Friday, December 10, 2010

Weapons vs. Fists

Today I want to talk a little bit about the role of power swords vs. power fists in an army.  Lately I've seen a lot of lists with misplaced swords and fists, so I figured I'd give my take on it.  Some of it will hopefully make sense, though a lot of it likely has to do with personal preference.  Guess we'll see.

So, first I'll do a little comparison: (which is pretty simple, mundane stuff, really)


*Note that for the purposes of this article, I'm going to equate power claws as the same as power swords, since they reroll wounds, but don't get the extra attack.  Mathematically they're similar enough to be clumped into one thing, so that's what I'm doing*

Swords strike at the bearer's initiative and strength (duh).  A standard SM Sergeant with a power sword is going to get 4 attacks on the charge, and against T4, he's going to kill a single marine in combat (4 swings, 2 hit, 1 wound).  If he's charged, mathematically he'll do less than one wound/round.  Guard players need mass power weapons or Straken to actually be dependable.  More on that in a little bit.


Fists strike at I1, but do so at high strength.  They can threaten Dreadnoughts, tanks, and monstrous creatures as well.  If a sergeant charges into combat, he'll inflict an average of 1.26 wounds on the enemy (3 swings, 1.5 hit, 84% of them wound).  So, better output than a power weapon, but at lower I and higher cost.

What's that?  Everyone knew all this already?  Oh noes!  Alright, lets get into the meat of the article.

Power weapons/fists need to be taken with the context of the unit they're with.  Lots of times, people will give a Sergeant a power weapon because they don't know what to do with those extra 15 points they have, and it seems like a simple enough solution.  They don't bother to think that perhaps the points would be better spent, oh you know, on a combi-melta that will actually contribute or something.

Remember, we're looking for something that will add to the army in a positive, efficient way.

So, what do you expect your squad to be able to do?  If it's a tactical squad, what are they good for?  There are certainly some instances where tactical marines are good in combat, but against a good combat army, they generally don't last for more than a single round of combat.  In fact, against good combat armies, a single power weapon won't really put any sort of a dent in the opposition.  It'll at best make a break-even contribution.  Against armies that suck at combat and you want your marines to charge them, the power sword is oftentimes unneeded.

What about with Blood Angels?  Power swords are good with Blood Angels, right?  S5 I5 with lots of attacks, awesomesauce! The truth is (as with everything), sometimes it's good and sometimes not.  I often see people running a Sanguinary Priest rocking a Power weapon/claw.  WS5 makes them hit more often and S5 I5 power sounds good at least.  Let's look a little closer assuming it's a 10-person:

  • Squad itself gets 30 attacks, the priest gets 4
  • Squad does 10 wounds (15 hit, 10 wound), priest does  1.7
  • So, total of 12 wounds caused
The thing is, with wound allocation the way it is, those 2 wounds are going to be absorbed into some poor melta gun/flamer blighter, and your opponent is going to take regular saves on the rest of them.  The extra power attacks had a pretty negligible impact.  Even if the squad has less attacks (say, 25 if there are 2 meltas, and the sergeant has a fist), the squad will still cause about 9 wounds.  Put together with the two from the priest, 11 wounds will still allow room for wound allocation shenanigans.

I suppose that's why I don't like power weapons (in general) as much on dedicated combat units.  If the unit is going to be causing about 10 wounds in a round of combat at the same initiative, a single power weapon isn't going to have much of an impact, since wound allocation will provide a simple way out of it.

At the same time, this is why I like fists on combat units so much.  I actually like that fists strike at I1.  It means that whatever damage you caused with the rest of your squad is already in effect, and every single wound caused by the fist will have significance.  More bang for the buck, see? :)

Power weapons certainly still have their place in some lists, however.  Guard can take an obscene number of pw's in a single big blob squad, and because of the volume of attacks they put out, their attacks still have a huge impact on squads they're in combat with.  On Blood Angels, my example was for a 10-man assault squad.  5-man assault squads oftentimes won't do 10 wounds in combat however, taking a sword on the sergeant is oftentimes preferable to a fist (vs. T4 a pw will do 1.7 wounds on the charge vs. the 1.26 a fist does)
In lots of lists, a power weapon/fist doesn't add much at all.  A combi-flamer will cause more overall damage than a fist or power weapon many times, and it's cheaper.  The key is to know what to expect of your squad, and know their limitations/strengths.  Killing an extra marine can be huge, but you have to take it in the context of the overall picture.  If half the points you're paying are being wasted, it isn't being put to good use.

I'm of the opinion that generally speaking, single power weapons that strike at the same initiative as the majority of the squad are an inefficient use of points- this still leaves room for ICs with higher initiative (i.e. most characters) to have 'meaningful' attacks.  The key here is initiative.  Half the reason my wolfstar works so well is that one guy hits, then a few more hit, then the hammers hit.  Lots of 'breaks' in the combat, to affect it to the maximum capacity.  No wound allocation shenanigans.

There is also the factor of versatility.  If you buy a power weapon, you're essentially relegating those points to be specifically for anti-infantry.  If you buy a fist, a squad can threaten any number of things, including vehicles, MC's, and characters.  Those extra 10 points you pay for the fist ensure that you have more options for your army.  Sometimes it's worth it, sometimes not.

There's more to it than just this, of course.  A unit with all power weapons is a completely different animal than a unit with just one.  Beware using a unit with mixed pw's and mundane attacks.  If even one mundane attack gets through, a player can roll the save on his sergeant, (or whoever he wants) and survive to strike back at you.  For example, if you cause 18 power wounds to a squad, and a single non-power wound, a full squad of 10 dudes will die, except for the sergeant w/ fist, who will take the save instead.

One more quick thing:  if you're paying for a power fist on a squad, you want to make sure it's going to actually survive to swing back.  If your opponent causes 10 wounds on your 5-man squad, the fist has to take 2 saves, and is a favorite to die before he can actually strike.  So, judge survivability/viability in there as well.

Lots of other things to consider, but I think I'll leave it at that.  For those of you who are still reading, first of all, good job :)  Second off, what do you think?  It's a somewhat touchy matter, and I'm interested to hear your view on it.


CounterFett said...

I'm impressed.

I've often wondered a good way to break down which I should take, and which is more effecient.

The different initiative makes a big difference, and I had not thought about that.

Excelent article, and I even understood all of the reasoning, a rare enough feat these days.

Thor said...

I've recently come to this realization and you said it very well. I didn't even think about the initiative steps but it makes perfect sense, even if it sounds counter-intuitive at first.

zac said...

Well said, this is how I've always seen it, you take power weapons when your whole squad cmes with them, incubi, bloodletters, sang guard, or if you have initiative worth using, hqs. Every other time you take the fist

Black Blow Fly said...

I suppose you should approach this on a unit level, as stated units that come equipped with power weapons it's pretty a no brainer. That said I think you can make a good case for units like Sanguinary Guard taking one power fist. Other units such as tactical squads I tend to take a power fist as you've got some ablative wounds plus the fist is a much bigger threat. The thing is now you have more options - it's possible to include both in your troop choices by way of attaching characters such as Wolfguard or Sanguinary Priests. It's expensive but makes the unit much more dangerous.

GDMNW said...

All I'd add is that power weapons on higher initiative steps than the rest of the squad rock.
Say you have a character with a power weapon at I5, everyone of his attacks counts before the rest of your unit strikes at I4 and so on.
Thought it was worth mentioning...

giles said...

So many armies are packing feel no pain these days that I try to get as many power weapons in my marine army as possible. - blood angels, dark eldar, plague marines etc. Also, in a Vanilla marine list the librarian power null zone' really adds value to power weapons when dealing with IC's and other 'hammer units.' I must say I enjoyed your article, very well thought out.