Kor'O'T'au Kais'Y'eld'iAloh stood on the bridge of his flagship and peered across and through the main viewport, into the star-laced abyss of the great beyond. Below him the lower section of the cemicircular bridge was abuzz with activity, with bridge drones shifting and weaving before settling to where they were needed, and Kor'ui and Kor'vre bridge crew at battle stations, working to co-ordinate both the various systems of the Il'fannor class starship and the assorted elements of Kor'vattra fleet K-42. Icy blue holograms and head-up displays filled the gleaming white chamber, and the atmosphere was filled with a chorus of beeps, tones and orders, the sounds of imminent calamity.
"Kor'el," said Kais without taking his gaze from the panoramic viewport, "What is the current position of the enemy?"
"Approximately 100 tor'kan'va Kor'O, on a forward assault vector directly ahead of us. At their present speed they will be entering missile range within less than half a dec."
Kais's command drone moved upwards to his eye level, suspended in the air above the bridge, close to the ceiling. It's holographic map confirmed the assessment of his second in command. The Gue'la fleet was moving at flank speed, rapidly closing the colossal distance between the two groups of starships. There were around half a dozen sensor contacts roughly the displacement of large cruisers, forming a tight phalanx around a much larger sensor contact, which seemed to dwarf even the massive Gal'leath class starships that currently loomed on either side of the flagship. On the flanks of the enemy fleet were around 24 smaller, escort sized contacts, which were now starting to peel away from the main formation. Somewhere out in the dazzling cosmos in front of him, a full Imperial fleet was rocketing forwards at a fantastic velocity.
"Switch to long range optics, and bring them up on the mainscreen." Said Kais. He found it always helped when he could visually see the enemy with his own eyes, which long Tau'cyr of experience had taught him were just as valuable an information gathering tool as any sensor or scanner, and at times could be far more reliable. There was a flicker and ripple as the main viewport's HUD became dominated by the long-range image of the enemy fleet. Silhouetted by the fearsome glaring coronas of their engine exhausts, the spire-laden baroque shapes of the Gue'la ships appeared tiny, no larger than a scale replica toy copy of them might have been, despite the extensive magnification afforded by the ship's long-range optics arrays. Interfacing with the image, Kais's command drone flagged each of the capital ships with an identifier from it's internal database. One heavy battleship, optimised for close-range firepower. Four of the Gue'la's mainline combat gunships. Two fire-support ships, with precision energy weapons. One heavy fleet carrier. This last vessel gave Kias pause. He was a seasoned admiral, and for the last kai'rottaa his fleet had been involved in almost continuous combat with the invading Gue'la, so he had much experience with this particular class of Gue'la 'city-ship', and knew that the large long-range weapon it carried on it's prow could be devastating to the well-ordered formation of his fleet. Fortunately however, the human admiral appeared to have not considered it's use, likely wishing instead to focus all efforts on speed. He was likely new to commanding a fleet, Kais thought.
"Kor'O to all fleet elements, status report."
"Gal'leaths at full readiness and on standby. All attack craft wings are at maximum readiness, with two waves of four manta squadrons, standard anti-shipping payload, and two Barracuda squadrons, as well as four fleet defence Barracuda squadrons, are fully preppd and awaiting launch orders."
"Lar'shi primary strike element in position. Barracuda squadrons are preparing for takeoff, and targeting data is being loaded into the gravitic missiles."
"Kir'qath squadrons in position and assuming anti-capital strike formation. Missiles are primed."
"Skether'qans are in place, tracking systems are online and functioning at full capacity."
"Kass'l squadrons on standby and scanning for targets."
"Ill'fannors standing by. Capacitors fully charged, firing solutions plotted. Railcannons are loaded Kor'O."
"Excellent. Launch all ordinance on my mark."
"Kor'O," said the Kor'el, "5 rai'kan until enemy fleet is in missile range."
Kais made a final survey of the bridge and the fleet outside it, all the while counting down in his head. 4.... 3... 2... 1..
"Mark! All wings scramble! Missiles free!"
Out in the void, the space around the Lar'shi class cruisers and Kir'qath class escorts rippled and distorted as the gravitic sheaths around them pulsed, squeezing out the gravitic cruise missiles fired from the ships' gravitic launchers. A few moments later a spread of bright flares erupted some distance from the fleet as the missiles' fusion rockets ignited, powering them towards the enemy ships at incredible speeds. Immediately afterwards swarms of trails leapt from the cavernous launch bays of the Gal'leaths as their compliment of attack craft powered off into the void, forming up into neat squadrons as they accelerated towards the enemy. Smaller flights of fighters took off from the Lar'shi cruisers, prowling around the Tau fleet to ward off any potential danger.
On the command drone's map, Kais could see the Gue'la were already starting to break formation, shifting and turning in an attempt to avoid the missile salvoes. The fleet carrier was disgorging what appeared to be attack craft, likely fighters, as it turned away from the Tau fleet, bringing it's long-range cannon out of the fight. Kais was pleased, a potential crisis had just been averted. The battleship and escorts however, were undaunted by the coming onslaught.
"Torpedo launches detected from the Gue'la battleship and escorts Kor'O." The Kor'el stated.
"Reload ordinance! Kor'O to fighter squadrons, move to intercept the incoming torpedo waves! All ships, move up ahead half and prepare to fire railcannons. Kir'quaths, switch to anti-ordinance targeting. Let's drive these misguided souls back!"
The bridge shuddered as the Il'fannor's main drives powered up and began to accelerate the ship. This was one region of space that would be remaining in Tau hands...
So then, in another attempt to contribute to the ambitious article modernisation program currently running, I've created this write-up. I am a hobbyist more than a gamer, so my grasp of 40k tactics is largely confined to the realms of theory and speculation. However, while I might not be the greatest Shas'O out there, I am a much more proficient Kor'O.
That's where this article comes in. Rather than writing up more 40k articles and almost certainly getting lots of facts wrong or providing bad advice, I thought I'd stick to my strengths and write about something I do know a thing or two about: Tau in Battlefleet Gothic. I was a bit hesitant to at first, as I did not know how much such an article might be wanted, but I received some positive responses to the idea on the Tau tactics articles thread, so I thought I'd give it a go. While originally going to focus only on the tactics of Tau in battlefleet Gothic, in the time leading up to writing I felt compelled to expand it into... something more, instead making it an introduction to Battlefleet Gothic itself and a general guide to employing Tau in it, including some ideas on how to form up a fleet, in case you too wish to take to the stars to defend and expand the Tau Empire.
Right then, on with the show...
In the 41st millennium, the galaxy knows only the touch of unrelenting war. On over a million worlds, vast armies clash in titanic engagements, and countless billions are slaughtered daily. Yet of all the conflicts in the galaxy, some of the bloodiest and most important are not fought on any world at all, but instead in the icy void of space. Here, fleets of gargantuan starships clash in cataclysmic fleet engagements, armed with enough firepower to level entire continents. Rank upon rank of massed weapons batteries, high-powered lances, armour piercing torpedos and more make up the arsenal of these space-borne behemoths, and all of the major powers in the 41st millennium employ naval armadas of some description. The Tau are no exception, with the ships of the valiant Air Caste protecting Tau interests and facilitating the expansion of the Tau Empire, with space-faring alien auxiliaries and allies at their side. This article will be an introductory guide to the Tau navy, it's allies, and how to make the most of them in games of Battlefleet Gothic.
First of all, What is Battlefleet Gothic?
Battlefleet Gothic is a Specialist game that is (or rather, was) produced by Games Workshop. It is a spinoff of Warhammer 40,000, and is set in the same universe. Where Warhammer 40,000 covers battles on the ground between armies of troops and vehicles in the 41st millennium, Battlefleet Gothic focuses on battles in space between fleets of spacecraft in the 41st millennium. If you have ever played the Homeworld series of computer games, or watched Battlestar Galactica or Star Wars, then you should have some idea on what Battlefleet Gothic might be like.
Unfortunately, as of May this year Games Workshop has almost completely ceased support for Battlefleet Gothic, as well as the other Specialist Games, and no longer supplies models for them. Luckily however, all the needed rules can still be found on Games Workshop's website as free PDFs, in the case of Battlefleet Gothic, here.
A note on the rules. While the official core rules for Battlefleet Gothic can be found in the previous link, there also exists a large number of unofficial fan-made rulesets, not all of which are accepted everywhere. Furthermore, some areas and groups accept different combinations of rules to others. For the purposes of this article, we will be using the main rules for BFG by Games Workshop, found in Battlefleet Gothic and Battlefleet Gothic Armada (or in the Battlefleet Gothic resources section of the Games Workshop website), the Tau Kor'O'vesh rules found in Imperial Armour Volume 3 and the official Battlefleet Gothic FAQ 2010 (which can be accessed here), the most commonly accepted rules regarding Tau fleets. Note that only the core rules FAQ section will be being used, NOT the other fleet sections.
Forming Up the Fleet
Obviously, if you're going to play games of Battlefleet Gothic, you'll need a fleet of ships. With the discontinuation of the Specialist Games model lines, this can be problematic.
If you are fortunate enough to already own a fleet of official Battlefleet Gothic models (like me), then you can consider yourself very privileged indeed. They are amazing models, perhaps among the best Games Workshop has ever produced, and are treasures in every sense of the word. There is currently a small market on Ebay and other auction sites for these models, so you may be able to get a couple there.
Alternatively, a common form of Ersatz fleet is 'paper BFG'. This method is exactly that - making a fleet of starships entirely out of paper. The common method to do this is to photocopy an image of the ship in question (the illustrations in the ship profiles in the two Battlefleet Gothic books are ideal), cut it out and stick it to a cardboard base, creating a quick and simple, if perhaps not the best looking, spaceship. In the event you cannot find a suitable image, it is even possible to draw your own. These 'models' can range in complexity from simple 2-D cutouts to layered three dimensional constructs, and anything in between.
The third main way of producing ships is through conversion and scratch-building. It is possible to create a model for almost any ship in Battlefleet Gothic by cleverly mixing together parts from other ranges, especially 40k. Indeed, many people who do not like the official lines of Battlefleet Gothic ships will often do this, especially amongst players of Ork, Tyranid and Dark Eldar fleets. The size of most Battlefleet Gothic models (Cruiser sized ships and smaller use Gun Drone size flying stands, while Battleships use larger skimmer flying stands) means that it is relatively simple to create a ship from weapons and armour bits, and if you're especially inventive you might even be able to use other components.
Finally, there is the option of proxying ships using models from other lines. This is my least preferred way of acquiring a fleet, as I tend to prefer to use official lines where possible, and encourage their use to support the company making them (so that they don't go out of business and continue making nice models), but desperate times call for desperate measures, so if your group accepts them then go with it.
Once you have amassed your armada, you will need to name your ships. Unlike Warhammer 40,000, Battlefleet Gothic has an element of narrative and role-playing integrated into it's very core (though not to the same extent as Necromunda or Inquisitor), and it is generally considered normal and encouraged amongst Battlefleet Gothic players to make sure each ship or escort squadron has a name. Indeed, much like real-life, it is a common belief that unnamed ships are unluckier and tend to perform worse than ships with names (the same is thought of for unpainted Battlefleet Gothic models as well). If you're of a more rational or logic-based opinion, you may of course feel free to dismiss these superstitions, but if you do wish to name your ships you can use just about anything as a name.
The official way Tau name ships, as presented in the Tau section of Battlefleet Gothic Armada (or 'To Unite The Stars'/Tau fleets if your using the GW PDFs), is similar to how Tau are themselves named, with the first part of the name being the ship or squadron's Sept of origin, the second part being it's class, the third part being the main personal name of it's first captain or commander and the final part being the main personal name of it's current captain or commander, if it's current captain or commander is not it's first. Alternatively, you might name them after particularly Tau-ish concepts (very common), or take inspiration from books, TV shows, movies, other games, history or even music (for example I name my capital ships after ships from famous science fiction series, or objects or famous persons I consider fitting for them, and I name my escort squadrons after music bands or singers I particularly like).
So, you've built yourself a fleet, painted it and commissioned each ship or escort squadron with a name. Now let's look at some ways you can make the most out of them in a fleet action.
Tau Naval Tactics
For simplicity this section will be split into three categories: the Kor'vattra, the Kor'O'vesh, and allies and auxiliaries.
Generally speaking, the Tau navy tends to be stereotyped as weak due to many noticing only it's drawbacks. This is a big mistake to make, as a Tau fleet can be terrifying to face (indeed, many Battlefleet Gothic tournaments have been won by Tau fleets). As you will see, the Tau navy tends to fight a lot like Tau ground forces do in Warhammer 40,000.
The main weakness of Tau ships is their vulnerability to boarding actions. Much like how Tau ground units are poor in close combat, Tau ships fare very badly in boarding actions, with a Tau ship usually having half the boarding value of a ship it's size (though some unofficial rulesets remove this penalty on certain Tau vessels), which means it will normally take twice as much damage from a boarding action. Tau ships also have very little firepower in their side arcs, and together these weaknesses make them very vulnerable to enemy ships that can close alongside them. Do not let an enemy ship get next to your Tau ships, or you will loose them very quickly.
The other primary weakness of Tau fleets is speed. Most Tau ships are amongst the slowest and least agile in the game, second only to Tyranid ships. It should be noted however that this is not always a bad thing, as the uniform speed allows your ships to maintain formation much more effectively, and it can serve to keep more distance between you and the enemy fleet. This does however mean that good deployment is even more critical to victory than normal for a Tau fleet.
Despite all this, the Tau fleet has some very powerful strengths. Much like the Tau army, Tau fleets are formidible at long range, only where long range in Warhammer 40,000 is in the form of shooting attacks, long range in Battlefleet Gothic lies primarily in ordinance. Ordinance consists of indirect attacks, such as small short-range attack craft and large long-range torpedos or missiles. Without doubt the Tau are the undisputed masters of ordinance in Battlefleet Gothic. The Eldar may have more potent individual ordinance pieces, and the Tyranids may be able to put out more ordinance pieces, but Tau ordinance boasts both quality and quantity, being able to generate a very large number of powerful ordinance pieces. Manta bombers for example are very durable, having a 4+ save against interception by fighters, while missiles (the Tau torpedo equivalent) are famous for their ability to both vary their speed and turn to track targets (normal torpedos can only move at a constant speed in a straight line), making them very difficult to evade. Tau fleets are also no slouches in the gunnery department, although Tau ships have their firepower distributed differently to other ships. While the ships of other factions tend to rely on a few large gunnery weapons with fixed fire-arcs, Tau ships feature multiple smaller armaments in overlapping fire-arcs. Most notable is that every single weapon on a Tau ship can fire to the front. This means that while individual Tau ship weapons may be weak, they can all fire at the same target if its in front of the Tau ship, and all those 2s and 4s add up very quickly. Any ship in front of a Tau fleet is going to be in for a nasty surprise indeed.
These strengths and weaknesses define general Tau naval strategy. Always aim to keep as much distance between you and the enemy as possible, always keep your ordinance loaded, and don't have your ships operating alone - always make sure their flanks are covered by a buddy.
The first Tau fleet, both historically and in real life (it was the first set of Tau ships to be released). It's not as popular as the more glamorous Kor'O'vesh (see the next category), and many consider it quite weak. "What a piece of junk!" you may say, but don't forget this is the fleet that made the Kel'shan run in less than twelve Rotaa - it may not look like much, but it's definitely got it where it counts (of course, then again I tend to rather like the 'floating city' look of the Kor'vattra ships, though many do not).
Gal'leath Explorer class starship: The venerable Explorer class starships are the heart of any Kor'vattra fleet. Slow and lightly armed for their size, Explorers do one thing and they do it very very well: launch ordinance. With 8 launch bays on the standard configuration, an Explorer can put out the same amount of attack craft as most other factions' battleship sized carriers, at only a fraction of the cost. Combined with having no limit on how many you can include, this means that a Kor'vattra fleet can easily field a large number of high-capacity carriers, even in raid scenarios at low points levels. With an impressive 5 turrets, the Explorer can also look after itself against all but the largest ordinance attacks.
That said, the Explorer is a fragile ship. With a weak 4+ rear armour and low turning rate, its very vulnerable to getting outflanked, and with only 1 shield it's going to take damage very quickly. Its also not the most heavily armed ship, with only a single firepower 6 railcannon battery on the prow. This means its generally best kept at the back of the fleet, or otherwise well guarded, where it can sit safe and sound while it bombs the enemy back to the Mont'au with ordinance.
There is also the variant Bork'an configuration, which halves the launch bay capacity in exchange for a hefty strength 8 missile attack. Unlike the standard configuration, the Bork'an configuration is better placed at the front of the fleet, where it has an unobstructed field of fire for its missiles. I recommend taking a mixture of Explorer configurations. That way the Bork'an configurations can support the fleet with missile fire and provide four squadrons of fighters to defend against enemy ordinance, while the standard configurations pummel the enemy with bomber waves.
Il'fannor Merchant class starship: I have a soft spot for the humble Merchant class. It is my favourite ship in Battlefleet Gothic, not because of any in-game effectiveness mind you, but because it reminds me of Serenity, the main characters' spaceship in my favourite TV series, Firefly. The Merchant class starship gets a lot of flack from players, who tend to consider it a sub-par choice lacking either the firepower of the Hero class or the launch capacity of the Explorer class, and will generally prefer to take one of those two kinds of ship instead.
Nonetheless, the Merchant class can be a very handy ship to have around. It can deliver a reasonable firepower 6 railcannon battery to the front, and has provisions for up to two Orcas (more on them later). In its variant Dal'yth configuration it also packs two lances, giving it the same forward firepower as the broadside of an Imperial Lunar class cruiser, though this configuration can't support Orcas. They're best used as support ships, covering the flanks of your Explorers and Heros and peppering any enemy ship that gets alongside them. With a very reasonable cost of just 90 points with the 2010 FAQ, they're cheap enough to include at least a couple of alongside your other ships.
A word of advice. When fielding Merchants, always take the re-enforced hull upgrade. 4-hull point cruisers are extremely fragile, and unlike most other light cruisers the Merchant lacks the speed or agility to evade attacks.
Lar'shi Hero class starship: Everyone's favourite. The heavy hitter of the Kor'vattra, the Hero class is the Tau's answer to Imperial battlecruisers and Chaos heavy cruisers. They pack enormous amounts of firepower, with either a modest firepower 4 railcannon battery and mighty strength 4 lance, or a whopping firepower 12 railcannon battery, as well as a healthy strength 6 missile attack and a pair of launch bays to boot.
You want these ships front and centre. They'll form your spearhead, and with their deflectors making their front armour 6 they're tough enough to do the job well. Use their launch bays to provide your fleet with fighter cover and bombard the enemy fleet with missiles, then when they get within shooting range open up with the gunnery weapons.
The Hero's only real weakness is that the number of them you can field is limited to one per Explorer or Hero, so keep this in mind when building your fleet.
Kir'qath Defender class escort: This is another ship that often gets a lot of flack, mostly because of its slow speed (escorts tend to rely on speed and agility to survive). Don't let it's tiny 15cm move fool you, its a very nasty ship when used in its main role. Think of them as XV88s in space, their job is to sit back and unload missile salvo after missile salvo, and blast away any enemy that gets too close with massed railcannon fire.
While we're on the subject of torpedo armed escorts, there is a common tactic amongst Battlefleet Gothic veterans to use them for ordinance control. If a torpedo salvo comes into contact with another torpedo salvo, they both detonate regardless of their relative sizes, and when a torpedo salvo comes into contact with a fighter squadron both ordinance pieces are removed. Because of this, it is possible to use small strength 1 and 2 torpedo salvoes launched from escorts to intercept enemy torpedoes and fighters, freeing up your own fighters to shoot down enemy bombers and assault boats.
Kass'l Orca class gunship: Not to be confused with the Orca dropship, the Kass'l is a nifty little attack ship quite loved by many Kor'vattra admirals. Its one of the fastest and most agile ships in the Kor'vattra, with a very nice 90 degree turning radius and healthy 20cm speed. They're also well armed, with a strength one lance and firepower 2 railcannon battery giving the similar attack power to the Imperial Firestorm class frigate. The Orca's greatest strength, however, is that its cheap as dirt at only 25 points a ship.
The catch of course is that you can only take as many Orcas as you have gravitic hooks to support them, and they form into squadrons based on their parent ship (i.e. Orcas from a Merchant become a squadron of two), which means that unless you're squadroning capital ships, the maximum you can have in a squadron is usually 3. This problem isn't that much of a drawback though, since you should have enough Orcas that you can buddy up squadrons together. I tend to use them as a rapid response manoeuvre element, using their agility and speed to quickly intercept unforeseen threats (like a sneaky force of escorts creeping up the flanks) or to shore up holes in my formation.
Skether'qan Messenger class starship: If the Defender is a Broadside battlesuit in space, then these ships are Pathfinders in space (or possibly tetras). On its own a Messenger is laughable, with only a single firepower 1 railcannon battery, but its not meant for combat. The Messenger class starship is the single fastest and most agile ship in the Kor'vattra, and indeed one of the speediest Tau ships in the game. The real ace up the Messenger's sleeve however, is its onboard tracking system. Tracking systems are the markerlights of the Tau navy, and any friendly ship within 10cm of a tracking system ignores long-range shooting penalties and can re-roll turrets when shooting down ordinance. Keep a Messenger close by your combat ships and their railcannon batteries will hurt, and they'll be much harder to crack with ordinance. The Messenger is particularly effective when paired up with a Tol'ku configuration Hero class, where it can help to make the most out of its firepower 12 railcannon battery.
It is possible to integrate one into a squadron of Defenders. I don't normally do this myself, but it could make for a very scary firebase indeed, with highly accurate railcannons and vicious massed turret fire.
One last thing to note with the Messenger is that they generally help most in larger fleet engagements, so you might want to leave them in port if you're going on a raid.
Orbitals: Orbitals are the only planetary defence available to the Kor'vattra, but they're very versatile, able to be outfitted as lance batteries, gun platforms, floating airbases (starbases?) or with provisions for a squadron of four Orcas. Most people prefer to specialise their orbitals, going all out with one of the security options (launch bays are popular). I myself prefer to go for a mix of modules. My preferred setup is a Manufacturing and Research module (for an extra tracking system, always good to have), 1 launch bay for some ordinance support and two railcannon batteries, allowing it to provide some gunnery support to my fleet at longer ranges. Experiment with the different combinations of orbital modules!
While the Imperium and Chaos fleets play like Age of Sail/Pre-dreadnought navies, and the Eldar and Ork fleets play like pirates of the same era, the Tau fleet plays more like a Cold War or modern-day navy. Positioning is everything with the Kor'vattra, and a good formation will make or break a Kor'vattra fleet, since its slow speed and low agility means you probably won't get many opportunities to reposition.
Each ship in the Kor'vattra has its own role to play, supporting and complimenting the other ships. Much like a Tau force in Warhammer 40,000, a Kor'vattra fleet works best when its individual elements work together as a team for the greater good, forming something greater than the sum of its parts.
My classic fleet setup is this. The front of the formation is made up of Heroes and Defenders, as well as any Bork'an configuration Explorers I have. All these ships are armed with missiles, so you want to give them a clear field of fire. Behind them is a line of Merchant class starships, positioned so that their fronts face the gaps between the ships in the first line. At the very rear of the fleet is the standard configuration Explorers, and my flagship (because I like to make sure I'm safe), and any Orca squadrons are split evenly between the two flanks of the fleet. Messengers are placed throughout the formation where they'll have the greatest effect.
As the formation advances, the enemy fleet is pelted with missiles from the first line of ships, as well as bomber waves from the Explorers at the back. This alone will probably inflict heavy damage on the enemy fleet, perhaps even forcing them to break formation, but then when they finally close with the Kor'vattra formation the Heros and Defenders open up, blasting them with gunnery weapons (a full squadron of 6 Defenders can produce a massive firepower 18 railcannon attack, which is greater than the weapons batteries on most battleships). Any ships that make it through this then get fired on by the Merchants and Explorers at the back, and by this stage they should be weakened enough that this will finish them off. If they're still kicking by the end of it, use the All Ahead Full special order to blast clear of them before they can cause too much trouble. Ideally, you want to form your Kor'vattra fleet into a long spear to impale the enemy fleet on.
The shiny new ships. Most people love this fleet with its curvalicious Forgeworld Tau aesthetics. My fondness for them has lessened over time (doubtless at least in part due to the rebellious non-conformist in me rejecting the 'popular' Tau fleet). Before the Specialist Games model lines went under it was also the cheaper of the two Tau fleets, due to most of its ships coming in sets of two. Be advised, I am myself a Kor'vattra player, so this fleet is not my speciality.
Or'es'El'leath Custodian class battleship: The pride of the Kor'O'vesh. This supercarrier is faster than the Explorer, but around about as fragile, with better armour and an extra shield being offset by having fewer hull-points. It does however have much heavier armament, with a vicious firepower 8 railcannon attack and 2 lances to the front, as well as a modest strength 4 missile attack. It has the same 8 launch bays however, and in most cases this will be your main source of attack craft, with all other Kor'O'vesh ships having at most 2 launch bays. When combined with it's squadron of up to 3 Wardens, it can become a very powerful force, being used to spearhead attacks or re-enforce hotspots.
Do note however, that the fleet restrictions mean that you will rarely be able to take more than one, so use it wisely and be sure to keep it safe.
Lar'shi'vre Protector class warship: The workhorse of the Kor'O'vesh, these cruisers will inevitably form the backbone of a Kor'O'vesh fleet. Its a very nice well-rounded ship, with a good strength 6 missile attack, a firepower 6 railgun attack and strength 2 lance to the front, and 2 launch bays, it can handle a wide variety of tasks and act with quite a bit of autonomy. It lacks the raw gung-ho firepower of the Hero, but makes up for it by having no restrictions on how many you can take. Never leave home without at least two, unless you're going escort-heavy.
Il'Porrui Emissary class starship: This is another ship I have a soft spot for, and much like its Kor'vattra counterpart, the Il'fannor, its form sentimental reasons, as I have very fond childhood memories of playing Firewarrrior, spending long summer afternoons blasting away at Space Marines and Stormtroopers on board an Emissary (and screaming in frustration every time I failed to outrun that damned 30 second explosive charge in the Imperial boarding craft). Its also another ship that has a bad reputation, and not without reason: with a mediocre speed of 20cm, a ponderous turning rate and only 4 hull points, this light cruiser is an easy target, especially for things like nova cannons.
That said, its not all bad news for the Emissary. While not being a particularly effective line combat ship, they make fantastic support vessels, where they can lend their (quite considerable) firepower and ordinance ability without putting themselves at risk. With a strength 3 missile attack and firepower 8 railcannon battery to the front, it can dish out quite a bit of hurt for a ship it's size, and it can also launch a pair of Barracudas. This last part can be very helpful with ordinance control, especially when also using the strength three missile strike to torpedo-snipe enemy torpedos and fighters, and frees up the launch-bays on your other capital ships for launching bombers. On its own, an Emissary is a fragile butterfly, but pair it up with a Protector, squadron of Castellans or even another Emissary if you're in a pinch and you have a formidable tag-team combo.
Kir'shas'vre Castellan class heavy escort: The main escort of the Kor'O'vesh, this ship is essentially a bigger and better Defender (though, ironically, its actually smaller model-wise). It has the same armament as the Defender, with a Firepower 3 railcannon battery and strength 2 gravitic launcher, but mounts it on a much faster and more manoeuvrable platform. They're a very versatile vessel, able to bombard capital ships with massed missile fire, snipe out ordinance with individual missile salvoes, or pepper targets with railcannon fire. A must have, especially if you're not planning on using Protectors.
Security Orbital: The basic Kor'O'vesh defence piece, this is basically a supped-up waystation (an orbital with only one security module), with a small firepower 4 railcannon battery and a strength 2 lance. It can be very annoying, especially to escorts, but with relatively short-range guns and no ordinance it does not have a very long range. Its best use is to keep your rear echelons clear of pesky flankers while your fleet takes the fight to the enemy.
Air Caste Orbital City: The station this forum is on (or at least it was until the forum names were changed at any rate. I think it still is, though I could be wrong). Its the heavyweight Tau defence, with a solid 12 hull points and 4 shields, a hefty firepower 12 railcannon battery and four launch bays. It can only launch Mantas, but then you know what they say, attack is the best form of defence. Keep some escorts or an Emissary nearby for a very powerful defensive position.
The Kor'O'vesh is similar to the Kor'vattra in that it acts in a similar way to a modern navy, but has a number of key differences. The first is a very different ordinance arsenal. With just one limited-access ship with more than 2 launch bays, and almost every ship having a gravitic launcher, the Kor'O'vesh focuses much less on attack craft and much more on missile strikes. Less launch bays also means less fighters, so you'll want to make the most out of the 'torpedo snipe' tactic (all the more reason to bring a squadron of Castellans).
The other big difference with the Kor'O'vesh is that its much more agile than the Kor'vattra, which means you don't need to rely on rigid formations and optimal positioning nearly as much. Instead, the Kor'O'vesh acts more like a raiding fleet, with a very loose, decentralised formation. Instead of arranging your entire fleet into a single massive battlegroup, its possible instead to split it up into small pockets, consisting of a Protector and an Emissary, or two Protectors, or a squadron or two of Castellans, or a Custodian and it's Wardens, each supporting the others with long range missile fire. Watch out for nova cannons and fast-moving fleets though, as they can take this set-up apart piecemeal.
Allies and Auxiliaries
Its not all about the Tau, and just like in Warhammer 40,000 it is possible to field a number of auxiliary ships with your Tau fleet. Also much like Warhammer 40,000, the auxiliary units available provide special skills that can help cover the weaknesses of the Tau fleet or supplement its strengths.
Nicassar Dhows: The first alien race to officially, properly join the Tau (unless you count that snaffu on Bork'an), and the first to provide auxiliary units to it's military, in the form of escort squadrons. Remember how one of the Kor'vattra's biggest weaknesses is it's cumbersome agility? These ships are the opposite. With a reasonable speed of 20cm and a massive 180 degree turning radius (meaning they can effectively turn to wherever they want), these vessels are second only to Eldar ships in manoeuvrability. With a firepower 3 railcannon battery, they can dish out a fair bit of damage too. Their guns are in broadside arcs though, but with the unlimited turning its not too difficult to line them up on target. They can be put to good use as either a rapid response unit (much like the Orcas you can take them instead of) or as a flanking force to slip into the enemy fleet's rear to destabilise it's formation and be annoying. Be warned though, they have the same gravitic hook limitations that Orcas do (which also means you won't be able to use many of them in a Kor'O'vesh fleet).
Also, while we're on the subject, do note that the Nicassar Dhow models have been out of production for some time, even longer than the rest of the Battlefleet Gothic range. If you can find some, consider yourself favoured by fate. Otherwise, you may have to get a bit creative if you want to field them.
Nicassar Caravan: Basically an orbital with 4 grav-hooks that can only take Dhows. Since regular Kor'vattra orbitals can only deploy Orcas on their gravitic hooks, this is the only defence piece you can take to gain access to Nicassar Dhows. Its Dhows can be useful as a fast-moving interceptor unit, and are effectively a firepower 12 railcannon battery that can be projected to almost anywhere in the battlezone. This is also virtually the only way to get Nicassar Dhows into a Kor'O'vesh fleet, although Rules As Written this isn't technically allowed since they're not in the same fleetlist (though as Defence pieces and a part of the Allies Mercenaries and Subjects fleet it'd be easy enough to argue in their inclusion. I personally would allow it at least, though as with all such things check with your opponent first).
Kroot Warsphere: Kroot in space. Its an odd ship, with a very slow speed, a Defence unit type (making it very vulnerable to weapons batteries) and the same funny turning rules as Ork Roks, but at the same time it also sports a very nice firepower 12 weapons battery that can be fired in any direction (though it has a short range). Its best use, however, is as an assault ship. A Kroot Warsphere has a massive boarding value of 20 (more than most battleships), and if you can land it on a planet in a Planetary Assault scenario it can contribute 3 assault points as opposed to the usual 1. Its vulnerable on approach, but if you can keep it protected until it can get stuck in then it can be a very nasty surprise for an unsuspecting enemy.
Demiurg Stronghold class commerce vessel: The first and larger of the two Demiurg ships, the Stronghold class is a battleship class ship-of-the-line, providing the Tau fleet with an abundance of extra brawling muscle. Its slow, but well protected and has a ton of short ranged firepower. It has a cutting beam, but the cutting beam's short range combined with the Stronghold class ship's slow speed means you likely won't get many chances to use it. The Stronghold also has a considerable ordinance capacity, with a strength 6 torpedo attack that can be fired in any direction (including to the rear, in case an enemy ship manages to get behind it), and 3 launch bays, which provide the Tau with their only source of assault boats (aside from the Bastion class of course).
All this power comes at a drawback though - the Stronghold is fickle. Its leadership, while starting out at a very impressive 10 automatically, deteriorates with damage, and if crippled it will attempt to disengage at every opportunity, unless its in a pure Demiurg fleet or you're fighting Orks. As a result it can be a very powerful tool (especially if watching over some carriers or a missile firebase), but don't base your entire battle plan around it, lest it suddenly disengage and leave you up the creek.
Demiurg Bastion class commerce vessel: The stronghold's little brother. Its effectively an Imperial Lunar class on steroids, with identical broadside firepower, a slightly smaller torpedo attack, 2 launch bays and a firepower 8 weapons battery on the prow. Its also faster than the Stronghold, which makes it a much better platform for using the cutting beam. Use it as a linebreaker, powering up to the enemy fleet and then letting loose with guns and the cutting beam. Its still fickle though, so again don't hinge your entire strategy on it.
General Space Warfare Advice
Escorts are something you'll either love or hate. A lot of Battlefleet Gothic players swear by them, and a lot of others give them a wide berth. Most escorts are generally fast and nimble, and all escorts can put out tremendous amounts of firepower (more than battleships in fact), but at only 1 hull point and shield each they are easily destroyed. Consequently escorts are effectively 'glass cannons' and work best when they're not put in a straight up fight. You need to be devious with escorts, and use them to do sneaky things like outflank the enemy fleet, or better yet slip in behind it, where you can be free to unload into enemy ships with impunity (as most ship-mounted weapons cannot fire into the rear arc), or to support your capital ships by guarding them against devious ploys and lending fire-support.
There are a number of different schools of thought when it comes to escort squadron size. Many use small 3-ship squadrons, preferring their increased tactical finesse. Others, like myself, prefer full 6-ship squadrons for their raw firepower and ability to take losses and still remain combat effective. When it comes to building and collecting a fleet however, always make up full sized squadrons, as you can always split them up later.
Finally, there is a small group who eschews escorts and instead use attack craft for the role. This is valid, as indeed attack craft waves can fulfil many of the same tasks an escort squadron can. Escorts do have their advantages though, especially in endurance and staying ability. Remember, an attack craft wave that makes it into the rear of an enemy fleet will attack once and then be removed, with a fresh one having to make the whole journey again, while an escort squadron that makes it into the rear of the enemy fleet can stay there all game.
Always fire weapons batteries before lances. Not only will this mean your shooting is more effective (lances are unaffected by blast markers, weapons batteries are), but it will also serve to knock down a ship's shields, letting the lances damage the ship directly.
Furthermore, always fire your largest weapons batteries first. Weapons battery fire deteriorates with blast markers, so you want to make sure your big volleys have a clear shot to the enemy ship.
Finally, remember that blast markers are placed between the target ship and the ship that just fired. You can use this to your advantage by stripping the shields of a ship with fire from one side, then opening up with a ship on the other side of the target, which will have a clean shot with no blast markers.
Painting your fleet
As mentioned earlier, its generally believed to be good luck amongst Battlefleet Gothic players to use painted ships (indeed, in the official campaign rules for Battlefleet Gothic unpainted ships actually suffer direct penalties!). Even if you don't subscribe to this belief, a fully painted Battlefleet Gothic fleet looks great and is a very rewarding sight.
Painting Kor'vattra ships
Kor'vattra ships are a lot of fun to paint. They're packed with details, so you can have endless fun picking individual areas out. Even if you don't, the scale of Battlefleet Gothic models means that even a few simple techniques can quickly produce a striking ship (look at my own fleet. Its entire colour scheme consists of a Chaos Black/Abaddon Black undercoat, a couple of drybrushes of Skull White/White Scar, some details picked out in colour and engine glows). If you are wanting to be authentic to the background, then the primary colour of Kor'vattra ships is normally the sept colour of the Sept they're from (so Kor'vattra ships from T'au would be predominantly white, while ones from Vior'la would be predominantly red). Alternatively you can let your imagination run wild, painting them anything from matte greys and blacks to dazzle camouflage patterns.
Painting Kor'O'vesh ships
Unlike Kor'vattra ships, Kor'O'vesh ships predominantly feature lots of smooth curves and blended features. This can make them more challenging to paint, and will likely require fine detail work and intricate highlighting, but the end result is often worth it. The official Forgeworld scheme for the Kor'O'vesh ships was a sandy tan, similar to the official studio Tau army colours. Other popular colours for Kor'O'vesh ships include whites, blues, or painting them to match a corresponding hunter cadre.
Painting alien and auxiliary ships
Alien and auxiliary ships are an eccentric mix, with a variety of details and textures, so you can really be creative with them. The official colours for Demiurg ships are primarily dark browns, greys and other industrial colours, while the studio Kroot Warshphere model featured olive greens and browns. Perhaps you wish to paint them in bright colours or contrasting colours to your Tau ships. Experiment with the ways of painting our auxiliaries!
If you've ever painted engine glows on a skimmer, you'll probably be all set for painting engine glows on ships. In case you haven't, its best to start by painting the entire engine outlet in the darkest colour you want, then gradually work inwards with lighter colours until you get to the centre, which can then be painted white. Its best to conform to the shape of the engine outlet as best as possible, but if this is not possible aim for rounded shapes rather than ones with sharp corners. As to what colours to paint your engine glows, that's for you to decide. Blue seems to be popular for Tau, while I use a combination of red/orange and blue for my ships (older ones have red/orange, newer ones have blue). You may also wish to use colours that contrast with or compliment your colour scheme, its really up to you.
Modelling Battlefleet Gothic
Celestial phenomena can be easily created for use in Battlefleet Gothic. Cotton wool or similar makes good material for dust clouds and nebulae, while a good stroll down the garden path or sidewalk should provide enough pebbles and stones for an asteroid field or two. Planets and moons are a bit more difficult. My current plan is to produce them through paper mache, and I will eventually post up my results on my Battlefleet Gothic thread. Balls and marbles can also work if you can find ones the right size.
Its a good idea to make dust clouds/nebulae and asteroid fields relatively modular. When placing celestial phenomena their length and width is determined randomly, so a modular system for them will allow you to quickly and easily put together one the right size for the battle.
Your own background is fully your own world, and there are many different opinions and takes on the Warhammer 40,000 universe. Should you decide to create background information for your fleet however, here are some general points largely accepted by most people.
Scale: First off, space is big. Really big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean you may think it's a long way down the road to your friend's house, or the supermarket, or your gaming/hobby store, but that's all just peanuts compared to space. Distances between objects in space are, contrary to what most science fiction might have you believe, enormous, which is in fact why in Battlefleet Gothic distances are measured from the stem of a ship's base, with the assumption that the ship itself is an infinitesimally small point in the centre of the flying stand's stem, to keep scales accurate and allow for interesting games/models. In the short background intro to this article, the Tau crew uses a unit of distance called a tor'kan'va ("greater mile"), a unit of measurement I invented that is approximately a millionth of an Astronomical Unit (or AU, the average distance from the Earth to the Sun), making a single tor'kan'va roughly equal to 149,597 kilometres, give or take a few thousand. Of course, such titanic distances don't always make for an exciting story, especially a space battle, so its best to strike a balance between the two ends of the spectrum.
Propulsion: There is currently some debate about what makes Tau ships move, with two different explanations. The first, and the older of the two is presented in the Tau background in Battlefleet Gothic Armada, and states that Tau ships use a gravitic drive that projects a gravitational force in the direction the crew want to go, which then pulls the ship in the desired direction (my personal background uses a modified form of this theory with more conventional engines being used for main thrust and the gravitic pull-method being used for manoeuvring in place of manoeuvre thrusters), and can be shaped to form a defensive shield or perform a warp-dive (where the ship enters the space between real space and the warp), the primary means Tau ships have for faster-than-light travel (though it's still considerably slower than Imperial warp drives, albiet much safer). This tends to be the most accepted explanation on Advanced Tau Tactica.
The alternate explanation is a new one presented in the 6th edition Codex: Tau Empire army book, and states that Tau ships use something called a 'ZF horizon accelerator engine' for travel. It also mentions that for most of the Tau Empire's history Tau ships were unable to attain faster-than-light or even light-speed travel, which makes it less popular due to providing discrepancies when applied to the aforementioned enormous distances in space (a ship travelling slower than light takes decades, if not centuries, to travel between star systems). Ultimately you will need to decide which system you will use in your background, or else find a way to combine the two.
Leadership: Generally, Tau fleets are commanded by the Air Caste that crew them, with a Kor'O commanding the entire fleet as an admiral and Kor'els acting as captains commanding a ship each. In some fleets an Ethereal might be attached in an advisory role to encourage the fleet to perform to the Tau'va at it's fullest. This is of course only the most common set-up however, and there is no reason you cannot change things around. For example, there have been expeditionary forces, including fleets, that have been under the command of a high ranking Water Caste, and its entirely possible that the particular Sept your fleet is from has a different leadership structure. Prince Nuada currently has a discussion on caste roles within the Tau fleet, including an alternate system of leadership, here.
Boarding actions: Should you find yourself in the unfortunate position of having your ship boarded (or subjected to a hit-and-run raiding party), there should be at least a cadre or two of Firewarriors for shipboard defence. They likely won't have much in the way of heavy equipment (its very hard to fit a Hammerhead or Skyray inside most starship interior corridors), but then at the same time the enemy boarding force probably won't have much in the way of particularly large and formidable units either (with the exception of things like Dreadnoughts and large Tyranid monstrosities).
Remember, none of this article should be seen as immutable law. Just like other tacticas and articles, its meant as a tool to help you in the right direction to finding what works for you. Even the best tactica article can only ever serve as a guide, and can never be as good as actual experience. So get out there, experiment, play some games and find what suits you best.
Now get out there and show the enemies of the Tau'va how we do things in space!
If you wish to find out more about Battlefleet Gothic, here are some useful links:
- My own Tau fleet project log, with pictures, background information and more: http://www.advancedtautactica.com/viewtopic.php?f=35&t=15146
- Warp Rift, an unofficial fan-made magazine for Battlefleet Gothic. Issue 24 includes a scenario featuring the Tau as well as a set of Tau ordinance markers that can be cut out and pasted to card: http://twolandscreative.com/warprift/index.php/archive