If you haven’t had a chance to listen, my first podcast appearance is available for download now. About 38 minutes in, Tim (“ThatDamnPunk”, or just “Punk”) talks briefly about his basic strategy with his Blood Angels: pin his enemy into a corner. Late Saturday night, we tried just that scenario out, as I ran my Tau against him. Our mission/deployment? Annihilation/Spearhead. We only managed to get two and a half turns in before we had to call the game on time, but the first two turns were the key to the game, and what happened is making me re-evaluate how I deploy my army, especially in Spearhead.
First, let me just say that Spearhead is my least favorite of the three standard deployment types. The deployment area is the smallest, and my opponent is closer than in any other deployment style. With 5th Edition’s strong support of assault armies, this is that much more dangerous for me. Invariably, my army ends up being plastered along the very back corner to try to maximize my distance from my opponent’s army. Hopefully, this can buy me a turn or two of firing and maneuvering out of the corner, splitting my army to attempt to pincer the enemy between two firing lanes. I can relieve the clutter in deployment by putting some things in reserve, such as my Fire Warriors. However, while this does allow me to deploy them later outside of the box, it takes away their firepower, weakening my first-turn “alpha strike” capability. This hurt me in my tournament earlier this year, when I faced Dark Eldar. Had I left the Fire Warriors on the field in deployment, their fire would have likely brought down a number of Raiders, but by putting them in reserves, I just left them to come on piecemeal and get taken apart by the oncoming horde.
Against Tim’s Blood Angels, though, even this Alpha Strike plan didn’t work. He went first (with me failing to seize the initiative), and proceeded to, well, pin me in the corner. Between his Baal Predators rushing me with 30″ of movement (a 18″ flat out Scout move, plus 12″ of normal movement), and dropping two of his three drop pods right in my deployment area (each of which contained a Furioso Dreadnought and a Locator Beacon), he boxed me in and opened fire. Before I could even take a turn, I was down a Piranha and a Hammerhead, and my avenues for movement were highly restricted. I was able to get a bit of revenge on my turn, though. A combination of markerlight and railgun fire brought down one of the Predators, and I was able to remove the melta from one of the Furiosos. My Crisis Suits were able to start moving out a bit, but quarters were still a bit tight.
Turn two saw two of his Assault Squads deep-striking in, but because of the scattered units in and around the drop pod locations, denying him the use of his Locator Beacons. Still, he was able to drop one squad just behind my Crisis Suits, winning the gamble that he wouldn’t scatter. He proceeded to disarm my remaining Piranha, kill one of my Deathrains, and slaughter my Pathfinders in assault with a Furioso. Thankfully, the crater left from the Hammerhead I’d lost slowed down his other Furioso, keeping it out of assault with my Fireknives. In response, I had two squads of Fire Warriors come in around the middle of my board edge, and I opened fire on his forces with what I had left. A railgun round destroyed a Dreadnought, my remaining Deathrain disarmed his remaining Predator, and my Fireknives and Commander whittled away half of one of his Assault Squads.
However, even with the injuries I’d dealt him, it just wasn’t proving enough to stop him. His third turn (the last turn we played) saw his Librarian and Honor Guard dropping in near my Fire Warriors, my last Deathrain eliminated by an untouched Assault Squad, and my Fireknives caught in a pincer assault between his remaining Dreadnought and the remnants of his other Assault Squad. I was quickly running out of firepower, and once again, massed pulse rifle fire from my Fire Warriors had not made any scratches in a unit with Sanguinary Priests. At that point, we called the game, extrapolating out that while I might be able to bloody him some more, he definitely had the upper hand.
Clearly, this game was lost for me in the first turn. Even with what casualties I was able to inflict in return, I could not overcome the momentum of that initial tank/pod rush. The Alpha Strike strategy doesn’t work if you don’t get the first turn, and even if I had, what would I have had to shoot at? Two Baal Predators, and that’s all. My best bet would have been to leave the corner entirely and avoid getting boxed in. As more and more armies get solid fast/deep-striking options, I’m beginning to really question whether or not I should deploy at all. To paraphrase Monty Python, the first lesson of not being seen is not to stand up. If I don’t want to be targetted, I shouldn’t present one in the first place.
This brings me to the Null Deployment idea. Should I, instead, deploy as little as possible on the table? One strategy that got some traction in Tau circles shortly after 5th Edition was released was the Ninja Tau plan. This involved using a Shas’O Commander with a Positional Relay, usually with a Shield Generator and Shield Drones for maximum survivability. He would avoid fire as long as possible, bringing in one unit a turn to keep the rest of the army off the table until turn 4 or 5, when everything else would sweep in and catch the enemy off-guard in a “Delta Strike” of sorts. There’s something very attractive about this plan. It denies my opponent anything beyond the HQ (and possibly 2 troops in Dawn of War) to target, and neutralizes much of their battle plan. It also negates the “piecemeal army” effect of putting things into reserve, while allowing you to pull out units that can be useful on their own, such as Hammerheads and Broadsides and the like. On the other hand, it’s entirely dependent on the survival of that Shas’O; if he dies, the entire plan falls apart and you’re left with an army that comes out in small, uncontrolled clumps. With all the melta that’s popular in armies today, there are a lot of weapons out there that can easily double-out the Commander with one hit.
The Alpha Strike is too dependent on getting the first turn. The Null Deployment is too dependent on keeping one unit alive for four turns. Is there a middle ground? Perhaps it’s a matter of running a Positional Relay commander with a firebase of some sort, and then bringing in the heavy artillery as needed. It’s more of a Kauyon-style plan, but it might work. I don’t know if I would use Fire Warriors as the firebase, though, especially in any sort of objective-based mission. You need them to be able to grab/contest objectives late in the game. Perhaps it’s a Crisis Suit-based firebase, with Deathrains and Broadsides taking aim at the oncoming enemy while Piranhas, Hammerheads, and Fire Warriors in Devilfish sweep in late in the game. It’s going to take some doing, and more playing and testing, to figure out just the right strategy.