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Friday, April 1, 2011

Thunderwolf Cavalry - Hybrid Army Analysis

Thunderwolf Cavalry - Why a Hybrid Target Saturated Approach is Key to Victory


Comments in the article on Thunderwolves (TW) posted yesterday seen here have lead me to write up a brief article to better explain some of my own thoughts on Thunderwolf Cavalry (TWC) based lists which I may have left more abstract in the past. These are explored below.

Many Thunderwolf Cavalry lists focus on massed Thunderwolves across the board - lots of characters, lots of Thunderwolves, not much of anything else. The image is grandiose for sure, but the army itself is a failure because of its' rock nature easily counterable by mid-level armies balanced for all comers. You don't need a tailored list to beat massed TWC.

More commonly, TWC armies work in support elements. The concept of long range fire support is essential to work into a TWC list. Without it your TWC take casualties as they approach the opponent and hit with far less impact overall. Without it, even against a list which doesn't include ranged suppressive fire, you are likely faced with having to crack open mobile bunkers (transports) to get at the juicy targets inside. Unfortunately, whilst you will in most cases wipe that transport out in your combat round, you aren't locked in combat with the now exposed contents that are the real threat and will indeed massacre your TWC at point blank firing range followed by charges into the unit to finish them up if you aren't already dead.


The two most dominant fire support elements one will see is the 'Rifleman' Dreadnought configuration of two twin-linked autocannons at 125pts each in the Elites section, and units of Long Fangs with Missile Launnchers (6 Long Fangs with 5 Missile Launchers costing 140pts, or, with points constrained, units of 5 with 4 Missile Launchers at 115pts). A combination of both is also seen much of the time to get redundancy across Force Organisation Chart (FOC) slots (and lets face it, 240pts for a Rifleman and 4 ML's that can split fire to two different targets is a very strong supporting element). The Rifleman has been examined to death, so I won't go into depth on him, other then to say that he chews up an elites slot on the FOC and those slots are at times taken by other options so it isn't always an option. Lets look at Long Fangs.

Long Fangs are typically taken with just Missile Launchers (ML). 5 Missile Launchers able to split fire between two targets is incredibly good value at 140pts. The dual-nature of the anti-tank and anti-infantry (Krak/Frag Missiles) of the ML is quite potent in such concentrated numbers and allows a measure of flexibility against all opponents whether foot, hybrid or mech. I approach my Long Fang load out differently to most people in terms of a competitively balanced list. I run a pair of lascannons on my Long Fang Units in addition to the remaining 2 or 3 ML. Lascannons cost 15 more points then ML's and do not have a great output against infantry, and because of this, most people around the world shun their use and consider it an inferior use of points. But you're a Space Wolf player. More importantly, you are a Space Wolf player running a good portion of his or her army as TWC. Your army can deal with infantry hordes very easily, so losing a frag missile isn't that much of a loss. more importantly, when you have a bad day with armour penentration rolls, str 8 can fail spectacularly especially when one considers that a rhino which is AV 11 to the front/side is glanced on a 4+ and penetrated on a 5+, that's 33% chance of doing nothing at all after hitting without any other factors such as cover included. A lascannon with its' str 9 however will glance av 11 on the roll of a 2+ and penetrate on a 3+. with only a 1/6 chance of not doing anything, the lascannon is far more effective at suppressing and indeed neutralising (destroying rather then stunning/shaking) armour. Bad dice days happen. The worst one for me was against a Dark Eldar boat army in the old codex, My TWC made it to combat severely weakened on the 5th turn of the game because of my inability to do any damage to the AV 10 raiders with my str 8 krak missiles which is all I had. The game was close and a great learning experience and I've worked lascannons into my armoured suppression supporting Long Fangs ever since and not been disappointed. There is an argument that a Lascannon Long Fang costs 40pts, and 2 of them is 80 whereas 3 ML LF's is only 75pts so isn't it better to get the extra ML body? Yes and no - what happens if you have the full 6 LF's already in the unit/s? You can't get another body even if you wanted to. Moreover, with the ability to split firepower You can still get stronger anti-armour firepower at armoured threats with the Lascannons and shoot the Kraks at lesser threats and against heavy infantry with terminator armour, the krak Missiles just bounce off where as the lascannons do damage. Lascannons are nice for this flexibility and I forsee a few more working into LF units to help counter Paladin heavy Grey Knight armies in the future.

With that all said, Long fangs can also bring a Razorback in support with them, and at 75pts for a Lascannon/Twin-Linked Plasmagun Razorback, you bring more ranged suppression support to the board via the option, though in many cases you won't have the points. Mobile lascannon firepower is nice, but the numbers and split fire abilities of the Long Fangs will do more in the longterm in most cases with a TWC heavy list.

With long range support dealt with (for now, we'll revisit it shortly) lets look at other methods of support, troops in particular. Spaguatyrine brought up yesterday the concept of Grey Hunters in rhinos/razorbacks with a Meltagun (or two) and/or an attached Wolf Guard with combi-melta. These chaps move up alongside the TWC, many times acting as a physical cover providing shield for the cavalry and when they get within melta range crack open the armoured vehicles to allow the TWC to assault the contents in the same turn. This will work a lot of the time but often times, what will happen is due to the potential threat range of the TWC of up to 24" and the threat range of a GH unit of 12" that you won't be able to withstand another turn of shooting to get a combined attack off with all units in the push (GH's+TWC) and instead will be forced to split your forces and have the TWC charge a turn earlier. Without the armour being cracked open by the supporting units or their extra attacks in support of the charge, the TWC can be dealt with immediately and overwhelmed through strength of numbers. In the following turn or two the GH's arrive on the scene and are also overwhelmed. In effect you get unsupported wave attacks occuring (these will be looked at a bit more below).


Spaguatyrine brought up an essential concept with playing a TWC based list - that of a first turn distraction. His suggestion of a Drop Pod mounted unit of 5 Grey hunters with Meltagun is okay, but not ideal, and is actually fairly easy to ignore or to hit with small arms fire and still leave the big guns free to wail upon the TWC at range. With a Scout squad with MG in support of this DP Unit, you have a good base of distraction which should be dealt with...but then again 2 MG's, that's 1 vehicle in a bit of trouble, but that's about it. If Your opponent is going second then the following turn your TWC have charges off in many cases, so they have bigger threats in the TWC then the infantry and will still be targetting the TWC with the weapons that hurt them, as to allow them to arrive untouched at their lines is bad.

What Spaguatyrines distraction units are missing is good Equally Threatening (as the TWC) Target Saturation in the distraction units. But it's more then just heavy threat target saturation you want. You want the distractions to have an immediate threat but you also want them to shut off parts of the battlefield in terms of clear lines of sight to the incoming TWC/Support waves - so big models. I've found a pair of Drop Podded Dreadnoughts work wonders in this regard. With a MM/HF they can be a nuisance from the get go and if they are left alone in the opponents next turn they will make just as big a mess of things as the TWC will, and so they need to be dealt with. Meltaguns are a threat for sure, but it depends on your opponent and how they have set up/moved on whether or not melta will be a serious threat. You're aim is to create as much disruption and uncertainty in your opponent as possible and every little distraction you can work into a list to achieve this is a force multiplier in its' own right. With a unit of Scouts with Meltagun in the force as well and one of the GH units or LF Units with the 3rd Drop pod (to allow both dreads to drop in first turn) you have big, LoS blocking targets right in your opponents face which are both an immediate threat and a threat in the following turn. If they aren't dealt with, they will cause havoc, have the option to tarpit significant chunks of a battle line, and just be a nuisance. The Scouts are decent and act in much the same way.


Target Saturation - You want to saturate the area of approach in front of the enemy with multiple distractions, able to disrupt the opponents and force uncertainty into their approach to dealing with your force. Because you already have these disrupting units in your opponents face so to speak, you also have support for a 2nd (or 3rd) turn charge being able to break away from the escorting GH's in Rhino's thus avoiding the Unsupported Wave Attack from occuring. Moreover, because your Disruption units are capable of opening up armoured targets from the first turn, then you in effect have multiple redundant anti-armour threats across your FOC dealing with the armour which would otherwise end up contributing to the downfall of the TWC that couldn't get their first charge off against the squishy bodies inside.


Lets pretend for a moment that we are not going to include any distractionary forces in our list, that we have TWC, Some LF's and GH's either on foot or in transports to give our TWC some cover as they move up. Your opponent has 3 priority targets if the foot is in transports and 2 if they are walking. These are, Transports, TWC, LF's, in that order. Stunning the Transports is all that is needed though immobilising/destroying are just as good, the aim is to make the unit get out and walk or to lag behind the general push. Now because so many points are pumped into TWC you have less mech elements and as such your mech dies considerably faster and your troops are forced to walk to the fight, slowing up the combined push.

The TWC are nasty, they need to be whittled down at range, destroyed if possible so they get targetted next - they should still make the opposing battle line but once their dealt with the LF's followed by the foot forces can be dealt with. Basically, The TWC need to get into combat, waiting around for slow moving infantry whilst your 50+ point models are getting bombarded into oblivion is not an option, so they move forward and get isolated and unsupported thus getting overwhelmed and destroyed by superior numbers/force. This then leaves the next wave easy meat and the support easy as well. You need distraction units to provide a mutual support for the TWC when they get to combat and if they've been destroyed (the distractions) your TWC are in better shape regardless so should still do well in combat where they excel.

With this all said, yes, TWC have mobility, but without support, many times they will get overwhelmed and your army will be dealt with piece meal. A Good player will play well enough that they control what you can and can't attack with the charges' - because Cavalry is not Jump Infantry/Jet Bikes, you are easily blocked/controlled. And this is where the difficulty of TWC lists comes into it, because you need to bring in enough support elements that the TWC can hit and then get back up in either solid ranged support or close combat beat down. Target Saturation is important. Target Saturation that remains a threat in multiple layers with TWC Lists is hard to do and it's why a straight TWC/rhino/razor rush hybrid can fail quite spectacularly. The Scout/Podding elements are almost vital to success with a well rounded TWC army as it gives the opponent dilemma's, it also allows you to better control what they can and can't do to you in terms of limiting your TWC impact and what they can attack.


For my part, I don't run what the internet collectively calls the most optimised list in my Dread Wolves or its' variants, but I UNDERSTAND HOW THE ARMY WORKS, and that was gotten purely via experience in playing games. It looks soft to many but it can do a heck of a lot of damage as well. I'm using this as an example to support my points. In particular, you as a player need to recognise that stuff dies, and that sacrificial units whether built in or used as a stand in will be used to either severely restrict what you can and can't do and what your opponent can and can't achieve in controlling your actions against him or her. Your disrupting units are going to die, if not, your Thunderwolf Cavalry are going to die, so playing to limit these losses both in-game and in list design is your primary aim.

- Auretious Taak.

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