Friday, 13 November 2015
Damocles: Kauyon Part 2 - The Rules (Warhammer 40,000 War Zone Review, 7th Edition)
Welcome to part one, if you want to see an analysis of the lore then please click here.
One of the most interesting, and arguably beneficial points about Kauyon is actually one of its big selling points. The book is expensive to be sure, a full fifteen pounds more than the standard codex. Many would rather not just buy the book for some additional lore and a few bonus missions, no matter how good some of the formations might be. So, Games Workshop's choice was a rare moment of sanity - Include the entire rules' set for the Tau Empire within its pages.
Now, this might seem like a cheap cop out at first but think about it for a second. One of the big problems surrounding the Supplements was always its lack of rules. Rather than offering details on a full army, players were offered a bare basic skeleton to give their force some vague identity, and page upon page wasted upon rules no one was using. Plus, atop of all that, you needed to buy the codex itself, doubling your costs. Here, you're spending a little more, getting the full army but also a ton of new formations and rules to help bring it to life. Sure, you might be losing some of the background lore in the main codex and the book might be more of a single insular story, but in this case it works. After all, the lore in the main codex is sadly fairly thread-bare at best, skipping over many of the most vital points. In its place though, you get a full campaign story which focuses upon the entire Empire's latest efforts and single greatest campaign, along with substantially more work giving insight into this race. It probably wouldn't work with anyone else, but here you honestly aren't losing anything critical in the slightest.
Of course, with the book being so Tau Empire focused, some might be wondering about the space marines. With the entire codex present, they might seem like a secondary element or just an unnecessary addition overall. While with other armies this might have been true, the over-saturation of marines actually works in its favour here. There's a solid chance that anyone playing the Tau Empire will have at least a small batch of marines stashed away somewhere, and in some cases a full on army. As such, they're unlikely to go to waste with most players, and being two First Founding armies they'll cover a solid number of possible chapters. That and it's a chance to help further popularize some often overlooked long-established chapters on the tabletop. Really. besides the Iron Hands the White Scars are woefully overlooked by too many people.
Still, some of you are likely wondering about the rules themselves and a more detailed account of the crunch. Well, it probably won't surprise you to learn that most of its content is divided between a series of key missions which play out events from the campaign, and a a mass of new formations. The few elements which aren't devoted to these mostly come down to a few new bits of wargear and some unique tactical objectives. It's not too much to be sure, but given this is a book revolving around a single campaign rather than fully fleshing out an entire army, it's more than sufficient.
The missions themselves are mixed really, and with a few good and bad ideas alike. A lot of those here seem to be recycled one way or another sadly, so we end up with several variations on older concepts. The usual ones you'd expect, from one army deploying in the middle of the board while surrounded by the enemy to a "race" battle which advances onwards via recycling terrain as they move towards the edge. Some are nice to be sure, and even put something of a new spin on some older ideas, such as one "surrounded" mission's deployment zones; with the Imperial player having a semi-circle towards one board edge while the Tau Empire player can work from almost any area directly surrounding it. Equally, the special rules range from fun and interesting to just your common special mission goal. So, for example, the final mission has "Defend the Fallen Heroes" which turns dead characters into objective markers for the rest of the game. A nice bonus which can turn the tide of the conflict one way or another, but on the other hand you also have things like the constant re-rolling of reserves in certain missions while others require practically your entire army to come on in reserve. That one becomes especially tedious after the third or forth time it's wheeled out.
Oddly enough, the missions are actually at their most fun when they're at their most gimmicky. While it's certainly to the detriment of the usual statements you'll find on this blog - that the backbone of armies should not be forgotten because of the big, flashy units - there's no denying the sheer joy in playing the pure flier or pure super-heavy scenarios. Each has a series of special rules which are catered to models of their type, and it honestly seems as if the developers are having an immense amount of fun being as utterly insane as possible. After all, there's a rule which involves allowing a Stormsurge shooting at the ground beneath Knights, trying to force them to fall to their deaths while fighting their way down a sheer cliff-face. It's just a shame they didn't go the extra mile, turning the Thunderstrike Pimp Hand into a full blown Pacific Rim rocket punch in return.
So, some of you might be wondering just what the wargear and formations on offer are exactly. Well, for the most part, they're either adaptations of existing formations or more gimmicky variations which seem to fit the chapter a little better than most. So, starting with one of the marine chapters, the Raven Guard come with a specialist variation of the normal demi-battle company. It's the same as usual, but there's a greater emphasis upon the use of Scouts, with certain sergeants offering the ability to ignore cover to nearby units (thanks to recon intel. presumably). Another very useful bonus is Wayfinders, which can allow Scout squads or Bikes to lead other units onto the battlefield when emerging from reserve.
For the most part they're nothing truly exceptional to write home about, and even the most interesting ones tend to come down to bundling certain units together. Say, a mass of Vanguard veterans or even a mix of Sternguard, Dreadnoughts and Stormravens for a surprise, sudden arrival. Nearly all of those with the Raven Guard have a huge emphasis placed upon reserve roles in some way, and while understandable it makes some of this seem like too much of a cop-out. There's no push made to better explore some of the army's more interesting angles, and instead it really seems like many of the formations were made to be as easily interchangeable as possible. Okay, not an entirely bad idea, but it means there's not as much variation as you'd hope, even with a few notably entertaining or rather brutal variations here and there.
The Raven Guard wargear on hand falls into the usual categories we so often bring up, but has a few fun variations here and there. For example, the Armour of Shadows (is there a Raven Guard drinking game involving the term "shadow" being spammed? Because someone needs to invent that) offers a 2+ standard save, but atop of this it offer Stealth to the users or Shrouded if they remained still. Generic, sure, but certainly a little more fun than just the usual brick shithouse defences.
Long range weapons, meanwhile, come up a couple of tasty varieties, both expected and unexpected. The Ex Tenebris pistol - along with retaining some interesting lore, as it was originally built by Corax as a gift for Night Haunter - can best be summed up as a mini-assault cannon. While it has the stats of a basic bolter, the addition of Rending, Precision Shots and Assault 3 makes this useful for some general crowd control, especially when springing ambushes.
On the other hand we have the Nihlus, the rare example of a sniper rifle relic. Limited purely to Veteran Scout Sergeants (sadly) it's the ying to the Tenebris' yang. It hits at Heavy 1, but with Armourbane added to the mix it's blowing off head sin a moment, and the Shadow-Shot special rule allows it to A. fire independently from the rest of the unit, and B. hit vehicles at Strength 6. Not too shabby at all.
The remaining trio of items are good to odd. The Raven Skull of Korvaad is a useful, cheap method of adding an additional point to BS and WS, but its secondary effect seems limited. Should the hero carrying it fall, any Raven Guard unit will gain Hatred and Rage. That's all fine and dandy, but with a range of just 6" it's limited to say the least, and offers little beyond the direct melee which slew him.
Raven's Fury and Swiftstrike and Murder meanwhile are the close combat variants. They almost seem to have been made to work in synch with one another, given one is a jump pack with bonus effects in melee while the latter is a set of lightning claws. One allows for Hammer of Wrath attacks at +2 Strength along with giving the user Strikedown as an ability, while the latter offers the ability to double the number of possible hits. Every successful opening hit allows for another bonus strike against a foe, making it rather useful for carving your way through mobs.
On the whole, while a little generic, the Raven Guard remain strong here but do lack a little variety or pushes to explore new ideas. Then again, when that's the biggest concern, the writers are clearly doing something very right.
The White Scars are somewhat similar in many regards here, as they ultimately fall into the same rapid strike mentality the Raven Guard favour. That said, they nevertheless manage to stand out on their own fairly well, thanks in no small part to the fact they don't limit their approach to war. Rather than just giving every single last formation outflanking or hit and run related tactics, there's some serious variation from one group to the next. As such, while they fall into similar categories as the Raven Guard in terms of models, you at least have a little more flavour to work with. The bike squadrons in particular have a little more interesting elements as their speed and fury in melee gets a little more attention than just striking before falling back. That's instead left to a few other formations to full out that role, and you're left with more of an overall force you can tailor to your will.
By comparison, the relics here aren't quite as well balanced as some might like and some do pale in when put next to the Raven Guard's own items. You have most of the usual traits and tropes again but without so much originality. So, there's a banner which gifts Furious Charge and Fleet to any Scars unit within 12", and a master-crafted sword which adds +3 Strength and hits at AP 1. Even an advanced bionic eye with a mysterious past really only amounts to +1 BS and offering Ignores Cover to the user and his unit. None of these are useless or outright bad by any means, but at the same time we've seen these same ideas done time and time again. The names might change along with the armies, but these really are just cookie cutter designs by this point.
The more interesting or outlandish stuff only shows up with a legendary attack bike (which can move 18" while turbo-boosting and counts as a jetbike) and a Librarian upgrade. Even that last one doesn't amount to much though, just giving Adamantium Will and the Psychic Maelstrom power to the model. Really though, that's about it overall.
Naturally this just leaves the Tau Empire and its own formations. These often prove to be extremely powerful ones to be sure, sometimes more than a little broken, but nevertheless ones where there's been a clear effort to make certain units more viable. One very appreciated option was a formation focusing purely upon the auxiliary units of the army, the kroot and vespid. While sadly lacking the Gue'vesa or lesser known species, it's a chance to look into something besides the main forces and treats them like advanced scouts, giving a few bonuses to each. Notably making ruins easier to move through, and offering the vespid a few new bonuses to quickly move through difficult terrain.
Others meanwhile are mixed but often with the expected focus. Along with the aforementioned mass infiltration unit brought up in the review of Codex: Tau Empire, others are basically massed gunship support or mixed drone units. Working in a similar manner to the space marines formations, these are built around a single semi-company or forces, primarily infantry groups. A few actually operate in a manner akin to the Raven Guard, with a focus placed upon mass infantry and unit support. There's different variations upon this, but you have units of troop choices whose main rules basically revolve around concentrating fire upon certain targets. Okay, this does actually fit the overall style of the Tau Empire, emulating their hunter origins, with masses of warriors bringing down stronger foes. That said, given the use of markerlights within this army, it's a little difficult to look at this and not view it as overkill.
Others found in here tend to range from generic to interesting, with the Air Caste Cadre simply offering the ability to ignore Shaken and Stunned rolls. The Firebase Support Cadre is another example, merely offering Tank Hunter and Monster Hunter. Most of the time it does try to mess with experimental concepts it works to be sure, such as the Heavy Retribution Cadre (AKA railgun spam) denying the enemy the ability to run, but it's just a little off at times. Like so much here, it's really a case of delving through the same old boiler plate guff to find the fun ones people have been messing with for a while.
Overall, for all the good and bad it offers, Kauyon is still a definite success. While it still has a multitude of problems in terms of general execution, there's no denying that there's still plenty of fun to be had here. It works well as an alternative to the standard Codex: Tau Empire, with vastly more lore and rules on hand, and little to really botch or undermine the army's overall effectiveness. If anything its main problem seems to be that it hits too hard and can win victories all too easily unless facing down a similarly nutso force with broken formations, and too flexible when it comes to unit variety. Still, Tau Empire players should have plenty of fun with this one. If you're after the deluxe version of the codex or want just a little more out of your crunch, you should be happy to know this book does the army justice.