What the HelDrake?

I have to ask: Did Games Workshop drop the ball on Heldrakes with their last FAQ?

What am I talking about, you are asking?

Well, Games Workshop latest Chaos Space Marines codex FAQ ruled that a Heldrake’s ranged weapons are to be treated as “Turret Mounted Weapons“!

Q: How do I determine the Arc of Sight for a Heldrake’s ranged weapon?

A: Treat the Heldrake’s ranged weapon as a Turret Mounted Weapon, measuring all ranges from the edge of the Heldrake’s base nearest to the target unit.

Why is that (potentially) a problem?

I think it might be a problem of balance, yet most certainly is a (small) blow to “tactical gameplay” in Warhammer 40K.

How so?

Because it kills a key (balancing/tactical) aspects of using flyers – and Heldrake’s in particular – in a game of Warhammer 40K: The positioning of the model!

#1 – Why Flyers Make Warhammer 40K a Better Game

Let me start by saying that – in general – I welcome the addition of flyers to Warhammer 40K.

True, ultrasonic jets mingling in a sword & pistol stand-off might be straining verisimilitude a bit (though that never has been a focus of 40K anyhow). On the “game”-side of the game however, flyers are (I think) a great addition, as they add a unique new “layer” to the game-play.

Flyers in Warhammer 40K have several key advantages over other vehicles, including Skimmers. For one, they are highly mobile. Second, they are uniquely resilient to most weapons in the game (i.e. everything without Skyfire or on another flyer), which have a harder time hitting flyers.

These strengths are mitigated by their inability to score in a game that is, more than ever, an “objectives-game” more than ever (though some flyers are obviously transports).

They are also mitigated by the unique movement restrictions found in the movement rules for flyers (minimum movements, limited turns). The latter might leave you with less-than-ideal targets before your flyer’s guns, if you don’t plan your models movements carefully.

Mastering isn’t rocket science. But every aspect of the game that builds on moving your “game pieces”, not just rolling dice against the stats on paper, is a boon to the game in my book.

#2 – The HelDrake FAQed!

I always thought the HelDrake managed to hit the flyer “sweet spot” pretty well. It has:

  • AV 12 (which is a world of difference to 11 or 10, as most Skyfire weapons are Str. 7 or less) and It Will Not Die
  • The wicked, “troop-clearing” Baleflamer, which makes it impossible to ignore on the table (also DaemonForge)

Yet even better than those assets, I loved how it added another puzzle-piece to the movement phase with its Vector Strike.

Zooming or swooping to get that extra “attack”, you’d need to line up and move just right to place both that Vector Strike and have something worth crisping in front of your Baleflamer.

I admit the HelDrake’s arc of sight was always a disputed issue.

Still, it’s a powerful model. Resilient, for a flyer, with a “ignore-at-your-own-peril” weapon, which forces opponents to dedicate firepower to it (or suffer!). The HelDrake is popular for a reason.

Ruling the HelDrake’s weapon as turret mounted (giving it a 360° arc) gives emphasis to its profile and lessens the “tactical” factor of positioning the Heldrake “just right”.

It makes the HelDrake (perhaps only slightly) more powerful. It also makes using it too simple.

#3 – Flyer Balance

I am sure this will make the HelDrake (and triple HelDrake lists) more popular.

In the long-term, I think it is more likely to lead to less inspired or more cautious Flyer profiles, such as the ones seen on the new Dark Angels flyers.

Personally, I would have preferred it if the game designers went at it the other way ’round: Flyers with intimidating profiles (like the HelDrake), but only fully effective in the right situation, dependent on smart choices (and a bit of luck).

It would make for a smarter game of Warhammer 40K.

What do you think of the “new” HelDrake? Do you agree with my little rant?