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White Dwarf 134 and 145: Terminators & Librarians, a review

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White Dwarf 134 and 145: Terminators & Librarians, a review

Postby Maurice76 » Sunday September 2nd, 2018 2:45pm

Recently, I played through the bonus campaign published in White Dwarf 145, with a group of friends. Based on the recommendation at the start of the campaign, the Space Marine players selected to play the game with the Terminator rules. They were curious how this would play out, what versatility and fun the changes would bring. Based on that playthrough, I can give a review of how the overall experience ended up to be. I am not reviewing the Ork squad, nor the Space Marine Scouts, as we didn't play either of those.

For those who do not wish to go into the details below: the overall experience was mediocre and left something to desire. While on paper the concept of using a Terminator Squad seems promising, the increase in power is mainly in its Armour Class which has the inverse effect of reducing the threatlevel posed by the Chaos units and thereby the tension of a game session. It is further compounded by a reduction in movement speed and a reduction in damage potential across the board, instead of an increase, drawing out games much longer and reducing tactical options and choices for players. That can never be a good thing, if you ask me.

I am going to start with the Terminators first, zooming in on the Librarian at the end. At first glance, the Terminators seem to provide a significant power boost to the Space Marine player: an upgrade in Armour Class from 2 to 3 is nothing to sneeze at and all weapons across the board are more powerful than their standard versions. However, there are downsides as well: movement is reduced to at most 4. I will split these various aspects below.

Armour Class
I detailed the various hit chances in my post about hit chances (http://forum.yeoldeinn.com/viewtopic.php?f=208&t=4342#p87758). In order to evaluate the effect of this Armour Class upgrade, it is only necessary to focus on the values with which the Aliens are likely to try and shoot the Space Marine player: 2 White (all the low end grunts), 3 White (Androids), 2 Red (Chaos Commander and standard enemy Heavy Weapons) or 3 Red dice (Dreadnought Extra Heavy Weapons).

Based on that table, we can see the following changes in the chance for the Chaos Player to hit the Space Marine Terminators:
2 White dice: 8,33% -> 2,78%; a reduction by two-thirds!
3 White dice: 20,37% -> 8,80%; although not as bad as 2 White dice, it's still reduced by 57%, almost a factor 3 as well.
2 Red dice: 38,89% -> 16,67%; the relative reduction in hit chance is about as large as that of the 3 White dice.
3 Red dice: 58,33% -> 37,04%; although a reduction, it's only by one-third and the roll that suffers the least reduction in hit chance.

As can be seen, the low level grunts (Gretchin, Orks, Chaos Space Marines with Bolters) are hardly making a dent in the Space Marine players anymore if they choose to shoot: only 1 out of every 36 rolls on average is going to kill a Terminator. Although Androids are not affected as bad, they are reduced to the amount that the low level grunts used to attack with. Roughly 1 in every 12 rolls they make will result in a succesful hit against a Terminator.

Although the 2 Red dice of the Heavy Weapons (ignoring the Chaos Commander for this consideration) may seem to still provide reasonable odds of taking out a Terminator - roughly 1 in every 6 shots - they are reduced in a different manner: both the Rocket Launcher and the Assault Cannon are reduced to essentially single target damage. While the Rocket Launcher deals its full 2 Red dice to the central tile, it hits the surrounding ones with the highest of its rolls, which is at most 3. Originally, it had a chance of 1 in 6 to also take out Space Marines surrounding the target tile, but with Terminator Armour of 3, that chance is reduced to 0. The Assault Cannon can deal at most 6 points of damage and to take out a Terminator, the Chaos Player has to invest 4 points into a single Space Marine. The leftover 2 points are useless. With standard Space Marine Armour, the Chaos Player could take out 2 Space Marines if he was lucky to roll 2 3's, a chance of 1 in 36. While low, it was a higher chance than nothing at all. The only weapon that's relatively unaffected is the Plasma Cannon, since it simply deals its full damage to all figures on the affected line.

Based on this, if the Chaos Player wishes to deal with the Terminator Squads boarding his ship, he has to much more carefully deploy his Dreadnoughts and equip them with the Extra Heavy Weapons available. Since the reduction of the hit chance is least with these weapons, the vulnerability of the Space Marine player shifts towards those Extra Heavy Weapons and these become the real squad killers.

The downside with this is that the basic Chaos units become practically uninteresting, they no longer present a significant threat to deal with; shooting with them is often pointless, because the chance to hit is so low. It introduces a degree of boredom as a result, because most of the enemies encountered are such basic Chaos units. This, however, is remedied to a degree by the next point.

As a side effect, two Event Cards - "Self Defense" - have also become useless. With 1 Red die, the odds of killing a Terminator is zero. During our playthrough, I removed those two cards from the Event deck. In a similar fashion, the "Air Mine" and "Mutant Bomber" cards have become single target as well, since they're basically the same effect as a Rocket Launcher.

Because the Terminator Armour is heavier, Space Marines may only move up to 4 tiles instead of 6. Although this seems like a relatively insignificant change, as all Space Marines with (Extra) Heavy weapons can only move 4 tiles anyway - disregarding the Imperial Fist Heavy Weapons, of course - its impact is far greater: it also affects the Space Marine Commanders and the standard Space Marines who are armed with Bolters. It simply reduces team flexibility across the board, since deployment suddenly is such an issue and a reduction of flexibility is a reduction in options, which in turn reduces fun for the players. Especially the Blood Angles player is affected, since that team is mostly about melee combat, which demands that they reach their enemies and stand toe to toe with them. Due to the reduction in speed, it's easier for the Chaos units to dance around them, out of melee reach. The confines of the rooms and corridors remedy this to a certain degree though.

Because getting into melee range was so problematic, all players in my group dropped the melee weapons after the first mission. Most kills were made by ranged weapons, so the interest in going into melee - despite having much better melee weapons available - dropped to insignificant levels, even for the Blood Angels player; this player was pretty dissatisfied with no longer being able to effectively play out the strength of his team as it was in the base game. Only the Imperial Fist player maintained one pure melee Terminator for the heck of it.

Because of this reduction in movement, it is also harder for the Space Marine player to prevent clustering of its Marines - which is of course beneficial to the (Extra) Heavy Weapons deployed by the Chaos Player - and the confines of the rooms and corridors make this slightly worse. Furthermore, it simply takes longer for the players to scout the board and reach the main objective: with a reduction of 2 tiles, the time needed to cover ground goes up by about 50%. This further compounds the increased boredom that comes from the reduction in credible threat presented by the low level Chaos grunts, because it simply takes longer for the Space Marine players to literally get anywhere. Session time goes up as well, accordingly.


Assault Cannon
The extra White die does boost its damage potential, increasing the damage to a maximum of 8 instead of 6. Based on the table I linked earlier, we can see that this changes the chances to hit the enemy (which is basically the same as the amount of damage it deals on average, because damage can be split across multiple enemies) as follows:
AC 0: 75,00% -> 83,33%
AC 1: 58,33% -> 68,06%
AC 2: 38,89% -> 48,15%
AC 3: 16,67% -> 27,31%
AC 4: 8,33% -> 14,81%

As can be seen, the biggest increase in the chance to hit is at the higher end of the spectrum. It's nothing spectacular, however; the Space Marine player will not suddenly mow down a lot more enemies than with the regular Assault Cannon, which wasn't that good to begin with.

Heavy Flamer
The Heavy Flamer is an upgrade over the standard Missile Launcher, in the sense that it deals its full damage to all surrounding tiles as well and not just the central one. However, this is reduced to a certain degree because most Aliens encountered are of the low level type. A roll of 1 or 2 on the highest die is enough to kill Gretchin and Orks, just like the standard Rocket Launcher. Anything above it is overkill. As such, the number of times that you will kill something in the surrounding tiles of the one you're targetting that you would otherwise not have killed with a normal Rocket Launcher is low. At to that that a smart Chaos Player will not expose too many of his troops to its potential area of effect, the weapon is hardly better than the normal Rocket Launcher.

Although these are fairly low upgrades, what was experienced by my group as a fun killer was the fact that the Space Marine player is reduced to only carrying one of them (base game) or two (with Mission: Dreadnought). The other Space Marines - 3 for the base game, 4 for Mission Dreadnought - all carry one of three different type of weapon sets, none of which deals Area of Effect damage. In my playgroup, the UltraMarines player but especially the Imperial Fist player experienced this as a significant reduction in Area of Effect damage potential and thereby versatility and flexibility of the team as a whole, reducing options and thereby creativity during gameplay.

Standard Terminator weapons

Storm Bolter
A slightly improved version of the Bolter, it has an increased chance to hit by about the same amount as the Assault Cannon detailed above.

Thunder Hammer and Storm Shield
The Storm Shield seems interesting at first and might save lives in the long run, but the effect is flaky at best because it is random and doesn't do anything half of the time. Furthermore, since the combination is purely melee, it forces the Terminator to close the gap with the enemy, with the aforementioned problems in movement speed. Since it's only 2 Red dice in melee combat, the maximum damage potential and the odds of losing combat is still something that should give the Space Marine player some reason for concern. For the Blood Angels player, since Attack Bajonets don't work with this weapon, enemy potential isn't reduced either, nor is a Terminator equipped with this weapon able to use Bolt Pistols.

Lightning Claws
Identical to the Commander version, it's a good weapon but like with the Thunder Hammer and Storm Shield combination suffers from the lack in movement speed to reach an enemy unit to engage it in melee. Like with the Thunder Hammer and Storm Shield, for the Blood Angels player, since Attack Bajonets don't work with this weapon, enemy potential isn't reduced either, nor is a Terminator equipped with this weapon able to use Bolt Pistols.

As I already wrote, in my player group the melee-only weapons were ditched after the first mission due to issues with reaching the enemy units in time.

Regardless of which loadout option is chosen, these do not make up for the lack of Area of Effect damage potential. This detracts from the fun experienced by players in two ways: first of all, it costs more time to clear the board of enemies, thereby increasing sessiontime needlessly, and it gives the enemy longer time to try to shoot their Terminators. While the Chaos player might benefit from this, the aspect of getting more rolls during a game to shoot the Space Marine squads doesn't weigh up to the fact that a lot more shots aren't connecting.

General assessment
To add insult to injury, in order to make use of a squad armed with Terminator Armour, the Space Marine player has to discard four Equipment Cards. Those were hard-earned in previous battles and this limitation nullifies perhaps the greatest aspect about having these Equipment Cards: they provide options and versatility to the squad. By being forced to drop them, one might think that the Space Marine player has to make tactical choices in which Equipment to select, but it doesn't feel that way; the Space Marine player feels like his options are getting reduced - and as a result, the fun in playing the game.

While on paper the concept of using a Terminator Squad seems promising, the increase in power is mainly in its Armour Class which has the inverse effect of reducing the threatlevel posed by the Chaos units and thereby the tension of a game session. It is further compounded by a reduction in movement speed and a reduction in damage potential across the board, instead of an increase, drawing out games much longer and reducing tactical options and choices for players. That can never be a good thing, if you ask me.

Ways to remedy this - but this will require playtesting - might be to increase movement to 5 tiles (or even 6, for melee only Terminators), to allow more than 1 (or 2, with Mission: Dreadnought) Heavy Weapon on the team or to add something like a Terminator version of the Plasma Cannon and thereby increasing options. Furthermore, the Equipment Card reduction should probably be reduced.

As an aside, a glaring omission in the Terminator rules is the point value of a killed Terminator for the Chaos Player. During the playthrough with my friends, we valued a regular Terminator at 10 points and the rest (Commander, Heavy Weapons, Librarian) each at 15.

Terminator Librarians
As promised, I would review Terminator Librarians in the end of this review. Basically, they're an addition to the Terminator Squad, whose rules are detailed in White Dwarf 145. On paper, like the Terminators, it seems like a fun and powerful unit. It acts like a normal Terminator in almost every aspect, although it is somewhat stronger in melee combat. Where it differs, though, is in the Psychic Powers it has.

However, right from the start the rules impede the application of a Librarian in two frustrating ways.

First, the Space Marine player has to choose which of the Psychic abilities he takes along in a mission, being forced to choose 1 out of 3 Psychic Powers from each of the 4 detailed Psychic Power suits. Since the usefulness of most abilities is circumstantial at best and circumstances can come and go - or not at all - during a game, the player is basically forced to look at general usability at the start of each game. This means that the player will likely keep selecting the same 4 Psychic Powers every game and the other 8 will never see the light of day during play. Adding insult to injury, the situation for which the player selected the Power may not come to pass during a game, whereas a situation might occur in which another Power of the same suit would have matched perfectly.

Secondly, if a Space Marine player wishes to use a Psychic Power, he has to announce so at the start of his turn and play the affected card. If he chooses to do so, the Librarian may not take any other action, including movement (unless stated otherwise). Of the Psychic Powers, 5 require to have Line of Sight to the target (4 of which have a Range limitation, too), which means the Librarian must have survived a round by the Chaos Player during which he had the chance to deal damage to the Librarian, potentially killing it - and since the Librarian is basically a "Terminator+", it is likely the Chaos Player will target the Librarian if he can.

Because of the first point, the Space Marine player will scan each of the four suits of Psychic Powers and determine the best one. Looking at the four suits, it is also clear that the Psychic Powers within a suit are sometimes not even in the same ballpark as the rest of the suit.

Psionic Cards: Control, Scan, Smite
Control takes full control of a Chaos unit - any Chaos unit - but it is limited by line of sight and a range of 6 squares. Yet, this is the best one in the suit as the other two are pretty bad: Scan is basically a one-time Bio Scanner (UltraMarines equipment card), which is highly situational and therefor its value can't be assessed before the game starts or is underway; Smite basically functions like a Rocket Launcher blast centered on the Librarian, which has the problem that Chaos units must be directly adjacent to the Librarian, after the turn of the Chaos Player.

Power Cards: Hellfire, Lightning Arc, Vortex
To be honest, I don't even know which cards my players selected during the campaign playthrough as they never used it during play. Hellfire is basically a normal Rocket Launcher with limited range (8 tiles), but with a twist that can be potentially deadly against Dreadnoughts. Lightning Arc requires a lot of Chaos units to be relatively close to the Librarian when the owning Space Marine player starts his turn and is therefor highly situational; it's basically a Plasma Cannon with a twist. Vortex, finally, requires the Librarian to sacrifice itself, giving a resulting effect that is controlled by the dice and can potentially do more harm than good. I'd say that Hellfire is probably the best candidate, close to the Lightning Arc.

Kinesis Cards: Blast, Jinx, Teleport
Blast requires an intervening object (like a closed door) between the Librarian and the enemy units to be useful and is thereby situational. Even then it only affects units within 5 tiles behind it. Since most doors directly between the opposing forces are opened before the shooting starts and an attentive Chaos Player will make sure to not have units behind it when this card is selected, its use is fairly limited. Jinx, on the other hand, is a Dreadnought killer: since it is rendered useless and can't defend itself, the Space Marine players can tear it to shreds in man-to-man combat without really breaking a sweat. Teleport, finally, is very circumstantial but can move the Librarian in a tactical position, for a regular attack. It doesn't bring anything else to the board, though. Since Jinx is so crazy powerful against Dreadnoughts (if at least within line of sight at the start of the turn, which might be deadly for the Librarian during the Chaos Player turn before), it's unlikely Blast or Teleport will be chosen often.

Temporal Cards: Burst of Speed, Warp Time, Aura
Burst of Speed and Warp Time are for most situations fairly identical - with the notable exception that Burst of Speed affects only the Librarian and Warp Time affects the entire team except for the Librarian. Having the choice between having a single turn for the entire team with an additional one for the Librarian versus having a double turn for the entire team without the Librarian should be a no-brainer in most situations, which means that Warp Time is much more valuable than Burst of Speed - especially since the Space Marine player can use two Command cards with Warp Time, as opposed to only one during Burst of Speed. Aura, finally, just increases Armour Class by 1 for 1 turn for the Librarian only. In light of the other two cards, it's unlikely the Space Marine player will ever consider taking Aura over the other two.

Because of the two limitations, as well as the mortality of the Librarian, it's unlikely many Psychic Powers will be played during the game. Easing up the limitations would seem like the way to go to make them more versatile. First, it would help a great deal if movement was at least allowed for the cards that require Line of Sight to the target (including Smite). Secondly, it would help a great deal if the Librarian was simply restricted from casting more than 1 Psychic Power per suit for the game, without having to choose one before the game begins. Let circumstance determine which Power is more useful as the game progresses. This in turn has the added effect of providing more options to the Space Marine player, increasing the fun factor in deploying this unit ingame.

Grin's Stone Map Slain a measly Goblin! Killed a mighty Fimir! Shattered a Skeleton! Destroyed a Zombie! Unravelled a Mummy! Smashed a massive Gargoyle!
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