Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Tough Tacticas: 'Jack in the Rippers?'

"Damn, I didn't expect that!" gasped Corporal Nuggit

With one eye on the upcoming release of Codex: Tyranids, I'm turning my (other) eye towards one of the most unloved units in the 40k universe ... rippers.

Just like sporemines, most people who've collected Tyranids tend to amass a cadre of rippers, that were included because (like gundrones) they're both a unit choice and an upgrade. The upgrade of rippers, for a Carnifex for one, would means that 'outnumbering' was less likely.

5th Edition put paid to that! So what have the Rippers to say for themselves in the 'end of days' 41st Millenium?


Effectively a ripper swarm is a guardsmen stats with poor BS and slightly lower initiative. What you pay for with rippers is 3 wounds and 3 attacks on a 40mm base. The 10pts is a bit of a hit in 5th edition, as instantkill is the bane of all rippers, plus the 'swarm' is a mixed blessing. Ok, it provides you with a +1 cover save on your mites, but it also means that you take double damage from blast weapons - ouch! So every hit with a S6+ blast weapon instantkills two bases ... better stay away from hellhounds?!?

Ripper upgrade options

Rippers aren't an easy unit to field, however they do have almost as many upgrade options as a Tyranid Warrior, so how do we make this work for us:
  • Wings: this doubles the price of your rippers, and is an upgrade too far IMO, the ripper swarm should 'vanish' from your opponents perception, not grow, leap about and fly... bad news.
  • Adrenal Glands (WS): at 2 pts each these are ok. The WS is worthwhile against guard as it will significantly reduce the number of attacks that you land. Against Orks or Space Marines it'll reduce the number of hits you take. Fairly useful.
  • Adrenal Glands (I): An initiative bonus on I2 ... waste of time. Just accept that you're gonna get hit first. The only opponent this is worthwhile against is Tau, and even then ...
  • Enhanced Senses: 1 pt for BS2: woop! Not.
  • Spinefists, this gives you 3 twin-linked S3 shots at 12" BS2 (if upgraded). Now if they could take fleshborers this would actually be interesting...
  • Extended Carapace: a 5+ is better than a 6+ in close combat. Worth considering for just a point.
  • Flesh Hooks: Another point to defend that mighty I2, not worth it.
  • Toxin Sacs: S4 ... but for 3 points on a vulnerable unit - put it on the genestealer?
  • Leaping: Now we're talking (See below)!
Tactica #1: The Ripper bulletshield.

"But I shot you already ... dagnammit!"

Rippers can make for a surprisingly awesome bulletshield. This is because despite being a T3 instantkill magnet, the Ripper Swarm is actually immune from instantkill if within 12" of a synapse creature. While Rippers cannot offer a cover save to a monstrous creature, they do offer a 4+ cover save to infantry. This means that Rippers can offer a cheap (and durable) bullet shield to genestealers, hormagaunts or Tyranid Warriors.

Unlike spinegaunts, rippers are 3 wounds on the same base and will pick up a cover save without much effort. Additionally it takes 3 kills to remove each ripper base. This means that at 12", a whole round of fire from a full space marine squad (19 shots) wouldn't kill a base (2.81 wounds) .... Think on the following option:

Broodlord plus 11 genestealers with flesh hooks, and feeder tendrils on the broodlord(granting assault grenades and preferred enemy) fielded behind 8 'eternal warrior' ripper swarms. The genestealers gain a 4+ cover save - the rippers a 3+ cover save. Everybody gets preferred enemy and if the rippers hit last, the genestealers won't (and it probably won't be alive to hit them!)

Best Build: keep them basic, these rippers were born to die!

Tactica #2: Sniper Hunters

"You may fire when ready .... Bob? Bob you there?!?"

The tyranid army currently has a problem with snipers. They have lots of juicy small squads and monstrous creatures for the snipers to shoot (Carnifi, Raveners, Tyranid Warriors, Zoanthropes, Tyrants etc), but lack anything to 'go after' the snipers. Therefore its quite common to face at least one sniper unit at an oblique end of the table, taking pot shots at your MC's in the hope you get distracted by them.

The problem is one of balance. The tyranids have plenty of options that could mop up the snipers (Carnifex, Tyranid Warriors, Genestealers) - but if your opponent has played Nids before you'll find the sniper out of the way - or in a position that excludes you from taking part in the rest of the game. The elephant in the room is the Synapse Range problem.

Anything cheap that needs Synapse to operate (Hormagaunts, Gaunts) is vulnerable to having its Synapse creature (Tyrant, Zoanthrope, Warriors) ripped apart by sniper fire. Plus, do you really want to distract your whole front for a single sniper unit? The other potentially effective Synapse creature (the broodlord) would chew them up single handed, but why? He's better off flanking or infiltrating to worry the opponent. The other options ... Raveners and Gargoyles would be ideal, but Gargoyles are pricey to buy (in £'s people) and raveners are pricey in points. A Carnifex could do it, but he's supposed to be avoiding those 3+ to hit, 4+ to wound, rending shots...

So who's short, quick, 3+ cover save and can tie up snipers until the end of the game...

What Rippers do have is a low-lying base with a +1 cover save. This means that Rippers can frequently 'hide' completely behind a low wall or hedge. Giving you the opportunity to use them as a stealth assault unit for targetting those secondary target units.

Unlike most tyranid units, rippers are not affected by stepping away from the hive mind. This means that while your main force needs to be carefully held together with synapse creatures, Rippers will quite happily trot along. They therefore can offer a fairly daunting foes to certain enemies, especially those that like to sit 'off the beaten track' ... coming after those snipers...

It's important to note that while the rippers can trot over to challenge the snipers, they will not get their 'eternal warrior' buff from the Synapse creature. So don't go chasing anything with S6 or higher.

Best Build: Only time that 'winged' is viable for a deepstrike. Otherwise go for 'leaping' and 'extended carapace' for an 6+12" charge range and a 5+ armour. Even the Sergeants squad with a powerfist in turn one only just scores 4.55 - this means it'll take the squad 3 turns to kill the rippers!

Performance: 8 Rippers (with a 5+) in combat perform as follows:
  • Swarm v Ratlings (10): 0.74 wounds taken to 7 wounds made ... goodbye ratlings!
  • Pathfinders (10): 1.66 wounds taken to 5.33 wounds made ... Ld test at -4 please!
  • Space Marine Scouts (8): Round 1: 2.44 wounds taken (still not a base) against 2.66 wounds. Round 2: 1.99 (1st swarm down) versus 2 wounds. Round 3: 1.54 (all alive) versus another 2 wounds. Round 3: (we're still playing?) 1.04 (2nd swarm dies) versus 1.5 wounds.
Thus the sergeant is facing 6 ripper swarms ...

Rippers as objective 'challengers'

"We're in your objective, challenging!"

Although coming on a 40mm base, Rippers are an unassuming bunch and are generally fairly well ignored in 40k. Although they do appear a little of a points sink, 10pts for a 3 wound model can get you a lot of bodies on the board. Plus, in financial terms they are practically free.

Rippers have the 'mindless' ability. This is a blessing and a curse as it frees the ripper up to go where it will, but at the same time it disallows the Rippers 'troops' ability to claim objectives. The rules state: "For the purposes of mission objectives, Ripper Swarms cannot capture table quarters, hold objectives or count as scoring units."

However, that's a 4th Edition setup, and it says nothing about 'contesting' objectives. I've also check the FAQ and there's nothing about Rippers contesting. Against the right opponents, rippers can offer a T3 3W 3+ cover save unit that can be very difficult to kill for GeQs, has lots of (weak) attacks and never runs away.

While this might not be that useful in close combat, it may actually prove invaluable for a last minute objective 'contest', don't run into combat (against anything but Tau and Guard, and then hope) ...

Best Build: breaking with tradition, I'd actually upgrade the rippers with toxin sacs and spinefists... 120 points of these boys (8) could then punch out 24 S4 twinlinked shots at 12" - followed by a charge with S4... not bad actually!


The Ripper at first glance looks a little bit of a wuss. He's a T3 instantkill magnet, but the addition of a 'synapse creature' can turn this unit into a durable bullet shield. Add to this their option to go 'sniper hunting', walk out of synapse range with fear only of S6 weaponry.

I'm looking forward to seeing what GW do with rippers in the next version, personally I'd like to see the Tyranid equivilent of a Space Marine drop pod army ... now that's got potential!