It has been a long, weird roller coaster ride for Howling Banshees, but finally- after four editions!- they’re back to being good again. Not “I guess I could use them and not hate myself” good, but “get some for your tournament army” good. Click to read on, or check out the Tactics Corner for more reviews and strategies.
Howling Banshees are the premiere melee shock troops of the Eldar Craftworlds. While other aspects such as Striking Scorpions might sneak in and strike at the enemy where they are unexpected, Banshees rely on their blazing speed and soul-piercing screams to render the enemy helpless as they close in, then unleash the devastating power of their weapons.
Banshees mostly have the statline that would be expected of their type, although there are a few surprises lurking in it. Right off the bat, movement 8″ means that they are just a nudge faster than other Craftworld troops- and their abilities can make them faster yet. Weapon and ballistic skill 3+ mean that their attacks will generally land on target, while strength and toughness 3 leave them on the weak side compared to most units in the game (though still better off than, say, Gretchin.) 4+ armor is also on the middling side overall, as a lot of aspects benefit from 3+ armor these days, but since one generally doesn’t want them getting shot at in the first place this ends up being acceptable. Two attacks per model is very solid for a melee unit and leadership 8 is standard for “elite” units across the game. One model in the squad can be an exarch, coming with an extra wound and an extra attack- both very nice bonuses for a unit like Banshees. At 13 points per model, Banshees come in cheap enough to be very affordable as a slot-filling minimum unit or a full-strength hammer squad.
Special Rules and Wargear
As with nearly all models in the codex, Howling Banshees come with Ancient Doom and Battle Focus, giving them bonuses in melee against Slaanesh and full movement when shooting. In addition, they also get the Acrobatic rule, which allows them to advance and charge (meaning that there is no penalty at all for advancing with them) and adding +3 to any charge rolls on a turn in which they advanced. What this means is that in reality a Banshee’s movement value is 9″-14″, making them quite speedy overall.
It only gets better from there, though. The exarch in the squad comes with War Shout, which forces the enemy to subtract one from any hit rolls targeting the unit in close combat; this can be stacked with Lightning Reflexes if you really need to protect them and in combination with the Alaitoc bonus it can make them quite a bit more durable than their statline would have you believe. It is especially handy against vehicles (most of whom simply cannot hit Banshees at all) or units like Conscripts that have a poor weapon skill to start with.
The squad also comes with a very solid set of gear; all members get a Banshee Mask (opponents cannot fire overwatch against them) as well as a Power Sword and Shuriken Pistol. The exarch can trade her weapons for a pair of Mirrorswords (only AP-2, but can reroll all misses) or pay a token number of points to upgrade her Power Sword to an Executioner (S4 AP-3 DmgD3), which is usually worth it if you can manage to find those few cents.
That Howling Banshees are a fast assault unit should be obvious, but their actual role in a Craftworlds army is a bit less obvious. Nominally, they are MEQ-hunters, using their power swords to cut down heavily-armored troops; however, with their low strength value they will struggle to output much damage to most targets, even T3 ones. But that doesn’t actually matter all that much to a competitive army, because the secret is that you aren’t taking Banshees to shred your way through the enemy army (that’s what Shining Spears and Dark Reapers and Guardian Defenders are for)- they are a disruption element, designed to break your opponent’s tempo and buy you valuable time with their important units tied in combat while the rest of your forces pick things apart.
Looked at from that perspective, Banshees are an absolutely brutal unit. They are individually cheap, allowing you to purchase large units of them in order to cover the maximum amount of ground and hold as many different units down as possible. They are extremely fast, able to completely ignore the penalty for advancing and able to benefit from Quicken when needed as well as adding +3 to charge rolls most every turn. But lastly and most importantly, they ignore overwatch completely, allowing them to declare charges with impunity and lock down dangerous shooting units with no risk of taking additional casualties, even against units that have weapons that cause automatic hits.
So a single squad of Howling Banshees can dive into the middle of an enemy gunline and tie up two, three, four, or even more units at once- and sure, your opponents can just fall back with most of those units (unless they’re surrounded, of course)- but in most cases that means they will be unable to shoot, or have to expend some of their limited resources on stratagems or orders in order to be able to act normally. And even if they can, they’ll likely be taking movement penalties (for heavy weapons, etc) or having to abandon an otherwise-ideal position (perhaps on an objective, or in cover, or what have you.) Again: Banshees are not your killing tool, they are there to make a mess of things. They buy you time by ruining the opponent’s strategy while you enact your own. Killing off those units would be better than simply delaying them, of course, but it would also require a lot more investment of effort or points- and that’s the other half of the Banshee equation. If you can use 65 or 130pts of your models to keep 200, 300, or even 400pts of the enemy army busy, that means the remainder of your forces can face off against the enemy army at an advantage due to those units not getting to contribute.
Of course, as with a lot of melee units, the trick is in getting there; while their Acrobatic ability may make them fast, there are plenty of units in the game who are faster and which still struggle to get into combats. There are a number of potential solutions to the problem in the codex, but picking the one that is going to work for your army will be critical in getting them to function effectively.
The most obvious idea, of course, is transports. The Wave Serpent is one of the most effective transports in the game thanks to the combination of aggressive costing, powerful defensive abilities, and a natural synergy with the army as a whole. With a capacity of twelve models, you can easily fit a maximum-size squad into one with room left to spare- or you can cram two smaller squads inside, since 8E makes that a possibility now. With their long reach when disembarking, you can easily keep your Serpent back at a conservative distance from the enemy and then hop out the Banshees when it’s go time and get to the enemy without much risk- your minimum charge distance at that point is 21″, which should easily get you to what you need to hit. (Note that the Falcon is also available as an option for small units, but its desire to remain static and relative fragility make it a much less attractive choice in this regard.)
Another possibility is using the Webway Strike stratagem, which is well recognized as a powerful tool in the Craftworld codex. Able to drop any unit onto the field 9″ away from the enemy, it gets the Banshees near where they want to be with no muss or fuss and only a minimum command point cost (1 for a single unit, 3 for two of them.) However, as the Banshees will not have advanced that turn, they will not get the +3″ bonus on their charge rolls, making it a sketchy proposition at best without the aid of some other support. Even so, the ability to slot a unit of Banshees into the enemy’s back line where they are least wanted can be absolutely devastating, most especially because this is where their favored prey (i.e. shooting support units) tend to hide.
This naturally leads us into the third option, the Quicken psychic power. Accessible by Warlocks and Spiritseers, Quicken gives any one unit a free move- and for Banshees, that means quite a bit of ground covered. Quicken, of course, can be dropped on almost anything on the codex to good effect, but as Banshees are one of the faster targets for it (after Shining Spears, of course), they benefit quite a bit. Even with mediocre advance rolls you can expect 30″ or more of reach with a Quickened squad.
Of course, you don’t always have to invest heavily in Banshees for them to be effective- a cheap and simple 65pt squad can do a lot of work on the ground even if you don’t spend many other resources buffing them up. As infantry they are more than capable of hiding out in buildings or behind other terrain to avoid enemy shooting, and as an exceptionally quick unit they can easily jump out from behind their Safety Rock and pounce on something unsuspecting when the opportunity presents itself- remember, a Banshee squad’s maximum threat radius is 30″, and their average range is still 22″. Anything that attempts to come even somewhat close to your lines is potentially a target for them, and that can be a big headache for your opponents as they attempt to deal with your tiny, hidden squads of Banshees while also getting rid of your Dark Reapers, Rangers, etc, etc.
Although Banshees aren’t big killers on their own, their Power Swords can definitely cause some casualties against the right targets- AP-3 is no joke, after all, and the Shuriken Pistol might not be a terribly reliable weapon, but it’s one that threatens virtually everything in the game even when stuck in. With a bit of lucks rolling 5+s or 6+s, a squad of Banshees can put a surprising amount of damage on heavily-armored targets, especially though with lower toughness values but good armor saves- such as many Eldar units, for example. A little bit of help from psychic powers (Empower, Enhance, Doom) or stratagems (Supreme Disdain, The Great Enemy) can go a long ways with them, though you can’t really expect them to measure up to the “real” beatsticks in the game. Banshees should be bullies, picking on units too weak to defend themselves and that want to be doing work in the shooting phase.
So if you’re going to be facing down some Banshees, you need to remember that they are fast. They move almost as quickly as Shining Spears do on the table (though they don’t ignore terrain) and can charge pretty insane distances even without the aid of any psychic powers- up to 29″ with good rolls. When supported by Quicken or similar magic, they can effectively cross the table in a single turn and pounce on any unit that isn’t completely blocked off. Moreover, as they can ignore all overwatch, they are free to charge anything and everything that is within 15″ of them and then allow the dice to decide which targets they need to actually go after as the situation dictates.
So at a glance, we can see that two things are important: if you want to stop Banshees from getting to something, you need to physically block the pathway to it (they are unable to pass through gaps of smaller than 1″ or go through impassible terrain) and that you cannot cluster vulnerable units close to each other. Here by “vulnerable units” we mean anything you cannot afford to have locked in combat- because Banshees can and will draw two, three, or even more units into a fight, forcing them to either waste time trying to kill the unit (with a -1 or higher penalty) or fall back from combat and thus be unable to shoot/charge.
However, Banshees themselves are extremely fragile- once they get up in your face the Alaitoc bonus will largely stop applying and T3/4+ just isn’t going to hold them for very long, even if your opponent stacks multiple buff spells onto them. Unlike Shining Spears and other, similar units they are quite squishy once you get to start putting firepower into them; even Bolters will do quite a lot of work, and morale (or charges of your own) can finish the job. Note also that Banshees themselves have no ability to fall back and then charge (unless a stratagem is used), so locking them in combat with units of your own and forcing them to stay and face an unfavorable combat is very feasible. T6+ models are ideal for tying them down in this respect, but almost anything can potentially do, as Banshees just don’t have a lot of killing power unless they get several psychic powers stacked up (and even then it is merely acceptable.)
Because they lack so significantly in killing power, Banshees are extremely reliant on locking units in combat- and that means that units which can easily escape (such as those with Fly or similar rules) are their bane. Anything that lets you withdraw from combat or act normally while in combat is good here- the Ultramarines trait is an obvious choice, of course, as is the Hive Fleet Kraken one. But the Space Wolves “True Grit” stratagem can accomplish a similar job, letting you fire your weapons even while in combat- and given how fragile Banshees are, that can make short work of them. Other factions have similar ways around the problem- the Imperial Guard can use orders to fall back, the Adeptus Mechanicum can use a variety of tricks, etc. Virtually every army has some kind of ability to escape from or bypass combat, so making good use of these can go a long ways towards mitigating a Banshee charge.
Banshees are a very solid way for Craftworld armies to delay many types of enemy units and whittle them down; they may not be brutal killers on their own, but they can be very frustrating for an opponent to deal with and are surprisingly difficult to get rid of, especially in combination with judicious use of stratagems and psychic powers. Properly supported, they are an excellent inclusion to an Eldar army looking to bring some aggressive elements to the table and they synergize well with short-ranged shooting units (such as Fire Dragons) or other melee units (such as Shining Spears.) If you haven’t already, give them a whirl- I think you’ll find that they will make appearances in more and more of your armies once you do, because what they can do for you is invaluable.
As always, remember that you can get your wargaming supplies from the Frontline Gaming store at great discounts every day, whether you’re looking to expand an existing army or start a new one.