Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Tyranid Conundrum

By Anonymous Foodie

With a flash of rumors hitting the scene, it's time to start thinking about my first love - the Tyranids, and one of the things that has plagued them throughout the editions.
I won't go into what rumors are currently circulating (use those Google skills if you're interested).  It's far and away earlier than we've been getting any reliable leaks from the past few releases, but then again I've also heard that the main source has been regularly reliable about past Tyranid codexes (or codecii, if you prefer).

I'm sure I'll spout off more about these rumors as we get closer to the actual release date, and by nature, actual truth - but for now I want to touch on something that has, on and off, been a problem with Tyranids.

And that something, my friends, is assaulting into cover without grenades.
I can eat it, but I can't move through it without stubbing my toe... er... hoof.

The previous codex allowed for most critters to at least buy Flesh Hooks, which acted as assault grenades with an additional benefit (a rather fluffy, fun one at that).  But those were the days of yore, and the days of now say "No!" to such frivolities. 

Now, firstly I want to say this, loud and clear.  Not everything should have grenades.  If everyone has grenades, why even bother with the initiative penalty for assaulting through difficult terrain?  I will go further to say not all assault-based units should have grenades, because that's close enough to the prior idea (how often do shooty units jump into combat?  Answer, not - and typically it's a speedbump attempt at best).

So, in the end, no - I don't think Tyranids should just get grenades on everything.  Sure, Lictors should keep their flesh hooks.  But the lowly hormagaunt?  Not at all.  Tyranids should function on their own tactic, and that is the tactic of acceptable losses.

6th helped out with this idea quite a bit when being fearless in combat stopped being, largely, a detriment.  Well, it was fine if you were a power-armor wearing, dual-lightning claw toting, CC stompfest... but when you were a moderate combat threat that was designed, DESIGNED, to win by sheer attrition (and be points-effective at it), the old Fearless mechanic just stomped you down.  Especially when suddenly those same wounds were applied *twice* if something good actually joined you ...

... a quick derailment for anyone who may be unfamiliar with how this worked - say you had a brood of gaunts, and then a Hive Tyrant, in combat with a unit of Terminators (the Tyrant jumped in to actually kill them while the gaunts had been there to hold them until he got there).  The Terminators curb-stomp the gaunts, killing... oh.... 12.  The Tyrant drops a respectable 3 Terminators.  The Tyranids lose the combat by 9.  "Who cares!?" they cry, as they are a fearless machination of nomlishiousness.  Oh... wait... you mean that's 9 armor saves that the remaining gaunts have to make, likely destroying the rest of the unit?  Well that kinda (ie, really) sucks, but at least I have my... my.... wait... you mean because the Tyrant was in the same combat he has to take the same 9 saves that my gaunts did???  So he loses (average) 3 wounds despite never having been touched in the combat??  Yeah.  Yeah that just happened...

But I digress.  That mechanic, thankfully, is a thing of the past.  And Fearlessness is next to Awesomeness in terms of things actually working like they should.  So finally, like in past editions, Gaunt swarms are fully able to enact upon their role of fodder.  No, they're not the best fighters (well... we'll get to that bit later), but they will drag you down via attrition.  And they're cheap enough to field swarms large enough to accept the necessary losses to do so.  I have many a time thrown a unit of 20 hormagaunts into a unit of 5 terminators, only to walk away with 7-8 gaunts remaining.  Sure, you killed twice as many guys, but yours cost 7 times what mine do.  And I still have a (slightly) functional scoring unit. 

It works.  And it works well, if the army is designed to work that way.  In large part, Tyranids are.  There are, however, some oddballs still present.

Let's compare Gaunt genii... Hormagaunts are the close combat aspect, while the lowly Termagant is the "shooty" variety (carrying the equivalent of a bolt pistol hardly constitutes a Shooty unit, but I digress).  Fun fact, Termagants can sport full combat upgrades (poison attacks, furious charge, huzzah) for about as few points as is literally possible (outside of "free"... unless you take a Tervigon, and then just being near the momma-bug can, in fact, give you free upgrades).  Hormagaunts on the other hand pay enough that if you take the same upgrades, you're suddenly looking at a double-digit points cost.  Ask around, and see how many people want to pay double-digits for a T3 5+ save critter.

Hormagaunts suffer from the singular problem that as soon as you give them the upgrades to still do some damage after the initial acceptable losses, those losses have, actually, become too expensive to be acceptable.  Despite some cool combat-based upgrades, a speed boost, and other shenanigans, Hormagaunts have steadily been replaced by Termagants as my close combat troops.  The cheapness and potency of lots of (maybe) S4 and (at least) poisoned attacks is just... well... too potent to be outshined by the higher initiative, and even the bonus attack.


Because that higher initiative rarely matters.  Because once you equip them to do actual damage, you can't afford enough (without spending silly-points) to properly attrition anything (even as the necessity of attrition warfare curves down).

So... I come back to the original point - do I want grenades (or a flesh hook lookalike) on Hormagaunts to really make them the assaulty gaunt?

No.  I want them cheaper.  I want upgrades to be as cheap as for Termagants.  They need to be potent in combat, because they *will* take losses, and they need to be cheap to afford the bodies to accept these losses.  They were meant to be a swarm.  Make it so.  Don't just hand out grenades to everything to nullify the rules you wrote in the first place, give some character, give some different worldviews - bring different, viable tactics to the table.

All that said... what about the other bugs?  Warriors... well.  Unless you're charging them into a unit full of power fists, they're probably alright.  They're moderately durable, and have enough wounds to choke a donkey.  Although I wouldn't mind them getting a little nastier in assault without having to pay out the slathering, drippy nose for bone swords and lash whips.

Monstrous Creatures?  As much as I'd like to see them stomp through forests willie-nillie without a care, the same thing is pretty true here.  For the most part, they're going to shrug off basic damage.  Yes, large groups of S8 ap2 weapons hurt, but they hurt everything.

Genestealers - here we have a conundrum.  This is a critter that actively relies on a high initiative to get the job done.  They've been toned down enough that they really don't stand out that much vs a lot of other combat units.  Harlequins have basically the same offensive stats, plus a slew of other special rules and abilities.  Basic assault marines tote guns, jet packs, and actual armor values.  'Stealers are also about the only Tyranid unit, in my mind, that *really* cares about overwatch.  Individual kills really hurt the unit.  They're not cheap like Gaunts, especially if you give them Toxin Sacs or the like to make their damage output (almost) match the older versions.  Charging into cover is a death sentence, as their defense is (supposedly) "kill the other unit first".

But still, are grenades the answer?  Maybe not.

'Stealers are, canonically, known to be whiplash fast and furious when it comes to combat - and when it comes to getting there.  They're renowned for their Space Hulk combat actions, where they will literally burst out of the walls/ceilings/floors and eat you dead. 
Kinda sounds like they should be pretty good at navigating a few trees, don't you think?

They could have "inhuman reflexes" that simply allow them to assault through difficult terrain without penalty... and while I don't want to hand this effect out everywhere, having a unit or two with a grenade lookalike is not necessarily a bad thing.  At the very least, an Initiative test to avoid the penalty would be fitting, I think.

As more rumors come to light, we'll see what direction our favorite gribblies will head toward.  They may all be batch-produced nigh clones, but at least they're clones of themselves, not more imperials.  Let's try to keep it that way, yeah?


  1. In the new book, Daemons lost even the few grenade options the previous Codex had (instead gaining the Khornecycle grenade-dispenser), but I've found it to be borderline irrelevant because of how much the meta changed.

    Charging at I1 sucks--when you're fighting something that can actually hurt you. When 80% of the playerbase was some flavor of Marines, sure, it was a big deal because even your average Marine can kill most stuff, and then you had Space Wolves and Grey Knights all over the place making things a hundred times worse. A unit of Grey Hunters could wreck a low-armored unit long before they got to attack, and any given unit of GK would kill practically anything else.

    But in 6th, MEQ is effectively extinct (for the time being) and everyone's relying on hyper-specialized units. Most units are either so violent in CC that they don't care about going at I1, or vice versa, so weak in CC that nobody cares about going at I1 against them.

    The only times in 6th I've seen grenades play a meaningful role is with Monstrous Creatures (Dreadknights/Daemon Princes) playing mutually-assured-destruction games against each other in area terrain in situations where whoever charges will lose due to the lack of grenades, so they just stare at each other.

    Any other time it's basically "oh no, these 5 Necron Warriors/3 Broadsides/10 Cultists get to swing at me before they die, what ever shall I do."

    Fragile, Initiative-dependent units (like Genestealers) obviously suffer the most without grenades, but hell--take the current Codex and tack grenades onto Genestealers for absolutely free and ask yourself if they'd be playable.

    Lack of grenades is not their problem in 6th; getting murdered long before they get anywhere near an assault is. Overwatch alone is enough to keep Genestealers firmly out of 40k in their current incarnation.

    1. Overwatch hurts them more than most bugs, but realistically you're 90% of the time going to be losing *a* guy - not fun, but that shouldn't be breaking the unit's combat capability anyway.

      Many miss the 4+ save that Stealers had access to - truth be told, I never took it anyway. I got used to using, and using successfully, Stealers with a 5+ save. Cover is still out there, and not hard to come by. The *real* problem is the mix of needing to utilize/hug cover on the way in (even during the assault, due to overwatch) and then having that need turn around and screw the pooch as they don't have the real durability to shrug off a round of Init 1. Not at their cost, anyway. As marines get cheaper and cheaper, having T4 just stops being that impressive, for their cost.

      All that said, I think Stealth would be a great rule for them to have as well - they're meant to be crafty scout-organisms, so let the rules reflect that a bit better.

      'Stealers definitely need a revamp. At the very least, if Ymgarls in their current state become troops (as an X-point upgrade) then I'd start running them regularly... they're expensive, but they at least get the job done.

  2. With Tau on the scene, I'm not sure where that *a* guy statistic is coming from for genestealers. Especially if they are under the influence of the Mo Shots Ethereal power. And any unit under the effects of Foreboding (full BS on overwatch in case I forgot the power name) will also mince them. Overwatch means either lots of wounds or lots of bodies to make assault work, and genestealers have neither now.

    1. That's where the "90%" comment comes in. Tau, what with their supporting overwatch and potential heavy bolter profile are the main exception. Of course, they crumple extra hard in comparison, so it does, at least, take less making it in to count.

      As for Foreboding... yes, it's there. I've yet to play against it actually. I guess Tau would be making the best use out of it, as putting a Seer with (hopefully) that power in a blob would make that blob just mean to assault. But at least that's still Tau, which you expect actual overwatch-pain from.

      Agreed on the 'Stealers though... between overwatch and I1 on enough charges to really matter, they've been shelved since 6th hit.

  3. I almost always ran atleast one squad of stealers with 4+ and flesh hooks to lead the assault. I miss those days.

    But assault grenades are not the biggest issue. It is many little things like no longer assaulting out of reserves. No longer having null deployment, prevalence of interceptor and ignores cover. The addition of random charge length and overwatch. Etc...

    Tyranids are going to need some big changes in order to work in this new environment, and honestly I'm not that hopeful.
    If you want a good look into what will change, look at the apoc formations. Things that currently seems useless or too powerfull will change. Non scattering mawloc blasts, genestealers appearing like lictors, etc.

  4. My Tyranid wish list:

    Allow more upgrades for a 2+ save

    More 12" movement

    More independent characters

    Did I say 2+ save?

  5. Dead on, Justin. Exactly right!

  6. I agree with what you are saying Foodie. I have found that in 6e, grenades and terrain really don't play a major part in my Nid invasion. Overwhelming odds or precision/priority CC assaults help mitigate the 'disadvantage of no grenades'.
    Use the CC mechanic to your advantage, pile in moves help you out as a Nid player.
    Reroll your charge distance with Fleet if you only need 6" instead of the 10" rolled.
    Lead the assault with 2 or 3 models and not the bulk of the unit to isolate the lone 1 or 2 guys outside of terrain.
    Tarpit a unit to assault them next turn with what you really wanted to use to kill them and ignore the terrain init penalty.

    I am looking forward to the new dex but am wishing for more units with a bump in init and don't really care about the grenades.

  7. You can also use pinning weapons and the Telepathy Psychic Power to remove the initiative penalty. Alternately, you can up expendable units to lock a unit in a previous turn, and then charge those locked units for no Initiative penalty on the following turn. Lictors, Carnifexen, Rippers, all make great shock-assault.


out dang bot!

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