So what tools does the Tau Codex have to do what we need to do?
First up, I’ve written this for people with little or no knowledge of the Tau Codex. Tau players might find it a bit basic!
I need three things (i) tools to kill the various threats, (ii) adequate scoring units, and (iii) survivability. If each unit can do more than 1 thing (duality), and there is more than one unit that does any one thing (redundancy), that’s a bonus. So let’s break it down.
· Light Armour. Few armies deal with light armour as well as Tau. Missile Pods eat AV10 and 11 (particularly when you field them in numbers), while Railguns deal with AV12+. However, the only platform for Missile Pods are XV8 suits. With Railguns we have a choice between Broadsides and Hammerheads. I’ll come back to this.
· Heavy Armour. Railguns are the answer here. You can put Fusion Guns on suits. Some people run deep striking BS 4 commanders with twin linked fusion guns to pick out priority targets, but IMO that’s crazy. You are suiciding an expensive unit when (with a bit of planning) your Broadsides can kill Chimeras and Predators all game long. Land raiders are a bit trickier. To have a reasonable chance of stopping a Land Raider I reckon you need 3 BS4 Broadsides if it has cover, and 2 with no cover. So if you’re not packing suicide melta, you need more Broadsides.
· Light Infantry. Light infantry can be tricky for Tau, especially of the Horde variety. Unless you are going for large and numerous squads of Firewarriors (and you really, really shouldn’t) a Tau army is normally about quality of fire over quantity of fire. There are more options at close range (flamers, Air Bursting Fragmentation Launcher, Kroot Rifles, Burst Cannons, Smart Missile Systems) but fewer at long range (really only the sub-munition blast from the Hammerhead Railgun). Some armies can deal with this in assault (Blood Angles assault marines with jump packs), but, while Kroot are OK at this (not great), getting them to the assault in one piece, or having them last long enough to counter assault, is tricky.
· Medium Infantry. This is easier. At range missile pods whittle down medium infantry, and closer up Plasma Rifles, along with weight of fire from the stuff you point at light infantry, do this job reasonably well.
· Heavy Infantry. At range Railguns do this well (when not shooting at vehicles) and, up close, Plasma Rifles.
· Monstrous Creatures. Railguns and Missile Pods deal with these guys at range. Closer up Plasma Rifles also deal with them.
So on the whole (with the possible exception of hordes) Tau have a good answer to most threats. But notice this, most of these answers are limited to 3 weapons – Railguns, Plasma Rifles and Missile pods. There are only 3 platforms you can get these weapons on – XV8s, Broadsides and Hammerheads. Of these 3, Broadsides and Hammerheads are the pretty limited i.e. they can mount Railguns with some options for anti light infantry. XV8s are the most flexible – you can load them out pretty much how you like. So already we see a major limitation of the Codex – XV8s need to do most of the heavy lifting. This can lead to imbalance, when you consider the next 2 things the army needs – adequate scoring units, and survivability.
You have 2 choices – Kroot and Firewarriors. Kroot are pretty mediocre at shooting (BS3 S4 AP5 Rapid Fire), and OK in assault (WS4 , S4, 2 attacks base) but, unless they are in woods (where they get stealth) they are very fragile (no armour save), and prone to running away (Leadership 7). Also they do not get a dedicated transport. However they are cheap (7 points per model, 6 for Kroot Hounds). So in terms of the 3 criteria we want in troops, they can be numerous (5 packs of 10 Kroot for 350pts, not bad), but are not fast, nor survivable. Having said that, numbers make them more survivable, and infiltrate and outflank make them faster!
Firewarriors are not great at anything. They are OK at shooting (BS3) and truly, truly awful in assault. They are also expensive for what they are (10 points each). However, they can be made fast and durable by buying a Devilfish. A Devilfish comes with a Burst Cannon (S5, AP5 Assault 3) and 2 gun drones as standard. Add a Disruption Pod for an “always on” cover save (outside 12”), and you have the basic configuration. Its basic stats are AV12, 11, 10 Tank, Skimmer. You can get various other upgrades, which I’ll go into later. But bottom line, for 145 points you get a Fish with a Dpod and 6 Firewarriors, which would be OK, except the only function they serve is to score – they add nothing else to the army (well other than mobile cover for suits). So for 100 points more than 5 packs of 10 Kroot, you can get 3 Fish with Firewarrior scoring upgrades. IMO, not good value.
An army has to be survivable – it needs to be able to “take a punch”. For Tau this also means you must have a way to avoid assault. All Tau units fold in assault. So there are 2 elements – being able to soak up the other sides shooting without being crippled, and stopping the scary assault units getting to your gunline – so resilience, and blocking.
As for resilience, the Tau army does reasonably well. Tau vehicles are pretty tough. In particular Hammerheads at range can take a lot of punishment. To get one roll on the damage chart you need to fire 9 BS4 Krak Missiles at it (6 hit, 2 glance or penetrate, and one gets through the Dpod), or 6 BS4 Lazcannons ( 4 hit, 2 glance or penetrate, and one gets past the Dpods). And that’s just for a roll on the damage chart – to destroy it would take a bit more. For Dfish the numbers become 6 Krak Missiles and (around) 4 Lazcannons. Broadsides are also pretty tough. Essentially they are 2 wound terminators, without an invulnerable save. However, they can gain 2 ablative wounds (which are 2+, 4++) by purchasing 2 shield drones. So, put three of them in cover, and with a degree of wound allocation, they are pretty resilient to shooting (other than S8 AP 2 or better). However, like all Tau units, they crumple in assault.
XV8s are not so tough. Think of them as 2 wound marines. The biggest problem is S8 AP3 shots – i.e Krak Missiles murder them, cutting through their armour, and causing instant death. With missile spam being a very common army build, suits are pretty vulnerable. Again, they crumple in assault – and even if they do not crumple, the last place they want to be is tied up in assault and not shooting. However, you can also buy shield drones (or gun drones) for XV8s, giving them ablative wounds.
I have dealt with Kroot’s and Firewarrior survivability above. Kroot die horrible unless they are in cover (beware flamers). Firewarriors are a little more survivable outside their transports, and reasonably survivable inside.
Another problem with Tau is low leadership. Broadsides and XV8s are leadership 8, and Kroot and Fire warriors leadership 7. This is exacerbated because generally you are near the back of the board – and XV8s fall back 3d6. The number of times I’ve lost suits when they run off the board makes me cry. And I’ve lost games when my Kroot run.
You can do 3 things to help leadership. Firstly, Ethereals give all Tau units in line of sight, a reroll on leadership tests, and makes they unit they join fearless. Second, Shadowsun gives her leadership 10 to all Tau units within 18 inches. Third you can attach a Suit Commander (L9) to a squad in the normal way.
Tau do blocking very well. The 2 units that are masters at blocking are Kroot (keeping foot slogging units away from your suits), and Piranhas blocking vehicles. Jump infantry and skimmers are harder, but it can be done with careful positioning.