Thursday, September 10, 2015

Honor the Codex: Building Steam, Talking Tax

For those of you have been longtime readers, you know that we here at Rites love talking about how 40k plays for different armies at different points costs. Whether we're talking about kill team, escalation leagues, tournaments, or apocalypse, it's fascinating to us to see the different dynamics that pan out based on available resources. So, that said, I'm fortunate enough that my FLGS is hosting a new 40k escalation league. After my last, very poor experience, I've decided to enroll my Ravens. They've got more options available to them, and I'm always excited to try new things with them.

So, where to start? With our rules and bounds of FOC first. We're opening the league at 500 points, and playing up another 500 each month until 2000 or so. No formations are allowed for the first two months, and at this point, we seem to be playing one codex only. From there, we're instituting something pretty significant at 500 points: partial kill team FOC restrictions. This means no 2+ saves, no models with more than 3 wounds, no reserves, and no vehicles with combined av 33 or higher (front, one side, and rear).

This, in turn, means it was time to bring out my 'standard' 500 point list. If you know me personally, and or have played a demo game with me before, you've likely seen the list. It's designed to introduce people to a number of different little elements of the game.

Chapter Tactics: Raven Guard or Ultramarines

ML2 Librarian w/ force sword, jump pack

5 sniper scouts w/ camo cloaks

5 tactical marines w/ meltagun in a rhino

10 assault marines w/ jump packs, lightning claw veteran sergeant

In there, you've got different units that do different things differently in every phase of the game, from pre-deployment, deployment, and then every part of the turn through the assault phase. The point isn't to win, but to show folks the possibilities and options where game flow is involved. I've played different starter lists for different people at different points, but for new players, or those who don't make a specific request as to what they'd like to see played from space marines, it's very general. From a personal standpoint, it's fun enough to play, as the assault marines are typically charging on turn two or three, and the tactical marines are joining them in the fray by turn three or four. But for readers of Honor the Codex, you know I'm not typically too fond of assault marines, and tend to view marines as a shooting army first and foremost.

Nevertheless, again, the army starts rolling dice pre-deployment, generating psychic powers and showcasing the flexibility of a librarian. I tend to roll on Biomancy, because it's more fair and fun than rolling something meta or safe like Telepathy or Divination, and it encourages me to play aggressive and try different things than what I normally would. With the introduction of the Skyhammer, and assault marines being called 'viable' as a result, it serves that I should familiarize myself with a unit which is not dissimilar from how I use my scarabs in my Necron list. I shouldn't necessarily expect them to win combat alone, but they should be quick enough to meet my enemy's more potent shooting threats and tie them down until I can deal with more pressing threats, and either win combat through attrition, or have another unit come in and actively help dig them out, like an ironclad.

Not this kind of bloat!
Similarly, this will serve as a proving ground for me with regard to exploring concepts in MSU. Just as the Skyhammer has spurred discussions in the use of assault marines, it has further spurred discussion as to how to best handle what many would consider 'tax' units. With my Necrons, I've not really had to wrestle with the issue, as I don't have much in the way of tax, or even options really. But with my marines, this isn't the case. Marines have options to mix and match, min and max, and marry off squad level options to integrated character options. Not only that, but the Necron codex, not unlike Tau or Dark Eldar, is a smaller book. There's little redundancy, minimal competition for multiple units in the same role, even if they exist in the same slot. And the same is true of their formations. With a codex as long standing (and frequently updated) as marines, you've got large volumes of overlap, even to the point of calling it bloated. Not only is most every non-troops slot hotly contested (and perhaps even troops with the changes to bike troops), but they feel rife with redundant options, either within the same slot, or by the ability for another, similar unit to out perform them from a different slot. And while there's a discussion worth having on diversity versus redundancy, I tend to feel that I need to build a list with focused, purposeful unit selections, because my marines, unlike the Necrons, are not blessed with the ability to just throw all their dice at any target of opportunity and hope for the best.

I've got your combat resolution, right here!
So, what then about tax? A friend at a local gaming club steered my thoughts on tax in a different direction. I've been on a warpath against taxes of late, seeking to trim every imaginable piece of fat from my lists, and hone them into lean, mean killing machines. This has characteristically meant seeking to purge bolter tax while maximizing special weapons firepower. And that min/max is what discussion hinged on. Even if I considered the tactical squad an insufferable tax, I've never sought to completely devalue it and nullify my investment in it. Rather, I sign off that it's unavoidable (short of getting the bikes out) and look to make the best of a bad situation, usually with some combination of a meltagun and drop pod, or plasma gun and rhino (which, when I check the numbers on them, only clock in at 20-30 points cheaper than bikes, yikes!). Why not take the same approach with other taxes, be they my HQ, or units like assault marines in a Skyhammer?

To that end, I'll be experimenting with where the magic tipping point lies between wasting points to try to draw blood from a stone (usefulness out of a tax) versus cutting my losses and just putting those necessary evils on the table and resigning them to uselessness. Specifically, I'll be experimenting with returning some power fist veteran sergeants to service, because, truth be told, my marines are finding that they have to get their hands dirty quite a bit anymore. Wish me luck.

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