Playing an all-Harlequin list in a GT: Reflections on the Laughing God’s place in competitive play


Zyekian here again, bringing you the scoop fresh after slicing and dicing Harlequins through the CAGBash GT this past weekend.  How did the Ghosts of the Webway fare in the theater of war?  Read on to find out!

And as always, don’t forget to check out Frontline Gaming’s Tactics Corner for ways to get the most out of your game.

How Many Times Have you Heard…

“You can do it, but it’s 40k hard mode…”

“It’s not a real codex…”

“You need to ally them with Eldar…”

“Harlequins weren’t meant to be played on their own…”

“Lololol clowncopter…”

“Yeah, no…”

Well these things are completely wrong true to a large extent.  The Harlequin codex dropped a little over a year ago to much fanfare and great appreciation to their gorgeous model release.  The rules however ended up cooling much of the enthusiasm for the army as it was generally received as too one-dimensional therefore unable to be competitive in the meta.  The critics were largely correct of course, the army relies tremendously on assault and can wither under small arms fire.  While a basic Harlequin player isn’t too expensive at 15 points, she’s also no bargain and losing her bolt gun fire can be all too easy.  There’s also no skyfire and obsec isn’t a thing for them.  They do however excel in some areas and if they’re able to control the momentum in battle they’ll leave a pile of bodies in their wake.  Harlequins are exceptional in assault against a wide range of targets including MEQ, TEQ, monstrous creatures, GMCs, vehicles, even Imperial Knights will fall to their charge.

Let me add a brief description of the CAGBash GT in Cincinnati, Ohio.  The event is now in its ninth year, organized by Sean Pittman, a veteran TO for many 40k events in Southwest Ohio.  While it’s been around for a while this is the first year it’s been an official ITC event and as such drew a number of competitive players from around the Midwest.  If you live in the region it’s definitely an event to check out.  And props to Aaron Aleong for taking home his second CAGBash title in three years!


The Cast of Players…

For those of you who don’t know what a Harlequin’s Caress is, it’s a vicious weapon that converts any to-hit roll of ‘6’ into an AP2 wound. No to-wound check is made, it’s just an automatic glowing power field-wrapped clown slap to the face (see title photo).  Rolling to wound is for suckers.  Against vehicles the six is an auto-glance, again no penetration check is made.  For those non-sixes Harlequins also have furious charge and WS5, base 2A with pistol and CCW.    And Troupe Masters make five attacks on the charge.  Here’s the list I ran for the event @1849 points:

Masque Detachment (primary):

Troupe 6x w/Starweaver

– Master with Caress, Haywire Grenades (Warlord)

– 2x Caresses

– Kiss (models with a Kiss make one of their attacks at S6 AP2 instant-death on a 6)

Troupe 6x w/Starweaver

– Master with Caress

– 2x Caress

Troupe 6x w/Starweaver

– Master with Caress

– Caress

3x Skyweaver Jetbikes

– 3x Haywire Cannons

– 3x Zephyrglaives

Voidweaver w/Prism Cannon

Masque Detachment (secondary):

Troupe 6x w/Starweaver

– Master with Caress

– 2x Caress

Troupe 5x w/Starweaver

– Master with Caress, Haywire Grenades

– 3x Embrace (D3 S6 hammer of wrath hits each)

Troupe 5x w/Starweaver

– Master with Caress

– Kiss

Voidweaver w/Prism Cannon

Heroes Path Formation:


Cegorach’s Rose (a Kiss with shred and master-crafted)

– Haywire Grenades

Shadowseer, ML1

Mask of Secrets (-2 Ld to enemy units within 12″, grants fearless)

– Haywire Grenades

Death Jester

(note: Masque detachments require that a couple of the transports be listed under FA, however for easy reading purposes I’ve listed them all with Troupes)


Then the Glitter Hit the Fan…

Round One

Right off the bat I draw the worst-imaginable match-up: Dark Angel Battle Company.   The obsec Rhino-zorback parking lot… twin-linked heavy flamer Dreadnoughts coming out of Pods, full-BS overwatch… If I had to name the one list I wanted to avoid most in the tournament it would be exactly this.  My opponent finished top-25 at the LVO with this list so I knew he wasn’t going to make many mistakes.  To make matters worse we had a bit of a late start that subtracted cut out twenty minutes out of the game length, again compounding the tough match up.  The only thing worse than double battle company is double battle company in an abbreviated game.  And then he stole initiative from me.

The flamer Dreads targeted my open-topped Starweaver transports, cooking several embarked Harlies, however I made sure to deploy them far enough apart so that he could only target one unit at a time.  All transports themselves held strong against his turn one shooting though as Mirage Launchers flared against his TL lascannons.  He failed to get first blood on me which was a surprise after he stole initiative.  Knowing it would be a short match he moved most of his fleet rapidly toward objectives, allowing me to escape relatively intact turn one.  Most objectives were swarmed with obsec vehicles that I just didn’t have time to peel off.

The Harlequins quickly took first blood, wrecking a Rhino with shuriken fire, spreading out over the course of the game to wantonly slaughter disembarked marines and flip as many vehicles as possible.  After a disappointing game length of only three rounds I also picked up linebreaker, denied it to him, and tied Maelstrom.  I really feel like all-things considered I did as well as I could of given the severity of the match-up.  My only hope was to concede objectives, win Maelstrom, and beat him on secondaries.  And I was an inch away from doing it.

Final Score: Dark Angels: 5, Harlequins 2.


Round Two

So here comes the Eldar kin:

2x Farseers on Jetbikes

4×4 Scatbikes

Aspect Host of 3x units of Dark Reapers nested in elevated ruins

Aspect Host of 3x units of Warp Spiders

Warp Hunter

Sathkatch Wraithknight

I knew my only hope was to get up-close and personal on turn one for a turn-two assault and winning the initiative roll me a clear path to do so. My opponent deployed deep in his vanguard corner, hoping to take me out from afar.  And once again I was snakebitten as my opponent stole initiative. That’s the second time in two games and at this point I feel the Laughing God is laughing at me and not with me…

The opening barrage wasn’t as bad as I’d feared, as night fighting jinks minimized what could have been a very bad first turn.  Two Troupes were dismounted though, fortunately with no explosions.  Maelstrom caused him to move a unit of Scatbikes forward as he rushed the Sathkatch.

On my turn I rushed my Troupes flat-out in their transports deep into his deployment zone as Skyweaver jetbike haywire cannons wrecked his Warp Hunter… and a unit of Scatbikes fled off the map.  A troupe made a long assault to the unit of scatbikes holding his objective in a forward location, wiping them instantly.  The two remaining packs of scatbikes were snap firing and one Warp Spider unit was cut in half, alleviating much of the pressure on my army.  His turn two shooting wasn’t sufficient to stop me, highlighted by the Sathkatch’s shooting killing nothing.  Wounding off initiative and then allowing invulnerable saves meant the giant had a poor match-up against my army.

The latter part of the match saw the Solitaire and a Troupe tearing through his deployment zone ruins, ripping out the trio of Dark Reaper units who were dug in like a pack of ticks.  In a single turn my Harlies managed to assault five of his Aspect Host units, instantly wiping every one.  Being able to move, fleet run, and assault was crucial in this match as it allowed me to reach his Reapers a full turn sooner than I’d have otherwise been able to.

Final Score: Harlequins 11, Eldar 1


Round Three:

Demons.  Infernal Tetrad. Blobs of Nurglings, Plaguebearers, and a Herald backing it up.

Being a brand-new formation so I’d never seen it before.  His Tzeench Demon Warlord rolled the +1 invulnerable Warlord power meaning all four Princes got it.  And somehow his Princes all had +1 toughness (?).  I knew it would be difficult for me to fight him once he took flight so I sought to play the objective game.  I tripled him in unit count and fortunately he lacked obsec units as well.  He rolled first turn, however my warlord power gave me +4 to steal initiative so the Harlies finally went first.

All six Troupes and the Solitaire rushed while I had to hang back with my Skyweaver jetbikes for anti-Scouring purposes. The Khorne Prince was caught on the ground but was unbelievably tough to bring down, needing three turns with the Solitaire and two troupes to vanquish him.  In the mean time I made a mistake, multi-assaulting Nurglings with too-few Players, then failing a hit-and-run roll with my Warlord to get out of trouble (ugh…).  What a bad way to go…

The solitaire and a fresh pair of Troupes then sliced into the Plaguebearers, remaining Nurglings, and summoned garbage, clearing everything off the ground with ease while casualties in return.  While I couldn’t get him to fail a grounding check, his princes were unable to land for fear of being cut to ribbons, giving me the win.

Final Score: Harlequins 10, Demons 3, qualifying me for day two (!)


Round Four:

Day two began by facing a member of Team Zero Comp running Stormwing (5 Storm Talons infiltrating with strafing run),  a Gallant Lance formation of three Imperial Knights, and a tiny unit of Cassius and marines hiding behind BLOS cover.  And it was a kill point mission.  Yeah…

There’s not much to write here as my army wasn’t at all equipped to deal with such an extreme list of only superheavies and flyers.  To make matters worse I failed three out of four Ld 10 pinning checks, causing half my army to stall out in the middle of the map and foiling my long-shot attempt at playing the objectives game.  At this point I’m pretty shaken, as I hadn’t been beaten this badly in a 40k match in a long time.  I needed to have a solid game to finish out or this article was going to be hard to write…

Final Score: Space Marines 11, Harlequins 0


Round Five:

The final matchup looked good, in fact it looked like a it was built to tackle my previous opponent’s list: modified Centstar Ultramarines with Calgar, Tiggy and a Librarian (both with invisibility), a Culexis Assassin, two grav cent units with drop pods, a couple units of scouts, and four drop pods with melta-heavy Tac Marines.   I gave him first turn and lucked out with the grav on my vehicles, Mirage Launcher 4++ saves deflecting everything other than a few scattered glances from long-range bolt guns.  None of his turn-one pod marines were bold enough to drop within assault range of my army which meant no rapid-fire S4 against my transports.

On my turn all six transports, the Solitaire, and my Skyweaver jetbikes vaulted right through the Space Marine line, surrounding their core, one Troupe disembarking to cut down his relic-controlling scouts.  The Death Jester finally showed up, using his Death is Not Enough power push a melta squad so far away that it would take two turns to become relevant again.  The Ultramarine turn two shooting consisted mostly of firing grav cannons harmlessly at the Solitaire with no armor.  While this may sound like a questionable move, my opponent was actually making a wise decision, as the half-dozen transports had already arrived.  The vehicles themselves weren’t the threat.

The Harlequin turn two was epic as all eight of my assault units struck.  The Solitaire, three Troupes, and the trio of Skyweaver Jetbikes, reached his invisible Centstar and in the blink of an eye it was gone.  The other invisible Cent squad and Tactical squads withered under assaults as well.  The Ultramarines were slaughtered down to very few models in a heartbeat, conceding after turn four.  This is how I envisioned my army working from the start and it was terrific.

Final Score: Harlequins 7, Space Marines 5 (note: players agreed to end the match early)


The Last Laugh…

Was it possible to successfully run a pure Harlequin list in competitively in GT play?  Clearly yes, as I reached the second day and finished a respectable 6th overall.  Had I managed one more maelstrom point in the first game I’d have had a chance to crack the top three.  Other than the Thunderdome list finishing first, the other top lists were Eldar similar to the one I tabled round two.

This tournament experience demonstrated that pure Harlies had a number of advantages in the meta:

  1. Assault units that can put the hurt on infantry, MCs, GMCs, vehicles, superheavies, and just about everything are really useful.
  2. After turn one Troupes can move+run+assault, plus fleet.  With the transport’s movement that’s a thirty inch assault threat bubble, which is no joke.  Harlies also ignore terrain for the purposes of moving and assaulting so not much slows them down.
  3. Harlequins weren’t as vulnerable to Eldar as I imagined.  Yes scatbikes are tough but with 4++ saves on transports (or 3+ jinks during night fighting), they can weather a bit of attention.  Ever-popular Warp Spider wound off initiative. They’re effectively firing 12″ S3 lasguns against Harlies and they need to get deep into assault range to even fire.  And of course the I10 Solitaire is way too fabulous for anything wounding off initiative.
  4. Centstar was an excellent match for Harlequins; Caresses and Embraces largely bypass invisibility.
  5. While running a fast MSU list gives opponents easy access to kill points, it also allowed me to reach maelstrom objectives with ease.  Most importantly it assures that if a couple units go down on turn one that I still have plenty of points on the board to carry out my attack.

And there were some clear struggles:

  1. No obsec was the primary one.  I found myself wishing for obsec in every game.  In fact, if I had just one or two obsec units on the board in round one I could have denied the Dark Angel battle company a maelstrom and maybe pulled off an upset win.  Fishing for sixes on shuriken cannons to clear free drop pods off objectives wasn’t pretty.
  2. I had little hope in round four against the extreme list of just Knights and Flyers.  Mono-Harlequins are an extreme list themselves and when someone brings a big fat rock to your scissors the results are predictable.  I’d say not having skyfire was an obstacle, however it wouldn’t have made a difference either way.
  3. Multiple deep striking units with flamers grilling Harlies inside their transports.  When the wounds randomly fall on models with caresses it hurts.

Overall I had a blast running this list and felt like I had a chance for a top finish all the way through.  Like many armies pure Harlequins aren’t going to easily crack certain death star shenanigans (but they might…) and will struggle against battle company obsec parking lots.  They counter that though with the potential to really wallop other common lists we see.  But most of all they were a ton of fun to put on the table.  Give Harlequins a look – or a second look if you’ve dismissed them.  You just might be surprised with what the disciples of the Laughing God have to offer.

How do you rate the viability of Harlequins in competitive play?  Share your thoughts below.


11 Responses to “Playing an all-Harlequin list in a GT: Reflections on the Laughing God’s place in competitive play”

  1. Reecius March 11, 2016 1:42 pm #

    Great bat rep! Awesome to see the Ninja Space Clowns kicking ass.

  2. Mark March 11, 2016 2:50 pm #

    Great and thought provoking article. How do you think it would stand up against swarm armies massed Ork mobs 30 strong fearless hormagauts etc etc

  3. bigpig March 11, 2016 3:07 pm #

    Good show! I liked this read.

  4. westrider March 11, 2016 3:34 pm #

    Impressive showing, dude. Just a couple of FYIs on Formations you faced:
    – That Formation with all the Storm Talons is the St. Tylus Battle Force, not a StormWing. One of the most under-used Formations in my opinion, probably mostly because almost no one has that many Storm Talons.
    – The +1T for the Infernal Tetrad goes away if you manage to kill one of them. And actually, reading it again, even if one of them leaves Combat Airspace or is otherwise in Reserves, since it’s based on how many are on the battlefield. They have some lesser bonuses as well, that also gradually go away as you whittle down the Formation, +1S if there are 3-4 of them, and re-roll 1s To Hit as long as there are at least 2.

    • Lord Krungharrr March 11, 2016 5:49 pm #

      What book is the St Tylus formation in? Seems pretty amazing to me!

      • westrider March 11, 2016 8:52 pm #

        It wasn’t in a book. It was one of the Advent Calendar Formations the first year they did them. That’s probably another reason it doesn’t see so much play.

        • C-Stock March 11, 2016 9:12 pm #

          That formation looks completely OP. Bonkers good.

  5. C-Stock March 11, 2016 5:21 pm #

    I just might try to build this army now. Amazing read!

  6. TheBlackferret March 11, 2016 8:16 pm #

    As a person who played harlequins exclusively in 2015, it is impressive that you did so well! I love harlequins and I am bummed that I am doing dark angels this season now that harlequins are being tracked in ITC. I definitely agree that starweavers make troupes viable, and are a staple for delivery.

    How do you feel about their lack of range in regards to shooting? I build them melee centric but I always feel outclassed if I need to hit a back field target with shooting since the longest range available is 24″. Represent us well my fellow player!

  7. v10mega March 11, 2016 9:29 pm #

    i have to admit tho, that dark angels battle company is really catching my eye, mind if you could share what his army looked like? nice report tho, and i know you like to make a pure harley list but i think the weaverstar could work with a couple of farseers put in

  8. Ash December 15, 2016 6:44 pm #

    Thank you for the info! I am building this army for my re-entry into 40k (hope you don’t mind) I was just crunching the numbers and I am getting the number 1854; not 1849. Am I missing something or did you add a Kiss or HW nade too many?

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