Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Death From the Skies Supplement Review- Part 1: Flyer Rules and Flyer Wings

Welcome to the first part of my review on the new Death from the Skies supplement. This new supplement greatly expands the rules for flyers in 40k, providing new special rules for using these unique vehicles and introducing some interesting new scenarios for players to use. I wasn't initially intending to purchase this supplement, but I saw a copy going for cheap-ish on ebay and decided to buy it. I have a few tournaments coming up and thought I would pick up the rules just in case they were in effect at the tournaments and I wanted to know what they were all about.
This first part will look at some of the new rules introduced for flyers and the new flyer formations that have been introduced, known as Flyer Wings.
Flyer Rules
The new rules for Flyers build upon the rules already presented in the 7th edition rulebook.
Flyer Characteristics
The first new rules add additional characteristics for flyers in the game. These are Combat Role, Pursuit and Agility.
Combat Role splits flyers up into three distinct battlefield roles; Attack Flyers, Bombers and Fighters. Attack Flyers are for going after ground targets (how I would generally field flyers in a battle), Bombers are for dropping bombs (ironic, isn't it?) and Fighters are supposed to target enemy flyers.
The Pursuit value represents the speed of the flyer and is important for determining the attacker and defender in the dogfight phase (a new phase of the game that I will cover in the next review). Pursuit values range from 1 (for the cumbersome Astra Militarum Valkyrie) to 5 (for the sleek flyers of the Eldar and Dark Eldar).
The Agility value represents the manoeuvrability of the flyer and is important in the dogfight phase for forcing your opponent to turn (making it more difficult for them to fire) or allowing a flyer to jink. These values range from 1-5.

Additional Rules
One rule introduced to benefit players with flyers is the Air Superiority rule. This means that if a player has the only flyers in reserves, they gain a bonus to reserve rolls, whereas their opponent suffers a penalty to their reserve rolls.
This means that if one player has the only flyer, they gain an advantage to reserves and penalise their opponent's reserves. Quite a nice bonus for a single flyer (costing as little as 110 pts for some armies).
One of the major changes to the rules for flyers is that only zooming Fighters gain the skyfire special rule. In addition, they suffer a -1 BS penalty when firing at ground targets. This one is a big change that may affect a lot of armies. Certainly for my White Scars, one of the main reasons that I take a Stormtalon is to provide some anti-air firepower that the army otherwise lacks. Losing skyfire may hinder my ability to take out enemy flyers in the shooting phase, but may give an additional chance in the new Dogfight phase.
Flyer Wings
Flyer wings are a new type of pseudo-formation which players can use to field "units" of flyers in their army. Flyer wings consist of between 2 and 4 models and gain different bonus rules depending on how they are deployed in their 'attack patterns'.
Each flyer wing gets a Wing Leader, who gains a special ability.
One of the benefits of flyer wings, like many formations, is that only a single reserve roll is required for all the flyers to arrive. Each flyer can then act as an independent unit, able to move as they wish and attack different targets if they wish. This means that with air superiority, you should have a good chance for your flyers arriving en masse early in the game (requiring a 2+ on turn 2 for the reserves roll).
However, if the flyers in the Flyer Wing end their move in one of the attack patterns give, they gain bonus rules to represent the special formation the flyers adopt. One of the bonuses of the flyer wing is that depending on how many flyers you have in your army, you can adopt a number of attack patterns and therefore choose the special rules that you want to utilise that turn. Your own flyers don't block your line of sight, great for ensuring that you can still fire, especially when in some of the attack pattern formations.
One downside of the Flyer Wing is that taking casualties among your flyers will diminish the special rules and attack patterns available to your flyers. This is unlike most formations, where the special rules are not removed based upon casualties (though there are exceptions where specific units or combinations of units are required to gain special rules).
The special rules are enacted at the end of the movement phase and last unit the next movement phase, with no requirement for the flyers to remain in formation. This means you could move into an attack pattern in the movement phase, activate the special rules and then use a flat out move to break the attack pattern with one flyer and use the special rules on the other flyer(s) in the wing.
Next, I will take a quick look at the different attack patterns available and some of the bonuses available, mostly focusing on attack flyers as these are the most common type of flyer and the flyers that I currently have access to.
Vigilance Attack Pattern
This attack pattern consists of two flyers in a diagonal pattern. While in this pattern, the front attack flyer gains +1BS against ground targets and +1 to their jink saves.

The BS bonus for this attack pattern would be of little use to my Stormtalons and Dark Talon, as these flyers already have strafing run and would be hitting on 2's already. However, it would have a bonus for my Valkyrie and Nephilim Fighter, improving their chances of hitting ground targets. It would also improve the firepower of my dakkajet against ground target (it already has strafing run, but this is negated by the -1BS against ground targets that Fighters now incur). The 3+ jink save for the flyer would greatly increase their durability to enemy firepower, albeit reducing their own firepower.

A decent formation that gives some nice bonuses and only requires access to two flyers, something that many players may have access to.

Vehemence Attack Pattern
This attack pattern consists of three flyers in a triangle formation. This pattern gives attack flyers the Tank Hunter special rule against ground targets.

This attack pattern obviously has greater benefits for flyers with access to tank-busting weaponry, so would be useful for an Astra Militarum Vendetta armed with 3 lascannons (though the Vendetta does not get an update in the new supplement). It would also be useful for my Nephilim Jetfighter for taking out enemy tanks or help the Stormtalon take on enemy tanks.

Intolerance Attack Pattern
This attack pattern consists of three flyers in a diagonal straight line. This pattern gives the flyers Ignores Cover against certain targets.

This attack pattern would be great for large blast bombers targeting light infantry or low AP weapons targeting armoured foes. It would also come in very handy against bikes, denying them their Jink save.

Unmerciful Attack Pattern
This attack pattern consists of three flyers in a straight line, one behind the other. When moving flat out, the flyers in the attack pattern get a bonus to their Pursuit value when moving flat out and may also make shooting attacks after moving flat out. In addition, the second flyer gets a ballistic skill bonus when shooting at the same unit and the third flyer gets another additional ballistic skill bonus.

This makes the attack pattern very useful for eliminating a single enemy unit. All flyers must shoot at the same target, so you will probably want to go for a valuable enemy target. This would likely suit flyers with a high volume of fire to ensure maximum damage or lots of anti-tank weaponry if you are targeting an enemy vehicle. The ability to move flat out and fire gives the flyer wing a huge threat range on the board.

This type of formation would probably suit my Dakkajets the most, with the ballistic skill bonus helping my Orks to actually hit something. I see less use for my Stormtalon or Dark Talon as these units are already hitting on 2's and the formation provides no real benefit outside of the Pursuit bonus or being able to fire after moving flat out.

I think my biggest issue with this formation is simply the space required to actually use it. In order to use the special rules for this flyer wing, you need to move flat out with the flyers. A flyer must move a minimum of 18" and the minimum flat out move is 12". A Dakkajet is approximately 9" long, with 2" minimum between each flyer. This means that for three Dakkajets in a row, the minimum move for the front flyer is 52" when arriving from reserve (30" for moving and flat out, 11" for the second flyer and 11" for the first flyer from the back flyer). Your flyer wing will need to move over 4 feet when arriving from reserve in order to utilise the special rules. This will severely hinder your deployment options and targets in the enemy army.

Indomitable Attack Pattern
This attack pattern requires four flyers in an elongated triangle pattern. This attack pattern gives the flyers the bonuses of the Vehemence and Intolerence Attack Pattern. This essentially gives most of the flyers Tank Hunter and Ignores Cover against ground targets.

Unfortunately, I think this attack pattern would be great for targeting Skimmers- getting a bonus to penetrate the tank and ignoring their jink save, but these units are not classified as ground targets. It will be great for taking on tanks in cover.

Omniscience Attack Pattern
This attack pattern consists of four flyers in a straight line. This attack pattern gives your flyers preferred enemy against a chosen enemy unit (and all unit of that type). For example, if you chose a unit of Space Marine Bikes, you would get preferred enemy against all units of Space Marine Bikes.

This would be great for a formation of Stormtalons. As they are already hitting on 2's, this would almost guarantee that all your shooting attacks hit and should increase your damage output for your flyers.

Fortitude Attack Pattern
This attack formation consists of 4 flyers, flying in a square formation. This attack pattern gives all the flyers a 4+ invulnerable save, It Will Not Die and gives their weapons the Interceptor rule.

This is a great attack pattern. The 4+ invulnerable gives your flyers an auto-jink (but slightly better) that does not diminish your firepower. It Will Not Die also helps with the survivability of your flyers. In addition, Interceptor is a great rule, allowing you to target many sorts of enemy armies such as drop pod heavy forces, outflanking forces and reserve-heavy forces.

Wing Leaders
One flyer from each Flyer Wing must be selected as the Wing Leader, giving that vehicle some bonuses based on its Faction.

The Space Marine wing leader rules gives bonuses such as ignoring Crew Stunned and Crew Shaken results, giving them a 5+ invulnerable save or re-rolls of to wound and AP rolls.

The Ravenwing wing leader rules gives bonuses such as Pursuit value bonuses, no Deep Strike scatter for friendly units and being able to arrive from reserve from any table edge. This is a great bonus allowing you to target the weaker side or rear armour of vehicles or get to hidden units.

The Ork wing leader rules give bonuses such as ignoring hull point damage, increased armour values, extra gun range or more shots for their guns. Some great bonuses and very Orky!

These additional rules give some nice free bonuses to your flyers in a flyer wing that could prove to be very useful in some game.

The new rules for flyers and flyer wings add to the flavour of these vehicles 40k. The Air Superiority rule will give your army big advantages for even including a single flyer if your opponent has none.

The new Flyer Wing rules also give some nice bonuses to flyers in your army if you are able to utilise them. I'm not sure how often I would use the options for the attack patterns in the new flyer wings. I normally only run a single flyer if I am taking any, so taking three or four is something I am unlikely to do much as I simply don't have the models available. For me, the Fortitude Attack Wing gives some brilliant bonuses to flyers, but with a 4 vehicles required in the formation, that means spending over 400 pts on it, making it a big focus of your army. If you do not gain Air Superiority quickly, these units could spend at least half the game in reserves and not doing much for you. One of the bonuses of the flyers acting as independent units is that damage will not carry over to other members of the flyer wing if one of your flyers is shot down.

The new flyer rules should prove to be a nice bonus for players who like to field large numbers of flyers in their army. The next section of the review will look at the rules for the new Dogfight phase.

Part 1- Flyer Rules and Flyer Wings
Part 2- The Dogfight Phase
Part 3- New Flyers and Formations
Part 4- Air War Missions


  1. Hi, you've written a good review and I agree with the broad strokes of your argument, although I do have to point out a couple of errors with the flyer formations.

    The Vigilence attack pattern only gives the benefit to the lead flyer - the rear flyer is effectively covering them, allowing them to be better, without any benefit for themselves. Handy if it's a subsequent turn and one of your flyers has to snap shoot, just use him to boost the shooting/survivability of the other guy.

    The other one is the Indomitable... you are correct in it being Vehemence and Intolerance, but the guy at the front ALSO gets the benefit of Vigilance.

    Overall though, a good review of the flyer rules. I have several flyers, although I rarely take more than a couple in a game, and even then I am far more likely to want to be able to put the firepower where it is needed than worry about flying formation, but it's nice to have the option there. For me the big bonus is removing snap fire from the other aircraft - it always bugged me that the nimble fighter could be annihilated by the lumbering bomber. Now hopefully we'll see some fighters being used.

    Anyway, I look forward to reading part two, where you explain the part of the book I am less struck on... perhaps you will be able to put it in a new perspective for me :)

    1. Thanks for spotting the error on the Vigilance, I'll fix it above.

      I'm not sure about the supplement in general terms. Was an update to flyers something a lot of 40k players were crying out for? I just can't see the new rules being used all that much, but I will probably try a few of the new scenarios just to mix things up a bit with my regular games.

    2. I don't think it was being called for, but then at the same time I don't think they were really being used... it's like the cry for sisters update, just because the few voices that care aren't very loud doesn't mean it isn't needed...

      I felt the flyer rules as they stood massively favoured heavily armed/armoured gunships, and because of this the lighter nimble flyers never saw the light of day. Running the averages, my lightning (equiv to modern day F16) would get smoked by my Punisher Vulture (equiv to modern day Apache) no matter who shot first... how did that make sense? So I welcome changing things to give fighters purpose.

      As for the dogfights, that seems a bit more of a stretch... kinda like those games they put in white dwarf from time to time, look vaguely interesting but swiftly forgotten. I'm not sure if they'll be widely accepted, or whether that extra bit of legwork will fall by the wayside. But even if THAT bit got left out, the changes make fighters viable. The dogfight rules give the old fat buggers a chance to *maybe* get the drop on a fighter and get a shot at skyfire against it, but in general is probably something the slower less agile flyers will want to avoid. You could game with the other changes (and in any game with flyers on only one side, that is what you will do) and it works fine.

  2. Just a quick question about storm talons and the new rules...

    You state that:

    "One of the major changes to the rules for flyers is that only zooming Fighters gain the skyfire special rule. In addition, they suffer a -1 BS penalty when firing at ground targets."

    Wouldn't this make the storm talon's base BS against ground targets be 4? as it would offset the strafing run special rule's +1. Then if using the formation for Vigilance Attack Pattern it would return them to BS5 (hitting on 2s).

    1. Stormtalons are Attack Flyers not Fighters, so do not suffer the -1 penalty for attacking ground targets in the new rules (but also no longer benefit from skyfire).

  3. Thanks for the review! I like fliers a lot, most of them look really great even if quite a few aren't all that good on the battlefield. However this supplement adds another layer of imo complicated rules with the new phase and the formations to an already complex game, so I have to say that I don't like it all that much and won't be getting it.

    1. Yeah, the rules seem to add a lot of unnecessary complexity to the start of each turn.
      I am quite liking some of the missions though and will be reviewing them later in the week.

  4. I like the idea of the Air Superiority Detachment - 3 Heldrakes slot nicely into some lists I've been writing. 5 Flyrants, 5 Mucolids, Venomthrope and 3 Heldrakes is about 1850 points..

  5. The Unmerciful Attack Pattern is actually even more unwieldy than you mention. The Pursuit Value (doubled for the Pattern) gets added to the minimum Flat Out Move as well, so add another 8" on to the minimum space necessary for those DakkaJets :P

    Going after Skimmers is really a job for Fighters, not Attack Flyers. The Patterns that provide Ignores Cover and Tank Hunters will provide them against Skimmers for Fighters, and they're Air Targets, so they don't have the -1BS issue.

    That's actually why I really like the Strike Wing Formation, and have ordered a second StormHawk to let me run it: It lets me form up in the best Attack Patterns while still leaving me tons of options in what to attack with all those bonuses.

    Overall, I feel like a comment I saw somewhere else sums this up perfectly: It's a great supplement for when you want to do something different (like running through the Air War Campaign), but as a mandatory addition to the Rules, it's pretty bad.

    1. Where does it mention the pursuit value being added to the minimum move? I couldn't find that in the rules.

      Unfortunately, the attack patterns granting Ignores cover and Tank Hunter specify that they only apply to Ground Targets, so the bonuses can't be used for taking on skimmers.

      As I said above, I like some of the missions and hope to try them out soon.

    2. Pg.59, top of the second column, Zoom and Flat Out, says you add the Pursuit Value to both the minimum and maximum Flat Out Moves.

      The Vehemence and Intolerance Attack Patterns grant Tank Hunter/Ignores Cover (respectively) to Ground Targets for Attack Flyers and Bombs from Bombers, but to Air Targets for Flyers. The three columns aren't just copied and pasted, there are actually some differences.

    3. Ah, thanks for the clarification, I hadn't spotted that!

  6. Thanks for the review mike! Reading your blog is one of the ways I keep abreast of games workshops crazy fun times these days!