Sunday, March 30, 2014

Data Slates and Data Sheets and Formations - Are We Doing It Wrong?

I've been playing games concerning the 40K Universe for nearly two decades.  I add to my knowledge and model collection and skills at a pace akin of how the Adeptus Ministorum must make decisions.  Slowly, through the warp, and sometimes twisted by Chaos.

I've been listening a lot to podcasts for the past 6 months or more, place like FTN, 11th Company, Turn 8, etc., and especially those guys at Frontline Gaming.  I've been reading much of other people's blog posts and infomercials, and as you know, I try to get about a game a week in (although that slows further in ski season).

In February my wife and I decided to split the cost of an i-pad, with her goal of enriching our house with more music, and with my goal of going electronic instead of buying more paper-based codexes and rule sets for my favorite game system.

It was not until this past Friday night that I decided to go to the i-store and make a purchase. I was bored, and tired of waiting for a real, new, Imperial Guard Codex.

I picked up the "Tyrannic War Veterans" 23-page i-book (TWVs), and it was an interesting read.  In particular, I gave particular attention to the wording on pages 2 and 3.

I compared that to what I think I had heard on the podcasts and other blog/news/etc posts, to see if it made sense.

Considering I have yet to see GW's own "experts" use data slates and formations in detailed battle reports, it makes me wonder, short of one of the GW staffers coming on my blog to explain what was intended, that maybe the gaming community has mis-interpreted things.  So let me explain, before you go on a bender about what I mean (let's face it, I get very few comments on my posts, so even a rant telling me why this thread is wrong could be welcome just to spice it up over here).

So, going by what I thought I'd heard, using the TWVs as an example, was that the TWVs were a totally new unit, that I could just add to my (say, eldar army) as a formation, and play them as an add-on outside the force org chart, or even more, take the "formation" of a TWV unit, Cassius, and a Storm Talon.  So, maybe my army might look like, a primary detachment of a Spirit Seer and 2 units of guardians, then a Formation consisting of a single TWV unit, then my dark eldar allied detachment.  Hmmmm.  Busts the force org chart by adding some random element that I bought off the internet that my opponent may not have access to.  [Overall of course, my internet sources are talking about some pretty off-the-hook, over-the-top combinations using formations not involving TWVs.  I'm just keeping to what I have]

Now, after reading the preamble for this e-book(let), I'll try to explain what I think the wording (as written?) seems to postulate.  Now since this is my (only/first) e-book for 40K, I don't know if their preamble is standard in every one they have published to date, or if the wording is identical.

1.  The e-book is termed a data slate.  This is neat, they created a term, and since it is read on my "slate", it ties me to the 40K universe.

2.  The TWV data slate contains data sheets for the TWVs (a unit), and a separate datasheet for the St. Tylus Battle Force (a formation).

With me still?

The preamble says that each data sheet identifies the codex (and more details) that the sheet becomes an expansion for for all rules purposes.

So, what does this mean at the moment?

TWVs are an addition to the Space Marines Codex as an Elite unit that have Chapter Tactics Ultramarines.

This means, by extension, when I currently use Sternguard for my Ultramarines, I now have the OPTION of now playing TWVs as my elites instead.  Within my force org.  Not in addition to it.  TWVs ARE NOT A FORMATION.

OK....deeper into the rabbit hole we go...

3.  "A formation presents a collection of two or more units that fight alongside one another in a particular way..." and this is where some of the wording gets wonky.

In the current force organization in the rulebook and codexes you have a primary detachment and then if you want an allied detachment. The force org can be doubled if the game point size exceeds a certain level.

In the data slate, formations are introduced as a "special form of detachment".  And then the wording goes off the grid from there under a heading of "Allied Formations", which says formations do not count as your army's allied detachment (which has its own force org requirements, you may recall).  Everything at this point in the wording does not make total sense.

After reading this all, I'm wondering if something was lost in the writing or translation.

If I understand what I've been told on the internet, the example could go like this: I'd take my primary detachment of say, an Ultramarines Captain (HQ and warlord) a librarian (HQ) and 2 scout squad troop choices.  Then grab, say, an allied detachment of a Tau commander (HQ) and one Tau troop choice as my allied detachment.  Then, on top of that, I could take the Formation titled St. Tylus Battle Force consisting of the Chaplain Cassius (HQ), 8 TWV squads (Elites, the Formation says 1+ with no cap) of up to 10 models each, and 6 Storm Talons (the formation says 0-6).  So, I'd have some ridiculous force of 4 HQs, 3 troops, 8 elites, and 6 fast attack choices.

4.  Formations as a concept have been around the game system for a long time, probably pre-dating Apocalypse, but certainly the original Apocalypse rules brought the concept into somewhat wider use.  One of my favorite Apocalypse "formations" had a landspeeder and 3 whirlwinds.  The combination allowed the Whirlwinds to be able to shoot at any unit the landpseeder could see, regardless of range.  If I had that old "datasheet" in front of me I'd give you more details.  Regardless, it was like a 50 point upgrade.  If you took a speeder and 3 whirlwinds, for 50 point more, you gained a special rule.  Cool!

So what if we are doing thing a bit out of the way it was intended.

What if the new dataslate "formation" was just as originally intended in earlier variants of the game, in that if you used the minimum number of required units in your detachment, you gained (or could upgrade for points) a special rule, and that the formation was NOT outside the force org chart of a primary detachment or allied detachment?

So in the example above, in a 1999 (or less) point game, my army list would look more like:

Primary Detachment (Ultramarines):
Chaplain Cassius*** (Warlord)
3 TWV Units (capped at 3 elites)***
2 Scout squads (2 troops are the minimum)
3 Stormtalons (capped at 3 Fast attack)***

(I could not exceeed 2 HQ units, so the Librarian could be cut, and I'd never be able to reach the formation cap of 6 stormtalons unless I was in a double 2000 pt+ force org situation.  I'd never be able to have more than 6 elite TWV units as well, since the primary detachment is capped at 3 elites).

Allied Detachment (Tau)
Tau Commander
1 Tau troop choice

In the above, the selection of the formation units causes the formation special rules to kick in (aerial superiority and pummelled by fire, which impact only the TWVs and the Stormtalons).

Interesting concept? Does this release some of the angst over adding formations?  Are there any formations that cannot fit within the normal force org requirements?

So, in summary:

Some dataslates contain units that clearly are single units that are additions to existing codexes, and for all purposes, have to be used as such fully within the rules.

Some dataslates contain multi-unit formations, which if taken, add into your army special rules that apply as indicated.  I'd argue that the formation special rules could apply to either the primary detachment, or to the allied detachment.  Interestingly the formation construction limitations lend credence to that concept.

In the case of the St. Tylus Battle Battle Force as an allied detachment, following this logic, it might be capped at something like:

1 TWV Unit
1 Stormtalon
PLUS you'd have to add for a legal allied detachment:
+1-2 troop choices (Ultramarines chapter)
0-1 heavy choices.

So anyway, I hope this discussion helps to illustrate my point.  Overall, I'd have to say that since White Dwarf stopped being what it was with battle reports, I'm not familiar with a "official" battle report that showed GW itself going on a bender with the formations to show how they used them to illustrate what they have done. So I can be very wrong with the whole thing.

Thoughts? Interesting idea?

So in the mean time, I guess I'll have to look at the other dataslates and see what I want to use, if any.  It would not surprise me to see (eventually) some form of clarification in the future by the game designers.  Until then, I'll keep my eyes open and see how the community is applying these new options at least on the local level.  I have only had one gave where an opponent used a formation - they added Cypher and his required retinue/choices, in addition to a single primary chaos marine detachment.  It was a fun game.

Lastly, it looks like TOs are considering in some events to cap your access to units in your army list to two sources.  My application and assessment of formations in the above manner, if adopted, would still be consistent in a two-source rule.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

It took a while to get to it and then it happened

For about the last  maybe 8 weeks I'd been waiting to get to a game to play vs a local Eldar player.  But every time I planned to get into the FLGS we either had a Wednesday night snow storm, or I had a meeting elsewhere, or he was not there, etc. Of course after 8 weeks you'd think I'd have been able to get some research on the Eldar accomplished and know what the heck I was doing.  I did know one thing, the Edar OPFOR was very tough and very successful.  Maybe I was avoiding it.  I  don't know. So I played a list that I had developed that might be good versus this particular list type. it goes:

1750 Points, Vanguard Strike, Emperor's Will (2 objectives, one in each deployment zone), mysterious objectives.

Wraithknight with extra upgrades
5 Wraithguard - Shooty ones, Wave Serpent Transport
5 Wraithblades - Choppy ones
5 Wraithblades - Choppy ones
Flyer (Eldar fighter jet)
Fire Prism

3rd Company Ultramarines
Tigurius (divination - prescience, forewarning,misfortune)
10 Sternguard, 2 meltaguns, 4 combimeltas, Drop Pod, DWL (Squad Tacitus)
10 Tacs, gravgun, gravpistol, ML, Drop Pod w/ stormbolter (2nd Squad Ovatius)
10 Tac, plasmagun, combiplas, ML, Drop Pod w/ stormbolter (4th Squad Theta)
5 Devs, 4 MLs, Flakk Missiles (9th Squad Signatus)
Contemptor Mortis, Kheres assault cannon arms, CML (Dreadnought Maximus)
Landspeeder Typhoon Squadron, 2, HB/CMLs (7th Squad Hexus)
Predator, AC/LC
StormTalon, TLAC, SHMs

Back Story
Chief Librarian Tigurius and Sergeant Ovatius stood on the ridgeline and surveyed the valley below.  Night vision gear showed no major heat sources in the area.  Formerly an Ork settlement, the Ultramarines were on a mission to collect some tech items the Orks had apparently looted.  The Orks were all gone from the site, most were nothing but dust, ash, or spores wafting on the air in the next valley.  With squads in reserve in case the force encountered opposition, Tigurius signaled the advance into the valley. The search for the tech would begin at dawn. The plan was simple. Squad Ovatius would enter the settlement and begin the search with overwatch from Squad Signatus and Dreadnought Maximus. Squads Tacitus and Theta would be held in reserve on the Ultramarines Battlebarge, to deploy if needed by drop pod.

As dawn approached, scans from Maximus and Signatus detected several large Eldar power signatures. The Settlement was not empty at all, and the Ultramarines risked losing the tech to the advancing Xenos. Tigurius signaled to the battlebarge to drop the reserves immediately!

The Eldar deployed for battle - with the two Wraithknights and the Wraithblades deployed in the center, behind a large LOS blocking building. The Fire Prism deployed to the far UM right, and the remainder of the Eldar deployed in clusters around the Wraith Knights.

The Ultramarines deployed as a refused Flank, with squad Ovatius combat squading so the ML team held an objective in a patch of woods on the UM left, and Tigurius and devastators occupying a grassy knoll towards the center. Maximus and the Predator deployed near Tigurius, at a location that would be not in direct LOS of the Wraithknights.

Turn 1
Before the Eldar could utter a word of command, the Ultramarines struck, seizing the initiative. The two drop pods slammed down in perfect precision immediately behind the Wraith Knights and the two full squads dismounted, weapons ready to take down the Eldar constructs. The remaining UM units re-positioned slightly to try to reach the Eldar units barely visible in the dark. Firing from the combat squaded Sternguard was to try and be efficient in taking out the Wraithknights; in reality, although the leading, more advanced Wraithknight was exploded, it took the 10 sternguard and grav weapons of the Tac Squad to do it. The Ultramarine objective itself was not mysterious at all - it was nothing of note.  Other firing glanced a wound off the surviving Wraithknight.

In response, the Jetseer and Spirit Seer reacted to get the situation back under control.  The Spirit Seer directed the units of Wraithblades to take out the Sternguard, with support from the Wave Serpent and Wraithblades.  The remaining Wraithknight and the Fire Prism moved forward to get the Ultramarine lines under fire.  Shooting was short and viscious, with the Predator being exploded, and after assault, half of the sternguard were gone.  The Tech objective held by the Wraithguard is discovered to be an Ork Boobytrap!

Score:  UMs 5 (FB and LB); Eldar 3

Turn 2
The Ultramarines attempted to press the advantage in the Eldar backfield; all of the remaining reserved units arrived (pod, stormtalon, and landspeeders) to aid to the firepower.  Squad Theta worked to shoot at the Wraithknight, causing more damage but not eliminating it.  The Wave Serpent is destroyed, leaving the Wraithguard without their favorite transport.  In the assault phase, the last of the Sternguard become casualties.

The Eldar flyer arrives from reserves and strikes after the Stormtalon, knocking it from the air while staying out of the range of Maximus.  The Wraithknight advances fully into the UM deployment zone, and shoots up Maximus causing the dreadnought to shut down its systems and play no further role in the battle.  In assault, the Jetseer, Spirit seer, and wraithguard begin too focus on Squad Theta, but the units become locked in combat, with both sides taking casualties.  The Wraithguard try to take out a drop pod, but fails.  At the end of the Eldar phase, the Orky objective EXPLODES and then resets itself.

 Score:  UMs 5 (FB and LB); Eldar 3

Turn 3
The Ultramarines get down to business and work up a plan.  Victory is all about the missions after all.  Squad Theta works hard to stay alive in assault, tying up several Eldar units.  Tigurius and the Devastators pump missiles into the Wraithknight and kill it off.  The landspeeders begin hunting the fire prism, while Sergeant Ovatius and his combat squad look to move towards the Ultramarine objective.  

The Eldar began to try to work out a plan of their own.  With Squad Theta dispatched, the Jetseer decided to sweep around the UM lines and look to not only kill Tigurius in combat, but with support from the Wraithguard eventually contest the UM objective.  In shooting, the fighter vectored after the landpeeders, wrecking one.

Turn 4
Sergeant Ovatius sprung his trap.  His squad emerged from cover and moved directly at the Fire Prism.  In the mean time, Tigurius directed the devastator squad to shoot down the Eldar fighter.  In assault, Sergeant Ovatius and his Marines reached the Fire Prism and they wrecked it with krak grenades. This placed them near the Eldar deployment zone, and now at a location out of reach of the Spirit Seer and Wraithblades.

The Eldar Jetseer swooped wide around a building and right into the grassy area held by the Devastators and Tigurius, as one wraithblade unit moved onto the Eldar objective, the Wraithguard moved towards the UM deployment zone.  In assault all went wrong for the Jetseer.  Assaulting into terrain, she found that the Librarian Tigurius was at the right rear of the unit, not the left front, and he was too far away to challenge!  The Ultramarines Sergeant Signatus declined the challenge, and all of the ML marines and Tigurius moved forward.  Tigurius was now close enough for the assault, and with his staff powered up, the Jetseer failed her saves and was dispatched quickly by the force weapon!  

 Score:  UMs 5 (WL, FB); Eldar 3

Turn 5
Sergeant Ovatius advanced into the Eldar deployment zone.  Tigurius ordered the devastators to whittle away at the Wraithguard who were now close enough for Misfortune.  Several Wraithguard were dispatched by missile fire.

The Eldar Spirit Seer knew that the battle was essentially complete at this point.  He issued the commands for the survivors to withdraw. Several Wraithblades attacked some of the drop pods to wreck two of the three.

 Final Score:  UMs 6 (WL, FB and LB); Eldar 3

Postgame thoughts  
The UM list worked really really well, but it had a few weak points.  Overall, it showed how a Marine drop pod list could be deadly vs high value targets.  It was also the first time I'd taken grav weapons in a game.  Overall, as this was the first time I'd played vs Eldar in a while, it was cool to face down this kind of list.  I was somewhat impressed with the choppy Wraithblades.  Overall, the game could easily have turned to a draw IF the Eldar had focused on the small combat squad I was defending my objective with, and I could easily have lost the game if other choices had been made. I've seen some recent ideas over at Imperial Guides and other blogs that suggest trying similar list with a command squad instead of a full Sternguard squad.  That has a certain appeal to get an Apothecary out there and create a unit that might be more resilient and maybe cheaper!

All for now, I'm hoping to get some more blog posts in on a more regular basis!