So, Saturday has come and gone, and with it the second in the four-game tournament series Black Knight Games is running. And how did I do? Read on, and find out!
Opponent: Blood Angels (Craig Simms)
2 x 10 ASM w/2 x Meltaguns, Power Sword, Sanguinary Priest
10 ASM w/2 x Meltaguns, Power Sword
5 x Sanguinary Guard
2 x Vindicator
Deployment: Pitched Battle
Major Objective: Capture and Control
Minor Objective: Headhunter (Points for Close Combat Kills)
As far as starts go, this was a less than auspicious one. It's hard to imagine a list Tau would struggle with more than deep striking Assault Space Marines with Feel No Pain, and a less realistic Minor Objective for Tau to go after than Headhunter. My opponent lost the roll-off and I decided to take first turn; I was fairly certain he wouldn't deep strike his Vindicators, so at least I could hope to deal with those before they caused me too much trouble. I deployed as spread out as I could be, hiding my objective in a small ruin off to my left with 6 Fire Warriors and one of my XV88s camped out on it, while my suits hid behind my two Devilfish and the Hammerhead, my other XV88 snug behind some rocks on my right, my other on-foot Fire Warriors clustered around that XV88. His two Vindicators deployed together behind a small copse of trees on my right, the Librarian hiding behind it. He rolled a 2 to Seize Initiative, and we were off.
And boy, was I ever off. My Pathfinders managed to put one markerlight token on the Vindicators, which I used to boost my Hammerhead to hit on 2+. It managed that, but only just barely, and against the AV13 front its penetrating roll of 1 didn't help me much. Nor did the inability of the XV88 on my left to hit, or the XV88 on my right to roll more than a 1 for its own penetrating roll. The Vindicators endured my firepower utterly without concern, which seemed a remarkably bad omen. In return, he managed to blast my Hammerhead to shrapnel with his own heavy tanks, though thankfully it didn't kill anyone when it went. On turn 2 I had spread out enough that my Deathrains could threaten the leftwards Vindicator's side armour, and a few solid missile strikes managed to tear the massive cannon clean off. My XV88s, meanwhile, immobilized the other tank, which was pretty much useless, and stunned it, which was slightly more. Again I spread out, one squad of Deathrains going up the left behind a Devilfish, the other squad going up the right, while my Fireknives and my Shas'el's squad covered the middle. I was hoping to be able to dance around his army as it came in piecemeal, and hopefully at least threaten to defeat it in detail. Alas, it was not to be. His Sanguinary Guard and one of the Priest-backed squads turned up from reserves; the former dropped in, shot up and broke my Fireknives, while the latter put down one of my 'El's bodyguards. Just like that, I'd gone from 5 plasma rifles to 1, before they ever had a chance to fire.
Predictably, my Deathrains, Fire Warriors and Devilfish were unable to put wounds on the Priest-backed Assault Space Marines, and the one plasma rifle left managed to miss them, while the Sanguinary Guard went unmolested. With no loss to his army on its first two, weakest turns, there was no hope of holding them off when the rest of them turned up on turn 3. He left one squad around the back, to hold his objective, while the rest rampaged through my cadre, slaughtering with near-impunity. Amusingly, the two best killers on my side turned out to be my Devilfish, one of which took out three Assault Space Marines with its Flechette Dischargers, and both of which exploded, killing a few other Marines when they went up. The rest of my army was utterly ineffectual, my XV88s failing to even destroyed his Vindicators (they were smoking crippled hulks, but still not dead) before they were overrun, and my suits mercilessly hunted down and dispatched. The game ended on Turn 6, not because of the dice, but because there wasn't a single Tau model left on the field. I had been tabled.
Results: Major Loss
Opponent: Necrons (David Quirk)
2 x Lords w/Resurrection Orb, Gaze of Flame
2 x 20 Warriors
2 x Monoliths
Deployment: Dawn of War
Major Objective: Capture and Control
Minor Objective: Thin the Heard (Points for Getting Squads to Half Strength)
Once again, I wrote the Minor Objectives off before the game started; he could give up a maximum of 2 points, while I could offer a whopping 8. This was actually my first game against Necrons, and I went in not knowing much of what to expect. We deployed 4 objectives, more or less in the four corners of the board, and I won the roll-off, picking the side with greater cover, and first turn. I put my 'El's squad in the centre, so they could use their Blacksun Filters to take potshots early, and deployed a Fire Warrior team in a Devilfish, for cover to hop back into. He put down his Warriors together on the left side, one one of the objectives, a large landing pad in the midfield on that side hiding most of them.
Turn 1 did not go well. I brought my army on save for two squads of Fire Warriors left in reserve, my XV88s getting decent rolls to put them in position on the flanks of the table, while my Hammerhead blocked the left approach, the Pathfinders' Devilfish came up to sit beside the Fire Warriors', and my suits spread out along the back of the board. My Hammerhead scattered its shot well off the Warriors, which was my only real shooting, as I couldn't see anything else so far. I sent a Deathrain squad up the right side and one to reinforce my Hammerhead on the left, and hunkered down. I did not, however, hunker well enough. His Monoliths and second Lord arrived, and while the latter did little but try and catch up to his squad, the former were devastating. They managed to blast my Devilfishes to pieces, killing the Fire Warriors and all but 1 of the Pathfinders; my mobile bunkers/terrain, one of my scoring units and two Minor Objective points given up, from the get-go. Yikes. Thankfully, my XV88s rallied on Turn 2, taking advantage of the Monolith's utter inability to find obscurement (seriously, those things are -tall-!) to railgun one of them into pieces. My Hammerhead and Deathrains sent as much fire up the left as they could, knocking down a few Warriors, while my other Deathrains headed up the right, keeping terrain between them and the surviving Monolith. The centre of my army didn't manage much, being mostly unable to see their opponents without getting dangerously close to the Monolith, which had claimed the centre-left. It floated up onto the landing pad and lashed out at my Hammerhead, tearing the railgun from it, and teleported the forward Warrior squad up there, putting them in threatening range of the remains of my Hammerhead and my Deathrains. Thankfully, my 88's dealt with the surviving Monolith next turn, leaving it a matter of manoeuvre and concentration of fire, neither of which, sadly, I could quite manage well enough.
His forward Warriors shot up my Deathrains and their Lord detached to charge and kill my Fireknives, earning him a third and then fourth Minor Objective point and therefore putting it safely beyond hope of contesting. My Hammerhead's burst cannons and the 'El's squad chipped away at the forward Warriors from another angle, the second Deathrain unit continuously poking away at the Warriors on his objective. I claimed my own objective on my 5th turn, my Fire Warriors finally sitting most of the game out right when they were least threatened, but I simply could not fight through the first Warrior squad, nevermind shift the second. With both of us claiming an objective and nobody in range to contest, it came down to the Minor Objective to decide the winner.
Result: Minor Loss
Opponent: Tyranids (Clayton Carkner)
2 x Tyrant Prime w/bonesword, lash whip, deathspitter
2 x 25 Termagants
7 x Genestealers w/toxin sacs
6 x Genestealers w/toxin sacs
5 x Ymgarl Genestealers
Doom of Malantai w/mycetic spore
5 x Raveners w/rending claws
Trygon w/adrenal glands
Major Objective: Annihilation
Minor Objective: Breakthrough (Points for Non-Vehicle Units in Opponent's Deployment Zone)
Okay. So. On top of 'ASM with FNP', I think I can safely add 'Doom of Malantai delivered via mycetic spore' to the 'list of things Tau seem incapable of handling'. Sweet Christmas, that thing was an absolute monster!
But I'm getting ahead of myself. After a brutal beating first game and a narrow defeat second, I went into this one feeling moderately confident. It was Annihilation, and he was drowning in units, just waiting to be blasted apart by my superior long-range firepower. I won the roll-off and chose an urban ruin with a pathway in on the two sides and a third 45 degrees up the middle, leaving him with a wide-open plain. I left the Fire Warriors in reserve, used my Devilfishes to block the side entrances, placed my Hammerhead and 'El's squad forwards on the middle, scattered my suits around the backfield and prepared to engage.
It went well, at first. For once I didn't lose anything at all first turn, and even managed to do some damage. My railgun submunition and airbursting fragmentation projector chewed up the front edge of the aggressively-deployed termagant squad, while burst cannons, drone carbines, and missile pods pecked away at them around the edges. One of my XV88s was supposed to be safely deployed up on top of a tower, a good 2" tall structure, with the other hanging at the back, but in an utterly flabbergasting move my opponent just charged his hormagaunts straight up the outside wall on his turn. I should have called him on it, but I was just so stunned by the sheer audacity of the move that I didn't say anything until we'd already fought a round of combat, and at that point I felt embarrassed to bring it up. Silly, but there you go. And it cost me, too; he could only get a few hormagaunts up there, meaning the combat kept drawing turn after turn, leaving his squad completely protected from my shooting. Maddening! Not that my shooting would stay threatening for very long, though. The aforementioned Doom of Malantai, deployed via the equally aforementioned Mycetic Spore, dropped into my backfield second turn, and just started laying the place to waste. That 3D6 LD test, with a wound for every point over, is brutal against Tau, whose elites are lucky to get LD8; just its presence killed one of my 'El's bodyguards and most of my Fireknife squad, along with half the Pathfinders. I hid the latter in my Devilfish, which didn't last long when a unit of Raveners came calling, while the Fireknives were dragged down by infiltrating Ymgarl Genestealers and I lost the last bodyguard to a bit of psychic shooting from that bloody Doom.
Outside the ruins my Hammerhead, supported by a Devilfish and the Deathrain's flamers, managed to completely destroy one of the termagant squads, moving up into his quarter as they went, but inside the ruins things were too bleak. The Doom blasted my Hammerhead apart, the surviving Ymgarls and a second squad of outflanking Genestealers (not declared before game; I really have to get better at forcing that issue) chewed up my XV88, surviving Fire Warriors and my 'El, and the Raveners chased my forcefully disembarked Pathfinders into a shattered building, where they were set upon by a squad coming in from the plains and hideously killed. His Trygon didn't make it onto the field until Turn 5, but at that point it was just the icing on the cake. I had a few units in his deployment zone and three kill points, while he had most of his army in my zone and more than twice as many kill points.
Result: Major Loss
Overall Result: 17th, of 18 entrants
So, what did I learn? Well, sadly, I learned that Tau are even more under-equipped to deal with particular armies than I'd thought. It's true I'm not a very good general (a better one could have beaten that Necron army, I'm confident), but there are just so few tools in the Tau kit to deal with threats. I can't fight Assault Space Marines, or any close combat unit for that matter, I can't shoot through 3+/FNP, or even through any 3+ reliably, I can't block psychic powers, I can't get rid of invulnerable saves... It's a poor craftsman who blames his tools, perhaps, but I think the army and I need to share pretty equal amounts of blame on this one. This codex is just so dang far behind the curve.
Now, that's not to say it's impossible to do well, even win. Dealing with deep-striking, FNP'ing Assault Space Marines is always going to be the next best thing to a fantasy, but I had the Necrons on the ropes; another turn or two and I could have contested his objective, maybe even have forced a Phase Out as I picked away at his Warriors, and he didn't have the speed or range to seriously threaten my units or objective. And if I'd played more aggressively against the Tyranids, broken out earlier and forced him to chase me rather than trying to blast him to pieces from inside the 'safety' of the ruins, I might've been able to blunt the damage the Doom could inflict when it arrived, preserving some of my units and blasting a few more of his squads apart in the process. It's tough to know just how aggressively to play Tau, since they're so fragile and vulnerable to even a halfway-decent counter-assault, but I think I'm going to have to start erring on the side of risk. I don't have the numbers in my cadre for a gunline, so it's got to be manoeuvre and defeat-in-detail if I'm to have any hope of coming out on top. It goes against the grain to fight forwards like that, but I'm not sure I can see an alternative with my cadre and the enemy armies I tend to face around here.
There's another 1500 point tournament, the Two Day 40K event, coming up in the end of November. Let's see if I can't apply a little hard-won wisdom, there, shall we?