Monday, February 28, 2011

Why I love Devastators, part two

Dipping my toe into counts-as.
Part two of why I love Blood Angels Devastators, especially the missile launcher flavor, starts with a fear of nothing, or perhaps fearlessness.  The so-called "Rifleman" dreadnaught, armed with a pair of twin-linked autocannons, is often advanced as an alternative to devastators.  A Rifleman can put out an equal number of shots (4) as the Devastators can, and the twin-linking means all of those shots are likely to hit, whereas one or two Devastators will probably miss per turn.  The Rifleman can also shoot while moving, so terrain will cause less LoS problems since the dread can adjust itself without losing a shooting phase.  Cost is always a factor, points-wise, and the Rifleman shines here.  Vanilla marines can get a pair of dreads, pumping out eight shots per turn, for 250 points.  Thorough readers or those with a sharp memory will note that this is the same price as a Sternguard squad with missile launchers and just 20 points more than a single missile launcher Devestator squad.  The accepted wisdom is that models with an armor value, like dreads, are more resilient than models with a toughness, like infantry, but I think that's situational and is a point I'll address in a bit.

It isn't all peaches and cream in dreadnaught land.  The biggest drawback is the autocannon itself, at least when compared with a missile launcher.  While a a Rifleman has the same 48" range as the Devastators, and an equal number of shots, the autocannon is less effective than a missile launcher against both armor and infantry.  At first glance the strength 7 autocannon isn't far behind the strength 8 krak missile, but that little gap means that the autocannon can only glance AV 13, while the missile at least has a chance to penetrate AV 13 and can glance AV 14.  The missile will also insta-kill toughness 4 models, which covers the vast majority of troops in the game, while S7 will not.  To be fair, both will wound T4 on a 2+.  The other big difference is in AP: 4 for the autocannon, 3 for the missile.  The extra benefit of the missile is that it cuts out Feel No Pain, which is a huge bonus against Plague Marines or Blood Angels.  These two relatively minor difference yield quite different results.  While the Rifleman is likely to hit with all its AC shots, thanks to twin-linking, and three of those four shots are likely to wound, all wounds will allow a power armor save, and FNP where applicable.  By contrast, the Devastators will miss with a shot, and occasionally two, but those shots will cut through armor and FNP.  The results, on average, are one dead marine (or equivalent) for the AC, versus two dead for the missiles.  I hear you pointing out that I said you could get a pair of dreads for about the same as a Dev squad up above, and I did.  Using my very rough averages, doubling the number of AC shots will double the number of casualties to two, the same as the missiles.  The difference is in the dice.  While you have the potential to kill eight MEQs with the pair of dreads, assuming all shots hit and wound and result in failed armor saves, there's a lot of chance involved.  It's plausible that 8 PA saves could all be successful, and if you factor in FNP the odds get even better.  The missiles take out the armor save entirely.  Your opponent never gets to pick up the dice, only the models.  Knowing that your shots will kill is a much nicer feeling than knowing that your opponent has to fail a save, or two, for the bodies to start falling.  In related news, splitting fire is impossible with the Rifleman, while combat-squadded Devestators can shoot at two different targets should the need arise.
I kinda like this design.

This is the part where I address the durability advantage of things with an armor value.  It takes three successful rolls to take out a vehicle: the shot has to hit, the hit has to penetrate, and the resulting damage table roll has to destroy the vehicle.  Having to roll a 5+ on that damage table is a pain, but when that shot goes in and makes a boom, all the vehicles weapons are done.  Thought the odds are long, a single shot can take out the Rifleman.  By contrast, a single shot will never wipe out an entire Devestator squad (barring an ordinance template or something of that sort, which would make equally short work of a dreadnaught).  A full Dev squad packs in 6 extra wounds for those missile launchers, so the squad will have to take quite a pounding before it starts to fall in effectiveness.  Add in the relative ease in getting infantry a cover save versus the difficulty of getting that same save for a vehicle and you get a unit that's hard to remove.

Looks like this will be a three-parter.  At least it will be up on time for today, so that's progress.  As a parting gift, a bit of obvious truth that should be stated all the same.  I'm basically reinventing the wheel here.  I'm sure that everything I'm saying here has been said better elsewhere by people who know what they're talking about more than I do.  This little series, and this whole blog really, is for my enjoyment foremost.  If anyone else gets some use out of it then so much the better.  Tactics and number crunching aren't my focus, nor do I expect them to become so in the future, but they are a part of gaming and something I've largely neglected to this point.  Next time will be predators and what makes BA Devs so hot snot.  For real this time.


  1. I'll agree with you that "Conventional Wisdom" is not always the way to go. Were that the case, I'd not touch either of my 40k armies until they get new codices, and I'd just run out and buy an army of Thunderwolf Cavalry. I agree that your Devastators are a force to be reckoned with, but the idea behind "Rifleman" Dread' (so named because they look like the Rifleman Battlemech from Battletech, in case you were wondering) is popping light transports, or at least pinning them down. Nothing more. The Strength & AP difference are mitigated, as you said, by the volume of fire. Personally I like the Dreadnought (spelled this way in 40k) over the Devs, but I'm the kind of gamer that believes in armor saturation this edition- thus my Plague Marine army. With the ability to hide amongst all the other vehicles out there, it comes down to a choice of target priority- shoot the APCs, or take out the mobile firebase.

    While I do reckognize that your approach is saturation as well, Devastators work best amongst infantry saturation. Having only one or two Devastator squads hanging out amongst a sea of armor makes target selection for anti-infantry assets a walk in the park. Amongst your sea of Assault Marines, the Devastators have to take a back seat to dealing with the immediate threat of hand-to-hand combat. You may notice that my Obliterators only began firing on your Devastators once there was no clean fire lane to your Assault Marines. The onrushing red tide honestly scares me more than the Missile Launchers do- you don't get a cover save (or a 2+ armor save) against Power Fists.

    In the end I guess what I'm saying is you're right- for your army. Devastators are a potent threat, but only when they can blend in.

    Oh, should you ever want to see how people convert their Riflemen, either check out the Forge World website, or check out the Aegis Defense Line's autocannon turret. Those both work as dual twin-linked Autocannon arms.

  2. As I just wrote, you hit the bullseye here. The army you've seen the past two games is all about bringing as many marines as possible. I love the idea of running a horde marine list, and while it's not really possible I think I come pretty close. If I went to a more mechanized list with jumpless assault squads you'd certainly see Preds/Dreads/Vindicators for the reasons you noted, but ultimately I like the jumpers and find assaulting out of a Rhino a bit awkward.

    I was half hoping that GW made an autocannon arm for dreadnaughts (regardless of how they spell it, I like the A), but I'm not surprised they don't. Having seen so many Riflemen that all look very similar, but slightly different, I figured it was a pretty straight-forward kitbash/conversion. I'll have to take a look at those bits. I do have an old Chaos TL AC arm, but it will require some filing/greenstuffing. Plus I only have the one. And I probably won't be running Riflemen any time soon, though Stormravens loaded with Furiosos/DC dreads is a possibility.