“But the Vyper, she still stings, does she not?”
“No, not really.”
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The Vyper jetbike is either the heaviest of the crew-driven jetbikes or the lightest of their standard vehicles, depending on how you look at it. Small enough to pass through most webway channels, Vypers are extraordinarily nimble just like their smaller counterparts and can dodge through areas too built-up or dangerous for larger vehicles. Vypers are served by two crew- one to pilot the vehicle and one to operate its weaponry, with the latter acting from a semi-exposed “turret” mount at the rear of the vehicle; the two crew share a close bond and are often blood relatives of one sort or another, most especially in the cases of the those from Craftworld Saim Hann, where the vehicle was first introduced.
Vypers are a fairly typical light vehicle within the context of the game, having a statline well above that of your average trooper but noticeably below most “real” tanks. Movement 16″ makes them one of the speediest units around, able to get nearly anywhere on the battlefield in short order, and toughness five (with five wounds and 3+ armor) means that they will be able to shrug most basic infantry weapons relatively easily, though anything heavier will give them trouble. Like most vehicles they are pretty bad in a fight (WS6+, one attack, S4) but this shouldn’t generally be relevant- even when you are charging them into a fight, it won’t be because you’re intending to cause any real damage. Coming in at 52pts per model in squads of 1-3, the Vyper is priced relatively fairly all things considered, although it is not a unit that impresses at a first glance.
Wargear and Special Rules
Being a vehicle, the Vyper has only a small number of special rules to its name. Like most vehicles it has Explodes, doing a single mortal wound to other units within 3″ of it when it dies. (Note that this is a significantly smaller area and less damage than most, though it will still hit any other members of its own squad when this happens.) The Blade Wind rule its is only unique inclusion, which boosts the unit’s movement to 20″ when taken as a full squad of three. Since this isn’t actually a big change from its basic stat, it’s not much of an argument in favor of going for the full unit, if we’re being honest with ourselves.
Its equipment looks quite a bit better, though. The Vyper comes with two weapons mounts; its underslung gun is either a Twin Shuriken Catapult (12″ S4 Assault 4 rending) or a singular Shuriken Cannon (24″ S6 Assault 3 rending) for +8pts more. With the changes in price I think that the underslung Cannon is not typically worth the price, although depending on the role you want to use it in there may be times you still want it. The turret mounted weapon is a lot more flexible- it comes base with a Shuriken Cannon, but you can swap it out for any of the other Craftworld heavy weapons as you please, though it is worth noting that all of them but the Shuriken Cannon are actually Heavy and thus will take the -1 to hit if you move; they can also be quite expensive in some cases. I’m a fan of just leaving it with the two Cannons, although there is an argument to be made for a Starcannon (only slightly more expensive) or Missile Launcher (a 15pt jump.) The Scatter Laser also has some value, as it drops the price of the unit by 3pts overall (taking it down to 49 total), and has about the same firepower overall- though it does prevent you from advancing and shooting.
Vypers are an odd little animal, especially when you line them up alongside many of the other Craftworld unit choices. They are extremely similar to War Walkers in terms of their general setup- a mobile light vehicle mounting two heavy weapons; however, the Vyper gives up some of the flexibility in its armament as well as the Walker’s invulnerable save for stronger protection against small arms and the Fly keyword, both of which are pretty darn handy to have. While the 3+ save may not help a lot against a Lascannon or the like, it does wonders against Multilasers, Autocannons, and other such mid-range weapons that can otherwise be quite troubling for the War Walker. If you’re considering running a Walker with two Shuriken Cannons, I think there is a strong argument to be made for taking a Vyper instead, unless you specifically need it to be able to come in off reserves.
The Vyper does struggle a bit with its main armament, however; unless you go with double Cannons as described before, you are looking at mixed ranges and weapon profiles on the vehicle- never great for an army of specialists like Eldar- and the problems that come with being a mobile unit that really wants to be sitting still in order to fire to full effect with its weapons. Note also that a Vyper cannot take items off the Vehicle Equipment list like other Eldar tanks can, which makes Crystal Targeting Matrix a non-option.
The best use of a Vyper is as a flanking and harassment unit; as a relatively cheap and relatively durable unit with good movement, Vypers can easily be used to grab onto distant objectives and hold them for a turn or two before the enemy’s main force arrives, at which point they either have to fall back (something they can do quite easily and painlessly thanks to Fly) or hope that you can wipe out those forces before things get ugly. Unlike a unit such as Swooping Hawks that performs a similar role, however, Vypers are durable enough that the enemy can’t simply point some Boltguns at them and watch them go away- in fact, even for Tau, whose guns have the best chance of hurting them, it is a pretty non-trivial prospect to get rid of one without dedicating some heavy weapons fire to it. If you have enough other vehicles (Serpents, Prisms, Hemlocks, Hunters, etc) to make this an unpleasant prospect to waste firepower on, all the better- but if your Vypers are alone amongst a sea of infantry, woe unto them.
The Vyper’s firepower per point isn’t particularly exceptional, but if we really get down and examine things this isn’t their biggest issue. The real problem, as with some of the other Craftworld units, is that there are so many good choices in other slots (many of which we just named in the preceding paragraph) that you are hard-pressed to find room for them in your army without cutting something more important. There aren’t a lot of things a Vyper does that a Wave Serpent, to take the obvious example, won’t do just as well or better. A Serpent costs about twice what a Vyper does, but mounts almost twice the firepower as well and is certainly more than twice as durable- by wound count, if nothing else, but also by abilities and other factors. Even the harassment role is easily filled by Serpents or flyers, depending on your needs, and though these units cost more than the Vyper does they still are cheap enough that you can reasonably include quite a few of them in an army- and it isn’t often you’ll need to claim more than three or four objectives at once.
If you are looking to use Vypers, don’t underestimate their ability to delay and harass enemy units; a Vyper charging into a block of Cultists or Marines can delay them for a critical turn or two while generally being immune to their melee attacks, or at least resistant enough that you don’t need to worry about actually sacrificing the unit. Most opponents will simply fall back, of course, but if you have charged onto an objective or if the unit really wants to be charging something else of yours, this may be very problematic for them to do more than one turn in a row. And with a movement of 16″, you should be able to reach most places on the field pretty easily in order to do this, so always keep an eye out for those easy charges on things that can’t really fight back (especially enemy vehicles.)
And since it generally bears mentioning in these cases: yes, you should play them as Alaitoc. Alaitoc helps you stay alive much better than Ulthwe does, especially because you are so mobile, and while the Saim Hann ability to ignore the Heavy penalty might seem like it’s perfect for them, it’s actually kind of a trap- you can’t shoot your guns if you’re dead, and Saim Hann Vypers tend to end up dead much more often than their Alaitoc counterparts. Also, don’t forget that as a jetbike they are technically a legal target for the buff spells from Runes of Battle- it’s usually pretty stupid to cast Empower or whatnot on them, but every once and a while they might need a Conceal.
Note that the Vyper does benefit from the abilities of the Windrider Host (from Vigilus Defiant) as well as other stratagems contingent on units being Jetbikes, as it is the heaviest such vehicle in the Eldar arsenal. If you’re really feeling weird you could Webway Portal a unit of them, although I’m not quite sure what that would accomplish overall.
Vypers aren’t generally considered a real menace on the battlefield, but they can be rather annoying; you’ll want to minimize this tendency of theirs when fighting against them, of course. As with War Walkers, a big part of being ready to deal with them comes at the list construction step; make sure you have those medium-strength guns that can shoot at them efficiently. Unlike War Walkers, they lack an invulnerable save and thus your harder-hitting guns aren’t going to be as likely to bounce off them ineffectually, but you still don’t want to have to train your Melta and Plasma on them if you have any other targets they would be better off shooting. Be especially careful of Vypers that are drifting around the edges of your army at that 16″-18″ range band, as it’s very likely that they are looking to either charge into something helpless (like your tank mob in the backfield) or are aiming for a character assassination run, which they can be surprisingly functional at. Vypers may not be the most exciting unit on earth, but they can randomly hit pretty hard and should never be dismissed completely.
Like a lot of these units that are coming up at the end of this codex review, Vypers aren’t an all-star; they are, however, a perfectly serviceable unit that can chew up enemy infantry units while staying reasonably hard to kill in the face of the opponent’s shooting. If you want to try out something weird that most people haven’t seen, I would say give them a whirl- and maybe that lone Bright Lance hiding in your backfield will make a name for himself by blasting Magnus right off the table after failing to do anything the whole rest of the game.
As always, remember you can get your wargaming supplies from the Frontline Gaming store at great discounts every day, whether you’re looking to start a new army or expand an existing one.