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Tuesday, March 09, 2010

The Tau bite back

"Bring me the head of Shas El Quixo!"
So last Tuesday, Ezekiel Cromwell's Penumbra's Talons expeditionary force and the maverick Shas El Quixo's Tau battlegroup had their latest encounter on that as yet unnamed planet in a still unidentified system somewhere in the Eastern Fringes of the Imperium of Man. I'd been looking forward immensely to Dave's and my second game after the thrills and spills we'd enjoyed only a fortnight before. I was not to be disappointed.



Inevitable tactical adjustments
The Talons
Composing my army list for the upcoming game (lists here), I knew I couldn't afford to chance everything on another favourable roll on the Mission table, which'd've given me a 2/3 chance of being screwed before the game had even started if I chose to go with the Troops-light army I'd run the last time. My must-haves were the jump packers- as ever; dreadnoughts Elias and Stirner- they're the only heavy armour I've got just now; and a tacsquad with the free missile launcher (ML) and flamer options- the points shaving had begun.

More points were shaved on the bikers and the heavy bolter (HB) devestators. The big change though was that Zeke didn't take to the field (recovering from his wounds no doubt). When I say "big" I mean it. This was perhaps the first 1500pt game of 40K I've played since the release of 3rd editon in which my army wasn't led by their Chapter Master; the first for sure since I entered GW's Conflict: Edinburgh tournament back in 2002. It was fitting then that they were led by Brother Captain Conlan of Company the 8th. Fitting? Let me explain.

Regular readers might remember how- back in September, I snuck into my first impressions of the new Space Hulk a reference to the Space Hulk campaign I'd had published in The Citadel Journal #36 back in March 2000. Obvious reasons aside, I really liked that article because the editor had named the nameless Penumbra's Talons Captain who'd been in charge of the hapless first assault the decimation of which is the premise of my campaign. What could I do but adopt the name for my lads?

I decided to allocate Brother Captain Conlan to the 8th Company- the Reserve Assault Company, for two reasons:
  • By his tactical blunders in that hulk assault he'd demonstrated that his speciality lay outside those of the regular infantry.
  • I was planning to do up all my bikes and land speeders as 8th Company for a bit of theme and variation and I really fancied the idea of a biker Captain.
The fact that having a biker Captain meant that my bikers counted as a Troops choice and so could qualify as a scoring unit in an objective-based game was nice, naturally enough; but I was equally pleased to see Brother Captain Conlan finally roll out on the tabletop.

The Tau
Dave's core consideration was also simple enough: he needed more big guns to deal with my power armour. These appeared in the form of 9 (count them: 9!) more Crisis suits, 3 of which were Shas El Quixo's personal bodyguard (lists again; plus previous ones for the sake of comparison). I had some idea of the variety of deadly weaponry these could pack, so I confess the sight of so many of these suits worried me just a bit.

The setup
David hadn't prepared the table in advance this time so we went through the familiar routine of taking turns placing terrain pieces until we'd exhausted those available. I always enjoy this process, with its combination of narrative- developing a table representing some kind of recognisable place instead of just a random collection of terrain features, and sheer gamism- building a layout that you hope will enable you to exploit your army's strengths while cramping those of your opponent's army.

A couple of dice rolls later our situation was:
  • Mission: Capture and Control: each player has one objective- worth 1VP, in their setup area; you gain that VP if you control an uncontested objective; to control an objective you must have at least 1 model from a scoring unit within 3" of the objective; any unit can similarly contest control.
  • Deployment: Spearhead: table quarters again.
I had to set up first- which I didn't like; once Dave had followed suit he decided to seize the initiative to go first- which I did like (setup picture below left).

What went down
The first couple of turns saw me pay for the foolish placement of my scout snipers: I decided I had to reposition them- which would cost me 2 turns of shooting; they took 3 casualties and promptly failed their Leadership check, falling back 10". This effectively removed them from the game. By this time my bikers had made their way through the rocky outcrops and were facing off against the Crisis suits. I experienced for the first time the hot melty death with which Dave had beefed up the Tau firepower. No 3+ saves with my marines? Ouch!

Turn 3 saw the arrival of the Tau reserves:
  • Kroot flankers: arrived on my right; proving the wisdom of my placement of my objective (which I had pondered putting in the woods occupied by my firebase tacsquad).
  • Deep-striking Crisis suits: landed right behind my bikers (oh dear).
Fire Warriors and Crisis suits unleashed a hail of fire after which my 5 remaining bikes had been reduced to Captain Conlan on his last wound, and Brother Stirner was burning. Dave was already fearing the worst at the thought of the havoc Conlan could wreak on his Crisis suits. ("You what?" I was thinking.) Then he remembered his Devilfish drones, one of which promptly put paid to Conlan when I rolled the inevitable '1' on my 2+ save.

My 18 shots of return fire- including 12 HB and 4 assault cannon (AC) shots, resulted in 1 wound on a Crisis suit(!). I took a measure of consolation when my jump packers wiped out the Pathfinders over on my left.

The Tau began to mop up my now much weakened army in turns 4 and 5:
  • Brother Elias was blown up by a damnable Crisis suit.
  • The Kroot flankers brought my firebase tacsquad's heroic 2-turn stand to an end.
  • My manoeuvre tacsquad was finished off by fire from Crisis suits.
  • More Crisis suit fire started to whittle away at my devestators.
Meanwhile I unloaded 40 shots- 16 shotguns (my shotgun scout flankers had arrived on turn 4: on the wrong side of the table, away from the Tau objective), 12 bolters, and 12 HB; with the net effect of killing 2 Kroot (!!). I confess I was getting a bit demoralised by this time; all the more so when some Fire Warriors did for my remaining jump packers who I was hoping would deny the Tau their objective.

It turned out that I had one last hurrah after all. Long story short: my shotgun scouts finished off the Kroot in an exemplary display of assault fire and follow-up CC; sprinted towards the Talons' objective around which were massing Shas El Quixo and his bodyguard; beat them in CC and finished them off on the pursuit; then rolled a '1' on the consolidation roll (my 3rd of the game!) to leave them a mere 1" away from holding the objective to pull the draw out of the hat! So near yet so far (aftermath picture above right). Gah!

Score
Triumphant Tau
1
Tattered Talons 0
:-/

Afterthoughts
Out-rolled and outplayed, ah well!
Another fantastic game which went right down to wire despite my faltering morale and frankly quite craptastic tactics. Dave really showed his mettle. Unfailingly sporting once again, he explained to me the weaknesses of his intimidating Tau Crisis suits, which turned my shotgun scouts into the heroic light assault troops I've always imagined they're capable of being.

Dave's tactics were excellent too. He disembarked his first Fire Warriors unit in turn 3, the other stayed aboard its Devilfish until the endgame; and that despite both Devilfish being immobilised quite quickly. I thought this was a waste of their firepower but Dave pointed out that they were too vulnerable to be exposed to enemy fire until their firepower could be decisive. I was impressed, because that was exactly what had happened.

Oh, the banter!
Something which contributed a lot to our enjoyment of the game was the story we began to build up about why the Talons and Shas El Quixo's Tau were fighting this particular series of engagements. We had a pretty good idea of what this was about by the time the game was over and easily decided that our next game would round off the series as a 3-parter. Our plan therefore is to work up the background a bit more and then revisit the same battlefield for a big finale.

This has inspired me finally precisely to locate Belon in the Eastern Fringes- see map above. I've also added a couple of suggested regions in which our battleground might be located. More in due course, naturally enough. ;)

Related@RD/KA!
- Talons tear into the Tau
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