Friday, November 22, 2013

40k Friday - Heavy Weapons: Havocs and Devastators

Lately I've been picking up some heavy weapon infantry for my marines. It's an area I felt was lacking and I had a chance to rectify that. I thought I would talk a little bit about why.

Going back to the early days of 1st edition devastator squads were fairly common. Most of what we had were infantry figures anyway, and various single metal figures and plastic or metal weapons were easy enough to come by in those packs. Vehicles were a lot less common in those days other than dreadnoughts, land speeders, and some bikes, so you didn't see massed tank armies on the table, especially in the RT days. Back then a marine devastator squad was 330 pts vs 250 for a tactical squad and that bought you two missile launchers and two heavy bolters vs the single missile launcher and flamer of a tac squad, with the rest of the squad the same. (Heck, back then you could equip your dev squad with jump packs too but I never did.) Battles were smaller so having more big guns on the table could have a big impact, even if you were just shooting infantry.

In second edition things started to change as vehicles became easier to manage rules-wise and more effective points-wise. A Marine tac squad was 300 points as was a devastator squad - before paying for weapons. A tac squad typically still ran under 400 points (missile launcher, flamer, some assault gear) while a devastator squad was pretty much guaranteed to be over 400 - 4 missile launchers put it up close to 500. At the same time a classic configuration Predator (autocannon turret + las cannon sponsons) was 135. Hmmm. To be more direct, a dev squad with 3 lascannons would be 435 with no other upgrades while a Predator Annihilator with triple lascannon was 165. You could take two of them and have 100 points left over! I know I started seeing a lot more tanks this edition, and the devastators (and mole mortars and tarantulas) started to thin out.

It probably didn't help that the 2E squads came with one of each weapon type

As second edition moved into third we saw a lot more vehicles entering the game. Every race had dreadnoughts/robots, and most had bikes/jet bikes. All the basic marine tanks were in place (Rhino-predator-vindicator-razorback-whirlwind-land raider). Eldar Falcons and Vypers were flying around. Ork battlewagon transports died out but were replaced by trukks and buggies and trakks.Tyranids had big tough gun-toting creatures. The dark eldar entered the game with their over-gunned light vehicles.

With third edition came the now-standard Force Organization chart. Devastators were now competing directly with tanks for slots as well as points. A ten-man marine devastator squad was now 150 points + weapons, so a quad missile launcher squad would be 230 points. There was new flexibility though - you could take only 5 men, a sarge and 4 weapon troopers, and that would run 155 points. A classic predator was 125. Tanks were still better in many ways but at least the costs were a little closer.

This trend continued, peaking with 5th edition where vehicles were very strong and I don't know that I ever saw a single devastator squad on the table. Over time I broke my own dev troopers up and used them to fill in the heavy slots of tactical squads as alternatives to the standard missile launcher.

With 6th edition though I think they are viable again. Vehicles are weaker with the new hull point mechanic. Assault is weaker too, meaning your missile squad is less likely to get steamrollered by an infiltrating assault unit. Shooting is the way to go for most armies and devastator squads have plenty of shooting. Also many of them can serve an anti-flyer role now with the addition of flakk missiles to the arsenal - they may not be the best way to deal with flyers but they are an option.The point cost of these squads has gone down too.

Plas-ma cannons on a hero-clix map!
Plas-ma cannons on a hero-clix map!
(sing it with me!)
I came back around on devastators to some degree watching Apprentice Blaster's Long Fangs shoot up my troops over the last few years. He tends to go heavy on missile launchers with an occasional plasma cannon thrown in and it's been pretty effective. They were also a pretty effective choice reading articles online and many SW tournament armies had lots of long fang units. I also saw the effectiveness of ork loota mobs sitting back and blasting away at things. This too was backed up by online reports as most tournament style ork armies included multiple loota units. I figured I ought to look into it for my marines and started picking up heavy weapon troopers.

I already had a unit of 4 heavy bolter marines and 4 lascannon marines. Those are kind of the extreme ends of the range though. I still like the heavy bolters as I think they are pretty effective agains orks, necrons, and eldar, three armies that live in my house. I think 4 of them should be able to chew up a squad pretty nicely. In a pinch they can shoot at AV10 or 11 vehicles as well. The lascannons are less generally useful and cost more points but should provide some intimidation against a lot of opponents. They would mainly be anti-vehicle and anti-heavy infantry. I was thinking about using these with my Crimson Fists, especially the bolters, but that is my tank-heavy army and I'm not sure I want to trade a predator in for a dev squad. I still might do it but I'm not totally sure just yet.

Old School Missile Launcher
The main choice of marine players for this kind of squad seems to be missile launchers, and I agree with all of the reasons, namely range and flexibility. With the new flakk option you have a squad that can take on hordes, tanks, and flyers fairly well. There is a point cost of course, but it is only one force-org slot. I could probably scrape one together out of my existing marines but I went ahead and picked one up so I wouldn't have to do that. These guys will likely go into my Dark Angel force as I think they fit in the best. Still might go to the Fists, I just need to sit down and sort it out.

The other option I am toying with is the quadruple plasma cannon squad. Yes, it's probably overkill and yes, on average I should lose one of them over the course of a 5-turn game, but the only units in the game that can ignore that kind of firepower are AV14 and flyers. That leave a wide range of targets, from terminators to bikes to transports to hordes. There is some intimidation there and they are still cheaper than lascannons. With the return of infantry as a big deal in this edition I think they're worth trying out, and being able to fry enemy marines with no armor save never goes out of style. Now it seems like the Dark Angels would be an obvious home for them but my DA's have a lot of plasma firepower already - I'm actually thinking about putting this squad into the Fists as well.

Rogue Trader-era chaos heavy weapon troopers. I like their weird-looking bio-mechanical armor and weapons so I managed to pull together enough to make a dedicated havoc squad. Now to try them out on the table...
Chaos Havocs are similar to the above loyalist squads. The preferred weapon for them is four autocannons from what I see online - I agree that's a solid choice and I am working on putting a squad like that together myself. I also went ahead and picked up a quad missile launcher squad too. If you add in the Flakk option they do get a little pricey but again it's incredibly flexible with frag-krak-flakk options and it only takes up one force org slot if you want to go with tanks or obliterators for the rest of them.

There are two other things to consider beyond weapons loadout:

Squad sizes - I have two preferred approaches.
  • For most games, since we fight mostly smaller battles here, I like the 6-man squad. Sarge, four weapon-toters, and one extra trooper I can sacrifice if the squad gets hit. Plus, this size squad fits into a razorback if I want to make them mobile (not that common but possible) or if I just want to add another relatively cheap heavy weapon and armored target. Blaster's long fangs have a twin-linked lascannon razorback and it has done well for him.
  • For larger games I may take the full ten-man squad and combat squad them into two double-weapon teams. This gives me some flexibility on targeting and some protection when being targeted by the enemy. It could also let me take different weapon setups but I don;t see that happening a whole lot. 

The psychic factor - Divination librarians have a default power that lets a unit re-roll misses. This is a very popular ability for those armies that have it and Dark Angel marines are one of them. It's very tempting to take a devastator squad and park them with a divination librarian. Give him a power field and the whole squad has a 4+ invulnerable save. He is also handy if they get assaulted. Considering that the current bane of devastator and long fang squads is the Chaos Heldrake with his AP3 ignores cover flamer template, this is an especially good move if you play chaos at all.

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