Friday, 18 December 2015

Damocles: Mont'ka Part 2 - The Rules (Warhammer 40,000 War Zone Review, 7th Edition)

So, welcome back to the review of Mont'ka AKA Delays, delays, this is the Duke Nukem: Forever of reviews.

With the embarrassing level of Tau Empire bias on display from last time, you're probably expecting more of the same here. You're expecting a lot of brick-shithouse formations capable of annihilating the foe in a single volley of pulse weapons all the while the Imperial Guard get shafted. Well, you're half right. 

While the Tau Empire receives no end of goodies when it comes to the crunch, often the better ones in this book, the Imperial Guard aren't quite so badly shafted as you might think. More than a few of their formations still hold up well under scrutiny, and you can definitely see how the designers were considering the Guard's use of massed assaults and infantry rushes when it comes to the rules. Oh, it's definitely disappointing they focus upon this with as versatile and venerated a force as the Cadian Shock Troops, but at least it fits together without adding a rule like "If Tau Empire units are present, you lose in the most humiliating way imaginable."

... Oh come on, if they thought they could get away with it, you know the writers would have thrown it in.

Imperial Guard Formations & Rules (Plus Assassins)

Sticking with mentions of their infantry units, we first have the Emperor's Shield Infantry Platoon AKA Guardsman tidal wave. This really isn't much more than a massive blob of cheap infantry units, rushing forwards and trying to pepper their foes to death with an unstoppable mass of men armed with flashlights and t-shirts. It's big, very dumb and a little pointless, and in all honesty it's the kind of thing which should have really been saved for Apocalypse games. Oh, don't get me wrong, this looks like it could certainly be a very fun option, but once you get down to the specifics, it honestly just seems like a relatively flimsy bullet magnet.

The core essentials of this one are that Guard players can mash together five Infantry Squads without dedicated transports and supported only by Sentinels. It's likely to try and shill this formation that the Cadians were inexplicably sent in without Chimeras in the story, and there is more of a focus upon an unending tide here. The rules here basically focus upon the idea this group will be constantly on the march, with Marching Drill allowing a Platoon Commander to issue "Fire and Advance!" on any one unit within it in addition to other orders. In other words, they can keep running forwards but act as if they're stationary. Combined with this we also have the Forward Recon rule, which allows any unit within 9" of the Sentinels it's attached to to have Move Through Cover.

Now, the obvious problem with such a large infantry formation is that you typically don't want these guys running forwards. Running forwards typically means fighting orks in close combat, fighting Khorne Bersekers long past the point you've seen the whites of their eyes, and facing down Shrike at point blank range. While the unit can do a good job of bogging these forces down and keeping them distracted, the units here will all too easily break and run. This mean you're likely going to have to spend a lot of time ensuring these guys pass Leadership tests, giving each and ever one priests or Commissars to hold them in place. Hell, in all likelihood you'll have to pair them up with a Lord Commissar as well.

Things aren't made much better with the Emperor's Shield Infantry company. Yes, for some damn reason the book has two of these. This one is basically a "transform and combine" version of the old one, mashing together three of the previous formations until you're rushing in with one-hundred-and-fifty models! Obviously this makes putting these together extremely unwieldy to say the least, meaning your foe is likely going to treat this like shooting fish in a barrel. The only added advantage is that you can use "First Rank, Fire! Second Rank, Fire!" on up to any number of squads you want within this formation as a single order. That's all fine and dandy, but it's really not enough to justify an investment of this size. I could personally see it working in truly massive games, again (Apocalypse scale ones) but it needed something more atop of this, like Supporting Fire, to cite an obvious one.

The other formations past this one are thankfully largely vehicle based, allowing for a much more versatile unit selection. Chief among these is the Emperor's Blade Assault Company, which is something quite a few Guard players will really appreciate having. Consisting of Three units of Veterans, a Command Squad and up to three Hellhound Squadrons (don't let the name fool you, this can consist of Hellhounds, Banewolves, or Devil Dogs). Each of the squads is required to take a dedicated transport, namely the Chimera and Taurox. Now, this looks good on the whole as just a general mobile support list, but nothing too flashy until you get to the special rules. Clear the Area is a nice bonus which allows any unit with this special rule to have Preferred Enemy against all opposing units within 6" of an objective marker, and Objective Secured allows any unit to control any objective marker, even when contested. As a result, this makes for a surprisingly fun and useful rapid support formation, to rush in right towards the end and at least fight the opposing army to a standstill. While it could have used a few Valkyries or Stormtroopers (back when the Guard actually had those) it's a solid balance of firepower and mobility to help offset the army's usually static nature.

Still, if you want something truly mobile and fast moving, you'd probably be wanting to look into the Emperor's Talon Recon Company AKA Sentinels Galore! This is admittedly one of the less interesting groups on hand unfortunately, as it's really just a mob of two to four sentinel units of the Scout or Armoured designs. It's nothing especially great to look at, but like the Emperor's Blade, some of the special rules help make this one a surprisingly viable choice. Offering these units Outflanking and Dedicated Hunters (giving them all Preferred Enemy against one specific unit) they also have their own command choice, turning one Sentinel into a character unit capable of issuing orders. This basically means you can show up and quickly shred a very dangerous unit with heavy calibre rounds, but then promptly die from the returning fire.

The ultimate weakness of the Emperor's Talon sadly is the Sentinels themselves who, while certainly useful, are just too much of a glass cannon to last more than one turn. As such, test games tended to show that if you outfitted these units with the right weapon, the tended to wreck living hell against scoring units or broke them entirely. Masses of Autocannons tended to break units of Dire Avengers, Immortals, Crisis battlesuits and others, while Plasma cannons proved to be excellent Terminator maulers. Keep an eye on this one, but don't consider it to be an essential purchase.

Another one which seems fun but proves to be of surprisingly limited use at times is the massed Ogryn formation. Consisting of one Commissar, two units of Ogryns and two units of Bullgryns, it looks at first like a fun choice with Groundshaking Charge allowing units to pile on Strength 7 Hammer of Wrath attacks against squads which have already been charged. Equally, the Unquestioning Loyalty rule looks good at first glance, making them Fearless within 12" of the Commissar, but then you get to the overall points cost. To put it bluntly, you're rarely if ever going to make back the points you spend on this one, and most charging situations tend to devolve into an isolated melee. It's fun to be sure, but not exactly the choice you'd want if you're trying to win games.

Another expensive choice, albeit one which is a fair but more useful is the Psykana Division. Conspicuously missing from most of the story (almost as if the writers didn't want to acknowledge this edge) it's how most Guardsmen armies will be contesting psychic heavy foes in this Edition. To keep this one short, just one of these divisions consists of a Primaris Psyker, three units of Wyrdvane Psykers and three Commissars. With the Empyric Link and encouraging Presence special rules, they can quickly build power and focus energy to sudden strikes. Respectively, these allow for them to respectively build upon one another's powers and add one level to the Primaris Psyker's Mastery, and harness Warp Charge points on a 2+ rather than 4+. Admittedly that latter one can result in a quick death via Commissar if they fail psychic tests. Now, generating up to eight Warp Charge tokens at a time allows them to hit hard, but ultimately we're not going to see much of this. Why? Well, try to find an easy way to get enough individual models for this. Sorry, but it is a factor which needs to be considered here.

With the above done we can get onto the really fun stuff, namely the devoted tank regiments. First among these is the expected Artillery Company, nicknamed the Emperor's Wrath. Yeah, apparently someone felt the story didn't fulfill the "Emperor" quota, so there's kind of a theme in here. Well, consisting of a Command Squad, two units of Basilisks, Hydras or Wyvens, a single Manticore or Deathstrike and a few Enginseers it's what you'd expect. So, what makes this worth getting? Artillery tanks that get orders! With Artillery Command as a special rule, the squad leading them can offer up "Smite at Will!" "Suppressive Fire!" "Fire on my Target!" and offers a Leadership score of 8 per vehicle. Then, atop of this you get Target Sighted, which allows friendly units outfitted with vox-casters to target certain units, meaning all guns from this formation firing on that counts as twin-linked. Overall, not too shabby in the slightest and quite useful despite its cost.

The up close and personal alternative to the Emperor's Wrath is the Emperor's Fist Armoured Company, which is the Leman Russ spam you've all been expecting to see. Made up from a Tank Commander, three Leman Russ Squadrons and a trio of Enginseers, it's basically a somewhat bulked up armoured mob more than anything else. It's really just what you'd expect unfortunately, and the various special rules are, no pun intended, nothing special in the slightest. Offering +1 Ballistic Skill to each tank involved, you also have foes rolling twice on the damage chart to hurt the tanks, naturally choosing the worst, and you have minor bonuses to ramming and tank shock. Worn the t-shirt, shot the flashlight, we already know it's not very useful given how most people tend to only take one or two Russ tanks.

Next up there's the Emperor's Spear Aerial Company, which is simply a Valkyrie or Vendetta Squadron with a few bonuses. Truth be told it's the Valkyries which are going to come out of this smelling sweet as most of the special rules buff only them, with Low Altitude Drop benefiting only sudden troop deployments thanks to a non-scattering Grav Chute Insertion rule. Actually that entire thing only benefits troops piling out form them. Beyond this we only have Formation Flight, which assists in all three showing up at once from Reserve, or as and when you choose them to following that, anyway.

Now, finally, we have the big one here, quite literally. The Emperor's Goove Fury is is the expected Super-Heavy Company, with three big, bad tanks and a single Enginseer. Allowing you to take everything from Baneblades to Stormswords, the special rules here are really the bit where this shines. Along with Dedicated Servants allowing for the Enginseer to add +2 to any repair rolls on vehicles, you also have Devastating Bombardment, which forces any enemy unit hit by three primary weapons from these tanks tale a Leadership test on 4D6 to avoid going to ground. Oh, and thanks to their sheer dominating presence, any enemy unit getting within "12 of these moves as if they're going through difficult terrain. It's expensive to be sure, and could do with being toned down, but in all honesty this seems to be a more durable, heavy hitting alternative to the Guardsman blob we started with. You can hit hard, take shots, pin down enemy units and slows opposing forces so they can get picked off. Not bad all in all, though good luck fielding these.

So, what's next past the formations? The Cadian Detachment special rules. In order to try and give a little variety to the Ultramarines of the Imperial Guard, we have a little in the way of new rules and details to make them into the grim faced professional troops the planet is populated with. To keep this short, a lot of details come down to command bonuses, with +12" order range, better order reception among troops, and better lasgun accuracy. There's not much else to this, but do you know what they've done wrong? This is emulating the wrong army.

I was going to save this point for the third part - and yes, there will be three - but the Cadians here aren't acting like Cadians. Their rules, details and even basic factors aren't accounting for their versatility and flexibility on the battlefield, basically boiling down to highly disciplined troops following orders without question and sticking to massed infantry attacks. Yeah, if you don't know them, this sounds a hell of a lot like a lesser known army called the Mordian Iron Guard. Along with the Praetorians, they're one of two factions sadly all too often forgotten these days and were best known for the very aspects you just read, basally sticking to borderline Napoleonic tactics when it comes to warfare. Hell, even the psyker aspect here seems to be reflecting them, due to their high regard for psychic choirs and a famous battle they were involved in.

Even the lore behind the very wargear the Cadians stroll about with seems to have been taken from others, with their fabled legendary chainsword being a hand-me-down from the Ultramarines. Still, we've done the lore, it's just this bit really is irksome. That and, well, most of what we get isn't all that interesting. It's not all the usual mix as we do have a few more solid melee weapons this time, but it's mostly stuff we've seen before. Honestly, it's saying something when the most original thing here is that one melee weapon offers an Invulnerable save. Well, okay, that's not entirely fair, there are a couple here and there. The Standard of the Lost 113th is an odd one, as the unit carrying it can choose not to move for the rest of the game but offers Fearless to any ally withing 18", but that's not all THAT useful. The only really notable one here is that the Kabe's Herald (Leman Russ upgrade) offers a few bonuses as a command tank. Offering a few Tank Orders rules, it means you can use "Gunners, Kill on Sight!" to offer tank squadrons the Split Fire ability.

On the whole, there are most definitely some interesting and good ideas here, but there's not THAT much overall. Most of the formations on hand here you're either going to skip thanks to their impracticality in terms of sheer scale or thanks to simply not offering enough in the way of bonuses. While personally I can appreciate the effort not to go absolutely ballistic and pull yet another Strength D weapons on everything stunt we've seen all too often, they could have pushed things a little further. As a result, rather than a generally down to earth but viable list, we end up with something which is unwieldy, a little too overpriced while being underpowered, and doesn't really help the Guard face down current Edition threats.

The only other Imperial bit here, and probably worthy of its own sub-category, is the Imperial Assassins. Effectively the revamped rules for this Edition are a tweaked version of the last, altered and messed around with in order for them to take up a few pages here. In all honesty, given there was nothing really wrong with the effectiveness of any assassin on the tabletop, this really just feels like padding more than anything else. Oh, they certainly got a little more powerful and a few more special rules, but there wasn't even a big tweak or major step forwards which really helps to justify their inclusion here. Okay, there is one, which is the inclusion of an Execution Force formation, mixing together one of each variant of assassin. The problem is that someone really dropped the ball here, as rather than getting some fun unit combos, there's just a minor mention of some bonus which can give an extra Victory point if they kill one declared enemy unit before the game concludes. Really, that's about it sadly, and it makes their inclusion extremely superfluous. Oh, the individual aren't bad, not by a long shot, but it's hard to shake the question of just why this is actually in the book.

Of course, the failings here might have been acceptable and something you could just shrug off were it not for the opposing army. Oh boy did someone love the opposing army to death in this book...

Tau Empire Formations & Rules

We all know it's coming, and that the book is going to side with the Tau Empire quite heavily. There's nothing to really dispute this, after the story bent over backwards to kneecap the Imperial forces and hand the Empire a victory, crunch insanity was sure to follow. Let's face it, the standard codex was nuts enough as it was, and many of the formations on offer here are not exactly kind to the Imperials. If it came down to a fight between the Imperial formations and the Tau Empire ones, these ones would easily wipe the floor with them, and it doesn't take long to see why.

For starters, while the Imperial forces largely focus upon three things: Mass deployment of units, rapid sudden arrivals, and lots and lots of firepower. While that might sound solid on the whole, they aren't really set up to actually work in co-ordination with one another. As such, they're small bits of individual forces intended to fight their own battles, and only interact by shooting at people. By comparison, it honestly seems a lot more thought has been put into how the Tau Empire will operate in concert with one another, which is something to be praised to be sure. The problem is that, in all honesty, it's hard to praise something when its success comes at the cost of skimping on other content and ultimately putting less effort into how they join with one another.

One particular example which stands out very early on is the Drone Net VX1-0, which is basically a Gun Drone spam from hell. Now, Drones are a big part of any army. They go in, they take the brunt of most attacks and they tend to either protect, help or die in the place of your more expensive units. Here though, what you get is a mob of four Gun Drone squadrons or more, all seemingly controlled by SHODAN herself, and given Interceptor, Jink, Outflank, Precision Shot, and Split Fire. This is a light, disposable mob of Fast Attack units, and the sheer volume of raw, undistinguished cheese mounted upon them here is simply jaw dropping; it means that you can have a mass of twin linked pulse carbines capable of bobbing out of the way of gunfire, arriving out of an adjacent table edge, cherry tapping any arriving unit to death and targeting the exact person they want. Then, atop of all this, they can then divide their shots between targets as and when they wish.

So, yeah, what we have here is a formation which makes most Elites choices not only look tame by comparison, but makes Draigo look down to earth. The best part though? This isn't even the end of it. Seemingly working off of the Geth rule of more = smarter, if you have two squads or more in this formation still alive, all of them get +1 to their Ballistic Skill. So, yeah, they aren't even spamming anymore given they're hitting as hard and as accurate as Fire Warriors. If this reads like a bad joke, then it should because this is truly ridiculous. It basically takes the same ideas the Emperor's Talon, ditches the heavy weapons but then makes sure they have vastly more suitability and long term damage. As such, they make for less run-in-and-die mobs than they do the perfect band of scouts, harassers, assassins and interdiction units; a formation remaining a constant thorn in the enemy's side thanks to their sheer number of special rules. Even if you throw a good assault unit into combat, chances are this bloody great thing will serve as a bigger and better speed-bump than most mob units, tying them up until things are long over.

The versatility of the Drone Net VX1-0 formation means that it can serve in a variety of roles. These range from ambushing and picking out threatening members of enemy teams in acts of harassment to sudden ambushes, as mentioned in the prior paragraph, and drawing fire away from other units. This Swiss army knife approach means it can easily join up with most other formations, and keep pace with them. For example, their rapid and fast moving nature means they can easily link up with Optimized Stealth Cadre for a two pronged attack or an extremely mobile screen for a Retaliation Cadre. 

Now, Tau Empire formations operating together might sound very basic overall but compare this with some of the Imperial Guard alternatives. While certain ones have definitely been designed to work alongside others (the artillery piece for starters) there's a few subtle differences in how each one has been set up. As a whole, they can count more as individual strike forces or small army groups and rather than acting like cogs in a machine, they just seem to be ready-made assault lists. This means the Tau Empire formations here have an edge in terms of tactical flexibility and working as a part of a much larger army, and can be far more effective at countering opposing lists as a result. It's just a shame that they took such a great idea, a perfect example of using formations properly here, but ramped up their power until the book went to plaid.

Still, getting back to the actual formations in question, we next have the aforementioned Retaliation Cadre. This was in Kauyon as well, but the big difference here is instead that it's a core choice, something to build your army around rather than something to add onto it. To put this in perspective, it means that you have a Commander, three Crisis teams, a unit of Broadsides, and a Riptide as the basis of your army. Even before getting to how they have Relentless and automatically Deep Strike on turn two with +1 BS, that's just nasty. It's like having the Deathwing as the central point of your army if every Terminator was lugging two plasma cannons about with them. The big weakness is, of course, the sheer points costs required here, but if you can afford them this means you've got a highly mobile force of over thirty battlesuits. One who can arrive within rapid-firing range of any enemy units. Yeah, have to admire it in some abhorrent way, but it's hard not to wince here.

By comparison with a remarkably firestorm-of-plasma happy formation, both of the HQ choices are relatively basic. You have one which is just one Commander with a bodyguard in a Crisis suit, and it's a poor replacement for Ethereals or give a few cheap options. Of course, the only alternative to this is a high points killing machine AKA The Eight. You might recall these guys as being the only genuinely good bit of lore in Codex: Farsight Enclaves, and got a plethora of new rules to pack a punch. For starters, each has Fearless and Preferred Enemy (against everyone, which seems to be the status quo these days) but more importantly they can offer Supporting Fire to one another up to "24 away. Top that with the fact that, so long as even one is still standing on the battlefield all tau have Stubborn, and it's the HQ choice from hell for anyone on the receiving end of this formation. The big problem here, much like the Retaliation Cadre, is the staggering points cost involved. You have to take all Eight, and as such they're usually only going to be a viable choice in about 2,500-3,000 point games. Honestly, given their effectiveness, I personally think that's quite fairly priced.

The Counterstrike Cadre is next up, and it's the infantry heavy choice on here. The difference is that, whereas the Imperial Guard focused upon sheer weight of numbers, the Tau Empire are given a little variety to work with. In this case, they're three units of Fire Warriors and a single unit of Pathfinders. Given that all of them are riding Devilfish, they move and hit a lot faster than their Imperial counterpart, and also have a few bonus rules to make them more useful in objective based battles. Getting re-rolls to hit when shooting at anything within "3 of an objective, they can usually be counted upon to punch holes in most squads, and they get a speed boost during the first turn they arrive. Useful, hard hitting and relatively mobile, they're one of the more balanced examples here.

Allied Advance Cadre (besides leaving me questioning why the hell this is in a Farsight focused book) is a scouting force consisting purely of auxiliaries. Four Kroot Carnivore Squads and two units of Vespid Stingwings are on the list here, and it basically serves to boost their ability to start close to their foes. Along with giving the vespid Infiltration and Stealth special rules, kroot who are "12 away from them are offered Obscured instead of Stealth and get +1 BS. Unfortunately, most of these only work with forests, but the formation does allow them to gain supporting fire between each unit. This certainly seems fine, but given the abrupt upgrades each gained this edition (I.E. turning the kroot from guerrilla close combat fighters into dirt cheap snipers) it's hard not to wince at some elements here.

So,Firebase Support Cadre is up next and, well, you might as well have the tau player showing up yelling "That's it! Everyone dies!"
Two units of Broadside suits combined with a Riptide are going to hit hard unless you're intentionally trying to lose your game. Here though, not only do you get Tank Hunter and Monster Hunter (meaning your shiny new Imperial Knight can get six railguns and an Ion Accelerator to the face on the first turn) but they're more than competent focusing upon a single target. When they combine their firepower, they effectively count as a single unit with markerlights buffing every single last one as a result. Honestly, looking at this, it really seems like surprise back-stabbings with some very lucky Assault Marines is the only way to win, as any long-range engagement is going to wipe the floor with anything they so much as look at. Normally i'd add a little more analysis atop of this, but really, what else is there to say? You get within line of sight of these things and nine times out of ten your army is going to be reduced to Swiss cheese by these things. Hell, even if they don't roll in with railguns, their missile launchers will shred infantry units like there's no tomorrow.

The Rapid Insertion Force is up next and, as if to remind you that there is no end to the Tau Empire's cheese this edition, it's yet another battlesuit mob. Consisting of a Riptide, three Crisis teams (they really like combining these guys, don't they) and a Stealth unit, they basically serve as the "Surprise, motherfucker!" option here. In short, the Stealth team operates in the manner of an astartes Scout squad, moving in and having the rest of the army drop in about them. The thing is though, along with having the obvious durability, firepower and a big edge over Scouts, anything within this formation showing up within "6 doesn't scatter. As a result, they can practically pull a Creed by dropping a Riptide on your undefended flank at a moment's notice. Oh, and everything gets twin-linked the moment it drops in. So, yeah, outfit these guys with plasma guns and expect everything within "24 to die a horrible screaming death as a second front suddenly opens up on the battlefield. Tau fans are sure to love this one, everyone else (unless you're eldar) is probably going to be spitting blood over this.

Now, bad as these have been it's the next four which really yank the breaks out of the insanity train. Really, the sheer unrelenting cheddar of the following few will be the biggest point of contention for anyone looking to play against Farsight Enclaves lists for the next few years.

The Piranha Firestream Wing is something which seems, at first glance, to be relatively tame. After all, they're solid choices but hardly the full blown murder machines which tend to dominate most of the army beyond this, and tend to be relatively down-to-earth in terms of payloads. Well, this formation gives you four of them, and it promptly goes absolutely nuts. Basically, one unit of these acts as a spotter for the other three, targeting something within "36 inches. Everything within the formation then gets +1 BS and Tank Hunter, murdering the damn thing in all likelihood. This isn't the sphincter tightening part however, that instead comes when they get within "6 of a table edge. If they do so, they can opt to flee into reserves, and then return the following turn with everything re-equipped. So, you know all those Gun Drones and missiles tau players tend to spam? Yeah, they can have an unending stream of this by cycling squadrons on and off of the tabletop at will - The end result isn't so much an army as a veritable Gun Drone factory endlessly spamming high strength weapons which can one-shot a Predator. And they're firing these off fifteen at a time in some cases. That distant scream you just heard was from every Imperial Guard tank company commander on the planet crying out in terror.

Still, we couldn't have stuff involving the Piranhas without offering the Skyray a few bonuses, could we. Enter the Skysweep Missile Defense, sandwiching together three Skyrays and a Devilfish. Like before, one acts as the spotter to the other three, but they fulfill a very different role in the game. If enemy fliers get within "12 of the Devilfish, the Skyrays can fire as many missiles as they want per turn, and the entire formation gets a 5+ cover save against airborne attacks. In short, you've not got a massive interdiction force which is very difficult to dislodge from the air can can merrily rip just about anything you throw at them a new one. Normally I wouldn't call this too bad, but it basically just involves zooming the Devilfish to the right place at the right time, and then watching as the Skyrays turn whatever precious airborne transports you might have, or even fighters, into clouds of burning broken metal. The obvious solution, of course, is to nail the Devilfish from the ground. There's two things to note with this however, the first being that even without that the Devilfish is going to delay the effectiveness of fliers for several turns, and the second is assuming they won't have much in the way to distract you from doing so. Like dropping a Riptide atop of your forces or having a swarm of Gun Drones between opposing forces and that tank. Or, well, the Devilfish could just be kept out of sight as well.

The actual Tau Empire forces do have their own fliers, their own responses to any airborne squadron, via the Assigned Air Caste Asset and Air Superiority Cadre. Now, the first isn't much in all honesty, it's just a single added aircraft to support the army. The second however, that's three Razorsharks with some very nasty special rules. Now, they get +1 BS against all fliers, but by the standards of most armies that's relatively tame these days. What's not quite so reserved, by comparison, is that they can drop D3 markerlights on any target they want so long as one is still in the air, making them able to pick out and wreck living hell against any unit they feel is an affront to the Greater Good. Oh, and to top this off, they can also stroll in from reserves at a moment's notice if the army contains fliers, skimmers or jetbikes.

Ultimately the Air Superiority Cadre is dangerous for two reasons. The first are the markerlights, as a mass of those which can bypass terrain or only require a line of sight from the air these are dangerous as all hell. You can only imagine the hell these can cause within the formation itself, but then take into account the field day Skyrays or anything outfitted with one of those lovely "unlimited range" seeker missiles will have. In short, little to nothing will be safe from them. Second of all however, there's the case of that sudden arrival option. Their effectiveness against fliers is potent enough, but with the added option for them to arrive abruptly in the presence of other fliers skimmers or jetbikes, they're an entirely new deterrent. It's going to leave people questioning the very formation of their lists and will hold back forces which would usually serve as their mainstay, perhaps even blocking some of their greatest strengths. If a couple of these formations are used against a Saim-Hann or, well, most xenos armies, that's limiting their use of transports and any fast moving vehicles right out of the starting gate. Just as soon as that one unit of Shining Spears rolls in, death incarnate leaps out of the sky and starts annihilating everything in its path.

The last one is what people can only describe as the ultimate extreme of Broadsides meeting markerlights. A tau player would be mad not to use them in combination with one another, and right from their introduction in the Third Edition, these two have been used to make the lives of enemy tanks a living hell. Now though, it seems someone wanted the duo to annihilate anything and everything in sight. Known as the Ranged Support Cadre, this formation is a mishmash of three units of Pathfinders and three units of Broadsides. Sticking to the obvious advantages first, the Pathfinders gain a few bonuses to their durability, and so long as they're not shooting their guns or moving they gain and Shrouded. They can also Infiltrate now, meaning it's going to be that much easier for them to bottleneck a position or leave an army pinned down in its deployment area. Oh, and the Broadsides can offer Supporting Fire to them at full range, so anything going up against them is going to have several big heavy units weighing into that fight.

The Broadsides themselves don't get as many bonuses in this formation, but they do earn one very big and very beefy bonus. If the Broadsides use any markerlights from the Pathfinders to enhance their shots, the effectiveness of them is doubled. So, in other words, most people will be using one option to enhance the shot however they can, and the other to make every single last round ignore cover. With three squads on each side you can happily have six railguns firing in sequence with this at a time, again making things nightmarish for people with heavy armour. So, the big bloody great Baneblade someone spent all that cash and money on might as well just be a victory point pinata if someone takes this.

Overall, the Tau Empire bonuses we get here are definitely a hell of a lot more powerful than the Imperial Guard options. While a little more grounded than some stuff we've seen of late, it's most definitely up there in terms of sheer killing power and the variety on offer is astounding. There's no bad or truly limited option here, and at their worst these units are on par with the most useful Imperial Guard choices. Even the most implausible ones have a solid competitive edge and, while I would normally praise these elements, the writers' plan to keep them useful is to give them more and more power. There's some good ideas here to be sure, but it's very hard not to sigh at the thought of these guys going up against Ork WAAAGHs!, Sisters of Battle or certain Necron Dynasty armies and the curb-stomp which might ensue.

The only redeeming factor in terms of the killing power of these formations is their price. While there's some seriously brutal combinations on offer, most are quite highly priced, meaning a low cost game will lock them out of their choices. Unlike other armies, this one at least seems to recognize the fact that some of the truly insane stuff should be reserved for massive battles. It's just a shame that people can still happily get Satan's unrelenting seeker missile swarm within 1,500 points or so.

Also, as a final point, is anyone else put off by the constant use of cadre? Really, the widespread use of this would be like calling each and every Imperial Guard formation a "regiment". You can argue it might be accurate, but it's lacking a lot of the vital points to make this thing a full fledged army under that name.

Scenarios and Extras

Being a story based book surrounding key battles, it's naturally quite important for several engagements to translate well onto the tabletop. While it's always important to be able to have the lore distance itself to some degree from the legions of plastic psychotic annihilators, having a campaign so distanced from the rules that it's untranslatable is problematic at best. The problem is, of course, that the scenarios themselves need to be fun and interesting, with a few new ideas, otherwise they just become dull and repetitive. You can guess where this is going.

While the Kauyon review might have praised how the scenarios offered a little variety and some fun ideas, albeit despite a few flaws, Mont'ka proves to be a much more troubled book. Oh it's not entirely bad, and you could even argue quite a few here are an improvement over what we found in Kauyon, but it seems all the great and good new ideas are limited to a small handful of missions. The rest seem to slowly turn back towards some of the more tired and old tropes we've seen all too often. In particular, there are multiple missions, sent in over and over again, which just has the Imperial side surrounded and having to fight their way out, without much in the way of real variety. Multiple missions are, over and over again, based upon one army running away and the other trying to follow them, and the last few really just devolve into overly gimmicky concepts. Mass Imperial Knight vs Battlesuit brawl? Yeah, we had that last time and it was honestly a lot more fun there. Assassins sent in to hunt down a Tau Commander? It's less Kill Team than it is an Apocalypse game with a few flavour ideas thrown in, thus wasting most of its potential.

The real points where the book seems to shine is earlier on when it actually spends a lot more time experimenting and messing with some fairly cool concepts. Hell, the opening scenario itself is a void battle, something all too rarely explored in tabletop 40,000, and the writers seemed to go all out to take advantage of this. With random asteroid strikes and Low Gravity in full effect, the game turns into an extremely fast moving and extremely high risk engagement which is a true joy to play though. Equally, the astartes specific Killing Blow mission plays with how the astartes themselves act, and the Fire Caste's habit of hitting then falling back. Hell, in all honesty, even the opening armoured strikes prove to be a fun addition largely thanks to offering a wide variety of Tank Ace bonuses to each side. Okay, not very original bonuses, usually just the "this guy knows who to drive really well, so move "12 on average" but it's still something.

While personally it seems wrong to say there's a clear divide between the good and bad missions here, there's still no denying that it's an extremely mixed bag at best. Some of these are certainly quite fun, but you're definitely going to be left trying to stomach the bad in order to get to the fun stuff, with the latter becoming more notable than the former as things go along. Plus, atop of all this, it doesn't help that the actual campaign chart basically comes down to minor edits and alterations to initial army formations rather than anything more substantial.

Final Thoughts

You probably already know how this is going to go as final thoughts: This was too biased towards the Tau Empire. It's not the first book to do so, and it's certainly not the worst offender at least in terms of rules, but overall there's no denying how the book stacks up. When you judge it purely upon its merits, comparing the Imperial Guard with the Tau Empire, there's little to no balance here. While it's obvious that there are viable formations on each side, either favouritism or simply the determination to try and have each force heavily contrast with one another in terms of style didn't work out. There's the foundation of something good here to be sure, but this most definitely needed a better editor and far, far better play-testing on each side before this was put out onto shelves.

Still, for all its problems, flaws and issues, it's not completely bad. There's still some reasonable ideas in terms of the campaign, and even a few formations here to be had, which all stand out as interesting without pulling a Codex: Grey Knights. The problem is that Tau Empire players will need to actively limit themselves to ensure they can't just stroll through enemy armies - avoiding certain formations - while the Guard will be pressed to just limit themselves to the truly useful ones on offer. Unless you just want to conclude with an unrelenting curb-stomp of a campaign from the midway point onward, players will need to actively hold back in terms of dishing out power, and that's something few games should really have to do.

Ultimately, it's just disappointing. There was so much potential to be had here, but the writers blew that opportunity when it came to the crunch, just as they did with the fluff. If you're a Tau Empire completionist or seriously want to take advantage of a few specific formations, okay, this one might well be for you. Besides that though, Kauyon is honestly the better of the two books we've had recently.

Still, delayed as this has been, we have one more part to cover, looking into the book's storytelling purposes. Specifically, one very, very big mistake on the writers' part which came within inches of fixing half the book's lore issues.


  1. Now I'll admit, I'm not a Tau player, so I wasn't too interested in their formations beyond looking at them on a surface level (mainly because the formations in the regular book and Kauyon were already so powerful) but I have to say after some games, Mont'ka has taught me many things, like not to be worried about how powerful the Death Guard can become. I shouldn't feel sad for my opponent when I fire as many small blast templates as I have models in one shooting phase, or when I fire as many Large Blast S10 AP2 templates as I have vehicles in one shooting phase, or when I use Mortarion (He has an Instant Death S7 AP2 weapon and a 18" to 28" re-rollable charge range as well as the ability to phase through everything during part of his move, even impassable terrain).

    Now why don't I feel bad about that? Because these formations let them win against a lot of heresy era armies, Emperor's Children, World Eaters and Iron Hands are all screwed (Death Guard, Word Bearers and Iron Warriors are the only ones I've seen that can consistently put up a really good fight and win, for the record I usually just proxy my Death Guard).
    Let's look at this for a second, Forgeworld made separate armies to be intentionally overpowered when you compare them to everything else, and somebody else for some reason thought that this was some sort of baseline.

    It kind of blows my mind though, even more so than these other formations, that they saw a tactic even Matt Ward realized was dumb (scarab conga line, he fixed it in the FAQ) and then decided to make their own version of it (the Tau recycling factory).

    1. Indeed, and that's a key problem here. I'll admit that we still don't playtest these against Forge World armies of any kind, but there's a bigger and bigger gulf between viable forces. In past editions, usually around Fourth or Third, there was a better balance between the forces involved. Not a perfect one by any means and with some still getting shafted (notably the Dark Eldar for too many damn years) but armies were on relatively the same level. These days there seems to be tiers, and unless you buy exactly the right force, you're just going to get stomped into the ground. For example, I personally thought that the Dark Angels and Khorne Daemonkin books were relatively well balanced all things considered, and that they never pushed things too far. There seemed to be restrained with them, but several armies such as the Tau Empire, Craftworld Eldar and others have obviously been built with sheer raw power and mental damage in mind. As such, whole swathes of the game just start to become non-viable in any tournament or competitive engagement. This was bad enough when the likes of the Sisters of Battle were getting the shaft over and over again, but with more and more of the game becoming like this.

  2. Now I want to get into what I thought would really help this book, and I don't know if you had the same thought or not, but why didn't they just introduce the gue'vesa? This would have been the perfect opportunity and it would have allowed the Tau the perfect way to strike back, when the Imperials free the citizens have them actually be auxiliaries that work from the inside to bring the advance to a halt, or just have them there as a way to bring the numbers of Tau soldiers up (at the very least it would explain where the "millions" of Tau came from).

    This begs the question, what happened to the Imperial citizens/soldiers already on the planet when the Imperium left it in Kauyon? Good thing Mont'ka answers this: "No thought or effort had been given to freeing the former Imperial citizens trapped in labour domes on the planet or shipped to far off mining colonies." ...I've got nothing. Maybe it's because I haven't read the right material, but I have never read anything about the Tau ever being in favour of slavery. Everything I've read has them staunchly against the idea, and I've heard some people argue that this kind of slavery is part of the "re-education" process, but I've never read the Tau using forced labour as part of it either. I've read them showing up and winning the people over because they show them how much better their lives are when they're a part of the Greater Good, which should be more than enough, and even if it takes more than that, the book is written so that it sounds as if EVERY citizen was sent to either the labour domes or mining colonies, which again is so completely against everything I've read about them that by itself makes me really dislike the book, even ignoring everything else because now the Tau are just a different Imperium soon to be screwed over the second they come across any Daemons that realize they can possess the Tau's weaponry.

    Now I said that this had more to do with the rules, and they could have used this to introduce a Tau Auxiliaries section, there's more than enough gear the Tau can give them or they can steal, including vehicles and/or artillery that they could then blindside the Imperium with, and there's more than enough variety in the Kroot to work with this (which is why they used to have their own mini-codex), flesh out the Vespids a bit more and you've already got yourself a new army that can be used alongside the old one, and it helps add diversity to the available armies (quite honestly I'm a lot more favourable to playing as an auxiliary army as the main Tau army always felt kind of bland/cookie cutter to me). There's a lot of opportunities they had at expanding the Tau army roster and they squandered all of them.

    I am very interested in what you think was the big mistake that could have fixed a lot though.

    1. ... You've actually just brought up a big part of it in all honesty. Not a massive part, and not taken quite the direction I was going to suggest, but the involvement of defectors and the planet's inhabitants is a key part which I felt was woefully underused. IF taken in the right direction the presence of further races within the Tau could have seriously helped the story.

      Anyway, that's for next time so i'm going to save that subject until then.

    2. The Tau ending of Dark Crusade mentions those who fought against the Tau being placed into single-sex 're-education' camps (while this is the same thing that gave us 'the Tau sterilize human populations', I just rewatched the ending and even though the narrator is blatantly Imperial, he mentions that the sterilization thing is speculated, while he presents the camps as factual). So the camps are definitely a thing, Dark Crusade is canon AFAIK.

      The concept seems to be based on those camps set up by the Communist Vietnamese government post-Vietnam war. And those were definitely labour camps. I've read somewhere (I can't remember where so take with a pinch of salt) that people who don't immediately accept the Greater Good are put into re-education camps and made to perform light physical labour in the hopes that they will come to a realisation of their potential place within the Greater Good and have a change of heart. If they do, they're removed from the camps and become gue'vesa if human or whatever equivalent word the Tau have for other species.

      Seconded as far as potential Gue'vesa go though. The auxiliaries are one of my favourite aspects of Tau lore, in part because of the way their aesthetics break up the Tau aesthetic and the flavour they bring. I don't know if either of you follow FFG at all, but they've just released an expansion pack for their 40k LCG which includes Commander Starblaze, a game OC who focuses on Gue'vesa and auxiliaries (he lets you include IG cards in your deck, which Tau decks normally can't have), and I think he's a great addition to things.

    3. Oh some form of reeducation camps are to be expected, forcing them into labour domes or mining colonies for free labour against their will though? Maybe if the mining colonies weren't mentioned it would have been better. In case you're curious, no the book never tries to claim that it was for the reeducation process that they were put there, not to mention the actual labour camps weren't done for any major gain by the Vietnamese, whereas the only real reason I could see to send Imperials off to mine would be to get resources for the Tau Empire (which they already have drones that could do more efficiently and Kauyon said they don't need them anyway).

      Maybe if we actually saw what was inside the labour domes/mining colonies that would have shed some light on the whole thing, but we don't. I'm also pretty sure the Tau were previously established to use some form of solitary confinement/brainwashing to bring stubborn people over to the greater good (though I'm not sure where I read that).

      Lastly, if the labour domes and mining colonies were just meant to reeducate the imperials, why did they send literally everyone to them? Tau diplomacy should have won over a good portion of the population, so why is it that the planet is populated by fluctuating numbers of Tau and no humans at all aside from those in the labour domes? Even in Dark Crusade it mentions how some humans weren't subject to any reeducation because it wasn't necessary.

      Honestly I don't really follow FFG that much, though at least they're trying then.