Greetings ladies and gentlemen, I am Learn2Eel and today I am bringing you another (long delayed) article in my Tactica Astra Militarum series. This is a review of Colonel "Iron Hand" Straken, a Catachan Company Commander that has an almost unparalleled service record that mixes stubborn determination with unrelenting brutality. Though his inclusion in an Astra Militarum army list does come at great cost, there is little doubt that Straken is one of the most destructive characters available in the codex. I hope you enjoy this article!
Though it may be unfortunate, I can only really begin this segment with a blunt statement; Colonel Straken follows in the footsteps of Lord Castellan Creed by providing awesome abilities but paying far too much for them. Sadly, Straken exacerbates this issue further and ensures that he will be reserved either for themed lists or much larger games where his abilities become more valuable. Still, there is a lot to like about the gung-ho officer with his wealth of wargear, improved saves and melee-oriented unit buffs. This includes a plasma pistol fired at Ballistic Skill 4, a 3+ armour save and a 5+ invulnerable save.
First up, Straken has a much improved profile over a standard Company Commander with one of the few 3+ armour saves in the codex, a whopping Strength 6 and always dependable Toughness 4. With Weapon Skill 5 and four attacks base due to have a pair of close combat weapons, Straken brings the pain in close combat like no other Astra Militarum character as he combines both Smash and Monster Hunter to destroy even the toughest enemies. Despite the nerf to Smash where the model can make only a single attack at double their Strength, that Straken does so at Strength 10 and also re-rolls armour penetration rolls for that attack makes him roughly equivalent to a lesser Tyranid monstrous creature in combat. That is the alluring aspect of Straken; he is essentially a monstrous creature in terms of melee prowess and one that also heavily buffs your friendly units.
What is intriguing about Straken is that he is one of a handful of characters in the Astra Militarum codex to have the actual Fearless special rule rather than Summary Execution which is perfect for a melee oriented character. For a squad as small and important as a Company Command Squad this is always useful - though definitely not as much as it would be for a blob Infantry Squad. As good as his four Strength 6 AP2 melee attacks base are though, the buffs Straken provides to a mixed role or shooting oriented Company Command Squad are significant. Providing Relentless to his unit through the Implacable Determination Warlord Trait allows the unit to remain mobile in a Chimera and fire both a Heavy Weapon Team and a Master of Ordnance out of the two fire points, for example. Monster Hunter also works on the units' shooting as it applies to every model in a squad so long as just one model possesses the rule; a Master of Ordnance that re-rolls to-wound rolls against monstrous creatures is sure to hurt ground-based Tyranid armies! Pack in two Orders per turn as a Senior Officer and Straken really mixes up the buffs and damage potential admirably.
Perhaps Straken's best and most distinct trait is that due to his Cold Steel and Courage special rule both he and all friendly Astra Militarum units within 6" gain both the Counter Attack and Furious Charge rules. For Straken himself this means he will have five Strength 6 AP2 attacks in the first round of combat regardless of whether he charges or not, though if he does assault then his strikes will be resolved at a whopping Strength 7 AP2. A Company Command Squad with these rules gives it slightly more reason to charge - though merely including Straken obviously makes this reasoning superfluous - but what it does for blob Infantry Squads and massive Conscript units is ridiculous. Attach a Ministorum Priest to fifty Guardsmen with five Heavy Weapon Teams bearing lascannons or autocannons - your choice - and keep Straken's Command Squad near. When an enemy inevitably tries to charge the Guardsmen blob because it is typically at its' weakest, they will have to endure up to and potentially above 100 shots in Overwatch and then suffer through around 100 attacks that can re-roll to wound via the Priest. Wow! It bears mentioning that Bullgryns armed with power mauls will annihilate almost any vehicle or frail monstrous creature they come across with this buff as well.
Of course, this is where the issues really start to become apparent. Bullgryns and possibly blob unit aside, Astra Militarum squads simply do not belong in close combat and that most definitely includes Company Command Squads. The army is made up almost exclusively of Toughness 3 infantry with mediocre stats and either a 5+ or 4+ armour save, the former being by far the more common outside of Militarum Tempestus lists. Aside from characters that no longer get logical discounts on their upgrades compared to Space Marine equivalents, the army lacks proper melee weapons and doesn't bring enough quality attacks to really worry the melee death stars. Drowning enemies in Strength 3 attacks unfortunately can only go so far, though obviously buffs like Prescience and the Ministorum Priest prayers help out significantly. In any case, paying excessively for a character that is heavily built around assault and buffing your units for such a purpose in an army that is essentially allergic to close combat generally isn't a great use of the points.
Then comes possibly my largest issue with Straken and one that just ruins his competitive usage for me, and that is his limitation on being attached only to a Company Command Squad. If Straken was a proper Independent Character much like Yarrick and could slot into any important unit such as a huge blob of Conscripts he would be far more valuable. While being in a Command Squad means less models surrounding him so his 6" buffs and 12" Order range can still work, that it is a unit comprised of between five and eight Toughness 3 models - assuming no Independent Characters - with pitiful saving throws ensures that any smart player will target Straken right from the get go. Straken himself might be reasonably tough with defensive stats almost equivalent to a Space Marine Captain with no upgrades, but lacking Eternal Warrior on a Toughness 4 model when considering his "bodyguards" sees that any form of dedicated firepower will destroy any chance of him reaching combat. This would be all well and good if Straken was like a regular Company Commander and was used solely to provide Orders and other minor buffs, but the fact that Straken is outfitted specifically for close combat and augments your units for such purposes wastes a lot of his potential when used cautiously. His (awesome) background demands otherwise, after all!
Ultimately, Straken gives your units some ridiculous melee based buffs that turn even basic Guardsmen - providing a friendly Ministorum Priest or Commissar is joined - into rough Hormagaunt equivalents with significantly better equipment. As much as you want him to be in an assault based list, Astra Militarum just don't do that well - you might get mileage out of him in a transport of some kind but getting your other melee units into position is difficult with a lack of in-codex assault transports. Where he is best suited is in a counter-punch list that makes use of the ridiculous firepower that blob Infantry Squads and standard fare static Astra Militarum elements - Wyverns, Manticores, Basilisks and so on - that can out-muscle even medium assault units up close.
He is just far too expensive to really fit in such a list outside of larger games in the 2000+ range; using him in a Land Raider variant of some sort may be effective but I wouldn't exactly call it efficient when you consider how expensive the combined package is. It doesn't help that Straken himself will get slaughtered by a high Initiative opponent with good wargear such as a Chapter Master with the Burning Blade due to his Initiative 3, but once the old dog gets to strike he will definitely pile on the damage like few others.
Sadly, this also brings me to my final problem with Straken - his Gung Ho special rule mimics the worst aspect of the Champion of Chaos rule, meaning the Colonel has to always issue and accept challenges. As strong as he is, this is one of the weakest rules any combat character could have - though the 7th Edition tweaks to challenges do certainly help - as being forced to accept a challenge against a deadly monster like Ghazghkull ensures Straken can be taken out of a fight in record time. I think Straken is worth the points you pay for him (and him alone) simply because of how strong he is in melee and how much he affects units like Bullgryns and huge infantry units, but what ruins him for me is that both his cost and the price of making the most of his abilities are far too high for regular sized games. If he could be attached to any unit like Yarrick then Straken would be one of the better choices in the HQ slot by far, but being forced to stick with a mere handful of Toughness 3 5+ armoured models that jack his price up significantly is just too much of a detriment I feel.
As much as Straken is built for assaults and pays through the roof for admittedly good capabilities on that front, trying to build an actual melee list with the Astra Militarum is likely out of the question even with the use of Allies. The strength of the army is in its incredibly cheap bodies and efficient firepower; while Straken may not fit into this approach at first glance, what he does for an infantry-based gunline is surprisingly noteworthy. Providing Counter Attack and Furious Charge to huge squads of Guardsmen or Conscripts that will already be a difficult target to shift with either Fearless or Summary Execution is awesome and stacks so well with the ridiculous amount of shots such units can put out in both the Shooting Phase and in Overwatch. That Straken also provides Orders is the icing on the cake, but keeping him alive is a major issue.
Hiding in a ground transport is feasible but paying for something as
durable as a Land Raider probably isn't worth mentioning outside of much
larger points limits; instead, use the battlements of buildings and the
of his 6" Cold Steel and Courage rule to really build up a fearsome
gunline. Being unable to issue Orders from inside buildings is a downer
and thus the only place to hide from Barrage weapons and still issue
Orders is in a fragile (side AV10) Chimera. Remember, if even one model
is in that range then the whole
unit will benefit from the effects. I honestly don't recommend trying to
get Straken into combat unless you can safely disembark from a building
or transport and guarantee reaching combat, but why risk losing all the
amazing abilities Straken provides by tossing him into a mess of
concentrated attacks? Still, use him in combat if you must; after all,
he is likely to annihilate something like a Tyranid Carnifex if he gets
the charge! A Heavy Weapon Team and Master of Ordnance are good fits
with Straken when considering the "Forwards for the Emperor!" Order that
allows a unit to shoot and then run and his Warlord Trait providing
Relentless, allowing you to move into line of sight, fire and then Run
to safety. I still prefer having the unit sit in a building but such
tactics are worth mentioning nonetheless if you don't have some kind of
fortification or transport for the Company Command Squad.
Thank you for taking the time to read this article! I hope that you found this Tactica useful and look forward to hearing your feedback on Colonel Straken and the Astra Militarum. How have your experiences with them been so far? Thanks again, and have a nice day! Eel out.