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Friday, February 11, 2011

Dark Eldar Codex Review: Part 5: Troops Part 1 - Kabalite Warriors

Dark Eldar are quite different from most armies in having four (good) Troop options. Well…they really only have two with the other two being accessible by taking a specific HQ though the point stands! Most armies have 1-2 effective choices and although there are some armies with as many good Troop choices as Dark Eldar (Blood Angels jump to mind), no other army can actually build an army around each of those choices. What is also particularly nice about Dark Eldar is it is really easy to combine the Troops without losing army-wide effectiveness. Puppy and John have some general thoughts on Dark Eldar Troops and then we’re going to look at the options in two different posts. In this post we’ll cover the standard Troops of Kabalite Warriors in conjunction with the general thoughts on Dark Eldar Troops and in the second post we’ll look at the unlockable Troops of Wracks and Hellions as well as Wyches.

Overall Troop thoughts:

Dark Eldar Troops are probably the most unique combination of roles, ability to be meshed and effectiveness. Every other army has something designed to claim objectives either because they're tough (marines, tervigons, necrons), cheap and numerous (orks, guard, gants), protected by a cheap transport (marines, guard) or a tough transport (tau, eldar). Dark Eldar are expensive and fragile; both troops and transports. Because of this, you can't use tactics of pushing forward into midfield and disrupting your opponent or simply parking in midfield and demanding they remove you (they most likely will). This old thinking caused us to initially overvalue the blaster/sc/raider swiss army squad. It feels like a Rhino Tactical squad but it's not. It costs the same and takes half the firepower to eliminate. Although a pain token improves their survivability they are not an ideal squad to 'buy' a token for and must put themselves in significant and often unnecessary danger to gain said token (unlike many other Dark Eldar options).

Dark Eldar troops have two strong points and both come in conjunction with their transport options. They're fast and they're versatile. Every squad can (and generally should) bring anti-troop and anti-tank. You then use your speed to focus your force into one spot and wipe it out. You can't outrun them. You can't hide in a box forever. You can't hunker down because every squad can force enough saves no matter your Toughness. The Dark Eldar army and the Troops in particular need to work as a cohesive force to hide the extreme vulnerability of the individual units. Remembering the whole of the Dark Eldar army is very aggressive in nature (pain tokens) and gains survivability by being aggressive. Without successful aggression the whole army can very much become a glass cannon and whilst there are tactics to mitigate this (reserves), your army needs to be flexible.

It’s important to note as well that whilst the Transports really help Dark Eldar Troops (and units in general), they aren’t a necessity. Foot Dark Eldar (even without using a Webyway Portal) are an effective army but operate very differently. Your units, particularly your Troops, are not as versatile without the Raider or Venom providing duality and thus operate in a more uni-dimensional nature. This means the rest of the army has to cover the roles the Troops are not fulfilling which they can do quite effectively.

So with all this in mind, let’s move on and look at the Troops in specifics.

Kabalite Warriors:

These are pretty much your basic, default guys; they have good offensive stats (WS4, BS4, I5) but terrible survivability (T3, 5+) without a pain token. Unlike Wyches who really need a pain token, unless you’re running a 20-man foot squad ‘buying’ tokens for these guys in your list is wasteful as they simply aren't important enough to warrant the investment. All up they are very cheap and offensively efficient. You are basically shaving off half the cost of a Marine and saying "I really didn't need all that protection anyways." At range, they are fairly good, hitting on 3s and wounding everything in the game on 4s. They can also upgrade to a number of good weapons- Blaster, Blast Pistol, Dark Lance, and Splinter Cannon are all good guns and will be reviewed later. In close combat you should basically think about them as Guardsmen, because they are but they are slightly more likely to avoid taking enormous casualties (thanks to WS4) and escape without getting swept (thanks to I5). However, this is a marginal benefit, so don't rely on it.

Warriors are your bread and butter troops- they can kill most other types of units when equipped well and have enough options to be useful in most situations. This is particularly true when you combine them with their transport to cover their lack of anti-infantry or anti-tank depending upon their outfit. Even without a transport they are also capable of both anti-tank and anti-infantry so can make good support foot units in a Dark Eldar foot army. Taking squads of them shores up anti-infantry and anti-tank roles while maintaining a presence of scoring units. There are three main ways to run Warriors. Five strong MSU style units which can run in Venoms or Raiders. 9-10 strong as your standard ‘midfield’ unit to provide scoring presence, dakka and anti-tank/suppression fire. Or large foot squads which are an excellent place for a pain token (20 T3/5+/4+ cover/FNP models are hard to remove) and provide a very strong mid- to backfield presence. Before we look at load-outs though let’s look at their role a bit closer on the table-top.

We’ll re-interate here. Dark Eldar Warriors are not Marines, even with a pain token. They will die outside of their transport without a pain token, particularly if they are at close range where flamers can hit them and they can be assaulted. Whilst FNP mitigates this to an extent they are still highly vulnerable to anti-infantry firepower and unless they are a large unit are unlikely to be a midfield holding unit. Explosions from vehicles aren’t as deadly as they could be with all transports being open-topped but combined with their weakness to light arms fire without a pain token and being able to shoot out of their transport basically at will, keeping them inside their transports and mobile is generally a wise idea. Ld8 is also a bummer so a Sybarite upgrade is a wise investment unless an IC is attached to help you from fleeing. However, due to their fragility they are very likely to be wiped anyways so taking a Sybarite is often more about accessing their wargear than the Ld9 upgrade. Furthermore, grisly trophies on your transports will often be the same price as a couple of Sybarites and make your whole army more reliable though only whilst the transports/vehicles are alive to confer their bonus. Long story short: Kabalite Warriors should disembark as rarely as Guardsmen. They are not Marines.

So let’s look at the weapon upgrades then. There are five major ones we need to look at: the splinter cannon, blaster, blast pistol, dark lance and shredder.

Shredder: pretty useless as Dark Eldar have a ton of anti-infantry already. The only benefit you really get from the shredder is forcing units to spread out or hitting clumped disembarked units but a Razorwing with four missiles or just mass poison does the trick just as well.

Blast Pistol: much maligned and discussed before here but very useful in small Venom squads. Whilst expensive when including the Sybarite upgrade, essentially doubling your anti-tank potential at close range is worth the cost and whilst they are the first things to go when point trimming, they really need to be given hard consideration in small anti-tank units.

Blaster: pretty much a staple of all but the largest of Warrior squads. It’s cheap. It’s decently effective in suppression fire and the range (18”) combined with movement gives the Warriors good reach from their transport. The only issue is you can only take one no matter your squad size but this is alleviated by being able to take one for 5-strong units. As close to an auto-inclusion as you get in our books unless your squad is 20-strong.

Dark Lance: Just like the Blaster, it is an effective anti-tank/suppression weapon and when spammed will be able to deal with armor decently. The issue here is it isn’t cheap and cannot be fired on the move although it does have significantly better range than the Blaster. More likely to see use in larger foot squads it is still an effective weapon in 10 man squads to get lots of S8 shots on the board. If you consider this weapon to be like the Tactical Multi-melta you won’t go far wrong. If you move and don't shoot, it's not a huge loss but that extra anti-tank shot when you can or are willing to stay still gives the Warrior units a bit more flexibility and anti-tank punch.

Splinter Cannon: Effective whilst standing still and on the go is nice and basically adds to the Warrior squads already impressive ability to deal with infantry for a decent cost. Problem here is…well a Venom is infinitely more point efficient and can fire to full effect whilst moving 12”. It’s a nice addition if you have points lying around but a Dark Lance offers more utility when you can stay still and fire away. The additional 2-4 poison shots basically in the end are nice but nothing to write home about.. 

So let’s look at the three main load-outs then.

20-man foot squad: This really is the most obvious squad to dedicate a pain token to and is a very effective WWP delivery system (please try and remove that squad in one turn of shooting). As a bonus it’s a squad that is hard to suppress and can put out two lance shots every turn. It’s not point efficient (230 points for two lances) but gives you a very solid, hard to remove scoring unit. Once your opponent advances across midfield you’ve also got 36 poisoned shots to blast into them (or 18 at range). This is really a one and done squad though as you cannot take a transport with this unit.

10-man mounted/foot squad: The above 20 man squad can be split down to 2x10 which gives you more fire potential and target saturation but the squads are less ideal for ‘bought’ pain tokens. However, the main advantage of these squads is you can take a transport and this is the only reason I would split them down to 10-men. If you are buying 10-man squads and you are not taking a foot list, buy them a transport. What 10-strong squads give you is more options as well. Whilst the blaster/cannon/Raider squad seems an alright all-rounder for lower point values, the 5-man Venom/Blaster/Pistol is much more point efficient. What the 10-man version gives you over the MSU 5-man is scoring reliability and the ability to take another Dark Lance. An extra five bodies makes a world of difference in survivability and scoring potential and also being able to access two long-ranged anti-tank guns gives them some great utility when backed up by their rifles. These really are the reliable scoring units for Dark Eldar which can contribute in a variety of ways whilst not breaking the bank.

MSU 5-man mounted: There are two ways to run this squad. As a cheap backfield scoring unit in a Raider or as an offensive and midfield threat with blaster/blast pistol and double-cannon Venom. The backfield version is pretty meh and I’d much rather see a 10-strong squad (for an extra 70 points you double your survivability and ranged firepower) or a MSU sized Wrack squad (discussed later). The 5-man option really excels with blaster/pistol/Venom though as it provides two anti-tank shots and very effective anti-infantry from the Venom (12 poisoned shots on the move up to 36”). Although more expensive than a Trueborn squad and less offensively potent, these guys are scoring so force your opponent into a choice if you run both. If you take only these squads as your scoring options though you need to ensure you have as many as feasibly possible to overcome their fragile nature. 

Independent Characters and Kabalite Warriors:

Both the MSU Venom squads and large 20-man foot squad combine very well with Duke Sliscus. The Duke can give the large squad 3+ poisoned shots making them even more potent in midfield whilst allows the Venoms the option to deep-strike and disembark their cargo so they can shoot. This is a risky manoeuvre but gives you some excellent deployment options, particularly when combined with a webway portal. Taking 10-man squads as 9-strong to fit in ICs such as the Duke, Archons or Haemonculi isn't a fantastic idea however. You lose the benefit of your heavy weapon option which limits their role to being much more aggressive and anti-infantry oriented. Whilst you can still get two-three anti-tank shots with them due to IC wargear + blaster and blast pistol, finding a squad which runs effectively at a smaller size (i.e. 5-strong in Raider or different squad type all together) is generally a better option.


Warriors are an excellent addition to any Dark Eldar army as fire support or aggressive anti-infantry (you can even combine both). They are quite cheap for what they do offensively but are very fragile in reverse. Although you can build an army around Kabalite Warriors (i.e. Venom Spam) I think these guys are best used to plug holes in your army list. If you're lacking in anti-infantry in midfield, scoring or ranged/mobile anti-tank these guys can generally fulfil that role to help the army out without breaking the bank. Remembering Warriors are hyper point efficient in terms of offensive ability and are able to combine anti-tank and anti-infantry very well with help from the Venom and Raider. However, they are fragile and even with a pain token granting them FNP won't last against sustained firepower unless in large squads. That being said they are reliable scoring units which provide offensive output for your army whilst remaining mobile and not sucking points away from the rest of your list.

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