brought missile launchers or multimeltas (plasma cannons if you're crimson fists) while devastators brought missiles or the ocasional lascannons.  The need to kill vehicles combined with weapons integration meant that tactical squads often suffered from having either bolters or heavy weapons firing at sub-optimal targets, possibly wasting their shots entirely.  The change in meta allows the tactical squad to combat squad into two specialist units.

The increased need to kill infantry, especially mid-range infantry like dire avengers and fire warriors means the heavy bolter has an opportunity to shine.  Its range allows it to fire the first volley into fire warriors who are killed on a 2+ unless they stick to cover.  The ability to determine movement by model allows the squad soe freedom of movement while not forcing the heavy bolter to snap shoot.

Because it is a weapon that kills infantry well, the combat squad that carries it does not waste their bolter fire because of their heavy weapon.  this allows the rest of the tactical squad to carry their assault weapons to the enemy while receiving supporting fire.  The incentive to combat squad with the heavy bolter means the tactical squad can purchase a razorback and fully utilize all but three bolters.

Even if your gaming environment is primarily based on fighting other marines, I would suggest bringing heavy bolters.  While you will still need other heavy weapons to deal with most tanks, the heavy bolter allows you to apply wounds to marines more frequently than they can with bolters or frag missiles.  While there is a smaller chance to fail when your opponent doesn't get the chance to roll saves, the weapons that can do that to marines are less common than those that can do that to non-marines.  In my experience with fighting marines with non-marines the solution is not to use low ap weapons, but rather high ap, high volume weapons.  Against low ap weapons marines can flee to cover, but against high volume weapons, there is no counter-play except to hope the dice work for you.

I hope this look at the heavy bolter has given you reason to think and possibly bring this weapon.  While I don't play my marines anymore, discussing the state of 40k with Son of Horus has given me a reason to look at it in a new light.  The increased pace of codex releases will hopefully mean a more fluid metagame and help to break the stagnation that occurs in gaming when the rules change infrequently.


  1. One of the key issues with the heavy bolter is the opportunity cost. First, any time you can take it, it is competing with at least the multi-melta for the same slot, and usually a very similar price point. This holds for tactical squads, sternguard, devastators, and attack bikes.

    Though you offer a very valid point in that use of the heavy bolter does retain use of your boltguns, this is only partially true. The heavy bolter has a 36" threat range, which isn't bad. But it feels less impressive when compared to almost anything that can be taken in its same slot. The plasma cannon scares off even terminators, and the multi-melta offers devastating performance and plays at the same range at the rest of your squad's weapons. The only way, in my opinion, to bolster the range of the heavy bolter is to attach Lysander to a heavy bolter devastator squad. Even then, it's a huge points sink and only has a 42" threat range.

    Furthermore, the heavy bolter pales when compared to the utility of the missile launcher. The small blast does well enough against hordes, and even if it is expensive, the missile launcher can also dabble in use as a skyfire outlet.

    Simply put, I feel that there are far too many weapons that do the job of the heavy bolter better. Namely the autocannon, the assault cannon, and the heavy flamer. The first two offer instant death against xeno targets, and can serve better anti-tank functions, either at further range, or closer range. The heavy flamer denies cover, which helps seal the deal.

    The only time I like heavy bolters are as sponsons on predators and baal predators, and even that isn't a fair comparison, given that cost adjustments are making predator annihilators affordable lascannon outlets, while the destructor rises in cost in part due to its proliferation last edition, and in part due to the volume of AP 4 it puts out being very strong in a horde edition. The comparison is hardly more fair when considering the flame options and fast status of the baal predator, regardless of if you consider the advantages of the assault cannon on it.

    The unfortunate truth is that to be considered for taking outside of fluff reasons or for aesthetic value, it needs a salvo overhaul, either through direct salvo rule, or by getting the splinter cannon/psycannon treatment. Either of these options would really breathe life into it. Even a shift to a salvo 1/3 would give it something worth looking at for, especially paired with a flamer for a tactical squad.

    1. Sadly... ^ this. I appreciate the idea of wanting to expand the game's potential, but having spoken at great lengths with Corvs on this one, I concur with the points he has raised. There's just not enough in the current Heavy Bolter to really make it "good."

      Not to say they can't be used well, but they'll rarely outperform the other options allowed for those listed reasons.

      That all said. I do find the role reversal of Corvus and Heretic and their approach on heavy weapon integrations :P

  2. The best use I've seen of a heavy bolter is in a long fang squad. 3 heavy bolters and 2 lascannons. Twin linked through divination, and splitting the lascannons at heavier targets. The rate of fire with rerolls to hit can help saturate squads, or even take down light fliers if needed.

    1. I can see them being very useful there. It's especially helpful knowing you can count on eight of them hitting.

  3. I've been using heavy bolter razorbacks for my MUS grey hunters, and have found them very useful. As I would take a transport anyway, and with no drawback from the smaller transport capacity, paying 5pts for a twin linked heavy bolter (at the cost of a top hatch) is a good deal in my mind.

    Having a mobile twin linked heavy bolter has also proved useful (in numbers, I take at least 6 every game) against rear armour AV 10 fliers like helldrakes and vendettas.

    1. I can dig using them to bolster the firepower for MSU-style lists. That said, if the Razorback had a TL-missile Launcher, or a TL-multi-melta as free swaps for the razorback, I'd have to wonder how frequently the standard HB razor would see play. It wouldn't give you a whole lot of fire support, sure, but the utility would again become an issue.

      HB's work, but unfortunately they just don't offer enough imo. Take for example the new Wraithknight, or even the Riptide. The HB's is preying for a 5 from one of the two hits it scores. Obviously yes, it could score two... or none. Where the missile or multi-melta could score a 4 or a 2 (respectively). I'm not a math guru, but it provides the options for the user.

      For me it comes to the idea of heavy support options. i almost never suggest heavy supports that can't take on other heavy supports. Mostly because it just means that i'm using a slot meant to pack big guns with ones that hunt infantry... which I have infantry for. Not to mention bug guns do a great job hunting everything less than other big guns at the same time... but maybe that's just me being a spoiled IG player :P The same argument falls for the HB vs other heavy weapon options. But I'm not right, merely giving my opinion. As do we all :D