Saturday, 4 April 2015

Designing a new army - the Obsidian Enclave

Join me on a journey, as I take you on the process I use to design and plan a new army.

Well my current collections include over 6000pts of Space Marines and 3500pts of Dark Eldar, along with smaller armies of Wraiths and Blood Angels. They’re all pretty balanced collections between shooting and combat (though obviously the Blood Angels do lean towards the stabby) so I figured with the prevalence of shooting in this edition I’d go for something with plenty of firepower. Now my speed of painting doesn’t lend itself towards hordes so guard were pretty much out, and I’m not keen on painting too many exposed faces so I was really looking for something armoured.

You know where this is going don’t you – yes I decided to take the plunge and start a Tau army.

Now the first step I always take when starting a new army – colours.

All my current armies have pretty vibrant colour schemes, so I wanted to go down a slightly different route with this army, my first step therefore was to go neutral, and dark. I wanted the main colour to be black so then the next question was what colour(s) to pair with that. My first though was to go back to a scheme I did years ago (about 17 years to be precise) and use a burnt orange spot colour as a sort of homage to the normal Tau scheme that Games Workshop use. That being said, it’s a scheme I’ve done before and was a bit brighter than I was aiming for this time. So the next thought was a combination of grey and green, which I quite liked. Next up then was the other part of the scheme – if I had to paint skin, what tone would it have? Tau are typically referred to as being blue-skinned, but again I wanted to keep that a subtle effect so I settled on something like the Cardassians from Star Trek. And that got me thinking a bit more – one of my favourite characters from Deep Space Nine was a member of the Obsidian Order, which got me thinking a bit more. The Obsidian Enclave was born!

So from that point I had a bit of a re-think. A quick internet search revealed some pictures of obsidian rocks, one of which in particular caught my eye as it had neutral purple and green tinges to it. I was sold, and the scheme was set – dark grey cloth, with gloss black armour shot through with purple and green.

So the next step, and the first I always take in relation to designing a new list – what style do I want to play.

First question - Competitive or Friendly?

Now I’ve played Tau plenty over the last few years, and there are some pretty cheesy options out there. I’m not that kind of player though (I don’t think!) and so I decided to sit down and figure out a way of bringing a Tau list that could hold its own against decent non-tournament lists without crapping all over the fun two players should have when playing the game.

The first thing to do therefore was set down an outline of the key things I wanted from the army.

The first and main thing I wanted to achieve was to avoid the static ‘gunline’ approach, I wanted an army that not only brought firepower, but manoeuvrability too. Now Tau can bring that quite nicely throughout their codex thanks to the proliferation of jetpack units, which brings me on to my second point.

One of my good friends also plays Tau, using the Farsight Enclaves book to bring a full suit army. I didn’t want to step on those toes by doing something similar, and I actually don’t particularly like the current Tau Crisis Suit models anyway, so my first selection rule was that there would be no crisis suits in the list, including a commander. I do however like the stealth suit model, and the shadowsun hq too, so I wanted the stealth suits to feature heavily.

Point three then, and a key one I needed to get right if I were to avoid being too cheesy – markerlights. What I was aiming for here was the ability to keep bringing markerlights all the way through the game, but without putting a serious number of tokens on a unit (basically I wanted to still have to make decisions instead of having so many markerlight tokens I could do what I wanted). The flip side to that is that by including smaller numbers of markerlights I could still overwhelm a unit if necessary, but it would mean really focusing on them with all my sources of markerlights.

I then started looking at a few key units I either wanted to include or exclude. I’ve already mentioned that I didn’t want to include crisis suits. The next big talking point about tau therefore then is the riptide. It’s just too nice a model to ignore – but I decided that if I were to avoid the cheese I could only bring one.

Next up then – broadsides. Let’s get this out there – I love the new broadside model. On one condition. It must carry the heavy rail rifle – I really don’t like the high yield missile pod. That’s enough to avoid too much cheese I think.

So for a few other issues – I actually like the flyer model for the tau, provided I could remove the links between the front wings and the rear aelerons. I also like the skyray, hammerhead and piranha models, so would look at maybe including those. On the other side of the coin though, I don’t like Kroot, or Vespid, so they were out regardless.

So I tinkered with a couple of lists, and took advice from an old adversary (who has now gotten rid of his Tau army thankfully!)

This is my third draft.


Commander Shadowsun, accompanied by ELITES - full squad of Stealth suits, with an upgraded team leader carrying a markerlight, target lock and fusion blaster, with a second fusion blaster and target lock equipped model in the unit.

This squad would be not only my HQ refuge, but also my primary anti-tank unit. The entire squad can infiltrate, and has a 2+ cover save when behind just about any obscuring item. The target locks also allow the fusion blasters to pick out up to 4 tanks if necessary, whilst the remaining 4 stealth suits carrying burst cannons give me a decent number of anti-personnel shots should they find themselves in the thick of things.

Darkstrider, accompanying a unit of TROOPS – 11 fire warriors with pulse carbines in a Devilfish with a Smart Missile System. This unit, along with a second similar unit (12-men) are not only my two basic required troops units, but they should also destroy any normal infantry units they go up against – combined the two units should lay down 48 shots, half of which will count their target’s toughness as one lower than it should be thanks to Darkstrider’s unique abilities.

Next up then, the bullet magnet – the Riptide. Despite everything I’ve heard said about the heavy burst cannon, I just had to give it the Ion Accelerator a go, and twinned it with a pair of fusion blasters, an early warning override and velocity tracker to make it double as a viable anti air option.

Time next then to fill the Fast Attack and Heavy Support slots. First up, heavy support. I had to include a trio of broadsides just for the models. I originally had velocity trackers attached to them to give them the option of skyfire but stripped them out to give me points elsewhere. As a backup to the fire warrior teams, I added in a sniper drone team, maxed out for big shooting at ridiculous ranges, again because I like the spotter models. Finally I bombed a Skyray in there – with one very important tactical note – the missiles would not be used early in the game, with the key part being that its markerlights have the skyfire option at BS4, which is rare in the Tau army.

So filling out the 1850 points using the Fast Attack slots, I brought a support unit to really threaten heavier infantry, with a minimum sized pathfinder squad in a devilfish, three of whom bring the tasty looking rail rifles to the party. Finally, I brought two units to give me some markerlights. One squad of 5 pathfinders and one squad of 5 drones should give me 2-3 hits each to boost shooting a little from other units.

So how does that all work together in a game?

Well it all falls back on my tried and tested hammer and anvil tactic, with a solid firebase providing support to more mobile hard hitting units. In this case the firebase is made up of the Riptide, Broadsides, Snipers, Markerlight Pathfinders, Skyray and Marker Drones, whilst the mobile ‘hammer’ is made up of the two firewarrior units, the rail rifle pathfinders and the stealth team.

So let me know what you think?

Would you expect anything like this if someone told you that you were playing Tau? Given the key restrictions, would you have any recommendations for improvements or can you highlight any obvious weaknesses?

I own none of these models yet, but am planning to stockpile resources as the year goes by to pick up a big order after Christmas and get painting in 2016.