Wednesday, 20 May 2009

TACTICA: Commissars and the Tarpit

By Suneokun.

For those without the new Guard codex, it's worth noting that Commissars have changed considerably. Some of their abilities and stats have altered and this should significantly change how you field (or face commissars) in future.

Commissar's under the Old Regime
Under the old advisors rules, Commissars were worth taking for the following reasons:
  • Focusing minds: the commissar adds +1 to leadership of the unit he's in.
  • Summary Execution: the commissar shoots the leader of the squad on a failed leadership test and assumes command.
  • For your own good: the commissar shoots the psyker.
Under the old codex, the commissar was a fairly handy lightweight 'non-independent' character who gave command squads a real buff. The Combination of a commander and his 12" leadership ability, a regimental standard and a commissar were pretty standard fare as under 4th edition everyone in this bubble would become an unbreakable reroll Ld10 with an execution reroll backstop!

Under the 5th edition rules this bubble approach could become a liability. As shooting no longer affects leadership (no more 50% - 1 modifier), the +1 leadership was nice but Meh? It also added little benefit in assault as the new rules on cumulative negative modifiers on the command squad meant that even a +1 was negligable, everybody dies AND the commissar shoots the commander!

Regime Change - The New Codex

The standard commissar is no longer a separate or 'attached' advisor, but simply an upgrade to Company/Platoon Command Squads or Infantry Squads. The Commissar is now only a one wound model, but apart from his reduced Leadership (from 10 to 9) he has similar stats otherwise. Importantly he cannot be singled out as he is part of the squad.

In the infantry squad the commissar has become a welcome upgrade. Since the commissar brings two things - the Stubborn universal rule AND leadership 9.

The rulebook states: "If a unit includes models with different Leadership values, always use the one with the Highest Ld value." - this means that the Commissar is a valuable Ld9 boost to morale. Combined with this is the 'summary execution' rule (which commissars and Commissar Lord are exempt of) which means he shoots the highest leadership model and gets a reroll. This means (unfortunately) that the Sergeant must die, but does give the squad another Ld 9 test - which should be move than enough to overcome any unlucky rolling.

Added to this is the 'stubborn' ability. This is standard now for penal squads, Ogyrns and Commissars and effectively means we ignore any negative morale modifiers in close combat. So how should this affect our deployment of commissars?

Cold War Concluded - 5th Edition

Before you all rush out and buy a commissar for every unit, it's worth remembering that they're no cheap. A standard commissar comes in at 35 pts plus bells and whistles. It's also worthwhile being fairly tactical about where you place your commissars.

The Commissar still carries the same execution ability, which could prove awkard if your 35pt commissar shots your 90 point Creed for one unlucky roll of 11?!? This is also clearly less helpful in even 'basic' company command squads, where the value in the unit is less in it's leadership potential, but in the orders it can dispense.

Thanks to the dropping of the 12" leadership bubble, commanders will face far fewer leadership tests (they'll only be against their own squad) so a company standard becomes pretty mandatory (since it'll afford you a reroll and +1 to the combat resolution).

In platoon command squad I'm less convinced. The small size of these squads means that anything that's totalled up a -4 on the leadership test has pretty much killed them all anyway. Adding a commissar may be useful for a combat orientated command squad as an additional body with 3/4 attacks - but I'm unconvinced.

Where meagre commissars really shine is in conjunction with the new 'combined units' rule for the infantry squad. The ability to field 50 men as a single squad fielding 5 flamers and 5 4 attack on the charge sergeants is a real bonus. The addition of a commissar in this size of unit becomes mandatory as the unit then has a Stubborn Ld9 rerollable test no matter what the adversary. This combination totals at a paltry 310 points for a well armed tar pit. This tarpit would be a remarkable objective holder AND has the ability to turn the unremarkable 'fire by ranks' order into a lethal force on Ld9.

The closest achievable with the conscripts is only 270 points, but means that you have to sacrifice a HQ slot as a commissar lord to the same role. You couldn't take flamers either. Alternatively, you could take Yarrick with them for 385pts. However Yarrick's benefits are in applying bonuses to multiple mixed units, and he's a little wasted in such a big tarpit. If you want to gain the benefits without sacrificing an HQ slot - take a priest with an eviscerator.

At 60 points the Priest can offer up a reroll to hit on the charge for all 50 men and can bring a powerfist equivilent too. Personally I'd add a few plasma pistols to the sergeants/commissar to bolster the pre-charge and some power swords might be worth it...

In my recent Apoc battle I fielded the combined squads of 20-30 men for the two platoons. It meant that 30 men arrived from the flank together. Such large units (as Ork and Tyranid players will attest) are very hard to target without them gaining a cover save, as they spill out behind terrain and the like and are difficult to 'spot' more than 50% in the open. I found them very useful at that scale as they were able to shrug off casulaties with ease and their firepower was overpowering (and lets face it, you need at least 30 lasguns to kill one marine squad!)

What's your thoughts... ?