Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Harlequins: Part 2 - The Rules (Warhammer 40,000 Codex Review)

Welcome to part two. If you missed it, click here to see how the book's lore shaped up.

The biggest issue with Codex: Harlequins was really summed up last time: This is pretty much half of a full codex. Despite being priced as a full book, despite standing on its own and with an admittedly decent variety of units for an army which has largely been in the background for three decades, it features very little content. The overall book lacks a lot of the elements you'd hope it would contain, some essential and some just nice bonuses, which doesn't really put it in a good light. In many respects it's something akin to Codex: Imperial Knights from my personal view, it's doing so well on many fronts but it's also only furthering some of Warhammer's worst trends at the same time. Especially when it comes to the characters.

Rather than being made up of a band of varied units, small troops selections and specialist forces, the Harlequins are made up of bands of individuals. Shadowseers, Solitaires, Death Jesters and the like combine together and form a force which is heavily weighted in favour of elites choices. On the one hand this is staying true to their original incarnation, but on the other the big issue, the obvious issue, is that since that time this is no longer unique. We've had so many armies written to emphasise unique elite individual characters or heroes while screwing over the backbone of the army itself, it's become an epidemic. As such, this is just adding more fuel to the fire when it comes to that issue, but at the same time it's actually pretty damn solidly written for what it is.

The only Troupes choice available (and I will not apologise for that pun) is very direct, very straight forwards and sticks to the overall glass cannon archetype all eldar forces follow. Armed with a basic shuriken pistol and close combat weapon, their main advantage stems from their WS5 I6 stats with two attacks standard. Combined with the Troupe Leader, this means that even a basic squad is going to get sixteen attacks on the charge, and they're backed with a 5+ invulnerable save thanks to their Holo-fields. Then, atop of this, they have the added durability of a 2+ Look Out Sir tests against anything and suffer no penalties for difficult terrain. 

You still have to be careful about where they're sent in. While they can potentially cut through an army like a knife through butter if used carefully, if you miss that opening blow they will die very quickly against the wrong kind of weapons. This is only backed by the fact they have access to Fleet, cause Fear, have access to Hit & Run, and come with Furious Charge standard, which means they'll be slicing their way through many units at a rate of knots. Well, assuming the other side doesn't choose to send a sizable roadblock against them so they can pull back.

On the one hand I can appreciate this as it does emphasise player skill and it is well balanced, but like so many things it is playing a little too much towards the rock, paper, scissors rut which the game has been falling into over the past few years. The added bonus though is that they are well priced. The initial five models cost 90 points with an additional 15 for another dancer to be thrown into the mob, and the unit does have access to some fairly meaty weapons, such as the infamous Neuro Disruptor and that old favourite the Harlequin's Kiss. Add in the Starweaver as a dedicated transport, and beyond the usual eldar shortcomings of a low Toughness and Strength, they manage to have variety while staying just on the right side of not being broken.

Speaking of the Starweaver, the transport skimmer is really a bigger glass cannon than even everything else in the army. While still equipped with Holo-Fields, having an armour value of ten on all sides means they can all too easily fall to a little concentrated fire. This wouldn't be too bad were it not for the fact that they are one of the few true anti-armour units in the book with their two shuriken cannons, meaning the army as a whole definitely lacks some punch when it comes to taking down tougher vehicles. Combined with the fleet ability of the Harlequins and their capacity to speed through all terrain, it really has only a few proper uses for the force. 

The more useful one here is its bigger, tougher brother, the Voidweaver. The vehicle forgoes its carrying capacity in favour of a Haywire Cannon, a 24" range large blast weapon with a strength and AP of 4. Not bad on the whole and useful for breaking up groups of large troops which might bog down any troupes. Atop of this, it still comes equipped with the shuriken cannons meaning it's reasonable for a ambush predator style attack craft and can be grouped in squads of three. Combined with the more versatile Prismatic Cannon (capable of switching modes from a Strength 7 lance beam to a Strength 3 large blast) it can swap out its main gun for, the unit feels as if it has more of a place in the army. It still has that same fragility, but at least with more guns and capable of being grouped together it looks as if it can hit a lot harder.

Skyweavers meanwhile are effectively your Shining Spear substitute for this game. Capable of performing Hit & Run attacks, having the same invulnerable saves and capabilities offered by Mirage Launchers and Holo-fields, they are a faster and much more risky version of the Troupes. While a high cost at 50 points per model, they're quite interesting thanks to the Star Bolas and the ability to switch out their guns for a Haywire Cannon. Really, they're fast moving crowd control, but for such a small army that's to be expected and there's little to really complain about here.

The real fun comes into play with the elites choices. Foremost among these being that skull faced nightmare of giggling annihilation, the Death Jester. Armed with a Shriner Cannon and capable of pulling off Precision Shots, he's definitely a good choice if you know how to use him. Perhaps his most beneficial element however is the Death is Not Enough rule, playing wonderfully into his morbid humour. Everything hit by this monster's gun takes a Leadership test of -2 even if they're at more or less full strength. If failing to make this, the Harlequin player can then choose which direction they fall back in. Normally i'd say this was too tough, but given how he is as fragile as the rest of the army, and will quite likely be off on his own, it more or less balances out.

On the opposite end of the spectrum we have the Solitaire, being the ever perpetual combat monster they're known to be. At a whopping 145 points they really are the closest this game comes to a full blown bullet magnet or a Mephiston grade one man army. Fulfilling Games Workshop's quota for one at least Eternal Warrior model per book, he comes with WS9 BS9 I10, 6 attacks basic and a 3+ invulnerable save. However, being perpetually stuck on his own he can be mobbed and taken down by concentrated fire, with now groups to hide in. even if he does have the Fleet ability. 

What does make him truly dangerous though is his notable ability to Deep Strike into enemy forces, and either the Harlequin's Kiss and Harlequin's Embrace. So he can drop into your lines, storm about and use Instant Death or cause automatic wounds on a 6. The Solitaire is definitely veering towards being outright broken and power gaming, and in all honesty it does seem that he should cost a hell of a lot more for his abilities. While there might be only one of him per army, you can only imagine the damage he could do. This is also before getting to the Blitz special ability, allowing for D6 more inches in time with the current turn. This is added after standard movement, which he can move up to 12" before Fleeting, and increases his number of attacks on a charge to 10. Really, is this just here to fit in a unit they couldn't excuse adding to the Grey Knights codex?

Then finally we have the Shadowseer, the wizard psyker for this merry band of killer clowns. Not a bad bunch of stats on the whole, obviously favouring combat but with a few nice upgrades like the Neuro Disruptor and the Miststave - AKA something which increases their Strength to 6, and gives the wielder both Concussive and Fleshbane. Nothing really to say about this one, it adds a good mixture of abilities to the army and has some nicely balanced stats. The only real criticism to make is the model's cost which seems far too cheap at 60 points.

The actual psychic abilities this one can cast are an admittedly varied bunch under the name Phantasmancy. More focused upon building survival and misdirection, it does manage to do just enough to make it stand out from the usual Craftworld Eldar mixture of abilities, while at the same time offering one or two reasonable offensive skills. Chief among the latter are Laugh of Sorrows and Mirror of Minds, which deal damage to a target based upon an Leadership test duel. Standard stuff to be honest but useful to have with this selection to pack a bit more of a punch, the latter Focused Witchfire ability especially.
The more interesting ones are the Dance of Shadows, Shards of Light and Pearl of Discord. These offer, respectively, Stealth and Shrouded to one unit, Witchfire which causes Blind and a Concussive Nova based power. The first one gives suitability while the latter two allow the Harlequins to storm in and get in that vital first blow.Fog of Dreams meanwhile is probably the only irritating one here as it makes your units invisible to one enemy unit. It's okay but it feels as if a little more could have been done with it.

The only last part to cover is the armory, and truth be told there isn't much to it. It's the usual mixture of same items we've seen time and time again in the supplements, made to carry out a few set roles but little else really. 
You have the stats boosting melee weapon (The Stories Sword, +1 Strength, AP3, Master-Crafted) 
the short range but unremarkable gun (Crescendo, which is pretty much a bolt pistol which just has Bladestorm and Quickfire tacked on) 
the two leadership boosting abilities (Mask of Secrets which gives Fearless and -2 to any enemy Leadership tests within 12" - admittedly good for the Shadowseer - and the Laughing God's Eye, which gives Adamantium Will to any allied unit within 12")
then finally we have the supposedly exceptionally kill crazy one (the Cecgorach's Rose, which offers Shred and Kiss of Death in melee, which is really a glorified Harlequin's Kiss).

These are honestly extremely by the numbers and it does leave me personally wondering if - Combined with the lack of any special characters or further troop choices of any kind - the design team were rushed for time. These were Harlequins, so there was nothing to really stop them going nuts and trying something completely ballistic.

The last bits of the book really are just a lot of formations, none of which are really that interesting. They just add some very basic bonuses like Cegorach's Revenge, which allows all units to re-roll invulnerable saves. So that's an entire army of 5+ inv saves in an eldar force. Personally, this could just be bias though as i've never really personally seen the point of formations, they just seem to take half the fun out of building a list.

While personally I won't say that Codex: Harlequins is anything remarkable, it is a big step in the right direction. While it does continue trends i'm not especially fond of, the aforementioned emphasis upon individual units over all else, given they were core to the army's concept in the beginning this can perhaps be let slide. There's not really a bad unit in here save possibly for the transport, but the lack of a dedicated anti-air unit of some kind is a definite oversight and it really seems only about two thirds done. With more work this could have been something truly outstanding, but instead the options here feel a little too limiting. They're good options, but with so few units it lacks the variety a full blown army would truly need. Atop of this, while a few points are definitely broken, at least  the army actually requires some skill to play, and wasn't turned into a vehicle to shill some shiny new super heavy.

If you're into this one, perhaps you could give it a look but personally i'd still say they work better as allies for other eldar forces. Then again, given Games Workshop, that was probably the plan from the beginning.


  1. I'm not too sure about these rules to be honest, they seem to lack character (much like every new army) and overall seem like they'd fit a Codex: Assassins more than Codex: Harlequins (excluding the vehicle rules), just swap Troupes for Death Cults, Death Jesters with Vindicare, Solitaire (who seems like something somebody submitted as a joke) with Eversor, Shadowseer with Celexus (or alternatively Inquisitors/Navigators) etc. At least it seems it could be neat for proxy armies if I wanted to proxy in Assassins into other armies.

    I think formations could be interesting if they not only gave you an advantage by making them, but forced you to keep the some form of formation in game, otherwise it's just "Take these to receive a bonus for no extra cost" which in the new Necron Codex makes the army flat out broken, give every unit in the Decurion Detachment a 25 pt resurrection sphere and your entire army is almost as (if not more) resilient than an army consisting of nothing but terminators (depending on what AP weapons you're up against).

    Lastly I do have to bring up double checking your wording, I don't like doing this because the articles are long so it's only natural some things are going to fly under the radar and usually they're not bad enough to mention (like saying barley or versitile instead of barely or versatile), but in this case it did, for example: "You still have to be careful about where they're sent in, and [they] will cut through an army like a knife through butter," the second sentence undermines the former, and because of this (and the missing word) I first thought that the second sentence was saying the Harlequins would be cut through like butter.
    Then there's this bit: "The added bonus to the unit though is that they are well priced. Five units costs 90 points".

    I am curious what this army could do against a specialized army, they just seem like they're screwed if they're up against Flyers, Imperial Knights (Haywire only carries you so far) or armies like Farsight Enclaves.

    1. Oh don't get me wrong, there is definite room for improvement here at the moment, but for the most part I think they did create a codex without going completely nuts. Upon finding out about this, I was reading another Codex: Black Legion or something similar arising, with rules which were little more than a joke and quite poorly reflected the army's overall style. As a whole, what we had here was an army which had some diversity to it, could still tailor itself to ranged or close combat as needed, and was very much a glass cannon. Even the big shiny new units still had some obvious limitations on them, and while they could hit very vast and hard if used correctly, this required definite timing and skill. What's more is that they do have obvious weaknesses thanks to their play-style (the least of which is how ineffective their invulnerable saves will be against massed lasgun fire) but also ways to counter that if the player is a little smart. It's not demanding vast amounts of intelligence or any insane degree of skill, but it's also not saying "here's a mass of invulnerable super units. Enjoy winning by buying our more expensive models."

      As for being too much like a Codex: Assassin's work, i'll have to disagree there. As a whole the Assassins tend to work individually, and it's quite rare that they're sent as a band against single targets, or even have backup of any kind like Death Cults. It's the main reason they tend to be used as individual models to help supplement certain armies as and when needed, as showing up at an Inquisitor's insistence is pretty much the only time one would stroll into a battle willingly. If we are talking about the general unit types though, as you've cited above, I can agree but that's also something I personally don't think they could have sidestepped without completely reworking the army's ideas. There has always been a fair degree of bleed-over between concepts even in the early days and this really was just one of them. I personally do think that a few of them were given elements to help stand out a little more on their own and differentiate themselves from any Imperial counterpart, but each to their own.

      Even without the problems you cite with formations, personally i'd still be against them even without their rather lazy ideas. It could just be me, but all too often they seem like they're another element sapping creativity from the game. It's as if the writers are offering ways for players to just pen out lists provided be the company itself, and then being rewarded for it.

      Yeah i'll not excuse my writing here. It was during an especially long and quite hard week at work, with us building up to basically covering the shop I work at's entire inventory, and we were losing one day off. As such I was having to fit a lot of things around that and try to just get details done as soon as possible. I do apologise for the quality of the work here, but it really was either get it done then or wait over a week for the second half. A bad habit i'd rather not get into. Well, get into any further than I already am.

      Well, in all honesty that specialisation is what made me consider how these armies could be used and resulted in the following article on mini-codices. If Games Workshop lists are pushing the idea of allies so hard now, then certain angles would be expected to be covered by pairing them up with one another. I personally do think that they might stand a chance against Imperial Knights if a list is tailored to fight them, but no argument against your points on fliers or the Farsight Enclaves.

  2. IIRC the solitare is actually a "unique" model meaning that you cannot have more than one of them in a detachment..? You also appear to be suggesting that the solitare can benefit from the affects of 2 ( or more) CC weapons in a turn, which isn't allowed ruleswise -- although I'll grant you the way GW have worded things people have argued to this affect.

    1. Fair enough then, i'll correct that. Truth be told I was having to rush this one a bit more than usual and probably just went with the most obvious angle people were likely to abuse.

  3. Formations is what makes this army much more powerful did you know the formations act like your slots but in a different way.

    HQ formations these should be your primary detachment as they all come with Emissary of Cegorach

    Cegorach's Revenge Large scale formation

    The Serpent's Brood Small scale formation

    The FOC on page 68 Designed as if you want some of the Special rules from the large scale formation but you want it small like the Serpent's Brood.

    Now for your allied formations due to they lack the Emissary of Cegorach special rule so these formations are there to be a added bit of spice to your current clown army and remember they will still benefit from your warlord trait in your other formation provided he does not die.

    Cast of Players fancy taking some melee eldar or dark eldar as a meat shield for your primary force load up with cheep harlequin and a unit or two cheep melee elder or dark elder models to form a meat shield for the cast of players so they can provide them with a powerful special rule crusader sweeping advance and +3" run moves.

    Cegorach's Jest Need a specialised unit but cant fit them into your primary HQ formation take this and load it out as a tank killer or people killer

    The Heroes path provided you cant use this with the large scale formation due to olny 1 solitaire per army it can be a good formation to send up ahead and take out key enemys wile being hidden forcing them to redirect unless they wish to die to death jesters shots shadowseer telepathy or solitaire jump out the ruins and slash everything mode.

    Faolchu's Blade just as the name kit this formation out to kill everything that is a non-armour give all skyweavers shuriken cannon's and Zephyrglaives and voidweaver prismatic cannon (due to jinx making everything snapshot so use lance with it) and provided you jinx with that +4 you can re-roll fail so you have a high chance of survival when charging headlong into battle.

    So yeah the added rules to the formation can in fact define the army