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There’s a bunch of stuff you can do if you get assaulted to reduce the damage you will take. Most people have experienced games where a big nasty assault unit has munched through most of your army, bouncing from unit to unit without you getting any shots at it. Having played Tau for quite a while this has been a worry for me and I’ve worked on some strategies to prevent it. Lots of this is going to be pretty basic stuff, so apologies if it seems obvious.

To start with, a couple of assumptions.

Firsly, if you are getting charged in the first place then you are in trouble. This is a sensible assumption because your opponent probably won’t charge in situations where he will lose the fight. If he does, that’s great of course, but usually you are about to lose some stuff.

Secondly the worst case scenario is to still be locked in CC during your own turn, either with the original unit or with a new unit that has been consolidated into. In this situation you can’t move your own unit and you can’t fire, so your unit is probably dead and there’s a high chance that the enemy unit will be charging something new on its next turn. This is the main thing you have to avoid, since it’s a lot worse than losing the unit that got charged. You lose two or even three units instead of one.

Another thing you want to avoid is accelerating the enemy. As an example of what I mean here, a unit of beasts will move 6+d6 inches in a normal turn. If it charges it might go 18+2D6”; more than twice as fast. Not only has it killed one unit, it’s a hell of a lot nearer to everyone else.

Planning to be assaulted.

If you are playing against an assault-based army then in a normal game you are going to get assaulted at some point. The important thing is that you should survive with your army intact. Ideally the enemy unit will charge you, fail to get into a new unit, and then get gunned down. If his assaulters cost more than what they killed then you are better off after the exchange, especially considering that not all of his guys should reach assault in the first place. In my experience you very often win or lose against assault armies based on what happens in the turn after their first units hit you.

You need to be aware of the threats. In particular how fast his units go and how hard they hit. You need to know where to go to be safe and what kind of damage you can expect to take.

It’s best to not have large tough and/or expensive units when you are going to be assaulted. Large units have a lot of disadvantages here. They take a long time to die sometimes and they give away a lot of points. The ideal unit to receive an assault will, in my opinion, cost a small amount, die straight away and maybe inflict some casualties. For example I was able to repeatedly massacre old codex Ulthwe lists by putting kroot in the way (in cover). The kroot would shoot a bit, get to strike first, kill a few warlocks and then all fall over dead so that I could shoot freely in my turn. I think that kroot probably do this better than any other unit in the game thanks to their large number of attacks, lack of armour and poor LD.

You can often see when a unit is going to get charged. There are some hormagaunts close by, some assault marines have deep struck in or whatever. This unit is now dead. There are now a bunch of things you can do to mess up the assault for your opponent.

Moving towards the assaulting unit is often surprisingly helpful. In this way you decrease the amount of acceleration the enemy will get by assaulting you and you put some distance between the “dead” unit and the rest of your stuff that you are trying to keep alive. Essentially you get to decide where the combat will take place by putting your unit where you would like the enemy to be. Be careful that you don’t allow other units to charge as well when you do this, or again you are accelerating the enemy.

Moving into cover may let you get some attacks in and might just mean that the assault goes wrong with bad terrain rolls. This is usually worth it but isn’t as important as table position.

It may be worth bunching up your unit. You can get more attacks that way and you may as well, since your guys are dead anyway.

Everyone else should run away. Just put as much distance between them and the dead guys as you can. If everything goes wrong and the combat lasts another turn you don’t want to lose another unit.

I usually don’t shoot the enemy assault unit at this point. I’ve already given away a unit to it and I know what it’s going to do. I will more likely target other units, hopefully preventing them from getting in, or his heavy support if it looks like it’s going to do a lot of damage. Other times you just have to take down a massive death company or something and every shot counts, so make them pay for every step forwards.

Taking off casualties.

This is often the first thing you get to decide about when assaulted, and it’s a big decision. Sometimes all your guys are dead anyway so it doesn’t matter and it’s hypothetically possible that you could take no losses. Again you can make choices that will influence the result of the combat and the battle.

Evaluate the chances of escaping. The best thing that can happen for your assaulted unit is that it will break, escape and subsequently rally to shoot again. Unfortunately the worst thing that can happen is that it will either pass its break test or get caught and held (if marines, wiped out otherwise). Fearless troops are really irritating here as they fail to run away can stop you from firing for ages, but this wasn’t a problem for my Tau.

Therefore you have a gamble. On occasion an enemy IC will strike first and give you the option to remove all models in contact, so nobody would strike. This is ok if you fail your break check and leave combat, but very bad if you stay for another round since everything will pile in, kill your squad and then be free to charge again in its turn. The alternative is to take of guys from the rear of your unit and let the rest of the attacks happen. Maybe you will get some attacks and hopefully more of your guys will die too, increasing the chance that they will run away.

I think that the decision on which casualties to remove is down to what will get you out of combat in most cases. Once all attacks have been resolved, check to see if you are likely to pass or fail the morale check (bearing in mind being below half, outnumbered and so on). If you think you will pass then you should stay in base to base and if you think you will fail you should take models off from in contact with the enemy so that he can’t persue.

If your unit flees and can’t be persued then the enemy gets only a 3” consolidate, so if you planned right there shouldn’t be any risk of him hitting a new unit.

I think that the decision in the end on casualty removal should be on whether it looks like he will kill your whole unit or not. If his unit looks like it can kill all of yours in one round then let it do so, don’t take contacting models off as early casualties, then shoot it next turn. If he can’t kill all of your guys in a turn then you may as well try for the failed morale check to escape and remove touching figures.

What to shoot?

This depends on what is most dangerous to you immediately, and over the course of 6 turns. An assaulting army will generally have three types of unit in it. Fast assaulters, slower assaulters and shooty stuff. Fast assaulters will charge on turn one or two, or the turn they arrive from reserve (a serious threat with units coming on 15” up the sides in UKGTs). Slow assaulters on turn 3 or later. Shooty stuff shoots stuff.

With my Tau I will often target the enemy’s shooty stuff, especially if there isn’t a lot of it. Since my expensive suits are fairly quick I can often escape an assault if I don’t have to worry about getting shot, and this also makes life a lot more fun for my railheads.

If there’s a seriously heavy unit like a big death company or jetbike seer council then it’s probably worth trying to nuke it down right from the start. You aren’t necessarily going to be able to kill these guys on the turn after their first assault, so start right away.

Some army types, Nids for example, will have a wave of MCs after their speedy gaunts. It can be worth targeting these instead of the first wave. Gaunts can struggle against stuff like kroot in cover and take a bunch of casualties but the MCs will go straight through them, so removing the second row can be a solid plan, especially if the hormies find themselves out of synapse after their fight (which is fairly likely given the distance they charge). On the other hand if you shoot a unit that wasn’t going to do anything in its next turn anyway then you don’t reduce the damage you are about to take at all, which is probably a bad thing.

So at the start you want to be firing at either his fast stuff or his guns. These are going to be hurting you next turn. The carnifex 24” away isn’t going to be eating anything just yet. You then need to shoot whatever is left of the fast assaulters after they have hit and hope they all die. If that happens without a substantial amount of your forces getting locked or killed then you can probably manage to deal with any remaining slow assaulters or shooty stuff. That’s the plan anyway.
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