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This may be an obvious no brainer but no one as of yet has really mentioned it so here goes.
I think one important thing to consider when building a list is to make sure the army has a healthy "swarm" element to it. But first let me define what I mean by swarm. While a large model count would be refered to as a "horde" style of play, to me "swarm" is a term I apply to a list with an unusually high unit count. And while my Tau lists are often more on the horde side of things as well, I always make sure they are swarmy first.
I think it would be helpful to illustrate what I am talking about with a list as a point of reference. So here is my most recently tweaked list for your consideration:
Shas'O, MP, PR, CCN, IA, HWMT, HWTL, 2xSD's - 177 points
Shas'El, TL:MP, AFP, HWMT - 93 points
6xFW's, 'ui, ML, HWTL, Bonded - 90 points
6xFW's, 'ui, ML, Bonded - 85 points
20xKroot, 8 hounds - 188 points
10X Kroot - 70 points
10X Kroot - 70 points
2xDeathrains, Flamers - 94 points
2xDeathrains, Flamers - 94 points
Deathrain, TA - 53 points
2xPiranha, FB, TA - 140 points
Piranha, FB, TA, 2xSeekers - 90 points
Piranha, FB, TA, 2xSeekers - 90 points
3xSniper Drones - 240 points
Ionhead, BC, MT, DL - 130 points
3XBass, Team Leader with PR, HWMT, HWTL, 2xShield Drones - 295 points
Total = 1999 points
Number of Models = 97
Total number of units = 21(after Piranha Drones detach)
Ok there is the list, notice how there are 21 units in it and yet the FOC slot has a total of only 17 slots? This has several underlying offensive, defensive, and deployment benefits I'd like to point out.
The primary benefit to offense is the ability to effectively control the shooting phase so as not to waste any shots. By keeping a majority of the units at minimum or near minimum size there is little chance of any overkill going on here. For example, there is little chance that a unit of 2 deathrains will overkill that Falcon, Rhino, or Devilfish or that your 6 FW's or 10 Kroot will "overwipe" that 5 man marine squad. And if the small units get unlucky and do absolutely nothing to their target then the next team simply takes their turn. So in the end it is the same number of shots, just spread around as much as possible, think of it as free target locks. Thus the list can move from target to target efficiently and lucky roles can be taken maximum advantage of.
As for the large unit of BASS even they can split fire if desired as the team leader and joined Shas'O both have HWTL. So even this large unit is unlikely to waste shots if you are judicious with them(as a side not, the Shas'O will leave the BASS after his SD's are gone to gain IC status). The large unit of Kroot on the other hand serves as the primary speedbump spreading out in the largest 4+ cover they can get into, preferably in the middle of the table if possible. Thus in their case offense is not the primary concern but often they are the first to shoot at a fresh enemy unit anyway so they usually won't be wasting firepower either.
Another offensive benefit is the ability to control much of the boards fire lanes. For example in this list my Sniper Drones are always the first to deploy, covering the maximum amount of board with their precious markerlights who incidentally have 4 Piranha mounted seekers they can call on for removing high priority targets early. This kind of relates to the deployment benefits but I will get to that later.
This is rather self explanatory I think as small units are easier to hide, they may scatter in different directions in the face of enemy assaulters, and are less likely to get owned by blast templates of all kind. Sure the leadership may suffer, but lets break down how that can be dealt with.
First of all most of the list should either not be taking casualties early on from anything but indirect fire, or don't test LD because they are vehicles. Examining why this is unit by unit lets start with the HQ...the 'El relies on IC status while the 'O buries himself with the Broadsides to become nigh invulnerable so no problems here.
Moving to the Elite section we have small 2 man teams with JSJ forming their primary defense so no real problems there except indirect fire once again. For Fast attack, only the free fodder drones ever test LD and the Piranhas can remain out of LOS and launch seekers and/or lie in wait. In heavy support we find those nigh invulnerable BASS again and the snipers who are also typically untargettable for at least the first 2 rounds due to range and stealth. The Ionhead of course has to move in the open to shoot, but dropping a single seeker will give it SMS or simply move him to the open whenever he is really needed and hide him otherwise.
Finally we have my poor abused troop section. The Kroot will hopefully have some forest in which case they might possibly be untargettable but even if they don't, well they are mercenaries afterall. The FW's on the other hand are truly the only vulnerable unit testing LD after only 2 deaths, but no one is forcing you to use their meager offense so hiding them is an option against gun lines. But on the other hand by bonding them and giving them ML's they will often stick around and contribute to the cause with some extra pulse fire and some ML hits. Plus when only 1 or 2 are left you can always move them out of LOS to preserve half VP's. Thus they act as a lure while providing the occasional ML hit and some extra pulse fire. Bonded FW's as lures? Sounds fluffy and effective to me.
The important thing here is the Tau's defense does not really hinge upon unit size like other armies so smaller units just make sense.
Deployment and Positioning
Last but not least is deployment and positioning. By having a full FOC chart(well minus 1 troops choice) you are usually never the first to finish your deployment and if you are it will be by only by a handfull of units so no big surprises usually. Even in those rare cases, your Kroot infiltrate so unless your opponent has 3 infiltrators also, and a full FOC chart otherwise you will be placing the last unit in both regular deployment and the infiltrate phase.
This gives you a tremendous advantage as your opponent cannot respond to your final placements. Often when playing expensive armies like Mech Eldar, Marines, Chaos, Zilla Nids, and Necrons my opponent will finish his deployment while I am still on my HQ's. This means he will not know what your final battle plan will look like and allows you to pull deployment shenanigans.
For example he may not realize that Shas'O is going to join the BASS team until you plop him down right next to them. Or perhaps he was caught unawares that the 2 lone Piranhas with seekers would deploy way off on a far away flank for turn 1 side armor snipes against his vehicles. These are just a few examples of deployment advantage to swarm style and even when not all that usefull, having the benefit is better than your opponent having it and doing the same to you.
That brings me to positioning. This is often related to deployment but not always. Piranhas are key in this area as they deploy last not counting Kroot of course. What makes this an advantage is the ability to drop drones on flanks and move into positions to catch enemies in crossfires, hit rear armor, and pin or assault a unit that thought itself safe, all without actually risking the Piranha.
Additionally, having so many units allows for flexible firebase construction either in small clusters for avoiding drop pod death and infiltrating assaulters, one large firebase for repelling horde, or simply spread out in a line to maximize fire lane coverage against gun lines. And finally, with so many units, simply moving to surround an enemy who is moving toward you will leave him with too few options to respond effectively to even most of your threats.
An Important Consideration
When constructing a list with lots of units in it keeping things as cheap as possible is paramount. This does not mean we sacrifice efficient and/or very usefull pieces of wargear. Nor is this a hard and fast rule (see large Kroot unit and the BASS team). The important thing is to consider what upgrades one really needs before you start experiencing diminishing returns. Find that balance of quality and quantity and you will be well on your way. Disruption Pods on the IOnhead are nice to have for example but are they always going to be needed? TA's on deathrains is another example, with so many deathrains do you really need that added 13% hit rate? Besides the ML's can make them BS4 if you really need that.
So the above list may use small units with few upgrades, but the ones taken are either absolutely necessary or just very usefull tactically. For example there are 5 markerlights(3 BS4), 4 seeker missiles, and 6 total vehicles. This allows for all sorts of tactics from skimmer walls to side armor snipes and many many more. Most of the list has either BS4 or twinlinking so the army is also highly accurate.
Getting creative with the unit diversity and special rules also helps make up for fancy upgrades too. One of my favorite tactics of such variety is to place the Shas'El behind the big Kroot unit and move him forward quickly. By deploying a couple of the hounds in a line back toward him he can join them on turn 2 which interestingly enough is usually the same round they lose that 7th member and need to take their first LD check. This also keeps all the kroot rifles up front where they can do the most good. Now they are testing on LD9 and have a 3+ save to absorb the first non AP3 shot they have to save against for at least 3 rounds(if you roll badly). Additionally the added firepower from the missiles and AFP make for a stout unit offensively. And whenever the 'El gets to 1 wound you can detach him and he is an IC again. By sacrificing half of the 'El's 93 VP's you can often keep the 188 point Kroot unit fully scoring if you play it right.
So the next list you write up, keep some of the above thoughts in mind and give swarmy Tau a shot. You may be surprised how well you do. Thanks for reading my super windy post BTW guys.
This concept is very similar to MSU (Multiple Small Units) which is a style of play and army list building which is used in WFB perticularly by Dark Elves and has been around for quite a while. Its interesting to see that it can work with Tau I think I'll give it a try some time.
Heres an article about MSU.
BEN DIESEL FTW!!!
good article. The only thing I would say is that you will have to be very careful that you do not try to get more units at the expense of firepower.
For instance Fire Warriors are not that good when reduced to minimum sized units, they tend to rely on volume of fire to be effective in an offensive role.
Also it has to be remembered that lack of numbers can result in teams running of the field. This however can be countered by either taking bonding (no guarantee), Ethereals or Shadow sun.
My list has 14 units I believe (15 with Drones) and is a good balance between unit numbers and fire power application, yours Isra is another good example. Your list is very much tailored to what I call the nibble, hide and run effect, while mine is more smack in the mouth with a baseball bat and laugh 8X. Both are effective. Both work and both have a good unit count (for Tau).
Something else I think dovetails into this thread is redundancy, let me explain.
Any list should be built with multiple redundancies, this means that the list should be able to handle any of the opponents force slots with multiple units (spread throughout the list).
For instance my list can handle infantry with:
- Fire Warriors
- Drone squads (2)
- Railgun (Hammer head)
- Railgun (XV88's)
- Shas'El Helios multi
- Kroot (2 squads)
- Free Drones
- Skimmer walls
- Drone squad (two)
- Railguns (HH and XV8
- HQ XV8 (Helios and Fire Knife)
- Stealths (at a push)
If any one unit is removed it will not mean I am unable to deal with a specific force threat (like Tanks). This can only happen if you have multiple units and this fits in nicely with what Israfel was saying about having multiple units.
The Deathrains are a good example, having two or even three small units is much better as it allows you that precious redundancy. Kill one team and you still have 1 or 2 left.
It is all about achieving a balance. Try to get as many units as you can but do not be tempted to thin out units so much that the effectiveness of the units is compromised.
The best example of this is Mech lists. A fully Mech list will be unit light, so firepower will be at a premium anyway. So you would have to be very careful what you are trimming to take any extra units.
That said good article Isra, nice work.
Edit: One point though, I really do not like the large Kroot squad. To me this does not fit the ethos of your articel and I find large maxed Kroot squads very unwieldy. They are hard to hide (try finding a wooded cover piece that you can fit that squad into) and I find it quite hard to apply all their attacks.
Large Kroot units are hard to keep alive, they draw fire and they are hard to conceal (not a good combination). Much better are the 10 Kroot 8 Hound units, they offer a very good combination of attack potential with:
- 20 rapid fire shots
- 20 Kroot attack (30 on the charge)
- 16 Kroot Hound attacks (24 on the charge)
- Good initiative with the hounds
- Easy concealable for infiltrate and use of cover
I would really advise you lose the big squad and take 3 squads of 10 with 8 Hounds in each squad.
Thanks for the response guys.
Yeah Riki I really like the redundancy thing as you mentioned and that is a core point I forgot to mention, thank you for pointing that out.
As far as the large Kroot unit goes, well it certainly gets attention from the enemy to have a 28 model unit sitting in middle of the field, and with 40 rapid fire attacks and 20 out to 24" it isn't hard to see why. Whats even nicer is the enemy has to devote lots and lots of Firepower to force the first LD check(7must die). So unless I'm facing heavy flamers or other rare cover save removing weapons, they can usually take a pounding and not even have to test. Plus they have to lose 15 models before they are non scoring and once they are below 25% it is usually the case that they are testing on that ld9 from the Shas'el joinning them so they rarely run.
Shadowsun would be a welcome addition to the list if only I didn't have to sacrifice the BASS teams survivability via the 'O. But oh well I can do that in apocalypse since there are no FOC chart restrictions.
Oh and as far as the reduced firepower thing goes, the Kroot make up for the lack of FW's, as do the snipers, AFP 'EL, and in a pinch SMS from the BASS team. The list has more than enough anti armor with 3 BASS, 4 fusion piranhas, and all those deathrains. TEQ are also dealt with by the fusion Piranhas, BASS, plasma on BASS, and the CIB even helps some. Plus the Kroot are forcing so many saves if need be that they are bound to roll some ones.
I will look in to splitting that big unit into a 3rd team of 10 and a team of 10+8 hounds though as that would add yet another unit to my swarm.
Apparently, I am not allowed to rep you right now, so let me publicly say: Excellently written article. It's a relatively unusual army style -- for 40K, anyway -- that looks like fun to try sometime.
ninjabackhand: point and click, again, really? even after i give you an military term "shock tactic" you still call it point and click.
RIP Warhammer 40,000: 21 Sep 1998 - 24 May 2014