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Friday, July 22, 2011

Imperial Armour Army List Review: Armo(u)red Battlegroup

Continuing with my series reviewing the army lists Forge World has put out, this time I'll be talking about the Armored Battlegroup. Back in the bad old days of 4E and early 5E, when the IG codex was basically a joke and vehicles were still regarded as bad, this was supposedly a list to fear. it could take LOTS of TANKS, for crying out loud! How could that not be broken!? Um, yes. Having actually seen the army in play myself... it isn't very good. Wasn't and isn't. Thematic, sure- nothing says "The Imperial Guard" like ten Leman Russes rolling down the field, but being that Forge World's expertise at balancing things is... less than stellar, it's not a huge surprise that it falls short in some odd ways.

Let's hold off on bashing it, though, and talk over things. The Armored Battlegroup is a standalone list, although the IG book is necessary for the stats on many things, as with other lists. It's designed to let you field as many tanks and transports as your heart desires- with the new IG book this is not really a problem, but it's important to remember when looking at it that this was not previously something you could really do very well. Sure, you could take some Doctrines and go Armored Fist and field a semi-decent number of mans, with tanks backing them up, but there were still limits to that sort of thing. Armored Battlegroup actually lets you field an army of literally nothing but tanks, with not a single infantry model on the board (although this is not a good idea) and was something of a novelty at the time.

It also has one or two small additions, such as the Ace Crew skills and availability of some non-standard IG units, but for the most part it is just an IG list with additions and modifications to the units.

Ace Crew Skills
Taken like other wargear, Ace Crew skills are limited to one per tank, but any number of tanks in your army may have them (and there is no limit on duplications.) Most of them are middling but not terrible, occasionally opening up some nice options. Surprisingly, none are actually so bad I would recommend against taking them if you were into it, unless you were, say, taking one of the 10pt ones across your whole force or were spamming artillery with Slick Loader.

Skill Driver: Reroll on Difficult Terrain tests, 5pts. Not bad.

Night Fighters: It's the Acute Senses rule. I guess you could throw it on something with a Searchlight to try and light the enemy up and blast him to pieces?

Ace Gunner: +1 on penetration rolls, 10pts. This is pretty dang useful.

Disciplined Crew: 10pts, ignore the first Stunned result you get each game. Odd that it won't let you get rid of a Shaken, but might be worthwhile.

Gung-Ho Crew: Your tank shocks make the enemy test at -1Ld. This is a pretty okay way to spend 5pts if you've got some left over, as Tank Shocking is a good thing.

Battle-Hardened Crew: Okay, yeah, this is probably better than Disciplined. 50% chance of ignoring any Shaken result- it almost makes Extra Armor worth taking! Note, however, that Command Tanks do the same thing with their aura and cost the same over a normal Russ, so you are probably better off taking something else.

Veteran Commander: Reroll one of the tank's dice once per game, and it can't even be a scatter die. Meh.

Slick Loader: For 20pts, you double your main firepower when standing still, but only with an Ordnance weapon. Curses, the Punisher was almost a viable tank for a second there. For artillery pieces this is... okay, since you're generally sitting still anyways to fire barrage, but it makes your firepower more concentrated in a smaller number of hulls. Pretty decent, but not an auto-pick.

HQ Units
So the HQ slot has some nice bonuses compared to IG, but also some limitations. You can get Command Tanks, which cost 10pts more than a normal Russ (you can't get any of the Demolisher-frame ones), but have a 6" aura of "Shaken ain't no thang" on them, which is pretty nice. Hanging out near other tanks- like, say, a fragile Hydra squad so all those 1s and 2s do absolutely nothing to them AND putting its big AV14 butt in the way to give them cover- is a pretty nice deal. There's also the Commissar Tank, which is exactly what it sounds like- a normal Russ with a 6" bubble of Ld10. Okay, but your other options are probably better.

Instead of the CCS you get the Salamander Command Tank, which is a Chimera (in armament, cost, etc) that can issue orders just like a CCS and automatically has Vox. However, it still can't give orders to tanks and can't bring advisers or any special guns to the party, so while it's cheaper than a mounted CCS, it's also more limited in usage. Not being able to bring an Astropath/Master of the Fleet is particularly annoying, since it makes reserves (both yours and the enemy's) much more awkward.

The Elites section, as with Coded: IG, is actually rather sparse. We get Stormtroopers and Techpriests (exactly the same as normal), Squad Command Tanks (solo Russes with all the usual options), and Armored Fist Command Squads, which are a PCS mounted in a Chimera (with a 5pt discount for not being scoring anymore.) None of these are particularly impressive- we have Russes coming out our ears in this list, albeit less so due to some weirdness later on, so the Squad Command Tank is okay, but not drastically changing anything. With no reserves options, Stormtroopers have little place in the list. Our PCS-replacement seems okay at first glance, but not being scoring and not having the mass of troops to order around that normal IG brings is actually rather limiting to them- really, all you can do is slap four Flamers/Meltas on the squad and drive around a bit. You might think that if the Techpriest ever had a place this would be the list for him, but alas, he is still overpriced and vulnerable. Sorry, Techpriest, you're terrible, try again next edition.

Troop Units
This is where the big changes come- you can get Russ squadrons (any variant, all normal options) as troops. However, lacking any special rules they are still not scoring, so their usefulness is actually fairly limited. We also get Armored Fist Squads, which are the other main thing- this is just an Infantry Squad in a Chimera. Okay, cool, those are good, we can work with that. Except that they're one per slot (unlike the 2-5 we can fit in IG) and you have no other choices. In other words, whereas IG armies live and die by their excellent Troop choices, which have amazing flexibility and unparalleled firepower along with sheer weight of numbers, Armored Battlegroup has virtually zero troop options to pick from. This is hugely crippling and basically defines the rest of the list- while you might want to take some of those awesome Russ squads, you can't really afford to take many because you need to fill a lot of slots with Fist squads so you have an actual scoring presence on the board.

Fast Attack Units
Sentinels, Valkyries, Vendettas, Hellhounds, all the usual stuff with all the usual options. You lose Rough Riders (boo hoo) and get something else worthless in their place, the Salamander Scout Tank. 55pts, 12/10/10, comes with an Autocannon and has the old Overcharged Engines rule. (Can roll a d6 during movement- on a 1 you're immobilized, 2-3 nothing happens, 4-6 you're Fast for the turn.) Obviously Vendettas and Sentinels are both still good and Hellhounds can be pretty okay, but do note that lacking the plethora of scoring units to stick inside of them (PCS, HWS, SWS, etc) both airplanes take a bit of a hit in terms of total usefulness, and even more so since you can't really ever "alpha strike" with them (only the Armored Fist Commands can get multiple Melta, and they can't get Demo Charges or Meltabombs.) So our pure strength is still there, but we lose a bunch of utility, which hurts.

Heavy Support Units
This is another place where there are big changes. We don't have Russ squadrons, for one, as those are in Troops. We do get Thunderers (140pts, Demolisher hull, Demolisher cannon and no other guns/rules), which are overall pretty unimpressive. We also get Destroyer Tank Hunters, which are... Russ frames with an AP2 Railgun on them. You might think that something called a "Tank Hunter" would get AP1 at least, but nooooooo, these guys are content to just bounce off cover saves and roll Shaken a bunch. We do get Hydra (thank god) and Ordnance Batteries, at least. We can also buy the artillery shots independent of the frame, in which case they roll reserves to come in and then land every turn in the same place, scattering extra-far the first time. it has the bonus of not being destroyable, though. Lastly we can get the Bombard (S8 AP3 7" blast- which is a step above the normal Large Blast, for those who don't know), but since it's 145pts and can only fire every other turn and only if it stays still and also if it moves that doesn't count as an "off" turn because jesus FW hates you, so there's no real reason to bother. Lastly we have Naval Air Support squadrons, which enterprising readers may remember from my review of the Tyrant's Guard list in IA9, although more accurately it would be the other way around. However, they are still a bit pricey and don't really mesh well with the rest of the list, so not really something we want.

Overall Thoughts
Alright, so we lose one of IG's main strengths, strong scoring presence and good utility from orders/advisers/etc, but gain... immunity to Shaken and some stuff? Ace Crew skills are cute, but only Ace Gunner really stands out as useful- and given that most tanks aren't all that good as tank-hunters, even it is kinda mediocre.

Lacking cheap troops, we're stuck with a problem- what else do you bring? Russ hulls are tough, but Meltaguns will still ruin your day and you don't have the bubblewrap to stop assaulting units and such. We can't even spam the field with hulls the way IG can (more AV14, but waaaay less AV12), so we're going to have to look to doing something else. All in all, this is actually a way, way worse list than the regular IG one and certainly far less flexible. Like many of FW's earlier efforts, it is something of a poorly-though out gimmick list, although it's better in that respect than some (like Tyrant's Legion.)

So how can we make this list work? Well, taking two Command Tanks is going to be a start- +1BS and the aura are very important. Maybe we make both of them Ace Gunners and go with Exterminators- suddenly we're throwing out four TL BS4 shots that are S8 against tanks- it's good for GK so it can't be bad here, right? Not IDing things like Psyflemen do, but AV14 and ignoring shaken without need for a roll actually makes you even tougher than them- slap on Extra Armor and you're actually something of a beast for 185pts. Now, to back them up we'll need some more firepower at range- Hydras and Vendettas are both prime choices, as they downgrade Stunned to Shaken (by squadrons and Extra Armor, respectively) and so can be extremely dangerous when hanging with our Command Tank.

We'll also be taking a bunch of Armored Fist squads, obviously, at least 3-4 and quite possibly a full six many times. Meltagun + Autocannon is probably the armament we'll want, as we want to be functional in the early game at long range and later as we move onto objectives (and so we have some Melta.) Some high-strength blasts are probably necessary to round things out- we have Flamers mounted on a fair number of hulls, but we want some other ways to clear out infantry. Squad Command Tanks are probably a good way to handle this (Demolishers or just regular Russes), but thought might be given to actually using artillery, as two S9 AP3 barrage shots for 145 is not a bad deal.

Is this a great list? Probably not. Deep Strike armies will give it some pretty significant problems, as will Scout -> Assault tricks and similar stuff. It will potentially have trouble with any enemy who reserves, as it can't easily control that, and simply doesn't have the weight of firepower of normal IG. On the other hand, anyone trying to fight it at range is probably in for a nightmare, as AV14, cover, and ignoring Shaken/Stunned mean that very few weapons will be able to to reliably do anything to it. However, you are going to have trouble taking objectives to to the small number of fragile Troops and unless everyone forgets what Meltaguns are, your tanks are going to eat it sooner or later.

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