Heavy Gear Spotlight – Cataphract

About Heavy Gear Spotlight

hgb-spotlight-peacerivercataphract01

Code Name: Cataphract

Faction: Peace River

Manufacturer: Paxton

Height: 7.9 meters

Weight: 45,430 kg


Baconradar’s Summary: A versatile gearstrider with long range weapons and ferocious melee

Strengths

  • AR 10 at 5/3 makes it virtually immune to many non-AP weapons

  • Brawler:2 and a HVB with reach:2 make it the joint-best melee unit in the game

  • 2.5” silhouette means you can see well over most cover

  • Some decent variants and upgrades, including a command variant that gives Init:1

  • Decent defensive options against sensor jamming

  • Versatile UA codes

Weaknesses

  • Less powerful ranged weaponry than other gearstriders

  • As an expensive single model it’s vulnerable to sensor jamming ECM attacks or haywire weapons

  • Lacks the versatility and board coverage of multiple cheaper models

  • Weapons suited to different ranges make it harder to use 2 actions effectively

  • 2.5” silhouette is large for heavy armour and makes it harder to find cover or avoid lock

Best Uses

  1. Assassin: Now hear me out, because I agree that this role seems odd. When you think of an assassin you think stealth, finesse, clever ways to get in range of their targets, strike, then get out of there. Or perhaps if you’re a HGB fan you imagine the Snakeye Black Mamba or the Morgana FLAIL or, hey, the Assassin Skirmisher. But when you’re an assassin what matters is that you can kill you target, no matter what. The Cataphract may be slow, but it’s also very durable. It may not have any special way to get close, but it can strike from extreme range with its MRG and MFM (though the MFM, being indirect, will need sensor lock or forward observation). If it does get close enough it can kill anything in the game, bar none, with its ferocious melee ability. The only target it can’t reliably take out is infantry, though it does have linked MMG and a good crush attack due to brawler:2. Then there’s its ECM. Now the instinct here is definitely going to be to avoid using a model that costs 13 points per action to do sensor jamming, but the fact that you can is actually quite a big deal if your other ECM units aren’t in position to do so. Sensor jamming benefits very little from improved EW skill and your ECM rating is irrelevant, so the Cataphract is largely as good at it as a dedicated EW model, provided it can minimise the cover the target has. If the Cataphract is moving in on a tank or another gearstrider where the MFM isn’t effective and it wants to go combat speed to get a nice juicy railgun hit and if that target is within 30” (remember +6” for big things) then firing off the first action on an ECM attack is actually a pretty good move and not something available to other striders. I like to think of a Cataphract in this role as being like the Terminator – it will inexorably track you down, attacking constantly, until you’re dead or it is destroyed.
  2. Assault. I did briefly consider suggesting using the Cataphract as a close fire support unit, rather than for assault. I say this because on paper neither of its very long range main weapons look like they’re good for assault, even if the rest of your properties are. But in reality they’re completely fine for assault – while they are long ranged both are pretty much optimal range agnostic, MRG because of advanced, MFM because you’ll be at 1d6 90% of the time anyway. Additionally the MFM can’t be fired direct using line of sight and needs Sensor Lock or a Forward Observation. There isn’t much benefit to using FO to fire the MFM when you can just chuck it at targets in cover within your active sensor range (the Cataphract has relatively little to fear from snap fire) and having good AE and blast definitely put it on the ‘good assault unit’ checklist. The truth of the matter is that unless you have at least some likelihood of using your ferocious melee, then you’re not making the most of the Cataphract. In an assault role the Cataphract moves toward its objective at combat speed firing the MFM first at anything in sensor range, then the MRG at any juicy target which has presented itself. If it doesn’t have any targets in sensor range it goes onto standby to potentially receive an FO and fire the MFM, or if there are no targets in line of sight either, to scare the crap out of the entire battlefield by having that MRG at the ready for snap fire. Remember that the most important things are to fire that MRG every turn, since it’s by far your best weapon, and to get into melee range, since you are insanely strong there. A quick note on getting the MRG into optimal range – This moves you from GU:4+ to GU:3+. At 2d6 that increases your average roll from 4.72 to 4.91. At 3d6 you go from 5.58 to 6. This is firmly in the category of nice to have rather than exciting. Remember that against high armour targets (the juiciest!) you need good MoS, not just a hit.

Variants

Scourge Cataphract: For -1 TV you swap your MRG for a HBZ and your MFM for a LATM. Changing the primary weapon makes a huge difference – while the MRG and HBZ have identical PEN and AP properties, the HBZ operates in a completely different range bracket, with optimal range (which you really need on a weapon like this) only reaching the minimal optimal range of the MRG: 12”. You might argue the HBZ makes more sense on a unit which is very keen to get to melee, but because the MRG is an advanced weapon it isn’t really an issue to fire it in suboptimal close range. All things considered the MRG is simply better than the HBZ by quite a margin. The secondary weapon swap is a bit more complex because the MFM and LATM are so different. The LATM offers good AP and is much more accurate within its fairly extensive 36” optimal range, able to roll 2d6 routinely as the Scourge advances into HBZ and hopefully melee range. It’s also guided, of course, but something to note is that Peace River as a faction is a bit weird about guided weapons. Their fire support units prefer unguided indirect mortars and their anti-tank weapons tend to be either ballistic or melee. Because of this they have an almost complete lack of cost effective TD equipped forward observer units EXCEPT their infantry Observer Team, which is the cheapest way in the entire game to get TD:1. This means you probably will be able to make use of that guided trait, but it requires taking a unit which may not be synergistic with the rest of your force (though it is a very solid unit generally) and has a much harder time getting a good angle on the target than a recon gear, which cuts the benefit of TD rather harshly. The bottom line is that the Scourge is a tank hunter through and through. All it wants to do is advance on heavy armour, firing its LATM, then HBZ, then getting to melee, which is where it really wants to be. Neither weapon performs well at top speed and at that speed you can’t use your ECM (and you will want to, because of the divergent ranges of your weapons), so you’re going to be bee lining for heavy armour at combat speed and hoping to reach melee.

An interesting point of comparison to the Scourge is the Shamshir Argos. It has a very similar loadout and 2 actions, but is much cheaper and is actually a better shot thanks to GU:3+ and Veteran. It’s also quite a bit less durable, lacks the ECM, and isn’t the melee monster the Cataphract is, but it’s worth considering which would be a better choice for your army.

Tank Hunter Cataphract: For +1 TV you swap your MRG for a MTG and your MFM for a MATM. Firstly I have to give credit to this variant for having a name which isn’t misleading, unlike the Scimitar Assault. Yes, like the Scourge this is primarily a tank hunter. Unlike the Scourge it doesn’t have weapons with wildly divergent optimal ranges – both the MATM and MTG have optimals out to 36”. While you might fire the MTG beyond optimal range it basically requires you to be braced to have much chance of hitting and even if you’re braced the MATM only gets 1d6 beyond 36” without TD at that range, which you’re unlikely to have unless you invested in paratroop Observer Teams. So basically you want to fire at heavy armour from between 18-36”, preferably braced. That’s fairly restrictive, especially since you then don’t get to use your monstrous melee ability, or exploit the two main weaknesses of tanks, which are melee and being outmanoeuvred. It also lacks any way to cope with good ECM defence or cover, both of which are things tanks, being expensive models with fairly small silhouettes, are reasonably likely to have. Because this variant is so close in role to the Scourge there’s a very clear question to answer here: which is better? Well the MTG has much better range than the HBZ and +1 PEN (though that isn’t very relevant against your preferred targets who’ll have 10+ AR) but it also has a real problem with that minimal optimal range of 18”. The MATM meanwhile is a really solid upgrade over the LATM, with double the AP. That said, having AP:4 rather than 2 is mostly going to matter if you have decent TD in your force. Overall I’d say the Tank Hunter is better if you’re already planning on having good TD (from allies, or from paratroop observer infantry), otherwise they’re a wash pretty much. Neither variant is outstanding, and even though Peace River doesn’t have a massive array of good dedicated tank hunters it does have the ridiculously good Sweeper Valence (which will be the subject of a future spotlight because it is B-A-N-A-N-A-S).

Lord (Cataphract upgrade): For +2 TV you can upgrade your model with +1 EW, Init:1, and ECCM. That isn’t a bad package for 2 TV and it’s a good thing it’s an upgrade rather than a variant, though if the Command Drake is any indication it means you lose the discount you’d get in exchange for flexibility. ECCM is very helpful to resist sensor jamming attacks, especially as your Cataphract will most likely be protected by ECM defence, which is a specialty of Peace River. Init:1 is also arguably more important for Peace River than for other forces precisely because of ECM being a strength – it lets you go first more often and make sure you get those ECM defensive bubbles set up.

Having Init:1 makes this unit an obvious choice for your CO and puts it in competition with the Chieftain Greyhound and Alpha Dog Coyote. The Cataphract is the most durable of the three, though arguably the Coyote is actually harder to assassinate due to its mount trait, low profile, and better ECM. The Greyhound is extremely different from the Cataphract and less than half the price, which really removes the sense of competition between the two, but the choice between Cataphract Lord and Alpha Dog Coyote is harder. In addition to being a cost effective unit in general, the most important attributes for a CO to have are: comms, survivability, manoeuvrability, sensor range, a flexible UA code, and the Init trait. Without getting into whether the Coyote is a cost effective model (that is for a future spotlight), it’s clear that the Alpha Dog has an advantage over the Cataphract Lord in more of these categories than not.

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