Monday, April 13, 2015
Horus Heresy Review: Alpha Legion Legion Rules
Background material evaluation
The background material for the Alpha Legion in the era of the Horus Heresy is presented as one giant enigma wrapped around a mystery, tied up with uncertainty and a brightly coloured bow of misdirection. This contrasts strongly with the very earliest depictions of the Alpha Legion being twisted by chaos (and Slaanesh in particular). I'm very much a fan of how the Alpha Legion are depicted in Extermination, and in the wider books that have been published by the Black Library. Although some feel that the meme of surprise attack and counter-purpose has been over-done in those books, to my mind, it is exactly how the Alpha Legion should behave. Hence, beyond all the secretive activity, the Alpha Legion are depicted as being masters of combined arts warfare, of tearing enemies apart as they attack from multiple vectors unexpectedly, and of slaughtering all before them without much mercy in a killing blow, once they have pulled apart their critical elements.
Their training enforces this approach to warfare -- they are only permitted to "graduate" as a unit, and individual antics are frowned upon. Indeed, the mission and their contribution to group work is valued much more than heroic individuals. This means that every legionary within the Alpha Legion can carry out almost any battlefield role, should he be required to. All have some talent at being in an assault squad, a devastator squad, or wherever they are needed.
Legion Rules Review
Truly, there are only two rules that the Alpha Legion possesses in addition to the usual space marine rules. The first is that of Mutable Tactics. In short, the legion can select from between a number of special rules at the start of every battle. This comprise of scouts, infiltrate, tank hunters, counter-attack, move though cover, and adamantium will.
This rule alone is what makes the legion so very deadly. Should their opponent be tank heavy (Iron Warriors, Iron Hands), then they may well decide to choose tank hunters to improve their devastator squads. Should their opponent have a lot of melee units (World Eaters, Raven Guard, some Sons of Horus builds), then the counter-attack rule is going to look good instead. Lots of psykers in an enemy Thousand Sons build? Well, that's probably what Adamantium Will is going to help with. I cannot underscore enough what this rule is doing for the legion. It will give them a competitive edge in most (but maybe not all) situations. These three rules are probably not something to build an entire army around as they are situational, based on what the enemy is playing.
That said, some of these rules can be used as a build for the entire army. The classic one here is infiltrate. Having an infantry based legion list combine with this rule makes for an incredibly effective army. Indeed, this kind of build may also be necessary for the legion's rite of war. But the army must be built around it: it needs to bring infantry and hurt that can take advantage of infiltrate (e.g. plasma guns, melta guns, and the like) to complement it. Scouts works in similar ways, and would require plenty of fast moving squads to make it truly advantage (think: bikes and other similar units that are technically still marines -- this can also work as infiltrate as well, of course). I therefore regard both infiltrate and scouts as a way in which to build an entire army.
Move through cover is one rule that can be overlooked, and will depend on the board / terrain. Hence it will be entirely situational.
Overall therefore, I think that both scouts or infiltrate is the way to build an Alpha Legion army. And of the two, infiltrate is superior for its need in the legion's special rite of war, if nothing else. But as an Alpha Legion player, it is imperative to be flexible in this as well. Having a few units that can be strongly anti-tank and have synergy with tank hunters is a sound move, if its ever required. So, even when building an Alpha Legion army with infiltrate already pre-selected, I'd encourage the legion player to have sufficient units that are capable of exploiting the other rules where necessary.
The second special rule is Martial Hubris. This is to counter balance what a terrific advantage Mutable Tactics is. In short, the Alpha Legion think they're the best. They might not be wrong. But if they suffer more casualties than the enemy, then their enemy gets an additional VP in the battle. This can be devastating in a mission where rules like First Blood are in play and the Alpha Legion go second. The best way to build around this rule is to keep the unit number count low if possible. Its not always possible, but certainly having maximum sized squads will help, of course.
The legion gains the Saboteur as a special legion centurion and consul type. I'll detail this one in a later post as a distinct unit, as I'm a bit torn on whether this guy is a good thing or not. I've heard cases both ways.
The legion has access to some of the best and most unique war gear. One of these items is the power dagger. This is an S-1 AP3 melee weapon with rending that can be bought as an upgrade for a character for 5 points. This is truly a bargain! Why? Because it can give a character an extra attack for such a cheap amount of points. I've not seen such a good bargain elsewhere for this kind of price. Hence even if you're going to use another specialist weapon, its still worth taking in most cases.
The second one are the venom spheres which are available to certain units for a modest individual points cost, or as an upgrade for an entire unit. They're worth it on units like seeker squads and destroyer squads, but so long as those squads are maximally sized already. They grant hammer of wrath whilst retaining the assault grenade rules. Hence, they're fantastic for melee orientated squads. There is one variant of this, the venom sphere harness, for certain terminators as well. These are a neat upgrade for melee terminators, to be sure.
Banestrike ammo is made available to certain units in the legion as well. I think legion terminator squads that are at full size are really going to benefit from taking this upgrade, so long as the points cost is available.
Rite of War
A lot has already been written about the Coils of the Hydra rite of war, and much of it is well deserved. The first effect is Subterfuge -- which provide a bonus to go first, or seize the initiative. This is an excellent way of partially offsetting the negative effect of Martial Hubris and should not be overlooked for its effect. The Signal Corruption rule is a great way to mess around with enemies through imposing a negative modified to reserve rolls. It can certainly screw around with drop pod armies like Raven Guard and certain World Eater builds, or even terminator based deep striking enemies on the odd occasion (think of Abaddon-led Sons of Horus Justaerin terminators forces).
But the final part of this rite is the one that excites everyone. The Rewards of Treason means that the Alpha Legion player can field a unit from a different unit that it ordinarily could not. This includes even the Gal Vorbak (even though they do not have the Legion Astartes special rule).
I really adore this rule. Not only is it very fluffy, but it can provide the basis to build an army around. Would you take the Mor Deythan of the Raven Guard to provide a first turn deadly volley? Or the Gal Vorbak to provide a superior melee option? Or some Death Guard that might only otherwise be seen guarding Mortarion? There are a lot of choices, and many options to like. To my mind, the Gal Vorbak and Mor Deythan are excellent choices, but also Iron Havocs. I would probably veer toward the Mor Deythan myself as they are very complementary. But equally we have not seen every legion yet. I wonder if something from the Ultramarines or Dark Angels might be equally cool? Who knows.
There is a price to be paid though. The Alpha legion player must select an additional compulsory troops choice (meaning tactical squads, assault squads or breacher squads -- remember that the other choices cannot fulfil a compulsory choice). At low points levels, this is a headache and might be damaging. Remember Martial Hubris? Well, at low points values, this rite of war means more units. Somewhere between 1500 to 2000 points, it probably becomes a lot more viable. And those units must be able to deep strike, infiltrate, or be in transports. If you're not wanting more units like rhinos rocking around the board, then this is going to be satisfied by having infiltrate as the legion's mutable tactics. But it might be worth taking the rhinos to have the flexibility of mutable tactics still up the proverbial sleeve. And then I get in a circular argument about martial hubris again. Its a balancing act for sure - and which way to approach it is up to the player. I would personally favour having an infantry based infiltrating army for this, but perhaps a couple of transport tanks wouldn't hurt either.
The final thought here is that sometimes taking this rite of war could be done by default. If the player just happens to have the requisite 3 compulsory troops selection (and satisfies the other conditions for the rite by having the infiltrate mutable tactics), then it might as well be taken for just the subterfuge and signal corruption rules. There's nothing like messing with the enemy because you can -- and that's what the Alpha Legion does best. It trolls opponents. So, don't be afraid to take the rite of war even if you're not going to take one of the Rewards of Treason units. Its still worth it!
There are many ways to build an Alpha Legion force around their special rules. I personally favour an all-infiltrating force, with redundancy for tank hunters and counter-attack by having plenty of shooting heavy support or tactical support effort, and close assault units like assault squads and certain terminator squads. This gives me the option of Coils of the Hydra if I wanted to. Its a mixed arms force and one that can take on any opponent with a reasonable chance of success. Coupled with special rules in HQ selections (Alpharius and Armillus Dynat), they can be quite an awesome force.
I am personally going to build a force around Armillus Dynat and probably plump for infiltrate and keep the option of Rewards of Treason open. At higher points, Alpharius as well. Or Omegon perhaps. Or Sigmar. Ahem…