Friday, July 26, 2013

First One-On-One Game vs 6th Edition Tau

Xenos scum!
Usually my battle reports go into turn-by-turn detail. This time I don't particularly feel like doing a post mortem of last game night's slaughter other than to put down a few thoughts and comments.

Observations and Lessons Learned
Read Your List Carefully
When Bryce looked at the size of my force versus his, he actually asked if it was my entire list (i.e., 1483 points). Although I thought I did, the next morning I realized that I had forgotten to field the multi-melta Dreadnought that was on the list. My plan when I made the list earlier in the week was to drop the Dreadnought within range of Longstrike's Hammerhead and attempt to disable it while footslogging my Ironclad Dreadnought. Even if the standard Dreadnought was initially unsuccessful, its proximity would serve as a distraction and possibly buy me some time. By game night, however, I was careless in reading my list and saw only "Ironclad Dreadnought" and "drop pod", having skimmed right over the Dreadnought entry.

Sometimes Your Dice Just Hate You
That game night saw some of my worst rolling since I started using the Munitorum dice. I rolled low both when we were choosing table sides as well as when deciding who was going first. I rolled a 1 or a 2 almost every time I needed to make a 3+ save or had to hit something with a BS4 Marine. When I most needed my reserves to come in, I rolled a 2. It's frustrating to know that your dice are balanced because you tested them ad nauseam but they still roll lower than average when you can least afford it.

Be Careful with Reserves
Agemman didn't even get to play
I placed Agemman and my shooty Terminators in reserves, believing that I was protecting them for later in the game. When Bryce's 1500 points of Tau started shooting, I had only 738 points on the table, 85 points of which consisted of an Aegis Defence Line and an Icarus Lascannon (had I remembered to bring the Dreadnought and that it was supposed to be in the drop pod instead of the Ironclad, it would have been 903 points). During the first round of shooting, I lost my entire Scout Squad and the Vindicator's Demolisher Cannon. The drop pod with the Ironclad came in at the second half of the first turn, but by then Bryce had significantly pared down my forces. My first turn of shooting proved to be nearly worthless while Bryce's second turn was a lot more effective. While the Ironclad survived the Riptide's shots to the side armor, I lost it to a lucky missile hit to the rear. The Terminators failed to come in during the second half of turn two, leaving me with little more than a damaged Predator, a Razorback, and a partial Tactical Squad. By the third turn, Bryce was able to effectively sweep the table clean (the Defence Line and the lascannon can't keep you in the game) and Agemman and his Terminators never entered play.

In retrospect, the Terminators would have done a lot more good had they started the game on the table. It turns out that 948 points worth of 5th Edition Space Marines have very little chance against almost 1500 points of 6th Edition Tau.

Scouts Don't Do Well Against Tau:
6th Edition Tau have the infuriating ability to deny cover in a number of ways. Since they were wearing camo cloaks, each one of my Scouts cost as much as a Tactical Marine. When Bryce's marker lights denied Telion and his squad the cover they needed to survive, I lost a 163 point unit to AP4 fire in a single turn. Clearly my army is too dependent on Telion's relatively expensive squad.

They were all dead before the end of turn 1

The Wrong Army Build
Upon further reflection, I realized that my army as currently built is an anti-Ork force; it lacks long ranged anti-tank weapons and instead focuses on close range mass killing. Instead of a lascannon Dreadnought I field an Ironclad Dreadnought with dual heavy flamers (our Ork player hates the thing). I have a Destructor-Pattern Predator with twin heavy bolters to maximize the number of shots instead of a tank-killing Annihilator-Pattern Predator. The Vindicator can kill a tank easily enough, but only if it's within 24". Usually I'm trying to land a Demolisher Cannon shell on heavy or massed infantry. Instead of a plasma gun, my Tactical Squad carries a flamer. The army as a whole doesn't field enough low AP weapons to reliably take out Battlesuits. Instead of bringing Fast Attack units that can quickly cross the table and engage a long range enemy like the Tau, I have a force that hunkers down and waits for the enemy to charge.

Obviously I'm going to have to diversify my army if I want to avoid getting stomped by the Tau on a regular basis.

The Future
My drubbing resulted from a combination of things: mostly poor strategy and planning on my part, bad luck, a limited selection of models (I'm just not painting them fast enough and I hate fielding unpainted models), and the fact that Bryce is a long time, highly competitive player. I also think that the fact that I played an older 5th Edition codex against a strong 6th Edition codex may have handicapped me slightly (i.e., it may have been the difference between a thorough defeat and the slaughter it was). The general consensus I've seen on several forums is that 6th Edition codexes are reasonably well balanced against other 6th Edition codexes, but that 5th Edition codexes may be at a disadvantage. Anyway, here are my thoughts on future games against the Tau.

Sternguard are practically designed to kill Tau. Long range AP4 Kraken rounds slaughter Fire Warriors, AP5 Dragonfire rounds can pick out Pathfinders in cover, AP3 Vengeance rounds are pretty handy against Battlesuits, and 2+ poisoned Hellfire rounds are useful against Riptides.

A Sternguard Marine/Tyrannic War Veteran in progress

With the flexibility granted by their special ammunition, the Tyrannic War Veteran-themed Sternguard Squad may very well be the next one I work on after I finish the Close Combat Terminators. My only hope is that the 6th Edition C:SM doesn't do something silly like eliminating special ammunition. This seems unlikely, though, given how iconic the Sternguard have become for Codex-compliant Space Marine chapters.

If Longstrike is on the table, you are practically guaranteed to start losing tanks. C:SM Devastators could help to neutralize the Tau's anti-tank capabilities. And if you have the points available, you can add an insurance policy of five additional Marines. I'm starting to think that a Devastator Squad with a number of ablative wounds and broken into two combat squads is a lot more likely to give my heavy weapons some staying power, albeit for a prohibitively steep price.

This is where I expect GW to come through with the the 6th Edition Space Marine Codex and rectify the fact that vanilla Marines have the most expensive heavy weapons squad of any of the power armor armies. Currently, a ten man Devastator Squad with two missile launchers and two lascannons will cost you a mind-boggling 270 points. If 6th Edition C:SM Marines are priced more like Dark Angels then the same squad will cost only 210 points, allowing you to bring along a lascannon Razorback for a total of 285 points.

Cheaper Troops
One of the major shifts from the 5th to the 6th Edition is a general reduction in troop costs, usually with little to no reduction in capability (Chaos Daemons being a notable exception). This tends to give 6th Edition codexes an edge over previous ones. For instance, my army has yet to receive the 2-3 point per Marine cost reduction that Chaos Space Marines and Dark Angels have received while Bryce's Fire Warriors saw a discount with their latest codex.

I fully expect Codex Marines to get a bit cheaper in the near future. Right now two bare bones 10 man Tactical Squads cost me 340 points. Soon I expect the same two Tactical Squads to cost closer to 280 points (~300 points with Veteran Sergeants).

A More Balanced Army
Many are saying that balanced armies are the way to go in 6th Edition. Bryce's army is very balanced while mine is not. Early on in in the hobby, I made several theoretical lists and bought a huge number of models thinking that my painting would get faster over time. (It turned out that I got slower as my skills improved and I started paying more attention to detail.) Last year I bought a further $300 worth of models when I found out that GW was going to increase their prices. When Death from the Skies came out, I bought a Stormraven and two Stormtalons, thinking I'd move them up in my building queue. Sadly enough, the new codex will be out before I ever build the flyers, meaning that I'll never have actually used the supplement.

I estimate that I have between 5,000 and 6,000 points of models, only 1,600 of which have been built. I'm certainly not lacking for models.

So many unbuilt models...

Some may be surprised by what I haven't built. For example, it has taken me two years to finally start painting the Close Combat Terminator Squad I bought early on. I still don't have a finished Land Raider, I only have two playable units of Troops, and I haven't assembled a single Fast Attack unit. These are glaring limitations, but I'm finally starting to work on them.

Within my collection of unbuilt models is a well balanced army, I just have to get them to the table.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Close Combat Terminators WIP, Part I

It's taken a while (I think I bought the kits nearly two years ago), but I finally started the Close Combat Terminators. After painting almost every night for a month and a half to finish the Ironclad Dreadnought and Captain Agemman, I decided to take a week off before starting another project. I started the eight man squad (i.e., the maximum capacity for a Land Raider Crusader) around June 30 and have been working pretty consistently since then.

I started with the bases, which won't be quite as ornate as Agemman's. I'll be forgoing the rocks and will stick with just the Stirland Mud texture paint:

One of eight

I'm rather fond of the new texture paints. They're easy to use and, in this case, look just like mud. The only disadvantage is that you have to glob on huge volumes of the stuff, meaning that my current bottle won't last as long as I'd like. The bases look pretty good with just the texture paint, but they'll look even better when they get a good dry brushing and some static grass.

Originally I was going to do my "ground up" build, which would normally culminate with the heads. However, I've been so intimidated by the idea of painting white Veterans' helmets that I decided just to get them over with.

I've long been dissatisfied with the shooty Terminators I finished almost two years ago. Since the Black Reach Terminators' helmets were part of the torso, they ended up getting primed black with the rest of the model. Although I tried to build up from gray, the Skull White took too many layers to fully cover the base coat. I gave up on white and used Space Wolves Grey instead, which made them a lot bluer than I wanted. I finished the helmets with a heavy wash of Asurmen Blue, not realizing that a relatively dark wash over a lighter color would look horrible. I tried to whiten the helmets and lighten the wash by dry brushing white over the helmets, but Skull White doesn't dry brush well.

But this time I have Ceramite White, better brushes, a jeweler's magnifier visor, nearly two years more experience, and a much steadier hand. Plus, I primed the helmets with Army Painter's Uniform Grey, which is a lot easier to cover with lighter pigments than black.

To further differentiate Agemman from a Terminator sergeant, I decided to give the sergeant the traditional red helmet with a white stripe. First I painted his lenses Snot Green then painted the helmet Mephiston Red. Painting the eyes is the hardest part for me since I inevitably get the helmet color onto the lenses, then I get the lens color onto the helmet while trying to fix the lenses, then... well, I can do this several times before I get it right. I finished the eyes with a couple layers of Nuln Oil, making sure that the lenses had a noticeable black border, then going back with Snot Green to lighten up the center of each lens. Mephiston Red was used to clean up the Nuln Oil that strayed too far from the eyes.

Head on a pike. I glue all my Marine heads onto bits of
sprue to make them easier to handle while painting

I painted the white stripe with Ceramite White, which was able to cover the gray primer in two to three layers. I kept the coat relatively smooth by frequently wetting the brush tip. The optics over the left eye and the respirator use my usual Leadbelchers/Nuln Oil/dry brushed Chainmail approach.

It was in finishing the helmet that I did something I'd never really done before. Instead of slathering on the Nuln Oil like I would do with the armor, I used my beloved Atlas 3/0 brush to fill in just the crevices. The crevices in the region of the white stripe were filled with Drakenhof Nightshade instead. I finished the helmet off with some Mephiston Red and Ceramite White to clean up the lines and gave most of the helmet a quick dry brushing of Blood Red.

With the sergeant's helmet done, I reluctantly moved on the Veterans' helmets. I had already painted the lenses of all seven Veterans with Mephiston Red and the snouts of the helmets with Chaos Black. Now I had to bite the bullet and actually paint with white.

Did you know that Ceramite White is a miracle?

Rather than to try to mass produce the helmets, I choose to finish one completely for practice. The white was a bit difficult to work with at first-there were significant clumps and brush strokes-but after I figured out exactly how much wetting the brush needed, things went a lot smoother. With the white regions of the helmet fully painted and the lenses painted just as I did with the sergeant's helmet (except with Blood Red for the center of the lenses), I took that final leap and broke out the Drakenhof Nightshade.

The Drakenhof Nightshade (which is even darker than the Asurmen Blue that gave me problems two years ago) went into the crevices of the helmet. The lines were cleaned up with Ceramite White, and particularly dark regions were lightened with heavily watered-down Skull White.

From left to right: finished sergeant's helmet, two finished helmets, one
helmet before adding Drakenhof Nightshade, and one partially white helmet

I finished the helmet with a light dry brushing of Space Wolves Grey to give it a slight blue tinge and then a dry brushing of Ceramite White. Infinitely happier with these results than I was with my original Terminators, I moved on to a second helmet to see if I could repeat it. The second helmet was nearly identical to the first, so I went into mass production mode.

I finished the eyes on the remaining five helmets (which leaves most of the face white) then went on to painting the entirety of each helmet. As of this post, I have one finished sergeant's helmet, two finished Veterans' helmets, three Veterans' helmets that need their snouts painted and the crevices washed, and two Veterans' helmets that are only as far having finished eyes and partially painted snouts. Once the helmets are done, the rest of the Terminators should be pretty easy.

I'm sure there are experienced painters out there who will find it funny that I've just started using controlled application of washes, but until recently I didn't have the experience or the steady hand needed to make it work. Unfortunately, with improving skill comes increasing dissatisfaction with my earlier efforts.
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