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Guest Commentary: Da Orcboy Pays Up
Rating the 40K Army Lists: Necrons, Tyranids, Tau, and Kroot (Tenth of 11 articles) by Ken Lacy
Editor's Note: As a public service to his fellow gamers, Ken is analyzing each Warhammer 40K army on a number of factors and rating them (in a manner similar to Consumer Reports). Visit this page to read what criteria Ken uses.
This collection of army lists actually has some of the fewest ‘variants’, are pulled from very different sources (and three different codices) and thus have very little in common -- they're grouped together here by theme and for convenience’s sake, more than anything else. All these armies are very unusual, and have seen some drastic and dramatic changes since their first introduction to the 40K game: Rogue Trader (1st edition) for Tyranids, 2nd edition for Necrons, and 3rd edition for the Tau (and Kroot). However, they all serve a similar role in the 40K universe -- they are the truly alien of all the alien races, bearing the least resemblance to Warhammer’s early “Space Fantasy” feel with its Space Elves and Space Orks (and Space Dwarves, though the Squats are no longer with us), and each acting, in their own way, as another threat to the primary protagonists of the 40K universe, the Empire of Man.
Which is all to say that sometimes these Xenos races don’t always get as much ‘love’ as the favored alien races (Eldar, Orks), with fewer army variants, fewer models in the archives, a less established ‘feel’ to their backgrounds, etc. Think of it as an inability to keep up with the Joneses (or at least the Smif Klan and Craftworld Jan’sihn). Happily for them, however, these four Xenos races all feature relatively recent codices, and can’t really complain too much about the effect of ‘army creep’ on the relative power level of their army lists.
Well, not too much, anyway.
Fortunately, with their good skills (WS/BS) and high Leadership, Necrons have extremely reliable units, and their Marine-equivalent 3+ save and Toughness 4, combined with their “We’ll Be Back!” rule, make them one of the most resilient and durable army lists in the 40K game, capable of sucking up tremendous damage and coming out largely unaffected. They are also very straightforward to use, they don’t have many special units or gear, and have remarkably multipurpose basic weapons (Gauss guns), to boot.
In terms of their Primary Aptitudes, Necrons suffer from two main weaknesses: first, a relative lack of mobility, despite their excellent maneuverability -- Veils and Monoliths can mitigate some of this, but otherwise it’s a list full of footsloggers. They also have no special close-combat ability, apart from what characters and a few elite units can do. Their shooting, on the other hand, is their strength: it is accurate, can be fired on-the-move, and is capable of damaging virtually everything in the game. Only an overall lack of range and real Armor-Penetrating hitting power keeps them from rating higher in this regard.
The veteran “Tactical” gamer, on the other hand, will be frustrated by the monotony and uniformity of the army, as well as its tendency to turn every game (regardless of opponent, objective, or terrain) into a battle of attrition. With their weaknesses and strengths largely canceling out, this list rates as merely "average" among 40K lists.
That said, there are some downsides to the army list. As a ‘horde’ list, Tyranids can call for a LOT of miniatures, and the cost of that starts to add up (as does purchasing a much smaller, but no less pricey, Tyranid Monstrous Creature list). Even considering clever ‘discounts’ (like collecting a bunch of the “Battle for Macragge” sets), it’s a chunk of money. It’s also a righteous pain to transport a Tyranid army -- even the smallest Tyranid models are very bulky and oddly (alienly!) proportioned, and transporting a full painted army with care can call for multiple army cases, a full Army Transport box, etc. This is not a readily portable army, and even an all-TMC list fares little better.
Tyranids are also very tricksy. Although the 4e Codex lacks the crazy, sheer inventiveness of the 3e Codex’s custom species and custom hive fleets and custom mutations, there are still loads of bio-weapon and bio-gear options, and many devious ways to mix-and-match them. A canny player should be able to custom-breed any species he needs without too much fuss.
The Tyranids rate very well in Primary Aptitudes. True, they aren’t much of a ‘shooty’ threat, nor are they ever likely to be. But their ‘poor’ shooting is generally more than sufficient to harass and suppress the opponent long enough for the (very!) fast-moving hordes to pile on. Once in close combat, Tyranids have few equals, able both to swamp an opponent with waves of mediocre ‘fodder’, as well as to crush isolated characters and units with their nastier elites and Monstrous Creatures.
Fortunately for the Tau, they learn from their defeats, and the result was the updated “Tau Empire” Codex, with expanded army options, a wider array of weaponry and wargear, and a huge variety of new plastic kits and models.
They are neither terribly hard, nor terribly easy, to paint. Although Tau units feature nice, sharp lines and armored plates, the list also has Kroot and Vespid bodies, a variety of different destures, and a fair amount of detail even in the basic plastic kits. Fortunately, even their more complex multipiece kits fit together quite well, and with a minimum of fuss, once you account for things like the fragile ankles of Tau Crisis suit models.
The new models, plastic kits, and a huge and growing wealth of Forgeworld extras, all result in the Tau having a surprisingly decent range of models, bits, and customizability, particularly considering that they’re the newest army list in the 40K game. In some cases, they have a better selection than far more established army lists! At tournaments, it’s not uncommon to see Tau lists converted with bits from non-GW sources, such as anime bits and other “big robot” sets, like Gundam (for example) or Transformers, and the simple and straight lines of their plastic miniatures are relatively easily to convert in such fashion.
One Tau weakness is the reliability of their core units. The vast majority of Tau units have a WS/BS of 2/3, and top out at a unit Leadership of 8. Although there are some character and wargear options that can mitigate this, the Tau on the whole are a little more brittle than most of the lists in 40K.
Fortunately, the Tau themselves are reasonably durable, between their suits and their numerous (and low-PV) Fire Warriors with 4+ armor saves. Though not comparable to most Chaos or Marine lists, the Tau are still reasonable capable of absorbing a few heavy hits, and are no worse than “average” in this regard.
Tau weapons, and wargear, range from unusual to unique -- they ‘break’ many of the rules and expectations found in the Core Rules, giving the Tau list a distinctive style and flavor -- tricky for newer players to master, but available for more veteran players to exploit.
As for Primary Aptitudes, Tau cover the full spectrum. They are very maneuverable as an army list, but not terribly fast, resulting in their “average” rating here. Between the high strength and exceptional range of their basic Troops weapon (the pulse rifle), the array of very nasty heavy weapons they can field, and the sheer number of guns they can fit into a Cadre, the Tau are one of the shootiest lists in 40K, and are exceptional in this regard. Conversely, the Tau are very, very poor in melee, and have no effective assault or counter-assault units in their list: even the Kroot are hardly much better than the Tau they are aligned with. As a result, they rate “worst” for Assaults, being one of the worst close-combat armies in 40K.
They aren’t a bad list for a “n00b” or casual gamer, but do have several weaknesses to go with their few very clear advantages and strengths. Veteran players similarly will find the Tau to be attractive for their strengths, but will have to account for their weaknesses on the tabletop.
Ultimately the Tau now rate as an
"average" list for both ‘n00bs’ and veteran ‘Tactical’ gamers. The
new codex revision proved to be a real boon to Tau players, making the
list markedly stronger, and adding new units and models to the small but
growing line. With any luck, the Tau will be around for many editions
of 40K to come.
Kroot Mercenaries: Evolution
Unfortunately, as a Kroot player you are still reliant on the basic Kroot Warrior, the core unit of the list. Kroot are relatively mediocre, and even with a Leadership upgrade are pretty easily spooked. They’re also a Toughness 3 critter with no real armor to speak of, and die in droves to concentrated firepower or dedicated assault units. They’re not terribly durable units, and a few bad saves or Morale checks can quickly put paid to your most careful and cunning plans.
And the Kroot are tricky to use, too. Although just a few Chapter Approved pages may not seem like a lot, the different abilities and unit options interact in very unusual ways. Kroot don’t have any ‘normal’ high-firepower Heavy Support choices, for example, which means that they have to handle armored threats in very different and unusual ways. Learning how to accomplish this is tricky -- but once learned, it can bewilder many opponents, a real advantage for a practiced and veteran player.
In terms of their Primary Aptitudes, Kroot Mercenaries are, for all their weaknesses, a very well-balanced list. They have a decent mix of shootiness, though nothing amazing, and are reasonably mobile and maneuverable for a foot-slogging force (but are still, in the end, a slow footslogging army list). They are also surprisingly good in assaults, despite the frailties of individual Kroot; when backed by Shapers and assaulting en masse, the Kroot in a Kroot Mercenaries list really can pack a fair punch.
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