Are you ready for a spooooooooooooopy episode about a very scary unit? No? Okay, well then maybe we’ll just talk about Vespid instead. Click to read the updated CA2018 article, or check out the Tactics Corner for more reviews and strategies.
Vespid were amongst the first client races of the Tau Empire, although their inclusion was far from a painless process. All early attempts at communication with the race were a failure, despite the best efforts of the Water Caste- it was only through the introduction of communion helms (provided by the Ethereal Caste) to the Vespid leaders that breakthroughs were finally able to be made. Since then, the alliance between Tau and Vespid has grown strong, and the unique crystals that are mined from the lower reaches of the gas giant planet the Vespid live on are one of the most unique products in the Tau Empire. The Tau, in turn, provide Vespid with technology that would simply be impossible to manufacture in their home environment as well as access to hundreds of worlds they might otherwise never have seen- a profitable and mutually beneficial relationship for both sides.
On the tabletop, Vespid function as fast-moving reserve troops with a somewhat unique statline. Movement of 14″ is fast even for a jump pack unit, and with the Fly keyword it allows them to cross the table in great leaps. Weapon and ballistic skill 4+ isn’t anything exciting, but they are at least passable overall and as Vespid can benefit from Markerlights and other bonuses there isn’t a lot to complain about there. (Do note, however, that since they lack a Sept keyword there are some bonuses that won’t work on them.) Strength three is likewise unexciting, but toughness four makes them more resilient than a lot of other basic units from the Tau book- a nice upside. Lastly, one attack and a 4+ armor save are also fairly basic overall, especially for the codex. Normal squad members are leadership five (which is abysmal), but the Strain Leader gets a bump up to eight (as well as the usual bonus attack), so there is even more of an incentive than normal to keep your sergeant alive with Vespid. At 14pts per model and squads of four to twelve(!) members, Vespid are neither particularly cheap nor particularly expensive and come in around the same minimum cost as most other units in the codex.
Special Rules and Wargear
As Vespid are not strictly Tau units, they lack many of the usual special rules found in the codex. In fact, they have only one rule to their name- Plunge From the Skies, which allows them to set up in reserve and arrive on the board anywhere more than 9″ from enemy units at the end of a movement phase; in other words, a bog standard deep strike ability. However, since it fits fairly well with the overall role that you will want to be filling with the Vespid, we can count it as a fairly significant plus overall. (Do note that it is distinct from Manta Strike, however, and thus won’t benefit from abilities that enhance a Manta Strike.)
Vespid are each armed with a Neutron Blaster (18″ S5 AP-2 Assault 2), which is actually a fairly strong gun all things considered. Although Tau already have Strength 5 guns in abundance, AP-2 is actually a very nice feature to have and it means that they can not only threaten medium infantry fairly well, but also pick a wound or two off a vehicle when necessary. Although limited by their middling ballistic skill (like all Tau units), the Neutron Blaster is one of the strongest weapons you’ll see on a basic infantry model, it’s definitely a major point in their favor.
So Vespid aren’t a great unit, all things considered. Although they are no longer one of the worst units in the game the way they once were, they certainly aren’t a particularly impressive or outstanding inclusion in the book, or even in the battlefield role they occupy. And with their decades-old models that come in a grand total of two distinct poses, I don’t think anyone is rushing out to buy them or include them in a list.
Still, for all that, they are actually not a terrible unit- in fact, in my own list building I have considered them a number of times for inclusion in my competitive armies, and not just in order to be contrarian. They have never quite made the cut in the end, but even the fact that they have been on the list of possibles shows that they have come a long ways since their earlier incarnations. Their place in the fast attack slot is part of this- while there are certainly other better and cheaper units in that slot (such as Pathfinders or Kroot Hounds), Vespid fill a role that Tau armies often struggle with- namely, mobile scoring.
Tau armies in general are not static, but they do tend to cluster in particular parts of the board in order to take advantage of For the Greater Good and many of the auras in the list. Exacerbating this, many of the best Tau units are not particularly quick on the ground, typically moving 6″-8″ per turn in most cases. There are of course exceptions (such as Riptides and Coldstars), but these exceptions work both ways as many units are also slower or more static than this (like Hammerheads or Firesight Marksmen.) So the Tau army, as a whole, tends to be less mobile than others out there. Because melee is such a big threat in the early stages of the game, Tau also tend to hang out in their deployment zone a lot during turns 1-3, only later surging forward to recapture midfield once the most dangerous melee threats have been removed from the table.
All of this is perfectly fine as an overall strategy, as it’s what a lot of other shooting armies (e.g. Guard, Eldar, etc) will often do as well- concede position early on to maximize firepower, in hopes of taking the game in the late stages. But it does leave such armies with a problem, namely that entirely conceding the field to your opponent is simply not a viable option in a lot of games. In ITC missions especially, control of the field during the early and middle turns of the game matters, and if you simply give it up without contest, you are probably in for a losing battle. So Tau armies need a way to get across the field and score some objectives in the early/middle game in order to gain points or deny the enemy points, but they don’t actually want to cross the field because that will expose said units to a lot of danger.
Enter Vespid, and other deep striking units from the codex. By arriving from reserve, they are protected against enemy shooting and assaults that might otherwise sweep them off the table. They also maximize your options by leaving virtually the entire board open as potential spaces of arrival, forcing the enemy to either spread out (and thus lower their concentration of firepower and bodies, making it easier for the Tau player to destroy them piecemeal) or concede that you will be able to drop where you want to and thus at least partially cede control of the table. Vespid most certainly aren’t the only unit that can do this, but they are one of the cheapest and have some unique advantages of their own that can make them particularly suited to doing so.
Their main competitor in this role are Gun Drones, which are found in the same slot and cost less per model, but with weaker overall weaponry. Being able to clear these distant objectives is also relevant, as most players won’t just leave an objective completely undefended- and in that respect, the two units are roughly equivalent- Gun Drones have a slight advantage against light infantry (anything with a 5+ save or worse), but Vespid win out against heavier targets, and in all cases the differences are fairly slight until you get down to 2+ armor or better. They both deep strike in the same fashion with equivalent rules, and have similar statlines in terms of resilience and other factors- though Vespid, being infantry, can get cover more easily. However, the big point in the drones’ favor is that they can perform a dual role in protecting your battlesuits when not needed to score objectives, which is an incredibly useful trait to have, and they potentially benefit from some very strong buffs in the form of Sept traits and Drone Controllers.
All in all, Vespid unfortunately make it just below the mark of being a truly competitive unit overall; you certainly can include a squad or two of them in an army to do the jobs discussed above, but they will never be optimal in that regard. With Gun Drones themselves being something of a borderline choice, the fact that Vespid end up overall outclassed by them- and especially because they don’t benefit from the sept traits the way drones do, which is especially relevant with Tau and Vior’la septs- I don’t think it’s really possible to give them a strong recommendation.
Dealing with Vespid really just means dealing with those backfield objective-grabbing units, which is something that all lists should be capable of in some way. This can be done with either shooting or melee (or even psychic), but it’s something most certainly have to be ready for. Good backfield defense means not just being ready to kill these units when they arrive, but also being prepared to mitigate what they can do to you even before that. Don’t leave your home objectives undefended- have units sitting on them not just to score them, but to deny them to the enemy. Make sure your objective-campers are resilient enough to endure the shooting that the Vespid (or other units) put out on the drop- either by virtue of good stats or by having enough numbers to take the casualties and not be wiped out. Where possible, make sure that they have Objective Secured or a similar rule so that a lucky 9″ charge doesn’t mean losing control of the objective immediately- in a close game, that two point swing can make a big difference.
While the models and rules might be a bit lacking overall, the ability to field all sorts of weird allies like Laser Space Bees is one of my favorite things about the Tau Empire, and with any luck we’ll eventually see some updated rules and kits for them at some point. Lots of people have been talking about some kind of possibility of an Allied Races codex for the Tau at some point, and while I certainly wouldn’t put any faith in rumors of such a book coming out anytime soon it’s certainly not beyond reason that we might see it eventually- after all of the Imperial factions get their books, of course.
As always, remember that you can get your wargaming supplies at the Frontline Gaming store at great discounts every day, whether you’re starting a new army or expanding an existing one.