Battlefield Uses and TacticsMovement and Positioning
To begin using Vespid Stingwings effectively on the table, it is important to understand how they move and how to use that movement to best effect. Vespid Stingwings are the only Jump Infantry unit in the Tau Empire Codex; this makes them the only infantry unit in a Tau Cadre that can move up to 12" in the Movement phase, a level of mobility that can only be matched by the Tau tanks and Piranha. In terms of both shooting and assaulting, this grants your Vespid a significantly larger threat area than more common Tau infantry models such as Kroot Carnivores; against unseasoned opponents or opponents used to facing Tau players who don't field Vespid, this can be a particular advantage as the most famous - or infamous - form of Infantry movement within the typical Tau Cadre is the Jetpack Infantry ability to move 6", shoot and then jump another 6" in the assault phase.
This movement characteristic makes it entirely possible for units of Vespid to outmanoeuvre opposing squads, using the 12" Jump Infantry movement to move from cover to cover or to move rapidly within firing range of a likely target. As has been illustrated in the diagram below, the Vespid squad pictured can either use it's movement to move from one area of cover to another (path A) - remembering that only 50% of a unit needs to be in cover for that unit to obtain a cover save - or it can spring forward to give it an unobstructed line of fire into the approaching Space Marine squad (path B).
If you intend to field more than one Vespid Stingwing squad, their large movement range should be borne in mind when deploying; as the diagram below illustrates, it's entirely possible to place two or more Vespid squads a significant distance apart, only for them to then move in such a fashion that they can both fire at the same enemy unit in the shooting phase of your first turn; the amount of AP3 shots potentially converging into a single enemy unit from two Vespid Stingwing units is significant, to say the least. This tactic can obviously also be used during the main game, with careful positioning.
Given the importance of terrain and cover in 5th Edition Warhammer 40,000, the Skilled Flier ability possessed by the Vespid allows them to potentially gain more advantage from area terrain than any other unit in the Tau Codex; the ability to re-roll Dangerous Terrain Tests caused by moving into or out of Difficult Terrain means that they can not only move into and out of cover comfortably, but as Jump Infantry can also Deep Strike into it with relatively little chance of suffering any casualties. This lets Vespid units use terrain features more aggressively with less fear of casualties than Crisis Suits, Stealth Suits or Gun Drones. Just remember that if you are jumping your Vespid into area terrain, placing a model more than 2" away from the edge of the terrain feature will grant your opponent a cover save against shooting - dramatically reducing the effectiveness of your Neutron Blasters.
The tactic of dropping a large Vespid stingwing unit via Deep Striking directly into difficult terrain to shoot at an enemy unit is often referred to as the Vespid Bomb or Bug Bomb, and is similar to the "Farsight Bomb" tactic associated with the Commander Farsight special character [insert Article Link]Ranged Combat
The shooting phase is widely perceived as the most important phase of each turn for Tau players, and it's important to be familiar with both what the units in your Cadre can achieve, and what they are likely
to achieve in the shooting phase. Vespids have an indifferent Ballistic Skill, comparable to that of the average Fire Warrior or Imperial Guardsman; the Neutron Blaster they use has the same strength as the Pulse Rifle or Burst Cannon, but an AP perfect for preventing saving throws from Space Marines, Necron Warriors and other such opponents.
If a Vespid Stingwing shoots at a standard Space Marine, and that Space Marine has no cover save, then that Vespid has a 1-in-3 chance of killing the Space Marine. This means that a squad of 9 Vespid can reasonably expect to kill 3 Space Marines in the open in a single shooting phase. Against targets with a lower Toughness than a Space Marine, such as Eldar Guardians or a Tyrannid Homogaunts, the kill rate goes up slightly to reflect the greater chance to wound, but against models with a 2+ armour save such as a Terminator, the number of wounds likely to be inflicted drops sharply. A squad of 11 Vespid firing into a squad of 5 Terminators has a 61% chance of killing a single Terminator.
The Neutron Blaster is just as effective at fighting lightly armoured vehicles as a standard Pulse Rifle, but given the higher cost of a Vespid compared to a Fire Warrior, if you need a unit to go hunting light armour there are cheaper alternatives out there - such as a Gun Drone squadron. The AP rating of the Neutron Blaster is what makes it such an effective weapon against Space Marines and the like; employing it to kill Guardsmen or Land Speeders means that you're effectively ignoring the AP of the Blaster. It can be done, and it will score kills - but you aren't getting the best possible use out of your Vespid.
Perhaps the biggest drawback to maximising the damage your Vespid can inflict in a shooting phase is just how close you have to be to the enemy to use them. If your Vespid are close enough to shoot at an enemy unit, that unit is close enough to charge the Vespid in your opponents' turn. The short range of the Neutron Blaster is mitigated somewhat by the Jump Infantry designation of the Vespid; the Blaster may only have a 12" range, but unlike most units, the Vespid can move up to 12" when positioning for that volley of fire, rather than the standard 6" move.
The efforts of your Vespid are as badly limited by cover as any other unit with low-AP weaponary; that superb armour-piercing capability the Neutron Blaster has is greatly diminished by even a partial cover save. Fortunately, you have a method for improving both the chance of your Vespid inflicting wounds through cover, and the chance of them actually hitting to cause wounds in the first place; the Vespid Strain Leader. His communication helm allows his Vespid unit to make use of Markerlights, both to boost the Ballistic Skill of his Stingwings and to reduce the cover save of the enemy target. As always, the balance between boosting the number of hits scored and reducing a target's cover save needs to be borne in mind, unless you are shooting at a target with so many markerlight hits on it that you can strip away all of the cover save bonus and boost the Ballistic Skill of the Vespid up to 5 in one fell swoop.
Against ideal targets such as Necron Warriors and Space Marines in the open, even a single markerlight hit used to boost the Vespid Ballistic Skill has a pronounced effect, pushing the chance of each Vespid inflicting a wound from 1-in-3 to 4-in-9 - about 45% - and boosting the Vespid Ballistic Skill up to 5 using two Markerlight hits pushes the chance of inflicting a wound up to 5-in-9. That does mean that the net increase in going from Ballistic Skill 4 to Ballistic Skill 5 is somewhat less than the net increase in going from 3 to 4 - but the important point to remember is that at Ballistic Skill 5, the same squad of 9 Vespid Stingwings that kills 3 Space Marines out of cover should now kill 5 Space Marines in a single volley - a full Combat Squad.
This means that if you want to kill an untouched squad of 10 Space Marines, you are most likely to need more than just a single squad of Vespid, even at the maximum permissable unit size. It also means that if you have a large squad of Vespid, they are ideal for picking off small, already weakened units.
If you're forced to choose between dropping the enemy cover save and boosting the Ballistic skill of your Vespid, consider the following table:
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Number of wounds inflicted vs a Toughness 4, 3+ armour save model such as a Space Marine or Necron Warrior
Number of Vespid: 3 : 4 : 5 : 6 : 7 : 8 : 9 : 10 : 11
Ballistic Skill 3: 1.00 : 1.33 : 1.66 : 2.00 : 2.33 : 2.66 : 3.00 : 3.33 : 3.66
Ballistic Skill 4: 1.33 : 1.77 : 2.22 : 2.66 : 3.11 : 3.55 : 4.00 : 4.44 : 4.88
Ballistic Skill 5: 1.66 : 2.22 : 2.77 : 3.33 : 3.88 : 4.44 : 5.00 : 5.55 : 6.11
As you can see, using a unit of 9 Vespid Stingwings as an example, each Markerlight used to boost the unit Ballistic Skill by 1 should result in an extra dead Necron or Space Marine.
What happens if we add in a cover save, though?
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Number of wounds inflicted vs a Toughness 4, 3+ armour save model such as a Space Marine or Necron Warrior
Number of Vespid: 3 : 4 : 5 : 6 : 7 : 8 : 9 : 10 : 11
Ballistic Skill 3: 1.00 : 1.33 : 1.67 : 2.00 : 2.33 : 2.67 : 3.00 : 3.33 : 3.67
- 4+ cover save : 0.50 : 0.67 : 0.83 : 1.00 : 1.17 : 1.33 : 1.50 : 1.67 : 1.83
- 5+ cover save : 0.67 : 0.89 : 1.11 : 1.33 : 1.56 : 1.78 : 2.00 : 2.22 : 2.44
- 6+ cover save : 0.83 : 1.11 : 1.39 : 1.67 : 1.94 : 2.22 : 2.50 : 2.78 : 3.06
Ballistic Skill 4: 1.33 : 1.78 : 2.22 : 2.67 : 3.11 : 3.56 : 4.00 : 4.44 : 4.89
- 4+ cover save : 0.67 : 0.89 : 1.11 : 1.33 : 1.56 : 1.78 : 2.00 : 2.22 : 2.44
- 5+ cover save : 0.89 : 1.19 : 1.48 : 1.78 : 2.07 : 2.37 : 2.67 : 2.96 : 3.26
- 6+ cover save : 1.11 : 1.48 : 1.85 : 2.22 : 2.59 : 2.96 : 3.33 : 3.70 : 4.07
Ballistic Skill 5: 1.66 : 2.22 : 2.78 : 3.33 : 3.89 : 4.44 : 5.00 : 5.56 : 6.11
- 4+ cover save : 0.83 : 1.11 : 1.39 : 1.67 : 1.94 : 2.22 : 2.50 : 2.78 : 3.06
- 5+ cover save : 1.11 : 1.48 : 1.85 : 2.22 : 2.59 : 2.96 : 3.33 : 3.70 : 4.07
- 6+ cover save : 1.39 : 1.85 : 2.31 : 2.78 : 3.24 : 3.70 : 4.17 : 4.63 : 5.09
What does this all mean? Well, it means that it's worth learning what the impact of Markerlights potentially is on a Vespid unit of the size you're looking to use in a battle. Using the squad of 9 Vespid Stingwings mentioned above; imagine that you're intending to shoot at a combat squad of 5 Space Marines, currently lurking in cover that grants them a 4+ cover save. You've hit that unit with 2 Markerlights; this means you could reduce the cover save of the unit down to 6+, boost the Ballistic Skill of your Vespid to 5, or do a little of both by boosting the Vespid Ballistic Skill to 4 and reduce the cover save to 5+. Which is likely to get you the best result? Well, pushing the Ballistic Skill up to 5 but not altering the cover save means you should be looking at two and a half Marines dying. Reducing the cover save to 6+, but leaving the Ballistic Skill alone has exactly the same effect - you should be looking at two and a half Marines dying. Reducing the cover save to 5+ and boosting the Vespid Ballistic skill to 4 actually gets you the best result - you should be looking at two and two-thirds of a Marine dying. Obviously, you can't kill a fraction of a marine, but it shows you where the greater probability of enemy casualties lies.
If you are extremely good at judging distances, you may well be able to utilise cover to enable your Vespid to volley fire into an enemy unit without retaliation through close assault; remembering that to prevent the enemy from gaining a cover save, your Vespid must be within 2" of the edge of a piece of terrain, provided they are actually in cover you have a chance of the enemy unit rolling poorly for the distance charged when assaulting into that cover. The margine of error is very thin, though; if you've managed to place your Vespid exactly 12" from the enemy unit, and the closest model in the enemy unit remains 12" away from your Vespid after taking casualties, that enemy unit has an 11-in-36 chance of successfully charging you - 30.5%. If you've misjudged slightly, and placed the Vespid in such a fashion that the closest enemy model is 10" away, then the chance of that unit being able to charge into cover and still reaches you increases to 3-in-4 - 75%. That's assuming that the enemy unit isn't something that has the Fleet
special rule, and is limited to just a 6" move in the movement phase and the assault phase - which obviously excludes cavalry units, bikes, jump infantry and so forth.Melee Combat
It's inevitable given the short range of the Neutron Blaster that sooner or later, your Vespid will have no choice but to charge into melee - or to be charged. In terms of stats, the Vespid are not a significant improvement over Kroot or Fire Warriors; they boast a higher Weapon Skill and Toughness than the average Fire Warrior, and have a superb Initiative, but they have only a basic armour save. This means that while positioning your squad to make a charge is relatively easy thanks to that 12" movement range,your Vespids are likely to strike first in combat but are also likely to take a lot of damage if the opposing unit survives to strike back.
It's important to note that despite their very high Initiative, Vespid are not a melee-orientated unit and should not be treated as such; they lack any form of grenade, making assaults into cover perilous in the extreme, have no form of power weapon or other close combat enhancement and cannot damage even the lightest vehicle in close assault. This means that there should be very few occasions where your Vespids deliberately engage in close combat; charging a vehicle to gain some extra movement is one example, or when an enemy unit needs to be tied up to prevent that unit shooting or charging something more important.
The most likely scenario for Vespids ending up in combat is when there's a need to contest an objective in the closing stages of a game, or when an enemy unit that has already been badly mauled needs to be overwhelmed. If you understand the odds against which your Vespid have a chance of winning, then it is possible to use them effectively in close combat - and with their very high Initiative, they will mostly defeat enemy units in the Initiative test to earn a Sweeping Advance.
The best route towards reliability winning combat is to swarm your opponent - if the number of models involved is even, and your opponent is anything tougher than an Imperial Guardsman, the Vespid are likely to suffer badly. However, if you outnumber your opponent by a healthy margin, then the high Initiative of the Vespid combined with enough models to throw out a large number of attacks can damage any standard infantry model - including Terminators - through simply generating enough wounds to guarantee that something gets through the enemy saving throw.
The low Strength of the Vespid Stingwings means that they face an uphill struggle to damage models such as Orks, Space Marines and Necron Warriors. Despite this, enough Vespids can cause wounds; even with the saving throw granted to the average Space Marine, each attack has a 1 in 18 chance of causing a wound. That's not a huge amount, but the key is that the Vespid get to attack first; a unit of 9 Vespid charging a Space Marine squad would generate 18 attacks, and should statistically kill 1 Space Marine before the Space Marines have an opportunity to strike back. By comparison, a standard Space Marine has a 1 in 6 chance of killing a Vespid per Attack, assuming that no power weapons or other such enhancements are involved.
While statistics and probability often seem to have only a tangential relationship with what actually happens on the tabletop, it's useful to remember that a unit of 9 Vespid on the charge should be able to hold their own against a unit 3-4 standard Marines, for the first turn of combat. Their chance of surviving drops if a Space Marine Sergeant is present, or a model with a power weapon, but it does mean that advancing the Vespid within charge range of a unit that's about to be on the receiving end of a lot of firepower with a view to then charging in to assault is a valid tactic.
It's important to remember the significance of the Vespid Strain Leader, when it comes to allocating wounds. The Leadership of the basic Vespid is lower than a Fire Warrior or Kroot Carnivore; it's the excellent Leadership characteristic of the Vespid Strain Leader that helps them survive Morale tests as a result of shooting casualties and close combat casualties.
Equally, removing the Strain Leader as a casualty makes it very likely that the unit will fail a subsequent Morale test; this means that in situations where you want the unit to fall back, you can allocate wounds to the Strain Leader knowing that his low armour save should result in him becoming a casualty. Few units can outdo a Vespid at making a Fall Back test, so any surviving Vespid are likely to successfully retreat in combat. If the Vespid squad is still at 50% of it's original strength or higher, you have a 41.6% chance of passing a Morale test each turn to regroup - but as Vespid do not gain access to anything akin to a Bonding Knife, once that unit is below 50% it cannot regroup. This is a valid tactic for such situations as deliberately losing combat in your opponents assault phase, so that the unit in melee with the Vespid is exposed in your turn to damage - particularly shooting damage from other elements of your Cadre.
If the unit has survived and is in a position to successfully regroup, it's important to remember that the characteristics of that unit have now changed substantially; without the Helm worn by the Strain Leader, the Vespid cannot draw on Markerlights, nor can they benefit from such abilities as Commander Shadowsun's Leadership bubble. This obviously means that they have become considerably more fragile than they were.Tabletop Tactics
At this point, you should have a picture of the capabilities of a unit of Vespid Stingwings - both in general and those unique to the Vespid - and their strengths and weaknesses in the various stages of each turn.
Vespid have a particular aptitude for three distinctly different methods of tactical use on the table top. The first of these is as a skirmishing and harrasment unit, intended to bleed resources from your opponent in the form of points lost from units via casualties, and thereby reduce your opponents tactical options. Although a unit of Vespid cannot overwhelm many enemy units on their own in a single turn, they are very good at inflicting enough casualties via weapons fire to limit the effectiveness of an enemy unit, reducing them to a more manageable size for other units to deal with.
Vespid work particularly well as harrassment units when facing enemy units that have to stay still to be effective for some reason; perhaps the enemy unit is a Heavy Weapons Team which has to stay still to fire, or perhaps a unit on an objective. The Vespid can move and reposition themselves while the enemy unit is locked in place, and continue to nibble away at that enemy unit.
The second tactical use is as a finishing unit, delivering the killing blow to an enemy unit. A lot of enemy units equipped with a 3+ save are intended to soak up fire; even a small squad of 4 Tactical Marines can take a significant amount of Pulse Rifle fire to destroy, while remaining a threat until it's removed from the table. That unit is ideal fodder for a vespid squad, though; the 12" movement range the Vespid have make them ideal for tracking down enemy units trying to retreat to cover and earning Kill Points in Annihilation missions.
The third use is the Bug Bomb tactic mentioned earlier; as a Deep-Striking unit with the ability to re-roll Dangerous Terrain Tests, a Vespid Stingwing unit can be deep-struck close to an enemy unit even if it means deploying them within terrain, and stand a good chance of arriving intact. The fact that even a large Vespid unit lacks the number of shots required to overwhelm a moderate to large enemy unit means that this tactic carries a degree of risk even before the general problems with deploying by Deep Strike are taken into account, and this is best performed when targetting a unit that is also going to be the target of unfriendly attentions from other units within your Cadre. The fact that the Vespid cannot attack their target with a close combat assault in the turn that they deploy means that you either need to destroy their target completely before the enemy turn, or accept that you will be taking casualties.
Based on the characteristics and capabilities of a unit Vespid, a careful balance needs to be struck when considering how many points to invest in the unit. A basic unit of 4 is unlikely to drop more than 1 Space Marine or equivalent target a shooting phase. A unit of 9 can reliably kill 3 Space Marines a turn, but represents a substantial investment in points while remaining vulnerable to enemy shooting and dedicated assault units.
As with a number of units, there are a number of metagame tactics that can also be applied to the Vespid. As an unusual unit that is not perceived as a common choice in most Tau Cadres, it's entirely possible that your opponent will be unfamiliar with how the Vespid can be used. If your opponent ignores them, then this gives the Vespid free reign to inflict damage; if your opponent anticipates how much damage the Vespid can do, he will likely dedicate a disproportionate level of resources to destroying them. This means that you can use them as bait, dropping them into cover and forcing your opponent to dedicate more troops and fire to dislodging them than the Vespid are worth. If you have multiple squads of Vespid, your opponent may well not realise just how large an area two or more squads can converge on when the 12" movement is combined with their weapon range, causing him to walk units into an area both squads can threaten with combined fire.