At the weekend my friend Matt and I met up at Maelstrom Games in Mansfield for a couple of games of a personal favourite, Aeronautica Imperialis, and a general catch up between Matt's various travels (he's off to Japan to teach English in a couple of months). Matt had come up with a scenario he wanted to test that involved escorting a ground convoy across the table, all he needed was an idiot to test it out on, and I was happy to play the role!
The scenario was that I had to get a convoy of vehicles from one short edge of the board to the other, under attack from the air. One of the vehicles (my choice) contained a VIP that had to survive. Opposing me would be an aerial strike force of Matt's Tau, and I would get support from my own squadrons that would arrive as reserves. To use one of Matt's favourite quotes 'How hard could it be?'
With 150 points to choose from, I kept my choices pretty simple:
- 2 Hydra Flak Tanks and a Manticore to escort the convoy (which would consist of a further 4 Chimera APCs)
- 1 Thundebolt, Vanilla Flavour
- 2 Thunderbolts with Skystrike missiles
- 2 Lightnings with Skystrike missiles
I assigned all my flak to the convoy and split my aircraft into three groups (the two lightnings, two thunderbolts with missiles and one plain thunderbolt) to maximise my reserve rolls. Matt deployed his force in one go, consisting of:
- 2 Tigershark AX-1-0 (with the big, nasty railguns and extra seeker missiles)
- 1 Barracuda with Seeker Missiles
- 5 Barracudas
Worried about being outnumbered? Me? Naaa...
So, without further ado, onto the story of the attempts of the 7th Hadley's Reach Yeomanry and 105th Devlan Fighter Wing to protect General Lord Farquharson Smythe from the alien raiders...
The convoy moves out from the city edge, AA scanning the sky
The Tau strike force moves in. Lot of 'em aint there?
I fluffed my first reserve roll, giving the Tau two turns to get into position. The non-missile armed barracudas, which were unable to attack ground targets, maneuvered to avoid the convoy's flak envelope and headed at full speed for my baseline to intercept any arriving Imperial fighters, while their attack aircraft, led by the missile armed barracuda, swung out for a strafing run on the flank of the convoy.
My Thunderbolts arrived on turn 3, but were far too distant to do anything but watch as the Barracuda unleashed all of its Seeker Missiles, brewing up the lead Chimera.
The Lightning's arrived next, screaming straight up the road at full military power and low enough to count the kerbstones. Up ahead the road was already storm of cannon fire, missile trails and energy beams, as the Tigersharks started their attack run. By the time the smoke cleared, one of the Hydras was burning and a Chimera was damaged, but still mobile, but one of the Tigersharks had been wiped from the sky by a combination of autocannon fire and a lucky manticore shot. down the road the fighters met head-on, with the Imperials coming out best from the initial exchange, damaging one Baracuda and downing another, although one the Thunderbolts was now trailing smoke.
One of the Tigersharks lines up for its attack run
The Imperial Lightnings arrive on the scene
Tau Barracudas head-on
Unfortunately, whilst the convoy powered on up the road with determination, things started to go very wrong for the escorting Imperial fighters, as the next two turns saw every single fighter downed without taking out a single Tau aircraft. That job seemed to be left to the flak tanks, as the manticore managed to damage the remaining Tigershark as it pulled away from its strafing run.
The Tau, however, had problems of their own. With one of the Tigersharks down, the remaining one low on ammo and none of the Barracudas equipped with Seeker Missiles (in AI, only weapons with the 'Ground' characteristic can strafe ground targets), they were running out of options for attacking ground targets. The low maneuverability of the Tigershark also meant it was likely that he'd only be able to pull round for one more pass at the convoy before it reached safety, he had to hope he'd either already hit the General's transport, or that he'd get it with his one remaining chance.
Pulling as tight a turn as possible, the Tigershark managed to line up on the lead Chimera, the Target Lock chimed 'acquired', the pilot pulled the trigger and the Chimera vanished into a cloud of dust and smoke... only to roll on through it with nothing but chipped paint (and probably a need to visit the laundry tent later).
With no more ground attack ordnance left, the Tau had to break off the attack and it was time for me to reveal which vehicle had been carrying the general. It was the third Chimera in the convoy, the one the Tigershark had in its sights with the last of its ammo... Technically I'd won, but with all of my aircraft down, it didn't exactly feel like it!
Well I won, but more through luck than judgement. Choosing the Hydras for the convoy worked well, they made life very difficult for the attacking Tau. The manticore paid its way when it rolled extra damage against the Tigershark, but with the Tau only able to attack from Altitude 1 I didn't really need its range. In reality my aircraft did little to protect the convoy and just became wreckage. It was a schoolboy error, I know perfectly well from previous games that the Tau Barracudas are extremely effective in a close up fight; they can slow right down to stay on station, they're cheap and numerous, and the all round drone cannons allow them to mob enemy aircraft. So what did I do? Rather than blast straight through with slashing attacks, I slowed down and tried to dogfight, result? I got slaughtered.
I make a big mistake and get mobbed...
As for Matt, he decided he'd have been better off sacrificing one of the Barracudas and taking more Seeker Missiles instead. As it was he was reliant on the Tigersharks, which, with low maneuverability, were going to struggle to make more than a couple of passes (but were pretty efficient when they did). The Tigersharks also started too high, by the time they dropped low enough to attack, they were within close range of the Hydras and on the receiving end of six dice worth of attacks, instead of getting a couple of turns of shooting in first. But as for the Barracudas, ouch! They worked well!
To test the scenario a bit further, we ran it again, this time with my Imperials attacking. I took a pair of Maruader Bombers, two Lightnings for top cover and three Thunderbolts carrying Hellstrike missiles. Matt escorted the convoy with two Skyrays, placed a third dug-in in the destination city, and spent the rest of his points on Barracudas. I chose to send one of the Thunderbolts after the dug in skyray, the remaining two at the flank of the convoy and the Marauders straight up the road.
In a partial repeat of the first game, one of my Marauders fell to the convoy's AA before it could attack, but the other successfully bombed the head of the column (Matt had sensibly split it to reduce risk), taking out three vehicles in one go. The Thunderbolt attacking the Skyray failed to destroy it, and took damage in return, in hindsight a waste of missiles, which should have been expended on the convoy.
The remaining Thunderbolts managed a couple of passes at the convoy, but were unable to score any hits. They faced heavy fire from the convoy and the escorting Barracudas, managing to take out two but only losing one Thunderbolt (thanks to some lucky 'Durable' saves. Once again, history repeated itself, as my last Hellstrike equipped Thunderbolt lined up a final shot... and missed. Matt's VIP turned out not to be in any of the vehicles I'd hit, giving him the win.
Again, I made some errors, I should have equipped more ground attack ordnance, and going after the skyray was pointless. The surviving bomber was extremely effective, hurrah for 'Bomb Creep'! With Hindsight, equipping some of the Thunderbolts with bombs and hurling them straight up the road might have been more effective. A Marauder Destroyer might have been handy too, as it could have engaged the rear half of the convoy at the same time as bombing the front. Matt meanwhile did a bang up job of defending. Splitting the column reduced the effectiveness of my bombing and as usual I was hounded by what seemed an endless stream of Barracudas, although this time I avoided getting into a close range knife-fight, which is why I still had some planes left at the end!
The Marauders about to swing onto the road
All in all, honours even and another great game, and a fun and challenging scenario from Matt!