Monday, 18 June 2012

Blood Angels: Spess Mehreens +1? (Part One)

Some people on Twitter and I were having a rather engaging conversation the other week, regarding Blood Angels, with the prevailing belief being that they are simply better than Space Marines, as they get everything Marines do, and more besides.

Sadly, Twitter being Twitter, it's profoundly difficult to convey long and meaningful points, especially when directing said points to multiple personages - I think we were each naming 8 people by the end of the chat, and with only 140 characters to begin with...well, that's bad for trying to elaborate.

Since it was (largely) a consensus contrary to my own points, realistically the onus was no me to try and challenge the accepted version of things via a more practical medium, eg, my blog.

I think it'd be somewhat poor form to simply list the things (like, say, the Thunderfire Cannon) that the SM get and the BA don't - plus, it wouldn't really help my point half as much as doing this shindig properly would.  On the other hand, this way DOES mean that I'll end up doing at least two of these articles, potentially three, in order to adequately cover all the salient points I want to make.

The most important thing is that Marines, simply put, have more and deeper options than Blood Angels do.  I know that you might be looking at that assertion and thinking I have a screw loose or something.  I don't.  Let's begin with the most important section, the Troops.  On the face of it, the Blood Angels have a vastly superior Troops selection - they have the two available to Space Marines by default, Tactical Squads and Scout Squads, and they additionally have the selection of Assault Squads, Death Company, and Death Company Dreadnoughts.  Furthermore, they can move the Sanguinary Guard form their Elites slot to the Troops through a Special Character unlock (Chapter Master Dante) and remove the restriction on the Unique nature of the Death Company through another unlock (Astorath the Grim).  As well as this, they have a greater selection of potential Transports: rather than being limited to the choice of Rhinos, Drop Pods and Razorbacks, they have the further variation of taking Land Raiders, in whichever flavour you like best.

This is a bit misleading to think that way however.  Marines have the options of Tactical Marines, Scouts, Drop Pods, Rhinos and Razorbacks.  They have an upgrade character that actually makes Scouts worth something, but on the face of this they only have two units to choose from.  It's more complicated than this though - they have the option of Bike Squads, if a Bike-mounted Captain is selected.  They have the ability to take other Scoring Units however, in the form of Sternguard when Pedro Kantor is selected as an HQ for the army.

Blood Angels, though, are flattering to deceive with that supposed variety.

Scouts, without the master sniper who spends more time telling his wound counters when to duck, and aiming his Missile Launcher than actually using his special Bolter, are pretty damn shit.  Not being able to take a Dedicated Transport means they're pretty inadequate in the 5th scale of viable competitive choices, and Blood Angel ones are even worse as they can be lumbered with Fearless to hamper their efforts to disengage from the foe, and with a mere 4+ save, they're not exactly likely to weather a lot of No Retreat! wounds.

Death Company...well, I imagine anyone reading this already knows exactly why they're shit, but, if not, here's the Cliff Notes: Points cost; prohibitively expensive and restrictive weapon/wargear upgrades; Rage USR; unique (which, as stated above, can be overcome) ; and the fact they don't Score, which is the basic requirement of a Troops selection.  Don't forget that Dedicated Assault Units need massed armour-ignoring attacks to be competent (they don't) and are bad as a Troops selection as they are forced into a role that doesn't entail hunkering down on a Objective to secure victory.  Literally being able to get dragged off an Objective by a canny opponent is crippling, to say the least.  There is no argument one unit of DC can still be shoe-horned into a list without making it auto-lose, but a whole army of them is in no way Balanced Competitively.

Death Company Dreadnoughts suffer from several of those impediments, also sharing the giant Shoot Me signs painted on the models by virtue of their name and (ill-deserved in this iteration) reputation.  I concede that Blood Talons-equipped Dreads are rather effective given the opportunity to succeed, and that with the inbuilt immunity to suppression DC Dreads are the best platform for these.  Overall though, they are a poor Troops choice, not least as they require a more than minimal investment in the Death Company to even be legally selected.  This form of enforced composition leaves a bad taste in the mouth, though to an extent I can waive it away in this instance.

Blood Angel Assault Squads are miles better than their 'vanilla' counterparts, no question.  Is it because of the 1 in 6 possibility of naturally generating Furious Charge instead of having absolutely no benefit? Is it because the 1 in 6 chance of becoming Fearless gives them a greater possibility of actually reaching close combat, in instances where they aren't in a Transport anyway and making that rule wither irrelevant or in fact a detriment as it creates further 'No Retreat' scenarios and prevents them losing combat, breaking 3d6" away, regrouping (cos they're Marines) and moving up to 15" to fire pistols and launch an assault of their own on the same or a different target?  Is it because they Score, instead of being a mediocre-at-best Fast Attack selection competing with the genuinely excellent Land Speeder that is able to fulfill a role in the Space Marine army not able to be filled precisely the same by any other unit?  Is is because they have the ability to take Meltaguns, giving the unit some MUCH needed duality? Is it because of the synergy with a 1W Independent Character who at least partially burns a slot, costs as much as half a squad on his own without upgrades, and who needs protection from anything vaguely threatening or else his buffs and attendant stratagems fall to the ground quicker than a dropped cup full of blood?  Is it because having a Dedicated Assault Unit as a Troops selection is magically good since the last paragraph?  Is it because they get a special rule that makes their arrival from Reserves much more reliable, both in terms of timing and positioning, even though it doesn't grant them the ability to assault following such a deployment, leaving them with the difficult choice of incredible vulnerability to Blast and Template weaponry, or of using their not-truly-cheap Melta weaponry {not cheap on this platform, in this sense, some perspective, please ;-) } to ALMOST guarantee a material impact on the game before they risk being blown away? Or is it because they grant a 35-point discount to the Dedicated Transport selection that otherwise sees the 15-point tax on being fast potentially too high when not even actually always desirable or hugely beneficial, especially with the fact that you lose a Searchlight in the process?  A discount that, by itself but especially when combined with the unexpectedly correct price of the Twin-Linked Heavy Flamer turret in relation to the other options, (sadly, not in any other book,) single-handedly makes Razorspam a viable competitive direction for Blood Angels?

Hint - it's the latter.  Without the discount, the only way to run Blood Angels would be Jumper Marines, and while whether or not that is as Competitive as a mech list is open to debate, the fact is that if the Codex only has a foot build as a prospective build archetype, it would be considered much less positively by players at large.

Finally, (for this part) the Tactical Marines.  Ostensibly, Tacticals are the same as they are in the SM Codex, they have the same points costs and options - but they don't have the same:
a) Variety of special rules, or;
b) Special Rules themselves.

See, the Blood Angels Tacticals give up their Combat Tactics, one of the best, and most underrated, rules in the game, in order to take a 1/6 chance of gaining Furious Charge and Fearless.  Now, while Fearless is largely considered a boon for a shooty unit, and especially one you want to stay in place holding an Objective for as long as possible, it is not universally so - if you DO advance into midfield, you may well rue the inability to retreat, use ATSKNF to turn around, and to actually end up moving further forwards than you went back, or as importantly to take, rather than just Contest, an Objective, especially when leaving or avoiding close combats in something your shooting unit wants to do here.

As for BEING a shooting unit, what benefit does Furious Charge grant?  I mean, really.  So, you strike a higher I, but with a poor number of non-AP attacks, and still slower than Nemesis Force Halberds (incidentally, they should be Pikes) the extra point of Strength won't help a hell of a lot when the attacks themselves are less accurate than your shooting, and shooting a target carries no immediate risk, and, even if they DO kill you in the following turn, at least you've impacted on their movement, surely.

Plus, again, Red Thirst is a ONE in SIX chance.  Unlike Combat Tactics, a reliable self-trigger mechanism mechanic, where making it fundamentally change your opponent's behaviour and restricting their tactical options is as important as the actual application of the ability, Red Thirst is a unreliable gimmick that sometimes acts in your benefit, but more than likely isn't even involved in the game if you have fewer than 6 eligible units to roll for before the game begins.  When it already provides 'upgrades' of dubious quality and varying utility to the prospective recipients, and replaces a definitive, reliable bonus...It's as likely as successfully Seizing the initiative - and most of us don't actually even try to do that.  Instead, we deploy as though we're going second, becasue we realise the inherent strengths in doing so, and that despite the detractors' claims, gonig first in 40k is no more auto-win than a banana is a mode of transport for elephants.  If anything, Fast armies like Blood Angels actually usually prefer to go second...but I digress.

Red Thirst is an unknown quantity that cannot be relied on, and thus must be discounted as being worthless - a potential boost to your forces, but not one that should be considered any more important than rolling slightly above average in a single phase of the game.

It goes further than that, however.  the Space Marines Codex is full of options and variety relating to this rule.  We have the ability to trade it for Stubborn, Fleet...if you ahve a specific battlefield application in mind for creating a themed or strategy-specific list, you can almost certainly effect that with the customisation of the Special Characters available to you.  Blood Angels do not have that option.  When BA come under fire preceding a charge, they have to soak it up, trusting in their Power Armour and nearby bubble-effects to protect them, unable to strategically withdraw and bring the firepower that is their strength to bear in their own turn with crippling precision.

Overall - Blood Angels Tactical Marines are far inferior to their SM counterparts, because they have inferior rules, and more expensive Transports - this latter also creating a situation wherein the Assault Marines' discount makes them the Captain Obvious Choice, to the extent that taking a different option is something of a  novelty, and frankly foolish most of the time.  Worse off their own bat, and worse because an alternative choice is too good to ignore.

In the end then, we've narrowed down the BA viable Troops choices to : Assault Marines, occasionally a Tactical Squad or two when enough Assault Squads have been taken already.

In contrast, Codex: Space Marines retains: tactical Squads, Bike Squads, Sternguard (pseudo) and a single Scouts unit, with Telion present.

Next time, we discuss other FoC slots.


* - I know I didn't bother talking about Sanguinary Guard, but I think that Warp Quake, Nemesis Force Halberds, lack of Invul Save, cost, and poor duality were obvious enough reasons for the Sang Guards' weakness...
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