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So, I've been playing with my nids for about 2 years now and have been doing very well with them. However, I have accumulated rather a lot of ripper swarms from various sources, and I'm starting to seriously look at them.
Pros: fearless swarm which can't be ID'd if in synapse range.
Can be given leaping
Can have quite a lot of attacks given points cost
Cons: only I2
Would be screwed over by no retreat
For the points you spend to make them good, you can get a genestealer.
I'm looking at dropping a ninjafex (113pts) for 8 ripper bases with leaping (112pts) but I'm wondering whether they'll actually do anything. At the moment my ninjafex draws a lot of fire, scares tanks, and even occasionally kills something, but it's really just a big, nasty fire magnet. 8 leaping rippers could get across the table much faster, charge a nasty shooty unit, and probably again not do much damage... 32 attacks on the charge, which is comparable to 10 hormagaunts, but have 3 times as many wounds. Both units have their upsides and downsides, but they're the same strength as hormagaunts and that means they'll bounce of power armour...
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Well first, ripper swarms are NOT immune to instant death via synapse. Last sentence of the Synapse entry.
The real use of rippers is, as you've said, to occupy some nasty shooty units. See that dev squad over there that's chewing up your gribblies? Run some rippers up the side of the board, throw them into combat, and you won't see them cursed heavy bolters for the rest of the game. The only problem is, they can be very easy to kill if your opponent shoots them. I tried them once against my friend's mono-tzeentch daemons and he just blasted em to pieces. They can be good though.
For fun I've tried running what I've dubbed uber-rippers. Put almost every up on them, that keeps them on the ground, and even gave them guns. Now while they will never fly in a tournament or serious game they were quite a blast in the friendly game I tried them in.
I charged them into two squads of Necron warriors where they just kind of stayed for the rest of the game until I got my 'Stealers over there to mop up. They stick really well in that scenario. They tended to lose combat by a wound or two, but since when is that unusual? Overall I was rather impressed with their performance, but realize they'll never hit the tournament scene as they just aren't worth their points other than as a tarpit for S5 or less enemies. But man if Synapse DID give them ID immunity like the Chaos Daemon swarms have? *drool*
Yeah, we sort of got stuck with the baby swarms. Chaos daemons have swarms that are immune to ID, deep strike, and have an invulnerable save, while necron swarms act as jetbikes and thus can get into tar pit mode faster. We, on the other hand, have swarms that footslog from our deployment zone. That is unless you give them wings, which makes them too expensive to be an effective tar pit considering how vulnerable they are to blast weapons.
I would take them unupgraded. Then you run them in your second or third line and use them to contest your opponents objectives. Because they are small they get the cover bonus, so they will likely get the enemy alive. Just throw them behind some WON gaunts--then they have to pick wether they want to shoot at the guys who will come back, or the guys with the 3 plus cover save (who only cost 3+ points per wound). Have fun with that decision.