Sunday, 12 April 2009

Review and Replacement

The chalk lines through the names of pilots and aircraft in the Imperial Situation Room told its own story to Commander Hood. There was little doubt about it, despite their own losses, the Tau were winning. With only three fighters and three bombers left, there just weren't enough aircraft to maintain the offensive without further replacements.

Fleet command however were able to offer a glimmer of hope. Analysis of the Tau fleet patrols had shown a pattern developing and a predicted 12 hour window to deliver replacement aircraft and aircrews.

- It's time to take stock again. What have I learnt:

- Even when fielding 75% of the points, the Tau can normally outnumber me with fighters
- I'm not good with escort missions, I need to make better use of formation flying
- My moves are getting predictable, Matt was able to predict my moves with worrying accuracy in the last two games
- I've underrated the Imperial Lightnings, their high maneuverability is a real bonus, plus they're cheaper than a Thunderbolt
- Achieving the objective is nothing if you lose too much doing it!
- That I definitely enjoy playing campaigns!

So, how do I spend my 100pts of reinforcements? I still have two standard Marauders and a Destroyer, so I should be OK for at least one more bombing mission. I have no more landers, so troop insertion missions are out (but my record on those is not good!). Fighters are the big need. I could replace my Thunderbolts, which can do both Ground Attack (but I also have that destroyer) and Air to Air, or should I go for more Lightnings? That would need new models though. Decisions. decisions...

Saturday, 11 April 2009

Secrets of Curwen - Turn 4, Troop Insertion

Although the target had been successfully destroyed, the air raid had cost more valuable aircraft than the Imperials could afford but the Tau were also suffering. Both sides started to lay plans for aggressive patrols to try and force the conflict to a head.

However, before Imperial Commander Hood could launch his offensive, an urgent communique was received from the Adeptus Mechanicus mission attached to the fleet. Orbital surveillance had revealed the ruins of a large man-made structure near the planet's northern pole. The terraforming had not taken in the area, which also showed elevated radiation levels. The Tech Priests believed that the structure may hold the answer to the fate of the human colonists and insisted on inserting teams to investigate or, if necessary, deny the site to the Xenos. Although the Commander little needed the distraction, particularly with the losses he had taken, standing orders gave him no choice but to comply. Cain and Able, the task force's two Valkyrie gunships, would insert the mechanicus teams and their Drop Trooper escort, under cover of the remaining Lightnings (Hans High and Sum Yung Gai) and four Thunderbolts (call signs Danny Boy, Cardinal, Wilf and Charlie).

As the Imperial forces drew near the target their worst fears were confirmed, the Tau had got their first and clearly understood the importance of the site, establishing a defensive position covered by Barracuda fighters and even the Tau Commander himself, in his Tiger-Shark command aircraft with it's escorting Drone Fighters.

[Cain and Able Carry the Mechanicus Teams into the battle]

[The Imperial and Tau forces close on each other]

The human and alien fighters clashed ahead of the slow moving transports. Wilf was shot down after himself taking out a Tau Barracuda, while Charlie and Danny Boy rapidly racked up three kills against the Tau fighters between them. Cardinal had to hit the silk after his Thunderbolt took massive incoming fire, although Hans was not so lucky, plunging earthwards still at the controls of his burning Lightning. Sum, flying the second lightning, got the Imperial's first kill against one of the new Tau Drone Fighters since they were first encountered on Typha 4. However despite the Escort's best efforts the Tau were already closing on the Valkyries, damaging Able.

[A sprawling dogfight develops]

Danny Boy's victory was short lived, his Thunderbolt falling to a Barracuda. The damaged Able took out the Tau ground defences with rockets just before being downed itself, Cain being destroyed shortly after, but not before droppings its passengers within the target area.

Reduced to under half strength, the Imperial forces had no choice but to withdraw. Lacking air cover, aircraft to retrieve them, or the troops to hold the ruins against any Tau counterattack, the Remaining Mechanicus task force took the only option left to them, detonating the micro-nuke that they had brought with them in case they were unable to hold. The survivors set out back to the imperial lines on foot but, in the harsh environment, with no cover, their future looked bleak.

- Adding up the points, it was another victory to Matt's Tau, bringing the Campaign points to 4-3 in Matt's favour. Even though I had achieved my objective of landing troops on the target, once again I'd lost too many aircraft to maintain the success. Worst still, I was now down to only three fighters!

Faced with no real choice, I decided to spend one of my Campaign points on reinforcements, leaving the final score at 4-2. A lucky roll of six gave me 100 points to spend on any aircraft, but what to choose...

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Marauders over Curwen - Turn 3 Air Raid

Imperial aerial reconnaissance showed that the Tau had discovered and occupied one of the colonies former factory facilities. Hotspots on the sensor scans suggested that the Tau were on the verge of getting the facility active again. This was a situation that the Imperial Command simply could not allow, either strategically or politically so an immediate night-raid was ordered.

Two fully loaded Marauders, Broadsword and Hatchet, would form the core of the strike force, escorted by the two remaining Lightnings, flown by Hans High and Sum Yung Gai. The recon photos had shown the factory protected by a pair of missile platforms, so a flight of three Thunderbolts (Danny Boy, Flash Harry and Oily) would accompany the mission with a mixed armament of Skystrike and Hellstrike missiles to take on both air and ground targets.

Facing them were 8 Barracuda fighters, one of them Blacksun equipped, and two skyray defence platforms.

The imperial forces started at high altitude, the Lightnings flanking the bombers while the flight of Thunderbolts took the right flank. The Tau fighters meanwhile deployed in three flights.

[The imperial forces deploy]

The Marauders and their escorts, with limited options to maneuver, headed straight for the target. On the right two of the Thunderbolts headed for low level to attack the ground defences, while one stayed at altitude to intercept the advancing Tau, only to find that the Tau had successfully anticipated the move.

As the speeding aircraft met and missiles and cannon shells flew, both Imperial and Tau fighters took damage. The slow moving bombers soon found themselves surrounded by the superior numbers of more maneuverable Barracudas and Broadsword took serious damage, while the bombers' gunners were unable to draw a bead on the twisting, turning alien aircraft.

Despite this pressure both Marauders reached their targets and dropped their bombloads, completely obliterating the factory. But neither aircrew would make it back to base to celebrate, as both bombers were torn to pieces by the circling Barracudas.

[The factory burns under the weight of 48D6 worth of attacks]

Although Oily added to the swirling smoke by taking out one of the AA platforms with Hellstrike missiles, the Tau had clearly taken firm control of the skies, downing Oily and Danny Boy (who successfully ejected) as the Imperial Forces disengaged.

[one of Matt's excellent Tau AA platforms, the surviving one!]

On adding up the points, even though I had completed my objective by destroying (no, lets be honest, UTTERLY FLATTENING the factory), Matt had gained the victory and another Campaign point, bringing us even again. How had this happened? Quite simply, he had shot down too many of my planes, through a combination of successfully predicting my moves and coordinating his attacks. That said, the bombers weathered the attacks long enough to reach the target, and dealt out a serious world of hurt.

For my part, it was a mistake to commit so much of my force to attacking AA that caused little trouble (I could in fact have bombed from above its maximum range), which left my bombers vulnerable to the mobbing they duly received. I also coordinated my formations poorly and became predictable in my choice of maneuvers.

What this game did show was that achieving the objective is no good if the cost is too high, and this is one of the things I like about AI's campaign system.

After a break for lunch, we rolled for the next mission. With both forces taking offensive postures, seeking to deliver a killing blow, we rolled up a Troop Insertion mission, to be carried out in clear, daylight conditions. Initially the random roll had Matt's Tau down to carry out the landings but, as Matt's Orca was not yet painted and my Valkyries were, we decided to swap.

Would this turn out to be a fortuitous decision for me? Or was it to be a poisoned chalice?