Wednesday, December 8, 2010
Chaos and Suppression Fire
I’ve been loitering around 3++ a lot these last few months and have generally found their tactical articles to be spot-on.
One concept in particular that they cover in some depth there is the idea of suppression fire in competitive lists. Basically, suppression fire in 40k consists of high volume, mid-strength shots (i.e., scatter lasers, Necron Destroyers, brain leech worms, etc) which are designed not to destroy armor, but to stun and damage it just long enough to disrupt the enemy’s plans and perhaps move troops towards/away from the enemy vehicle.
Sadly, suppression fire is another area in which the Chaos codex falls short. People have already touched on the fact that Chaos units are generally overcosted as compared to the 5th edition armies, as well as the fact that their ‘specialist’ units are a bit outclassed by their counterparts. Few, to my knowledge however, have touched on the lack of suppression fire most Chaos lists are able to throw out, and this is a significant shortcoming that deserves closer inspection.
So what types of suppression fire units does Chaos have? In short: missile launchers, blast masters, autocannons, Bolts of Change and plasma guns.
Now let’s look and see why these all problematic for Chaos.
Missile launcher: The units that can carry these are Havocs, CSM and Dreds. Dreds have some potential, as with mutlimeltas they can put out some decent S8, however without a solid FAQ ruling on their fire-frenzies, they can be a bit unreliable, IMO. CSM only have access to a launcher at 10 models strong, and even then you’re only getting one. This is quite expensive and not really ‘suppressive’ due to a lack of shots. Havocs can take four, so they have a real chance at putting out some fire here, however going this route means you have to sacrifice a heavy slot (usually losing actual anti-tank options, such as Oblits or Preds). Plus, in order to get all four shooting, the Havocs need to be on foot. At almost 200 points (with a rhino and no ablative Havocs), this option is a big investment for what amounts to a stalling tactic.
Blast masters: Readers of my blog know I’ve run a few lists with these, but even I’ll confess they are not optimal. At 40 points, they are a very expensive missile launcher (with less accuracy) which basically requires the parent unit (also expensive at 20 points model) to sit still most of the game. While they can put the fear of god into elite infantry with their AP3, you basically have to couple them with sonic blasters and havoc launchers in order to get the volume of shots needed to reliably stun things.
Autocannons: The effectiveness of this weapon for suppression has been demonstrated by our non-spikey brethren, esp. with the now-popular rifle dreds. Unfortunately, they are not much of an option for Chaos (our dreds can’t take them for one thing). Havoc’s can have them, but being unable to split fire, you run into the same problem as launchers above. CSM can also take them, but again, the same tactical restriction applies as running CSM with a missile launcher. Preds can run them, but realistically these should be using a combo of AC/LC to work on priority or harder targets. Defilers have a TL Reaper AC, but to fire this you have to NOT fire the ordnance weapon, which is a difficult temptation to pass up, not to mention rather counterproductive (who designed, that one BTW…). Termies can also take a Reaper AC, and this is tempting, as they can shoot and move, however this too comes at a price. Chaos termies are generally used as either a suicide deep strike squad, in which case they are slinging combi-meltas and don’t need the AC, or they are in a raider and (likely) kitted out for assault, which will minimize the amount of shooting they will get with this 25 pt. weapon. Finally, Chosen have access to one AC, but with their ability to carry meltaguns and infiltrate they are better served either in a rhino or pushed forward in cover as an actual anti-tank option.
Bolt of Change: Need I really cover why this is a bad idea for suppression fire?
Plasma guns: Here is an interesting option that tells us a lot about how Chaos plays in 5th. Plasma guns are the closest thing Chaos has to reliable, massed suppression as they can be taken 2 to a CSM squad of 10, or with Chosen packing 4-5, with plague marines taking 2, or on oblits, and havocs. Notice a pattern here? Almost every netlist has some form of these, and with good reason: this is the only viable suppression fire Chaos has, and as result most competitive will have a couple of these units.
And while the plasma gun is undeniably useful, especially within 12”, here too there are limitations to be considered. With a range of 24”, the type of suppression a plasma squad throws down differs greatly from say a 36” scatter laser, or a 48” AC. Not only is Chaos suppression is shorter ranged, but it is often wielded by foot troops (unless you are pulling the 2-guns-out-the-rhino-hatch trick) with limited mobility. Whereas Eldar Vypers and Necron Destroyers can stun and escape, Tau missile pods come on jump infantry, Marines and IG can spam 48” ACs, etc., ‘suppression’ as it applies to Chaos still means your opponents are going to be left close to your troops when all is said and done. This means that in order to be truly effective, the fire must come from a unit which can also fight (i.e., tarpit like plaguemarines) or which has friends nearby to bail them out of an assault, and this contradicts the whole purpose of suppression fire in the first place – namely, throwing shots at units that you’d rather not deal with ‘right now’.
To wrap up this rather long-winded discussion, Chaos lists have a hard time bringing cheap suppression fire to bear on their opponents, and that which they can bring is often short-ranged enough to still leave you under threat of assault most of the time. I won’t make any sweeping conclusions as to whether this renders Chaos hopelessly undergunned for tourneys, but I will say that it is a big disadvantage, and it is something that every Chaos player is going to have to deal with if they wish to be competitive in their own circles.