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The Tiger Roars
Guest Commentary: Da Orcboy Pays Up

Rating the 40K Army Lists: Necrons, Tyranids, Tau, and Kroot (Tenth of 11 articles)  by Ken Lacy

Editor's Note: As a public service to his fellow gamers, Ken is analyzing each Warhammer 40K army on a number of factors and rating them (in a manner similar to Consumer Reports). Visit this page to read what criteria Ken uses. 

This collection of army lists actually has some of the fewest ‘variants’, are pulled from very different sources (and three different codices) and thus have very little in common -- they're grouped together here by theme and for convenience’s sake, more than anything else.  All these armies are very unusual, and have seen some drastic and dramatic changes since their first introduction to the 40K game: Rogue Trader (1st edition) for Tyranids, 2nd edition for Necrons, and 3rd edition for the Tau (and Kroot).  However, they all serve a similar role in the 40K universe -- they are the truly alien of all the alien races, bearing the least resemblance to Warhammer’s early “Space Fantasy” feel with its Space Elves and Space Orks (and Space Dwarves, though the Squats are no longer with us), and each acting, in their own way, as another threat to the primary protagonists of the 40K universe, the Empire of Man.

Which is all to say that sometimes these Xenos races don’t always get as much ‘love’ as the favored alien races (Eldar, Orks), with fewer army variants, fewer models in the archives, a less established ‘feel’ to their backgrounds, etc.  Think of it as an inability to keep up with the Joneses (or at least the Smif Klan and Craftworld Jan’sihn).  Happily for them, however, these four Xenos races all feature relatively recent codices, and can’t really complain too much about the effect of ‘army creep’ on the relative power level of their army lists.

Well, not too much, anyway.

Xenos table
(Note: ratings current as of November 2006)

Necrons: Annihilation
When first introduced in 2nd edition 40K, the Necrons were a very poorly balanced list with only three or four models in the line -- total!  They underwent a Chapter Approved update for 3rd edition that briefly saw them as one of the hardest, nastiest lists in the game, but the eventual release of their Codex toned things back down a bit.

Model-related Categories
Necrons rate very favorably in most of the ‘Modeling’ Categories – they are not a large army, and their core units (and their most reliable and effective units) are all available in plastic.  They are very well-supported by Games Workshop, relatively compact in terms of transport and army cases, and extremely easy to paint.  Granted, they are a bit finicky to assemble, as well as on the flimsy side with their spindly legs, but still about “average” there, too.  Their only downside is the difficulty involved in converting them.  Despite being largely plastic, they aren’t terribly robust models, and they have virtually no ‘archive’ of bits to draw on for conversion purposes.

Game-related Categories
The Necrons are a bit more variable on the ‘tabletop’.  Despite having a full codex of their own, the Necrons are not heavily stocked with unit choices.  What’s more, many of those choices are relatively poor selections that aren’t terribly effective in a game, and as a result the army list has little strategic variation -- most Necron armies look very ‘cookie-ccutter’ as a result.

Fortunately, with their good skills (WS/BS) and high Leadership, Necrons have extremely reliable units, and their Marine-equivalent 3+ save and Toughness 4, combined with their “We’ll Be Back!” rule, make them one of the most resilient and durable army lists in the 40K game, capable of sucking up tremendous damage and coming out largely unaffected.  They are also very straightforward to use, they don’t have many special units or gear, and have remarkably multipurpose basic weapons (Gauss guns), to boot.

In terms of their Primary Aptitudes, Necrons suffer from two main weaknesses: first, a relative lack of mobility, despite their excellent maneuverability -- Veils and Monoliths can mitigate some of this, but otherwise it’s a list full of footsloggers.  They also have no special close-combat ability, apart from what characters and a few elite units can do.  Their shooting, on the other hand, is their strength: it is accurate, can be fired on-the-move, and is capable of damaging virtually everything in the game.  Only an overall lack of range and real Armor-Penetrating hitting power keeps them from rating higher in this regard.

Overall Analysis
In the final analysis, then, Necrons are pretty solid in the ‘Modeling’ categories, but rather mediocre on the tabletop, and that’s reflected in their overall ratings.  They are an easily assembled, easily painted, highly portable army that features very durable and dependable units, making them a "good" choice for “n00b” and casual players. 

The veteran “Tactical” gamer, on the other hand, will be frustrated by the monotony and uniformity of the army, as well as its tendency to turn every game (regardless of opponent, objective, or terrain) into a battle of attrition.  With their weaknesses and strengths largely canceling out, this list rates as merely "average" among 40K lists.

Necrons battle Death Guard
Above:  Necrons battle Death Guard Chaos Space Marines

Tyranids: Consumption
One of the newest of the non-Imperial codices, the Tyranids in 4th edition are a real nasty piece of work.  Though they were hardly much of an army list at all in the Rogue Trader (1st edition 40K) era, the 2e and 3e Tyranids all were masters of the assault phase, and that hasn’t much changed.  Complete with new plastics, new miniature designs, expanded lists of unit options, and ‘fluffy’ army builds like the all-Tyranid-Monstrous-Creature (well, mostly) list, Tyranids are an extremely characterful and high-personality army in 40K.  Note that although there were several alternative variants to the Tyranid army list over the years (Seeding Swarm, for example), there’s currently just one army list for Tyranids, and that’s the one being reviewed here: the basic codex.

Model-related Categories
From a ‘modeling’ perspective, Tyranids have plenty to offer.  Strongly supported by Games Workshop, the full line is readily available, and the carapace-and-chitin designs are relatively easy to paint up, convert, and assemble.  There’s now a reasonable archive of bits for the list, stretching back nearly fifteen years, and the plastic kits have all been designed for easy interchangeability of parts.  Add a little inspiration from Earth’s own natural wonders (especially the insect kingdom) and voila!

That said, there are some downsides to the army list.  As a ‘horde’ list, Tyranids can call for a LOT of miniatures, and the cost of that starts to add up (as does purchasing a much smaller, but no less pricey, Tyranid Monstrous Creature list).  Even considering clever ‘discounts’ (like collecting a bunch of the “Battle for Macragge” sets), it’s a chunk of money.  It’s also a righteous pain to transport a Tyranid army -- even the smallest Tyranid models are very bulky and oddly (alienly!) proportioned, and transporting a full painted army with care can call for multiple army cases, a full Army Transport box, etc.  This is not a readily portable army, and even an all-TMC list fares little better.

Game-related Categories
On the ‘tabletop’, however, Tyranids are rock-solid.  The codex details the vast wealth of options available to a Tyranid player, and although not all units are equally useful, Tyranids can still show an opponent quite a few effective designs (and strategeries).  Although their ‘scrub’ units aren’t much to look at, Tyranid elites are highly skilled, and the presence of the Hivemind (via the Synapse power) renders every Tyranid unit in range entirely fearless -- making the army very reliable.  The huge numbers of the hordes, and the incredible durability of the Tyranid Monstrous Creatures, combined with the protection from Insta-Kill afforded by the Synapse power, results in a list that can take a horrific beating, yet still have the ability to strike back with a vengeance.

Tyranids are also very tricksy.  Although the 4e Codex lacks the crazy, sheer inventiveness of the 3e Codex’s custom species and custom hive fleets and custom mutations, there are still loads of bio-weapon and bio-gear options, and many devious ways to mix-and-match them.  A canny player should be able to custom-breed any species he needs without too much fuss.

The Tyranids rate very well in Primary Aptitudes.  True, they aren’t much of a ‘shooty’ threat, nor are they ever likely to be.  But their ‘poor’ shooting is generally more than sufficient to harass and suppress the opponent long enough for the (very!) fast-moving hordes to pile on.  Once in close combat, Tyranids have few equals, able both to swamp an opponent with waves of mediocre ‘fodder’, as well as to crush isolated characters and units with their nastier elites and Monstrous Creatures.

Overall Analysis
In all, the Tyranids are an excellent army list -- a bit tricky to assemble and use, and a pain to transport easily, yet still good for a new or casual player.  Their ‘tabletop’ strengths and versatility make them quite nasty in the hands of a veteran ‘Tactical’ gamer as well, and they rate "good" in this analysis overall as well, and (if that’s what you’re looking for) are one of the best hand-to-hand army lists in the entire 40K game.

Tyranid Warriors
Above:  Tyranid Warriors painted by Bryan "Lawman" Layton

Tau: Expansion 
The newest kids on the block, the Tau were relative latecomers, showing up in 40K toward the end of 3rd edition.  Never a terribly nasty army list, the Tau suffered under the rules changes of 4e, rating very poorly both for “n00bs” and tactically-inclined veterans alike.  They were tricky to collect, assemble, and convert, and were extremely unforgiving on the tabletop, despite being clear masters of the Shooting phase.

Fortunately for the Tau, they learn from their defeats, and the result was the updated “Tau Empire” Codex, with expanded army options, a wider array of weaponry and wargear, and a huge variety of new plastic kits and models.

Model-related Categories
As one of the main 40K army lines, the Tau are strongly supported by Games Workshop and the availability of miniatures is extremely high, although their many plastic kits and low-Point Value units can result in a relatively pricey army.  Furthermore, Tau suits and vehicles are both quite bulky, as well as surprisingly fragile, making the storage and transport of Tau armies a bit of a challenge.  Suffice to say that this is not an exceptionally portable list.

They are neither terribly hard, nor terribly easy, to paint.  Although Tau units feature nice, sharp lines and armored plates, the list also has Kroot and Vespid bodies, a variety of different destures, and a fair amount of detail even in the basic plastic kits.  Fortunately, even their more complex multipiece kits fit together quite well, and with a minimum of fuss, once you account for things like the fragile ankles of Tau Crisis suit models.

The new models, plastic kits, and a huge and growing wealth of Forgeworld extras, all result in the Tau having a surprisingly decent range of models, bits, and customizability, particularly considering that they’re the newest army list in the 40K game.  In some cases, they have a better selection than far more established army lists!  At tournaments, it’s not uncommon to see Tau lists converted with bits from non-GW sources, such as anime bits and other “big robot” sets, like Gundam (for example) or Transformers, and the simple and straight lines of their plastic miniatures are relatively easily to convert in such fashion.

Game-related Categories
The “Tau Empire” codex vastly improved the selection of units available to the Tau, as well as the options that came with them, and a few simple changes (the Markerlight being the most obvious) have radically improved the utility of many units.  The Tau can now field a wide array of tactical and strategic designs and expect them to work quite well, making them much more multi-dimensional (and far less predictable).

One Tau weakness is the reliability of their core units.  The vast majority of Tau units have a WS/BS of 2/3, and top out at a unit Leadership of 8.  Although there are some character and wargear options that can mitigate this, the Tau on the whole are a little more brittle than most of the lists in 40K.

Fortunately, the Tau themselves are reasonably durable, between their suits and their numerous (and low-PV) Fire Warriors with 4+ armor saves.  Though not comparable to most Chaos or Marine lists, the Tau are still reasonable capable of absorbing a few heavy hits, and are no worse than “average” in this regard.

Tau weapons, and wargear, range from unusual to unique -- they ‘break’ many of the rules and expectations found in the Core Rules, giving the Tau list a distinctive style and flavor -- tricky for newer players to master, but available for more veteran players to exploit.

As for Primary Aptitudes, Tau cover the full spectrum.  They are very maneuverable as an army list, but not terribly fast, resulting in their “average” rating here.  Between the high strength and exceptional range of their basic Troops weapon (the pulse rifle), the array of very nasty heavy weapons they can field, and the sheer number of guns they can fit into a Cadre, the Tau are one of the shootiest lists in 40K, and are exceptional in this regard.  Conversely, the Tau are very, very poor in melee, and have no effective assault or counter-assault units in their list: even the Kroot are hardly much better than the Tau they are aligned with.  As a result, they rate “worst” for Assaults, being one of the worst close-combat armies in 40K.

Overall Analysis
Overall, the Tau Empire codex, and the new incarnation of the Tau, significantly raises the stock of a Tau army.  Previously they were one of the worst army lists in the game that had their own Codex (only variant lists like Catachan Jungle Fighters were worse), but now they are at least a competitive army list capable of holding their own.

They aren’t a bad list for a “n00b” or casual gamer, but do have several weaknesses to go with their few very clear advantages and strengths.  Veteran players similarly will find the Tau to be attractive for their strengths, but will have to account for their weaknesses on the tabletop. 

Ultimately the Tau now rate as an "average" list for both ‘n00bs’ and veteran ‘Tactical’ gamers.  The new codex revision proved to be a real boon to Tau players, making the list markedly stronger, and adding new units and models to the small but growing line.  With any luck, the Tau will be around for many editions of 40K to come.

Fire Warriors
Above:  Fire Warriors painted by Grayson Pike

Kroot Mercenaries: Evolution
The one variant list in this collection of Xenos army lists, the Kroot Mercenaries are thematically a variant of the Tau, but in actual design are a completely distinct army list.  The ironic thing about the Kroot is that, while they can be used as allies by virtually every other army list in 40K, they cannot be used as an ally by the one army list that could use the help: the Tau.  That said, Kroot Mercenaries make for a fun, and not terribly overpowered, ally for most 40K lists.  They are also available as a stand-one list, and it is in the capacity that they’re being reviewed here.

Model-related Categories
First and most importantly, this is a Chapter Approved list, meaning that they’re ideally suited for a veteran gamer willing to put the time and energy into converting and modeling many of the units in the list from scratch.  This is reflected in the poor ratings this list earns in the ‘modeling’ category -- heavy conversions are necessary, the Kroot are spindly and bulky miniatures, they are tricky to work with, have a limited selection of bits and accessories, and can quickly become expensive to assemble.  What with Knaarlocks and Great Knaarlocks and Vultures and more, Kroot can quickly end up being a bit of a hassle to transport, as well.

One low-hassle solution to transporting Kroot

Game-related Categories
The Kroot Mercenary list is pretty diverse, however, with a lot of different options, making the ‘tabletop’ army somewhat appealing.  The Kroot actually have a fair number of effective tactical designs, with many of their unit choices being quite useful, and even their modest selection of wargear does go a long way.

Unfortunately, as a Kroot player you are still reliant on the basic Kroot Warrior, the core unit of the list.  Kroot are relatively mediocre, and even with a Leadership upgrade are pretty easily spooked.  They’re also a Toughness 3 critter with no real armor to speak of, and die in droves to concentrated firepower or dedicated assault units.  They’re not terribly durable units, and a few bad saves or Morale checks can quickly put paid to your most careful and cunning plans.

And the Kroot are tricky to use, too.  Although just a few Chapter Approved pages may not seem like a lot, the different abilities and unit options interact in very unusual ways.  Kroot don’t have any ‘normal’ high-firepower Heavy Support choices, for example, which means that they have to handle armored threats in very different and unusual ways.  Learning how to accomplish this is tricky -- but once learned, it can bewilder many opponents, a real advantage for a practiced and veteran player.

In terms of their Primary Aptitudes, Kroot Mercenaries are, for all their weaknesses, a very well-balanced list.  They have a decent mix of shootiness, though nothing amazing, and are reasonably mobile and maneuverable for a foot-slogging force (but are still, in the end, a slow footslogging army list).  They are also surprisingly good in assaults, despite the frailties of individual Kroot; when backed by Shapers and assaulting en masse, the Kroot in a Kroot Mercenaries list really can pack a fair punch.

Overall Analysis
This means that, in all, the Kroot are really a marginal army list, best suited for the player attracted to them for their style or fluff.  They are a miserable, awful choice for “n00bs” and casual gamers, what with their modeling challenges and table-top weaknesses: one of the "worst" choices in 40K, in fact.  Even in the hands of a veteran ‘Tactical’ gamer, the Kroot simply lack any major edges, and have a number of real weaknesses, making them a "poor" choice overall.

Good luck with that all-Kroot army: we think you're going to need it

Related Pages

Posted January 2007. Used with permission.


Fighting Tigers:
Codex <> Tactics <> Gallery <> Allies and Enemies <> Tales of the Tigers

Other Pages:
Main <> What's New <> Site Index <> The Tiger Roars <> Themed Army Ideas
Events and Battle Reports <> Campaigns <> Terrain <> FAQ <> Beyond the Jungle