In the last post I talked about some neat tricks on posing miniatures to achieve a more realistic look, as well as showcasing my counts as Colonel ‘Ironhand’ Straken. The named characters of the current guard codex are a controversial temptation since they all bring some interesting tweaks on how you can tailor your list, but at the same time most of them are vastly over-priced for what they bring. In the end, sadly, there’s only ever a choice between Pask and Yarrick when it comes to competitive play. There are numerous articles online which all in one way or the other review special character tactics, and they do it well, as the book has a couple of years on it’s neck. In this article, I’d like to shed some new light on the old Gung-Ho Colonel, in order to show you how he can fill an important role that some guard armies lack.
Let’s talk pricing and the ideology of commanders.
The first thing you’ll notice when looking through the special characters of the Astra Mili-what-now Codex is that most of them are fielded either as upgrades to your company commander, or function as add-ons within his/her command squad. This will effect the overall points-vs-efficiency calculation in your army in two negative ways, and I’m not really sure which one is the lesser of evils. First of all you have to pay sort of a “command squad tax” before even being allowed to field your character of choice, and we all know how gamers feel about paying taxes when trying to optimize lists. Second, it makes your beloved named warlord (not being independent) vulnerable to giving up Slay the warlord all too easy as you’re only allowed to make ‘look out sir’-rolls on a 4+ rather than a 2+. Not being able to attach him to (or leave) what ever unit you want is also a huge drawback for the commander as it limits his synergies whithin the army! On a last note, the primary function of the command squad should always be orders – everything else is just icing on the cake.
Just by fielding Straken you will increase the price of your command squad to a total of 190 points stock. And that’s A LOT of points that could be spent on dakka elsewhere in the army. Instead of paying for Straken you could have gotten two Wyverns, twenty additional veterans, or even one of the cheaper Leman Russes. Guess which is deadlier!? But let’ say you’re fielding him for the role he could play in a specific army, which I will get back to further on. I wouldn’t recommend buying any upgrades for the squad unless your going for some sort of “deathstar” thing with other allied combat characters, but then again, you don’t play guard because you love melee do you? Since Straken makes the squad Relentless it’s tempting to also add a weapons team or a handfull of plasmagunz to give the enemy a proper volley before charging your cyber-gorilla into combat. But the more of a threat you turn this unit into, the more fire they will attract so I think it’s better to just use the bodyguards as meatshields instead. Adding a medic is a nice way of increasing his survivability but I would only ever pay for the medpack if I could find the extra 15 points. And I rarely seem to.
Bang for your buck.
Looking at Straken’s statline we can all agree that he definitely brings more stability to the HQ choice of a guard army than a regular commander. With a Toughness of 4 and his cyber-enhanced 3+ save body he’ll be a lot harder to take out than the average Joe. An additional point of toughness doesn’t seem that much at first glance, but it is what separates him from the rest of your instantly killed commanders after taking an autocannon shot to the leg. In most cases he’ll get to save against mid strenght weaponry, where regular commanders only gets one chance of sticking a 5++, which means you don’t have to hide from all of your opponent’s units. For some reason he brings both a plasma pistol and a shotgun to the battlefield, if anyone of you can figure out a single situation when it is better to use the latter you’ll win a random bit from my secret bitz box!
Straken’s home is in the middle of the heat where he can punch as many enemies of the Imperium as possible, as he, his squad and every friendly guard unit within 6″ of him gains both the counter-attack and furious charge special rules. Since he basically strikes with a powerfist (strength 6 ap 2) at his Initiative step of 3 he’ll give any unwieldy fighters a hard time before they can hit back. Who’s the TERMINATOR now?! Whether he assaults or not, that’s five attacks that will punch through terminator armor as long as said enemy forgot their powershield at home. And if the need ever arise, you can switch your attacks for a single strength 10 donkey punch with the smash ability. If you do get to assault, Straken strikes at strength 7 which is a nice way of threatening already wounded monsters or nearby vehicles. Don’t forget that Straken is a monster hunter – even though I doubt he’ll stand a chance in a fair fight against a Daemon prince or Hive Tyrant – but who said that you should fight fairly? The downside of all this non-human obsession with close combat is that Straken always has to issue and accept challenges so be careful of being baited into either dangerous challenges (mind the Striking Scorpion Exarch!) or being fed unworthy unit champions.
So why would I field Colonel Straken, given that he cost too much and that he is a melee oriented oddball in a shooty army? The answer is simple: In most of my games I always seem to suffer from not being able to counter certain close combat threats in the late game turns. I’m not saying that he’ll save me from a pack of Khorne Fleshhounds or a pumped up unit of Thunderwolf Cavalry. Because he won’t. Period. What I mean is his role of bolstering some of my units’ ability to fend off annoying MSU-lists that aim to tie up scoring units in the late game. With Straken yelling over their shoulders, two units of veterans advancing on a flank can fight back after being assaulted by scout marines or tyranid gargoyles for example. Since I don’t like playing the gunline, my list is built around pushing several units of veterans around to secure objectives while manouvering my flyer transport, setting up deep striking units, and reserves for the late game grab. Fire support comes in the form of specialized aircraft, tauros vehicles, and sentinels – the rest is just massed infantry with a lot of special weapons. And their worst nightmare is 6 ork boyz assaulting them before they get into position. By covering their advance with Straken’s “bubble” my veterans will always count as assaulting even if being assaulted, and when they really need to pull off an assault they will strike at +1 Strength too! You could argue that the more cost effective way of turning veterans into decent close combat fighters is adding powerweapons to sergeants and attaching commissars or independent inquisitors. And it probably is! But Straken himself is cooler than any of that and I doubt that he’ll dissapoint me when an opportunity to punch some terminators or their counterpart comes around. Plus, imagine shoving a combined platoon full of poweraxes and priests, or even a dirt cheep conscript platoon, with 100 rerollable strenght 4 attacks into your opponents shiny face? Pure imperial beauty. Not to mention what a squad of Ogryns with furious charge, counter-attack, and a handfull of crowbars will do to anybody that dare to come near the colonel.