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Friday, February 10, 2012

Eldar Codex Review - Part 10: Howling Banshees

Painting Clinic

The Internet will have you think Banshees are a finesse unit or if you're finding them suboptimal you're simply using them wrong. Like always of course, the Internet is wrong (please, enjoy the irony) but there are certainly some uses Howling Banshees can deliver - they just aren't very efficient or practical.

The Review -

Banshees have your basic Eldar statline - everything is good except strength and toughness (which are three) and only come with a half-arsed save of 4+. Importantly though, they have WS4/I5 so get their attacks in and they are more likely to hit than not. Banshees also come with Banshees masks which means they nearly always strike first when they charge (otherwise they use their I5 base) and maximise this bonus with the power weapons. This forms the basis of Howling Banshees which is quite simple (you'll find most Aspect Warriors are like this). Kill things dead in combat before they kill you.

With three attacks each on the charge, they can do this pretty well and this helps them survive the enemy's return attacks which can overcome their T3/4+ defensive statistics pretty easily. Furthermore, they are thought to 'specialise' in killing Marines due to their ability to ignore armor saves but this is really just a fancy way of saying this is where Banshees are the most efficient in terms of points killed per model. Unfortunately, being an effective answer to MEQs requires a lot of Banshees or support due to the base S3. This is also limited by their inability to launch assaults effectively - Wave Serpents don't have assault ramps. Whilst there are ways around this and Banshees do have Fleet, it's a lot harder to setup compared to what other armies have available and with such a fragile unit, can really be a kicker in their usability. Another real dent in their usability in is their inability to deal with tanks - throw a Dreadnought at them and they will be locked up all game long.

Each Banshee squad can also take an Exarch who gets an upgraded WS/BS/I/A/Sv and gets access to some neat toys. The Executioner adds +2 strength, very useful for being able to at least damage AV10 and wounding T4+ models, the Mirror Swords grant +2A instead of +1A but are inferior mathematically to the Executioner against T4+ targets and the triskele is basically a S3 throwing power weapon - not so flash. At ten points the Executioner is a pretty good buy as S5 power weapons are always helpful. The Exarch can also take two Exarch powers - War Shout (enemy becomes WS1 on a failed Leadership test) and Acrobatic (counter-attack). For five points each they are a decent enough buy if you're getting an Exarch. Counter-attack especially helps if they are charged themselves, however unlikely this may be as the opponent is more likely to shoot them off the board whilst War Shout is always nice when it works though shouldn't be relied upon.

Overall you have a unit which is geared towards trashing units in combat which it can do to an extent but really needs support to do so (i.e. T4+ targets, assaulting from vehicle), isn't very efficient against cheaper units, cannot deal with tanks of any form and whimpers like a pansy elf when struck back. 

Potential Uses -

Using them aggressively is basically out of the question as you get stuck with the issue of the Wave Serpent not having an assault ramp. Throw it too far forward and the opponent blocks the exit and doens't even bother shooting the transport. Cat & Mouse until they can spare some firepower or gets rear armor shots with something like a meltagun. There are two other ways to play them - on foot as a counter-assault unit or in a Wave Serpent as an area denial unit.

On foot has major issues - they are T3/4+ models which aren't exactly cheap. Fortune is certainly going to up their survivability, but we've said that about every single unit so far. Fortune can only be used a limited number of times and psychic defenses make it unreliable unless you drop points in a Farseer and Eldrad. This means they can get shot off the board though they do have a decent threat range with Fleet of Foot and if you have multiple threats of such, some might make it to combat. It's highly inefficient though and is relying heavily upon Fortune being cast.

The other more functional option is as an area denial unit within a Wave Serpent. Using the tactics linked previously, the Howling Banshees project an area where they can get out of their transport and assault all in the one turn. You don't need to use another tank with tank shocking either as you are looking to prevent the enemy from coming within an area rather than moving out to reach them. This obviously has more uses defensively as the opponent comes to you but can be used aggressively as well, as described in the Wave Serpent post.

Regardless of how you use them though, Banshees will see the most benefit when supported by Farseer with Doom. The same issues arise as before with Fortune but Doom can really increase their damage potential, particularly against T4+ targets where they have trouble wounding (and don't have enough attacks to get enough wounds through reliably).

Potential Changes -

Everyone hates tacking on USRs to units as fixes but Howling Banshees are one which could really use two - Rending and Furious Charge. Both sound like unusual choices as they already have power weapons and strike at I10 on the charge regardless. However, Rending allows them to at least have a mathematical chance to damage tanks in combat and with Furious Charge, AV12 walkers. The Exarch with increased strength bonuses from weapons would obviously have more opportunities here. Furious Charge brings them up to S4 on the charge which means Banshees need far less help in actually dealing with a uni they can charge.

These changes, coinciding with some changes to Wave Serpents or some other assaulted-based transport would mean Banshees could actually kill things in combat, wouldn't have a "cannot touch at all" weakness to vehicles and could operate without support (though support obviously makes them better). They are still inefficient against inexpensive units but would actually be the butter through hot knife of MEQ units. They would still suffer when they get hit back or are shot at and perhaps some improvement here army wise (i.e. Dark Eldar get access to FNP) would be the answer but making Banshees themselves more durable would need to see a price increase.

Conclusion -

As they stand now Banshees are type-cast as Marine killers but without Farseer support, don't do this very well. They are still relatively efficient at it if they can get the charge but rely on Farseer support to survive retaliations or being shot at (and even then, T3/4+/Fortune only takes you so far). Beyond this they are very inefficient at killing cheaper units, cannot deal with tanks at all outside of the Exarch and have a hard time launching assaults. Using them as a defensive force within a Wave Serpent to project an area of "I can assault you with mass power weapons" is really their best use, though it forces a more defensive mindset on the Eldar army, can still be disrupted by your opponent and has the high opportunity cost of less Fire Dragons.

By improving Banshees so they are more self-sufficient and aren't going to be assaulted by a dreadnought and stuckincombatforever makes them more viable but changes throughout the Eldar army will see them get more tabletop time. Some way to assault from a moving transport and a way to avoid being shot off the board after assaults (this may be less of an issue in 6th edition though). You don't want to take an assault unit and then continuously pull punches against MSU armies - otherwise, you just shouldn't be taking the assault units in the first place.

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