Killteam – Understanding Operatives

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In this article we’re going to have a look at operatives in Killteam, if you’ve never played before we’ll be going through all the basics in detail. If you have played before, much of this be familiar, but hopefully I’ll be able to give some insights as we dig a little deeper into what the numbers mean. 

In Killteam, our miniatures are referred to as Operatives which are part of a team called a Kill Team. Teams, like the Intercession Space Marines, can have as few as 6 operatives, or like the Blooded killteam of traitor guard as many as 14 operatives. Each team will have their own special rules, equipment, ploys, and tac op secondary objectives.

Each operative in that team has a Datacard that gives you all the info you need. On the top left we have the name of the type of operative, in the top middle a picture, on the top right the physical profile. In the middle we have the weapons profiles, often this will include all the possible options but your operative will only be equipped with some of them. Then at the bottom we have the Abilities and Unique Actions giving the special rules for this operative. The very bottom has a strip with keywords on the left and on the right symbols for specialisms where are used in campaign play.

Looking at the Physical Profile of an operative we can see they have M for Movement, APL for Action Point Limit, GA for Group Activation, Df for Defense, Sv for Save, and W for Wounds.

Movement is measured in 2 inch Circle increments. I guess in theory they could use another symbol, but right now everything is in Circles. The vast majority of operatives have 3 circle for their movement and will be able to move 6 inches with a normal move action.

The next characteristic is APL the Action Point Limit, most actions cost one action point, so this tells you how many actions an operative can perform each round.

The majority of operatives have 2APL with more elite fighters like Space Marines, Void Dancer Troupe, and Wyrmblade special operatives having 3 APL. Unless otherwise stated, each action can only be performed by an operative once per turn, this is why the Dash ability exists, allowing an operative to get a second smaller move.

Typically teams with less operatives will have more APL to balance the lower number of activations.

Also connected to number of operatives is GA, Group Activation. Most operatives have this at 1 where it doesn’t matter, but a few have GA 2. This means after activating them, you must immediately activate another fighter of the same type if you can. These are usually the generic troopers in teams with many operatives, like Trooper Veterans, Navis Armsman, or as we have here Kroot Warriors. This goes towards mitigating the numbers advantage large teams have but can also be used proactively letting you chain multiple activations together.

Next up we have the three defensive stats. Defense, Save, and Wounds. When you get shot at, you get to roll a number of dice equal to the operatives Defense stat. For every dice that beats the Save value, you get a Save with 6s counting as a Critical save. These are used to reduced the incoming damage and anything left over is subtracted from your wounds. If the operative has cover, they can make one dice a success instead of rolling it.

Almost all operatives roll 3 dice. The save value varies depending on the armour., so Space Marines are typically 3+, well armoured operatives like Tau, Novitiates, and Skitarri are 4+, with the majority of the rest at 5+. We can loosely divide operatives into 3 types, light armour which will on average make 1 save, medium armour which will on average make 1.5 saves, and heavy armour which will on average make 2 saves.

The last stat is wounds. For reference, a typical human is sitting at 7 to 8 wounds, many of the Kenos sitting between 8 and 10, with space marines coming in at 12 to 16. Typically the leader of a kill team will have an extra 1 wound compared to the rest of their squad. As an operative takes damage, you track the total and if it ever equals their total wounds the the operative is removed from play. As an extra quirk of the game, if the operative takes more than half their total wounds in damage, then they become injured and lose a circle of movement, with their ballistic and melee skills each getting one point worse. 

Of course to properly understand the defensive stats, we need to look at an attack.

Here we have the trusty Lasgun.

The target symbol at the start indicates it’s a ranged weapon, the other option is two crossed blades indicating melee. Unless otherwise noted, a ranged weapon can shoot anything it can see on the table, the engagement range in Killteam is so short that everything is within effective range for a lasgun.

Each weapon has 3 characteristics, A for Attacks is the number of dice you roll, BS/WS is Ballistic Skill or Weapon Skill which indicates what you need to roll to score a hit. So in this case, you roll 4 dice and dice of 4 or more are considered a hit. If you roll a 6 that’s considered a crit. The last weapon stat is damage, which is split into Hit Damage and Crit damage, after you work out the final number of hits that do damage you look at these to work out the total damage that is done.

Lets look at an example.

In this case we’ve rolled the 4 dice for the Lasgun, the 1 and 2 are below the ballistic skill and are misses, the 4 is a hit, while the 6 is a crit. So right now this attack is doing a total of 5 damage, 2 for the hit and 3 for the crit.

After the attack roll has been made, the defender gets to roll. In this case, the 3 fails to save as its under the Save value of 5+ but the two 5s are successful saves. When resolving saves, you can use a Save or a Critical Save to discard a Normal hit but to discard a Critical hit you need a Critical Save or two Normal saves. 

So in this example, the defender can either use a normal save to discard the normal hit, and then have the remaining save unable to discard the critical, or they can spend the two normal saves to discard the crit, leaving the remaining normal hit to go through causing 2 wounds.

Melee follows a similar process to shooting, but rather than rolling defense dice, the defender rolls their own melee attack. Then starting with the attacker, each player alternates selecting one of their hits or crits and choosing to strike or parry with it. A strike will do immediate damage while a Parry will remove opponent’s dice in the same way mentioned earlier. 

At first melee can seem quite complicated, but after dice are rolled the resolution process is often a formality. 

The first question each player will have to ask is whether a kill is possible, this occurs when one combatant is able strike enough damage for a kill before the other combatant can parry it away. If that’s the case, the operative who can make the kill usually does as dead enemies can’t hit back, while the doomed operative will strike for as much damage as they can in the few moments they have left.

The second question is what the maximum damage you can inflict and what the minimum damage you can receive are. If a combatant has more successful dice than their opponent, then they may be able to parry away the majority of their opponents dice and then use their remaining dice as strikes.

The final question, is perhaps the most important, what is the most desirable of the possible outcomes. Sometimes, losing an operative to inflict a little more damage on a more valuable opponent is a good thing. Other times, just parrying everything to make sure your operative survives to hold an objective will be the better call.

Better weapons will have more hits and will do better damage. As damage is done in fixed chunks of hits and crits, it can be worth considering how those chunks relate to the wounds you need to do to kill a target. A typical human as we’ve said before has 7 wounds, so a weapon doing 2 hit 3 crit damage is going to need 4 hits or 3 hits and a crit, while a weapon doing 3 hit 4 crit damage just needs a hit and a crit. Similarly, a far better weapon with a 5 hit 6 crit damage profile still needs two hits, making it only slightly better than the 3 hit 4 crit weapon against a human target.

If that was the game, we’d do up some basic average numbers and that would tell us what’s good and what’s not. There are however a ton of weapon special rules that change how things work. There are really too many to go over, but I’ll give a summary of the important ones here.

For Ranged and Melee there are three different reroll options.

  • Ceaseless lets you reroll all 1s.
  • Balanced lets you reroll one of your attack dice.
  • Relentless lets you reroll any or all of your attack dice.

Relentless is the best. Balanced typically is better than Ceaseless, but Ceaseless improves as you get more attack dice and as you skill gets better as at skill of 2+ Ceasless is the same as Relentless.

The Lethal special rule changes the number you can crit on. More crits mean more damage and makes it harder for the target to make saves. It also increases the chance of triggering Critical Hit Rules which are effects that come into play if you have at least one crit on an attack.

There are three main Critical effects you’ll see.  

  • Mortal Wounds do X damage for each crit, you then continue as normal with the remainder of the damage resolution. So these wounds cannot be stopped by a defense roll.
  • Rending will let you turn a normal hit into a crit. So if you get a crit and no hits it has no effect, but if you get a crit and a hit you end up with 2 crits.
  • The third is piercing, which activates amour penetration.

Some weapons already have armour penetration, and this special rule reduces the amount of dice the defender gets to roll by whatever the number is. Now we know the vast majority of defenders have 3 dice and the AP values range from 1 to 2. The difference between the light, medium, and have armour is the Sv value. A better save means each dice is more valuable, so AP is going to be better against heavier armour operatives. Some operatives will have Invulnerable Saves which cannot be modified by AP. Typically these will be alternate saves, worse than their normal ones, so the AP will still have some impact even if it’s not as much as usual. 

With enough maths, you can work out the averages for every weapon. Here I’ve worked out the averages for weapons against light, medium, and heavy armour. I’ll have a link in the comments so you can scan through it, the numbers aren’t quite right but they’re decent enough to illustrate some points (for a better calculator see Kill Team Stats calculator ).

First, some of the lower damage weapons are on average doing no damage against heavy armour. Essentially, the average of 2 dice removed from the attack is more than the expected dice to hit.

Second, weapons good against against heavy armour are good against light armour. This plot is sorted by damage against heavy armour, and you can see some peaks with the light and medium armour, so there are weapons that do the same damage against a heavy target that do more or less damage against light armour. 

When the difference is large the armour is being more effective, so having lots of hits or removing defensive dice with AP will minimise that. Having less dice but more damage increase the difference. 

There are a two weird blips where damage versus Light, Medium, and Heavy are the same or very close, those are the Digital Laser and Shokka pistol which both do most of their damage with mortal wounds completely ignoring amour.

Okay, I think that’s everything we can wring out of the operative data card. I haven’t looked at abilities and unique actions, which are at the bottom of the card and that’s because there’s a ton of variety there and you really have to assess each operative’s ability on it’s own.

Speaking of which. This isn’t a case of just picking the best operatives with the best stats and the best guns. Each operative is part of a team and to properly understand an operative you need to view them in context within their team. To do this fully, you’ll need to look at all the various operatives within the team, as well as the special abilities that the team brings. That’s not something we’re going to be able to do within this short video. What we can do, is give a high level view of the teams looking at the total number of operatives they have, the total number of action points within the team, and the total number of wounds they have. There are obviously variations across operatives within teams, but for the most part we can get general numbers for these.

I’ve ordered these by action points, as they are pretty important.

Starting at the bottom, we have the Space Marine teams. These all have a low number of activations, but typically will get more bang for their buck. Warpcoven are at the bottom but 3 of those operatives are Thousand Son Sorcerers. You can push the numbers up by taking more Tzaangor, as the Thousand Sons count as two selections, but the 3 Sorcerer, 2 Rubric Marine, 2 Tzaangor are the go to version.

The other Astartes teams, the Legionaries, Phobos, and Intercessors are all quite similar in ways. Only 6 operatives but 3 APL each and all will have Heavy Armour and some great weapons. Interestingly, the Intercessors are considered one of the better kill teams out there while the Phobos Strike team are one of the weakest. So you can’t just look at the APL and know the best kill team, you really need to get into the details.

Skipping ahead, we can see a few more matched pairs with big disparity, Novitiates and Kommandos have the same numbers but Novitiates are near the top while Kommandos are near the bottom. It’s the same with the Kroot Kinband who are generally considered quite poor and the Hunter Clade who received an extra operative in one of the updates and now are one of the best kill teams around. 

In the last set, we have some of the horde teams, although the Harlequins manage to squeeze in by virtue of their insane 24 total APL with 8 operatives all with 3 APL each. This is mitigated slightly by them being quite squishy at 8 to 9 wounds, once you get past their invulnerable saves. The remaining 4 teams all have some interesting options that impact the numbers, with many having better operatives that cost 2 slots. For some like the Wyrmblade and Pathfinders they seems to be the right choose. For others, like the Navy Breachers are better off dropping the CAT and Gheistskull as I’ve done here, while the Blooded as is are running the Ogryn and Enforcer, they might be better off trading the Enforcer in for another two troopers.

The key part here, is it’s important to understand the kill team in the greater whole so you can properly access operatives, and vice versa.

Hopefully you enjoyed going through that. I know we were getting deep into woods on occasion, but hopefully you’ve got a better understanding of operatives. By not using points, the designers have given themselves a tricky balancing act, I do think it was the right approach as it avoids spamming of the most efficient operative and loosely reflects an actual combat unit. For competitive players, there are still plenty of options and the way you build your team for each battle out of a roster lets you tailor your team for specific scenarios and matchups. The recent US Opens was a good example of this where battles alternated between normal open terrain and the tight into the dark scenery.

At the same time, casual players like myself can just pick up a team, work through some simple choices and get that team on the table. There definitely are differences and strength between the teams, but honestly they’re not that big, even though we can put together a tier list based on competitive games, the overall balance is relatively good. My personal recommendation, would be to try build a slightly unbalanced game and then give the better team to your friend to play, as you should have a slightly better idea how to actually play the game.

If you have any comments or feedback please post them in the comments section below. Check us out on the Optimal Game State website, Mastodon, and YouTube channel for more discussion about the Games Workshop Specialist Games.

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