Friday, January 22, 2010

Death From Above

An Imperial Guard Commander's Guide to Fielding Air Cavalry
by: Julian Sharps

The 5th edition Imperial Guard codex is a remarkably versatile army list. Unlike, say, Space Marines, we can field about 9 different, viable army list builds; Gunline (lots of static troops and heavy weapons), Armored Gunline (like gunline but with more tanks), Siege Gunline (like gunline but with more artillery), Platoon Mechanized, Veteran Mechanized, Light Infantry (lots of outflankers), Assault, Platoon Air Cavalry and (my personal favorite) Veteran Air Cavalry. It is these last two that this article is about.

An Air Cavalry list has many advantages:
  • Mobile
  • Aggressive
  • Unpredictable
  • Hard-hitting,
and a few disadvantages:
  • Lack of ordnance
  • Low armor
  • Units must be independent
  • High risk factor
Let's take a look at these advantages and disadvantages in a little more depth, so we can see what exactly I mean:

Mobile: An Air Cavalry force is one of the fastest in the game. We have a fast skimmer transport that makes Eldar and Dark Eldar players weep since the Valkyrie is faster than a Falcon, is better armed than a Raider and is better armored than either of them. Combine this with the fact that a Valkyrie can Deep Strike, Outflank or Scout move, and you have a vehicle that can hit from just about anywhere on the table and deliver its passengers to take and hold objectives or merely support them as they begin their assault. In addition, a Valkyrie's passengers can disembark at any time, even if it moved flat out due to its special disembarkation rules (however, troops can disembark normally as well. Don't forget that).

Aggressive: An Air Cavalry force is not for the cautious, calculating field commander (I would advise you stick to gunlines if you are). You have to be prepared to lose a large chunk of your points to take advantage of the full tactical flexibility an Air Cavalry list offers. If you play aggressively but without taking unnecessary risks (mechanized and light infantry players share those traits), with a little practice you'll find Air Cavalry to be a rewarding build to play.

Unpredictable: An Air Cavalry list has an element of unpredictability to it due to the nature of Reserves, Outflank and Deep Strike. This unpredictability can be a great asset, however, as it keeps your opponent on his toes and makes him think about how to react to your moves. Remember, the more your opponent needs to think, the more likely he will be making mistakes.
Hard-hitting: When you consider that you can fit 4 large blast templates, six S6 shooting attacks and anywhere from two to eight special weapons on a wing pair of Valkyries carrying a squad each, an Air Cavalry list can pack quite a punch. Combine this with the mobility inherent to the list, and Air Cavalry suddenly becomes quite potent in the right hands.
Lack of ordnance: An Air Cavalry list does not have any artillery or main battle tanks (although there is realistically nothing to stop a player from including them). Doing so makes that list a combined arms list, which may or may not be effective depending on one's playing style and local metagame.

Low armor: Unless you include Leman Russes (of any flavor) in your list, the highest armor rating an Air Cavalry list will have is 12. However, since Valkyries will be moving fast most of the time, this disadvantage is largely compensated for by the cover saves your Valkyries will most likely be getting.

Units must be independent: When you take Outflanking and Deep Striking into account, the chance that your troops will be in orders range is unlikely. As a result, any given Valkyrie/squad pair will need to be able to operate independently until reinforcements can arrive.

High risk factor: Deep Strike mishaps, delayed reserves, low armor values, skimmer damage rules... These are but a few of the potential hazards an Air Cavalry list faces not because of the opponent, but because of the list's inherent strengths and weaknesses. In larger games a single Deep Strike mishap may cost you close to a quarter of your points. When disembarking at high speed, enough failed Dangerous Terrain tests could cripple a squad and leave it vulnerable to enemy fire. You simply cannot expect everything to go smoothly when running a list like this.

Okay, you've read this far, so I'm going to assume that you consider the weaknesses of an Air Cavalry list to be a fair price for the advantages such a list brings. There is one other disadvantage to Air Cavalry that has nothing to do with the game itself, and that is money. To buy all the Valkyries you are going to require (usually in the neighborhood of 6-9), you will need a lot of it. The Valkyrie is a complicated kit, but the end result is one of the best-looking models Games Workshop has put out since the Baneblade. However, since Air Cavalry is such a new list type for Imperial Guard (the previous codex only had the Chimera, Hellhound, Sentinel (what the current codex calls the "scout sentinel"), Leman Russ, Demolisher and the Basilisk), this is one of those lists that is best built up over time.

Ideally, your list should contain an Astropath and enough Valkyries for each of your squads to have one. In the case of platoons, I would suggest taking the minimum number of infantry squads (2) and give each platoon a full squadron of Valkyries. The Astropath exists to make sure that your Valkyries come onto the table in a timely manner, so the command squad he is with should reflect that with minimal upgrades and a Chimera to give them enough protection for them to do that. Personally, I also take a second Company Command Section to use as an anti-tank weapon spam platform (4x meltagun lovin').

The Valkyrie itself is pretty versatile in the number of outfit options available to you. In my list, I always buy every Valkyrie the Multiple Rocket Pods upgrade because the Hellstrike missiles it carries as standard do not meet my list's needs. The Multiple Rocket Pods are terrific anti-infantry weapons, while the Hellstrikes are a one-shot Hunter-Killer missile with improved vehicle armor penetration. Since the Hellstrike is an Ordnance weapon without a blast template (this is important), a Valkyrie firing one must be moving less than 6" to fire it, which only slows it down and prevents it from firing another weapon. The Multiple Rocket Pods, on the other hand, do not run out of ammunition and count as defensive weapons (meaning you can move up to 12" and still fire them). Since the Valkyrie is primarily a transport, this is an advantageous weapon for an Air Cavalry list (in fact, I have scored more Space Marine kills per shooting phase with my MRPs than any other weapon). The Valkyrie can also be fitted with heavy bolter sponsons, but I find that in order to use them the Valkyrie must be moving no more than 6". While a weapon that slows a Valkyrie down is not a good match for it, the Vendetta, already slowed down by its three twin-linked lascannons would only benefit from the addition of sponson gunners (for one thing it gives the Vendetta a secondary role once it runs out of tanks to slag). As a result, I normally do without them. With the nose weapon, only the standard Multilaser makes sense because if you want to mount a lascannon on a Valkyrie you would be better off buying a Vendetta instead.

Now, we can get to the fun part: Tactics. As mentioned above, an Air Cavalry list is very flexible. There are a few things to keep in mind regarding Air Cavalry and how they behave on the table:
  • A unit mounted in a Deep Striking or Outflanking Valkyrie Deep-Strikes or outflanks with it.
  • A Deep-Striking skimmer gets its cover save for moving fast on the turn it drops in because it counts as moving at combat speed (6").
  • Valkyries and Vendettas come with Searchlights and Extra Armor as standard. This means that they can't be Stunned (all Crew Stunned results are reduced to Crew Shaken instead) and they don't have to follow Night-Fighting rules when shooting (although enemy units don't have to when targeting them, either, if you decide to take advantage of that upgrade).
  • When disembarking normally from a Valkyrie, you measure from the base, not from the hull of the transport. When using the special disembarking rules, there is no need to measure as you can place the squad anywhere along the Valkyrie's flight path.

Anyways, there are three basic ways to deploy a Valkyrie: normally, Outflanking and Deep Striking. The last two are pretty much self-explanatory; I'm sure that the tactics for both of them are well-explained elsewhere, and there is no real change when using Valkyries is this manner. When deploying normally, however, you can choose to take advantage of the Valkyrie's Scout move before the game begins. This, combined with the recommended armament of the Valkyrie, has led to some rather creative uses of their abilities.

The Rolling Thunder Gambit (named after its creator, Rolling Thunder, a moderator and contributing member of the IGMB) is one such strategy. The idea is to take a Valkyrie or two and deploy it normally on the edge of your deployment zone with a Veteran squad equipped with Meltaguns or Plasma Guns in each one. Then, taking advantage of the Scout move you rush them forward as fast as they will go. Then, on your turn, you rush them towards the enemy's firebase (preferably where they have heavy weapons, artillery, armor or special characters), disembark and unleash hell on them (this would benefit greatly from the melta command section detailed above). With any luck, you'll have taken out a key element in your enemy's forces before they could do a thing with it, plus they'll have to divide their remaining firepower between the bulk of your forces and the strike force already behind their lines. However, the Rolling Thunder Gambit's success is largely dependent on you having the first turn. That is something that does not come easily to the Imperial Guard.

The Sharps Sucker Punch is a technique I have developed for dealing with lightly armored enemy transport vehicles and their occupants. Using the nose-mounted Multilaser, a Valkyrie targets a light enemy transport (like a Rhino, Trukk or Dark Eldar Raider) and scores a penetrating hit (but the vehicle can't be destroyed, otherwise the maneuver is ruined). Usually, a penetrating hit will force an emergency disembark on any passengers aboard; as a result, they will be crowded around the vehicle, which is when the Multiple Rocket Pods are fired. Now normally, if a unit fires at another unit, all of its weapons must fire at that same target. However, if a targeted shot scatters it still inflicts damage on any unit underneath its area of effect. The plan is to take advantage of the fact that the Multiple Rocket Pods will scatter (and that they'll most likely have no effect on the vehicle they're being fired at) to hit the unit it was carrying. The most glaring weakness of this strategy is that it depends on the vehicle not being destroyed by the initial burst of Multilaser fire, but the effect it has on lightly armored targets like Kroot, Wyches and Orks can be devastating if it works (it should also work wonders against Land Speeder Storms and their Scout Marine passengers, but I have yet to test it against them). A variant of this technique is to deploy an infantry squad with anti-tank weapons like Meltaguns and use them to pop the transport, then use the Valkyrie to shred the passengers.

[Editor's note: This tactic may not work in 5th edition.]

I hope you found this article on Air Cavalry useful. It's a fun build to play with, and it's rewarding if used correctly. At some point I'll write up some example lists and post more detailed tactics regarding them. Until next time, keep 'em flying!


  1. Sorry, it insists on making the text a bit smaller, and it won't let me make it normal-sized.

  2. It's because you've cut and pasted it from somewhere else mate, and it's picked up the html formatting from the original post. Was this off IGMB?

    If you edit the blog, look at them icons you'll see a little T with a red x, highlight all the text and then click that and it'll remove all the formatting, although, you'll need you reapply the bullet points at it'll take it all back to just default text.

    Hope that helps.

  3. I did un-do all the formatting before I posted it. I even told it to use larger font, I guess it's because it's a longer article. It's still readable... it's more annoying as the principle of the thing: I should be smarter than the internet... should be... I guess Skynet's messing with me.

  4. Paste it into notepad first mate, that'll strip the formatting and the copy and paste it into your blog.

    God damn skynet!