Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Talons tear into the Tau

A newfound opportunity
This story begins late last year when I was invited to join a fB group called 40K for Glaswegians, which needs no introduction. David- the group's creator, contacted me to ask if I was interested in playing some 40K. I confess my feelings about this were mixed, echoing those evoked in me by the 40K game itself: I just love GW's 40K Dark Millenium- which I think is one of adventure gaming's great subcreationist endeavours; my DIY Space Marine army Penumbra's Talons is one of my proudest hobby creations; the tabletop rules though have long frustrated me because they're so like the Windows OS- buggy as all hell edition after edition.

Feelings mixed or not, my beloved Talons were just too much too leave lying- I knew I'd be playing sooner or later: I had been hoping for this since last year after all. David and I did the usual coffee meet last month to check each other out. We quickly hit it off. A game at the earliest opportunity was soon agreed upon. That opportunity finally arrived last Tuesday.

Getting down to business
Dave plays Tau. An attractive army with firepower sufficient to intimidate even Space Marines with their power-armoured 3+ saves, the Tau are also a fluffy opponent for my Penumbra's Talons: Belon- the Talons' homeworld, is located in the Eastern Fringes of the Imperium of Man, somewhere to the galactic south-east of Ultramar- fiefdom of the Ultramarines. This means that the Talons'll've been in the forefront of Imperial encounters with this recently discovered alien species.
Belon (precise location as yet undefined) relative to Ultramar
(Inset map via Schola Progenium- 40KRP fansite)

With more- and much more recent, 40K experience than yours truly- including a tournament only the previous weekend, Dave had an army list ready to roll which he generously shared with me in advance. Pushed for time as I was, I didn't even manage to skim my copy of the 5th edition rules.

The night before our game I dug out my collection and picked out some favourite models, including my serving Chapter Master: Ezekiel Cromwell ("Also known as Zeke, but never to his face.")- above left; and the obligatory squad of jump pack assault marines- my favourite space marine models. The result was that Dave had a fluffy army well tailored to the strictures of the new rules, while mine too was quite fluffy but poorly adapted to the new rules for the missions (army lists).

What went down
The setup
I arrive to find that David has set up a table full of his homemade terrain (he's an avid terrain builder). We roll for Mission and Deployment:
  • Mission: Annihilate.
  • Deployment: Spearhead- table quarters.
The mission is my first stroke of luck. Only Troops units can hold objectives for VP in 40K5- which would be difficult for my unbalanced army with its mere 2 Troops units; the Annihilate mission is all about kill points, so my lack of Troops units isn't an issue. David sets up first then it's time for me to come up with a plan.

David's impressive table (top) & our deployments (bottom)

Putting my lascannon on the high ground of the ruined building is a no-brainer, as is sending my main force swinging left to engage the Tau as quickly as possible. The deployment of my dreadnoughts and my Fast Attack units is decided by the available space, and by their speed relative to the distance to the enemy. My other Tacsquad will advance through the woods, while I deploy my heavy bolter Devestators in a position to discourage David from mischief with his infiltrators- the Stealth suits, and his deep-striking reserves- the Crisis suits.

Turn 1
David has first turn. He loads up 2 units of Fire Warriors into his Pathfinders' Devilfish and edges them gingerly forward ready to face the expected onslaught of my bikers and jump packers. His Pathfinders' markerlight targeters light up a couple of my units and his first fire isn't wasted; irritating as it is however, it doesn't worry me too much to be honest:
  • Brother Elias loses his assault cannon: a very good result for any opponent facing this awesome weapon; Elias still has his fearsome dreadnought close combat weapon though.
  • The scouts lose 1 man: nothing to worry about.
My original plan- to turboboost my bikes to double their move and gain a 3+ 'cover' save while they screen the jump packers, changes immediately. I decide not to waste the bikes' impressive firepower: T/L (twin-linked) bolters aren't to be sneezed at, especially against Tau. Seeing no Tau dropping from the skies my heavy bolter Devestators move up towards the centre of the table- a strong fire position for weapons which can wreak havoc upon the puny and lightly armoured xenos. Elsewhere, my units move forward according to plan, even Elias- who should've had second thoughts.

My firing has one significant result: a Tau Pathfinder unit loses its markerlights. David will rue this more than once. Oh, and I maintain my longstanding tradition of ineffectual lascannon fire against vehicles!
Turn 2
This is when it all begins to kick off. A Devilfish unloads its Fire Warriors into the face of my bikers, and the Vespid jump in to confront Zeke and his lads.
Other manoeuvring done, the Tau open fire. The combined fire of 2 Devilfish, the Fire Warriors, the Vespid and the Stealth suits costs me a biker and 3 jump packers- about average really.

David ponders long and hard in the assault phase before deciding not to pile in with the Vespid and the Fire Warriors. I suggest he should've gone for the extra attack on the charge, but David points out that he'd probably just've given me the chance to finish off his units in his turn instead of my own. I can see the sense in this.

My units continue their manoeuvres according to my plans.
That lascannon, and Stirner's krak missile and autocannon shells bounce harmlessly off a Devilfish, then it's time for Zeke, his lads and the bikers to unleash hell. They do, and a satisfyingly large number of dice are rolled for shooting and close combat. When the dust settles I have only 2 jump packers left (one was taken down when his own plasma pistol overheated!) and- amazingly enough: 3 Fire Warriors have survived HtH 16 attacks! A temporary setback at best, and David knows it as well as I do.
Turn 3
A temporary lull falls across the battlefield after the previous turn's outbreak of carnage. The Devilfish move forward to bring more weapons to bear while the rest of the Tau hold their positions.

Between the tanks and the Stealth suits their fire manages to do for another jump packer- Zeke's leadership means that the last man holds steady. On the left flank the Pathfinders continue their long range sniping battle with my scouts. Shas El Quixo- the Tau leader, rolls the 2nd of 3 consecutive 2d6 rolls getting 1 and 2 to see his accurate fire bounce harmlessly off Stirner's armour. The heroic trio of Fire Warriors bite the dust in close combat as expected and I consolidate my bikers ready to zoom off to attack the Tau firebase in the far corner.

My moves see the bikers hare off across the table, while I lose my last jump packer to a dangerous terrain mishap as he and Zeke move in to mop up the Pathfinders lurking in the fortification on the Tau table edge.

My firing is ineffectual: more lascannon foolery, naturally enough; while my heavy bolters continue to have problems ranging in on the pesky Stealth suits.

Turn 4
David's reserves finally arrive this turn, giving him his last chance to turn the situation in his favour. The Kroot and their Kroot hounds enter in a good position to attack my base of fire. He drops his 3 deep-striking Crisis suits so that they can have a go at the wayward Brother Elias. Meanwhile his Devilfish move to plug gaps in his line, his last unit of Fire Warriors disembarking to face off against my bikers.

The Tau shooting is enough to cost 2 casualties to my lascannon squad; another 1 to my bikers; and to reduce Elias to burning wreckage. It's good but nowhere near decisive enough, and David can already feel the game slipping from his grasp once and for all.

My lads are busy this turn. Brother Stirner ensures that the 3 Crisis suit Tau won't be going home to celebrate their kill. The bikers make short work of the Fire Warriors trying to hold them at bay. And Zeke and the Tacsquad sergeant have a go a Devilfish with plasma pistol and meltabombs- all to no avail. These pesky tanks make me nervous; even so, I'm sure the day is mine.

Turn 5
The kill points I've accumulated mean that the battle is by now irretrievable for the Tau but David is game to the last. One Devilfish continues to try to finish off the bikes that have caused David so much grief, while the other tank-shocks my Devestators- to no effect. Meanwhile the Kroot move up to do what they do best: close combat.

My own turn is similarly low key, involving mostly manoeuvring to position my units to receive the Kroot assault. Mostly but not all: my meltagun biker destroys a pesky Devilfish with a single shot.

Turn 6
This turn sees the Tau's last hurrah. The Kroot swarm in and chew their way through my screening Tacsquad in short order. At the other end of the board my bike squad finally break and run after a hail of pulse rifle fire reduces them to a lone biker- the heroic meltagunner, naturally enough. More pleasing to David is the stroke of luck which sees Zeke carried from the battlefield. Pesky snake-eyes!

The Tau's last hurrah and the aftermath

Ready and waiting, my heavy bolter Devestators unleash a murderous hail of fire on the Kroot right under their noses. The xenos promptly go to ground but are still reduced to a mere 5 Kroot hounds.

The game over, the following units survived from Dave's army:
  • Stealth suits.
  • A unit of Fire Warriors.
  • One Devilfish.
The surviving Talons were:
  • 1 biker.
  • Scouts.
  • Heavy bolters.
  • Brother Stirner.
Tau 6 kill points.
Talons 10 kill points.

I screwed up on the fate of the surviving Devilfish- which I thought had been destroyed until I double-checked my notes at the very last moment. It was too late at that point to do anything but cross out the offending references. I'll try to do better next time. :-/

What an awesome game! I loved every minute. Winning a decisive victory was cool, naturally enough; as was enjoying an army whose 3+ saves give it a degree of battlefield impunity unmatched by any other in the 40K universe. And the overwhelming impact on the battle of my marauding bikers is a gaming memory I shall treasure for years to come. David too made a vital contribution, being a good-humoured, generous and sporting opponent, even when I was tanning his hide. But there was more to my delight than all of that.

Unique and precious things
First and foremost was the sheer thrill of seeing my lads in action on the tabletop again. No matter how thrilling are games like Combat Commander or Descent- and they are both intense games of teeth-grinding tension and anguished decision making; tabletop miniatures games enjoy unique virtues in this respect. When you deploy an army of lovingly converted and carefully painted miniatures on the tabletop they are yours in a way that boardgames simply cannot match.

This profound psychological link is deeper still for me in the case of Penumbra's Talons. Not only is this DIY Chapter Astartes one of my proudest hobby creations in one of my favourite gaming universes; it is also- because it is my own creation, almost like a roleplaying character for me. The Talons have their own mythology, stories which I have developed down the years. Mostly in my head, these have largely been derived from the models I have built and from the games I have played. This particular collection of toy soldiers is therefore a living, dynamic entity in a way typical of a favourite roleplaying PC.

Fast and furious fun
Many readers will be aware that people can get sniffy about Warhammer games, for various reasons. Now I'm as much a fan of historical authenticity, sophisticated turn sequencing and carefully crafted command systems as anyone else. But the simple truth is that games of toy soldiers ultimately stand or fall by one simple criterion: do they or don't they let you move your models around the tabletop in dramatic and entertaining ways?

I'll forbear today from talking about the rules of 40K. Instead I'll direct readers to the pictures in my battle report. Just look at how so many units moved so far across and around the table. This demonstrates convincingly the sheer dynamism that makes the current iteration of 40K a winner. 'Nuff said! ;)

- The Tau bite back


TT said...

Fantastic game John, I really enjoyed engaging Penumbras Talons for the 1st time.

However I feel a grudge brewing, particularly the bikers. Next time they will feel the wrath of El Quixo and his Q-Guards plasma rifles!

PS interesting that El Quixo's death is not mentioned. He has a habit of disappearing in near-death circumstances on the battlefield, only to mysteriously return again in subsequent battles... though he was turned into a squig once.

"A bit political on yer ass!" said...

Hello DM. Welcome to RD/KA! and thanks for your comment.

For my part, I'm pleased to be able to begin to explore an important part of the Talons' recent history- the Tau and their perplexing... heresies!

Your remark about El Quixo exemplifies why I encouraged comments here: with the best will in the world I'll always forget some things, or get others wrong. So these comments are your chance to set the record straight; point out bad rules calls; and so on.

Oh, and trash talk. What're implacable inter-xenos rivalries without trash talk? Meanwhile, do tell about the squig incident.

Thanks again for commenting. Do come back soon. ;)

PS. Have you checked the 'Bulletin from Belon' link at the top of the front page? Hmm? :0)

"A bit political on yer ass!" said...

I wanted to comment too about just how unlucky you were with the Mission and Deployment.

The Mission:
1. Played to my strengths in firepower and armour.
2. Minimised the weakness of the lack of Troop units in my unbalanced army.
3. Emphasised the problems posed by the greater number of units in your army as opposed to mine.

The Deployment:
1. Gave my army a near perfect position from which to launch its assault.
2. Hampered your army by forcing it to deploy bunched up in a corner; thus depriving you of the Tau's standard base of fire comprising mutually supporting Fire Warrior units.

Each feature of the setup favoured me and disadvantaged you. And that was before we saw the dice, which I can readily admit deviated 1 point from the mean in my favour overall.

Puts my victory in context don't you think? ;)

TT said...

El Quixo's training camp for post-dialogue exremist measures is up and running, the heavies will be deployed next time!

Unknown said...

Congrats on the win. Nice looking battle report! Hope to see you around the 40K Glaswegians, though Da Dark Angelz are still a work in progress...

"A bit political on yer ass!" said...

Hello Adrian. Welcome too to RD/KA!, and thank you for your kind words. You say "Da Dark Angelz"; this sounds suspiciously Orky. Are my suspicions unfounded? ;)

Not a Village in Westminster said...

Fantastic batrep, always good to see some more dead Tau and Imperial dogs!

As someone who always has far more enthusiasm for the hobby than time or painting talent it is always great to see a close fought battle between two beautifully painted and lovingly crafted armies. Likewise a batrep which conveys the excitement of the battle alongside the tactical complexities involved is a fantastic resource.

Hopefully my scummy Brotherhood of the Fly will manage to lock horns with you at some point in the near future!


"A bit political on yer ass!" said...

Hello Jamie. Welcome to RD/KA!, and thank you for your kind words. I have to warn you that I won't always have the time to give my games of 40K the full treatment that first one received, but I'm sure I'll always find something to brighten up each report.

And yes: foul followers of Nurgle beware! ;)

Unknown said...

"Da Dark Angelz" are the result of Painboy experimentin'. After witnessing (and then beating to death) an Apothecary extracting "gin seed" - he started administering the stuff to himself and the local tribe of Blood Axes. The result? Orks with patchy Space Marine memories - specifically Dark Angels - the chapter that "donated" the first specimens... Due to Ork physiology, the effects are not permanent - and are slowly broken down over time - requiring a never ending hunt for more! Due to Ork hierarchy, what supplies exist at anytime are prioritised to the Warboss and Nobz. Effectively - Orks who (at least the upper levels - da inna circle!) believe they are Dark Angels, with propa taktiks and all - well, depending on how recent the dose of "gin seed"... The rest of the boyz don't question it - just follow the toughest Orks as normal - and as long as there is plenty of fighting to be had - why would they?

Your suspicions are not unfounded :)

"A bit political on yer ass!" said...

Penumbra's Talons are Dark Angels Successors whose peculiar origin means that they aren't Fallen. The basic story of this can be found at Bulletin from Belon: my blog at The Bolter and Chainsword, which I unfortunately don't post to as often as I'd like. This means of course Adrian that your otherwise most excellent fluff is simply a reason why the Talons will have to terminate with extreme prejudice this particular strain of the ever fecund greenskins. ;)

Unknown said...

My project & painting blog on DakkaDakka: Da Dark Angelz

Mmmm... Dark Angels Successors huh? I sense a new source of "gin seed"... Funnily enough, Da Dark Angelz feel an irresistible urge to seek out the Fallen too, though more for getting their hands on "da pure stuff" than out of any sense of betrayal...