40k: Level(ed) Playing Field – Countering Superheavies

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Love it or hate it, super heavies are part of the main game now. Here’s how to deal with them.

Welcome to my weekly article, Level(ed) Playing Field, where I examine the shifting meta of Warhammer 40,000 and the growing presence of Gargantuan Creatures and Superheavy Vehicles on your local tabletop battlefield. You may be familiar with my previous pseudo-rant article, “You Don’t Know Better.” If so, this is very much in the same vein, so be warned.

First off, let’s get one thing out of the way: love it or hate it, super heavies are part of the main game now. You may have your old school “things were better in 3rd edition” mentality. You may think the GW design team has lost its collective mind. You may ban superheavy vehicles and gargantuan creatures at your local store. But they are not going away any time soon. They’re part of the game, not just an optional Escalation supplement anymore and no longer reserved only for Apocalypse, so get used to it. I will be using this article to examine superheavy units individually, and dissecting their presence in normal games of 7th edition Warhammer 40,000 as well as Apocalypse.

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Doing Without 

While Superheavies and Gargantuan Creatures are the next big thing for Games Workshop, what do you do when your army hasn’t gotten any love on that front yet? GW is known for leaving armies in the cold for extended periods of time- just ask any Dark Eldar player who started in 3rd edition, or current Sisters of Battle players. I myself have started a Militarum Tempestus army, which is weirdly undergunned when it comes to fighting anything with AV 14 or better. So the question I posit today is thus: what do you do when you don’t have access to superheavy units?

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The Easy Answers

There are of course two easy answers to this question: Allies, and Forgeworld. Allied armies are fully legal (in most gaming circles), allowing you to take multiple detachments with forces in certain allegiances towards each other. In my particular case, I could 100% legally and easily run Astra Militarum/Imperial Guard alongside my Militarum Tempestus…making them…the Astra Militarum Tempestus- or Space Storm Army….which kinda sounds cool in a “GW only knows how to use six interchangeable words when naming things” sense. Anyway the allies approach is of course a flavorful (usually) and narrative (again, usually) way to fill gaps in your army. With my Militarum Tempestus example, I’m in dire need of one very important thing: anti-tank. Scions and their few available units top out at the S9 AP1 Lascannon mounted on Valkyrie Assault Carriers…..everything else that qualifies as a “big gun” is in the S7-8 category with Autocannons, Meltaguns, and Taurox Battle Cannons. The army is in desperate need of a titan-killer. Taking an allies Imperial Guard detachment with a Baneblade or Shadowsword adds that punch when it comes time to tackle Imperial Knights or Tyranid Bio-Titans.

The other easy answer of course comes in the form of Forgeworld. Forgeworld offers Warhound Titans or the superheavy Marauder Bomber to placate any perceived weaknesses in Imperial forces. Xenos have a few options of their own- of course we already mentioned the Tyranid Harridan, a Forgeworld model since they don’t have a superheavy yet (rumored for the new codex though!), while Eldar get the Cobra and Scorpion to pad out their ranks. Chaos players get a bevy of options as well with the Brass Scorpion of Khorne, Kytan Daemon Engine, or  superheavy guard vehicles for renegades. Regardless of your army (unless you play Dark Eldar…), it’s easy to find a superheavy solution on Forgeworld’s store.

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Stepping Up Your Game

If you feel like keeping to one Codex, and not relying on Forgeworld- which can be a wise choice given that some gaming clubs forbid Forgeworld models from use- then your next best option is to go Unbound, or build your army list around as many heavy hitters as you can manage. Unbound is the lesser option here, many people are against playing it for the sheer spammability it imposes- an army of ten Riptides or a force composed of nothing but Heldrakes is, pardon my English, a dick move. It’s not hard to understand why many miss the old fashioned force organization chart. If you decide on keeping your list clean, however, that doesn’t mean you need to play nice. When you’re on the other side of the board from an entire force of Imperial Knights or a huge Ork Stompa, you’ll need every single turn of the game, and every weapon at your disposal to scrape a victory (and believe me, you WILL be scraping. Nobody wins hand over foot against superheavies). So here are your real options:

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Vehicle Squadrons: 

Leman Russ squads, Sentinels, groups of Hammerhead Gunships, Killa Kans and Deff Dreads, etc. Many armies have access to groups of vehicles, and these can be extremely useful for wittling down the big bad superheavies they go up against. Multiple S8+ guns from a single squad are truly powerful, and taking multiple squads capable of laying down this kind of firepower can be truly devastating against an unprepared opponent. Be warned, however, that this has certain disadvantages. Multiple squads of 3 Leman Russ tanks (or even an entire IG Tank Company using a Forgeworld list) borders on spam/cheese in many peoples’ minds.

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Monstrous Creatures: 

They don’t call them “heavy support” choices for nothing. Monstrous Creatures are often expensive, burly beasts that can lay the hurt on almost anything in the game. A step below vehicles in the current editions, with most MCs having a 3+ armor save and T6-7, with a rare T8…most still crumble quickly to concentrated firepower, sheer volume of wounds put on it, poisoned weapons, or S10. Though it’s rare these units will be insta-killed, you’ll still struggle to get the most out of them in many cases. Tyranid monstrous creatures especially seem to have some poor balancing issues, too slow to catch their prey in melee, too inaccurate to hit the foe at range, and with no invulnerable saves to keep them from taking wounds. However….against superheavy vehicles and gargantuan creatures, the lesser monstrous creatures can really come into their own. Striking at low initiative is less of a hindrance against Gargantuan Creatures or Imperial Knights (vehicles…y’know….it doesn’t matter). All monstrous creatures can Smash, doubling their strength and halving their attacks, and always attack at AP2, meaning they can and will lay the hurt on heavy armor or pile some wounds on an enemy GC, often striking at the same time. Using multiple MCs or even squads of them- such as Carnifex(…es?…Carnifexen? Carinifii?), Kastelan Robots, or Canoptek Spyders, can level the playing field against superheavy vehicles and their ilk.

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Big Guns Never Tire: 

If you’re light on vehicles, don’t want to use monstrous creatures, or just love the poor bloody infantry, there are still options, even (for once) for Dark Eldar! Heavy weapons units are relatively plentiful for most armies. Whether you’re talking three squads of Dark Reapers for Eldar, multiple Dark Eldar Scourge units, or a metric ton of Thunder Hammer/Storm Shield (or even Chainfist-toting) Terminators, there are options for almost every force. While the large blast weaponry or stomp attacks of a Superheavy Walker might spell doom for many units, the more you take, the more potential hits you can get in, stripping hull points and wounds. Units with invulnerable saves are best for tackling big superheavy threats, even regular Terminators are quite survivable and pack power fists for hammering dents into AV14 threats. Even Devastator squads packing lascannons or grav guns can provide a relatively cost-effective solution to combating heavy armor.

If you want to get in on the Superheavy game yourself, or need to combat against a superheavy-rich meta in your area, consider any of these solutions to your particular problem.

Remember: Superheavies are part of the game now, if you’re not prepared for them, you’re likely to pay for it.

  • Defenestratus

    Isn’t smash now only 1 attack @ str 10?

    Thus the death of the ninjatides?

    • Djbz

      Yup, which makes it virtually impossible for most monstrous creatures to fight walkers in close combat.

      • Necro Alienerd

        MCs who are not meant to be bonking things on the noggin with gun butts… yes. If you are meant to be a high strength hitter in CC you will have a weapon for that.

        • Djbz

          The “good guy’s” (Eldar/Ad-Mech/Grey Knights) melee monstrous creatures do-they all pack power-fists or + strength weapons.
          The “Bad guy’s” (Chaos/Tyranids/Dark Eldar, even Necrons)- not so much.They tend to have to smash or hope to roll 6’s (sometimes 5’s), and the one’s that do have higher strength tend to be really slow.

          And guess who’s are more expensive…

          • Krargan

            As a tyranid player, i am painfully aware of our deficiencies. However, All of our ground based MC’s can take crusher claws for the most part. Not to say that they are good, but the intended option is there.

      • nurglitch

        The pendulum seems to have swung to the walkers, yes.

      • Markus Beckers

        Impossible except for Carnifexes…

    • Fearghus Gerrer

      1 attack only, not necesseraly str10. It doubles the str and you can reroll to penetrate armour

    • JimOnMars

      Yes, but if you choose to use all your attacks, smash still gives you AP2

  • memitchell

    Carniflock?

  • OolonColluphid

    With massive blasts and D weapons. Even the strongest blobs with Invulnerable saves die quickly. Just stop being a scrub and buy you’re own Super Heavy already.
    If you don’t have something as old as a Thunderhawk as a Space Marine player or a Baneblade for Imperial Guard than you must be a cheap skate or a power gamer who hates new rules.

    • Gaowen

      You seem like a scrub if your only tactic to counter Superheavies / GC is “hurr, just get one yourself”

      • OolonColluphid

        Nope. Only scrubs don’t have a thirteen year old model that everyone more or less should have already bought.

        • Gaowen

          You do realize that the GC/SH options for some armies are crap, right?

          • OolonColluphid

            Then that would be the fault of GW. Not the players, although poor strategy is a factor. You wouldn’t need Super Heavies if it wasn’t for a certain army having under 300 poinst non GC/SH D spam.

        • rtheom

          Well, this does further the apparent GW agenda of making sure that we’re playing an action figure game and not a miniatures game.

          I mean in all honesty, if me and my opponent are only going to play with 5 different models each, there are a lot better skirmish format games out there than 40K.

          40K is, however, the best large scale combat game. It may have started as more skirmishy, but it hasn’t been that way in decades and rolling 2+ pens and 4+ invuls for a couple hours with stationary super heavies is not exactly my idea of a fun game.

          • nurglitch

            You can always agree with your opponent to go for an infantry-squad heavy game.

          • WellSpokenMan

            Take the $100-150 you would spend on a Super Heavy and buy into Malifaux or Infinity. You can easily get a full army for either for that amount. You could even spend the money on B@C or 2 40k start collecting sets for just a little bit more. When you combine the cost with the way it alters gameplay, Super Heavies have kind of become the poster child for what I don’t like about 40k.

          • Marky

            For me it’s the game play more than the cost.

          • OolonColluphid

            The order of turns is the problem. It needs to be more like how Bolt Action handles it.

        • Marky

          Why would someone Who likes miniatures want to buy a massive superheavy? They are not very…. miniature. I would consider another 40k army if it was possible to get by without foot high action figures… Or if space marines legs were closer together (that thigh gap pisses me off too much)

          • OolonColluphid

            Thunderhawks and the Super Heavy Bombers are actually useful. Others just good one job.
            I say no to a Space Marine redesign, it’ll look like some awful of Age of Sigmar crap.

    • Valeli

      “If you don’t have something as old as a Thunderhawk as a Space Marine player or a Baneblade for Imperial Guard than you must be a cheap skate or a power gamer who hates new rules.”
      – Makes sense to me. Yep. Perfect sense.

      I can’t believe I didn’t realize this sooner. Wow.

    • georgelabour

      Baneblades don’t have D weapons…

      • Andrew Thomas

        Shadowsword, your argument is a little flawed.

        • georgelabour

          No it’s not. Baneblades do not have D weapons. There’s nothing wrong about that.

          On the other hand, making a pretenious post in an attempt at trolly sarcasm, and purposely forgetting that baneblades don’t have D weapons…that’s more than a bit flawed.

          • Andrew Thomas

            They’re considered the same class of tank by some. And considering they are built from the same kit, it’s an easy shorthand to use. Maybe you should learn to decipher slang from specificity before relentlessly attacking people who are trying to make sense of other posts, Mr. Trollslayer.

          • georgelabour

            Marneus Calgar is a chapter master. Marneus Calgar has the gauntlets of Ultramar.

            By your argument I can say chapters masters have the gauntlets of Ultramar and be right as he is a variation on a unit.

            As is Logan Grimnar.

            Or Yarrick.

            And the swarmlord.

            etc.

          • Andrew Thomas

            Not remotely. Calgar has his own model, that is not an alt build of another model. You want to field his model as a Chapter Master with 2 Power Fists and either Artificer Armour or Terminator Armour go right ahead, just don’t complain when you get glassed for trying to fire that Stormbolter that the rules won’t let you have. In fact, the only model you list that remotely fits my criteria is the Swarmlord, because it’s an alt build for the Hive Tyrant. What’s laughable about that is that if you liked it’s pose but hated it’s rules, you could still field it as a generic Hive Tyrant with 2 sets of Boneswords and no one would look twice.

            All I’m pointing out is that there are in fact 8 Baneblade variants, one of which has a strength D gun, the Shadowsword, and that some players collectively refer to the models in that one kit as Baneblades.

          • georgelabour

            To continue with further examples of the logic you’re defending.

            A leman russ Demolisher has a 20 shot weapon. Oh and a weapon with a 72 inch range, one that ignores cover, etc.

            A chimera has an infinite range D weapon.

            Manticores also have an infinite range D weapon.

            Same with Hydras, wyverns, basilisks, and Trojans….

            Valkyries have 3 las cannon shots.

            Vendettas can carry 12 people.

          • Andrew Thomas

            This is stupid, language-policing BS. I get it, you took an English-Lit class. Good for you. Why don’t you wipe that logorrheic scum off of your keyboard before your computer shorts out? I’m not defending anything, just explaining a casual neologism that you seem hell-bent on interpreting as cheating.

          • georgelabour

            Friend you’re getting awful bent out of shape out of this.

            Maybe you shouldn’t jump to defend people who go out of their way to make purposefully wrong claims like the OP if you’re going to take it all so personally.

          • Andrew Thomas

            Where exactly did he claim that Baneblades get strength D, anyway?

            “With massive blasts and D weapons. Even the strongest blobs with Invulnerable saves die quickly. Just stop being a scrub and buy you’re own Super Heavy already.

            If you don’t have something as old as a Thunderhawk as a Space Marine player or a Baneblade for Imperial Guard than you must be a cheap skate or a power gamer who hates new rules.

            Of course you can do what Raptors players do. Bring Issodon, a low price Super Heavy and some TH/SS Termis.”

            They’re not even in the same paragraph. And I notice that in the same line he also mentions, “massive blasts,” which could easily describe a Baneblade. You really have a bad habit of reading things in creative ways.

          • Tyris

            “By some”
            Who?

          • Andrew Thomas

            People who write tactica articles, from what I’ve seen. Like 1d4chan.

      • OolonColluphid

        Shadowswords have Volcano Cannons.

        • georgelabour

          Which is not a baneblade.

          See other guy who already went through all the mental gymnastics and ended up giving all chimeras vortex missiles for his troubles.

          Have a nice day.

    • Zingbaby

      I don’t agree at all with the folks who are so afraid of change to ban super heavies etc, it’s a part of the game, the models are awesome, and I’m totally on board; that said – your attitude is off putting and frankly if somebody doesn’t like super heavies, they don’t need them even to compete against other super heavies.

      • David Brett Walker IV

        A lot of people feel its “wallethammer WAAC”. Personall I prefer the old days when 1250-1500 was a big game and the scariest unit was a squad of sword brethren terminators coming out of a crusader.

        Picking up entire squads at a time is fun…in apocalypse.

        That said, there is a reason my take all comers spam melta and its for the occasional 1850 Knight Titan Court of House Terryn.

        • Zingbaby

          Yeah but in reality, you can play however you want.

          This bs that the rules need to cater to the tournament / pickup-game ‘only’ crowd is ridiculous. Get some friends, play how you like, it’s a social game. You don’t buy a board game and then get mad at the game company when you have no one to play with except random strangers. Most of the “problems” are really not problems.

          • David Brett Walker IV

            Totally. Social contract and all that. I just think your position here is interesting compared to yesterday’s discussion of WAAC lists at LVO or if that was just regarding Alex’s personally.

          • Zingbaby

            First of all, regarding Alex’s personality, I most recently called attention to it – but it’s not my invention, he did that himself.

            But seriously it’s the “waac list” bs that drives this demand for the rules to cater to that version of the game. That stuff exists outside of the social contact. That’s the point.

          • WellSpokenMan

            Some people do try to make friends through miniatures games. Admittedly though, if friendly people is what your after, the 40k community isn’t a good place to start.

          • Zingbaby

            I’ll give you that lol.

      • OolonColluphid

        I don’t consider Grav-Guns reliable though.

      • Morgrim

        Some folks would like to have the option. Or the option of a counter. Or something other than “spam scourges and pray”.

        • Zingbaby

          Yeah but again, these are only “problems” if you live in that weird, friendless black hole of ‘pickup games only’ or at tournaments. And 40k has never been a good tournament game.

          • Morgrim

            No. No amount of friendly gaming groups is going to fix the fact that GW has not given units to certain armies. As I mentioned, I play Dark Eldar. I don’t HAVE a superheavy or a superheavy counter. Friendly players can’t magically give me one. And I don’t think “well make one up and figure out costs whole cloth” is a solution.

          • Zingbaby

            Look I know some codex don’t have a counter to super heavies (I play nids), outside ignoring them, at least without allies… and that can be tough at tournaments and pickup scenarios when you walk into unexpected match ups… but amongst friends you can just agree to play without super heavies, or if your friend really wants to use it, you can agree to fight an uphill battle and *gasp* play a not perfectly even chess match, you know like war; or even add some other objective, mission, terrain or fortification advantage to your side. It’s a social game, with an understood social contact when done successfully.

    • Andrew Thomas

      “Of course you can do what Raptors players do. Bring Issodon, a low price Super Heavy and some TH/SS Termis.”

      Nasty.

      • OolonColluphid

        It’s supposed to be. Issodon is pretty much one of the best characters to build an army around. Even without a Super Heavy a Raptors army can be a good counter to D Spam.

  • Paul Sinanan

    For me the over-all solution would be to give all infantry units access to some (non-wysiwyg) grenade options that will allow them to compete against Super Heavies in one way or another.

  • Old zogwort

    Vehicle Squadrons: might be one of the worst suggestions ever since they share hull points. Most super heavies have quite a high dmg output that will be more efficiently put to use if you use your use squadrons.

  • Red_Five_Standing_By

    Technically it would be Space Army Storm.

  • Darquewing

    “Remember: Superheavies are part of the game now, if you’re not prepared for them, you’re likely to pay for it.”

    Seriously? It’s like GW paid someone to threaten players…

  • KrakenWakes

    It’s Carnifici.

    • Andrew Thomas

      Carnifices, like Codices.

      • KrakenWakes

        Ah well, I was close.

      • Tyris

        Carnifeces, if you’re feeling puerile.

    • polyquaternium7

      my are your radiant today you are simply Carnificant! :d

  • nurglitch

    The Militarum Tempestus has access to an AP1 Lascannon?

  • nurglitch

    The solution is what it always is vs deathstars: Multiple Small Units.

    • David Brett Walker IV

      Or tarpits. Less effective against things that can’t be locked in combats but its always fun watching TWC or whatever kill 10-15 zombies a turn with no effect for the rest of the game haha

  • Andrew Thomas

    Lascannon are AP 2; Smash attacks are only 1 per turn. Allying in a Cohort Cybernetica, caddying the Uncreator Gauntlet, could easily ruin el superheavy’s day. Tank Traps also work on non-skimmer Vehicles, and rob Knights of a lot of their destructive potential. With Gargantuans, weight of fire or D is really all you can do.

    • nurglitch

      Gargantuans are vulnerable to Rending, since it always wounds on 6, and ignores armour saves when it wounds. Anything that causes Instant Death is good because it ignores Feel No Pain and D3 wounds is good.

  • pokemastercube .

    necrons, they are the ultimate weapon against super-heavys as their gauss weapons justrip the HP away, and with nightscyths as transport they can get in quick to fire on them

  • benn grimm

    Yawn. This old rubbish again.

    If you don’t like playing them, don’t play them, can’t nobody force you and unless you have one yourself, they aren’t very fun to play against. It’s a game, that requires two, so if its not for you, just say so, anyone who is offended by this isn’t worth your time playing with anyway.

  • Ed Butlar

    Simple, I just play people who want to have a fun game and don’t want to humiliate the person they play against.

  • nurglitch

    A couple of changes I’d make to Super-heavies and Gargantuans would be to have them roll on the Vehicle Damage Table for every three wounds/hull points they suffer. Likewise I’d like to see Monstrous Creatures and really any multi-wound models roll on the Vehicle Damage Table. Instant Death could be an additional +1 to the roll.

    • Andrew Thomas

      Damage tables for MCs could be fun. Like dealing with Giants in Fantasy.

      • nurglitch

        I feel like having large, single-model units degrade in capability means that they’re playing the same game as multi-model units.

      • David Brett Walker IV

        Yeah it would be cool to see weapons get destroyed or have their movement slowed, instead of just being anticlimactically glanced out every game.

  • Matthew Mullen

    I’ve gone back to running 2 Havoc/Devastator squads with 4 Lascannons in a lot of my armies, something I haven’t done since 3rd edition! All told they’re fairly points effective for what they can do, and are often overlooked if scarier stuff is heading forward. I find a lot of people are still in love with the Missile Launcher, especially with the Flakk option, but I find it’s just so many points for something that isn’t that good at anything. S8 AP3 just doesn’t cut it as a tank buster anymore, Flakk is really expensive for S7 AP4, and the blast just isn’t effective against most units you see.

  • sethmo

    But hey remember those 100 point dreadnoughts “suck” for CSM and SM…. A group of those drop podding in can put the hurt on super heavies.

    Maulerfiends and soul grinders are also especially nasty with their CC options.

  • LordKrungharr

    I have chosen to gain honor in countless glorious deaths by not using superheavies but instead to use as many dreadnoughts of exotic type in Drop pods. Grav bikers do alright too.

  • JimOnMars

    Deff Dreads can’t form squadrons.

    • PGConley

      Except for the IA:8 Deff Dread Mob List, but I doubt that he meant that.

  • Jamie Garrett

    I don’t see what all the fuss is about. Taking out a 9 hull point super heavy tank is easy in close combat, all you need is a decent delivery method for the right unit (lysander and three CC centurions in a stormeagle for example). The best CC Superheavies are the walkers (which almost all have D weapon CC weapons) so it is down to the initiative, With the walkers with a decent initiative having low volumes of hull points (you can kill a knight in a round without too much sweat). I play Marines and Mech and there are so many SH Tank/Walker counters available (A Space Marine Dreadnought with a powerfist with I4 and A4 at just over 100 pts can do a 400+pts knight so serious damage, imagine what two can do).
    The challenge you have is when you rock up looking for a ‘sit and go’ game at your local store or game club. That’s when you turn up with your ‘one army tailored for all’ force and some pulls out 5 knights in 2k game (or similar). That’s when you end up staring at 2 hours of miserable batterings.
    Super heavies should be for organised games, where it is pre-organised that the options are available to be taking Superheavies.
    That way you can build your army to possibly counter them.
    My club treats it the same way as Unbound – don’t rock up on a Tuesday night with 9 deamons in an unbound list as no one will want to play you, however if you’ve got a game pre-organsied against someone who knows you’re running an unbound list then fair play!

  • Krargan

    Still quite a bit Salty as a Tyranid player, big bad creatures are supposed to be our thing and we don’t even have a GC in our codex.

    On a seperate note, i feel our best answers to superheavies are our fliers. Crones get the 4 haywire single shot missiles. and the fly over attack can pose a bit of a threat to most of them in the knight variety. While at the same time, most of the superheavies don’t pack much in the way of skyfire. GC’s are another matter, the correct answer should be our GC’s are bigger and badder in CC and can reliably get there. The closest thing we have to an answer is… poison? On swarms of things and hope some of them make it?

  • Damien Coté

    You tell my Warhound that Scions cannot deal with it… a few squads with 2 meltas poping out of a valk behind it. Sure they died, but they took the Hound down (My friend calls them Die-ons for a reason)

  • David Clift

    I’m still looking for an effective way to deal with Buzzgob’s big mek Stompa in small to medium games-1000-1500pts.