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Tanks ‘R’ Us: A Spearhead Primer  by Patrick Eibel
Unless you have been living under a rock recently, you may have heard that Games Workshop recently released a new gaming supplement called Spearhead.  The Spearhead supplement was unusual in that the rules were released in the pages of White Dwarf magazine (making for the first issue worth buying in three years) with supplemental materials available online.  If you are unsure whether you should bother with Spearhead or not, you might want to read this primer and see what all of the fuss is about to help you decide.

What Is Spearhead?
In 2007, Games Workshop released the Apocalypse supplement, which fundamentally changed how you could field an army for a game of 40K.  Players rushed out to get tanks, superheavies, and any ugly unit that was restricted under the more rigid rules of regular Warhammer 40K.  Players were happy because Apocalypse games tended to be unhinged fun.  GW was happy because they were selling more product.  The problem was that Apocalypse games tended to be longer to run than a regular game (just from sheer volume of miniatures alone) and after awhile, good players would manage to pull a tie regardless of what was on the table (not counting the presence of any “D” weapons).  Just look at the Jungle as an example. In the three years since its release, we have run two Apocalypse games with a third scheduled for this year.  One Apocalypse game per year is not what GW had in mind to get you to play more (and buy more).

So, now we have Spearhead, or as I like to call it “Apocalypse Light.”  Spearhead has more structure than Apocalypse while still allowing a player to field as many tanks as their heart desires.  Oh, sure, you can field your regular army under the Spearhead rules, but that would be like bringing a knife to a gun fight.  Spearhead is all about the vehicles.  With the average tank kit starting at $50 to $60, Spearhead encourages you to field as many tanks as you can and even allows for one Super Heavy unit.  Anybody want a $90 Baneblade or Gargant? 

Who Can Play Spearhead?
Well, anybody can play, but let’s be real, certain armies have access to more tank-killing tanks than other armies.  Obviously, Spearhead is an Imperial Guard players wet dream.  You get to field all of those wonderful Leman Russ variants, Manticores, Basilisks, Medusae, and any other tank you want without having to waste points on anything fleshy.  Booyah!  The question is, can any other army compete with the Guard?  I will offer some suggestions and then we will try a demo game to find out. 

Certainly Space Marines of all types can field a bit of mobile fire power (Land Raiders, Annihilators, Vindicators, Dreadnoughts, and Speeders with multi-meltas).  Chaos Space Marines get all the ones Marines get (minus Speeders, but plus Defilers).  Eldar have Fire Prisms and Falcons, lance weapons, and Fire Dragons in Wave Serpents.  Tau have Hammerheads, Broadsides, Piranhas with fusion blasters, and Crisis Suits. 

And that’s it.  Necrons have the Monolith, but do you have more than two? No? Then don’t even bother.  Sisters have Exorcists and little else in ranged weaponry.  Daemonhunters have Land Raiders and Dreadnoughts, but not much else.  Tyranids get a Monstrous Creature Spearhead unit and all the new anti-tank guns from the new codex, and might even eke out the occasional win, but man, it would be tough.  Orks have problems with tanks in regular games, and unless they trot out a Gargant, will have even more problems in Spearhead (again not impossible, but not likely).  We won’t even discuss Dark Eldar, and since a new codex will be out by the end of the year, anything we said would be moot anyway.  So, basically you have a supplement for five armies (including the aforementioned Guard), and one of them is far superior to all the others in terms of the choices they can bring to the table.  Is this really worth it?  Let’s find out.

Tau vs Imperial Guard Spearhead Demo
Now, before we get started, there will be those who will point out that the idea behind Spearhead is to go out and buy additional tanks and units to make your army viable for the new rule set.  Child, please.  I might pick up one or two tanks for the occasional game, but picking up six or seven Fire Prisms just to play a Spearhead (or even Apocalypse) game is not happening. The armies I have selected for this demo are drawn from my actual figures and based on what I thought would be viable under the rules.  Here are the 2,000 point lists:

Imperial Guard “Tank Me Out To The Ballgame” Spearhead

  • Outrider Spearhead  (hits on main tank may be intercepted): Armored Sentinal Squadron (2) w/ lascannon; Devil Dog w/ extra armor, hull mounted multi-melta
  • Armored Spearhead  (5+ invulnerable save): Leman Russ w/ heavy bolter sponsons & hull, extra armor; Leman Russ Exterminator w/ heavy bolter sponsons & hull, heavy stubber, and extra armor; Leman Russ Executioner w/ plasma cannon sponsons, heavy flamer hull, extra armor
  • Tank Hunter Spearhead  (tank hunter ability): 2 Demolishers w/ lascannon hull, extra armor
  • Super Heavy Spearhead:  Baneblade
Tau “Spank Me, Daddy” Spearhead
  • Shas’o Commander  w/ plasma rifle, missile pod, HW multitracker
  • Two  Bodyguards  w/ plasma rifle, missile pod, HW multitracker
  • Two squads of 4 Pathfinders w/ Devilfish w/ disruption pod
  • Two  Broadsides
  • Mechanized Assault Spearhead: three squads of 12 Fire Warriors each; leader w/ bonding knife, all w/ EMP grenades in Devilfish w/ d-pod
  • Tank Hunter Spearhead: three Hammerheads w/ railguns, d-pods

The board, set up for playtesting the new Spearhead rules

Game Set-up
The game was played on my 4' x 8' table, which was set up for the new Auros IX campaign, so you will get to see a lot of that scenery over the next few months.  I rolled for the mission and got "Vital Ground" with the "Counterattack" deployment.  For the primary objective (worth three points), I put a counter in the middle of the landing pod on one side of the board.  The three minor objectives (one point each) were represented by cardboard Necromunda generators, which were scattered around the other side of the board. 

The landing pad, with the primary objective

The Imperial Guard won the roll to set up first and chose the side with the primary objective. I put the Baneblade in reserve (super heavies that start on the board get an automatic penetrating hit), and put the tanks on either side of the objective with the Sentinels holding the counter actually on the landing pod (the Devil Dog was parked nearby). 

Imperial Guard deployment, with tape marking off the boundaries

The Tau set up the Hammerheads and Broadsides on a large hill on the opposite side of the board.  The Pathfinders (my guys are riding Cold Ones because I think it looks neat) used their Devilfish and Scout move to each get into cover by the other two objectives.  The Tau did not seize the initiative, and with that we were off.

Tau deployment

Turn One
All of the Guard tanks move 12" forward.  The Demolishers try to fire on the Pathfinders on the right (from the Guard POV), but were still out of range.  Remember kids, Spearheads can move up to cruising speed and can use one more gun than they would normally, so 12" movement yields one shot.  The Spearhead of Russ variants fires on the other Pathfinder unit and kills one with a heavy bolter shot. The Sentinels fare better and knock the gun off the lead Hammerhead.

The Mechanised Assault Spearhead comes in right behind the Demolishers (gotta love Turn One reserves), and the three Devilfish combine to destroy one of the tanks and shake the other by shooting at their rear armor.  The Broadsides try and take out the Sentinels, but the 3+ save the walkers got from being in the pod saved them.  The Sentinels also save versus a salvo from the two remaining armed Hammerheads.  Turn One done with not too much fanfare.

The Tau get in some early hits...but isn't that a Baneblade moving on from reserves? Why, yes, I'm afraid it is

Turn Two
The shaken Demolisher moves 12" forward to try and get some cover from the building, but does not quite make it.  The Armored Russ Spearhead moves 6" to try and get two shots off per tank.  The Baneblade lumbers on from the back edge and faces off against the Tau Devilfish – not really a fair fight.  In the Shooting Phase, the Sentinels glance and shake a Hammerhead (I of course placed the result on the gunless, yet still mobile Hammerhead).  The Russ Spearhead fires their primary guns at the Hammerheads, getting no penetrations, and fires their secondary weapons at the Pathfinders on the Guard left flank, killing two.  The Devil Dog misses one of the Mechanised Assault Devilfish, but the Baneblade more than makes up for it by destroying two Devilfish, shaking the third, and killing three Fire Warriors.  Clearly a force to be reckoned with.

The Shas’o and his Bodyguard Deep Strike behind the Russ Spearhead. The shaken Devilfish drops off its Fire Warrior unit right behind the landing pad.  Pathfinders get two Markerlight hits on the Sentinels, which the disembarked Fire Warriors use to raise their Ballistic Skill and shoot the Sentinels.  Facing 2 glancing and 1 penetrating hit, the Sentinels saved all but one, which was enough to destroy one Sentinel. The Broadsides knock the lascannon off the other one.  The Hammerheads shake the surviving Demolisher.  The Commander and Bodyguard unload with plasma rifles (two shots each at close range) and missile pods at the rear armor of the Russ Spearhead, and manage to knock out the Executioner cannon and twin-linked autocannon, and shake the last Russ.  A 5+ cover save doesn’t get you much, I guess, as the tanks only ignored one hit. 

Pathfinders in action

Turn Three 
The Guard tanks move to better position and any that can open fire.  The Executioner kills a Broadside with a plasma cannon shot.  The remaining Sentinel and the Devil Dog kill the Crisis Suit Bodyguard.  The Baneblade continues its destruction, wounding 13 Fire Wires in two squads, but only killing 6 due to cover saves.  The Baneblade also shakes the last Devilfish with a lascannon shot.  Both Fire Warrior squads make their morale checks and hang tight.

The Pathfinders place one Markerlight on the Russ Spearhead, and the last Broadside uses it to knock out the battle bannon from the regular Leman Russ.  The Fire Warriors near the Landing Pod get four penetrating hits on the Devil Dog and destroy the meltacannon.  The Commander fires on the Sentinel, to no avail.  The Fire Warriors lurking by the Baneblade assault the super heavy tank and use their EMP grenades to destroy the baneblade cannon, shake the battle cannon, damage the drive shaft, and shake the driver (losing one weapon for a round). 

Turn Four
The Demolisher moves forward and fires at the Pathfinders, but misses with both its lascannon and demolisher cannon.  The regular Russ fails to kill the Broadside, but the Exterminator uses its second shot to wipe out the last Pathfinder on that side.  The Executioner fails to do anything to the Hammerheads with a plasma cannon shot.  The Sentinel misses the Tau Commander.  The Baneblade kills seven more Fire Warriors in two different squads, but the survivors still hold fast. 

The Broadside takes out the demolisher cannon on the Demolisher.  The three surviving Devilfish move behind the Russ Spearhead, but fail to do any damage.  The Hammerheads shake the Executioner, but the Russ makes its save.  The Commander immobilizes and takes the weapon off the Sentinel, and the Fire Warrior Squad that had moved into the pod finishes it off.  EMP grenades against the Baneblade knock out the battle cannon, and shake the heavy bolter near the Fire Warrior squad.

Turn Five
The Shas’o, who had moved up into the landing pod, saves against a wound from the Devil Dog.  The Baneblade manages to kill two more Fire Warriors, one in the unit assaulting it and one on the objective, but both units continue to hold.

Any available Tau gun tries to hurt the Russ Spearhead, but only a lucky Devilfish shot succeeds in shaking the Exterminator.  Fire Warrior EMP grenades stun the driver of the Baneblade again, continuing to silence the heavy bolter facing the squad.

Turn Six
The dice decreed the game continue, and the Guard finally get into gear.  The Russ Spearhead wipes out the remaining Pathfinders (not that they were doing all that much), and the Executioner tries to use its second shot to take down the Broadside, but the suit makes a cover save.  The Devil Dog once again fails to kill the Shas’o.  The Baneblade kills three Fire Warriors in the squad near it and three on the objective: the squad in assault is wiped out, but the squad on the objective stays put, earning the nickname “the tenacious Tau.” The Tau fire any guns available at various targets, and fail to do anything.

Turn Seven
The dice decree more extra innings, and the Tau try to make the most of it.  The Devil Dog drives under the landing platform to try and claim the 3-point objective.  The Exterminator hits the Broadside five times with heavy bolter shots, which it saves against just fine, but the regular Russ manages to place one wound on the Broadside from its heavy bolters.  The Baneblade kills enough of the Fire Warriors on the objective that they finally break and run, and the Baneblade immobilizes a Devilfish for good measure.

The fleeing Fire Warriors rally (thank you, bonding knife), but are in no position to be a factor.  The Shas’o and all three Devilfish maneuver to get shots on the rear of the Devil Dog (the immobilized Devilfish was already in position).  The Shas’o manages to get a destroyed result with a plasma rifle and the game ends.

At the end of the game, the Imperial Guard controlled one minor objective with the Executioner, the Tau controlled one minor objective with a Hammerhead, the last minor objective is contested between the Demolisher and a Hammerhead, and the primary objective was unclaimed as no unit was left within 3 inches of the token.  So, the game ends in a draw, but I have to say I am impressed with how the Tau fared, as I expected them to be wiped from the board.

The game was really a lot of fun and a lot closer than I thought it would be.  Getting to use the Baneblade in something other than an Apocalypse-sized battle was totally worth it.  One thing I noticed is how quickly things moved without prolonged close combats to bog things down.  While I don’t think Spearhead will replace regular 40K any time soon, I do think it is a fun change of pace to get to play with so many tanks, and I would love to see a battle not involving Imperial Guard. 

If you are a player of one of the five viable armie, go ahead and try out a game: it is quicker than Apocalypse and really different from a regular game of 40K.  If you play Tyranids or Orks, you may want to take a pass.  If you play any of the other armies, you should be more concerned about getting a new codex for your army and not bother with this silliness. 

Posted July 2010. White Dwarf image copyright 2010 by Games Workshop


Fighting Tigers:
Codex <> Tactics <> Gallery <> Allies and Enemies <> Tales of the Tigers

Other Pages:
Main <> What's New <> Site Index <> The Tiger Roars <> Themed Army Ideas
Events and Battle Reports <> Campaigns <> Terrain <> FAQ <> Beyond the Jungle