Up in the sky- it’s a bird! It’s a plane! No, it’s a slightly middling unit with a reputation far worse than its performance! Click to read on, or check out the Tactics Corner for more reviews and strategies.
Ah, Vespid, one of the worst units in the game- or so people say.
But that actually hasn’t been true for a while now; there are much, much worse units around (like Corpsucarii Priests) and even the Vespid themselves are actually much better than people give them credit for, even if they aren’t great. People tend to remember them as they were back in 4E, when they were just a giant pile of garbage, but since then they’ve gained several stat boosts as well as a ton of special abilities. I can’t claim that they’re anywhere near competitive, but garbage they’re not.
The Vespid statline is a fairly bizarre mix of shockingly good and weirdly underwhelming. They only have Weapon Skill and Ballistic Skill 3, which definitely limits how useful they are in a fight, as well as Strenth 3, but benefit from Toughness 4 as well as Initiative 6(!)- making them one of the fastest units in the game. One Attack and Leadership 6 are definitely low points for the unit, however. Finally, 4+ armor is respectable, though not great, and about on par with what you get from most Tau units. At 18pts per model they come out of things fairly well.
Each Vespid is armed with a Neutron Blaster, which is an 18″ S5 AP3 Assault 1 weapon- again, surprisingly good numbers overall, though with their lackluster BS value it won’t do nearly as much damage as you’d generally like unless you’re feeding Markerlights onto them.
Vespid are Jump Infantry and so can move further as well as Deep Strike when the need suits them.
Special Rules and Options
Although it’s not an enormous list, the Vespid ability array is perhaps their strongest point since so many of them are handy general-purpose rules. Fleet lets them Run or charge a little bit further than normal, though with as poor as they are in combat this isn’t nearly as good of an ability as it might have been. (This is a recurring theme for Vespid, you’ll notice- good abilities that get let down because of bad stats.)
Move Through Cover is also great, since it prevents them from taking damage when hopping around in terrain- and with their lackluster save, you’ll probably want to be doing this a lot. Better yet, they have Stealth (Ruins) as well, so they can easily be rolling 3+s against enemy firepower; ruins are perhaps the single most common terrain type in the game, with the possible exception of hills, and the extra benefit can go a long way towards keeping them alive.
Last of all, Vespid also have Hit and Run, and for once their stats back them up well- they’ll only be failing their checks on a natural 6, so it’s as reliable as you can get. Since they aren’t all that good at dealing damage, it’s quite viable for a Vespid unit to charge things just as a way to catapult themselves across the battlefield, so long as you can avoid getting beat up (or Swept) in close combat.
The only option for Vespid, aside from adding additional squad members, is to make one member of the team a Strain Leader, which gives them the +1 Attack you always expect but a whopping +3 to Leadership- if you’re going at all above the minimum size, you definitely want to spend the extra for that Strain Leader in order to compensate for their weak native morale.
So I’ve said that Vespid aren’t as bad as people give them credit for, so let’s go into that a bit. Although they may not be particularly accurate or good in melee (despite their high Initiative), Vespid are not horribly-costed for their survivability (to contrast look at Hellions, who are T3/5+ for basically the same price tag)- they aren’t quite up to MEQ standards, as they are clearly outclassed by Assault Marines and the like in that arena, but neither are they complete glass cannons and you can expect them to survive the sort of miscellaneous shots from random Storm Bolters and the like without just folding up and completely dying.
More importantly, they are a reasonably-cheap way to get an AP3 gun. The Neutron Blaster has a pretty decent range (18″, which combined with their 12″ movement gives it a functional 30″ reach) and can do a solid job of picking off anything standing outside of cover. Is it a game-winner, like Grav? No, not by a long shot, but it’s enough to at least give Marines and most monstrous creatures some pause when they’re around- nothing feels stupider than losing your Hive Tyrant or (god forbid) Wraithknight to some damn Vespid. With only S5 it’s not fantastically likely, but it’s a possibility that can’t just be completely ignored, either. And if you have ways to boost their accuracy (Coordinated Firepower, Markerlights, rerolls, etc) they can really turn into a pretty decent “hunter” unit for taking out those smaller or isolated squads.
And while their combat statline is nothing to rave over, they will pretty consistently trounce stuff like Guardsmen, Eldar, or Genestealer Cultists pretty solidly- basically, anything with T3 is fair game for them. Hit and Run built in means that the enemy can’t expect to just keep them locked down with something like a Dreadnought and they will very rarely get Swept in combat even when they fail Leadership, something that is pretty rare for Tau players. A shoot -> charge sequence can have them doing a lot more damage than might be expected, especially if you get the aforementioned bonuses going, and Vespid rely a lot on getting the pounce on their targets to perform properly; however, thanks to their mobility, this generally isn’t too hard to manage with good play.
However, the unit is not without its issues as well. The biggest one is their lack of grenades- all too often, that Initiative 6 will be completely wasted as your squad gets all antsy on seeing a rock somewhere on the ground and decides it’s better to let the enemy sack-beat them all to death before attempting to swing. We’ve harped on the mediocre S3 quite a number of times (which makes any fight against MEQs a real uphill struggle, contrary to what you might assume with their guns) but BS3 and WS3 are just as limiting- you won’t really excel as either a combat or shooting unit without a lot of help.
The lack of any kind of real defined role is probably the biggest crime for Vespid, though. They aren’t a MEQ-hunter, because they aren’t accurate (or damaging) enough to really do much. They aren’t a harassment unit, because their weak Leadership and lack of grenades makes them bad at independently hunting those backfield units you often see. They aren’t a “bully” unit for taking on weak enemy squads because they lack the weight of either shots or attacks to consistently take things on either method. Vespid are an answer that doesn’t fit any problem, in short, and in a codex full of good-to-great units that is a pretty damning lack on their part and the real reason they still have the reputation they do. They aren’t bad, there’s just no real reason to take them over other units.
In short, there’s not really anything a Vespid will do that you can’t get elsewhere in the book. Want a heavy infantry-hunting unit? A Crisis with Plasma Rifles will get you similar damage output, more flexibility, and arguably more survivability as well (not to mention tons of great formations and whatnot it can be part of and even the possibility of Objective Secured.) Other Tau infiltrator and harassment units (like Stealth Suits and Kroot Carnivores) will likewise do better jobs on much of what Vespid can manage- not vastly so, perhaps, but if they can do the same thing while being more flexible in other respects, why not use them instead? And hence the Vespid’s problem.
If you want to use Vespid in an army, you really shouldn’t feel too bad about doing so. The days when they were a stone around your list’s neck are largely gone, and you can often surprise people when using them. However, don’t expect to be winning any tournaments with them, and if we’re being completely honest with ourselves there are very few things about the unit that really make it stick out- certainly not the models, which look rather dated and ugly, not to mention being nigh-impossible-to-convert monoposes. You don’t have to hang your head if you like Vespid, but if you’re not some kind of hemipterophile then you really don’t have any particular reason to give them a test-run.
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