Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Damocles: Mont'ka Part 1 - The Lore (Warhammer 40,000 War Zone Review, 7th Edition)

Serving as the third and perhaps final chapter in the War Zone: Damocles books, Mont'ka is a story which has been coming for many years. For quite a look time we've seen skirmishes, running battles and a few serious engagements against the Tau Empire, but for the most part the Imperium of Man has deemed them a lesser threat in the face of the Hive Fleets or the Despoiler's latest Black Crusade. This time however, in the face of a First Founding Chapter Master's death and their increasingly brazen strikes against major worlds, the Imperium has put together forces to cripple their advance. Bypassing several secondary worlds, the Imperium hopes to crush the ongoing Third Sphere Expansion by exterminating all tau life from the cornerstone of Shadowsun's crusade: Mu'gulath Bay.

As a story this one is problematic to say the least, mostly as it carries over the same basic elements as the last story, but it lacks a few of those strengths and adds a few additional weaknesses. This isn't to say it's bad, and this certainly isn't to say that Mont'ka isn't worth reading, but given it's price you might be left raising an eyebrow at how certain new flaws arise which could have been sidestepped. The experience you're left with is a book which takes one steps forwards, but then five backwards. Now, to be completely fair we'll be looking into the strengths first and how the story shapes up on the whole, but after that we'll be looking into the laundry list of narrative flaws.

The Good

There's no denying that Mont'ka starts out strong, hitting the ground running and quickly moving on from there. While a good four pages or so are spent setting the scene and examining the prior events leading up to this book, it seems that the writers were aware most would be following this storyline tome to tome. As such, there's just about enough there to keep new people up to date and satisfied with the ongoing war, but the rest is quickly spent concentrating upon the impending battle.

Unlike last time, this isn't some trap Shadowsun has laid ready for their arrival or assault force being launched by the Tau Empire. This is the Imperium going on the offensive, and the book emphasizes just how big a threat this is to the Empire's latest Sept World. We get a few brief moments emphaising just how badly the have underestimated the Imperium and there's a few nice moments which shows their differing knowledge. Between the Imperium's casualties and the death of a Chapter Master (who the tau considered to be the king of all space marines, in an oddly nice touch referencing their techno-barbarian nature) the tau considered the Imperium to be a spent force. Because of this, there's a real sense of impending dread as the Imperial fleet drops out of the Warp, with the book focusing upon the sheer scale of the inbound armada. Each and every part comments on how the Imperial forces are preparing against tau tactics, ready to annihilate all resistance in one fell hammerblow, all the while the tau are still celebrating their victory. While it's not completely Pearl Harbour-esque, the Empire's victory speeches and focus upon terraforming a world the Imperium ruined adds a little sympathy to their side. Not much, they are still planet grabbing with-us-or-against-us nutters, but it's enough in the dark world of 40,000 to give a little variation.

In contrast to last time, the actual opening hours of the assault are treated as highly professional attacks and the Imperials hit hard from the start. We see their force emerging rapidly, taking orbital supremacy within hours and using their best elements to quickly gain the upper hand. They have the advantage of surprise and use it to the best of their ability, striking with a speed the tau would not usually associate with Imperial forces. 

Interestingly, Mont'ka doesn't simply forget about the Imperial fleet there and it does take time to address their use in the war. So often in this universe even the great books tend to overlook the use of fleet elements or question why bombardments can't be used to win the whole war. Oh they bombard key positions to be sure, taking out significant ground targets and wiping out key installations. However many areas are simply easier to take via the ground rather than have orbital bombardments wipe them off the face of the planet, which is where the ground forces come in. From there on, the Imperial navy blockades the world, causing the tau no small amount of trouble as their close orbits make life difficult for any potential reinforcements to land on the surface.

The opening section as a whole, right up to the first major ground engagements really serves as the strongest point here, with neither side coming down badly. It's brilliantly juxtaposed against the victory the tau had at the end of Kauyon; showing that for all their efforts they had basically just been poking the proverbial bear until it finally decided to do something about them. Even caught with a relatively minimal military force, the tau do not panic or abruptly flee. Their stations fight in orbit until they are burning wreckage, Shadowsun calmly calculates how long she needs to hold against the humans until the bulk of the tau navy arrives and tries to delay the inevitable. 

The tau fight a series of hit and run attacks, hiding their forces as much as possible to keep the enemy at range and slow them down. This is a major point of tau strategy, and their efforts to slow down their foe by harassing incoming troopships, sniping officers and engaging at maximum range remains a thorn in their side. Despite constantly retreating, they are only doing so after inflicting sizable casualties upon their foe. This actually keeps catching the Imperium off guard at first, even with their heard learned lessons, and it takes some time to gradually force them into open battle. Such acts are usually only accomplished thanks to the astartes, Imperial Guard and Mechanicus (yes, they're in this as well) working in concert, with one acting as the anvil against another force's hammer.

Much of the character development and attention this time has been shifted about. While this sadly pushes Khan and the newly promoted Chapter Master Shrike into the background, it allows for more time to be spent on forces otherwise overlooked. In particular, the Imperial Guard are at the forefront this time, and much of the action is shown through the eyes of their line officers. Rather than simply being ignored or pushed aside, they are instead serving as a key power in this book, and most of the major engagements between the Imperium and the Tau Empire stem from their efforts rather than astartes glory hogs.

It honestly seems as if the writing team wanted to make up for completely overlooking the Imperial Guard at first, as there is a definite effort to push their venerated history and past experiences. While built upon a few key battles and engagements, the sections outlining the structure and history of each Imperial Guard taskforce in turn by focusing upon their glories in a prior battle. While this would usually be a point of criticism, this actually pays off rather well. It honestly gives the writing a great deal of depth by comparison, as merely talking about them squad by squad has seemed rather flat in this book. As such, while it might be focusing upon the people here and now rather than the regiment's long and lauded history, the vivid descriptions of the Guard taking down Ork WAAAGHs! or other threats really brings them to life.

The final serious point in the book's favour stems from the character dynamic between certain groups. While the Imperial force itself is largely bereft of any diplomatic fractures or rivalries, the tau are instead the ones to give a little more insight into this time. Once Farsight shows up - AKA the guy Mont'ka treats as a complete surprise, ignoring that he's on the cover and that it's named after the strategy he mastered - there's obvious tension. This is a renegade who turned on the Empire after all, coming to help stall the invasion and Shadowsun has long been shown to hunger for a reckoning between the two. While sadly not handled quite as well as it could have, Shadowsun herself seems to undergo no small amount of character development thanks to meeting her, and we get a better look into Farsight. Rather than merely being the weapon used to promote hateful fanfiction as canon material (consider this another reminder that Codex: Farsight Enclaves is yet another book which needs to have every copy burned into cinders), Farsight here is presented as an old soldier. Someone tired of the constant fighting, slowly worn away by war, but still driven on by his iron will and sheer brilliant, resilience in the face of all threats.

Unfortunately, it's actually shortly after Farsight jump-kicks his way into the story that things start to unravel. While there had been fractures before that, it's this hammer blow which pushes things over the edge.

The Bad

So, yeah, there's a lot of bad here, and that unfortunately begins with the very concept itself. Now, everyone knew this was coming. The Tau Empire has always been left on a knife edge and their success has been dependent upon being largely ignored by the bulk of the Imperium in favour of more pressing threats. If the Imperium attacked, they were all but dead, if it ignored them, they would become unstoppable, it's simple as that. Well, now the Imperium has attacked with a massive force but it lacks the massive shift you would expect.

While the book comments upon the sheer scale of the invading force, the sheer size overwhelming the initial tau orbital facilities, once things reach the surface things slow down. The battles never really emphasise the sheer size of the attack, they never pause to display how outnumbered the tau themselves are or focus upon how the invasion could strike from anywhere. Instead the Imperial Guard land somewhere, apparently once place with them all there at once, and then start to march across the desert towards a stronghold in the distance. The battle is treated effectively as another Taros, where the Imperium's presence seems to be ridiculously limited and lacks the ability to use multiple landing zones. From there on, the whole war is effectively written as one force making a bee-line towards a single location, without any effort to secure major settlements or any locations in the slightest.

While review might have praised the presentation of the Imperial Guard earlier in how it builds them up, the same sadly cannot be said of how they fight. This is, to be blunt, probably one of the most insulting depictions of the army to date, embodying every fodder cliche imaginable. The Guard here are presented as having three things: Leman Russ battle tanks, a few Super-Heavy variants, and lots of Guardsmen with lasguns. While a few Sentinels or ogryns are mentioned here and there, these are quickly forgotten, and Chimeras only put in a single appearance as a lone burning wreck. Nope, they're not even presented as used even once. Because of this, the reader is repeatedly treated to descriptions of the Guard basically marching through the desert and being killed off by longer range tau weapons. 

There's no effort to mention the obvious additions of artillery, snipers or any army elements which might counteract the big tau advantage of this book, and even the use of air support seems to be quickly abandoned entirely. Worse still, the only tactic any Imperial force seems to know is throwing men at the enemy until they run out of bullets or are overwhelmed by sheer numbers. The very idea of actually securing a position or performing a flanking maneuver is something reserved only for those with borderline tactical genius, and often even that fails. Now, this isn't to say that there aren't armies who would have fitted the bill for this. The Mordian Iron Guard or any force led by Colonel Chenkov could have been written this way, but even they would have still used artillery or better equipped forces to combat long range battles. The guys here? Save for one background exception, they're all Cadian units. These are the guys who are supposed to be among the best disciplined and best trained armies in the Imperium, tasked with holding the Eye of Terror back at all costs. Here they're treated like any old generic PDF unit and are basically expected to die at the drop of a hat.

It would be an easy thing to claim that this book is biased towards the Tau Empire as it treats the Imperial Guard as a sacrificial lion alone. Unfortunately, there are more than a few bits which corroborate that opinion. Chief among these is how, the second things start to go wrong, the Imperial Guard forces are effectively abandoned. The astartes promptly disappear from the book save for a brief mention and the Mechanicus only show up for a bit to try and play Grand Theft Stormsurge, a point which is never properly resolved. Beyond that, a huge chunk of this book devolves into the Tau Empire whaling on the Guard until they stagger away, bloodied and almost broken. The entire deck is effectively stacked in their favour, and any moment it seems the Guard might start to have some kind of victory, minor or major, it's quickly reversed.

Over and over again, the book makes the point of reminding the reader that the tau are only losing thanks to sheer attrition. Any time the Imperial Guard starts to push against them, it's either quickly countered or eclipsed by a victory so massive it renders such a battle pointless. In one of the few moments where an Imperial hero outdoes a Fire Caste character, Knight Commander Pask manages to out-think and outfight Longstrike in an armoured engagement. Managing to catch him at close range, they surround Longstrike's forces and start ripping into them. So, what happens? Longstrike escapes. The book doesn't take even a single paragraph to explain how in the hell he escapes, he just does. Then, a few pages later, Longstrike shows up unharmed and (without Pask ever seeing it) blows his tank to hell, putting him out of the fight. Multiply this a few times over and you have the general tone of this book.

Even the very language itself is so openly in favour of the Tau Empire it starts to become hilarious in that wince-worthy cringing way. Seeing the writers going out of their way to remind the reader that the tau have won every major battle in the book at every possible moment, emphasising Guard casualties whenever possible, is embarrassing at best. The real problem here isn't that the Tau Empire is winning or holding its own, it's that they're not earning it. It's like reading the Zeist Crusade or an exceptionally bad Grey Knights story; one army has its arms tied behind its back, another beats the living hell out of them, and the author boasts about how awesome they are. When it comes to describing the tau, the book is practically glowing in praise, but when it gets to the Imperials, well, just read this intro:

"Here was a clash not just between armies but between ideologies. The Tau were forward thinking and logical, they believed in integration and technological advancement The Imperium was stagnant, resistant to the future as they clung to a past that had long ago slipped from knowledge into superstition."

... This passage certainly true in many regards, but it's boasting about the positive aspects of the Tau Empire while focusing upon the Imperium's greatest failings. Normally you could put this down to propaganda or perhaps even just biased storytelling thanks to following one side. Instead what we end up with is something treated as fact which is woefully weighted in favour of the xenos, leading to every problem you can imagine.

Even without the biased storytelling, or the writer's near fetishistic obsession with detailing exploding Leman Russes, there's no shortage of problems to be found here. Many descriptive terms rapidly fall into downright cliches and are hammered in so many times that they lose all meaning. The one which you'll quickly come to notice is the overuse of moments with tau commanders where the book notes “even as s/he gunned down/stabbed yet another poor fucking infantryman/rusty metal shitbox of a Leman Russ, they were already evaluating their position/keeping track of tactical events.” Honestly, it happens so often you could turn it into a Damocles drinking game. The same goes for how often certain battles repeat the same terms or play out in exactly the same way. There's no variation, no imagination here, and honestly no tension to these fights. The descriptions just don't do them justice, and things quickly become very run of the mill.

The actual invasion itself is, in all honesty, extremely easily defeated. After one major engagement, despite vastly outnumbering their foe, the Imperials are hurt so badly that they deploy an entire Officio Assassinorum strike team to the world below. Yes, the force so deadly it requires the majority of the High Lords to support it and is usually reserved for targets like Horus is sent in to destroy the tau. Unsurprisingly, they fail. How do they manage to do so? Because the Imperials can't even do the right thing when the plot hands them victory on a silver platter.

Rather than simply having them all jump the local Aun and killing him to break tau morale, they instead split up to go after every major target at once. This results in one being killed in close combat with Farsight, another being shot point blank by Shadowsun, Darkstrider more or less one-shotting another and the last one succeeding. Problem is, like so much here, very little of this seems earned. While they're played up as being serious threats, many go down to easily or honestly just have certain powers forgotten about entirely. The Eversor, for example, dies without exploding right next to his target and the Callidus abandons her disguise within seconds of seeing her target. Hell, the Vindicare is effectively iced by a flashbang and a few precise shots!

Now, while the book might be heavily weighted in the Tau Empire's favour, they do have their own problems. One of these is tied into the target of these assassinations, Aun'Va. Yes, the spiritual leader of the Tau Empire, the legendary flying space pope himself, is successfully killed by a Culexus agent. This has massive ramifications, massive potential for new storytelling elements and a huge wave of changes within the Empire. All of which the book doesn't bother to try and address. It's added so late into the storyline that the closest we get to any developments are Shadowsun covering up his death via holograms. The book doesn't even begin to look into the sheer weight his death might have upon the Aun themselves or how it might affect their expansion, instead it just deals with other matters. Like a very brief description of how the Farsight Enclaves are fighting a Hive Fleet in a completely unrelated story.

Now, while many are likely to cry out against Aun'Va's death given his lack of development and the sheer lack of tau characters, if anything it was stopping things before they got any worse. Rather than the wise leader, the spiritualist with an almost zen-like state we've seen before, what we get is basically a politician. Rather than being a true believer, Aun'Va is scheming, driven by how he is viewed by others than his beliefs, tries desperately to manipulate others to his will and doesn't even die bravely. If anything, his final moments serve to cement him as a fraud. Rather than any dignified end, he dies running, terrified after having all his followers sacrifice themselves in a meaningless way, openly hating humanity in an extreme display of xenophobia. Yeah, this wasn't a death so much as a mercy kill before things could get worse. Sadly, it's also more or less confirmation that Mont'ka's writers were determined to stick with the "Ethereals are all stupidly evil frauds" banded about by Codex: Farsight Enclaves.

Perhaps the biggest problem of all, however, was the finale. Spoilers ahoy, but here's how things eventually pan out: The Imperium loses the ground war. The Imperium then, via some Omnissiah ex Machina device, sets the entire Damocles Gulf on fire. In space. This not only burns Mu'gulath Bay but creates a massive barrier between the Tau Empire, the Enclaves and the rest of the Imperium. Because a recent retcon decided the tau don't have Warp technology (no, really, they've retconned that in favour of vague FTL stuff - AKA the stuff they retconned from the necrons for being unfitting for the setting) they can't get through it. 

Let's ignore for the moment that space is not two dimensional and we know ships can fly up and down. Let's ignore the fact that FTL capabilities should allow them to cross great distances and the retcons saying the Damocles Gulf was almost impossible for the tau to navigate. Let's even ignore the fact that, somehow, we're supposed to accept that this interstellar forest-fire effect is supposed to last possibly hundreds of years. Instead, let's focus upon one detail: This should be game over for the Tau Empire.

The Imperium's Warp drive allows them to bypass the event barring their continued advancement. They have been permitted to use Exterminatus level bombardments on targets and now have the resources free to launch a large scale crusade. Hell, they don't even need the ground forces, just the ships. The Imperium could have ships simultaneously launching virus bombs on T'au, Vior'la and Dal'yth within months, an act which would cripple the Empire. There's nothing here to suggest they can't or shouldn't do this either, and the Empire is only spared because the plot demands the Imperium retreats.

Even ignoring the fact that total defeat is only staved off thanks to plot driven stupidity, the worst crime is how they is put in place to ensure the status quo. We've had multiple characters on each side die, multiple battles fighting one another and big changes here and there. Yet, when it finally comes to genuinely push the story forwards in even this one small part of the galaxy, Games Workshop balked. They drove the Tau Empire back to its previous worlds, set up a barrier to stop further invasions, and then the Imperium buggered off again. So, everything is simply back to square one with little real improvement or story progression.

Yeah, not the best note to close out this trilogy on.

The Artwork

The final point to talk really about, mostly to end this on something positive, are Mont'ka's visuals. Specifically strength of the artwork and certain models. We've gone through several years with Games Workshop failing to strike a true balance between recycling iconic artworks and producing new images. For a very long it seemed that, with each codex, we'd be getting perhaps one or two minor new works for every ten we've seen taken from elsewhere. Even when those new works where put together, they often tended to clash. This was thanks in part to the mixed quality of colouring older black and white works, but predominantly thanks to the older, scratchier looks of prior styles failing to blend with the clean edges of new pieces. This time however, the editing team struck a near perfect balance between the two. 

While several older massed battle scenes or famous images are carried over from past books, the big focus here is on some major new art pieces. Each of these are dynamic and extremely striking, from massed army assaults to commanders surveying their forces, and whoever is producing these new works has a clear eye for striking imagery. Better yet, there's more of a distinct rift between the Imperial and Tau Empire works, where the former tend to have much harder edges or details than the latter's overly smooth design.

For all the praise which can be offered however, it is evident that there were more than a few communication errors when it came to certain pieces. The Mechanicus are shown several times with multiple Warhound titans supporting them, even after it's made explicitly clear that no Titan Legion could be spared to support the crusade. Then there are those pieces reused from past works, many of which contradict the story in baffling ways. One, in particular, shows several members of Farsight's vanguard still fighting hard long after they were confirmed killed. Another, a famous recycled piece showing an Imperial command centre, shows a hologram of eldar war machines rather than any tau battlesuit. Yeah, it gets a little wince worthy at these points.

The visual imagery and direction among Mont'ka's models has also been significantly improved. While there was nothing overly wrong with the product shots of armies on display from Kauyon, there was a sense of uniformity they never quite managed to shake. Like products on display for kids to demand - make your own joke, they're all good - each of them seemed to follow the exact same camera angles and general environment. While most of those same elements are present, there seems to have been more of a general effort to diversify certain elements. Elements of the backgrounds seem to have been shifted about here and there, the lighting retains more of a natural quality despite its haze, and many units now have somewhat differing placements when it comes to more unique units. The assassins are given more of a prominent placement on their page, setting them up as a display piece, and super heavy vehicles are shot to emphasise their sheer size. Minor things, but they're usually enough to make a serious difference here and there.


Overall, Mont'ka is a book in which the writers are clearly trying to do something great and interesting. There are many ideas here which could have succeeded and many points where they seem to have responded well to old criticisms. The problem is that, in their efforts to push for big new ideas and new concepts, they just ended up doing very little at the end, and we're left with a bitter aftertaste in what should have been a fantastic book.

Unless you're a die hard fan of the Tau Empire, and you aren't that attached to the Aun, this one is probably not for you. While personally I do want them to continue this format and experiment further with this campaign series, this is not exactly a good installment at the end of the day. If you want to see this sort of pyrrhic victory done well then the Imperial Armour volume The Doom of Mymeara is strongly reccomended, but don't put too much stock into this one. 

So, that's this part of the lore done. Next up, the rules.


  1. Hold on a minute, so if the artwork is anything to go by Farsight beats an Eversor Assassin in close combat? I'm going to assume his suit was at least badly damaged right? I'm asking because I had to check their stats as far as tabletop goes, and if the Eversor is charging (and I don't see why he wouldn't) then Farsight should not stand a chance (even if the assassin isn't charging Farsight still loses, just not as badly), so even if you could claim the Imperial Guard deaths are fitting for how infantryspam works on the tabletop, you can't make the same claim here. On top of this, Shadowsun stands no chance against a Callidus or a Vindicator (who I'm guessing was within a couple meters of his target, even though their gun's supposed to work from miles away, even against aircraft).

    In theory, there's nothing really wrong with the assassins splitting up to take on their targets, since there shouldn't really be any reason why their targets will win, even in a straight up fight, since the assassins are better both in close combat and at range, not to mention their reflexes are so good that they effectively have a spider-sense.

    Also the Callidus abandoning her disguise just really goes to show that the writers have no idea how these assassins work. I can remember several stories that have the Callidus in them, and they've only failed a few times, 3 if we're being really generous, two of which were against Chaos Lords who had read the minds of the assassins so they knew who they were, and one was when the Assassin tried to kill a Planetary Governor who was actually the Deceiver in disguise, so her weapon didn't work on him (3rd edition Necron Codex). In none of those failures did the assassins drop their disguise during the attempt, it was only AFTER they were found out by their targets that they dropped all pretense and either tried escaping to do assassinate them later, or they tried their hardest to kill their target. For extra context, one Callidus Assassin infiltrated the Night Lords, got past every single Chaos Marine, while they were on full alert and knew she was in their midst, and assassinated Conrad Kurze, a Primarch (though granted he didn't put up a fight when she got there).

    It's kind of funny that they use Farsight as an example of an old soldier, and then have the Imperium be this stagnant headless blob of an army, considering that I could easily argue that the Imperium is an old soldier as far as the setting goes. It's exhausting its resources against countless enemies and the only thing keeping it going is because of the strength of the people living in it. If there was no Commisars then there'd be nobody to hold most of the Imperial Guards morale together for example (somehow I'm willing to be they're forgotten about too), Yarrick certainly didn't keep all of his men together simply by having the best gear.

    I'm very curious why Cadian's are doing the assault too, I'd figure they have a much more important planet to defend, having them be on the offensive is a really bad idea, and I'm willing to bet that the only reason they're there is because the writers don't know that other large groups of Imperial Guardsmen exist.

    It's a shame you mention that the parts where the ships are in orbit are the best parts in the book, because it could have really focused on the characters around the conflict (showing them act as actual commanding leaders when their soldiers are dying far away) and in that way the writers would at least have to come up with some sort of tactics for the Tau to use on the Imperial forces. We could have had the last book demonstrate how battles like this are fought (we certainly got enough action given how much of it was in there) so it would at least explore a different avenue of the conflict. Better yet, this conflict has already been done, and better at that (next comment).

    1. I think Farisght and 8 all have to work together to take it down, and even then, I think he manages to kill one of the 8, and injure another.

  2. So I remember asking when the lore for the previous book came out, why doesn't the Imperium just declare Exterminatus on the Tau homeworlds, and my answer is actually in the 3rd edition Tau Codex. It turns out they did, they just didn't enact the Exterminatus at the time because more pressing issues rose up and the Commanders at the time were really loathe to use firebombs because they were really impressed both at how honourably the Tau fought, and how through the entire conflict the Tau kept asking for peace.
    Because of this the Inquisitor in charge (because the Ordo Xenos exists) was eventually convinced that they were a lesser threat than Tyranids/Abaddon/Necrons, and they left the Tau with a peace treaty that was really a verdict of "We'll kill you later." And the Tau spent the next while consolidating their forces, taking back the SEVERAL planets the Imperium had captured/annihilated and planning contingencies for when the Imperium actually does come back.

    This fight on the other hand would be as if the Imperials in Star Wars forget they have the Death Star. How many ships capable of Exterminatus did the Imperium have orbiting that planet? The planet that had every major Tau leader on it? I doubt anybody could think of a single convincing reason why they didn't just use one virus bomb as soon as the ground assault was being pulled back (apart from, as you say here, the plot demand they retreat).

    For the record I'm not just annoyed at the depiction of the Imperium, I actually don't like what GW has done with the Etheral's, and after reading quite a bit more about the Tau, I really hate what they did with the Farsight Enclaves (I didn't know much about the Enclaves besides your review before). Personally I'd like them to eventually become like what Aun'Va was here after a long period of dealing with the Imperium/Hrud/Tyranids/Chaos, rather than just do a heel turn of "Evil the entire time!" I liked how their pleas for peace and their use of technology were the only thing keeping them alive in the previous conflicts, it was nice seeing such naivety; you could really use it as an example of why peace isn't possible considering the monsters they're up against, and since at any time the Imperium could decide it has had enough, and outright destroy every single planet the Tau own they had a reason to act like that, especially when they realized they can't win the war.

    Anyway, I'm looking forward to the next Tau book, where a Necron Tomb World wakes up, the Tau take it over via use of EMP's, and then learn to create Necrodermis for Aun'Va, bringing him back to lift in the process, then the book after that where they discover the Hrud, beat them thanks to the Hrud only being ugly aliens with weird guns, then gaining enough insight to how the warp works through the Hrud to gain their own proper warp travel. After that they'll have a book where they create nice homes for the Eldar of Iyanden to live in, and in return they'll teach them how to use Wraithbone, and then presumably they'll take a vacation in the Garden of Nurgle after that.

    At the very least though, the book looks pretty good (barring the strange moments you mention), I can agree with you there.

  3. Well I've actually read the book now, and I wish that I had waited until I had before I commented before because I've got a lot to say about how dumb everything gets (this will be a few comments long). I can safely say that I was too lenient with my earlier criticism. The only way I can describe this... Is it's Tau propaganda. I'm serious, and I'm sorry, but this book was awful.

    Now to preface this, I have bought and read Kauyon, and honestly I didn't really have a problem with how that book handled things (nor with how the Tau Codex handled them dealing with the Imperium). Granted there were a few problems (you mention them in that review) but at no point did I think the book went ridiculously well for the Tau, even when the Imperium was acting pretty stupid. You can also cover up for a lot of the mistakes the Imperium makes by saying it was pride that led them to make these mistakes, since they underestimated the Tau, but you can't say that here.

    So starting off small, in the book, you have scenes like Longestrike's cadre taking out FOURTY Leman Russ's, not over the course of the battle, but in what can only be an hour or two, probably because the tanks apparently have a Pinto chasis. Literally one stab from Farsight on the top of the tank is all it takes to make them explode, as if this was an action movie.

    Speaking of Farsight and action movies, how did he get there? Ignoring every single other inconsistancy, like the colonel being told he'd be given extra troops from elsewhere should his current ground force not be enough, how did Farstrike get past the Imperial blockade? It's a major problem, he shows up out of nowhere and saves the day, a literal Dues Ex Machina as he appears quite literally out of thin air, and how did those Manta's Shadowsun had also not get destroyed by the Imperial fighters? Did the everyone on the Imperial ships just fall asleep?

    Another question too, where do the Tau keep getting their reinforcements from? They establish that when Shadowsun takes to the field herself, it will be quite literally with everything they have left, yet there's always more troops that turn up to fight against the Imperial force that was described as being capable of taking the planet "five times over." Even when the Imperial's are fleeing they have enough troops to attack in massive amounts, overwhelming the Imperials at every engagement. When they finally enact the space fire, it says that "Many millions of Tau died," and that's just on that one planet alone. Where did those millions of Tau come from?! The "Millions" of guardsmen the colonel was supposed to have were supposed to outnumber the Tau several times over, yet now they have equal numbers.

    1. Honestly, I actually agree with you entirely that this does read all too much like propaganda. Almost everything here past a certain point becomes insanely skewed in the Tau Empire's favour, and at least prior to that you could argue the Imperium was still making some headway against extremely heavy casualties. The real problem is that, at first, they seem to be relatively even despite some Empire favouritism, but then it's almost as if another writer went over and said "the Tau Empire never loses entirely. Let's murder some Imperials!"

      Though, to defend a couple of points there, I was willing to accept one or two bits just as general logic. In Longstrike's case, I was given the impression that their victories were in part thanks to them drawing the Imperials into traps and keeping them at arm's length. When he's introduced we see him carefully setting up each location or ensuring they get the Imperial Guard exactly where they want them before attacking, and it's taking advantage of the longer range of their railguns. That's all fine and I did like the fact it made the case that the Leman Russes were vastly more effective at close range engagements, where they do wipe the floor with the Hammerheads (at first anyway). At the same time, in Farsight's case i'm tempted to forgive that thanks to the Dawn Blade's nature. We've seen it do stranger things in some fiction, and some writers have presented it as being on par with the Spear of Twilight despite the rules. Given all that, i'm willing to be a little lenient and just say it was more for dramatic effect. Doesn't excuse them when things start going further like having Longstrike basically deus ex machina his way out of a deathrap or Farsight suddenly becoming unstoppable, but those specific bits seem relatively okay.

      The same goes for Farsight's arrival to a point. If you actually look at the map, the world is basically spitting distance from the Enclaves. Given he's in contact with supporters within the Empire and still harbours some loyalty to its people, I could see him acting to prevent mass genocide by another Damocles Crusade. his arrival though, that's a little more irritating. I did like the suggestion that they basically dropped from orbit and how they acted within a narrow window between Imperial cruisers, but more should have been put down to explaining how. The same goes for the use of Mantas, which should have been rightfully shot down as you said.

      As for reinforcements, yeah, that's a problem I had as well but wasn't sure how to place it in this event. Okay, on the one hand the book does make it clear that the Tau Empire are taking fewer casualties. Okay, fine, that's the way they've worked in the past by just avoiding outright combat. The problem is that, as you pointed out, they just start to sort of lose track of the numbers.

    2. I think the point where it turns ridiculously in favour of the Tau was when the Mechanicus take to the field. Sure the Tau were doing far better than they should have been, but this is when it gets flat out cartoonish. They sneak up on the Tau in what was actually a pretty clever tactic, but then as soon as they charge the enemy in an offensive the Tau should have no possible way of surviving (finishing off the surface fight for good) it cuts away to something else, and after that it just skips right to the aftermath of the fight where we learn that the Tau won, somehow (the book likes using "somehow" to describe anything that doesn't make sense), and the Mechanicus don't do anything else at all until the Space Fire.

      My problem with Longstrike is both in how many Leman Russ's he personally takes out, and the speed in which he does it. Several times he fires three shots simultaneously, which destroy three separate Leman Russ's. He also accomplishes this from one battlefield, I would have accepted him setting up several different killing fields, that would have been smart, but as it's written he was handling the entire Imperial army perfectly well without even moving his tank.

      I guess I can see Farsight's blade having a unique property that allowed it to take out the Leman Russ, and I can see that motivation, but I still would like to know how he got there. They could explain that the Imperial fleet was led partially away again by Farsight's ships, and that would also explain why the bombardment had such a massive window between bombardments (when in reality the second ship should be able to shoot the same spot without being in the same position as the first ship) and it would explain why Farsight has all the data on the Imperial ships, rather than him being able to scan the entire ship from the ground in his suit.

      I also might have missed something, but aren't the Stormsurges the ones dropped in from orbit within a narrow window? Farsight's arrival is that the red colours of his army blot out the sun because he's arrived (I've probably missed something, but I'd like to know where).

      I still maintain that there's no way he could have escaped the planet once the whole thing is lit on fire (or even survive the fire at all).

    3. I'd actually like to make one more point about the book, and I know I've gone after it a fair bit, to the point that even I'm sick of it, but I feel this needs to be said, but this just occurred to me after a game against a Guard player, the Tau actually don't outrange a lot of the Guard forces they had to fight against, for example Longstrike beats the Leman Russ squadrons by outranging their battle cannons, but the battle cannons have the same effective range as the Railguns (so this tactic shouldn't have worked).

      The reason I feel that needs to be said is because it is a major plot point, and is one of the biggest reasons the Imperium needs to pull back, but it shouldn't have happened in the first place unless they're up against a specialized Leman Russ, however the only Leman Russ that doesn't have a battle cannon that the book mentions is the one Pask is in at first.

  4. That's not to say that the Imperium are the only ones badly represented, the Tau's tactics consist of "battlesuits falling from the sky", and "just shoot them".
    Stealth suits nipping at flanks? Kroot ambushes? Vespid rear attacks? None of those are featured, Vespid's are mentioned once, and they do as much as the Chimera.
    There's also no words to describe what the actions the Tau do other than "perfectly" which I think is used about two dozen times when describing what happens.
    What's funny too is they even forget how the Stormsurges work, somehow they stand invincibly before Knights, their shots killing knight after knight, whereas return fire literally bounces off of their suits. I've heard of plot armour, I just didn't know somebody would use it literally. They also catch the Knights by surprise, and when I say surprise I mean they stood in the open in full view of them. What a great plan from a "military genius."

    A quick thing on characters, I can't but feel everyone here is badly written, Pask is changed, from a tank commander now he's a gun ace who doesn't even try to work/train with anybody else, even though there's quotes in the Codex's from him when he's doing exactly that. Farstrike is given no motivation for helping the Tau, literally none, here's just here then he leaves for no reason, and Shadowsun could be a different person than the one in Kauya, being hot-headed rather than cold and calculating (though cold and calculating describes every Tau (even regular pilots) in the book besides her and Aun'Va, so I guess there's a little diversity). Also I was right with my prediction, for some reason there isn't a single Commisar in the entirety of the fight, which is of major note, since Farsight's grand entrance plan relies on breaking his enemies morale and Commisar's are supposed to be there to ensure that doesn't happen. They're forgotten about like pretty much everything else the Guard would have used against the Tau.

    Let's also not forget to mention that there's no way the Tau controlling the Storm should have cut off communications. The Imperial Guard have hundreds, if not THOUSANDS of Psykers with them! Sanctioned Psykers? Primaris Psykers? What are those?

    Anyway, my biggest problem is that the book was more interested in describing casualties, than keeping track of what it had established, though you mention that too. I can think of at least 6 separate plot threads that the book starts, then completely forgets about.

    Personally I think it's best summed up in this quote: "despite the Tau winning every major battle across the whole of Mu'gulath Bay, they had only a single strongpoint left." Funny, even if that sentence didn't contradict itself, the book shows earlier that the Tau DIDN'T win every major battle, unless that's supposed to answer all of the unresolved plot points. The Mechanicus after the Stormsurge? The Tau won. The Khan after Shadowsun and he knows exactly where she is? The Tau won. The other Imperial Guard forces that were fighting Farsight and Shadowsun and coming close to winning? The Tau won. The book literally cuts away from when the Mechanicus forces enter the area then declare that the Tau won in the face of an ambush they should have stood no chance against. I've not seen writing that bad since Matt Ward wrote Codex: Grey Knights, and it's one of the reasons that the best way to describe this is Tau propaganda.

    1. ... Yeah, i've got nothing to add there, In Pask's case I was at least willing to accept it as they book was trying to set up some kind of duel between the two it seemed. Problem is that, as you said yourself, this is one of the plot threads it abruptly abandons long with a few others. The whole thing could have been turned into something great but it just falls to bits over time. Farsight, as I said, I think had enough motivation to work with what had been previously established. He was someone who still cared about the Empire and its people but was against the Aun. The problem is that, as your comments show, this was established in other books so anyone who didn't read the Farsight Enclaves is left in the dark. Of course, wouldn't recommend anyone stop to read those either. As for Shadowsun though, this is actually one point which leads me to think another writer took over duties working here. Shadowsun has had multiple depictions over time and there have been few consistent ones. A few especially bad stories though, have shown her to be a hot-headed raging zealot. While the book doesn't go quite that far, I do get the feeling that they were looking specifically at those for guidelines on how she should behave when facing down others.

      In all honesty, I think the book's biggest problem is that the writers were told to focus upon very specific units or formations here. Think about it for a second. We know that the book has unique formations it wants to focus upon and certain limited numbers of units its supposed to have in each strike force. The problem is that those don't quite fit in with a full planetary invasion, and lack many certain units. As such, I think they were basically treating huge chunks of planet scale armies as just having none of the units or special characters those forces lacked. It's trying to mimic Imperial Armour in focusing on a few units at a time and promoting them, but the problem is that it's coming at the cost of basic logic.

      Also, i can't say that I agree it's nearly as bad as Codex: Grey Knights, but I will still agree it's pretty damn bad overall and much worse than these codices should be. this honestly seems more like an early draft than a truly finished piece in some regards.

    2. Here's something I've been wondering, did they accidentally mix-up the personalities of Longstrike and Pask? Everything I've read about Longstrike before has him as the crack-shot who always makes the best shots, whereas Pask is the man who's encouraging his men in the tank, and picking out weak spots for his crew (not him) to shoot at, since he's a tank COMMANDER not a gun ace.
      In this book, Longstrike is coordinating the attacks between all of the various tanks in his unit rather than shooting at the enemy as much, and Pask does nothing except shoot.

      You've got a good point in the book focusing on formations, there's a lot of times that the book specifically mentions the formations that the characters are setting the units in, though before now I really didn't think much of it.

      Well at the least I think you could probably agree it's as bad as Damnos, as that had a lot of the same problems, like the author forgetting that one army has a lot of really useful units (like the Necrons not having any Canoptek technology at all) and the other army has victory handed to them ridiculously easily.

      I also have a theory that the book wasn't written collectively between every writer, I think they all chose a section and didn't communicate to each other. There's a quote about how the Tau never suffered such a bitter defeat... AFTER they repulse the Imperials! It would also explain weird bits, if one author established all of the Assassins, then another author wrote the finale to them, and it would explain the line "despite the Tau winning every major battle across the whole of Mu'gulath Bay, they had only a single strongpoint left."

      This would also explain why a lot was established then dropped (it reeks of them writing up bullet points, and not going through a lot of them), one author wrote part of the battle and whoever was supposed to finish it didn't, or maybe they'd assume somebody else did finish it, it would also explain how the opening was so much better than the rest of the book. You're right though in that it definitely seems like an early draft, they just published it before they went through to see what they need to trim off or what to wrap up better.

    3. It's certainly quite possible, and at the very least it's one of the big problems. I could personally see Longstrike leading a small squadron to be sure, with Pask doing a better job, and they do both lead their units. The problem is that, in their effort to focus upon the Tau Empire, we get a lot of focus upon Longstrike performing this role and perhaps a couple of suggested bits with Pask doing the same. It's actually kind of a problem with the entire book to be honest. As it's named after one tau tactic, we get a lot on Farsight and how he fights with others but little when it really comes to how the Raven Guard, White Scars or Imperial Guard are advancing. Hell, I think there's only two major events in the ground war with the former two, and even those pass quickly. It just seems to be so focused upon one side that, in all honesty, it just ends up managing to make both seem extremely limited in their approaches, and lacks fine detail.

      As for comparisons, yeah, Damnos was the big one I personally had in mind. The other was Codex: Blood Angels from the Fifth Edition. The main reason i'd say it isn't quite so bad as Codex: Grey Knights is that it doesn't manage to completely contradict several founding points the entire setting is established upon or ignores them. Well, that and the tau commanders don't end up humiliating, then killing, primarchs. Embarrassing as the fight with the assassins was, at least most of them needed more than one person to help them, usually dying in the process.

      There's sadly not much else to be said than, well, it's really one massive botch of a promising storyline.

    4. "The main reason i'd say it isn't quite so bad as Codex: Grey Knights is that it doesn't manage to completely contradict several founding points the entire setting is established upon or ignores them."
      I'm sorry, but I'm going to have to heavily disagree here. While the Tau certainly don't end up doing something ridiculous to an already established and really powerful character (I guess the equivalent would be some Breacher squads taking out a Warlord Titan) they do heavily contradict one of the key founding ideas that the Tau have had every single edition except this one.

      I plan to go into this in detail when you get to the rules, because what they didn't do I found really stupid and I think it's more related to what could have helped expand the army, but here's the gist of it: what happened to the humans already on the planet when the Imperium lost in Kauyon? It is answered in Mont'ka.

  5. The final fight is just as dumb as the rest of the ground engagement, the brilliant strategy they rehearsed was quite literally every fortress defence fight you've over seen, stand at the walls and shoot the enemy, the only reason it works is because they become invincible for some reason (I do mean that literally).

    Here's another quote: "Not since the dark days of the Heresy had so many of the house's nobles fallen in a single battle." Now that's pretty impressive considering the Tau had only three stormsurges that were shooting at them, all of whom got in a melee fight with Skitarii earlier. ONLY THREE (that's assuming all three of them survived the melee fight too) and they wipe out half of the entirety of House Terryn as well as every single baneblade the Imperium had on the ground DESPITE the fact that they are very heavily outranged by both Knights and the Baneblades they were shooting! Yet for some reason the Knights and Baneblades couldn't get close enough to fire!

    The assassins fail because... Even the writers don't know. Literally, even the writers have no idea why they weren't successful, there's this quote for the Vindicare: "He was forced to change position once. A Drone passed overhead, then returned, hovering in place, sweeping its sensors. Somehow, the Tau technology was picking something up." Yep, somehow. Care to explain how? Nah, and I was right in that he actually DOES get within short range of Farsight, even though with his weapon he could have killed him from so far away, the Imperial army wouldn't have known he was there.
    He's also found and killed because Darkstrider "had a hunch" that something was up. They even have him give up on killing Commander Farsight, as soon as Farsight's bodyguard are around him, the Assassin starts shooting at the ARMY below him, not his target still in full view.

    The Eversor fails because he was too slow to dodge his target quite literally in front of him. If there's a word to describe the Eversor, I don't think anyone would call them "slow." The assassins can move so fast they appear to dodge bullets, yet he just sits there until he's shot. There was an easy solution to killing him too, just have the missiles they fire detonate in midair, they know he could dodge them, so have that work against him.

    They established that the Callidus only ever takes her disguise off AFTER she kills her target, but fuck that, and Shadowsun noticed that there was something odd in the Etheral because... There's no reason. Literally no reason. The Callidus has the same tone and can perfectly mimic somebody's body, including the scent they give off, and she not only realizes there's something wrong but moves faster than the assassin, because the assassin was somehow too slow (again!), and when she had the chance to use her Neural Shredder on the fleeing Shadowsun, of course she doesn't! She's then slowed down by Shadowsun in a fistfight, SOMEHOW (what Neural Shredder?), and is killed IN A FISTFIGHT because she was too slow and weak to finish off Shadowsun despite, at minimum, being three times stronger than a regular human and quick enough to appear to dodge bullets.

    I'm honestly very stunned that the Cullexus actually worked and wasn't spotted by bullshit. I almost expected the Honour Guard to be able to kill him in a fistfight somehow.

    For the record too I'd like to point out that the final fight was fought with its commanders only half present, and yet they still somehow were able to perfectly co-ordinate their attacks and repel the Imperium, even though the commanders had vital roles to play, so even if the assassins were successful, nothing would have changed. Oh well, like the rest of this book, they can just say the Tau won when it cuts away, which is exactly what they did.

  6. Here's another thing forgotten, the fact that the planet SHOULD BE ON FIRE for the next couple hundred years. Shadowsun, Farsight, and all of their people are stuck in one fortress. How don't they starve? How did they get away? How aren't they baked inside that fortress like bread in an oven? The whole planet is on fire! I guess Farsight left the same way he entered, because the author said so, fuck any sort of rhyme or reason (even specifically stating that he somehow left while the planet was burning).

    Good thing that a new Lord General replaced the old one and called the fight off, FOR SOME REASON. That's up there with the most half-assed Dues Ex Machinas I've ever seen, including the space fire.

    This came off as just the worst of writing, even worse than anything Matt Ward wrote in his Codex: Grey Knights because at least in there, the Grey Knights were fairly consistent with what they could and couldn't do and they only had one Kaldor Draigo, and in this book, Farsight and Shadowsun both turn out to be Kaldor Draigo levels of Mary Sue.

    For the record, if things were going ridiculously well for the Imperium, I'd have the same problems there too, because the battle shouldn't be one-sided. I actually have a problem with The Doom of Mymeara that you mention because of how easily the Imperial forces win at the end.
    The only enemies treated with any sort of dignity were the Tyranids at the very end of the book, where I'm assuming Farsight died because he didn't get the reinforcements that it stated he desperately needed (maybe the entire book was his fever dream, it would make a lot more sense that way).

    I don't really have anything to add to the rules though, aside from at least they removed Farsight's ability to take himself as a bodyguard.