Hello once again and welcome to another codex review courtesy of me, AbusePuppy. As always, check out the Tactics Corner for more great reviews!
For those who don’t know me, I’ve been around for quite a while writing internet articles about competitive 40K for some time now and, with Reece’s good graces, will be doing so here at Frontline as well. Fair warning to those who haven’t read my other stuff in the past: I tend to take a rather harsh light to things when examining them and work strongly from a tournament-oriented perspective on things. Of course, I also think that such a perspective is also useful to casual and hobby gamers, even those who have no intention of attending tournaments, but that’s an article (and an argument) for another time. Today, we’re here to talk about Red Robit Men from Mars.
Oh, and I really like typing words, so I hope you’re in for some reading.
The Skitarii codex is GW’s venture into the world of the Adeptus Mechanicus and its many sub-factions. As such, it contains all new and unique units not found in any other codex and, indeed, most all of the weapons and equipment of its units are similarly unique (even where they may have precedents elsewhere.) As an army, the Skitarii are entirely foot-based, having nothing but infantry troops and walkers to work with- no flyers or skimmers, no MCs, and no transports. Their statlines also tend to be rather middle-of-the-road in terms of the general game, although universal BS4 and decent saves are both nice little edges.
While their units are not exceptionally expensive, neither are the Skitarii particularly cheap with most of their guys (or certainly not in the way horde units like Tyranids, Orks, or Guardsmen are.) They are able to field a decent-sized army if you want to do so, but it doesn’t really play well to their strengths- an army of nothing but Skitarii will find itself lacking in options most of the time. Like most of the mini-factions, they are intended to function more as a supplement to another army or, at the very least, to be strongly supplemented by another. As part of the Armies of the Imperium this is a rather simple matter, though, as they have a plethora of friends to choose from with a wide variety of playstyles and solutions.
The Skitarii’s main universal rule is Doctrina Imperatives, which is shared by all models in the faction; it is a set of six similar sets of modifiers that can each be used one time (and one time only) during the game. Although there are six different ones, they can be grouped into two basic sets as defined by the codex- Protector (i.e. those that improve BS) and Conqueror (i.e. those that improve WS.) Each has three “tiers” that you can select from- either +1 to the chosen stat, +2 to the stat (but -1 from the other stat), or +3 to the stat (but -2 to the other.) As the ability is army-wide one must be careful not to cripple one’s forces in the wrong arena when choosing bonuses, but for the most part the ability to significantly improve Ballistic Skill is an immensely powerful option to have across the whole of the army. The WS bonuses are far from useless, either, as the Skitarii have some fairly relevant assault units to consider.
Dunestrider is another common rule across the faction, although it isn’t universal like the Imperatives are. It adds +3″ to movement during the movement phase as well as while Running or Assaulting, which can make the units in the army deceptively fast. A model with the rule can easily move 18″ in a turn (9″ move and then 9″ Run), putting them on par with even Jump Infantry and the like, and it makes assaults across open ground rather absurd- 5″ charges are guaranteed and even 12″ charges are not improbable.
Lastly, like the Harlequin book before it, the Skitarii lack any HQ units- rather, their characters are all sergeants in squads (but have statlines more in line with “minor” HQ characters in other factions, such as by having two wounds.) This means that Skitarii cannot be taken in a Combined Arms or Allied detachment, as they cannot fill the minimum requirements. However, as their unique detachment is quite acceptable, that’s not really a big disappointment.
The Skittery Man-pile
The basic detachment for the Skitarii- and the one I think that you’ll almost always see them in- is the Skitarii Maniple. It requires only two Troop units as a basic setup and can take up to eight more, with four each of Elites and Heavy available and two Fast Attack slots as well as a Fortification (but no Lord of War.) Like virtually all detachments, it lets you reroll your warlord trait on the Skitarii table and grants all models in the detachment Scout and Crusader (but prevents them from Outflanking unless another rule lets them do so.) It also gives your warlord Preferred Enemy, a very sneaky little upgrade that many are likely to miss- and as good as Skitarii are at shooting, that’s no small bonus. With the redeployment available the Skitarii’s mobility issues are a lot less pressing, although it’s good to remember that even Dunestrider units will only redeploy 6″, as Scouting is NOT movement.
The Skitarii warlord traits are typically okay but not amazing, with the usual sorts of ups-and-downs we expect from most warlord tables these days. Eternal Warrior for the warlord is pretty garbage on a W2 unit, as is Master-Crafting a single weapon (especially since it can’t be applied to a Relic or special weapon.) Rerolling FNP would be better if everything wasn’t T3, generally meaning you won’t get to roll it in the first place. Shrouded is a pretty strong buff, since it applies to the whole unit- it can really turn a troop into a surprisingly-tough objective holder. Rerolling morale within 12″ of the warlord is also very nice, as the faction has no Fearless units apart from vehicles. Finally, firing Overwatch at BS4 is sometimes situational (and means putting your warlord in danger), but can be absolutely devastating when it comes up. All in all, it can’t really compare to the raw power of Strategic or Command, but isn’t too far behind the latter such that you wouldn’t ever use it.
Skitarii special weapons are worth taking special note of because they are very different from most codices, though they serve somewhat similar purposes. The Arc Rifle is easily the premier choice from amongst the three- at 15pts each they are a little on the expensive side, but S6 AP5 Rapid Fire is a decent profile and the all-important Haywire rule makes them able to kill vehicles with impunity. Whether taking potshots at long range or double-tapping at close range, the Arc Rifle is a nightmare for heavy vehicles like the Imperial Knight or Leman Russ and can even put out enough shots to threaten lighter ones effectively as well. The Plasma Caliver, on the other hand, is not only greatly more expensive (twice as much as a normal Plasmagun), it loses 6″ of range compared to its cousins to boot. While three plasma shots can be quite brutal if you have a Doctrina up to make you BS6 or more, without that Gets Hot is very likely to end your gunner before he can accomplish much. The Transuranic Arquebus, aside from having a hilarious name, is rather an odd duck. It’s got board-wide reach and a decent profile (AP3 Sniper Armorbane), but with only one shot it will struggle to accomplish much, with only a 50% chance of putting a wound (or hull point) on most targets even before cover. As it’s not much cheaper than the Calliver, you are likely to see Arc Rifles on nearly every squad that can take them simply for the sheer utility they bring.
The Relics of Mars are also a strange bunch, with some really neat and useful stuff and some… big misses. Arkhan’s Divinator (5pts) lets you reroll Mysterious Objectives the bearer finds, a cute little bonus for a small price. The Phase Taser (15pts) forces an Init test on anything it wounds to stay alive, but as most Skitarii are mediocre in a fight that isn’t a great thing to bank on. The Omniscient Mask (20pts) gives the bearer Zealot, the only way to autopass morale checks in the codex; it probably isn’t very needed with the access to Doctrina Imperatives, however. Pater Radium, on the other hand, is shockingly strong in the right circumstances- it forces a Toughness test on anything locked with the bearer in close combat, and if they fail it does d6 wounds to the unit with no armor saves allowed. Whether getting lucky and sniping a MC down or benefitting from the -1Toughness Vanguard can apply, it’s a nasty little trick against any kind of elite unit. Phosphoenix is a shockingly-powerful pistol (6″ S5 AP2 three shots, 25pts) that also tags the target with the usual Phosphex stuff of cover penalties and rerolling charges, but the point-blank nature makes it very iffy. Last and best is the Skull of Elder Nikola (25pts), which has a range of d6″ per turn of the game that has passed and can be unleashed for a one-shot Haywire hit on everything on the board. Good? Eh, maybe not, but anything that is a Tesla reference is a winner in my book.
Skitarii troops come in two varieties, which are surprisingly similar. Both of them have the statline of a Veteran Guardsman in 4+ armor and with +1 Leadership to boot; the sergeant in a squad, as previously noted, also has a bonus wound so they can make a proper warlord. They both have FNP(6+) and Relentless, giving them a small survivability bonus and the ability to follow up shooting with a charge or fire the Arquebus on the move should you ever need to do so. They can take two special weapons at five-man and a third at ten (the maximum squad size.) They can also get a piece of very useful wargear on the sarge, namely the Omnispex- it reduces all cover saves against their weapons by -1, which can make the respectable AP values on their guns a lot more relevant (especially if you took that crazy Plasma Caliver.)
Skitarii Vanguard are the cheaper of the two troops, coming in at 9pts each with a 10pt tax for the sergeant. They come standard with Radium Carbines, which are 18″ S3 AP5 Assault 3 guns. The big deal for them, though, is the Rad-Poisoning rule on their guns- every 6 to wound counts as TWO wounds rather than one (regardless of the victim’s toughness.) This works even against Monstrous and Gargantuan Creatures, giving them excellent utility against them- though the need to get so close can make this a rather suicidal prospect if you don’t kill them. They also give any unit locked in combat with Vanguard they suffer a (non-cumulative) -1 to their Toughness; it won’t be enough to win most fights, but it might just turn the tide occasionally and can be a nice trick if you have something else a bit harder fighting alongside them (such as Thunderwolves, Knights, etc.)
Skitarii Rangers are the other option and are 2pts each more expensive than the Vanguard. Their statline is identical, but rather than the Toughness penalty in close combat they come with Move Through Cover- usually a superior option, as anyone who’s desperately tried to move onto an objective on the final turn knows. Rather than the Radium Carbines they carry Galvanic Rifles, which are 30″ S4 AP4 Rapid Fire weapons that can make Precision Strikes. The good range, combined with decent stats otherwise and the ability to snipe out special/heavy weapons makes the Rangers a very solid contender despite their higher price. Their options are otherwise pretty identical- the sergeant can get an Arc Pistol or melee weapon, special weapons for the squad, etc.
Which of the two is superior? Well, surprisingly, I think the two are pretty on-par with each other and valid arguments can be made for either in different armies. Vanguard, being cheaper, I suspect will be the default choice; their guns give them the ability to hurt anything as needed (thanks to a combination of Rad Poisoning on the basic ones and Haywire on the specials) and Scout from the detachment makes up for some of their short range. Aggressive armies that run a lot of the walkers will also probably favor them, since they like to move into close range and pour fire into the enemy. Rangers, on the other hand, can engage targets much earlier and won’t be so punished in Hammer/Anvil or Vanguard deployments when going second. Their raw firepower against basic infantry is actually very close to that of Vanguard (as they doubletap at about the same range their counterparts start to shoot), but they are better against basic infantry while lacking much ability to hurt MCs. Especially in a Skitarii-heavy army that lack of flexibility will hurt them, though if other units can fill the job (or you have them kitted with Plasma, not an impossibility) they can be alright.
The Skitarii elites selections are… rather lacking, to be quite honest. They’re plagued by a variety of problems, but the simplest one can be summarized quite simply: Toughness 3. With two wounds each and FNP they want to be tough, but there are just too many things that bypass their defenses and squish them as badly as they do Guardsmen… except that these Guardsmen cost almost as many points as a Terminator does. Magnifying this problem is a desire to get into combat but an inability to beat most “real” combat threats in a stand-up fight even on their own term, which is a rather damning lack.
Sicarian Ruststalkers are the “pure” melee version; with Dunestrider they are rather fast and a good statline everywhere but in Toughness (even including two attacks base and a pair of CCWs), they are really, really close to being able to do something. 4+ armor is a bit weak, but a 6++ helps make up for it a little and they come loaded down with great gear- Haywire/Poisoned assault grenades, one Fleshbane attack, Rending on everything, and ignoring all saves after the first turn of combat. But they have to get into combat and then live through that first turn to really do anything, and that can be a pretty difficult problem. In their defense, they do end up being S5 (or S6, depending on weapon choice) on the charge, but it’s just not enough.
Their brethren, the Infiltrators, are a bit better off. They have an identical statline and share most of the same abilities (minus Furious Charge), but also have Infiltrate and Stealth. This can put them right on the enemy’s doorstep very quickly thanks to Infil + Scout + Dunestrider and they give any unit within 6″ -1 to WS/BS/Init/Ld, which can be a nice way to tip a battle. They have a short-range version of the Heavy Stubber for shooting armament and a Power Sword for melee, which makes them quite flexible; they can also trade for a four-shot pistol and a Taser Goad (6s are three hits, +2 Str), which lets them tear through hordes rather than MEQs. However, at 35pts a piece they are just really, really expensive and very difficult to justify in almost any context.
Neither of the Elites has any real place in a competitive army of any kind. They’re not so awful you can’t use them if you want to in casual games, but any S6+ weapon (i.e. the most common gun around in tournaments) will shred them pretty badly and there’s not really anything they are particularly good at. Fleshbane on the Ruststalkers would seem to make them okay at hunting big critters, but then you remember that they’re T3/4+ and thus will die horribly to regular attacks as well as Stomps and that plan is basically down the drain.
This is where we start to get into the good units that you might want to bring in Skitarii allies for; though you only get two FA slots in a Man-Pile detachment, you can take squads of the various walkers to mitigate this. Sydonian Dragoons are the lone choice in the slot and are quite cheap at 45pts each, comparable with Sentinels and other light walkers. They are AV11 all around and have two HP, making them a shade fragile, but a permanent 5+ cover save gives them a modicum of protection at least. They each come armed with a Taser Lance, which is +2 Str and effectively has Tesla (scoring three hits for every 6) as well as getting an extra +1Str and doubling your Initiative on the charge. While they don’t have any AP value, the four S8 I6 attacks from each of these cheap walkers can obliterate vehicles of almost any size in short order, especially if you’ve popped a Doctrina for WS5 or better that turn. They can also purchase a Phosphor Serpenta for 10pts, which is S5 AP4 and will allow them to reroll charges against the target if they score a wound or a penetration- however, given their speed and the likelihood of it doing anything, I don’t think it’s worthwhile.
There is also a very sneaky option on the Dragoon to swap its lance out for a Radium Jezzail, which is a two-shot Sniper weapon with Rad Poisoning. The interaction of rules ends up meaning that any six to wound is deadly, netting two AP2 wounds against the target regardless of toughness; with the low price on the Dragoon, this can mean rather a lot of shots sailing out. I don’t think it’s overall worthwhile, but it certainly is an amusing thought and could really annoy someone that relied on foot-bound MCs or GCs to cause havoc.
The Dragoon is potentially a decent solution for armies looking for a way to stop Knights, as a squad of charging Dragoons with their Doctrina up will do a lot of damage. (Five of them, 220pts, should kill an unwounded Knight the turn they charge it, although only by a relatively slim margin and you’d better be careful not to stumble into terrain or you’ll find yourself in a very different situation.)
The HS slot is where the Dragoon’s counterpart lives, the Ironstrider Ballistarii. More expensive at 55pts base, they come with the same rules and gear but swap the lance out for a twin-linked Autocannon that fires all Snap Shots at BS2 rather than its usual value (and also has Precision Shots as something of an afterthought.) It can also pay 20pts to get a TLLascannon version of the same, but I think at that point you’re asking far too much for an AV11 walker, especially because it doesn’t benefit from the automatic 5+ save that the Dragoon does. Squads of these could be fairly decent at hosing down flyers while still being able to also hammer other targets pretty effectively, though as it turns out Skitarii actually have some other options there as well…
The Onager Dunecrawler is- okay, hold on, I have to stop and talk about this. Maniple I can let pass without comment, or at least I could otherwise; Jezzail is a little childish, but sure, weird words will get you that sometimes. Dunecrawler is really just taking it too far- there are so many names in this army that can really easily be misinterpreted as homoerotic names that it’s almost just too easy. Manpiles of Dudecrawlers sharing their Jezzails is just… it’s hilarious and I’m really surprised that it all made it past GW’s naming department, although to be honest after “Blood Fist Bloodshard Bloodstrike Bloody Blood” and the Space Wolf codex I’m not so surprised, I guess.
Okay. Okay. Enough of that- the Onager Dudenecrawler is an interesting piece of work. It’s 90pts and has Dreadnought stats, albeit with WS3 and A1. It’s never impeded by Difficult/Dangerous terrain, but can’t run and unlike the other walkers it doesn’t have Dunestrider and thus is a bit on the slow side. On the other hand, it has a 6++ save that increases by one for each additional member in the squad (up to a maximum of three.) It can take an AP1 Power Fist that gives it IWND for 25pts, which is a bit interesting if maybe not great, and comes stock with an Eradication Beamer. The Beamer is basically a backwards version of the Conversion Beamer, starting out at S6 large blast and then shrinking to S8 AP3 small blast and finally S10 AP1 single-shot. The short range (9″) of the strong shot is a bit awkward, but the big blast goes out to 36″, so it’s actually surprisingly functional in a lot of cases. 15pts can trade trade out for a S6 AP3 three-shot Phosphor weapon, but as with the other Phosphor guns it just isn’t likely enough to do a wound/penetration to trigger the effect- if it had been on a hit, it would’ve been a ton better.
Your two prime options, however, are the Neutron Laser (with a Heavy Stubber as a bonus) at 25pts or Icarus Array at 35pts. The former is a S10 AP1 small blast with 48″ reach, letting your Dunecrawlers sit on one side of the table and snipe away at things pretty hard. 115pts for such a strong shot is… maybe a bit debateable, but it’s something worth looking at at least. The Icarus Array is the most unique and features three Skyfire guns with different profiles, with the ability to shoot any or all as you please. One is a TLAutocannon with Interceptor; the second is a S6 AP4 five-shot rocket launcher with Ignores Cover; the last is a S7 AP2 one-shot gun. While the Onager ends up being rather pricey in this config and has no real utility against ground targets at all (relying wholly on throwing down a bunch of dice to achieve anything, and even then rarely so) it’s something of a murderer against airborne ones- none of the profiles is deadly on its own, but the combination of all three will usually cause some damage.
I think, in the end, if you’re taking Skitarii you’re probably doing it for the HS stuff in most cases, as that’s where the most unique units are. While the Forge World options for anti-air are probably superior (especially the Hyperios Missile and Sabre Defense Platform), not all tournaments allow these- though it is becoming more common. In that absence, though- or if a player is looking for multiple types of tools from the army or trying to maintain an aggressive stance Skitarii may well serve that role.
While it’s still too early to say for certain whether or not Skitarii will make any significant shifts in the environment (especially in light of the new Eldar book’s insanity as well as a variety of other factors), I know a lot of the top players I’m familiar with have taken an interest in the book as there’s definitely some unique stuff in there. Any codex that can do something no one else is capable of always has the potential to be a breakout hit and Skitarii have a lot of stuff that is wholly unheard of outside of the faction. Are they going to make any top appearances anytime soon? No, I don’t think they will, but the book is certainly at least functional and has some neat options for folks looking to make a thematic army, so I can’t really rank it particularly poorly. Only the two Elites units really stand out as subpar in any particular way and while loadouts on the HS stuff is definitely still something a lot of people will be questioning for some time I believe, there’s some good stuff to be mined there.
All in all? I’d give the book a thumbs up, if not an exceptionally strong one. If the rumors are true and more Mechanicum-esque stuff is on the horizon then having such a shallow release for them is a bit on the annoying side, but I wouldn’t put any absolute bets on that just yet, so we’ll see.