Saturday, 20 July 2019

Close Encounters (Battlefleet Gothic Battle Report)

Close Encounters - A Battlefleet Gothic Battle Report

The room's chronometer chimed meekly from its perch near the ceiling of the reception chamber, the only sound to break the empty ambience in which Por'Ui'T'au'Mesme sat reviewing the documents arrayed before him on a steely grey desk. The Tau knew this noise marked the 5th dec he had been waiting here now, and it would only be 5 more before he was released of his duties and could escape the agonising drought of activity within the reception chamber. Mesme wondered who he could have offended to be given such a tedious posting. Still, Meseme supposed that there were far worse regions of space he could have been assigned to. Boredom was still infinitely more preferable to facing some of the less savoury inhabitants of the Eastern Fringe. 

The Por'Ui looked over his papers and information readouts once more, an array of data and knowledge the Tau had gleaned about the Ar'cea to whom it was his mission to conduct First Contact with. All reports suggested that these Ar'cea were an autonomous or semi-autonomous faction, although long-range image captures had shown their ships to have markings that suggested they were somehow affiliated with one of the major Ar'cea 'Craftworld' nation-states that was known to be operating near Tau space. The exact relationship was unclear, but what was known was that these Ar'cea had claimed dominion over the entire local region and attacked any shipping that passed through it at their whim. They were also in conflict with local pirate groups, most notably a sizeable Ores'la presence that they seemed to be engaged in a power struggle with. The Ar'cea had recently inflicted a string of defeats on the Ores'la which had left them seemingly unchallenged as the dominant power. 

All this changed when the Tau had moved in. In an ongoing effort to secure the borders of the Tau Empire Tau fleet elements had since moved into this region and begun anti-piracy operations. The Kor'vattra fleet sent in had already inflicted significant losses on the Ores'la, and had systematically destroyed several smaller local corsair bands with no sign of their progress stalling. The arrival of strong Tau military forces into the area had shattered the existing balance of power and the Ar'cea had become increasingly erratic ever since. 

Which was where Mesme came in. Eager to gain new allies in the region and seeing no sense in antagonising the Ar'cea if it could be avoided, the Tau were eager to open up channels of diplomacy with the enigmatic aliens. To this end they had set up the waystation Mesme was currently stationed at, placed inside the primary biosphere of an uninhabited system in what was believed to be neutral ground, where the Ar'cea could approach and communicate with the Tau in peace. The Por'Ui had been residing there now for over a Kai'rotaa now, but for the entire duration the Ar'cea had sent no-one. It was almost like Mesme's entire mission would amount to an elaborate exercise in finding new and inventive ways to do nothing. 

At once the Por'Ui was violently ripped from his thoughts by the sudden shrill metallic ring of the waystation's proximity alert and an announcement on the desk readouts that an unidentified spacecraft was docking. The Tau's heart skipped a beat. In the distance he could hear the sound of the airlock opening, followed by a pattern of footfalls. Mesme scrambled to organise the desk and array his thoughts in order. The footsteps were very light, if it had not been for the last few decs of near silence to train his ears Mesme might not have heard them, but they were certainly growing closer. 

With a hiss the door facing Mesme slid open, and through the open portal stepped two towering warriors one after the other, statuesque giants covered in sleek vividly coloured mesh plating which left no trace of flesh visible to suggest they were even organic creatures at all. Deep red and orange lenses unblinkingly gazed down at the Por'Ui from smooth teardrop-shaped helmets. Each figure held a small elegantly tapered pistol in one hand, trained unerringly at the Tau, and grasped a long slender chainblade in the other. 

Mesme could hear another set of footfalls coming from outside. After a moment both of the figures facing him swiftly holstered their pistols in a fluid blur of motion and stood at ease. Then a third Ar'cea entered the room. From his research Mesme deduced that this one was female, and clearly meant to be an envoy of some description. She too towered over the Tau, but instead of armour she was clad in long flowing intricately-embellished robes of deep blue and rich yellow. She wore no helmet, leaving her sunlight-coloured hair to fall down below her shoulders. Not a single mark seemed to mar her skin. 

"Are you alive?" she asked. 

Mesme was taken aback by the question. "Yes?" he replied, not quite as certain of himself as he felt he should be. 

An inscrutable fae smile crept across the envoy's face. "We shall see..." she said. 

* * * * 

Kor'O'T'au Kais'Y'eldi'Aloh looked on in silent horror at the cloud of debris which was all that remained of the waystation, lingering on the long-range imaging display projected at the front of his bridge. Though he was no stranger to the nightmarish depredations of Ar'cea raiders, he had wished that this particular faction might be one of the more civilised ones and know better than to thoughtlessly attack a civilian outpost clearly intended as a sign of peace. At the very least he thought they would have had the good sense to recognise that they would benefit from assistance against their rivals, especially the Ores'la. Kais's fleet was still many millions of Tor'kan from the debris, and with a sickening feeling in his core the Kor'O knew that it would be futile to search for survivors by the time they arrived. 

"Kor'O!" said one of Kais's bridge officers, "We have multiple Ar'cea power signatures on our scopes, concentrated in two groups off our flanks. They're moving to attack formation!" 

"Order all hands to battle stations!" Kais replied, "The Ar'cea have given us their answer..." 

Almost two months ago, on the anniversary of Operation OVERLORD in the Second World War, was the birthday of Cristina Scabbia, the lead singer and frontwoman for Italian gothic metal band Lacuna Coil. If that name sounds familiar and you aren't familiar with Lacuna Coil, it may be because she is also the namesake of one of the escort squadrons in my Tau fleet for Battlefleet Gothic. Cristina Scabbia is an awesome person, and an extremely capable vocalist, and you should definitely give a listen to some of her music if that's the kind of genre you're into. 

By a curious coincidence, Cristina Scabbia's birthday also marked the point at which a sad little nocturnal parrot dwelling in New Zealand had existed for a quarter of a century. Given that this year the date fell on the same day that the nearest FLGS also has its late-night gaming day, I decided to celebrate it the best way I could think of: with a giant space battle. After having my appetite whetted by two Raid scenarios, I was eager to start playing some bigger games to show off more of my Tau fleet and get to grips with some of the Battle scenarios. Asking around to find an opponent resulted in a surprise coup - I was able to book in a match against one of the two people that had first cued me into the existence of other Battlefleet Gothic players in the general area, and their beautifully painted Eldar fleet. 

The stage was set for my third Battlefleet Gothic game, a 1500 point Fleet Engagement. After spending several months avoiding the encroaching Tau forces, the Eldar have finally made themselves known by attacking and destroying a Tau waystation established as a diplomatic meeting point. Speeding towards the distress beacon, the investigation force of Kor'vattra fleet K-42 now seeks to bring the Eldar to battle in retaliation for the surprise attack. 

But as they say, one might as well try to catch starlight in a bottle as bring the Eldar to battle... 

Fleets and Strategy

Not only was this a chance to test out my long-planned fleet doctrine as applied in the large-scale engagements it was always envisioned for, it was also a chance to test my mettle against the Eldar, generally considered one of the more challenging fleets to face. Strangely enough, fighting Eldar was something I had never really given much serious thought towards until discovering someone with an Eldar fleet at the FLGS. Instead my Tau fleet doctrine had always been constructed around the assumption that I would be facing an Imperial or Chaos fleet (the two most common forces), a Space Marine fleet (basically a more aggressive Imperial fleet) or an Ork or Tyranid fleet (which would be playing the same head-on charge game that Tau do). How it would work against ultra-mobile ships that could be expected to attack from any direction was something I never really considered until recently. 

This is all the more curious because the Corsair Eldar are one of my favourite fleets after the Tau (their ships just look so cool!), and I had long planned to start a Corsair Eldar fleet after the Tau fleet was finished. Having studied the Corsair Eldar fleet for some time I had come up with a prospective doctrine for a very aggressive playstyle, reasoning that the best approach to using Eldar ships would be to use their terrific mobility to quickly zip around the enemy fleet, get into the rear aspects of their ships and hammer them to pieces at close range with the heavy firepower Eldar ships typically carry, using that same fantastic manoeuvrability to stay in behind opposing ships where they could not return fire. 

After the possibility of fighting an Eldar fleet became a distinct reality I was curious to see how my 'plough straight through them like a freight train' Tau doctrine would work against my 'get in behind' Eldar doctrine. The result was a moment of horror that can only be described as what US Generals at the Pentagon must have felt when they discovered the existence of the SU-27 and MiG-29 fighter jets, the TU-160 strategic bomber and the R-73 air-to-air missile (amongst many, many, many other things in the 1980s). Not only would my typical Tau approach of slowly creeping up the board with all ships' prows facing the enemy run into serious problems against a flanking Eldar fleet, that approach would work against me to fatal effect - once an Eldar capital ship or escort squadron managed to get into the rear aspects they would be able to roll up the entire fleet with impunity. 

Fortunately salvation was swift in coming, and it quickly dawned on me that I could rework my standard Tau doctrine to be effective against Eldar (and other highly mobile fleets, like Necrons) with only minimal modification. My new plan hinged on three key points to plan around: 

1. Given the massive disparity in speed, there is nothing I can do to stop the Eldar from getting behind my ships. They WILL get behind my fleet. 

2. The Eldar will want to get behind my ships, as this will prevent my ships from firing back at them. 

3. Eldar movement is tied to the sun. The Eldar will always keep one side of their ships facing the sun, as this will maximise their movement distance. This will make the Eldar movement patterns predictable. 

With these three factors in mind, my new anti-Eldar strategy is a simple twist on my classic Tau Kor'vattra attack; instead of keeping the entire fleet together as one unstoppable mass, my plan is to split it into two reasonably sized strike groups, deployed on opposite sides of the board on opposing headings, such that they will travel across the length of the board, meet head-on in the middle and then fly past each other. Ideally their initial trajectories will look something like a giant 'X'. 

This may seem counter-intuitive at first - after all, it means my very lackluster broadside arcs are going to be facing the enemy deployment zone on turn one while my forward aspects, where the firepower on Tau ships is concentrated, is out of the fight. The trick, however, is that by doing so it means that the rear aspects of one strike group is always in the forward arc of the other. Students of Tau lore might recognise this strategy as a Kau'yon ploy in space, using my own rear aspects as the lure. Thus, it does not matter that I cannot stop the Eldar from getting behind me, because getting behind me will do them no good. 

This in turn means that the only place my fleet is vulnerable is in its broadside arcs. This is where the 'X' style of approach angles comes in. By deploying my fleet this way, my forward arcs will start out covering the closest broadside arcs to the enemy of each strike group. That way, if the Eldar wise up to my plan and try to go for my broadside arcs instead, all my guns are already pointing in the right direction. If the Eldar press ahead and go for the rear aspects, a simple single turn will be enough to bring my firepower to bear and spring my trap. This will of course leave my 'inside' broadside arcs dangerously exposed, but that can be compensated by screening that aspect with my plentiful ordinance, forcing the Eldar to run a gauntlet of Mantas if they want to stay there. 

Thus, I have - in theory at least - ensured that the Eldar's strengths are useless, and should be able to force them to choose between several bad options. 

So, I've worked out what I want my ships to be doing, now it's time to figure out how to actually hurt the Eldar ships. As we've already discussed, the single greatest weapon the Tau fleet has is its massive, unsurpassed ordinance capability. As a secondary sidearm it can also fall back on some reasonably OK gunnery shooting. Now, one of the tricky things about fighting Eldar is that instead of normal shields their ships are equipped with Holofields which camouflage them and provide a 2+ save against every kind of attack except weapons batteries (which just suffer a negative column shift on the gunnery table instead). 

Because of this, conventional wisdom holds that the single best anti-Eldar weapon is weapons batteries (or their equivalent), which isn't the best news for me given that Tau fleets don't usually have an abundance of those. However, I have an ace up my sleeve in the form of blast markers. Every hit saved by an Eldar Holofield places a blast marker in contact with the Eldar ship, and because Eldar ships don't have conventional shields they take damage on a roll of a 6 whenever they come into contact with blast markers. This means that I can use my ample Tau ordinance capability to drown the Eldar ships in blast markers, forcing them to roll for damage at every turn - they've got to roll that 6 sooner or later. Better yet, blast markers also slow down ships contacting them, robbing the Eldar of their greatest advantage (fantastic mobility). 

Building on this, I intend to disperse my ordinance as much as possible, using multiple smaller missile salvos from escorts and launching Mantas as individual squadrons rather than waves. While it's normally logical to concentrate ordinance against specific targets when facing other fleets, against Eldar this will only serve to make my ordinance easier to dodge and more susceptible to overkill. In contrast, by splitting the ordinance up and spreading it out I can present the Eldar fleet with more threats, making it harder to avoid them all and overwhelming their powerful but numerically small fighter cover with the old 'The Bomber Will Always Get Through' trick (if the Eldar fleet only has 8 launch bays, and I send 18 Manta squadrons at them, then I'm guaranteed to get at least two past the Eldar fighters in addition to any missiles I fire). Sure, they won't roll many dice to inflict damage, and the hits they do get will probably be saved by the Holofields, but in this situation the ordinance is a suppression weapon - even if it inflicts no damage at all, if it slows the Eldar down enough for me to out-manoeuvre them then it's done its job. 

Between being suppressed by my ordinance and my clever fleet deployment, with any luck I'll be able to get the Eldar right where I want them, and then my railcannon batteries can deliver the coup de grace. 

With my strategy organised, my next task is actually putting together a fleet list. Since I'll be playing a fleet that's larger than 750 points I need to take a Fleet Commander, and given their crucial importance to Tau fleets I'm pulling out all the stops with a full Kor'O accompanied by an Aun'O to give me a grand total of three command re-rolls to keep my ordinance loaded. With the commander sorted, I need to arrange for some transportation for them. This will come in the form of a Merchant class starship with a reinforced hull and two Orca gunships. Putting a Tau Fleet Commander on a Merchant is certainly not the most efficient choice - normally you want them on a carrier or Hero class to make maximum use of their guaranteed high leadership for reloading ordinance. The decision to assign the Kor'O a Merchant class is instead purely based on lore and modelling; my fleet's flagship is a Merchant class, and I wanted to show off the model for it, so that's the flagship I'm using. 

I have a flagship and an admiral, now it's time to give him some ships to command. At any points level above 750 a Tau fleet must take at least one Explorer class starship, and I'm taking two which will give me a very respectable 16 launch bays and give each of my strike groups a solid core (and a nice obvious target to distract the Eldar). After that it's only sensible to make full use of their gravitic hooks and take six Orca gunships in two squadrons of 3. One of the most manoeuvrable ships in the Tau fleet, their 90 degree turns will be invaluable in chasing down Eldar ships and intercepting threats. 

A Hero class starship will round out my capital ships. Not only will it provide more launch bays and missile strikes, it will also give me some much needed gunnery muscle and staying power. Normally I would take the standard Vash'ya configuration Hero, but against Eldar it would be foolish not to break out the T'olku configuration instead; a Firepower 12 railcannon attack will go much further against those Holofields than four ion cannons would. 

It was tempting to take a second Hero class, but instead I've chosen to field an extra squadron of Defender class starships, giving me 6 of them in two squadrons of 3. I'll need as much ordinance as possible to win the day, and Defenders yield slightly more missiles for the points. They also have the advantage of being able to fire lots of 2-missile salvos, which will be more useful for pinning Eldar ships and covering space, while more escorts will allow me to screen the flanks of my capital ships against any nasty surprises. Finally, I've been very impressed with my Defenders' performance in my previous games, so I have a good feeling about them here. 

After all that I have just enough points left over for two more escorts. I thought about boosting my Defenders to 4-ship squadrons, but instead I've decided to take two Messenger class starships instead. In larger games like this it's generally a good idea for a Tau fleet to have a couple of Tracking Systems handy (1 per 500 points is usually considered ideal), and those same Tracking Systems will probably be worth their weight in gold against the Eldar, in both enhancing my railcannon batteries against Holofields and boosting my turret performance against Eldar ordinance. 

Kor'vattra Fleet K-42 Relief Force 

Fleet Commander

Kor'O'T'au Kais'Y'eldi'Aloh - Kor'O (Ld 9): 80 pts

Aun'O'T'au Ret'Sav'cyr - Aun'O (Two extra re-rolls): 75 pts

Capital Ships 

Serenity - Il'fannor Merchant class starship (Kel'shan Configuration) with reinforced hull: 110 pts (Flagship) 

National Geographic - Gal'leath Explorer class starship (Vash'ya Configuration): 230 pts 

Galactica- Gal'leath Explorer class starship (Vash'ya Configuration): 230 pts 

Sulaco - Lar'shi Hero class starship (T'olku Configuration): 180 pts


Nightwish Squadron - 3 Kir'qath Defender class starships: 135 pts 

Delain Squadron - 3 Kir'qath Defender class starships: 135 pts

Sirenia Squadron - 3 Kass'l Orca gunships: 75 pts 

Imperia Squadron - 3 Kass'l Orca gunships: 75 pts

Shuttle 1 and Shuttle 2 - 2 Kass'l Orca gunships: 50 pts 

Nostromo - Skether'qan Messenger class starship: 50 pts 

Millennium Falcon - Skether'qan Messenger class starship: 50 pts 

TOTAL: 1475 pts

The Tau relief force

The Eldar fleet was comprised as follows:

Ar'cea Raiders

Fleet Commander

Unidentified Ar'cea Warlord - Eldar Hero: 100 pts

Capital Ships

Unidentified Ar'cea heavy warship - Void Stalker battleship: 380 pts

Unidentified Ar'cea warship A -  Eclipse class cruiser: 250 pts

Unidentified Ar'cea warship B - Eclipse class cruiser: 250 pts

Unidentified Ar'cea warship C - Warithship with pulsar lance and launch bays: 160 pts


Unidentified Ar'cea attack squadron A - 3 Hemlock class destroyers: 120 pts

Unidentified Ar'cea attack squadron B - 3 Hemlock class destroyers: 120 pts

Unidentified Ar'cea attack squadron C - 3 Nightshade class destroyers: 120 pts 

TOTAL: 1500 pts

One group of the nefarious Eldar raiders. Note that the Shadow Class cruiser in the picture is a proxy model, and was counted as an Eclipse class for the game.

With the fleets determined, it was time to determine the Leadership ratings for my ships. Between the last two games I have determined no noticeable pattern to exploit in my Leadership rolling, so I decide to just get the worst of it over and done with like a band-aid and roll for my carriers first, then the missile boats. After a few moments of agonising tension (it can't have been more than a minute or two, but it seriously felt like 20!), I end up with:

- Ld 9 for the Serenity (automatic because my Kor'O is on it)

- Ld 8 for the National Geographic

- Ld 7 for the Galactica

- Ld 6 for the Sulaco

- Ld 8  for Nightwish Squadron

- Ld 8 for Delain Squadron

- Ld 8 for the Nostromo

- Ld 7 for the Millennium Falcon

- Ld 8 for Imperia Squadron

- Ld 8 for Sirenia Squadron

- Ld 7 for Shuttle 1 and Shuttle 2

Clearly my massive emphasis on large scale fleet battles and the relentless drills toward that end have paid off. I don't think I could ask for much better than those results. Really the only unfortunate part is Ld 6 on my Hero, but with 7s and 8s on literally everything else - including all the other ordinance platforms in my fleet - and three command re-rolls it shouldn't be too difficult to work around. All things considered it's some excellent leadership results, and I could certainly have done a lot worse.

Due to their bonus when rolling for Leadership, the Eldar end up with a fairly tight cluster of Leadership ratings. From memory most were Ld 8.

Fleet Engagement - The Battle 

Celestial Phenomena, Formations and Deployment 

Much like the other Battlefleet Gothic games I've played so far, the celestial phenomena was fairly sparse (which is actually pretty realistic). Some odd dice rolls ultimately meant that, despite this being a battle in the Primary Biosphere of a system, the only celestial phenomena on the table was a small asteroid field in one corner - clearly the wreckage of the Tau envoy station that the Eldar senselessly destroyed! 

With the celestial phenomena out of the way it was time to deploy. This next step would be crucial - unlike other scenarios, the deployment zones for a Fleet Engagement aren't fixed. Instead, which deployment zones each fleet gets are determined by choosing one of three formations (Sphere, Wedge and Cross) and comparing the choices made by each player on a special table. 

There are a few variants, but broadly speaking the options can be grouped into three broad categories: Setup A, Setup B Setup C and Setup D. As an extra twist, in most cases the deployment zones are split into smaller sub-areas and you need to place at least one ship or escort squadron in each one, and all of them restrict starting facings for ships - they need to be deployed facing in a direction indicated on the setup diagrams. 

In a Fleet Engagement all ships need to deploy facing a preset direction. But that won't be a problem for these super-manoeuvrable Eldar!

What this means is that choices in fleet formation will make or break me. The smaller sub-areas of the deployment zones are bad enough - if I'm forced to split my fleet up too much the Eldar will be able to pounce on it piecemeal and defeat me in detail - but what really concerns me are the fixed approach angles. In order for my plan to work I need to get my two strike groups on the right headings as soon as possible, since the slow speed of Tau ships will make it hard to quickly re-position. Come To New Heading orders can help speed this up, but they run the risk of failing command checks (and I need those re-rolls for making sure my ordinance is reloaded) and rob my ships of firepower while alerting the Eldar to my presence and giving them command check bonuses. 

This means that I'll ideally want to start them out on the right heading. Unfortunately none of the setup options let me do this - the grey side of Setup A comes the closest, but would still leave a few ships in the central deployment areas pointing the wrong way. Still, it's not the end of the world. If I can keep both groups pointing forward I should be able to get them on the right headings with just one turn. Not ideal to be sure, but I can work with it. 

The biggest threat to this will be Setup B, the bane of any Tau player's existence in a Fleet Engagement. Not only does Setup B force me to start the game with my ships running parallel to the opposing fleet, giving them free access to my weaker broadside arcs and preventing me from quickly bringing my forward firepower to bear, it also gives the Eldar a clear run at getting behind me and rolling up my entire fleet just like in my worst case doomsday scenario. Clearly I need to avoid Setup B at all costs. 

With these factors in mind, I elect to go with the WEDGE formation. It means I won't be able to make use of that fantastic Grey deployment area of Setup A, but that's a small price to pay for minimising the chances of ending up with the dreaded Setup B. The Eldar, rather unsurprisingly, attempt to encircle me by choosing a SPHERE formation. 

The Tau fleet assumes a Wedge formation for mutual support.

Comparing formations gives us the option of either Setup A or Setup C, determined with a simple roll-off. Bonuses are given to whichever fleet has the Fleet Commander with the highest Leadership, whichever fleet has the fastest ship, and whichever fleet has the most escorts. As to be expected, the Eldar with their Mach 3 movement profiles and Ld 10 Hero commander easily clean up two of those bonuses, but in a bizarre twist of fate I end up with the third bonus, with my dirt-cheap Orcas giving me more escorts than a (mostly) Corsair Eldar fleet! Managing to out-escort a (mostly) Corsair Eldar fleet is probably an achievement in its own right. 

Nonetheless the Eldar manage to win the roll-off, and elect to go with Setup C, giving them two narrow deployment zones along the short edges of the table either side of my larger deployment zone in the middle of one of the long edges. I'm actually fairly OK with this, as it still lets me set up my two strike groups, get them on their opposed headings in the first turn and conveniently puts the Eldar in a good place to be caught by my reverse pincer movement. 

The Eldar choose a setup that will put them on both flanks of the Tau.

My deployment goes largely according to my initial plan. I place down one Explorer in each corner of my deployment zone to form the base of the strike groups. The Defenders are placed with one squadron ahead of each Explorer, arrayed line abreast to give a clear field of fire for their gravitic launchers. Just like in my first game, I realise at this point that I have not left enough room to put my Orca squadrons on the outside flanks of the Explorers, so instead they go on the inside flank of each Explorer in an echelon formation to quickly come about and screen the sides. Now that my two strike groups have taken shape, a Messenger is placed at the centre of each one. 

All that was left was to place my last two capital ships and my flagship's Orcas. By this point the Eldar had finished deploying, and had ended up with the Void Stalker, Wraithship, one Eclipse and the two Hemlock squadrons on my left flank and the Nightshades and remaining Eclipse on my right. In light of this, I placed down my Hero in my left-hand strike group, which would come about to face the Eldar to starboard, while the remaining Orcas went on the opposite strike group to quickly get to grips with the Eldar to starboard - my plan was to focus my heavier firepower on the smaller, weaker Eldar group to knock them out quickly and set up a nice unstable equilibrium in my favour. Finally, my flagship went with the right-hand strike group to provide a tempting distraction and throw the Eldar into doubt about my plans. 

End of Deployment.

Tau Turn 1

A stroke of good fortune enabled me to secure first turn, and I intended to exploit it to the fullest. Immediately my plan went into action. The Explorers moved up and turned towards each other as soon as they were able to. The Hero and Merchant also moved up, the Merchant keeping a cautious approach to stay inside the safety of my formations while the Hero ranged out further ahead with a full move. The Defenders spread out to maximise the area covered by their missiles and the chances of catching Eldar ships, with the rightmost squadron moving further ahead - this would ensure that my missile waves wouldn't run into each other. 

Only too late did I realise that this put my Hero directly ahead of one of the Defender squadrons, and thus in the path of their missiles, but it was too late to do anything about it. I would just have to pray that the missiles would be able to squeeze past it without incident. The Orcas swung about and zoomed forward a full move to screen the flanks of my strike group and attempt to intercept the Eldar ships as they came past. 

It's a trap!

The Eldar were currently out of gunnery range, so my shooting phase consisted entirely of me launching every piece of ordinance I could. The Defenders fired a wide spread of missiles, one salvo of which just made it safely past the Hero by a whisker. The Hero itself fired off its own wave of gravitic missiles and scrambled two squadrons of Barracudas, while the Explorers launched eight squadrons of Mantas each. 

In the Ordinance phase the Barracudas headed towards the larger Eldar group, seeking to intercept any bombers from the battleship or cruisers. This would prove to be a costly mistake later on. The Mantas dispersed around the sides of the Explorers to jump any Eldar ship that tried to get into their broadside arcs. The missiles zoomed forward, but even with their maximum move they were maddeningly unable to reach the Eldar just yet. 

End of Tau Turn 1

"Red leader to all craft, designated combat patrol zone is 12 low, spread out and watch your spacing. Remember, they'll be running alongside the sun!"

- Kor'vre'T'au Va'yan'Ukos

Eldar Turn 1

Here the Eldar did something that - to the shock of everyone - I did not see coming. Rather than aggressively plunging into the rear to blast me apart at close range, the Eldar did... exactly what their archetypal tactics entail. The Eldar approach was extremely cautious, carefully keeping just on the edge of my formation. 

The Eldar dance around the Tau flanks, always just out of range of their railcannons.

While the main Eldar force approached from the opposite table edge, this smaller element launched a devious sneak attack from the other side!

This meant they were in no real danger from my attacks (yet), but it also conveniently put the bulk of my ships outside range of their guns too. Thus, the Eldar shooting was largely limited to pot-shots at my ordinance, with some lucky dice rolls downing 1 Barracuda stand. It isn't all roses however, as the Eldar also manage to take out a Defender, cutting it apart in a hail of pulsar beams. 

The Eldar draw first blood by destroying a Defender with their deadly pulsar lances.

The Eldar finished their shooting phase by launching ordinance. The carriers and Void Stalker all scrambled fighters, while the Nightshades fired their torpedoes. 

The Eldar ordinance phase was where I remembered that the Eldar get a second move in their own ordinance phase. They made full use of it to speed away and put as much distance between themselves and my ships as possible, and their movement infuriatingly also put them out of striking distance of my ordinance again. 

Now my decision to send my fighters at the main Eldar group came back to bite me in the D'yi, as the torpedoes from the Nightshades were left with a clear uncontested run at my ships. They promptly proceeded to down two more Defenders, though mercifully nothing else was harmed. The Eldar fighters went straight for my Mantas, resulting in a grinding slug-fest that left two Mantas on my right downed in exchange for the Eldar fighters all but exhausting themselves. 

I then gave pursuit as best I could with my missiles while the surviving Mantas continued to fan out. 

The end of Eldar Turn 1

Tau Turn 2 

Time to strike back. The Eldar might have escaped harm thus far, but our inevitable inertial movement means they cannot evade me this turn. But first I needed to put my carriers and missile boats on Reload Ordinance special orders. There was a brief moment of panic when one of them failed its command check, but the inspiring presence of an Ethereal amongst the fleet motivated the ship's crew in the end and it safely passed the re-roll. They really are worth their weight in gold for a Tau fleet.

The Tau movement sees my grand manoeuvre continue with the capital ships from both groups moving towards each other, finally bringing their rear aspects under the cover of their forward guns. The Hero arcs out a little further for more missile shots and to try and get some Eldar ships into railcannon range. The Orcas also range our around the sides to try and go on a little offensive.

The shooting phase naturally sees me sending out another wave of ordinance. The surviving Defenders fire off more missile salvos, as does the Hero, while the National Geographic reinforces the Manta squadrons on the right side. It is at this point that I realise the Galactica has yet to loose any of its deployed attack craft and so cannot launch more this turn, but having its ordinance already reloaded will certainly come in handy later on. The Hero also launches another squadron of Barracudas.

As well as ordinance however, my ships are finally entering gunnery range of the Eldar. Their positioning from last turn leaves most of them too far out for the moment, but the Hero manages to catch a squadron of Hemlocks on the edge of railcannon range. They're in the port broadside arc, which means the Hero's shooting will only be at 2/3 effectiveness even before factoring in Holofields, range and shooting at escort ships, but it still ends up being enough to shoot down one Hemlock. Not bad for a Hail Mary shot!

Missiles rain down on the Eldar formation...

The ordinance phase sees more retaliation as my first missile waves finally reach the Eldar. Unfortunately some bad luck with my endurance rolls means that numerous missiles have run out of fuel at this point - the Hero's salvo is at less than half strength, and some of the Defender salvos have lost a point too - but one blast marker on the Eldar ships is all I need. I end up getting just that, with blast markers placed on at least one ship in all of the Eldar escort squadrons plus the Wraithship and one of the Eclipses. Better yet, two missiles actually manage to hit their targets, destroying two more Hemlocks and giving me the first complete squadron kill of the game!

... and two more Eldar escorts are destroyed in the shock-waves!

Unfortunately the Void Stalker escaped harm, completely evading all of the missiles that reached it without even a blast marker. I conclude the ordinance phase by spreading out my Mantas a little more and redeploying my Barracudas to deal with the Nightshades' torpedoes.

"All ships be advised, Ar'cea contacts have changed course. We're now tracking them on vector 3-0-5-niner. To'Tau'va they can move!" 

- Kor'vre'T'au B'kaara

Eldar Turn 2

Now the second element of my plan began to kick in. With blast markers in contact with many of their ships, the Eldar now had to start testing for damage from them. As luck would have it, my opponent ends up rolling that elusive 6 right on the first try, and by the end of it another Hemlock and a Nightshade have been ripped apart by missile shock-waves.

The Eldar also ran into a welcome side-effect of blast markers that I had completely forgot about - Leadership penalties. With a -1 Leadership penalty for having blast markers in base contact, the first Eldar ship to go on special orders fumbles its command check, preventing the entire Eldar fleet from going on any special orders at all this turn!

The blast markers also slow the Eldar down, as I wanted them to, but the Eldar still manage to get into position for another attack run. The sole exception is the two surviving Nightshades, which are unable to reload their torpedoes and thus wisely decide to speed away and keep their distance.

Eager to avenge their fallen escort crews, the Eldar swing around for another pass

In the shooting phase the Eldar concentrate their efforts on the Hero. The Void Stalker attacks it first with the full power of its weaponry. It misses completely with its weapons battery, but then lands 3 hits on the Hero with its pulsar lances, two of which are absorbed by the ship's gravitic shield leaving just one point of damage. The surviving Hemlocks add a further point of damage with their own pulsar lances. The Eclipse on my right flank fires at the nearest Orcas, but its pulsar shots go wide and miss them completely.

In the ordinance phase the Void Stalker and Hemlocks turn and move away from the Tau. Curiously they elect to face directly towards the sun, which slows them down considerably. Perhaps I can exploit that in the next turn. The other Eldar ships instead move closer, attempting to encircle my fleet. I may just trap them in my planned kill-zones yet...

Finally, the remaining Eldar fighters manage to clear out the Mantas on my left flank after some vicious and costly fighting. The remaining Eldar torpedoes sail into the National Geographic, which manages to shoot down all but one with its turrets (aided by a nearby Messenger's tracking system). The surviving torpedo dutifully misses the Explorer and zooms off the table.

The end of Turn 2

Tau Turn 3

As always I begin my turn by reloading ordinance on everything that needs to. After that the surviving Defenders, which have since converged to form a makeshift squadron of 3, move straight forwards toward the Eldar in front of them - that stranded Void Stalker is just too good a target of opportunity to pass up! The Orcas on my right side move up to join them, as does the nearest Messenger to try and bring the escorts inside tracking system range. The National Geographic also moves up and comes about to face the Void Stalker, along with my flagship - a risky move to be sure, but fortune favours the bold!

As this leaves two of my capital ships with exposed rear aspects, the Orcas on my left flank turn around and move to cover their sixes. I also do this with an eye towards catching that Eclipse on the left flank, as I expect it will move up to engage and feel I have a reasonably good idea of where its movement will bring it. The other Messenger moves in amongst the Orcas. Finally, the Hero moves up to try and chase down the Nightshades and maybe get another missile salvo on them when they inevitably come around for another strike.

Infuriatingly it turns out that most of my attack force is just out of range of the Void Stalker. To add insult to injury the Messenger is also just out of tracking system coverage for everything. Thus, I have to console myself with shooting at the nearby Hemlocks, and the combined shooting of the Explorer, Merchant, Orcas and Messenger manages to destroy them both. The Defenders are in range of the Void Stalker however, and manage to inflict one hit on it with their railcannons. The Hero manages to catch the Nightshades just on the edge of its railcannon range, and some lucky hits see both of them wiped out.

The aggressive push by the Eldar cruisers means that my Mantas are able to catch one of them in the ordinance phase, but unfortunately fail to inflict so much as a measly blast marker after some appallingly bad attack rolls. The Defenders' missiles fare similarly, completely missing the Void Stalker.

The end of Tau Turn 3

Eldar Turn 3

The Eldar are starting to take serious losses, but they have plenty of fight still left in them. After special orders the Eldar capital ships begin to close in for the kill around the tightly-packed Tau defensive sphere. Like a cornered animal the Void Stalker turns around to face the Defenders nipping at its heels, while the Eldar cruisers go after my capital ships.

The Eldar shooting phase is swift but brutal. The Void Stalker opens up on the Defenders, destroying two of them. The Eclipse on my right flank fires on the Orcas nearby, and shoots down one of them with pulsar lance fire. The biggest blow however comes from the Wraithship, which manages to zero in on my flagship and cripple it with pulsar lances, leaving it at just 2 hits! Thankfully there was no critical damage from the attack. The remaining Eclipse misses its shots.

In the ordinance phase most of the Eldar ships attempt to move out of weapons range, but are hindered by having to move perpendicular to the sunward table edge. The Eclipse on my left flank is particularly unfortunate, being slowed to a crawl by moving against the sun. The Wraithship takes the opposite approach, and moves in towards my fleet. The Eldar fighters continue to batter themselves against my Mantas.

The end of Eldar Turn 3

Tau Turn 4 

Ouch. Being down to just one Defender is one thing, but having my flagship gutted is an entire other level of pain. Still, this battle is far from over. The Eldar's focus on my flagship and Hero has left my carriers unharmed, and they're starting to run out of room to manoeuvre. Indeed, the Eldar placement now has several tactical opportunities I could exploit.

Having looked over the situation and predicting where ships will end up, I've used the previous Eldar turn to come up with a plan to quickly knock out several of the Eldar capital ships. The plan hinges on moving my Explorers around to bring all of the Eldar cruisers into their firing arcs - combined with my Orcas' movement, this should be able to trap the Eldar cruisers between the Explorers, my escorts, and my ordinance. The catch, of course, is that to do so I will need to break up my defensive formation. Splitting up my Explorers like this is a massive gamble, as it will briefly leave the rear aspects of my ships completely exposed for a turn or two, but if it works then the Eldar will be left with only their Void Stalker and a crippled cruiser or two. As they say, fortune favours the bold...

First I'll need to put some ships on Special Orders. My plan hinges on the National Geographic being able to go on a Come To New Heading order - if it can manage that then it can come around to get the Wrathship its broadside arc this turn and then move in to support the nearby Orcas next turn (ideally the Orcas will be able to keep the Eclipse busy with blast markers and damage in the mean time). With Ld 8, and no blast markers to worry about it easily passes the command check, and duly prepares for a hard turn. As fortune would have it, it can also still launch more Mantas this turn because I had already reloaded its ordinance before when my launch capacity was full!

Next the rest of my ordinance platforms reload their ordinance, while the two Orcas bearing straight down on the Wraithship go on Lock On orders. With that done it's time for my ships to move. To start with the lone surviving Defender moves up to chase down the Void Stalker. I don't expect it to last very long, but together with the Hero it should be able to distract the Void Stalker long enough for my other ships to deal with its friends, and with its railcannons and missiles it might just take a couple more hits off the Void Stalker before its blown out of the cosmos, or at least slow it down with a blast marker.

The Hero also moves up to try and lure the Void Stalker away from the real fight about to unfold. The National Geographic then performs its hard turn towards the Eldar cruisers, which is a spectacular display of expert piloting but ultimately ends up proving needless, as it would have been able to get the Eldar ships into its fire arcs using just its regular turn, meaning I've just halved its firepower for no reason this turn. Oh well, at least it gave the ship's crew some practice in special orders besides reloading ordinance. The locked on Orcas move straight ahead towards the Wraithship, while the other pair of nearby Orcas from my flagship turn about and move up to support them, as does a nearby Messenger. The Galactica turns and moves towards the Eclipse on my right hand flank, while the remaining three Orcas on my left hand flank chase down the other Eclipse nearby. Finally, my beleaguered flagship attempts to get out of trouble as best it can.

In the shooting phase my remaining Defender manages to exceed my expectations - not only does it land a hit on the Void Stalker, said hit also inflicts a Mainsail Shredded critical hit! With a goodly helping of luck this will stop the Void Stalker from being able to move in the ordinance phase, making it harder to reach the main fight on the other side of the board and give my Defender and Hero a fighting chance at catching it.

The Orcas on my left-hand flank also do well, landing a couple of hits on the Eclipse they're targeting and also managing to blow off its mainsail. The other Orcas aren't as fortunate - they miss the Wraithship with their railcannons, but manage to land some blast markers on it with their ion cannons. The National Geographic, with its railcannon strength reduced from Come To New Heading, fails to hit anything, but the Galactica manages to land a hit on the Eclipse it's chasing. Alas, there is no critical damage from it.

In the ordinance phase my Mantas perform a little better, with one squadron managing to land a hit on the Wraithship. The Mantas sent after the Eclipse on my right-hand flank once again fail to do anything of note against the cruiser. The Defender's missiles likewise completely miss the Void Stalker - you can't win 'em all I suppose.

Speaking of the Void Stalker, it manages to promptly fix its broken mainsail in the End Phase, though the Eclipse on my left is less fortunate...

"Reload the gravitic launcher immediately, and set the railcannon turrets to auto-fire! All hands standby for emergency evacuation order, this ship might not last long but that doesn't mean we need to. Divert all power from the ether-drive and its reserves into the weapon systems, we won't be needing them. That D'yi up ahead is about to turn this tub of Fio'tak into stardust, but we'll take as many chunks out of it as we can first! FOR THE GREATER GOOD!" 

- Kor'el'T'au Lar'ka'Or'es'Shi

Eldar Turn 4

Endgame. Running out of options, the Eldar press their attack, with all ships moving to engage the Tau. The Void Stalker takes my bait wonderfully and bears down on the Hero, while the cruisers all move in closer. The Wraithship strikes a blast marker as it does so, taking a point of damage as charged particles scour its hull.

The Void Stalker may have fallen for my feint, but that's of very cold comfort to the Hero which is reduced to just 1 hull point after the Void Stalker opens up on it. The rest of the Eldar shooting fails to achieve anything else mercifully.

The Eldar press forward in the ordinance phase, with the exception of the Eclipse on my left hand flank which of course can't move a second time due to its smashed mainsail.

It is at this point that we are forced to end the game, as the store was closing. The total results were 360 victory points from the Tau, accounting for the entire Eldar escort force and minor damage to their capital ships, and 470 victory points for the Eldar crippling my flagship with its very expensive fleet commander (who costs almost as much as the ship itself did!) and another capital ship plus six or so escort losses, resulting in a minor victory for the Eldar.

The final shot of the game. Damage dice have already been cleared.

What Militant Learnt 

That might have technically been a loss for me, but man does it feel like a win. In the end it was ultimately time more than anything that determined the outcome, and I remain very confident that if I had been given another turn or two I could have turned things around and at least forced a draw if not achieve an outright Tau victory, however minor - although that said I imagine the most likely outcome would be our two fleets wiping each other out to the last ship. 

Ultimately I think perhaps my biggest mistake of the game was making the classic blunder of assuming that my opponent would play the Eldar fleet just like I would. My strategy largely hinged around the Eldar fleet behaving as aggressively as they would under me, so when the anticipated rush to the vulnerable parts of my fleet never materialised and the Eldar instead opted for a more indirect 'bleed 'em dry' hit and run approach much of my battle plan was thrown into question. Fortunately that same approach also gave me plenty of time to think and plan anew. 

That said, I also caused myself a lot more trouble than I needed to by being so aggressive and bloodthirsty that I forgot Brace for Impact was a thing. A timely Brace order on my flagship alone could have been the difference between a narrow loss and enough victory points saved to make a draw right then and there, to say nothing of my Hero or escorts. As it was, my tried and tested "I don't need to worry about bracing for impact if I kill them all first!" operating policy ended up being my undoing. 

On a related note, pulsar lances are deadly! Until this game I had largely dismissed pulsar lances as a principle Eldar weapon, considering them too much of a gamble over the more reliable damage output of Eldar weapons batteries. In many ways I still feel that way, as there were numerous points in the game where the Eldar pulsar lances failed to do anything, but it must be said that when they do roll well, they roll REALLY well. 

On my own side this was another instance where Tau ordinance was instrumental. Eldar holofields mean that it can't obliterate the enemy on its own like it usually can, but it goes a long way towards levelling the playing field against ultra-mobile Eldar ships. In the early stages of the game my missiles were pretty much the only thing that could really give the Eldar grief, and while my Mantas never really did much damage they did ultimately keep Eldar bombers from making an appearance, which meant that for most of the game the Eldar's only real means of inflicting damage were their pulsar lances. 

I still feel like Messengers are a must-take against Eldar for their tracking systems, but you also need to make sure they're close enough to trouble for those tracking systems to actually make a difference, which is something I struggled to do during this game - 10cm is a lot shorter than you might think! While I may still struggle with eyeballing distances, I am starting to get a lot better at predicting movements and thinking a turn or two ahead which is a critical skill in Battlefleet Gothic. For most of the game I was able to keep every angle of attack covered by at least one of my ships and force the Eldar to nibble at the edges of my defensive formations until finally encountering some opportunities I could exploit. The Eldar might be fast, but the constant motion of ships in Battlefleet Gothic means that even with their double-moves they can't stay out of harm's way forever.

The nature of my tactics in this game and in countering Eldar in general means that all of my fleet's accomplishments were largely a team effort and so there was no real single MVP as such, but I continue to be impressed with the performance of my Defender class starships. While they did suffer heavy casualties, their missiles were invaluable in disrupting the Eldar during the early stages of the game, and they were able to stay around in some shape or form right until the end. Indeed, I can't help but wonder if I would have been better off taking more Defenders over the Hero, whose own ordinance achieved very little that missiles from another squadron of Defenders could not. Best of all however, my Defenders ended up providing me with my favourite moment from the game, when the sole surviving Kir'qath started pursuing the Void Stalker across the table. I just love the visual image of the tiny little missile boat defiantly chasing down a giant battleship ten times its size and not flinching once.

Most of all however, I now have proof of concept for my anti-Eldar tactics, which held up very well in the game all things considered. Clearly they still need some further refinement to be sure, but the core principles seem conclusively sound.

So that about covers everything. The Tau have gained a newfound respect for the local Eldar pirates, and the Eldar have discovered the tenacity and destructiveness of a power they previously thought to be little more than targets for their leisure.

Kor'O'T'au Kais'Y'eldi'Aloh winced at the hideous tearing and grinding sounds emanating from further down the ship. Like the rest of the bridge crew he was firmly braced in anticipation of a close hit, his knuckles pale from the force with which they gripped a nearby railing, but thus far the Ar'cea weapon strikes had missed the bridge superstructure, leaving only a faint tremor running through the surfaces of the bridge and giving a horrifying sense of dissonance to the reports sounding over the ship's screaming alarms. 

"Structural collapse in decks 5, 7, 14 and 22, red sector!" 

"Stabilisers offline!" 

"Pressure levels dropping on decks 2, 6, 18 and 30, blue sector!" 

"Containment unit malfunction on number 2 and 3 reactors!" 

"Malfunction in the oxygen feeds on deck 4, red sector!" 

"Critical malfunction in drone controller 8H, blue sector!" 

"System failure in antenna arrays L through U!" 

"Juntas gravitic arrays A through J offline!" 

The Tau admiral looked grimly at the tactical display of his bridge drone. The Ar'cea cruiser looked like it was about to make a run at one of the Gal'leaths, but it had twisted around at the last possible instant and slipped behind his own ship, opening fire before he could even think to give an order to brace for impact. Now the Ar'cea were unshakably on his tail and showed no signs of relaxing their onslaught. 

"Hull integrity at 45 percent and failing!" 

There was nothing else for it. If the Ar'cea continued for much longer then Kais and his crew would have no choice but to abandon ship before the vessel's plasma pile overloaded or the ether drive collapsed. Fortunately one of the Gal'leaths were close enough to receive the escape pods without any difficulty. Kais prepared to give the order for all hands to begin emergency evacuation. If anything gave him  comfort, it was that at the very least the sacrifice of his ship would not be in vain. The Gal'leaths and Kass'l squadrons had managed to at last get the Ar'cea into a corner. Even now two squadrons were bearing down hard on the cruiser that had attacked his flagship. If the Ar'cea would stay focused on the flagship a little longer, Kais's forces would have them. It wouldn't be much longer now. The resounding thuds and horrific tearing noises were getting louder now, creeping towards the bridge. Kais listened as they grew and grew until... they stopped. 

"Kor'O! We've lost contact with the Ar'cea, they're off our scopes!" 

"Reacquire them now!" Kais ordered. 

"The Skether'qans have them in track, they're powering down combat systems and moving on evasive vectors. They're disengaging Kor'O!" 

Kais immediately looked over his bridge drone's tactical display to double-check the statement. Sure enough, the remaining Ar'cea sensor contacts had all aborted their attack runs, turned about and were now leaving the area at high speed, seemingly powering down everything not essential to that task. The Kor'O scrutinised the display intently, manically, trying to work out what might have caused this sudden course of action. 

"What!" shouted Kais's executive officer, Kor'El'T'au M'yen'Cha, "Impossible. This cannot be real." 

"Oh you'll find it's certainly real," came the warm, welcoming voice of Aun'O'T'au Ret'Sav'cyr as the Ethereal awkwardly lifted himself from the brace position, "We're definitely not all dead and I shouldn't think this is any kind of mind science." 

A wave of relief swept over Kais as he heard the words, though he was still vexed by the Ar'cea's sudden withdrawal. They certainly had enough combat power to finish his fleet off if given the chance. Then he thought back to where they had been and the positioning of his fleet... 

"But how?" asked M'yen'Cha, "Why? That Ar'cea ship had us dead in the cosmos. A few more salvos and they'd have destroyed the ship! Why would they abandon the fight at their moment of triumph?" 

"Now the answer to that," said Red'Sav'cyr, "I believe lies with our esteemed Kor'O." 

"Of course," said Kais, "Mutually assured destruction. If the Ar'cea cruiser had continued its attack we would have run it straight into the guns of the Kass'l. The Gal'leaths and their Manta wings were poised to shoot down the other two cruisers. If the combat had continued we would have ended up annihilating each other! The Ar'cea must have realised that too, and seen no reason to go through with it." 

"Well put Kais," said Ret'Sav'cyr, "I would not think that the Ar'cea would be any more interested in needless death than we are. But there is still work to be done here admiral." 

"Indeed," said Kais before opening a channel to the fleet, "Kor'O to all ships, Ar'cea are disengaging. Cease pursuit and begin search and rescue operations immediately. Let's get our friends back, salvage what we can and head home." 

Kais closed the channel, found somewhere to sit down, and began to laugh to himself. The Ar'cea would never know just how close they had come to killing the Tau admiral and his entire command staff. 

Sunday, 28 April 2019

The Welcoming Party (Battlefleet Gothic Battle Report)

The Welcoming Party - A Battlefleet Gothic Battle Report

Kor'nel'T'au O'ran'Gal'leath grasped the hand-hold of his command drone, every molecule of his being charged with anxious tension as he floated noiselessly in the darkness of his ship's bridge. O'ran hated waiting here like this, forced to do nothing but feel the air slowly grow more stale and the heat from the ship's interior slowly bleed away. With every subsystem powered down, O'ran knew that death could find the Kir'qath at any time, even if the enemy never appeared. All it would take is one suitably sized meteorite in the wrong place at the wrong time made out of the wrong stuff... 

Worse still, with their systems powered down like this it also meant that the ether drives of O'ran's squadron would not be charging, so they'd be completely incapable of escaping the system in the event of a calamity. The only thing that would keep O'ran and his crew alive now would be stealth - with almost no energy signatures to detect, the Kir'qaths were indistinguishable from space debris beyond more than a few million Tor'kan. They might be killed by a fluke accident, but no sensor in the galaxy was going to pick them up. 

But that still didn't make O'ran any less uneasy as he waited for the Gue'la to appear. It had been several rotaa now since his squadron had arrived in the system as part of several elements of Kor'vattra fleet K-42 dispatched by Kor'O'T'au Kais'Y'eldi'Aloh in a series of raiding missions intended to disrupt the latest Gue'la attack in their sector. Deep reconnaissance had located a new Gue'la battlegroup en route to the Tau borders armed to the teeth - fleet intelligence had even identified a battleship-class vessel with nova cannon armament. Most troubling of all however was the flotilla of transport ships accompanying the battlegroup, which meant it was almost certainly an invasion force. The Tau were badly stretched out in this sector, especially as more of them were dispatched to the nearby system of M-88 to counter threats there, and a successful Gue'la assault on even one of the planets supporting Tau fleet bases could easily tip this conflict in their favour. 

The great weakness of the Gue'la was their logistics chain. The Tau knew that if they could stop the buildup of fuel, munitions and supplies for the Gue'la battlegroup then it would be rendered useless until more could arrive, and the attack could be ended before it began. Even a small delay in the Gue'la offensive would buy the Tau valuable time to prepare a defence. This, then, was where O'ran and his ships came in. While the bulk of K-42 was underway to M-88 to contain an imminent crisis there, a number of small strike groups would interdict Gue'la supply convoys in the region and delay their operations long enough for the fleet to return and defeat them in force. 

The Skether'qans had managed to succeed in tracking the convoys' movements, but even if they were still transmitting to the strike group O'ran was in the immense distances involved and the limits of communications technology meant that word would be delayed considerably, so the enemy could be expected to appear any time now. The suspense eroded O'ran from the inside out. He worried about the Tau working alongside him - this squadron was a recent command, appointed to replace recent combat losses, and most of O'ran's crews were fairly new. The Kor'nel knew that after the Damocles Crusade the greatest weapon in the Gue'la arsenal was fear, and he was concerned that his squadron crews might panic under pressure. 

Still, he could compensate for this with some good simple planning - he knew that only the transport ships in a convoy really mattered, the escort force was just a bluff, and all it took to down the standard Gue'la transport was a few good missile impacts. Thus, all his ships needed to do if called on was avoid any Gue'la attacks and keep firing gravitic missiles for as long as they could. If his crews could just keep the loading and firing cycles of the gravitic launchers going, then the missiles' own drone guidance mechanisms would take care of the rest. Ideally keeping well away from any Gue'la warships would be enough to reassure his crews. 

At once the sole functioning communications receiver on the bridge sounded a short burst of coded static. O'ran knew that it was the pre-arranged signal from the strike group's Gal'leath class starship indicating that long range probes had detected energy signatures matching Gue'la transports on approach to O'ran's position. It was almost time. 

The Kor'nel pressed a finger to the ship's intercom. Ship to ship links were currently powered down, but the Kor'els commanding the other vessels of O'ran's squadron had been briefed to power up their ships immediately upon detecting O'rans own spacecraft activate. 

"Kor'nel to all hands," O'ran said, "Gue'la convoy detected. Proceed to battle stations and prepare to power up all systems on my mark." 

Now would be the moment of truth...

Following on from my last adventure in the cosmos, about a month ago I was able to play my second game of Battlefleet Gothic. Pictures from my first game generated a surprising amount of interest on the FLGS's facebook page, and through that I was able to discover another two prospective Battlefleet Gothic players with fleets nearby. After a quick bit of group-chat work, I was able to arrange a game against one of these players who was all to eager to take their shiny new Imperial fleet out for a spin.

Said Imperial fleet was very impressive, including an original GW sculpt Apocalypse class battleship no less, but the most exciting thing of all was that it included a couple of Imperial transport ships. This is very important, because it meant that the player was the only one among us who actually had any transport ship models, so it was now possible to make use of the Battlefleet Gothic scenarios that feature them.

Since I myself have some planetary defences in the form of Tau orbitals, I'd ideally like to stage a Planetary Assault game in the near future, but as a stepping stone to that we agreed to run a Convoy scenario and - if there was time afterwards - a 1000 point Fleet Engagement. As it transpired, a series of delays in getting to the store meant we only had enough time for the Convoy scenario, but it was still another night of tremendous fun and the happiest I've been playing tabletop wargames since my first Battlefleet Gothic game.

So it is that we now join a small raiding force from Kor'vattra fleet K-42. Their mission: interdict a convoy of transports carrying supplies for a coming Imperial offensive. If they succeed, the Tau will have enough time to prepare, and millions of lives will be saved.

But first they will have to deal with the power of the Imperial Navy...

Fleets and Strategy 

Convoy is a weird scenario. It's easily the most asymmetric mission in Battlefleet Gothic, and it's very easy to wind up with a massive imbalance of points between the opposing fleets. This isn't necessarily a problem because of the scenario win conditions - only the transport ships actually matter for the purposes of victory conditions, so it's entirely possible for the attacking side to win without hurting a single enemy warship, and equally possible for the convoy side to win without firing a single shot.

As the player without any transport ship models, I would be the attacker for this game. On the one hand this meant that my fleet list wasn't restricted by transport ship numbers, but on the other hand it also meant that the attack force at my disposal was entirely randomised. Rather than deploying my fleet normally, or perhaps having to choose elements to go into a reserve force, I instead get a randomly determined number of rolls on a special table to determine which parts of my fleet list I can actually use. The table is set up to allow a little predictability, but realistically I could end up with anything from a full contingent of capital ships to a couple of stands of attack craft.

This has two direct consequences for me. First, it means that all of my carefully thought out plans and doctrines for space combat with the Tau fleet now take a screaming nosedive into hell. It also means that flexibility is going to be key to my success. Since I have no way of knowing what forces I'll actually have on the table, I will need to prepare several different contingency plans for different combinations of ships and weapons.

There are however a few constants that I can plan around. As I've already mentioned, the convoy transports are what's important in this scenario - I only have to knock them out in order to win. As escort sized ships, it only takes one good hit from an ordinance attack to take them down. Thus, all of my plans will likely at their heart boil down to 'avoid the convoy escorts and mob the transports with ordinance' (of course, 'and then we mob them with ordinance' is really how any sensible strategy for Tau in Battlefleet Gothic should end. After all, when all one has is a hammer, everything starts to look suspiciously like a nail...).

Likewise, while I may not get much choice in the ships I'll be using, the ships themselves still have the same weapons that I know. Because of this, I'm keeping my fingers crossed for something armed with a missile attack - with their high speed a few volleys of missiles will be perfect for picking off those transport ships, and the unique ability of Tau missiles to turn will allow them to manoeuvre around escort forces and exploit holes in the Imperial defence. Consequently if I can field something with a missile armament I can lay down a barrage of missiles early on then zip away out of danger, ideally laying waste to the transport ships without ever exposing my own forces to enemy fire.

Of course, the way the Convoy Attacker table is structured it's more likely that I'll end up with just the ordinance itself rather than the ships that normally deploy it. Most of the table outcomes leave you with varying numbers of ordinance attacks, which come in a choice of either Deadfall torpedoes (normal torpedoes that can be pointed in any direction before firing) or attack craft. Knowing this I'll be going with the attack craft, and in the event of these outcomes the attack craft will consist entirely of Mantas. Going without any kind of fighter cover at all has its risks, but the transport ships I'm gunning for only have one turret apiece and since I'll only get one attack run on them I want to ensure I can inflict maximum damage when I do. If I do encounter enemy fighters, the Mantas also have a handy 4+ save against interception from their defence systems.

The real trick to the attack craft however will be their manoeuvrability, allowing me to evade escorting warships and constantly stay trained on the transports, rather than only really getting one pass at them like I would with the torpedoes.

Thus, my strategy roughly comprises three contingency plans:

Plan A - The Works
If I can get at least one ship with missiles, it will stay as far away from the convoy escorts as possible, avoiding combat while pelting the transports with missile fire from long-range standoffs. If I get two or more such missile carriers, they will attack from different angles, forcing the Imperial fleet to split its defence across multiple aspects and maximising the chances that at least some of the missiles get through.

In the event that I also get some gunboats to go along with the missile carriers, then they'll run interference on the Imperial defence ships, distracting them from both the missile carriers themselves (allowing them to keep pumping out ordinance unmolested) and the missile salvos they fire.

Plan B - Missiles
As Plan A above, but with some attack craft squadrons to add to my missile attacks and no gunboats to distract the convoy escorts.

Plan C - Attack Craft
I'm guaranteed to get at least two squadrons of attack craft. In the even that's all I'm left with, I'll make use of my experience playing [i]Command and Conquer: The Covert Operations[/i] and carefully manoeuvre my Mantas around any Imperial escorts to attack the transport ships.

Although they're determined randomly, any capital ships and escort squadrons that end up in the attacking forces are still drawn from a fleet list, so I will need to compose one. The list I went with in the end is identical to that from my first Battlefleet Gothic game. There are two reasons for this. First, I need a list that includes a little bit of everything, just in case I roll up multiple capital ships and/or escort squadrons. Second, I am still bound to the Tau fleet list restrictions, which limit the numbers of certain ships I can field.

This does unfortunately mean that I am saddled with an Explorer class starship I cannot use (the maximum points cost for an attacking capital ship in a Convoy scenario is 200 points, which is just under what an Explorer class costs), but since I have to include one in a 750 points fleet (which is what we agreed to before reading the scenario rules closer, and I figured it was OK to stick with that limit in mind since my actual forces would be randomised anyway) there's nothing I can really do about it. On the positive side it at least means I have the ability to field a squadron of 3 Orcas if I need to.

Kor'vattra Fleet K-42 Strike Group 88 Black

Capital Ships

National Geographic - Gal'leath Explorer class starship (Vash'ya Configuration): 230 pts

Alice Liddell - Il'fannor Merchant class starship (Dal'yth Configuration) with reinforced hull: 120 pts

Sulaco - Lar'shi Hero class starship (Vash'ya Configuration): 180 pts


Delain Squadron - 3 Kir'qath Defender class starships: 135 pts

Sirenia Squadron - 3 Kass'l Orca gunships: 75 pts

TOTAL: 740 pts

The Imperial fleet facing me ended up comprising of a Dauntless class light cruiser with torpedo armament and a squadron of three Cobra class destroyers, plus two pairs of transport ships for a total of four.

Attacking Forces and Leadership

With my fleet list determined, I now needed to make my rolls on the Convoy Attackers table to see what parts of it I would be using. This should ideally be done in secret, as the attacking forces are then deployed as nondescript 'contact markers' in a similar fashion to the Hidden Setup rules in Warhammer 40,000, such that the convoy fleet will never be quite sure what's beyond the next waypoint.

So, with baited breath I make an initial die roll to determine the number of rolls I'll make on the table. I end up rolling a 5, giving me 3 rolls plus an additional two for there being two pairs of transports in the convoy, for a total of five table rolls. I proceed to make them and get...

... two 6s, a 5, a 4 and a 2!

I actually rolled three 6s first, but between not having enough viable capital ships to deploy and refusing to believe that any player could be so lucky I re-rolled the third one until I got a different result (which took two consecutive tries!), giving me the 2. This left me with two capital ships, a squadron of escorts worth no more than 150 points, a squadron of escorts costing less than 100 points and 2 waves of attack craft. A formidable attack force by any standard.

My capital ships were the Merchant class and Hero class, while my escort ships were a trio of Defenders and Orcas respectively. The attack craft waves would be comprised entirely of Mantas.

Now that my actual forces were sorted, I needed to roll up their leadership values just like any other Battlefleet Gothic scenario. As always this would be critical for me, as Tau fleets live and die by their ability to reload ordinance and my plans would require a steady flow of missile waves. Once again any poor leadership rolls would only be compounded by the absence of a fleet commander. In the last game I played my first few leadership rolls went really well, so this time I decide not to squander any chances for good rolls by determining the leadership for my most important element first, the squadron of Defenders. I manage to...

... roll a 1, giving them a measly leadership of 6. Brilliant.

Clearly their losses in the last game have left the squadron with an influx of green inexperienced recruits for replacements. On the other hand, that same previous game must have given my other crews some valuable combat experience, because the rest of my leadership rolls go much better with 4s and 5s for everything else, leaving me with:

- Ld 8 for the Sulaco

- Ld 8 for the Alice Liddell

- Ld 8 for Sirenia Squadron

- Ld 6 for Delain Squadron

Not bad at all, all things considered. Ld 6 on the Defender squadron is of course less than ideal, but I still have Ld 8 on one of my missile carriers, and the high leadership on my two gunboat elements will certainly come in handy when getting them into position.

The Imperial fleet ends up with:

- Ld 7  on the Dauntless class

- Ld 8 on the Cobras

- Ld 6 on the transports

The Imperial Convoy

Convoy - The Battle

Celestial Phenomena and Deployment

After rolling for celestial phenomena we ended up with two small planetoids (one small planet and a moon), both to starboard from the convoy zone. There were also two small asteroid fields, one near the small planet (ahead of it from the convoy's entry point) and one just port of the convoy zone.

With the celestial phenomena set up, it was now time for me to deploy my ambushes. I put the Defenders (or rather, the contact token for the Defenders) down first, placing them as close as possible to the corner opposite the convoy's entry point. They would remain around the convoy's escape point, staying well back from the Imperial ships while they unloaded their missiles and attacking the transports with their railcannons as a last-ditch measure should it come to that.

The capital ships went down next. I placed them in the opposite corner to the Defenders, aiming to hit the transport ships with missiles from two directions to split up the Imperial defence efforts, as well as acting as a distraction from the Defender squadron. The Hero went closest to the convoy's entry point, with the Merchant behind it to cover the broadside arcs.

The attack craft then went on either side of the asteroid field near the planet, as close as possible to the centre of the board, with an aim towards springing them on the transport ships as they reached the mid-way point or further distracting the convoy escorts. Finally, I placed my squadron of Orcas behind the small planet - once the convoy passed them they would spring into action and swing around the planet to get behind the transports where they could attack with impunity.

Imperial Turn 1

As the convoy player, the Imperials automatically had first turn, which ended up being very uneventful with nothing yet to shoot at. The convoy transports and their escort force entered the table and moved straight ahead their full movement distance, with no ships going on special orders.

Table at the start of the first Tau turn

Tau Turn 1

None of the Imperial ships were close enough to detect the Tau yet, and none of them were on special orders, but I could still activate one marker voluntarily to start getting some forces in play. I chose the Defender squadron, which duly appeared in line abreast and moved forward at half-speed before firing their first wave of missiles.

Convoy sighted - commencing attack!

The missiles themselves proceed to move forward at maximum speed in an attempt to circle around the convoy escorts and hit the transport ships behind them.

Imperial Turn 2

With hostile contacts on their scopes the Imperial crews leap into action. With some fortunate leadership rolls the entire Imperial fleet goes on All Ahead Full and rockets ahead as far as they can, activating my two attack craft waves in the process (which end up being a wave of four Manta squadrons and a wave of three Manta squadrons). No-one shoots at anything, but the Dauntless and Cobras both fire their torpedoes.

Rockets away!

In the ordinance phase, everyone's rockets move forward. The torpedoes from the Cobras travel wide of the Defenders, but the Dauntless's salvo continues on a heading that will bring it dangerously close to my capital ships. My own missiles surge forward, but a combination of relative movement and the limits of their 45 degree turning arc means that they end up hitting the Dauntless! After turret rolls they inflict two hits on the light cruiser with no critical damage, and fail to reach the transports I was aiming for. The Mantas make a beeline for the transport ships, but are too far out to reach anything this turn.

Tau Turn 2

With all of the Imperial ships now on special orders, I can now activate two contact markers, and duly bring both of my capital ships into the fight. The restrictions on contact token placement during deployment meant that the two ships ended up being somewhat out of position to support one another, so the Hero moved forward at half speed while the Merchant moved forward its full distance to catch up.

The Defenders inch forward at half speed, attempt to reload ordinance and predictably fail. Fortunately nothing else needs to go on special orders this turn. They do however take some long-range shots at the Cobras with their railcannons, and with some help from the Merchant's own batteries manage to shoot one down. The Hero takes a few shots at the Dauntless, but fails to inflict any damage. It also fires its missiles and launches two squadrons of Barracudas.

In the Ordinance phase, my first priority is getting rid of that wave of torpedoes on an intercept course with my capital ships. One of the Barracuda squadrons makes quick work of it, while the other moves to shut down any further launches. With that crisis averted, my missile waves continue to arc around towards the oncoming transport ships.

The remaining Imperial torpedo salvo zooms off harmlessly into the asteroid field. The Mantas move around the Imperial warships, but doing so leaves them just short of reaching the transport ships.

Imperial Turn 3

Deciding that the best course of action is to make a quick break for it, the Imperial ships attempt to go on All Ahead Full orders again. The Cobras succeed, but a poor leadership roll on the subsequent ship leaves the Dauntless and Transports stuck making a full normal move.

The Imperial ships attempt to fire at the Mantas, but miss. In the ordinance phase, the Tau missile waves swing around and begin bearing down on the transport ships.

Tau Turn 3

With only one token left to activate, I spring the last component of my trap. The Orca squadron powers up and races over the planet to get close to the transport ships and behind the remaining Cobras. The rest of my ships move up their minimum half distance. The Hero passes its command check to reload ordinance, as do the Defenders.

My capital ships both take some shots at the Dauntless, but again fail to do any damage to it. The Defenders likewise miss their shots at the passing Cobras. The Orcas however are much more successful. They open up on the transport ships at close range, downing one with their railcannons and another with their ion cannons.

The remaining two transports do not live much longer, being downed in hail of cruise missiles in the subsequent ordinance phase.

The transports are destroyed and the Imperials are surrounded.

With that, all the transport ships and one Imperial escort are destroyed, for no Tau losses (though in a symbolic fourth round the Dauntless managed to take a hull point off one of the Tau capital ships), resulting in a decisive Attacker's Win for the Tau.

What Millitant Learnt

As I predicted, Tau missiles are lethal in a Convoy scenario. Their ability to hit multiple targets in a single move makes them great at rapidly destroying single hull-point transport ships, while their variable speed and turning ability makes them hard to intercept. My gunnery weapons were somewhat more useful in this game, more indeed than I was expecting, but gunnery shooting is still very clearly a sidearm in the Tau fleet. My Mantas never ended up contributing much, but I remain confident that they were the wiser choice over the deadfall torpedoes. What was less wise was deploying them as single solid waves - in hindsight I can see it would have been wiser to split them up as individual stands so that they would better be able to overwhelm defence efforts and have better chances of hitting multiple transports (unlike torpedoes and missiles, attack craft only make one attack run - once it's done they're gone). Fortunately I had enough other threats flying around to cover for that oversight.

My victory was certainly in no small part a result of rolling far better on the Convoy Attackers table than I had any right to, but I still feel like my planning was sound and maximised my own strengths. I'm also starting to get better at judging relative movement and planning ahead for where ships are going rather than where they are now, though I still make mistakes there. Perhaps most importantly however, this victory has left me confident in my ability to adapt to unforeseen circumstances and situations, something I was very concerned about prior to this game. For a long time I was unsure how well I'd fare if unable to employ my carefully formulated fleet doctrine with Soviet Military Science precision, but after this game I feel like I can reliably come up with a feasible Plan B if needed.

In the first game I felt like my opponent was too cautious in their approach, but in this game my impression was the opposite - here I feel like my opponent was too reckless. A mad dash across the table looks good on paper in a Convoy scenario, but I can't help but think that my opponent would have been better off if they were more cautious and took the time to properly clear a path for the transports first. My very favourable attacking forces rolls meant the Imperial fleet was heavily outgunned from the start, but even so some more aggressive use of their torpedo attacks (in particular firing multiple torpedo salvos instead of powering on with All Ahead Full) could have done a lot to level the playing field - even if I evaded them all, doing so would have shut down my movement options considerably and forced me to fight more on my opponent's terms. Instead I was largely left with free reign to dictate the battle and strike where I wanted to with overwhelming force.

Unlike my previous game, I can't point to any definitive MVP unit on either side here. That said, I am increasingly impressed with the performance of my Defenders, which have done well despite setbacks in each of their outings. More and more I find myself considering them an indispensable part of my fleet, and more and more I find leaving them out of a fleet list is less than an option. They certainly require different tactical thinking to other escort ships, but when played to their strengths as an economical missile platform they have satisfied me even when hamstrung with poor leadership. It's particularly telling that in all of my theoretical 1000-1500 point fleet lists I've created thus far I've prioritised more Defenders over a second Hero class starship.

That covers everything I think. The success of this battle has been typical of of the convoy raids conducted by K-42 fleet elements, and their actions have delayed the Imperial invasion by several Kai'rotaa, providing the Tau ample time to prepare for it.

Celebratory dumplings and Ku'Lu'Na soda all around!