Monday, September 14, 2009

Tau Crisis Suits, Tactics, and You

After some practical experience, I've collected my thoughts on the workhorse unit of the Tau army. I'll start with the XV-8 suit itself, then move to the weapon and support options, and finally the combination of these and their employment on the field.

The XV-8 Crisis Suit
The Crisis suit is, surprise, a ranged combatant. You get the typical Tau BS3. It is reasonably durable, with T4, two wounds, and a 3+ armor save. Its best defense against assault is to stay out of it; a base WS2, S5, 2 attacks, and I2 are not that hot. You might survive against non-melee-oriented folks like Guardsmen, and you might even get lucky and punch out a vehicle. However, if you're doing any of these, chances are things have gone to hell. Ld8 is also a bit average.

The Crisis Suit is, however, much more mobile than most other foot units. It is jet pack jump infantry. This means you can get a 6" move in the movement phase, then jump back 6" during the assault phase. You also are Relentless, which mostly comes into play for the one rapid-fire weapon in the suit's arsenal (though I hear some of the Forge World variants have heavy weapons, so...yeah). If you need to get some place in a pinch, you can get 12+d6 inches in a turn, but you only get the d6 if you forsake your mission of shooting something to death. The downside? You flee 3d6 inches.

On The Basic Suit
What does this mean to you? The Crisis Suit can take some small arms fire, but is at its most useful (and annoying to the enemy) when it can use cover to deny LOS and exasperate the enemy. It also means you're better off giving ground to the enemy.

Staying Alive
The biggest worry for Suits is the Instant Death weapon that can reach them. S8, AP3 weapons are suit-killers. Examples include: missile launchers, battle cannons, larger indirect-fire artillery...if the enemy has these, you must stay out of LOS. Hide behind vehicles if you have them, or buildings if you don't. If there are things like Russes or other huge pie-plate tossers, kill them. I mean, honestly, battle cannons don't do anything good for you when they're across the table lobbing shells at you. In the mean time, use area terrain if you can't get out of LOS. Walk out, shoot, jump back in and just choke up the dangerous terrain tests. It's not perfect, but it's what you've got against those things.

You also have the ability to Deep Strike**, and you get Acute Senses. Big whoop on both these; one's a good way to lose suits and the other is a 'neat to have' thing, but far from essential.

Battlesuit Options: Guns and Supporting Stuff
Crisis Suits are heavily customizable, and to be honest this was the most daunting part about them when I sat down to look at Tau in-depth. Crisis Suits have no gear; they start with 3 'hard points' that you must fill. You may fill a hardpoint in three ways:

1) Single Weapon System
2) Single support system
3) twin-linked weapon system (takes 2 hardpoints)

Those with access to the armory (read: 5pt upgrade to one guy in the unit, or commanders) can take support systems as 'hardwired', which is to say they don't take up a hardpoint. So, what have we got for options?

Flamer: bog-standard S4, AP5 template weapon
Fusion Blaster: S8, AP1 Melta, 12" range. Single shot. Your average meltagun.
Burst Cannon: S5, Assault 3, 18" range. AP5, for all it matters.
Plasma Rifle: S6, AP2, 24" rapid-fire gun.
Missile Pod: 36", S7, AP4, Assault 2

Note that the Crisis Suit is the only place to get flamers, plasma rifles, and missile pods in the Tau army.

Battlesuit Support Systems*
Advanced Stabilization System: gain slow 'n' purposeful
Blacksun Filter: Double your nightfighting spotting distance
Drone Controller: ...hey, take some drones.
Multi-tracker: may fire 2 weapons. Yes, 2. Yes, it's cool.
Shield Generator: get a 4+ invulnerable save
Target Lock: Guy with it gets to shoot at a different target than the unit.
Targeting Array: Gain +1 BS

The most useful of these is by far the Multi-tracker. If you were asking 'but why take two weapons when I can only fire one?' then this is your answer. The Drone Controller is self-explanatory, though often better-suited for commanders. The Target Lock isn't much use since the team should really be homogenous and firing on the same thing. The Targeting Array is neat, BUT uses up a hardpoint you'd want for weapons and/or a multi-tracker. The Shield Generator is 'eh', if you really want extra durability then take a Drone Controller and Shield Drones. You should have no need for the Advanced Stabilization System.

*You'll note none of the special-issue gear is mentioned. If there is interest, I'll follow up on it in another post. This is about the bog-standard XV-8's; not the commander and such. I also don't rate the special-issue gear as that useful, since they're all one-offs.

Battlesuit Wargear
Bonding Knife: may regroup below half-strength
Various Drones: Gun, shield, marker
-Black Sun Filter
-Drone Controller
-Target Lock

Basically, the 'wargear' covers Drones, hard-wired gear, and the bonding knife. The bonding knife is cheap, but honestly, suits have a decent chance of running off if they fall back. Kind of hard to regroup off the board, yes? Plus, to get it you must take a team leader upgrade, so the real cost is 10 points. Wound allocation options are there, but most people who do get shots at your XV-8s would probably rather just see them dead.

Equipping Your Battlesuits
We need to look at all that's available to the Tau army before we can truly appreciate how much utility we can get out of this army. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but a basic run-down of what shooting the army can get, and where.

Kroot shooting/melee
Stealth Suit Burst Cannons
Devilfish (assuming smart missile system upgrade)
Fire Warriors (assuming they're out and shooting)
Broadside smart missile systems
Hammerhead rail gun submunitions

What's all that have in common? It's pretty much all S5, AP5 beyond the Kroot (S4, AP6) and the Hammerhead (S6, AP4).

Stealth Suit Fusion Blasters (if you can actually hoof it there)
Piranha Fusion Blasters (can actually GET IN RANGE)
Broadside rail guns
Hammerhead Rail Guns
Skyray Seeker Missiles (if you think S8 will do it...)

The reliable anti-tank comes in the form of the rail gun: S10, AP1, range: long. I don't count the Skyray as reliable. Know how many of those Seeker Missiles you'll need to take out a Rhino on average? (I'll count Immobilized, since it's 'good enough' early on) Five. BS5, S8, vs AV11 scores 0.2083 'kills' for our purposes.

So, bottom line: most gunfire in a Tau army is S5, or S10. You could theoretically bring nine rail guns, but that involves bringing three Broadside teams, and most people will bring at least one Hammerhead. Most folks, then, will have about 3-5 Rail Guns in an army, which means the rest of your guns are S5 unless you roll out Piranhas. How do we solve this quandry?

Use Missile Pods
Pretty much every battlesuit should mount a missile pod. It's simply a versatile weapon. S7, two shots, 36" range? It can harass light armor, which means you can fire them first and see if you stop the rushing transports. It can also wound most anything; infantry take it on a 2+, T3 stuff insta-dies on failed saves, and monstrous creatures worry about it.

Bottom line? The Missile Pod fills a crucial gap in your Tau army. Take battlesuits, get missile pods on them.

What else should we use?
Note that there are two other battlesuit-only weapons: flamers and plasma rifles. I have one piece of advice for you: don't take the flamers.

Why Not Flamers?
Part one of the answer is 'Because you should be at long range.' Flamer range means staring down an assault next turn. If you need flamers to really, really work, there's a decent chance you'll still face assault. You should ideally have some kind of assault screen, be it Kroot-shields, or just Devilfish/Piranhas (with flechette dischargers for the nutters). Flamers may be cheap, but you'll either never use them, or use them and get assaulted anyway.

In a pinch, markerlights can strip away cover saves (or at least lower them) and you can simply shoot at someone else. Flamers are huge for denying cover saves and hitting tightly-packed enemies. You can use markerlights to deny cover saves, and even use markerlights and Hammerhead railgun submunitions to do BOTH at up to 36" away without risking an assault on your suits.

The Plasma Rifle, and its unloved sibling the Burst Cannon
I'm a fan of the plasma rifle for your second weapon. Why? A few reasons. It's one of the two weapons in the whole codex that can get rid of armor saves. I mean, if you want to hunt people with rail guns, I endorse that, but it's not necessarily efficient and you can't very well take trophies from their remains. The kroot can't even find enough to eat.

Gory digression aside, the plasma rifle can pull light anti-armor duty. That's not a big selling point, though. The big selling point is its point-defense and anti-infantry capabilities. Wounds infantry on a 2+, and reduces high-end, costly armor to cover saves. It competes with the Burst Cannon for this job, though. Here are numbers for your consideration:

Assumptions: 3-suit team, no markerlight love.

3 Burst Cannons = 9 shots at 18", 4.5 hits on average.
Vs T6: 1.5 wounds; 0.5 stick after saves.
Vs T5: 2.25 wounds; chances are there's a 3+ save involved so 0.75 wounds.
Vs T4: 3 wounds; if it's a 3+ save you get one, if it's a cover save you get 1.5 kills.
Vs T3: 3.75 wounds; likely 4+ save so you get 1.875 kills

3 Plasma Rifles outside of rapid-fire range = 1.5 hits.
Vs T6: 0.75 wounds; usually no saves.
Vs T5: 1 wound; cover saves if applicable reduce to 0.5 wounds
Vs T4: 1.25 wounds; 0.625 if cover saves apply
Vs T3: 1.25 wounds; 0.625 if cover saves apply

3 Plasma-Rifles in Rapid-Fire Range = 3 hits
Vs T6: 1.5 wounds; usually no saves. PAIN
Vs T5: 2 wounds; cover saves reduce to 1
Vs T4: 2.5 wounds; 1.25 if you have cover
Vs T3: 2.5 wounds; 1.25 if you have cover

We can take from this:
1) Against infantry between 18-13", the Burst Cannon wins
2) In rapid-fire range, the plasma gun wins
3) Against better-armored enemies and folks with Feel No Pain, the plasma wins
4) Against light armor, the plasma gun wins

Note that the Burst Cannon is a bit cheaper than the rifle. Note also at 19-24 inches, the plasma gun is superior because...the burst cannon has an 18" range. You also get to start shooting a bit before, and don't have to stay as close with the rifle. If something nasty does get close, though, the plasma guns can do a number on it. Power armor and terminator armor hates the plasma rifle.

Plus, recall that most of your other anti-infantry fire is S5, AP5, or S6 AP4. Recall also that you can strip cover away from enemies. Even one markerlight can force the enemy to take a 5+ save against plasma fire, which is sweet if it's a marine or terminator.

Sample Configurations
Note that these configurations are the cost for a single suit, and you can have 1-3 in a unit.

Plasma Rifle, Missile Pod, Multi-Tracker (62 points)
This is your swiss army configuration. You have the missile pod for light-weight anti-armor duty, and everything functions as an infantry killer. You are more dangerous as the enemy closes. As a con, it is a bit on the pricy side for suit configs, but you get what you pay for in its ability to address most any threat.

Burst Cannon, Missile Pod, Multi-Tracker (50 points)
You're twelve points cheaper when you drop the plasma gun for the burst cannon. You lose some utility against armored troops, monstrous creatures, and folks with Feel No Pain. You keep the utility of the missile pod, and are decent enough against infantry if you can stay 18" from them. However, this runs the risk of getting off few shots against beasts.

Twin-linked missile pod, Flamer (47 points)
This one is meant to be cheaper. It takes the missile pod and twin-links the thing for maximum hits. It takes a flamer because once you twin-link a weapon, you commit to mutually exclusive sets of weapons since you're only shooting one. I suppose you could go with a Fusion Blaster, but that's more expensive.

Twin-linked Fusion Blaster, Shield Generator (63 points)
This suit really, really wants to deep strike**. It's meant to fall in, shoot something important with an armor value, and then die. The shield generator is all the insurance you'll get against an enemy that doesn't want you to get a second chance.

Fusion Blaster, Flamer, Target Array (51 points)
This is the swiss-army deep strike** suit. It can burn OR try to crater a vehicle, if it can only land on target...

Drones in Crisis Suit Teams
Drones are a potential addition to the team. I suggest taking the Drone Controller with a Suit Leader; just pay the +5 points to get armory access. Another 5 points for the statline gets you no leadership, durability, or BS buffs, so skip that.

There's no real point in Gun Drones in a suit team. The twin-linked BS2 pulse carbine is 'bleh', and adds little but a wound marker. If you lose both gun drones, you get a morale check, same as if you took 2 wounds and lost a suit.

If you want drones for durability, get shield drones and pawn off the instant-death wounds to them. Note, though, that a character with shield drones adds 35 points to the squad. Durability, yes, but you might be able to use those points elsewhere.

Alternatively, you could use Marker Drones. Note, though, that they're 30 points a pop; you can get BS3 markerlights plenty of places. Marker Drones are not the most points-effective place to get markerlights, but if you want to try it, be my guest. Just note that you can get 5 pathfinders for the price of two drones, which is a heap more lights. Plus, it makes the enemy focus on either your guns or your markerlights; he can't conveniently KO both in the same unit.

The final drone reminder is that if you lose the guy with the drone controller, you lose all the drones.

Varying Suit Loadouts for Wound Allocation Shenanigans
Can you do it? Sure can. Is it a good idea? Not really. I mean, they should all have missile pods, but past that you're asking to make the unit less focused. Let's say you have a Leader with missile/plasma/tracker, a regular guy with missile/plasma/tracker, and the third guy gets missile...and what? Can't do plasma. You could twin-link his missile pod and give him a flamer, but you'll never want to use that flamer. Could get a burst cannon, but it's still sub-par for purposes of focus.

And trying anything else? You can very readily come up with some silly combinations, but not so much on something that's focused. It's not like Nobs, where you can readily kit every guy out differently and STILL not lose your actual focus.

Suits in Summation
To be frank, Crisis Suits are the swiss army knife/workhorse unit of the Tau Codex. They can fill the gap for middle-weight fire, and use their mobility to survive. They can take a little fire, but not much, and can assault...kind of. Not really. I mean, if those 2-3 guardsmen still have a melta and are within 6", go kick their face in and get out of combat that round, maybe. If not? Just don't try to go be a hero with your S5 and T4. It's not gonna end well for you.

So, use them where they shine. Bring them to add some critical capabilities to your army. Rain missiles down on the other guy, and kill his middleweight armor, monstrous creatures, and infantry with them. About the only thing Crisis Suits can't be made to handle reliably is heavy armor. This is due largely to their inability to reliably bring a fusion gun to bear. I mean, sheesh, you're Tau, you have Rail Guns, use THOSE to crack vehicles.

I'm a firm believer in the missile/plasma/tracker config. At 1850, I run a full Elites compliment of 3 teams of 3, and at 1500 have scaled it down to 2x3 teams. They just have a lot uses.

As usual, I'm more than open to feedback. This borrows from a previous post, though made to apply to the Crisis Suit and their use.

**Why not deep strike?
Short answer: You'd deep-strike to bring short-ranged weapons to bear; this means the flamer or the fusion blaster. Both of these benefit from very, VERY precise placement. You could suicide a small squad or single suit with them, but bear in mind that at BEST, you have a 50% chance of getting on target, which is striking in LOS of a Pathfinder squad's Devilfish to get the re-roll on the scatter dice. Otherwise, you're handing over a kill point and wasting a suit, AND playing the odds that the reserve dice like you this game. That's a lot of 'ifs' on something that can produce more reliable results.


Sholto said...

A solid review of the options, and I entirely agree with the Fireknife being the default workhorse of any Tau army. Paired with Pathfinders it is nasty.

I like to take a unit of three and attach a couple of Shas'els with 6 shield drones for durability. Markerlight a target and this unit turns into a kill-switch.

You can get plasma on Broadsides. It actually makes a sort of sense, since it gives them a weapon they can move and shoot without ASS.

Mik said...

Love the write-up, very solid. Missile pods are a must, they're just too good, and when facing a lot of marine armies, those Plasma Rifles are wonderful especially since they don't "get hot"!

SpartanTau said...

Just for clarification, Crisis Suits can move and fire Heavy Weaponry, as their Jetpack grant them Relentless. Since the codex stipulation states that "they must remain stationary" and Relentless says they "count as stationary," we're all set here. Of course, in our current codex, this doesn't matter at all; when you start using Forgeworld variants, however, it does come into play.

Otherwise, great basic write-up on the Crisis Suits.

Raptor1313 said...

I missed that bit, but it explains it more succinctly than I did. I'm unfamiliar with the Forge World suits other than how they look.

I prefer the ASS on the Broadsides. Lets me relocate AND shoot the big guns, since otherwise the enemy can try to gyp me out of a turn of shooting. The Stabilization System says 'don't even try.' I'd rather just use the 10 points on the twin-linked plasma for the ASS, and then in a pinch I can still move and kick out a larger volley from the Smart Missile System.

Dverning said...

A good write up and clear logic. I was a big fan the the mpod/plas/multi XV8's myself... then I got bored with Tau as they played too similar to my Eldar.

One item I'd add to drones: They add to your total squad size. This can be a problem when determining casualties due to shooting and subsequent Ld checks. There's nothing more annoying that watching 2 shield drones fail 4++ saves and cause your 3 unharmed XV8s break and run off the field.