[Experience from play by Tim Bancroft and Andy Sparks]
The Isorian phase squads are the core of the Isorian army and they are tough, in my view much tougher than their Concord equivalents. The phase armour allows them to go ‘Down’ when fired upon, forcing opponents to reroll their hits. Whilst they may not succeed at their Recovery test, their Command stat is really good and a ‘Get Up!‘ or two can always help.
The Tsan Ra phase squad is a slightly different beast, however, and its worth taking a look at how they operate.The problem that the Tsan Ra suffer from is that they are ‘Large’. This means no sprint, limited protection from cover, a small unit size (3-5 troopers) and that they can be shot at over the tops of units before them. The upside is that they can shoot back over the units in front of them, carry a plasma ducarb (either RF3 or SV3) and have Str of 7, so are hard-hitting in close combat, and have a slightly better Res.
For some, the downside is overwhelming: the Tsan Ra phase squad just cannot compete with the base Senatex Phase Squad. But we’ve been looking at the different ways Tsan Ra can be used on the table rather than looking at their stats or regarding them as just another Senatex Phase Squad.
A different role?
The telling question is ‘why try replace an existing phase squad with an identical other?’ The existing phase squad is rather useful – good weapons, the option for a plasma lance and its nasty strike value and the option for a spotter for the lance. At an equivalent cost, the Tsan Ra squad can be four troopers strong and take some slingnet if it wishes.
But here’s the nub: that Tsan Ra squad can put pins on light tanks thanks to the duocarb, not something many tactical units can do. What’s more, the basic squad’s rate of fire is actually similar to a Nhamak light support drone. Whilst their accuracy is one lower and their Agility is less, they are more resilient, having 3 to be killed rather than the weapon drone’s damage table results – and we’ve already mentioned Phase Armour and its usefulness that a phaseshift shield possibly can’t quite match.* However, unlike the drone, the Tsan Ra can shoot over the head of a unit in front of them.
Imagine that unit in front of them being a command unit using its Follow…
All of a sudden, the Tsan Ra become a support option in a tactical slot, not a standard phase squad at all.
Even if no command unit is around, the Tsan Ra can be used in the same way I’ve seen other light support units operate. That is, the unit takes cover behind a piece of terrain and pops out when a target presents itself. The difference with the Tsan Ra is that, even when they do Fire/Advance, that delightful ‘Down’ response protects them when the going gets rough. It takes up the strain from the lack of using cover that the Nhamak drone can take advantage of.
* Just for reference, the phaseshift shield allows a Res reroll in exchange for going Down.
The hand-to-hand option
The Tsan Ra phase squad have an advantage over other support units: their Strength stat.
One way of using this from their behind-the-line approach is to accept that a good way to beat phase troopers is to let them go down then Assault them. In Assaults, a Down phase troopers’ armour drops to 6 and they shoot and fight second. Whilst they gain the reroll of hits from being Down, they can suffer badly as an attacker might be sprinting in anyway to force the rerolls, too.
Down units don’t do so well in Assaults.
However, the presence of the Tsan Ra with their extra forces an opponent to think twice, especially if at their maximum squad size of five. Their cost is about the same as a two-Nhamak unit with a batter drone and, whilst their Res is one lower in Assaults, their high Str means they provide options the Nhamak can’t offer.
Of course, the Tsan Ra cannot charge through their friends (see p.18) to take on the potential assaulters, so have to slightly off to one side. Normally, this would obscure their targets, but being large, their friends won’t obscure anyone from those duocarbs. What it does mean, though, is that stacked unit approach is still viable and turns into an offensive formation rather than a defensive structure. Against Freeborn, Rebels and C3 or other Senatex, it can threaten attacks where they are weak.
There is a catch. If in only three-up units, the Tsan Ra Phase Squad struggle against fresh, dedicated close combat troops – they are not a dedicated close combat unit. Even in larger squads, they might struggle. However, against the ‘softer’ close combat units such as the C3 strike squad or against ordinary units who have been softened up, they are an effective counter: the Str 7, plus whatever hand-to-hand or charge bonuses they may have (perhaps even up to 9) means they cannot be ignored. When their Hand-to-hand Res of 7 is taken into consideration, a 5-strong squad armed with plasma grenades is to be treated with respect by all but the toughest close combat specialists.
So, whilst on paper the Tsan Ra look a little weak compared with the Senatex Phase Squad, it seems their presence on the table gives options that the Senatex might otherwise lack. Using the tactics above, we’ve seen them present serious difficulties to the Concord, the C3 troops unable to focus on the Tsan Ra without leaving themselves vulnerable to shots from the units in front of them. We’ve seen them threaten the sideways Assault and help keep a charging unit at arms reach – and so suffer under the combined fire of a phase squad and the heavy weapons of the Tsan Ra.
It may not be a panacea and, for some, what’s has been outlined may not make up for their deficiencies. All we can say is: try it, see how it works. All the Tsan Ra player has to do is forget the words ‘phase squad’ in the unit name, explore their capabilities and use them in ways their human counterparts can’t hope to operate.
Tim Bancroft/Andy Sparks