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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Space Wolves Codex Review: Part 7 - Troops

Mind of the Daemon
Space Wolves have both a huge boon and a huge disadvantage with their Troops (though many people will hotly deny this). Whilst they have perhaps one of the best all-round units in the Troop section you could possibly ever want...well that's about it. Yes you do get Wolf Guard when you run Logan but Logan is an expensive investment and Wolf Guard are basically a more expensive version of Grey Hunters in most respects and unless you focus completely on their ability to bring mobile heavy weapons to bear in Loganwing, Space Wolves really only have one viable Troop choice. Everyone knows this, knows how those Troops will be used and can thus do something about it. That being's just so damn good that sometimes this doesn't matter.

Blood Claws -

Despite this glowing review to start the Troops we're going to start with the ugly step-child of the Space Wolves Troops. Blood Claws are 'light' Space Marines that only excel at one duty - close combat. With BS3 they aren't a very good shooting unit and without a Wolf Guard or Character leading them - they cannot shoot if they are within assault range of an opponent. Well that's not handy at all. They also only have bolt pistols and despite unit sizes of 15 being available, can only take a second special shooting weapon at 15 models. Again combined with BS3 this makes them pretty crappy at shooting.

This makes them an assault unit obviously at which they must be good right? Unfortunately...not really. Whilst Blood Claws do get +2 attacks on the charge they are all about the amount of attacks they can put out and are a paltry WS3. For Marines where you are paying 15 points a model - this is pretty bad. Whilst most of the time you're going to be hitting on 4's with WS4 regardless, it does limit your ability to kill WS3 units such as Imperial Guardsmen and increases the damage the unit takes from opposing combat units. If you had a significant points discount for Blood Claws...well this might seem an okay trade-off but at a 'standard MEQ' cost, this is a pretty big drawback.

Furthermore, unlike in previous codex editions where Blood Claws could often get two-three power fists in each squad, a max of one power weapon/power fist is allowed per squad (plus whatever the Wolf Guard brings) which really reduces their impact on more durable units. Further compound this by the changes to Power Fist rules and having one attack base means Power Fists aren't even a good investment on the current Blood Claws.

Finally compounding this problem is the lack of a good way to get the Blood Claws into assault quickly. Rhinos/Razorbacks limit their numbers and mobility. 3rd edition is eons past and no longer can you Rhino rush, double-tap and assault all at once. This limits their charges out of Rhinos/Razorbacks quite a bit and leaves only Land Raiders as options if you want large charge threat ranges (and the ability to carry larger squad sizes). This is a massive points investment however and not one you really want to sink on such a so-so unit. It may clear out plebeian infantry but you would expect such a steep points investment to do so - it will falter against a sturdier foe or someone who can strike before them as the Blood Claws rely a lot option weight of attacks of the charge to ensure weight of attacks to run their enemies over.

This combination of factors has led Blood Claws to see little use for their points - they are terrible at shooting and only good in specific circumstances in regards to assault. Even then, you can get such assault ability elsewhere in the codex without needing a babysitter for them or the weakness of WS3, more options, etc.

Grey Hunters -

Which of course brings us to the love-child of the Space Wolves, Grey Hunters. Grey Hunters are everything the Blood Claws are not - they are flexible. Grey Hunters are a good midfield shooting unit with boltguns and access to the usual assortment of special weapons for Marines. Importantly they can bring one per five members of the squad. They also have the usual Marine statline with WS/BS4 so they can hit what they are shooting and chopping. They are pretty decent in assault with three attacks on the charge with the option for several combat weapons through Wolf Guard attachments, power weapon or fist and the Mark of the Wulfen. This gives them more ability in combat to actually punch through armor though like the Blood Claws before them, the Power Fist is a crappy option on one attack models and best saved for the Wolf Guard.

There are two things which really help this unit out though. Counter-attack and the Wolf Standard. Counter-attack alongside their boltguns is what gives the Grey Hunters so much versatility in midfield. They don't have access to heavy weapons which forces them towards the opponent to actively impact the battlefield and by having both three attacks on the charge, counter-attack and boltguns, Grey Hunters have a lot of options in how they are used against opposing infantry. Obviously getting multiple meltaguns into the squad is also important to scare tanks but the ability to either double-tap and accept a charge or shot bolt pistols and charge themselves is great versatility and allows the unit to do maximum damage and receive minimum damage in return at all times. Smart use of these abilities is key to maximising the offensive impact Grey Hunters have.

Furthermore, Wolf Standards are very useful on larger squads as they can turn key turns into periods where the Grey Hunters are just friggin MEQ units to deal with unless they are armed with lots of power weapons. This is pretty true without the standard as well if the Grey Hunters unit is large and has a couple combat upgrades in it but remember, they are still basically a torrent unit (both in shooting and combat). Scary assault units, MCs, Dreadnoughts, etc. are still going to have their number - combat is only a part of their flexibility and just because they are good at churning through normal units doesn't mean they are going to go toe-to-toe with everything out there. The lack of combat tactics in relation to Tactical Marines is a knock against them as well - particularly since they are often the only scoring option on the table for Space Wolves (discussed below). If such a unit gets a hold of the Grey Hunters in combat, there is generally nothing the unit can do other than be chased out of combat/die or get lucky and win. Furthermore, the only advantage you get from larger units is increased bolter numbers and combat prowess. This is the trade-off between MSU and larger Grey Hunter squads and often needs to be balanced within individual army lists. This trade-off has been examined previously.

However, not everything is sun and roses in regards to Grey Hunters. Firstly, they don't come with an Ld9 option standard. As we discussed in the Wolf Guard review, this basically becomes a lost Force Organisation Chart slot as the Wolf Guard are used as 'Sergeants' for squads such as Grey Hunters to provide Ld9. This cuts back on the Grey Hunters ability to take two full special weapons and often leaves them running around with a special weapon + a combi-weapon from the Wolf Guard. Not as good as two special weapons but better than one. They also lack ranged weapons beyond the plasmagun and bolter - this forces them into the opponent's awaiting embrace and limits their tactical uses (though they have a lot within their particular area). Add in that most Space Wolves armies lack somewhat in the ranged anti-infantry department and the anti-infantry role often falls squarely on the shoulders of Grey Hunters through bolters and chainsword (and whatever units support them upfront). Being the only real Troop choice in the codex without including Logan's Wolf Guard, this puts a heavy burden on Grey Hunters to not only score but utilise their meltaguns to best effect and provide anti-infantry firepower and combat capacities. Even with four-six units this can leave the Space Wolves player over-stretched in their ability to control objectives and contain the enemy.

Conclusion -

Blood Claws are just meh. You have to sink too many points into a transport better used elsewhere to make them an effective unit and without a points reduction in relation to other MEQs, they just don't have the sustained hitting power. WS3 and lack of any real shooting options hurts a lot.

Grey Hunters on the other hand are the poster-childs of any Space Marine army ever. They are pretty cheap for what they do and are an excellent and tactically flexible unit. However, they cannot do everything and most play a more aggressive/midfield role than their Tactical counter-parts and this must be understood. Despite this limitation and the requirement of an Elites slot to ensure they have Ld9, Grey Hunters are a unit which many Space Wolves players cannot play without. They bring a lot of flexibility to the army in midfield and bring both firepower and bodies to the table.

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