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Thursday, October 6, 2011

Blood Angels Codex Review: Part 6: Troops Part 1


Hello again, dear friends. Today we will start looking at the the first two Troops choices of the BA Codex. I compressed this post a little (mainly in reference to Tactical squad layouts) but it's still quite long!

Quick note: I’m not going to be doing ratings anymore. As I said in the comments from the last review, in hindsight it was a bad idea to give ratings at all. Lesson learned, moving on!

Tactical Squads

Boy, is this ever a controversial subject! Are Tac Squads good or bad? How good/bad are they? Well, the answer varies a lot on who you ask, and this is my take: overall, I would say they are bad – at least as far as the Blood Angels book is concerned. Not completely awful, but they certainly aren’t the poster child for the Codex.

Unfortunately for Blood Angels Tactical Squads, they have to share the Troops section with their more talented, athletic and attractive cousins, the Assault Squads as well as their stealthier and longer-reaching little brothers, the (sniper) Scout Squads. While the Tacs can fulfil a few roles that ASM/Scouts cannot (or at least don’t do well), they generally don’t fulfil them particularly effectively either - their damage output is pretty anaemic for the amount of points you’re going to sink into them, and their resilience is no different than any other Blood Angels marine. On top of that, if you are going to run Tacticals at all, you are pretty much forced to operate a 10-man unit (as with Codex: SM, you don’t have access to special/heavy weapons at all unless you are at full strength), which makes Mech MSU-ing with them not a particularly attractive option. Combat squads opens this up a little and allows both a scoring firebase and melta forward unit (meltagun + combi-melta) but is quite expensive, especially with the increased transport cost. Finally, Blood Angels Tac Squads, like all Blood Angel units, substitute the useful Combat Tactics rule for Red Thirst; while Red Thirst can help the unit (for example: having a Fearless combat squad securing a backfield objective is nice), it is overall far less useful to a shooty unit than Combat Tactics is (i.e. you get stuck in combat, you die in combat) and may encourage the purchase of such upgrades as Power Fists or Weapons. Don't - leave these on your ASM.

Before we look at how Tacticals can be used in a Blood Angels army, let's look at what they do bring. They are only really effective at full squads and then can purchase both a special and heavy weapon. With combat squads this makes them ideal to split into two groups and operate independently but isn't very efficient points-wise. Without combat tactics they are more vulnerable to being engaged and locked in assault though are also more durable and deadly in assault with FNP/FC bubbles - they still suck though, they might just last longer. What they do bring which can often be missed in ASM based lists is boltguns. Rapid-firing or long-ranged boltguns are much more effective than bolt pistols at dealing with infantry at range. Whilst ASM are great at trashing infantry in combat, there are opponents they'd rather shoot than poke in combat (i.e. Halberd GKs). This is one tiny advantage so you have to consider, do I want them for boltguns? The answer is often no but you can use them to support the rest of your army decently. With this in mind, Tactical Squads, broadly speaking, can be used in one of three ways: fully offensively, fully defensively and split offensive/defensive. There is really only one viable choice.

If you go offensive and aggressive, you're losing the use of the heavy weapon and are really making everyone ask, why aren't you using ASM instead? They come with two specials (+ pistol), have more close combat ability and therefore benefit more from the FNP/FC bubbles Blood Angels are famous for. In this case the Tacticals are a round peg being jammed into a square hole whilst the ASM are the perfect square peg. Yes they can double-tap with bolters but you're paying through the nose for that ability whilst losing a lot in other areas.

If you go defensive and passive, you're being about as points inefficient as possible. 200+ points for a single heavy weapon? Maybe some long-ranged plasma gun shots as well? Add in a transport for hijacking purposes elsewhere or extra firepower maybe...but ya that's an insane amount of points for what you get sitting in the backfield. Take scouts, give them a missile launcher and camo cloaks and use that as a defensive scoring unit which is more durable at range and comes with Infiltrate.

This leaves the combined approach and is probably the only way you should run Tacticals with Blood Angels. By utilising combat squads you can have a backfield scoring unit with a long-ranged weapon (i.e. Missile Launcher) and a forward operating unit with meltagun, combi-melta and either a Rhino or Razorback depending how you feel. The Rhino allows you to stay inside your transport and shoot out the top-hatch whilst the Razorback brings more firepower and duality to the table. This is still pretty pricey and for around 30 points more, you can often get the combination of a Scout squad + ASM in Razorback w/combat weapon, meltagun and pistol which gives you two more efficient units at the same role but costs you two FoC slots. That's where the Tactical squad gives you some benefits and the extra bolters might actually come in use. If you want to utilise Tacticals this is probably the best way to do so in a Blood Angels army.

The alternatives (for Mech lists) is either to keep one-two ASM in plasmabacks in the rear to provide your scoring presence, or simply going “f*** it!” and sending everything forward with the aim to pull back a squad or two around Turn 4-5 to reach your backfield objective via a Flat Out move from your Rhino/Razor.

There is one instance where I feel Tacs are truly useful: pod lists. Deploy the Tacs in the back with your Devastators to hold the backfield while your pod is kept in reserve (along with the Devs’ pods) to ensure you have the correct amount of pods to have all your units arrive together on T1. Here you really are getting better mileage on your points than with ASM (used in a backfield scoring capacity, of course) and while Scouts are better in the backfield-scoring role in general, they are not able to contribute to the “pod pool”, which gives a bit of an edge to the Tacticals in this instance. That being said, if you can reach the “correct” amount of pods from other sources… well… bye bye Tacs, hello Scouts or even have the Tacticals drop in. Here again is where their boltguns come in handy - ASM are great on the drop by themselves or in a Pod because of double special weapons but really hurt shooting against infantry. Use a combination of ASM + Tacticals in Pods/Descent of Angels to clear up both infantry and tanks.

In conclusion, Tactical Squads just don’t measure up to the other scoring Troops in the majority of cases. You can certainly make use of them, but you really have to ask yourself whether it's a good move. Sometimes it will be, but those sometimes can be few and far between and this is due largely to three things. a) they lost combat tactics. b) their basic melta-bunker squad got more expensive with fast Rhinos which they don't make use of. and c) they don't mesh well with the aggressive nature of Blood Angels and ASM are a better aggressive unit.

Death Company

Death Company is another sensitive subject within Blood Angel circles. Some swear by them, others call them trash. In my view, they reside somewhere in the middle, with some absolutely stunning features tempered by some considerable drawbacks.

Quick run-through of the Codex entry: you can only have one DC unit per army, unless you take Astorath. The unit can have as little as three members and as many as 30. The DC marines have a normal marine statline but with 2 attacks base and WS 5. They also come with FnP, FC and Relentles, and are affected by the Black Rage, which means they have Rage and are never scoring. Any member of the unit can choose between BP + CCW or BP + Bolter and can buy a fist, hammer or power sword. For every five dude, one can have either a hand flamer, a plasma pistol or an Infernus Pistol. They can either take any of the usual dedicated transports or pick jump packs at 15 pts per model. You can also add Lemartes the nutty chaplain for 150 pts. When a character with the Liturgies of Blood rule leads them, they not only reroll to-hit rolls on the charge, but also to-wound rolls. Finally, you can only access Death Company Dreads for every five Death Company models. All in all that looks pretty good. They get a bunch of bonus stuff over the normal Marine such as FNP, FC, Relentless, WS5, A2 but suffer from Rage, cannot score and their only special weapons are expensive short-ranged pistols...

First thing that will be painfully obvious to pretty much anyone after reading this: Death Company hit hard as hell in assault. When fully tooled out, there’s not much that can survive a charge by a decent-sized unit. The problem here is that tooling them out in such a way costs an obscene amount of points. At 20 pts a guy, they don’t start cheap and when you add the cost for power weapons and fists, you rapidly reach Terminator-level costs but without the durability. Add to that the cost of the near-mandatory Chaplain or Reclusiarch (or Lemartes) and transport vehicle to get them to the fight and 'ignore' Rage effects, and things can rapidly get out of hand. Spending a third of your points on a LRC filled with power weapon-wielding Death Company and a Chappie is not going to net good results if your opponent is halfway competent. In addition to that, Rage can be a right pain in the arse. A canny opponent can use a cheap distraction unit such as a Speeder to force your boys in black to move away from your army. There are ways to mitigate this however (mainly through blocking Line of Sight with your vehicles and riding in transports), so it’s not a total show-stopper. The real kick in the nuts is the lack of scoring though.

To end on a more positive note, not having to rely on a vulnerable-ish Sang Priest for FnP and FC is kinda nice, though that’s mostly a minor bonus as you will in all likelihood have multiple Priests around to support your other units anyways. Also, the fact that Death Comapny take up a Troops slot instead of Elites or Fast Attack is a pretty big deal; those FOC spots are often in high demand so the fact that Death Company aren’t competing for a spot there makes their inclusion less problematic for some lists. On the flipside, they are Troops, but don’t score… a little lame, but since getting them to capture objectives would be pretty difficult due to the Rage, it’s not such a bid deal in the end.

I find that when using DC, you have to exercise self-discipline to avoid overspending on a single unit. Stick to the essential stuff: a power fist or two, Infernus pistols to pop open tanks and a transport (preferably a Rhino or Razor, or a drop pod in pod lists). Power weapons will certainly make the unit more threatening, but are costly and generally not needed whilst Power Fists ensure they can whack anything dead in combat. On the transport side, Raiders and Ravens really help DC get to where they need to be to do the most damage thanks to the Assault Vehicle rule, but again, they are very costly, and outside of a Raider Spam or Air Force list, will just make for an even more obvious target. Jump Packs are absurdly overcosted so aren’t really an option either.

Leading the unit should be a Reclusiarch in most instances; while a Chaplain would help avoid letting your opponent play wound allocation games (striking at I4 while the DC strike at I5 on the charge), you have to ask yourself: is that really worth the extra cost associated with taking two expensive characters (mandatory HQ + Chappie) and sacrificing a valuable Elite slot on top of that? Sometimes the answer is yes, but I’d say that is the exception, not the rule.

At his juncture, let’s talk about Lemartes. Lemmy forces us into 2 possible courses of action: equip your DC with jump packs, or load everyone up in a Storm Raven. The former is sadly very cost inefficient, and the latter is pretty risky – at minimum, that is a 460 pts commitment (Lemmy + 3 DC + SR) so you better hope it pays off or else you’re going to be at a disadvantage versus a more balanced list. On top of that, Lemmy really isn’t fantastic until he loses that first wound, which isn’t guaranteed to happen. Sometimes you just keep passing all your saves, or sometimes you hit some bad luck and fail more than one at a time and die. 150 pts feels like a lot to ask for something that comes with such considerable drawbacks and isn’t even guaranteed to perform well all the time. I’d advise to give him a pass for serious play. Fun/fluff lists? Knock yourself out.

Astorath is our final option to fight alongside DC. I’m not really going to touch on him here as he’s been covered before. Suffice to say, if you want to have more than a single squad of DC, you’ll have to include him.

All in all, I’d say DC are decent, but not great. Massive damage potential, advantageous placement within the FOC and lack of reliance on Priests for FnP/FC are nice, but are kept in balance by the high cost, Black Rage and reliance on an expensive character to reach their full potential. There are certainly worse things you could include in a list, but the negative traits of the unit are non-negligible. You really have to think carefully whether that’s something you don’t mind dealing with before they make your cut. In the end they kill infantry dead in combat like normal ASM do at a higher efficiency rating (though this comes down when you add the Chappie/Reclusiarch in) but still suffer from Rage and lack of meltaguns. In the end they needed something just a little bit extra like Rending to really be worth it.


The first part of the Troops section has two very interesting units to consider. Sadly, both have some considerable drawbacks. In the case of Death Company, there’s enough positives to make it a choice worth at least considering if you’re looking for more combat potential in your list but often ASM are just as good and bring more control (no rage) and meltaguns to the table. In the case of Tactical Squads… not so much. They have a few very marginal uses, and even in those roles they do not perform particularly impressively. Whilst they suffer the same flaws their Vanilla brethren do (bit expensive, need squads of 10 for efficiency though capable of combat squadding, poor in combat though this is mitigated by FNP/FC bubbles, etc.), they don't often mesh well with the Blood Angel armies due to the premium you pay for their transports and the aggressive nature of Blood Angel armies in general.  In the next installment of this series, we will look at the three other Troops choices: Death Company Dreads, Scout Squads and Assault Squads.

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