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Friday, May 25, 2012

Evaluating Bad Units: Assault Cannon Razorbacks

Welcome to the second wonderful installment of our little series here. This time around we're going to talk about a more unusual choice in the list of sub-par options: the Razorback with twin-linked Assault Cannon.

"But that's not a bad unit!" some of you are undoubtedly rising from your chairs to shout. And you're right- when fielded by Blood Angels, where it benefits from aggressive mobility, or Grey Knights, where it gets upgraded stats, immunity to suppression and support from other mid-range forces, it's quite good. But when Space Marines or Space Wolves field them, it is decidedly underwhelming.

However, let's follow our usual pattern and talk about things in a more organized manner here first. Keep in mind that, for the purposes of this article, we are ONLY talking about the versions available in the vanilla Space Marine and Space Wolves books, not the other variants. We'll discuss the hows and whys of those at the very end of this whole mess.

The Good

In a lot of ways, the TLAC Razorback showcases the strengths of a dedicated transport in 5th Edition. It is reasonably survivable thanks to the AV11 standard and the vehicle damage table; it brings a fairly effective gun to the table (which we'll talk about more in a moment); and it comes paired with whatever unit you can cram inside it, which has a number of possibilities. It's a nice little generalist tank, able to punch through even the heaviest armor in the game (except Wave Serpents) and putting out enough shots with high-enough strength to scare most anything.

The TLAC is, in fact, a quite effective little shooting weapon; BS4 and rerolls to hit give it unmatched accuracy and S6 lets it wound virtually everything around quite consistently. Add in Rending on top of that and you have a weapon that can pour out significant damage very consistently. In fact, its only real downsides are the mediocre AP4 (which Rending helps compensate for) and range of 24" (but most Marines want to be moving into midfield anyways.) Realistically, the only downside to the weapon is the cost- 75pts for an AV11 hull isn't great, but considering how many roles it fills that's hardly an unfair cost and you can still bring them in abundance in most lists if you care to. What's not to like?

The Bad

A couple of things. First, the aforementioned fragility- even the vehicle damage table only gives you so much protection and when you start spending large chunks of points on things that are no more survivable than a normal Rhino, you have to consider what you're getting. One glancing hit can render the tank useless for the rest of the game- either an Immobilize before it moves into range or a Weapon Destroyed at any time. Oh, sure, you aren't COMPLETELY worthless from either of those, but when 4/6 of the damage table from a penetrating hit renders you useless, things are definitely starting to be a bit less impressive.

That range we talked about above is also a big factor. 24" is a number many people are familiar with from fighting GK or other armies- it means that most of the time you will not get any shots at the enemy during your first turn, since you can only move 6" and still shoot. GK can get around this with driving full speed and unloading troops to do the damage early on; Tyranids bypass it by simply being so tough it's hard to cut them down before they're in range (and by Onslaught.) SM/SW don't have these options- more often than not, T1 your expensive tank just doesn't get to participate in the battle.

Now we get to the third point- the effectiveness of the gun once you manage to get in range. Let me preface this by saying the TLAC is not a bad weapon, but it does have a critical weak point: it's not that great against AV11. AV10, AV12, heck, even AV13 and 14 to a degree? It's pretty golden. On the low end of the scale with AV10, its large number of shots and strength make it into an Autocannon of sorts, using rate of fire to compensate for a middling chance to actually go through. Against AV12 the guaranteed penetration on a Rend stacks up fairly reasonably with other guns- to be honest, AV12 just isn't that easy to break, especially with those S7/8 guns that predominate in many armies, so the Assault Cannon isn't in a bad spot comparatively. AV13+ tends to be rarer (although not so much with Necrons now) so you won't have to expect to face down a dozen of them the way you will with other tanks. But AV11 is in that perfect breakpoint of "you'll often see a lot of it" and "but my numbers don't work out that well." Just like with AV12, you need to roll a 6 to penetrate- Rending doesn't do a damn thing for you. But with 6-10 AV11 hulls on the field, you tend to have a lot more work cut out for you against such targets, and that's bad news for the Assault Cannon.

The anti-infantry firepower is also not a ringing endorsement. While the TLAC does force a good number of saves on most targets, tougher targets (MEQs, Terminators, FNP) will be able to shrug these hits off with little effect and larger beasties (like Tyranids) will similarly laugh off anything except a Rend- and Rending is notoriously unreliable. So you have the ability to do some torrent shooting against infantry, but both codices (SM from Dakka Preds/Typhoons and SW from Frag Missiles and assaults) have plenty of ability to deal with infantry models without the need for such a tool. In short, the anti-infantry the TLAC brings to the table is unneeded.

The Competition

Now we come to the next critical factor: the other options. Or, more accurately, option, since there is really only one, the ubiquitous Lascannon/twin-linked Plasmagun Razorback. Virtually all of the TLAC's weaknesses this chassis bypasses; it has an excellent long-range shot, capable of killing both tanks and other targets. It has two weapons and the aforementioned ranges, making it less vulnerable to being glanced into uselessness via Damaged results. Its guns are perfect against not just heavy infantry (a common problem target for many enemies) but also, if it fires both, superior against AV11 and AV13 as well, giving you a variety of good options not really found elsewhere in the codices. And, of course, it is vastly superior against point-blank targets that you will often encounter when driving into midfield carrying a scoring unit.

Why are these factors different for GK and BA, who can use the Assault Cannon effectively? Well, Blood Angels are a highly aggressive army and have the Fast status on all their tanks. The former means they will often want to be jumping in the enemy's face and the latter means they will usually be able to manage to get to a shooting position on turn 1- and if not they can Flat Out with Smoke and be completely assured of a good shot, as no deployment should leave you more than 18" out of position unless you really screwed up. Space Marines don't really want to be getting into fistfights and Space Wolves, while they are fine in melee, can't effectively bring the TLAC to bear as quickly as is needed- having 200+pts of your army doing nothing for a turn can spell the end of a game in many cases. If we compare Grey Knights and how they use the TLAC, they have not only Fortitude (which is a pretty ridiculous power) but also the ultra-cheap upgrade option of Psybolt Ammo, which turns the main gun into a Psycannon in practice, if not in name. This upgrade doubles the number of penetrating hits you'll average against AV11, giving you a critical boost against your most common foe.

So as you can see, even when a unit is statistically all but identical, a variety of other factors can make very important differences to the uses it sees and how competitive it ends up being. The SM and SW variants, while stastically not really all that different than their BA and GK counterparts, suffer from poor synergy with their respective armies and competitions from other, more effective units that fill the same role. The TLAC Razorback is not bad in and of itself, but its lackluster performance compared to other alternatives and poor fit with some armies leave it usually unable to keep pace, metaphorically speaking, with your other choices.

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