Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Hell March

Something I've come to realise is that building a tabletop army is a lot like what I hear about raising a child - it involves lots of hard, tedious, thankless work, and by the end of it you want to smash something with a hammer, but there are those rare moments when you look at a finished unit that makes it all worth it in the end.

I had originally planned to update this thread last week, but never got a chance to. Having seen an opportunity to get at least a couple of games of not 8th in at stores before I'm prohibited (in GW stores at least - FLGSs may, perhaps, be slightly more flexible with using older rulesets), I've spent the last couple of weeks working like an Il-2 Shturmovik factory to get a legal force up and running.

This first meant a second troops choice, in this case my second Firewarrior team. I cannot stress just how much I love Firewarriors, and never want to see them change. For even longer than tabletop hobby, one of my favourite past-times has been Real Time Strategy computer games, and amongst them there is a special place in my heart for the Command and Conquer games (well, maybe not so much the more recent ones...), which were the first I ever played and remain some of my favourites to this day. A couple of years ago it occurred to me that this is an important part of my fondness for Firewarriors, as I can recognise their purpose instantly from those games - Firewarriors are the light infantry/rifle infantry/minigunners of the Tau, the basic soldier costing around $90-120 to make, and armed with a machine gun that's best against other infantry. They might be looked down upon, you might scoff at them, but when there's enough of them around they can chew through anything the enemy throws at them, and no matter what your plan is, whether you're conquering the entire map with the full tech tree or playing an infiltration mission where you have just a few guys and an engineer, they will always serve you well.

It's because of this that it always makes me sad when I see comments about wanting them to have stuff like organic special weapons.

Anyway, continuing the series on the proud and illustrious history of my armies, here is the second Firewarrior team of my first army.

While the first Firewarrior team was from a Firewarrior box, this one was included as part of the original 3rd edition Tau Battleforce, which I received as a Christmas present one year if memory serves. The 3rd edition Tau Battleforce was fantastic, and to this day is still the best one GW ever produced in my eyes. Not only did it provide you with a fully functioning army straight out of the box (and a fairly well-rounded one at that), it also provided you with something else that no other Tau army deal ever included - a set of Jungle Trees. I found the inclusion hilarious when I first looked at the back of the box in a GW store, giggling over the idea of this impressive list of formidable troops and weaponry followed by "And a set of Jungle Trees" which seemed like a classic case of Arson, Murder and Jaywalking humour, but to this day I still think it was a stroke of brilliance; not only would a new player buying the Battleforce get the nucleus of their new army, they would also get their first terrain piece. This alone is why I still consider the 3rd edition Battleforce boxes superior to all their equivalents released since.

As I already mentioned in the last post, my early experiments with basing ended up something of a disaster in my eyes, so I swore off basing models for a long time. This team comes from that period, and thus are glued straight onto unadorned bases. I thought I had included specialists in this team as well, but it seems that I either gave them totally new ones that I have since forgotten, or never applied the practice entirely this time around. Either way they still all retained their own individual personalities and characteristics, though many have been lost to the ages. It also represents a step up in painting, as I now started to experiment with actually painting the scanner displays and Tau Empire badges instead of simply leaving them black.

Together with the earlier team, this formed the core of my original Tau army, and served me well for many years. Now let's meet their successors.

Firewarrior team Lar represents the first painted Tau 40k models that I actually bought with my own money. The earlier Firewarriors that I've shown were all free of charge, as I won them as prizes in several giveaway raffles. There were several other units that I also won in this way, and these Free Men or 'Freebies' will be forming an elite core of my new Tau army. Thus, this new team represents the first mainline regular unit of the army, having come from a 6th edition Tau Empire Battleforce (which, though certainly a good deal, is still a pale shadow of what came before). Like Firewarrior team Kais, Firewarrior team Lar includes a full compliment of mission specialists, with the additional inclusion of a Designated Marksman (in Firewarrior team Kais the team's Scout is also the Designated Marksman, performing both roles). Again, conversion work was kept to a minimum, with the only real modifications (as opposed to just creative posing and assembly or crude greenstuff sculpting) being the inclusion of a markerlight and data-cables on the Shas'Ui and a spare helmet clipped to the Scout's backpack, created using the tried and tested method created by Sebastian Stuart and showcased both online and in White Dwarf #313 - incidentally the first White Dwarf magazine I ever owned, in case I never mentioned it before - with the only modification being to use a razor saw to remove the bulk of the head piece.

For the Shas'Ui I had originally planned to finally recreate the cool action pose I first created with the first team's Second so many years ago, after having finally cracked the secret behind it (a twist in the waist was the missing ingredient I had overlooked), but partway through assembling her I had a change of heart and instead decided to create an entirely new pose for her, which I suppose was only fitting given that this is a new army. It was an easy enough thing to do, with the only real change being to flip which way the pulse carbine was pointing. I find the end result just as impressive looking, and even cooler for being reminiscent of the Pathfinder artwork on pg. 2 of Codex: Tau which acted as some inspiration for it. The pose of original second team's Shas'Ui was recreated for Firewarrior team Lar's Team Second, positioning the two paired arms seperately. I think it ended up like that by accident in the original team (I remember I was trying to go for a generic action pose), but I decided to deliberately copy it this round after liking how it looked, with the arm positioning suggesting that he's reloading.

As much as I adore the Firewarrior models, I must admit that by this stage I was starting to get a bit sick of painting them. As I have learnt with working through over 64 Glade Guard models for my Wood Elves, even with amazing models you can still have too much of a good thing sometimes. Fortunately for me then, is that I won't need to paint up any more Firewarriors for the time being, as these two teams fulfil my minimum 2 troop requirements and minimum 1 Firewarrior team (which will always be a rule to me). But all armies need leaders, and so here is the first HQ choice of my new Tau army - my hard as nails Fireblade, Shas'nel'T'au Cal'Ka'Eoro.

While I always liked the idea of a Cadre Fireblade as an infantry leader for smaller scale low-cost games, I never liked the GW model as it was, especially its rather poorly sculpted face. Thus, over the years I began to work out a plan for how I would convert and modify the model to my own needs. The first step was to replace the bare head with a much cooler looking Firewarrior helmet, which also had the advantage of giving the model a communications aerial. Since the Firewarrior sprue doesn't come with any spare head antennas, I instead sourced one from one of the Pathfinder kits I obtained, and discovered to my delight that it was the perfect size once the extra bottom piece was snipped off. The size of the helmet meant I had to remove the back intake, which was unfortunate, but when you think about it it was a pretty silly feature anyway (either it was an intake, in which case it ran the risk of sucking the poor Shas'nel's hair into the backpack machinery, or it was an exhaust vent, in which case it would spew piping hot and possibly radioactive exhaust straight into the back of the unfortunate Shas'nel's head) so I suppose I can live without it. I experimented with simply reversing the vent instead, but ultimately it was still a poor fit, so it had to go. The new head also required a little bit of greenstuff work to the body to ensure a good seamless fit.

Interestingly, I decided to make use of a spare helmet left over from my earliest Firewarrior teams, as I loved the 'old meets new' symbolism it would produce. It was a shock to see how much lighter in colour GW plastic used to be.

The next step was the bonding knife, which I always thought looked dumb being waved around in the air. I decided to replace it with a grenade hand, to make it look like the Fireblade was throwing a photon grenade. This was much easier to achieve, as the knife hand is separate on the Fireblade sprue, so all I needed to do was saw off a spare grenade hand from a Firewarrior kit and glue it in place.

It was at this point that I added an old Firewarrior bonding knife to the back of the model, trimmed to fit with her cape. I am not fond of the chunky bonding knives on the newer Tau models, much preferring the elegant slender bonding knives in the original Firewarrior kit, and so I will be using those for all of the bonded infantry models in the army. I also noticed that the Fireblade model has no spare ammunition packs on it, which I thought was rather silly for a soldier, so I added a couple to her backpack as well, taken from the Pathfinder kit and cut up to fit. I also added some photon grenade packs to ensure that all of the wargear she's equipped with is represented on the model.

The next stage was the most ambitious, as I reposed her right leg. While I found the original Fireblade's pose to be adequate enough, I became increasingly enamoured with the idea of bending one leg down more to create more of an action pose, climbing forward to lead an attack or bracing against an obstacle in defence. So it was that I cut up and reassembled the model's leg, reconstructing gaps with greenstuff. I had originally planned on reposing her other leg instead, reasoning that it would be easier to do as that one was a separate component, but after seeing that the right leg was already more forward I felt changing it would look more natural instead. I also planned to build up the base more to accommodate this changed pose,  but was pleasantly surprised to find that the base would already fit if it was simply reversed.

The final changes were the addition of the ubiquitous markerlight data-cables and removing most of the Tau iconography from the model. While I can appreciate that Fireblades encompass a more spiritual side to Fire Caste tradition, I've never liked the Sigil Spam that's crept its way into the post-2010 Tau models. It always seemed to undermine their nature as pragmatists in my eyes, especially the chest logos that, as is often the case, just seem to scream out 'shoot me here'. So it was then that I carefully sliced off all of the Tau Empire logos on the Fireblade model except the shoulder guard badge, which should be more than enough to stir martial pride. Keen-eyed readers may also have noticed that I've been shaving off and greenstuffing over the Tau logos on the infantry markerlights for similar reasons (and because I like the more utilitarian unmarked look better).

I painted up Cal'Ka in much the same way as I had originally envisioned, with the main details distinguishing her from the regular Firewarrior colour scheme being the use of advanced green optics and green markings to show her status as a commander. The only real deviation from my original plan was with the cape. From the start I wanted it to be double sided, as I had grown to dislike the all-white cape on the GW studio model - I can understand it's a cultural thing, white being the (modern) sept colour of T'au, but again a giant sheet of bright white like that had a bit too much of a 'shoot me' feel to it for my tastes, so I instead settled on a compromise where the inside of the cape would be white while the outside would be a nice practical neutral tone. The difference came in the detail - I had originally intended to paint more green sept markings running along the edge of the cape's inside, but my attempt at layering white over a large scale didn't quite work out as well as I'd have liked, so I decided against further details out of fear it would make that side of the cape look too messy. The outside facing of the cape had the opposite problem - I had originally intended to paint a three-tone camouflage scheme on it, but I ended up being so pleased with how the olive drab base turned out that I didn't want to add anything more in case I spoiled it.

Despite all my years of planning, one thing I never gave much thought to was her base, and I was left somewhat unsure of how to handle the Tau details on it. In the end I decided to paint them up in the whites and reds of the new Vior'la GW studio scheme, drybrushing the main colours on to give a worn and tarnished appearance, as a subtle take-that to the new GW - clearly the new GW studio Tau have failed, and it's now up to my valiant Shas to mount a heroic rescue!

It wasn't until everything had dried and been varnished that I suddenly noticed the new pose now left the model unbalanced, with the lower barrel of the pulse rifle pushing her over to the side. Thinking fast, I came up with the elegant solution of simply gluing a spare 25mm round base to the underside of the scenic base, providing just the right amount of ground clearance and making the base look extra-special.

With a minimum legal army now up and running I have also taken it on its first couple of outings. The first was to a multi-player game at a friend's house (using one of my test models as a Fireblade proxy, as it was before I had finished painting Cal'Ka), which I sadly never took any pictures of because I only realised I had forgotten to bring my camera when I was on the train over to there. I ended up getting tabled in short order (mostly because one of the other players was packing an all-flying monstrous creature Tyranid list, and no-one else had any anti-air units), but I ended up winning the real victory when someone commented that my models were probably the best looking ones on the table.

The second outing was a foray to a FLGS nearby, which I triumphantly marched into on their late-night games day... only to find that the minimum points level for that night was 1000pts, which I don't even have half of. Thus I was left to simply spectate on the other games happening, although I did spy a rather nicely painted Sisters of Battle army in use. Since my models never left the transport case, I never took any photos here either (I was planning to do a quick shoot on an empty table once one of the games was finished, but they packed away all the scenery before I could so I decided to cut my losses and go home to enjoy some birthday chocolate).

One picture I do have, however, is the entire force so far all together, arranged in parade formation because it's the only way to fit them all onto my limited photography space.

There it is, the first core of my new Tau army, clocking in at just under 400 points with the 6th edition codex (if the Firewarriors are given EMP grenades).

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