Sunday, September 12, 2010

Joining the Tau Empire Part 3: Defending Your Firebase

None can deny that the Tau Empire's armies operate best when the enemy is held at bay a safe distance from the battle line. It's also true that many of our weapons function best at mid-range. Plasma and Pulse Rifles get to rapid fire and burst cannons, pulse carbines and fusion blasters are in range. The trick with any Tau army, no matter what your list, is how to keep the enemy where you want him.

You can't increase the size of the gaming board. Pretty much all games are played on 4x6 table, so there isn't much room to fall back. Furthermore, the Tau Empire's forces, while highly mobile, are not particularly fast. Therein lies the predicament of every Tau player. How do we keep the enemy at bay and how do we keep him from assaulting our units?

In some ways, I am amazed by GW's foresight in designing the Tau Empire Army. The designers were sure to make 90% of the unit choices, able to move and shoot, and at the same time they gave them a few units that really make the army work as a mobile gunline. I'm talking about Kroot, Gun Drones and Piranhas. I think that while Piranhas may have been an accident, Kroot and vehicle-attached Gun Drones were deliberately included to provide the Tau with a form of mobile defense from assaults.

These three units are important in that they allow you to create distance between your mobile gunline and the enemy. With practice and careful planning, a Tau General can even keep the enemy locked in the mid-range, between 12 and 24 inches of his line, maximizing his firepower while the enemy finds himself fighting through small Gun Drone units, Kroot and Piranhas Light Skimmers. Each of these units is there to block and limit the enemy's movements.

Here's how it works against a mechanized army. Below is a diagram of deployment before the game has started. Let's assume that the enemy has won the roll-off and is going first.  The blue represents a Space Marine Mechanized Army. Sorry for the small size here. Click on the image to see a larger picture.
So the enemy has set up, going first, in the middle of his deployment zone because he wants to make sure that where ever you deploy, he's ready to move out to get you. The Tau have set up a firebase in the corner with Kroot on the skirmish lines. The Piranhas are deployed ready to move out to the center. 

Turn1- Space Marines Advance, the Piranhas move out to block. 
In diagram below, we can see the Space Marine Army has moved up, and the the Piranhas have turbo-boosted out to block the enemy vehicles from advancing further. The drones have dropped and move out to create a layer of defense in front of the Kroot skirmish line. 
The Firebases targets the closest enemy transports and with any luck destroys two of them, however it doesn't really matter as you've blocked his avenue of approach. When infantry pour out of the wrecked transports, the drones are there to move up and block their advance as in this diagram below. Once the enemy fights through your gun drones, you move your Kroot up, rapid fire or run to get in position, and make him now fight your Kroot while your battlesuits get to shoot every turn, completely safe from the assault. 

This is the basic layout of how to slow the enemy advance allowing your firebase to keep shooting every turn without fail. You use your movement in all three phases, moving in the movement phase, running in the shooting phase and assault moves in the assault phase, to deny the enemy avenues of approach. Successful execution of these "roadblocks" even allows you to whiff with your shooting and have not matter. We all have bad dice some days, but moving and blocking like this, will prevent it from ruining the game for you. It protects your army and allows you to dictate who the enemy assaults and when. 

Every Tau Commander, whether playing a mobile list or a gunline list, needs to master these skills in order to for the greater good to prevail. I hope this helps. I'd like to refine this article some more but it's late. Feedback is welcome and appreciated. Any suggestions on how to improve this help as well. 


Marshal Wilhelm said...

Jolly good!
I think this will help fresh Tauites and those who are sceptical of Kauyon on how to Cram n Jam ^^,

If you could do a detailed one for Kroot, who seem to be the sticking point for some Tau players, I think that would be good.

For various reasons [such as fluff ideals, play style desire, not grasping in tactically, etc.] people are not getting Kroot. That is okay. But they seem to be prejudiced against them and are just coming up with excuses to not play like it. If you get rid of the excuses, people have nothing to hide behind and are faced with the truth ~ muahahahaha!
Then when all they have is a bad excuse, maybe they'll realise they are just bigoted in this matter and get over it.... :D

I had reasons for not liking Razors [because the original ones had obscene amounts of red on them, even the UM ones], bikes [how can you actually fight from a bike, impossible imo] Space Wolves [prefix Wolf on everything including toilet paper] and other things that just irked me.
I have gotten over these with time, and perhaps the anti-Kroot brigade needs time too, but maybe I'd have changed earlier if someone had gently shown how counter productive to *me* my prejudices were.

I still laugh at current SW players not liking TWC ~ unique, effective and having some amazing Fantasy models but they don't like them because its silly. They are short changing themselves.

I believe the anti-Kroot people are too.

I am in the process of getting my Kroot ready for painting, sort of [grey plastic gets old after a while] and have decided to go to town on them ~ I will be painting them in 3s or 4s with a bird pattern :D
Blue Budgerigars
Green Budgies

Painting them as something exciting also changes your disposition to something. Painting something with barest colouration is hardly going to grow your affection for something, do you know what I mean?

Anonymous said...

Very useful article OSH, but what about flankers or SW Scouts Who show up on your side of the board? Can you show also some anti-demons strategy?

suneokun said...

Great breakdown, Mr Shatner. In one brief post, you've demonstrated the absolute necessity of the Piranha in the Tau line up. The lightweight, ultrafast combination of the piranha and two 'sacrificial' gundrones is the ultimate speedbump - stumping both the Landraider and the troops inside and importantly allowing you to control the pace of their advance ... even if they can manage to shoot down your piranhas that turn ... they've still lost a turn of movement AND a turn of shooting and bought more valuable time for the gunline.

That said, what's the answer to the following:

Mech Guard
Infantry Guard

Both are a real challenge to Tau.

Gredus said...

This is a very good example of why focused firepower is also very important. Many players would be tempted to pump railgun shots at the Landraider but you only really want to do that when you know the Rhino's are down. Shoot with your Missile Pods first into the Rhino's and only target the Landraider when the Rhinos are down.

I've been guilty of this mistake before and spreading your firepower weakens your army.

NockerGeek said...

My issue with doing this with a mobile list is that I don't use a static firebase if I can avoid it. I like to move my forces in opposite directions, so that my opponent has to split his attention and can't keep all the same side facing at me. Blocking with Piranhas still works with this plan, and using the drones off of vehicles works because they're very mobile. Kroot, though, just don't seem as good a fit for that style, mostly because they can't keep up; it seems like using them forces the player to adopt a more static style or lose the benefit from the wall (especially if the Kroot have to go to ground to survive shooting). How have you found them to work with a more mobile list, or do they?

NockerGeek said...

@Marshal Wilhelm: I don't think it's a matter of "anti-Kroot prejudice", other than perhaps that Kroot have never been part of a Mechanized Tau army. If you enjoy playing MechTau, being told that you must now include Kroot because "it's the only way to play Tau" is a bit off-putting. It's jarring to suddenly have your preferred playstyle declared "non-competitive", which is effectively a synonym for "inferior/not worth playing or discussing".

ehemkeh said...

Nice description and diagrams as always!

I'll be honest, when I play my Tau and see mechanized marines, I don't worry so much. I really need help against mechanized IG and monster farm nids. I cannot seem to beat either right now.

Pete W said...

My target priority comment I made to OSH at one stage while we were playing was to use railguns on rhinos if facing a mechanised assault army.

If you hit, you will always do something to AV11 and always penetrate if you get a side shot. Yes the missile pods can do the same but the reliability of mech dismantlement but railguns is very nice indeed.

Either hit the Land Raiders with Piranha meltas or wait until turn 2 to send a few railgun slugs their way.

Great post btw OSH.

Rkik said...

Nice overview.

I have two questions, though. The first is a rules question. According to the rulebook, passengers cannot disembark from a transport if it moved flat out, or is going to move flat out in that movement phase. Can Tau Drones detach from a Piranha and then have the Piranha move flat out on the same turn? According to the rules, I wouldn't think so, but I've seen more than a few people suggest this kind of thing as a tactic.

Second questions deals with Orks and Deffrollas. One of my more frequent and difficult opponents plays Orks and runs Battlewagons with Deffrollas. How do you stop them from crashing into your lines? I know Piranhas can dodge the ram, but the rules aren't clear on whether that stops the Battlewagon from moving on. And Kroot just get rolled over by the roller. Any suggestions?


Old Shatter Hands said...

@rkik, you're right, you can't diembark after going flat out, but you can do so before going flat out. In this scenario, I actually imagined that the drones could come from either devilfish that are held within the firebase or from the piranhas before they moved flat out.

On to deathrollas, the bane of space marine armies but a big joke to tau armies. Because of the wide front of a piranha and the long and narrow shape of a battlewaagon, it really only takes two piranhas to block in a battlewagon so it has to go backwards before it can go forwards, lol! If he tries to ram the pirahnas, you get a 3+ save versus the ram, and then the battlewagon has to stop 1 inch from the piranha, mwahahahah. He can't move through your piranhas at all. It's actually clearly stated in the rules under ramming. check 'em out.

@nocker, I'm going to have to see how kroot could work in a mobile list. They'd have to use the run rule a lot that's for sure. I could still see kroot being used in a mobile list though, they would simply follow up from the piranhas to help make the enemy get bogged down in the center of the board.

@suneokun, I've got to admit mech guard give me some trouble. I've played mech guard quite a bit and it seems to be a game of -shoot the vendettas till their dead or can't shoot, block the chimeras till their dead but then focus on killing the infantry that pour out quickly as they frequently carry 3 meltaguns or more. It's tough but they still want to rush your lines so the tactics remain by-and-large the same.

Notes about flankers and behind enemy lines to come along with the guide for kroot...

Marshall, I must admit, I played without kroot for a while, and recently decided they are a MUST! Their statlines might suck but they're very valuable in a tau force.

NockerGeek said...

Actually, you can't disembark before going flat-out, either (p.70, under "Fast Transport Vehicles"). If you plan on disembarking drones, 12" is your movement limit. Your best bet is to turbo-boost the Piranhas on turn 1, then once they're in place drop the drones behind them on turn 2.

Anonymous said...

Actually, you cannot drop drones if the piranha is GOING to move flat out the same turn, or are you talking about releasing the drones turn 1 and boosting the piranahs turn 2?

Old Shatter Hands said...

Yarg! plans foiled. Just kidding. Well, certainly you'll want to drop your drones turn 2, but in turn 1 you're going to need to get some drones out there so drop them from your devilfish for sure. Alternatively, you can send out 2 piranhas to block, and have another trailing behind not going flat out so it can drop some drones...wait you only have 2 piranhas??? foolish mortal.

Heretic said...

OSH, you may have just revived my cadre. I'm really liking my mechanized Eldar army, but getting back to the fire base idea of tau instead of running around 48 fire warriors in kitted out devilfish, seems to be a lot more of a fun idea. I'm loving the idea of having twin-linked railguns pounding rhinos and then a land raider. So much fun, so little worry!

Anonymous said...

I've looked at various lists and such and I'm close to finalizing my own, but I've got a pretty noobish question...

How do Shield Drones work (namely in a 2 man squad of XV-88s)? I understand they have a 4+ Invul, but what are their other pluses (if any)?

DavePak said...

Thanks for the post, and especially thank you for the diagrams.

Sadly, few opponents of mine group up like that to make it easy for my piranhas to block them so easily.

Or the land raider just shoots them, causing them to explode....

Also, the kroot, and other blockers...aren't they giving cover saves to what you are shooting at?
Or is it the fact that the vehicles are not more than 50% blocked?

Please help me with that part...I think I get screening, but it seems I might be giving a lot of cover saves...


Sholto said...

A very good guide, OSH, and this is pretty much SOP for my non-Named Character Tau list.

I have to put myself in the Marine's shoes, however. Facing that many rail guns and missile pods, he will probably not come at you in a broad front. If I were him, I would have the Land Raider in the front, and the Rhinos in a nose-to-tail convoy behind it. The LR will be side on, making it easily able to hide the Rhinos. If all the Tau guns are in one place, some will not even get a glimpse of Rhino side armour. The ones that do will be facing a 3+ cover save. And the Rhinos will have smoke left for Turn 2. Your MP are useless against the LR, obviously, so the Rhinos are pretty safe until he can pop the Piranha with his support elements. Alternatively, he could disembark the Land Raider to multi-assault the Piranhas and drones. They are probably elite combat troops, but against Tau ANY combat troops are elite combat troops, so he's not losing anything by exposing them to your guns and, frankly, if you shoot at the LR contents and not at the untouched Rhinos, you are going to be in trouble. Once your vehicle blockers are gone, he tanks shocks his Rhinos into your lines and whatever is inside will eat the Tau up - even the contents of the Rhino's complimentary fridge would fancy their chances.

I am not saying this is not the right thing for Tau to do, but I am saying that other players are going to wise up to up these tactics and we need to be ready for when they do. So, if the enemy does set up an AV14 hardpoint convoy, what do you do?

Old Shatter Hands said...

@sholto, there is always a counter to the counter. If he chooses to come at me, with all his rhinos hiding behind the land raider, hoooray! AV 14 convoys are still blocked by piranhas. IN your scenario, he's actually made himself that much easier to defeat. You set up a blocking line with your piranhas, and shoot your railguns at his land raider. If you wreck the land raider, now there is a big piece of difficult terrain he has to roll through. But whether it's destroyed or not doesn't matter because you've set it up so he can't move any closer next turn. Sure his guys get out attack and blow up the piranhas but thats in the shooting and assault phase. He can do nothing in his movement phase that gets him closer. It's important to keep a piranha or two back (i'd advocate at least 2 units of 2 piranhas in each army) so that you can piranha block two turns.
You need multiple units of piranhas to be successful with this tactic.

My list runs 3 piranhas as there own units so this tactic, but I also usually set up two fire bases in either corner which works great! (I think that will be my next post)
Focus on what YOU can do with movement to ruin his plans and you'll be fine.

Old Shatter Hands said...

Dave Pak, Cover saves aren't a huge issue from your screen as battlesuits can see over kroot. They are taller than them and generally the enemy isn't obscured by the kroot. The piranhas though will do that a lot, but it's likely he's popped smoke so it's going to get a cover save anyway.

The Fabulous Orcboy said...

@Cover saves: if this really bothers Tau players, that's what Pathfinders are for.

@Kroot in "mobile" Tau armies: a mobile Tau army without opponent move-blockers is a dead Tau army. And in a mobile Tau army, the Kroot have two uses that make them superior to fielding "just" Piranhas (and/or Devilfish, etc):

(a) they are great deep-striker bubble-wrap. Hard to get within 6" of a vehicle with a melta if your cheap-a$$ Kroot are screening your mobile stuff.

(b) they are great infiltration/denial units. Infiltrate forward. If the Land Raider spews Termies into them, the Tau are happy, because the Termies are now a turn or two from assaulting the rest of your army. If the Land Raider tank-shocks, the Kroot block all the doors -- more win. If the Land Raider goes around -- more win again.

Marshal Wilhelm said...

Shield drones use the cover save of the unit [hence why they are good from Broadsides] as well as having the 4++ save.

How do your foes come at you?
In Spearhead deployment, if his guys are not as far forwards as possible [which means he'll be in the centre] he is further away and therefore take longer to get towards you.... this is also good :D
If you deploy 2nd in DoW or PB set ups, you deploy in a corner away from the main clump of his forces. If his men are just strung out across the TT, even better. That means you don't really need to use blocking as he is coming piecemeal and you can focus fire on a few transports each turn and not be worried about the others hitting your line.
If some of his forces are strung out [but not all over the TT], no worries, you just focus on the threat and take them out.
Piranha and Kroot do not have to *stop* the enemy forces, though it is ideal if they do. All they need to do is disrupt them and then the rest of your force targets those who have gotten through the net ;)

The thing that really deserves Piranha attention is the LR. Park them near it, fire MELTA shots at the thing and in your foes turn, he has to drive a-r-o-u-n-d the Piranha before he can shoot it. You have already set back his charge one turn [if you haven't done anything with the MELTA shot]. If the Piranha dies then and there, so be it. Another turn's worth of Tau shooting is worth 70ish points :D

Marshal Wilhelm said...

Nocker Geek:

I know what you mean but for me if I go to the trouble of heading out to the club, I want to be able to make the best fist of it I can.
My first games of Templars [against my brother's Orks] were with Foot Templar. I had no transports and had no intention of using them either [the rules for them always seemed quite fussy and so I didn't bother once I started my own army]
I went onto B&C, BoLS and YTTH and found out the "Mech is King". With some many saying so I decided to give it a go. I started playing at some clubs and won all my games with them, some bigger wins than others. I even included a Razorback [those tanks that were too Red back in the day!] and enjoyed the thing.
Hmm, Mech is good? By proof of my actions I saw it for myself.

Before I decided on playing Templars, I had always used C:DA whilst using my brother's Marines. All those restrictions [no Devs, no WW, no Libs, etc.] that the BT force on the player is annoying. I nearly always included those units - lol.

What I am trying to say with my anecdotes is this: I had a playstyle that was mine and I also didn't like transports. My playstyle gets turned upside down when I decide to play Templars [which was partly due to the modelling potential of them] and though I had won more of my games against my brother, even the way I was playing with them was seen to be inferior by the Net. I was never confronted by someone saying "Foot iz fail" but I saw that it was in fact a 2nd rate way of playing.
Once I took on board the Mech message, I kept up my winning streak.

I never had the attachment to Mech Tau like you do [philosophically, fluffily, etc] but I did have my way of fighting. That was junked with BT. Then after being successful against my brother, that playstyle was junked too.
I kept changing to suit the edition.
I used to play Warhammer WW1 with both sides lined up and pewpewing one another. The game changed and because I enjoy winning and am not enshrining anything [these days] as "the way I want to play", I changed too.

People get stuck in a moment. You see it with people listening to radio stations playing the music they grew up with, people wanting unit x included or omitted from the latest Codex, etc. I have chosen to not be idealistic. I hate Guard having flyers whilst Marines and Tau do not. Guard are slow and heavy!!! But it is there and I will just have to deal with it.

If you are happy with how much you win and are more happy playing without Kroot, keep doing so. If you find yourself struggling to win, try a new recipe ;)

Marshal Wilhelm said...

If your foe lines up in a conga line, you are even better off.
Less turns of shooting [because they are hidden] versus him being further away [behind the LR] ends up being the same.
This allows you to focus ALL your RG on the LR *and* move-block it with the Piranhas, whilst the Rhinos are a turn behind. Nice.
That will then create blockages as the LR goes around the Piranhas and then stop the Rhinos from gaining much ground this turn [if they want to remain hidden] or becoming exposed....

Normal setup: Rhinos 12" from midpoint of TT
T1 12" + smoke.
T2 12" = 24" or 12" onto Tau side.
Conga setup: Rhinos at least 19" from midpoint [LR is 7" long]
T1 12"
T2 12" smoke [driving past LR.... somehow] or 5" onto Tau side.... that 7" difference is a turns worth of movement they cannot regain....
If theRhinos do not drive around the LR, that is another turn of 12" movement that they lose, again!

When ever I am presented with something *new* or alternative, I set up the models and do a dry run of it all. I did it to get Wound Allocation shenanigans and Deep Strike probabilities.
I think it would help for you to compare the normal vs conga line deployment method :D

What you are talking about will only happen if you build 1 fire base *and* refuse to move you Crisis suits and Railheads sideways to expose side shots.

Inquisitor M said...

wow this is just a another great article showing all the basics of these tactics. commander pure tide would be proud for sure

Antisocialnerd said...

Hey can broadsides see over tau sniper drones as i was hoping to set up a firebase with them out in front to get the cover save and they would be ok with their stealth fields is it possible?

Marshal Wilhelm said...

I do not have Sniper drone models, but would guess they are the same as other drones in terms of height.
I think drones are about chest-to-chin height on a Suit.
They would be giving cover to infantry. Perhaps not giving 50% cover to Vehicles though ~ you'll have to get out your minis and eye-ball it:D

I cannot remember where, and could even be wrong, but if someone cannot see a 'stealthed' unit, they are effectively not there and so cannot give a cover save to the Broadsides. If they can see the 'stealthed' unit, then cover saves are given.

Broadsides can see over Kroot ^^,


Something I have just thought of ~ perhaps good and perhaps situational.

3 Broadsides. 15 Kroot. Kroot form a ring around the Broadsides but have the majority of the Kroot behind the BS.
Kroot give cover to BS. BS give cover to Kroot as 50% of the Kroot are in cover.
BBB pg 22/3

That will give your Kroot *better* saves than Fire Warriors and mean that the BS will have a 4++ against better than ap3 shooting.
Shield drones only last so long you know!

I know Blast weapons make this not a universal application but not everyone brings them....
What do people think of that?

Then when the baddies get too close, engage them with the Kroot ;)
BA Vanguard won't be able to assault your BS on the drop either ;)

Antisocialnerd said...

oh ok thanks for the help

JRV said...

Hi, just found this blog, great blog and great article. I'm a long time Tau player and still find that people are fighting the idea of the kroot. (some 3mos later? =)

What people dont understand is that kroot have a 3+ save. 4+ for cover and gtg nets +1.

Richard Erwin said...

Question: If you block in a Rhino or Land Raider with two Piranha, won't you be giving the tank a 4+ Hull Down cover save from your Broadside Shots? Is this delay worth the 50% chance of shooting failure?

Richard Erwin said...

Just to be the be the one dissenter on this blog, I use deep striking often. I equip my general with the Positional Relay and drop in a two or three man crisis team with twin linked fusion blasters and target array. Very seldom do I get within 6" but that is irrelevant, as long as I am shooting at side or rear armor. Against a Predator's side armor, at greater than 6", there is a 61% chance per model of a +1 penetrating hit. Then in the assault phase you move 6" AWAY from your fire base. Now your opponent has to move away from your base to kill them or waste a turn shooting in the wrong direction. And don't forget the psychological effect of those three Crisis suits in reserve. I've seen some opponents do some wacky deployments and moves to keep me from Deep Striking behind their vehicles. To quote Tom Hanks "They just didn't want to give up those 88s."

Old Shatter Hands said...


question:If you block in a Rhino or Land Raider with two Piranha, won't you be giving the tank a 4+ Hull Down cover save from your Broadside Shots?

Answer: Depends on how you position your piranhas. You can cleverly set it up so they are blocked but are not 50% obscured.

Question: Is this delay worth the 50% chance of shooting failure?

Answer: In opinion, yes. It's better to delay an advance and risk a shooting failure than to not delay an advance and still risk a shooting failure. plus you can use pathfinders to deny the cover save.

Blocking is important to do because it allows you to protect your lines, even if your shooting is unsuccessful or completely whiffs.

Old Shatter Hands said...


Hey if deep striking works for you, by all means, do it!

I had a great time at recent tourney deep-striking my suits onto a squad of guardians in cover, roasting them alive with my flamers!
That pathie devilfish really helped get me spot on, too.