Battlefleet Gothic Part 3: The Best Expansion to the Best Game GW Ever Made

Now that we have gotten through basics of getting started and the core fleets to Battlefleet Gothic it’s time to take a look at the first major expansion, Armada, and the absolute monster amount of new ships and flavor it brings to the game. And also the Tau, I guess.

I do want to take a moment and thank some of our dedicated readers for pointing errors in our previous article – we did not account for the BFG FAQ (which I neglected out of sheer laziness) that does apply some changes to things like Nova Cannons and max ordnance among other things. I make note of this now and state simply that for detailed rule breakdowns, please refer to the actual rulebooks and FAQs that were linked in the original article. Meanwhile, we are just overjoyed that people are reading these articles and have hopefully renewed interest in this fantastically fun game.

Core Fleet Expansion Ships

An issue with the core game was that the Eldar and Ork fleets felt more like a side-arc to the main conflict in the Gothic Sector between the Imperium and Chaos rather than full fledged participants. They were one-dimensional raider fleets without any strong basis for building a narrative story around, lacking both a deep roster and battleships that could anchor a battlefleet. That changed once Armada was introduced – ships classes like Light Cruisers and Battleships were added to the fleet rosters as well as the most iconic Ork ships (ships in the loosest sense), the Hulks and Roks. Then of course the Imperial and Chaos fleets got a boatload of shiny new toys… because the nature of GW has never changed.

The Imperial Navy

The Imperial ships that Armada introduces aren’t modern or new designs. Instead, like all things Imperium, relics of ages past are introduced which are ironically superior to modern ships because the Imperium has completely forgotten or outright outlawed basic science and innovation and the oldest things in their arsenal are actually the most powerful. Armada introduces a series of cool new Battleships and Grand/Battlecruisers to the Imperial roster as well as a single escort type.

Apocalype and Oberon Class Battleships

Both ancient relics, the Apocalypse and Oberon class battleships are incredibly rare but bring a slough of capabilities to the Imperial fleet. Physically, the ships combine some design elements that are also seen in Space Marine, Ad Mech, or even Chaos fleets as is befitting the ancient nature of the vessels. The Apocalypse is basically a giant Gothic Class Cruiser, carrying six lances on each beam but adds a prow Nova Cannon and some supplementary weapons batteries. While the lances are short-ranged, the Apocalypse has the capability to double the range on a Lock-On order but may suffer some engine failure for doing so – love it.

The Oberon class meanwhile is very similar to the Emperor class battleship except that it trades some of its carrying capacity for more firepower that grants it a jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none type of flexibility. It carries a moderate amount of firepower for each weapon type with the exception of prow torpedo tubes, which, like the Emperor class, it replaces for a sensor array.

Apocalypse Class Battleship. You can literally feel the weight of this thing through the screen

Vengeance, Exoricist, and Avenger Class Grand Cruisers

The Vengeance, Exorcist, and Avenger Grand Cruisers are noticeably similar in design to the Chaos vessels – which makes sense as they share a common ancestry. As would be expected, these vessels feel like Chaos vessels in their armament, with a bit of a longer range and lacking the torpedo tubes or armored prows of standard Imperial vessels. The exception is the Exorcist which has a more standard Imperial range, but an absolute mass of weapon batteries at 16-strength on each beam. However, unlike their Chaos counterparts the Grandcruisers lack the typical dorsal armaments that are standard in Chaos fleets.

Armageddon Class Battlecruiser

The Armageddon class is basically the Victory ships of the Imperial fleet and are meant to be mass produced. Largely refurbished or salvaged Lunar class vessels – they’ve been upgunned to provide some additional punch at longer ranges but are otherwise functionally equivalent to the Lunar class cruisers.

Endeavor, Endurance, and Defiant Class Light Cruisers

The relatively inexpensive Light Cruisers are an alternative to the more common Dauntless class and provide some very focused support to the fleet as the Endeavor, Endurance, or Defiant designs trade capacity for hanger bays, lance batteries, or weapon batteries.

A wonderfully painted Defiant Class Light Cruiser. Credit: templar87190

Falchion Class Escort

These are essentially Cobra class escorts but with a larger weapon battery and slightly more armor. Not a big ship who cares.

The Traitor Fleets

The Chaos roster only received a few ships to complement its deep lineup. However, what it loses in new units it gains in new options as it picks up a considerable amount of rules for Chaos Space Marine complements or daemon ships which give some increased flexibility and interchangeability to an already flexible fleet. Most notably, the Chaos list adds in Abaddon as the first official special character of the game and the mighty, mighty Planet Killer which is basically like the Death Star II.

The Planet Killer

Probably the most notably absent vessel from the core game – it is refereed to often in the background but never makes it to the fleet roster. Weighing in at a mighty 505 points, the Planet Killer is a beast of a battleship and a model. Carrying a massive array of weapon batteries and dorsal lance batteries, as well as a staggeringly large 9-spread torpedo set, the Planet Killer is probably the heaviest armed battleship in the Chaos list before even looking at the main armament – the Armageddon gun. An utter terror, like Nova Cannons, this gun will force you to spread out and close at great haste. Essentially, the Armageddon gun lays down the Nova template along the centerline of the Planet Killer – it then travels in a straight line for 90cm. Any ship that it touches suffers an automatic hit – and any ship that the center hole touches suffers an automatic d6 hits. It’s an appropriately devastating weapon, on a devastating platform, and it’s not clear to me (nor the designers apparently as they note in the rules) that it is appropriate for normal games. But it sure is fun and at least it’s not a Necron ship!

The original Planet Killer in all it’s 90’s era form. Credit: Games Workshop

Retaliator and Executor Class Grand Cruisers

The other two additions to the Chaos roster are a couple of Grand Cruisers of the same era as the Imperial counterparts. The Executor has a bevy of beam-mounted lances with two of them sporting the typical long range of the Chaos fleets but the remaining four requiring close-in engagements at  just 30 cm. Meanwhile the Retaliator class is a much more balanced ship carrying a mix of batteries, lances, and hanger space. The cruisers come in at a bit of a discount, but they do lack the typical long range dorsal options and speed that often comprise the core of Chaos fleets.

Daemon Ships, Chaos Space Marines, and Abaddon the Despoiler

There’s probably no better looking ship on the table than when a Chaos player spends the time to model their ships with mark appropriate daemonifications, and there’s never a greater excuse to do so than bringing an actual daemon ship.. There are no real restrictions to taking daemon ships in the roster except that the Planet Killer or similar Extermitus (Blackstone) vessels cannot be daemonic. Depending on the class of vessel the upgrade will come at a premium and it may otherwise be awarded a Mark but may not carry a Warmaster or Chaos Lord. For a premium cost, the Chaos vessel may essentially deepstrike, as it arrives at the end of any Chaos player’s turn in vicinity of any capital ship on the board before scattering. It essentially then acts like Blackbeard’s ghost ship, half-in the Warp and half-out, and may act normally with the exception that it cannot interact with other ships or be interacted with by enemy ships or phenomena. It does however add a -1 to nearby enemy command checks (which can stack with Marks) because it sure is spooky. In subsequent turns the Chaos player can ‘solidify’ the transition and allow it to act as a normal vessel. So that’s kind of neat – however, the vessel can also return to the warp in ensuing turns and reappear later in the game following the same rules. It has the capability to heal while it’s off the board because that’s just what ghost stuff does. It’s an extremely unique capability and also extremely niche – but it can be a lot of fun to use.

Chaos ships may also now choose to add Chaos Space Marine crews which provides the vessels with a leadership bonus as well as boarding and hit-and-run bonuses at no additional costs – however, it limits the types of marks a ship can take, and additionally limits the fleet to a specific Marine legion unless you pay for additional Chaos Lords to lead alternate legion vessels – and even then certain legions may be not be taken in the same fleet. Classic GW fluff focused roster building.

Finally, the Armada Chaos roster brings in Abaddon as the first named character for the game. He comes in at a whopping 195 points but carries a leadership value of 10 and allows a single re-roll each turn. His vessel carries his own chosen which offer bonuses to boarding and hit-and-run attacks and negatives to enemy hit-and-run attacks. Hilariously, if a Chaos vessel dares to fail it’s command check a second time using Abaddon’s reroll – he will direct half of the firepower on his vessel at the offending Chaos vessel “to teach them a lesson”. If they survive the Chaos ship will gain a +1 leadership modifier for the remainder of the game. Basically Abaddon is allowed to fail repeatedly but anyone else failing makes him look bad or something.

Eldar Corsair Bullshit

Out of the four core rosters, the Eldar received the fewest new options by far at only two light cruisers and a battleship. However, the Corsair fleet was already a dynamic fleet and it didn’t particularly need anything further for flavor, but did need something to anchor a line of cruisers that would enable a full fleet style engagement – and that’s exactly what they got. In fact, so perfectly suited to the fleet are these vessels that unlike the other entries in the Armada list, some combination of these ships will usually always appear in a fleet-sized game.

A Void Stalker escorted by two Auroras – some bad, bad boys. Credit: Boon

The Void Stalker Class Battleship

I may be biased, but in my opinion the Void Stalker is pound-for-pound the best battleship in the game. Any game of 1,000 points or higher may include the Void Stalker, and an additional may be added for each 1,000 points thereafter. At 380 points it is not a cheap battleship, and it suffers all the drawbacks of the rest of the Corsair list – low hull points (comparable to an Imperial Grand Cruiser) paper thin armor, and easy criticals (the typical 4+) that can be a serious detriment if you can pin it down. However, the Void Stalker is fast for a battleship. Typical of all Corsair vessels it can move twice but it doesn’t suffer its battleship status, maintaining a top-speed of 25cm per move with full 360-degree turns. That puts the Void Stalker right in line with the Shadow and Eclipse cruisers in terms of speed. But the armament on the Void Stalker is where it stands out – with 4 pulse lances and a 8-strength Eldar weapon battery, both at 45cm, the Void Stalker can lay waste to anything it decides to target – this is especially true if you decide to Lock On – and given that the battleship is where you’ll likely keep your Pirate Prince – the leadership on the battleship should be exceptional which gives it a ton of reliability and flexibility – if there’s an asteroid field on the table you’d be well-served to stay clear of it as the battleship will reliably pick you apart from within it. Finally, the Void Stalker brings a hanger capacity of four squadrons which gives it a nice boost and eases some of the burden of needing to bring a premium-priced Eclipse to the engagement.

Aurora and Solaris Class Light Cruisers

The Eldar light cruisers are similar to their bigger Cruiser counterparts although neither carries any launch bays. Instead the Aurora carries a pair of Pulsars and a four-capacity torpedo spread (which, I remind the reader, Eldar torpedoes are fantastic) while the Solaris carries an 8-strength weapon battery. Both options are fantastic acting as individual hunters or squadroned up with some Eldar escorts – plugging a gap in the roster between the hugely expensive cruiser classes and the cheaper but expensive for their size escorts.

The Green Tide

Similar to the Eldar, the Armada expansion brings a number of items to the Ork Roster that establishes it as an actual battle fleet vs just a raiding fleet. This includes massive Ork-infested asteroids, a series of battleships, and a BattleKroozer. The result is an Ork list that suddenly has a great deal of both character and depth.

Ork Hulks and Roks

If there’s an iconic unit of Ork-dom in space, it’s probably the hulk. Massive agglomerations of space debris and celestial bodies – wrecked ships, asteroids, etc. If you wonder “Where can I find a model for this?”, you’re asking the wrong question and probably shouldn’t be playing Orks. Instead you should be asking, “What random shit do I want to build my new Hulk with?”. I’m not even sure that a model ever existed, in fact, I’m confident they never did – like most things Ork custom is the way to go.

On the table Hulks take on the role of Defenses, rather than battleships, and weigh in at 600 points but bring a suitably massive array of weaponry to bear. Like most Orky weapons in the game randomness is built in, but the Hulk mitigates this somewhat with both weight of fire, and a minimum value for its gunz batteries. It may also launch 2d6 torpedo salvoes on the prow and beams which can be devastating if it finds itself close in to your fleet. Unfortunately, Hulks have a very low leadership of 6 by default and upgrades from Warbosses or Meks come with an increased cost. The good news is that the Hulk can still take Ork-advantage of All Ahead Full and at least for a Reload Ordnance order, the Hulk cannot run out on doubles. Like other massive, ponderous vessels, the Hulk moves 10 cm straight forward and does not suffer speed reductions for blast markers, however, the Hulk can only turn once every second movement phase after its mandatory 10cm move. Interestingly, the Hulk itself generates a gravity well that can facilitate other ships moving in orbit or may advantage their maneuvering. Defensively, Hulks are fairly well shielded for Ork standards, which is good because they have a weak armor rating. Additionally, critical hits merely reduce the strength of a given weapon cumulatively over the course of the game rather than inflict additional damage or isolate a section of the ship. They aren’t fast, they aren’t agile, and they aren’t pretty, but these behemoths can certainly anchor an Ork flotilla while taking and dishing out an extreme amount of punishment – and Emperor protect if you find yourself within boarding range of it.

By comparison, Ork Roks are miniature versions of Hulks that ignore critical damage penalties but instead take additional damage. They carry a fairly small but comprehensive set of all-around weapons and can be a relatively cheap escort to a Hulk that serves to augment its already formidable capabilities while maintaining orbit around it. On their own, their movement is rather restrictive and slow and an Ork fleet may find them lagging the rest of the formation or maneuvering erratically. They are however super easy to make with a trip to Michael’s and a couple of spare Ork gunz.

Just an absolute murder pile. Credit: GMorts Chaotica

Dethdeala, Slamblasta, Kroolboy, & Gorbag’s Revenge Battleships

The four new battleships for the Ork fleet are all unique and thus may only be taken once per fleet – each requires adding 2 cruisers in order to slot into the list so it is conceivable to see more than one of these in a given Ork list given the low cost of Ork cruisers.

Hammer Class BattleKroozer

The Ork Hammer class is a nice, moderate priced addition to the list – in terms of roster building it fills the same slot as a Battleship and thus requires 2 cruisers to open a slot. It brings a bevy of gunz and heavy gunz on the beams as well as the prow that has a decent range at 45cm. Additionally it mounts a prow option that may launch a large salvo of torpedoes OR be utilized as a bombard cannon. Finally it brings some of its own protection in the form of dorsal launch bays. It’s an upgunned mix of Kill Kroozer and Terror Ship and a relatively flexible pick for a list that needs something heavier but can’t afford a battleship.

The Space Marine Fleets – Charlie B

Why You Should Play Space Marines

In a charming role reversal to the terrestrial 40K experience, Imperial Space Marines in Battlefleet Gothic get to be an unusual fleet that you genuinely don’t see as much as the Imperial Navy (in this writer’s experience at least). Partly this is down to model availability, but it’s also because they are, quite rightly, rather specialised. While Heretic Astartes make use of the regular Chaos fleets to which they’ve had access since the days of the Great Crusade, Imperial Marines post-Heresy were given fleets designed with one primary purpose in mind: planetary assaults. Indeed, they have unique bombardment cannons specifically for this purpose.

Astartes vessels are also a stark contrast with Navy vessels in terms of lore and appearance. Without the backswept prows and figureheads they look a lot more utilitarian, and if anyone ever manages to board one, they’ll find the small crew almost entirely comprises servitors. The interlopers probably won’t stay very long, though, because a combination of highly trained chapter serfs and Marines will soon arrive to tenderise their collective face. Once the fighting is over, the ship will go back to being a strangely empty place quite at odds with the crowds and noise of a Navy warship.

Part of the Cobalt Scions’ fleet. Credit: Charlie Brassley

What’s Different about Space Marine Fleets?

How do they play?

Loyalist Astartes fleets in BFG are extremely thematic: they’re disciplined, manoeuverable, punchy, and excel in planetary assaults, boarding actions and hit and run attacks. The downside, unsurprisingly, is that while their individual ships have tough armour (6+ to hit them, even in the rear!), the fleet as a whole won’t have the heft and endurance of the Imperial Navy, nor does it enjoy the same flexibility. Each one of their capital ships does a bit of everything, but when almost all of your line ships are light cruisers (so poorer shields and firepower than a full fat cruiser) you’ll have to use your speed and manoeuverability to pick at the enemy in surgical strikes rather than ploughing in like a berzerker. It’s not a fleet I’d recommend for beginners, but it has the potential to do work and look good doing it.

Special rules

Space Marines get a whole pile of special rules, pretty much all of which can also be applied to Chaos fleet vessels crewed by Heretic Astartes:

  • Chonky Leadership. Marines get their own leadership table that basically means you’re looking at a hench leadership of 8-10.
  • Extra spanky in boarding actions and hit & run attacks. Marines get +2 in BFG’s rather swingy boarding actions, as well they should. They also get +1 when they make a hit and run attack, which for something that works on a 2+ already, means that you’re not finding out if your power bois wrecked the enemy’s shit, but what they wrecked. This is particularly entertaining on escorts, which are destroyed if subjected to a hit & run, which makes the Thunderhawk Gunships carried by all your capital ships pretty amazing at clearing out enemy escorts. Speaking of which…
  • Thunderhawk Gunships instead of normal attack craft. It’s shooty, it’s iconic, and it gets a 4+ to stay on the table the first time enemy interceptors come after it in the ordnance phase. It can act as an interceptor itself, and as an assault boat, which is useful for shutting down ship systems on enemy vessels or sabotaging enemy escort ships beyond utility.
  • Bombardment cannons. These are primarily designed for lobbing magma bombs at a planet’s surface, but are amusingly effective when fired at enemy ships. The cunning rules design here is that, since these work like weapons batteries, they get the most dice when firing at static targets, and give you far less bang for your buck when shooting a target that’s, say, moving… and abeam. The good news is that when they hit, it’s like your nan taking a dumpster truck to the specials. They hit on a 4+ regardless of the target’s armour (oof) and then cause critical hits on a further 4+ rather than the usual 6+, and this will generally make your opponent nervous. What it does mean is that to get the most out of these bad boys, you absolutely want to have stripped the enemies’ shields off with something else before you fire them, and you want to fire them at close range to get as many dice as possible.
  • Boarding torpedoes as standard. Also known as ‘escorts begone,’ and ‘stop the enemy shooting your fleet of light cruisers’ by having your Marines run in and disable their weapons in hit & run attacks. Tasty.
  • Planetary assaults & exterminatus. Astartes vessels are literally twice as good in planetary assaults, earning 2 assault points per turn rather than the usual 1 when they spend their turn landing troops or bombarding the planet. In the Exterminatus mission, a battle barge can take the role of the exterminator without having to sacrifice its prow weapons and gains a +1 for its roll to exterminate the planet.
Space Marine fleet commanders

Astartes fleet commanders offer a lot of boom on the dollar. Drop 50 points to have the Master of the Fleet command a vessel of your choice at Ld10. Fruity. If you’ve got a battle barge, he’s going in that, and re-rolls can be purchased for waaay cheaper than Navy fleets (1=25pts, 2=50pts, 3=75pts). Given how important command checks are, and how disciplined Marines are meant to be, this seems to have been costed to make it an auto-take. Nicely thematic design, there. Now here comes the cherry on top: Terminator boarding parties. 50 points buys you a one-shot team of ‘dear god yes,’ and allows your flagship to make a bonus teleport attack that rolls two dice rather than one, applies the effects of both diceand gains the usual +1 for being Astartes. 50 points is expensive, but hey, you saved a bunch of points on your cheap re-rolls and fleet commander, and it’s thematic as hell.

Part of the Cobalt Scions’ fleet. Credit: Charlie Brassley

The Space Marine Order of Battle

Fleet construction rules

Space Marine ships appear in two fleet lists. They can either be used as a Codex Astartes fleet, or can be taken as part of a larger Navy fleet by using the Segmentum Solar, Armageddon Sector fleet list. The Armageddon Sector list is a themed list that lets you recreate a fleet representative of the Third Armageddon War, when circumstances led to the Imperial Navy and their Space Marine counterparts sharing command duties. There are some restrictions here; you can only include a Space Marine fleet commander if you have a battle barge, and Space Marine vessels can’t squadron up with Navy ships.

You could of course use the Armageddon Sector list for any other narrative where the Navy are working closely with Marines, and it’s very much a ‘best of both worlds’ situation where you can have the Marines doing what they do best while the bulk of the work is handled by the Navy. That said, if you want to double down on a pure Codex Astartes fleet, there’s more to be said.

The Codex Astartes fleet list is well suited to small games, particularly since strike cruisers are pretty cheap at 145 points, and the Master of the Fleet is allowed to ride one (unless you have a battle barge, in which case he’s going in that). Due to the way marine vessels operate quite independently, battle barges don’t need you to buy a bunch of cruisers to unlock them; you’re simply allowed one barge for every 1000pts (or part) in your fleet. Just as thematically, your number of strike cruisers is limited to 10. Given that one cruiser transports up to a company of marines, it’d be a bit weird if a chapter had more than 10 cruisers, and besides, ten cruisers would be 1,450pts of cruiser, which in the average game leaves no room for barges and escorts. Speaking of escorts, you can as usual take as many of these as you want, and in a Marines fleet, they’re a good source of firepower.


Cobalt Scions battle barge. Credit: Charlie Brassley

Battle Barge

This is a pretty typical battleship chassis with 12 hull points and a turning circle that’s only just better than a straight line. Beyond that, everything else is at least somewhat different. Like all Astartes vessels it’s faster than its navy equivalent, and goes at 20cm a turn rather than the 15cm you’d expect from an Imperial battleship. It’s only got 3 turrets and 3 shields, but on the upside it’s got 6+ armour all round. That’s pretty epic, but it does mean that while you can laugh (or at least chortle semi-nervously) at enemy weapons batteries, torpedoes and bombers, the enemy’s lances are a serious threat.

Now, weapon systems. You get broadside batteries with a respectable firepower of 12, and an equally respectable range of 45cm. You also have two systems in the prow: the capacity to launch 3 Thunderhawk gunships, and 6 torpedo tubes. The big draw with this vessel, though, is its dorsal battery of bombardment cannons. These chonkers weigh in at firepower 8, can fire left/front/right, and will dispense serious punishment to enemy capital ships. Make sure your target is within 15cm and closing or moving away for maximum effect, or you’ll be wasting a lot of your damage potential.


Cobalt Scions strike cruiser. Credit: Charlie Brassley

Strike Cruiser

As the only line ship Space Marines have, this light cruiser has to be a jack of all trades. With a 25cm speed and 90° turns it’s nimble, but only 6 hull points and a single shield. The 360° 6+ armour helps, but fundamentally this thing doesn’t have staying power, so you need to use it wisely. Its modest firepower 4 broadsides are going to need to fire in concert with other ships, but the main draw here is that it can launch 2 Thunderhawks a turn and has a turret-mounted strength 3 bombardment cannon. That broad firing arc means you don’t have to worry too much about your facing, but you do need to fire on closing/moving away targets for that firepower 3 to achieve anything. Grouping these things into squadrons may well be a pro move to group those multiple small batteries into something more formidable.

Rapid Strike Escorts (Sword, Cobra, Firestorm)

These have all the strengths and weaknesses we covered in the last article, with the added advisory that they’re a little more expensive here thanks to the extra leadership and boarding action fierceness. It’s also worth remembering that the cobra-class destroyers can fire boarding torpedoes.

Hunter Class Destroyer

This cheeky little number is the Astartes version of the cobra-class destroyer. It has an extremely zippy 35cm movement and better armour (5+) but is otherwise the same… oh, except that boarding torpedoes. Insert sinister laugh here. There’s a reason why your piddly little destroyer costs 40 points.

Gladius Class Frigate

This is your workhorse gunboat, with the same stats as a sword-class frigate but with +5cm movement and a well-trained crew. In the lore, these things rarely have more than a single squad of marines on board, overseeing the human crew and gently expressing themselves all over anyone foolish enough to board it. Being a gunboat, this thing is of no use in a planetary assault, so weirdly is kind of the Astartes’ main line ship, despite being an escort. This says a lot about how little the Imperium wants Space Marines to have naval autonomy.


Cobalt Scions nova class frigates. Credit: Charlie Brassley

Nova Class Frigate

Nominally the Astartes fleets shouldn’t be the rivals of the Imperial Navy, as per the long standing edict that no-one should wield the awesome combined arms that Horus had at his disposal. Astartes vessels’ primary purpose is to deliver Space Marines to a combat zone, but this thing is a straight up mini warship that outclasses the Navy’s Firestorm-class frigate. Fielding a few squadrons of these guys is therefore the go to choice for any Chapter Master who wants to ruffle some naval feathers. It zips around at 35cm a turn and has a turret-mounted lance that can fire left/front/right. That’s a massive improvement on the firestorm’s forwards-only lance. This makes using Lock On orders an obvious play, particularly given Astartes Leadership, since flying in a long straight line won’t take you out of a good firing arc when you can basically fire in any direction. Is it pure upside? No, of course not; it only has one defensive turret, and the bloody ship costs 50 points. Them’s Eldar points costs right there.

The Dark Eldar Raider Fleets

Why You Should Play Dark Eldar

The Dark Eldar are depraved slavers and murderers who constantly seek to substitute their own doom at the hand of Slaanesh with that of others. Their lives are a constant struggle to stave off the leeching of their souls through brutality and sadomasochism. As such, they will not cease to raid and terrorize because their very essence depend upon their continued campaigns of debauchery and slaughter. Their vessels are grim and nightmarish, their vast slave holds comprised of torture chambers both physical and psychological. The fleets arrive wholly unexpectedly and undetected, strike quickly, and then depart just as rapidly – leaving unfortunate and unsuspecting defenders adrift and dying in the void of space. In short, the Dark Eldar are quick, brutal, and unforgiving – and they have many of the benefits and tricks you’d expect from an Eldar fleet but with their own twist.

A completely custom Dark Eldar fleet using Drukhari 40k parts. Credit: Khar

What’s Different about Dark Eldar Raider Fleets?

How do they play?

The Dark Eldar fleets have a lot of the same feel as the Eldar Corsair fleets but the differences in movement make them play much differently than their more nimble cousins. While still having some of the fastest vessels in the game with an excellent turning radius, the Dark Eldar do not gain a second move and cannot benefit from the same hit-and-run style maneuvering – instead they gain a slight armor bonus that gives them an understated but significant durability boost against weapon batteries while still benefiting from the holofield mechanics (here called a shadowfield) that protects them from other weapon types.

The roster overall provides an extremely limited selection of vessels, but this is offset slightly by the customization options for each ship. However, the base of all vessels is a series of high-powered weapon batteries which combined with their increased speed and maneuverability makes the Dark Eldar fleet an exceptional counter to the Eldar Corsair fleets. Finally, each ship can can be provided with a mimic engine that provides the fleet with a first strike advantage.

Special rules

Beyond the movement differences, the Dark Eldar benefit from some neat little tricks – perhaps the most prominent being the Mimic Engine. These thing are expensive but hilariously great at getting you in close on the enemy before they can target you… the exception being the Tyranids and the Necrons (of course). Essentially the mimic engines disguise the Dark Eldar vessels on opposing fleet screens by imitating their own race’s vessels – enemy fleets being unable to detect the deception until its too late. In game this provides a ‘free’ move following deployment, and then more importantly, enemy ships are unable to target any ships carrying a mimic engine until after the first turn – essentially guaranteeing a first strike advantage for the Dark Eldar ships. A pretty cool trick if slightly expensive.

In terms of the weapon options, the Dark Eldar lance batteries are a bit different from the Eldar lances – whereas the Pulsars continue to roll for each successful hit (up to 3), the Phantom Lances score a single hit on a 4, but on a roll of 5 or 6 score two hits. The interesting trade-off here is that while the Eldar lances are more likely to score more hits during a lock-on, the Dark Eldar lances will score more hits during normal operations. 

A unique weapon option is the Impaler module – a modified, much heavier version of a short-ranged assault boat. However, unlike a typical assault boat, if it makes a successful run on an enemy ship it rolls 2d6 for the result and applies the potentially much more damaging critical hit. It does gain some additional defense, as it gains a 4+ save from the first fighter squadron to intercept it, and can only be removed by ship turrets on a 6 – however, it is shorter ranged as it must be removed if it has not made a successful run by the Dark Eldar players next turn.

In addition to the Impaler, the Dark Eldar launch bays grant access to regular assault boats but with the typical Eldar difficulty of removal by enemy turrets. The torpedo tubes may be equipped with an alternate torpedo type called Leech torpedoes but these torpedoes do not cause any damage- instead a single hit reduces enemy movement by 10cm – and while it’s not cumulative, each additional hit must be cleared before the speed penalty is lifted. The remaining Dark Eldar weapon batteries, fighters, bombers, and torpedoes are otherwise similar to the Eldar Corsairs.

Fiinally, consistent with their raiding nature, Dark Eldar vessels gain a +1 on boarding (first round, -1 after because lol elves) and Hit & Run attacks, but may forgo the +1 on hit & run for 10 VPs representing their taking of slaves.

The Dark Eldar (Drukhari) Order of Battle

Fleet construction rules

Similar to the Eldar Corsairs, a fleet must include a Dread Archon if it is over 750 points who provides all the same benefits and re-roll options as the Eldar Pirate Prince. The Dark Eldar Corsairs list can be comprised of up to 12 customized cruisers and any number of customized escorts – the customization helps to add some flavor to what is otherwise a single cruiser option and a single escort option.

Torture Cruiser on the prowl. Credit: R J Payne

Torture Class Cruiser

The Torture cruiser is similar to baseline Eldar Shadow class cruiser with a strength 12 weapon battery, however it comes with the capability to include one of the following additional weapon options: a quad pack torpedo tube, a quad bay hanger, an Impaler module, or a dual set of Phantom lances. Additionally, the cruiser may be upgraded to include Mimic Engines. At 35cm movement, the Torture is exceptionally fast and agile to match with its 90-degree turn capability and the slight armor increase gives it a durability advantage over its Eldar counterpart.

Corsair Class Escort

The single escort in the Dark Eldar roster is a customizable platform that for 50 points comes equipped with a base set of weapon batteries and can then be supplemented by one of: an increased battery putting them on par with an Eldar Aconite (but cheaper), a Phantom lance, a dual torpedo tube, or an Impaler module. Additionally, for another 20 points, the escort can be equipped with Mimic engines. While the roster entries are extremely limited, the customization options for the class give the Dark Eldar surprising flexibility in fleet construction. The 40cm move is amongst the fastest standard moves in the game outside of the Necron line….

The Necron Dynasty Fleets

Why You Should Play Necrons

Imagine you’re a kid on a playground and you’re playing some make-believe game where you and your friends are all superheroes. You’re picking your powers and everyone has something cool or unique. Then your one friend, lets call him Robotty McRobit, decides that whatever power you have he also has, but better. Oh and whatever power Lucy has, he also has. But better. Johnny? Yeah Robotty has his power too, and it’s better. That’s Necrons – and they’re assholes. But they’re really good at being assholes.

The Necrons are one of the most ancient civilizations in the galaxy and in their time they have thrown an epic, truly timeless tantrum, sacrificed their living flesh, and in most cases their consciousness, for eternal metal husks then took a big grandpa nap. Having now awoken, still angry, they are seeking to overthrow all of the kids that have come to play on their lawn. They are inexorable, determined, and they literally play big or go home. They are faster than Eldar, carry more powerful armaments, are tougher than the Imperium, and have a greater capacity for hit-and-run attacks than the Orks. They also ignore a lot of the special rules in the game, most notably Eldar holofields (shakes fist impotently). Playing as Necrons is like being Superman, it’s great to be him, but man does nobody actually like that guy.

A squadron consisting of a Scythe, Shroud, and a set of Jackals. Credit: Charlie B

What’s Different about Necron Tomb Fleets?

How do they play?

The Necrons are a fleet that was designed to be tough, aggressive, and more than a match for their opponents in a fair fight – something about being super old technological elitists. The caveat here is that Necrons are counter-balanced (maybe?) by always giving up victory points at any level of damage which then cascades from untouched, damaged, crippled, to destroyed or left drifting on the table. To get a feel for what this might mean, a Tomb Ship that is left as a drifting hulk may be worth up to 1,650 points to the opposing fleet and if you’re a Necron player you’d seriously struggle to overcome that kind of deficit short of utterly wiping your opponent – which is possible. For that reason a big part of playing Necrons is striking that balance between pounding away with your awesome weapons and preventing incoming damage via Brace for Impact (more on this momentarily). 

Notably the Necrons do not bring Ordnance to the table. They have a number of special abilities and capabilities that are different from the rest of the fleets out there, but they do not rely on any type of squadrons or torpedoes to bully opposing fleets – just brute force and speed.

Special rules

Basically everything in the Necron fleet is a special rule or ignores other special rules – it’s pretty cool. So let’s start right at the top.

First off, Necron fleets that contain Tomb Ships may contain a Sepulcher which grants the vessel a leadership 10 profile and may also make an attack on an enemy vessel within 20cm if the Tomb Ship is not on special orders – if it does so the enemy vessel must take a leadership check and, if failed, will permanently lose 1 point of leadership and may not go on special orders in the following turn including Brace orders which can prove devastating. Additionally, all ordnance within the 20cm range is destroyed on a 4+.

Offensively, Necron ships carry a nightmarish array of firepower. Necron weapon batteries, or lightning arcs, are highly flexible and can split their fire among multiple arcs however they see fit (if multiple arcs are available). Additionally, like Eldar weapon batteries, they count all enemy vessels as closing but unlike Eldar weapon batteries they also ignore the column shift imposed by Eldar holofields/shadowfields. Their lances are represented by Gauss Particle Whips which function as normal lances but on a 6 will also bypass shields including holofields/shadowfields.  Scythes and Tomb Ship will also carry Star Pulse Generators which can generate a single attack against every enemy vessel or ordnance marker within 20cm and ignores holofields/shadowfields. Similar to the Sepulcher it cannot be used when on special orders or crippled. Finally, many Necron vessels contain portals that allow additional hit-and-run attacks that are not restricted by the vessel’s size limitations. It is hilarious at how perfectly this all combines to utterly wreck Eldar fleets, or really any fleet but especially aelves.

So offensively Necrons are pretty terrifying, but that must mean that they have some downfalls defensively right? Right? Well, let’s remember that Robotty McRobit is an asshole and just so happens to have a universal armor value of 6, a critical hits table that ignores almost all additional damage results (excepting the tippy top of the table), ignores damage. movement, or leadership results from many forms of celestial phenomena, and makes critical repairs on a 4+ per hull point vice the usual 6. Then there’s the shields – Necrons do not have shields, instead they have a save similar to the Holofield, but against everything without the downside of lacking actual shielding from celestial phenomena and blast markers that the holofields suffer. The save, unlike the Holofield, is not an automatic 2+ unless the Necron ship goes on a Brace order; instead the save depends on the class of the vessel. The one downside is that a Necron vessel that goes on Brace orders lowers its armor to a 4 in addition to the usual impacts.

Finally, Necron ships are fast generally, but when going on All Ahead Full orders they can move an additional d6 x 10cm, and can make a turn every 20cm. It’s startling how fast they can end up in the middle of your formation dropping lightning arc barrages and teleporting metal men into the passageways of your vessel.

They’re fast, they hit hard, and they take an absolute beating. Just remember, no one actually likes Superman.

The Necron Order of Battle

Fleet construction rules

Necron fleets are formed up differently from traditional fleets – for one they contain no fleet commanders and instead they are granted a single re-roll for the fleet, and may purchase an additional one or two. Additionally, one or multiple Tomb Ships may elect to purchase the Sepulcher – which in addition to its other abilities, grants a leadership value of 10 to the Tomb Ship. The Tomb Ships themselves may be requisitioned for each Scythe Class Harvest Ship in the fleet – you may take up to six Scythes, three Harvest class light cruisers, and then an additional 0-12 of each escort type.

Necron Tomb Ship

The Necron battleship, the only vessel capable of carrying a Sepulcher, is a beast on the table. While it weighs in at a staggering 500 points it brings a combination of speed, durability, and firepower that is unmatched in the game. It’s Lightning Arc weapon batteries are capable of delivering firepower in its forward 270-degree arc with a full strength 20 in any direction, or divided into multiple arcs. Additionally, six Particle Whip lances add a devastating long-range capability. As the vessel closes, three portals provide significant hit-and-run capabilities, and the Star Pulse can provide a serious deterrence against grouped capital ships or escort squadrons. While limited by a slow, for Necron standards, 20 cm movement – it of course can take advantage of the special All Ahead Full orders of the Necron fleet that can still put it in the center of your formation. The Tomb Ship does carry a hefty 4+ save for a shield giving it remarkable durability, but destroying a Tomb Ship will generally win you a game if you haven’t already been laid to ruin, so expect a Tomb Ship to go on Brace for Impact orders the moment it begins to take heavy fire – even at half strength and lacking a Star Pulse generator it’ll dish out a fantastic amount of firepower.

You’ll hate this guy, and not just because it’s a terrible model. Credit: Unknown

Scythe Class Harvest Ship

The Scythe class cruiser is a mainstay of Necron fleets – expensive at 275, it still carries a remarkable strength 8 Lightning Arc battery on the port/starboard beams and a devastating 4 Particle Whips with a 270-degree coverage arc that give it the capability to punish at range. Similar to the Tomb Ship it also carries a Star Pulse generator and a pair of Portals that can that can overwhelm when cascading pulses begin to stack up – another reason to force Brace’s across the Necron fleet. The Scythes are fast at 30 cm, plus the usual All Ahead Full shenanigans but are slightly weaker in shielding at 5+.

Shroud Class Light Cruiser

A specialist ship in a specialist fleet. The Shroud is true Light Cruiser with only four hullpoints with a 5+ shield save (though a 6+ armor) and a ‘light’ armament of 10-strength batteries. However, the Shroud denys enemy fleets a +1 to their command checks when a Necron vessel is on special orders, and further, provides an additional +1 to Necron fleet command checks whenever an enemy vessel is one special orders. This is a big bonus to Necron fleets who rely on taking command checks frequently including the all-important Brace for Impact.

Jackal Class Raider

The Jackal class Raiders are fast little gunboats with a secondary capability for hit-and-run attacks – with a standard 90-degree turn with a very quick 40cm move, these little guys can be across the board and in your formation on turn 1 with a good a All Ahead Full roll. More likely they’ll position to harass while they await the heavy hitting capital ships to dive into the enemy fleet – bringing their strength 4 Lightning Arc batteries to bear. They aren’t cheap at 50 points a pop, but they are formidable and remarkably resilient with their high armor rating and ability to go on Brace for a 2+ save.

Dirge Class Raider

The Dirge class Raiders are extremely similar but trade a point in Lightning Arc offense and the loss of the Portal for an additional 10 cm of speed and a points decrease to 40. They play a similar role without needing to close the enemy fleet to take advantage of the Portal. Suffice to say, the Necron escorts are powerful for their size.

The Tyranid Hive Fleets

Why You Should Play Tyranids

There is just something inherently attractive about playing as a swarm of semi-sentinent, swarming, killy monsters that just want to get close and hug you. Unfortunately, the models for Tyrands are atrocious, but the good news is that if you’re a Tyranid player I can guarantee you have a pile of organic looking parts that would make just wonderful custom Tyranid ships. That makes these bugs not just easy to play, but fun and cheap to put together as well!

Custom Tyranid Hive Ship. Credit: Jean-Luc Martel

What’s Different about Tyranid Fleets?

How do they play?

Tyranids are probably the most difficult to get a grasp on as someone starting out because they are meant to play close in for boarding, have a lot of customization in the list, and then add on top a whole bunch of the classic Tyranid baggage that GW was so fond of in the 90s. Essentially you are the Hive Mind and you control your fleet through the Hive Ships which then exercise synaptic control on your behalf over the remainder of the fleet. If you’re not familiar with synaptic control, it’s that thing in 40k that very rarely ever matters but in older editions could lead to some hilarious (for your opponent) unintentional results. In BFG, each turn your hive ships will need to exercise synaptic control over themselves and then every Tyranid ship or squadron within 45cm by passing command checks – ships under your control may then act normally. If a command check is failed, another Hive Ship may attempt to exercise control. If a ship fails to fall under synaptic control then it moves based on a Yes/No chart of circumstances and may go on special orders automatically depending on where the chart takes it! Exciting!

It’s a somewhat tedious way of playing and will feel like you’re constantly chasing, but it’s kind of fun in a “Man I hope this plan works” sort of way and carries some real schadenfruede potential if you ever hit on the bulk of the opponent’s fleet. 

Special rules

There’s a lot of rules associated with Tyranids like the aforementioned synaptic flow chart. Most ships do not have a leadership value except the Hive Ships, but gain rules that allow them to easily navigate celestial phenomena or target vessels that are not the nearest. To the latter, the Tyranid fleet uses Vanguard Drone ships to essentially mark nearby targets that then allows the swarm to fire on vessels without taking a command check. Which brings us to Tyranid weapons. 

Tyranid weapon batteries are represented by pyro-acid batteries that act normal except any critical hit result inflicts an automatic Fire result in addition to any other critical results. The lance batteries are nice in that they ignore shields, but they are extremely limited in range at 15cm – perfect for a little pre- or post-boarding fire support… Which you’ll want to do early and often because two of the most effective Tyranid weapons are actually meant for grappling and boarding. Many Tyranid vessels have the choice to mount either Feeder Tentacles or Massive Claws. Each time a ship with Feeder Tentacles makes contact with an enemy ship during its move it immediately rolls a dice, on a 4 or higher it does a point of damage and unleashes a single hit-and-run attack. On a 1,2, or 3 it does that number of hit-and-run attacks, then continues on its way. Basically the vessel lashes the enemy with its tentacles and disgorges Tyranid creatures directly into the enemy’s passageways. By contrast, the massive claws also activate on contact, but instead roll two dice. For each 4+ it does a point of damage ignoring shields, but if both dice are successful then in addition the damage, the Tyranid ship grapples the enemy vessel in a death grip. Ships may continue to fire at half effectiveness and boardings may occur as normal, and the claws continue to grasp in each end phase. The vessels continue like this until one or the other is destroyed.

Basically all Tyranid ships are all customizable with the aforementioned weapon options and they can be squadroned expansively at anywhere between 0 and 12 vessels. Tyranids also do not use shields or turrets, but rather use spore clouds that act similarly but with some minor differences. When squadroned, Tyranid vessels can combine their spore clouds similar to turrets but won’t gain any benefits to shielding.

Finally, the best rule of all is that enemy vessels when boarded by Tyranids may elect to detonate their drives rather than face down the Genestealers rampaging through the ship – a random roll will determine whether the ship goes semi or supernova which can then take a cluster of Tyranid vessels with it if you’re not careful. I love this rule for the potential hilarity of it.

The Tyranids Order of Battle

Fleet construction rules

Interestingly, Tyranids reverse the normal rules of fleet contruction – instead of requiring a certain number of attendant vessels in order to bring a Battleship, the Tyranids start with a Hive Ship that then enables up to 2 cruisers and a minimum of 6 and max of 12 escorts for each. The larger the fleet the more Hive Ships are required – which is frankly a good thing considering how much you’ll want to ensure synaptic control.

Custom Hive Fleet. Credit: AfterImageDan

Hive Ship

The cornerstone of the Hive Fleet. For a Battleship it is exceptionally cheap but still carries a fairly hefty loadout on the beams – like the other ships you can mix and match as you’d like, but it is the only vessel in the Hive Fleet that can carry fighter/assault boats/boarding torpedo equivalents. If there’s one vessel in the fleet that doesn’t necessarily want to close, it’ll probably be this one. Then again, you’ll need to maintain some sort of close-range with your fleet for synaptic purposes. This is also the only vessel that has a leadership value, though it pays for it, but given the importance and amount of command checks it’s probably worth paying for the higher value. 


Tyranid cruisers are not particularly fast or heavily armed, and they frankly have a low hull value for a cruiser, but they are cheap coming in between 90 and 130 points each and can easily swarm a board and overwhelm your ability to fend them off as they close to board and gut your ships from within.


The Kraken is a unique escort in that it is exceptionally tough with a 6+ armor rating and no spore shielding, but instead acts as if its always on Brace for Impact orders without actually having any other limitations. It also has the widest range of weapon options of the Tyranid escort classes. Pretty nice but it does come at a bit of a premium.

Vanguard Drone

A mid-tier escort that can be given either feeder tentacles or a small weapon battery – primarily serves to ‘highlight’ enemy ships that your cruisers or Hive Ship may want to target at range.

Escort Drone 

An exceptionally cheap and fairly slow escort. These things are the Termagaunts of the Hive Fleet and can be taken in masses to accompany a Hive Ship or a Cruiser and provide a little extra oomph or maneuverability to your attempts to make contact and board an enemy ship.

The Tau Exploration Fleets

Why You Should Play Tau

Sigh – I’m not going to lie to you, I do not have the energy or will to talk about the Tau Merchant fleets. Instead I’m going to 100% phone this in since GW did the same thing when they wrote these rules. I promise that I will make it up to you by instead reviewing the far cooler Tau Protector fleets in the final, expanded play article. There is one exception to this – and that is the awesomeness that is the Kroot Warsphere which we will discuss based solely on said sheer awesomeness.

Just look at these awful, boring models – I guess they’re Tau looking?

What’s Different about Tau Fleets?

How do they play?

Almost exactly like the Imperial fleet except they cant do hit-and-run attacks and are at half-strength for boarding actions. Games Workshop literally just renamed things like “weapon batteries”,  “shields”, and “front armor” to give them a Tau flavor and called it a day.

Special rules

There are three special rules to the Tau Merchant fleet worth discussing:

  • Gravitic Launchers, which function as torpedo tubes and could have just been named “torpedoes” since the special rule just refers you to the Tau ordnance section. There you find out that Tau have torpedoes missiles that function exactly like torpedoes but can alter course 45-degrees each ordnance phase and can vary speed between 20 and 40cm – which is actually pretty cool.
  • Gravitic Hooks, which do absolutely nothing except dictate how many escorts you can bring in the fleet. The Orca escorts are fairly cheap and good vessels so the hooks are relatively important – but there’s an entire paragraph that tells you how meaningless they otherwise are in game terms but does successfully note that, yes, these exist.
  • Tracking Systems, Tau vessels within tight proximity of a ship with tracking system can reroll turret defenses and ignore column shifts for range – which is a cool ‘For the Greater Good’ type rule.

The Tau Order of Battle

Instead of walking through the fleet list, here are a list of Tau Merchant Fleet ships:

  • Gal’Leath (Explorer) Class Battleship
  • Lar’shi (Hero) Class Cruiser
  • Il’Fannor (Merchant) Class Light Cruiser
  • Kir’Qath (Defender) Class Escort
  • Skether’qan (Messenge) Class Escort
  • Kass’l (Orca) Class Gunship

If trying to pronounce those names doesn’t cause small capillaries in your brain to burst I don’t know what will. The models are awful, and there just isn’t anything exciting about these ships. Some of them have special rules all their own, but for the most part, your capital ships only serve to bring more Orcas to the fight.

The Kroot Warsphere

Far and away the coolest part of Tau is and has always been the not-Tau, bird-like Kroot. I’m sure many will disagree and say something like no actually it’s the cool battlesuits, but those people are objectively wrong. The Kroot are effectively space American natives who serve as mercenaries and ‘allies’ to Tau forces while the Tau hope to ‘civilize’ the Kroot. I’m sure at some point in the future the Tau will take the Kroot homeworld of Pech and relegate those who refuse to integrate to space Oklahoma but as of right now the Tau have other priorities.

While fairly primitive, the Kroot have a Tyranid-like tendency to evolve by eating their victims and selecting for genetic material they want to evolve towards. Their presence in BFG is via the totally-not-an-egg, egg-like Kroot Warsphere which is also the only Tau vessel that has a Warp Drive. Despite their primitive nature, the Kroot likely developed the know-how for a battleship-sized vessel by eating enough Orks to gain the capability to slap metal plates together in a semi-coherent form to create a spaceship.

On the board, these are inexpensive, defensive, vessels that move fairly randomly. They always move 10cm in their current direction of travel but may automatically go on All-Ahead-Full at 2d6 in any direction. If you happen to roll a 10+  then the direction you go becomes the new direction of travel in the following movement phase. Blast markers and crippling does not impact movement speed for these big boys, and critical hits only add more damage. They essentially are up-armed Roks with an all-around 12 weapon battery.

Are these things great or even good on the table? Highly debatable. But are they awesome? Unequivocally.

The Aviary


Next Article: Expanded Play

In our final article on Battlefleet Gothic we’ll take a look at some expanded play rules for campaigns, narrative play, integration with Warhammer 40,000 and then take a cursory glance at some of the other fleet options out there including Adeptus Mechanicus, Craftworld Eldar, and grant more of a service to the Tau.