Hi everyone, Michael here with another Deathwatch review, this time looking at the Deathwatch Bike Squad. The Bikers got a big boost from Chapter Approved 2018 and the recent Beta Bolter rules. Do the changes make them worth taking now? For more reviews and analyses, check out the Tactics Corner.
The Deathwatch Bike squad is a fast, mobile unit that has some superior firepower thanks to its Twin Bolters coupled with Special Issue Ammunition. This provides it with the means to take on a number of threats that they may face on the battlefield. However, the unit can suffer from poor durability on the tabletop for its points cost, which can be partially mitigated by the correct upgrades on the unit.
I would give the Bikers a Situational to Efficient rating. In the right force, they can act as valuable mobile support units, able to go after objectives quickly and provide a decent level of firepower. However, they will quickly fold when targeted by the enemy guns in any real numbers. The recent Beta Bolter rules have really boosted their utility on the battlefield, giving them a greatly increased threat range on the tabletop.
The unit consists of one Biker Sergeant and two Bikers. It can included up to 3 additional Bikers. Each Biker costs 25 points (including basic wargear).
- Twin Boltgun
- Frag and Krak Grenades.
- The Biker Sergeant may take up to two items from the Deathwatch Equipment list.
- Any Biker may take a Bolt Pistol, Chainsword, Power Axe, Power Maul or Power Sword.
- One Biker may take a Deathwatch Teleport Homer.
- And They Shall Know No Fear
- Combat Squads
- Special Issue Ammunition
- Relentless Assault- When this unit Falls Back, it an charge later that turn.
- Turbo-boost- When this unit Advances, add 6″ to its Move characteristic for that movement phase instead of rolling.
- Deathwatch Teleport Homer- The Homer can be placed anywhere in your deployment zone when your army deploys. If an enemy model is ever within 9″ of the Teleport Homer, it is removed. Whilst there is a friendly Teleport Homer on the battlefield, a unit containing one or more Deathwatch Terminators can perform an emergency teleport instead of moving in the movement phase. At the end of the movement phase, removed the unit and set it up within 6″ of a Teleport Homer, which is then removed.
The Space Marine Biker has a lot going for it. They are fast (14″ move, plus automatic 6″ Advance) and fairly durable (T5, 2 wounds, 3+ save). They can hold up to reasonable small arms fire thanks to their improved toughness and extra wound, but most higher strength and high damage weaponry will make a mess of the unit. For me, one of the big drawbacks of the Bike squad in 8th edition is the loss of the Jink save in most cases. The extra wound is nice, but with the abundance of mid-strength, 2 damage weaponry available, most Bikers are easy to kill off in the current meta.
Where the Deathwatch Bikers get a boost is in their damage output. Thanks to the new Beta Bolter rules, each Biker will now put out four shots on their Twin Bolter at all ranges.
The combination with Special Issue Ammunition means that the squad can do serious damage in a single round of shooting. The basic squad can put out 12 Bolter shots at 18-2-30″, that can either wound on a 2+, are AP-1 or AP-2. Against a number of units, this can be enough to cause quite a few casualties. Where the Deathwatch do miss out is the inability to take Special Weapons to supplement their firepower.
The change to the Bolter rules means that the Bikers no longer need to get into half range to put out their full firepower each turn. With the Kraken rounds, each Biker can fire up to 30″, giving them a huge 44″ threat range on the table. This enables the unit to go after far away objectives and still contribute their firepower to the rest of the army in most cases. This also allows them to use their firepower to full effect while staying away from the enemy army, to stop their firepower from being locked up in combat.
You can give each Biker a Chainsword or Bolt Pistol for free, which you may as well do. The Chainsword gives each Veteran three attacks in combat. This will give you some decent combat ability. You are not going to be killing whole units, but should be able to finish off one or two members of a weakened infantry unit if you need to do so. The Bolt Pistol also allows you to keep up some firepower against a unit they are in combat with. As the Bolt Pistol also gets special issue ammunition, this can be pretty potent for taking on high toughness or heavily armoured opponents in combat.
I probably wouldn’t bother upgrading them to carry Power weapons. With only two attacks each, you are unlikely to do much damage in combat. In addition, you probably don’t want the unit in combat too often, as this will negate their firepower. However, if you have the points to spare, a Power Maul or Power Axe could be useful for taking on tougher enemy units, or a Power Sword to cut through armour may be useful.
The Biker Sergeant can take two items from the Deathwatch Equipment list. I would recommend taking a Storm Shield and Storm Bolter. This takes a three-man Bike unit up to 81 points. This unit gets 16 Bolter shots with Special Issue Ammunition at full range, as well as giving the unit a 3+ invulnerable save. This increases your firepower output and durability for the unit for a very reasonable points cost. With some good saving throws for the Storm Shield, you can save the Bikers from damage from a number of high damage shots that they may face. However, losing the Sergeant means losing your invulnerable save and eight Bolter shots, so can be a big loss for the unit.
The ability to Fall Back and still charge is a nice bonus for the Bikers. Ideally, you don’t want them to be in combat, as this negates their strong firepower. However, there are times where you want to tie up enemy units in combat to stop them shooting in the following turn. The ability to fall back and still charge means that you can engage screening units, then fall back in the following turn and go after a greater target in the enemy army, assuming you survive the enemy shooting phase.
I have recently been experimenting with several units of four Bikers, with Sergeant armed with Storm Bolter and Storm Shield. This unit can put out 20 Bolter shots at ranges from 18-30″, depending on which ammo you use. The ability to put out AP-2 Bolter shots at 18″ range can be pretty powerful, allowing you to take on a number of heavily-armoured foes. Any big Monsters in the enemy army will also suffer from 20 shots at 24″ that wound on a 2+.
A couple of units of Bikers can be a valuable objective-grabbing force in your Deathwatch army. I find that they work well as an early threat to the enemy army, before you are able to bring in your reserves. Their speed and firepower boost allows them to pose a strong threat to the enemy army, one that will need to be dealt with quickly. They can also use their speed to try and tie up enemy units with strong firepower, potentially stopping them from targeting the rest of your army in the enemy shooting phase. I find that my Deathwatch Biker units don’t tend to last very long. They are generally picked off and eliminated quite early in the game, but can do a lot of damage before this happens.
This unit can actually work well in a mixed Kill Team with Vanguard Veterans. This gives them the ability to fall back and still shoot and assault, making the most of their firepower and use as an annoyance unit in the army.
The Deathwatch Teleport Homer can also be a useful trick if the rest of your army is set up to use it. The upgrade costs no points, so is worth taking if you have any units of Terminators in the army, or a mixed Kill Team featuring Terminators. This allows you to quickly re-deploy a unit in your army, though is limited to re-deploying them to your deployment zone. This can come in handy in certain missions, allowing you to use the Kill Team aggressively during the game, but with the ability to bring a scoring unit back to your deployment zone to hold objectives for the end game. It’s not a tactic that is going to come up all too often, but can be useful every once in a while.
The Biker Squad can make a useful accompaniment for a Deathwatch Watch Captain with a Jump Pack. They have the mobility to range ahead of the Captain and keep him safe from enemy firepower thanks to the Character rules. They also have the firepower to back him up if he comes across a horde unit. The Bikers will also benefit from the re-rolls of the Captain to boost their firepower output.
You probably won’t be wasting many command points on the unit through stratagems, apart from the occassional re-roll on the Storm Shield. You don’t really have the volume of fire or combat ability to make most stratagems a worthwhile investment. However, every once in a while it may come in useful to use them in selected situations. For example, unlike Auspex Scan, the Intercepting Volley stratagem is not restricted to Infantry units. This can be a nasty surprise if an Aeldari Fly units moves within range of the Bikers or arrives from reserve near them. Your opponent may think they are safe before you unleash a volley of rapid fire Special Issue Ammunition.
The Corvus Blackstar is unique among Space Marine transport vehicle in that it can transport Bikers. The flyer can transport up to four Bikers. I’m not sure transporting Bikers is the best use of its capacity though. The Bikers have the speed to get around most places on the tabletop within a turn or two, so the Corvus Blackstar is probably better suited for slow moving Deathwatch units, but it is something to bear in mind.
The Deathwatch Biker squad can be useful in the right situations. They make a great annoyance unit for the opposing army, as well as being a great unit for grabbing objectives or getting into good positions. If they are targeted, they will probably fall quite quickly to the enemy firepower.
Throwing them at the heart of the enemy army on turn 1 is most likely a surefire way for them to be killed easily. Biding your time with the unit and using them to support your Teleportarium reserves can be a useful use of their abilities and a way to keep them alive for a bit longer in the game. They can use their superior speed to get into position to add to the firepower of your reserves, or to charge in and finish off a weakened unit in combat.
Also, don’t forget that the Prepared Positions stratagem works with the Bikers to give them a 2+ save on turn 1. Toughness 5 and a 2+ save is a nice boost for the unit, hopefully allowing them to survive the enemy firepower for a bit longer if you don’t get the first turn or get seized on.
I think they have the potential to be a strong support unit in the Deathwatch army, if used correctly and with practice. They got a nice points reduction in CA2018 and a boost from the Beta Bolter rules, taking them to only 25 pts per model. While I think they are still expensive for what they can bring to the army, they are no longer a terrible choice for the Deathwatch, actually giving the army some much needed mobility and a nice firepower boost at long ranges.
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