TheChirurgeon’s Road Through 2024, Part 1: New Year, New Plans

In TheChirurgeon’s Road series, we follow along with Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones and his hobby and competitive play progress for the year.

Welcome, Dear Reader, to my Road Through 2024. Last time around I closed the books on 2023 and looked back on my year of hobby and competitive play progress. I improved quite a bit, and I’m very happy with how I did. Now it’s time for disappointment – in a very real sense, there’s nowhere for me to go from here but down, I suspect. The way I see it, my best-case scenario is matching the X-1 record I put up at Tampa, or winning an RTT maybe. That’s OK, though – I don’t have to beat last year to feel good about what I do this year.

So before I dive into what I’ve been doing, let’s talk about where this column is going, and my goals for this year:

Competitive Play

I pretty much hit what I’d consider my limit last year on competitive play. I attended four majors – Manchester, Tampa, Tacoma, and the teams event at Kansas City, plus a GT (Warzone Houston), and a few RTTs on top of that, plus the two narrative events at GHO and the Grand Finale. And even if I’m not playing in an event, traveling to one counts the same when it comes to my obligations as a husband and father.

So my plan is to generally keep at around that pace. I’m planning to travel to the GW events in the US, I’m eyeballing Oxford in April, and I’ll be at the Goonhammer Open event. We’re eyeballing mid-July for that one this year. I’ll also be at Warzone Houston if it happens this year, or whatever other Houston GT takes its place, and if all the stars align, I *might* make it up to NOVA, but I’m not really planning on that one right now.

On top of that, I hope to get 3-4 RTTs in the mix as my schedule allows. That’s a lot, and I can already feel my resolve for attending NOVA slipping. That said, a lot of it will depend on how the rest of the year shakes out with family vacations and travel.

In terms of what I’m playing this year, the answer is “Death Guard for now,” but I’m going to see how Chaos Space Marines and Thousand Sons fare in the next dataslate and make a decision based on that. My long-term plans this year are to build a Night Lords army using the new Kill Team kits previewed at the World Championships, so if that becomes a viable competitive force, I may take them to events instead.

Narrative Play

I’m planning a bunch of narrative stuff this year. First there’s the local Crusade campaigns running in my area, both continuations of last year’s Vadinax shenanigans. One is on Parasbine Secondus, while the other is an Urban Conquest campaign run through my local Warhammer store on Agrippa IV. I’m aiming to play at least one game per round in each.

I’ve also got narrative events to run – the GHO Narrative (likely in July this year) is going to take a lot of planning, and we’ve got some ideas for how to improve on prior years and add a more coherent narrative this time around. I’ll write more about that later on. Likewise, we’ll look at a return to a Vadinax global campaign of some type later this year as well – just need to think about how we want to handle that again.

Hobby

I have the Night Lords on the horizon, and in the meantime I’ve been painting a ton of minis for our updated how to Paint Everything articles. January is young, but here’s what I’ve painted since the last update:

The narrative stuff is currently taking up a lot of my hobby focus, as I’ve been thinking about building new terrain for narrative games. A big thing I’ve always wanted is a table with a major bridge as the feature, and I’ve always wanted a significant river as well, and that’s what I’ve been working on. While you can just make a river that sits on top of your table, I’ve always found that to be kind of lame, and also it doesn’t convey the kind of obstacles I’m looking for – I want a river and bridge that represent a massive point of strategic importance, and are also playable surfaces. So the plan here is to use the ocean/water mat I bought a couple years ago for the “A Fell Tide” mission and build surfaces that sit on top of that, using it as the river. This means carving up a bunch of 2×2 foam insulation sheets.

The good news is that these can double as mountains or steppes for creating other kinds of elevated surfaces, letting me create ravines and mountains as well. I ended up laying the sheets on top of each other and cutting them using a wire foam cutter to create the shapes I needed. Then I glued them together using Gorilla glue, which won’t destroy the foam. It will expand like crazy, though, so you need to clamp it down for a few hours while this happens.

The end effect is pretty great and shaping up nicely. The plan here is to build a bridge that’s about 12″ wide, which is wide enough for multiple units to cross on and gives players some options as they move – it’s still a bit of a bottleneck/chokepoint, but it’s considerably more forgiving now. I’ll likely supplement it with islands and service crossings, as shown above, to give players traversal options.

And as mentioned, if I want to repurpose the sides for a mountain fortress of some kind, that’s an option too, and I’m already thinking about how to build that and add layers.

The next step is carving a few more foam sections for the upper level, carving a potential lower level, and getting it flocked and painted. There’s a lot more to be done, but right now it’s cool to see it shaping up and think about how I can build on it.

Playing a Practice Game Against Swiftblade

I also played a practice game last week against Dan “Swiftblade” Richardson. Dan needed to swing by to pick up a bunch of foam asteroids I’d cut up in similar fashion – he wants to build an asteroid table for the Houston crew, and I agreed to cut the rocks, but not flock or paint them because well, that part’s a pain in the ass. So as long as he was swinging by, we decided to get a game in.

The game wasn’t super eventful, and it wasn’t especially crazy, so I thought that rather than give the full blow-by-blow I’d walk through the pregame process I used, talk about the decisions I made, and talk about how I responded to Dan’s army during the game.

Alright, so let’s start with my list. I’ve been playing Death Guard a while, and I didn’t have the time to cobble together anything crazy new, but I did want to make some adjustments from my old list. Specifically, I knew I wanted to add a second rhino and more Plague Marines. At Tampa last year I ran a unit of 10 and a unit of 7, and this time around I wanted to run 1×10 and 2×5, plus a trio of Biologus Putrifiers. That would mean cuts, and so I cut the Lord of Virulence and a unit of Deathshroud to make room. This left a bit of space so I also added a War Dog Brigand. The Brigand is fast, has crazy OC (8), and with the Rattlejoint Ague plague (-1 to saves) it can push out AP-3 shots with its gatling gun, giving it some considerable firepower against medium targets. I also kept Mortarion and the PBCs, plus Typhus and his Deathshroud.

Here’s the final list:

Death Guard 2,000 Points

Plague Company Detachment

Mortarion (Warlord

Typhus

3x Biologus Putrifier

Foul Blight spawn

Plague Marines x10
– 2x Plaguespitter
– 2x Plague belcher
– 2x Blight launcher
– 4x Heavy plague weapon

Plague Marines x5
– 2x Heavy plague weapon
– Meltagun
– Plaguespitter

Plague Marines x5
– 2x Heavy plague weapon
– Meltagun
– Plaguespitter

3x Plagueburst Crawler w/Entropy, Rothail Volley gun

2x Death Guard rhino (plague combi-bolter, combi-weapon, havoc launcher)

Deathshroud Terminators x3

Poxwalkers x10

2x Nurglings x3

War Dog Brigand (havoc missile launcher)

I don’t love losing the Lord of Virulence but ultimately he’s not doing as much for me as I’d like and I want to push the PBCs forward most games anyways. That said, he may show back up again after this game – the ignores cover bonus is very good, though generally two units of Deathshroud feels like too much – they’re too slow and if they don’t arrive via Rapid Ingress they often risk not engaging with anything meaningful.

The general idea with this list is to use Mortarion and the 10-man plague marine squad to control the middle of the table and wipe out all challengers while the PBCs take out larger targets with their Entropy Cannons and soften up anything out of sight that might be a threat to the Plague Marines.

Dan’s List

Rather than post Dan’s full list, I’m instead going to approximate it, because that’s a more accurate feel for what I saw/was planning for. Dan was running the Tyranids Vanguard Detachment with the following, best I can remember/tell:

Norn Emissary

Neurotyrant

2x Maleceptor

1x Deathleaper

2x Lictors

1x Biovore

3x Neurolictor

1×10 Gargoyles

6x Zoanthropes

2×8? Tyranid Warriors with Winged Prime, one of which had an enhancement

Dan’s general plan will likely be to use the Norn Emissary to control an objective it picks before the game (he tells me about this ability, it apparently gets a big OC boost and a 5+ FNP). He could also use it for re-rolls to hit and wound against a single target but I don’t think that’s a particularly good use of the ability given the only good target is Mortarion and he’s only vaguely worth taking out, plus the Emissary isn’t going to be great at doing that.

The Pregame Conversation

Dan starts telling me what his army does and I stop him and tell him I don’t really care. This is partly a bluff – it’s a fun way to psych out an opponent to be like “meh, it doesn’t really matter what your game plan is” – but also I find it’s too much information all at once and I don’t really need to know it all. This is my first time playing against Codex Tyranids but I know a couple of things about them from back when we did some articles on it – mostly that they can force extra battleshock tests. That’s cute, but someone last week told me Plague Marines actually have an ability that gives them +1 Ld when they’re standing on an objective I control, so I’ll be on 5+ if I stick to my game plan, and Mortarion will let me ignore test penalties or Ld modifiers, so I don’t plan on failing many 5+ rolls on 2D6.

Instead, I have a few questions for Dan before we get started. These are the big ones:

  • For Deployment: What do you have that can Advance and Charge? 
    This is the biggest one in any game. I want to know Dan’s threat range, especially with big threats like the Norn Emissary. I want to make sure that when I engage with them, it’s on my terms and I’m not giving Dan a free move into my backfield on turn 1. Fortunately, Dan doesn’t have any units which can do that. If he did, my game plan becomes a bit more conservative and I focus on some screening.
  • For Contagions: What are your save profiles like?
    This is a big one for my contagions. I know Tyranids can have bad saves, but they can also have invulnerable saves. My default contagion effect is Rattlejoint Ague (-1 to saves), but after talking to Dan, almost everything in his army either has a bad save or a 4+ invulnerable save, so giving -1 to saves isn’t really going to do much for me. Instead I opt for Skullsquirm Blight, which gives -1 WS/BS. That’ll make engaging with my guys in melee much more painful as Dan’s units are likelier to bounce.
  • For My Offensive Strategy: Which of these are monsters?
    Dan’s got a lot of bigger models and that might make moving through walls and terrain a problem, so I ask him which models are MONSTERS. As it turns out, only the Maleceptors and Norn Emissary are MONSTERS – everything else is INFANTRY. That’s neat because it means the lictors can plow through walls, but it also means almost everything is susceptible to my anti-infantry plague weapons, which will wound on 2+ or 4+. Coupled with mediocre saves that gives me some real punch against models which might otherwise be scary.
  • For My Defensive Strategy: What can do Devastating Wounds? What’s your anti-vehicle shooting?
    These are the final two questions. I want to know if Dan has a good way to just plow through Mortarion and/or my Plagueburst Crawlers. For this the Zoanthropes are his best option, each armed with basically a lascannon, while the Norn Emissary has a decent shooting attack and the Maleceptors are solid at killing marines with their psychic shooting attacks. But not really much in the way of devastating wounds. The Zoanthropes only have a 24″ range so I can at least avoid them a bit. The big thing is that I suspect Dan won’t have the ability to pop a Rhino with ranged shooting T1 unless he commits his Zoanthropes to it, which would be a bad idea – it’ll live him with nothing to really shoot the Plaguemarines inside, and they’ll be able to move up and make short work of the Zoanthropes, and that’s a good trade on my part.

None of these change my overall plan but they mean that generally I want to keep my PBCs away from the table edges as the Zoanthropes are likely to go into Strategic Reserves. I also want to figure out how I’m going to deal with the Emissary, and I’ll try to react to that one.

The Mission

We’re playing GW Mission 1: Scorched Earth, Dawn of War, Chilling Rain. Nothing super special, though it puts three objectives at mid-table within relatively easy reach. I opt for Tactical Objectives, because I always do, and Dan opts for Fixed, taking Deploy Teleport Homers and Engage on All Fronts. His plan is to use deep strikers to pop up in my DZ/corners to score both, and when the lictors can’t do that the spore mines can. The problem is that PBC mortars can make that position untenable, but we’ll get to that.

Deployment

Dan’s got a lot of units stashed away in Reserves

Dan has a clear edge on me when it comes to Deployment; even with both lictors and the Biovore held in reserves he has fewer drops than me and he’ll get to pick up some units and put them into reserves after the first turn roll-off. There are a couple of things I need to do here in deployment:

  • Put the Nurglings and Terminators into Reserves. I put all three into Deep Strike reserves. The Nurglings are primarily here for Engage, Homers, and Investigate Signals. Even if I can’t put them in my opponent’s DZ, I may drop them into my own corners on a Dawn of War deployment – it doesn’t help me at all to spread out that far with my good units, but dropping Nurglings there on T2 can help screen out an enemy while keeping me in range of the corners to do my business and out of LOS of enemies. When you do this, the move is to drop them wholly within 14″ of the corner, so they can move back as needed, but can spread to help screen enemy units out of my corners and DZ with them as well to prevent Dan from getting easy Homers/Engage points. The Terminators are a deep threat to punish Dan for leaving his own DZ/home objective uncovered, and in a pinch Typhus can drop in and mortal wound some unit off the table.
  • Stack Morty on the PBCs and double cover the home objective. I need to sticky my home objective turn 1, so I make sure to put more than just the Poxwalkers on it. Dan doesn’t have indirect to stop this but it’s just good practice. I also want Morty protecting all my tanks in case I want to give them the benefit of cover round 1 instead of re-rolling 1s to wound (I’ll just go with the re-rolls).
  • Draw out the Norn Emissary. My Brigand is mostly a decoy here. It’s a dangerous threat if left unchecked, but super unnecessary to the army. It has high OC and is the perfect target for the Emissary, so I deploy it early on the side – my plan is to use it to draw the Emissary to a side objective and basically give that one up early in favor of taking the other two until the Emissary is dead. I only need to hold 2 objectives per round but I want to burn one if I can to max primary. If the Emissary goes after the Brigand, that’ll only leave Maleceptors in the middle to deal with Plague Marines and Mortarion.

I’m Going First

Hell yeah. That doesn’t happen often, but when it does, I don’t lose. Dan drops his Zoanthropes and one unit of Warriors back into reserves along with the Biovore and both Lictors. He basically has to do this – the Biovore is a t1 target for the PBCs otherwise and the Zoanthropes likewise – he wants to bring them in to alpha strike a target off the table.

I put Mortarion on re-rolling 1s to wound and head up the middle of the table with him and the Rhino, while sending the Brigand up the side where it can juuuust get into range on the Maleceptor but stay out of any kind of charge range on the Emissary. Dan’s deployed his Emissary to come after it, which is what I want. In the middle the plague marines pile out, and I position them to get a grenade and some shooting on a Neurolictor while having the rest of the spitters open to shoot the Tyranid Warriors as they’re just within 12″ after I move up and get out 3″. On the left I pull up with the Rhino and disembark one unit of 5 plague marines to take shots on a Neurolictor while the other stay inside. I put the Rhino against the wall – I need to be able to drop Plague Marines out of it behind the wall if it gets destroyed in melee.

I kill one Neurolictor and wound the other, and kill four of the Tyranid Warriors with shooting, dropping the unit to 5 or 6 models. The PBCs open up, but Dan uses a Stratagem to protect his warriors from being shot from outside 12″. That’s not ideal but it’s not a problem – I want to make him use that every turn to stifle his CP if I can. I shoot the Emissary with the Brigand but end up only chipping a few wounds off it. Trying to get more I shoot the mortars at it – this was a mistake; I should have shot the gargoyles – and end up doing nothing to it.

That’s a fine turn 1, all things considered. The Tyranid Warriors can’t shoot enough to really punish me and they can’t charge my plague marines now without dying in the process as they have Fight First thanks to the Foul Blightspawn. I pulled Investigate Signals and Deploy Teleport Homer as objectives, and used the Rhino to deploy a homer at midtable, keeping Signals for T2.

On Dan’s turn he forces some battleshock tests and despite being on a 5+ I fail them with both units of Plague Marines. Cool. Won’t stop Fight First but I can’t overwatch with the big unit, which stinks. Dan pulls forward with his Deathleaper and Neurolictors, plus both Maleceptors. He uses the one in the middle to kill 6 plague marines and puts the Tyranid Warriors in my way, though doesn’t charge. The Norn Emissary advances to the objective and Dan uses his Stratagem to bring the Zoanthropes in a turn early, shooting the Brigand off the table. RIP. On the left side Dan charges my Rhino and 6 plague marines with Deathleaper and two Neurolictors, where he kills the Putrifier with precision blows but only manages to kill one marine besides that and wounds the Rhino. Losing the Putrifier stinks but it’s not terrible, though it does give Dan extra CP to burn.

On my turn two I opt for re-rolls again and draw Behind Enemy Lines as my secondary. Dan forces new battleshock tests via Deathleaper and my Rhino fails, ending up battle-shocked. I disembark the unit inside and move them up, then attempt to fall back with the Rhino as I need to shoot these infantry weirdos. I fail the Desperate Breakout attempt and the Rhino dies. Then it explodes, killing a plague marine and wounding the Lictors. The other Plague Marines fall back without casualty. The plan here is to drop everything back so the other unit of plague marines and the PBCs can shoot the neurolictors and Deathleaper off the table now that they aren’t engaged. When you do this, remember to move your non-combat units first, then Fall Back. This prevents enemy shenanigans like Overwatch while they’re still engaged.

I deep strike one unit of Nurglings to the upper left corner, one to my lower left corner, and put Typhus and his boys in the upper right, within Line of Sight of the Neurotyrant and the Zoanthropes. My goal there is to shoot the Zoanthropes with the pistols and possibly the mortals from Typhus, then next turn move up and charge either them or the Neurotyrant.

In the middle I move the Plague Marines up and kill the Warriors while Mortarion jumps over them en route to charging the Maleceptor. He’s got FLY so he can clear them and still get into an 8″ charge range. The PBCs get Line of Sight on the Emissary and fire away but I’m only able to chip it down to 4 wounds remaining – that 2+ save is doing work. The Deathshroud and Typhus kill half of the Zoanthropes (AP 0 is fine against their invulns and I wound them on 4+ with the snot pistols) after Dan protects them from the mortars via a Stratagem.

On the left the disembarked plague marines lob two grenades (theirs + a free one from the Putrifier) to kill off the Neurolictors and combine with the remaining PBC to drop the Maleceptor to half health before they charge in and for the melee kill. They won’t finish it off this turn, but it won’t do much in return at -1 WS, either. Mortarion kills the other Maleceptor in melee and captures Dan’s home objective. I score 9 on secondary plus 10 on primary.

This is pretty much the game. Dan has some moves left but he doesn’t have enough to really challenge my board dominance and he’s going to lose on primary. He drops in the Biovore and Lictors and uses them to score 2 for Engage (I’ve screened him out of the lower left this turn) and 4 for homers off the spore mine. The other Tyranid Warriors arrive and work toward my plague marines. The Emissary can move back to the middle, but can’t do so without basically leaving an objective behind and getting killed by Mortarion.

On round 3 I table Dan, cleaning up the rest of his units. The Deathshroud move up and charge the Zoanthropes, killing them in melee. Mortarion kills the Emissary. I clear Dan’s home objective with plague marines after Mortarion makes it sticky to ensure it stays mine. The PBCs kill the Biovore. In a comical twist, I pull Capture Enemy Outpost for an easy 8 VP.

The Result: 99-36, Win

Final Thoughts:

This one went well for me despite some very bad luck on my battle-shock tests (I failed a lot of 5+ and 6+ rolls). Otherwise my dice were pretty average, albeit over only two turns. Plague Marines are very good, and when it was clear I could both kill many things with anti-infantry guns and Dan wouldn’t have a good anti-vehicle strategy, that felt like I’d be able to move around the table unchallenged. That Dan took my Brigand bait made things even easier

Next Time: More Hobby Progress and Some Crusade

That’s it for this week but it feels good to be back into things for 2024. I’ve got a lot of hobby work cut out for me in the next couple of weeks, plus the local Crusades are starting up so I’ll have some games to play. And I suspect I’ll be doing an RTT sooner or later, so look forward to me writing about that. Welcome back, Dear Reader.

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