Thursday, 29 August 2013

Farsight Enclaves: Part 1 - The Rules (Warhammer 40,000 Codex Supplement Review)

Between this and Iyanden there's a distinct trend showing up in these books: They're not being written for armies so much as specific units. Usually the flashier ones which are more likely to sell to younger players or are the more iconic elite troops. Iyanden had wraith units and now Farsight Enclaves has the same with battlesuits, focusing extremely heavily upon building armies almost entirely out of them. Whether they be characters, Crisis teams you can use as troops or new equipment, nearly all of the book's unique flavour seems to be angled towards a few specific types of unit. This is the real problem here. Codex Supplement Farsight Enclaves is a massive improvement over the steaming pile of excrement which was Iyanden, yet it's a painfully obvious a waste of potential.

Now let's make one thing clear: I'm not going to hold the multiple rules typos and editing goofs against the book. If you want to see them they can be found here. As obviously sloppy as the editing was, and the multiple problems which came as a result, Games Workshop is supposedly correcting them. The supplement codex deserves a chance to stand up on its own merits and analyse the intentions of the author without being caught up in one problem. As such this review won't comment upon the many typos and confusingly written rules errors, but it will still bring up badly thought out or worded rules.

The initial obvious step up in the rules department is that there are more than two pages of it this time. More time and effort seems to have actually been put into making this a unique faction of a bigger force in the same way many of the lesser space marine codices, with it sharing the same units but utilising them with different combat doctrines. Many problems such as the heavy emphasis upon HQ choices still remain, but that's an issue which has been a growing issue for two editions now. Furthermore, despite my misgivings with the direction the book went in, it did give Tau players something many had wanted for a long time: The ability to take Crisis battlesuits as troops, even without being forced to take them exclusively as troops. Furthermore many of the upgrades which were added such as the replacement Warlord traits and (some of) the signature systems fitted well with the army's backstory. They felt like a group who had seen far more of the galaxy's dangers than the Tau Empire.

The real problem here however is that there's a distinct lack of polish when it comes to many areas of the book. It looks like many areas were developed very quickly or had no time to really think about how they would work, especially when it comes to the Warlord traits. While opinions will vary of course, the only one which seemed to have real merit behind it for a Tau list was the Fire Unquenchable. This was a trait which made your Warlord of choice fearless, and anyone within "6 around him Stubborn. It felt more like an ability leaders should have, working alongside troops rather than just being combat monsters with 1337 PWNZRD special rules. 
Others however like Way Of The Short Blade and Through Surety  Destruction felt either fairly useless, or far more limited in their overall use in the game, or veered towards the above problem. 

Further problems in the HQ department besides the odd choices of Warlord traits are the characters. For all Iyanden's problems it is worth giving that book some praise in keeping the number of special characters fairly low, as here their numbers completely exploded. 
Besides Farsight himself, there are a grand total of eight new characters here serving as his personal lieutenants. Even for a standard codex this is an obscene amount to give to a book and to be honest their use within the book is fairly limited as they're always going to be deployed as bodyguards to Farsight. This means that when you do deploy them you're going to need to spend a vast amount of points in HQ choices and rely heavily upon HQ choices for firepower. 

The only big justification there is for lumping all of them together is the variety of battlesuits, with Crises, Broadsides, and even one Riptide, all listed under it. As such it's easy to tailor make it to what you want with only the requirement of a couple of choices for what's needed. That said, even considering this detail the point above still stands, as it's still turning the game into Characterhammer. Where in the grim darkness of the far future, battles are decided by who has the more beefy or broken named characters. Okay, that's an exaggeration, but it's still a problem with characters being prioritised over the actual armies and backbone units.

Besides the HQ choices are the shiny toys the army has been given to race into combat with. As you might have guessed many are angled towards battlesuits and intended only for them. Unfortunately a lot of them are either overpriced or seem to have visible problems that just don't make them worth taking.

High on this list of new gubbins are the Fusion Blades. Apparently whoever was writing this took Farsight's unusual close combat approach, or perhaps the army's Preferred Enemy: Orks, a little too close to heart and decided to give them beam swords. Despite their natural shortcomings with a low WS, this at least sounds promising with with the blade having S8 AP1 attacks with Armourbane and Blind. Unfortunately any benefits of this are offset by two big problems: You can only utilise these on models with twin linked fusion blasters, meaning the model lacks the range to take advantage of the Tau's naturally superior BS. Furthermore, on the roll of a 1 in melee, the model not only breaks the blade but also its guns meaning it cannot shoot or fight for the rest of the game. With such heavy flaws, the weapon is just not worth taking.

Similar problems can be found with the Seismic Fibrilator Nodes, which are intended to slow down enemy forces by turning all nearby ground as dangerous terrain. Unfortunately which can only be used once, have a low chance of working for even one turn meaning it's relatively useless. Not to mention there's too much of a chance of it failing without any actual use for its cost of 45 points. 
This unreliability also carries over to the Mirrorcodex, which can be used to turn an army into its preferred enemy and gives +1 to seize rolls for your whole detachment. The shortcoming off this is that you're required to roll once every round, meaning much of the time you're not going to get the preferred enemy you want as the table is as follows:
1- 3 Nothing
4 - Space Marines
5 - Space Marines & Imperial Guard
6 - Everyone
Most of the time this is one which is going to be completely worthless and a waste of points.

Next on the list, the Warscaper Drone, is a moderately useful choice by comparison but once again costs far too many points to justify taking it. Offering move through cover, outflank, acute senses and the ability to turn difficult terrain into the dangerous type for enemies it looks useful. The problem is that it's an item which can only be given to characters, has a "12 range for the latter ability so it's more of a very limited 35 point one trick pony than a truly useful item. 
It's not bad, but nowhere near as good as it could have been with a slightly greater range and without the limitation of being a character only item.

The final two of note are the only truly good ones in the book. Mostly because they're simple, well priced, without a high chance of failure and are more there to cover the army's shortcomings than try to give them new abilities.

First up is the Earth Caste Pilot Array, a Riptide specific item which allows for re-rolls of all 1s in the shooting phase and when rolling for the Nova reactor. This not only makes the Riptide a better fire support platform but gives it far more reliability, at the cost of giving it WS 1. As such both its strengths and weaknesses have been enhanced, balancing it out and with it only costing 30pts.

Finally, there's the Talisman of Arthas Moloch. For 25 points it can be given to a model and confers a 5+ Inv. save, but more importantly it permits anyone within the unit to have 4D6 denial to all Witch Rolls. With psychic powers being set up as the big focus for this edition, and the Tau having no psychics, this is something they desperately needed. It's also a slightly better alternative to shield drones and is genuinely useful for the whole force.

The above items are intended to replace some from Codex: Tau Empire such as the Puretide Neuroclip, Multi-Spectrum Sensor Suite and Command and Control Node. Items which have either been developed since Farsight left or he refuses to use, but overall it feels like more of a loss than an alternative. The other items were more well rounded and more useful, whereas the ones here either aren't worth the cost or are best written for battlesuit heavy armies.

Again, this doesn't seem to have been written for a relatively flexible army so much as a strike force of a very limited design. One working primarily with battlesuits and ignoring other options such as Fire Warriors or even many of the other units like Pathfinders or Hammerhead tanks. The only few bits which even do refer to them are a requirement to have a bonding knife per squad, preferred enemy, and some of the more generalised Warlord traits. There's nothing wrong with an army being written for primarily one type of unit, but they need more variety, flexibility and better items. Oddly enough, despite their lack of a specific codex, a better example of an army like this would be one of the White Scars special rules lists.

Overall the rules here aren't so much bad as rushed. It's clear to see what the writers (who go oddly unaccredited by name) were going for but there's such a distinct lack of polish it's almost as if this was written in a very short space of time. The flaws in many items could have easily been ironed out with just a bit of play-testing and a very narrow time-frame would also explain the emphasis upon battlesuit forces. This is a theory supported by the lack of any apparent editing and the problems highlighted in the early thoughts article on the book. 
The Farsight Enclaves is continuing with a lot of bad habits seen in rulebooks of late and falls short in a lot of areas, but if you desperately want to take Crisis suits as troops it might be worth the cash just for that. It's ultimately a step up from Iyanden, but that's only because Mat Ward set the bar so low for this codex.

Unfortunately for us, the fluff behind the army is worse than the rules. Far, far worse.

Click this link to find out why!

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