Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Case For Heavy Bolters


Fly back to do the impossible (that might be a little dramatic... how about difficult?): Make a case for the much maligned heavy bolter.
And make a case I will.

I won't do this like a "pro's and con's" article, because I feel like there are all sorts of obvious cons. Those cons you might have read on forums, other blogs, from actual games, etc. I also won't languish in the past, in the glory days when the heavy bolter could kill Marines reliably. No, the past is dead to me.

I'm going to handle this sort of like a court case. I'm defending the nearly indefensible. I'm trying to get the obvious mass murderer acquitted... or at least not executed. I want to make the case that the Heavy Bolter is worth it. Its worth it in your army lists, its something that can be used to help you win games. It can snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. It can heal the sick, save your marriage and get you promoted at work. If Jesus needed a weapon in the Warhammer universe, it would undoubtedly be the HEAVY BOLTER.
Whoa, whoa, whoa, let's not get silly.
The Heavy Bolter is a heavy weapon that can be taken by most Imperial armies and Chaos Space Marines. It has a stat line that would suggest its battle field role: anti-infantry heavy support.
The actual stats are:
Heavy Bolter Range Strength AP Type
  36" 5 4 Heavy 3

36" outranges all regular infantry weapons, with only the Tau pulse rifle coming close at 30". This is important because in a vacuum you can outshoot your normally intended targets without taking any return fire. That seems important.
36" also allows you to reach the back of the board in Dawn of War deployment if you deploy up as far as possible. A 36" range covers most of the standard 4' by 6' board if you can get central.

Strength 5 is an under represented strength value in 40k weaponry. Prior to Tau dominance, strength 5 was occasionally represented by Tesla Immortals, Psybolts, Heavy Bolters when they couldn't be traded out and furious charging Death Company. Now with Pulse Rifles falling out of the sky, strength 5 is seen more often, but not nearly as much as strength 4.
Str 5 allows you to reliably inflict wounds on infantry models. The 5th Edition paradigm was S4 vs T4. That's a 50% wound output. Hitting with 10 bolters against other Marines, you're wounding 5 times. S5 vs T4 means you wound 66.6% of the time. That's an improvement if you can somehow manage a similar number of shots.
But wounding T4 models isn't what I want to focus on.
What do Eldar Guardians, Guardsmen, Cultists, Fire Warriors, Pathfinders, Acolytes, Pink Horrors, and Daemonettes all have in common? Toughness 3. Each Heavy Bolter shell will wound 83% of the time. You still gain the same amount of 'goodness' when upgrading 4 to 5 against T3 and T4, but we'll see why that matters shortly.

Armor Penetration.
That was short! AP 4 in a past edition might as well have been AP -. If it wasn't AP3 or lower, it was pointless and never came into play.
We live in 6th edition now. And in 6th edition, power armor is outnumbered. Even with the new Marines running around, large and highly competitive GTs are still seeing Eldar, Tau-Eldar, Eldar-Tau, Eldar-Dark Eldar, Tau filling the top spots over and over again, with Necrons and Daemons sneaking in here and there.
Suddenly, AP4 seems a bit more important. Ignoring the armor save on that list of T3 models is... AWESOME! And we can even add in the Necron Warrior into that list, being a 4+ armored model.
S5 AP4 will be ripping through Fire Warriors and Necron Warriors alike, as if they are wearing t-shirts instead of, you know, armor.
10 bolters puts out 10 shots at 24". Of those 10 shots, you score 6.666 hits, and 4.4444 wounds. You kill 2.2222 Fire Warriors after armor saves.
The squad next to your Tactical Squad, your Devestators, also at 24" fire their 4 heavy bolters. 12 shots, you score 8 hits,  6.6666 wounds and 6.66666 dead Fire Warriors. Even in cover, the Heavy Bolter squad still outkills the Tactical Squad.

Heavy 3. The hardest thing to justify. Three shots is a high rate of fire. Heavy limits you to standing still and shooting or moving and snap shooting.
But lets look at the silver lining. The relatively high rate of fire per gun makes it much more effective at snap-shooting than other heavy weapons. Where does this come in?
A game is on the line! It's the top of turn 6 and your opponent attempted to win the game at the end of turn 5 by dropping off all of his 5-man Necron Warrior squads on three objectives! As your turn progresses, you're coming down to the last objective. You've calculated that during your shooting phase, you're going to need to pour a whole lot of fire at this last 5 Warriors squad. You get everyone into position and open up. The last squad to fire is your Devestators, who are snap shooting because they moved. There is only ONE warrior left.
You fire 12 shots and hit twice! You wound 1.3333 times (on average!)! That's a dead Warrior. Four lascannon Devestators don't even average a hit.
There is an advantage to having a higher rate of fire.

But there is a cost. We know Freedom costs a buck-0-five, but what does the Heavy Bolter cost? Depending on your book, somewhere around 10 points plus whatever you need to trade in to get it. In some cases, you trade nothing. In others, you trade a bolter. In others, you pay a little less because its on a "worse" model, like a Scout. In other cases, they are inexplicably less, like on the Vendetta (10 for 2 with no trade ins! ON A VENDETTA!) Either way, you can safely say a Heavy Bolter costs 10 points.

Lets try to look at them in a vacuum. Lets pay the 10 points each and tack them onto a Space Marines Predator. You bump up a 75 pt tank to a 95 pt tank with that upgrade. For 20 pts you increase from two S7 shots to two S7 shots and six S5 shots. Those 20 points are critical in turning a Predator from a 75pt pile of poop into a 95pt anti-infantry killing machine.
The 10pts on the Vendetta is even crazier, turning your tank hunting flying transport, into a tank and infantry hunting flying transport.

So where does the Heavy Bolter really excel in my eyes? On the 6th edition battlefield of the far future, games are won and lost by controlling little points on the table top with infantry. Infantry comes in all shapes and sizes, but commonly in small units of weak guys. The Heavy Bolter shreds those units so your little infantry models can hold the point instead.

Things get a little more interesting in areas where you can make the generic Heavy Bolter better. Grey Knights can mount them on vehicles and purchase PsyBolts, turning them into S6 AP4 HVY3 mounted on 5 man transports. A sometimes important upgrade, letting them threaten light vehicles more reliably, double out toughness 3 models and put out more wounds on monstrous creatures. Sisters can get a faith upgrade (which is much worse in its current incarnation) that gives you rending for a turn. And, my favorite, Imperial Fists, hit more often with theirs and can threaten light vehicles with Tank Hunters on their Devestators.

So, as I prepare to rest my case, I have a request for you. For all of you Imperial and Chaos players out there, try out some Heavy Bolters. Try em out. Dust off those unused Devestators or Havocs. Pull that dakka-Predator off of the shelf. See where you can fit in a few Speeders. Try them and see if they can pull their own weight now. I thought about this the last few games I played and often thought "A Heavy Bolter here wouldn't be bad here" as I was shooting into Cultists on an objective. I imagine you won't be disappointed.

*the defense rests*

*the prosecution stands and says:*

"Cover. I rest my case."

... and that day, the Heavy Bolter was sentenced to another edition of Warhammer in hiding.
Till next time!


  1. Good article. Been preaching this for years. Learned it from Ork Big Shootas...More you had = More you won.

    Three of my favorite squads:
    1. Long Fangs with 5 HB, HB Razor back. Add to Bastion for a 7th or 8th HB for one squad on the cheap.
    2. Long Fangs with 3 HB+2 Plasma Cannons
    4. Havoks with 3 HB + 2 Auto Cannons

    About the only time HB's don't make sense is in a one Heavy Weapon only squad, as usually one shot HW's in those squads have greater potential impact or on a different platform where the other weapon is more cost effective or the HB would be redundant...Attack Bike in Codex SM for example.


    1. I'm in the same camp, I take Big Shootas all the time (since Boyz can't take burnaz anymore...)

      They usually do great! To actually be able to hit with them too? I like it, seems great for a Kill Teams game!

  2. Quad Heavy Bolters begins to shine when you bring more than one unit of devastators. 8 HB is no joke. 12 is a serious threat.
    Ultra Devs have it made. Relentless devastators are great, so are IF., but no one consistently out preforms the Khans hit and run

  3. Nice article! I've been thinking similarly lately, since Eldar and Tau have been dominating my gaming store. I'm also playing Imperial Fists, so heavy bolters become even more attractive. I'm planning on trying them out on a few Tactical squads, as I want them dedicated to anti-infantry work. Equipping them to take out vehicles or heavy infantry never seems to work out well to me, so I'm going to try and use them to remove scoring units.

  4. I didn't try them yet in a 40k game, but I tend to have a lot of heavy bolter in my games of 30k and even against marine, they surprise a lot of people with how much shot I can put on the table with them. And they are cheap as chips!

  5. You can claim me as a possible convert. Granted I've been debating trying out heavy bolters in my bike squads for a while and when I do it won;t have anything to do with this article but more because the multimelta seems out of place but you took the time to write up some of the reasoning, so take the credit.

    I would actually say that the prosecutions argument is an argument in favor of the defense. You don't pay a lot of points for AP4 so if they claim cover you aren't experiencing a loss of value by paying for a low AP that doesn't really matter.

    1. The HB is nice to extend the range of the bike squads, if using the GT FAQ + it is cheaper per wound on the attack bike and have to take two wounds before any loss of FP.

    2. That was a benefit I meant to include but forgot! Thanks!

  6. I've always found the heavy bolter to be an aesthetically pleasing weapon to have on the table. I picture Jessie "The Body" Ventura with old painless in Predator. The belt fed backpack just looks cool to me.

    1. Time to put some Ork arms and cigar in your Devs then!

  7. Another squad I have always been tempted to play with, but have not is 3-5 Speeders with HB/HB.

    6-10 HB's that have such mobility and defense against small arms looks nice on paper.

    I am also really looking at what Librarians can be found to join those Deve squads to give perfect 4-6 HB's that ignore cover will help ruin an enemy units day!

    1. Speeders are under utilized in 6th. The perception that 2hull points makes them less durable has kept them shelved. Running double heavy bolter speeders seems awesome.

  8. I've actually used a cheap inquisitor with 3 HB servitors quite a few times. With so many other more scary things running around the board this unit tends to be pretty low on my opponents priorities, but over the course of the game it can have an impact.

    1. Just discussed this with Jessethe other day. Can you get Jakero guys with them?

    2. You can although it costs 35 pts. It's a mixed bag but if I've got an extra 30 pts laying around then I'd probably make the inquisitor a psyker so I can prescience the HB's. I'd also consider a hell rifle on the inquistor and just save 20 pts.

  9. I like my heavy bolters twin-linked and for 5pts! Very cheap upgrade on the older codex razorbacks, not so sure it's worth 15pts though...

  10. I love me some heavy bolters!

  11. I've always been a fan of the heavy bolter, despite it being a middling value weapon.
    I have two favorite platforms for it: attack bike squadrons and speeder squadrons. A trio of heavy bolter attack bikes is an infantry-wrecker. Nowadays, it can pick on enemy infantry units by firing 3-6 twinned bolter shots (depending on range) and 12 heavy bolter shots. They have a large enough movement distance to put them in the correct angle to remove the models you want to remove first (flank that meltagunner!), and enough durability toplay the shuffle game to keep all three alive as long as possible. After that shooting, charge in for some possible Hammer of Wrath hits, and then nine punches to the face in melee. If you're running Scars, you can even hop back out of melee when it suits you (and you roll properly on the I test).
    Heavy bolter speeders work well in the same capacity, but get more shots. Around here, the squishier armies have embraced Aegis Defense Lines with open arms. Tau like to line up behind that ADL and blaze away. If you're brave, you can deepstrike your heavy bolter Landspeeders behind their lines and open up on them, no armor or cover saves!
    Both units are cheap enough to not tip a list in one direction or another, mobile enough to start hidden and move immediately to kill range, and of low enough threat value that they might actually survive to get a couple turns of shooting before being shot down in return.

    1. That's what I'm talking about! Risky deep striking to totally bamboozle weenies hiding behind defense lines.
      YOLO, right?!1!

  12. I don't offten take something beside missiles for long fangs. But when I do, its heavy bolters. /dos equis man.

    But seriously. I love in the casual game having the squad and the ruin priests access to divination. reroll hits, reroll armor saves and ignore cover can make long fangs doom. I've mowed down some very tough squads by dooming and guiding for the heavy bolters. And don't quote me, but I think a long fang heavy bolther is 5 points. A 5 heavy bolter long fang pack is 115 points. Thats a lot of bang for your buck when you can twin link them.