Monday, 6 April 2009

TACTICA: Storm in a teacup - the Armoured Fist

By Suneokun.

At the cusp of a new codex release for Imperial Guard, I've finally realised the merits of one of the least liked and most despised unit choices - the Imperial Guard Armoured Fist. Bit late now ... you might think, as so far the armoured fist hasn't featured in the leaks eminating from the upcoming Codex: Imperial Guard release, but Chimera tactics are worth looking into.

Complaints about the Chimera: is it a lion or an eagle?

The complaints on the armoured fist can be encapsulated in one neat statement made by an experienced legend in Guard fixtures (who's unfortunately fallen out of the tree at IGMB), TurtleBoy. In his words:

"Armoured Fists are like this - My house is on fire, and I have a teacup of water."

This dramatic designation stuck with me for years. It was in the depths of 4th edition, where any type of unit could capture any objective, Guard got routinely punished for being flabby and bad at shooting (disapearing battle cannon blasts anyone?) and the idea of spending points on an armoured fist was inconceivable.

The Chimera (with upgrades) cost nearly as much as a Hellhound or Basalisk. It has poor side armour (10), was slow and lack of any options (beyond the over priced hunterkiller missile) for anti tank. The biggest problem was actually inside the chimera. What could it deliver that could threaten or kill anything anyhow? The armoured is only a normal squad, with access to the same heavy/special weapons as any squad. However, as every commander knows, guards units only really work in numbers - 7 lasguns, a laspistol and a heavy/special weapon combo have the survivability of zero in isolation.

What changed: fifth edition

Fifth Edition didn't just open things up for the guard, they opened them up for the Armoured fist too. Whereas previously the armoured fist was totally eclipsed by the options and benefits of elite or HQ options, now this lowly 'troop' option was more appealing.

Change 1: give me flashlights - front and centre.

In 4th edition, the focus of firepower was squarely on low AP, with a high rate of fire coming in second. This meant that for guard players, command squads and veterans were extremely useful for fielding lots of special weapons which could toast the Marine Equivilents (MEQ's).

Cover saves were sparce, so the idea was to get the drop on the cluster of Space Marines and pelt them with plasma.

Common setups included leftenant and 4 grenade launchers/storm bolter/targetter for 24" move and fire attacks or the ignominous 3 plasma gun/medic and leftenant option. Otherwise against hordes you could field 4 flamers in a heavy flamer clad chimera to move, jump out a flame to death the horde of screeching tyranids. You could even field 4 meltaguns in your command squad for the shortest ranged/shortest lived entity in the game.

With the advent of 5th Edition, the guardsmen and Smurfs (space marines) alike get better cover saves, this means that your guardsmen might actually survive a round of shooting (shock horror!) and the 'woohahaha, eat plasma death Space Marine!" has becomes "Woohahaha, I've wasted 10 points reducing your saving throw from 3+ to 4+ and this gun might kill me, Arggghhh!"

Subsequently, I'm fielding many less 'plasma' weapons in my army. Don't get me wrong, they are still there. But the plasma and meltagun in the squad are there more for deterrance purposes than real function. They force the deep striking deamon or Tau Crisis suit to consider his options carefully - afterall, the inexpensive command squad with the mortar and the company standard that it would be nice to kill also has a weapon that can instantkill my Shas'El ... so maybe I'll target the flamer armed squad instead.

In the place of plasma, I'm fielding many many more lasguns. 30 seems to be a magic number. Thats a basic platoon (one command squad, two squads and a remnant) at 190pts. They can put out 60 shots at S3 at 12". The beauty of firing so many shots and rolling so many dice is the nervousness that suddenly affects the most ardent space marine player. 190pts is a 10 man space marine tactical squad, at this point the guardsmen and the marines are even (assuming both are in cover) - on rapid fire they will both recieve on average 3 wounds.

The key difference is that the Guardsmen has lost 10% of his force, the space marine player has lost 30%. This is the core of attritional warfare.

The second benefit is psychological. There is something comforting about having a 2+ saving throw for your terminator/broadside/Zoanthrope on one dice - however if you score 10 wounds on that unit it all changes. Suddenly your opponent is trying NOT to roll a 1. This can a remarkably hard on 10 D6. The tension of your opponent is feeling isn't pleasant. Subconsciously, that may even be something he avoids.

Change 2: 'Yeah, troops are actually important!'

Well, they are now. This is also combined with the fact that a single man is a troops unit uniform can secure an objective. Suddenly I want as many cheap, redundant and plentiful bodies in that transport NOW! Armoured fists now have a job, they might not be the fastest boys on the block - but they can now secure objectives, giving them a specific role on the battlefield.

The command squad of death is redundant - long live the cheap and cheerful armoured fist.

My preferred setup: the Chimera Gunship

As demonstrated in this battle report against the Tau. The Chimera has a valuable dual role as both an objective securer and an anti infantry firepower attack force.

This role is very effective at both the small scale of 500pts or less, or the larger scale of over 1500pts where you can take many.

Chimera Gunship: This baby rolls on behind the leman russ front line. Either the Leman Russ or cover will give the model a 4+ cover save. Frontal armour will handle any non-antitank weaponry. The gunship will trundle forward towards objectives and fire the Multilaser, heavy stubber and the Armoured fist heavy bolter. The combination of fire power withers opponents. At 1500pts I recommend 2+ units working in conjunction with Leman Russ and Lascannon Sentinel support. The flamer choice on the troops is for hordes. Otherwise, close and use the heavy flamer to great effect with the armoured fist securing the location.

Armoured Fist: Veteran Sergeant, Frag grenades, Meltagun (or flamer) and Heavy Bolter.

Chimera: Multilaser, Heavy Flamer and heavy stubber, extra armour.

Vulnerabilities: The gunship is very velunerable to antitank, being both low(ish) armoured and open topped (thanks to the boys firing out of the gunport). Best outrange the enemy antitank until its nullified by your own lascannons.

Strengths: low heat value despite the withering firepower. Very effective against entrenched positions (can frequently force go to ground). Less impressive on its own. The veteran sergeant is useful against not routing from last minute objective charges and holding off shooting vehicles. Ld8 is useful.

Edition 5: upgrades.

With the introduction of the Valkyrie, the Chimera is supposed to follow the Rhino and the Ork Trukk into the bargain basement of the transport options at approximately 40pts. This would mean your base armoured fist would constitutes a lean 90pts total (with Guardsmen at 5 pts each). My only wish is that the Chimera, like the hellhound and devildog, becomes a fast option. This would allow it a 12" move followed by 9 S7-S4 shots.