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Thursday, November 17, 2011

Space Wolves Codex Review: Part 8 - Fast Attack


Fast Attack for Space Wolves is one of the least used slots (not unusual) but has some excellent choices including the infamous Thunderwolf Cavarly and always useful Land Speeder. Unlike Space Marines however, there is a lack of good bike choices, specifically Attack Bikes. Space Wolves do have the usual Bike and Assault squad choices but they are based on the Blood Claw mould... Anyway, let's dive in.

Fenrisian Wolves -

These guys are often over-looked and many people forget about them. Not hard to understand when they are 8 points base and about the only thing they have going over an Ork Boy is being a beast and thus they have very good mobility. Outside of this you aren't getting a lot of attacks, durability (though 5th edition cover rules help them out obviously), high leadership, good weapons or anything worthwhile really. They rely on units around them to make sure they don't run away (i.e. Thunderwolf Cavalry allow Ld re-rolls much like Saga of Majesty) but themselves aren't bringing anything something else isn't (i.e. Grey Hunters bring torrent attacks in combat).

Whilst they do mesh well with Thunderwolves, they also take away from the maximum number of Thunderwolf units you can have as they are in direct competition for Force Organisation Slots. For this reason, Fenrisian Wolves rarely see use and this will generally only be in Canis based armies where they become non-scoring Troops and get an Ld/Initiative buff. Even then, taking up scoring slots without scoring units is pretty crappy in an objective based edition and Canis isn't the best HQ.

Overall Fenrisians are too expensive and don't bring enough to the table whilst being too unreliable. Rending and a higher leadership would have gone a long way to making them a more viable choice in a Space Wolves army. For now, leave them as ablative wounds for characters in terms of wargear and don't use them as units.

Land Speeders -

I am again going to refer you to VT2's Space Marine review here as the Land Speeder is a copy-paste entry from the Space Marine book. Just like in Space Marines, Land Speeders are an excellent choice and often a more important one for Space Wolves as there are less mobile Multi-Melta options. Dreadnoughts are less likely to see use in Space Wolves due to competing demands, there are no MM options available in your Troop slots and no Attack Bikes to compete with in Fast Attack. This makes MM/HF Speeders a valuable choice to Space Wolves as they bring fast melta to bear without having to commit one's Grey Hunters.

Furthermore, they run excellent disruption units with their ability to deep-strike, objective contestors and fast moving chassis which can block. Otherwise Land Speeders can still make excellent fire support platforms and can easily run dualistic options with two weapon systems. Whilst Space Wolves do have more efficient options than Space Marines in this regard (i.e. Long Fangs), taking Land Speeder Typhoons or double Heavy Bolter Land Speeders can provide more ranged firepower to a Space Wolves army. This can take the burden off Long Fangs whilst also providing more anti-infantry support at range as needed.

All in all the Land Speeder is a great choice and there is minimal effectiveness lost in translation across armies. In fact, with the lack of mobile multi-melta options elsewhere, the Land Speeder is probably a more important piece for Space Wolves than for Vanilla Marines.

Swiftclaw Bikers -

Which brings us to the 'Claw' units of the Space Wolves Fast Attack. If we remember from the Troops review, Blood Claws aren't that great, particularly compared to Tactical Marines and Grey Hunters. The Swiftclaws have the same issue but Space Wolves lack the normal Space Marine Bike option - could this make them relevant? Let's see.

We have a hybrid Space Marine Biker profile and Blood Claw profile for the same cost as a Space Marine Biker. That means T4(5) with twin-linked bolters on a relentless platform and they come with WS/BS3, Ld9, a bolt pistol, close combat weapon, headstrong (can't shoot if they want to assault unless they have a Wolf Guard along) and get +2 attacks on the charge instead of +1. They have the usual options for special weapons but can only take one per squad and can grab an Attack Bike at a slightly cheaper cost compared to normal Marines (compensating for their BS3).

So a shooting unit... has a bunch of combat upgrades and a restriction on shooting unless you pay more for a Wolf Guard sarge. Can we see where we are going with this? The BS3 isn't that bad overall for the unit since the majority of their firepower comes from twin-linked bolters but only having one special weapon, BS3 for that weapon and needing a Wolf Guard to make sure that weapon can actually shoot when needed? Pretty crappy. Add in they don't have access to as many combat options as the Grey Hunters do (and the Power Fist option is once again, crap) and like Blood Claws they are likely to get bogged down in assaults against tough targets and you're wasting all that potential twin-linked, relentless bolter firepower.

All in all it's a unit which was good at shooting (Space Marine Bikes) which has tried to become a combat unit and failed. Despite bringing some much needed mobile and decently ranged anti-infantry shooting to the table for Space Wolves, such firepower can be gotten elsewhere or is simply not needed.

Skyclaw Assault Pack -

With both the Blood Claws and Swiftclaws being pretty bad, there's not much hope for the Skyclaws either is there? Like Vanilla Assault Marines before them, not being Troops hurts a lot. Scoring Assault Marines in Blood Angels see a lot of use for a reason - they're scoring and can punch things in combat whilst carrying around meltaguns to crack open tanks. Vanilla Assault Marines and Skyclaws are not this versatile. Skyclaws have the usual issues associated with the Claw units - poor WS/BS for expensive Marine models, only one special weapon allowed (at the lower BS) and you need a Wolf Guard for Ld9 and the option to shoot if you are in charge range. Yay?

They do have headstrong which makes their initial charge have lots of attacks. Unlike other Claw units they do have access to as many special weapons as Grey Hunters (Mark of the Wolfen, Power Weapon/Fist + Wolf Guard option) and with the Jump Packs they are more capable of applying their charges to opponents than Blood Claws. However, since they aren't scoring and are only bringing combat options to the table - they rarely see use. Larger Grey Hunter units can do combat nearly as well as Claw units but have much more versatility and durability with WS/BS4, boltguns and multiple special weapons.

Thunderwolf Cavalry -

The unit everyone was waiting for... Thunderwolves take the concept of Space Marine Bikers and rather than put a half-assed Space Wolfy feel to it like the Skyclaws - has made the concept properly Wolfy. Whilst many people complain about the fluff of Space Marines riding massive Wolves into battle - meh, all we care about currently is the effectiveness of the unit on the field. And they are effective.

Thunderwolves are true Strength and Toughness five. This is huge as it means anything which doubles their strength is 10 and anything wanting to instant death them based on strength alone needs to be Strength 10. Not many weapons in the game boast such a requirement and Thunderwolves are one of the units which has both. They also come with two wounds, beast status so they have an impressive charge range, four attacks base with rending and are otherwise a Marine statline (WS/BS4, Sv3+, Ld8). That's pretty blood impressive but you do pay for it at 50 points a model and without a built-in invulnerable save or WS5, these units are very vulnerable to being smashed in the face themselves or taken out with shooting. Let's be very clear here - Thunderwolves are not a rock. You can make them a rock but like Nob Bikers before them, they are a very expensive rock which can be dealt with by much less firepower than would be expected.

So what are Thunderwolves good for then? Well a whole lot of things to be honest. As long as you aren't sinking massive points into single units, you'll be fine. From there they have quite a few uses. They are beasts so can access anywhere on the battlefield quickly. With their high toughness, strength, two wounds and good save - they are going to be tough to defeat for your basic unit and Power Fists are insta-gibbing them. They may suffer against dedicated combat units unless you deck them out with stormshields but as a beater unit - they are very hard to match. Their high number of attacks (six on the charge base) with Rending allows them to pressure moving vehicles and if a medium sized squad hits a parking lot which hasn't moved - well that's a lot of S5 rending attacks auto-hitting. They can also be used as a counter-assault unit and due to their large threat range, they don't have to be close to the lines to do this effectively. This protects them not only from enemy shooting (particularly if you can hide them) but potential enemy assaults if they break through your front lines. Equip them with certain weapons such as the Thunder Hammer or Wolf Claw and they not only become beater units but beater units which can scare nearly everything that isn't a super unit. Thunder Hammers give the unit S10 whilst the Wolf Claw provides armor ignoring attacks and re-rolls to hit (or wound) to overcome the 'paltry' WS4.

The issue of course is not  to over-spend on the unit. Large units are going to become point sinks very quickly and you'll often find a rate of diminishing returns as the squad gets bigger. Often you'll only need three Thunderwolves to tear apart most units and even one or two models are going to be scary to anyone not looking for combat. You have to be careful to not make this unit so good it's going to churn through the opponent's lines and leave them open to return shooting. Since they are so durable and relatively easy to hide as well, having solo units can prove as great distractions as well. A Thunderwolf model with just a Thunder Hammer is a scary prospect for anything to meet in the middle of the battlefield and isn't going to break the bank. Even as a 'bodyguard' or delivery system for a Wolf Lord/Wolf Guard Battle Leader on a Thunderwolf you don't need to go all out on the unit to make it scary. A character on a mount + two-three Thunderwolves is scary and affordable. A character on a mount + five Thunderwolves is overkill and expensive.

Whilst the unit has a lot of uses, they are all combat focused in nature - another reason why overspending on this unit can be bad. Yes they will tear through most units in combat and can really put pressure on anyone who doesn't shoot them down before they get to them nor has the capacity to deal with them in combat but if they don't reach your opponent's lines, their impact is minimal. They are an excellent unit, nothing to take away from them there. However, don't expect them to always win you games or do everything for you - they are an assault unit without an invulnerable save (unless you invest a lot of points) and are limited by this. If you keep the squads simple without overloading on gear and not making them the prime target for your opponent, you'll find they do very well in supporting your army rather than dictating it.

Conclusion -

There are really two choices here - Land Speeders and Thunderwolves, the rest are just bad. Fenrisiasn Wolves have their place with Canis as a screening unit but that moves them to Troops where they don't score. Wonder why you don't see them? Land Speeders bring extra mobility to a Space Wolves army which often lacks mobile ranged firepower. Without Heavy Weapons in their Grey Hunters, they need to be more aggressive to get their melta into range and with infantry based Heavy Support, there's no move and shoot options with heavy weapons. Add in that other Elite slots are generally favored over Dreadnoughts and Land Speeders are one of the best options to add mobile heavy weapons to the army. The problem is, they compete with perhaps one of the best beater units in the game - the Thunderwolves. Whilst these guys are expensive, if care is taken when building the unit(s), they will fit into your army nicely, provide a lot more combat oomph and not drag points away from other important units. Balancing the two of these choices can often be very hard, particularly when the majority of a Space Wolves points are going into Wolf Guard, Grey Hunters and Long Fangs but both units are excellent choices which should be given heavy consideration.

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