Reviewing Warzone Fenris: Deathwolves and Taxes

The somewhat belated second installment of my Warzone Fenris review (apologies, life got in the way), this time covering the actual meat of the book – the rules themselves. Formations for both Daemons and Space Wolves, new missions, new units…there is much to be had. And much to be considered.

Some of it good, some of it bad, all of it dripping with flavor. Whatever else I’m going to say about the book, I’m happy to say that – this book feels right.

That being said, lets dig in.

First, a moment about the format. In light of the release of Angels of Death, this book, and the Warzone Damocles books (and the notable lack of major, actual codex releases in that time) it’s clear we’ve entered yet another paradigm of GW codex design, one I’m calling “Codex DLC”. You get some new formations, maybe a unit or two, but it’s meant to extend a current codex, not replace it. I found an old quote of mine on the Independent Characters forums discussing the rumors of a 7th edition supplement to the 6th edition Eldar Codex instead of a full codex release, and I think a portion of it accurately sums up my feelings on this:

that just feels…awkward and inelegant

It robs GW of the opportunity to actually fix things rather than patch them, even for armies that don’t need much fixing. The Tau are in a decent place, and Damocles gave them some very nice things – but there’s no opportunity in this format to go back and fix things like Vespid, or that the railgun option for Broadsides is manifestly inferior. And I think that’s unfortunate. I wanted to put it out there, because it colors my feelings on this book some – for example, Blood Claws remain WS/BS 3 despite the scout buffs for exactly this reason.

Echoes of War Missions

There are a number of new Echoes of War missions in the book, and for those who look toward mainly narrative or “this is a cool scenario” gaming, these are great. Most can have the Space Wolves vs. Daemons guts ripped out of them and replaced with something else. They also introduce three new hostile environments: a Haunted Planet, an Ice World, and a Ministorum Shrine World, all with their own special rules. They’re flavorful and fun, and feel like they’ll be influential without being overwhelming (the table beat me, not you!), but they also feel like something where everyone will forget those rules halfway through the game ala Mysterious Objectives.

Minor visibility concerns
Minor visibility concerns
  • “Of Wolf and Iron” is an interesting mission built around searching objectives for the Wulfen, and once found, keeping them alive. Substituting in any number of other special units would work just as well in other games.
  • “A Rivalry Rekindled” is an absolutely nuts canyon chase on a 168″ board that GW is clearly assuming you can represent with Realm of Battle tiles. It’s a race to the end, and definitely the kind of mission you should prep for and discuss ahead of time – I could see this being actively un-fun if not planned for appropriately.
  • “An Arena of Blood” is a great scenario for those missing the titanic clashes of HQs of old – duels between Logan Grimnar, Brother-Captain Stern and a Bloodthirster of Unfettered Fury abound. Again, easy to substitute out appropriate units for the things you actually have, so long as you’re willing to spend a ton of points on characters with oversized weapons and matching egos.
  • “Scattered Drop” is one of the neatest looking missions in the book, and is actually played on six 2′ x 2′ boards – again, presumably either tiles or marked off. Each one is an entirely separate battle that don’t interact, save for when an army entirely clears one board, at which point they can move to reinforce another. Though you still have to garrison the zone to get points, and enemy reserves might take it from you! This opens up some interesting strategies, fliers and other reserves become a big thing, and unbalanced armies are in for a rough time. Again, this mission will require a fair amount of pre-planning, but I could see playing this with say, an Elysian drop troops force being a blast.
  • “As Above, So Below” is another split map mission (someone clearly likes them…), representing a joint advance of armor and infantry. As with the others, substitutions are trivial.
  • “Averting Disaster” is a standard “Stop the Chaos Baddies from Doing Bad Things at an Objective” mission, powering up Chaos (at the risk of backfiring) and able to be Exorcised by Grey Knights, Psykers, etc.

The missions come with a simple linked campaign, with a small bonus to each side in the next mission if they win.  For example, in Scattered Drop, if the Space Wolves win, they can move objectives 3″ closer, and if the Daemons win, the objectives move 3″ further away.

Overall, they’re Echoes of War missions. Fun, flavorful, but you’re unlikely to play them much. But they’re worth having a look at.

Space Wolf Units

Minor tweaks: The Space Wolves get a couple small unit patches – allowing squadrons for Vindicators, Whirlwinds, Predators and Land Speeders, and accompanying special rules along the same lines as the Space Marines Codex. Ulrik the Slayer gets a new model but not new rules, and Krom’s stats are presented as well.

More interestingly, the Iron Priest gets reworked, going up 20 points and moving from Elites to HQ. This comes with a bump up of WS, W and Ld. They also have access to new weapons with the Helfrost rule, which is nice to see being spread around a bit. According the White Dwarf, you can use either profile, but the book here is pretty clear:

The Iron Priest datasheet (pg 34) replaces the Iron Priest datasheet found in Codex: Space Wolves.

That’s an unfortunate loss of a cheap Elite option for armies using the detachment in Champions of Fenris, but an interesting new option for HQ units.

But the real interest is…The Wulfen.

Feral, powerful and fast, the Wulfen are pretty beefy, and have a points cost to match at 30 points a piece. S5, T4, 2 wounds and with 3 attacks base, they’re formidable combatants, though with a 4+ armor save. What really boosts them up is their special rules – the usual package for the Space Wolves plus Feel No Pain, Rage, Curse of the Wulfen, Bounding Lope and Death Frenzy. The Curse actually buffs nearby Space Wolf units within 6″ (+6″ for Blood Claws and their jump and bike analogs, -3″ for Long Fangs), usually endowing a new, close-combat focused special rule. Bounding Lope allows them to Run and charge on the same turn – making them ridiculously fast for an infantry unit – and can re-roll failed charge rolls. Finally, Death Frenzy allows the Wulfen, if they are killed in the Fight sub-phase, to pile in and attack before they are taken off the table – even if they’ve already attacked.

Holy shit.

Lets compare these feral badasses to two elite units from the Space Wolves codex – Wolf Guard Terminators and Thunderwolf Cavalry.

First up, flat up mobility – how far away can a unit be and still be a serious threat for a charge. For this, I simply simulated a move and charge (or for the Wulfen, a move, run and charge). As both the Wulfen and Thunderwolves get rerolls, I assumed you’d re-roll if you got a below average roll (<7″ for Wulfen charges, <4″ for either dice on a Thunderwolf charge).

Distance

The Wolf Guard are in purple, the Wulfen in blue, and the Thunderwolves in Green. Both the Wulfen and Thunderwolves massively outpace standard infantry, and while the most common results for the Wulfen is far slower than the Thunderwolves, they have a very wide threat range – your opponent will still likely have to treat Wulfen 20-22″ away as a potential charge.

Next, survivability. Here, we’re going to assume everyone is rocking 3++ saves from Storm Shields, because they probably should be. This will also be reflected later in the offensive power section, as it is a trade-off. lets consider two scenarios: a basic Marine squad unloading their bolters, and a Hornet firing off their pulse lasers. Volume vs. Power. For this, we’re looking at the number of casualties multiplied by the points cost of a casualty (bare and un-upgraded) to normalize them (so losing a 100 pt. model would sting as much as losing two 50 pt. models).

Survival

With the same color-scheme as before, we can see that under a sheer avalanche of fire, the superior save of the Wolf Guard Terminators manages to carry the day, followed on by the higher Toughness of the Thunderwolf Cavalry. The Wulfen aren’t very far behind though, owing to the two wound models, but it is valuable to know that, in metas with an emphasis on volume of fire, the Wulfen are marginally less survivable, point-for-point.

How about something a little more dangerous – notably, a salvo of Pulse Laser fire from an Eldar Hornet?

SurvivalPulse

Things…are pretty even. The defensive bonus from the 2+ Terminator Armor save vanishes and Wolf Guard Terminators and Wulfen stand on pretty much equal footing. Similarly, the Thunderwolf Cavalry’s T5 does them little good, though their two wounds do – though this is offset by the higher cost of one of those models when they do go down. The spendy-ness of Thunderwolves definitely hurts them here.

But lets talk about what everyone really cares about – offensive hitting power. Again, we’re assuming everyone is using Storm Shields, and we’re also assuming everyone has successfully charged (or is in the first phase of getting charged) so gets their +1 attacks. We’ll be sending them up against standard MEQ infantry – WS 4, 3+ saves (which won’t help), T4 and a single wound. Basically giving everyone their best-case scenario, where they should simply wade through their opponents. We’re also going to assume these units are outnumbered, and have an uncapped number of opponents they could kill. How many MEQs does each one of these models kill, when normalized by points (again)?

MeleeCC

The Thunderwolves and Wolf Guard Terminators are about on par when you talk about point-efficiency. The Thunderwolves kill more, but they’re also considerable more expensive. Wulfen however, outstrip both of them – largely by being just as killy as Thunderwolf Cav, but considerably cheaper with our particular loadout. And what about when these units also die? While this does nothing for the two Codex units, which die like civilized, right-thinking models, the Wulfen actually get more dangerous as they get killed. Below (in red) is the distribution for a Wulfen who attacks, and then also dies:

MeleeDeath

That’s just cheating. Statistically speaking, you’ve doubled the unit’s effectiveness for free. That’s insanely good.

What does all of this mean? As Paul Murphy put it on the Forge the Narrative podcast, there’s really no reason to ever take Wolf Guard Terminators now. What was already a unit that struggled to justify it’s purpose (keep in mind here we’re being generous in this analysis by not penalizing the combat effectiveness of Terminators to reflect that they’re less likely to make a charge) has simply been replaced by a better, equally affordable and more mobile unit. Thunderwolves still have their place – they, in turn, are more mobile than their Wulfen brethren, and more compatible with other high-speed Imperial factions as their mobility isn’t built off special rules, but the Wulfen represent a viable replacement for them in many armies. But they’re a drop in replacement, I don’t see them doing better enough, despite their close combat efficiency, to pull the Space Wolves up to the same level as some of the more modern codexes.

Space Wolf Formations

In Curse, the Space Wolves get their old special detachments largely mirrored in a new Decurion-style detachment. The formation, a “Wolf Claw Strike Force”, has some interesting rules. Counter-charge allows you to declare charges at the end of your opponent’s Charge sub-phase, so long as you’re charging into existing combats. Basically the melee version of the Tau’s multi-unit overwatch. It’s dependent on getting charged of course, but between this and ubiquitous Counter-attack units, I could see this being fun to set up. If you end up taking a ton of Space Wolves (two+ Greatpacks or Legendary Greatpacks, which we will discuss in a moment), they turn into a Great Company and also get The Howl of Wolves – granting them Fear and Furious Charge while their Wolf Lord is still alive. A nice bonus, but I’m not sure it’s Gladius-nice.

Where the Space Wolves part from other Decurions is that they have a veritable avalanche of Core choices. The generic Great Pack is very similar to the formation in the main codex – you get the warlord trait reroll, and the random chance to Outflank. The price is 1 Wolf Lord or Wolf Guard Battle Leader, 0-1 Wolf Guard/Terminators/Thunderwolves, 1-3 Blood Claws or analogs, an optional Lukas, 3-5 Grey Hunters or Land Speeders, 1-2 Long Fangs, 0-1 Wolf Scouts, 0-2 Lone Wolves. That’s…pretty hefty.

Following that are six additional Core choices, representing famed Wolf Lords and their Great Companies:

  • The Firehowlers: If you wanted to play White Scars, but decided on Vikings instead. Jump packs, bikes, and fast units all around, with bonuses to charges.
  • The Ironwolves: Everyone needs to be in a tank. In exchange, vehicles get weapon and wargear options for free, can move an additional 6″ moving flat out, and Iron Wolves can get out of transports that moved 12″.
  • The Drakeslayers: Another CC-oriented choice, with Monster Hunter and Stubborn among some other special rules.
  • The Deathwolves: Outflank for everyone! Bonuses to reserve rolls! Bonuses to sweeping advance! Hit fast, hit hard.
  • The Blackmanes: All. The. Drop Pods. Seriously, any unit that can take a Drop Pod as a dedicated transport gets it for free. Also, they all arrive on Turn 1, and don’t count toward the numbers for Drop Pod Assault. Plus they get Fearless and Feel No Pain (6+) on the turn they disembark. Plus a nice little bonus to Blood Claws etc. for having Ragnar Blackmane alive.
  • The Champions of Fenris: Logan and Friends. Very similar to what you’d expect out of the Champions of Fenris supplement, with similar bonuses.

All super-cool. And super-expensive. Lets take the Blackmanes as an example, because I’ve never met a null deployment army I didn’t love. The requirements are:

  • Ragnar Blackmane or a Wolf Guard Battle Leader
  • 1 unit of Wolf Guard Terminators or Thunderwolf Cavalry
  • 3 – 5 units of Blood Claws, Skyclaws and Swiftclaws
  • 0 – 1 Lukas the Trickster
  • 4 – 6 units of Grey Hunters or Land Speeders
  • 1 – 2 units of Long Fangs
  • 1 unit of Wolf Scouts
  • 0 – 2 Lone Wolves

Lets assume for the moment that you want this to be pretty pod-heavy, to maximize your free stuff, and the sheer shock of everything dropping on Turn 1. Utterly naked, with minimum unit sizes (2 Long Fangs…) and no other upgrades or optional units, that’s a 709 point formation. Gearing them up in any way is going to get pricey. It’s 280 points of free Drop Pods, to be sure, but these aren’t Objective Secured drop pods.

I could maybe get behind these pricey core formations if the Auxiliary choices were cheap – like the Eldar codex, where there are lots of “1-3 tanks of X type” options. They’re not. Murderfang is available by himself, as are a Stormwolf/Stormfang, but if you want to add a Rune Priest? You need a formation of 2-5. Dreadnought? 2-5 plus an Iron Priest, and they act as a unit. Tanks? At minimum, an Iron Priest, a Predator/Whirlwind/Vindicator and a Land Raider of some sort. Wulfen? At least two packs. You get the idea. Splashing in a little bit of flavor is going to involve breaking out a CAD or special Space Wolf formation. So my general take? Cool formations, dripping with flavor, but with a very heavy tax burden to them. Probably perfectly useful for casual play, but anyone hoping to see the Space Wolves suddenly elevated with a Wolfclawmurderfrostcurion detachment is likely disappointed.

That being said, the special rules for the formations are neat. Wulfen get killier (seriously…extra attack on a 6 to hit), special rules popping around your tank formation, yet more Dreadnought survivability, and Fenrisian Wolves helping guide outflanking units to your preferred table edge. The only two big let-downs are the Heralds of the Great Wolf formation, which is a lot of expensive eggs in a tiny basket and was a bad idea when it was first introduces, and the Wyrdstorm Brotherhood, whose bonus to harnessing Warp Charges only works with the middling-poor Tempestas discipline. Their Living Storm spell (24″, S7 AP- Assault 2D6 where each To Hit roll of 6 causes 2 additional hits unless it was a snap shot) is neat, but not enough to carry it, in my opinion.

What About the Daemons?

Chaos Daemons got some neat toys in this book as well, which I’ll touch on briefly. I’m not as experienced with the Codex, having only flirted with them as a counts-as Angry World Spirits force back when the Eldar could summon Deamons. Also because this review is getting long. The big one is the addition of a Decurion-style formation, Daemonic Incursion.

Its special rules are pretty sweet – objectives count as controlled until an enemy unit actually comes and claims them, even if you move off them, you have a little more control over the Warp Storm table and Daemonic Instability.

The cost? Again, very expensive core choices. They’re themed around the sacred numbers of the gods, but this in turn means 6, 7, 8 or 9 units of a particular type. That’s very much going to define your army. The auxiliary choices are the same way – the Burning Skyhost is a Herald of Tzeentch and nine Screamers or Burning Chariot units. A formation of three Soul Grinders. Basically, very in-theme, and very, very spendy.

One formation in particular deserves special mention: the Infernal Tetrad.

Four Daemon Princes. Bigger bonuses to the formation the more of them are alive. And a rule that is going to make TOs around the world weep: Shared Power.

If your Warlord is chosen from this Formation, all of the models in the Infernal Tetrad also have that model’s Warlord Trait…

Shit. For some powers, this is powerful but perfectly straightforward. It Will Not Die for example, from the Personal Traits. Or some of the powers from the god-specific tables in Curse. Getting +1 W to all four Daemon Princes, or having Rage is nice. The problem is when you get to less specific bonuses. Consider, for example, the Strategic Traits:

  • Master of Ambush: Your Warlord and three non-vehicle units of your choice have the Infiltrate special rule. Does this go up to twelve units?
  • Strategic Genius: You add +1 to any Seize the Initiative roll… Does that mean you’re now at a +4 to Seize?
  • Divide to Conquer: Whilst your Warlord is alive, your opponent has a -1 modifier to their Reserve Rolls.

Some of these are ambiguous because they were never intended to be stacked. Some of these are massively powerful when stacked – Divide to Conquer basically kills any reserves-based armies. The Tactical Traits are wonky as well. This feels like a rules problem GW should have seen coming from a mile away. Which is unfortunate, because the god-specific Warlord traits are super-flavorful, and good without being situational or game-defining. But my guess is, if someone is fielding the Tetrad competitively, they’re going for one of unintended consequences traits.

God-Specific Artefacts and Psychic Disciplines

The flavor continues, with a set of god-specific artefacts, and again, they’re very thematic. Khorne’s are all about killing – there’s one weapon that actually messes with time, bringing units back after removing them and other “No! Keep fighting!” shenanigans. Tzeentch has somewhat less direct powers, including a special rule that lets you turn all of their dice to their opposite face. Nurgle has lots of weapons testing against Toughness, or spreading from one unit to another. Slaanesh is all about debuffs to your opponent, or attack or speed increases.

The god-specific disciplines are similar (save for Khorne). The Discipline of Change has an exceedingly expensive witchfire power with an 18″ range and Strength D, and is generally full of offensive oriented spells. The Discipline of Plague is a nice mix of blessings and offensive spells, with some dangerous poison spells, and a nice buff that boosts toughness by 1, 2, or 3 depending on if you chose to make it a 1, 2 or 3 Warp Charge power. The Discipline of Excess actually has a blessing that deals damage to your unit, but gives them Furious Charge, Rage and Zealot in exchange. It’s a short-ranged, but pretty offensive discipline.

In total? Some nice boosts, a formation I’ll be expecting to see a lot, and some fun Psychic powers. Daemons are arguably in a better place than the Space Wolves, so most of this is adding flavor and expanding things, and I don’t think any of it will go amiss. The biggest disappointment here was again the extremely expensive core formations – there’s no splashing in a little flavor, they’re all oriented toward going all in one direction. And I get why, but it seems like every time GW locks a Daemon point cost, unit selection, etc. to their god’s sacred number things get hard to balance.

Overall Feeling

Like with the campaign book itself, my overwhelming feeling is that the rules are fine. The Wulfen are great, and do what they say on the tin. The formations for both armies are absolutely in line with how they should feel. My feeling is that the Infernal Tetrad is going to be a problem, and that fundamentally, the Space Wolves aren’t altered enough by the formations that we’ll see a large shift in how they are played. And because it’s fundamentally a DLC book, rather than a reworking of either codex, we are left with the lingering problems, unit inefficiencies, etc. that existed before. It feels like a lost opportunity.

So like the campaign, I’d give in a 7/10. Some great missions, tempting formations for casual play, but lacking a certain amount of tactical richness.

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7 Comments


  1. Very much in agreement on the sentiment of a lot of formations being too large in terms of points cost these days. I’ve heard rumors that the designers are told to build the formations around a certain dollar amount, which I could see starting back sometime around the IG formations at very least.

    All the demon formations being locked to the sacred numbers especially was pretty disappointing. I would have designed them to be more flexible, with a special rule that gives an additional bonus that kicks in if you take things in sacred numbers. Doesn’t even have to be anything big, really, it should be a nice fluff nod more than something that conclusively determines how you must build every army.

    The one upside, in my opinion, to the “Codex DLC” model is that homemade “mods” are pretty easy to do too, and honestly, with enough community involvement, could probably be better than most of what GW puts out.

    Reply

    1. Actually the sacred number thing is astonishingly balanced, if not crazy powerful. You can get 8 units of Fleshhounds, for example, or nine Exalted Flamers, which is something like shenanigans. Exalted Flamers are 50pts each, and they come with a torrent, and a D3 shot lascannon. They’re almost the ultimate MSU.

      Reply

      1. My complaint is more that it becomes difficult to take “a little bit of flavor”. Your choices are spam or nothing.

        Reply


  2. A very interesting article. I do want to remark though, that I personally very much like the wyrdstorm brotherhood formation: it works especially well with njal in it. If you let njal take the wyrdstorm power, and generate his normal powers from another discipline, he can still cast the living storm power on a 3+ with re-roll. Also, I have noticed that the power in question does a remarkable amount of damage with njal casting hit since you benefit a lot from his BS 5. Put in a wolf priest with njal squad for maximum hilariousness and a lot of eggs in one basket.

    Reply

    1. That’s very possible – I confess I don’t run many special characters.

      Reply

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