Monday, January 25, 2010

Why Snipers Aren't Competitive

by SandWyrm

Snipers are all sorts of cool in movies, there's no denying that. "Enemy At The Gates", despite it's flaws, is one of my favorite war films, after all. But that coolness just doesn't translate into competitiveness in 40K, where they're just not that useful.

New players will often add snipers eagerly to lists, thinking they must be great. While Vets avoid them like the plague. "Why?" you ask. Well, I'll tell you. (more...)

First Off, Pinning Isn't Reliable

There's just too many armies that don't care about pinning. Whether it's auto-rallying Marines, fearless Marines, Fearless Ork mobs, IG with orders, or just about every bug in the new Tyrannid codex, you'll find more often than not that you can't pin the units that you need to.

"Sure..." The new player will retort. "But they wound Monsterous creatures on a 4+ and rending makes them effective against vehicles! They're multi-purpose!!!"

Um, no.

The Anti-Tank Myth Debunked

Let's look at the odds of a unit of 3 Vet snipers actually killing a vehicle. (runs custom simulation program)

3 BS4 Snipers vs. Ork Trukk ( AV10, Open-Topped )
Stopped Target Movement: 24%
Stopped Target Firing: 25%
Destroyed Target: 12%
Did Nothing to Target: 70%

3 BS4 Snipers vs. Chimera Side/Rear ( AV10 )
Stopped Target Movement: 19%
Stopped Target Firing: 25%
Destroyed Target: 7%
Did Nothing to Target: 70%

3 BS4 Snipers vs. Rhino ( AV11 )
Stopped Target Movement: 13%
Stopped Target Firing: 18%
Destroyed Target: 4%
Did Nothing to Target: 79%

3 BS4 Snipers vs. Chimera Front ( AV12 )
Stopped Target Movement: 5%
Stopped Target Firing: 9%
Destroyed Target: 0%
Did Nothing to Target: 89%

That's pretty anemic. You have about the same chance of killing an Ork Trukk as 3 twin-linked lascannons have of killing a Land Raider. :)

Now we'll look at the Grenade Launcher, which is also a cheap 5-point upgrade for IG Vets:

3 BS4 Grenade Launchers vs. Ork Trukk (AV10 Open Topped)
Stopped Target Movement: 60%
Stopped Target Firing: 63%
Destroyed Target: 35%
Did Nothing to Target: 30%

3 BS4 Grenade Launchers vs. Chimera Side/Rear ( AV10 )
Stopped Target Movement: 50%
Stopped Target Firing: 63%
Destroyed Target: 22%
Did Nothing to Target: 30%

3 BS4 Grenade Launchers vs. Rhino ( AV11 )
Stopped Target Movement: 34%
Stopped Target Firing: 46%
Destroyed Target: 11%
Did Nothing to Target: 47%

3 BS4 Grenade Launchers vs. Chimera Front ( AV12 )
Stopped Target Movement: 16%
Stopped Target Firing: 25%
Destroyed Target: 0%
Did Nothing to Target: 70%

As you can see, the Grenade Launcher's performance (shooting kraks) in all AT categories is almost 3x that of the Sniper Rifle for the same points cost.

And Now For The Monsterous Creature Myth

Whenever someone talks about wounding monsterous creatures with a sniper rifle,  they're almost always talking about Tyrannid MCs. Well, let's look at the new 'Nid codex.

Carnifex: T6
DeathLeaper: T4
Harpy: T5
Hive Guard: T6
Hive Tyrant: T6
Lictor: T4
Mawloc: T6
Old One Eye: T6
The Parasite: T4
Pyrovore: T4
Swarmlord: T6
Tervigon: T6
Trygon/Trygon Prime: T6
Tyrannid Warrior: T4
Tyrannid Prime: T5
Tyrant Guard: T6
Tyrannofex: T6
Venomthrope: T4
Zoanthrope: T4

There is nothing in this list that has a toughness greater than 6. In fact there are many potential targets that are T4 or T5. Which means that 3 grenade launchers, with their (krak) strength of 6 will wound with the same (or more) shots than 3 sniper rifles that always wound on a 4+.

So unless you're shooting at Necron C'Tans, Greater Daemons, or Eldar Wraithlords, grenade launchers are still you best friend. For these other targets there's always the lascannons and autocannons you should already have in your list.

But... But...

I know... Snipers can shoot 36", but they can't move and fire.

Grenade Launchers, on the other hand, give you superior firepower in a mobile assault weapon. That means their range is really 30" after you move your squad towards the target. Where you can chose between a direct fire S6 shot and a S3 small blast. Your target is also less likely to get cover after you move.

And the AP2 rending thing? I'd rather have AP4 on all my shots instead of AP6 on most and AP2 on a few.

It's a no-brainer for me. The Grenade Launcher has it all over the Sniper Rifle. If you could pick your target out of a squad (like the Vindicare), or it had D6 rending, or it ignored cover, or it cost 3 points you might have a real choice to make.

But you don't.


  1. The only argument that I would make here is that I think that some sniper rifles make nice special weapons upgrades on Guard tactical squads you intend to use as a static firebase. There is a nice synnergy with heavy weapons for the sniper rifle's additional range and potential rending, and if you are planning on firing a heavy weapon you aren't going to be moving anyway. Plus, in comparison to a plasma gun, it's cheaper, has more range, and can't kill my your own guy. The grenade launcher (a favorite of mine for a long time) is also good, but when I am static I think the extra range is worth it.

    Plus, the Forgeworld Tallarn sniper models are just awesome, and at least using them this way you have a reasonable reason to put them on the table... :)

  2. Good article and I'm saddened to agree. Even the "superior" snipers like Eldar Rangers or Pathfinders aren't really worth it. Their primary advantages are their Stealth and lack of better options.

    For IG, it's really a no-brainer.

  3. Yup, snipers suck. :-( Ever since they've added the rending ability, I've managed to take down (1) Chimera from a side shot, and have shaken a few APCs of various types, but that's it vehicle wise. I'll kill a model once in a while, pinning is even rarer. In my IG army I have one in a command section along with a missile team, and I have a special weapon squad equipped with sniper rifles too (though I rarely use them). I have a SM scout squad with sniper rifles, but they're more of a meat shield while Telion does the dirty work.

  4. This is a great breakdown of the weapon itself, but I find that a unit of "counts-as" ratlings serves a totally different purpose... as purely psychological weapons they can be effective. When coupled with stealth USR, they can be a fire-soak, drawing fire away from more valuable units.

  5. Despite your well laid out theory/math hammer, I have to disagree based on personal experience. Ratlings and snipers in command squads have worked well for me and have even been the key to victory on several occasions.

    I don't count on them to punch armor. Although it does happen.

    Pinning is alot more reliable with a Psyker Battle Squad near by.

    3 Ratlings infiltrating can often draw opponents away from your main force. Nice for only 30 pts.

  6. Small question: why do your percentages not add up? (I'm probably being dense, but shouldn't they all add up to 100? (the whole /100 thing...))

  7. Wound on a 2+ would be better. Makes sense using ballistic skill as same shooter, but once that shot hits home it should be like a head shot or aiming for something particular. With 2+ to wound sniper rifles would be feared.

    Good article!

  8. Sandwyrm, I agree with absolutely everything you've said above, mathhammer and all.

    In my experience of playing around with snipers (I tend to take 10no. ratlings now and then), apart from picking off the odd stragglers (a squaddie here and there per turn) and the (rare) occurence of pinning (as my regular opponents are Marines with high Ld, or Orks with Mob Rule), against vehicles they border on worthless.

    However, I do only take them for *fun*, and sometimes, just sometimes they avoid being molested in the game with clever infiltration/deployment, and good ol' stackable stealth/cover saves.

    I am in the process of finding out if there is a possible synergy between using the Weaken Resolve of a Psyker Battle Squad, with the Pinning effects of a sniper weapon. In my head, a squad of termies or bikes being high priority targets for any IG player, if I could weaken their resolve and get an average of 1 or 2 wounds, surely this will put the proverbial monkey wrench into a large block of points?

    As I understand it, ATSKNF works to auto-regroup & pass moral tests, but Pinning is a standard leadership that if failed (If i get their leadership down to a minimum of 2 and they don't pull a snake eyes!) will cause the squad to go to ground. Sure they will get up, but they've been effectively nullified for the next turn leaving them open to all sorts of evil, or i'll be able to turn my attention elsewhere where it's needed.

    It's a long shot sure, but I'm gonna check this gamble out in my game tomorrow night and let you know the results via a batrep on my blog.

  9. @Itkovian

    The percentages don't add up to 100% because we're taling about multiple shots. Hence some cases (stopped movement, destroyed) happen together because the attacker rolled a 4 and a 6 for vehicle penetration.

  10. wow. you kicked a beehive.

    plus, you know I usually take GL's over Snipers 95% of the time. Because I like the option to move and fire.

    I can see the usefulness of having snipers in a Vet squad with Bastonne and a lascannon or autocannon. A group you're planning on having in deep cover, and not moving.

    most of the time, go with the *BOOM*

  11. Sad, but true. :(

    But for troops like space marine scouts--there really isn't much of a long-ranged alternative. In that situation, they're a decent option...

    Well, at least I think so.

  12. @CrazyRed

    I'll grant that Ratlings will tend to attract far more attention than they warrant. But tactically, I'd rather not depend on my opponent being an idiot.

    I do think they a good strategic use though. Many competitive opponents will see them in a list and assume YOU are an idiot and stop thinking critically about your what your army can do to them. Witness JWolf's recent tourney winning list and some of the reactions to it. It looks like newbie junk on paper but is hiding a force with a solid tactical basis.

  13. Concerning Pinning:

    A Psyker Battle Squad will make you more likely to pin, but that's really only a gain against Marines (The non-fearless kind).

    Mobbed-up Orks will laugh at you.

    So will Nids in Synapse Range.

    Pinned IG infantry squads will get back up with an order on their turn and do whatever they like.

    So roughly 35-40% of the enemies you'll face just won't care about your snipers.

    Seems to me you're better off killing 25% of the enemy squad and forcing them to run using the PBS.

  14. Naturally, you're right.

    Sad, huh?

    Ratlings (or, as I use, a squad of Cadian proxies) can be a nice psychological distraction for the enemy as FoxPhoenix said, but their low Ld and toughness means they can readily give away an easy kill point.

  15. Ratlings in cover have a +3 save, +2 if they go to ground. If an opponent wants to spend the time to kill them, I'm all for it. Kill Points? We're IG for christ's sake.


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