Tau Finally Get In the Game

One of the most prevalent strategic concepts in 5th edition is that of 'MSU', or 'multiple small units'. The MSU strategy is built around redundancy. The idea is that three or four small units, with perhaps a special or heavy weapon or even just hiding in a transport or sitting on objectives, are much harder for the enemy to completely wipe out than a single large unit, and allow fire to be distributed with greater granularity. Not all armies benefit equally from MSU tactics, however, and amongst those who have trouble getting any real worth out of it are the Tau. Oh, Tau cadres often have small units, but that's usually a matter of either a low unit cap (1-3 XV8/88, 1-2 XV8 bodyguards) or a high cost (80 points for one XV88, 62 for one XV8 Fireknife, the 'Devilfish tax' on Pathfinders). There's no real advantage to the Tau in fielding these sorts of small units, and nothing that really ties in to the overall MSU concept. Just because they have small units doesn't mean it's a strategy.

But that might be changing, and it's all thanks to the pulse carbine. Since it only has to wound, not inflict a casualty or an unsaved wound, the pulse carbine's value to the traditional delay-based tactics practised by cadre commanders is much higher than previously believed. Originally, the carbine was thought rather useless; short ranged, assault 1, and you needed about a dozen of them on average to stand a chance of forcing a pinning test on a standard Marine unit. Even worse, if the enemy passed that test, your unit was 18" away, in range for a rapid fire volley next turn or a charge from jump infantry, beasts, cavalry or particularly lucky units with Fleet, which is to say, all those units you least wanted close to your lines and hiding in combat.

But what if, instead of taking twelve Fire Warriors and maybe getting one test off, you could take two units of six, and be as close to certain as possible that you could force two? And of course, it's not just Fire Warriors that carry the pulse carbine; the drones on every Devilfish and Piranha have it, as does every gun drone purchased by XV8s or 88s for ablative wounds. And that means, usually, there are a lot of pulse carbines on the field, in disparate units, each of which can force a pinning test whenever they hit and wound a unit. If you really need to stop something, like deep striking FNP Blood Angels or a squad of Grey Knights assault terminators, one pinning test isn't going to be worth relying on. But what about two, or three, or four? Even Eldar, with their common LD10, might find their luck running out in the face of test after test after test.

Pinning has always been something of a red-headed stepchild of a tactic; between the omnipresent mixture of high saves, high leadership and just-plain-Fearless models, having to hit, wound and force a casualty/unsaved wound just can't be relied on. Especially when only half your shots hit to begin with. But with this new understanding of the pulse carbine's requirements, not only is it more effective on a per-unit basis, its effectiveness actually grows more sharply when you add additional small, mobile, mutually supporting units. Now, obviously this strategy won't work against every army out there; large mobs of Ork boyz and Tyranid creatures in Synapse range, and of course any units with Fearless, won't fail a test no matter how many times you try and force them to. But most of those units won't be dealt with at range by Fire Warriors or Gun Drones anyway, so the switch isn't going to lose you much, and the added mobility may just help a canny cadre commander dance around his enemy until those boyz mobs aren't so big or the surviving Synapse nodes are a little more few and far between. It's a tradeoff, but at least it's not the apparent 'complete sacrifice' it once was.


Huh, that's... Huh.

So, I've been having a debate with some folks at Advanced Tau Tactica, about whether or not XV8s are truly Relentless, or whether they're unable to move-and-fire with heavy weapons.  It's a rather arcane bit of nonsense, particularly since XV8s can't even take heavy weapons outside of Forge World suits, really of interest to none but the most pedantic.  Amongst whom, needless to say, I sometimes count myself.

During the course of the debate, however, a rather interesting point was raised.  A poster going by Nevar tried to argue against my 'the rules mean what they say' stance by pointing to the entry for the pulse carbine.  Seeking to explain why rules that look like they say one thing can actually mean another, he noted that the pulse carbine says that you take a pinning test if you suffer a wound, which he interpreted as 'successfully rolling to-wound with the weapon, regardless of outcome'.  I initially pooh-poohed the idea, claiming that wounds didn't actually become wounds until you'd failed a saving throw (or just not been able to make one to begin with), but the strangest thing happened as I started marshalling evidence to justify my stance.

It started to look like Nevar was right.

To understand why, there needs to be some groundwork laid.  Codex: Tau Empire came out during 4th edition, and at that time the rules for pinning weapons stated that a unit had to take a pinning test if "the firing of a single enemy unit inflicts casualties with pinning weapons," where 'casualties' was only used to refer to models which were to be removed from the board for having suffered their maximum number of allowable wounds.  The 5th edition ruleset clear the language up a bit, with the much more straightforward instruction that "If a unit other than a vehicle suffers any unsaved wounds from a pinning weapon, it must immediately take a Pinning test."  And like casualties, 'unsaved wounds' was actually defined by the rulebook, and differentiated from just plain 'wounds'.  The tricky part comes in when you look at Codex: Tau Empire, and the entry for the pulse carbine under the infantry wargear section.  According to the codex, which it must be remembered takes precedence over the rules in the basic rule book, "Any unit suffering at least one wound from pulse carbine fire must test for pinning."

Note, please, that the carbine does not call for a test after inflicting 'casualties' (4th) or 'unsaved wounds' (5th), but rather simply for wounds.  This is the important part.

You see, the crux of my argument surrounding the XV8 has been that the rules mean what they say, even if they seem to conflict with what the basic ruleset calls for.  And that being the case, the rules for the pulse carbine are clearly distinct from the rules for standard pinning weapons, under both the 4th and 5th edition rulesets.  Those rules, the wording of at least one and possibly both of which would have been known to the writer of Codex: Tau Empire, are specific.  It isn't just wounds, which are generated by the 'to-wound' rolls, that count, but a particular subset of those wounds, namely, those that create casualties or go unsaved.  By leaving out either of those terms, which could certainly have been squeezed into the available space or simply been omitted entirely for space reasons, the rules for the pulse carbine define the pinning powers of the weapon slightly differently from those given for the basic weapon type in the rulebook.  Functionally, this is no different from the way poisoned weapons have a basic value (4+), but also allow particular poison weapons in codexes to assign their own values (such as the 2+ Hellfire shells in Codex: Space Marine).

So, it turns out that even after all these years, a good close reading of the rulebook can still surprise me.  And that perhaps arming a few of my Fire Warriors with carbines wouldn't be a bad idea, after all.  Carbines will wound most units on a 3+ at worst, after all, and with markerlight support to lower LD values for pinning tests, I may well have an even more solid answer to fast-moving assault units than the community's standard 'throw Kroot in their way' solution.  And certainly a more elegant one, I think we can all agree.


And No, I Still Can't Understand the Cover Image

Alright, let's just get this out of the way at the start. Yes, the book is called Leviathan Wakes. Yes, it's the first in a planned series called The Expanse. Yes, it's a huge book, clocking in at 561 trade paperback-sized pages. Yes, that's right, it's a giant book that kicks off a series. And yes, the jokes just write themselves.

Which is good, because I sure don't want to!

So, Leviathan Wakes, by James S. A. Corey. The novel is set in the middle-distant future, at a non-specific point; the most we know is that it's a hundred and fifty years after Earth and Mars nearly went to war, which means there was a Mars strong enough to even go to war, which means decades at least in the future just to get there. Whenever it's set, humanity has advanced enough to colonize the asteroid belt and start the long process of terraforming Mars, but hasn't yet made it out to the stars. Their earlier antagonism mostly set aside, Earth and Mars are uneasy partners, alternately co-operating to oppress the Belt colonies and maintain the hegemony of the 'Inner Worlds', and jockeying to dominate each other and emerge as the solar system's sole superpower. Earth and Mars are largely remote from those living in the Belt, however, which are the people the novel is really concerned with. Particularly, Leviathan Wakes follows two viewpoint characters; Joe Miller, a functional alcoholic working as a detective on Ceres, and Jim Holden, XO on the ice hauler Canterbury making the run between the gas giants' rings and the Belt. Both men are relatively happy with their lives, but this being fiction of course that doesn't last, and soon enough both of them, and a growing web of their friends and allies, find themselves drawn into a situation that rapidly escalates from rich girls falling in with 'freedom fighters' and mass-murder to Earth firing off its entire store of interplanetary nuclear weapons and the very real possibility of Solar System War I. And since the author is a moderately knowledgeable figure, he understands that yes, ship-to-ship fighting is a serious issue, but the real war doesn't start until someone starts dropping rocks down gravity wells. Increasingly desperate to stop that from coming to pass, Miller and Holden struggle both together and separately to do what they can to expose the murky beginnings of the conflict and stop those most dedicated to seeing it come to fruition.

Leviathan Wakes is many things; Miller's sections are noir and police drama, with some body horror thrown in there, while Holden's are more old-school space opera, with gunfights and space battles and a plucky crew on a tough little ship. That might make the book sound like a bit of a hodge-podge, but Corey does a very solid job of keeping the overall tone of the book consistent, and of blending the various elements into each other. You can see it when you look back on it, say when you're writing a review of the book for your blog, but while you're actually reading the book it really doesn't seem as though there's any reason you shouldn't go from body horror to wild-flying space battles to transhuman philosophizing to political manoeuvrings. It's all very organic, really.

There is one thing missing, however, and I do think the novel suffers from it, if only a bit. Really, I think the author could have done with a slightly larger scope. I know, I know, the book is already a monster, but in terms of what the reader directly gets to see it's very limited. The only two viewpoint characters, after all, are both living in, loyal to and culturally steeped in the Belt colonies. Through them, you get a sense of what the Belters think of what's happening, of how they react to the moves Earth and Mars and even the Belt 'freedom fighters' make over the course of the novel. But you never really get a look at what people on Earth or Mars actually think, just supposition on the part of the characters and a few odd talking heads on the public affairs programs of the day. It would have been tricky to include them, given that the action all takes place out in space, but it really would have been nice to get a look at how the people of the Inner Planets react, particularly once it looks like their two worlds are going to end up in a serious shooting war, one that may well end with rocks falling down the gravity well onto either the heads of Earth-bound humans or the dome-cities of the Martians. It sort of feels like watching Ugandan secret agents working to stop a war between the US and China, without ever getting a look at what's going on within either of the two superpowers themselves.

That said, though, the absence of Terran or Martian viewpoints only moves the book down from 'completely flawless' to 'really excellent'. Despite its size, I never really felt overwhelmed by the book, nor did I find myself worrying about the kind of 'ending fatigue' that huge novels, with multiple plotlines to wrap up and multiple climaxes to work through, can all too easily fall prey to. And while the author downplays the hard-science elements in a little interview after the end of the novel, it's a relatively solid, 'realistic' depiction of space travel. There's no artificial gravity, and thus no safe way to travel at really high speeds because of inertial pressures on the crew, the ships are armed (those that are, at least) with railguns and nuclear missiles rather than the more exotic options available in science fiction, and the Belt colonies are equal parts fantastic and brutally functional, just what you'd expect from industrial areas that have grown into residential colonial spaces. There are also corporations everywhere, with the author doing a relatively good job of balancing between the corporate-less utopian Star Trek-style future and the corporatocratic future of the cyberpunk-derived dystopians. There is an 'evil' corporation, because of course there is, but for the most part the corporate entities you see are just trying to sell a half-decent product or service for a reasonable mark-up to make a decent buck; they are, in other words, pretty much like the real, non-mustache-twirling corporations of today, just scaled up or out or sideways, as appropriate. It's not a completely perfect world; Earth and Mars are a little too monolithic (especially given Earth's population of 33 billion), and the technology is basically just a generation ahead of ours (there are no apparent cyborgs or AIs or neural interfaces or...). But it's a solid, believable place full of solid, believable characters, and if Corey chose not to take full advantage of the freedoms literature affords the science-fiction author, well, he wouldn't be the first or, likely, the last.

And, without giving too much away I hope, it seems like Corey is using Leviathan Wakes not as a techno-social end-point, but as a familiar jumping-on point for the reader. By the end of the story things in the solar system look set to change in a very big way, and it remains to be seen just how well Corey can harness those changes narratively. Hopefully he won't be overwhelmed by the host of new possibilities and potentials available to him by the end of the book, but even if he is, well, at least Leviathan Wakes can still stand as a solid, enjoyable, sprawling space opera full of horror, mystery, political manoeuvrings and space battles.


I'll Take It. I'll Take Twelve!

Forge World recently put out a series of updates to their various Imperial Armour units, and amongst those gifted with such attention were the Tau. Such attention could be read as preparing the ground for these units to line up with the abilities of those coming in the next codex, but let's not dwell on speculation. Instead, let's look at what Forge World has given the more economically-comfortable cadre commanders.

First up is a unit that, quite frankly, most 'els and 'os I know would sell their ethereals for, and the one that inspired the title for this post; the Tetra scout speeder team. For 50 points each, you get a squadron of one-to-four AV10 fast/skimmer/open-topped vehicles with a marker beacon, disruption pod, twin-linked pulse rifles and a 'high intensity' markerlight. What's that, you ask? Oh, only a Heavy 4 markerlight! Naked this thing is a ridiculously good value, the most efficient means of delivering markerlight tokens the Tau Empire has yet seen, but you can make them even better with just five points for a targeting array, meaning you now have the equivalent of four BS4 markerlights, on a platform that can move 12" a turn, and always counts as obscured beyond that distance. If you're worried about night fighting you can also slap a blacksun filter on there for five more points per Tetra, meaning suddenly those Imotekh lists running around aren't quite such a problem after all. You can also give them sensor spines, a target lock or decoy launchers, but those really aren't worth the cost, serving mostly just to make a markerlight platform more expensive without really enhancing its utility. The 55-point version is as good as it gets, no point gilding the lily.

Next, the Remote Sensor Tower, a 0-1 Troops choice of 1-3 towers. At 40 points, the RST seems like a bit of an tough sell; an immobile AV10 'vehicle' with a positional relay (?), a twin-linked markerlight and a multi-phasic sensor suite. The lack of a disruption pod or flechette discharger option makes this thing really vulnerable, and as a non-scoring Troop choice it can't even do what Troops are meant to. Sure, a twin-linked BS3 markerlight is nice enough, but after the Tetra, do we really need more markerlights? The real draw here, though, is the multi-phasic sensor suite; once per turn per tower, a unit within 6" gains Night Vision/Acute Senses, and more importantly, can re-roll all failed to-hit rolls in the shooting phase. This ability, if used on something like a full-strength Fire Warrior squad, especially in rapid fire range, could really cut down on your need to burn markerlight tokens to up BS.  Instead, you could use them to strip cover saves, lower leadership for pinning attacks, or just buff the units that always get dibs on those tokens anyway, the XV8s, 88s and Hammerheads. In this kind of situation, the RST is basically a 40-point upgrade for a Fire Warrior squad, and a fairly solid one at that.

Third, a section expanding the arms of the aforementioned Hammerhead. There are four choices, all twin-linked; a long-barrelled burst cannon, missile pods or plasma cannon at 15 points, and a fusion cannon at 30. While the weapons themselves aren't terrible, with the long-barrelled burst cannon and the plasma cannon actually filling a couple of interesting holes in the Tau armory, the fact is that you're trading arguably the single best vehicle-based weapon in the game for, well, some slightly-upgraded battlesuit gear. Sure, there's a lovely little 24" melta weapon in there, and the S6/AP4 Assault 6 long-barrelled burst cannons could really thin out those GEq hordes, but at the end of the day you're spending thirty-five fewer points (twenty for the fusion cannon) to replace the railgun's solid slug and submunition rounds. The railgun's dual firing options just outcompete the more specialized options Forge World makes available, and given that most cadres will only find space for one Hammerhead alongside the realistically-mandatory XV88 squads, it's just too difficult to justify specializing the Hammerhead's weapon that way.

Continuing with the upgrades, we find three options for the 'el or 'o to replace his battlesuit with. The 20-point XV81 comes with a shoulder-mounted SMS and leaves you with two hardpoints to fill, the 15-point XV84 includes a markerlight and a target lock and leaves you with three hardpoints, and the 25-point XV89 gives you Iridium armour, and three hardpoints. Frankly, none of these really stand out. XV8 battlesuits can't move and fire heavy weapons, meaning the SMS and the markerlight (not a networked markerlight, note) will constantly force trade-offs between use and mobility, and in most battles a cadre commander will be better served by mobility. And the XV89 is just a way to get two 2+ XV8 battlesuits into your army, and an expensive way at that. These upgrades just seem too costly for their benefits.

And now we're back into full units again. The Drone Sentry Turret is a squadron of 1-4 25-point turrets, another immobile 'vehicle' though this time with AV12 to increase its survivability. It comes with twin-linked burst cannons (not the long-barrelled variety, sadly), and can upgrade to twin-linked missiles pods or fusion blasters for 10 points, or plasma rifles for 15. It can also buy deep strike deployment or a disruption pod for 5 points, or a shield generator for 20 (not totally clear on how that works on a vehicle; just a 4+ save against all damage?). The weapons aren't bad, but the turret is only BS2, meaning you'll probably have to burn markerlight tokens if you really want it to pull its weight; hope you brought those Tetras along! The fusion blaster is a waste given the short range and immobility of the platform, but the missile pods wouldn't be so bad, and the burst cannons themselves aren't terrible. Still, forty points for a sentry turret with twin-linked missile pods and a disruption pod isn't great (it's 1 point less than a mobile XV8 Deathrain with a flamer that isn't hit automatically in close combat and can contest objectives), and if you buy any of the upgraded weapons you're likely to have to spend markerlight tokens to guarantee hits, further increasing the cost of this weapon system. It's not terrible, and the Deep Strike option does mean you could put it in your enemy's deployment area and get rear-armour shots in for the first round, but if you play it aggressively it won't last long, and if you play it conservatively it won't accomplish much for its cost.

And speaking of drones that don't bring enough to the table, we see the Heavy Gun Drone squadron up next. 2-6 Heavy Gun Drones at 25 points each isn't so bad, especially since they're armed with twin-linked burst cannons, one of which they can trade for a markerlight at no cost. But if you do you don't have anything to balance their BS2 with, and that's assuming of course that you're crazy enough to waste a Heavy Support slot on burst cannons in the first place. These things are like inferior XV15 squads, and they're supposed to compete with XV88s and Hammerheads? I'm sorry, but it's just never going to happen.

It's not all Tau upgrades, though, as the Kroot get some attention as well. The Goaded Greater Knarloc clocks in at 60 points, or rather, at 60 points plus the four mandatory Kroot Goads at 10 points each, which is to say this unit costs a minimum of 100 points. For that, you get the Great Knarloc, a monstrous creature with a fairly anemic statline and a 6+ save, and Kroot Goads with the usual Kroot statline, a Kroot rifle, a goad stick that counts as a CCW (useless, since the rifle already counts as two), and a 6+ themselves. You can buy four more Kroot Goads, and even upgrade one to a Shaper for 21 points and buy him a pulse rifle or carbine for 5, if you've really lost your mind. They have the usual +1 to cover in woods or jungles and Fleet, but to balance that out if you roll more 1's than 6's in close combat the Great Knarloc auot-kills a Goad, and if all the Goads are killed the Greater Knarloc takes a LD-test; fail, and it's removed from play itself. This thing is big, vulnerable, slow and expensive, and worst of all, it's yet another sub-par Heavy Support option.

Then there's the Mounted Great Knarloc Herd. For 70 points each you can get 1-3 Great Knarlocs, a monstrous creature with a 6+ save, and a couple of riders armed with a Kroot bolt thrower. The gun is pitiful, a 26" S4/AP- assault 1 weapon. For fifteen points you can buy explosive bolts, which make it S5/AP4 assault 1 blast, or for 20 points you can exchange the whole thing for a twin-linked Kroot gun, a twin-linked missile pod that's rapid fire instead of assault 2. It's yet another Heavy Support choice, I supposed for anyone crazy enough to try and field a Kroot Mercenary army (though there's no Kroot HQ choice available here), and outside of the very fluffiest of lists it's literally impossible to imagine this thing getting a second look.

Finally, because apparently you can never have too many Knarlocs, we have the Knarloc Rider Herd. This is actually a cavalry unit of Kroot on Knarlocs, armed with the expected Kroot rifle and given the expected +1 cover in woods and jungles, and given a very unexpected stat boost; higher S, T, W and A, and a 6+ save and LD8 without need of a Shaper. Unfortunately, the Knarloc Riders are still Kroot, which means they're moderately-competent assault troops with rapid fire guns, no power weapons, and the Eaters of the Dead special rule to stop them from making a Sweeping Advance if, by some miracle, they actually win. Still, at least these guys are Fast Attack, and not Heavy Support.

So, after all that, what do I think? Well, obviously the Tetras are the standout here. Compared to Pathfinders, you pay two more points for a twin-linked pulse rifle and four markerlights, which can all move 12" and fire, on a platform that's largely immune to the kind of low-strength firepower that will so easily take out Tau infantry; for 5 more points, those pulse rifles and markerlights are BS4, something you couldn't do with Pathfinders even if you wanted to. If Tetras showed up in Codex: Tau Empire tomorrow it would be hard to justify not taking at least a couple of them, either in one squadron or spread out to maximize the number of units you can put tokens on. The Remote Sensor Tower is tempting at mid-to-large games, where full-strength Fire Warrior units can really get you your money's worth from that multi-phasic sensor suite, while the Hammerhead turret options could be viable in smaller games, where you won't need the tank to be such a jack-of-all-trades and the savings in points will be more meaningful. The Drone Sentry Turrets are fairly mediocre, but as Troops they're a source of special weapons that doesn't compete for the much more limited Elites slot, and if you've got more than a couple of Tetras you'll have markerlight tokens to spare, so they could have their place. And, of course, they can be used as deep-striking S7-up-the-rear weapons platforms. It's a shame the Remote Sensor Tower and the Drone Sentry Turret can't purchase flechette dischargers, though. As for the rest? The battlesuit variations, the Heavy Gun Drones and the various Knarlocs? They're all junk, easily beaten out for space by far more tempting options. Unless a cadre commander is really burning to play a particular theme list, like Drones or Kroot, they have very little to offer relative to their costs, and aside from the Kroot cavalry I don't even find the idea of them all that interesting on the tabletop. The monstrous creature Knarlocs really cripple the ability of the Kroot to get those cover saves they need so much, and the Heavy Gun Drones are just, well, gun drones with burst cannons instead of pulse carbines. Not exactly an aesthetic revolution, there.

So, that's what I think about Forge World's newest update for their Tau units. Now, let's all join hands and wish, really really hard, that the Tetra makes its way into the next Tau codex.

No, seriously. Wish harder, guys.


XV15s - Not So Useless After All?

I'd been waffling on the idea of going to the last of the Munitorum series games at Black Knight; while I can theoretically field 2500 points, it's a stretch, and I've heard over and over again that you should play what you can really play, not what you can stretch to. Ultimately it turns out I won't be able to go for entirely unrelated reasons, but the act of trying to figure out how to put twenty-five hundred points of Tau Empire on the field got me thinking.

See, if I put every Fire Warrior, XV8 and '88, and every Pathfinder in my hunter cadre on the field, and backed them up with all the Devilfish, Piranha and Hammerheads from my armoured interdiction cadre, I still couldn't quite get there. I also had a Sniper Drone Team hanging around, but using it would've meant actually losing 80 points or so from the total by either dropping an XV88 or my Hammerhead to make room, so no help there. But there was one more option; a quartet of XV15s, three-quarters of them painted up and ready to go. And if I moved a few of my XV8s into the HQ slot, as a Shas'el and his bodyguard instead of as three XV8 shas'ui, I could slip those '15s in there, and bam, twenty-five hundred points even.

Which got me thinking about the XV15s. I know I dismissed them in an earlier post, and I still stand by my reading of them; they compete for space with XV8s, which are far more versatile and central to Tau tactics, and their guns' ranges and the effect of their stealth fields conflict annoyingly. But XV8s are expensive, and at lower points level spending 62 points for a single Fireknife can become pretty prohibitive. And this, I think, is where the humble stealth suit finally comes into its own.

For the price of about two Deathrains, or one and a third Fireknives, you can get three XV15s, one of whom has a fusion blaster. One of the biggest handicaps the Tau face is their trouble getting melta onto the field. There are only three units that can field it, and of them XV8s are too important to risk getting that close (and arguably have better options at longer range for the most part) and Piranhas are too fragile to reliably close the distance. Some would say that isn't much of a handicap for an army with 72" S10 AP1 guns, but XV88s are expensive and fragile in a world full of krak missiles, Hammerheads aren't especially good shots, and both of them can suffer serious reliability problems penetrating AV13 and AV14, neither of which are especially rare. The melta weapon has become the go-to anti-armour weapon in 5th edition for a reason, and the Tau's trouble putting it on the field really can be a handicap.

So, what does the XV15 offer? Well, it's roughly as tough as an XV8, but with a much smaller profile it can more easily hide or get cover saves. The stealth field can limit the ability of dispersed units to target them, and any unit that doesn't have assault grenades will strike at I1 if they charge them. The non-fusion-armed XV15s can put out six S5 shots, giving them the ability to pick away at large, lightly-armoured units and possibly shoot out a Marine or two. They can deep strike, which removes the threat of being shot to pieces crossing the table, and if there's a Pathfinder Devilfish on the table they can do so somewhat reliably. And at just ninety-two points and three models, you can feel relatively good about playing aggressively with them, since their successful use could be decisive while their loss wouldn't be likely to cripple the cadre. As for its costs, well, we've long since established that; XV15s cost XV8s, the workhorse of the Tau Empire and the only source of those plasma rifles that are so vital to dealing with Marines and Terminators.

I haven't put it into practice yet, and probably won't get a chance until next month, at the next Black Knight tournament. But I think I'm going to give it a shot. If nothing else, seeing a cadre drop melta into someone else's rear armour should be a pleasant novelty!

There is one little detail I'm not totally clear on, though; the codex says that 'one in three models [...] may replace their burst cannon with a fusion blaster'. Now, does that mean you have to buy three more XV15s to get a second fusion blaster, or would four suits, with two fusion blasters, count as having 'one in three', since you can make two groups of three models from them, neither of which contain more than one fusion blaster? Oh GW, you and your slightly vague and inconsistent wording...


Not a Sun Rise, But a Galaxy Rise

While I sometimes like to make myself happy by thinking of Newt Gingrich as something from another planet entirely, of late he's been making it easier than usual. In various speeches and debates, Gingrich has apparently been pushing the idea that his administration would make Luna the '51st State' (conveniently ignoring various treaties and agreements that would legally prohibit the US from unilaterally claiming the satellite), and even that he would push for a manned Martian expedition. It's a pretty shockingly out-there policy for a Republican, who generally can't get their policies back within the borders of the United States fast enough. Thankfully, Warren Ellis is around to explain exactly what's going on here and, surprise surprise, it's all about votes and job creation.

But let's put aside Newt, and I'll wait for the collective cheers to subside on that idea, because Ellis says something that I think is far more important. Namely, that the idea of space exploration backed by private concerns is a complete non-starter. As Ellis puts it,
"The thing about private spaceflight is that private industry isn’t terribly well known for doing things that don’t have a big fat profit at the other end. And human spaceflight isn’t something that tends to come with a profit function. Mining the moon without, at the very least, the industrial structure at this end to use the mining product for anything is retarded."
It's difficult to understate how right he is. Corporations are guided by profit, indeed in many areas they are legally required to make as much profit for their shareholders as possible, and ninety-nine times out of a hundred a corporation will take a guaranteed twenty tomorrow over a thousand dollars five years down the line. There's very little room for long-term planning in the present corporate environment, and that's a problem when it comes to private space exploration (or exploitation) because there's really no way at all to make money fast out there. Yes, there might be money in all that helium-3 on the surface of Luna or in the elements and ores in the asteroid belt, but there's no way to get it, and use it, in anything like the span of time corporate governance would require. No board of directors is going to authorize the absolutely staggering start-up costs on a venture like that, nor should they, really. Corporations aren't Captain Kirk; risk isn't their business.

But risk is a package deal with exploration, and it always has been. And that's why, even when there were private entities who could theoretically perform such actions, it's always been government agencies and public institutions going boldly into the unknown. Exploration is so expensive, so uncertain and so infrastructurally-intensive that it will always be a matter of public institutions harnessing a civilization-wide agreement to go out and do a thing; there's just no other way to really make it work. And of course, once states have done the exploration, and established the basic infrastructure, and figured out just how to make it all work, the corporations will come along. They just won't ever go first. Which is why it's so important to realize that private industry can not take us to the stars. If we rely on them, we'll never get there; if we wait for it to be profitable to leave our planet, our species will still be here when the sun goes out.

If we're lucky.