I know some of you don’t like Yes The Truth Hurts, but I’ve found Stelek’s postings on Allies to be quite restrained and helpful. In particular, there’s this one on the importance of mixing and matching different statlines across your detachments, with a suggestion for how many troops, vehicles and flyers of varying types it might be advisable to take.
As I’ve said a few times now, I don’t tend to take Stelek’s suggestions wholly on trust for actual gameplay, not least because he plays for big e-cred stakes while I play for peanuts and bellybutton fluff. That said, the way he thinks about army lists and the advice he gives on what’s needed at different points levels can be good for blowing away the cobwebs and thinking about things differently, like it was for my Cryx way back when. It’s certainly helpful for collection planning, as you start to ask yourself “right, so how many dudes who can shrug off autocannons and heavy bolters do I have? how many cheap dudes who I don’t really care about? how much mobile cover can I throw out? how far can I get up the board in one turn?” I also think I agree with his assertion that Allies are for 1750 points and up, unless you have a very cheap, very focused Allied contingent that’s just there to plug a hole in your army’s tactical capabilities and cost not lots.
As for what actual stuff to take in those slots, Mr. Stelek’s general approach would seem to be ‘stuff you couldn’t normally get, in sufficient quantities to force choices‘. The list he’s showcasing uses its Allies to provide cheap and flexible long ranged firepower, with the Tau capacity to point, click and delete a couple of vehicles per turn supplementing the antipersonnel firepower and melee threats of the Chaos force. Like the man says, the list in itself probably isn’t viable, but the idea is that you look for something that your Allies do better and then take enough stuff to do that well. That’s why I look at the Necrons and think “cheap blobby Troops that can sit at the back and not waste perfectly good gauss shots”, “guns with decent ranges”, “stuff with decent Initiative and Attacks scores” and “psychic powers”.Maybe Skyfire too, since Night Scythes are indeed the bomb but I don’t own any yet and £70 for two is a bit steep for the pocket at present.
Another approach that I’m quite interested in is the idea of the strike package, as mooted by Tallarn over at still practicing; the Allied contingent as a self-contained force that’s tough, mobile, dangerous and adaptable to whatever target you need dealt with. I say ‘mobile’ as opposed to ‘fast’ because it needs to be able to bypass enemy blob squads, awkward terrain and so on and so forth – getting to where you need to be isn’t just about speed, it’s about actually being able to reliably project force onto the target regardless of what defences have been erected. This is totally how I’d use Grey Knights if I were the sort of person who used Grey Knights; an airborne strike force with a psychic character, a unit that can beat face in melee and project something worthwhile at range, probably a Dreadnought of some sort, all strapped into a Stormraven. Fly in, engage and destroy key target, then attack targets of opportunity. Very thematic, and very effective. I’m not quite sure how I could do this with Chaos allies, since mobility really doesn’t seem to be the Chaos Marines’ thing. Ironically, it would work very well the other way around, with a couple of Night Scythes allied into anything that can have them like everyone and their dog seems to be going for. Perhaps it might end up being the role of the primary Necron detachment, with the Chaos allies (who, in this scenario, would most likely end up costing more than the primary detachment) being relegated to the groundwork?
This idea of an Allied contingent which outweighs the primary detachment (either in points or numbers) essentially exaggerates the previous two approaches. I imagine it to be worth a go if the primary detachment was mostly comprised of poor stuff, but had something in its non-Troops slots which had great appeal when fielded in multiples. These might be pieces which don’t come in convenient “1-3 separate models as one choice” list slots, and/or which become redundant and awkward if fielded as one big squad (like how I’d always choose two separate Obliterators over one unit of two, just because that means they can engage two separate targets if that becomes necessary). It might also be worth doing if there’s some rule in the primary army that only kicks in if they are the primary army – a warlord trait, FoC swap or army-wide special rule that’s too good to miss out on but involves you attaching yourself to a poor choice of primary detachment. In this scenario your ‘primary’ army is top-heavy; two minimalist Troops and a whole lot of niche and specialist stuff, the stuff which makes you want to keep playing them even though you know the army as a whole is a bit crap. Meanwhile, you use your Allies to provide the bread and butter of a sixth edition list – the force-multiplier HQs, resilient scoring Troops, flyers and things that kill fliers &c. &c.
Obviously this sort of thing is most useful to people whose Allies are of an Imperial persuasion, Imperial books being to date the only ones where two Troops slots yield between four and twelve scoring units with dedicated transport options for each one. For me, on the determinedly Xenochaotic axis of the forty-first millennium, there’s less of an immediate lure. However, if I had taken to heart the recent pissing and moaning about how Chaos Space Marines have the Worst Troops Choices Ever because Dark Angels still have ‘And They Shall Know No Fear’ and combat squads, and never mind that they have done since combat squads were actually a way of mitigating quite serious disadvantages, back in second edition, most Xenos armies were better at what we now call Multiple Small Unit builds and the Codex Astartes was actually an inflexible and aggravating document which demonstrated the faults of the Imperium’s steadfast adherence to strategic dogma… sorry, I’m rambling. The point is that since third edition loyalist Marines have had two things which Chaos haven’t and we’ve put up with it since 1998, so we might as well shut up about it now. No, that’s not the point!
The point is that if I thought Chaos Troops were irredeemable rubbish I might see fit to field a list which had, say, two units of Khorne Berzerkers, a Chaos Lord to make them Troops, and Huron Blackheart to guarantee them some Infiltration capacity and get them closer to the enemy objectives it was their desire to take by force. Look, this is the strategic post, all right? That means rules first background second. We’ll do the other way around next time. Anyway, I might then field some of the desirable stuff from the Chaos book (three solo Obliterators from Heavy Support and, err, for the sake of argument let’s say three solo Mutilators in case I have some cunning plan like having a fast Chaos HQ with the Dimensional Key try to kill something on turn one or two and help the buggers Deep Strike in). Anyway, that’s eight single models and two decent-sized Troop blobs; my Necron Allies would then come in packing two big Troops units in Night Scythes, a third fast HQ option, and maybe Tomb Blades or Destroyers for a third mobile firepower squad. We’d be talking forty-plus Necrons Allied to maybe just over half that number of Chaos Marines. It’s not as apt a demonstration of the principle as eight Battlesuits, twelve Fire Warriors and a hundred Guardsmen would be, but I hope it shows how the numerically smaller ‘primary’ detachment is making use of the extended Force Organisation chart while the ‘boys before toys’ approach is taken with the Allies, who’ll do the Mission heavy lifting.
So, bottom lining it all; what Chaos stuff would I be adding to my collection if I took the purely strategic approach?
If I were looking to supplement tactical capabilities by adding unit types which are flat-out absent from my collection, I’d be after a Sorcerer in HQ (no psychic powers at present), and Cultists in Troops (there’s nothing quite so cheap and forgettable and unlikely to achieve anything but score in the Necron book). The other slots would be given over to scary melee stuff and long ranged shooty stuff. In Fast Attack, Warp Talons with the Mark of Slaanesh seem expensive but plausible, or Raptors with the Mark of Khorne if I wanted something a bit cheaper and a bit more dual-purpose with the two special weapons. Or there’s always a Heldrake. In Elites I’d probably be looking at Khorne Berzerkers or maybe Chosen; again, it’s the choice between melee specialism or broader special weapon options – plus Chosen could shoot things on the way in, and they have that nifty quirk of being able to take good melee weapons on someone who isn’t obliged to challenge things that can rip him to shreds, so their lightning claws can rip squads apart instead. In Heavy Support, the legitimate choices are Havocs (I’m torn between flakk missiles because I currently lack any Skyfire or Flyers whatsoever, and lascannons/plasma guns because that’s what I could build with the bitz packs), Obliterators (although I’m not the world’s biggest fan of three-man units, they’d certainly add a variety of firepower), or either of the Fiend variants (my gut instinct is saying ‘Maulerfiend’ but I can’t quite say no to two souped-up autocannons and a plasma blasting belch). It would also be tempting to take a defence line with that Skyfire autocannon – some Cultists could lurk in that and fire the autocannon instead of messing around with their own puny guns.
If I were looking for a strike force, I’d probably be inverting the armies’ roles since the Necrons have access to a greater range of mobility tricks. My Chaos ‘primary detachment’ would probably have a Sorcerer again, a Dark Apostle and two big Cultist blobs – one to be Fearless and Hateful thanks to the Apostle, one to sit back and camp objectives. Heavy Support would be the solo Obliterators of yore, and I’d stick small melee squads in the other slots if I could afford them. That leaves the Necrons to supply mobility; bit awkward since I own no Scythes, but there’s a gimmick with the Skyshield Defence Pad, a Deep Striking Monolith and some Necrons left in Reserve that I want to try out at some stage. You’ll notice that both these plans involve Fortifications. They’re another part of sixth edition with which I have yet to come to grips, and another thing that benefits from my choice of Chaos Allies. The reason they benefit, however, is tied up with narrative and aesthetics and things which are not strictly stratological, so they’ll have to be the province of a later post.