Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Steel Brain vol 1: Team Building - Weaknesses And Why They Don't Matter

Good evening players, and happy Red Stuff And Hearts day. This one's for the lovers, or the crazed dismemberers, as you prefer. Today we're looking at building your team, and why you shouldn't worry about what it can't do, but instead should focus on what it can do better.

You're Expecting Too Much

Heralds of Ruin Kill Team is truly a game for all-rounders. The day before, your band of miscreants had to take down a rampaging monster the size of a battle tank, taking care to outwit the Grey Knight Terminators as well, and now you're sneaking through a city on the verge of civil breakdown, fighting local gangs and the opposing swarm of cultists all at once. And now there's a live nuke/Gellar field breach/zombie infestation to deal with. Fantastic.

With a 250 point limit for most games, how are you supposed to make sure your team can cope with these varied challenges?

The key, is balancing specific strengths against an all-purpose playstyle. You need to be able to take on anything, but if you build too general-purpose a team you won't be good enough at doing a particular thing to win at all. You need to decide what you want to be good at, and be really good at it, but without investing so much in that thing that you can't cope should a situation call for a different approach. 

That's not an easy task without experience, but we can and will break it down. Beneath the foam art of bewildering choice awaits the hot latte of truth.

Finding Your Keynote Killer

Picking a unit to build the team around is a very good start. For this exploration, we'll start with your Team Leader. The Leader is usually a decent place to start because, to some extent, your choice here will open up some options and shut off others. Often it will influence your Core choices, perhaps allowing certain Special models to be taken as Core or access to greater numbers of a certain unit, and will almost certainly count towards one or more weapon/wargear allowances.

Let's build two teams at once, just for a laugh. We'll choose a Craftworld Eldar Warlock Skyrunner and a Chaos Daemon Changecaster. 

Once you know what kind of leader you have, you've got a better idea what the team will be doing. At this point, you've just chosen the Leader unit with basic wargear. Shiny bits come later! 

Our Skyrunner is a fast-moving unit capable of boosting pretty much any element of her team, be it speed, survivability or lethality, with psychic might. Her jetbike gets her where she needs to be quickly, and she's on the expensive side. She'll therefore need some measure of protection, and some powerful units that her magic can turn into absolute monsters. With only one power per game though, we'd better choose carefully. 

Our Changecaster is a Psyker too. It's slower, with three powers in hand compared to the Skyrunner's one, but still only casts one per turn. It's not as tough, but has a better invulnerable save. The combination of infantry speed and a good choice of powers makes this Leader ideally placed for hanging back and controlling the state of the board.

Cleared For Takeoff

Now we're moving! Our craftworld team could still be about a few different things at this point, but let's commit to something and take some more jetbikes. This is going to look sweet. Rule of Cool is definitely a big part of roster building. A quick look at the Windrider and Shining Spear entries shows we're limited to a maximum of 3 of each, and that Saim-Hann Windriders have better weapon access. Hold that thought. 

We don't yet appear to have a specialty, besides incredible speed which helps with objective grabs if the mission calls for that. Not all of them do, so that's not good enough. Let's say what we really want is a solid Alpha Strike list. For my money, that's Shining Spears and the Quicken/Restrain power (heavy emphasis on Quicken). 

So - Warlock Skyrunner + 3 Shining Spears, not forgetting wargear, comes to 178 points. We're looking at 10 T4 Wounds and a devastating laser lance charge which, thanks to Quicken, is almost certainly going to happen in turn 1. (By the way, why not Shining Spear Exarch? In short, Expert Hunter is useless in HoR outside of specific scenarios and the psychic power of the Skyrunner is well worth the extra points.) 

What Is It Good For?

Back to the Daemons for a minute. Our Changecaster isn't going to be moving much, so why not take advantage of that to boost its Daemonic Rituals?  We've got some Armoury items to do the business, and I'm going to ignore my own advice and pick two of those right away: the Well of the Warp and the Transpicuous Orb. The Well allows us to dictate the ebb and flow of our own forces, as any daemons arriving on the battlefield can choose to climb from its depths. The Orb is a great late-game tool for bringing reinforcements when they're needed most. 

At 98 points, that's quite enough on the Leader. Or is it? For a mere 2 points more, we fill the requirements for Herohammer and get another Tactical Point. Why not. The Staff of Change takes it to 103 and gives Smite the range of a boltgun. Not bad.  

Now we need some backup! Our Leader is a Locus of Tzeentch, but isn't likely to be too close to any combat, so that probably won't matter. For a cheap, fast moving, extremely threatening backbone to this team, I humbly present the Daemonette. 7 points a piece. Let's take 10. 15 is tempting for the Flurry of Claws ability, but keeping all 15 alive long enough for it to work is unlikely, and therefore something of a waste. An Icon works extremely well with the Well (well, well...) and an Instrument keeps them moving as they should.  That brings us to 198 points. 

Craftworld Would Be A Great Name For A Yarn Shop

Our Craftworld team now fulfils our first condition nicely; it's really good at a melee-focused alpha strike. Such clear strength comes with a clear weakness, namely a low body count and next to no ranged firepower. We also have no Core units, which is a problem. Now's the time to think about which Craftworld we might be from. Saim-Hann is the obvious choice, as either the Opus or Codex trait would serve them well, but you might think about Il-Kaithe to get some Imperial Core choices (only three though, so this probably isn't the way to go) or Malan'tai Before The Doom for a 36" Turn 1 move for all your jetbikes, assuming Quicken goes off. 

We don't really need another 2" of movement, though Malan'tai's Seize ability is nice, and I don't want to dig into yet another Opus, so we'll go Saim-Hann, Opus flavour. Being able to forego fall back + shoot for fall back + charge fits the Spears beautifully. It also allows us to take a single Windrider as a Core choice and give it a Shuriken Cannon. Since we're not using the Codex trait, the Scatter Laser would be hitting on 4+, which isn't really good enough for a team this small. There's some thematic ranged power for you, anyway. 206 points total. Let's finish this off. 

At this point we're looking to further bolster our strength or mitigate weaknesses, and it's a good time to look at the Armoury and Tactical Actions available to us. Our Warlock won't be seeing much combat, ideally, so the Leader Only relics aren't for us. As our bikes are likely to run close together for maximum psychic power impact, avoiding Nerve tests would be good, so the Runes of War are a sensible choice. 

Since the Runes extend as far as our Warlock's Inspiring Presence, it makes sense to make that bigger with an Autarch's Seal, and finally buy a single Ranger.

The threat of even one sniper on the board shouldn't be underestimated and can play havoc with your opponent's plans for their Leader. We'll return to sum up the Eldar in a minute, but first, Daemons.

The Daemon Is In The Details

Our Daemon team is looking a bit weird at the moment, with a sizeable melee force and a Leader who's up to the task of buffing, killing and most importantly, summoning reinforcements, but isn't particularly scary in its own right. They're still very vulnerable to sit-and-shoot teams, as are all Daemon teams, so let's see what we can do about it with our remaining points.

Two bases of Nurglings can put early pressure on an enemy, deploying right on their doorstep and maybe even getting some lucky charges. These 36 points are strictly sacrificial, and their value should be counted in enemy shots that don't find your other models! 16 points remain to us. We could throw another two lesser Daemon bodies into the mix, or peep at the Armoury again. The Localised Warp Storm looks good - a single turn of protection from shooting will make your opponents think twice about attacking your Leader, and give his plans time to come to fruition. Most factions have access to this in some form (smoke grenades) but few can wield it with no downsides like a firepower-devoid Daemon team can. Add a single Pink Horror for some tricksy business, and we're done!

Now let's look at what we've come up with.



Warlock Skyrunner (85)
Autarch's Seal (10)
Runes Of War (5) 
Quicken/Restrain (obviously you should choose the right power for the game, but this will serve you well most of the time)


Windrider (23)
Shuriken Cannon (10)

Ranger (20) 


Shining Spear
Shining Spear
Shining Spear (93)


Tactical Points: 4

Destined for Greatness +1
Death and Diversity +1 (this one is incredibly easy for Craftworlders to get)
Herohammer +1 
Philosophy: The Skeins of Fate +1 (This is just a suggestion, of course. 4TP with the ability to regain 1 or 2 is pretty decent, but this team shouldn't require a lot of rerolls or shenanigans like some others do) 

Battle Plan

Warlock, Spears and Windrider should deploy forward and hidden where possible, and ensure the 3" area of effect on Quicken catches all of them. Move aggressively, cast Quicken to catch everyone. Reroll as needed, it's important this power works! The Spears move again for the charge, the Windrider and Warlock may go where they need to to find appropriate targets/provide the Distortion Field buff. 

Ranger and Windrider should prioritise targets to facilitate the Spears' charge - try to trigger Nerve tests, remove strong auto-hitting weapons, etc. A well-aimed initial charge should remove the head of the enemy team and leave them fighting to catch up, while your Wild Host can essentially do as it pleases even after falling back from a combat.



Changecaster (78)
Staff of Change (5)
Well of the Warp (10)
Transpicuous Orb (10)
Localised Warp Storm (8)
Bolt of Change, Gaze of Fate, Smite

10 x Daemonette (70)
Icon and Instrument (25)

2 x Nurgling Swarm (36)

Pink Horror (7)


Tactical points: 6

Destined for Greatness +1
Mind the Boat +1
Herohammer +1
Death and Diversity +1 
Philosophy: Keep Them Guessing +2 (we've really tried to maximise our TP here, as you'll see)

Battle Plan

Nurglings set up to Make Mischief. Daemonettes take forward positions but cover where possible. They're fast but fragile. The Changecaster should be fairly far forward and as hidden as possible, with the Pink Horror 6" behind it and able to keep up. 

The Nurglings and Daemonettes have very obvious roles here, so I won't labour that. The little Tzeentchian duo have some tricks up their many sleeves though. Observe...

Turn 1. Both the Changecaster and Pink Horror move forward as fast as they can while remaining 1. Out of danger and 2. Within 6" of each other. Surge of Unreality (2TP) can be useful here. Psychic powers as neccessary. No Ritual. Consider using the Localised Warp Storm.

Turn 2. Get the Changecaster into a good position to drop the Well - look for objectives, enemy spawn points or weak flanks. Move the Pink Horror to prepare for Turn 3, and keep it within 6" of the Changecaster. No Ritual. Another good time for the Localised Warp Storm if you didn't use it yet. 

Turn 3. Use Devious Deviants (2TP) to switch the positions of the Horror and Changecaster to bring the Leader to safety. This isn't a Move and does not prevent a Ritual being attempted. At this point you ideally want to be attempting a Ritual every turn, using the Orb on a later turn to minimise the risk of a waste, and the Incursion Instigator action (1TP) at a key time if needed. 

Your Daemonettes and Nurglings will be doing their thing by now, your enemies concerned with them, and you can continue to build your board presence with Rituals and Bolts of Change to bring in as many reinforcements as you can. It's a far less reliable and obviously powerful strategy than the Saim-Hann one, admittedly, but after playing it a couple of times most opponents will still be at a loss as to how to counter it, and teams with such good board control led by such an optimised Leader are rare indeed.


Hopefully I've managed to show how a team doesn't have to be good at everything to succeed. A fast Aeldari team largely without fire support can mitigate that weakness by playing even more into its strengths, to ensure the enemy isn't at range for long. A numerous but fragile Daemon team can play to its strengths by tying up the enemy with numbers and distractions while it reinforces itself.

By contrast, a smaller team of tougher daemons without that ability would probably give a mediocre performance at best, while an Eldar team that tries to compete in all arenas of battle might outclass its opponents in individual duels, but would soon find itself brought down by weight of dice. By throwing most of its points into doing outstandingly what it can already do quite well, a team takes on a power and a narrative that outstrips any typical jack-of-all-trades enemy and feels awesome to play.

Join us next time (whenever I find the right combination of coffee and spare time) for a look at optimising your team's growth in a campaign!